Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Even Bigger than Aegypt?

Should I include fiction in this blog? I've been hesitating, but finally decided that I don't want to be too strict here about distinguished between academic publications and fictional prose. It has been some time since my last posting, not because I stopped reading and not even because I went on vacation (I wish...), but because practically all my attention had to go to two Ph.D. theses that are in their very final stages, plus a whole series of MA theses and papers (on which: see previous posting). In between, when the weather allowed it, I've been playing with my cats or relaxing on my roof terrace while reading an absolute enchanting novel by the American writer John Crowley. I think it's sufficiently close to my professional work to be mentioned here, for one of Crowley's special attractions, for me at least, is his considerable expertise in my own field of research.
Just a few years ago I read the four volumes of his Aegypt cycle, which intrigued me in particular because of Crowley's profound musings about history (which seems to be a numen for him, as it is for me), but also because of the way in which figures such as John Dee or Giordano Bruno appear in his work. I was sufficiently captured to read all four novels in a row, and don't regret it, but they did not prepare me for the powerful impression that his earlier novel Little, Big is now making on me. Interestingly, it somehow didn't attract me very much when I first leafed through it. But once I started reading it in earnest, I found myself overwhelmed by some of the most beautiful prose I've ever read, in any language. Perhaps it's just me, but reading this novel feels like an intoxicating, synaesthetic drift through a never-ending symphony of pure sensual delight. I find myself re-reading passages and even entire chapters for no other reason than to re-experience the pure joy that this language gives me. But what about the content? Well, this is one of those books where the less one says about it before reading, the better. Even a summary could end up giving a totally wrong impression. Yes, it is a faery tale in the most literal sense, full of magic and mystery - but much more importantly, it is very great literature. It makes you see the world in a different way, makes you ask questions you'd never considered before, makes you fall in love with persons you'll never meet (particularly, in my case - halfway through the book now - with a woman carrying a name as luxuriously flamboyant as Daily Alice Drinkwater), and of course, it makes you feel the book should never end - or should at least have an endless number of sequels.

4 comments:

  1. Oh, yes! Elsewhere I remarked loving the ways in which he captures how we satisfy our need for meaning by creating stories. How make-believe works.
    But another point of brilliance is the ease with which he describes the female characters (especially Daily Alice). He gets so very close where so many male authors fail in this respect. He touches on a great many archetypical crossings of the perhaps always partially elusive, or at least narratively flexible, and possibly quite wonderful, web that a woman might weave around a man (and herself) as a protagonist of her life story.

    Then, of course, there are the many details that are both rich in imagery and very coherent philosophically. (To understand how mnemonics and magic actually combine, I would advise reading J. Crowley's partly historical fiction rather than Yates' [bless her soul] partly fictional historiography.)

    You might enjoy this:
    http://crowleycrow.livejournal.com/167926.html
    (NB: Two of your students responded to this blogpost.)

    Joyce

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  2. John Crowley is an amazing writer no doubt, _Little,Big_ is probably the book which has been the most effective at transporting me as a reader into an alternate state of consciousness while reading it, at least in my experience. Interestingly much more so than supposedly psychedelic authors, he manages to make prose dream-like without being a jarring experience, it just draws you in. I remember talking to you about him in Stockholm, and I referenced a book which you might like, which I feel is a precursor to _Little, Big_, Hope Mirreles' _Lud-in-the-Mist_ from 1926, also a fairy-tale, and also weird in a good way.

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  3. LITTLE, BIG has its fans, but I think that AEGYPT lingered longer in my mind. But they are good!

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  4. 'Little, Big' is spectacular...but I'm quite glad that there are not an 'endless of number of sequels' (though I can certainly understand the sentiment, especially half-way through. It is complete in itself, though. You may be interested to know that they have been working on a '25th Anniversary' edition for many years now, with updated text, massively illustrated, and finely bound...and they are FINALLY nearing completion: http://www.littlebig25.com/

    Best, Kevin Whitesides

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