Friday, March 09, 2007

Nightwood by Djuna Barnes

I began re-reading Nightwood by Djuna Barnes last week. It's recently been reissued by New Directions and upon seeing the new cover I was inclined to purchase (though, I still love the old cover). It's been a much-needed reintroduction to character, to life, tenuous and fleeting, set in prose. I'd like to highlight two brief passages. The first appears near the beginning of a section titled "Night Watch" and describes Nora Flood, the domestic centerpeg of a "'paupers' salon for poets, radicals, beggars, artists, and people in love.":

"Whenever she was met, at the opera, at a play, sitting alone and apart, the programme face down on her knee, one would discover in her eyes, large protruding and clear, that mirrorless look of polished metals which report not so much the object as the movement of the object. As the surface of a gun's barrel, reflecting a scene, will add to the image the portent of its construction, so her eyes contracted and fortified the play before her in her own unconscious terms."

I'll admit that it took a few readings before her meaning settled with me. The bold reach of her metaphor, the tempered delivery of her prose, the passage's initial difficulty, they all affect the same difficulty of apprehending a person's character. And this is just one paragraph of many! The second passage describes Jenny Petherbridge--please note that this paragraph appears at the end of a series of descriptive paragraphs, when considered by itself it might seem a bit much, but I see it as the exclamatory cymbal punctuating the end of a drumroll:

"She had a continual rapacity for other people's facts; absorbing time, she held herself responsible for historic characters. She was avid and disorderly in her heart. She defiled the very meaning of personality in her passion to be a person; somewhere about her was the tension of the accident that made the beast the human endeavour."

Bring it all back, Djuna! Again it's but a piece. Well, that's all I had to share. Dalkey Archive Press has some of her back list. Enjoy the weekend! (I'll add links once I get to a different computer.)

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