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Winter Journey

New Year, a raw cloudy day, snow flurries. On a hard yellow clay path, on the way from Forest Row to Weir Wood reservoir, Peter notices that the snow flakes are landing, by ones and twos, as distinct, solid little six-lobed white flowers, as if we're being showered by elder-blossom under a June hedgerow. And then the reservoir, looking like a miniature Coniston in its pewter length and setting between green slopes and bare woods. A flock of ewes being moved from one pasture to another, with the assistance of three men, one boy, one dog, and earnest use of mobile phones (five people coming down the lane. . .Over). The lively sussurration of their passage, bright eyes in neat, narrow heads, a swarm of nimble legs flashing under a yellowish-white heaving wave of fleece. And then the hide, cold to the bone, where we ate Christmas cake and little oranges, and watched blue tits, great tits, a robin, mallards, a pair of pheasants bustling round the auxiliary feeders. On the water, a single gadwall, plenty indeterminate ducks; coots, geese and one big puzzling diving bird with a white breast and an industrial-sized hooked beak (it was an immature cormorant). So cold! As if the cold had been waiting in ambush in here, disarmed by our movement outdoors; to show us it meant business. Wouldn't like to try and sleep out tonight. Must double our donation to Antifreeze.

I'm walking along thinking about The Magic Mountain (a book I lost when I left it in the pocket of my yellow mackintosh, in the cab of a truck, when I was hitchhiking through Greece with my friend Marilyn, many years ago; and I've only just finished reading it). I'm puzzled about the seances. Thomas Mann, like Balzac, like Dostoevsky, has a tendency to "go off on one" as they say in my country. You won't just hear that our hero took up another interest illustrating the preoccupations of his epoch. You'll get a whole treatise on Progress, or Physiology, or Nationalism, or X-rays, and then he'll kind of rub his eyes & go on with the story. It's not a problem, but Spiritualism? Ectoplasm, tinkling bells, spirit guides? It was a big deal, it can't be left out, it belongs in there along with raving proto-fascist Jesuit sybarites. What worries me is that the stuff seems to work, seems to be given the same reality-status as botany, as Hans's perfectly real psychological-visionary experience in the snow. I know what I mean by the mind/matter tech in my own work. I mean that we do not know where scientific thought and technological development will take us next. All we know for sure is that so far, our model of the world has been "destroyed and remade", time and again, and new, wild vistas of possibility have opened up just when everything seemed to be over. Therefore we can hope, or fear, that it will happen again. . . I do not mean that I believe in magic. So does Thomas Mann actually believe that you can conjure dead people? Or what is he up to? Aha, I have a clue. The apparition of (my favourite character) in the WWI battlefield get-up that seems so bizarre, doesn't belong to any of the characters, it doesn't come from the Unknown Beyond Death, it comes from the Unknown Beyond The Fictional World: it's an authorial intrusion, provided by Thomas Mann writing after the War was over.

The best way to experience a big book (for the first time) is to read it on a journey, such as in the passage from Christmas to New Year, spent a vehicle of free, unhurried hours that shuts out everything but immemorial tradition.

I also read A Tale Of Two Cities, having been alerted by a Wikipedia entry to the notion that this is "the best novel ever written" (I was checking a reference for North Wind). Which didn't seem too likely, though I sometimes wonder if I'm misjudging Dickens owing to the prejudice of establishment criticism which I absorbed when I was too young to know that there are fashions in literary reputation, same as anything else. Nah. I liked the opening passages very much. (Not "It was the Best of Times...", I mean the Stage Coach passengers in the mud on Shooter's Hill bit), but this is lightweight. I'll stick with The Muppets Christmas Carol, if I want to take Dickens seriously. The fact that there is often prejudice should not blind us to the fact that sometimes there is justice. And Schoenberg, Kandkinsky and the Blue Rider, (eds Esther da Costa Meyer and Fred Wasserman). I was led to this fascinating book by The Art Of Noise, having been intrigued to learn that Schoenberg painted his own Expressionist pictures as well as inspiring Kandinsky's Concert. I'm not going to go off on one, but did you know, the young Schoenberg wrote what is known as program-music, just like an ordinary mortal? I mean, he wrote music impelled by passion, full of coded messages about transfiguring, vital incidents in his own life, and then he lied about it, insisting that real, progressive music has nothing to do with the composer, and anyone who says human emotion has anything to do with it is just full of c**p. . . Funny thing is, T.S.Eliot did exactly the same thing! I was disgusted at T.S.Eliot when I found that out, now I'm disgusted at them both. When young people may be trusting you, you are free to remain silent about stuff, but you must not lie! Eliot worked in a bank, too.

Didn't think much of Schoenberg's pictures (nor did anyone, it seems). But I do like his weird music.

Here ends the contribution I could have made to those Year's Best requests I ignored, as I was too busy being lost in space. Here ends a winter journey

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Plashing Vole on :

I just finished Spirit - wonderful.

Meanwhile, Paul Mason's blog has this to say:

Right now the Chinese deputy PM is touring the stricken countries offering to lend 5bn here, 6bn there. That's fine - but if it came to much more we would be well and truly in the realms of "political economy": 5bn is a lot of money for Portugal - a quarter of its borrowing. It would give China a massive economic lever over Portuguese policy - on for example acquisition of transport and infrastructure assets and, as is the way of the world, all kinds of personal lines of communication might then open up, some of which might lead to what the French are currently calling, with disarming frankness, "economic war".

I'm beginning to wonder if you're some sort of prophet.

wufnik on :

I love the fact that there's a blog out there where the author uses a word such as "sussurration." Fantastic.

graywyvern on :

Bleak House is the Dickens i would nominate...

After watching Tom & Viv i think i understand what happened to T S Eliot & though his late poetry & criticism has its moments, it was essentially a fraudulent enterprise.

Gwyneth on :

Bleak House: I agree!

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