Tuesday, October 11, 2005

That Statue In That Novel

Sometimes you fight, you know? But you love that person, don't you? Stop acting like an ass, then. You, of course, means me. Sometimes I act like an ass. The rest of the time, I'm a jerk. Reality is hard to take, little ones, or hard for me to take, anyways. Must be because I face it so rarely. I recall how Mr. Bennett knew that his own rarely-surfacing shame was good for him, but passed it off lightly, saying (I think he said, or perhaps it was Elizabeth), "For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?" I do not want to laugh at my neighbour like this. I do not want to be laughed at in my turn. Amusement is one thing, ridicule another. Most of all, I wish not to appear ridiculous to myself.

Reading: There is this line he wrote in Scribner's Magazine—"And in early years, we take a book for its material, and act as our own artists, keenly realizing that which pleases us, leaving the rest aside"—which makes me realize how unimportant an author can be. But this line also leads me to realize that only certain types of great authors can point themselves toward this unimportance. Dickens, for instance, cannot be separated from his mannerisms, his London, his needy heart. A Dickens novel is Dickens on display. David Copperfield could be retitled The Charles Dickens Museum, and one would buy engraved shackles in the souvenir shop. Not so Robert Louis Stevenson. If RLS was an actor, he would be a character actor, and disappear entirely into his role. Afterwards, certain members of the audience would say, "Was that really him?" Stevenson's books are blocks of marble to his readers, hidden angels looking for the looking reader. If Dickens is a museum, Stevenson is like a park. You will be guided, yes, but only where you want to go, as long as you want to go there. Nothing is to be forced, nothing is to be seen under flourescent lighting.

Stevenson's next notable success after Treasure Island was (I think) a little gargoyle—RLS called it a"gnome"— of a novel called The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde. I just reread this novel, and therefore just remembered why certain books are called classics. Because they're excellent, better than breathing, is why! Reading this novel is like chewing through every pseudo-literary Alan Moore script ever. It's like The League Of Extraordinary Gentleman if that comic (pardon me, graphic novel) wasn't sheer pot-black garbage. Right, then, so I guess this novella is nothing like that illustrated abomination. RLS' novel is nearly perfect. It's definitely gothic. And it's flat-out eerie. Reading a Nabokov essay in the back of my edition, I came across a strange coincidence between the author and his work.

[Stevenson] went down to the cellar to fetch a bottle of his favourite burgundy, uncorked it in the kitchen, and suddenly cried out to his wife: what's the matter with me, what is this strangeness, has my face changed?—and fell on the floor. A blood vessel had burst in his brain and it was all over in a couple of hours.

The author, apparently, wrote the first draft in ten days. Then he burned it and rewrote it again, and then heavily edited it, essentially rewriting it a third time. Stevenson dipped his pen and two months later the first pages were falling from the press into the waiting hands of an eager public. Beat that, print on demand! This book has never been out of print, joining the august pantheon of the Bible, the Shakespeare, and The Da Vinci Code. It's the language, you understand, the building sentences. It's the structure of the novel. It's the way the author simply disappears and leaves you to carve your way into this novel on your own, but that's okay, because he left you a chisel on the floor there, and the blade is sharp. This statue is going to be a beauty, I can see it already, something terrible and perfect. The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde+ Robert Louis Stevenson

Listening: So the guy sitting next to me (hey, J!) just passed me some music on his headphones, and it's like the bottom of a river, rock solid and gravelly, with warm muddy currents floating above it. Lo and behold, it comes from a blog called Long Sought Home, and this blog is insane (but where in + sane = good). Not mentally unstable because of the music, you understand, but because of the reason for posting the music, which said reason is, " This blog is about music about the afterlife. The idea of longing for the afterlife, in particular, is of interest to me. I hope you enjoy the music." Right. That's a parade I probably won't join, but I'll listen to the marching band, if that's alright. You should, too, especially as one of the tunes is a fervent choir abso-sacred-lutely ripping the lid off of "Farewell, Vain World" + Old Regular Baptists (Indian Bottom Association)

No comments: