Hungry Ghosts and Foreign Bodies
In his memoir of Walter de la Mare, Forrest Reid finds it necessary to distinguish de la Mare's tales of haunting from those of Poe: Poe's stories, Reid says, ‘are forced from the writer by some dark, secret collaborator; they are written with the terrible intensity of one who abandons himself to an obsession’. 1 Such a process of writing, no matter to whom it might attach itself, would be haunted and haunting, would be the product of an unimaginable other who steals the pen from the writer's grasp in the very moment of inception and yet who cannot be glimpsed, is shrouded in a lasting opacity.
I want to try to avoid generalising about the many-faceted ‘object’ which is modernism; nevertheless it is perhaps admissible to draw attention to a certain rhetoric of the transparent which flourished during modernism's heyday. In the preface to Amy Lowell's Some Imagist Poets, published in 1915, Richard Aldington quotes a relevant passage from Remy de Gourmont:
Individualism in literature, liberty of art, abandonment of existing forms […] The sole excuse which a man can have for writing is to write down himself, to unveil for others the sort of world which mirrors itself in his individual glass. 2
The practice conjured by this remark, I suggest, would be akin to that of Virginia Woolf; it would seek to establish the possibility of an all-encompassing stream of consciousness within which, like flies in amber, moments of perception could be securely embedded and displayed for inspection. I would particularly draw attention to the words ‘unveil’ and ‘mirrors’, which between them offer the suggestion that the dark other might be banished, that the opacity which trembles at the centre of the