[The world] reaches the point where it is in danger of destroying both itself and the things in it. It is for this reason that now the god who ordered it, seeing it in difficulties, and concerned that it should not, storm-tossed as it is, be broken apart in confusion and sink into the boundless sea of unlikeness, takes his position again at its steering-oars, and having turned round what had become diseased and been broken apart in the previous rotation, when the world was left to itself, orders it and by setting it straight renders it immortal and ageless.
In yesterday’s post on This Space, Steve commented in passing that Time’s Flow Stemmed recently celebrated (25th January to be precise) its tenth anniversary. While I did mention the milestone on Twitter I forgot to mark the occasion here, so in observance of this blog’s first decade, over five-hundred years after Martin Luther apparently nailed his treatise to the door of Wittenberg’s church, I offer my own 33 theses, random reflections and treasured quotes:
“The work of art may have an ideology (in other words, those ideas, images, and values which are generally accepted, dominant) as its material, but it works that material; it gives it a new form and at certain times that new form is in itself a subversion of ideology.” – T. J. Clarke
Prose fiction is the art of excess. It is better when large, loose and baggy
Poetry, on the other hand, is the place for concentrated lyrical expression
“Consciousness is only attainable after decades of being honest with yourself followed by more decades of honest observation of the world. Even then, consciousness is mostly illusion.” – John Rember
Attention to form is the greatest force for literature
“This, therefore, is the praise of Shakespeare, that his drama is the mirror of life; that he who has mazed his imagination in following the phantoms which other writers raise up before him may here be cured of his delirious ecstasies by reading human sentiments in human language, by scenes from which a hermit may estimate the transactions of the world and a confessor predict the progress of the passions.” – Samuel Johnson
Literary interpretation is inherently unstable
Free indirect style is the novel’s most useful contribution to literary endeavour
“If you enjoy the opinions you possess, if they give you a glow, be suspicious. They may be possessing you. An opinion should be treated like a guest who is likely to stay late and drink all the whiskey.” – William Gass
There are good and bad books, artistically and possibly ethically
There are also good and bad readers
“I’ve described my experience of reading as immersion in a peculiar kind of fictional space. Above all, what fascinates me about that space is the idea that it might be infinite; that the world opened up by a book might exceed that outside it.” – David Winters
Reading is selfish, but an essential aspect of enlarging life and the self (or illusion of self)
Reading should be social; conversing about what you’ve read augments the pleasure of reading
“Writing and reading are not separate, reading is a part of writing. A real reader is a writer. A real reader is already on the way to writing.” – Cixous
The Death of the Author is a delusion
“In truth, there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross.” – Nietzsche
We will never know the people in our lives as profoundly as we can know the characters in a novel
“As for those people who will not welcome this kind of writing, which they call obscure because it is beyond their understanding, I leave them with those who, after the invention of wheat, still want to live on acorns.” – Joachim du Bellay
Difficulty in fiction is normally pleasurable
Form shapes critical thinking and enhances perception
Rereading is richer than first time reading as it eliminates the distraction of suspense
Most literary criticism discerns in its subjects the evidence its theories predict
The problem for writers of fiction in Britain in the 20th and, so far, in the 21st century: how to write and publish brilliant, sublime prose in a country and culture that shrinks with horror from intellectualism
Coetzee’s Disgrace is a rare example of a great book adapted into a great film
Virginia Woolf is Britain’s last great and important novelist
More than well-structured narrative, it is the texts on the fringes I keep coming back to, notebooks, diaries, letters, fragments, what Genette called pre-texts
All the roots of Western literature may be found in Aeschylus
Greatness and perfection are not necessarily the same thing
“My writing wasn’t entirely about the books ‘under review’ so much as my internal ‘reading experience’.” – David Winters
“How can you, after Proust and Joyce and Kafka and Faulkner, sit down and write a novel?… Answer: you have to. And the you have to is a private cancer, a private tumour of the soul.” – George Steiner, Paris Review interview
I find it hard to endure writing in the third person
” . . . deepening what there was in her of sweetness and listening – for this was her nature.” – Lispector
To those that read Time’s Flow Stemmed, whether for a decade, or as a recent discovery, I offer my profound thanks. I used to explain that I wrote here for myself, but that is the worst kind of deceit, a self-deceit. I am thrilled that this blog has readers and offer an apology that I am even further from understanding literature than I was at the beginning.
Iphigenia as a priestess of Artemis in Tauris sets out to greet prisoners, amongst which are her brother Orestes and his friend Pylades; a Roman fresco from Pompeii, 1st century AD
We can lose ourselves in reverie of how Aeschylus might have staged his Oresteia in 458 BC; how his four hypokrites performed the four plays that constituted this journey from mythological darkness to Athenian radiance (originally the trilogy ended with a satyr-play called Proteus); of the dances Aesychlus is said to have taught his choruses, from the Argive elders in Agamemnon, to the captured slave-women of The Libation Bearers, those haunting furies in Eumenides, and the supposed randy satyrs that brought the tragedy to a close in Proteus.
My Penguin Classics edition, translated by Robert Fagles, includes an essay, The Serpent and the Eagle, written by Fagles and the classicist William Stanford. They correctly say little of the performance but what they say is agreeable:
“The words alone may hold the life of the thing itself. The music they create, the scenery, the acting, the complete consort dancing together in the theatre of our minds may well be all we need. Perhaps – but this may be too daring – a performance of the Oresteia in the mind of a twentieth-century reader may be even more moving than it was in the crowded, often restive Theatre of Dionysus at the first performance. At least we can do with the written words what no Athenian could do when they were spoken on the stage; we can stop and wonder and look back and tease apart the subtleties and pregnancies of Aeschylus’ style, so that while we lose theatrically we gain in imaginative power. As Keats has said about a different genre of Greek art, ‘Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard/Are sweeter.’ And perhaps with Greek drama, richer, too.”
There is the sea and who shall drain it dry?
It breeds the purple stain, the dark red dye
we use to color our garments,
costly as silver.
This house has an abundance. Thanks
be to gods, no poverty here.
Oh I would have vowed the trampling of
if an oracle had ordered it, to ransom this
For when the root is alive the leaves come
and shade the house against white dogstar
Your homecoming is warmth in winter.
Or when Zeus makes wine from bitter
and coolness fills the house
as the master walks his halls,
Zeus, Zeus, god of things perfect,
accomplish my prayers.
Concern yourself here.
Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, (trans. Anne Carson from An Oresteia)
Judith Butler in Giving an Account of Oneself writes, “[W]e must recognise that ethics requires us to risk ourselves precisely at moments of unknowingness, when what forms us diverges from what lies before us, when our willingness to become undone in relation to others constitutes our chance of becoming human. To be undone by another is a primary necessity, an anguish, to be sure, but also a chance–to be addressed, claimed, bound to what is not me, but also to be moved, to be prompted to act, to address myself elsewhere, and so to vacate the self-sufficient “I” as a kind of possession. If we speak and try to give an account from this place, we will not be irresponsible, or, if we are, we will surely be forgiven.”
Giorgio Agamben writes in The Coming Community: “This fascination of not uttering something absolutely.”
What has always fascinated me about the Sirens, whether written of by Euripides, Homer, Ovid or Hesiod, is that no one writes about the Sirens’ song. Žižek, in Cogito and the Unconscious reveals Tzvetan Todorov’s thesis, that the Sirens said to Odysseus just one thing: We are singing. Blanchot wrote, “Yes, they really sang, but not in a very satisfactory way. Their song merely suggested the direction from which the perfect song might come.”
In Isak Dinesen’s The Dreamers a young soprano by the name of Pellegrina Leoni loses her singing voice after an accident happens whilst she is singing Donna Anna’s beautiful aria from Don Giovanni. As the greatest soprano of her day, without her enchanting voice,Pellegrinaisthoughtto be dead, giving her the freedom to travel the world under an assumed identity, living many intense adventures. No muteness is as tragic as a Sirens’ silence.