Friday, May 15, 2015

Anthony Burgess - How Writers Paint with Words

Better to illuminate than merely to shine, to deliver to others contemplated truths than merely to contemplate.
Aquinas, Thomas. 13th Century.
Outside, the main doors behind him, he was hit full in the chest by autumn. The doggy wind leapt about him and nipped; leaves skirred along the pavement, the scrape of the ferrules of sticks; melancholy, that tetrasyllable, sat on a plinth in the middle of the square. English autumn, and the whistling tiny souls of the dead round the war memorial.  from The Doctor is Sick* by Anthony Burgess

My God! That man could paint with words. The simple 'he was hit' gets a gloriously imaginative pigments from the full palette of Burgess's final picture. 'He' is hit "full in the chest by autumn."  The happy dog of Fall lands both paws squarely on the old heart box, and leaps and nips and skirrs not only at the man's feet, but also a concrete foot honoring English war-dead.

Like Vermeer before an empty canvass, Burgess has mixed his pigments and slathered them onto the palette of his mind's tongue and allows his hands and fingers to form a mighty scene.

Tell me God's hand avoid human expression.

* The "doctor" of the title is Edwin Spindrift, Ph.D., an unhappily married professor of linguistics who has been sent home from Burma to England suffering from a mysterious brain ailment. While Edwin is confined to a neurological ward, undergoing a battery of diagnostic tests, Mrs. Spindrift amuses herself with some disreputable new friends at the surrounding pubs. Sometimes, to Edwin's distress, she sends these friends to keep her husband company during visiting hours, rather than come herself. Most of the novel is a dream sequence: while anesthetised for brain surgery, Edwin's anxiety over his wife and the company she keeps turns into a slightly surrealistic fantasy in which Edwin leaves the hospital and encounters his wife's friends, with whom he has various adventures.

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