R.W. Johnson is rude and coarse. Leslie Stephen is charming, tolerant and generous, but even he is a little, a teensy-weeny bit, unkind. Few intellectuals like the liberals. The reason is an old and simple one: the professional’s irritation at the amateur who will insist on bumbling into their workshop and telling them how it should be done.
Sunday, 2 July 2017
We blame Henry. Inviting us to join him in this fog-filled park he walks too quickly; is getting too far ahead, skipping along with his little lantern we surmised was our servant. We stumble behind, on a feeble path of light, hardly seeing our own footsteps; thoughts tripping over sentences, our ideas zigzag amongst the wild beds, and are lost in this park’s overgrown prose. Hallo! I’m so sorry. Pushing aside the branches of a bush I bump into a pretty woman, who looks worried, fragile… I am lost. Can you help me? She wants, she says, to get out of this park, this fog, this man’s entangling paragraphs. I shake my head; shout out: Henry! Henry Green!
Saturday, 24 June 2017
He plants his ideas. Flowers in a garden; growing like trees, the roots tunnelling the earth, a boundary wall cracks, there are waves in the pavement… Drunk already! It’s eleven o’clock man! In the morning! Get get out of my… A man trips, nudged aside by a passing cyclist he stumbles into the road, a car swerves, it is shouting. There is so much noise. What the…
Saturday, 20 May 2017
Our too familiar eyes. Turn the binoculars the right way round and… Wow! It is overwhelming! Marvellous! Ouch! Hitting our nose on the strange we see stars. What? Yes! We have entered a cartoon and become a caricature. Retreating into a pompous naivety we transform the new into the odd, the weird, the bizarre; seeing the new in its proper size the new becoming the exotic becomes a fabulous beast, a giant; and we…we are now pigmies to our own familiarity; we think of an ordinary bush next to a luxuriant palm tree; a hedgehog under a parasol… New images flooding the mind, this picture sinks from sight and we sail over the sun bled waters with centaurs for company. Though even now, in this imaginary jungle, we wear them still: our eyes, our workday spectacles. It is why on this spit of land, a pike in the middle of an African river, the natives shrink to such meagre scale, smaller with every passing glance; too commonplace to be noticed much.
Saturday, 13 May 2017
Ostranenie. Definitions are for dictionaries. To understand this term properly we must experience it for ourselves, read it in novels. Here, Ostranenie is both fact and symbol.
The coffin factory proved to be an area cleared of undergrowth, though shadowed by great trees; it was bounded on one side by a stream, a small river almost, some fifteen feet wide, running fast with troubled, muddy, yellowish water. Felled trunks were stacked here and there, and at the water’s edge was a row of vast cumbrous Chinese coffins in various stages of completion. A few sepoys squatted on the ground, most of them asleep. There was a pile of ammunition boxes, and in one of the coffins lay Sam Holl, with his unwound turban draped across him to protect his face from mosquitoes. In the coffin he looked very dead, except for the khaki cloth over his mouth which rose and fell evenly with his breathing. Alan looked down on him, numbed by a sudden quietness. Holl lay awkwardly with both hands resting on his left hip as if on a sword hilt, his crossed legs covered by folds of his turban cloth. He looked like a thirteenth-century crusader, militant, potent still in the sleep of death. But not dead; and in Alan’s body there surged a sober but fierce acknowledgment. He stood looking for a little while, almost feeding on Holl’s presence; then he sat quietly down at the foot of the coffin to wait; almost at once he was himself asleep.
Thursday, 4 May 2017
Sunday, 30 April 2017
The Oxford series 20th Century Classics is an odd one. Even the connoisseurs of fiction forced to concede, though with shifty glances to side and floor, a nervous twitching of the spectacles, lips silently rehearsing their own pet loves - the aristocratic elbows of Enid Bagnold, the provincial thighs of E.H. Young; the adolescent limbs of Llandudno’s wartime masterpiece: Jampot Smith - to their ignorance of Paul de Vries’ The Mackerel Plaza, A P Herbert’s The Secret Battle or Robert Graves’ Seven Days in New Crete. The series suggesting the eccentric tastes of a few editors (or a single one); a small bookcase of curiosities rather than a canon of classics; the classic defined as a book of exceptional depth, that is well-written, appeals to a wide literary audience and is sanctified by literature’s establishment.