Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Alice in the Forest of Forgetting

There's a gag in Through the Looking-Glass chapter 3 ('Looking Glass Insects') that I don't think anybody has really got. Alice wanders into the forest where nothing has a name:
She was rambling on in this way when she reached the wood: it looked very cool and shady. 'Well, at any rate it's a great comfort,' she said as she stepped under the trees, 'after being so hot, to get into the — into what?' she went on, rather surprised at not being able to think of the word. 'I mean to get under the — under the — under this, you know!' putting her hand on the trunk of the tree. 'What does it call itself, I wonder? I do believe it's got no name — why, to be sure it hasn't!' She stood silent for a minute, thinking: then she suddenly began again. 'Then it really hashappened, after all! And how, who am I? I will remember, if I can! I'm determined to do it!' But being determined didn't help much, and all she could say, after a great deal of puzzling, was,'L, I know it begins with L!'
Here's Hugh Haughton, in the Penguin Classics 'Centenary' edition (he is following Martin Gardner's explanation): 'L is for Liddell', which is the real Alice's surname. But this is surely not right: for when she recovers her name she does not call herself 'Liddell', but 'Alice.' No, the joke is otherwise. She is in a forest, but she cannot remember it is a forest. She meets a fawn, who cannot remember it is a fawn. When it leaves the forest it does remember ('I'm a Fawn!' it cried out in a voice of delight, 'and, dear me! you're a human child!' A sudden look of alarm came into its beautiful brown eyes').

No: 'I know it begins with L!' -- What begins with an 'l' is: lice.  The joke is that for a moment she thinks she is a lice.

Monday, 30 July 2012

British Empire Poem

Singing we are the champions, which is
(in English) "mushrooms = us".  We spring
from rottenness and the long cold wet.  This
is that 'ruled the world to flee our weather' thing.

Sunday, 29 July 2012


Today at lunch, at a restaurant, we were one table up from a Dutch family. They were talking amongst themselves in Dutch, of course; just as we were talking amongst ourselves in English. But in the middle of things my ear was suddenly convinced that one of them had said to another of them 'is there a reggae festival in your foot?' It's a phrase just close enough to comprehensible English to be distracting. Dutch in a nutshell.

Saturday, 28 July 2012


The Eagles' "Take It Easy" includes this lyric:
Well, I'm a runnin' down the road tryin' to loosen my load Got a world of trouble on my mind Lookin' for a lover who won't blow my cover, she's so hard to find Take it easy, take it easy Don't let the sound of your own wheels make you crazy Come on baby, don't say maybe
It hadn't struck me before: but 'blow my cover'? The chances that the narrator, here, is (let's say) a spy are, I suggest, small. Much more likely is the fact that he is, er, already married. 'Taking it easy' becomes code for 'conducting an extra-marital affair'. Dodgy.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Tolkien, antibanker

Another instance of the timeliness of Tolkien is the way he posited a whole tribe of bankers who have given up the ways of lending money usuriously: the Dunlendings.

Also, from that Wiki: 'One Wiki To Rule Them All'. Guys, have you read Lord of the Rings? You do know that the one ring was a bad thing, yeah?

Thursday, 26 July 2012


Bhabha (The Location of Culture, 2004) sees the procrustean malignity of colonial oppression as an iteration of fixity:
An important feature of colonial discourse is its dependence on the concept of "fixity" in the ideological construction of otherness. Fixity,as the sign of cultural/historical/racial difference in teh discourse of colonialism, is a paradoxical mode of representation: it conotes rigidity and an unchanging order as well as disorder, degeneracy and daemonic repetition [94]
Isn't this a bit have-cake-eat-it-to? Colonialism, after all, is a function of capitalist wealth-extraction, and capitalism is all about the flow: all that is solid melts into air, the metamorphosing ideological frame adapts itself to anything that makes more money. All those more recent critiques of capitalism, from Eagleton et al, that see it as not having enough fixity aren't just about Eagleton's increasing small-c conservatism. I appreciate that Bhabha wants to critique the limitations of stereotyping, but elevating 'fixity' to a kind of boss-code of imperialism seems a step too far.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Supernumerary there

'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.' From memory I had this sentence down as 'In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit' -- a version which seems to me (not to get too pedantic) as better in several ways: not just briefer but with more of a feel for the rhythmic flow of the line. It breaks into three anapests, with an unstressed final syllable. That supernumerary 'there' clogs the prosody. Ah well.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012


We have just enough science to make us doubt, but not enough to make us love one another.

Monday, 23 July 2012


Wu Ming in the gloaming, on the bonnie banks of Clyde,
Wu Ming in the gloaming with my novel by my side

Sunday, 22 July 2012


I was wondering why Dickens sends Pickwick to Ipswich (of all places) in chapter 22 of Pickwick Papers to hear of duelling and prize-fighting. As the local magistrate says:
Bless my soul, ma'am, are you aware of the activity of our local magistracy? Do you happen to have heard, ma'am, that I rushed into a prize-ring on the fourth of May last, attended by only sixty special constables; and, at the hazard of falling a sacrifice to the angry passions of an infuriated multitude, prohibited a pugilistic contest between the Middlesex Dumpling and the Suffolk Bantam? A duel in Ipswich, ma'am? I don't think—I do not think,' said the magistrate, reasoning with himself, 'that any two men can have had the hardihood to plan such a breach of the peace, in this town.'
Then I chanced upon John Glyde splendidly disapproving The Moral, Social and Religious Condition of Ipswich in the Middle of the Nineteenth-century (1850):
Bad, indeed, as the state of the population now is, we are informed, that it has so changed since the commencement of the century, that the most casual observer must admit the advance which has been made. Forty or fifty years ago, bull baiting was a favourite recreation among our inhabitants. In 1805 a bull was baited in the yard attached to the Fleece Inn, at that time kept by Richard Bedingfield. After this another was baited on the race course, on which occasion Mr. Ripshaw, the governor of the Borough Gaol, took a very active part. In the following year Mark Parsley, a well known character in Ipswich, purchased at Lavenham fair a bull for a similar purpose. This poor beast was first baited in a meadow between the river and the Royal William Inn, now used as a garden. It had afterwards to undergo another torment in a sand pit opposite the White Elm Inn; the quiet village of Kesgrave was next visited, and the bull baited in a valley opposite the Bell Inn; and finally it went to Brantham, at which place the leg of the poor infuriated animal was broken during the sport. It is evident, from the frequency of their occurrence, that the authorities took no steps to stop such brutal amusements. Cock fighting was also a very general amusement. Mains were fought, for considerable sums of money, during the race week for many successive years. Suffolk and Norfolk were frequently hacked for two guineas a side, and £25 the odd battle; Tim Micklefield being the man for Suffolk, and a Mr. Stradbolt for Norfolk. The fights lasted three days. A regular cock pit was constructed in some stables at the Cock and Pye Inn, and during the time Mr. David Evans was landlord, this place was the resort of the 'fancy' of this cast. A main was fought one year, at the Rose Inn, St. Peter's; at another, Mr. Bowman's new malting, in the Green Yard, was used for a three days' fight. The Bell Inn, "St. Mary Stoke, the Halbert Inn, St. Margaret's, and the Horse and Whiskey, in Lower Orwell Street, were also used for the same purpose. Badger baiting was occasionally practised at the Woolpack Inn; and dog fighting and pugilistic encounters were frequent . In fact , even within the last twenty years, scarcely a Saturday passed without some persons trying to settle their differences by the disgusting practice of a ' turn out' [52]
Obviously a rough-old sort of town, back then, was Ipswich.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Murderous violence

It's a mournful observation about human nature that perceptions of longevity correlate directly to violence: the less people expect to live, the more they are likely to kill.

Friday, 20 July 2012


The rich, unless they are super-rich, don't tend to think of themselves as rich. They exist in a purgatory of continually elevated expectations and an ever-expanding capacity to feel entitled. They grasp as a happiness as slippery as soap in the bath.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Still Pickwicking

Pickwick is invited to a garden party at which the much-praised, terrible poetess Mrs Leo Hunter will be the star turn.
'Mrs Leo Hunter has many of these breakfasts, Sir,' resumed the new acquaintance—'"feasts of reason," sir, "and flows of soul," as somebody who wrote a sonnet to Mrs Leo Hunter on her breakfasts, feelingly and originally observed.' [ch. 15]
'Feelingly and originally ...' The joke here is that these lines are (of course) plagiarised from Pope: ‘First Satire of the Second Book of Horace Imitated’ (1733): ‘There [Twickenham] St. John mingles with the friendly bowl;/The feast of reason and the flow of soul.’ But here's the thing: Dickens may or may not have been aware of a little-known poet called ‘Hudson’ who published a poem in 1825 containing this stanza:
There’s nothing brightens up the eye
Like drinking grateful wine.
Music’s strain is ne’er in vain,
Whilst seated round the bowl;
And we, at least, enjoy the feast
Of reason and the flow of soul. [The Universal Songster (1825), 406]
His joke about provincial poets plagiarising famous ones seems grounded in fact.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Jingle's wager

Penniless con-man Jingle wishes to accompany Pickwick into an exclusive Rochester ball, hoping to seduce an heiress.  But tickets cost half a guinea.
'We must purchase our tickets,' said Mr Tupman.

'Not worth while splitting a guinea,' said the stranger, 'toss who shall pay for both—I call; you spin—first time—woman—woman—bewitching woman,' and down came the sovereign with the dragon (called by courtesy a woman) uppermost. [Pickwick, ch. 2]
‘We call a dragon of chastity, a female who is affectedly and ferociously chary of her person, especially when such demonstration is made without any other cause than conceit or vanity’ [John Bellenden Ker, An Essay on the Archaeology of our Popular Phrases (1837) 2:201]. The joke here is that Jingle cannot lose his bet: the Victorian gold sovereign coin has a woman on both sides: the Queen’s head on the front, and St George fighting the Dragon on the obverse.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Talfourd. Dickens's dedicatee to Pickwick



If I had not enjoyed the happiness of your private friendship, I should still have dedicated this work to you, as a slight and most inadequate acknowledgment of the inestimable services you are rendering to the literature of your country, and of the lasting benefits you will confer upon the authors of this and succeeding generations, by securing to them and their descendants a permanent interest in the copyright of their works.

Many a fevered head and palsied hand will gather new vigour in the hour of sickness and distress from your excellent exertions; many a widowed mother and orphan child, who would otherwise reap nothing from the fame of departed genius but its too frequent legacy of poverty and suffering, will bear, in their altered condition, higher testimony to the value of your labours than the most lavish encomiums from lip or pen could ever afford.

Beside such tributes, any avowal of feeling from me, on the question to which you have devoted the combined advantages of your eloquence, character, and genius, would be powerless indeed. Nevertheless, in thus publicly expressing my deep and grateful sense of your efforts in behalf of English literature, and of those who devote themselves to the most precarious of all pursuits, I do but imperfect justice to my own strong feelings on the subject, if I do no service to you.

These few sentences would have comprised all I should have had to say, if I had only known you in your public character. On the score of private feeling, let me add one word more.

Accept the dedication of this book, my dear Sir, as a mark of my warmest regard and esteem as a memorial of the most gratifying friendship I have ever contracted, and of some of the pleasantest hours I have ever spent as a token of my fervent admiration of every fine quality of your head and heart as an assurance of the truth and sincerity with which I shall ever be, MY DEAR SIR,
Most faithfully and sincerely yours,
September 27, 1837.
Sir Thomas Noon Talfourd, SL (1795 –1854), was an English judge and author. ‘SL’ after his name (there) stands for ‘Serjeant at Law’, an order of barristers (attorneys who appeared in court) dating back to the fourteenth-century. They had the exclusive rights of representing clients at the Court of Common Pleas, and rights of special audience and effective precedence over other lawyers in other courts; but they were gradually replaced by ‘King’s (or Queen’s) Counsel’, and as no more were created after the Judicature Act of 1873, the order became extinct when the last Serjeant at Law, Lord Lindley, retired from the bench in 1902. In this novel, ‘Serjeant Buzfuz’ appears in chapter 34.

Talfourd had been a professional lawyer since the early 1820s and was made Serjeant in 1833, but in 1835 was elected to Parliament as MP for Reading. He introduced a Copyright Bill into the House of Commons in 1837—a cause close to Dickens’s heart, and the initial ground of their friendship, and adverted to in the first paragraph of this dedication. Despite many setbacks and opposition, obliging him to reintroduce it in 1839, 1840 and 1841 it did eventually become law, extending authorial copyright to life plus seven years. Dickens’ friendship with Talfourd grew and deepened (Forster said that Dickens ‘had no friend he was more attached to’—except, we can intuit, Forster himself) and may have used him as the prototype for Tommy Traddles in David Copperfield. Talfourd was also a writer, and his blank-verse tragedy Ion (1835) was famous enough in its own day to have given its author the nickname ‘Ion Talfourd’.

Like Pickwick, Ion opens with a sunrise, concerns innocence and the passing away of the old ways. Adrastus, wicked old king of Argos, has his heart changed by the earnest, sentimental pleas of the spotless youth, Ion. Argos, meanwhile, is suffering under a terrible plague. A prophecy from Delphi, rather jingily-jangily expressed, says: 'Argos ne'er shall find release/Till her monarch's race shall cease.' The twist (after Adrastus has been slain by an assassin) is that Ion discovers he is the king's long-lost son, a foundling, and must sacrifice himself, which he does by stabbing himself during his own coronation as the new king, after first forcing his subjects to swear that they will institute democratic reforms after he has gone, and not simply appoint another king. The plague vanishes with improbable speed (a messenger rushes onstage seconds after Ion has stabbed himself, crying 'the pestilence abates!'), Ion gets to make one last, lengthy speech before dying, and the curtain falls.  Hurrah!

Monday, 16 July 2012

Blake's Milton

It's only just occurred to me that Blake's interest in Milton (I mean, in particular, with respect to Milton) is in more than the influence of Paradise Lost on his own poetry, important though that influence clearly was.  It has to do with the geezer's name. Names are important to Blake, and they signify in resonant and complex ways.  In this case, the poem contrasts rural, idealised topoi with the 'mill town' through which the human imagination is ground-up.

Sunday, 15 July 2012


Not about the novels of C P Snow, which I have yet to read; but about an interview with him I found in an old issue of Review of English Literature (July 1962).  There's none of your Paxmanian preremptory rudenesses here!  It opens:
Sir Charles is a large man, of great presence, and a wholly natural and unforced dignity. The decisive nods of his massive head reinforce the habitual authority of his talk, which has an almost Johnsonian weight, as if everything he says has been long and deeply pondered.  Yet, though undeniably formidable, Sir Charles is not in the least forbidding. His manner is one of immense kindness and humanity; he is warm in his encouragement, generous in his praise; in conversation, though never unserious, he is always lively and often humorous.
The questions follow this same toadying manner ('Interviewer: Your work seems to me not only a very distinctive achievement but a very deliberate one...')  That's old school literary interviewing.

Saturday, 14 July 2012


Which James? The Clive kind.  A clever, funny and sometimes insightful man, who has on occasion been able to turn those skills to poetry.  But the recent talk, apparently serious, linking his name with the Oxford Professorship of Poetry puzzled me.  Here's a very early Clive James poem (1965, no less) about an air raid on a city; and here's the problem:
In the dark I hear the crockery stutter
As the raid comes over
Stiletto heels step close by 
Champagne bubbles shaken awake
Like glittering ladders
Go up and keep going through the sky. 
After a while the searchlights fall back
On the target city
And with dignity intact you move away.
The first two stanzas are very good (troping the ack-ack gunfire drifting into the night sky as champagne bubbles is almost genius); but the third is unforgiveable weak and most-lame-and-impotent-conclusion-esque.

Friday, 13 July 2012


Moloch come. Moloch stay.
Moloch never go away.
There's no thought in your great white brow
Can satiate old Moloch now.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Shakespeare's Macbeth

Macbeth is a play in which the Thane of Cawdor dies twice.  Both deaths are exemplary, but in radically different ways.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012


There's an 'ew!' in new.  We flinch from it.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Liberals and Conservatives

An article in New Scientist reports research on political affiliation by Jonathan Haidt: liberals value avoiding harm & unfairness; conservatives value loyalty, authority and sanctity more. Me, I find sanctity in avoiding harming fellow humans and rendering aid to those in trouble, and see authority and loyalty in those terms.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Anselmic Vinegar

Anselm of Canterbury (1033 – 1109), saint. He's the 'nothing greater than which can be conceived' guy:
Ergo domine...credimus te esse aliquid quo nihil maius cogitari possit 'Therefore, lord...we believe that you are something than which nothing greater can be thought.' Proslogion, ch. 2 [Gregory Schufreider Confessions of a Rational Mystic: Anselm's Early Writings (West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 1994) pp. 324-5]
It's never been clear to me how coherent this sort of value-judgment limit case can ever be.  For instance:
'God was conceived of a most pure Virgin ... it was fitting that the virgin should be radiant with a purity so great that a greater purity cannot be conceived' [quoted in Mary for Earth and Heaven: Essays on Mary and Ecumenism, 2002, William McLaughlin, Jill Pinnock, eds.]
But Mary was alive; and any alive individual contains within him/her the possibility that they could, at a future state, act in an impure way.  Therefore it is possible to conceive a greater purity ... for instance, if Mary had been in a lifelong coma, or dead, when she conceived and gave birth.  Or: flesh is inherently less pure, in teh sense of being more corruptible, than diamond; accordingly I can conceive of a Mary constructed (like that X-Men:First Class character) entirely out of diamond.  It doesn't matter that this isn't very likely; the criterion is not likelihood, but conceivability, and I can conceive it.

Sunday, 8 July 2012


We need an anti-apartheid; a togethereid.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Early Dickens

One way of thinking about Dickens’s early career is as a sustained attempt to think through questions of goodness, or more specifically, the virtues of innocence, in fictional form.  Innocence, of course, is presently a rather unfashionable virtue—if it is a virtue.  Philip Pullman has said several times that one of his impulses as a writer is to interrogate the notion that there is something intrinsically valuable or worthwhile about innocence.  The conclusion he comes to is ‘there isn’t, really’; for he tends to take innocence as cognate with ignorance, a bad thing.  Dickens didn’t see it that way, and neither did his audience; and the key question, I suppose, is whether that is now so outmoded a view as to interfere with our ability to encounter Dickens in the fullest sense.  Half a century ago, in words still likely to resonate with 21st-century readers, Trevor Blount noted that ‘the qualities in his work to which his contemporaries responded with such affection are still there. To read him properly we must unlearn our twentieth-century prejudices against pathetic exploitation and sentimental cosiness’ [Blount, Dickens: the Early Novels (Longmans 1968), 6].  That’s right, I think. 

Friday, 6 July 2012

II, Writer Poem

You have never read
the words in my head:

The blue hour, the hour
before morning, when streaks

of blue colour appear
and the sky-black clears.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Eliza Parsons, The Convict (1807)

Edward Copeland's Women Writing about Money: Women's Fiction in England, 1790-1820 (Cambridge University Press, 2004) notes how Eliza Parsons’ husband’s financial collapse forced her onto a punishing literary treadmill. To quote Parsons herself: ‘I was compelled by dire necessity to become an Author, and in the course of 12 years have written 65 vols of Novels under every disadvantage of Sickness, Indigence, never ceasing Anxiety, and as many repeated misfortunes as human sufferance could well support’ [in Copeland, 43]. Even if we assume, as perhaps we may, that ’65 vols’ means, strictly, volumes (most of Parson’s output consisted of 4-vol novels; she also produced 5- and 6-vol translations and other things) that’s a pretty steep workrate. She was so prolific, indeed, that even experts don’t really know how much she published.  Here’s Copeland again:
In spite of Parsons pious insistence in her last novel, Murray House (1804) that Anna Sydney, the heroine, must, as the whole duty of woman, obey the demands of her feckless father and her philandering husband, she draws a devastating picture of a male-controlled economy. [46]
Ah, but 1804’s Murray House was not her last novel. For example, here’s 1807’s The Convict, or Navy Lieutenant.

Henry Thompson, a curate’s son, is a navy lieutenant on the HMS Vengeance. He takes pity on an orphan girl, but his duties at sea mean he can't care for her directly, so he pays some friends, Mr and Mrs Barton, to look after her. Barton loves the child, but comes to hate his wife (‘her cruelty to little Fanny was beyond endurance; it so indisputably proved the baseness of her soul, that no consideration on earth could induce him to remain domesticated with a woman so devoid of feeling and humanity’ 1:124). So Barton separates from his spouse, obtaining a warrant as first mate to a ship’s surgeon and making alternate arrangements for the girl. We discover the orphan’s girl’s mother was a convicted criminal, whose written testimony Thompson reads (‘Oh!’ it says ‘that this horrid tale may impress an awful lesson on the minds of the young and inexperienced female!’ 1:141). Seduced and abandoned by the Right Honourable Lord C—, she was driven to attempted murder.

Fanny, the orphan girl, goes to stay with Mrs. Fitzwilliam and her posh relatives who live at a house called Malvern Abbey. This is the point during my reading where I started to think: ‘hmm, this has a certain Mansfield Park-ishness about it'—(or I suppose it would be more accurate to say that, Mansfield Park (1814) has a certain The Convict-ishness about it, Parsons' being the prior text): the stately home; the virtuous, diffident young girl called Fanny surrounded by various well-bred people who treat her indifferently; the West Indian connection (for Thompson and Barton are both posted to the Windies). The 'naval officers' angle perhaps recalls Persuasion (1817), too; and there are occasional moments of Sense-and-Sensibilityness too: as when Mrs Fitzgerald dies, leaving a will: ‘All my landed estates, independent of Malvern Abbey which was settled on his father and his heirs, with ten thousand pounds from my landed property, to be my nephew Meredith’s … Ten thousand pounds to each of my two nieces, daughters of my sister Bruce, now resident with me. … To Fanny Thompson, whom I have taken under my protection, I give forty-five pounds a year, for clothes and education, for seven years from the date of this my intended will. At the expiration of the said seven years, the further sum of three hundred pounds to place her in some line that may enable her to procure her own subsistence.’ [3:25-6] Fanny’s legacy is small enough, but still provokes envy:
The young ladies, who were present at the reading, were at first much elated by their legacy of ten thousand pounds. But when a little cooled, and they reflected on the great property, thrown into the hands of their cousin, with the bequests to poor Fanny, envy and rancor took possession of their bosoms; … So blind is envy to its true interest. [3:23]
So Fanny ends up with nothing. All this lacks Austen’s expert ironic touch, of course; but its outlines are familiar: ‘The poor girl often felt the consequences of her apparent degradation from others, by the haughty impertinence of some ill-bred and bad tempered misses, whose chief merit lay in their high birth, or their riches; and who, while they affected the utmost contempt for the poor orphan Fanny, were not a little mortified in seeing themselves excelled by her in many points’ [3:117].

Meanwhile Lieutenant Thompson is unjustly dismissed from the Vengeance, and becomes Captain of the Britannia, ‘a country ship’ (that is to say, a ship that trades with the ports of the East) owned by a certain Mr Selwyn. Unfortunately the Britannia is ‘wrecked on the Malabar coast’, such that ‘it was feared Captain Thompson and his people all perished, or had been carried off prisoners by the native Indians’ [3:81]. Selwyn adopts Fanny, who is moved to another country house called Ringwood Park, to live with the kindly Mrs. Wharton (‘there was a very good library in the house, and there Fanny passed most of the hours’ 3:134) and afterwards becomes the companion of Lady Overton in London. This latter ‘had been initiated into the vortex of fashion by a set of despicable interested beings, who sought their own gratification by her destruction. Her fortune was the lure to the unprincipled and avaricious, her beauty the meteor which attracted the eyes and hearts of the gallant, gay Lotahrios of that age ‘[4:62].  Overton is married, but ‘her husband’s unhappy debility of body and intellect left her sole mistress of her own actions’—a situation which Parsons straightforwardly deplores. Anyway, living with Overton, Fanny comes into contact with a fast set of London aristos.  The wicked Lord Presville attempts to seduce her (‘you must, you shall be mine!’ 4:147) and is unimpressed by her virtuous rejection: ‘ridiculous! You have already seen enough of the world to know that virtue, as you call it, claims but very little pre-eminence in the fashionable circles’ [4:149]. But just as she is about to be raped, Fanny is rescued by a mysterious stranger who knocks the lord down with his walking stick. This turns out to be Thompson himself, not dead in India after all—‘yes reader,’ says Parsons, with studied vagueness, ‘it was the identical Lieutenant Thompson…—Thompson, who after four years residence among the Indians had wonderfully effected his escape’ [4:171]. Yes, yes! That part of the story doesn't sound in the least bit interesting! You're quite right, Eliza, to hurry past it, in order to concentrate on your interminable London polite-society stuff.

Anyway, Fanny befriends a family called Lascelles, and their son William falls in love with her. Then, after various longeurs, the novel suddenly jerks to life for a stompingly melodramatic ending.  Fanny’s mother, it transpires, is not dead; and Fanny is reunited with her (a mysterious invalid called Ellen Lumley, preserved from the hangman's noose by an unlikely last-minute royal pardon.). She also learns that her would-be rapist Lord Preswick is her father ... ‘our readers are now informed that Lord Presville was the infamous, unprincipled man who, under the fictitious initials of Lord C— and Lord M— in the Convict’s narrative, seduced, deceived and abandoned that unhappy young woman’ [4:251]. When all this comes out, Presville has an unlikely change of heart and (very belatedly) proposes marriage to Ellen. But she rebukes him, and later dies ‘serene to the last moment’ [4:330] Fanny marries William Lascelles, and the various, numerous other characters are shuffled off with indecent haste (‘of the other characters introduced into this work,’ Parsons says, ‘we have but little to say', 4:340). The book concludes on a clanging note of moralizing: ‘the errors and wrongs of Ellen exemplify how wide spreading is vice, how dreadful its progress, and how awful in its termination! [4:350]. So that’s us told.

The Austen flavour is most evident in vol. 3, it must be said; and overall there’s little actual merit in the novel. Despite the nautical theme, Parsons is wholly uninterested in actual scenes at sea. There are a few less-than-convincing bits of naval slang right at the beginning (‘dash my buttons!’, 1:3 ‘Avast take care how you steer!’1: 35; ‘Young woman, you are upon a slippery fore-castle!’ 1:37), but the book swiftly becomes bored with all that and throws it over. Almost all the action has to do with the conversations, courtship and intrigue of polite society. But Parsons’ melodramatic instincts keep intruding, and dragging the novel down into absurdity. Still, it is at least possible that Austen read this novel, and that bits and pieces of it fed into her own imaginative creative life. Which seems to me a mildly interesting thing.

(PS: What does Parsons’ Fanny look like? ‘She was a clear brunette, an animated complexion, expressive dark grey eyes with long dark eye-lashes; an oval face, good teeth and fine hair … her nose might, by some, be thought rather too large, and her mouth not exactly a model of perfection, therefore, though every one who saw her, would pronounce her a very pretty genteel girl, she was not a beauty;—she was attractive, but not dazzling. [3:152] We might compare Austen’s Fanny: ‘she was small of her age, with no glow of complexion, nor any other striking beauty; exceedingly timid and shy, and shrinking from notice; but her air, though awkward, was not vulgar, her voice was sweet, and when she spoke her countenance was pretty’). Moral? Broadly sentimental: viz ‘misfortunes humanize the mind, and teach us to feel for others’ [3:264])

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Eliza Parsons, The Mysterious Warning (1796)

My second Parsons, and this is a little better than the later Peasant of the Ardenne Forest (1801)—still rubbish, basically, but with more going on. And actually there are enough similarities between the two novels to suggest that Parsons writes variations upon basically the same yarn: a virtuous hero traversing Europe and encountering various people made miserable by vice, with a particular emphasis upon a sexually depraved femme fatale who ends up stabbing herself. We might want to peg The Mysterious Warning as more actually Gothic, in the sense that it opens with an actual supernatural element. But it is otherwise the same mess of lubricious cod-morality and saggy, overheated goings-on.

The novel starts, strikingly, with old Count Renaud’s death. Here’s the first, characteristically ill-disciplined, sentence:
No sooner had the struggling soul escaped from the clay-cold body of Count Renaud, than his eldest son, Count Rhodophil, hastened to the library, and opened the secret cabinet, where his late father usually deposited his papers of consequence, after a strict examination of the contents, returned to the anti-chamber, on the floor of which lay extending his brother, the deeply-afflicted Ferdinand, just recovering from a fainting fit, and overwhelmed with inexpressible anguish.
In the spirit of W C Fields’ claim that nobody who hates children and animals can be all bad, I'm tempted to suggest that nobody capable of writing such a bad sentence can be beyond the pale, critically speaking. The people who compete to win the Bulwer Lytton prize by specifically inventing terrible opening sentences can hardly do better than this genuine example of 18th-century prose. Indeed, Parsons’ pile-em-on attitude to clauses in her sentence construction is revealing, I think, of a larger aesthetic flabbiness and, indeed, flappiness. Here’s the novel’s second sentence:
“Brother!” said Rhodophil, in an accent of grief and tenderness, “Brother! here is my father’s will, and I have little doubt but that you will find he was your father also, and that, however severely his resentment was expressed in his life-time, he has not extended it beyond the grave, nor forgotten, in the disposal of his effects, that he had a younger son, and a grandchild.”
That approach to prose, heaping clause on clause in an agglomerative fashion punctuated occasionally by the insertion of ‘oh, I forgot to mention...’ elements, is also Parsons’ approach to plot. So Count Renaud disinherited his son Ferdinand because he married without his permission. Rhodophil inherits all, and promises to look after his younger brother. Ferdinand accepts this promise gratefully, and launches himself into a brilliant military career, leaving his wife Claudina and kids in Rhodophil’s care. But returning on leave and eager to embrace Claudina, he hears a mysterious voice warning him “Fly, fly from her arms, as you would avoid sin and death!” [51]. In the event it is Claudina herself who runs away, absolving Ferdinand of his marriage vows on account of her ‘shame’ (though without going into specifics) and insisting ‘no clue will be found ... to trace me; I have taken measures too securely for any possibility of discovery.’ Ferdinand greets this news with: ‘I intend to ramble, I neither know nor care where, chance shall be my guide’ [60]. And ramble he does, as does the novel as a whole. Whichever army it was in which Ferdinand served evidently takes a pleasantly lackadaisical view of discipline, for nobody makes any fuss when he simply walks off.

Thereafter he visits a nunnery near the family castle in which Claudina, having taken measures too securely for any possibility of discovery, is immediately discovered, but from which she refuses to emerge (it later turns out that this is a case of mistaken identity). He also visits a ruined castle in which lives a gloomy aristocratic hermit, Baron S***, a name I found impossible not to read as ‘Baron Shit’. The Baron conveniently dies whilst Ferdinand is staying with him, and our young hero discovers the Baron’s wife Eugenia and her lover Count M*** locked in his dungeons. Eugenia had been forced into marriage with the Baron by her father, Count Zimchaw, but finding life with him intolerable had run off with her true love. But Baron Shit caught up with them, locked them away and murdered their servants to keep the secret safe. Eugenia is worn out by her long imprisonment—‘she appeared,’ Parsons prolixly says, ‘like a fine statue that had long been exposed to the injuries of time, and lost the beautiful polish that first adorned it; a most elegant form reduced to that delicate thinness which the slightest blast of air might dissolve;—a face, the contour of which was inexpressibly beautiful; but the roses and the lilies that once adorned it were all fled; the eyes hollow and sunk in the head, a sickly hue over the countenance, and a solemnity in every feature’ [144]. Off she goes, to a convent. The novel then lumps in a couple of other back-stories, separated by, as it were, narrative commas; after which Ferdinand accompanies the disappointed Count M*** (Ming? Mojo? Mongo?) to his castle in Suabia.

There's a great deal of rather clogging sub-plotting here, characters tangling emotionally with other characters, backstories, moralising and the like. Things pick up when Ferdinand and Count M*** are captured by Turks, imprisoned, freed, betrayed, ransomed, freed again and befriended by a chap named Heli. Heli's wife (I think she is) is called Fatima, and she turns out to be Ferdinand's half-sister, the product of an illicit relationship his father had undertaken a few years before Ferdinand's birth.  Fatima runs off with a group of bandits and takes Heli's jewels with her. Ferninand later catches up with her, but she brazens it out and escapes, leaving her half-brother gobsmacked. '"Good heavens!" he exclaimed, "is it possible that woman, so soft, so lovely, so interesting in her gentleness, can, by vice and profligacy of manners, attain to such a degree of boldness and impudent bravery, as would shame the most hardened of mankind!' [316-17]. Apparently so. Vol 4 is a rather confusing tangle of plotlines, to be honest; although a burst of action near the end picks the pace up. Ferdinand gets a letter from his brother ('Life is ebbing fast; all hopes are over; if you ever wish to see me more, lose no time; set off directly; I have things of consequence to impart' 327). He sets off, gets shot on the way, yes, I said shot, is nursed to health by a hermit, and finally arrives back home. Then, with massive bathos, we discover that the mysterious warning was uttered not from beyond the grave, but by Ernest, Ferdinand's servant, who had eavesdropped on Rhodophil and Claudia's quasi-incestuous adultery and chose this way, rather than just, oh-I-don't-know telling Ferdinand directly about it, to communicate his misgivings. Rhodophil then dies, with some splendidly inadvertent comedy:
"Heaven have mercy on me!!!" Those were the last words he spoke. -- Violent convulsive hiccups soon came on, which drove the Countess and Ferdinand to their respective apartments, and in less than a quarter of an hour, the latter was informed the dreadful scene had closed!!! [364]
No such thing as too many exclamation marks in my book. Anyway, after Rhodophil has hiccoughed himself to death the shameless Fatima pops up again, insists her mother was legally married to Count Renaud, making her the rightful heir; but when this is disproved she 'snatched a dagger from her side' and 'plunged it into her own bosom' [386]. With the haste of a writer tired of her over complicated plotting, Parsons then ties-up all remaining loose ends in a handful of pages, marrying Ferdinand to Theresa (Claudia meanwhile having conveniently died in her nunnery) and various other characters to various others. Then, only too evidently heading out the door on her way somewhere more interesting, Parsons closes the novel with 'from the characters of Rhodophil and Fatima, we may trace the progression of vice, and its fatal termination! "Vice to be hated needs but to be seen." FINIS' The last bit, there, is a truncated couplet from Pope's Essay on Man ('Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,/As, to be hated, needs but to be seen'). Well, indeed.


Here's the page from Austen's Northanger Abbey (1817) in which Isabella Thorpe tells Catherine Morland that she absolutely must read 'horrid' Gothic novels:

Check the paragraph beginning 'I will read you their names...' You can see Mysterious Warning (incorrectly titled) nestling in the middle of that list, there; just after another Parsons title, Castle of Wolfenbach (1793). This throwaway mention ('but are they all horrid? are you sure they are all horrid?' 'Yes, quite sure') has rather overdetermined the reception of this novel, I fear. That's a pity, in a way, because horridness, even in the grander sense of 'liable to evoke a quasi-sublime emotion of horror' really isn't what makes Mysterious Warning interesting. The only supernatural element, the voice that appears at first to be Ferdinand's father speaking beyond the grave, turns out to have been Scooby Doo's janitor after all, who would have gotten away with too if it hadn't been for you meddling etc etc. More, Parsons goes out of her way to stress that Ferdinand has no truck with the occult ('Ferdinand ... had no fears of supernatural beings', 346). This is not a novel interested in ghosts and ghouls; but it is obsessive-compulsively fascinated by questions of parental authority and the right way for offspring to balance their personal desires and their familial duty.

The chief problematic (if it doesn’t overly dignify novel putting in those terms) that the text works through is sexual. More specifically, The Mysterious Warning is a novel absolutely crammed with bigamy and the threat of bigamy. The novel’s primal scene, as it were, is the love of two brothers for the same woman: Claudina marries Ferdinand, but when he is away in the army she has an affair with Ferninand’s brother Rhodophil. This dynamic is then repeated in the various interpolated tales: Eugenia married wicked Baron S***, but is also married to her true love, Count M***. Another nobleman Count Wolfram is engaged to Theresa, but has already secretly married Theresa’s schoolfriend Louisa, and thereafter marries a lady of means called Theodosia; this same Theodosia leaves Wolfram and, after sojourning in a convent for a while, goes off to marry a gentleman called Reiberg. Ferdinand himself is married to Claudina, is ‘released’ from his marriage vows by his wife on account of her own shame, and later marries Theresa. It’s all a bit hard to follow, but more than that, its bramble-tangle formally embodies the blockage as a nexus of illicit desire and intra-familial obsession that is the novel's real theme.

What's really going on here, I suspect, is Parsons working through, in more or less coherent ideological fashion, the anxieties of Revolution. The novel opens (or so it seems) with a conscious imitation of Hamlet, the father's ghost booming from beyond the grave ('swear!') and warning of the ruin necessarily attendant on the illicit passion of one brother for another brother's wife. This in turn revolves (of course) on the very grounds of the English Reformation itself, Henry VIII's decision to marry his brother's wife, and his subsequent desire to undo that, as he later saw it, sinful action. This led to the establishment of the Church of England, the ground of Parson's egregiously preachy moral code -- in this novel, as in Peasant there's a deal of stuff about wicked nuns and abbots -- and also one of the discursive vectors along which contemporary English reactions to the French Revolution were oriented. In its clumsy way, Mysterious Warning is asking far-reaching questions about the nature of social and political authority, and how far the power of parents should determine the life-choices of their offspring. Revolution is one way in which a society can break away from the (bad) authority of parents; but Parsons can't endorse anything so radical. Here, on the novel's penultimate page, is a rather hurried attempt at moral summing-up, with Parson's characteristic herky-jerky punctuation:
Generally speaking, those marriages, contracted contrary to the wishes of parents, influenced chiefly by transient personal charms, and hurried on by rash tumultuous passions, seldom fail to be productive of sorrow, regret and reproach -- perhaps of punishment and shame. -- We have only to add, that in less than three years after the marriage of Ferdinand, the once unfortunate, but then happy Eugenia, was translated from a state of resignation and piety, to a life of blessed immortality: -- From her melancholy story may be deduced two observations of equal importance to society: when a parent exercises an undue authority over his child, and compels her to give a reluctant hand without a heart; by giving his sanction in the outset to deception and perjury; he has little to expect but that the consequences will be fatal to her honour and happiness. [392]
It's stating the obvious to say that this is flatly contradictory (and that Parsons seems to forget the second of the 'two observations' she promises); more interesting is the way that this confusion is exactly the current of the novel as a whole. Thwarting to the authority of the (bad) older generation leads to sorrow, regret and reproach -- perhaps to punishment and shame. But so does submitting to that (bad) authority. Parsons' novel can't think itself out of this ideological double-bind. That's what's so fascinating about it.

And tomorrow? Tomorrow we unlock 1807's The Convict.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Eliza Parsons, The Peasant of Ardenne Forest (1801)

Going off the beaten-track here, no question. For work-related reasons I've been reading a couple of Eliza Parsons' late 18th/early-19th-century Gothic or quasi-Gothic tales. Snap judgment: they're awful, but in quite interesting ways. (I might add: it'll be all Parsons here, for the rest of this week, so if the prospect of that bores you, you may wish to report back later)

Here's one: The Peasant of the Ardenne Forest (1801), available on Googlebooks for free at the other end of that link. Our eponymous hero, Lewis, is a humble Ardennes woodcutter. 'Nature,' we're told,
had been most truly bountiful to him in her gifts which were not simply confined to his person, for she had enriched his mind with a good understanding, a retentive memory, a genius that soared above the humble state of his birth and fortunes,--and with a heart, where honour, integrity, and every social virtue glowed with as much ardour as if he had been born a prince, and inherited nobility of sentiment from a long list of noble ancestors' [1:11]
This little passage is characteristic, embodying both the novel's larger theme (the staggering notion that individual virtue doesn't inevitably coincide with aristocratic lineage) and the novel's flabby, prolix style. The plot certainly takes a long time to unwind: Lewis gives shelter to an elderly man and his beautiful young daughter, Hermine; both of them noble though in distressed circumstances. To be honest, I couldn't work out if 'Hermine' is an actual name, or a Young Visiters-style spelling of 'Hermione'. Reading Parsons generally, I could certainly believe her capable of the latter incompetence.  Anyway, Hermine's father quickly dies of old age (I think), and since she does not disclose her surname, and carries about with her a trunk of papers, there's some mild mystery associated with her.  A local Abbess offers her shelter, although for purely mercenary reasons, believing her to be wealthy.  Indeed much of vol. 1 is given over to not-unrepresentative 'nunneries are full of wickedness' narrative boilerplate typical of English Protestant writers of the nineteenth-century (go browse The Little Professor's blog if you doubt me: this post is a good starting point):
"The Lady Abbess will answer your insolent interrogatories," replied the enraged nun, "and to her you may refer yourself." Then seizing the arm of the trembling, shrinking novice she almost dragged her thro' the cloysters; -- and left Hermine surprised, provoked and excessively grieved. [1:221]
In vol 2 almost nothing happens. Well, Hermine befriends a young English girl called Fidelia, born out of wedlock and abandoned in the nunnery by her father, the well-to-do Mr Douglas; but the father turns up and reclaims her, and then takes on Lewis as a companion for his son Frederic. This youth, however, has 'corrupt principles', the result of 'a dissipated preceptor to whose care he had unfortunately been confided by a weak father' who had encouraged 'the ruin of the youth's morals and health, by a criminal indulgence of his irregularities' [2:136]. In what may be my favourite bit of the whole flabby novel, Fred makes a pass at Hermine, who rebukes him thus: 'with a cool bow she quitted the parlour, and left him to chew the cud of vexation' [2:147]. Ah, the cud of vexation! One of the staple diets of my own adolescent years. One interesting thing: Fidelia's mother, the dissipated Mrs Douglas, has been paralysed down one side as a consequence of indulging what Parsons coyly describes as 'those so-called pleasures'. But she gets better, and this is how:
Thus humbled by disease and neglect her temper grew every day more irritable and capricious ... But very soon after Mr Douglas left England she had been persuaded to try electricity, to which she had constantly objected, and had really found much benefit by it -- returning warmth had reanimated her side, and she could use her hand. [2:187]
The reanimating potential of electricity: interesting stuff in a pre-Frankenstein novel. It's part of contemporary therapuric discourse, of course, rather than SF; but still.

Anyhow, not to beat around the bush: Lewis accompanies young Douglas and another wicked fellow called De Preux to Florence, where his natural peasant vartue is tested by a number of temptations. There's a great deal of narratorial moralising  -- 'how vitiated, depraved, and contemptible is the mind of man when once he gives himself up to dissipation, and becomes the slave of a vicious woman!' [2:264] and the like. By now we've reached vol 3, and still almost nothing is happening.  Lewis sees through the evil De Preux, who stabs him with a stiletto, though not fatally. Young Douglas falls ill, and is redeemed from his evil ways.  Lewis meets Hermine's aunt, Lady Somerset, and learns her back story. There's some patriotic reinforcement of the natural superiority of the English ("Brave, sincere, liberal and munificent!" "Such I believe is their reputation in most countries, and I would have respect and esteem for the British character be impressed upon your mind." 3:151), and Parsons iterates and reiterates at tedious length her main point, viz. the innate virtue of Lewis: '"I am really astonished," said her Ladyship, "at the manners and understanding of that young man. -- Nature has done more for him than high birth and a finished education with many of our modern young men of fashion."' [3:188] The scene shifts to London. The beautiful but wicked Countess Eleanora kidnaps Lewis with a view to depraving him, but he resists her blandishments -- somewhat after the manner of Joseph Andrews, though without Fielding's humour or irony or, you know, ability actually to write:
Mean time the ci-devant Countess whose passions, naturally violent, had risen almost to the degree of frenzy, who, for the first time in her life, had conceived a most fervent attachment for Lewis and had flattered herself that the seducing charms of her person, the fortune she possessed and the blanishments of love, would, altogether, allure the affections and gratify the vanity of a low born, obscure young man, [was] maddened by her disappointment. [4:24]
When reading passages like this I like to imagine that Lewis looks exactly like Lewis from the Inspector Morse TV series. But, really, Vols 3 and 4 drag dreadfully. Then there's a flurry of action a little before the end: Eleanora tries to shoot Hermine, assuming (erroneously) her to be a rival  for Lewis's affections ('"Seize her!--seize her this moment!" cried Lord Somerset ... Fidelia shrieked and fainted. "No, no," said Lewis, in an agony. "O! for Heaven's sake keep behind me -- let me receive the ball!" [4:257]). Eleanora is disarmed, and various characters preach at her for many pages ('shameless woman, a disgrace to your sex, I wave all delicacy with such a wretch!'). Eleanora stabs herself in the chest, receives medical treatment, has fits, and after 60 pages of padding it out, dies. Finally Lewis marries Fidelia -- a middle-class female being more appropriate bridal material for him than the upper class Hermine I suppose, despite his passion for her, and despite Parsons' inerminable stress upon his actual virtues.  But Hermine buys him an estate, and effectively raises him in rank. So that's alright then.


I called this novel bad but interesting. In what does the interest, then, lie? Not in the overheated, poorly managed frantic intriguing love-storying, silver-forkish travel narrative, or the occasional flurries of what Parsons fondly imagines are 'excting action.'  Rather it is the way Parsons sets herself an explicit moral about class and then cannot live up to it.

The novel opens with ‘a very tempestuous day, followed by a violent story, for several hours during the night’. Lewis reports that ‘“The Abbey and Convent,” said he, “ingulphed as they are in the bosom of a thick wood, have little to fear from the violence of the tempest ... But I fear the remaining part of the old Castle is entirely demolished; its battlements are doubtless thrown down’ [1:4]. This suggests the novel will establish vaguely liberal post-French Revolution bona fides; religion will survive ‘the storm’, but the castle will not—the old oppressions of class will be swept away, but the Rousseauian nobility of the common man (in this French forest) will stem the destructive potential of terror. So Lewis goes to see what has happened to the Castle—and the storm has left it untouched (‘great was his surprise when he beheld at a distance the turrets of the castle peeping over the trees’, 1:5). This odd little narrative cul-de-sac is actually symbolic of the novel’s larger ideological knot: for this is a text that asserts, repeatedly and tediously, that the humble Ardennes peasant Lewis has the honourable nature of a prince; but nevertheless it cannot let go of the idea that honour is actually a function of nobility and breeding. Lewis’s homely virtue is talismanic as he travels around Europe, but almost all the other characters are noble. Aristocratic vice is largely a matter of sexual delinquency, the larger system is fine as it is, and Lewis’s is rewarded after the manner of a lower-rent Richardsonian Pamela by being elevated by marriage and an aristocratic gift of land, to the respectable classes. To say that the book lacks the courage of its convictions would be to suggest that it has convictions.  The truth is that Parson’s one idea—a member of the proletariat may be virtuous—is swamped by the larger infatuation with the structures of money, status and class. In this respect it seems to me superbly revealing of a specifically British, or perhaps English, response to the French Revolution—less politically reaction than Burke and his tribe, but very far from being able to sympathise with the levelling principles behind the undertaking.

Tomorrow: The Mysterious Warning. Oo-er!

Monday, 2 July 2012

The Tellytubbies Repeat

But in what manner or mode do they repeat?  Here's Deleuze, from Difference and Repetition, or (to save time) here's Jon Roffe's expert summary thereof:
For Deleuze, the central stake in the consideration of repetition is time. As with difference, repetition has been subjected to the law of the identical, but also to a prior model of time: to repeat a sentence means, traditionally, to say the same thing twice, at different moments. These different moments must be themselves equal and unbiased, as if time were a flat, featureless expanse. So repetition has essentially been considered as the traditional idea of difference over time understood in a common-sense way, as a succession of moments. Deleuze asks if, given a renovated understanding of difference as in-itself, we are able to reconsider repetition also. But there is also an imperative here, since, if we are to consider difference-in-itself over time, based in the traditional logic of repetition, we once again reach the point of identity. As such, Deleuze’s critique of identity must revaluate the question of time. Deleuze’s argument proceeds through three models of time, and relates the concept of repetition to each of them.  
The first is time as a circle. Circular time is mythical and seasonal time, the repetition of the same after time has passed through its cardinal points. These points may be simple natural repetitions, like the sun rising daily, the movement of summer to spring, or the elements of tragedy, which Deleuze suggests operate cyclically. There is a sense of both destiny and theology in the concept of time as a circle, as a succession of instants which are governed by an external law. 
When time is considered in this fashion, Deleuze argues (DR 70-9), repetition is solely concerned with habit. The subject experiences the passing of moments cyclically (the sun will come up every morning), and contracts habits which make sense of time as a continually living present. Habit is thus the passive synthesis of moments that creates a subject.
But that's not how the Tellytubbies repeat: their 'again! again!' is a joyous eruption of delight; their repetitions are continual freshness to them.  What else?
The second model of time is linked by Deleuze to Kant (KCP vii-viii), and it constitutes one of the central ruptures that the Kantian philosophy creates in thought, for Deleuze: this is time as a straight line. In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant liberates time from the circular model by proposing it as a form that is imposed upon sensory experience. For Deleuze, this reverses the earlier situation by placing events into time (as a line), rather than seeing the chain of events constituting time by the passing of present moments. Habit can thus no longer have any power, since in this model of time, nothing returns. In order for sense to be made of what has occurred, there must be an active process of synthesis, which makes of the past instances a meaning (DR 81). Deleuze calls this second synthesis memory. Unlike habit, memory does not relate to a present, but to a past which has never been present, since it synthesises from passing moments a form in-itself of things which never existed before the operation. The novels of Marcel Proust are for Deleuze the most profound development of memory as the pure past, or in Proust’s terminology, as time regained. (DR 122; PS passim) In this second model of time, repetition thus has an active sense in line with the synthesis, since it repeats something, in the memory, that did not exist before – this does not save it, however, from being an operation of identity, nonetheless. These two moments, the active constitution of a pure past, and the disparate experience of a present yet to be synthesised produces a further consequence for Deleuze: as in Kant, a radical splitting of the subject into two elements, the I of memory, which is only a process of synthesis, and a self of experience, an ego which undergoes experience. (DR 85-7; KCP viii-ix) 
Deleuze insists that both of these models of time press repetition into the service of the identical, and make it a secondary process with regards to time.
Well that's our problem, right there: for in its utopian possibility the Tellytubbitopia does not press repetition into the service of the identical; on the contrary, it opens it to the possibility of utopia itself.  And the third?

The final model of time that Deleuze proposes attempts to make repetition itself the form of time. In order to do this, Deleuze relates the concepts of difference and repetition to each other. If difference is the essence of that which exists, constituting beings as disparates, then neither of the first two models of time does justice to them, insisting as they do on the possibility and even necessity of synthesising differences into identities. It is only when beings are repeated as something other that their disparateness is revealed. Consequently, repetition cannot be understood as a repetition of the same, and becomes liberated from subjugation under the demands of traditional philosophy. To give body to the conception of repetition as the pure form of time, Deleuze turns to the Nietzschean concept of the eternal return. This difficult concept is always given a forceful and careful qualification by Deleuze whenever he writes about it (eg. DR 6;41; 242; PI 88-9; NP 94-100): that it must not be considered as the movement of a cycle, as the return of the identical. 
As a form of time, the eternal return is not the circle of habit, even on the cosmic level. This would only allow the return of something that already existed, of the same, and would result again in the suppression of difference through an inadequate concept of repetition. While habit returned the same in each instance, and memory dealt with the creation of identity in order to allow experience to be remembered, the eternal return is, for Deleuze, only the repetition of that which differs-from-itself, or, in Nietzsche’s terminology, only the repetition of those beings whose being is becoming: “The subject of the eternal return is not the same but the different, not the similar but the dissimilar, not the one but the many . . .” (DR 126) 
As such, Deleuze tells us, repetition as the third meaning of time takes the form of the eternal return. Everything that exists as a unity will not return, only that which differs-from-itself. “Difference inhabits repetition.” (DR 76). So, while habit was the time of the present, and memory the being of the past, repetition as the eternal return is the time of the future. The superiority of this third understanding of repetition as time has two main impetuses in Deleuze’s argument. The first is obviously that it keeps difference intact in its movement of differing-from-itself. The second is as significant, if for different reasons. If only what differs returns, then the eternal return operates selectively (DR 126; PI 88-9), and this selection is an affirmation of difference, rather than an activity of representation and unification based on the negative, as in Hegel.

That sounds more like it.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

A Week's Work Poem

Through the medium of writing, I made a world.
It took me a week.  The heart opened, and
unopened in its mundane cardiac manner.
The drum-tattoo lived, rattlesnaky, on the keys;
And it was done.  What's best: my world has this
one advantage over our's: its pure unknownness.
Further away even than death, the undiscoverable country