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Sunday, March 17, 2013

“Try to be one of those people on whom nothing is lost"

That quote from Henry James is one I knew, first, from John Ashbery. At the most basic level, what I do as a literary is notice things that other people haven't noticed, and put those things together into a new narrative. Discovering things that exist, but putting them together in a way that is fictional, in the sense of being constructed.
The power to guess the unseen from the seen, to trace the implication of things, to judge the whole piece by the pattern, the condition of feeling life, in general, so completely that you are well on your way to knowing any particular corner of it — this cluster of gifts may almost be said to constitute experience, and they occur in country and in town, and in the most differing stages of education. If experience consists of impressions, it may be said that impressions are experience, just as (have we not seen it?) they are the very air we breathe. Therefore, if I should certainly say to a novice, "Write from experience, and experience only," I should feel that this was a rather tantalizing admonition if I were not careful immediately to add, "Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!"
You can point someone to something that really happened, and say, look, that is the truth. But if we are talking about social relation or man-made things in general, then that is a truth "to somebody" / "for somebody." Some detail that is not lost on me, but somebody else doesn't notice that because there is nothing there in that detail for the other person.

***

Suppose I see a friend of mine talking to a woman in a bar. I am wondering whether she is interested in him or not. My particular friend is not gay, but would come across as gay to most people. There is a short story here, and the "detail" would be something that catches my attention but maybe not everyone else's. If it were Proust or James, then you would discover that, of course, my friend really is gay after all. I could wonder (a) does he know he comes off like that? (b) If so, does he care? Maybe that is his secret with women? (c) Maybe he is gay, knows it, knows he comes off like that - but then why does he pursue women?

***

I used to wonder why the farmers thought they had to get up an hour earlier to milk their cows because of dst. Surely the cows wouldn't know that the clocks had been changed. Daylight savings time has no effect on the movement of the earth or the length of the daylight hours, it is just a social convention to call what is "really" 7 a.m., 8 a.m.. And I say really because, really, it is a human invention to divide the day into 24 segments, and to locate the middles or beginnings of those segments according to the rotation of the earth. There is only a true "noon," or point equidistant from sundown and sunup, at the middle of a given time zone anyway.

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