Tuesday, December 8, 2015

girls with names like stars were absorbed by the powerful current of magnetic doors

The separation of the two Joan Londons is my own invention but the separation between the words "wine flag" and a meaning in the Cantos is, I believe, the deliberate invention of Pound. The first one seems trivial to the rest of the world, but the second one has been mentioned at some other time in a work of scholarship -- maybe -- I can imagine it -- but not the Joans, and this reminds me obliquely of Colette Laure Lucienne Peignot, 1903 - 1938, who burnt almost everything she wrote because, according to her boyfriend Georges Bataille, "she had the greatest conceivable concern not to confide what seemed heartrending to her to those who cannot be moved," a diagnosis that seems to be confirmed by her own surviving prose, which was published in 1977 under the title Encrits de Laure and translated, twenty years later, into English, by Jeanine Herman. In the 'Correspondence' section of the book she tells her sister-in-law that she wants to communicate distress to her without mutilating it. It is a matter of self-respect, in her, not to reconcile herself to the fact that a writer is a person who commands a nugget of calm. The form of distress is incoherence or things-apart. Grammar will compel it together. I read her Story of a Little Girl and see coherence. "I know it well; it is not a city but an octopus. All parallel and diagonal streets converge toward a liquid, swollen center. Each tentacle of the beast has a single line of houses with two facades, one with small windowpanes, the other with heavy curtains. It is there that, from the mouth of Vérax, I heard the good news of Notre-Dame-de-Cléry, there that I saw Violette's beautiful eyes injected with the blackest ink, there finally that Justus and Bételgeuse, Vérax and La Chevelure and all the girls with names like stars were absorbed by the powerful current of magnetic doors." Liking her a lot, I think, "Maybe she is sabotaged by her own medium." In the library I open a book of essays by an American named Lewis Herbert Chrisman, 1893 - 1965, who is praising Ruskin by crushing him into a shape. "For over twenty years he was preeminently a critic of art. But he was no dilettante defender of that pictorial putrescence which is sometimes foisted upon a gullible public by depraved purveyors of vileness which they miscall art. Ruskin was the unfailing champion of the things which are honest and …" When this writer hands himself the satisfaction of two alliterations you know he is happy to realise that the words "critic of art," if he left them alone, would not tell the public what he wanted to say. If he could have put his point into the words "critic of art," without the addendum, would he have been even happier? John Ruskin, Preacher, and Other Essays, 1921.


  1. That's good, Orleans (I assume) as an octopus. I can easily imagine Paris as an octopus, a much larger octopus.

  2. She doesn't refer to it as anything more specific than "the city," but she was born in Paris and the Little Girl is autobiographical so I've been assuming that her octopus is Paris.

    Then why the "the good news of Notre-Dame-de-Cléry"? I don't know.

  3. I first thought of Paris, because the octopus is so apt. Then I stumbled over the name of the church and had to look it up and found Orleans. But Orleans looks like a sort of little Paris, so that still works. But if I write the European travel novel I have in the back of my mind, I will probably steal the "Paris is an octopus" metaphor. Maybe I'll find other metaphors for Prague, Vienna, Frankfurt, and wherever else the novel takes me. But Paris is certainly an octopus.

    Chrisman was really going in that passage you quote. "gullible public" "depraved purveyors" I'll bet he spat when he lectured, coming down hard on all those ps and ds. Ruskin used as a Punch and Judy puppet. I'm going to try to use Ruskin in the novel I'm currently writing, a bastion against self-regard. More Punch and Judy, I guess. The dead can't defend themselves, but they're beyond harm, one hopes.

  4. Balzac's Paris is my favourite. You think you're walking down a flight of stairs to the street when suddenly there's a table in front of you and you discover you're in the middle of someone's kitchen with someone off to the side roaring, "Darling there's a strange man in the butter knives again."

    Profane Laure, fretting herself ragged about purity, gets closer to Ruskin than Mr Chrisman does.