Sunday, June 7, 2015
you'll see what I say you'll see
Having, now, The Glass Canoe next to Little, Big in my mind I wonder about the different ways in which the two authors find a character or structure for the Unknown in their books, Crowley building a kind of horizontal (rather than hierarchical) maze in which a revelation in one story will lead you sideways to another story – not a clarity through the unknown but a passageway into another room of it. Mrs Underhill says "Wear this," as she sticks a magic leaf on Lilac's forehead but the enlargement is only in a certain direction, "and you'll see what I say you'll see." By implication, what I don't say you won't see, and who knows what size that is. The dream that seems to be taking Grandfather Trout into a memory of his original human self turns, instead, towards the story of (maybe) the Frog Prince, disenchanted, leaping from the water, "legs flailing and royal robes drenched," then to the Fish-Footman from the first Alice, a "bewigged fish in a high-collared coat, a huge letter under his arm" – till the trout wakes, in shock, back to his own edition of the tale. *
Irrevocable revelation in the Glass Canoe, however, is not only achievable, it is horribly forced on you, and you will be catapaulted into the misery of knowledge against your will when you point out the anthropomorphic mystery of the record player to your girlfriend and she easily shows you the knob that explains the technology.
The Meatman, who loved not knowing, is troubled by the new absence of his pet ignorance, and the information is not an addition to his mental landscape, it is a loss forever. He laments.
Binarily he shifts over into that knowledge as if through a door that shuts behind him. And there are other such doors in the book, but he avoids them: he won't look in the sealed barrel, and he won't draw the obvious conclusion when he sees his girlfriend in the window with several men. The knowledge is being offered so starkly; Crowley's people should envy him. But it would mean sadness if he took it (we know that from the record player episode), and sadness with no compensation that the reader is ever allowed to see. He is wiser than Victor Frankenstein; instinctively he has resisted (or shied away from, take your pick) temptation, he is aligned with those books and authors who have worried about the effect that technical knowingness, ie science, will have on the state of knowledge-less anticipation that is described with words like wonderment. Lord Dunsany wrote with a feather pen in the age of biros.
When I think that we, as a species, have only just become aware of the lymph vessels that run up into our brains, and that this discovery is not the end of anything (as the discovery of the lymph system itself was not the end of anything, and the mapping of it, falsely wholly, over a century ago, was not the end of mapping it or knowing it), I want to believe that, out of the two of them, Crowley's formulation of the Unknown as story beyond story is closer to what is …
*After I posted this I went over and read, for the first time, the post from June 4th at Wuthering Expectations, which also mentions the Alice Footman. Coincidence.
Alice never knows whether she is looking at a fish or a man: "she considered him to be a footman because he was in livery: otherwise, judging by his face only, she would have called him a fish." Carroll's illustrators are always sure that he is a fish-headed person but this is more than you can say for the author, who only ever refers to a resemblance in the face. And the way he has packed man into footman is very strange: if the person had been naked, without the livery, but still running up to a door with a letter under his arm, then what would Alice call him?