Tuesday, September 27, 2016

some astonished condition of soul

...if you address any average modern English company as believing in an Eternal life, and endeavour to draw any conclusions, from this assumed belief, as to their present business, they will forthwith tell you that what you say is very beautiful, but it is not practical. If, on the contrary, you frankly address them as unbelievers in Eternal life, and try to draw any consequences from that unbelief,--they immediately hold you for an accursed person, and shake off the dust from their feet at you. And the more I thought over what I had got to say, the less I found I could say it, without some reference to this intangible or intractable part of the subject. It made all the difference, in asserting any principle of war, whether one assumed that a discharge of artillery would merely knead down a certain quantity of red clay into a level line, as in a brick field; or whether, out of every separately Christian-named portion of the ruinous heap, there went out, into the smoke and dead-fallen air of battle, some astonished condition of soul, unwillingly released.
I have been reading a collection of Ruskin's lectures on political economy (The Crown of Wild Olives) and discover that in it Ruskin covers a great deal of the ground I have been tramping through in my work-in-progress novel Nowhere But North. I find myself wondering why I am writing my novel, unknowingly paraphrasing Ruskin a hundred and twelve years or whatever after his death. Mighty Reader might point out that I'm not exactly writing my novel; I seem to have stalled at 70,000 words, unwilling to go forward.

14 comments:

  1. Interesting final line, where the long, level line of clay is reflected in the unbroken phrasing, and the more difficult emergence is highly broken.

    "There is nothing new under the sun." Nevertheless, there will never be another human being who can make your book. So please do make it.

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    1. You can really see the influence Ruskin had on Proust, those long sentences, the care used with the rhythms and flow. I love "into the smoke and dead-fallen air of battle."

      The pursuit of a pub deal is wearing me down, I must admit, but yours is a very encouraging and useful comment. Thank you.

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  2. Good on you for diving into Ruskin. He intimidates the heck out of me. Always has. He's a huge figure in European and American medievalism and its connection to literature, the arts and crafts movement, architectural history...and I just can't wrap my little monkey brain around the vastness of his thought.

    ...and yet even if you're unknowingly echoing Ruskin, what you're saying is worth saying again, in your own way.

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    1. Ruskin is fabulous. I've read The Seven Lamps of Architecture, the first couple of volumes of Modern Painters, a chunk of The Stones of Venice, random essays and bits of Praeterita and other oddments from him. He was one brainy guy, that's certain. I'm just now getting around to his social commentary (not that his writing on art and architecture isn't social commentary).

      As I said to Marly, I'm just getting exhausted. Also, the more words I write, the less value I see in them, and the less sure I am of what I'm saying. I no longer believe that I'm smart enough to really understand the claims I make through my novels, and that's a problem.

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    2. Just tell the story and let go of the claims--they'll either be there clearly anyway because an intrinsic part of the tale or else will cast a useful shadow that will tinge the story. If that makes any sense.... (Rather the way that things that are cut out of a story are still there in some way because they connect to other things that are still there.)

      And ignore the publishing for a while. It's bad for all of us, thinking about those things. Too easy to get discouraged. Lack of a black swan or lead book status at a big house (which is also a black swan) is no right measure of what you do.

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    3. Well, yes, I should know all of that. And it's too early to really worry about what the book says and how it says it, as I'm still drafting and I know that, if I manage to finish this behemoth (for me, anyway), I will change many things in the revision process.

      I've been putting a lot of effort into queries and contests this year, and paying too much attention to mainstream publishing. I'm starting to think more about publishing on my own. For now, I should just think again about writing, yes.

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    4. Jeff, if the "vastness" seems intimidating, have you tried Praeterita? Memoir and storytelling -- shouldn't be intimidating -- and longing, a sort of self-silliness, and rambunctious pride and defiance: "of my father's ancestors I know nothing, nor of my mother's more than that my maternal grandmother was the landlady of the Old King's Head in Market Street, Croydon; and I wish she were alive again, and I could paint her Simone Memmi's King's Head, for a sign."

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    5. Yes, Praeterita, good idea, especially the first part, Ruskin's childhood.

      Scott, a pro now, will want to try The Queen of the Air.

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    6. I suppose what intimidates me about Ruskin is that I'm looking at him in an attempt to understand his influence on British and American medievalism, the arts and crafts aesthetic, and trends in architecture—but what I find is part of such a full and interconnected system of thought that I wonder if I can really "know" Ruskin....especially since his thought developed over time. It's a problem I always have when I approach a big, influential author for the first time, but few others have been quite as prolific, and I'm at a stage in my life where I no longer feel I have infinite time. (Friends of mine inherited a set of his complete works—more than 30 volumes!) But perhaps I'll start with Praeterita. I appreciate the suggestion.

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    7. Would it help to know that he's also very fallible, very blind, and very silly? There's a massive, innocent stupidity in Ruskin that his subsequent reputation tends to sideline. It's his willingness to let this stupidity out -- to not protect himself -- that allows him to seem wiser, in the end, than the other people (I've tried reading some of them) that use words like "noble" and "good," as he did -- but they protect themselves; they try to look noble themselves. Ruskin talked about nobility like a man who knew he would never have it. The others assume it's in them before they start.

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  3. Something from Samuel Beckett, a man who knew a thing or two about words on pages and beyond:

    You must go on.

    I can't go on.

    You must go on.

    I'll go on. You must say words, as long as there are any - until they find me, until they say me. (Strange pain, strange sin!) You must go on. Perhaps it's done already. Perhaps they have said me already. Perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story. (That would surprise me, if it opens.)

    It will be I? It will be the silence, where I am? I don't know, I'll never know: in the silence you don't know.


    You must go on.

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    1. I don't know about that must, though. I begin to think that living morally is more important than writing moral fiction. And "Krapp's Last Tape" is a frightening portrait of an aged writer without readers. Who is Krapp talking to? Nobody but himself. What he has to say is true and beautiful, maybe, but he speaks into a vacuum. So I don't know. I can go on and keep my damn mouth shut. There would be nothing wrong in that.

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    2. I know you are not quoting "Krapp," but that play keeps entering my thoughts and I know you're familiar with it, since you performed it in college.

      Also, where is your blog? It seems to have gone missing.

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    3. Correction:
      http://theabbessofandalusia.blogspot.com/2016/10/wise-blood-autobiographical-reading-of.html

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