26 June 2008

Ur-Story: What is lost

Some quotes:
So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres
Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, 'East Coker' V. ll. 172-189
The river's tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf
Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind
Crosses the brown land, unheard. The nymphs are departed.
Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.
The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,
Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends
Or other testimony of summer nights. The nymphs are departed.
And their friends, the loitering heirs of city directors;
Departed, have left no addresses.
By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept...
Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song,
Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long.
But at my back in a cold blast I hear
The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear.
T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land, III. 'The Fire Sermon' ll.173-186
"The dump was roughly square, half a mile on each side, sunk fifty feet below the streets of the sprawling housing development which surrounded it. All day long, Rocco said, two D-8 bulldozers would bury the refuse under fill which was brought in from the north shore, and which raised the level of that floor a tiny fraction of an inch every day. It was this peculiar quality of fatedness which struck Flange as he gazed off into the half-light while Rocco dumped the load: this thought that one day, perhaps fifty years from now, perhaps more, there would no longer be any hole: the bottom would be level with the streets of the development, and houses would be built on it too. As if some maddeningly slow elevator were carrying you toward a known level to confer with some inevitable face on matters which had already been decided. ...Whenever he was away from Cindy and could think he would picture his life as a surface in the process of change, much as the floor of the dump was in transition: from concavity or inclosure to perhaps a flatness like the one he stood in now. What he worried about was any eventural convexity, a shrinking, it might be, of the planet itself to some palpable curvature of whatever he would be standing on, so that he would be left sticking out like a projected radius, unsheltered and reeling across the empty lunes of his tiny sphere."
Thomas Pynchon, "Low-lands"
"In his novel, Snow White, [Barthelme] tells us about the manufacture of buffalo humps.
They are "trash," and what in fact could be more useless or trashlike? It's that we want to be on the leading edge of this trash phenomenon, the everted sphere of the future, and that's why we pay particular attention, too, to those aspects of language that may seem as a model of the trash phenomenon.
Much interest is also shown in "stuffing," the words which fill the spaces between other words, and have the quality at once of being heavy or sludgy, and of seeming infinite or endless. Later we are told (Barthelme is always instructing the reader) that the seven dwarfs (for the novel is a retelling of the fairy story)
...like books that have a lot of dreck in them, matter which presents itself as not wholly relevant (or indeed, at all relevant) but which, carefully attended to, can supply a kind of "sense" of what is going on. This "sense" is not to be obtained by reading between the lines (for there is nothing there, in those white spaces) but by reading the lines themselves...
Dreck, trash, and stuffing: these are his principal materials. But not altogether. There is war and suffering, love and hope and cruelty. He hopes, he says in the new volume, "these souvenirs will merge into something meaningful." But first he renders everything as meaningless as it appears to be in ordinary modern life by abolishing distinctions and putting everything in the present. He constructs a single plane of truth, of relevance, of style, of value—a flatland junkyard—since anything dropped in the dreck is dreck, at once, as an uneaten porkchop mislaid in the garbage.
But cleverness is also dreck. The cheap joke is dreck. The topical, too, is dreck. Who knows this better than Barthelme, who has the art to make a treasure out of trash, to see out from inside it, the world as it's faceted by colored jewelglass? A seriousness about his subject is sometimes wanting. When this obtains, the result is grim, and grimly overwhelming.
People were trying to understand. I spoke to Sylvia. "Do you think this is a good life?" The table held apples, books, long-playing records. She looked up. "No.""
William H. Gass, Fiction and the Figures of Life, "The Leading Edge of the Trash Phenomenon," p. 100-101.
"The construction crew had gone for the day. We stood above a hole in the earth, an engineered crater five hundred feet deep, maybe a mile across, strewn with snub-nosed machines along the terraced stretches and covered across much of the sloped bottom by an immense shimmering sheet, a polyethylene skin, silvery blue, that caught cloudmotion and rolled in the wind. I was taken by surprise. The sight of this thing, the enormous gouged bowl lined with artful plastic, was the first material sign I'd had that this was a business of a certain drastic grandeur, even a kind of greatness, maybe—the red-tailed hawks transparent in the setting sun and the spring stalks of yucca tall as wishing wands and this high-density membrane that was oddly and equally beautiful in a way, a prophylactic device, a gass-control system, and the crater it layered that would accept thousands of tons of garbage a day, your trash and mine, for desert burial.
Detwiler said that cities rose on garbage, inch by inch, gaining elevation through the decades as buried debris increased. Garbage always got layered over or pushed to the edges, in a room or in a landscape. But it had it own momentum. It pushed back. It pushed into every space available, dictating construction patterns and altering systems of ritual. And it produced rats and paranoia. People were compelled to develop an organized response. This meant they had to come up with a resourceful means of disposal and build a social structure to carry it out—workers, managers, haulers, scavengers. Civilization is built, history is driven—
Civilization did not rise and flourish as men hammered out hunting scenes on bronze gates and whispered philosophy under the stars, with garbage as a noisome offshoot, swept away and forgotten. No, garbage rose first, inciting people to build a civilization in response, in self-defense. We had to find ways to discard our waste, to use what we couldn't discard, to reprocess what we couldn't use. Garbage pushed back. It mounted and spread. And it forced us to develop the logic and rigor that would lead to systematic investigations of reality, to science, art, music, mathematics.

The sun went down."
Don DeLillo, Underground pp. 285-87.
The upper torsos of two figures, one female, one male, emerge from a pair of garbage cans:

"Nell: What is it, my pet? Time for love?

Nagg: Were you asleep?

Nell: Oh no!

Nagg: Kiss me.

Nell: We can't.

Nagg: Try. (Their head strain towards each other, fail to meet, fall apart again.)

Nell: Why this farce, day after day?

Nagg: I've lost me tooth.

Nell: When?

Nagg: I had it yesterday.

Nell: Ah yesterday!

Nagg: Can you see me?

Nell: Hardly. And you?

Nagg: What?

Nell: Can you see me?

Nagg: Hardly.

Nell: So much the better, so much the better.

Nagg: Don't say that. Our sight has failed.

Nell: Yes. (Pause. They turn away from each other.)

Nagg: Can you hear me?

Nell: Yes. And you?

Nagg: Yes. Our hearing hasn't failed.

Nell: Our what?"
Samuel Beckett, "Endgame"

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