Monday, July 29, 2013



ooo

This Pelican Original (price 95p, secondhand, I note) and the resissued The Quattro Cento and Stones of Rimini had been down on the bottom shelf in the lefthand corner since I shipped everything up into this room. They looked tempting but somehow the moment wasn't ripe. However, as the past twelve days or so have been spent thinking about stone and light and water Adrian Stokes seems to be the person to turn to. 

Indeed he is. 

Here's a taster of  'Art and the Sense of Rebirth' from Smooth and Rough:

"In Italy I have been much alive to what I eat. I cannot judge how the enjoyment of food has stimulated architectural interest but I feel certain that pleasure in building broadens the appetite, whether it be for the cylinders of maccheroni and spaghetti, the pilasters of tagliatelli, the lucent golden drums of gnocchi alla romana or for fruit and cheese like strong-lipped apertures upon the smooth wall of wine. We partake of an inexhaustible feeding mother (a fine building announces) ... " (p67)

Reading a passage such as this I'm hearing a Roland Barthes avant la lettre. Other pages recall (inevitably) Ruskin or Pater. And it's well-known how Stokes corresponded with Pound which perhaps explains why I also hear something of Hugh Kenner and Guy Davenport in the mix. 

It's a strange prose: in places overwrought yet saved from preciousness by the dislocations between sentences, the warped syntax, and the sheer weight of felt experience in the knowledge. 

Here's the opening to The Quatro Cento - you'll see what I mean:

"No sign of Frederick Hohenstaufen in the railway station at least. They say that his mother was delivered of him in the piazza San Giorgio, afterward named the piazza Federico. Jesi, to-day called the city of silk because there are silk factories outside the walled town, a city upon a hill with walls pushed half-way down the slope. A light afternoon rain has been prepared, falls upon the road from the station. Here, then, the town above the road that fumes into hovel doors. Before the gate there is a bridge over water that rushes to turn a mill. Inside the gate climbs old Jesi. At the moment three children under the age of six descend the steep cobbles under great eaves and long, shuttered buildings. Neither rain nor sunshine disturbs a corpse. But wait a minute! A siren yelling at the silk factories rattles every rickety shutter. Ruins are kindly; they have no shutters. They whisper through baked, uncovered lips. ..." 

Notice the abrupt opening - hovering between casual acquaintance and connoisseurship; the absent main verb in the third sentence; the morphing of "fumes" into a verb; the Ashberyian faux-immediacy of "wait a minute" (think 'The Instruction Manual') ... 

There are pages and pages of this kind of thing. Gorgeous. (And maybe add the Rilke of Malte Laurids Brigge and the Letters on Cezanne to the list of voices ghosting this text?). 

I'd put money on Stokes being a fave of John Latta. No? 


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