Wednesday, January 20, 2016

forth from that interminable cactus-forest

I’ve already mentioned, in the comments, the sensation of looking at the video for David Bowie’s Blackstar, and imagining that I saw the words "jewelled skull" in front of me on the page of a story by Clark Ashton Smith, and then the word "inlaid" came into my head, and "rubies," so that I was imagining the phrase, "a jewelled skull inlaid with rubies," though the skull in the video was not inlaid with rubies. It was wearing the rubies in a gold headdress. But "a skull wearing a headdress inlaid with rubies" was not what I wanted, it was, "a jewelled skull inlaid with rubies," that was the phrase that described to me this skull in the video that was not however, inlaid with those rubies. The fact that it was not inlaid with rubies was immaterial in some fundamental way and the phrase, "skull inlaid with rubies" described faithfully the skull wearing the headdress. Straight away I wanted Ashton Smith to be associated with this jewelled skull although I couldn’t remember any skull in his stories that was inlaid with jewels. There was "the crown that was set with sapphires and orange rubies" that is worn by "the monstrous mummy of some ancient king still crowned with untarnished gold" in The Abominations of Yondo, 1960, but I could not see any relationship between the golden crown of that mummy and the headdress, which might also have represented a crown, on the forehead of the skeleton in the Blackstar video.

Later you see the rest of the skeleton, robbed of its skull and denuded of the spacesuit it was wearing in earlier shots, fly through the air towards an eclipsed sun or black hole, where, you guess, it will lose itself forever, which became poignant, as everybody noticed, two days after the album was released, when Bowie was declared dead, and the nature of his body, its position, and the position of the animating factor, achieved a more perplexing degree of complexity than anyone had seen in it before. Alive in the video he plays more than one role: a man with bandaged eyes, a man in black holding up a biblical-looking book with a black star-shape on the front cover, and a craggy-faced individual grinning and clasping his fingers in a shadowy room. I will say now that I am not a Bowie fan, nor am I an unfan. I had heard several of his songs on the radio more than once and in addition to that I had seen him as the Goblin King in Labyrinth, therefore I knew who he was when people pointed out that he was dead; or say that I knew who he had been. The summary of the Yondo story on Wikipedia tells you that it is about "a man who has been released from being tortured by the priests of the lion-headed god Ong, and who tries to make his way to safety through the desert of Yondo, but is so perturbed by the horrors he encounters that he flees back to the realm of the torturers." I wanted to say that this description puts the order of revelation backwards, that you do not find out he is fleeing "those dreadful magicians and mysteriarchs who serve the lion-headed Ong" until the final paragraph, but now that I read it again I see that I am wrong. They are present in the first sentence of paragraph two. "It was noon of a vernal day when I came forth from that interminable cactus-forest in which the Inquisitors of Ong had left me, and saw at my feet the gray beginnings of Yondo."

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

ramble safe and unregarded

Henry Fielding ends Chapter III in book XVII of The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, 1749, by saying that he "can no longer bear to be absent from Sophia" but he begins the next chapter by writing two paragraphs of preamble, or two hundred and fifty-five words in which her name is not mentioned. He has said that he cannot bear to be absent from her, and by saying that -- in that moment -- he is not absent from her: she is on the book's mind all of a sudden, and she will remain there throughout his conversation. If she was absent from him then where was she? She was nowhere but he was not writing about her. Now he is writing "the bleating Ewe in Herds and Flocks, may ramble safe and unregarded through the Pastures," but the reader has been asked to understand that in writing those words he is writing repeatedly, "Sophia is coming, Sophia is here."

When he says he "can no longer bear" to be apart from her, is the reader right to say that the personage of the author is feeling genuinely upset or should they believe that this is a calm device to make the discussion of the ewes seem more carefully aimed, and to make them feel the discomfort that the personage in fact does not feel? They might as well understand both at once: he would like to see Sophia's name written down but he is also the predator that he writes about who chases the "plump Doe;" he is somewhat glad to be thinking but not saying, and he is happy to know that you are waiting and wondering: he is happy overall as he imagines the sensation in the mind of you, the reader, "some tender Maid, whose Grandmother is yet unborn" who will "under the fictitious Name of Sophia [read] the real Worth which once existed in my Charlotte," his wife, who had died five years earlier. Book XIII, Chapter I.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

they’re not such strangers

Why does Marguerite Duras in Blue Eyes, Black Hair, 1987 (tr. Barbara Bray), tell you so often that a character weeps: "He weeps" on page 46, "He weeps," on page 35, "He's weeping," on page 14, "She weeps," on page 111, "She's weeping," on page 92, "They weep as they would make love," on page 86, "They begin to weep," on page 85, "She weeps, she smiles at him," on page 69, "But no, she goes on weeping beside him," on page 10, "He asks if he was weeping," on page 71, "Her look is that of someone distraught and unconsciously weeping. So is his," on page 30 ("It strikes him they are alike"), so on, so on, not for the sake of realism or empathy but for pattern, perhaps, variations, a musical effect, the “rhythmical fullness” that Tadié assumed in Proust -- rhythmical tension in Duras, Duras in a relationship with the later twentieth-century minimalist composers, one string plucked, pause, same string plucked in a slightly different setting on every third page or so of this hundred-and-seventeen-page book. The slightness of the difference is significant, in Blue Eyes, against the straitness of the actions and the surroundings, the theatre of rigidity in which the characters would not have to be so stiff if the alertness of their sensitivity was not paralysing them inside a ritual (and the sadist author even makes them costume themselves first, outlining the couple's eyes with "traces of blue kohl" and making the man arrange his room) until the compressed emotions are pressing on the back of the story with a diseased pressure, radiating outward from the morbidly hopeful persistence with which the two people continue to despair against the constricting blanket, a persistence that the author, in the form of the story, cruelly forces into them, like someone stuffing a goose for pâté.

I know that books are written and read by the brain, not the stomach, because that drama-word, "weep," has been picked for its relationship with emotional brain-reactions and not the equivalent kinds of upheaval that would pertain to the tum, to wit, burping, farting, both releasing actions, just like weeping, though the sensitivity they require is intestinal rather than mental, honestly, they're exactly the same if you take away the bias. Why should it be sad when you cry and funny when you fart? Because the brain thinks the stomach's sensitivity is silly.

But that bigot brain wants me to sympathise with it, so I won't, I'll go to war with brains.

He has shut his eyes in order to die. She looks at him. She farts. p. 82

For a long while she is silent, farting. p. 68

Every time she stops speaking, she farts. p. 109

When they woke once more they both were farting, eyes turned to the wall, in shame p.110.

He stands there, watching. Farting. p. 111

And then she kisses him and he farts. When you look at him intently, he farts. And she farts to see him. p. 38.

She says they’re not such strangers, now he’s spoken of the farting. She lies down. p. 86

Friday, January 1, 2016

this world being made so

There's Nothing like the Sun

There's nothing like the sun as the year dies,
Kind as it can be, this world being made so,
To stones and men and beasts and birds and flies,
To all things that it touches except snow,
Whether on mountain side or street of town.
The south wall warms me: November has begun,
Yet never shone the sun as fair as now
While the sweet last-left damsons from the bough
With spangles of the morning's storm drop down
Because the starling shakes it, whistling what
Once swallows sang. But I have not forgot
That there is nothing, too, like March's sun,
Like April's, or July's, or June's, or May's,
Or January's, or February's, great days:
And August, September, October, and December
Have equal days, all different from November.
No day of any month but I have said—
Or, if I could live long enough, should say—
"There's nothing like the sun that shines to-day"
There's nothing like the sun till we are dead.

Poems, 1917, by Edward Thomas

This whole area at the edge of the city, with the concentrated din of traffic coming from all directions, struck him as a place one could live in, comparable to the region on the fringe of dreams, where he would gladly have dwelt forever. He would have liked to live in one of the scattered cottages with a back garden merging directly with the meadow, or over there above the warehouse where the yellow light of a desk lamp had just come on. Pencils, a table, a chair. Freshness and strength emanated from edges, as in an everlasting age of pioneering.

The Afternoon of a Writer, 1987, by Peter Handke, tr. Ralph Manheim