Sponges, metamorphoses and psyche

Sponges, metamorphoses and psyche

After a morning during which I searched my ravaged memory for the concealed door to my troubles, I opened an old box which contained five old, forgotten notebooks of mine. Their black covers and red spines revealed nothing to me of when I last used them to gather observations, thoughts, fragments of lines, like a dark sponge wiping up the mess of my mental life.

I opened the first notebook of the pile, and flicked through the pages. Quickly I dated it to the months or years around 1999.  There I have noted the words spoken by Steve Bracks on election night in 1999, when he defeated the apparently invincible, more despised, but more enduring figure of Jeff Kennett. Bracks: “a victory for decency, honour, compassion.” Beside it, I have scrawled thoughts that record my state of mind – “the joy of seeing a tyrant brought to his knees. The reminder that government is not execution. A child’s eyes pleading for mercy in the midst of horror. A reminder that there can be a reward for waiting and persistence. The heroism of enduring.”

They are not surprising thoughts, except I am struck today with the sense then that the dramas of even minor provincial politics still held for me this fascination to find ordinary virtues – “the heroism of enduring” – in my struggles as a lowly under-castellan.

But these residues of reactions to old news are not the most surprising finding in this notebook. There in the early pages I have written:

Francis Ponge wrote this (or something like this) “an artist has one duty to set up a workshop and to bring in the world for repair as he finds it in pieces.” So the experience, day to day, is transcribed and out of intuition, some poetry found.

Ponge was one of the many French writers who I came to know through my strange search for an artistic identity through the works of Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. I was in my 20s and at university, and my first sally into the world of adult identity had failed dismally, when I had sought election as a student politician and failed. I never really belonged to that world in any case, and my true affiliation was with the worlds of dream, madness, transgression and outlandish thought. It was this world that welcomed me as an outcast from reason, familial life and all practical careers, which I believed myself then to be.

Through them, and the ultimately futile attempt to think like them and not like myself, I discovered Ponge, and Leiris, Blanchot, Bataille, Rene Char, Beckett in a new way, Artaud, and the truly enigmatic Raymond Roussel. I tried but could not really understand the philosophy, but I completely absorbed the idea of consecrating my life through an unique and idiosyncratic practice of writing. Just now I picked up Leiris’ Manhood from my shelf, with its frightening, disturbing image of a naked Judith holding a knife and the severed head of Holofernes,


and read from the prologue these words, which spoke to me then and still do today:

My chief activity is literature, a term greatly disparaged today. I do not hesitate to use it, however, for it is a question of fact: one is a literary man as one is a botanist, a philosopher, an astronomer, a physicist, a doctor. There is no point inventing other terms, other excuses to justify one’s predilection for writing: anyone who likes to think with a pen in his hand is a writer. The few books I have published have won me no fame. I do not complain of this, any more than I brag of it, for I feel the same distaste for the “popular author’ genre as for that of the “neglected poet.” (Michel Leiris, Manhood, p 4)

Unlike Leiris or Bataille, to whom Leiris dedicated his self-inquiry, or Bataille’s friend Blanchot, I never gathered on my shelves the works of Francis Ponge. Where I learnt of the quotation that the artist brings into his workshop items of the world to repair one at a time, I do not know, and a cursory google search cannot conceal the sloppiness of my literary scholarship in that notebook, penned at a time of desperation, when I did not know how to continue being what I was, a literary man, and still succeed in the world.

All I remember of reading Ponge is struggling to find my way through Derrida’s essay Signponge – and wondering what it was that provoked such an extraordinary text. I think now, as I read more of Ponge’s attention to the thing itself, simple things, ordinary things, reimagined with puns, dad jokes, word play, that it was simplicity itself that so infuriated Derrida, and made him turn the pun of Ponge’s name into an attack on any aspiration to find meaning in things themselves, outside the endless commentary of differance.

At the same time I would deliberately set aside the too difficult question announced by this word; it escapes any frontal approach, and the thing [Ponge’s name, the thing that is not a thing, and yet is declared in Derrida’s sentence] that I am going to talk about obliges me to reconsider mimesis through and through, as an open-ended question, but also as a miniscule vanishing point at the already sunlit abyssal depths of the mimosa. (Derrida, Signponge, (1976, trans 1984) p. 4

The aggressive brio of the scholar. Shots fired a the podium. Words as weapons.

Derrida’s words no longer fascinate me. But through Ponge I discover things that can renew poetry. I read also that Ponge became a recluse in his later life. In this fate he shared with Blanchot, I see my own. The writer who is a recluse looks like Narcissus into the pool and hopes to see his psyche’s echo.

It reminds me of the poem I published in ars poetica IV in May 1997, a couple of years before I penned my thoughts in this notebook, at a time when I hoped to escape the dreariness of a life in servitude as a lowly under-castellan to a minor provincial government, an escape which I have never been able to effect.


Dream Life


In that small moment dream takes

to fly from memory and become

the nagging image of forgetfulness

the muted clank of psyche’s hold

I can turn too well in bed

and learn the pains of comfort.


Whenever these rivers of the night

Dry hard into red scorched beds

Depression takes over my daily self

Like the avenging angel of time.

Scouring winds rub out the image

Leaving behind the carcase of summer.


Suppose thought gave way to dream.

Bridges would collapse. Our simple talk

Would become a spree of metaphor

Not even poets could afford.

Self would reign over all meaning

And again the tower would fall.


But why do these solitary creations

reveal their meaning first to others

as if the dreaming tongue betrayed

its beloved solipsism? Eyes wrapped

in fabrics of truth and lies,

the dream asks its interlocutor: who?


A tree springs from my stomach.

Nebuchadnezzar’s madness overcomes time and reason

to plant itself in my soil

to come alive again as if

all history is compressed by night

into an image none can forget.


This drowning boat, this fish river,

this medusa returning as a bowl

of squirming snakes which I eat:

these dreams lie like abandoned gifts

but still share their secret being

with listeners to my night’s echo


Jeff Rich (1997)

boyd nebuchadnezzar

(Image: Arthur Boyd, Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream of a Tree)

The first line of Derrida’s Psyche: Inventions of the other: “What else am I going to be able to invent?”


You can twist at the foot of the stems
The elastic of your heart
It is not like chenille
That you will know the flowers
When more than one sign
Your Rush to Happiness

He shuddered and jumped
Joined the butterflies …

Francis Ponge

Sebald’s sentences

Sebald’s sentences

I have spent the afternoon, as if in retreat from a world that does not welcome me, lying in bed and reading, much as I did as a teenage boy when I fled a family that tormented me into the world that I conjured from the novels of Trollope, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, a world which came to wrap my senses in muslin cloth and made me into a walking apparition of a no longer living sensibility; and the book that I have read, itself composed in a modern ghostly form of nineteenth century style, is Austerlitz by the great German emigrant writer, Winfried G. “Max” Sebald.

Sebald enjoys a renown that comes in part from the unclassifiable genre of writing that he practised; he combined personal memoir, fiction, travelogue and history into a cabinet of human curiosities, lined with a dark soft cloth of sadness: yet underneath all the strangeness of his forms, there is an ornate, stately, otherworldly beauty of his sentences.

The story is told of some writer who once was asked by a budding practitioner of the art what might sustain them on a journey to fame. “Do you like sentences?” the writer replied. So, to dwell on Sebald’s sentences seems the best way to honour his memory, and to hope to emulate his art, which found a way to speak of human destruction outside the boundaries of our own time and through a style schooled in the writing of German naturalist description of the nineteenth century.

Throughout Austerlitz, there fall these delicate strings, which also provide some kind of clue to the seemingly undirected perambulations of his melancholy mind. So from early in Austerlitz, Sebald writes, as if inscribing the fractal pattern of his intention deeply in the enigmatic curls and twists of his maze,:

From the first I was astonished by the way Austerlitz put his ideas together as he talked, forming perfectly balanced sentences out of whatever occurred to him, so to speak, and the way in which, in his mind, the passing on of his knowledge seemed to become a gradual approach to a kind of historical metaphysic, bringing remembered events back to life.” (Sebald, Austerlitz p 14)

There is too this graceful concatenation of, on the one hand, the precisely descriptive details of the outer world, of memories, of photographs, of the minor details of fortifications, and the forgotten stories of ambition behind the construction of the Central Railway Station of Antwerp, and, on the other hand, an ethereal uncertainty about our minds’ ability to grasp the experiences that beset them and to stop the torrent of emotions with which we perceive the world. Sebald’s enigmatic prose is born from this coupling of a strangely meticulous prose with the constant evocation that much of our lives are spent in mirages of our own conception.  The very first sentence of Austerlitz contains this quality of a dream, dreamt through the miscegenation of a gentlemanly scholarship with the perplexity of a mind that knows its own madness.

“In the second half of the 1960s I travelled repeatedly from England to Belgium, partly for study, partly for other reasons that were never entirely clear to me, staying sometimes for just one or two days, sometimes for several weeks” (Sebald, Austerlitz, p 1) my emphasis

The phrase that I have underlined (“partly for other reasons…) disrupts the reasoned preoccupations of the apparent narrative, and opens the reader to the disordered world of Sebald’s deeper meditations, which come to him with many qualifications, always with a question of whether he has been deceived. Many states of mind “seem” to be in this prose. They visit the narrator uninvited, unexplained, and lead from the seemingly solid into the always uncertain mists of our own minds.

This theme is conveyed in a passage in which Sebald finds in the image of a captive raccoon in the Nocturama of Antwerp, an image of the longing we have, those of us who sit and polish our words like the raccoon, to reach beyond the darkness that we see all around us.

“The only animal which has remained lingering in my memory is the raccoon. I watched it for a long time as it sat beside a little stream with a serious expression on its face, washing the same piece of apple over and over again, as if it hoped that all this washing, which went far beyond any reasonable thoroughness, would help it escape the unreal world in which it had arrived, so to speak, through no fault of its own. Otherwise, all I remember of the denizens of the Nocturama is that several of them had striking large eyes, and the fixed, inquiring gaze found in certain painters and philosophers who seek to penetrate the darkness which surrounds us purely by means of looking and thinking. (Austerlitz pp 2-3)

On reading ambitions

On reading ambitions

It should be known that the above-mentioned hidalgo, during the periods when he was idle – which was most of the year – devoted himself to reading romances of chivalry with such eagerness and pleasure that he almost completely neglected the hunt, and even the administration of his estate. His curiosity and folly got to such an extreme that he sold many acres of farmland to buy romances of chivalry to read, and he took home every one of them he could find” Miguel de Cervantes, The ingenious hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605) [translated by Tom Lathrop, 2014], p 19

Today I strolled through the city during my lunchtime break, and wandered down to the best bookshop in the CBD, or central activity district as it has been recently renamed, with a determined plan to return with one great unread or much loved but recently neglected by myself, classic work of literature.

I did first browse through books of current affairs, since I felt I should familiarise myself at least with the terms and titles of current debate in my lowly role as an under-castellan of a minor and sleepy provincial government in the Southern Pacific. From those racks I collected a recent essay proposing Australia quarrel a little more with our great ally and imperial friend, the United States of America. Surely the only sensible course, at least in a world made less secure by the day by the chest-beating of the US national intelligence community and its grand old men and women.

Then I turned to deeper interests in the long rack holding classics, plays and poetry. I paused a while over the Saga of Volsung and the Elder Edda, and passed over reams of Austen and Dickens and the comfortable favourites. Then I thumbed through a new edition of Yeats’ selected poems. From there I read his “Why should not old men be mad.”

WHY should not old men be mad?
Some have known a likely lad
That had a sound fly-fisher’s wrist
Turn to a drunken journalist;
A girl that knew all Dante once
Live to bear children to a dunce;
A Helen of social welfare dream,
Climb on a wagonette to scream.
Some think it a matter of course that chance
Should starve good men and bad advance,
That if their neighbours figured plain,
As though upon a lighted screen,
No single story would they find
Of an unbroken happy mind,
A finish worthy of the start.
Young men know nothing of this sort,
Observant old men know it well;
And when they know what old books tell
And that no better can be had,
Know why an old man should be mad.

W.B. Yeats, Selected Poems

No single story of an unbroken happy mind indeed. It was perhaps the affirmation to know what old books tell, and the noble madness of the aged truth, monuments of unageing intellect, that led me like a bloodhound on the scent of its hare to that grandest of tales of old men and the folly of their books.

So I walked home with a 2014 translation of Cervantes, Don Quixote, or to give the full name from the early frontispiece, reproduced if in translation in this edition by Alma Classics, The ingenious hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha.

Cervantes’ great comedy is one of those books that you can believe that you know but have not read, and especially so for someone like me, who is inclined to tilt at false dragons, clothed as windmills, and more inclined to know people in books than in real life. Yet I have not read Don Quixote.

But now I will, or at least give myself a plan to read its nearly 700 pages, full of comedy, classical and early modern literary references that I will rely on notes to understand, and a human understanding from a writer whose story I have begun to be intrigued by. It is on a first pass a much funnier book than many that I have ploughed determinedly on with. Proust. Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy. Tolstoy’s War and Peace, although I must say I did skim over the long essay on his pet theories of history near the end. On the other hand, there are many long books that have defeated my overly ambitious plans to ingest whatever wisdom and creative spark they still hold: a six volume history of private life, that stands embarrassed on my selves, the Bible, Musil’s Man without Qualities, and of course, Don Quixote

It makes me wonder about ambitions in reading. Today’s literature is so vast. It is an ocean beyond ambition’s compass. There is too much to read, even when you do not explore the shores expanded exponentially with all the internet samizdats to which I contribute and celebrate. Is there a time when the sheer enormity of all the written words will lead me to give up on trying to understand the classics, the great challenging works, the necessary elements of a humanist education, and just skim social media feeds for my remaining years of silence?

Then again ambitions in reading surely serve some good ends. They set a course across that vast uncrossable ocean that is the literature of everything that could be read, and allow this poor reader to tack close to at least some known shores. If I say I will read Cervantes and fail, then at least I would have tried, and, even if taken in fragments, the attempt makes me stronger. What I fail to read, still makes me stronger?

So I will go to bed tonight with my heavy old Spanish master, held in my weak old wrist, and thank ambition for letting me know, if only for moments, the imagination of the dead. In our madness is our truest dignity?

Image Source: via Wikimedia Commons, Juan de Jauregui y Aguilar (circa 1583 – 1641) – Portrait of Cervantes, assumed. cervantesvirtual.com 3. The Bridgeman Art Library, Object 119216

Donne’s sermons and the blogging tradition


Image Source: Oil Painting, John Donne (1573-1631), at the age of 49. Anon. British School, 1622. Victoria and Albert Museum.

Twice every Sunday for 16 years from 1615 to 1631 John Donne gave a sermon.

He was unpractised as a public speaker before this time.

Something of a courtier and yet an outsider, who tried but often failed to secure the sinecure he needed to sustain his status.

He only became a priest, when he abandoned hope of other offices, and sought an income.

His religiosity was not in doubt.

But he was a reformed soul, so the biography by John Stubbs labels him.

He was reformed since he converted from Catholicism, if ambivalently.

He was reformed since he gave up the life of a courtly ladies man to marry for love.

He was reformed too since he adopted the religious life late in life, and so anchored his writing in a discipline of communing with his flock.

Before then he was known more as a wit than a poet.

His renown is now for his poetry, especially for “No man is an island.”

Among poets and the religious he is known for his holy sonnets, of which one at least “Death, be not proud” speaks to our immortal fears.

Yet his poetry was passed around as private wit; perhaps only for money did he publish Songs and Sonnets and then with reservations.

It was his sermons for which he was best known.

One sermon that praised the king, the king eagerly sought publication.

These sermons now continue to live in the luminarium, and a vast project of Oxford University Press that seeks to publish again every sermon’s text, restored lovingly from Donne’s own manuscripts. There is even a project that recreates in a digital and virtual world the acoustics and the appearance of Donne giving his lectures at St Paul’s cathedral.

It is his practice, and his discipline that registers most with me.

He spoke with subtlety before romantic confession.

The sermon itself is a genre that I do not know, and which is today perhaps a dead form.

His sermons are offered as bible study, and I barely know a single text from that book.

A sermon begins with a text, and so goes on to draw the lesson that John Donne chose.

His model inspires me to begin essays anew.

Yet can I know in my civil tongue the sounds of his holy words?

They say – the critics – that he was a master of paradox, using it to strip well-known certainties to replace them with deeper faiths.

It was a device he trained in as a young poet, with Renaissance conceit, even though Montaigne knew it as a fencer’s trick.

In the sermons he travelled through his own perplexed spirit, accompanied by learning and wit.

Did his sermons promulgate faith, or did they exhibit doubt?

Today, I can search them by date, occasion, location, audience and source text.

His last sermon was delivered in the beginning of Lent 1631 and was titled Death’s Duel or a consolation to the soule against the dying Life and living death of the body. It was styled his own funeral sermon, delivered a few days before his death, and having been spoken, left the audience the impression that the speaker now had nothing left to do but to die.

His texts themselves escape my comprehension – faith, religion, the Renaissance mind, the biblical texts, the literary references – stand as hurdles for me to know them.

Yet his model urges me on to write my own secular sermons each week.

To secure an office in which the duty is only to speak of the creation of the meaning of the soul in both its eternal search and its daily duties.

No temporary things, but yes polemic and the engagement of all parts of the mind and spirit.

So I commit to secular sermons of the spirit of our times.

Parables of Shame


Franz Kafka was a poet of shame and guilt. So writes Saul Friedlander in his Franz Kafka: the poet of shame and guilt (2013, public library).

Friedlander reveals to me the Kafka of sexual fantasies, spurned homoerotic thoughts, disgust at his sexuality and animality. This Kafka does not interest me, although I am intrigued to learn that the Max Brod editions of his works and his diaries were lightly censored by Brod to remove some of these references.

Kafka’s wretchedness in life, and his fitful, frustrating search to pursue the immutable in writing were dangerous models for myself, especially in my twenties. I absorbed a parable from Kafka’s life that writing could not be reconciled with a life of contentment – that contentment was a sign of corruption that would take me adrift from the winds of my inner life, and that writing would demand the sacrifice and spurning of loving relationships, as Kafka himself spurned Felice Bauer. It is 20 years or more since I read much Kafka, and his torments can still be mesmerising.

So Friedlander quotes Kafka from his diary of August 6 1914, as the the great war swells in the world’s belly:

What will be my fate as a writer is very simple. Any talent for portraying my dreamlike inner life has thrust all other matters into the background; my life has dwindled dreadfully, and will not cease to dwindle. Nothing else will ever satisfy me. But the strength I can muster for that portrayl is not to be counted upon…” (Friendlander, quoted p 130)

So begins the song of shame I know too well – I am not good enough, my inner life is not good enough, my inner life cannot survive contact with the human world, as if it were the reverse of the contact with the Angelic orders evoked in Rilke’s Duino elegies.

So Kafka goes on:

Thus I waver, continually fly to the summit of the mountain, but then fall back in a moment. Others waver too, but in lower regions, with greater strength; if they are in danger of falling, they are caught up by the kinsman who walks beside them for that very purpose. But I waver on the heights; it is not death, alas, but the eternal torments of dying.

I have told my own story through this image of the mountaineer who has scaled the mind’s mountains alone, without a kinsman, and beyond his strength. I have stood there in the snow drifts, beyond help, lost, disoriented, but needing to go on. Having committed to scale the heights, there is only the one path home: death on the mountain is home

But it is also an image and a torment that I must free myself from, and so, like Rilke’s Orpheus, find my way back to infinite praise. I have found in later life a form of writing that Kafka professed not to know. For him, his nights were spent writing through insomnia, shame and self-hatred, distanced from the world, maladapted to a world which prompted so much disgust and shame. Here he made his “descent to the dark powers” (Letter to Brod, July 1922). I believe I can leave the underworld, and celebrate the springs that come from my losses.

Still there are in Kafka these haunting parables of the doomed quests of life, which Friedlander glosses as the search for an unattainable goal, on which “the possibility of entering (or returning to) some land imagined as free and promised is blocked by insuperable obstacles.” And yet, despite the doom, we must go on. And this is the unmutable call to the writer to scale those heights and to test the world’s powers of destruction, and to trust that your words can withstand them. In an aphorism of 1917 he wrote

“Man cannot live without a permanent trust in something indestructible in himself, though both the indestructible element and the trust may remain permanently hidden from him.”

So despite futility, despite inevitable failure and self-destruction, like Sebald’s silk-worms in The Rings of Saturn, Kafka makes images, stolen from the immutable fires, of artists, of life as artistry, and their undeniable affirmation, as Beckett, Kafka’s Irish heir, would later say: to keep going, going on; call that going, call that on. In “The Burrow,” the animal who makes this falsely secue, perfect fortress, which at any moment, it knows, may be shattered, says of its labours: “All this involves very laborious calculation, and the sheer pleasure of the mind in its own keenness is often the sole reason why one keeps it up.”

The most perfect parable of the shamed writer is “Before the Law.” There a man comes upon a powerful doorkeeper who stands at the gate of The Law. For years he seeks admission through the gate, but does not have the words, the nature or the questions to find his way past the obstinate and inscrutable gatekeeper through to the Law. Finally, in his late hours, in darkness, with not much longer to live, he gathers all his knowledge, all that he has learned from his many failures, and weakly puts one last question to the gatekeeper:

“Everyone strives to reach the Law”, says the man, “so how does it happen that for all these many years no one but myself has ever begged for admittance?”

The gate keeper sees the man has reached his end. He has, at last, realised the question that in his shame and his pursuit of his goal prevented him from seeing before death. And then, triumphant the gatekeeper “roars in his ears:”

“No one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you. I am now going to shut it.”

From Franz Kafka The Collected Short stories of Franz Kafka (Penguin, 1988), p 4.

A list of writers of fragments

A blog is a fragmentary artwork, or at least it can be. So the blog’s aesthetic philosophy is at odds with the virtues of the masterpiece – completion, mastery, comprehensiveness, a vision fully and perfectly realised. I guess there are some blogs that present their niche as an encyclopaedia of their author’s thought-world. But much of the writing that I enjoy reminds us to be “Here among the disappearing, in the realm of the transient,/
be a ringing glass that shatters as it rings.” (Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus 2.13)

Much of the best writing survives or was made in fragments. This afternoon I picked up a book of aphorisms made after Kafka’s death although reflecting his part-fulfilled design. From this collection, there is the remarkable parable, which I was introduced to by Howard Felperin in the only year at university when I studied literary studies.

Leopards break into the temple and drink the sacrificial vessels dry; this is repeated over and over again; finally it can be calculated in advance and becomes part of the ceremony. (Franz Kafka, The Collected Aphorims, #20)

Harold Bloom places Kafka in the Western Canon for fragments: the good parts of the incomplete novels, the aphorisms or parables, the stories, some not finished, and parts of his diaries and letters. Bloom writes “one must range widely in his writings, because no particular genre that he attempted holds his essence. He is a great aphorist but not a pure storyteller, except in fragments and in the very short stories we call parables.” (Harold Bloom, The Western Canon, p 448) Famously, these writings survive since Max Brod, Kafka’s friend and executor, refused to carry out Kafka’s instructions to burn all his writing.

So, my list this week is of writers like Kafka who made their art in fragments or who only survive in fragments. It is itself as yet itself a fragment; I will need to do more research to develop this list.

  1. Franz Kafka
  2. Sappho
  3. Maurice Blanchot
  4. Emile Cioran
  5. Walter Benjamin
  6. Heraclitus

This is quite a paltry list as yet. Let me know by comments if there are others that you would add.

Perhaps next week I will write a variation on this theme – a list of lost works.


When I used to play World of Warcraft – happy nights, even if not the best for my writing – I would name all of my characters by an allusion. So, I named a night elf priest, Paracelsus (Paracelsus was taken); another character, Minnerva, and two historical figures wandered through Azeroth, False Dmitri, the pretender tsar of the early 17th century, and Possevino, the Jesuit priest whose mission to Moscow in 1582 encountered Tsar Ivan groznyi, as he wailed in grief at the murder of his son. I even created a guild, Allusions of Azeroth, to gather my names and legends together. I played the game as a form of literary invention, with these tokens of belonging to an infinite conversation wandering the alternative universe in search of seeking itself.

So too, in both reading and writing, I enjoy the webs of signifance that allusions weave. Memorising poetry heightens this pleasure, and fills my head with echoes and notes of humanity’s great incantations. The more poems you know by heart, the more common the pleasure. So yesterday, as I learnt by heart Shelley’s Ozymandias, I found the source of Fernandez-Armesto’s chapter title, lone and level sands. Fernandez-Armesto delights in his allusions, defying his tormented editors, but showing greater respect to his readers.

Allusiveness is a more light-footed dance than dull pedantry, which prefers to bore, rather than banter. It is more than ceaseless quotation, and requires a more versatile repertoire. Reading Bloom’s Anatomy of influence, I discover a typology of this lifeblood of literature, borrowed in turn from Hollander’s Figure of echo (itself an allusion):

“Hollander avoids distinguishing between intended and what I might call unruly allusions, and divides allusion in Milton and after into five types of echo: acoustical, allegorical, schematic, metaphorical, and metaleptic, illuminating this last mode with a marvelous excursus upon Angus Fletcher’s trope of transumption, which I tend to call the Galileo syndrome.” Bloom, Anatomy of influence

This last mode means the use of a figure of speech in a new context – and is this not a favoured device in entitling a blog post? – and shows how allusion need not only be the preserve of the erudite and the bookish. It is a game we all can play. It is life in literature. It is the great chain of being revealed in language.