footnotes, appendices and apparatus to the anatomy
grouped loosely by subject
2. on the Anti-Literature and its literary antecedents
Hunter Sidney wrote a story about Vesalius, many years ago, in which a young Vesalius pays a man to bring him a body to dissect in private, and when he cuts it open he finds in the stomach an eye – Hunter Sidney says it is ambiguous whether it is an animal eye or an anachronistic glass eye, or a figment of Vesalius’s imagination, or what – and that this experience (he interprets it as the eye of God peering back at him) – in some way presses him to look with greater care, to refine his looking, to read the body; anyway, he becomes the great Vesalius.
Hunter Sidney says the story was not particularly good – he can’t really remember whether it got finished or not – but he likes the way it exposes the strangeness of beginnings; that the eye, organ of focus, of clarity, emerges from the darkness and electrifies Vesalius’s career, in the same way that, for example, Picard’s life is electrified, given focus, by a knife through the chest and the artificial pump that serves him for a heart in consequence.
Vesalius, for all his insight and skill, was not strong on blood, on veins and arteries. He followed Galen, who had taught that separate and distinct bloods ebbed and flowed in the veins and arteries, and that venious blood was generated in the liver. Arteries carried vital spirits from the heart.
It was Bracciolini himself who found the text of Marcellinus’s Rerum Gestarum Libri in the monastery of Fulda in 1417. He sent it to Niccoli in Florence, who annotated it copiously before returning it.
These were days, I suppose you could say, when there was much to be done and not many around to do it. My mother used to tell the story of arriving at a sleepy station somewhere in Liguria in the early 1960s, and the station master asked if she wanted a porter, and when she said yes he wandered off and came back wearing a different hat and carried her bags for her.
Johannes Brahms, towards the end of his life, was asked if he ever got down to the symphony concerts, and he replied, no, if he wanted to listen to great music he was quite capable of staying at home and writing it himself. Perhaps Leon Battista Alberti used to stand in his library looking for a book he thought he remembered having seen there, then just shrugged his shoulders and sat down to write it himself. Renaissance man indeed.
Where was I getting to? Marcellinus. Marcellinus describes the obelisks themselves, how they came to Rome, the stone they were made from (mottled red Aswan granite, called pyrrhopoecilos) and the hieroglyphs with which many of them (but not the Vatican obelisk, significantly) were covered. You can imagine Bracciolini and Niccoli looking at their vellum manuscripts, scratching their heads, then looking up, around, and then, the penny dropping, up, up, up at the Vatican obelisk, and seeing it, as it were, for the first time in a millennium.
When I asked Hunter Sidney if he didn’t think about going back to his first novel he just said, no, that would be like going back to Three-Mile Island or Gruinard or Chernobyl: the novel had contaminated the story.
When I asked him what he meant by that he said that the moment you put someone in a novel, the fact that they are an archaeologist or a taxidermist or a musician or whatever it was, they instantly took on a life of their own; an archaeologist is not just an person with a day job; his job is a metonym of hidden secrets, the sway of the dark past, and so on and so on. It was unavoidable. Novels had a way of writing themselves, anything you can say about anyone becomes hypercharged in novel space, becomes a great gravitational vortex which sucks you in. You like to think of novels as more grown up than fairy stories, but they were for the most part equally simplistic and not so much fun. A good writer – very few of those – would have the strength not to be dictated to by the form, and would chart his unstable path between the powerful attractors. He, Hunter Sidney, was not such a writer; he had been sullied by the experience and he didn’t bother with it any more.
In this context an object of knowledge might be something like love, or betrayal, or conflict or memory; or a given political situation, or a sexual or psychological dynamic - whatever, in short, the writer believes him or herself to be writing ‘about’.
Hunter Sidney is suggesting that what writers are attempting is not in fact a clear view of an object of knowledge at all, but the construction of a machine (a novel, a series of essays, a poem) to harness that object’s (suggestive, dialectical, culturally familiar) power.
In Star Trek: Voyager, the crew first make contact with the Federation back in the Alpha Quadrant via a vast relay of transmission stations created by an ancient civilisation; each of these relay stations is powered by a tiny (1 cm) singularity at its centre. Someone has harnessed a black hole.
This is, rather loosely, how I imagine All World Literature to work.
I originally wrote how far extracting that something for observation (collapses the wave function and) both creates it and destroys it; by which I meant, destroys its ambiguity, its multifariousness.
I’m not sure how true such a statement is of, for instance, capital flow in a business. I think it is fair to say – I am neither accountant nor businessman - that a balance sheet is a creative object (because even within the bounds of its standardised practice it can notoriously create in a number of ways); I think it might also be fair to say that, for a certain type of audience – inexpert investors, for instance, or the general public - it destroys the ambiguity or possibility inherent in the 'actual situation'.
I suppose it is also true that in order to restore life to competing interpretations it would be necessary to write different balance sheets, as it might be to write different novels; a good novel, however, implicitly and perhaps also explicitly allows the possibility of other readings, does not totally kill off the object of knowledge; but it is the rhetorical business of a good balance sheet to do precisely that. I have therefore withdrawn the assertion.
By rhetorical in this case I simply mean that in the cinquecento you are not merely enticed by a garden or indulged by it, you are in some measure controlled by it, or seduced by it, by its inventiveness, its elaborate disposition of elements.
Epideictic is one of the three classes of rhetorical display identified by Cicero, of which the others are forensic (proper to a Court of Law) and deliberative (proper to the Senate). Epideictic is a catch-all category which includes addresses at funerals or celebrations, speeches giving praise or blame.
A garden is an exercise in epideictic rhetoric insofar as it displays the consciousness of one man – its patron or owner, not its designer. In the garden we see this man laid out, see his intellectual and sentimental resource articulated, given rein, the potentiality of his city or kingdom realised, the balance of copiousness and order made good.
Rhetoric also implies a degree of remove from the direct experience, a remove that allows us to perceive order in the sensuous experience, a structure that can be read.
Why gardeners no longer conceive of their work as an exercise in epideictic rhetoric, I cannot say.
This is partly the condition of conversation in general – a science of bafflement, of saying, half-saying, and not saying - but partly owes to a natural but exaggerated reticence on her part to bring elements of her story into the light for my benefit.
In conversation, the story will usually tell you more than the ideas. That is, someone may express any number of opinions and seek to justify them; you may be in possession of certain knowledge about them which you regard as facts; but it is only when you know their various stories that you begin to see how the ideas and fragments of facts connect; or more precisely, where they are generated. Experience, or story – what happens to you – is the substrate of all opinion.
This should not hit me with the force of a revelation, but it does.