Saturday, November 24, 2018

But They Will be the Ushers at the Wedding

An Investigation of the Critical Mind
It occurs to me that even when I'm fiercely immersed in
something – hmm, when am I ever that? – I can't think even
of a remote example: okay, let's say, when I opine about
Henry James' 'late' writing, and try to explain what I love
about its aural effects, I suppose I look for easy and pleasurable
ways to reinforce or, en passant, add credence to a claim, but
all these observations are made in passing. What they serve
is a poetic intent: to fashion a clarion call, not not to "make
a point" (indeed I’m almost only ever talking about a single
theme: unknowability), but to have it arise out of whatever
is engagingly at hand. If I find myself suddenly thinking up
an argument with a more scholarly scent (I suppose that's
happened here and there), like a flash itch to see something
in terms of what I understand to be semiotics – I play fast
and loose with that, too: the aim is never consciously to define
anything, but rather give a visceral take on the sort of minute
limited breath of a thing that tends to interest me. I love playing
just a few notes. Example: choose any two contiguous sentences
James wrote after 1910 – like this, from a letter to his niece Peggy:
“I glory in the piling up of complications of every sort. If I could
pronounce the name James in any different or more elaborate
way I should be in favor of doing it.” It’s perfect, personal
and completely James. A kiss and a handshake. I am driven
by whim to find and settle on whatever caters to the whim. But
when the whim arises out of an immersion as odd and wide
and full of suggestion as mine is in Henry James, it will be a whim
with a built-in mission – certainly to underscore my view of
the 'whole' – that is, my overall feeling called up by reflecting on
something – someone – I love. Everything I write, like each photo
I take of New York, amounts to a love letter. But as with anyone
I love, I really do welcome departures – upsets – incursions
of something unexpected. With whatever or whomever you love,
you always want, I think, more truth. So it's not an onanistic
return to a fond fantasy. The thing you return to is alive,
not dead, and you seek in it and bring to it evidence of the quirk,
the unforeseen, the untoward kick and slap. Actually, James'
language gives this to me all the time. It's not some dreamy sea
of cadence; it constantly surprises; at its best it follows the mind
so closely that it recreates it. I find simply by charting my reactions
to it, I establish as much of a relation with it as I can imagine
having. Not that it may not rivet me to learn the facts about
the Dreyfus Affair or Belgian soldiers in the Great War,
but they will be the ushers at the wedding.

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