WORD SEARCH with Adair Jones

In search of elsewhere in literature

Posted in In search of...., Rediscovered by Adair Jones on March 13, 2014

Elsewhere in Literature

On the most superficial level, the idea of ‘elsewhere’ in literature is a vague one.  It rises up as the shadow to right here, right now.  Then, it positively looms.  It’s possible that characters in a story becomes so distracted by the here and now that the wider world remains unexperienced.  By ignoring it, the characters produce this other realm—this elsewhere—defining it as something that’s missing.  On the other hand, the wider world can impose itself with such force that it adds meaning, gravitas, depth to the present time and place, almost to the point of obscuring it. Elsewhere is what’s happening on the next block while you await a lover.  Elsewhere is arrived at in a split second through curiosity. Elsewhere is an ideal or the event you happen to witness or the life you might have led. Depending on the story, elsewhere is madness,  a longing for the past, or the world that is left behind.

.

Homer, The Odyssey, (350BC—?)

The Odyssey is an epic filled with elsewheres.  After a war that last ten years, our hero spends ten years traveling home, visiting a number of fabulous lands, each with its version of treacheries, dangers, temptations, and ironies. Odysseus skirts the land of the Sirens, who dwell on an island in a flowery meadow.  Having heard of their seductive songs, his curiosity overcomes him.  He orders his crew to fill their ears with beeswax and to chain him to the mast, so that he might hear them sing without ill effect.  He knows full well their song could lead to destruction, but his curiosity is stronger.

.

Dali

The tradition of courtly love in the chivalric age (11-15th centuries)

Courtly love is “a love at once illicit and morally elevating, passionate and disciplined, humiliating and exalting, human and transcendent”; an ideal achievable only at a huge cost, if at all.  The ‘elsewhere’ in this tradition is in the contrast—one quality evokes it’s opposite. When Petrarch courted Laura and Dante worshipped Beatrice, they were following a tradition that troubadours of earlier centuries had set in motion—one of unrequited love, sublimated passions, emotions channeled into poetry.  What existed at the end of their desire was another, unachievable world.

.

scholars do not believe this image (or any other) is authentic

Miguel de Cervantes, El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha,

Published in two volumes a decade apart (in 1605 and 1615)

Following on from the tradition of courtly love, Alonso Quixano, a retired country gentleman, has become obsessed with books of chivalry, and believes their every word to be true, despite the fact that many of the events in them are clearly impossible. Quixano eventually appears to other people to have lost his mind from little sleep, not enough food, and too much reading.

.

Herman Melville, Pierre, or The Ambiguities, 1852

The exquisite  Pierre was a critical and financial disaster for Melville, condemned universally for both its morals and its style.  Yet, the work contains some of Melville’s most concentrated and accomplished writing, and it is his most direct treatment of the literary life and the process of literary creation. His hero Pierre is torn between the world as he has always known it—the world of light—and a different world that is being revealed to him, something darker and more ambiguous.

.

Gustave Flaubert, Sentimental Education, (1869)

Frederic, the capricious main character of Sentimental Education, is infatuated with Madame Arnoux, falling in and out of love with her over years. True to character, he is also unable to decide on a profession, instead living on his uncle’s inheritance. Other characters, such as Mr Arnoux, are as capricious with business as Frederic is with love. Without their materialism and “instinctive worship of power”, the entire cast would be entirely unmoored.  While Frederic waits for Mme Arnoux on a street corner, the revolution unfolds a block away.  His fate might have been other, grander, more significant, but for this dead-end attachment.

.

ee cummings, “a clown’s smirk in the skull of a baboon” (1926)

a clown’s smirk in the skull of a baboon

(where once good lips stalked or eyes firmly stirred)

my mirror gives me, on this afternoon;

i am a shape that can but eat and turd

ere with the dirt death shall him vastly gird,

a coward waiting clumsily to cease

whom every perfect thing meanwhile doth miss;

a hand’s impression in an empty glove,

a soon forgotten tune, a house for lease.

I have never loved you dear as now i love…

.

Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, 1927

Brother Juniper, a devout Friar, witnesses the tragic collapse of the bridge and sets about to reconstruct the lives of those who perished.  He works for six years on his book about the tragedy, trying various mathematical formulae to measure spiritual traits of the victims, with no results. A council pronounces his work heresy, and the book and Brother Juniper are burned in the town square.  The novel ends with this observation: “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

.

Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky, 1949

Port and Kit Moresby, a married couple from New York travel to the North African desert accompanied by their friend Tunner. Initially, the journey is  an attempt by the Moresbys to resolve their marital difficulties, though this is quickly made more complicated by the travelers’ ignorance of the dangers that surround them. The three Americans, drifting through post-war North Africa, soon encounter the limits of human existence in the form of a land and a people utterly alien to them.

.

William Golding, Lord of the Flies, 1954

The ‘Lord of the Flies’ is a physical manifestation of the evil that resides within a group of boys, shipwrecked and far from civilization. The story attempts to trace the defects of human nature without society as a controlling force. The boys regress to a state of superstition, greed, and brutality.

.

Milan Kundera, Life is Elsewhere, 1973

Milan Kundera originally intended to call this novel, The Lyrical Age. He believed that the lyrical age in a life is youth, and Life is Elsewhere is an epic of adolescence—an ironic story that tenderly erodes the sacrosanct values of childhood, motherhood, revolution, and even art. The ridiculous, touching, totally innocent Jaromil is, at the same time, a true poet.

In search of monsters in literature

Posted in Musings..., Rediscovered, Wanderings by Adair Jones on February 6, 2011

In search of monsters in literature

The monsters that appear on this list are significant to Western culture, influencing our childhood nightmares, standing in for social ills and sexual anxieties, representing the wayward creative process, and lending to our understanding of the dark side of human nature.  Through the human process of splitting off what we fear and projecting it onto something in the outside world, we are momentarily relieved.  However, once unleashed, the monster is no longer easily suppressed, takes on a life of its own, becomes uncontrollable and, therefore, all the  more powerful.

 

The Chimera

The Illiad, Homer, 8th century BC

Homer describes the chimera as “a thing of immortal make, not human, lion-fronted and snake behind, a goat in the middle, and snorting out the breath of the terrible flame of bright fire”.  Over centuries, it has come to mean “any vain, foolish, or incongruous fancy, or creature of the imagination”.

.

 

Medusa

Metamorphoses, Ovid, 1st century

…She was very lovely once, the hope of many
An envoius suitor, and of all her beauties
Her hair was most beautiful–at least I heard so
From one who claimed he had seen her.  One day Neptune
Found her and raped her, in Minerva’s temple,
And the goddess turned away, and hid her eyes
Behind her shield, and, punishing the outrage
As it deserved, she changed her hair to serpents,
And even now, to frighten evildoers,
She carries on her breastplate metal vipers
To serve as awful warning of her vengeance.
(Rolfe Humphries translation, Book 4, 792-803)

.

 

Seven-headed beast

Book of Revelation of St John the Divine, around 95 AD

1. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. (Revelation 12:3)

2. And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion; and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority. (Revelation 13:1, 2)

3. So he carried me away in the spirit unto the Wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. (Revelation 17:3)

What any of this might mean has been subject to centuries of wild speculation and made to serve political, religious and ideological purposes.

.


 

Grendel

Beowulf, author unknown, early 8th century

Grendel spends his time terrorizing the people of Denmark, devouring thirty or more men at a time, until a Swedish hero named Beowulf take it upon himself to test his strength against him.  In the spirit of Anglo-Saxon epic poetry, Beowulf defeats the monster through cunning and ability.

All too often, when one monster is conquered, another arises to take its place. Grendel’s more fearsome mother arrives for revenge.  Beowulf fights and, after a protracted battle in a swamp, kills her too.

.

 

Iago

Othello, William Shakespeare, 1603

Iago is no supernatural monster, but one more insidious.  He is perhaps the first literary example of what we’ve come to identify as the ‘socio-path’, in other words, the enemy among us.  Throughout the play, Iago manipulates the emotions, insecurities, and behaviours of the characters to his own purposes, bringing tragedy to all.

.

 

Dr Frankenstein’s creation

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley, 1818

Inspired by a dream, Mary Shelley’s story has come to represent the dangers of scientific ambition and intellectual hubris.  But it’s impossible to read Shelley’s story without acknowledging her early experience of pregnancy and stillbirth.  In a diary entry for March 19, 1915, the 17-year old Shelley records the loss of her first baby, a little girl: “Dream that my little baby came to life again, that it had only been cold, and that we rubbed it before the fire, and it lived. Awake and find no baby.” An experience not far from Victor Frankenstein’s expressed desire: “I thought, that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in process of time renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption.”

.

 

Bertha Antoinette Mason

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte, 1847

While many see Jane Eyre as a Victorian rags to riches tale, it’s actually something much more psychologically rich. Charlotte Bronte works through her ambivalence about the roles forced on women in mid-nineteenth century England. There is the experience of Bertha Antoinette, the madwoman in the attic, who is officially married to the Byronic hero, Mr Rochester.  She is demonised for her Creole origins, her sensuality, her other-ness.  On the surface of the story, Bertha is the novel’s monster; but when considered more deeply, it is her loss of  name, family, culture, and country that sets the course for her madness.  It is Mr Rochester who has taken this identity away from her—the exact thing he hopes to do to poor, plain, sensible Jane Eyre.  She resists where Bertha has succumbed.

When Rochester rushes into his flaming house to save Bertha, who has set the fire, it is his first act of authentic heroism, something that transforms him from ‘Byronic hero’ to actual hero.  He is injured, partially blinded, made disfigured—the inner monster appearing now on the exterior.  In death, Bertha is freed at last from her role as monster.  And Jane is now free to return to Thornfield in such a way as to retain her identity and independence and to marry Rochester as an equal partner.

.

 

Mr Hyde

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson, 1886

Mr Hyde is another type of interior monster.  While Mr Rochester is a kind of social construct—the preeminent male, the spoiled son, the Byronic hero as celebrated in novels—Mr Hyde reflects the war between good and evil each of us must wage within our own hearts. Are we to  be just and honorable, possessed of integrity?  Or are we to succumb to baser instincts?

The good Dr Jekyll develops an antidote to protect from his evil side, but it gradually loses its power to quell the monster within.  In one final moment of sanity, the good Dr Jekyll commits suicide.


 

Dracula

Dracula, Bram Stoker, 1897

With all the recent fascination with vampires, much has been made of  the connection with vampires and anxiety about sex. While today’s watered-down representations of vampires focus on resistance, abstinence, and control of animal instincts, not to mention the deep-seated paternalism shown towards females, Stoker’s novel exhibits a more universal anxiety about sex.

The hero Jonathon Harker is simultaneously terrified by and stricken with desire for three vampire women who try to suck his blood and hold him captive.  At the same time, Dracula bites and ritually penetrates Harker’s fiancee’s friend Lucy, turning her from a pure, Vicorian lady into a creature of ‘voluptuous wantonness’.

.

 

Big Brother

1984, George Orwell,  1949

Written in the middle of the most violent century on record and at the onset of the Cold War, 1984 warns of totalitarian governments, invisible systems of control, and the intrusion of technology in everyday life.

.


 

The Beast, Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies, William Golding, 1954

A group of  boys are shipwrecked on an island believed to be inhabited by a ‘beast’. They leave this beast a pig’s head as an offering, which soon swarms with flies. Around this time, one of the group finds a dead parachutist hanging from a tree. The pig’s head and the dead parachutist conflate in the minds of the increasingly superstitious boys.  A primal dance leads to the murder of the one boy who recognises that ‘the beast’ is actually their own creation, fear made external.

.

 

Bob McCorkle

My Life as a Fake, Peter Carey, 2003

In a parallel to the Ern Malley affair, the second-rate poet, Christopher Chubb, in frustration at continuous rejections, creates the character of Bob McCorkle, complete with a birth certificate and a portrait cobbled together from other photographs.  He also fabricates a long poem, ‘ The Darkening Ecliptic’, a mosaic of  bits of prose and verse.  He sends it off to David Weiss the editor of a poetry magazine Personae. There is a furore over the poem’s ‘brilliance’, but because of some of the material, Weiss is put on trial for obscenity. As the trial progresses, it’s interrupted by a man claiming to be the real Bob McCorkle. Knowing the character of Bob McCorkle is a fiction, Chubb assumes this man is a lunatic who has assumed the McCorkle persona for some unknown, and probably insane, reason.

This new Bob McCorkle is the equivalent of the Frankenstein monster, wreaking revenge on society once he’s unleashed. He becomes Chubb’s tormentor, seeking to flesh out the remainder of his reality at Chubb’s expense. As his creator, McCorkle feels that Chubb must provide everything necessary for his existence and even steals facets of Chubb’s life from him.

.

In search of elsewhere in literature

Posted in Musings..., Rediscovered by Adair Jones on October 24, 2010

Elsewhere in Literature

On the most superficial level, the idea of ‘elsewhere’ in literature is a vague one.  It rises up as the shadow to right here, right now.  Then, it positively looms.  It’s possible that characters in a story becomes so distracted by the here and now that the wider world remains unexperienced.  By ignoring it, the characters produce this other realm—this elsewhere—defining it as something that’s missing.  On the other hand, the wider world can impose itself with such force that it adds meaning, gravitas, depth to the present time and place, almost to the point of obscuring it. Elsewhere is what’s happening on the next block while you await a lover.  Elsewhere is arrived at in a split second through curiosity. Elsewhere is an ideal or the event you happen to witness or the life you might have led. Depending on the story, elsewhere is madness,  a longing for the past, or the world that is left behind.

.

Homer, The Odyssey, (350BC—?)

The Odyssey is an epic filled with elsewheres.  After a war that last ten years, our hero spends ten years traveling home, visiting a number of fabulous lands, each with its version of treacheries, dangers, temptations, and ironies. Odysseus skirts the land of the Sirens, who dwell on an island in a flowery meadow.  Having heard of their seductive songs, his curiosity overcomes him.  He orders his crew to fill their ears with beeswax and to chain him to the mast, so that he might hear them sing without ill effect.  He knows full well their song could lead to destruction, but his curiosity is stronger.

.

Dali

The tradition of courtly love in the chivalric age (11-15th centuries)

Courtly love is “a love at once illicit and morally elevating, passionate and disciplined, humiliating and exalting, human and transcendent”; an ideal achievable only at a huge cost, if at all.  The ‘elsewhere’ in this tradition is in the contrast—one quality evokes it’s opposite. When Petrarch courted Laura and Dante worshipped Beatrice, they were following a tradition that troubadours of earlier centuries had set in motion—one of unrequited love, sublimated passions, emotions channeled into poetry.  What existed at the end of their desire was another, unachievable world.

.

scholars do not believe this image (or any other) is authentic

Miguel de Cervantes, El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha,

Published in two volumes a decade apart (in 1605 and 1615)

Following on from the tradition of courtly love, Alonso Quixano, a retired country gentleman, has become obsessed with books of chivalry, and believes their every word to be true, despite the fact that many of the events in them are clearly impossible. Quixano eventually appears to other people to have lost his mind from little sleep, not enough food, and too much reading.

.

Herman Melville, Pierre, or The Ambiguities, 1852

The exquisite  Pierre was a critical and financial disaster for Melville, condemned universally for both its morals and its style.  Yet, the work contains some of Melville’s most concentrated and accomplished writing, and it is his most direct treatment of the literary life and the process of literary creation. His hero Pierre is torn between the world as he has always known it—the world of light—and a different world that is being revealed to him, something darker and more ambiguous.

.

Gustave Flaubert, Sentimental Education, (1869)

Frederic, the capricious main character of Sentimental Education, is infatuated with Madame Arnoux, falling in and out of love with her over years. True to character, he is also unable to decide on a profession, instead living on his uncle’s inheritance. Other characters, such as Mr Arnoux, are as capricious with business as Frederic is with love. Without their materialism and “instinctive worship of power”, the entire cast would be entirely unmoored.  While Frederic waits for Mme Arnoux on a street corner, the revolution unfolds a block away.  His fate might have been other, grander, more significant, but for this dead-end attachment.

.

 

ee cummings, “a clown’s smirk in the skull of a baboon” (1926)

 

a clown’s smirk in the skull of a baboon

(where once good lips stalked or eyes firmly stirred)

my mirror gives me, on this afternoon;

i am a shape that can but eat and turd

ere with the dirt death shall him vastly gird,

a coward waiting clumsily to cease

whom every perfect thing meanwhile doth miss;

a hand’s impression in an empty glove,

a soon forgotten tune, a house for lease.

I have never loved you dear as now i love…

.

Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, 1927

Brother Juniper, a devout Friar, witnesses the tragic collapse of the bridge and sets about to reconstruct the lives of those who perished.  He works for six years on his book about the tragedy, trying various mathematical formulae to measure spiritual traits of the victims, with no results. A council pronounces his work heresy, and the book and Brother Juniper are burned in the town square.  The novel ends with this observation: “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

.

Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky, 1949

Port and Kit Moresby, a married couple from New York travel to the North African desert accompanied by their friend Tunner. Initially, the journey is  an attempt by the Moresbys to resolve their marital difficulties, though this is quickly made more complicated by the travelers’ ignorance of the dangers that surround them. The three Americans, drifting through post-war North Africa, soon encounter the limits of human existence in the form of a land and a people utterly alien to them.

.

William Golding, Lord of the Flies, 1954

The ‘Lord of the Flies’ is a physical manifestation of the evil that resides within a group of boys, shipwrecked and far from civilization. The story attempts to trace the defects of human nature without society as a controlling force. The boys regress to a state of superstition, greed, and brutality.

.

Milan Kundera, Life is Elsewhere, 1973

Milan Kundera originally intended to call this novel, The Lyrical Age. He believed that the lyrical age in a life is youth, and Life is Elsewhere is an epic of adolescence—an ironic story that tenderly erodes the sacrosanct values of childhood, motherhood, revolution, and even art. The ridiculous, touching, totally innocent Jaromil is, at the same time, a true poet.

.