Tuesday, July 14, 2015
on where we wanted to go
Why should I compare David Ireland to Virginia Woolf, I ask myself, when there's nothing in common between them, and the difference is so obvious, so absolutely gaping and open, like a chasm or pit; why should they be brought to the same area – because I had his two books in my head and then I read hers; that's why – it was the chronological proximity of my reading. Taking a non-fiction hardback off the shelf at UNLV a few days ago I discovered that the North American author (whoever they were, I'm not sure) had read a number of Australian books and come away feeling puzzled because the authors seemed not to arrange an ambition for themselves and move after it in pursuit; instead they circled around an idea that they did not directly reveal or, perhaps, she suspected, understand. Then the book would end.
The two David Irelands were like that, I thought: this circling around a large unstated balloon (through a mosaic of small scenes) and the ending would be a conclusive destruction.
But he tells you that direction itself is a treacherous idea, and the suspicion he feels towards any purposed motion is one part of his satire; purpose will be thwarted, it's the way of the world. "The Boatman and I were concentrated absolutely on where we wanted to go. We had no mind left over to escape each other. Back and forth we went from side to side, left right left right in perfect time, getting no farther forward; each, for the sake of a tiny inconvenience, wishing the other had never existed." Those are the last lines of The Unknown Industrial Prisoner.
Completeness and intellectual working-through are problems in Woolf's work, according to John Cowper Powys in his 1931 monograph on Dorothy Richardson. It is a strength in Richardson that she doesn't do that, he says. "She takes her place in the great role of thinkers who, like Heraclitus and Goethe and Nietzsche are intent on Life Itself, in its mysterious flowing stream, rather than any human hypothesis of its whence and whither."