Adoration of the Mage

I want to be adored. I can say this today because astrologer Rob Brezsny says I can, well, with this proviso: “that [I] also express [my] artful adoration for some worthy creature.” No, I don’t believe in astrology, but Brezsny’s advice still seems like a worthy undertaking; so, here goes: Dear Robert Coover, I have just finished reading Pricksongs and Descants (a first edition marked down from the penciled-in $45 to the stickered $7.50), and while I could gush about the sentential musicality; the formal ingenuity: the inventive modular structures, the ingenious use of ellipses, and the re-imaginings of fairy tales and legends; the virtuosic command of rhetorical devices; and the various transgressive moments, like the many genre- and other border-crossings, evinced in every one of the fictions contained in this collection; while I could relish explicating each one of those elements, it is, instead, how all of these elements cohere that most impresses, for that fusion results not in confusion but in a distinctive thing; a thing among things, yes, but a thing unlike the many, many other disposable and often forgettable things; this thing giving lie to the idea proffered in “Klee Dead,” one of your “Seven Exemplary Fictions,” that life is “but a caravan of lifelike forgeries,” for surely this thing I just finished reading is part of life and is anything but a lifelike forgery, this collection still reminding me of the many lifelike forgeries around me.

3 thoughts on “Adoration of the Mage

    • It was largely, though not entirely, my first reading of the collection. I’d read the “Seven Exemplary Fictions” and “A Pedestrian Accident, and the heavily anthologized story, “The Babysitter,” before finally sitting down to read the entire collection. And it was great to revisit those stories, and to be introduced to the others, like “The Sentient Lens,” which, according to Coover came from his interest in the “fascinating crossover between the grammars of fiction and film, something I began to play with in my very earliest short narratives back in the late 1950s, early 1960s, in a group I was then calling “sentient lens” stories. All subsequent engagements with this form have their roots in those early experiments.”

      “Scene for Winter,” the first section of “The Sentient Lens,” bowled me over with its lyricism. Here’s the first paragraph:

      No sound, it gets going with utter silence, no sound except perhaps an inappreciable crackle now and then, not unlike static, but our ear readily compensates for it, hears not that sound but the absence of sound, stretches itself, reaches out past staticky imperfections their might be and finds: only the silence. And that’s how it starts. Not even a wind. Merely the powderfine snow dropping silently, evenly, no more than infinitesimal flecks of light, settling icily on the quiet forest like frozen dust. The snow has folded itself into drifts, or perhaps the earth itself is ribbed beneath, cast into furrows by fallen trees and humps of dying leaves–we cannot know, we can be sure only of the surface we see now, a gently bending surface that warps and cracks the black shadows of the trees into a fretwork of complex patterns, complex yet tranquil, placed, reflective: the interlaced shadows and polygons of brightly daylit snow suggest the quavering stability of light, the imperceptible violence and motion of shadow. So close to the drifts are we that whole trees cannot be seen, only thick black trunks flecked with white and plunging branches weighted with snow, sweeping perilously near the white heaps of earth: we pass beneath them, sliding by the black trunks, over the virgin planes of groundsnow.

      Besides the many musical effects in this passage, like lots of assonantal play with o’s, e.g., “violence and motion of shadow”; like alliterations, especially with the letter f, the pervasiveness of which evokes, to me, that “absence of sound,” that empty wintry sound, that ffffffff-sound, which white noise generators try to imitate; there are also Coover’s invented compounds here: “powderfine” and “groundsnow.” All of this almost keeps me from cringing at the cliche of “virgin” snow.

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