Thursday, 7 December 2017

The Shout by Robert Graves

Any short story which begins after this fashion will give that settling in feeling in the hara - this is going to be good. I would say to the prospective student of a master’s degree in writing - please don’t, just read this story once a day for a month, once a month for a year and once a year for the rest of your life just as you would oil a prized piece of furniture.

cricket ground, the chief medical officer, whom I had met at the house where I was staying, came up to shake hands. I told him that I was only scoring for the Lamp-ton team today (I had broken a finger the week before, keeping wicket on a bumpy pitch). He said: "Oh, then you'll have an interesting companion."
"The other scoresman?" I asked.
"Crossley is the most intelligent man in the asylum," answered the doctor, "a wide reader, a first-class chessplayer, and so on. He seems to have travelled all over the world. He's been sent here for delusions. His most serious delusion is that he's a murderer, and his story is that he killed two men and a woman at Sydney, Australia. The other delusion, which is more humorous, is that his soul is split in pieces—whatever that means. He edits our monthly magazine, he stage manages our Christmas theatricals, and he gave a most original conjuring performance the other day. You'll like him."

I found this story in a collection Great English Short Stories put together by Christopher Isherwood (pub. 1957). In a mischievous way this British collection has four outright foreigners. (Conrad, George Moore, K. Mansfield, Ethel Colburn Mayne) A very good selection.

Though I could say many clever things about The Shout I will for once in my life refrain. Scour the internet, find it, read it. I’ve returned it to so if you want to read it online it’s there.


Anonymous said...

ombhurbhuva said...

Thanks for that link. I listened to a bit of it. It seems to follow the story closely. Will catch the rest tomorrow. You may be aware that there's a film version of it with John Hurt, Alan Bates (splendid Crossley), and Susannah York).

john doyle said...

I should've struck while the iron was cold, Michael; now I'm on a waiting list for the short stories volume at openlibrary. Shifting from figure to ground, I'm curious about how differently the original story manifests itself as a printed document compared with an audio adaptation, to which I listened last night (thanks Antonymoous). Do the same words, presented in different media, conjure the same story in my imagination, immerse me in the same fictional ecology? The radio drama isn't a straight oral reading of the text; e.g., the first-person narrator in the first paragraph of the text reproduced in your post no longer narrates, but rather occupies exclusively his role as a character in the drama. In a sense this makes the story more "present" to the listener, with the tale no longer recounted second-hand in the past tense as it is in the text. But then again, the story is a kind of Russian doll, stories inside of stories inside of stories, receding from the rugby pitch (is it a pitch? I don't know cricket). Or is this recursive recession from materiality a kind of transcendence, a way of withdrawing from the distractions of trivial games into Truth? Or is it the trick of a conjuror waving his black handkerchief in the air to distract the audience, making legerdemain seems like magic? I.e., is the distanced and deferred structure of the printed story integral to the story itself?

john doyle said...

The other large carton unpacked in the same way - box into box - but the feeling it gave me was the opposite of that suggested by the endless nest of Russians dollies it otherwise resembled, for what I was opening was a den of spaces which now covered the floor near my feet. It was plain that every ten-by-ten-by eight container contained cubes which were nine by nine by seven, and eight by eight by six, and seven by seven by five, and so on down to three by three by two, as well as many smaller, thinly sided ones at every interval in between, so that out of one box a million more might multiply, confirming Zeno's view, although at that age, with an unfurnished mind, I couldn't have known of his paradoxes let alone have been able to describe one with any succinctness. What I had discovered is that every space contains more space than the space it contains.

- from The Tunnell by William Gass, who died Wednesday at age 93. I didn't much care for the book, f myself slogging through thick earth with no end in sight -- I don't believe I got to the end of it. Maybe I'll delve again one day.

john doyle said...

From Gass's 1987 essay "A Failing Grade for the Present":

Some say the movies are to blame, if blame there be. But movies are at best a once-a-week thing, and we all went when we were kids, and ate licorice gummies from a sack and shouted early warnings at Errol Flynn; but when we went to write we did as the painters did when photos first complexed the scene: we carefully avoided imitating them. Writers were released from popularity (in a commercial culture, no small thing); they were freed from the tyranny of story and all the trappings of the tale, if they chose to throw them off. Movies may melt the mind down, and they certainly lured many a talent onto the scotchy rocks with their money; however, there was no particular fondness for the present tense until television (and now the VCR) upped our exposure to pictures from two hours a week to six or 10 a day, and magazines lay down in a litter of images as though their pages had been blown about in the street.

Gass assigned no small measure of blame to the MFA programs:

The students do not imitate the faculty. Writing teachers cannot be accused of turning out copies of themselves. The students, instead, write like one another. The teacher is nothing but a future recommendation. Only the exceptional instructors push their students much. No one is required to do exercises on the practice fields of fiction. No one is asked to write against the little grain they've got. Relations grow personal before they grow professional. And the community perceives each poet as a poet, each writer as a writer, making them members in this social sense, although they may not have written a worthy word. Here many hide from academic requirements and from intellectual challenge. There are always shining exceptions, of course, but on the whole the students show little interest in literature. They are interested in writing instead . . . in expressing a self as shallow as a saucer.

To whom and to what do they look? Not many years in front of them was Ann X or Barry Y (about whom there is still plenty of shop gossip), and just see where they are now - with stories appearing in The New Yorker, with a collection out from a prestigious press, with interviews, readings, nibbles from the films, an interesting divorce -fictionwise. Because few of the young people I met had the romantic aspirations my generation had, I decided that they lacked ambition. I was wrong. They have plenty of ambition, but it is of a thoroughly worldly and common-sense kind: they want to make it.

THE present tense, with its problems, will probably pass.

Writing programs, however, are very American and very successful, and will doubtless remain. It has been in their interest to feed their students into the commercial world of publishing somegrams [sic -- corrupted online copy; presumably something like "as some university sports programs"] feed their players to the pros. The present success of the short story, like the present success of the present tense, is not merely the consequence of a conservative atmosphere in our country (although it may substantially account for the absence of youthful idealism and general social concerns in this work); it is, in my opinion, the reflection of an established and dominant institution, with its connections, personality and structure. Times - they promise - change; writers come and go; fads, like that for the present tense, fade; but in the Detroits of our culture, the manufacture of writers continues.

Detroit will have been outsourced to robots assembled on tax-free floating platforms.

ombhurbhuva said...

I am totally with Gass on the use of continuous present in the writing of novels and stories. Leave it to Runyan I say. Immediacy is the intent but the result to me is bogus and strained.

The difference between the radio play and the story is that the dreamtime element drops out, the conflation of times and the swift transitions between them. To put it in Bergsonian terms, there is a movement between the point of the cone in the present and (cf. Bergson's cone of memory post) and its outer reaches. Out there separate minds blend. But I'll say no more in case that I spoil the unfolding.

john doyle said...

Yes, the written story is superior to the radio dramatization. A catalog could be assembled of the various alternate realities that the narrative traverses, and maybe also of the transmigrations of those who pass through them. I read also the next story, "The Book-Bag" by Maugham. Early on the narrator is introduced by his host to the Sultan...

Conversation was not difficult, for he was affable, and he told me that he had never been to a theatre or played cards, for he was very religious, and he had four wives and twenty-four children. The only bar to the happiness of his life seemed to be that common decency obliged him to divide his time equally between his four wives. He said that an hour with one was a month and with another five minutes. I remarked that Professor Einstein -- or was it Bergson? -- had made similar observations upon time and indeed on this question had given the world much to ponder over.

ombhurbhuva said...

Yes it is much better than the radio play and the film, though Bates was good in that. Those dreams that interfuse out there beyond the personal blending perspectives. Therer is no master narrative but still two men died one by direct lightening and the other by a shout. 'In dreams begin responsibilities' wrote Yeats.

Somerset Maugham read philosophy as is evident from his giving a book a title taken from a chapter in Spinoza's Ethics - Of Human Bondage. He also spent time in India with Ramana Maharshi. I've posted on these topics if your interested.