Friday, March 20, 2015

someone to explain the picture to me

We saw some of those eyeballs at LACMA last weekend, all of them falling or flying around on their pink balloon strings, or bouncing out of soupbowls of blood; and the blood was very vivaciously heaving in evenly matched waves of careful lines, which were unmistakably pretty in their sweetiepie colours. There was one long vertical sheet-shaped piece dotted with these votive pictures (sometimes corpses, sometimes bells), like a page of little stickers. "After gazing admiringly at many scenes, all of a romantic nature, I was seized by a longing to write a verbal equivalent of the painting,' says Longus in his preface to Daphnis and Chloe – which is not what I've done; he doesn't describe the painting or praise it in the body of his story, he is breathing it or attempting to breathe it out as prose. "So I found someone to explain the picture to me, and composed a work in four volumes as an offering to Love and the Nymphs and Pan; and as a source of pleasure for the human race."

He says he's doing it to honour the aspects of life that the painting itself honours. So there is pleasure for him in giving honour. Dorothy Richardson in her Pilgrimage books is concerned because the novels she reads (this is ventriloquised through the character of Miriam) don't do honour to Life. It drives her mad – "It simply drives me mad" -- when an author tells you that a character "always" does something just-so. "Jones always wore a battered cricket cap, a little askew," is her example. "You know the whole thing is going to be lies from beginning to end."

(Her imaginary author is trying to mask his static "always" by waving active details in front of it: a "battered" cap has moved through various experiences, and the "askew" angle is humanly careless. She's right, the sentence she's invented would be degrading to any author who wrote it. Why? Because it's trying to hide what it is. And stabs itself in the back. And doesn't seem to know itself, or be aware of itself, or recognise itself; it's a stranger to itself. Which is a haunting vulnerability when you see it in someone, and you wonder what to say to them.)

Then I wonder, were the eyeballs "all" flying or falling around, or have I written an "always"? Thinking about it. Some were being carried by birds, that counts as flying, some were sailing through picture space – that counts as flying too – and the rest were toppling out of the blood-bowls, as far as I can recall. All of the disembodied eyeballs that I can remember were genuinely flying or falling. There were also kidneys and hearts but eyeballs were the favourite. Why eyeballs?

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