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 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.

.

On Illness and Reading

Posted in Musings..., Wanderings by Adair Jones on September 29, 2010

Stricken lately with an illness that kept me in bed for several days, I had many long hours in between stretches of sleep in which to meander through my stack of bedside books.

I’d just been to New York for a precious week and, after a visit to the iconic Strand Bookstore on lower Broadway, my suitcase was lined with an extra 10 kilos, the weight of literary indulgence.  No sooner did I unpack, stacking the Strand loot next to my bed, than I rushed out to attend the Brisbane Writers Festival.   And quite naturally, every writer I encountered there fascinated, inspired, challenged.  It was impossible to resist buying their books. I ended up with another armload to add to my growing bedside tower.   And then the flu.

When you’re ill, only certain books will do.  Some books require a degree of attention impossible to summon through a fever.  Others are too lighthearted for the seriousness of the occasion. A sickbed book should be neither so short that the listless patient needs to find a second or third volume before health is returned, nor so long as to be only partially read when a full recovery is made.  Size, therefore, does matter.  In my experience, it’s best to bring several into bed and try each—whimsically or systematically—until something captivates.

This is exactly how I found myself a week ago: propped up against pillows, sharing my bed with a delicious assortment of authors.  At random, these were:

Milan Kundera’s Encounter

Harold Bloom’s How to Read and Why

Siri Hustvedt’s The Sorrows of an American

Lyndall Gordon’s TS Eliot: An Imperfect Life

Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden

Elif Batuman’s The Possessed

Diane Middlebrook’s Her Husband: Hughes and Plath—A Marriage

I had started the Hughes biography in New York, but in the flurry of my return set it aside.  I had a commissioned review to write, so in the intervening days, this took precedence.  Plus, I’d gotten through the 1960s and 1970s.  To my mind, Hughes’s most interesting years were behind him as he settled into middle age, placid domesticity, and literary stability as England’s poet laureate.  I will eventually return to this very interesting book, but there in the sickbed, I had lost interest.

Elif Batuman spoke engagingly at the Brisbane Writers Festival about Russian novels and the people who read them.  She is a serious reader with a knack for hilarious observation.  I settled in quite happily, at first, but I know little about Isaac Babel, the subject of the first chapter.  It was hard work to follow the events of his life, peppered with numerous historical figures all with unpronounceable names.  The Possessed is a book to be read sitting up at full attention, not one to snuggle up to when you might at any moment drift off into fevered sleep.

I then picked up one of the novels.  I enjoyed What I Loved and have long wanted to read another of Siri Hustvedt’s books.  But I tossed away The Sorrows of an American after the first page as not being exactly what I needed at that moment.  The narrative is told in the first person.  The “I” of the novel interfered with the “I” of my sick body.

Kundera’s book Encounter is a collection of essays on art and the artistic process.  While it’s sure to be satisfying and thought provoking, it’s just too slim for what might be several days of bed rest.  I felt the same way about Bloom’s How to Read and Why. He’s one of my favourite critics, and I fully intend to read this book, but it covers a lot of literary history in very few pages.  I felt writers and works and periods and influences might become jumbled if I read the anecdotes all at once.  Bloom is like good cognac, something to be sipped sparingly and with attention, not devoured in great gulps.

That left Morton’s The Forgotten Garden and Gordon’s life of Eliot.  I turned to Morton first as the most likely option.  I’m chagrined to say that I haven’t read any of her books, despite her wild popularity, but I have taken pleasure in her tremendous success: local girl makes good.  Who wouldn’t be delighted?  And with a new book coming out in November 2010, it was good timing.  It seemed to have just the right mix of mystery, distance, intriguing characters.  Just long enough.  Not too demanding.  Not too frivolous.  Plus, it came highly recommended.  The Forgotten Garden seemed to me to be the ideal sickbed material.

Just to be certain, though, I flipped through Gordon’s biography of Eliot.  I turned first to the two sets of photos, then glanced at the table of contents.  Gordon is one of the finest contemporary literary biographers, having completed works on Woolf, Bronte, and James.  Her chapter headings reflect her creativity as a writer.  This drew me in immediately.  Then, there were the references to the Bloomsbury group.  Although I knew they were contemporaries, I wasn’t aware that Eliot was  so much a part of their world.  I had missed the film Tom and Viv when it was in cinemas, but I was aware of it and knew Eliot’s marriage had been a troubled one.  Vivienne was a muse of sorts, but insane—right?  I was curious.  And of course, last year I read Steven Carroll’s delicious novel The Lost Life, which summons Eliot’s relationship with Emily Hale.  Many pieces, but no coherent knowledge of who Eliot was as a man.

With The Forgotten Garden on standby, I dove into Eliot’s life.  It was just the right length, kept me interested, allowed me to doze and pick up where I’d left off.  When I first gathered the pile and brought these books to bed, I considered it to be the book least likely; through my illness it was exactly the right narrative.

I’m up and about now, but my mind is filled with this other world: life in England during the first half of the 20th Century, luminous literary figures, the art of one of the finest English language poets, who also happened to be tremendously flawed.  It’s not just fragments of Eliot’s reputation I’m aware of; I now possess something of his life lived.  Illness took me there along with Lyndall Gordon, allowing the time and space to enter.