Sunday, 31 May 2020

The Blue Flower is the only book by Penelope Fitzgerald I've read. Every few years I read it twice, I finish it and start again immediately, as if there's more to be found, more of the unfinished and gentle, the impossible blue flower of Novalis, né Friedrich von Hardenberg, Fritz, the poet philosopher, a big-eyed and yearning man of the late eighteenth century, bowling from Schloss to Schloss on an old horse or on foot to be close to Sophie, his wisdom, who is twelve.
Sophie, listen to me. I am going to tell you what I felt, when I first saw you standing by the window. When we catch sight of certain human figures and faces ... especially certain eyes, expressions, moments — when we hear certain words, when we read certain passages, thoughts take on the meaning of laws ... a view of life true to itself, without any self-estrangement. And the self is set free, for the moment, from the constant pressure of change ... Do you understand me?
Fritz employs a painter to paint his wisdom, who finds after a few weeks' residence that he cannot paint Sophie.
Hardenberg, in every created thing, whether it is alive or whether it what we usually call inanimate, there is an attempt to communicate, even among the totally silent. There is a question being asked, a different question for every entity, asked ...  incessantly.
He cannot paint Sophie because he could not hear her question.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

At first I resisted Robert MacFarlane's Landmarks. I was too involved already on my own terms in land and language and didn't want to be distracted, though I wished him well and was glad people were reading this and indeed lauding him for doing a good job of introducing not just a set of ideas but also a set of writers for further reading.

However I did read it in the end. I had come to the end of Robert Musil (a heavy book for nighttime reading) and Landmarks was there, a thick but light paperback, a present from a friend. In one of the introductory chapters, A Counter-Desecration Phrase-book,  I read an account of a battle against wind turbines in the Hebrides which so resonated with our efforts against a proposed neighbouring solar development last year that if I read no more this would win my thanks. I envied the group effort of locals in the Hebrides who explored the invisible content of the land by walking and scrutinising and reviving the words particular to the place. And they won. I envied that too.

I was interested in J.A. Baker who was walking the Essex marshes at approximately the same time as I was, except he was following peregrines and then I couldn't tell a peregrine from a handsaw. Though we were both shortsighted and came from unhappy families. As Robert Macfarlane says, J.A. Baker's book The Peregrine is less about following a peregrine than about becoming one (I read about someone trying to become a badger a while back) which, if you have a crippled body and poor sight, involves a yearning and fury and a despair that only an obsession can start to satisfy.

Friday, 8 May 2020

There is a community of sentences, the ones you write and the ones, when you read them in other people's books, you could have written; they're already on the back of your brain; we have common cause, common relief.

Alongside my reading of other people's books there is my reading of whatever I am writing. This winter I have been reading and writing (the two become indistinguishable as the months go by), a long instruction and reverie on how to talk to the inspector who has been inspecting the hill where I live.

I did not have the concept of the inspector until a year ago, but now I cannot shake him/her/them. An inspector is an inspectorate, a series of documents, porous protestation, rampant fungibility and politics of the third (and the second and the first) kind.

I am out of my depth straightaway.

So I write every evening and I read every evening the version that may only, since a day or two ago, have changed by five words in sixteen pages.

This is less reading or writing than imprinting, holding my own, a book, a hill, still open to question.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

A lockdown testimonial in the New Yorker said this was not a time to learn to play the violin or reread Dostoevsky. Another said it was not a time to read. Not my take at all. I read with extra need, extra extravagance. State control brings full time unease. Resist.

Climbing about in the sentences of Robert Musil as translated by Joel Agee is visceral, kinetic, takes you out of yourself, or further in, I can't tell, don't want to know. Last night I got to the beginning of chapter 26, Up Jacob's Ladder to a Stranger's Home, whose first paragraph ends with this:
But in fact she alone had lost her composure, or her sanity, then that too would not have been limited to herself, because something had been set free in the things, a liberation that was stirring with miracles. "One moment more, and it would have peeled us out of our clothes like silver knife, without having a moved a finger!" she thought.
I have also read an essay by Charles Eisenstein, The Coronation, about these times and what good could possibly emerge from them, if we want it enough, if we're rattled enough, and indeed sent it on to people very few of whom seem to have read it all. What do we want of words when we're constrained. We don't, it seems, want to have to think right now or possibly ever.

I listen to Schubert quartets after a long walk round the neighbourhood, where people are out in their gardens, which is something, deciding where to plant a tree.