Sunday, October 26, 2014

you know not, you omniscient nullity



Captain, laughs the audience, we have been allowed to know who is suffering in this scene and it is not you -- thinking like that as they hear the Captain complain to the badgered, haunted Woyeck, “You keep stabbing at me with those eyes of yours.” Woyzeck has been stabbed too; the Doctor pays him to eat nothing but peas and then he assaults him with scientific attention. “It walks upright. Wears coats and pants.”

Doctor examines a cat through his magnifying glass and spots a rabbit louse. Rare new species, he says. I go back to Woolf again, whose self won't stop passing judgment. “And further, there was another prick of the pin: one was wasting one’s chance.” Once she decided in a letter, that “To a person of imagination, Land's End is as impressive as the Equator” (1st of October, 1905, writing to Violet Dickinson, in The Letters of Virginia Woolf: Volume 1, 1888 - 1912), which, if you wanted, you could connect to Ruskin in his private correspondence with himself (The Diaries of John Ruskin, Vol. 2: 1848 - 1873), writing, “that all forms are thus either indicative of lines of energy or pressure, or motion, variously impressed or resisted,” with Land's End as the form and the measuring, weighing imagination as energy, pressure, or motion.

Then I turn to Knut Hamsun, whose narrator, in Hunger, is trying to find the source of judgment; and who tries to evict it from its stronghold with his transgressions. Accusing God of hating him, he shouts --

I tell you, you have used force against me, and you know not, you omniscient nullity, that I never bend in opposition! I tell you, all my life, every cell in my body, every power of my soul, gasps to mock you -- you Gracious Monster on High. I tell you, I would, if I could, breathe it into every human soul, every flower, every leaf, every dewdrop in the garden! I tell you, I would scoff you on the day of doom, and curse the teeth out of my mouth for the sake of your Deity's boundless miserableness! I tell you from this hour I renounce all thy works and all thy pomps! I will execrate my thought if it dwell on you again, and tear out my lips if they ever utter your name!

(translated by George Egerton)

Nothing responds to the blasphemy and soon he's saying “God” casually again without shame, as if that speech had never existed. “I was, God be praised, all right in my senses as any man.” Judgment isn't always very perpetual, though in Dorothy Wordsworth's Journals it seems to be, and if she loves her brother today then she will love him again tomorrow; and the sheep will be beautiful no matter when they appear in the landscape -- next week, next month, whenever -- she seems to have a steady source of appreciation on which she naively draws; like a fictional character she seems guileless, whereas the narrator of Hunger is volatile, like a person.

(n.b., I began reading Hamsun after I saw this post at Wuthering Expectations.)


Saturday, October 18, 2014

beauty extravagantly greater than one could expect



I clicked on a link to Berfrois' reprint of Evening Over Sussex by Virginia Woolf from Death of a Moth (1942), and found her approaching a similar experience, different solution; her method is unphysical: she will push ideas outwards by writing an essay, and she does not need to touch the countryside of Sussex. Her imagination observes itself creating compartments so that it can share help between them. The self in her is not monolithic, it is social. “[I]t is well known how in circumstances like these the self splits up and one self is eager and dissatisfied and the other stern and philosophical,” she says. (This is a clearly-drawn picture in contrast to Lawrence's dusky lily-innard. Woolf looks around and witnesses democracy. Lawrence sees it too, and hates it. He hates that promising scientific clarity. No wonder his solutions are so whimsical and useless. "If the men wore scarlet trousers as I said, they wouldn't think so much of money" (Lady Chatterley's)).

Woolf:

But, I thought, there is always some sediment of irritation when the moment is as beautiful as it is now. The psychologists must explain; one looks up, one is overcome by beauty extravagantly greater than one could expect — there are now pink clouds over Battle; the fields are mottled, marbled — one’s perceptions blow out rapidly like air balls expanded by some rush of air, and then, when all seems blown to its fullest and tautest, with beauty and beauty and beauty, a pin pricks; it collapses. But what is the pin? So far as I could tell, the pin had something to do with one’s own impotency. I cannot hold this — I cannot express this — I am overcome by it — I am mastered. Somewhere in that region one’s discontent lay; and it was allied with the idea that one’s nature demands mastery over all that it receives; and mastery here meant the power to convey what one saw now over Sussex so that another person could share it. And further, there was another prick of the pin: one was wasting one’s chance; for beauty spread at one’s right hand, at one’s left; at one’s back too; it was escaping all the time; one could only offer a thimble to a torrent that could fill baths, lakes.


If her self did not prick her air balls then maybe she could continue to watch the pink clouds forever or until the sun goes down, but the brain flooded by products of the senses (“beauty and beauty and beauty” -- the best description, in her opinion, is this repetition, which I read as closer to an uttered groan or sigh than to Mrs Morel's dumb swoon) has reasserted itself in the form of a duty, “one was wasting one's chance” comes the warning; the essay itself is the cyst that has come from an “irritation.” The self is not only mastering the landscape, it is mastering her.

Or interrupting her: this thing you are doing so easily, you may not do it.

None of that answers the question, “Why an essay?' when she could have used interpretive dance or any other method. Writing is not being explained. Reading Carl Richard Mueller's translation of Georg Büchner's Complete Plays and Prose I thought of Woolf's words, “escaping all the time,” in light of the Captain's conversation in the opening scene of Woyzeck.

Captain: Not so fast, Woyzeck, not so fast! One thing at a time! You're making me dizzy. What am I to do with the ten extra minutes that you'll finish early today? [etc]

The Captain is flooded with world and he doesn't have any way out; he has not found a solution, as Woolf has done -- her mind's eyes rotating from one phrase to another as they search for an intellectual hook. So she rescues herself.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

falling of waters



There are senses in all three of them, the touching in Lawrence, the seeing for Wordsworth and the listening for the character in Jahn, Geoffrey Hill being closest to Lawrence, early Hill most directly: “There is no bloodless myth will hold,” from Genesis, and those lines about things being struck, faced, and walked on; then going on through more forces until the revealment of forces becomes one of the oeuvre's purposes. “The mountain stamped its foot | Shaking, as from a trance. And I was shut | With wads of sound into a sudden quiet” (God's Little Mountain (1959)). The biggest force has always been the one that is trying to shut him up. It appears in different disguises. “Recap on words like compassion that I | never chanced in your living presence” (In Memorium: Gillian Rose (2007)).

John Donne in his tenth sermon believes that prophets should always speak with strength, which means against some opposition. “[T]hunder, and wind, and tempests, and chariots, and roaring of Lyons, and falling of waters are the ordinary emblems of his [ie, God's] messages, and his messengers, in the Scriptures.”

Dorothy Wordsworth, though, just states everything that is most immediate: that's how she seems to proceed, and very gentle, but I never forget her glittering sheep, which I mention often.

“Do I need to touch the world if I want to experience it at the swooning level, or do I look at it instead, or hear it?” you ask, and there you go; you have various replies. The purpose or goal is that greater privacy which comes through the flesh: other people might make up thoughts for you but no one else can look for you, and no one else is swooning in the garden except Mrs Morel. Lawrence is all about a collaboration between flesh and non-flesh. Still, it looks as if it is the frustration with people outside himself that helps him to write, especially later. The Plumed Serpent is a frustrated book. Not even the violence at the end seems cathartic for him. In Sons and Lovers it is enough to have Mrs Morel putting her hand in a flower. In Serpent he wants cults, drums, and costumes, and I laughed. An artist needs to find their scale, said Richard Tuttle as he was being interviewed by Ross Simonini recently. “One can distinguish between scale and size. Usually, we are happy with the issue of size—if it's small, it's small; if it's big, it's big. But scale is a question of the individual. Each person, everyone ever born, has a unique scale. They have it like a unique fingerprint. You can decide to find your scale. The day you find it is a day you remember. It changes your life. Your parents may determine your size, but you determine your scale.” In the Serpent I think I see Lawrence mislaying whatever it is that Tuttle means by the word scale. Lawrence is scaled to a lily.


Monday, October 6, 2014

all swum together



Powys made me think of Mrs Morel from Sons and Lovers who has the Powysian infinity in her garden with the flowers stretching and the air itself shiny, as if it is solid or magical (glass is shiny, water is shiny, surfaces are shiny but where is the surface of the air?), everything, all emotional effects, physical, physical, which C.S. Lewis decided was one of the characteristics of medieval allegory: “It is as if the insensible could not knock at the door of the poetic consciousness without transforming itself into the likeness of the sensible [...] Allegory, besides being many other things, is the subjectivism of an objective age,” in The Allegory of Love: a Study in Medieval Tradition.

She became aware of something about her. With an effort she roused herself to see what it was that penetrated her consciousness. The tall white lilies were reeling in the moonlight, and the air was charged with their perfume, as with a presence. Mrs. Morel gasped slightly in fear. She touched the big, pallid flowers on their petals, then shivered. They seemed to be stretching in the moonlight. She put her hand into one white bin: the gold scarcely showed on her fingers by moonlight. She bent down to look at the binful of yellow pollen; but it only appeared dusky. Then she drank a deep draught of the scent. It almost made her dizzy.

Mrs. Morel leaned on the garden gate, looking out, and she lost herself awhile. She did not know what she thought. Except for a slight feeling of sickness, and her consciousness in the child, herself melted out like scent into the shiny, pale air. After a time the child, too, melted with her in the mixing-pot of moonlight, and she rested with the hills and lilies and houses, all swum together in a kind of swoon.

Here is the thing itself and not a euphemism; here is the lily, here, touch. Becoming “aware of something” was the smallest part, the easiest part, your consciousness is penetrated, so, now, you didn't do that: it was done to you by the atmosphere, now she feels the atmosphere with her hands. She has to make an “effort,” she has to “rouse” herself; this transcendence has a work ethic. “She touched the big, pallid flowers on their petals.” Go in, go in. “She put her hand into one white bin.” Establishing her critique, “She bent down to look at the binful of yellow pollen; but it only appeared dusky.” It's only after she has gone through this physical wrestle that she gets her savoury moment.

Then I'm looking at the passage flowerville quoted from Hans Henny Jahnn under the heading, “The Nature of the Artist,” in her essay Landscape as the Origin of Music in Hans Henny Jahnn's Shoreless River: the artist is listening and absorbing, not touching, and Dorothy Wordsworth, in her journals, doesn't have to fondle the landscape the way Mrs Morel does and still she comes away with similar sensations, she feels swoony and rapt, she sees nature shining “and she rested with the hills and lilies and houses,” but she gets there by walking across the countryside and seeing the objects in it.

After tea we went to Butterlip How and backwards and forwards there. All the young oak leaves are dry as powder. A cold south wind portending Rain. After we came in we sate in deep silence at the window -- I on a chair and William with his hand on my shoulder. We were deep in Silence and Love, a blessed hour.

(The Grasmere Journals, Wednesday 2nd June, 1802)



Monday, September 29, 2014

in which we arrive at the kind of ecstasy described by Proust



I think of John Cowper Powys and the message that he offered to any moment, glance, glimpse, or little incident. “You are massive and endless,” he promised, “you are not closed, you are not over, nothing is over,” expanding the glimpse of ordinary dung in Porius, and seizing, for example, a wall in Spain -- “I have no doubt that my turning the walls of the Seville tobacco factory into a clash of such vast immemorial ideas as those represented by Siegfried on one hand and Parsifal on the other, was one of the most deeply authentic, deeply felt and fully realized gestures of my life” (Autobiography) -- stuffing the moments; and by stuffing he is trying (if you believe him) to hint at an ecstasy there, noting it in Proust:

[T]he mood in which we arrive at the kind of ecstasy described by Proust and without which, he admits, most people go through their entire life, is not a mood connected with what we call “beauty,” nor with what we call “truth,” nor with what we call “love.” It is a mood or let me say a moment when we are made rapturously happy by what Wordsworth calls “the pleasure which there is in life itself.”

(Marcel Proust: Reviews and Estimates in English, ed. Gladys Dudley Lindner)


He will make his characters “rapturously happy” in that way -- though “happy” is the wrong word: they are beyond happiness into a place where “happy” is irrelevant, the invocation of rapture dismisses happiness -- hence the mythopoeic realism of his books, in that any instant, no matter how minute, is the hero at the end of the fairy tale, the human being, formerly misrepresented by their smallness, becoming a king or queen: the moment is momentous, it is ecstatic, it is in fact monstrous (if you think of the endlessness of it, and this piece of royalty reigning forever, getting bigger, attaching itself not only to Parsifal and Siegfried but also to everything that those two are attached to, and then furthermore, etc, seeping instantly everywhere, the whole world gassed in microseconds); it is full of words, it has bulk, it risks being ridiculous up there with its prosy fat and sceptre; and an onlooker during one of Powys' lectures in the United States described the entire performance as “vaudeville.” “Instruction or interpretation of literature was entirely subordinated to entertainment” (J.W. Abernathy, in a letter to The Dial, March 26th, 1917).

Powys, however, called it “a sort of transmigration of my soul.” “I succeeded eventually in hollowing myself out, like an elder-stalk with the sap removed, so that my whole personality, every least movement I made, and every least sound I made, and every flicker, wrinkle, and quiver of my face, became expressive of the particular subject I was interpreting,” which he sees in Proust as well. “Proust keeps up his serpentine progress through the hearts, nerves, and brains of all his people with an intensity of analysis so exquisite, so finespun, so levelling, that instead of feeling the mixture of puzzled and respectful awe we feels in the presence of Joyce and even of his alter-ego Stephen, we are prepared to argue with him in our own minds, so real have his people become to us, and expostulate with him as to his treatment of them, as if all he had done was just introduce us to them, and that formality once safely over we could take our own view of their proceedings and their fate ...”


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

utterly vanished -- how strange it was



Moments being weighted and weighed is what I see then, when I look, and why do I see them, and what am I looking for: well. The load lost: “it was his sayings one remembered; his eyes, his pocket-knife, his smile, his grumpiness and, when millions of things had utterly vanished -- how strange it was! -- a few sayings like this about cabbages” (Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway).

And then the madness of swagmen in Don Watson's book, The Bush: Travels in the Heart of Australia, the author proposing that the “jolly swagman” in Paterson's poem might have been jolly because he was not all there, mentally speaking, this schizophrenic fleeing persecution (the one down the road who screamed at me, “Police! Police!”), and yet sanity would do the same job, the security officers at one of the casinos having a man flee on them the other night when all they were going to do was trespass him, but he fled, they fled after him (and that moment's weight was felt electrically by the officer, he reported afterwards: he could feel a voice inside him telling him not to run, but instinct took over and he ran as a dog runs when you run away from it. Walk away next time! they told the man when they caught him. Walk calmly and we wouldn't have worried about you, but you ran), they felt suspicious now, they did a background check, and behold the man had warrants out for his arrest -- now in gaol. “For thy Self is the master of thyself, and thy Self is thy refuge. Train therefore thyself well, even as a merchant trains a fine horse”  (The Dhammapada, tr Juan Mascaró).

But my point was that we tend to forget the likely insanity of swagmen in spite of it being stated throughout the literature of the time, on and off, and Henry Lawson finishing his story with those words about the bush, “the nurse and tutor of eccentric minds.”

It is so unacknowledged that there is not even any denial of it.

The man in the casino was sane, and so I'm guessing was the one on Friday night who acted against a taunt by knocking one victim unconscious and beating the other one's face against the edge of a concrete box until the skin was off his forehead. I never expected to see another man's skull, remarked the security sergeant. The forehead-man was drunk when he came up with the taunt, and potentially delirious with the lightness of moments; say he felt instinctively that his moments had no consequences. “'Here shall I dwell in the season of rains, and here in winter and summer;' thus thinks the fool, but he does not think of death.”


Thursday, September 18, 2014

part of who we are



The duty, which began as a game, to post every Wednesday and Saturday, is going to stop, I think; I've convinced myself that it's possible for me to do it, and now that I'm convinced, I'll end -- but I am not ending the blog, only the schedule -- remembering Proust as he criticises Sainte-Beuve, in By Way of Sainte-Beuve, (tr. Sylvia Townsend-Warner) for putting out a column every Monday:

During ten years, everything that he would have husbanded for his friends, for himself, for a long-projected book that doubtless he never would have written, had, week after week, to be licked into shape and sent out into the world. Those stores where we keep precious thoughts, the thought round which a novel should have crystallised, the thought he would have unfolded in a poem, another whose beauty had suffused a day for him, welled up from the depth of his mind as he read the book he was to write about, and heroically, to embellish the offering, he sacrificed his dearest Isaac, his last Iphigenia.


“Especially in matters of work we are all of us to a certain extent like Mr. Casaubon in Middlemarch who devoted the whole of his life to labours which produced results that were merely trivial and absurd” (Jean Santeuil, tr (?) Gerard Hopkins); the same thought expressed by Yeats in pursuit of another thought: “The more I tried to make my art deliberately beautiful, the more did I follow the opposite of myself” (Discoveries).

Henri Bergson, “The route we pursue in time is strewn with the remains of all that we began to be, of all that we could have become” (Creative Evolution, tr. Arthur Mitchell), and it is only after I copy out those words that I remember that Bergson was one of Proust's lecturers at university, as well as his in-law, the husband of his cousin, Louise Neuberger, whose surname suggests Germanness; and it is from German that I find another perspective on those “remains.” Oh, says Jochen Poetter, your experiences are not discarding and littering, they are accumulation.

It is as with every powerful experience (caused by man or fate) that leaves on us its mark, becoming an integral part of who we are. Thus it is not surprising when the visitor only partially resurfaces from his vision of the cathedral and the pictures. Though he will quit the cathedral the following morning, a connection will remain. Perhaps he will drag this edifice around with him for the rest of his days, allowing it to attach itself to his carapace like the pyramidal projections on the back of an old spider crab; not a burden to this long-legged creature, living as he does meandering weightlessly about the ocean floor. Quite the contrary: the fixtures will be loved, they will lighten his loneliness and entertain him with ever-new stories. The polished eye stalks will watch with joy as green veils of algae settle into the empty shells, waving to and fro in the currents and stroking his prickly back.

(from The Tangential Point of a Diaphanous Presence in the book Richard Tuttle: Chaos, the/die Form tr. Mary Fran Gilbert)