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“What about the story?” Ord asked. “It seems to have bogged down in world history. Did it ever get out again?”
“The story goes on, but as the book rises to its crisis it shifts into the major theme of the whole community. It is people in a context and the context grows more and more important. They are only little fishes in a maelstrom.”
“I'm fond of fish,” said Ord, obstinately, determined to get Knarf off his high horse. “What happened to that poor fish, Ally?”
… … …
Ally wasn't so much a fish as a limpet.
Marking a narrative break in the twenty-fourth-century writer Knarf's novel about world war II, a novel Knarf recounts orally to his Friend Ord, this passage From Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow (1947; 342-43), by M. Barnard Eldershaw (pseudonym of Marjorie Barnard and Flora Eldershaw), enacts a scene of collaboration, falling just short of “full and equal” partnership (though perhaps all literary collaboration must thus fall). Knarf is a reader of his own text, a listener to his own story; the writer is continually in conversation—disagreeing and agreeing with—a would-be writer of the text; that conversation inflects, indeed inscribes itself in, the writer's writing, so that the would-be other writer—who is a reader and listener too—becomes inseparable from the text in process. Thematically contained in these relations, but also uncontainably circumscribing them, are “world history” and “community”: those suprapersonal entities both demand and are produced by collaboration(ism), yet they also overwhelm, dwarf, or marginalize “little fishes” like Ally, Ord, and Knarf. But, then again, world history and community are themselves elusive if meant as much more than fictions about and by little fishes, riding on their high horses.
Sometime after the war ended and Lawrence had exiled himself from England, he began to write poetry with a sharp, comic edge and a distinctly new style. So different are the poems in Birds, Beasts and Flowers from the anti-lyrical love poems, dialect verse and elegies that preceded them that they mark as clear a break from the past as did Lawrence's physical exit from England. Sympathetic readers of Lawrence have tended to praise this verse for attentive observation of non-human creatures and have argued that Lawrence turned away in them from direct autobiographical love poems to a more effectively distanced mythopoesis. But what is most striking about the change in aesthetic stance is not a new impersonality; as some readers have also recognised, these poems are as self referring as any that preceded them. The new art of the poetry is an art of parody and, above all, of self-parody.
In the language of Lawrence's 1928 Note to the Collected Poems, he let not merely the ‘demon say his say’, but also the faintly ridiculous ‘young man’ and even the silly ‘young lady’. Lawrence split himself into two figures, enlarging one and dwarfing the other, but instead of eliminating the second, he left it standing as a mockery of the first. While mocking himself, Lawrence nonetheless magnified himself, producing alongside the image of his humbly dwarfed self, a heroic one – the ‘real demon’. These self-reflections confront each other nowhere more vividly perhaps than in his well-known poem ‘Snake’, where the ‘I in pyjamas’ with the ‘voice of my education’ encounters a ‘guest’, a golden snake emerged ‘from the burning bowels of the earth’ (CP349–50).
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