Rebel Read: Aspects of the Novel

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Rebel Read: Aspects of the Novel

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1ChocolateMuse
sep 12, 2011, 7:47pm

Right, you dear peuple have driven me to this. Rebels, rally to me! While History is being read up there under the blue sky, we will gather underground to read Aspects of the Novel by EM Forster. (Were ever rebels so rebellious as this?)

In the next few posts I'll copy bits of the main arguments so far from my thread.

2ChocolateMuse
sep 12, 2011, 7:50pm

CM: When I was a callow undergraduate, I got very cross at Forster's snobbishness for hating 'story'. I thought, what's a novelist for if (s)he doesn't like stories? But I didn't give it enough chance, since there's later on a chapter on plot, with which I was probably getting confused.

Poquette: I confess to being somewhat mystified by the notion that Forster hated story. What? I was driven back to the book to see what I had missed.

Indeed, he said "Yes—oh, dear, yes—the novel tells a story." But then, "That is the fundamental aspect without which it the novel could not exist. This is the highest factor common to all novels, and I wish that it was not so, that it could be something different—melody, or perception of the truth, not this low atavistic form."

By "the highest factor" I believe he was regretting that it was actually the equivalent of a lowest common denominator.

When he said, "For the more we look at the story . . . the more we disentangle it from the finer growths that it supports, the less shall we find to admire," I thought I heard a wry tone, at least I pictured a wry smile on his face and that of his audience as he spoke. He then goes on for several pages to explain how essential story is, even though it is so "common."

And in the end, "The time sequence cannot be destroyed without carrying in its ruin all that should have taken its place; the novel that would express values only becomes unintelligible and therefore valueless."

And his final paragraph in that chapter on story reveals completely the high wit and wry humor that underlies his earlier pooh-poohing of story.

Muse, perhaps you were indeed too young to catch the irony on first reading.

3ChocolateMuse
sep 12, 2011, 7:51pm

CM: Yes, as I suggested, I was too young. But I still agree with myself that he doesn't like story, despite it being essential. Here's a quote that is certainly wry and humorous, P, but also quite serious in its message:

The primitive audience was an audience of shock-heads, gaping around the camp-fire, fatigued with contending against the mammoth or the woolly rhinoceros, and only kept awake by suspense. What would happen next? The novelist droned on, and as soon as the audience guessed what happened next, they either fell asleep or killed him.

And then, Scheherezade avoided her fate because she knew how to wield the weapon of suspense - the only literary tool that has any effect upon tyrants and savages.

He exaggerates to be humorous, but I can't believe he was meaning the very opposite of what he's saying. Why would he do that?

To Forster, 'story' is boiled down to simply "what happens next". And of course 'hate' was a silly word for me to use, but I do think he despises story, or looks down on it. If I'm still too young to understand that, no doubt you will tell me. His message as I see it, is that a novel cannot exist without a story; it's essential but primitive, and he regrets that story must be present no matter what.

Mac: The primitive audience was an audience of shock-heads, gaping around the camp-fire, fatigued with contending against the mammoth or the woolly rhinoceros, and only kept awake by suspense. What would happen next? The novelist droned on, and as soon as the audience guessed what happened next, they either fell asleep or killed him.

I see nothing negative in this quote. On the contary, we still need a story to feed our atavistic need. The Art comes second

4ChocolateMuse
sep 12, 2011, 7:52pm

CM: I agree with your middle paragraph myself, Mac, but I still think Forster meant it to be negative. Wry, as Poquette says. Patronising, maybe. But always something to look down on. Something to dismiss as uninteresting and regretfully necessary. Somewhere in there he refers to story as the pale tapeworm dangling on the end of forceps. And here's the begnning of chapter 3, People:

Having discussed the story - that simple and fundamental aspect of the novel - we can turn to a more interesting topic: the actors. We need not ask what happened next, but to whom did it happen; the novelist will be appealing to our intelligence and imagination, not merely to our curiosity. A new emphasis enters his voice: emphasis upon value.

See the words he's using? 'more interesting' i.e. story is pretty boring. 'intelligence and imagination, not MERELY curiosity'. It's negative, darnit! :)

5ChocolateMuse
sep 12, 2011, 7:55pm

Poquette: a story is a story is a story. What more need be said? Except the novel pretty much fails without a story. Writers in the post-WWII years such as Claude Simon, Robert Pinget and Alain Robbe-Grillet pretty much demonstrated that, as Prof. Josipovici eloquently discussed. What the writer does with a story is what makes all the difference.

While there are other aspects of a novel — or a car — that are much more subtle and can generate a much more interesting conversation, or lecture, or book — whatever, all he's saying is that the story is the fundamental building block without which the novel is doomed.

Forster's little book is a transcript of a lecture series. It helps if you try to hear his voice in your imagination. He did his best to make it entertaining, for all the right reasons. To me his approach was a charming way of pointing out some aspects of story that perhaps his audience had not thought of.

IMHO.

Tuirgin: I have to agree with the Muse here. Forster views the story as a rather base thing, which one might easily wish to be rid of as something beneath our dignity, and yet, as with his example of Gertrude Stein, in attempts to do without story, whatever value is present within the novel becomes unintelligible.

Forster is being wryly humorous, but his lack of enthusiasm is clear. Story is the merest mechanical element of the novel. For what it's worth, "highest common factor" is the appropriate mathematical metaphor here, since we are dividing up the novel into its constituent parts. We're factoring up the novel. Everything beyond story its managed with great variety, one of his main points from chapter one.

6ChocolateMuse
sep 12, 2011, 7:57pm

PK: I agree with CM and T (and I don't quite see how P is saying something different but rather the tone does seem to suggest something else?) - essentially Forster is saying that narrative must be present.. and so, if it is essential to a novel, then excessive attention to this fact precludes the appreciation of finer aspects of the work. It seems to me that he is explicitly defining novel as "what one does with a narrative" rather than anything at all to do with the existence of the narrative (which is assumed). Seems to be conflating novel with literature.

A_Musing: So is Forster elevating the novel and putting down some of the "mere stories" of early days? Because you don't trash talk the Mahabharata or Odyssey around me without some pushback. Arjuna could take that Bloom guy any day!

Of course, I don't want to be presumptuous here, since it sounds like he (very properly) lusts for Scheherazade.

Murr: I agree with PK, you said just want I wanted to say as I was reading the thread.

Imagine your five year old asks you: what are you reading?
You reply: A novel.
5 yo: What's a novel?

How do you really answer that question?

F's book is an attempt to answer that question. It's not enough to say it's a story. All novels are stories, but not all stories are novels. The other things he mentions in the book, the Aspects summarised by the chapter headings, are the other essential constituents which qualitatively differentiate a novel from a chronicle, a legend, a fairy/folk tale, a fable, an anecdote, a biography, or historiography.

(Is it in this book where he talks about the difference between chronicle and plot? or am I confusing that with Todorov? I think this is an essential distinction.)

I don't think it's a question of necessarily saying novels are a higher or lower art form than other types of written narratives. I think he's just trying to carefully define the boundaries of a genre.

Another way to read it is that perhaps he is saying that a novel in which sole attention is focussed on the story to the detriment of the other Aspects (Da Vinci Code, shit like that) is a weak novel. Another qualitative judgement, but couched in ironic terms. an attempt to instil a criterion by which 'the common reader' may judge the quality of a novel.

don't forget Forster's entire method was ironic. His whole life was ironic: his whole class and nation is corroded with irony. The english are experts at saying profound things in a throwaway, ironic, manner, and F was one of the best at this. The image of the writers seated around a table, rather than in seried ranks clearly denoting canonical/social status, is ironic to the extreme.

England expects that every man will open his heart at least once. EM Forster. Howards, End, I think this comes from.

7Tuirgin
sep 12, 2011, 8:00pm

>1 ChocolateMuse: The Forster Furiosos. Yeah. We bad.

8ChocolateMuse
sep 12, 2011, 8:01pm

I bags the common reader discussion for my thread over at chocolate musings. It's right up my street.

Murr, I totally agree that he was saying that a novel that's all story is to be looked down upon. He says hard things about Walter Scott for that reason.

9ChocolateMuse
sep 12, 2011, 8:02pm

>7 Tuirgin: Oh T, that's what I should have named the thread. How sad that it's too late now.

10Porius
sep 12, 2011, 8:43pm

I'm not with him on Walter Scott. Like Dickens Scott was a force of nature. He made no apologies for the Big Bow-Wow approach, and neither should we. For me, it's quite simple, most writers, Big Bow-Wow or otherwise always get the readers that they deserve.

11PeterKein
sep 12, 2011, 8:44pm

Book is in offsite storage but should be to me by week's end.

12Tuirgin
sep 12, 2011, 8:56pm

>9 ChocolateMuse: Heh. Nah. Just a bit of silliness.

Okay, so, here's my grossly superficial outline of Forster's lectures:

  • Most of us are pseudo-scholars, and as such should work within our given limitations; he uses this to avoid issues of chronology, and categorization in general; our basis of criticism will be our own humanity.

  • Story is the backbone (or wriggling tapeworm) of the novel -- its subject is the life in time; "What next?"

  • People give us the beginning of the consideration of the life of values.

  • Novel people, homo fictus, are ontologically different from everyday people -- the key distinction is the knowability of the inner, secret life. This is where all of their magic originates, this effability.

  • Plot gives us a means of exploring causality, and when done well, this is the beginning of the aesthetic experience of the novel.

  • Fantasy and Prophecy give us a means of casting a light upon everything else, of turning it into something it wasn't before, and potentially, with prophecy, raising it up to song.

  • Pattern gives an overarching, potentially overbearing, aesthetic structure to the whole, raising it to an aesthetic unity, while rhythm gives the pleasure of repetition without the heavy-handedness of pattern.


There you have it, my 5 shekel summary.

13ChocolateMuse
sep 12, 2011, 8:59pm

I've never read Scott, but Forster makes a strong argument that his novels are all about "and then what happened? and then what?". And he says that the characters are cardboard and so is the scenery. As I say, he says hard things.

14Porius
sep 12, 2011, 9:14pm

Then I doubt if he was familiar with Jeanie Deans (THE HEART OF THE MIDLOTHIAN) or Die (Diana) Vernon (ROB ROY). If they're cardboard . . .

15ChocolateMuse
sep 12, 2011, 9:40pm

>12 Tuirgin: Thanks T. I'm still trying to work out where I stand on the secret life of the characters thing. F says, even if the author doesn't describe the secret life of a character, that knowledge of it on the part of the author, and the hints of it given to the reader, make that character seem real. Whereas in real life we can never completely know a person, and that's the difference between fiction people and real people.

But what's the difference? If an author doesn't reveal all he knows about the characters, how is that difference from real life when we don't know all about a person?

>14 Porius: Por, he says he wants to make people annoyed about Scott. I guess he succeeded.

16Tuirgin
Redigeret: sep 12, 2011, 10:25pm

>15 ChocolateMuse: I think he's definitely got a point about the secret life of the characters. Much of what he had to say about the secret life, and the characters' ability to listen to themselves echoed similar ideas I came across in Harold Bloom. H.B. makes a great deal out of Shakespeare's characters listening to themselves, as well the listening to the other with Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

It seems to me that story-driven tales have relatively little to do with the human conscience—they look outward rather than inward. Cuchulainn and his monstrous blood-sweating battle rage isn't about the consciousness of a pre-literary warrior. The focus is outward, having to do with community and place, and the natural world. The modern novel, or at least the literary novel is far more to do with internal dialog, the plasticity of consciousness and perspective.

Coming back to your question of the knowable but unrevealed homo fictus and the unknowable real-life person, I think of Forster's bit about Queen Victoria, and here I'll quote:

The historian deals with actions, and with the characters of men only so far as he can deduce them from their actions. He is quite as much concerned with character as the novelist, but he can only know of its existence when it shows on the surface. If Queen Victoria had not said, “We are not amused,” her neighbours at table would not have known she was not amused, and her ennui could never have been announced to the public. She might have frowned, so that they would have deduced her state from that—looks and gestures are also historical evidence. But if she remained impassive—what would any one know? The hidden life is, by definition, hidden. The hidden life that appears in external signs is hidden no longer, has entered the realm of action. And it is the function of the novelist to reveal the hidden life at its source: to tell us more about Queen Victoria than could be known, and thus to produce a character who is not the Queen Victoria of history.

Chapter III. People, paragraph 5



At a very fundamental level, the difference between the character and the person is that the character is the author's creation, and what the character does or doesn't do, and what the author tells us about the character or doesn't tell us, is a literary choice. The potential for being entirely known is with the author, and if the author is skillful the disclosures and the mysteries will have literary purpose behind them. With people the mystery is everything and all pervading. We come to appreciate, respect, and participate with others more than we ever come to know them, but they are part of our existence, rather than apart from it. If we distance ourselves from them as from a literary character, we don't know them better, but worse. In daily life, we know less from revelation than from participation. Am I making sense or rambling incoherently? :P

17Macumbeira
sep 12, 2011, 10:37pm

Good summary T and something to chew on.

18ChocolateMuse
sep 12, 2011, 10:42pm

The modern novel, or at least the literary novel is far more to do with internal dialog, the plasticity of consciousness and perspective.

Well I think you're right about the modern novel. Surely it has a lot to do with time and place? The individual, perhaps even the consciousness as we see it today, was only invented during the Romantic period, wasn't it? Others here will help me out with that, my facts may not be straight. So how could an earlier novelist write what Forster would call a literary novel?

Your last paragraph helps a lot. Good stuff.

19tomcatMurr
sep 12, 2011, 11:51pm

>16 Tuirgin: Am I making sense?

Totally.

20ChocolateMuse
sep 13, 2011, 12:18am

Por this will probably annoy you too:

Part of the genius of Dickens is that he does use types and caricatures, people whom we recognize the instant they re-enter, and yet achieves effects that are not mechanical and a vision of humanity that is not shallow. Those who dislike Dickens have an excellent case. He ought to be bad. - ch 4, 'People cont'd'.

I haven't read enough Dickens to comment entirely accurately, but I've read all of Oliver Twist and Great Expectations, plus most of Martin Chuzzlewit and half of Barnaby Rudge. And from that limited selection I'd have to agree that his characters are flat and yet somehow still interesting. The locksmith's wife in Barnaby Rudge is a perfect example.

And as far as I can see, none of Dickens' characters are ever materially changed by another character. They seem to be born themselves, and no experience on earth will alter them. The locksmith will be contented and cheery, and his wife will be "of uncertain temper" - and the well-dressed villain will be a villain, and his son will be a persecuted saint - and nothing anyone does will change it. I think that is the thing that makes Dickens' characters seem always so unreal. Look at Oliver Twist. In any kind of reality, the boy would have either turned out a total delinquent, or would have died before he was five. But no, Dickens says he must be a saint, so saint he remains, no matter what.

Stop me if I get too off track.

21Phocion
Redigeret: sep 13, 2011, 12:32am

20: It's important to remember that Dickens was less interested in dimensional characters than he was in character archetypes. This is why I think so many people, myself included, find Sydney Carton and Madame Defarge his most interesting characters, along with Ebeneezer Scrooge - they went through the most development.

But then again he was a theatrical writer.

22Porius
sep 13, 2011, 12:45am

He wrote monthly parts. His readership had expectations and he DELIVERED. With CD there was right and there was wrong. Trollope as you will find out searched the gray areas. When you look into Dickens you look into a Funhouse mirror, with Trollope the mirror is held up to a more recognizable nature. Though Dickens developed, didn't he?

23baswood
sep 13, 2011, 7:11am

Interesting thoughts on the secret life of the character (#16 Tuirgin}. I have not yet read Aspects of the novel (its still in the post.) I am limited to commenting on Forster's characters in his novels.

Having just finished Room with a View, I was struck by how well developed the characters were. Developed in such a way that there was always a feeling that there was more to them than we could know from what Forster had told us. Therefore when they did or said surprising things then the reader was not surprised. It was somehow in character.

24Tuirgin
sep 13, 2011, 7:22am

>23 baswood: the reader was not surprised

Forster says this very thing in his discussion of characters. I haven't read anything else of his, yet. I take it this is one of his particular strengths?

25baswood
sep 13, 2011, 8:26am

#24. Yes it is one of his strengths. You have much to look forward to Tuirgin,

26A_musing
sep 13, 2011, 8:50am

I've not yet cracked the EMF, but, tell me, what novels is he talking about when he says the "modern novel" - what time periods and places? He writes in 1927 - should we view this as a descriptive historical treatise about artifacts from the century prior to that in some particular locality or localities (eg, England, larger English speaking world, Western Europe and its outposts?), or as a prescriptive attempt that may be relevant to the period following and to a broader world?

27Tuirgin
Redigeret: sep 13, 2011, 8:59am

>26 A_musing: "modern" was mine, not Forster's, and in the sense of the novel being modern, as contrasted with heroic verse, or the epic, etc. Forster makes a point of doing away with chronological distinctions when talking about the novel. Those distinctions are for the specialists, according to the guidelines he sets down for the lectures.

28A_musing
Redigeret: sep 13, 2011, 9:08am

Interesting - I like the idea of doing away with the chronological distinctions and often think people try to make the Western novel more unique than it really is - does he talk at all about some of the older novels, like the Byzantine or ancient Greek, or the comparable non-Western forms, like Genji et al? Is he thinking of the Scheherazade as non-novel, novel-precursor, or novel-like?

I know, I need to read the book! Too many questions!

29theaelizabet
sep 13, 2011, 9:10am

>29 theaelizabet: I've had this book on my shelf for ages and am now finally reading it. Great discussion everyone.

30Macumbeira
sep 13, 2011, 3:15pm

I found my book back! Bought on 19 /10 / 1987 and annotated with biro not with a pencil H2 like I use today. What a barbarian I was...

31PeterKein
sep 13, 2011, 4:19pm

Infidel!

32Tuirgin
sep 13, 2011, 7:37pm

>28 A_musing: The lecture series required him speak about "the English novel" or some such. He allows himself some liberty in discussing Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, but otherwise strictly the English novel proper.

He doesn't really talk about 1001 Nights except to say S was brilliant and wonderful, but what kept her alive was her understanding of suspense.

33PeterKein
sep 14, 2011, 6:56pm

I received the book out of storage today (First Edition, evidently). Anyhow, I have read through his 'Introduction' ..

I find more in his dismissing the chronological. Chronology matters not because the 'Art' of the novel is atemporal. ("History develops, Art stands still".) As a consequence, the assertion (and his juxtaposition of authors such as Wells and Dickens, Sterne and Woolf) calls for another, atemporal, author (or even an Author?)- an odd doubling of the author.

"They may decide to write a novel upon the French or the Russian Revolution, but memories, associations, passions, rise up and cloud their objectivity, so that at the close, when they re-read, some one else seems to have been holding their pen and to have relegated their theme to the background. That "some one else" is their self no doubt, but not the self that is so active in time and lives under George IV or V."

and then stunningly...

"All throughout history writers while writing have felt more or less the same" and "...four hundred years is nothing in the life of our race, and does not allow for room of any measurable change."

And I don't think he does this just to reserve all of chronology for those capable of 'genuine scholarship' - because then it would seem to negate everything he just said... and so, I am a bit baffled by balancing act he attempts between history, literary tradition and literature. He has us 'cut off' tradition as if it belongs to history because, he says, we are ill-equipped to handle it given that we have not read enough (i.e. we are not capable of genuine scholarship) and so "we must refuse to have anything to do with chronology". So then when he speaks of chronology and limits it to the genuine scholar.. it seems he is speaking of the chronology of the literary tradition, not historically. The chronology of literary tradition 'develops' chronologically as it stands still historically?

He quotes T.S. Eliot on the role of the critic "It is part of his business to preserve tradition- when a good tradition exists. It is part of his business to see literature steadily and to see it whole; and this is eminently to see it not as consecrated by time, but to see it beyond time"

I dont know.. have I entirely misread the Introduction?

34Tuirgin
Redigeret: sep 14, 2011, 8:57pm

I see his avoidance of chronology growing out of his complaint about the pseudo-scholar's tendency to carry on about tendencies, the raving about genius, the relations to periods in time, etc... pottering about with things that are at best secondary to the work, itself. His main point for the layman seems to be the avoidance of being a dabbler in areas that require much scholarship.

He places literary tradition in the borderland between history and literature. Scholastic criticism studies the field of literature, where he would have the layman study the works in and of themselves.

The reader must suit down alone and struggle with the writer, and this the pseudo-scholar will not do. He would rather relate a book to the history of its time, to events in the life of its author, to the events it describes, and above all to some tendency. As soon as he can use the word "tendency" his spirits rise...



I don't think he's setting about outlining a specific theory of literary theory and the nature of time. He is, however, trying to convince the non-specialist to focus on the works and the writer and to leave the finer details at the periphery to the specialist.

35tomcatMurr
Redigeret: sep 14, 2011, 10:01pm

I think he's also claiming some independence for the work from the period of its creation, urging the common reader to engage with the work divorced from the wider historical circumstances of its production, its place in the cannon. This is a very modernist idea: he's not quite urging the biographical fallacy on us, but almost.

He assumes, for sake of argument, that the common reader cannot be expected to have a wide ranging knowledge of the cannon - this is the job of the professional, academic reader- urging the CR to focus on the work only, assuring us that specialist, historical knowledge is not necessary for a deep, informed reading.

This is how I read it.

36Tuirgin
sep 14, 2011, 10:18pm

More on the modernist idea, if you will? What is the biographical fallacy? The antithesis of the death of the author? Authorial intention, etc?

37PeterKein
sep 15, 2011, 2:01am

35, 34) I'm sure you read it correctly and that makes for an easier sense, but the quotations above and in general his focus in these sections make claims about the novel and the author rather than the common reader. So unless I dismiss them as overly dramatic, it still seems difficult to match up for me. And I agree that he isn't directly setting up a literary theory, but as you hint it does relegate the specialist's ability to deal with chronology to the periphery of appreciation/ criticism of the novel. Almost as if he is saying, once you have a sufficient command of the literature to be deemed a specialist you are now in the position to deal with the peripheral and trivial. Hmm, actually that is a brilliant definition of the generic academic!

38tomcatMurr
Redigeret: sep 15, 2011, 6:37am

ha!

>36 Tuirgin: T: coming up.

39PeterKein
sep 15, 2011, 7:21pm

I have finished his lecture on 'The Story'. - a "narrative of events arranged in their time sequence"- that "can only have one merit: that of making the audience want to know what happens next" and "can only have one fault: that of making the audience not want to know what happens next".

Through sheer will and by dint of defining his terms does he do this; as he further separates 'plot' from 'story', through successive definition, the "naked worm of time" becomes further emaciated. All we are left with is "and then..and then...".

What is left there wriggling, of course it is not easy to see anything noble; among what captivated the 'shockheads'. Necessary yes ("no novel could be written without it", viz. Gertrude Stein), but not noble; not Literary. Very well.

But what perplexes is the tone of an almost exasperated irritation in the way F talks about story. It is not just simply something that is to be set aside as a necessity - but when we are to admit it that necessity "yes- oh, dear, yes- the novel tells a story"- one should say it "a little sadly".

Why sadly? And if sadly, then why only a little?

40Tuirgin
sep 15, 2011, 7:38pm

I wondered the same, really. In the end, I shrugged and took it as wry humor, because I didn't know what else to do with it. Several possibilities come to mind, but the only one that seemed likely was exaggeration as a form of emphasis to redress the exaggerated emphasis people commonly place on story.

41ChocolateMuse
sep 15, 2011, 7:50pm

I think it's probably a reaction against that golfer. The golfer type insults the serious novelist.

42tomcatMurr
Redigeret: sep 15, 2011, 11:50pm

>36 Tuirgin:

The biographical fallacy is the notion that it is a fallacy that the writer's biography has any impact, influence on the work; that the work should only be judged/understood in terms of itself, not in terms of how it reacts with/reflects the writer's biography. In this view, all art is autonomous, and does not need any knowledge of the biography to explicate it.

linked to this is another fallacy, that of the intentional fallacy. This is the notion that it is a fallacy that the writer's intention for the work can be found by looking at the work itself. According to this theory, the slip betwixt mind and lip (in this case pen) and the nature of language (slippery signifiers) makes it impossible to talk with any certainty about what the author's intention was by reference to the work alone. Of course one can judge the author's intention by reading their notebooks, or what they say their intention was in other places, but one cannot say of the work itself: 'the authors intention here was to do X.' In this theory the work is created with each reading, in the mind of the reader: the reader in fact creates the work, not the author. as each reader and each reading is different and each perfectly valid, the author's intention cannot be said to have been fulfilled (or to have failed). In fact, the intentional fallacy says that the intention of the author is irrelevant to a reading of the work. This largely frees up the work to differing interpretations. Criticism becomes something else than merely a treasure hunt to find out the author's intention, or a puzzle to do the same.

Both theories can be seen as part of the modernist ideal that art should be concerned with itself, and not have any didactic or moral purpose. This aspect of modernism grew out of the art-for-art-sake of the fin de siecle, and is one of the criticisms levelled against modernism by people such as John Carey, that modernism was too much up its own arse - experimental, difficult, referential etc- and not enough connected to common readers. They were both a reaction to the kind of criticism that only looked for how the work reflected the author's life.

like all theories, they should not be used to establish a false dichotomy. it's not a question of: either biography is illuminating, or it is not; either the author's intention can be found in the work, or it cannot.

The emphasis on the independence of the work from its author which both these fallacies allow, allows also the validity of a whole range of different readings, so in that respect I think they are useful. Think of them as critical tools to use in the understanding of a work, and not a position to be defended at all costs, which is how some academics view them.

helpful? nonsensical?

43Macumbeira
sep 15, 2011, 11:57pm

Ach the fallacy fallacy...

44Macumbeira
sep 16, 2011, 12:10am

> 39, Peter you ask the right questions. Why should it be a sad thing that the writer needs a backbone story in a novel ?
Does it limit his creative possibilities? Does it complicate the work ? Does it lead the reader astray ?
maybe things will be clarified later ?

45Macumbeira
sep 16, 2011, 12:15am

John Carey is the man "you love to hate" in the literary world.

Josipovici put him smack in the middle of all the mediocre writers he was complaining about.

Even Kermode could hardly hide his disappointment when Carey got access all by himself to the Golding papers to write a biography.

46urania1
sep 16, 2011, 12:32am

>43 Macumbeira: Mac,

That's the phallic fallacy.

47Jargoneer
sep 16, 2011, 5:21am

One of the issues to consider when any writer writes about literature is that they defend and/or promote the type of literature that they themselves create. Josipovici creates modernist fictions and Forster's work is character driven - they then write books promoting these as the most important facet of literature.

48PeterKein
sep 16, 2011, 6:32am

43> fallacy fallacy - the fallacy that fallacies are either entirely true or entirely false.

49Tuirgin
sep 16, 2011, 6:41am

>42 tomcatMurr: Murr, not at all nonsensical. Very helpful.

>47 Jargoneer: It's been suggested that criticism tells more about the critic than literature. I don't think it makes it any less useful. To borrow from Umberto Eco, disparate opinions on a subject make for a kind of jazz. Each lends it's own window sill to lean upon while considering a work. (I'm still not done mixing my metaphors, just watch.) The more and the more varied, the more interesting, though I would like to stop short of a cacophony of voices in my head.

50A_musing
sep 16, 2011, 7:56am

The book arrives Saturday, so I will join this read belatedly. But I myself think more people need to recognize the "novel fallacy": the idea of the novel is a just a fallacy, one invented by critics and publishers. The good Mr. Dewey, however, was not taken in, and left it out of his system.

Then there is the critical fallacy.

51geneg
Redigeret: sep 16, 2011, 9:48am

The Critical Fallacy. It seems, just on the surface, that if art is within itself, there are no handles with which the critic can take hold to produce a piece of writing about the art, being ineffable, else we would all be artists. The art chooses the outlet, not the other way around. If there is a handle, then the art is not perfect, leaving the critic room to point this out.

As a great artist of his own time once said, "Ramble on. . .".

52PeterKein
sep 18, 2011, 7:24pm

I have now read the chapters on 'People' -

Generally first I must say that Forster seems to love dichotomy. We have been introduced to at least three important ones already:

Life in time, Life in value
Flat vs. round characters
the two sides of a human being; the secret and the known (borrowing the distinction from Alain)

As I read, ready to disagree I would find myself in agreement, whereas when I was ready to agree, I found myself wincing at some general statement, the truth of which was obscured by forceful exceptions. I think it is fair to say that I found his observations insight, but didn't feel the force of his explanations. For instance, he says that what makes characters real is not their similarity to ourselves but that they are found convincing. But what then makes them convincing? Perhaps here is his move to the psychological explanation - but this similarly falls a bit flat for me.

Nonetheless, there is much to be admired in this section as well...

i found "they try to live their own lives and are consequently often engaged in treason against the main scheme of the book". They "run away," they "get out of hand":they are creations inside a creation...if they are given complete freedom they kick the book to pieces and if they are kept too sternly in check, they revenge themselves by dying" - to be particularly insightful and I have seen a few characters get away from their author, requiring an authorial intervention that never comes off other than pleading (in the Castle of Otranto for instance where Walpole tries to convince us that Manfred is not really that bad a person).

Flat characters are not only a useful narrative device. Flat characters are necessary for a novel of any complexity because in 'daily life' we often treat others similarly - we inhabit a world with few round characters because it is cognitively and emotionally expensive- people are often"disks of pre-arranged size" in life. The only point of view that might not allow for such justification is omniscience or at least it would seem to present unique problems.

53A_musing
Redigeret: sep 19, 2011, 9:15am

I've now gotten into the book. What a wonderfully brilliant and agreeable set of prejudices he has! I've enjoyed this immensely (I'm through Story reading from the beginning, dipped into Prophecy for fun, and of course read the conclusion because he introduced enough suspense that I wanted to diffuse it for fear of being caught reading this like book like a shock-head).

I must say, the discussion above is wonderful and revealing about the book. Tuirigin's short summary is genius: the man may well be a real scholar! PKlein is giving us a grand read-through, and Murr's adding some great color. Perhaps most importantly in the discussion, Porius shows immense courage in admitting to being drawn to writing for shock-heads. I do not think Emma (I will call him Emma, pur Murr) is saying one should never enjoy such things as Scott, merely that the enjoyment belongs to a different rasa than novelistic artistry. He insults Scott with a negative description and he insults The Swiss Family Robinson with a positive description, but it comes to the same thing. My prejudices allign closely with his here (What would he think of Gatsby!); enjoying Scott (which I haven't) or Wyss (which I have) is appreciating one of the lesser things in life, something we all do. But the fight over what's for the shock-heads! Ah, there's a place Emma doesn't play fair, disarming poor readers who disagree before the fight. Not fair at all! Porius, you are David with a sling - have at it!

To jump to the conclusion, some of what I read here is a fundamental fascination with and skepticism of a central claim of the modernist: that "we" are different, that there has been a break. I think the timelessness of art, his unchanging mirror, on that train of history, is his set-up argument, an argument he gives you first in the form of a conclusion and then in the form of explication and example. No Logic Professor would approve: it is pseudo-scholarship. The fun question he then pops is whether there is any way to give the mirror a new coat of quicksilver, and whether that might occur, albeit not in the almost historically instantaneous way claimed by the modernist. And he combines a healthy skepticism with an idealist's unwillingness to not hope (and I'd craft that as a triple- or quadruple- negative if I could). And enough pretty words so that we don't care about the pseudo-stuff, for his proposition is set out in a way that appeals to the novelistic artistry rasa.

I'm quite taken by dear Emma.

54tomcatMurr
sep 19, 2011, 9:27am

Excellent post. Especially the bit about Gatsby which made me chortle.

Actually, I see Fitzgerald in artistic terms as an American cross between the English Forster and the French De Maupassant. It would indeed be interesting to see what Emma would think of that! lol Fitzgerald's hero was Conrad, but I can't see any influence of C in F apart from layered narrators. F is altogether too effete for the muscular American vision.

Also, I agree (with you? your argument? Forster's?) that the break between modernism and the past is not so radical as one supposes. It's possible to see many of the same modernist techniques at work in Richardson and Smollet, Sterne, Dickens and Collins if one knows what one is looking for. Or at least an awareness of the same technical problems and concerns but given different solutions.

Each generation thinks it has discovered everything for the first time.
Chavenet

55A_musing
Redigeret: sep 19, 2011, 10:39am

It is Forster's argument, but I agree with it. In it's day, I think Forster had more the David than the Goliath position in the argument, though in hindsight I think his victory and the rightness of his position is obvious. I'd go even further: I think much of what the modernists sought to do was what their western predecessors had reacted against, and is found heavily in the pre-Enlightenment world. That flaming fascist, Pound, was perhaps most conscious of this, with his love for mistranslated and poorly understood ancient Chinese poetry and symbolic saturation that would have made Bunyan and Spenser proud.

What is most sad here is that I may need to re-read Fitzy if I'm going to intelligently gut him as I so want to. But it would mean risking liking him, and I'm not sure I'm ready to do that.

56tomcatMurr
sep 19, 2011, 10:56am

lol

57Porius
sep 19, 2011, 12:49pm

FSF has his place. Remember he was a drunk and much too young when he kicked the bucket. He promised to throw himself out of a high window to prove his love and admiration for Joyce and his works. He at least meant well, isn't that enough? I enjoyed F., he does the Jordan Bakers' well. I don't know of too many that can get the cut of the Bucannan's gib as well as he has. Tom is frighteningly real to me. What more can you ask of a scribbler?

58geneg
sep 20, 2011, 12:23pm

If one goes into Fitzgerald disposed not to like him, one probably won't. He's not strong enough to change minds. If one knows next to nothing of Fitzgerald's work and nothing of the criticism, what one thinks of his work will be based on one's quality as a reader. This may be why Fitzgerald wears better on younger, less experienced, readers. One must learn to parse story before the characterizations and interiority of literary writing becomes meaningful and something other than boring. Reading requires experience like everything else.

59Tuirgin
sep 20, 2011, 7:48pm

I remember reading Gatsby in high school. Twice, actually, for two different schools. I found it an incredible yawn about what I felt were a bunch of silly empty rich people.

1984, The Invisible Man, anything by Shakespeare... These I enjoyed.

60ChocolateMuse
sep 20, 2011, 8:29pm

Well I'm on Gatsby's side, so there.

(Fitz would no doubt ask for nothing better than that).

61baswood
sep 25, 2011, 5:28pm

I am a late comer to this rebel read, as it took a few weeks for my copy of Aspects of the Novel to arrive, but it was worth the wait. It is a great pity that youtube was not around in 1927, to capture Forster delivering these lectures. We have them now in the book form as a series of essays, but they still sparkle with wit, knowledge, common sense and some fine writing. There are some arresting images: the authors all sitting together in a circular room struggling with their compositions, and the gaping shock headed cavemen listening to the story teller, which Forster uses to have a swipe at the film industry "The movie public: modern day descendants of the gaping cavemen."

For me it all really comes alive in essays/lectures six and seven, when Forster can let himself go and lecture with passion and imagination about the authors he loves. He says:

For the first five lectures of this course we have used more or less the same set of tools. This time and last we have had to lay them down. Next time we shall take them up again, but with no certainty that they are the best equipment for a critic or that there is such a thing as critical equipment.

The lectures he is referring to are Fantasy and Prophecy. He has previously given us the critics tools to discuss aspects of the story, people, the plot and pattern and rhythm, but when he launches into his lecture on fantasy his own writing takes off. He starts with the wonderful image of the ascending bird and its shadow that resemble each other less and less as the bird flies higher, and goes on to say there is more in the novel than time or people and logic, but of course like the birds shadow it is not quite so distinct, not so easy to grasp. There is however a bar of light that can illuminate everything and Forster says "We shall give that bar of light two names fantasy and prophecy.

At last Forster can talk about the books and those things that go beyond the tools of the trade to make them special. He presents us with some surprising selections in his lecture on fantasy: Tristram Shandy, Flecker's Magic and Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm. He cheekily includes Ulysses, before ending with the Magic Flute.

It is his lecture on prophecy where he gets to talk about those great authors who write on universal themes and who have the power to sing. Forster warns us that to appreciate these authors, we the readers must have humility and the suspension of the sense of humour. He names four authors that he believes can illustrate this aspect of the novel: Dostoyevsky, Melville, D H Lawrence and Emily Bronte with D H Lawrence being the only living author (1927) in whom the song predominates and who has the rapt bardic quality and who it is idle to criticise. Enthusiastically Forster gives us examples from The Brothers Karamazov and then turns his attention to Melville and a lively short critique on Moby Dick is followed by his thoughts on Billy Budd. Forster's prose is at its finest here but he saves his best for D H Lawrence:

Humility is not easy with this irritable and irritating author, for the humbler we get the crosser he gets. yet I do not see how else to read him. If we start resenting or mocking, his treasure disappears as surely if we started obeying him. What is valuable about him cannot be put into words; it is colour, gesture and outline in people and things, the usual stock in trade of the novelist, but evolved by such a different process that they belong to a new world.

This series of lectures, that give us the warp and the weft of aspects of a novel and gently chide us as pseudo-intellectuals, come dramatically alive as Forster wrestles with the ineffable. Great stuff.

62Tuirgin
Redigeret: sep 25, 2011, 5:49pm

Although I really appreciated his chapter on prophecy -- I think he did more to exemplify than to define or describe fantasy -- I do think he is a bit off the mark regarding the need to ditch humor.

Blake and Milton seem humorless, and they are both prophetic writers, but both Dostoevsky (whom I love) and Melville (whom I distrust) are employers of gallows humor. I find them greater for this.

Tangent goes here ---> Despite their reputation, I have yet to find a humorless Russian. Tolstoy is so very sincere, so perhaps him, but he was no prophet. Pastetnak has little humor, but there are twinklings of mirth to be seen in some of his rhapsodic natural passages, and there is a certain amount of gallows humor there, too. Gogol was full of humor. Mandelshtam had an ireful humor. Chekhov?

63Macumbeira
sep 26, 2011, 12:28am

True Gogol is great fun

64ChocolateMuse
sep 26, 2011, 12:40am

Interesting, bas. I actually felt that the prophecy chapter was a bit hit and miss. I disagree with what he says about George Eliot (more anon) and would love to see what A_Musing thinks of what he says about Moby Dick, and Murr on what he says about DH Lawrence.

He compares Eliot's scene in Adam Bede (which I haven't read yet) with Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov (ditto, lol). He says that Dosty is a prophet because his characters' reaching towards pity and love is with a consciousness and perspective of universality. And he hints that Eliot isn't a prophet, because the reaching out towards pity and love in her scene remains with the characters themselves, and has no real relation to the wider universe. I can't agree with that, I think he misses the point of Eliot. Her characters represent that which is universal on a micro level, Dosty's on a macro (I guess, judging from what others say about D, since I can't pass judgement on what I haven't read). So D's characters seem to have an understanding of their position in the universe, and their pity and love reaches out towards it - while Eliot's characters represent universality. And I think both Maggie and Dorothea reach out to the universe, but in a blinder and more confused way than the character in the Dosty excerpt. Eliot is as much a prophet as Dosty, any day.

I don't think I'm making any sense. Am I?

65Macumbeira
sep 26, 2011, 1:28am

Can't argue. I have read the Karamazov but know nothing about G Eliot.

66A_musing
Redigeret: sep 26, 2011, 9:50am

Choco, despite some of their ramblings, I'd argue against the idea that Dusty's character's have an understanding of their place in the universe.

But the thing is, your micro- and macro- universe thing is I think right on point. Dusty has a very, very big universe, a universe that is peopled by all sort of demons, real and imagined, and all sorts of gods. It is the universe of a culture that reaches from the early Greek church fathers through to the up-to-date scientifics thinkers of his time, and that borders on the great Chinese, Persian and Arabic cultures as well as the Western. There is an incredibly broad sense of both time and space in Dusty. Eliot's world is vastly smaller and more inwardly focused, and more limited in its temporal scope, and, while I remember her but darkly as my last read of her was as a college freshman read with a distinct disinterest (we were reading Brother's K in another class!), to the extent those characters are symbolic they are much more hermetically sealed and their symbolism more focused. There is a difference here, and a difference that is meaningful, and macro and micro seems to get at it better than "prophetic" and "non-prophetic".

Prophetic is a funny word. It's almost like it's a bad translation and really ought to mean something a little different. There is a depth of time and space in Dusty thought that is much vaster, and that seems to reflect the different cultures: Eliot is really writing for a rather cramped Island that has tamed its wild spaces, Dusty and Melville for mind-bogglingly open, often uncharted, and throughoutly untamed worlds.

67PeterKein
sep 26, 2011, 9:46am

66> I agree that Forster's use of the term 'prophetic' is unfortunate. In a number of places, he does suggest that what he is talking about here has more to do with style rather than conceptualization or time/space in which the text works ("to the classifier the passages will seem similar: to anyone who has an ear for song they come out of different worlds". And it seems, as Foster is wont to do, his examples often obscure the force of his point.

So he begins his discussion in terms of where Eliot places her emphasis and how in D. everything always "stand(s) for more than themselves" - but I think we quickly see what an unfortunate phrase that is because- we soon realize that the way they 'stand for more' is not symbolically or metonymically ...

Mitya "is a round character, but he is capable of extension. He does not conceal anything (mysticism), he does not mean anything (symbolism), he is merely Dmitri Karamazov, but to be merely a person in Dostoevsky is to join up with all the other people far back".

What then do you mean by 'stand for more than themselves' sir?

"What matters is the accent of his voice, his song"; "it gives us the sensation of a song or of sound"

So then they are "capable of extension"; they "reach back", it is found in "song" ....

But Forster can only identify four authors who are 'prophetic'.

Throughout, I get the feeling that he had his little pantheon and attempts to work back toward a term (a "genuine aspect of the novel") to enshrine them.

There is more I'd like to say.. but I have to run to class. One last thing though, I had more success thinking about the 'aspects' or dimensions he raises rather than with the specific examples/novels he uses to illustrate (and exclude). Of course that may be because I am much less well-read than he. It may also be because EMF and I are different in important ways that limit the ability to fit myself into his world of reading. This is something that resonates with what Woolf says in her essay "Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown".. which I want to link to Forster's Aspects in a later post.

68baswood
sep 26, 2011, 11:38am

Muse you put your point over excellently and I think that if the words micro and macro had been available for Forster to use he might have used them.

I am not widely read in Dostoyevsky or George Eliot, but what Forster said rang true with me about D H Lawrence, who does a lot of reaching back and looking for the old Gods. His style of writing with its rhythms and repetitions makes him sound like a prophet ( I am not saying he was one). There is a constant striving for universal truths in his later works, he takes no prisoners and seems to want to achieve his aims by sheer force of personality. One can only stand back and admire.

A_Musings post is excellent and although my reading of Eliot is limited to Silas Marner I agree with what he says.

And Muse I think I can anticipate pretty much what TC will say about D H Lawrence.

69tomcatMurr
Redigeret: sep 27, 2011, 10:06pm

ok, two things to add to this very interesting discussion (great review, baz)

Round and flat characters/Dostoevsky and Eliot:
one of the things I like about Forster is that with this designation he keeps in sight that characters are illusory: they are simply words on the page, (and in the reader's imagination): they are not real people (which is the mistake the idiot Freudian critics make duh!). 'Flat' speaks for itself, but 'round' still implies something hollow for me, something I can walk around and see all surfaces from all angles, but not really penetrate through to an interior. Forster, however, does not mention characters who are solid, or who present their inner lives, and this is a weakness in his discussion of character. (it must be remembered that Forster is not a theorist, but primarily a reader and a writer).

One of the key differences between Eliot and Dostoevsky, is that Eliot's character's are presented by the narrative voice: we are always outside looking in, their thoughts are presented to us by the narrator using free indirect speech. They are firmly presented as part and parcel of their circumstances. They have a strong inner life, and we can listen in on it, but this inner life is always mediated by a controlling vision or presence, that of the narrator.

Dusty's characters, on the other hand, are not presented by an external voice. They present themselves without mediation from a narrator, and more crucially, in dialogue with other characters. This gives Dusty's characters their amazing depth and universality. Their inner lives are independent, messy, self generating and in constant flux, not part of their circumstances, inexhaustible, which is what I think A-musing means. Dusty's characters have self awareness, a consciousness of themselves; Eliot's do not, or if they do, they don't present it themselves. Instead we are told about it by the narrator.

(BTW, this is not a qualitative judgement, but a technical distinction I am trying to make. Eliot's characters live just as much for me as D's do and I revere Eliot as much as Dostoevsky.)

Dusty's - and Eliot's- characters go beyond flat and round, I think. dickens presents round characters (devoid of inner life), Walter Scott and Dan Brown present flat characters (in the latter case, his characters are so flat one can literally see through them).

Prophecy

Forster confuses song with prophecy. I think this is the major weakness of his view of literature.
The pitfall, the awful temptation of every serious writer is the prophetic voice. when writers reach for the prophetic, they fail as artists. Examples abound: Dickens's style is weakened by the baleful influence of Carlyle; Tolstoy's mad rantings of his final prophetic years; Dostoevsky's turgid ramblings in the Diary of a Writer; Lawrence in his very silly Nottinghamshire novels. at least Dostoevsky was aware of this danger and scrupulously kept his prophetic voice out of his novels, reserving it for his journalism, Dickens tried but did not always succeed (Hard Times is full of the prophetic voice, and it is his weakest book). Eliot never prophecizes: she has too much good taste for it. Lawrence, when he is writing in a minor genre, doesn't do prophecy, and his minor writing is the better for it. but when he reaches for the rolling hills of grand Biblical prose, he creates mere pastiche of the biblical.

those writers who could really sing do not create prophecy but song. who are the great singers of English: I agree with his choice of Melville, and would include Dickens. Among his contemporaries the great singers of english are Virginia Woolf, Conrad, Lawrence yes, (when he is not in the pulpit, ginger beard flying in the wind) and of course, John Cowper Powys. Forster doesn't sing, interestingly. his is always the voice of the kind uncle.

70tomcatMurr
sep 27, 2011, 10:05pm

p.s.: Eliot approaches something like Dostoevsky's method in only one work: The Lifted Veil. Here, the inner life of the character presents itself without the mediation of a narrative voice. It's useful to do a do a close read of this work alongside another Eliot to see the distinction I'm trying to make.

71ChocolateMuse
sep 27, 2011, 11:31pm

Fabulous, all of you.

Murr, what is it that you, not Forster, mean by prophecy?

72geneg
sep 28, 2011, 9:55am

I enjoyed Hard Times. I'm not as knowledgeable on why my enjoyment is a mistake as you guys. Thanks for letting me know that I should have thought differently. I'll keep on the lookout for enjoyment so I'll know there's something I'm missing in my reading. I am intimidated by all of your knowledge. Some times, I feel like I don't belong here. I'm just an uninformed reader in search of entertainment and ideas.

73tomcatMurr
sep 28, 2011, 10:54am

Why do you assume we are not enjoying ourselves? Are you happy in your uninformed state? did anyone anywhere at any time say it is wrong to enjoy Hard Times? Get over yourself Gene.

74PeterKein
Redigeret: sep 28, 2011, 11:16am

Certainly ignorance can be bliss and as a shock head, I enjoy story too; I also used to enjoy Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny- and I don't consider that enjoyment a mistake even if I do not enjoy it similarly today. No one ever said that the bliss so created or anyone's enjoyment is a mistake; nor is Forster saying that either if I read him correctly. He is approaching the Novel, as a form of prose narrative, and from the perspective of what he thinks a Novel is/should be- makes his proclamations.

75tomcatMurr
sep 28, 2011, 11:18am

Exactly.

76slickdpdx
sep 28, 2011, 11:56am

72: In order to really thoroughly dissect something, you've got to kill it!

77geneg
sep 28, 2011, 1:31pm

Yes, I have nothing to bring to this party, so I'm outta here. I know this, this isn't some form of pique. It's the truth. Good luck to all of you. I will miss you, especially Porius' great comments and research.

You'll need to find someone to put together the reading list for 2012.

78Porius
sep 28, 2011, 1:47pm

Say it ain't so Gene. You have brought MUCH to the party over the years my friend. Good luck to you.

79slickdpdx
sep 28, 2011, 1:54pm

Well said.

80A_musing
sep 28, 2011, 2:31pm

Wait, I'm not supposed to enjoy Hard Times? Gene, where you at?

81PeterKein
sep 28, 2011, 2:38pm

once again I find myself quite in the dark concerning the causative agents that run amok in the Salon. Is there a user guide I can refer to?

82theaelizabet
sep 28, 2011, 2:48pm

>81 PeterKein: Peter, I'm just as lost as you are and I've been here awhile.

Gene, I hope you'll reconsider. You will be missed.

83PeterKein
sep 28, 2011, 3:10pm

well then I can at least admire my company....

84Porius
Redigeret: sep 28, 2011, 4:09pm

Forster dedicated his book to Charles Mauron, French translator of English books, etc. Friend of Bloomsbury and Psychology, etc. etc. Does this tell us anything? Something? Not much?

More matter
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/17/books/review/White-t.html?pagewanted=all

85MeditationesMartini
sep 28, 2011, 4:30pm

We mortals are but dust and passing shadows.

86slickdpdx
sep 28, 2011, 4:34pm

I liked that bit from White about, believing in inspiration its no wonder Forster went long periods without writing. Although I do not know how much Forster wrote and suppressed, it was a good bit anyhow.

87tomcatMurr
sep 28, 2011, 8:43pm

great essay from White there.

88tomcatMurr
sep 28, 2011, 9:00pm

>80 A_musing: - 83 I'm as puzzled as you are. It would appear that Gene prefers his ignorance, and knowing that he can't compel us to be as happy with our ignorance as he is with his, and that his sarcastic comments about our attempts to keep learning are not appreciated, has decided to - I dunno, to go shoot wild fowl or something.

Good luck Gene.

89MeditationesMartini
Redigeret: sep 28, 2011, 9:13pm

I thought better of my comment. It would be nice to let this topic rest, though.

90tomcatMurr
sep 29, 2011, 10:27pm

>71 ChocolateMuse:
choco, you asked me what I mean by 'prophecy'. Foster makes it clear that he does not mean telling the future, which is only partly what I mean by 'prophecy'. I guess I mean what I can only call a 'high and mighty tone' coupled with morally serious content.

Dostoevsky never adopts this tone in his novels, but does frequently in his journalism, especially after 1870. Dickens adopts this tone when he wants to launch an attack on the evils of society. but he also parodies it frequently (Mr Pecksniff is a good example).Tolstoy adopts it in his polemical writing of his late period. I cannot comment on Emily Bronte. DH Lawrence adopts it all the time in his Nottinghamshire novels, but it's usually coupled with content that is only about sex and how societal suppression of sex corrupts our humanity. The tone overbalances the content, and for this reason I can never suppress a snigger when reading DHL in this mode.

Foster is that right, that this kind of tone demands our humility and the suspension of our sense of humour. I agree with Tuirgin that Foster is blind to Dostoevsky's humour. The devil appears to man, and man asks him whether god exists and the devil replies that he doesn't know. Isn't this a kind of cosmic black joke?

91ChocolateMuse
sep 30, 2011, 12:50am

Well, Murr, I think Forster doesn't really know himself what he means by prophecy, but it isn't that. I think he means something vague about a connection with a larger consciousness. Not the future, as you say, but an interpretation of the greater present. Hah. There's some high-falutin claptrap. But I think that's what Forster's trying to get at, which is another reason why it annoys me that he's so anti-Eliot. If there's anyone who could interpret people and her own present time, it was Eliot.

92tomcatMurr
sep 30, 2011, 3:04am

yeah, I agree with you about Eliot.

93leialoha
feb 1, 2014, 4:30am

Thereʻs something uncanny about E.M. Forsterʻs writings, whether novels, essays, or talks -- he is such a "natural" talker, yet so clear, unhurried. and as ajsomerset notes "straightforward" and "unpretentious" that itʻs just struck me that when asked to discourse on writing itself, he feels he has to screw up his face and go through the paces like an honoured, squirming school boy, and present a Formal Plan of how to write, a plan that he never really so consciously follows himself. So, there he is, at a lectern before the august body of Cambridge dons, students, and honourable guests, expecting to be enlightened and pleasured -- sort of doing his best not to play the monkey but monkeying up? He writes effortlessly in the most artful style, hiding the difficulties, as though with a smile, certainly a quiet subtle wit, and as Antimusak (Oct. 22, yr?) says "seldom gives utterance as an absolute judgment" and has no or adopted no "historical method." He is absolutely charming even when arguing in Three Cheers for Democracy: there, he is unquestionably For Freedom but in such a generous open-handed way that the key word takes it meaning from a sense of the priviege accorded individuals, one by one, so that the word is hardly socio-political in meaning but more like a personal faith or belief required for humans to function. One hardly senses such a privilege inherently individual even as having an environment, so that the vision of democracy appears unaduteratedly pure. Forster is less philosophically free of ecological settings in his drawing of character in his novels. That is, he iis forced to draw circles around the moral issues. marking the good from the wrong (rather than the evil -- none of his characters are evil, even in Passage to India, regardless of the damage done to the native Indian innocents). There is a sense of the need for patience for people to work out difficulties; time is a real feature for resolving dilemmas faced by the individuals in his novels . In Howardʻs End, one sister ends with her marriage broken but her sense of fairness intact; the other sister does not chastise her married lover for leaving her pregnant and then a single, unmarried mother in proper Georgian times. Forsterʻs very gentle attitude toward people, animals, and plants -- a oneness with the nature of Nature -- is seen also in A Room With a View. The wrong are not punished; they come to their reason, "their senses." Forsterʻs trust, I believe, arises from his own private suffering, as a homosexual, in part -- there even nature does not defeat his caring, his concern, a truly loving person in a sometimes deliberately cruel world. Mainly, he seems to contend, suffering, pain, humiliation, worng-doing, insofar as they are of social relations stem from ignorance. He is a man of reason, foremost, and with that, a man of great compassion. He is almost inherently beyond "historical method" and even the dredging up of what it takes to write a novel finds him pulling out Aristotleʻs plot, character, etc., because he must answer in academic terms and Aristotleʻs are as good as any to one who "creates" not willy nilly but not necessarily in the way every schooled child learns early so as to internalize the rules until they are not rules but mere guides, to free one for writing the way creative writers say they do without full fledged explanations. I suspect when Forster says he hates "story" -- he hates not the story or the storytelling but the sense that there is a secret to be accounted as though there is an accounting for it. The point is to live is to live free -- or, as BASWOOD says, "take no prisoners." In MAURICE, he reveals himself without shame, because direct and open, i.e. free from the social strictures that formed the upright Christian gentlemen of an educated class. He was not fearless but unafraid. And lived with his mind and heart balanced, yet not beyond suffering for others and understanding their pain, like their folly. TOMCATMURR is right to note that Forster is not a theorist.
Lectures, especially at Cambridge, may imply that intellectual target; but I am sure Cantabrigians especially would never be of one stripe on that subject. For instance, how seriously do you think a sophisticated audience really would find Forsterʻs definition of a novel, even in part, by the Numbers Of Words printed in a book (they come to a size of 200 pages)? A businessman would seriously consider it important as well he ought to, but for a writer to need to define a novel, which is the product of his imagination, in the same terms is, I think, ironic, witty, and humourous. At such celebrated times, I cannot help but see Forster squirming and laughing, because having agreed to talk about his writing -- to some, as though it was not art -- took a sense of humour. And as he was gentle with others, he could well afford to be gentle with himself as well in such a predicament, an honour though it was for him and for his respectful, admiring fellows.

94tomcatMurr
feb 2, 2014, 11:31am

interesting post. welcome to librarything!

95anna_in_pdx
feb 2, 2014, 1:21pm

It was a fascinating post, which makes the whole effort sound like sort of an unwelcome assignment on the part of Forster, as if it was a duty but a slog for him. Gives me a feeling of sympathy.

Yes, welcome!