Thursday, 29 March 2012

A Man Could Stand Up being the Third Book of Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford

Once I started looking at A Man Could Stand Up when writing this note I found myself been drawn again into the description of life in the trenches during the Great War. We know from the beginning of the book that Tietjens is home again safe on Armistice Day, bewildered yet unharmed in any major way. That takes away the tension of our identification with his survival and we can suffer with him and feel that this is to be part of his consciousness for the rest of his life. We can then so to speak look around us at the horror of the battlefield.

I mentioned that the handling of duration is a feature of the writing, duration in the Bergsonian sense of the infliction of our whole history up to that moment on the immediate consciousness. A writer can only give an impression of this c.f.bergson on presence
Your whole life passing before your eyes in an instant is an experience commonly reported by those who fear immanent death. Is such compression possible given that a stream of images must take a certain amount of time to unfold? This is the materialist answer and a misunderstanding of Bergson's distinction between time and duration. Duration is not representable so we tend to convert that intense experience in which our life is compressed into an instant into temporal terms which are translated into a stream of images. This structural necessity becomes the story of a stream of images.

Ford by an focus on the 30 minutes before an expected major push by the Germans, which never comes, gives the feeling of duration or the intensity of a whole life at the point of death. It is the artistic version of the temporal sleight of hand. There is the flowing from the outer reaches of the 17th. Century to the present.

011 Griffeths is playing a 17th. Century air, on a cornet, over the battlefield. This is a Welch regiment remember so there are many Griffeths, Jones and Morgans and therefore they require individuation by numbers.

(Tietjens)I don't want the men to think they've got to stop a Hun rush without bombs... They're due to begin their barrage in 14 minutes, but they won't really come over without a hell of a lot of preparation.. I don't know how Brigade knows all this!

The name Bemerton suddenly came on to his tongue. Yes, Bemerton, Bemerton. Bemerton was George Herbert's parsonage, Bemerton outside Salisbury. The cradle of our race as far as our race was worth thinking about. He imagined himself standing up on a little hill, a lean contemplative parson, looking at the land sloping down to the Salisbury spire. A large, clumsily bound 17th. century testament, Greek, below his elbow...Imagine standing up on a hill! It was the unthinkable thing there!

As before in the other books the title represents a nucleus round which events aggregate. Standing up also means that Tietjens will have to insist that the Medical Officer removes the C.O. who is dipso and refuses his bromide. McKechnie whom he has replaced as 2nd. is also dotty and dipso and ruinous to the confidence of the men. These are men that have been brought by the C.O. in his better days to a pitch of training that allows them to be as cool under fire as though they were at the butts. Ford displays the truth in an observation that might initially be taken for irony.

It would not be right that a man exactly and scrupulously performing his duty to his sovereign, his native land and those it holds dear, should not be protected by a special Providence. And he is!

It is not only that the engrossed marksman might and very probably did pick off an advancing enemy with every second shot, and thus diminish his personal danger to that extent; it is that the regular and as if mechanical falling of comrades spreads disproportionate dismay in advancing or halted troops. It is no doubt terrible to you to have large number of your comrades instantaneously annihilated by the explosion of some huge engine but huge engines are blind and thus accidental; a slow regular picking off of the man beside you is evidence that human terribleness that is not blind or accidental is cold-bloodedly and unshakably turning its attention to a spot very near you. It may very shortly turn its attention to yourself.

The overlooking of Ford as a war writer is curious when one considers the celebrity of those such as Crane and Hemingway who were non-combatants, one born after the event which he describes and the other a haphazard victim of a mortar for which he won a Hershey medal.

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