Monday, February 27, 2017

`There Is Really No Fear'

The most skeptical among us reserves a dim corner for magic, whether precognition, divination or faith in dumb luck. Most of us keep such things under wraps, to preserve our guise of rationality. In Return to Yesterday (1932), Ford Madox Ford demonstrates a form of bibliomancy aimed less at foretelling the future than reanimating the past. In a friend’s house in Greenwich Village, he removes a “dullish-backed book” from the shelf and reads these words, randomly chosen, at the bottom of a page:

“So you see, darling, there is really no fear, because, as long as I know you care for me and I care for you, nothing can touch me.”

Ford tells us he experiences a “singular emotion.” He is again eighteen (in 1891 or 1892), his age when he first read those words in Kipling’s story “Only a Subaltern.” He is seated on a train entering Rye Station, smoking shag tobacco in his pipe. He has just published the first of his more than eighty books, The Brown Owl, a fairy story. For it he was paid ten pounds. “I was going courting,” he says, and describes the memory, after forty years, as “my oldest literary recollection.” Ford was a fabled fabulist but one accepts that the story is true. He adds detail to the remembered scene: “The fascicle of Kipling stories had a blue-grey paper cover that shewed in black a fierce, whiskered and turbaned syce [a groom who cares for horses] of the Indian Army.” Ford again quotes a portion of Kipling’s line – “So you see, darling, there is really no fear” – and adds:

“I suppose they are words that we all write one day or another. Perhaps they are the best we ever write.”

Among readers today, Kipling, the greatest writer of short stories in the language, is even more out of fashion than Ford. He is not a writer we would assume Ford, the arch-Modernist, would treasure. Even if the anecdote is pure fabrication, Ford has chosen his text carefully. It suggests the sort of men and writers he and Kipling were. The passage closes with these words: 

“You have no idea how exciting it was in those days to be eighteen and to be meditating, writing for the first time there is really no fear. . ..”

1 comment:

bachiolator said...

Lots of reliable studies, neurobiological and otherwise, confirm that those who hold at least a few magical beliefs--not too many, not too few--are healthier, psychologically, than those who hold none. The same is true with remembering and forgetting; it is vital for mental health to forget a lot. Minds too proximate or too remote from reality, require therapy.

is there any magical assumption more fabulist than quantum entanglement? Merlin would blush to find anyone believing that protons, light years apart, modify certain properties in response to each other. "You believe what? Why ever?"

Few passions are more destructive than fear; it is the most potent form of tyranny, as domestic abusers well know.