Stop right here for a conversation between fox and crow - or rather Mr and Mrs Fox on Passagiata having some words with a close call relative of crow.
We are walking along the seashore not far from Chesil Beach last week in the afternoon of one of the last warm sunny August days of this long summer, when we come across Raven. Shining black of course we recognise him at once, being too big and clever to be just crow. He is eating ice cream. Nothing strange about that either, as we are close to a beach café, well known to the locals in these parts where cold drinks, freshly fried fish dinners, and delicious flavours of local ice cream are to be had. Nothing strange about that, or the care he takes eating, Raven doesn’t smash his beak into the cone like crow would do. No, that would never do, Raven has good manners and carefully puts his long beak into the cone to suck out the liquid inside. Sticky, white streaked with red – strawberry vanilla.
Hello Crow, Mr Fox says kicking sand with his toes , Raven to you, he says giving Mr Fox the eye, Don’t get too close to him, Mrs Fox says grabbing Mr Fox by the arm, Sorry Crow, Mr Fox says. There is a tense pause.
Slowly turning his head and taking his beak out of the ice cream cone for a moment, You don’t get it do you, says the bird. His beak is glistening white with the wet cream liquid, white and flecked with streaks of red.
Yes, I agree, it has been a bumper copy – the last late August London Review of Books (29 August 2013) that is. It almost reads all of piece; just like a modernist novel, the various voices of the narrators criss-crossing through the narrative.
The first calamity it begins. Stawberry vanilla ripple. How was it for you, Mr Fox asks Mrs Fox, but the calamity the reviewer is focussing on is the First Wold War (‘…the calamity from which all other calamities sprang’ quoting Fritz Stern). The summer before, the original August, and all explanations are improbable, and equally opaque – it is history as ‘raw modernity’, the narrator says. Mr and Mrs Fox are also wondering how far Raven’s glistening white beak would be able to sink into any one of their bare leg. Which of us will be first, they both are thinking.
How do you know that, Raven asks, strawberry vanilla rippling, mimicking what Uncle Wally constantly keeps pointing out over all our shoulders – fragmented causation. The next section is called ‘Rah, Rah, Cheers, Queers’, in which Terry Castle names her dirty little secrets, or is it next chapter of this golden notebook August LRB issue. What a weirdo, Terry writes in italics. It is Mummy speaking, the self styled “Reverend Countess Mavis the Portable of Frome Valley”, according to pieces of her writing that Terry found.
We live there too, Mr and Mrs Fox say together, turning towards each other in amazement. The Frome Valley, what a surprise! Raven is back sucking more ice cream out of the cone. Have you come for therapy then, Raven asks, The August 1913 postcard from Marcel Duchamp to Max Bergman comes as the next section/chapter: the great icon of modernity – the postcard is from Herne Bay.
Now that is strange, you say confusing reader and writer for a moment, but not really when you think I was so close by on the Kent coast only the week before in August. It was Ramsgate, and I wrote about it here. There is a ‘need for rotating circles’ we are told Duchamp put in one of his notebooks afterwards, indicating something possibly to do with the pavilion and pier (which blew down in 1973).
Zugwang (‘almost complete’), the succeeding sections/reviews/chapters spin by: Unfinished Business, Half-Fox, Vanity and Venality (including the review of Wolfgang Streek’s Gekaufte Zeit… who we first met speaking at an International Conference in Florence 2 years ago – the transcription issued in the NLR and reported in a previous feuilleton here), … , … , Adrenaline (actually this is the name of the book reviewed), Five Star Billionaire, and then finally – Diary – the piece you dealt with last week too… “In or around June 1995″.
Mr and Mrs Fox continue to watch Raven finish his ice cream, expertly sucking the last dregs so not a single drop falls on the sand. On The Concept of History and so on, and while we are on about coincidences or causation, as it happens there are also bits of Ted Hughes’s poem ‘The Thought-Fox’ in the Oratorio being sung in the Frome Valley – Cattistock Church 0n Sunday October 6th, 4pm. Mr Fox is singing the tenor line: ‘…Each shred a wound and a petition. Pity, Terror, covert before Oedipus Rex…’. Or at least I think the words are the poet’s but I am not always to be trusted. You need to check.
Welcome to my world too, says Raven warmly putting his sticky white red flecked beak into the extended right hand of the rippling Uncle Wally, And do please call me August. In my opinion, the great bird continues, Rebecca Solnit goes on too long in that Diary piece, at least far too long for my limited attention span, and her piece could have done with the BIG RED PEN. And, while we are on about it, stop pretending time has not always come in fragments and shards – been in “deteriation” as you put it – far longer than the last 20 years, at least since 1913.