Monday, July 12, 2010

Looks Down With Wonder at the Sudden View of All This World at Once

With that in mind, there are some notable literary attributes whose prominence in Paradise Lost and Moby-Dick require serious and sustained study.

One, mentioned earlier briefly, is the use of unusual compound formations. Of this Pommer writes:

"Neither Milton nor Melville confined himself to the use of compound epithets, but employed also compound nouns, verbs, and adverbs. Melville is probably the bolder of the two in his freak marriages, perhaps because of the prevailing American fondness for compounds; nevertheless, both authors are remarkably similar in this respect. Both added adjectives to adjectives, nouns, and participles, bringing vigorous, fresh words into their narratives. For example, Milton’s ‘timely-happy’ is like Melville’s ‘gloomy-jolly’ [when describing Pip’s tambourine in Chapter 93]. In each of the following pairs, Milton’s member again precedes Melville’s: ‘slow-endeavoring,’ ‘soft-cymballing’; ‘over-laboured,’ ‘over-arboured’; ‘tongue-doughty,’ ‘life-restless’; ‘chamber-ambushes,’ ‘cavern-pagoda’; and ‘coral-paven,’ ‘coral-hung.’ Of particular interest also is the large number of compounds with all which both authors used [an exhaustive list is given in Appendix B]."

The next characteristic which he lists as being common to the style of both writers is the use of adjectives for nouns, as when Milton’s Satan says, “I travel this profound,” or when Melville describes “the bottomless profound of the sea.” Elsewhere Milton describes the “rebel host” being seized, not with amazement, but amaze.

Then he goes on to note the use of nouns as verbs (as when Ishmael beholds “monsters rafting the sea”). I’m already familiar with this trope through my study of Shakespeare: For example, during a particularly moving scene towards the end of King Lear, Edward (disguised as Mad Tom), pretending that they stand upon the top of a high cliff, vividly relates to his blind father how from such a height “the choughs and rooks that wing the midway air grow scarce so gross as beetles.” It’s one of my favorite literary devices, in fact, for establishing character and action—as when I describe Corey flaming during a conversation with Booth in the ninth chapter of my novel. It occurs to me that Emily Dickinson used this conceit with abnormal regularity. I wish the author of our current study had unearthed more examples, but there is no list in the appendix.

However, he does say this:

"A third and final way in which both Milton and Melville transformed familiar words was by fresh uses of familiar prefixes and suffixes. One type of such change involves the use of –est to form unusual superlatives like Milton’s ‘constantest’ or ‘famousest’ [old Samwise Gamgee!], like Melville’s ‘arrantest’ or ‘abstractest.’ Next is their unusual predilection for strange compounds of the prefix un-, such as ‘unhidebound’ and ‘uninterpenetratingly.’"

Here, TWO lists are given:

Maturest Monstrousest
Virtuousest Wonderfullest
Powerfullest Selectest (“ever cullest Thy selectest champions…!”)
Prowest Intensest
Exquisitest Recentest
Discreetest Etherealest
Fleshliest Sacredest

Unvoyageable Unsplinterable
Unsearchable Ungraspable (“the image of the ungraspable phantom”)
Unfear’d Unfearing
Unappeasable Unappeasedly (“the unappeasedly steadfast hunter”)
Unfum’d Uninterpenetratingly
Unbottom’d Uncontinented
Unwithdrawing Unmisgiving
Untractable Untrackably
Unbenighted Undistrusted
Unhide-bound Unrunagate
Unattending Unresounding
Unconniving Unparticipating
Undelighted Undelight

Now we’re really getting to the heart of it. One attribute of Shakespeare’s writing, and of Milton’s, which Melville particularly loved was the employment of long lists in both (“… the church and cloisters, courts and vaults, lanes and passages, banquet-halls, refectories, libraries, terraces, gardens, broad walks, domiciles, and dessert-rooms”). I wrote such a list in two of the profounder moments of my sixteenth chapter, though I was consciously echoing The Waste Land and Prufrock when I did so. This is very helpful. As of now I have written three different versions of Chapter 15, none of them to my full satisfaction, and part of the reason is because I was never able to give a satisfactory sense of what Southwestern is and what it looks and feels like. A list could prove remarkably useful in that respect.

The omission of words is again noted. Shakespeare and the Bible have the market cornered in elisions; thus I say no more.

Far on the other end of the literary spectrum is the use of suspension, of which Pommer notes two uses (of many) in “The Whiteness of the Whale,” but which I remembered from a study of Macbeth in which the writer pointed out that Macbeth places three lines in between the beginning of the sentence and the use of the word “murder,” and even then only in a passive voice which nicely omits his own complicity in the unsanctioned event.

Now o’er the one-half world
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams
Abuse the curtain’d sleep. Witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate’s offerings, and wither’d murder,
alarum’d by his sentinel, the wolf, whose howl’s his watch,
Thus with his stealthy pace, with Tarquin’s ravishing strides,
Towards his design moves like a ghost.

Notice here, too, how murder itself is suspended, so that we don’t find the verb till the end of the sentence.

There follows a discussion of the Literary Trope Sublime, the postpositional adjective. Marvel and be amazed:

"“Placing the adjective after the substantive” is used by both Milton and Melville when only one adjective is involved, and also, more conspicuously, when two are used, one before and one after the noun. Readers of Paradise Lost should be familiar with such transpositions as ‘voice divine,’ ‘flying steed unrein’d,’ ‘heavenly form angelic,’ and ‘unvoyageable gulf obscure’ [!]. Melville’s usage occurs in such phrases as ‘panoply complete,’ ‘twilight glade, interminable,’ ‘interesting terms contingent,’ and ‘good fare and plenty, fine flip and strong.’ Some of these examples from both authors bear juxtaposition:

Melville: dusky tribes innumerable
Milton: upright beams innumerable

The Blocksburg’s demons dire
Hydras and Chimeraes dire

A hooked, Roman bill sublime
In the dun air sublime

Of some dark hope forlorn
In these wild woods forlorn

"In Melville’s as in Milton’s works are dozens upon dozens of these adjective-noun-adjective locutions. In Clarel [Melville’s attempt at dramatic poetry, which Dr. Herbert once memorably satirized in class] occurs ‘Through twilight of mild evening pale’ [!]; the phrase repeats no precise series of words from Milton, but like many of Melville’s phrases it does repeat a pattern of grammar which casts over numbers of Melville’s pages an almost elusive aura of Miltonism."

Ah, Miltonism… that elusive aura. I’m reminded in reading this of two associations. One is Michiko Kakutani’s 2005 review of Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince: “As the story proceeds… it grows progressively more somber, eventually becoming positively Miltonian in its darkness.” The other is a favorite passage near the beginning of The Man who was Thursday: “Over the whole landscape lay a luminous and unnatural discoloration, as of that disastrous twilight which Milton spoke of as shed by the sun in eclipse.” (For all his merriment and optimism, there’s a certain element of darkness in the best of Chesterton’s works which has the quality of nightmare.)

At the end of the book, Pommer helpfully lists some of the postpositional adjectives fashioned by Milton and Melville:

Constellations round
Nations round

Influence divine
Lineaments divine

A blast resistless
A power resistless

Pensive face angelic
Heav’nly form angelic

A shock electric

Sweets ineffable
Joy ineffable

A hand profane

In dreams Elysian

His will determinate

Rich banners waving
Orient colours waving

Disastrous necessity inkept

A bony steed and strong
Huge pangs and strong

Frank demeanor kind

Mild evening pale
In bridled imprecations pale
Flocking shadows pale

Curls ambrosial
Flowers ambrosial

Recluse he lives and abstinent

Prolonged captivity profound
Tartarus profound

Vain liberation late
Solemn message, late

Pale, priestly hand and begemmed

In clear terms and concise
With calm aspect and clear

But before we become too excited, we should be aware that “The use of a postpositional adjective is… but one of several Latin transpositions of words found in Milton.” Moreover, “Melville exhibits a like variety of transpositions.” Happily for our present purposes, however, Pommer lists a few of these as well.

Inverted Subject and Predicate
Melville: And heaved and heaved, still unrestingly heaved the black sea.
Wisdom is vain, and prophecy.

Milton: Nor stood unmindful Abdiel to annoy / The atheist crew.
Strange horror seize thee, and pangs unfelt before.

Inverted Predicate Adjective (another of my favorite rhetorical conceits)
Pretty sure am I…
Top-heavy was the ship

Displeas’d / All were who heard

Inverted Adverbial Phrase
Palms, alpacas, and volcanoes… are in luxuriant profusion stamped.
But while [the carpenter was] now upon so wide a field that variously accomplished…

O thou, that with surpassing glory crown’d…
She turns, on hospitable thoughts intent.

Inverted Object and Verb
In what time of tempest, to what seagull’s scream, the crowning eddies did their work, knows no mortal man.
We sailed from sea to sea… vast empires explored, and inland valleys to their utmost heads.

Whence thou return’st, and whither went’st, I know.
[Adam and Eve] Firm peace recovered soon, and wonted calm.

Here in the same category we can include Milton and Melville’s frequent use of the Latin ablative absolute, particularly as a means of beginning a sentence. I’m thinking, for example, of the line at the end of the chapter entitled “Moby-Dick”: “Gnawed within, and scorched without, with the infixed, unrelenting fangs of some incurable idea; such a one, could he be found, would seem the very man to dart his iron and lift his lance against the most appalling of all brutes.” The opening clauses of this sentence constitute an English attempt at the ablative absolute. Note also the use of a un- construction, the piling on of unusual adjectives, the twisted inversion of the second half of the line, and the striking elision in the middle (“such a one, could he be found…”) which holds the whole sentence together.

Numerous literary devices of this kind I employed in the writing of the end of Chapter 5. (To a lesser degree, as well, in the previous chapter, but at the time of the writing of the fourth chapter my absorption of Melville hadn’t yet developed to the point where I could write in such a manner freely and without contrivance.) In other places it was less appropriate. And this is the tricky thing that I’m discovering about the writing of my novel. I remember telling Tyler some weeks ago that it was polyphonic. And, curiously, yesterday I read in the introduction to the Everyman’s Library edition of The Brothers Karamazov that Bakhtin used the same word to describe the Dostoevskian novel. It bewilders me, and I know from the testimony of others that it bewilders them as well. My novel is, necessarily, a work of many styles. There are only one or two places in Chapter 6 where you can readily tell that the writer of that chapter was also the writer of the previous. By the time we arrive at Chapters 15 and 16, it’s like reading the work of a completely different person. Just for the sake of assuring myself that I’m not being egomaniacal, we can make a comparison… the first passage is from Chapter 5, the second from Chapter 6, and the third from Chapter 16:

"So Corey came to believe that he was under attack. To his own mind, at least, and perhaps also to the minds of his more worshipful companions, he had become Galileo, nobly waging the long, intellectual struggle against a world of imprisoning pieties. Thus he enlisted all his defensive self-protection in fortifying his spirit against what he perceived as my continual, unwarranted aggressions. And malevolence amassed all the while, like an obscene pearl, on the small dust of his original sensitivities and hurts."

* * *

"Literature is not the act of writing only; books are carried, nurtured, loved, sustained, and given life through reading. Words unread lie dead upon the page until some reader draws them forth. We all know that. What’s less well-known is what a book becomes through being read. The subtlest, gentlest pulses of the heart are registered within its pages, and remain there, as (some say) a ghostly imprint of a person’s life can linger over his or her possessions after death. A book becomes a storehouse for the silent and at times unutterable longings, fears, despairs, delights, frustrations, and exhilarations of the one who reads.

"And all the ghosts of all these books were roofed together in a single dwelling. And the ghosts had overflowed their hiding-places, spilling onto shelf and staircase; and had made a darkness in the lonely places of the bookstore, deeper than the darkness from without."

* * *

"“Love is an adventure that waits for no man!” said Taylor. “I’m… I’m just loving it! Boze, our life is a novel! It’s insane. My mind is falling apart. I can’t even tell people what I think anymore. I don’t even know what I believe! I love life and it’s all beautiful and it’s all… wow!”

"Clutching at his heart, he staggered backwards and collapsed onto the lower bed. Taylor was one of the only people I had ever met who knew what it was like to be as overwhelmed by life as I was. All the windows were closed, but a wind seemed to be blowing into the room from some hole in the sun. It was as if joy was an actual location you could go and visit—a place where lovers danced, not by moonlight, but song-light, and sailed off towards morning together on a sea of foam and laughter."

Each of the passages just quoted proved successful for the simple reason that I understood the nature of what I was trying to describe and wrote accordingly. Chapter 5, the Corey chapter, needed a style most appropriate to the darkness and grandeur of the depths of Corey’s mind. Chapter 6 needed a light, airy, eerie, and ominous touch. In a sense, it picked up where the end of Chapter 4 left off; and at present it’s the chapter of my novel which I would say owes the most to “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.” (Since Chapters 4 and 6 have proven by far my most popular chapters, perhaps I should take this fact into account). Taylor’s favorite novel was On the Road; of course I read On the Road not long after the events of freshman year; and I was alarmed even then by the parallels between the story narrated in the novel and the weird events that culminated at the end of finals week. But I’m not as familiar with the Kerouackian style as I should be, having not read On the Road (until now) since Sophomore year; so I’ve struggled through having to absorb its eccentricities and luminosities and startling, gentle realisms, all of them, in a very short span of time.

In a sense, it’s just another variation on prophetic writing, which I’ve said before is what I’m writing with my novel. Prophecy isn’t just prediction of the future, but a soul-perceptive understanding of the present… and the past. Everything has an essence, and every essence has a style. "... And where the river of bliss through midst of heaven rolls o’er Elysian flowers her amber stream." It is quite odd, though, yet in a way oddly fitting to the circumstances of my life, and my story, that so often I should find myself writing in a voice not mine.

No comments: