Friday, December 30, 2016

furious attempts, by drum and trumpets

We are a handsome couple – pleasant to be with – because we are courteous and polite toward one another.

(Thérèse Kuoh-Moukoury, Essential Encounters, 1969, tr. Cheryl Toman)

Afterwards he told me that his situation internally was always this: it seemed to him as if on some distant road he heard a dull tramping sound, and that he knew it, by a misgiving, to be the sound of some man, or party of men, continually advancing slowly, continually threatening or continually accusing him; that all the various artifices which he practised for cheating himself into comfort or beguiling his sad forebodings, were, in fact, but like so many furious attempts, by drum and trumpets, or even by artillery, to drown the distant noise of his enemies; that, every now and then, mere curiosity or rather breathless anxiety, caused him to hush the artificial din, and to put himself into the attitude of listening again; when, again and again, and so he was sure it would still be, he caught the sullen and accursed sound, trampling and the voices of men, or whatever it were, still steadily advancing, though still perhaps at a great distance.

(Thomas de Quincey, Society of the Lakes: Charles Lloyd, from The Collected Writing of Thomas de Quincey, Vol. II, 1896, ed. David Masson)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

to show you where a particular place is

She was glad in autumn 1952 to hire a deaf housekeeper to whom she didn't need to talk, because out of the silence emerged some fine new paintings, inspired by her New Mexico life. She painted the head and horns of the handsome, half-tame antelope that was shot after it had tragically gored the Packs' governess to death.

(Laurie Lisle, Portrait of an Artist: a Biography of Georgia O'Keeffe, 1980)

this fundamental organization so evident that to show you where a particular place is, an apartment in a building, for example, they don't use your position at the moment as a reference point, but the constants of the landscape identical to the cardinal points, those absolute landmarks which even the walls of a room can't hide; and that, consequently, they will say to you, Take your first left, then turn right, but, Take the first street to the east, then turn north, go up the stairs, and it's the south door; that at the table one will even speak of a chair that is to the west of another chair.

(Michel Butor, The Spirit of Mediterranean Places, 1958, tr. Lydia Davis)

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

one who gave appearance

For Moreau was treasured above all by men of letters. To them he was one who gave appearance to their convictions and a recognisable décor to their world, a world dominated by anxiety, mistrust, and premonition.

(Anita Brookner, Incantations to Inertia, from Soundings, 1997. "Moreau" is the painter.)

I love the figure of the emperor in Hans Christian Anderson's The Emperor's New Clothes. I am convinced that he knew he was naked and he just wanted to stun the population.

(Terayama Shuji, Anderusun no 'hadaka no osama' wa sugoi nikutaibi data, quoted in the introduction to his short story collection, The Crimson Thread of Abandon, tr. Elizabeth L. Armstrong)

Monday, December 26, 2016

curious Dialogues

True culture operates by exaltation and force, while the European ideal of art attempts to cast the mind into an attitude distant from force but addicted to exaltation.

(Antonin Artaud, The Theater and its Double, 1938, tr. Mary Caroline Richards)

In short, from Morning till Night, they did nothing but quarrel; and there passed many curious Dialogues between them, which I shall not here repeat, for, as I hope to be read by the polite World, I would avoid every thing of which they can have no idea.

(Sarah Fielding, The Adventures of David Simple, 1744)

Sunday, December 25, 2016

accompanied by the images of sites

Proustian persons never let themselves be evoked without their being accompanied by the images of sites that they have successively occupied. Sites, moreover, that are not necessarily only those where they have really appeared. For to the series of real places where the hero remembers to have seen them there is added the image of the places where – even before they were encountered in flesh and bone – the hero dreamed of seeing them.

(Georges Poulet, Proustian Space, tr. Elliott Coleman, from Modern Critical Interpretations: Remembrance of Things Past, 1987, ed. Harold Bloom)

The eager look – on Landscapes
as if they just repressed
Some Secret – that was pushing
Like Chariots – in the Vest

(Emily Dickinson, The Tint I cannot take – is best, from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, ed. Thomas H. Johnson)

Saturday, December 24, 2016

smiling at the dead ashes of their fires

Little by little the mass of half-dead humanity became so dense, so deaf, so torpid – or perhaps it should be said so happy – that Marshal Victor, their heroic defender against twenty thousand Russians under Wittgenstein, was actually compelled to cut his way by force through this forest of men, so as to cross the Beresina with the five thousand heroes whom he was lending to the Emperor. The miserable creatures preferred to be trampled and crushed to death rather than stir from their places, and died without a sound, smiling at the dead ashes of their fires, forgetful of France.

(Honoré de Balzac, Farewell, 1830, tr Ellen Marriage)

In the mean-time, however, he fitted up a room in a cottage near the new building, and by degrees made little improvements in the cottage till it is become so comfortable that though the large house is finished, he has no wish to remove, and seems, indeed, to have no motive, as the Cottage is large enough to accommodate himself and his mother and sister and two or three friends, and as they are all pleased with the snugness and comfort of their present modest dwelling – indeed, he often regrets that he built the larger house …

(Dorothy Wordsworth, Letters of Dorothy Wordsworth: a Selection, 1985, ed. Alan G. Hill; from a letter to Lady Beaumont sent on Thursday, December 28th, 1809)

Friday, December 23, 2016

not enjoyed but consumed

Apprehension such as these frightened her into forbearance: but in teaching her prudence they did not endow her with contentment. Her hours lingered in depression and uncertainty; her time was not enjoyed but consumed; her faculties were not enjoyed but wasted.

(Frances Burney, The Wanderer, 1814)

I sing Lely
Who burnt no tower
But brought the sea-bed
Into flower.

(Raymond Garlick, Note on the Iliad, from Anglo-Welsh Poetry 1480 – 1980, ed. Raymond Garlick and Roland Mathias)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

an underworld composed

the powdered bone man brayed his beasts into eventually
became Goofy and Mickey and Donald, clotted eidola
flittering about their cages in newspapers, books and films,
empowered with the wrath of a sanitized underworld
set loose with the power-lines of media,
an underworld composed of all the hydras, manticores, gorgons
lamias, basilisks and dragons, and it is from this perspective
that the shadow of every duck is shaped like Donald
and that Donald has the power to leave the duck
as hagfish are said to leave their lairs at dusk
to all night long bore into the souls of children.

(Clayton Eschelman, The Tomb of Donald Duck, from The Name Encanyoned River: Selected Poems 1960-1985, 1986.)

And likewise I myself again, just the day before yesterday, after the knife blade snapped back and almost severed my index finger, revealing all the layers of flesh down to the bone, while I held the hand under the stream of water, waiting for blood, methodically brushed my teeth with the other hand.

(Peter Handke, My Year in No-Man's Bay, 1994, tr Krishna Winston)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

he had, much against his Will, appeared

Mr Hervey, not yet recovered from his Surprize, stood some Moments considering the strange Scene he had been Witness to; and in which he had, much against his Will, appeared the principal Character.

(Ann Lennox, The Female Quixote, 1752)

Privacy is a sort of 'self-ownership' that society inherently and to a greater or lesser degree threatens.

(Jennifer A Wager, Privacy and Anonymity in Evelina, from Modern Critical Interpretations: Evelina, 1988, ed. Harold Bloom)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

off they went together

They made no sound, no shriek, no Whoo!
- off on a long-forgotten journey.
- The adventure's miniature and ancient:
collaboration thought up by a child.
But they obliged, and off they went together.
The owl's claws lock deep in the rabbit's fur,
and the owl seated
a little sideways, his mind on something else

(Elizabeth Bishop, The Owl's Journey, from Poems: Elizabeth Bishop, 2011, ed. Saskia Hamilton)

In his mind's eye he saw the events he had experienced; he saw the new deed through which his soul had suffered.

(Stefan Żeromski, The Faithful River, 1912, tr. Bill Johnston)

Monday, December 19, 2016

reloaded at the railway station like tiresome, badly packaged goods

As I did last year, I'll make these posts of paired quotations from books I've read over the past twelve months; and they won't be necessarily the best books, although some of them ... the books that tell narrative stories fairly straightforwardly will be mostly left out, I think, as will the poems needing specific indents and staggers that I don't know how to code.

If – If what, madam? and he snatched my hand, bowed his face upon it, held it there, not looking up to mine. I could then speak – If thus urged, and by SIR CHARLES GRANDISON – I did not speak my heart – I answer – Sir – I CAN – I DO:

I wanted, I thought, just then, to shrink into myself.
(Samuel Richardson, The History of Sir Charles Grandison, 1753, vol. 6, ch XXV)

Yet how grotesque it was that as we made our way to the Gnigl sportsground to compete for our athletic awards we passed hundreds of severely wounded war victims, many of them almost totally crippled, who were being reloaded at the railway station like tiresome, badly packaged goods! Our whole treatment of human beings is grotesque, and nothing is more grotesque than war and all its concomitant circumstances. Even in Salzburg there was an enormous notice over the concourse of the railway station stating that WHEELS MUST TURN FOR VICTORY. One day it fell apart and simply collapsed on the heads of the hundreds of dead underneath.

(Thomas Bernhard, Gathering Evidence: a Memoir, 1985, tr. David McLintock)

Friday, December 9, 2016

touch the flowers

As I come to the end of Fleur Jaeggy's Last Vanities, 1994, tr. Tim Parks, I want to say a quick thing about the sixth piece in the book, The Twins, which achieves something that the other stories are chasing with less success. The style itself is quick march or blast-blast-blast, inserting the next idea directly ahead of you and letting you walk into it as if the story is a path that you are condemned to follow once you are set in place. Twins is different from the work of Robert Walser, which it resembles slightly, in that Jaeggy places things impatiently, not politely, but like him she will find an idea in or around whatever she has just written – it does not have to be the point of what she has written, only a stray thought or a word. She will uphold the enough-ness of a hint.

On the first page she mentions a cemetery.

A notice warns: Do not touch the flowers. In the German-speaking regions of the Alps flowers bud and bloom in furious haste, only to wither slowly, lazily. They too seem unhappy about strangers, for they change colour at the approach of eyes from another world, as if seized by frenzy. When the hay is gathered in, all the meadow flowers are mowed down, perhaps prematurely. Having snipped off some stalks and made them at home in a glass under the glare of an electric light, a poet compared their demeanor and gesturing to the abandonment of Saint Teresa as imagined by Bernini.

After a while a pastor comes in, travelling up to the Alpine town to do something – you learn that he is going to conduct a funeral service for a St Bernard. He shouts "Pagans!" Then we have the pastor's wife and a taxidermy owl that she buys because no one in Chur will stuff her dead cat. The word "owl" seems to come from nowhere, like "St Bernard"; for she is buying a stuffed something (the author has already followed this dead cat idea to a taxidermist's, now what?) and the something needs to be identified as a kind of thing. This is not the sort of writing in which objects are not named. So some noun is necessary, an animal noun because it had to be able to die, and some animal small enough for an average-sized Swiss-German woman to carry away from the shop by herself.

There is this idea of words being compelled to occur in the middle of the strict style, but it happens rather vaguely, as if the apparent confidence of the voice is all on the surface and underneath it is not sure of what it wants, exactly: why shouldn't it still have gone on if this had not been an owl.

Jaeggy is compelled to thrust against the Teutonic nuclear family in her stories again and again, which gives her a slight Jelinek smell. The pastor's wife is the latest sufferer. Her husband is saying "Pagans!" in the direction of the Twins, but now that the wife's misery has become accessible to the author she veers onto it for a while, going through the cat, the owl, sustaining the now-familiar repressive-family theme like that. (It's disappointing that she doesn't completely forget the Twins since it would have underlined her determination.)

What is this story getting at, you ask yourself; a meaning or point of view seems present yet evasive though you have a sense of it being there strongly somewhere because the author (in translation) is so plain, as if she is laying down facts that should not be avoided. The story itself is an action that gets you into the air.

Let me add that on Saturday evening I went to see a poet. When someone in the audience asked her to describe "your inspiration" she told us that the letter in the poem she had just read had been sent to her by a friend who used one word twice, close together (as we had noticed while she was reading it aloud). As soon as she encountered that replication, she said, she felt so happy with it that she had to find a reason to show it to the rest of the world. Then she wrote the poem as if she were putting a frame around a picture, though the ostensible story it had been made to describe was the afterlife of her dead mother.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

act then existence

"I am now very much looking forward to your review," said Bill from The Australian Legend, so I'll write one. The People with the Dogs is a book about a man, Edward, who has enough money to thrive but feels unsettled. His family owns a large country property, Whitehouse, where everyone is welcomed. Edward often lives with his tenants in one of the two New York City boarding houses he inherited from his parents, but participation in communal living spaces is not enough: the book believes that he requires some sort of sharpening, a new habit of decision followed by action, "for decision is the little magic word that existence respects," said Kierkegaard (tr. Alastair Hannay) when he wrote his own 1846 review of Thomasine Christine Gyllembourg-Ehrensvärd's Two Ages. Kierkegaard is never mentioned but that sentiment is the conscience of Stead's book. And you remember this from her other work. You recall that the important event at the end of The Man Who Loved Children, 1940, is not the outcome of Louie's decision, whatever that will be, but the decision itself that shakes her loose from her family; and Jules Bertillon in House of All Nations, 1938, seduces everybody and is forgiven by everybody because of his busy willingness to jump after schemes. Bertillon's bad-souled counterpart in A Little Tea, A Little Chat, 1948, talks but is essentially static.

The feeling of Dogs is that life presses against human beings from behind and they are going to rush forward in some way. The push is multifarious rather than singular: it is not attributed to society or biology, specifically, and definitely not to a desire for financial advancement, which has been eliminated by the family's casual bohemianism and mild wealth. Moving forward in the forward movement of time is a phenomenon that you, as a creature, cannot avoid, a strangling vine grows over Whitehouse, and the love of dogs is introduced as a contrast to the love of humans, to marriage: the moment of decision. Love comes in different forms. It is not only marriage. Marriage, however, is the decision-making form that represents progress and therefore a moment of relief. "If … the individual will not act then existence cannot help. To be like that king, Agrippa, on the point of believing or of acting, is the most exhausting state imaginable if one stays in it for too long." Kierkegaard again. Edward's girlfriend Margot has been trapped for eleven years, calling him "cruel," because he cannot move out of that "exhausting state." Alongside him there are people who have tried to stay with past attitudes (the old anarchist, Philip) and people who are trying to push on but failing (Margot). Yet you see that marriage has brought other people to the same kind of life as unmarried ones; the moment of relief is not everlasting. A communal arrangement provides the anarchist's sister with tender care as well as neglect and Edward's married sister also experiences care and neglect. The period of decisiveness is the reward, not the state of marriage. Around everybody there is movement, movement, movement. The "deep peace" of Whitehouse is mentioned several times but the place itself is introduced with a riot of action; and the poverty and troubles of the countryside's farmers are brought up, and the generous family is also selfish and careless when they sneer at the delivery boy who tries to escape from their snapping dogs. As usual in this author, every setting is a situation in flux; multifarious, unstable, contradictory, built to resist singular conclusions and summaries. Much later, in 1979, when the journalist Rodney Wetherell from the ABC asked Stead if she left Australia as a young woman because it was stifling her she said no, it was because she liked the sea; when he asked her if she was a feminist she said no, she did not believe in it; and when he asked if she was a professional writer then she said no, she was not that either. When he pointed out that she had published a "long line of books which make you appear to be a professional writer" she said yes, writing was something one did because one did it, but she was not it.