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Mind-forg’d Manacles in a Cloud of Unknowing.

UD‘s Christmas thoughts, as she wanders thro’ each charter’d Boston street thinking of the dead (who said – was it Saul Bellow? – that at a certain age every other thought should be of the dead?) — thinking, that is, of people whose efforts to understand themselves and the world are over… UD‘s thoughts are all about the pretty unliftable fog we move in forever. Love Lifted Me goes the great gospel song, and it’s pretty to think so.

Truly pretty are the great stories – our greatest stories – that settle us deeply into the fog, right in the thick heart of the cloud – and let us abide there: John Cheever’s “The Swimmer,” whose drunken-boat drunk, Neddy Merrill, gets his name from Merrily merrily merrily merrily life is but a dream. Kafka’s “The Judgement,” whose main character knows nothing of his appalling fate until seconds before he peremptorily carries it out. Kleist’s baffled Marquis of O, or the dreadful demented brothers in “Saint Cecilia, or the Power of Music” – these are characters who struggle to exist at all inside the wall of Kleist’s endless discursive paragraphs. John Marcher’s mind-forg’d frigidity and fear finds itself similarly barely situated within the thick masterful paragraphs of Henry James.

O Lost.

Margaret Soltan, December 25, 2019 8:03AM
Posted in: forms of religious experience

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4 Responses to “Mind-forg’d Manacles in a Cloud of Unknowing.”

  1. O Found « Log24 Says:

    […] tip to University Diaries for today's link […]

  2. theprofessor Says:

    I’m curious about what students make of “The Swimmer” these days. Is it really something more than yet another slam on the idio-vacuity of life in the alcoholic ‘burbs of the Eisenhower era?

  3. Margaret Soltan Says:

    tp: I think it’s much more. The reason I mention Kafka is that I think that story is one of the few successful non-Kafka efforts to capture the fascinating and deadly quality we all share of sleepwalking through life, of truly existing- persisting – in denial. It’s brilliantly comic and farcical – our jovial, confident, stroke/stroke/stroke through the waves of life even as the whole house of cards (if I may mix metaphors) is in a state of utter collapse around us. Very few writers grasp this and evoke it honestly and fully. It’s particularly powerful in the affluent American context because we seem able to put so much between us and this condition of ruin. We heavily gate our golf course communities and keep the sunlight switched on all the time and just have the resources to make everything look so good… Cheever saw the wonderful, sharp, collision of these elements in swimming pool Connecticut and had the ability to write it up. Today, someone with Cheever’s gift should write a short story about Mr Sunlit Hero, Eddie Gallagher.

  4. theprofessor Says:

    This makes more sense. I only turned to the story after seeing the movie long ago on late-night TV, which seemed incomprehensible. I was trying to get some kind of baptism (i.e., failure of) symbolism out of it, given the pools and the light-connected name of the wife. If we had an “M” somewhere in Lucinda River, we might be able to pull “Lucid Dream” out of it.

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