[ilds] RG Justine 1.4 -- active reading & Justine

slighcl slighcl at wfu.edu
Tue Apr 17 15:42:29 PDT 2007

Instead of pulling words appart and formulating hyperthetical 
unsupported speculations - some of

>you have met LD and known him and his life and 
>loves: surely you can, for us others, equate 
>events in real life with his writings (not that 
>they don't belong to real life- it seems to me the 
>two are inseperable). This would be much richer 
>than the (excuse me for saying so) the sometimes 
>sterile and/or pretentious posts we have had.
I suppose this depends upon whether you are more committed to literature 
or to biography and history, Marc.  It is certainly of interest to 
document the writer LD, his times, his loves, his misbehavior, &c.   And 
I must admit that I frequently move back and forth between documenting 
"the life" and interpreting "the works" since my fullest commitment is 
to textual and bibliographical aspects of LD's writing.  (LD's 
notebooks, typescripts, and revisions for /Justine /and the /Quartet 
/are my expertise.)  But having specific insights about LD's life, his 
opinions, &c.--even knowing more intimately than most others how LD 
"really" went about writing the books--cannot be an adequate response to 
reading /Justine /as literature, which however much it may begin in the 
life and be grounded in it will always exceed it. 

It would be a very poor sort of reading that sought out the factual  Key 
to unlock the fiction once and for all--that is the sort of reading that 
seeks to preclude any further discussion.  /Justine /and the /Quartet 
/dramatize that mistake again and again.  Cf. Darley and Arnauti, who 
seek out the definitive "answer" in their analysis of Justine and her 
Check.  They are convinced the Answer is in her "life," her past 
experiences.  Maybe so.  Maybe not. Those characters' mistakes in 
reading /Justine the character/ mirror uncannily readers pursuit of a 
definitive answer to /Justine: A Novel/.  She will always elude such 

You also mention an opposition to "pulling words appart and formulating 
hyperthetical unsupported speculations."  I am wondering to what you are 
referring?  Most of the posters have been quite conscientious in use of 
evidence.  And how can you read without "pulling words apart"?  The 
literature is the words.  Reading is what we do with those words, how we 
make the most of possible connections between them.  Readings may be 
tentative, they may lead to great insights or to dead ends, but for us 
to plead abstract notions like "magic" and "beauty" is to pretend that 
reading is not a process occurring over time, with difficulties most 
often resolving into other difficulties.  For example,

        A drunken whore walks in a dark street at night, shedding
        snatches of song like petals. (1.3)

        She would come a few minutes late of course--fresh perhaps from
        some assignation in a darkened room, from which I avert my mind;
        but so fresh, so young, the open petal of her mouth that fell
        upon mine like an unslaked summer.  The man she had left might
        still be going over and over the memory of her; she might be as
        if still dusted by the pollen of his kisses. (1.4)

Where to begin here?  Where is the source of the "beauty"?  (And 
beautiful these sentences are, without doubt.)  I find that beauty in 
the juxtaposition of the commonplace and the vulgar.  Petals scattered 
in the darkness.  A lone woman out singing in the night is transformed 
into a something miraculous.  The sterile commerce of the love-trade is 
suddenly beatified, made fecundate and heraldic.  Then we might ask how 
the "petals" of the whore's song relate to "the open petal" of Melissa's 
mouth?  How does that drunken whore connect with, color irrevocably our 
first sense of Melissa Artemis, who is also returning from 
"assignations"?  (Then I would pause to recall Michael's fine connection 
with Artemis, Ephesus, and the temple prostitutes.)   Ah. Something 
beautiful is born--the child--Melissa's child--flowering from the 
saddest of circumstances. 

Let's make a deal, Marc.  I'll trade beauty for beauty with you as long 
as you will move from the abstract to the particular.  My first offering 
is what I think to be one of the most moving images in the /Quartet/, 
taken from the Workpoints / Consequential Data of /Justine/:

        A basket of quail burst open in the bazaar.  They did not try to
        escape but spread out slowly like spilt honey.  Easily recaptured.

Spilt honey.  Melissa, "washed up like a half-drowned bird, on the 
dreary littorals of Alexandria, with her sex broken. . . . . " (1.12)  
Now you owe me.


Charles L. Sligh
Department of English
Wake Forest University
slighcl at wfu.edu

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