dimanche 9 septembre 2012

Randall Jarrell, PICTURES FROM AN INSTITUTION, New York, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1968 [1954], 277 pages

I said, so speedily that admiration for myself almost overcame me: "You ought to write a travel book sometime, Gertrude - one about Peru. I'd like to see what you think about Peru." But this made me think, longingly, that I'd like for Peru to write a book about her: what would Peru think of Gertrude?
"I may, I may," answered Gertrude. "I don't know what I'll write about next. For a while I've been thinking..." She looked away from my face into my wife's, and away from my wife's into Sidney's, and away from Sidney's into the porter's. Then she said pensively, in an almost demure voice: "I've often thought of writing a book about a -" here, for the smallest part of a sceond, she hesitated - "about a writer."
Sidney, and my wife, and the porter looked at Gertrude all unmoved...

p. 267

Randall Jarrell, PICTURES FROM AN INSTITUTION, New York, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1968 [1954], 277 pages

Her Guggenheim Fellowship had been renewed, and she had got a thousand-dollar advance for a travel book: she and Sidney (he had said to his employers, I have to go, Gertrude [254] is leaving; they had said, All right) were going to Peru or Chile or Ecuador - I forget which, the one where you can live like a prince on practically nothing. There Gertrude was going to write not a travel book - this wouldn't have surprised her publishers, they knew her - but the conclusion of her novel about Benton. She felt about each book, always: "This one is going to be different. This one will dot it!" About this one she didn't feel it, she knew it.

p. 253-254

Randall Jarrell, PICTURES FROM AN INSTITUTION, New York, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1968 [1954], 277 pages

For just as many Americans want art to be Life, so this American novelist want life to be Art, not seeing that many of the values - though not, perhaps, the final ones - of life and art are irreconcilable; so that her life looked coldly into the mirror that it held up to itself, and saw that it was full of quotations, of data and analysis and epigrams, of naked and shameful truths, of facts: it saw that it was a novel by Gertrude Johnson.

p. 214

Randall Jarrell, PICTURES FROM AN INSTITUTION, New York, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1968 [1954], 277 pages

"People just aren't interesting." She hadn't for many years even expected them to be. She knew what people are like, had known for so long that it was almost as if she had always known, and yet she still couldn't reconcile herself to the knowledge. If she had been allowed to pick one word for what people are, it would have been: irritating.

p. 208

Randall Jarrell, PICTURES FROM AN INSTITUTION, New York, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1968 [1954], 277 pages

But as a writer Gertrude had one fault more radical than the rest: she did not know - or rather, did not believe - what it was like to be a human being. She was one, intermittently, but while she wasn't she did not remember what it had felt to be one; and her worse self distrusted her better too thoroughly to give it much share, ever, in what she said or wrote. If she was superior to most people in her courage and independence, in her intelligence, in her reckless wit, in her extraordinary powers of observation, in her almost deictic memory, she was inferior to them in most human qualities; she had not yet arrived even at that elementary forbearance upon which human society is based.

p. 190

Randall Jarrell, PICTURES FROM AN INSTITUTION, New York, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1968 [1954], 277 pages

Though Gertrude's grammar, syntax, and punctuation were perfectly orthodox, though her style made everything sound has if it had been dictated to her by the Spirit of Geometry, she was admired by the most experimental of writers, men who, since high school, had never so much as used a comma, except perhaps to put one after every word of a book of poems. But she was (and they felt this, even if they couddn't say it) as excessive as they: her excess was moral, spiritual, and cut far deeper into life than anything they had managed themselves.

p. 187

Randall Jarrell, PICTURES FROM AN INSTITUTION, New York, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1968 [1954], 277 pages

It always astonished me that people did not realize what she was doing: what could listening - in Gertrude - mean but a book? She listened only As A Novelist.

p. 131

Randall Jarrell, PICTURES FROM AN INSTITUTION, New York, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1968 [1954], 277 pages

It rather surprised me that Gertrude would talk to me about her book; and she was surprised, I could see. She believed in the saying, Never show a fool anything unfinished - believed in it so thoroughly that she felt an uneasy resentment at having to show anybody anything, finished or unfinished. In a more reasonable world she and Sidney could have read her book when it was done, given it the Pulitzer prize, and stored it away in a vault under the Library of Congress. She did not tell the people at Benton she was writing a book about them: it would make them nervous if they knew, she said to Sidney, and they wouldn't be able to behave as they normally do. For that matter, she didn't tell me - she just asked me questions about Benton. She asked me more questions than I knew there were; after a while we found that we had been talking to each other about the book, quite openly, for weeks.
This would not have hapened if I had been a novelist. Then I might have stolen Gertrude's ideas, might have looked at them with a colleague's bright awful eye. But I [94] was only a poet - that is to say, a maker of stone axes - and she felt a real pity for me because of it: what a shame that I hadn't lived back in the days when they used stone axes! And yet, why make them now? Every once in a while she would say to me, "Haven't you ever thought of writing a novel?" I would shake my head and say that my memory was too bad; later I would just say, "That again!" and laugh. She would laugh too, but it puzzled her; finally she dismissed it from her mind, saying to herself - as you do about someone who won't go on relief, or mind the doctor - "Well, he has only himself to blame!"

p. 93-94 

Randall Jarrell, PICTURES FROM AN INSTITUTION, New York, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1968 [1954], 277 pages

As she read, Sidney listened; as she wrote, Sidney waited to listen; and Homer himself never had a better listener than Sidney. But sometimes on week-days with no conferences, no muse, no Sidney, the bare apartment looked bare even to Gertrude, and she would think, staring out of the window into the grey day: "I wish I made enough from my writing so Sidney wouldn't have to work."

p. 74

Randall Jarrell, PICTURES FROM AN INSTITUTION, New York, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1968 [1954], 277 pages

She was a mousy woman till she smiled: her teeth bared themselves, counted, and their lips went over them. Her smile was, I think, all that people have called it: it was like a skull, like a stone-marten scarf, like catatonia, like the smile of the damned at Bamberg; the slogan of the company that manufactured it was "As False as Cressida"; torn animals were removed at sunset from that smile. And yet it was only a nervous grimace, her one attempt to establish an ephemeral rapport with her world: "One would have said her body thought," and her body had kinder thoughts than she. That skull's grin was no memento mori, but Gertrude's admission that she too had to live.

p. 65

Randall Jarrell, PICTURES FROM AN INSTITUTION, New York, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1968 [1954], 277 pages

She would have made the perfect naturalistic novelist, so far as memory is concerned - and that is very far - except that she got bored and wouldn't listen, and then had to make things up; the novelist's greatest temptation, Gertrude felt, is to create.

p. 47

Randall Jarrell, PICTURES FROM AN INSTITUTION, New York, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1968 [1954], 277 pages

Gertrude Johnson could feel no real respect for, no real interest in, anybody who wasn't a writer. For her there were two species: writers and people; and the writers were really people, and the people weren't.

p. 22

Randall Jarrell, PICTURES FROM AN INSTITUTION, New York, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1968 [1954], 277 pages

Gertrude thought Europe overrated, too; she voyaged there, voyaged back, and told her friends; they listened, awed, uneasy somehow. She had a wonderful theory that Europeans are mere children to us Americans, who are the oldest of men - why I once knew: because our political institutions are older, or because Europeans skipped some stage of their development, or because Gertrude was an American - I forget.

p. 9.

Randall Jarrell, PICTURES FROM AN INSTITUTION, New York, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1968 [1954], 277 pages

How can we expect novelists to be moral, when their trade forces them to treat every end they meet as no more than an imperfect means to a novel?

p. 8

Randall Jarrell, PICTURES FROM AN INSTITUTION, New York, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1968 [1954], 277 pages

Gertrude was, as novelists say, "between novels."

p. 6

Randall Jarrell, PICTURES FROM AN INSTITUTION, New York, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1968 [1954], 277 pages

Gertrude Johnson was, of course, the novelist; she had come to Benton six and a half months ago, late in the fall, to replace a new teacher of creative writing who had proved unexpectedly unsatisfactory.

p. 4