06 February 2009
The past couple of weeks have been filled with connections in literature and discussion. It’s driving me a bit crazy because there’s no time to sort them out, write them down, make more than vaguely intuitive sense of them.
So I’m recording impressions today, just for fun (or, more likely and more seriously, for sanity).
Elocution: I’m teaching Charles Williams’ Descent into Hell in freshman comp this semester. The action (if it can be called that) takes place within the scope of a play production, a pastoral comedy written by the eminent poet-dramatist Peter Stanhope. The leader of the chorus, Pauline, is working on her lines one day and enters a discussion with her grandmother, Margaret, who notes in passing that the play’s producer, Mrs. Parry, has always thought a little too much of elocution and not enough of the poetry itself. She goes on, with infinite kindness, to also note that Pauline has been rather like this in her relation to Margaret: more concerned with the outward care of duty, of appearance, than the give-and-take of Love. Pauline, duly rebuked, finds this a help along her way to understanding and living in Love.
Then we read the “Night” section in Goethe's Faust for World Lit 2. And lo and behold, here is Wagner, Faust’s student, prating on about the importance of elocution to public speaking – if one speaks with the right tones and gestures, one will be effective. Faust decries this: what is needed for effective persuasion, he says, is to speak from the heart, not to study form. I am not sure, however, that his understanding and advice is really the same as Margaret’s – I want to bring them together and explore the similarity and what may be some key difference in the ideas.
Negation: This has been cropping up everywhere, it seems. We read Katherine Anne Porter’s short story “Flowering Judas” in Intro to Lit recently; the main character, Laura, lives by negation – saying “no” to every possibility for life and love. This negation leads her, she seems to know, to be as cruel as the socialist/Marxist revolutionaries she works alongside, yet she cannot bring herself to say “yes” to any hopeful possibility.
We also read Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” in that class, another tale of negation. The man wants only to have his footloose, fancy-free life without responsibility; the girl, it appears, finally gives in to him, choosing the death of her unborn child, still intangible to her, to keep the tangible security of his presence – yet knowing, even as she chooses, that this too will be another death.
And Descent is a story of negation. Wentworth is given the opportunity to choose love, again and again, and each time he refuses, despising everyone and everything that keeps him from being the one in the limelight. I would, again, like to look at these and other pieces I’ve been reading to find the connecting threads.
The serpent in Eden: This one’s been cropping up all of a sudden, too – the Cupid and Psyche myth, Lily Sammile in Descent, somewhere else recently that refuses to come to my exhausted mind on this Friday evening at the end of another lovely but tiring week.
Connections. I’ve always looked for them; they are everywhere in literature. But somehow these are haunting me just now, and I hope to find out why soon.