Thinking of Scott G.F. Bailey’s suggestion that all books should be judged by the Four Humours, I tried it out.
Choucas, 1927, by Zofia Nałkowska, tr. Ursula Phillips
This Polish humanitarian Zofia Nałkowska brings characters from different nations together in a mountain sanatorium. All dispossessed in some way. They are afflicted with illness; they are afflicted with hatred for other nationalities. The narrator wishes that the suffering of the human race would end but it will not. Her observant resignation orients Choucas towards winter and decreases sweating. The choucas-birds, acting out a representation of the crowd inside the building, increase phlegm by removing heat from the humans and displacing it into the enigma of animals. The sincerity of the author generates a consistent, light black bile, but underlying warmth (quick feeling) improves the story’s health, removing digestion problems and clearing the bowels. Concealment piques the melancholy and keeps excessive phlegm at bay. Overall a hardy book though the liver is small.
Titan, 1800 - 1803, by Jean Paul Richter, tr. Charles T. Brooks
A prince’s proud, eccentric, excessive, unfortunate, sometimes secretly malicious, plotting friends and associates show him how to be a balanced person as he observes their personal disasters, e.g., dying, going mad, whatever. The author’s temperament is natively sanguine; we assume his hair was thick ditto urine. The aim, in spite of his constant airy digressions, is still ultimately phlegmatic. Titan’s desire for sanity rejects choler, melancholy, and dryness. (Counterpoint: should the habit of punishing other characters be diagnosed as choleric impatience? Could the digressions be described as fevers? This line of enquiry is not totally convincing.) Expect a shapely stool while reading.
Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz, 2013, by Maxim Biller, tr. Anthea Bell
One of the real Bruno Schulz’s former students remembered him saying, “We [artists] can turn day into night and night into day. We may cover snow-capped mountains with luxuriant foliage. That is our, the artist’s, freedom, and such is artistic truth, which we can demonstrate through our works.” Maxim Biller’s Schulz doesn’t know anything about that. I think Biller would like his fanfic to be brunette and lithe with a fresh complexion like the stories real-Schulz wrote, but the calculations he goes through – the insertion of Schulz-facts and bits from the stories and the faithless strangulation of Schulz’s air-infused methods (the artist’s “freedom” becomes hallucination, people really are birds) – are too anabolic.
ULULU: Clown Shrapnel, 2007, by Thalia Field
Field’s tireless invocation of flexible performance (both in startling poem-text acrobatics and in the mutating characters) gives this book a healthy youthful physique, though the examples she uses (without violating them) are rooted in the first half of the last century or earlier – Frank Wedekind’s Lulu plays, 1895, 1904, Alban Berg’s opera adaptation of Lulu, 1935, Louise Brooks in the Lulu film Pandora’s Box, 1929, the modernist-beloved circus structure – suggesting an attachment to the past indicative of melancholy. Anxious activity is tempered by a refutation of repressive internalisation that, while manifesting violently, has the potential to produce sound sleep. Both the sleep and the likelihood of heavy sweating can be read as phlegmatic. The book is addressed outwards, to the audience and the same audience in implicated in the activity (ULULU: You, Lulu), placing the sociable sanguine elements in a dominant position.
The Descent of Alette, 1996, by Alice Notley
Alette’s fate is to enter a receptive state that will reward her with symbolic advice and totems while she looks forward to an event that functions as some sort of summary and as an arrow to the reader. This is an essentially pre-modern way of regarding a narrative, redolent of Romance of the Rose, Dante, etc. There is a high degree of catabolic reactiveness baked into the text by the poet who breaks down her lines into bursts of words separated by inverted commas.
“I walked into” “the forest;" “for the woods were lit” “by yellow
street lamps” “along various” “dirty pathways”
Naturally the catabolic style can be identified as choleric, these bursts of artificial presence are like flames; at the same time it is vocal and sociable, therefore sanguine. (Is it in danger of consuming too much? Also, looking back at ULULU am I in danger of diagnosing all poems as sanguine?) Both of these values coexist unproblematically with the melancholy self-questioning of Alette. Imbalance enters when we think of phlegm. Readers should consider a cool, wet climate. Eat cheese.