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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Monday, January 5, 2015

A Dance to the Music of Time: The Final Volume (how many have gotten there?)

I guess I'm likely to be the only living American to have read the entire 12 volumes of Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time; have started volume 12, Hearing Secret Harmonies. This one is a big longer and a bit more difficult, syntactically, than the previous volumes; starts off with a strange episode that, at first glance, bears no relation to the previous 11 volumes: four "flower children" (the time is now the mid-70s) are at a pond trying to trap crayfish. We soon learn, however, that they're staying temporarily on the land owned or rented by the narrator, Nick, and his wife, Isobel; one of the girls is her nieces - the guy who's the spiritual head of this small, mystic group, Scorpio Mortlock (another incredible Powell name - he's a rival of Pynchon on that score) reminded him of the mystic from his youth, Dr. Trelawney, and we're off, once again on a lengthy series of interlocked relationships and friendships - as if all of England is one small clan (maybe it is). The time gap narrows in this volume: Powell wrote the first volume in the 1950s and it was about the 20s or 30s; over the next 25 years he completed the 12 volumes and in this one he's writing about contemporary 1970s society, with the Vietnam War, student protests, drugs, and the counterculture all within the orbit. Though these novels are only rarely reflective, Powell does have some thoughts here on time and art, his driving theme: he specifically references the Poussin painting that game the series its title, and notes that time in the painting is static, playing his lyre, watching the dancers - but he notes that time in art can be static but time in literature is dynamic and the writer is in a sense at the mercy of time - and you can't help but think of Proust and his "search" in that context as well. Much of the first third of the book concerns a literary prize funded by Donners, the great and crooked industrialist; Nick is on the awards committee (funny how I've just read Lost for Words, St. Aubyn's take on literary awards and their corruption), and they give the award to the American biographer, Gwinett, of the debauched writer, Trapnel, who has been important in the last "movement" of this series; the loathsome Widmerpool attends the awards dinner and makes a speech attacking the bourgeois establishment - he has completely, and ridiculously, transformed and perceives himself to be an ally of youth and of the left. He is surely under a delusion.

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