Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Imbuing Literary Life: Galatea and the Anthropomorphic Tendency

Glancing back upon previous posts I am struck by the compulsion to anthropomorphize elements of the narrative environment: cursors flicker with bestial intensity; disparate thoughts of doubt and uncertainty are given bone, flesh and insidious intent - lurking as sly Golems or Pragmatic Critics in the cluttered confines of the literary mind; blank pages experience existential angst, yearning for the literary inscription that confers meaning.

Insentient objects that comprise my writing world are particularly prone to the receipt of such life-breath: ascribed with nefarious motivations to stall and thwart if the narrative is not proceeding well, and imbued with all the mellifluous ambrosia of the literary gods when it is. It has always been so - cars are named, computers cursed (I remain of the opinion that a good kick to the tower can solve all manner of tech-related ills), and houses redolent with the emotional vibes of their inhabitants. Flowers, bedraggled and aphid-infested, are necessarily distraught, their healthier companions a jubilant juxtaposition to their miserable fellows.

But perhaps this tendency comprises the heart of the matter. For are we not, after all, endowing our work, our clustered sequences of ink on page, with the quickened heat of life? With a vigor imbibed under the authorial pen? Where our imaginative practice of granting malicious purpose to cursors, pages and fleeting doubts perhaps serve a useful function. For we are gathering thoughts, accumulating utterances, hoarding phrases all to the intent of fabricating a fictional character, some aspect of a self; shaping with words the curve of jaw, the mobility of expression, the feverish, ferocity of an emotional intensity. In short we, like Pygmalion, are sculpting our Galatea and infusing her with the enigmatic flush of life - a faint blush beneath the marble, like the ghost of a face under a thick mantle of ice. The engaged reader releases her, and the literary work takes wing. For the bibliophile forms a critical partnership in this dance of two - as authors are Pygmalion to their literary work, receptive readers are the Venus that facilitates the final transformation from the cold immobility of marble into the warm receptivity of woman. For the narrative (flat and austere between the confines of cover - unread upon the shelf) becomes something else with the perusing of it.  Indubitably, the unopened novel contains all the subtle literary skill and nuances (unlike Schrodinger's cat it's existence is not in doubt) but for the reader who has yet to crack the spine, the glories of it exist as an expectant promise, a gleam in the parental eye that portends life to come.

This practice of ascribing malevolence to inanimate shadows, expectancy to binary-flickers, and depth and desire to the blank expanse of a white page (tendencies that alone might seem bizarre manifestations of a disturbed mind!) all operate in service to the Muse. Irritated cursors and disconsolate pages are the minor minions:  literary lackeys that facilitate a flexing of synaptic pathways, the exercise of which habituate us to the breathing of life into insensible things. They comprise the shadow characters that precede the actuality - the suggestion of what will be fully rendered within the narrative.

And this seeming-innocuous imaginative play hearkens back to childish days, to younglings immersed in their fanciful selves: a strewn coat in the dark metamorphoses into the humped silhouette of a nocturnal serpent, the damp leaf mold beneath a glimmering canopy of green becomes the provenience of fairies, gnarled tree branches are transformed into the seaweed-bedecked prow of a pirate ship. So when we, as adults, imbue the mundane objects of our quotidian surrounds with personality and intent, we are stripping back the veneer that conceals and subdues our own whimsical perspective. A habit that perhaps enriches, however subtly, our subsequent work; accustomed as we are to perceiving vigor in the glacial cold of marble or the inert stolidity of dark ink across a page. For we are life-givers by nature, this is where our yearning lies - to capture the elusive flutter of vitality, the quintessential quickening that comprises human engagements - caught like an exotic butterfly in our enveloping net of words.

6 comments:

  1. What a wonderful musing PJ! As lovely as always, thanks so much for sharing it with us! I won't feel quite so silly now yelling at my computer or my car.... :)

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    1. Thank you Sarah. Yes, you are indeed in good company anthropomorphizing cars and computers - however it does seem to reflect more a perspective of frustrated anger than complacent satisfaction, does it not? Would we anthropomorphize our computers and cars if they always cooperated do you think?

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  2. Dear PJ, someone said, "things have a will of their own." In your wonderful rhetoric, this will must yield to the creator's life-giving intent. Such is our dread of a page that insists on remaining blank that we do not accept our characters' reluctance to come to life in their own temporal terms. We sometimes insist on breathing life into arrays of letters and words before they are fully fledged... or fully fleshed. This remarkable, eloquent musing justifies our well-meaning impatience, yet that "elusive flutter of vitality" abides by rules over which we wield no power. At best, we may stay alert to catch it into our net when it hovers around us. For every Venus-aided Pygmalion there are thousands of unwilling emulators of ill-fated Tantalus.
    Thank you for yet another display of beauty portrayed in language!

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    1. Wonderful, Marta! Herein a beautiful musing of your own - thank you for these lovely thoughts...I utterly agree - that 'flutter' is not only elusive but slippery, playfully evasive (an impish Puck perhaps?) - just when one feels the satisfaction of its infusion in one chapter it simply cannot be found for the next. I love your Tantalus reference - don't we all feel so bereft of essential sustenance at one time or another? And feel that sense of perpetual just-out-of-reach taunting - a book that feels it will never be completed? I so enjoyed your marvelous thoughts with my coffee this morning dear Marta, thank you, thank you for stopping by!

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    2. Dear PJ, whenever I glimpse a new post by you, I leave everything else and run to it. Selfish pleasure, my friend. So nothing to thank me for...

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  3. Dear PJ, your reference to Galatea and the story of Pygmalion has whisked me to the musical portrayal of "My Fair Lady" with Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn. Two important issues arise in my mind as a result of that story: (1) Professor Higgins believed that the Americans "...[hadn't] spoken [the Queen's] English for more than 100 years..." (which would have put it around the time of the American Revolution); and (2) Eliza Doolittle (the Pygmalion) who spoke with a Cockney accent spoke no [Queen's] English. The anthropomorphic reference point in the story of "My Fair Lady" became the imbuing of the Queen's English in Eliza Doolittle first and foremost before she could be considered even remotely human in the eyes of Dr. Henry Higgins. Her refinement and socialization followed after. In many ways, she was a hard drive that had to be reset; or a block of marble that was not completely chiseled to the fine sculpture it was to become, or a literary passage that was yet to be completed into a masterpiece. The language was the tool, and the individual, (or the brain and the ability to reason) was the Pygmalion "come to life." I think this resonates with all of us, and that ultimately there are two distinct tendencies: (1) we are all Pygmalions in a sense, and that through the acquisition of language (which implies the development of reason), we self-actualize; and (2) through the use of language, we ascribe anthropomorphic characteristics to those inanimate things that intimately reflect our world.

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