Wednesday, June 25, 2014

to impoison and drive to madness

Another thing had struck Sylvanus as curiously heart-piercing in this House of Ghosts, and that was the way Sex itself, the great life-urge of the world, fell away and dwindled and receded. It sank, this thing, from occupying the first place in human life to occupying the ninth or the tenth. Its results were here only too clearly ; but its living manifestations seemed minimized, sterilized, paralyzed. Anyone who has been in Bedlam will bear witness how forlornly correct Sylvanus' observation was. As a matter of fact it is curious how the illusion should ever have got about that mad people are often happy and cheerful, and merry and gay! As a matter of fact upon an insane asylum lies exactly the same kind of sick, inert, bewildered, unearthly sorrowfulness that Homer depicts as the prevailing condition of those faint spirits, who in the realm of Hades "no longer behold the sweet sun". Yes, the sadness, the dispiritedness, the inert hopelessness that is the dominant atmosphere of such a place is almost identical with that twilight kingdom where only the drinking of blood enables a mother to know her own son ! And it would seem that just as with the loss of their bodies "the noble nations of the dead" feel no longer the urge of amorous desire, so in the atmosphere of Hell's Museum considerations of excrement played a larger part than those of the heart. That terrible and startling indifference to personal appearance, to the state of one's dress for instance, that is such a noticeable characteristic of these societies of the damned is a fearful and significant hint as to how the implacable Goddess of Desire, when by her ravages she has reduced her victims to this condition, leaves them in contempt, and glides away, to impoison and drive to madness other, fairer, fresher, younger, less plague-spotted souls!
Last night I finished Weymouth Sands. Very clearly, as I closed the book, I thought Well, that was all right. It's a mad book, full of mad people who believe in a mad, violent, somehow sentient world wherein we are all driven to torture one another--the world itself torturing us, too--all for a drop of solace (which is one of the metaphors in the book, where dogs are tortured and sleep deprived so that their poor bodies will produce a hormone that acts as a sleep aid to humans, o ye gods of irony). John Cowper Powys, the author of this mad world, himself believes in this active, aware universe where emotions and thoughts and even the shadows of emotions and thoughts are like forces of nature, like wavelets that combine and grow into tsunamis, that wash over and through other people and places and things. It's all connected, all violently and sexually connected in a maelstrom of desire and deceit and ignorance. So much ignorance, so much lying to ourselves and others, and as Pykk pointed out, Powys finds this exciting and titillating. It's a mad universe in Powys, not a place I'd want to live but it was interesting to visit, to see how--sometime recently there was a conversation about this on this very blog--the landscape, the setting, becomes an actor, a character in the story, a voice and a doer-of-things. Yes, that was all right. I'll visit Powys-world again, I think.

For now, I'm in Iris Murdoch's mad and deceitful world of The Sea, The Sea. The landscape is described in detail, hard and cynical detail even when the narrator claims to admire what he sees. Charles Arrowby is going to be a pushy sort of narrator, telling his reader what to think. John Cowper Powys is a pushy narrator, elbowing his way into center stage past his characters and sets, telling us what to think, lecturing the reader. You can see how Powys made all of his characters into versions of himself or versions of the archetypes in which he believed. There were no real people in Weymouth Sands, not even--I think--the intrusive author. A good book, though. A violent dream of desire and the unsureness of selfhood.

1 comment:

  1. I look forward to what you have to say about Murdoch.
    Now, forgive the self-promotion, but here is news . . . FYI . . .
    http://beyondeastrod.blogspot.com/2014/06/rt-returns-to-work-at-beyond-eastrod.html

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