Wednesday, September 16, 2015
the how and what, the this and that
– in order to know "whether John Clare was less influenced by Charlotte Smith as he aged" I think I would have to read everything Clare had written. Then re-read Smith's Elegiac Sonnets. Next, get myself a yardstick. Easiest would be to count the number of times they both (independently of one another) use the word 'the' and compare his number to her number and see if they grow farther apart but other writers have used 'the' as well so no go. Find some other pinpoint to free myself from the appearance of futility or farce, two characteristics that infested other writers I have been reading, Regina Ullman and Robert Walser, so that one of the questions that hangs around them both might be what is futility? "All stories bear resemblance to an elegant skirt that wants to cling tightly and becomingly to to a shape, that is, to something concrete: in other words they have to be told in such a way that the sum total of words forms a skirt that fits the body loosely but with a certain conciseness – fits, that is, the how and what, the this and that, to be reported." (Walser: All those who like to laugh while crying …, tr Susan Bernofsky) A hero named Westermann enters his Goddess of Poetry, and the composure of those sentences, the ones that describe this hero, irritates the author. "This intruder Westermann is getting on my nerves. How does he plan on reimbursing me for the attention I'm paying him, for seeing he comes out of it favourably?" God what are those characters doing? Finishing lunch and leaving. "I wish they'd stick fast to the table; then I'd be rid of them." Coleridge: "A nation, to be great, ought to be compressed in its increment by nations more civilized than itself—as Greece by Persia; and Rome by Etruria, the Italian states, and Carthage." (Table Talk.) Walser asks: who compresses a story into its increment? He keeps returning to the river that runs through the town even when it is far away from the action; his mind will wonder ah dear. One Ullman story becomes solemn around the presence of a cake. "But then, like a small, curled dragon, the lie came crawling out of the cake. It had been purchased at the last minute from the baker, and from the outside it looked just like every other bundt cake in the world. As for the astonishment it produced you would simply accept it in silence, just as she had done, but you could not simply accept the candid truth that was its real core." (Retold, tr Kurt Beals.) And Theo. Dreyer in Joan of Arc spends so much time looking at the contours of Joan's head next to the wet humps of her gleaming eyes, and it is one of the great films of world cinema say the critics: what do I make of that? Now springing out of context into my implied mouth come the eyes like "gaping well-heads" from Peake.