Tuesday, August 4, 2015

the character of an austere moralist

Fromm puts Richardson in a group with one hand and takes her out with the other: she is not like Christina Stead; she is not like Robert Musil and she is not like John Cowper Powys. "And different as they were from each other, it was their difference from a good part of the rest of the world that brought them together in the first place." Of course I'm wrong at the end of my last post and the essayist isn't summarising the author for people who haven't read Pilgrimage; why would she think she was doing that?

Still the question. Why try to construct this fantasy of a group to which she might belong? I don't have an answer. It's in Fromm's mind somewhere. She imagines a group; she asks herself if the person she is discussing belongs inside that group or out of it. Richardson's husband Alan Odle is not simply tall and thin, he is different from other tall, thin people. "[E]xtremely tall, shockingly thin, cadaverously pale, and exceedingly courteous." Then there is another fact, which she presents as a contrast, "but his brown eyes glowed with intelligence." So removing him step by step into a group of his own.

In spite of the decadent surface, Alan Odle had the character of an austere moralist.

If I am told that Dorothy Richardson is not like Robert Musil then I am being teased with the prospect of her being like Robert Musil. Simultaneously I am reassured that she is not Robert Musil. She escapes. Should it be characterised as an escape? I don't know. Fromm seems tantalised by the way things could have been. Richardson's books "speak the dissenting language of a separatist" but Woolf, her contemporary, "was admitted into the company of the master prose stylists of the late nineteenth century" when she was re-evaluated into the 1960s and '70s, and so she has entered the canon. Powys preferred Richardson to Woolf. Why, when other people did not? Because "the ears of a few readers are attuned to a different music not heard by the rest of their generation," Fromm says. Powys is inside a group of people with attuned ears.

As Duchamp constructed or selected his objects he wrote notes to himself about the "infra-thin." Does that fit here?

It would be better to try to go into the infra-thin interval which separates 2 'identicals' than to conveniently accept the verbal generalisation which makes 2 twins look like 2 drops of water.

Mudpuddle in the comments has made me realise that John Clare's narrative voice never groups him with the farm labourer class he was born into. His poems are endless leisure.

The south west wind how pleasant in the face
It breathes while sauntering in a musing pace
I roam these new ploughed fields and by the side
Of this old wood where happy birds abide
And the rich blackbird through his golden bill
Litters wild music when the rest are still
Now luscious comes the scent of blossomed beans
That oer the path in rich disorder leans
Mid which the bees in busy rows and toils
Load home luxuriantly their yellow spoils
The herd cows toss the molehills in their play
And often stand the strangers steps at bay
Mid clover blossoms red and tawney white
Strong scented with the summers warm delight

(Beans in Blossom)


  1. Goodness no, there's not a drop of labor in that poem. It reminds me, oddly enough, of Turgenev's nonfiction sketches. The same rambling past a working farm feeling. A wholly sensualized intellectual take on agriculture.

    I was thinking as I read this that it's sort of like an inversion of Seamus Heaney: in many of his poems about writing, one gets the impression of doing heavy farm work, digging ditches, building walls, etc.

  2. The funny thing is that Clare must have ploughed more fields, messed with more vegetables, and dug more ditches than Heaney ever had time for, seeing that it was the only way he had to make a proper living. When did it become possible for poets to say, "I work"?

    1. For Heaney the 'I work' and 'I write' sprung directly from Patrick Kavanagh who constantly wrote from the tension between his labour on the land and with a pen. And the right of a small farmer of limited academic education to call himself a poet:
      "Clay is the word and clay is the flesh
      Where the potato-gatherers like mechanised scarecrows move
      Along the side-fall of the hill - Maguire and his men.
      If we watch them an hour is there anything we can prove
      Of life as it is broken-backed over the Book
      Of Death? Here crows gabble over worms and frogs
      And the gulls like old newspapers are blown clear of the hedges, luckily.
      Is there some light of imagination in these wet clods?
      Or why do we stand here shivering?"

  3. whisper thin differentiations spark something of wizardry in the contemplation of ethereal realms of linguistic comparison. my wife says:

    what they are trying to say is the difference between legos and boulder dam" i'm not sure i understand that, but it rings some sort of chime in the old brain pan. i guess i rate lit in terms of resonance: how does the explication of a piece echo in my response chamber?... leading on to evermore evanescent judgements? the most real thing about literature is the phantom impression it leaves of the personality of the writer, which i semiconsciously accept or reject. my criteria have narrowed with age and now i read a lot of mystery stories. maybe we all come to that sooner or later.

  4. Then I suppose our -- job? as readers, must be to make the response chamber as sensitive as possible -- which is difficult.