Tag Archives: realism

W.H. Auden – Poems (1929-1948)

“It was Easter as I walked in the public gardens” (October 1929)

Nice analog to the image of Spring as it appears in Eliot (“April is the cruelest month…”). Here Easter is associated with a time of creation, finding altering lines for altering things…the tautological nature of verse is a theme that will run throughout Auden’s poetry (“Poetry makes nothing happen…”). He sees a man like the embryo of a chicken (cf. startling image in Prufrock that disrupts love song, here the elegy is interrupted by the presence of that which is to be mourned). This reminds him of the death that is necessary for this season. A weird line, but one that calls the bluff of war propaganda (connect with Wilfred Owen). The images of decline focus on Oxford (cf. Waugh and all the stuff on I.A. Richards, Quiller-Couch, Empson, etc.). Auden ratchets up the stasis of something like the Wasteland opening, with compressed, abstract gerunds:

Coming out of me living is always thinking,
Thinking changing and changing living,
And feeling as it was seeing.

This a doubled-edged move, as it equalizes the processes of living, thinking, changing, etc. How is anything new produced in this plane of equality? Auden begins to intimate a negative, regulative function for poetry (a poetry of resistance and durability). “Home, a place Where no tax is levied for being there.” His idealized utopia can only be articulated by way of comparison (connect to Auden’s exile, and also to Eliot’s Unreal). Auden’s poetics could be described: “It is time for the destruction of error.” His poetry wants to communicate, clearly. And such destruction includes “the death of the old gang,” which becomes a part of a seasonal metabolic process (imaged as grain…connect to the fields of wheat in “I walked out one evening”).

“As I walked out one evening” (November 1937)

A love poem. Told in ballad style: abcb. The “I” hears another “I” proclaim a love song under an arch of the railway. Already, that the folks on Bristol street are “fields of wheat” intimate that TIME’s scythe  will be making an appearance.  The clocks in the city say: “You cannot conquer time….Time watches from the shadow and coughs when you would kiss.” For Auden, this isn’t just the individual human aging, but the grand forces of time penetrating the everyday: “The glacier knocks in the cupboard.” Despite these realities the poem introduces a great theme of Auden’s: a commitment to the everyday despite its misery: “Life remains a blessing Although you cannot bless….You shall love your crooked neighbor with your crooked heart.”

“Musée des Beaux Arts” (December 1938)

Auden is looking at the Icarus painting by Breughel and thinking about how great human suffering is just one small part of a larger world of daily activity. Most often, people don’t recognize the great tragedies [Connect with Lukács].

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window
or just walking dully along.

Note the long prosaic line, characteristic of Auden’s expository predilections (at times). He writes in all sorts of styles, not because he wants to idealize a past, or transmit the impulse of the past (Pound); rather, all these styles are simply tools available for the master craftsman (like Pound in this way). The diminution of the tragic can be read as a critique of Yeats. “Terrible beauty” and the slouching “rough beast” get transformed into a “miraculous birth” that no one registers, and others would prefer not to happen. A horse scratches its butt on a tree [think of this poem as a combination of Easter 1916 and Crazy Jane put together (house of excrement, etc.)]. The legs of Icarus are imaged as “white legs” in “green water,” a sort of generic abstraction of colors devoid of meaning, a flat, uncreative phenomenology.

“In Memory of W.B. Yeats” (January 1939)

Against the pathetic fallacy (cf. Browning on “Porphyria’s Lover” ?? and Ruskin, of course). In short, Yeats dies and it we know it was a cold day, not because of poetry or other forms of representation, but because of instruments like barometers and thermometers that can measure tese objectie conditions. [Interesting to talk about in term sof the scientific metaphors of Eliot, Woolf, etc.]

O all the instruments agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Auden imagines Yeats as his words become digested by his admirers (modified in the guts of the living)…in connection to Pound’s worries over Gaudier-Brezka’s relation to posterity. Yeats, in short, has nto changed much with his poetry; he hasn’t solved the epistemological problems staged in the wasteland [And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom]. The second section slides into pretty strict hexameter, a dramatic shift from the prosodic lines of the opening stanzas. Auden does say that poetry makes nothing happen, but, instead, “it survives In the valley of its saying where executives Would never want to tamper….it survives, A way of happening, a mouth.”  Poetry as RESISTANCE. Talk about in terms of Schiller and Bergson and Arendt.

 

“In Praise of  Limestone” (1948)

Good example of Auden’s syllabic structuring: 13 syllables, with varying accentual patterns. Lots of enjambment, little rhyme, making this poem very expository. Can be read as a pastoral of sorts, but one that does not place a golden landscape in a receding, hazy past: “examine this region of short distances and definite places.” He is talking about the Mediterranean, the limestone is built up over time, organically, and dissolves quickly because of the calcium deposits. This transience, fluidity, carelessness is contrasted to the Northern cities of England and Germany, associated with destruction and violence:

…accustomed to a stone that responds,
They have never had to veil their faces in awe
Of a crater whose blazing fury could not be fixed.

The theme of sculpture is also played throughout, with reference to Greek sculptures, that somehow mock the poet that confines himself to the “antimythological” tautologies of Auden’s earlier poems, which is associated here with scientist dissecting Nature’s remotest aspects (a Romantic turn?). The religious turn in the end seeks to sublimate God within a realistic vision–sorta like Kafka’s “there is hope, but not for us.” The murmuring of the underground streams picks up the murmuring river at the end of “I walked out on evening.” displacing even more the “stream” of creativity that somehow remains constant (but inaccessible).

Robert Louis Stevenson – The Master of Ballantrae (1889)

A sprawling jumble of things are crammed into this pretty stellar novel: adventure, family saga, historical fiction, pioneer exploration, buried treasure, etc. Centers on the Durie family, comprised of the father Henry (Lord of Durrisdere), his second son Henry (the current Lord), and his first son James (The Master of Ballantrae). The tension between the two sons is the main plot-mover, which is narrated almost entirely by Mackellar, a servant in the house of Durie. He is drawn rationally and morally to the cerebral but week Henry, but is drawn affectively to the morally corrupt, romantic “master of the arts and graces,” Katherine, a wealthy Scotitsh noblewoman, marries Henry despite loving James. James (who is presumed dead) returns to the house of his fathers, despite being a wanted man in Scotland,  after traveling on a pirate ship with the Irish Jacobite Francis Burke (some of the narration is pulled from his MS). After insulting his brother one too many times, they have a duel, where James seemingly kills him. But he doesn’t die. He escapes and travels throughout the orient, mostly India, where he picks up the Indian servant Secundra Dass. He returns and Henry and his wife (and two children) go to New York. Mackellar watches over James, but they eventually follow. Once there, James leads an expedition to recover the treasure he buried after escaping from the pirate ship with half the booty. An attempt to take the treasure all for himself, he buries himself alive. When Henry, refusing to believe that his brother has died, journeys back to his grave, they find Secundra Dass digging him up (he has learned to swallow his tongue). He comes to life for a single moment, and Henry and James die simultaneously. Mackellar writes their epitaphs, which reveal his conflicted sympathies.

Voice vs. wirting: can think of as elaborate competition for mastery between Mackellar’s “will to narrative” and the protean capacities of the Master charm, elude and evade any sort of simple representation by way of song, polygotism, etc. The final engraving could be read as MacKellar’s final victory, but the tune of his intended story has changed so much that the Master appears to have rewritten the story. Also, the tombstone will hardly ever be read, hidden as it is the in the American widlerness.

Life and Renewal: A pretty damning critique of 19th century tales of renewal. Can compare to Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, where drowning in Thames becomes the means for narrative rebirth. Or even to the end of Mill on the Floss, where the two characters are sublimated into some sort of aesthetico-natural landscape. Not so here. James keeps coming back to life, but to end…he cannot successfully write himself into a lineage or a history that would make such rebirth socially payoff--and their being swallowed by the American landscape seem less a moment of aesthetic colonization, than the withered failure of a line.

Servant narrator: Mackellar can be read in conjunction with Gabriel Betteridge (Moonstone) and Nelly Dean (Wuthering Heights). They became useful means (devices) for refracting the differences of their masters–for instance, that one need choose between two masters becomes an issue because it is shot through the consciousness of Mackellar. He not only struggles between two masters, but also between modes of narration: between the tragic decline of the House of Durie and the more sympathetic-practical modes of realism. And there is a related tension between tragedy and the story of the story itself, which constantly threatens to fracture that tragic glaze.

The Master: As much as we are supposed to sympathize with the Master, we should also recognize that Stevenson is hollowing out the trope of the Byronic hero–or at least disassociating the literary heroism from political constancy (James gets immunity in Scotland by becoming a political spy for England).

Inheritance and history: In Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff interrupts the family chain of inheritance, which is then restored in the end. But here the family line is “interrupted” by none other than the heir himself.

Oscar Wilde – “The Decay of Lying” (1891)

An essay on the relationship between art and nature, it is staged as a Socratic dialogue between the naive but curious Cyril and the dismissive, articulate, intelligent aesthete Vivian. Vivian believes that Art does not imitate Nature, but that Nature imitates Art:

Art is our spirited protest, our galant attempt to reach Nature her proper place. As for the infinite variety of nature, that is pure myth. It is not to be found in Nature herself. It resides in the imagination, or fancy, or cultivated blindness of the man who looks at her. (970)

He critiques the “realists” strain in modern literature (Zola, Eliot, everyone else) as being either non-art or a fasle romanticization of working class conditions. He therefore rejects what he calls “modernity of form” (976). He exclaims, “Certainly we are a degraded race, and have sold our birthright for a mess of facts” (977). His description of how Art incorporates nature is Adornian to the hilt:

Art begines with abstract decoration….Art [then] takes life as part of her rough material, recreates it, and refashions it in fresh forms, is absolutely indifferent to fact, invents, imagines, dreams, and keeps between herself and reality the impenetrable barrier of beautiful style…The third stage is when life gets the upperhand, and dries Art out into the wilderness. This is the true decadence, and it is from this that we are now suffering. (978)

This defense of beauty and of “decadence” more broadly can be related to Pater’s writings in Renaissance, as well as to, perhaps, Aurora Leigh’s stuff on life. Perhaps read Wilde as a response to that vitalist strain. At any rate, makes an interesting capstone text to a 19th century discussion of fact. Transitioning to the 20th-century, one could talk about “Ithaca” chapter in Joyce as yet another step, a fourth stage, in the play between nature and art.

This essay also has the reference to the “cracked lookingglass,” which Stephen will pick up in the beginning of Ulysses. Can connect to Sargasso Sea, perhaps, and to DeKoven’s work on mirrors and water.

The essay ends with four precepts:

  1. Art never expresses anything but itself
  2. All bad art comes from returning to Life and Nature
  3. Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life
  4. Lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of art

It’s curious that the form of the essay loses it dialogic character and becomes a treatise of sorts. 

Thomas Hardy – Far from the Madding Crowd (1874)

Gabriel Oak’s dog chases his herd of sheep off the side of a cliff. Oak goes on the road and happens to pass by a huge fire in hay-field. He helps and asks the owner if he can comeone as a shepherd. It happens to be the farm of Bathsheba Everdene, to whom Gabriel had proposed marriage before he lost his sheep. She hires him.  Meanwhile, Boldwood tries to court her, but she rebuffs his advances. When Oak chastises her for this, she fires him, but rehires him when she needs his help saving her flock from “the bloat.” The seducer Sergeant Troy comes to town and beings to court Bathsheba, who falls in love with him despite her better judgment. It turns out that he actually loved her old servant Fanny Robbins, to whom he had proposed marriage but through a mix-up she had stood him up at the altar. He doesn’t accept her apologies. Troy and Bathsheba fin her on the road, and Troy gives her money, promising more in a couple days. She barely makes it to town, with the help of a dog. She dies. Bathsheba suspects Troy (Oak knows about everything all along) and keeps the coffin, which contains Fanny and her infant, in her house. Troy returns and tells Bathsheba that he will never love her. He leaves. Bathsheba promises to marry Boldwood in six years of Troy does not appear, but on the eve of the promise’s consummation, Troy returns to interrupt Boldwood’s Christmas party. He shoots Troy and tries to kill himself, but is prevented. He is saved from hanging by his friends, and is just imprisoned. Gabriel tenders his resignation, but then decides to stay, proposes marriage to Bathsheba, and they marry.

Preliminary notes

Time: Hardy frequently contrasts rustic time with city time, granting the peasant a “Present” which can encompass “three-or-four-score years”: “The citizen’s Then is the Rustic’s Now” (127). Also, Gabriel’s watch is able to mark the minutes with precision, while the hour hand slips around. There is thus a middle zone between exactitude of a time that would extract a labor down to the second [see EP Thompson on time and labor], but also a radical relativity of those minutes in relation to the entirety of the day. [Can also see in this an adumbration of Murphy’s internal sense of time…the hour striking between 20 and 30, for example.] How can we also see this as a potential solution to the problems of timing in Hardy’s novels? At the same time, perhaps, such inattention is the condition for their emergence.

Labor vs. pleasure: The terms used for describing the “substantial” relationship between Gabriel and Bathsheba:

Theirs was that substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all) when the two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each other’s character, and not the best till further on, the romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality, (348)

Curious when read in light of “realism” more generally, since the novel itself verges on the board of realism and fantasy. The melodramatic ending turns the novel into a thriller more than some “naturalist” or even Eliotic portrayal of authentic psyches. But it is also another moment in which manner and matter becomes a problematized binary.

The little Valentine: one of the many “weird scenes” in this novel. Bathsheba finds a post card and just randomly sends it to Boldwood without thinking: the tragedy ensures. Another weird scene is when Fanny is dragged to town on the back of a dog. Relate to te weirdness of the boots in Tess, or in the barn with the bull in Casterbridge.

Virginia Woolf – “Modern Fiction” (1919)

Woolf rejects the idea of scientific or industrial progress being applied to literary history. “We do not come to write better; all that we can be said to do is to keep moving.” Nevertheless, she wants to mark out the difference between an older generation of writers (Bennett, Galsworthy, Wells) from the new (Hardy, Conrad, and most recently and importantly, James Joyce). The former are what she calls “materialists”: “they write of unimportant things…[spending] immense skill and immense industry making the trivial and the transitory appear the true and the enduring.” This is peculiarly close to Woolf’s own methods of composition–one immediately think of the many trivial objects in the Ramsay’s empty house which bear the imprint of human form, the history of life itself. Nevertheless, the problem with materialists is that “life escapes.” Woolf believes that this is because of an unfortunate dependence on convention (social and formal), which restricts the means by which “impressions” are converted into representational forms: of a writer were a free man and not a slave….there would be no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest,” etc. A strange claim: where are these conventions located and who is imposing these forms of repression on the writer-slave? But Woolf insists that these conventional forms do an injustice to Life: “a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.” Writers that are able to convey this halo are what Woolf calls “spiritual”

Paradoxically, the writer achieves this by way of the ordinary:

Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives myriad impression–trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms. (106)

Modern fiction, especially the work of Joyce, is atomic-spiritual. There’s a problematic conflation of the material and the spiritual, but the idea is that by disregarding convention, writes are able to get “closer to life.” Can we think about his in terms of ontological proximity (Levinas) and, at the same time, the discourse of life that runs through Victorian literature (the Brownings, Eliot, Bram Stoker, etc.)?

She concludes with an underhanded jab at both formal and legel censorship, which has been latent throughout.

‘The proper stuff of fiction’ does not exist; everything is the proper stuff of fiction, every feeling, every thought; every quality of brain and spirit is drawn upon; no perception comes amiss. (110)

 

Henry James – The Wings of the Dove (1902)

Kate Croy, the child of a poor and socially scorned father, is given the choice to be brought up by her aunt or stay with her father. She stays with aunt, but her desire to be married to Merton Densher, a poor British journalist, is complicated by her Aunt Maud Lowden’s desire to marry her well (to Lord Mark). Merton and Kate declare an informal engagement before he leaves for the US on an assignment from his newspaper. While there, we learn that he has met Milly Theale, a fabulously rich but somewhat culturally naive American, and Susan Shepherd, her culturally savvy tag-along. They are traveling in Italy, but decide to go to London, where they fall in with the crowd at Lancaster Gate. Everyone likes everyone else, but everyone also “working” everyone else according to their “quantity” and ability to “give.” Milly confides in Kate that she has a terminal disease. Merton returns and Kate tries to convince him to marry Milly (with the secret intention of her dying and leaving her money to Merton so that she can then marry Merton and have Milly’s money). Milly goes to Venice and everyone follows. Merton is conflicted about what to do, and Lord Mark has suspicions: he suspects that Merton and Kate are engaged despite Milly’s insistence that Merton has declared his love for her. Lord Mark spills the beans and Milly dies. She leaves some money to Merton anyway, but he refuses to take the money and instead says that Kate can have the money (but she will lose him) or she can refuse the money and marry. Merton says, I will marry you in an hour “as we were,” but Milly responds, “We will never be as we were.”

Combines, in James terms, “the narrative and dramatic lock,” but the theatrical melodrama, of which there is a lot, takes place “offstage”: we do not see the betrayal of the conspiracy, its revelation to Milly, or the immediate effects on Milly.

Milly’s “gift” to Merton and Kate has a similar damaging effect as it does Ralph Touchet’s “gift” to Isobel Archer: she is given social freedom, but it destroys her by “grinding her into conventionality.” However, Milly’s gift is also the opportunity for these two individuals to separate and gain a certain amount of narrative freedom. But it is through a refusal that such freedom is gained. Talk about this in relation to James shift from omniscient narrator to the creator of the “Scenario.”

Figure of the Dove. Taken from Psalms: David wishes to be a dove so that he may avoid death, but God is also likened to a Dove that descends and protects. How is Milly both? And does this bird differ from, say, the eagle in Isaiah that soars on wings because of a trust in the Lord that grants a renewal of strength. The Dove is inherently weak. The wings are also tipped with gold (connect to Golden Bowl and all the other instances of Golden (Marius, Dorian Gray, Mill on the Floss, Tale of Two Cities)). Simply put, Milly in life plays the object of desire (a dove that can be petted) to the a subject of desire in death that literally envelops all the characters.

Quantity – People are often referred to as quantities. This successfully integrates characters into the perverted circuit of gifts that sustains the rampant exploitation of London society. Also, Aunt Maud is referred to as “large,” as if James is playing with the idea that enough of something, anything, can tip over into a quality in itself. This is what happens to Milly’s money in the end: does it convert into a love? Perhaps, but a love that makes an impossible demand if it is taken up.

Life – As in the Ambassadors, Milly is obsessed with “living.” She goes to London readying herself for the “assault of life.” The anxiety of living a full life runs throughout James work, finding its most refined expression in “The Beast in Jungle,” where Marcher confides to May that his one flaw (what  makes him unique) is his sense of perpetual anticipation. May dies knowing that what he has been waiting for has come: the terrible realization that he has wasted a life in waiting. Leo Bersani associates the indefinable “It” for which Marcher is waiting with the Freudian “Id” which contains the pure potentiality of unconscious desire. In James this expectancy and potentiality becomes constitutive of the subject itself: Can we read Densher’s final freedom (and his gift of freedom to Kate) as pure potentiality? Importantly, this must be routed through an indirect object: Kate’s gold.

Thingliness – Use Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology to talk about how emotions, states of consciousness, desire, relations, take on texture: “the sticky and slippery couch” on the first page, the sheer density of the perceptual field when Merton visits Aunt Maud for the first time is disarming, crowding out the ability to think lucidly. Aunt Maud treats Merton with a “softness…the quality of fin velvet, menat to fold thick, but stretched a little thin” (502).

Sickness – Compare to The Good Soldier, in which bourgeois Londoners are constantly afflicted with “heart problems” that do not in fact exist as a pretext for traveling to a spa, where they can carry on elicit affairs with one another. The one character that does die of a heart problem (Maisie Maiden swallowed by a suitcase) is the one persistently abused by everyone else, especially Edward.

Novel as mode of enquiry – how can we conceive of late James novels as modes of enquiry into the incalculable adjustments and comportments that lead to subject formation. Can we think about it in terms of the temporal limit of affect–not where affect ends but where it beings–where the concessions, intersubjective emotions, etc.make possible a subject but do not bind that subject at the other end? Wings of the Dove refuses to put a limit on the affectively possible: it is rendered (however negatively) as the pure potential of not exercising an exploitative power.

Henry James – The Ambassadors (1903)

SUMMARY:

Lambert Strether is supposed to meet his friend Waymarsh at a hotel, but Watmarsh is late, and in the interlude Strether meets Miss Gostrey. Strether has gone traveling with Waymarsh under the pretense of showing him Europe (he eventually does get seduced by the allure of Paris and by Mme Barras), but really with a mission–given to him by Woolett, MA socialite, his fiancé Mrs. Newsome–to ‘rescue’ Chad Newsome from his affair with the older Marie de Vionnet. Strether is himself attracted to Marie, and is at first unsure whether Chad is in love with her or her beautiful daughter Jeanne. His sense of disappointment and missed opportunity leads him to confide in Chad’s friend Bilham, telling him to “Live!” Strether is convinced that Chad should not return home to the family business, because he is so impressed with his improvement and sophistication. Mrs. Newsome therefore sends over new Ambassadors (the Pococks)–most importantly, Sarah Pocock, Chad’s sister–who disagrees with Strether’s assessment and denounces Marie de Vionnet as a woman of ill repute. Strether escapes to the French countryside and runs into Chad and Marie on a boat. He returns to Paris, rejects an implied proposal of marriage from Miss Gostrey, and then goes back to the United States.

from the PREFACE:

– Contrast James’ third-person point of view with David Copperfield
– The Novel attempts to treat the manner as if it were an essential matter. Talk about this in terms of Tilling’s essay, but also in terms of taste (manner) and nourishment (matter). How does Jame offer a paradigm of tasting that overturns the traditional denigration of ‘taste’ as mere dilettantism?
– How does this treatment of manner lead to the “Grace of Intensity” that is the special achievement of the elastic novel form (allows for extended scenes of “over-preparation” for the actual “scenes” of passing action)…and how can this be talked about in terms of an ethics?

 

KEY MOMENTS:

Strether’s profession of identity: “[Putting on my name] is exactly the thing that I’m reduced to doing for myself. It seems to rescue a little, you see, from the wreck of hopes and ambitions, the refuse-heap of disappointments and failures my one presentable little scrap of identity” (51). This is a set up for Strether’s impending susceptibility to the “success” of Chad. The advantage, for James, of choosing a mature hero, is that he can tell the story of maturation through te eyes of a character that poignantly feels the pain of not expanding one’s horizons.

Strether’s speech to Bilham is perhaps the most importnat moment in the novel, according to James himself: “Do what you like so long as you don’t make my mistake. For it was a mistake. Live!” (132). In the context of a novel that deals so little with actions or events associated with the action of life, one can take this passage as a justification of James’ artistic practice–an art that makes or constructs life out of the myriad shadings of manner that are supposedly secondary, but in fact primary to that which we call “Life.” Or perhaps read as a moment of self-conscious critique…I’ve not lived so that you might live… At any rate, this concept of life is radically delimited (“a tin mould…into which, a helpless jelly, one’s consciousness is poured”) unless one recognize that it is limited…and this precisely where living and freedom begin…

The novel, from Book Five onwards, is an account of how Strether’s lost youth becomes sensual, accessible to touch, an “affair of the senses” (284) that approximates a momentary freedom of the moment (283).

The tableau vivant of the approaching row boat containing Marie and Chad. Not only “a chance in a million,” and therefore a good time to talk about novelistic artifice, but also a good chance to talk abotu the relationship between artistic representation and reality–that is, mimesis. Chad and Marie appear as if they were in a painting…as if the painting demanded their presence. Only slowly does the perfect painting break down, as Strether realizes that familiar lurking in the defamiliarized scene.

The family business that goes unnamed: Chad refers to returning to “the sale of the object advertised” (341). (Cf. Bill Brown, “Advertising Late James”)