Saturday, June 25, 2011
Saturday, June 18, 2011
This is from the June 23 edition of NYRB.
No sooner had the notion of the Flood regained its composure,
Than a hare paused amid the gorse and trembling bellflowers and said its prayer to the rainbow through the spider’s web.
Oh the precious stones that were hiding,—the flowers that were already peeking out.
Stalls were erected in the dirty main street, and boats were towed toward the sea, which rose in layers above as in old engravings.
Blood flowed in Bluebeard’s house,—in the slaughterhouses,—in the amphitheaters, where God’s seal turned the windows livid. Blood and milk flowed.
The beavers built. Tumblers of coffee steamed in the public houses.
In the vast, still-streaming house of windows, children in mourning looked at marvelous pictures.
A door slammed, and on the village square, the child waved his arms, understood by vanes and weathercocks everywhere, in the dazzling shower.
Madame xxx established a piano in the Alps. Mass and first communions were celebrated at the cathedral’s hundred thousand altars.
The caravans left. And the Splendide Hotel was built amid the tangled heap of ice floes and the polar night.
Since then the Moon has heard jackals cheeping in thyme deserts,—and eclogues in wooden shoes grumbling in the orchard. Then, in the budding purple forest, Eucharis told me that spring had come.
—Well up, pond,—Foam, roll on the bridge and above the woods;—black cloths and organs,—lightning and thunder,—rise and roll;—Waters and sorrows, rise and revive the Floods.
For since they subsided,—oh the precious stones shoveled under, and the full-blown flowers!—so boring! and the Queen, the Witch who lights her coals in the clay pot, will never want to tell us what she knows, and which we do not know.
Sunday, June 12, 2011
The other criticism expressed about Hollinghurst's writing is that it lacks warmth, that his characters are essentially unsympathetic, even unlikable. It's a judgment that serves to reduce the novel to a personality contest. What might be fairer to say is that Hollinghurst does not conceal the less appealing human qualities – vanity, selfishness, jealousy – and nor does he seek to delineate his characters according to their distribution. "I don't make moral judgments," he has said. "I prefer to let things reverberate with their own ironies and implications."
Sunday, June 5, 2011
When the right moment came, he jumped. As he fell, the folly of his haste occurred to him with merciless clearness, the vastness of what he had left undone.
Oh yes, the vastness of yellow wallpaper and decades of rearing narrow-eyed no-neck monsters (after the distasteful drudgery of each individual conception). Paul's experience in Manhattan has shown him that the life he wants to lead can be had only with money. What sudden epiphany has occurred to him, in mid-drop, to convince him otherwise!? Our narrator abandons her creature with less care than he buried his red carnation. It's not enough he die ... he must despair and die (R3, V, iii, 128).
The next two failings are aesthetic. Part of Cather's success in this story is presenting it as a case study, introducing the latest medicinal pathologizing of homosexuality in describing a person of Paul's "temperament". She shatters that picture-making mechanism when she jumps into his mind for the last seconds of his consciousness (she, who wasn't even sure—"perhaps"—that her subject had looked into the dark corner). This failure of course is more generally one of inconsistent authorial point-of-view, but more acute here because of her adopted "case study" narrative.
The third failing is also aesthetic and embarrassingly bald.
Then, because the picture-making mechanism was crushed, the disturbing visions flashed into black, and Paul dropped back into the immense design of things.
—"the immense design of things"? Oh Willa, give this ember burning in your tea-pot tempest a break! Where did she find that tail to pin on the donkey!? There's been no "design of things" in evidence, immense or minute, explicit or implicit, in this aborted case study. Cather has pulled out all stops and hoped to leave us on a swell.
“Paul’s Case” was originally published in Cather’s first short-story collection The Troll Garden, a few months before its appearance in McClure’s. For reasons of the merest editorial convenience a page-worth of material was omitted from the magazine. Out of respect for both her and for her character, I will read the story's end as
When the right moment came, he jumped. He felt something strike his chest, and that his body was being thrown swiftly through the air, immeasurably far and fast … and that his limbs were gently relaxed.
Friday, June 3, 2011
Yet somehow he was not afraid of anything, was absolutely calm; perhaps he had looked into the dark corner at last and knew. It was bad enough, what he saw there, but somehow not so bad as his long fear of it had been.
Now the thing in the dark corner might be anything I suppose, but I can only think of homosexuality. If no one can offer anything else, our answer to the opening question has to be, once again, in the affirmative.