The Voice That Thunders

I’ve loved Alan Garner’s books ever since I first read The Owl Service – and then wolfed down – Elidor, The Wierdstone of Brisingamen, The Moon of Gomrath. When Red Shift was published – in the Autumn of 1973 – I bought it in hardback – a rare event in those days – and read it at a sitting.

I remember shutting the book finally (carefully) at about 3.00 in the morning; getting out of bed and making my way to the bathroom across the landing – with the uneasy feeling that shadows were slipping off the wall behind me and that a false step might take me out of my safe home in Evesham into the strangeness that was always hovering – you now knew – at the edge of vision.

(If anyone is interested there is a great discussion about Red Shift on the brilliant Backlisted Podcast)

It was the podcast that put me on to The Voice That Thunders – a collection of Garner’s Essays and Lectures – which are just as rich and fierce and individual as the fiction itself.

This, for example, describes more clearly than anything I have read before, what, in my heart, I am always hoping to find in every book I read. Garner writes:

I live, at all times, for imaginative fiction; for ambivalence, not for instruction. When language serves dogma, then literature is lost. I live also, and only, for excellence. My care is not for the cult of egalitarian mediocrity that is sweeping the world today, wherein even the critics are no longer qualified to differentiate, but for literature, which you may notice I have not defined. I would say that, because of its essential ambivalence, “literature” is: words that provoke response; that invite the reader or listener to partake of the creative act. There can be no one meaning for a text. Even that of the writer is but an option.

Literature exists at every level of experience. It is inclusive, not exclusive. It embraces; it does not reduce, however simply it is expressed. The purpose of the storyteller is to relate the truth in a manner that is simple: to integrate without reduction; for it is rarely possible to declare the truth as it is, because the universe presents itself as a Mystery. We have to find parables; we have to tell stories to unriddle the world.

It is a paradox: yet one so important that I must restate it. The job of a storyteller is to speak the truth; but what we feel most deeply cannot be spoken in words. At this level only images connect. And so story becomes symbol; and symbol is myth.

Garner adds – unnecessarily to my mind – that he is:

…using the word “myth” not as meaning “fiction” or “unhistorical”, but as a complex of story that, for various reasons, human beings see as demonstrations of the inner cause of the universe and of human life. Myth is quite different from philosophy in the sense of abstract concepts. The form of myth is concrete always, yet it holds those qualities that demand of the human mind that it recognise a revelation of the function behind the world.

Of course he is. You can find the Voice That Thunders here.

Afterthought – Garner’s story of his own childhood – Where Shall We Run To? – about growing up in the shadow of war, illness and Alderley Edge – is marvellous too. Seek it out!

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The Voice That Thunders

Beyond Tsundoku

Listening to one of @backlisted podcasts (about Pierre Bayard’s book – How to talk about books you haven’t read)

This was quoted and I thought it was much more helpful than the catch-all ‘tsundoku‘. There are:

Books You Haven’t Read
Books You Needn’t Read
Books Made for Purposes Other Than Reading
Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong to the Category of Books Read Before Being Written
Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered
Books You Mean to Read But There Are Others You Must Read First
Books Too Expensive Now and You’ll Wait ‘Til They’re Remaindered
Books ditto When They Come Out in Paperback
Books You Can Borrow from Somebody
Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too
Books You’ve Been Planning to Read for Ages
Books You’ve Been Hunting for Years Without Success
Books Dealing with Something You’re Working on at the Moment
Books You Want to Own So They’ll Be Handy Just in Case
Books You Could Put Aside Maybe to Read This Summer
Books You Need to Go with Other Books on Your Shelves
Books That Fill You with Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified
Books Read Long Ago Which It’s Now Time to Re-read
Books You’ve Always Pretended to Have Read and Now It’s Time to Sit Down and Really Read Them” 
Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler

By the way, I can’t recommend Backlisted too highly – real, joyous, informed conversations about books. I haven’t listened to one that hasn’t had me scribbling down a title or shouting out noisy agreement.

Beyond Tsundoku

Frock Consciousness

Rosemary Hill entertains and informs in her lecture about women and clothes, Frock Consciousness. The phrase is Virginia Wolf’s who wrote:

‘My love of clothes interests me profoundly, only it is not love; and what it is I must discover.’

Hill reflects that this diary entry was written in the year that:

Woolf published Mrs Dalloway, which brought her to literary prominence; the previous year she had sat for her photograph in Vogue. For that she chose to wear a dress of her mother’s, which was too big for her and long out of fashion. To plant it in the most famous fashion magazine in Europe was to make a statement, however ambiguous. And the experience of the sitting prompted a further thought: ‘My present reflection is that people have any number of states of consciousness: & I should like to investigate the party consciousness, the frock consciousness etc. These states are very difficult … I’m always coming back to it … Still I cannot get at what I mean

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Hill adds,

I don’t suppose that I shall get at it either, but I will revolve the question again and apply the advantage of nearly a century of hindsight to the idea of frock consciousness, an idea that I think was not born but at least much heightened in that period between the world wars just as Woolf was trying to put her finger on it.

It’s fascinating. It answered questions a brother always puzzled about when he saw his sisters getting dressed (why on earth should girls’ buttons be on the opposite side?) and makes a case for the revolutionary importance of the pullover.

Worth reading in full here. The linked page contains a recording of the lecture, if you prefer to listen rather than read.

Frock Consciousness

Coincidence?

Browsing in the best bookshop in Britain* (IMHO) on Thursday, I was nosing around Geoff Dyer’s book, The Ongoing Moment – a Book About Photography and found, in its opening paragraph, this quotation:

A few minutes later C came over to show me a book of poetry she was thinking about buying, called Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe. It’s epigraph was this:

Small coincidences are surprisingly satisfying aren’t they? I’d never seen the quote before, or been charmed by the idea of a Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge (surely something sorely needed in a world full of ill intentioned information), but I felt at once as though I was in tune with the universe.

Reader I bought the Geoff Dyer.

It’s only when I set the two quotations down in this post, that I realised the they are not identical.

*Topping and Company in Ely.

Coincidence?

Wowski

In our morning’s drive poor little Wowski (Mr Wynn’s little dog, bought at Wansford Bridge) was run over by the phaeton, and his leg much hurt.

That was in 1788, but it still is news. John Byng notes the incident in passing in the journal he kept of his tour around Sussex* We have never met Wowski before and we never discover if this little dog – a terrier surely – recovers to yap and leap and bother passing carriages again.

Dogs are so often our unacknowledged companions, a call on our heart, but rarely considered important enough to figure in published histories – until poor Wowski leaps into view. He may have been dead for well over 200 years, but I winced when I read about his accident and can’t help hoping  he did eventually recover.

*Published in John Byng’s Rides Around Britain

Wowski