Tuesday, October 13, 2015
one single move to disengage myself
The narrator in The Aspern Papers brings flowers to the women he is trying to game and the people in the Ullman story take flowers away from lunch. That conjunction of flowers reminded me of the ritual idea that I had been toying with, re. the Ullman story – "they approach the lunch," I had been thinking, "as if they were going to a mass" – and so the approach to Miss Tita became, also, "sacrifice and ritual," as the movement of flowers from the garden into the Venetian palazzo became, in my mind, a continuation of the motion of the flowers away from the house in the Swiss village. "By flowers I would make my way."
As I typed out "sacrifice and ritual" I was also remembering that I had decided to avoid the placement of one book next to another when I thought about them and instead talk about one book at a time which I had not d … I can find dodges for myself and is it all right (I wheedle) if I have comparisons that don't lead to conclusions; for example, after reading Sarraute's Martereau I moved to Flaubert's Sentimental Education, which was being discussed at Wuthering Expectations, and when Frédéric leant a large sum of money to another character without getting a receipt I put the book upside-down on a chair with the pages open because the narrator in Martereau had given away money like that as well; and the ending of Martereau was coming back to me, the narrator's knowledge of, and complicity with, the disgust that he is sure the other characters feel for him; from their direction it is subtly expressed but he witnesses it at the scale that the book sees: "I won't budge, I'm too afraid … one single move to disengage myself, to repel him, one single a bit too brusque move, and something atrocious, something unbearable would happen, an explosion, a frightful conflagration, our clothes torn from us, noxious, deadly emanations, all his distress, his forlornness on me" (tr. Maria Jolas). The "him," who is the character Martereau, asks the narrator to respond and move. There the book ends.
This young narrator is physically weak and sick, he can't undertake heavy professions, and so he lives with his uncle's family instead of making his way in the world, but there is not enough rest in the universe for him. There is no rest; there is no place where he can rest. Even when they are sitting and fishing he can be unsettled by one question about a knot. "Is my knot well tied? A fisherman's knot, you must have learnt it when you were a boy scout." With that, and for the millionth weary time, he is asked to consider himself, his being, his knowledge, the context it has when he puts it next to the expectations of other people, their own abilities, their accomplishments, the "tentacles" that they probe him with; and this is hell.
Martereau is Gothic without needing the mountains, banditti, or such large decorations; the scenery has adjusted itself to a river bank by a house and the imprisonment of the narrator doesn't take place in a castle, but the moods of suspicion, dread, the sublime, suffocation, etc, are shared; the medium for that dread in Sarraute is the intrusion of questions and presences; the Gothic is a genre of intrusions and presences – things coming at you – I say to myself, repeating the words – they come mysteriously at and around, they circle – you can't defend -- and there is the distress of elimination waiting for you --
Now if I finish at "putting the book down" there is no intelligent comparison between Sarraute and Flaubert. So, stop.