And I feel now the future in the instant

A small observation as I read Macbeth after rewatching the Ian McKellen and Judi Dench version yesterday. One atmospheric element of the play that I never feel in performances – because they move too fast for the ramifications to sink in – is what I, for lack of any better term, think of as cognitive time slippage. I guess you could also call it a sort of prolepsis but it would then need distinguishing against (my quite possibly poor understanding of) Gerard Genette’s narratological definition. What happens here is not a narrative sequence displacement (a looking forward to a future moment) but a cognitive displacement where the character’s mind seems genuinely to ‘slip’ out of the present and into the future. There are a few potential instances of this throughout the play but the first two will illustrate the point. First is Macbeth responding to the prophecy of the witches (1.3.132-43):

This supernatural soliciting
Cannot be ill, cannot be good: if ill,
Why hath it given me earnest of success,
Commencing in a truth? I am thane of Cawdor:
If good, why do I yield to that suggestion
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,
Against the use of nature? Present fears
Are less than horrible imaginings:
My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
Shakes so my single state of man that function
Is smother’d in surmise, and nothing is
But what is not.

The flow of grammar and sense are tough – and my commentaries are hesitant to commit to explanations – but the italicized lines seem to me a three-step mental movement in which the character’s mind shifts from an anchoring in the real present to one in the not real/imagined future. In performance the concluding ‘nothing is / But what is not.‘ sounds a sophism of sorts but in a leisurely reading the paradox of Macbeth’s present/is being replaced by the future/is not establishes a particular type of time-based mental disturbance – one that immediately infects Lady Macbeth as well. At their first meeting in 1.5.54 she greets him:

Great Glamis! worthy Cawdor!
Greater than both, by the all-hail hereafter!
Thy letters have transported me beyond
This ignorant present, and I feel now
The future in the instant.

All this is very different from Brutus’ lines in Julius Caesar (2.1.63-69) that my Arden edition calls up as comparison since Brutus there doesn’t lose sight of the act of imagining (and focuses on the interim anyway, which is a different issue of time):

Between the acting of a dreadful thing
And the first motion, all the interim is
Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream:
The Genius and the mortal instruments
Are then in council; and the state of man,
Like to a little kingdom, suffers then
The nature of an insurrection.

Brutus understands his activity as purely mental/internal while Macbeth (nothing is but what is not) and especially Lady Macbeth (transported me beyond … I feel now) seem to insist on having crossed a line into (imagined) physical manifestation.

At bottom remorse is only the effect of a certain way of looking at one’s self in a mirror

From Italo Svevo’s Novella del Buon Vecchio e della Bella Fanciulla, translated as The Nice Old Man and the Pretty Girl in the Melville House Art of the Novella series.

At bottom remorse is only the effect of a certain way of looking at one’s self in a mirror.

In fondo il rimorso non è altro che il risultato di un dato modo di guardarsi in uno specchio.

Which touched the point of wisdom as well as if he had got drunk and sober a hundred times

From Herodotus’ Histories (1.133), a supposed custom of the Persians:

Moreover it is their custom to deliberate about the gravest matters when they are drunk; and what they approve in their counsels is proposed to them the next day by the master of the house where they deliberate, when they are now sober and if being sober they still approve it, they act thereon, but if not, they cast it aside. And when they have taken counsel about a matter when sober, they decide upon it when they are drunk.

μεθυσκόμενοι δὲ ἐώθασι βουλεύεσθαι τὰ σπουδαιέστατα τῶν πρηγμάτων· τὸ δ᾿ ἂν ἅδῃ σφι βουλευομένοισι, τοῦτο τῇ ὑστεραίῃ νήφουσι προτιθεῖ ὁ στέγαρχος, ἐν τοῦ ἂν ἐόντες βουλεύωνται, καὶ ἢν μὲν ἅδῃ καὶ νήφουσι, χρέωνται αὐτῷ, ἢν δὲ μὴ ἅδῃ, μετιεῖσι. τὰ δ᾿ ἂν νήφοντες προβουλεύσωνται, μεθυσκόμενοι ἐπιδιαγινώσκουσι.

Tacitus reports a similar custom in the Germania (22):

after washing they take a meal, seated apart, each at his own table: then, arms in hand, they proceed to business, or, just as often, to revelry. To make day and night run into one in drinking is a reproach to no man: brawls are frequent, naturally, among heavy drinkers: they are seldom settled with abuse, more often with wounds and bloodshed; nevertheless the mutual reconciliation of enemies, the forming of family alliances, the appointment of chiefs, the question even of war or peace, are usually debated at these banquets; as though at no other time were the mind more open to obvious, or better warmed to larger, thoughts. The people are without craft or cunning, and expose in the freedom of the occasion the heart’s previous secrets; so every mind is bared to nakedness: on the next day the matter is handled afresh; so the principle of each debating season is justified: deliberation comes when they are incapable of pretence, but decision when they are secure from illusion.

lauti cibum capiunt: separatae singulis sedes et sua cuique mensa, tum ad negotia nec minus saepe ad convivia procedunt armati. diem noctemque continuare potando nulli probrum. crebrae, ut inter vinolentos, rixae raro conviciis, saepius caede et vulneribus transiguntur. sed et de reconciliandis invicem inimicis et iungendis adfinitatibus et adsciscendis principibus, de pace denique ac bello plerumque in conviviis consultant, tamquam nullo magis tempore aut ad simplices cogitationes pateat animus aut ad magnas incalescat. gens non astuta nec callida aperit adhuc secreta pectoris licentia loci; ergo detecta et nuda omnium mens. postera die retractatur1 et salva utriusque temporis ratio est: deliberant, dum fingere nesciunt, constituunt, dum errare non possunt.

And finally Laurence Sterne adds the Shandean variant, further enriched with a Lit de justice pun:

THE ancient Goths of Germany, who (the learned Cluverius is positive) were first seated in the country between the Vistula and the Oder, and who afterwards incorporated the Herculi, the Bugians, and some other Vandallick clans to ’em—had all of them a wise custom of debating every thing of importance to their state, twice, that is,—once drunk, and once sober:——Drunk—that their councils might not want vigour;——and sober—that they might not want discretion.

Now my father being entirely a water-drinker,—was a long time gravelled almost to death, in turning this as much to his advantage, as he did every other thing which the ancients did or said; and it was not till the seventh year of his marriage, after a thousand fruitless experiments and devices, that he hit upon an expedient which answered the purpose;——and that was, when any difficult and momentous point was to be settled in the family, which required great sobriety, and great spirit too, in its determination,——he fixed and set apart the first Sunday night in the month, and the Saturday night which immediately preceded it, to argue it over, in bed with my mother: By which contrivance, if you consider, Sir, with yourself, * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

These my father, humorously enough, called his beds of justice;——for from the two different counsels taken in these two different humours, a middle one was generally found out which touched the point of wisdom as well, as if he had got drunk and sober a hundred times.

What the reader is to consider is one of the earliest jokes of the novel (chap 4 of volume 1):

——————Shut the door.——————
I was begot in the night betwixt the first Sunday and the first Monday in the month of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighteen. I am positive I was.—But how I came to be so very particular in my account of a thing which happened before I was born, is owing to another small anecdote known only in our own family, but now made publick for the better clearing up this point.

My father, you must know, who was originally a Turkey merchant, but had left off business for some years, in order to retire to, and die upon, his paternal estate in the county of ——, was, I believe, one of the most regular men in every thing he did, whether ’twas matter of business, or matter of amusement, that ever lived. As a small specimen of this extreme exactness of his, to which he was in truth a slave, he had made it a rule for many years of his life,—on the first Sunday-night of every month throughout the whole year,—as certain as ever the Sunday-night came,—to wind up a large house-clock, which we had standing on the back-stairs head, with his own hands:—And being somewhere between fifty and sixty years of age at the time I have been speaking of,—he had likewise gradually brought some other little family concernments to the same period, in order, as he would often say to my uncle Toby, to get them all out of the way at one time, and be no more plagued and pestered with them the rest of the month.

Why not a professional book-handler to go in and suitably maul his library for so-much per shelf?

From The Best of Myles, a selection of Flann O’Brien / Myles Na Gopaleen / Brian O’Nolan’s column Cruiskeen Lawn in The Irish Times:

A VISIT that I paid to the house of a newly-married friend the other day set me thinking. My friend is a man of great wealth and vulgarity. When he had set about buying bedsteads, tables, chairs and what-not, it occurred to him to buy also a library. Whether he can read or not, I do not know, but some savage faculty for observation told him that most respectable and estimable people usually had a lot of books in their houses. So he bought several book-cases and paid some rascally middleman to stuff them with all manner of new books, some of them very costly volumes on the subject of French landscape painting.

I noticed on my visit that not one of them had ever been opened or touched, and remarked the fact.

‘When I get settled down properly,’ said the fool, ‘I’ll have to catch up on my reading.’

This is what set me thinking. Why should a wealthy person like this be put to the trouble of pretending to read at all? Why not a professional book-handler to go in and suitably maul his library for so-much per shelf? Such a person, if properly qualified, could make a fortune.

Let me explain exactly what I mean. The wares in a bookshop look completely unread. On the other hand, a school-boy’s Latin dictionary looks read to the point of tatters. You know that the dictionary has been opened and scanned perhaps a million times, and if you did not know that there was such a thing as a box on the ear, you would conclude that the boy is crazy about Latin and cannot bear to be away from his dictionary. Similarly with our non-brow who wants his friends to infer from a glancing around his house that he is a high-brow. He buys an enormous book on the Russian ballet, written possibly in the language of that distant but beautiful land. Our problem is to alter the book in a reasonably short time so that anybody looking at it will conclude that its owner has practically lived, supped and slept with it for many months. You can, if you like, talk about designing a machine driven by a small but efficient petrol motor that would ‘read’ any book in five minutes, the equivalent of five years or ten years’ ‘reading’ being obtained by merely turning a knob. This, however, is the cheap soulless approach of the times we live in. No machine can do the same work as the soft human fingers. The trained and experienced book-handler is the only real solution of this contemporary social problem. What does he do? How does he work? What would he charge? How many types of handling would there be?

These questions and many more I will answer the day after tomorrow.

YES, this question of book-handling. The other day I had a word to say about the necessity for the professional book-handler, a person who will maul the books of illiterate, but wealthy, upstarts so that the books will look as if they have been read and re-read by their owners. How many uses of mauling would there be? Without giving the matter much thought, I should say four. Supposing an experienced handler is asked to quote for the handling of one shelf of books four feet in length. He would quote thus under four heads:—

[omitting the first three heads]

The fourth class is the Handling Superb, although it is not called that—Le Traitement Superbe being the more usual title. It is so superb that I have no space for it today. It will appear here on Monday next, and, in honour of the occasion, the Irish Times on that day will be printed on hand-scutched antique interwoven demidevilled superfine Dutch paper, each copy to be signed by myself and to be accompanied by an exquisite picture in tri-colour lithograph of the Old House in College Green. The least you can do is to order your copy in advance.

And one more word. It is not sufficient just to order your copy. Order it in advance.

IT WILL BE remembered (how, in Heaven’s name, could it be forgotten) that I was discoursing on Friday last on the subject of book-handling, my new service, which enables ignorant people who want to be suspected of reading books to have their books handled and mauled in a manner that will give the impression that their owner is very devoted to them. I described three grades of handling and promised to explain what you get under Class Four—the Superb Handling, or the Traitement Superbe, as we lads who spent our honeymoon in Paris prefer to call it. It is the dearest of them all, of course, but far cheaper than dirt when you consider the amount of prestige you will gain in the eyes of your ridiculous friends. Here are the details:

‘Le Traitement Superbe’. Every volume to be well and truly handled, first by a qualified handler and subsequently by a master-handler who shall have to his credit not less than 550 handling hours; suitable passages in not less than fifty per cent of the books to be underlined in good-quality red ink and an appropriate phrase from the following list inserted in the margin, viz:

Yes, indeed!
How true, how true!
I don’t agree at all.
Yes, but cf. Homer, Od., iii, 151.
Well, well, well.
Quite, but Bossuet in his Discours sur l’histoire Universelle has already established the same point and given much more forceful explanations.
Nonsense, nonsense!
A point well taken!
But why in heaven’s name?
I remember poor Joyce saying the very same thing to me.

Need I say that a special quotation may be obtained at any time for the supply of Special and Exclusive Phrases? The extra charge is not very much, really.

Unrelated but I do actually know people who have made use of a books-by-the-foot service for filling out homes. My wife has long suggested I offer a rival service of custom selecting based on claimed interests – basically compiling physically manifested bibliographies and required reading lists. Which I did once do for a friend, though with a cocktail bar rather than a library.