Sunday, September 9, 2012

the steady pounding of repeating

You should pay attention to repetition in people if you want to learn about them, Stein says. They reveal themselves through their repetitions; even the activity that seems surprising at first is only one item in a pattern of repetitions, and the language of Americans itself is an arrangement of very incremental repetitions, one sentence will differ only slightly from the one before, two paragraphs in succession will begin with the same sentence, a word used to denote a thing once will be used to denote that thing again; the behaviour of the book itself imitates the behaviour she believes she sees in people, and so her advice for understanding a person is also an instruction on how to read the book, like this --

Always, one having loving repeating to getting completed understanding must have in them an open feeling, a sense for all the slightest variations in repeating, must never lose themselves so in the solid steadiness of all repeating that they do not hear the slightest variation. If they get deadened by the steady pounding of repeating they will not learn from each one.

Which reminds me that I was standing on a lawn at UNLV one green evening when I looked down and saw the grass two feet away from me beating its head on the earth in a line, then the grass a little closer beat its head in a line, then closer again it was anguished again in a line, different blades each time of course but the same action and by this I learnt that the sprinklers in these grounds had silently come on; one blade bowing on its own would not have taught me that lesson but the repetition taught me.

Standing at the same place in those grounds you can see the aeroplanes flying one by one between the branches of the the trees, so low at this point in their flight that they look as if they're about to land on the street before they reach McCarren Airport, low enough that they look as if they're flying out of the windows of buildings when all they're doing is cruising behind them. After watching for a short while I decided that Southwest Airlines could be singled out as the city's most reliable aerial friend, and it was a Southwest Airlines plane that was struck by lightning when a storm hit the city two weeks ago. On that same evening I was in a room full of amateur local poets, one of them going quickly outside to move her moped, which, as she must have realised, was getting soaked, a fact that I could see through the window next to me, and which she could not have seen, sitting in the corner where she was, on a vinyl couch, but she guessed it through the sound of a million dots of water breaking against the roof above us, dot-dot-dot-dot-dot and she rose from her couch and went out. Repetition told her --

I could find evidence in any situation to fit any idea I think, pointing out one telling item or another, and this picking and selecting is one of the writerly habits that Stein tries to abandon in her book; she tries to get away from the single telling moment and recommends in its place a multiplicity of similar moments that should culminate in a conclusion. It is a replacement for that magical moment of transference from one literary eye-orb to another, the kind that is represented by phrasery like, one glance from his eyes told me all that was passing through his heart, or In his stare was the whole story (Mervyn Peake: Titus Groan) -- instead the transference needs to take place over time, with observation happening at every point during that time. Again: "If they get deadened by the steady pounding of repeating they will not learn from each one."

The word "one" is one of her repetitions and when you see it repeated twenty times in a few pages then you have been shown something about her ideas. "One" is a single person with certain habits and then there are "kinds of men and women" who have repeating patterns of their own; by noticing the repeating patterns in the ones you can fit them into a kind of men or women. Humanity is made up of these "kinds," and so, by watching the repetitions in ones and sorting them into kinds, you can understand the nature of the human race in its entirety, she tells you, a symphonic taxonomy, but --

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