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The Demiurge's Laugh, Robert Frost

about science.

It was far in the sameness of the wood;
I was running with joy on the Demon's trail,
Though I knew what I hunted was no true god.
It was just as the light was beginning to fail
That I suddenly heard—all I needed to hear:
It has lasted me many and many a year.

The sound was behind me instead of before,
A sleepy sound, but mocking half,
As of one who utterly couldn't care.
The Demon arose from his wallow to laugh,
Brushing the dirt from his eye as he went;
And well I knew what the Demon meant.

I shall not forget how his laugh rang out.
I felt as a fool to have been so caught,
And checked my steps to make pretence
It was something among the leaves I sought
(Though doubtful whether he stayed to see).
Thereafter I sat me against a tree.

Design, Frost

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth --
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth --
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?--
If design govern in a thing so small.
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1. Same (convent school?) clothing in the Invocacion horn-blower and the girls of the triptych. Not found in any other Varo pictures I'm aware of, which might have led Pynchon to associate them.

2. In the one, you make the world - though you're not alone, and seem to have a curious taskmaster. The girls are a bit Deneuvian but have Remedios' face. The world is being spun, but out of the sort of gaseous potion in the hourglass apparatus. The dreamstuff is stirred by the faceless entity, who carries a book he isn't looking at. None of the girls are looking back at this, the true source of their world, except the one on the left, who glances back slyly. A revision of Plato's cave? Is the entity displaying the utter inability to care of Frost's Demiurge?

3. In the other, you're invoking something. The place seems half-cave, half-hall. What's evoked is coming out of the wall, seems to be covered with moss (?), seems to be a party of apathetic aristocratic party-goers. Apathy is a hard expression to decipher in Varo because almost everyone displays some version of it. The novice carries a golden ball or something, in addition to the horn. It's probable that she sees the wall-people - otherwise her eyes must be rolling back in her head. But they do come from behind her (reminding me, again, of "The Demiurge's Laugh" as does the moss).

4. At the end of Crying, "The men inside the auction room wore black mohair and had pale, cruel faces" (183). I haven't seen the original, but in the not so great reproduction below there are some dark regions by the moss? If Pynchon was trying to reference the painting, maybe mohair is the closest plausible garment to what Varo depicts.

5. Pynchon's image of Tristero, a dark order that may be integral to the world (or one of two or more warring orders), as compared to the other possibility Oedipa faces, a universe that is a patternless chaos one attempts to knit into order, is a bunch of guys dressed in black who come out and murder you. Presumably if you dare blow the horn this happens, or if you force Tristero into sending representatives by putting up horn stamps for public sale - being murdered is one of Oedipa's possible fates at the end, hence those guys.

6. The novel's last words are its title, as is the last line of "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" by Robert Browning. There a 'childe' - knight aspirant - after long journeying suddenly comes upon the tower in a waste land where his predecessors were all killed by a giant (or by something). The last line is what his slughorn announces - that he has come to meet his fate too, whatever it is.

7. Bloom's most famous reading of the poem was that the predecessors, who actually mostly seem to have met their deaths disgracefully, hence not at the tower in any literal sense, are predecessor poets. Pretty much the Romantics, who many of Browning's other poems allude to sympathetically - Wordsworth in "The Lost Leader," Byron in a couple, Keats in that "murex" one, Shelley virtually everywhere but esp. "Pauline" and "Cenciaja" - and double esp. "Memorabilia." Browning is showing up where the Romantics failed, and presumably to fail with them though we don't actually see that happen. For Bloom this failure is one of complete individuation from the poetic past - the failure to become Milton or Shakespeare rather than their annotator.

8. Pynchon's making Browning's never-seen giant into a bunch of obscured assassins could be read as assimilating the giant and precursors into one entity. His famous eclecticism in his early books, tackling all of history and politics and music and art and literature at once, could be read Bloomiously as anxiety: a great talent greatly alarmed by how little was left for it to become not just famous but permanent, preeminent, by doing. Perhaps Pynchon's choice was between chaos and orders woven by others - a world seeable only through the visions of those others, never purely his own. The very substance of that world is theirs.

9. This doesn't cancel any of the meaning of the other problem, basically that of Frost's "Design" - our sucky life either has no intention behind it or a vile one, some mad or evil God (though here nature is not indicted, just society - so not a God, a conspiracy), and neither unhappy possibility is quite preferable. Artists know we don't care about their influence dramas, so they find ways to assimilate their own issues to broader ones.

10. Also doesn't cancel out Pynchon's later self-diagnosis, in the "Slow Learner" intro, that he wasn't ready for politics yet - not yet awake, like those around him, to the possibilities of change and of becoming part of that change.

11. The combination of the horn issue with the mails is where "Bartleby" comes in, as the representative of the other possibility, where you call the world and it never answers, either because you're too small to catch its eye or it has no eye at all. Hence the horn on the mailbox, which also seems to be a trashcan at one point. The possibility of dead letters. The irony of the "Bartleby" story is that the NARRATOR is the one Bartleby wants to listen to him. The narrator dodges his responsibility. Was it ironic of Pynchon to miss that, or did he not miss it? The night walk scene may be despairing or it may be a judgment, one aiming at productivity. It's easy to be hard on your past self, but in my limited experience almost every idea you have in later adulthood you had earlier, in some embryonic form.

I'd have to reread it to go into any more detail.
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Crying of Lot 49, pp. 20-22 in Perennial edition:

As things developed, she was to have all manner of revelations. Hardly about Pierce Inverarity, or herself; but about what remained yet had somehow, before this, stayed away. There had hung the sense of buffering, insulation, she had noticed the absence of an intensity, as if watching a movie, just perceptibly out of focus, that the projectionist refused to fix. And she had also gently conned herself into the curious, Rapunzel-like role of a pensive girl somehow, magically, prisoner among the pines and salt fogs of Kinneret, looking for somebody to say hey, let down your hair. When it turned out to be Pierce she'd happily pulled out the pins and curlers and down it tumbled in its whispering, dainty avalanche, only when Pierce had got maybe halfway up, her lovely hair turned, through some sinister sorcery, into a great unanchored wig, and down he fell, on his ass. But dauntless, perhaps using one of his many credit cards for a shim, he'd slipped the lock on her tower door and come up the conchlike stairs, which, had true guile come more naturally to him, he'd have done to begin with. But all that had then gone on between them had really never escaped the confinement of that tower. In Mexico City they somehow wandered into an exhibition of paintings by the beautiful Spanish exile Remedios Varo: in the central painting of a triptych were a number of frail girls with heart-shaped faces, huge eyes, spun-gold hair, prisoners in the top room of a circular tower, embroidering a kind of tapestry which spilled out the slit windows and into a void, seeking hopelessly to fill the void: for all the other buildings and creatures, all the waves, ships and forests of the earth were contained in this tapestry, and the tapestry was the world.

Oedipa, perverse, had stood in front of the painting and cried. No one had noticed; she wore dark green bubble shades. For a moment she'd wondered if the seal around her sockets were tight enough to allow the tears simply to go on and fill up the entire lens space and never dry. She could carry the sadness of the moment with her that way forever, see the world refracted through those tears, those specific tears, as if indices as yet unfound varied in important ways from cry to cry. She had looked down at her feet and known, then, because of a painting, that what she stood on had only been woven together a couple thousand miles away in her own tower, was only by accident known as Mexico, and so Pierce had taken her away from nothing, there'd been no escape. What did she so desire to escape from? Such a captive maiden, having plenty of time to think, soon realizes that her tower, its height and architecture, are like her ego only incidental: that what really keeps her where she is is magic, anonymous and malignant, visited on her from outside and for no reason at all. Having no apparatus except gut fear and female cunning to examine this formless magic, to understand how it works, how to measure its field strength, count its lines of force, she may fall back on superstition, or take up a useful hobby like embroidery, or go mad, or marry a disk jockey. If the tower is everywhere and the knight of deliverance no proof against its magic, what else?
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This is "Invocacion" by Remedios Varo.

In my opinion, Pynchon consciously assimilated this to the conclusion of "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" - and, maybe later, added in the end of "Bartleby" - and that became the kernel of Crying of Lot 49.
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In my many musings on literary folks' argument over Shelley I totally forgot this response to him:

The Lost Follower, Robert Frost

As I have known them passionate and fine
The gold for which they leave the golden line
Of lyric is a golden light divine,
Never the gold of darkness from a mine.

The spirit plays us strange religious pranks
To whatsoever god we owe the thanks.
No one has ever failed the poet ranks
To link a chain of money-metal banks.

The loss to song, the danger of defection
Is always in the opposite direction.
Some turn in sheer, in Shelleyan dejection
To try if one more popular election

Will give us by short cut the final stage
That poetry with all its golden rage
For beauty on the illuminated page
Has failed to bring I mean the Golden Age.

And if this may not be (and nothing's sure),
At least to live ungolden with the poor,
Enduring what the ungolden must endure.
This has been poetry's great anti-lure.

The muse mourns one who went to his retreat
Long since in some abysmal city street,
The bride who shared the crust he broke to eat
As grave as he about the world's defeat.

With such it has proved dangerous as friend
Even in a playful moment to contend
That the millennium to which you bend
In longing is not at a progress-end

By grace of state-manipulated pelf,
Or politics of Ghibelline or Guelph,
But right beside you book-like on a shelf,
Or even better god-like in yourself.

He trusts my love too well to deign reply.
But there is in the sadness of his eye,
Something about a kingdom in the sky
(As yet unbrought to earth) he means to try.

Rather, a response to Browning's "The Lost Leader"--itself an anxious moderation of Shelley's "To Wordsworth"--but clearly starring Shelley, at least as example. Interesting how Stevens, who writes against utopianism even more unfortunately, because less sympathetically, than the amused Frost, defends Shelley from this kind of charge in the long poem (and frequently anti-Marxist rant) "Owl's Clover"--and this passage from a letter explaining it:

The astral and Shelleyan lights are not going to alter the structure of nature. Apples will always be apples, and whoever is a ploughman hereafter will be what the ploughman has always been. For all that, the astral and Shelleyan will have transformed the world.
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A thing I just noticed about R. Browning's "Memorabilia":

Ah, did you once see Shelley plain,
   And did he stop and speak to you?
And did you speak to him again?
   How strange it seems, and new!

But you were living before that,
   And you are living after,
And the memory I started at--
   My starting moves your laughter!

I crossed a moor, with a name of its own
   And a certain use in the world no doubt,
Yet a hand's-breadth of it shines alone
   'Mid the blank miles round about:

For there I picked up on the heather
   And there I put inside my breast
A moulted feather, an eagle-feather--
   Well, I forget the rest.

--is that "How strange it seems, and new!" is so verbally close to "Strange point and new!" in Paradise Lost Book V. Satan is mocking the fact that God's Son, a newcomer, is being retroactively credited by God's party (including Abdiel, who Satan's addressing) with creating Heaven and the angels. This he rejects, along with the whole notion that the angels were created--after all, none of them remember the process:

That we were formed then say'st thou? and the work
Of secondary hands, by task transferred
From Father to his Son? Strange point and new!
Doctrine which we would know whence learnt: who saw
When this creation was? Remember'st thou
Thy making, while the Maker gave thee being?

Might easily be a coincidental choice of adjectives. I can't really think of another case where they're paired in verse, though--strange strongly implies new, new weakly implies strange, so you usually just use one. The significance of the link, if link it be, is Bloomian, as this Satanic speech goes on:

We know no time when we were not as now;
Know none before us, self-begot, self-raised
By our own quick'ning power, when fatal course
Had circled his full orb, the birth mature
Of this our native heav'n, ethereal sons.

For Bloom, this passage, and the first line most acutely, is the motto of any ambitious modern poet, since the need to have originated the crucial elements in one's own art is apparently absolutely necessary if one is to devote one's life to that art. This purposeful forgetting of Satan's, in order to deny an excessive debt, may have struck Browning as rather like his own need to "forget the rest" of what Shelley had meant to him and done for him, past the symbolic reduction of the feather, relic of an awesome but irrelevant-because-other order. 

(The "but you were living before that" stuff resonates weirdly with the Milton passage, too, from this perspective.)

I'm led further (after thinking of that hawk-shooting poem by Warren) to wonder about Milton's strange-and-new, and his earlier fresh-and-new pairing in the last line of "Lycidas." Could the famous dirge from The Tempest (quoted by Hunt on Shelley's tombstone) have fed that diction?

Full fathom five thy father lies
Of his bones are corals made
Those are pearls that were his eyes
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell
Hark now I hear them
Ding-dong bell

"Rich and strange." This seems like less of a stretch when you remember that "Lycidas" is also a song of lament for a drowned man--one who undergoes a change himself, into the "genius of the shore". 

In Milton the lamentation of the nymphs is futile, whereas the saints of heaven wipe away Lycidas' tears forever: a swipe at the disquietingly pagan Shakespeare? No, that's certainly taking it too far, if the rest didn't.

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I wonder if you could even use the Browning connection to sketch out a Bloomian reading of young Pynchon's relation to tradition. The Roland finale is reread so that the fallen questers become the opponent in the climactic battle: the primal scene of dark invaders murdering a lone messenger and throwing him in a lake seems echoed in the sinister bidders and auctioneer. Too much tradition is drowning him, hence the parodies, paranoia and lunacy. And obsession with entropy...eesh. And what is the whole story but Oedipa (OH NO, her NAME) coming upon IT "and deciding it could not be come upon, and


Holy crap, the use of the title as the last line EXACTLY MATCHES BROWNING'S. (*Stupidity noise*)

First off, more proof of Bloom's omniscience. Second off, I wonder who has noticed any/all of this before, because if by some chance I'm the first this has strong potential to be a resume line (how terrible that I think in these terms now).
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Thoughts on The Crying of Lot 49:

The endings of "Bartleby" & "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" seem crucial.

Esp. the latter, in light of that obscure Varo painting Cowart showed in class, with the horn-blower & strange companions. What the hell was the name of that.
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Is "Snows of Kilimanjaro" an intentional revision of "Childe Roland"?
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"all the play, the insight, and the stretch"

Tempting to try to assign poets to Browning's Leonard and Roman and Agnolo, as with Dickinson's died-fors and Tennyson's knights. Was written within a year or so of his Shelley essay, wasn't it? And Michelangelo and Raphael are the two he's particularly concerned, M=Shakespeare, R=Shelley? But Da Vinci's the deadest, so maybe that could be Shakespeare, and Wordsworth Michelangelo. I wonder if Browning heard some rumor that Wordsworth had praised his work (though not, of course, to Shelley). Who did Browning love? The Lost Leader, Caliban Upon Setebos, Pauline & Cenciaja (first and last) explicitly testify to those three's presence in him...Keats and Byron get mentions. And Smart and Euripides, of course. Byron and Shelley and Keats maybe. Or was Tennyson the praiser? And Shelley was of course a woman with a mind; as was, some would protest, Browning. Total analogy failure? Probably for the best. And Browning played, stretched and insought all along his way.

And, of course, was not Andrea. Strange how the poem feels like nothing else Browning wrote, frequently doesn't even feel like Browning. Where are the knots and noise? The smooth and quiet make it seem confession, the speaking of a voice he never lets us hear again.

But this approaches gossip.

What did he think (--might he have thought--) he would have written? What improved infantine Iliad? What sensibler Sordello? And what is the verse like here? Nothing? Toward the end, in places, "Ulysses".


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