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Old 08-12-2008   #31
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Re: Purple Patch Of The Day (or Week)

Quote Originally Posted by Odalisque View Post
To cast a dissenting vote, I took a look at John Cowper Powys' work some years ago -- prompted by Nemonymous, I feel sure -- and considered his stuff virtually unreadable. While having an extensive vocabulary is a good thing in a writer, having an immense one is not necessarily so.
I don't recall anybody asking for your vote, Odalisque. This is not an election.

Each time I reread a novel by J. C. Powys I feel that life is worth living... or at the very least I feel that life is worth sublimating through art. As Henry Miller lovingly wrote of the Welshman, "His words, even today, have the power of bewitching me."

As to your opinion regarding his vocabulary: Damn I hate those painters who use so many colours. I wish they would restrict themselves to a limited palette.

"Reality is the shadow of the word." -- Bruno Schulz
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Old 08-12-2008   #32
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Re: Baroque Prose of the Day

I hope I can baroquer some peace here. :-)

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Old 08-12-2008   #33
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Re: Baroque Prose of the Day

Two lemon-trees were beside it, and this little house which she seemed at once to inhabit gave her the most strange sensations of dignity and of peace. She saw herself go climbing up the garden from terrace to terrace, calling the goat, and the goat, beautiful in its possessedness, came loping down to meet her, asking to be milked. At this she paused in perplexity, for she had never milked anything and turned cold at the thought of touching the udders of an animal. But in a moment this was over and she carried the milk frothing warm in the pottery jug inside, into the dark interior of the house which would not be dark from within. Here something turned her back and she could not follow herself; she saddened, feeling excluded from some very intimate experience. The house was lonely and in autumn, when the river was brimming, the rushing past of the water must be terrifying; its echo would line with sound the upright walls of the valley. On still spring nights the thud of a falling lemon would be enough to awake one in terror.
From Chapter 6 of ‘The Hotel’ (1927) by Elizabeth Bowen

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Old 08-12-2008   #34
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Re: Baroque Prose of the Day

The only J. C. Powys novel I've read is Wolf Solent, and I found it mesmerizing. Powys's word-drunk prose is accompanied by a dry, analytical intelligence; he ain't no fool. And his ecstatic passages about life and nature have a dark, dying-animal awareness to them. This doesn't cancel the ecstasy, but it gives it an earthiness -- sort of like ancient Greek paganism, I think. At the same time, there is a Gothic feel to many of the passages.

I've read several of JCP's nonfiction books. (In middle age, I gravitate more toward nonfiction than fiction.) I'm currently about halfway through In Defence of Sensuality, a book that is not as salacious as it sounds. It contains such a clear exposition of his philosophy, in all its aspects, that I wish I'd read it first, before any of his other nonfiction works. Before reading this book, I didn't fully get his explanations of how one can be happy despite all the reasons for not being happy. Now I understand more fully and viscerally what he's talking about. I highly recommend it to all Ligottians: you too can be a pessimistic enjoyer of life! (Wait -- That doesn't sound very Ligottian, does it?) It's too soon to say what I will ultimately think about this book -- it usually takes me a long time to assimilate something and decide what I think about it -- but my immediate reaction is that this may end up really influencing the way I look at things.

Other excellent nonfiction works by Powys are A Philosophy of Solitude and The Meaning of Culture. I haven't read his Autobiography.

Regarding the issue of baroque prose in general, I wish more people liked it, so that baroque writers would do better in the marketplace. There will never be a shortage of plain, simple prose for sale, but there is a shortage of good baroque prose. Good is the key word there. The writing needs to be artful and intelligent; otherwise it isn't worth reading. Simply substituting uncommon words for common ones doesn't do anything for me. I don't want to get into arguments about taste -- what would be the point? -- but I do get tired of the dismissive attitude so often displayed (not pointing any fingers here!). And my own taste is not for baroque writing exclusively. There are a lot of plain-prose writers that I enjoy. For instance, I don't understand why some people think that Isaac Asimov's plain prose is artless. To me, it looks like he seldom put a word wrong. Some of his plots seem clumsy and silly to me, but I've always been able to read his prose with pleasure.

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Old 08-12-2008   #35
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Re: Purple Patch Of The Day (or Week)

Quote Originally Posted by gveranon View Post
The only J. C. Powys novel I've read is Wolf Solent, and I found it mesmerizing. Powys's word-drunk prose is accompanied by a dry, analytical intelligence; he ain't no fool. And his ecstatic passages about life and nature have a dark, dying-animal awareness to them. This doesn't cancel the ecstasy, but it gives it an earthiness -- sort of like ancient Greek paganism, I think. At the same time, there is a Gothic feel to many of the passages.
That's a wonderful way of putting it, gveranon. But I would suggest that Powys' philosophy of ecstasy goes further back than Homeric or archaic Greek paganism to a kind of primitive animalism, a sympathetic magic--the time when priests were magicians and men were guardians of the earth's fertility. In his writing the sun and sea and the lichen growing on damp bark and the rusty trowel digging the soil are invested with a cosmic energy, an awesome awareness. His men and women have inner lives as rich and deep as the earth.

I've read A Philosophy of Solitude and In Defence of Sensuality and I found them as mesmerizing (to borrow your word) as his fiction. I seem to recall him suggesting that one should live like a lizard in a swamp. This is not as fantastical as it seems. Powys was the ultimate individualist: for him the key to happiness was subjectivity, of pure sensual contemplation. The lizard in the swamp knows how to be still, much like Pascal's man sitting in the room by himself. The lizard is alive, he (or she) is aware, he lives by his senses: the rich earthiness of his dark world thrillingly enters his nostrils; his bright, hooded eyes are alert for the smallest movement... the lizard lacks for nothing and never thwarts his own nature.

Powys maintains that in order to be happy one must retreat from the world into the realm of highly subjective, sensual contemplation. A religion of the inner life, of the world transfigured through one's individual senses. All this might sound remote from the intellectual standpoint which we highly-strung types cherish. But when did thinking ever make you happy? Powys has described a philosophy of happiness highly suited to the loner, to the pessimist, to the outsider.

There are very few writers whose work thrills me. Powys is one of them.

By the way, I sheepishly offer my apologies to the poor Odalisque. I snapped at him last night when he posted a negative opinion concerning Powys. Never drink cheap Australian overproof rum while posting on TLO. Not that I'm blaming the booze: I'm a nervous, unsociable, intolerant and drunken fool.

"Reality is the shadow of the word." -- Bruno Schulz
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Old 08-13-2008   #36
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Re: Baroque Prose of the Day

The ironic thing is I think John Cowper Powys (judging by his works) would have been very much in tune with the novel Odalisque has just finished writing (after twenty years!).

I was once obsessed with JCP fiction and philosophy. It is now time to get back to it after 30 odd years. I shall first pick off the shelf my copy of 'In Defence of Sensuality' and 'Lucifer' (an epic poem I recall). Thanks, b&i and gv.

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Old 08-15-2008   #37
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Re: Baroque Prose of the Day

I’ve just read for the first time an unfinished story by Elizabeth Bowen: ‘The Man and The Boy’, just published in ‘The Bazaar and Other Stories’ (2008) by Elizabeth Bowen (Edinburgh University Press). Discovered handwritten on ten sheets of ruled paper. May date from the late 20’s? One wonders where this universe of reality was heading. The story ends:

“They had the nearest window in the restaurant opened; what air there was came through and fanned Antonia’s arms. She”

The following is a nice baroque passage, I feel from this story:

-------------------

“This town sat on a rock rising out of one of those plains of immense France. A river doubles glinting past the foot of the rock: over the river there is a steep drop. One flank shelves, with grey jumbled roofs, yards, an embanked road for motors zigzagging down between. Down where the road flattens there is a dusty faubourg, across the river, linked to town by a bridge. A boulevard dark with trees runs round the top of the rock, broadening out at the river side into municipal gardens. A cathedral church of flamboyant gothic gives the town interest: it is without charm - that quickness and air of secret pleasure many little French towns have it quite lacks. It has a limestone greyness and with the end of summer grows sluggish and sinister: glare beats on its restless slate-grey trees; wind creeps under the heavily dropping sky; straws blow about the cafes; dust hardens one's lips. Michelin gives three gables to the hotel - so here, yesterday, Theodore, amateur of late gothic, directed Antonia's party across the plain from the more smiling, peach-coloured town of Albi. He collected, he indexed aesthetic experience, though rapture had never flowered in his precise mind.

Benjie saw no reason to change his shirt: how much simpler it was to avoid his mother. He left the hotel and made for the market square, where he stared at objects aggressively. He was twelve, man enough to feel an angry vacuity: he hoped never to cross the English Channel again. Kicking an apple drearily past the stalls till it rolled under an old Renault parked by the kerb, he missed Tom's company. He sidled into a garage yard and stood silently watching two silent mechanics: here his contempt for the French lifted a little. With an obscure feeling of outrage he saw his mother, her pink nightdress slipping off her shoulder, running her hand up Tom's stiff arm, saying: "You won't." The voluptuous delicacy of women, embodied in her, antagonised him: he would rather have had a grim aunt who scrubbed his ears. Wait till I am in the army, Benjie thought.

Two nuns streamed past with a sanctimonious bustle. Avoiding their stuffy skirts, Benjie walked head on into Theodore, coming from the cathedral, eupeptic, bland.”

-------------
Re the word ‘eupeptic’ the editor writes:

“Eupeptic: having good digestion. But I have had to guess. The handwriting being illegible, the word looks like ‘emphatic’ and might be anything at all.”

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Old 08-15-2008   #38
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Re: Baroque Prose of the Day

John Cowper Powys is the sort of oceanic writer I, being drier, more 'continental', can only take in lakelike doses. But when I do - dipping into Weymouth Sands or Wolf Solent - I am enthralled and fascinated. I agree with JCP's idea of the 'life illusion', some central belief a person must entertain about himself and the world to be able to live at all. I know mine, and there is never a dull day. JCP describes somewhere (I think it is in that Sensuality book), that nothing is tedious once you use your concentration to really observe and register. He ueses the example (iirc) of a visit to a boring Aunt, where you can derive pleasure simply from watching the colour of the wallpaper, the things she has hoarded through the years et cetera.
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Old 08-15-2008   #39
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Re: Purple Patch Of The Day (or Week)

Quote Originally Posted by Bleak&Icy View Post
Quote Originally Posted by Odalisque View Post
To cast a dissenting vote, I took a look at John Cowper Powys' work some years ago -- prompted by Nemonymous, I feel sure -- and considered his stuff virtually unreadable. While having an extensive vocabulary is a good thing in a writer, having an immense one is not necessarily so.
I don't recall anybody asking for your vote, Odalisque. This is not an election.

Each time I reread a novel by J. C. Powys I feel that life is worth living... or at the very least I feel that life is worth sublimating through art. As Henry Miller lovingly wrote of the Welshman, "His words, even today, have the power of bewitching me."

As to your opinion regarding his vocabulary: Damn I hate those painters who use so many colours. I wish they would restrict themselves to a limited palette.
I didn't say (or wish to imply) that a writer having a huge vocabulary was necessarily a bad thing -- just that it was not necessarily a good thing.

But, in practice, I think that artists actually do use a limited range of colours. In part, this is matter of practicality. In part, I think, too wide a palette exhibited in a single picture would create a mess.

Whether there is a good analogy from this to writing is an open question.


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Old 08-15-2008   #40
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Re: Purple Patch Of The Day (or Week)

I feel the optimum is to be catholic (know everything) but also eclectic (the ability to choose carefully from that everything).

For the record, incidentally, our co-member here, MG Cardin, has contributed an interesting essay to the 'baroque vs. spare' debate here:
http://shocklinesforum.yuku.com/repl...ml#reply-56738
a thread which was sparked off by me quoting gv's quote of Steiner (that gv put on this thread when it was still called 'purple patch of the day'!).

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