On paralipsis, the ironic process, and the combination of both in “Never Imagine” from Henri Michaux’s “Life in the Folds”.
Contrary, are you?
Most likely, yes. Brains like to disobey negative orders: don’t think about that stressful meeting tomorrow (you will), don’t worry about that mosquito bite (it’ll prompt start itching), don’t ruminate on all the goals you have failed to achieve recently (a list will promptly appear).
The inability to deliberately shake off a thought through negative command is called Dostoyevski’s white bear problem or the ironic process.
Writing can harness this process to magnify the impressions left by (disconcerting) images. This is another reason why word associations are hard to dispel; in Dangerous Associations the pairing of baby and knife was disturbing because the mind connected the two words via cutting, but also because the image stuck and telling yourself not to think about applying knife to baby may have lead to a mental deepening of the scenario rather than its dispersion.
(When faced with gloom, it’s worth trying to direct the ironic process towards a positive purpose by trying really hard not to think about, for example, cuddly white teddybears.)
Like with other unbalancing acts, the more stressed you are the more distress persistent, unshakable negative thoughts can cause you. Which is why reading emotionally challenging books during a difficult period at work, for example, can affect you more than reading them during your vacation. Continue reading “I’m Not Telling You What I’m Telling You”
On De Quincey’s narrative style in his book “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater”.
How much do you know about opium?
Poppies. Sherlock Holmes. Afghanistan.
What about its “classical” forms?
Those came later. Opium meets “classical readers” in the form of laudanum, a 10% tincture of opium, discovered in the sixteenth century and recommended as a panacea during the first two hundred years of its existence.
(Not to be confused with ladanum or labdanum, which is made from rockrose, another flower, and which crops up in perfumes.)
The topic’s locus classicus is Thomas De Quincey’s 1821 Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. It was meant as a cautionary tale of opium abuse, although the first part of the book is dedicated to justifying De Quincey’s contact with the drug and the second part to lauding its restorative qualities (before reaching the third, cautionary part). Good intentions aside, today’s post focuses on a piece of writing taken from the autobiographical section.
Quote: This person was a young woman, and one of that unhappy class who subsist upon wages of prostitution. I feel no shame, nor have any reason to feel it, in avowing that I was then on familiar and friendly terms with many women in that unfortunate condition. The reader needs neither smile at this avowal nor frown; for, not to remind my classical readers of the old Latin proverb, “Sine cerere,” &c., it may well be supposed that in the existing state of my purse my connection with such women could not have been an impure one.
De Quincey wants us to believe him. He asserts his honesty in the matter, then he invokes a proverb to testify in his favour: his pecuniary difficulties must imply his chaste behaviour.
The problem with the Quote is that classical readers are rare in modern times.
What would have made the Quote quiver for the classical reader?
Familiarity with a trusted source.
Continue reading “Opium Meets Classical Readers”
On how to give a protagonist attitude: Raymond Chandler writes it into Marlowe’s interior monologue at the beginning of “The Big Sleep”.
If the back-cover blurb is a book’s CV, then the opening lines of a book are the opening lines of its job interview. Whether the book stays with you is likely to depend on your first impression.
Exceptions abound, as exceptions do—but not in today’s Quote.
The opening sentence of Raymond Chandler‘s novel The Big Sleep (the book that introduces his protagonist, private detective Philip Marlowe), concerns the time of day, the month, and the weather.
It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills.
We cut him some slack, because it was 1939, and you were still allowed to start a page-turning crime novel with the weather and skip the action for a whole 140+4 characters; even today’s readers can get as far as the length of a tweet and still be interested in the text that’s on the accompanying picture. (Also, according to The Guardian, that first line could have been one of Fitzgerald’s, so that’s alright.) The next few sentences of The Big Sleep are given in the Quote.
Quote: I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.
Most good books will start touting their wares as soon as possible, if not in the first line and not in an obvious fashion, then soon and subtly. Which part of the Quote caught your attention?
What makes the Quote quiver?
Continue reading “No One Knows About the Dark Blue Clocks”
On the dangers of forming opinions based on one source, humorously put.
Where do opinions come from?
I won’t answer that (too complicated).
Is it responsible to form opinions based on fake news? What about news that is marketed as fake, also known as freshly published fiction?
I won’t answer that either (too political).
Let’s stay within the confines of the safe, if old-fashioned, world where books are a source of knowledge, information, and formative experiences.
What happens when you pick up a book about a topic you know nothing about?
That I will answer: you incorporate what you have just read into your general sense of the world. You might also make up your mind about the book, you may—gasp!—form an opinion about the chief topic discussed.
The opinion will be based on your experiences, your background, your imagination, your state of mind at the time, all as a reaction to the book.
I call that opinion seeding.
Continue reading “How to: Form Opinions (Responsibly)”