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Monthly Archives: December 2015
1) Lists, generally, are neither sexy nor fun.
2) As far as literary genre goes, I think it’d be safe to say that they are non-entities.
3) They more often serve utilitarian, rather than aesthetic purposes: shopping lists, to-do lists, lists of enemies, etc.
4) This is why it’s fun when writers do them.
5) I’m getting tired of mentioning Big J, but, he probably started it in the following from the twelfth episode of Ulysses, however much, when reading it, we may wish that he did not:
“Thither the extremely large wains bring foison of the fields, flaskets of cauliflowers, floats of spinach, pineapple chunks, Rangoon beans, strikes of tomatoes, drums of figs, drills of Swedes, spherical potatoes and tallies of iridescent kale, York and Savoy, and trays of onions, pearls of the earth, and punnets of mushrooms and custard marrows and fat vetches and bere and rape and red green yellow brown russet sweet big bitter ripe pomellated apples and chips of strawberries and sieves of gooseberries, pulpy and pelurious, and strawberries fit for princes and raspberries from their canes.”
6) On a soon-to-be related note, Anne Enright is very funny.
7) Her novels are among the few that make me laugh in public.
8) When that happens, I read back over it and figure out what it was exactly about that joke that made it work.
9) Bathos and anti-climax are probably the most effective way for a littérateuse to get the laughs in, sudden switches from high falutin’ registers to the colloquial sets up a fairly straightforward atonality, from which hilarity can often result.
10) How reductive is that?
11) Here’s an example because I can’t stand myself:
“’You know what I think,’ she said as I showed her out, ‘about you and men?’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Now fuck off Ma and leave me alone.’”
12) Yes, the vulgarity is carrying a lot of the weight in the case, but here’s another to serve what I’m building to:
“It did not agree with Stephen. He ended up calling God on the big white telephone. ‘Gawhhd!’ he said. I slept well.”
13) There is something very definitive about these.
14) Enright’s funniest lines are almost like full stops turned into sentences. Bluntness, finality, terminus, whatever you want to call it.
15) This is why her usage of lists is so fun, the deadening stopgaps of bullet points, finality, off/on, all the places that good art goes to die, are enlivened, mostly because she refuses to use lists for what they are supposedly for.
16) The Wig My Father Wore has a number of lists, which is good, because it allows me to talk about my favourite parts of What Are You Like?, which also uses lists.
17) The Wig My Father Wore is about a lot of things, but one of those things is Grace, who has an angel named Stephen show up on her doorstep, presumably to improve her life.
18) If this all sounds a bit daytime TV, it is, deliberately.
19) I think a lot of Enright’s early fiction was built on taking apparently silly premises, (The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch as a BBC bodice-ripper, or twins separated at birth, and eventually finding one another in What Are You Like?) and making them good.
20) Stephen is a bit of a hopeless case, and doesn’t really do much apart from watch daytime TV and complain about his love life, back when he did have a life in which love was a part.
21) When first making Grace’s acquaintance, he produces a list of questions to ask, which presumably a standard issue for life-coaching angels.
22) From what higher authority they are provided is not made clear.
Did my mother weep, did my father die, did the two happen around the same time and which one caused the other.
Did I leave lightbulbs burning alone, did I draw the curtains at night, did I ever put a plug in a socket just to make it feel happy.
Had I ever pissed myself in public, did I take pleasure in it.
Did I suffer from the feeling that I had left something behind on a train. Is that why I smoked, so I could check my pockets for cigarettes.
Had I ever been overheard in a private conversation. Had I ever put blood on a mirror. During the sexual act did I suffer from regret.
Did beauty disgust me.
Did Jesus Christ die for me.
Did I ever hoard parts of another person’s body, for example a lock of hair.
Had I ever seen a pregnant woman swimming on her back.”
23) As you can well imagine, this doesn’t do a whole lot to help assuage whatever sense of lostness that Stephen is supposed to be there to cure.
24) What Are You Like? is, as said above, about twins, separated at birth. While waiting for the end of the book, which brings their reunion, they spend it trying to find out who they are and get some sort of grasp on their identities.
25) Funnily enough, they both use lists for this purpose.
26) Rose’s first attempt reads as follows:
“She was twenty-one years old. (Probably)
She was studying music. (More or less)
She was a woman. (?)
She was in bed with William/Will/Bill.
She was too full of things.
She was born with a hole in her head, a hole in her life.
Everything fell into it.”
27) In case the punctuative disclaimers didn’t alert you to it already, this attempt is unsuccessful and she tries a second time:
“She started again.
She was Irish.
Her favourite colour was blue.
Her favourite colour was actually a deep yellow, but she couldn’t live with it.
She was English.
She was tidy. She was polite. She hated Margaret Thatcher.
She was a mess.
She was someone who gave things up.
She was someone who tried to give things up and failed all the time.”
28) If lists are generally dry, making one interesting could serve as a sort of a challenge for an author to set themselves, there’s a lot in both of the above examples, in the first, basic punctuation is sufficient in introducing tension.
29) In the second, it is shown how little of who we are reside in basic facts about ourselves.
The title of William Faulkner’s novel The Sound and the Fury has its origin in a somewhat obscure soliloquy given by Macbeth in William Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth. It reads:
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
In Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, the phrase comes under some pressure. ‘Sound’ and ‘fury’ are not, in Faulkner’s usage at least, abstractions of which the tale of life is full. The double-use of the definite article suggests a more particularising motivation; it is The Sound and The Fury. With this in mind, I control effed the text for uses of sound and fury, because what turned up presumably means something to somebody.
April Seventh, 1928
Sound Count: 3
Fury Count: 0
As the chapter that Benjy narrates is the first one, one could argue that The Sound of the title is the moaning noise that Benjy makes, the moaning bellow that serves as the clearest indication to those of us capable of restraining ourselves from Sparknotes or Wikipedia summaries despite how adrift they may feel in this novel, that Benjy is neurologically impaired. In a way that is, again, presumably significant, he is often unaware that he makes this sound at all, the reader is only capable of coming to the understanding that he is when putting Jason’s complaints about Benjy’s constant ‘bellering,’ next to how often other characters instruct Benjy to hush.
June Second 1910
Sound Count: 12
Fury Count: 1
The Sound, for Quentin, is almost certainly the ticking of clocks, the ringing of bells and markers of time’s passing in general. Like Benjy’s The Sound, it passes in and out of his awareness: “You can be oblivious to the sound for a long while, then in a second of ticking it can create in the mind unbroken the long diminishing parade of time you didn’t hear.”
Unfortunately for Quentin, even when this sound terminates, he gains no respite from interminable clock-ticking/bell-ringing. Even the absence of sound evokes violence and despair: “The bird whistled again, invisible, a sound meaningless and profound, inflexionless, ceasing as though cut off with the blow of a knife.”
Quentin’s The Fury appears in one of his extended degenerating mélange of voices, within which it is very difficult to situate oneself. Again, what emerges is Quentin’s overwhelming fatalism and desperation: “until someday in very disgust he risks everything on a single blind turn of a card no man ever does that under the first fury of despair or remorse or bereavement he does it only when he has realised that even the despair or remorse or bereavement is not particularly important to the dark diceman and i temporary.”
April Sixth 1928
Sound Count: 2
Fury Count: 0
Its perhaps only fitting that Jason’s The Sound, is the ‘hollow sound’ that soil makes as Quentin is being buried, its low sound’s reverberation subverting Mrs. Compson’s remark which appoints Jason her only hope, a son who is resentful enough of the opportunities that Quentin received to fleece maintenance money intended for her. Even the hollow sound fades, it re-surfaces later as ‘no sound’ from upstairs.
April Eighth 1928
Sound Count: 16
Fury Count: 1
Fury receives a rather bathetic treatment in the final chapter of the book. Jason, finding that his stolen money has been stolen in turn, holds the travelling show in town responsible and assaults the first member of it he comes across. Their struggle is awkward and ungainly, neither are triumphant: “Jason tried to grasp him in both arms, trying to prison the puny fury of him.” The anti-climax chimes with Jason’s failure to, 1) get his money back and 2) successfully carry out some sort of gesture, no matter how pointless, which might redeem the Compson’s from their over-determined misery. The Puny conclusively defuses all the potential rawness and hazard of The Fury.
What do I mean by “melancholic universalism”? Melancholic universalism is the requirement to identify with the universal that repudiates you. I can imagine this statement might not make immediate sense: surely, the universal does not repudiate anyone; surely, for the universal to be “universal” it includes everyone.
Not so sure.
I would say: the universal is a structure not an event. It is how those who are assembled are assembled. It is how an assembly becomes a universe.
The universal is the promise of inclusion that has become heavy or weighed down by the way the promise has been send out and about: to promise is to send out as I explored in my book The Promise of Happiness (2010). The promise of the universal is what conceals the very failure of the universal to be universal. In contemporary theory this paradox of the promise that conceals its own failure…
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When I went to London, it was important to me that I got to the London Review of Books bookshop. I regularly see the London Review of Books bookshop cakeshop advertised in the London Review of Books, particularly when I want cake, which, true, is most of time. I’m going to go there and get some cake when I’m in London, I always think.
When I got there, I bought a croissant, a coffee and cake (sticky toffee, I believe) all of which tasted much the same as croissant, coffee and cake available on the Emerald Isle. I then went on to fall in love with someone doing not much except sitting and reading, another thing I regularly do in other bookshop cafés closer to home. I went about deciding what book to buy and wondered where it is that Jacqueline Rose or Will Self stands when they give lectures here.
I think I spent about an hour or so doing circuits of the place, trying to figure out what book is the one that you buy when in the London Review of Books bookshop. The shelf stocking method is refreshingly idiosyncratic – rather than having the spines face outward, arranged by size, all running in strict, straight lines, with perhaps the occasional cover facing forward in order to compensate for some troublesome volume that won’t adhere, the books are arranged by genre, alphabetical order and not much else. Spine heights zigzag about the place. This is presumably done in order to simulate the kind of ramshackle, dusty, character-having second-hand bookshop display of a bygone age, which might never have existed, but is nice to think about all the same.
I saw a lot of books I wanted, but none that presented themselves as the one book that you buy when you’re in London, in the London Review of Books bookshop. Mindful of my baggage allowance on the return, I had to be choosy.
I eventually decided the fifth volume of Proust would be the one. I had the first four, Proust was sufficiently prestigious, and may even get the approval of the teller. This would do. While handing it across the till, I saw a display Anne Enright’s The Green Road, in hardback, which I didn’t think was out yet, all signed ‘by the author.’ I changed my mind mid-transaction, and the teller was moderately scandalised.
‘Are you, are you jolly well sure?’ he asked.
‘Yeah man, she’s my favourite living author, it’s signed, no-brainer.’
‘Well it is good, but it’s good in a very silly way, Proust’s world is so rich.’
So here’s the signature, I like that Enright puts a line through her printed name and wrote her own, like a riposte.
There was a brief period of great optimism among progressives in Irish cultural discourse in the early 90’s. This might seem like a digression, and it is, but bear with me. I don’t have a whole lot of first-hand evidence, my political imaginary wasn’t exactly honed back then, but there is a certain tenor struck in a number of academic publications of the time, books written on the New Voices in Irish fiction, discussing the work of the young up-and-coming writers coming to international prominence, such as Colm Tóibín, the aforementioned Enright and Roddy Doyle. I think that this optimism can be largely attributed to Mary Robinson becoming president at the end of 1990 (or an IRA ceasefire which seemed conclusive at the time), an event which, for many of these academics, (bless them), surely heralded the coming of an Irish socialist matriarchal utopia. This was before the X case, tribunals, and revelations about the Magdalene laundries and child sexual abuse within the church reminded us all how awful we really are.
Much of what these books narrate is the spaces that the new ‘Robinsonian politics’ open up and there is furthermore, much discussion of ‘the fifth province’ and preliminary murmurs of Celtic Tiger discourse. These concerns all get to the heart of The Green Road’s broader societal themes. First, both of Rosaleen’s sons, Emmet and Dan, form a part of that diaspora symbolised in the light in the window kept in Áras an Uachtaráin. For the cosmopolitan Dan and the politically informed Emmet, Old Ireland is an irrelevance and an embarrassment respectively. This comes across when Emmet inwardly apologises to his Kenyan housemate Denholm for not inviting him to Christmas dinner in Ardeevin: “I am sorry. I can not invite you home for Christmas because I am Irish and my family is mad.”
The Irish poet Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill once wrote on the rejection of the sentimentalised figure of Cathleen Ní Houlihan/Dark Rosaleen, saying that she’ll do “anything just to keep this batty old woman quiet.” Ciarán Carson translates this line through his own prism and gives it quite a bit more emphasis, if not necessarily weight:
“anything, anything at all
To get this old bitch to shut the fuck up.”
It can be hard not to envision Rosaleen Madigan’s character as existing in this continuity of writing back against the embarrassing personification of Ireland as a ghoulish old crone, keening mournful demands that the blood of young men be spilled so that she can regain her lost youth. But in The Green Road, we don’t want ‘this old bitch to shut the fuck up,’ Rosaleen gets some of the best lines and scenes in the whole novel, (followed closely by Emmet (‘Mind the Belleek!’)).
I held off on reading The Green Road for a while, despite devouring any and every review of the thing, because I was afraid that it wouldn’t be as good as The Gathering. I was anxious that the conversations The Green Road was having with other texts wouldn’t come off. Just as Rosaleen’s name harkens back to some foundational myths of modern Ireland, her plans to divide the monies acquired through the selling of some land that she owns aswell as her frequent reprimands to her offspring for their perceived ungratefulness evokes King Lear and thereby The Green Road amounts to an ambitious interfolding of Saxon and Irish mythology, or perhaps more to the point, the blending of William Shakespeare and William Butler Yeats.
One is tempted, when reading such an allegorically flirtatious text, (see also, Hood, Ulysses) to find neat little correspondences for every last detail. My favourite one as regards King Lear was Rosaleen’s daughter Constance describing an affair that she had had years ago:
“’I thought, you know, it would be like jumping off a cliff,’ she said. ‘The big leap.’
‘It was like landing in a fucking puddle. A bit of a splash, that’s all. It was like standing out in the goddamn rain.’”
This chimes with the scene in King Lear in which a disguised Edgar tricks his blind father Gloucester, into thinking that he stands at a cliff-edge, perfectly suited to bring about the death that Gloucester wishes for. Gloucester jumps off a not-very- steep verge and Edgar has to presumably change his voice in order to pretend to be someone else at the base of a cliff, amazed to have seen a man landing in front of him and survive. At a number of points in The Green Road, various members of the Madigan family think of jumping off the nearby cliffs. Hanna imagines doing so with her baby in her arms:
“they twisted slowly in the black air, drifting towards the sea, and then hitting the sea. The water was hard and the baby bounced up out of her arms and they were swamped and sank, both of them, and even that sinking was just a slower fall, as they turned and found each other, and lost each other again.”
The register here is bizarrely epiphanic, with Hanna fantasising about emancipation from her failing career as an actress, her alcoholism and her sensed duty to raise her son responsibility to raise her son, while engaging in a gesture that she seems to believe is a loving one, in some way. Rosaleen thinks similar thoughts, though as more a vindictive reproach to her children.
It’s fairly obvious that the analogues aren’t totally neat, their half-echoes and distorted resonances play in suggestive ways, depending on how long you want to stare at words on a page for. I was fairly sure Constance would be a Cordelia analogue, Lear’s only non-scheming and favourite, daughter. The name was also a bit of a hint. But Constance’s constancy is more a cause of Rosaleen’s ire; Constance’s self-sacrificing gestures just get on her nerves. The mutually assured destruction of their relationship is just one of my many, many favourite things about this novel, they truly sing like birds i’ th’ cage.
Many parts do gel rather neatly. It is during the storm scene in Lear that we begin to feel some sympathy towards Lear, the autocratic patriarch. This is, at least, what was drilled into me by my Leaving Certificate teacher. Lear studies the disguised Edgar and becomes enraptured by his feigned suffering, displaying the kind of sustained interest visible heretofore only when he engages with his flattering daughters at court. Whether it is the case that one feels sympathetic for Lear in this scene, before or after, is beside the point, I think that its analogue in The Green Road, when Rosaleen walks along the green road on Christmas Day, remembering a conversation with her husband while they were young and ‘courting,’ is certainly the first time we feel sympathetic for Rosaleen. And it is, like the storm scene, utterly unsparing and very, very raw:
“What did it mean, when the man you loved was gone? A part of his body inside your own body and his arms wrapped about you. What happened when all of that was in the earth, deep down in the cemetery clay?
Nothing happened. That is what happened.”
I read what follows in a way that I don’t remember having read anything for years, that is, my eyes moving too quickly over the words to track the significance of each one, or even what the sentences were cumulatively up to, because I was so eager to find out what happened next. I can’t remember the last time I read a book where the momentum of the plot coalesced so successfully with verbiage of the highest order of pulchritude.
Read this book.