The Silver Eel

"A gape-jawed serpentine shape of pale metal crested with soot hung high for a sign."

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Continuing the theme of the role of literature, if it has one, in the aftermath of an environmental catastrophe:
A work of imagination shares with a living creature or the ecosystem itself the characteristic of not being reducible to its parts, or explicable in terms of the technique of its manufacture. It cannot be exhausted by analysis. It is a system of interrelationships which, since it extends far beyond the words on the page, engages with everything else in the reader's conscious and unconscious experience, and is therefore virtually infinite.

The Laughter of Foxes: A Study of Ted Hughes by Keith Sagar
This seems to me a rather hopeful prescription, rather than a description of an art-form, however sympathetic I am towards it. When it comes to literature, so much depends on how you read, or listen. How have you been trained? What prejudices, expectations, paradigms, what baggage do you bring to the work? How open are you to being shaped by it? Can you see the intention behind the words? It assumes that one does not read for entertainment, for a vicarious thrill which ends as soon as you put the book away. Instead one exposes oneself to it - there is an element of risk.

One other point - I'm not alone in having had times when I've been ill or depressed, and it's been story which has helped to carry me. Story as a means of healing, of restoration. That too is a use of literacy. There's a line of Sam Neill's to that effect in Until the End of the World, but it took me years to appreciate it. Hughes, of course, drew extensively on myth forms and saw his own role as shamanistic.

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