flying mammals on my mind

“Does his first venture into prose herald a change of direction in his life? Is he about to renounce poetry? He is not sure. But if he is going to write prose then he may have to go the whole hog and become a Jamesian. Henry James shows one how to rise above mere nationality. In fact, it is not always clear where a piece by James is set, in London, or Paris or New York, so supremely above the mechanics of daily life is James. People in James do not have to pay the rent; they certainly do not have to hold down jobs; all they are required to do is to have super-subtle conversations whose effect is to bring about tiny shifts of power, shifts so minute as to be invisible to all but the practised eye. When enough such shifts have taken place, the balance of power between the personages of the story is (Voila!) revealed to have suddenly and irreversibly changed. And that is that: the story has fulfilled its charge and can be brought to an end.

“He sets himself exercises in the style of James. But the Jamesian manner proves less easy to master than he had thought. Getting the characters he dreams up to have super-subtle conversations is like trying to make mammals fly. For a moment or two, flapping their arms, they support themselves in thin air. Then they plunge.”

 —From Youth, by J.M. Coetzee

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