the retreat to metaphor
I thought I might describe every single step of this staircase, every crack, flaw and grain in the oak as if it were a landscape. But if I can’t describe what’s outside the window–the way the winter sunshine falls on houses half a mile away while the High Street lies in shadow–how can I attempt something that much more complex? Close up, as far as language is concerned, the stairs exist off the edge of resolution. I continue to be an observer who was never much good at observation, stuck with a means of communication which can’t carry enough information. No wonder there’s this constant retreat to metaphor. The attempt to push through into something else is always a failed attempt to be in the real.
Originally posted 2014, as “I would give you the world if I could”
You’d need the language of Tlön:
“The literature of this hemisphere (like Meinong’s subsistent world) abounds in ideal objects, which are convoked and dissolved in a moment, according to poetic needs. At times they are determined by mere simultaneity. There are objects composed of two terms, one of visual and another of auditory character: the color of the rising sun and the faraway cry of a bird. There are objects of many terms: the sun and the water on a swimmer’s chest, the vague tremulous rose color we see with our eyes closed, the sensation of being carried along by a river and also by sleep. These second-degree objects can be combined with others; through the use of certain abbreviations, the process is practically infinite.”
(But actually your books contain some of the most precise, least automatized observations I’ve read.)
Language is, ultimately, lo-res. Just think of how the file for a 700-page novel takes up less memory than a single jpeg. But that’s because you’re just giving the reader the framework for an experience that is fully built in his or her own mind. So the text becomes hi-res (so to speak) in every experience in every mind, and the metaphors are — I’m beginning to mix my metaphors here myself, or lose track of them — like small initiatory programs that recursively set off much bigger results, or like the proverbial butterfly in chaos theory. Actually, now that I think of it, I’m pretty sure you said something similar in the comments to an earlier post…
Oh yeah, here: “…the surface builds the illusion of depth and there is never in any architectural sense a “substance” to any act of writing. Writing is just some words and a cultural agreement between reader & writer to act as if the writer films something that isn’t there and passes the movie across.”
Which also reminds me of this extraordinary essay by Harry Mathews, probably the best thing I’ve ever read on writing: https://www.thefreelibrary.com/For+Prizewinners.-a059410485
–and which I now realize I was also subconsciously quoting:
“The writer must take care to do no more than supply the reader with the materials and (as we often say nowadays) the space to create an experience. That is all the creating that takes place: of writer and reader, the reader is the only creator. This is how reading can be defined: an act of creation for which the writer provides the means. The writer’s privileges are restricted to choosing the means and, more important, to becoming his own first reader. He becomes a creator to the same extent as any of his other readers. This is the first way writer and reader participate with one another; in creating the experience for which the writer has provided the means.”
yes that’s what’s great about reading – supplying one’s own staircase – a combination of memory & imagination. that’s why i so often prefer the book to the film.
Speaking of old posts, I’ve been unable to find one of yours that I remember being quite struck by. It may have been posted on the old Uncle Zip’s Window blog, I can’t recall. But it made some comments on postmodernism and you put part of the post in brackets and criticized postmodernists for “forgetting the part in brackets” or something to that effect. Ironically, I can’t recall what was in brackets either, but I’ve always wanted to re-read that one.
Any chance you could do a re-post? Is that enough to go on?
I’m afraid that’s lost too far in deep time, DH, for me to remember off-the-cuff. This blog is so *old* now, & me with it. But maybe someone else here can remember it?
Totally reasonable, MJH. Thanks for the response. Hope you’re doing well.
Hmmm, maybe you could find it here? https://web.archive.org/web/20080410181840/http://uzwi.wordpress.com/2007/01/27/very-afraid/