Tuesday, 20 April 2010
That liberating sense of melancholy
This from yesterday when I was thinking about the implications of past tense and present tense in story telling, and eventually proposed that, while the past tense may be melancholy because it is over and nothing more can be done about it, it may yet be liberating because fables, fairy stories, magical tales, all happen at its non-specific depths, in dim distant places at dim distant times.
It helps of course that the past should not be too specific. Once you introduce the specific you are, in fact, projecting the present tense back into the past, eg On the 17th of February, 1836, on a dim winter afternoon in Rochdale, a man in a in a tall black hat was leading an equally black Labrador down Drake Street, past the costermonger's stall... The whole point is to take you there, so you might as well be in the present. That past is stuffed full of informants, as Barthes called them, all of which offer some guarantee that this is a real moment in a real place. That is not melancholy.
Then there is: Do you remember when we ran full tilt down the hill and we tripped and started rolling down towards the trees and the world vanished in a blur and you were saying something just as the rain started... Here we are entering a kind of hinterland in which the subjective has only just arrived before the whole thing is lost. I remember, and, in remembering, feel what I then felt.... the sensation of rolling, the feel of the grass, the sound of a voice and the touch of rain. There is melancholy here because the vanishing is the point. Vanished, gone, past.
But maybe there is a possible liberation here too, because memory has become a possession. We own the memory by interpreting it, by giving it some shadow of meaning. Poetry begins somewhere at this point. The melancholy, the ache of it, is something we can return to and reinterpret. It is like sinking ever deeper into the soil we stand on.
And, at some stage we might say, So there they were, rolling down the hill and the trees rushed to meet them, when their bodies broke apart, their heads in the branches, their organs passing into the trunk of tree, and their voices were no longer their voices but just rain and wind and grass, which is now at a point between fantasy and metaphor and could go either way, but whichever way it goes now depends on the imagination seeking its own truth, that is to say a meaning that seems a shadow of an experience.
And here we are in the realm of art, which, for a writer, is the realm of language. And that art might say, 'Hold your horses, you are taking too much of a liberty, this is too lush. Let's edit that again into something harder, sharper, like They started rolling down a hill. They rolled fast, but soon they reached the trees so they had to stop.'
And this reminds me of a time when I myself was a child, on a holiday of some sort in the hills near the city, and there was a cherry orchard, and we ate a lot of black morello cherries, and my mother was with us and she said, let's roll down the hill. Or I said it. Or maybe neither of us said it and it was just me rolling down the hill.
And that is over, whatever it was, which is melancholy, but see - it's at just that distance in time and space now, and has been a there long time, when I am free of it, so the whole thing resolves into the sense of rolling and the taste of black morello cherries and the sense of being a child with a different body and a different mind. And this set of factors could assume almost any shape that makes sense. A rounded independent shape. One of many other shapes that roll around in the spaces of the auditory imagination.