Nodding yeses anent the particulars
collars a few victuals, collard
greens in a vinegary heap,
a blimp’d-up snout-color’d
sausage, makes a low cant
meal of wordy attrition unmouthable.
Say it with flowers, is
what René Daumal suggest’d, imbibing
ether in the form of
carbon tetrachloride, the lepidopterist’s killing
solution, attempting to see beyond.
Isn’t that what the lingo
itself’s for? A brash cantilevering
out into the nay-saying
void unending of a hungry
new world without torpor or
mimic? So that if one
makes a bold consumptive termagant
to snatch a periwig off
a gent, there’s no particular
anent to yes to, no?
In ornery-proper reverie I
reproach my parasitic lollard life
of making things up where
there’s none: all tenets of
use and necessity fiasco’d like
a shatter’d flask, the writer’s
parity with the usurer. Bacon:
“Places where men urine commonly,
have some smell of violets.”
Two things. (One is so “took” by one’s own fiasco that one is inseparably stuck to it, or admiringly, and, hence, unprepared.) Lazing through Lyn Hejinian’s remarks to Manuel Brito (in The Language of Inquiry), how Proust’s “astonishing style is a representation of the tension between momentum and lingering that a mind, wanting to be conscious it’s alive, experiences.” A lovely pairing, though putting the brainbox on high alert like that results, too, in circular inanities (dumb ditties about a bear and a mountain, say, or spastic grass, alas jingoes), no? And if one attempts to ambuscade the mind’s unsightly doings by suddenly “turning” one’s “attention” to it: one finds nothing, only the undertow and wake of the turning itself, a bit of ruffled foolishness and wide-eyed “hey, where’d everybody go?” If “we” invent’d sentences to resemble the mind’s minding activity: they are nothing like it, and likely cannot be. I’d forgotten, though, how Hejinian points to a phrase of Proust as source of “the opening pre-text of My Life (“A pause, a rose, something on paper”). Some “description of an approach to Combray, which the narrator sees emerging from the distance, bit by bit suffused with what he knows: the plain, the spire, a radiance anticipating the color of the streets.” (Interject and obsess in impatience. Looking for a badly-recall’d aphoristical utterance of Nietzsche that any mental picture of “plain with spire” instills. I finally locate two, that I persist in collocating:
In parting.—Not how one soul comes close to another but how it moves away shows me their kinship and how much they belong together.End of interject.) What Hejinian says: “Proust’s style of accretion, of accumulation, meditation, and release (release into consciousness and as such into the book) was and is inspiring to me.” And one senses a nearly mechanical pleasure (“machine made of words”) in assembling and fitting, the mind hovering nearby in half-abeyance, half-torpor, ready to alight. And (because Hejinian is stretching out, doing the very manœuvres she is so percipiently discussing)—she appends:
When taking leave is needed.—From what you would know and measure, you must take leave, at least for a time. Only after having left town, you see how high its towers rise above the houses.
By the way, Proust’s early literary work (maybe even his first) was a translation of John Ruskin’s The Bible of Amiens, and it was under the influence of Ruskin’s prose style that Proust developed his own. Ruskin’s prose is the result and complex reflection of an obsession with particulars and the ramifications of particulars. This was not solely a Victorian interest in things but an epistemological one, and from it he developed his radical (and some would say eccentric) social politics, one that coincide at many points with Marx’s. The prose style that we find in Ruskin and subsequently in Proust is sometimes taken as a sign of privilege; this is a serious misunderstanding.(A terrific density to Hejinian’s thinking here, likely to spin me off-course—as if I hold to a course. Turning to Stein, she notes how Stein’s “phenomenology,” a “rejection of memory as a medium for perception,” vitally contradicts Proust’s working through what he calls “the vast structure of recollection”) But that “sign of privilege”—so readily (and unconvincingly) dismiss’d by Hejinian, that rather stalls one. After all, Stein, Ruskin, Proust, (would one add Hejinian?)—hardly hoi polloi. How not identify the writing with the privilege? In Thomas Stearns Eliot, the little 1931 study Beckett’s pal Thomas McGreevy wrote, he points (wonderfully) to Eliot’s general sourness as result of the burdensome excesses of “gentility”:
One need not be a vulgarian to find something to write gratefully about. Dante did, and Shakespeare and Ronsard and Keats. Mr. Eliot scarcely ever does.Even whilst being a congenital sourpuss, I find that rather refreshing, and instructive. “Say it with flowers,” indeed.
It would be wrong, however, to accuse him of living wilfully in sadness. He is not like Cocteau, who after writing Thomas l’Imposteur, the prettiest trifle that the Great War produced, turns out drawings that are merely indifferent echoes of the authentic macabre that that very great artist Pablo Picasso is sometimes driven by his genius to produce. . . . In the same way Mr. Joyce who, in Ulysses, showed himself as a master of the macabre can be gay on ‘a happy-go-gusty ides of April morning,’ and with an Anna Livia Plurabelle who is like a nymph on a sunlit mountain, and in a thousand other lovelinesses. If we have got to live through a woeful world, at least we ought to be grateful for the odd shelters from the woefulness that we come upon, and be willing to hang up our crutches for the time being. Mr. Eliot’s gaiety so far has been rather perverse, a scoring off of life. But I think we may put it down to the over-long youthfulness that is imposed on educated Americans by New England gentility.