"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I Will Show You Modernism In A Handful of Dust

Painting by Leonard Orr ~ Handful of Dust in the Wind
Mimi Allin writes:
"land sky heaped feathered leading discouraging
porcupined lit bloated muffled"

This Fortnightly's connections are all about the Ache of Modernism, the sudden tortured awareness of the unlived life, the life which dared nothing -- or not enough. As Carolyn Heilbrun writes of D. H. Lawrence (1885 - 1930): " . . . he understood that the mortal risk was not, or was no longer, death; it had become the possibility that life, the lived life, might be evaded." Historical discontinuity, alienation, asocial individualism, existentialism, melancholy -- these were the issues at hand. Horror to horror. Dust to dust.

Unlike the Romantic movement, which can be dated from a specific event -- the publication in 1798 of the Lyrical Ballads, Modernism begins less deliberately (unless you ask Virginia Woolf; more on this next time). There is not an initial document, such as the "Preface to the Lyrical Ballads," which sets forth the tenets of Modernism and heralds a movement to which writers may rally. Instead, one must look in the works themselves to locate the key concepts shaping the tone of the canon. In chronological order, here are a few of my favorites:

Joseph Conrad / Heart of Darkness (1902):
"He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision, —
he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath —
'The horror! The horror!'" [emphasis added]

Henry James / "The Beast in the Jungle" (1903):
"So he saw it, as we say, in pale horror, while the pieces fitted and fitted. . . . It was the truth, vivid and monstrous, that all the while he had waited the wait was itself his portion. This the companion of his vigil had at a given moment made out, and she had then offered him the chance to baffle his doom. One’s doom, however, was never baffled . . . The escape would have been to love her . . . This horror of waking-- this was knowledge, knowledge under the breath of which the very tears in his eyes seemed to freeze." [emphasis added]

E. M. Forster / Howards End (1910):
"Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.” [emphasis added]

T.S. Eliot / The Wasteland (1922):
" . . . I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you:
I will show you fear in a handful of dust. [emphasis added]

Jessamyn West / The Friendly Persuasion (1945):
"He, a live man, to die. He extended his hand, recalling its cunning, marveling at the way stiff, unpliable bones could be so cushioned and strung together as to be capable of music, of grafting a tree, of lifting a foal from it's mother's torn flesh -- and that hand to be dust. And the enemy present . . . He saw objects two ways, now, both as more beautiful and more pitiable: those which would stay, endure beyond men, stones, trees, the moving air, had new beauty, that of their own endurance and of his leaving; but men and women were more pitiable . . . Man's a sizeable hulk reared - up on his wagon seat and pulled about the earth by horses; dead, no more'n a spoonful of dust, not enough, spread thin, to take a small - sized horse track" (147 - 150). [emphasis added]

Alan Sillitoe / "The Fishing Boat Picture" (1959):
"Then optimism rides out of the darkness like a knight in armour. If you loved her... (of course I bloody-well did)... then you both did the only thing possible if it was to be remembered as love. Now didn't you? Knight in armour goes back into blackness. Yes, I cry, but neither of us did anything about it, and that's the trouble." [emphasis added]

Iris Murdoch / The Black Prince (1973):
"The whole room breathed the flat horror of genuine mortality, dull and spiritless and final . . . (38)
"You understand nothing of -- the horror -- no wonder you can write real books -- you don't see -- the horror -- (224, emphasis added)
"The evening was overcast . . . I could smell dust, as if the quiet tedious streets all around me had dissolved into endless dunes of dust. I thought about this morning and how we had seemed to have all the time in the world. And now there seemed to be no more time. I also thought that if only I had had the wit . . . (285)
I awoke to a grey awful spotty early morning light which made the unfamiliar room present in a ghastly way. The furniture was humped shapelessly about me . . . Everything seemed to be covered with soiled dust sheets. . . . I experienced horror, then memory." (341)

William Stafford / "A Ritual To Read To Each Other"
(1977, or somewhat earlier):

If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider--
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give--yes or no, or maybe--
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep. [emphasis added]

Kansas / "Dust in the Wind" (1977)
Click to listen:
I close my eyes
Only for a moment and the moment's gone
All my dreams
Pass before my eyes with curiosity
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind

Same old song
Just a drop of water in an endless sea
All we do
Crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind

Now don't hang on
Nothin' lasts forever but the earth and sky
It slips away
And all your money won't another minute buy

Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind
Dust in the wind
Everything is dust in the wind

Dust Bowl

Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, July 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

1 comment:

  1. Leonard Orr writes: "Thank you, Kitti; I am impressed by all of the collaborators you have found for this piece!"