Sunday Preoccupations

It isn’t often I’ll decide to buy a book based on a cover, but my purchase of Anthony Rudolf’s European Hours was inspired by Paula Rego’s magnificent 1977 painting. Subsequently I learnt that Rudolf is Rego’s companion and her main male model. His autobiographical Silent Conversations looks also particularly desirable.

The other two I picked up on the basis of TLS reviews, intending to make time for both this summer.

Annie Ernaux’s The Years, though I’m not yet halfway through, seems truly brilliant. The publisher Fitzcarraldo Editions term it a collective autobiography of Ernaux’s generation. I’m not sure that captures her project fully. It seems more an act of memory, not as exercised through one individual, but an exploration of how memories are shared and transmitted within and by the interaction between multiple individuals of different generations. As Paul Ricoeur put it in his Memory, History, Forgetting (trans. Kathleen Blaney and David Pellauer), “no one ever remembers alone”. It is only through collective memory that we are able to remember individually. I will undoubtedly revise these early thoughts as I read slowly through this remarkable book.

Those serendipitous connections that lead me from book to book: the Ernaux is translated by Alison Strayer, a childhood friend and reading companion of an old favourite photographer and writer Moyra Davey.

Metaphor as a Sign of Genius

From Robert von Hallberg’s Lyric Powers:

Aristotle will tell you that “The apt use of metaphor, being as it is, the swift perception of relations, is the true hall-mark of genius.” That abundance, that readiness of the figure is indeed one of the surest proofs that the mind is upborne upon the emotional surge. By “apt use”, I should say it were well to understand, a swiftness, almost a violence, and certainly a vividness. This does not mean elaboration and complication.


Revisited this old post while searching how often I use the term genius on Time’s Flow Stemmed. Rarely, thankfully, is the answer. My usage of the term in a post about Borges, Nabokov and Sebald is probably hyperbole, brilliant though all three are.

Rereading the paragraph above from von Hallberg’s Lyric Powers lead me back to Poetics for Aristotle’s own (translated) words:

It is a great thing, indeed, to make proper use of the poetical forms, as also of compounds and strange words. But the greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learnt from others; and it is also a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies an intuitive perception of the similarity in dissimilars.

So now [I am time-travelling to today’s post, 4 years ahead of this post’s date] I am pondering Roger Scruton’s argument that music’s expressive power can only be described by recourse to metaphor.

Incidentally, while I may agree with Aristotle’s hypothesis that mastery of metaphor is a stamp of genius in a writer, I am not convinced that it cannot be learned. To ‘be metaphorical’ in Aristotle’s formulation is to see resemblance (Paul Ricoeur’s phrasing). Can we not learn to see the similarity of two references?