6th January 2003: Time and the bell have buried the day

You can define a culture by cultural referents the members of the culture have in common. Quick, if someone mentions Cordelia’s attitude towards death, are they talking about Shakespeare, Bujold, or Buffy?

History is so vast, so multi-layered, so complex. The idiotic protagonist of Tarr and Turtledove’s Household Gods, finding herself transported from modern LA to Carnuntum in the era of Marcus Aurelius, remarked that she would have thought she was at the beginning of history, but lots of history appeared to have happened already.

All human culture has been as complex, as richly textured, as ours, with its stories, its immediate and distant pasts. It hasn’t all been as diffuse, within the one culture, I don’t think. It isn’t possible to know what the reader might bring to a reading, there’s just too much. It may not even be possible to have a rough circle of the possible to know where they might be standing.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to have a conversation. But it can be difficult to keep aware of the time between, to mind the gaps.

Rysmiel remarked that maybe people who didn’t spend all day working with taxonomies wouldn’t find the taxonimical bit of Moby Dick thighslappingly funny.

I just absently assured someone that if she was thinking Geoffrey’s mention of Brut meant he’d read Homer, it didn’t, it likely meant he had an educated familiarity with Virgil. I forgot that I do not live in a world in which everyone has read Geoffrey of Monmouth, or even one in which everyone would casually recognise his name. To say what I wanted to say properly would have taken me half an hour, and without cues as to what she does know, it still might not have been comprehensible.

Eliot’s “time and the bell” have always, for me, brought an image from The Magician’s Nephew, the waking of Jadis in the hall of the dead on Charn. That novel hadn’t even been written when he wrote the poem.

Yet you have to make assumptions, have to start somewhere, have to hope for comprehensibility.

There’s a space you shape when you write, between you and the reader, and you’re only in control of one side of that space. When the reader moves too far away from where you were expecting, the shape of the space changes. When the reader moves far enough, you’re incomprehensible, or at least, you need a structure of footnotes and appendices to prop you up.

It’s strange, if I have faith, it is faith in discourse, in conversation. Yet it will lurch under me. There is so much I don’t know, have no apprehension of. But even so, to talk to perfectly intelligent people about things I want to talk about, I often have to start so far back that it isn’t possible to get to where I want to go on from.

There are places it just isn’t possible to get to, especially if it requires more than one thing. We are all mini-cultures of ourselves, really.

It’s not that I feel lonely as much as that I feel fragmented.

His grave is narrow
it’s long
after a time
with his host
for so long,
the grave of Meigen
the son of Rhun
the leader of many.

In my beginning is my end.

Posted in Human culture