Loads of Learned Lumber

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Lisa Robertson, _R's Boat_

EVEN THOUGH THIS begins in a distinctly Robertsonian vein--we have a section that might be a dialogue between speakers only partly attending to what the other is saying (first-person statements in roman type alternate with first-person statements in italic type), followed by a section that might be a dialogue between two voices, but in this case two voices within the same mind--by the time I reached the third ("The Present") and fourth ("A Cuff") sections, I kept thinking of H. D.

More precisely, I kept thinking of Trilogy, where we get fine-grained representation of the phenomena of a particular moment of a particular place on a particular day, but at the same time a deep mythological perspective (via, as usual with H.D., Greek myth, but also Egyptian myth and the gospels), and behind that a pressing external crisis (e.g., the Blitz in "The Walls Do Not Fall").

The parallel is not all that close, I admit. Robertson does mention Lucretius, Macrobius, and Babylonian coverlets, but does not convey the sense, as H.D. sometimes does, that these ancients are more present to her than the present. Contemporary anxieties press ("If I reason I am not the state's body") but diffusedly. So what is it?

Something in the voice? The sound of I-have-to-figure-this-out? The evocation of the past in the section called "Utopia" (actually more reminiscent of The Gift than of Trilogy), its statement, "This is one part of the history of a girl's mind"? The willingness, in the section titled "Palinode," to cast a cold eye on the whole preceding undertaking?

Certainly that last one. The best modernists were already post-modernists insofar as they sensed and responded to the fissures in their own project: Four Quartets, Stanzas in Meditation, Drafts and Fragments, and (to my mind) Trilogy.

Or maybe it's when she writes, "I'm not done with myth yet".

Or "Form is not cruel".

But you really ought to read this because, however much she reminds me of H.D., she nonetheless always sounds like herself:

Whatever girl dares to read just one page is already a lost girl, but she can't blame it on this book--she was alreday ruined.

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