Thursday, December 30, 2010

"Fantastic troll-steppers"

I've been reading David Jones's In Parenthesis, which has resisted my attempts to warm to it, despite the obvious merit of passages like this (describing a company marching in France during WW1):
Sometimes his bobbing shape showed clearly; stiff marionette jerking on the uneven path; at rare intervals he saw the whole platoon, with Mr. Jenkins leading.
Wired dolls sideway inclining, up and down nodding, fantastic troll-steppers in and out the uncertain cool radiance, amazed crook-back miming, where sudden chemical flare, low-flashed between the crazy flats, floodlit their sack-bodies, hung with rigid properties--
the drop falls,
you can only hear their stumbling off, across the dark proscenium.

I think it's all the damn participles, on page after page up piling, each other following, that constitute the most substantial challenge to reading this book. I frankly have no idea why Jones wrote it like that -- was he going for the Anglo-Saxon line, or some analogous Welsh effect? It must also be said that Jones offers less instant gratification than Eliot or Joyce, and is more often incomprehensible...

Nevertheless there's enough to keep one plodding. Here's another passage I liked:
Machine-gunner in Gretchen trench remembered his night target. Occasionally a rifle-bullet raw snapt like tenuous hide-whip by spiteful ostler handled. On both sides the artillery was altogether dumb.
Appear more Lazarus figures, where water gleamed between dilapidated breastworks, blue slime coated, ladling with wooden ladles; rising, bending, at their trench dredging. They speak low. Cold gurgling followed their labors. They lift things, and a bundle-thing out; its shapelessness sags. From this muck-raking are singular stenches, long decay leavened; compounding this clay, with that more precious, patient of baptism; chemical-corrupted once-bodies. They've served him barbarously -- poor Johnny -- you wouldn't desire him, you wouldn't know him for any other. Not you who knew him by fire-light nor any of you cold earth-watchers, nor searchers under flares.
Each night freshly degraded like traitor-corpse, where his heavies flog and violate; each day fathoms yesterday unkindness; dung-making Holy Ghost temples.
They bright-whiten all this sepulchre with chloride of lime. It's a perfectly sanitary war.

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