Sunday, 26 October 2014

Two Stephens, Dixon and Whitman


It seems impermissible to doubt that Stephen Dixon is a great writer. Famous unknowns, unrecognised celebrities and the outstandingly unobtrusive are the reclusive partygoers that it may be asked of - didn’t he die in 1963 and it was overlooked because of the other thing? No, not him, that one. Yes, I have you now.’

How does one discover Dixon if you don’t go to the parties that he’s never at. The answer to that is my new adage: A secret shared is a secret squared. News of the O. Henry awards where he is a fixture is where I spotted his name linked with the as usual genuflection. Via that great internet (why is internet regarded as a misspelling?) resource openlibrary.org I downloaded 2 of his books for to sus. His big volume of Stories and Interstate ,a novel, are probably representative. Turgid, torpid, turbid is my initial reaction I fear but I will plough on and plough the rocks of yawn. Writing too for me must follow that Buddhist saying : Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. You do not colour in everything, how is the active imagination to be activated without imaginary space?

Onneglected books
I came across the F. Scott Fitzgerald proposal to Scribner’s re a library of the unjustly fallen into neglect. Stephen French Whitman is mentioned and some of his works are available on archive.org. Languid, louche, lambent and a great laugh. Looking at Predestined mentioned by Scott, 25 at the time and famous already and won’t stop being famous either.

Felix was sent round the world. He saw strange seas and lands. On shipboard he awoke, sometimes, to find blowing through the open port-holes air as extraordinarily flavored as if enveloping another world. He perceived across water for the first time, yet with the inexplicable thrill of an old traveller returning after many years, minarets, pagodas, a Chinese junk, spider-like Malay catamarans. He became enamoured of strange perfumes, antipodal music, women so fantastically charming that they seemed unreal.

The cumulative effect of grandiloquence is the creation of unreality. Whitman does not ‘murder his darlings’, he breeds more of the divine creatures.

Here is the opening of Sacrifice (1922):

Lilla Delliver's parents, killed in a railway accident, left their child a legacy other than the fortune that the New York newspapers mentioned in the obituaries.
The mother had been tall, blonde, rather wildly handsome, with the look of one of those neurotic queens who suppress under a proud manner many psychic disturbances. Painfully fastidious in her tastes, she had avoided every unnecessary contact with mediocrity. Reclining on a couch in her boudoir, she read French novels saturated with an exquisite sophistication. Then, letting the book slip from her fingers, she gazed into space, as listless as a lady immured in a seraglio on the Bosphorous. At night, if the opera was Tristan, she went down to her limousine with the furtive eagerness of a woman escaping from monotony into a secret world. She drove home with feverish cheeks, and when her husband spoke to her she gave him the blank stare of a somnambulist.








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