Friday, December 07, 2012

The Sack at the Centre of the World

I feel like Washington Irving would've really liked The Big Lebowski. It occurs to me, after finishing The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, that Falstaff was the original Walter from the Coen Brothers movie. Or maybe he's closer to The Dude. I think he'd fit in at the bowling alley, anyway.

I already liked Falstaff, but Washington Irving's deep affection for him is pretty infectious. He seems to regard Falstaff as a personification of some of the best qualities of English culture, mainly pre-Victorian societies of inn and pub regulars. His story length description of John Bull, where it's not obviously a metaphor for Britain's Imperialistic policies, is tellingly reminiscent of Falstaff. There's an incredible charm to these short stories and essays, particularly "Stratford-on-Avon" and "The Inn Kitchen", that it's no wonder Irving's work was so influential. The Christmas stories have a similar charm in their descriptions of slightly disorganised communal gatherings nonetheless strictly observing traditional practices thanks to an antiquarian squire in possession of the local manor house.

The simplistic, sentimental melodramas like "The Pride of the Village" and "The Broken Heart" are comparatively dull and it's rather surprising that the same man who constructed the singular works of wonderfully odd characterisation in "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" would present such plain formulas of types--the beautiful innocent country maiden seduced by the young soldier, the widow who sees her son die and so on.

In interesting contrast to these are the perspectives on the treatment of Native Americans by historians, "Traits of Indian Character" and "Philip of Pokanoket". I was reminded of Benjamin Franklin's writing on the subject, but where Franklin presents an entirely positive view of Native Americans, Irving does allow descriptions of extreme behaviours by Native Americans in warfare, but it's only to contrast it with the far more barbarous acts of the whites and to point out the actions of the Natives was natural retribution for the supreme savagery of the Europeans. The description of what became of the queen allied to King Philip at the hands of white men is tough to read and reminded me of some of the worst descriptions of medieval torture and warfare. It's a strange thing beside the humorous Falstaff essays and the fanciful melodramas.

These reflections arose on casually looking through a volume of early colonial history wherein are recorded, with great bitterness, the outrages of the Indians and their wars with the settlers New England. It is painful to perceive, even from these partial narratives, how the footsteps of civilization may be traced in the blood of the aborigines; how easily the colonists were moved to hostility by the lust of conquest; how merciless and exterminating was their warfare. The imagination shrinks at the idea of how many intellectual beings were hunted from the earth, how many brave and noble hearts, of Nature's sterling coinage, were broken down and trampled in the dust.

I certainly admire Irving for publishing, them, though. There was already push-back in 1820 media regarding the traditional demonisation of Native Americans, but considering the Indian Removal Act was still ten years away, Irving would hardly have been preaching to the choir, though he naively refers to contemporary kind treatment by the U.S. government.

"The Mutability of Literature" is a pretty insightful essay on the evolution of writing in England couched in an amusing story of Crayon arguing with an antique book. All in all, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon is a great read. Certainly it's the fastest I've ever read a book of the length--I think it took me less than a week. Though I didn't do much else yesterday--I listened to it while driving to the mall to do Christmas shopping and on the way back, then listened more before switching to reading it the old fashioned way. I probably never would've finished in time if it weren't for LibriVox. Now the next few days I'll concentrate on Lovecraft, which should be easier, since I've already read all his available work, I think.

Twitter Sonnet #454

There is no video at TV's end.
Teletubbies burble as sweat from pores.
Animosity's mistletoes descend;
Delighted amateurs giggle old scores.
Premature cognac conceives of no star.
Fawns financed by hunters tread in a school.
High up plastic cups contained fish too far
For nutritional decency to rule.
Bad tea degrades to liquid tamale.
Overcharged chambers roast rosy young hearts.
Lilac cardigan drapes cheap Svengali.
Raspberry blood blushed the hot flaky tarts.
A late spring is foretold in digital.
Gridlock girds the sky of screws magical.

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