Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Coarseness of Pegasus' Mane

Scarry riffs on the Homeric phrase "he hurled and his spear's long shadow flew":

The iteration suggests that the line is an epic formula, and we sometimes speak dismissively of formulaic lines. But its being a formula means that it was singled out as a way the movement of the heavy spear could be vividly pictured. Such a formula, in other words, gives us a record of the conclusions that the ancient world reached about mental life, about the way a mental event inside a person's mind can be prompted by a particular instruction. Furthermore, recomposition–the direction to remake a picture that we have already successfully made in the past–is, as we shall see, an important practice not only in the Iliad but in most works of the imagination: our third of fourth production of a given image is likely to be accomplished with less mental struggle and with greater vivacity. Poems and novels exist to be reread many times, but, even within a single reading, we are often called upon rapidly to reassemble images whose initial making required great labor.

(Dreaming by the Book, p. 94, my emphasis)

The idea that repeated images are more vivacious than initial images asks to be put to the test. In my experiment I chose to reimagine Pegasus' mane–perhaps knowing in the back of my mind that my imaginings of Pegasus have been more lively and mobile than Scarry would give a person credit for–to keep to the theme of recomposition. I was surprised to discover that my reimagining was indeed more vivid than I remembered the previous imagining being. (Can I trust my memory here?) However, the reason for this vividness may have nothing to do with the quality of rarity Scarry discusses. There is nothing shadowy or gossamer about Pegasus' mane. In fact it is coarse. There are tangles, tangles I never noticed before. It even smells tangled and coarse. Can this really be the same mane I ran my fingers through last October? If not, or if we are unsure, then we shouldn't ascribe the vivacity of the present imagery to an effect of repetition. Perhaps the reenacted image borrows its vivacity from newness because it has none of its own. Perhaps vivacity is always a recomposition, a movement defined not merely passively by its departure from demise or memory, but orchestrated in order to definitively put memory behind it because memory won't stay put on its own. Or, perhaps, Scarry has it exactly right.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 10:36 AM.


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