Unreal Nature

April 9, 2015

Falling in Love with the World

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:57 am

… an editor is someone who sits in a darkened room casting lots among shadows and falling in love with the world while it is asleep.

Final post from Portrait of an Invisible Man: The Working Life of Stewart McAllister, Film Editor by Dai Vaughan (1983):

… The Victorians called a biography a ‘life.’ But the difference between a life and a ‘life’ is that the latter, if it is to be comprehensible, must cohere into a meaning, whereas the former, being always incomplete until too late, cannot. Inevitably the meaning of the ‘life’ will be one not acknowledged by the subject, since any meanings he or she may have provisionally attributed to the life will, to the extent that they are known, be already accommodated within it. The Life of an Artist has found its own solution to this difficulty.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] For the Artist, the climax of the tale — the closure of its narrative and the justification of all its necessary meanderings — occurs at the point where the mess and the dither and the plain ordinariness are shown to meet in divine congruence with the Work: when the person is shown to have become not only the one who did produce this work, but the one who was inevitably to do so. The biography must show how the ‘man’ became the ‘style.’ This is the transformation with whose expectation it can tease us and which we await as eagerly as, in less sophisticated fairy-tales, we await the transformation of the frog into a prince.

… The upshot of these practices is to promote, by aggregation, a tacit definition of the Artist as someone for whom this total assimilation of life into work can be convincingly argued; and this has two consequences: first, that anyone whom society wishes to dignify with the appellation ‘artist’ will be shoe-horned into this pattern, the appellation thereby becoming progressively more impacted with use; second, that anyone who cannot be made to fit the pattern will be denied the status of ‘artist’ altogether — and, with it, any recognition of personal investment in his or her work. This last clause covers film editors. No sooner had I begun to realize that what I was doing was writing a biography than I began also to notice that the rules I was taking for granted — the structuring expectations of the genre — were not available to me.

… the familiar biographic tradition pays no honor to artists, but embalms them in myth: that the elision of work and person serves to posit them as beyond us, indeed as beyond themselves; and that their dedications, displaced to the plane of definition, become less truth than truism, not example but proxy. It is this construction which sits at the root of that perception of atisthood as a state of wholeness, a state to be desired from the outside, which we encountered earlier and whose threatened withdrawal — the withdrawal, that is, not of any part of their function but solely of title to the designation ‘artist’ so dismayed some of documentary’s early adherents.

… But nevertheless, the fact that the pre-structured coherences were not available as matrices of expectation has meant that the question of the coherence of McAllister, as a person among other people, has become — as has periodically become apparent — acute. Every now and again, unable to throw off the feeling that it was required of me, I have toyed with formulations for the grand synthesis. McAllister was a man who took a Wrong Turning and was unable to find his way back. Seduced by the war into believing he could reconcile the timescales of worker and dilettante, he … McAllister was the Craftsman who Forged his own Irons. His mental processes having become inseparable from the exercise of certain specific skills, he failed to … McAllister was the Holy Fool of Socialism. Behaving as if the revolution had already happened, he was brought into inevitable conflict with that most contradictory of all capitalist institutions, the Trade Union, and thereafter …

The most noticeable thing about these scenarios is their pretentiousness.

… Time after time, when people were talking to me about McAllister, they would tail off and gaze into the distance with a slight frown, as if looking for something they knew was there but had unaccountably mislaid. It as a look I came to recognize. Had McAllister been a director, people would have brought to mind things he had said and done which could be construed as illuminating his preoccupation, style or methods. But for an editor the model of the demented artist was not found proper. His unremitting application was therefore perceived — or rather, one might say, had been entered into the brain’s index — as eccentricity; and what was recalled about him were the stories — good pub anecdotes — which had accreted around this. Of course, everyone knew there was really more to it. That was what they were seeking when the look crossed their faces. But the ‘more’ seemed no longer to be there.

One might say that McAllister is not remembered at all. What is remembered is a scattering of incidents in which he figured. Moreover I had somehow imagined, at the beginning that with sufficient perseverance I would at least discover the ‘facts’ of his life. Only gradually did I realize that a process of irreversible information-decay had already been at work, and that many of these facts no longer existed in any form, physical or mental.

[ … ]

… an editor is someone who sits in a darkened room casting lots among shadows and falling in love with the world while it is asleep.

My most recent previous post from Vaughan’s book is here.




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