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.

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In Search of Marriage in Literature

Posted in In search of.... by Adair Jones on August 26, 2012

 

Searching for marriage in literature is like holding a kaleidoscope to the world—at the slightest movement the arrangement, colours, shapes, angles, relationships, and mood are altered.  In literature as in life, there are good marriages and bad, good marriages that turn bad, and marriages that on any one day one shift from blissful to hellish and back.  Compiling a list of representations of marriage in literature is a daunting task—so much is devoted to the theme.  It goes without saying that the list you compile today wouldn’t necessarily be the one you’d put together tomorrow. Here is but one view from the kaleidoscope:

 

Epithalamium (Greek and Roman times)

Among the Greeks, the epithalamium is a song in praise of bride and bridegroom, sung by boys and girls at the door of the nuptial chamber.  Among the Romans a similar custom was in vogue, but the song was sung by girls only, after the marriage guests had gone, and it contained much more of what modern attitudes would identify as obscenity.

.

Orpheus and Eurydice, 6th century BCE

While walking in tall grass at her wedding, Eurydice falls into a nest of vipers and suffers a fatal bite. Her body is discovered by Orpheus who plays such sad and mournful songs in his grief that even the gods weep. On their advice, Orpheus travels to the underworld, softens the heart of Hades with his beautiful music, and Eurydice is given permission to return with him to earth.  All Orpheus has to do is walk in front and not look back until they both reach the upper world. Even with the best of intentions and at the risk of the most severe consequences, Orpheus loses focus. Or perhaps his love is just not powerful enough. He turns to look at Eurydice and she vanishes for the second time, this time forever. (Those who know me will understand why this story resonates so deeply—from the snakebite to the backward glance to the second death.)

.

The Taming of the Shrew, William Shakespeare, 1591

I’ll attend her here,

And woo her with some spirit when she comes.

Say that she rail; why, then I’ll tell her plain

She sings as sweetly as a nightingale.

Say that she frown; I’ll say she looks as clear

As morning roses newly wash’d with dew.

Say she be mute, and will not speak a word;

Then I’ll commend her volubility,

And say she uttereth piercing eloquence.

Taming of the Shrew II.i.1013

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Middlemarch, George Eliot, 1872

Each of the central characters of this novel builds castles in the air and then attempts to live in them. Because they are idealistic, self-absorbed, or otherwise out of touch with reality, they make serious mistakes that cause  great unhappiness and eventually shatter their lofty illusions. Some characters learn from this process and others do not. The Chinese-fortune-cookie-moral of the story seems to be that those who learn not to build castles in the air generally end up happy, while those who persist are miserable.

 

The Egoist, George Meredith, 1879

Sir Willoughby Patterne, self-absorbed and arrogant, is jilted by his bride-to-be.  Determined to marry, nonetheless, he vacillates between the sentimental Laetitia Dale and the strong-willed Clara Middleton before eventually deciding upon Clara.  The thrust of the novel follows Clara’s attempts to escape from this engagement when she realises that  Sir Willoughby desires nothing more than that she serve as a mirror for him. The Egoist dramatizes the difficulty contingent upon being a woman in a society in which women’s bodies and minds are trafficked between fathers and husbands in order to cement male bonds.

.

To The Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf, 1927

Mr Ramsay is a typical Edwardian gentleman, well-educated, slightly supercilious and endowed with a strong sense of his own primacy.  When Mrs Ramsey dies, he’s adrift.  Without his wife to praise and comfort him during his crushing bouts of anxiety and customary anguish regarding the longevity of his philosophical work, he suffers. However, he still fails to acknowledge her lifelong support of his efforts.

.

Life After Marriage: Love in an Age of Divorce, A. Alvarez, 1981

Mutual assistance pacts can last a lifetime. They are not necessarily happy marriages in the accepted sense of the term—on the contrary, they are founded on hatred or contempt or distaste—but they may be the only way the partners can get through life without crumpling under the pressure of urges they will not recognise as their own, like a stunt man whose wife is frightened to cross the road: he takes the risks she secretly yearns for, while she personifies the fears he feels driven continually to conquer. The same coin, different faces.

There’s more, so much more…

.

Birthday Letters, Ted Hughes, 1998

This slim volume of poems was published only months before Hughes died.  However, his honesty is called into question in Birthday Letters for several reasons: the poems were published after the lapse of thirty five years and, when read in conjunction with Plath’s own poems, letters and diaries, differ markedly from her perspective. Questions remain: Was Plath a gifted but deeply troubled and mentally unstable woman who could not free herself from the past? Or was she the victim of Hughes’s serial infidelities and indifference?  Is Birthday Letters a celebration of marriage or a last-stab defense of Hughes’ betrayal?

.

Art and Madness: A Memoir of Lust without Reason,  Anne Roiphe, 2011

This sudden and overwhelming desire to bring coffee to the side of a writer, to wash his socks, to stare down his enemies, internal or external, seems inexplicable in the light of the following turns of history, but at the time it was adaptive, the way the leopard got his spots and the snake his nasty rattle.

Describing her life as a young woman in the 1950s, Roiphe must reduce her own ambitions to only the faintest stirrings, make herself unaware that women’s lives are on the brink of drastic change and ditch the disillusionment that her freewheeling sexual abandon eventually creates.  The standout moment? When a man refuses to sleep with her until he breaks up with the woman he’s been dating. Roiphe is so stunned by his sense of honour and integrity, something she had not previously encountered in a man, she marries him.

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Aftermath, Rachel Cusk, 2012

It may be overstating things to illustrate Cusk’s deeply sad memoir of her marriage and it’s failure with a photograph of a victim of Hiroshima.  Then again, maybe not.

.

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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.

.