Wednesday, October 23, 2002
The following reflections are amalgamated from some of my letters…
I’m deep in the editing process now, and that has raised all sorts of questions about the reader relationship (what kind of demands can you place on readers?) and the associated issues of what the hell you are trying to do in writing the book anyway. It has also raised some interesting issues of internal coherence—I’ve found that there are passages that I think are wonderful, but they are so different from the rest of the book that they stink of vanity and in their oddness do some disservice to the other writing. Below is a passge, its edited version, and some of the thinking behind making (or not making) the changes. **Spoiler Alert** This comes late in the book. Reinhold has died and Kane is grieving for him as they bury him.
Here is the original:
I imagine if there is justice in this world that on a small and humble lane, within a peeling white spire, my lone grief struck a lone bell, and that one unruly tongue flung out broad its great grief and spread wordlessly, like a cloud’s shadow racing before the sun, fell upon the bells silent but for their office of the hours, that measured light days, and told them dark had come; no order driven, but heart sick to heart, sent what men did not know and knew in that bell’s toll, and told, and so passed one grief and one shadow fell,—a wave of bells, like candles lit from candles, rolled across the land.
And the revised:
I imagined that on a small and distant lane, in a plain and peeling white spire, my lone grief struck a lone bell, and that sound passed from man to man, and then from bell to bell,—a wave of bells, like candles lit from candles, that rolled across the land.
And here is what I was aiming for when I wrote it:
He is deeply sad, and he is imagining, really for the first time what he connection is to his friend. And in that act, he is coming to understand a fundamental aspect of himself—his capacity to connect to another and by extension for all men to be connected—in this case in a wave of grief rolling across the land. Thus he is developing in this moment a connection that makes him human—I was trying to both describe and mirror the development, hence the freighted language. I was building it onto the story (legend?) that when Lincoln was assassinated, the news spread by the ringing of bells—that people knew that the ringing could only mean one thing: the death of the President. I love this idea that there could be so great and shared a grief that it could spread wordlessly like this, as if through some shared subterranean fabric. It is troubling to reflect that the only thing we would believe this to mean now is some sort of massive and devastating attack in progress—it does not speak well for the advancement of technology, I think.
And in the language, I was making reference to Hopkins’ great poem:
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rims in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells;
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.
--Stay with me here, I’m almost wound up—
Hopkins poem is about how each object expresses its fundamental nature (what he called inscape—like landscape, but unique to each individual object). So my ambition in making reference to the poem was to show that this act of sympathetic imagination is part of what is fundamental to Kane’s character—and the human character. Describe the development; mirror it in the syntax; create, through reference, a context that reveals that sympathetic imagination is what links us through our suffering and failure.
I know this is FAR more than even a dedicated reader will unpack, and that maybe it will exist only in my own head as a component of what this moment is about. And yet there is a part of me that believes for some readers (one reader, maybe) this thought and its language will flower, and make this more than a good story well told. I know the book is more than that already. But I wonder if this moment of reaching isn’t worth keeping.
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