Dreaming by the Book
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Dreaming by the Book explores the almost miraculous processes by which poets and writers teach us the work of imaginative creation. Writers from Homer to Heaney instruct us in the art of mental composition, even as their poems progress. Just as painters understand paint, composers musical instruments, and sculptors stone or metal, verbal artists understand the only material in which their creations will get made--the back-lit tissue of the human brain. In her brilliant synthesis of literary criticism, philosophy, and cognitive psychology, Elaine Scarry explores the principal practices by which writers bring things to life for their readers.
acts occurring under authorial direction. It would be an easy, but also a serious, intellectual error to think that this element of direction comes about as the result of authoritarian motives, either a poet’s wish to dominate, or a reader’s wish to be dominated, though each may along the way become a secondary or tertiary entailment and may heighten the need for contractual entry into this process of directed image-making. Rather, direction comes about to suppress our own awareness of the
mental labor to sustain an image over three, five, or twenty-five seconds as to compose it in the first place. Permitting it to vanish requires no work, since, left to itself, the image vanishes on its own. When Charles Bovary first travels to Les Bertaux at dawn on a winter morning, as he nears his destination we are asked to picture the appearance, disappearance, and reappearance of the small boy who acts as his guide. The following sentence requires three still pictures in the mind, a boy in
occur. The phrase “We stretched toward home” is from Wuthering Heights: it is Nelly Dean’s description of her walk with young Catherine back to Thrushcross Grange after they stray out onto the moors. During the several seconds it takes us to read these words, we see in our minds both of their bodies pulled, elongated in the direction of their destination. The most sustained tour-de-force exploration of stretching is in Flaubert, whose pages are full of bendings and leanings and stretches and
description of Cathy’s mental state and, simultaneously, of the mental state of suppositional imagining that we ourselves are in, which with its conflation of vivid motions and faint scrims is not straightforward picturing but something between comprehending and imagining: or nestling with closed lids, half thinking, half dreaming, happier than words can express. During these two long sentences, the whole field of composition has been moving up and down: the branches, our vertical ground, sway
her arms … and continues to be spun— all his brothers, his friends-in-arms, mourning, and warm tears came streaming down their cheeks. They placed the bones they found in a golden chest, shrouding them round and round in soft purple cloths.5 This is the story of the Iliad. Its heroes are like bright planets forever turning in the night, the one spinning on his heels to test his shining armor, the other wound round and round in the soft cloth of sorrow, the two connected by the orbit of the