Thursday, May 21, 2015

born not made

I was reading Tom’s blog when I came across the Trout from Little, Big being described as a gateway between different states of the world,* which is true, but it made me think of the moment at the end of Crowley’s Four Freedoms when a few of the characters are travelling down a road with a dog and suddenly he shows you Dorothy, Toto, and the others from the Wizard of Oz.

Inside that phrase the characters were present to me for the first time in the story (hundreds of pages long); I could see them radiating outwards in that state of transition, dimensionally lit, and undergoing a motion that was important. They had been jerked unstuck from their realistic narrative onto the same plane that the people in Little, Big occupy from the beginning of their book until the end: they were vibrating between realism and archetype.

In the last chapters of Little, the characters will move finally to the place that represents one of those two states and the suggestion is that they’ll stay there: this is the time for the book to close down, the trembling action of its being has been transformed into a new, less trembling, action, with which it chooses not to deal. With a fairy (says the book without using the word) you can say that it is one thing and also, equally truly, say that it is the opposite of that thing: they are “born not made” but also “made not born,” and so on: they are precise and imprecise – in short, the essence of a fairy, understood from the real world, is a motion.

So I began to wonder how often the noun in Crowley is superimposed into a verb, if you want to put it that way: the movement, the travel, the state of being not in one place, not in another, is made to seem three dimensional because it is named Trout or Dorothy, in contradiction, you’d think, of its smoke and mirrors presence. And yet the motion not arrested by this noun but active, in fact positively conjured by the association, made into a solid point, but a solid point that draws action into it and through it, specifically the action of travel.

* But that passage doesn't actually exist in Tom's blog: where did I see it?

Friday, May 15, 2015

sure to put off many

If ER Eddison ever did suffer the comprehension that I assigned to him two posts ago, that vitality is inhabiting the structure, then is he correct; a question that questions the word ‘inhabiting’: is the vitality inherent or is it interpreted? Interpreted. It’s too easy to find comments from people who either struggle with him* or else feel afraid that other readers won’t get him. “Most importantly, the reader must be prepared for the novel’s Elizabethan language,” says a Goodreads writer named Edward Butler. “Written in a style that is sure to put off many,” says Jesse at Speculition. “[I]t is written in sixteenth century English and requires effort to understand” -- from a writer at a website called Skulls in the Stars. What I learn from these reviews is that a person who has read Eddison will often worry that other people will not be able to imitate them. To read him is to have this fear: I am lonely.

He said he would rather be read over again by hundreds than once by thousands. With the words, “be prepared,” “requires effort,” the reviewer is recounting the danger of their own escape. They were nearly weeded out by the language but they made the required effort and got through. The trophy is this: they can write a review.

*“I kept having trouble getting into the rhythm of the forcibly archaic language,” from a Goodreads reviewer named Eero.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

a battle-cry reminding the hearers of the long story

I was reading the Giramondo reprint of Murnane’s first book, Tamarisk Row, when I entered into an impression, and “entered” is more or less what it was like, as if I had left one frame of mind completely and come into another.

(The book itself has an opinion about the nature of being placed and trying to identify the presence of a place but this is not an attempt to create that kind of link between Murnane’s ideas and mine.)

It was the kind of impression that I have had before, and the words that give it to me will only work that way once. I was part-way into this sentence on page one hundred and seventy-three. “For a few minutes he enjoys the revelation that this one name among sixteen, Hills of Idaho, which people have spoken aloud so often with no special sonority –“ & here I felt, rather than imagined, the St Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V. I had an idea that the only purpose of this speech was to explain that people who had never bothered to think about St Crispin’s Day before were, from now on, going to put it at the forefront of their intelligences every time it appeared on the calendar. At that moment, swollen with the connection, I didn’t think of any reason why they were going to be impressed by the day, only that it was going to suddenly become instantly important.

But why … and now I trust that I had detected, out of the corner of my eye, without knowing it, some words that only appeared to my conscious reading mind after I had gone on further in the sentence, down one line to the words “battle-cry” and then the word on the line after that, the word that I believe was the crucial word, “band.”

-- may in future whenever it is spoken ring out like a battle-cry reminding the hearers of the long story of how a little band of men never stopped believing that their day would come.

Now I could see the silhouettes of soldiers on a beach. For a moment I couldn’t place it, though I knew it was a film or television show of some kind. It was the advertising for an American television serial, Band of Brothers, which I had never watched. I was actually conflating it with The Pacific, which is also about American soldiers, but in The Pacific they visited Melbourne, and so I recalled it more specifically, because this was the only thing in either series that was interesting. I haven’t seen The Pacific.

The connection between the soldiers on the beach, the sight of a man on a stage reciting the St Crispin’s Day speech, and my copy of Tamarisk Row seemed genuinely mystical to me for a time, and somehow unrelated to the acts of writing or to speech or to any act that would have created the words on the page in front of me.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

hold by the material

So that was volume two. In volume three he does, Eddison, in fact, make lists of objects in the real world, but always for the sake of loveliness, loveliness, until I want to suggest that this formula itself is loveliness to him; it is the flesh of his impressions, and I think about the satisfaction that he might have felt as he wrote it out once again, and the objects moving almost bodily past his senses as he spelt their names, each instance of the lovely listing motion reinforcing every other instance by reminding him of it -- "green lawns and flower-beds and trim deep-hued hedges of clipped box and barberry and yew: long rows of mullioned windows taking the sun, whose beams seemed to have fired the very substance of the ancient brickwork to some cool-burning airy essence of gold" – the author feeling as if vitality was inhabiting the structure, which, like music, is expected to uphold the substance of its lyrics by transcending them.

I want to say that his books are elegies that refuse to be elegies, they will not give in, the author reaches the end of the story in Ouroboros and decides that there will be no end; a wish is granted, and the characters in chorus decide that they want to have it all again in a cycle and on and on forever. Which places a contextual weight on the phrase “nobody wants” in that sentence from his letter, “A very unearthly character of Zimiamvia lies in the fact that nobody wants to change it.” The society in Brave New World has that "unearthly character" too, and the same goes for 1984 – Eddison and Orwell and Huxley were publishing within a few years of one another – oh – but -- in Orwell and Huxley the disruptive force, when it comes, is heroic and singular, in Eddison it is misguided, habitual, thoughtless, wrong, bad, and en masse.

Here is a problem that he has created for himself: Eddison wants his characters to be active and free.

Yet, at the same time, static in Valhalla.

Choice, freedom; he needs them to choose freely to stay, just as the characters in Ouroboros choose their revolving fate. So! The king invites a number of people to dinner (“All the company were in holiday attire”) and asks them what they would do if they could build a new planet from nothing. The response from the first several of them is: I would have it like this one. “I, too, hold by the material condition. This world will serve. I’d be loath to hazard it by meddling with the works.”*

It’s not until one of the people at the table teases him by taking up the challenge, “and some bell of mockery chimed in her lazy accents,” that the real world is created. “Much like [Zimiamvia] but crooked.” They try it out. And Eddison can go on to say that the real world is one that the best of them (the god-monads) don’t want.

Eddison, Orwell and Huxley agree on the desirability of choice but not on the purpose of it. 

*The presence of the king complicates their assertions because it would sound like treason if they told him they wanted a change, but when the Vicar (normally a liar, and definitely plotting) says “this world fits, I ask no other,” he is telling the truth in spite of himself.