maybe probably

To think is to speculate with images. Aristotle, Aristotle, Aristotle.
– John Crowley, Love and Sleep (236)


“Hiding” with permission by Tony Donovan, The Ivoryton Studio

My life, most likely as yours, can be told in many different ways. One story involves a barefoot girl, with tangled hair and a rat trap for a foot-rest, hiding. This photo of myself endures, partly because I can refer physically to the image, and also because it’s true. That is me. Maybe probably. As I read the first part of John Crowley’s Love and Sleep, this picture occupied a corner of mind.

“Oh all right,” he said at last, annoyed at himself for being unable to refuse; he had never been good at refusing. If he could not evade or avoid, he usually assented. (175)

Also me. But there are other tales. Another story involves my very dignified Irish American grandmother giving me many books in my teenage years—she loved historical fiction, and I read more about the various kings, queens, princes and dukes of the United Kingdom and Europe than I had any understanding or pedantic interest. One that stayed with me was of Mary Queen of Scots. I thought of that book and the little I vividly recall of it: Mary’s trusted Italian adviser, and also her horrendously botched beheading—”Jesú,” she said after the first non-fatal whack, while I read the second part of Love and Sleep. These stored images created out of books I have read, pages from the careful folds of my mind, would appear as I read Crowley’s complex tale.

Why was he here? How could he have come to be here?[…] Just because a world-age is governed by certain laws—the iron laws of tragic necessity, or the wooden ones of melodrama, or outlandish, constant Coincidence—does not mean we do not marvel to find ourselves subject to them. (466)

Love and Sleep, the second of Crowley’s AEgypt Cycle quartet fascinates me. This book’s focus is…magic. Alchemy and astrology, history, dreams, Eros, and angels. Perhaps focus is too strong a word. The book, like one of the threads or themes that Crowley intertwines, cycles in and out of the mind and heart. Perspicacity grows in hindsight, the cycle can only be seen once its passed. But there is a subtlety to the way the novel is told. It’s not that it ever shakes or stabs violently at the heart, it is more an assassin that swiftly runs by, from out of nowhere, and with one deft stroke runs you through. Pin point precision through the heart with a solid gold blade.

“Love-sick, ” Pierce said. His own heart had begun the steady rapid beat, little hard fist knocking at a cell-door, that had come to be nearly constant, had alarmed him enough to send him to a doctor, a real modern one, who listened and told him to relax.
“The soul ceases to be able to think of anything else, because the spirit can’t reflect anything else. The phantasmal reflection of the other person, let loose in your spirit, takes on a sort of phony autonomy.” (500)

” A real modern one” —I love that detail. And it’s those details that connect me on a strangely personal level to these stories—finding shared threads that match my own; weaving Crowley’s threads into the tapestry of my own history. There is a neatness,  a quiet controlled quality to his prose, and yet, his book is a Gordian knot: tightening then loosening, and tightening again, always a problem to be worked out, worked over.

He and all those who ransacked their vocabularies (in Latin, Italian, French, English) for words that meant what logos means in Greek — “word,” “idea,” “reason,” none of them right or large enough. Maybe because they had no word such as Meaning has since become in English.  (259)

I read Middlemarch years and years ago, but what I most remember is the way that that book snuck up on me, by the end —something of a beginning —I found I had given myself entirely to the story, and it to me. Love and Sleep shares that quality. It’s the glimpse of Meaning: the overall effect is a wind storm through the soul.

Magic is love: nothing but the power of love in the heart of the operator can move the souls of others; nothing but love can command the intelligences of the air. Without love even the simplest Art of Memory could not operate; without attraction and revulsion, what attaches the soul to images? (420)

This spring events large and larger have swept me further out to sea, perhaps towards an Unknown Island. The books I read associate themselves with my stories and memories, and they become a gust of wind, a part of my tale. My life is a story, a series of stories, and many stories shared. True,  Melancholy needs distraction (227) and I will take it. But more than that, because reading is not, for me,  mere distraction, reading is also connection—I gladly accept the gift of the gale. Let me see what tomorrow’s page will bring.

There had not been one, not one wish since childhood that his heart had been poured into, that was not about love. – John Crowley, Love and Sleep


8 responses to “maybe probably

  1. This stirs a memory, I’m sure I read this book, some time ago. I do not have it any longer and would have to find it again. I underscore your: ”… reading is not … mere distraction, reading is also connection …” Books taught me to think, taught me that I can think, informed my thinking, aided my self-discovery.

    • Me too. Thank you for your comment, I appreciate it. I once began a book that was recommended to me only to realize about 30 pages in that there was a reason I had an idea of where it was going..I had read it. I used to feel badly that I didn’t have a better memory- I can’t throw down brilliant quotes or names of each and every character (not to mention the name of the book sometimes!), but now I find it interesting- what DO I remember- and why?

      • petrujviljoen

        Since a few years ago, when I worked towards a degree in fine art, and had to do research for the theoretical subjects: can now console myself that whatever I vaguely remember can be found again. Not as if it’s gone. I find my memory, when I’m upset, jumps at thoughts, memories, like it’s straws to hold on to. Learnt not to take memory or thoughts too seriously. If it’s persistent one may want to take a closer look. Speak again! (and again).

      • Yes. It’s all in there…somewhere. And the bits that knock loose are always a treat.

  2. I agree totally, images dominate my thoughts. Words only abet.

  3. One of the amazing things about Crowley’s novels –especially the Aegypt cycle—is how all these stories which take place in particular circumstances (I’m talking about the ones in America) not really familiar to everyone, stir one’s feelings as if they referred to personal experiences. As if the way he observes them brought out the essence common to the experiences in a certain category; just to give one example, I’m always fascinated by how I feel every time I read the story of Pierce breaking those window panes, it’s almost as if I remembered doing it.

    • Yes, it is hard to articulate exactly what it is that makes it seem as if his characters have sprung out of my mind, but I’m glad you think they have sprung out of yours too. Either Crowley has tapped into a universal way of speaking to his readers, or you and I share a peculiar trait…

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