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Reality is ungraspable. For convenience we use a limited-reality consensus in which work can be done, transport arranged, and essential services provided. The real reality is something else--only the strangeness of it can be taken in and that's what interests me...
The Moment Under The Moment, Foreword
The Moment Under the Moment (1992)
Stories, a Libretto, Essays and Sketches by Russell Hoban
EDITIONS I KNOW OF:
- Hardcover - Jonathan Cape, London, 260pp.1992.
- Softcover - Ibid. 1993.
There's usually a used copy or two available if you search the Bibliofind site. Sadly, The Moment Under The Moment is not in print anywhere, was only briefly in print in the UK and never in the US, so you aren't likely to find it in brick-and-mortar bookshops, unless you get very, very lucky.
Once you've gotten a book or two of Mr. Hoban's under your belt, there's a thought that inevitably occurs. Something like, "Gee, I'd like to know more about how this guy's mind works," or "Where does he get all this stuff," or "What do you suppose he thinks about all day?"
If you've had that thought, or some version of it, The Moment Under The Moment is your ticket: your backstage pass into the green room of Mr. Hoban's literary consciousness. In this collection of 23 pieces (nine stories, one stage piece and 13 essays) we get Mr. Hoban's manifestos, his theories of reality, flights of fancy, reflections on his childhood, even glimpses into his notebook as he develops themes, characters and situations for his novels. The Moment Under The Moment is an intellectual treasure chest, bursting with arresting, eloquently stated ideas, rich associations and marvelous invention.
The stories are generally excursions into the reality underneath the one we're aware of. Many of them share a procedural technique that's a bit like Jungian dreamwork, or what's called "Active Imagination": Mr. Hoban approaches a symbolically-charged presence or object, interacts with it and records the encounter. So we have him entering a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, in hopes of finding its protagonist and asking him a few questions about how things went after the story ended. Or trying to set up a date with a coquettish French sphinx, or journeying into blackness with a raven at the London zoo.
The libretto in the middle of the book, Some Episodes in the History of Miranda and Caliban, features a narrator who sets the continually shifting scene, as well as a male actor who begins as Caliban and a female actor who begins as Miranda. But they too, continually change hats as their free-ranging interaction takes them through an exploration of the ideas underneath their relationship. "The way I see it," says Mr. Hoban at the outset, "Shakespeare didn't invent Caliban; Caliban invented Shakespeare (and Sigmund Freud and one or two others). Caliban is one of those hungry ideas, always looking for someone to word him into being so he can have another go and maybe win Miranda this time or next time. Caliban is a necessary idea. I can imagine The Tempest without Ferdinand but not without Caliban."
The essays amplify themes that also turn up in Mr. Hoban's books: the nature of language, reality, consciousness, the creative process. We get early encounters with The Head of Orpheus in Certain Obsessions, Certain Ideas, and hear about other "images that persist in the mind," like "the famous drawing of the so-called sorcerer in the cave of Les Trois Frères," seen above right. We learn about the giant owls that power the escalators in the underground in Footplacers, London Transport Owls, Wincer-Boise. Blighter's Rock takes us back to Kleinzeit with its discussion of yellow paper and the terrors implicit in the creative process.
But it's The Bear in Max Ernst's Bedroom or The Magic Wallet, an address made to a Canadian litarary conference in the late '80s, that's the real cornerstone of this collection. In it, Mr. Hoban deftly examines the boundaries between what's real and what isn't, and the necessity of exploring and understanding the powerful, vital and sometimes dangerous reality that exists underneath what we see on the surface. "There are all kinds of things that have no name and can't be described," he tells us:
...really scary dreadful things that live in the mind and maybe you say, 'They're only in my mind.' Then suddenly you find that you yourself are in your mind with them and there's no escape.
'O God! How did I get into my mind! Please, please let me out!'
And God smiles and says, 'Sorry, your mind is the only place there is.'
And perhaps you say, 'I don't believe that. What about Borneo? What about the headwaters of the Amazon? What about the New York Hilton?'
And God says, 'Go where you like, it's still your mind that you live in.'
'But God, all these really scary dreadful things in my mind, surely they aren't real.'
And God says, 'Whatever is, is real.'
And, a bit later:
To do the kind of writing that extends the recognized boundaries of reality you have to be obsessed, you have to let ungraspable ideas take you in their jaws and shake you around, you have to try all kinds of things, most of which don't work, to get them down on paper, and when you do get them down on paper you'll have to rewrite them fifteen or sixteen times because they won't be right the first time. And very likely you'll have to do something else to pay the rent. I could never have afforded to write novels if I hadn't built up an economic base with children's picture books; there simply aren't that many people who want to read the kind of thing I write, although there are more now than there used to be.
The collection ends with the moving Masada One Morning, about a visit to the place where 960 Jewish men, women and children were killed by Romans in AD 73. Like Pilgermann it begins with Mr. Hoban exploring Jewish history and his inherited connection to it, but ends with a reflection on all history and how it never leaves us. One final symbolically-charged encounter in a book so filled with them, it practically trembles in your hands.
- The book's title turns up in a passage in The Medusa Frequency. The Head of Orpheus is describing how he killed the tortoise from whose shell he made his first lyre:
"Oh yes, I thought, and as I listened to the weeping of the unseen woman in that golden, golden afternoon I became the tortoise I had killed. I felt my own cruel knife enter me, felt my life spurting out, felt my still quivering body being dug out of my shell. In an explosion of brilliant colours I suffered the many pains of death as underworld opened to me, underworld and the moment under the moment." (p. 40)
- Thanks to Dan Ellis for early information on Moment, and also for sending me the cover scan. Also thanks to Chris Bell for donating his spare copy of Moment to the cause!
"Carefully crafted and satisfying...as inspired as his novels."
--Independent on Sunday
"Original, intelligent, daring, inventive, challenging."
"Dazzling, provoking, learned--the quintessential Hoban product...this novelist delves into the human experience, factual and mythological, in a way that few others do today. And his work is funny too."
"A must for any Hoban fan."
--Evelyn C. Leeper
OTHER REVIEWS AND ARTICLES
Evelyn C. Leeper's review of The Moment Under The Moment.
MEMORABLE LINES & PASSAGES:
Possibly the only keeping is a constant letting go. -- Mnemosyne, Teen Taals, and the Tottenham Court Road (p. 226)
Odilon Redon's raven
If the human mind is still evolving, as I believe it is, if our mind/soul capacity is still developing, then the pattern of our mental intake and sorting and storing is not static but changing. It may well be that we shall learn to let go rather than hold on, that we shall become capable of being with the world rather than attempting to consume it...we must find in ourselves the shapes of letting go because we're not free to become what we're going to be next until we let go of what we are now. -- Mnemosyne, Teen Taals, and the Tottenham Court Road (p. 235)
One says 'a black time,' but actually the black of things is all kinds of colours. Sometimes it's the grey rainlight in an empty room; sometimes it's the sound of one's own footsteps under yellow streetlamps; sometimes it's an unaccompanied cello from a long time ago. --The Raven (p. 41)
John felt the dancing in the paper move towards him as he moved towards it. I'm not as good at stories as my father is, he said.
It isn't a question of being good at stories, said his mind. It's a question of how far you'll go. --The Ghost Horse of Genghis Khan (p. 78)
In dreams one often sees the house of one's childhood. Years and years have passed, one's own children have grown up and gone out into the world; but in dreams the house of childhood is fresh and strong, the smell of its closets, the creak of its floors, the light through its windows and the shadows of leaves--everything resonates in the sleeping mind. Perhaps tonight one will find the lost toy or see more clearly something only half-glimpsed long ago. -- 'I, that was a child, my tongue's use sleeping...' (p. 156)
Everyone lives a life that is seen and a life that is unseen. Our dreams are a part of our unseen life. We often forget our own dreams and we have no idea whatever of the dreams of others: last night the person next to you in the underground may have ridden naked on a lion or travelled under the sea to the lost city of Atlantis. Along with the dream life there is the life of ideas and half-ideas, of glimmerings and flashes and indescribable atmospheres of the mind. What we actually do in what is called the real world depends largely on how we live this unseen life in our inner world of words and images, songs and bits of poems, names and numbers and memories and dreams remembered and unremembered. --'I, that was a child, my tongue's use sleeping...' (p. 156)
There was a long pipe from the roof gutters of the house to the cistern. When it rained the water ran through the pipe into the cistern. There was a pump on the cistern. Whenever a tap was turned on or the toilet was flushed the pump would gasp and pant as it pumped water into the pipes of the house. It whined and howled and panted like an animal by day, a beast of work. At night it was like a dark brother howling in the courtyard while mopeds traced a line of putter up the hill past a little chapel.
It came to me while listening to that pump one night that it was foolish to make too many distinctions between the animate and the inanimate; everything was talking, the world was full of constant language. What did all the language mean? It meant itself, that's all, and itself was something I knew. I didn't know it the way you know something to tell about it but the knowing was in me. There is no sound, no silence, no pattern of sound and silence that will not correspond to something in your head. Try it some time: find the farthest-out record of the most avant-garde electronic music or whatever is the most alien and chaotic sound for you. Listen to it for a few times; very quickly the blips and bleeps become orderly and familiar, become the voice and language of something that was in you waiting for that music. However random the composer tries to be, it's impossible to compose sound that has no pattern: anything you hear is a pattern of sound-waves and every pattern refers to all other patterns; everything is some kind of information. The universe is continually communicating itself to us in a cosmic eucharist of waves and particles. --Pan Lives (p. 137)
Because Pan isn't dead, don't think that for a moment. There are no dead gods. Bel, Marduk, Tiamat, they're all with us still: every god that was ever named and worshipped, not one of them is dead. No god is ever supplanted, no god ever becomes obsolete. Pan lives, he makes his music on the hills and in the groves he stamps his cloven hooves and dances. --Pan Lives (p. 136)
CALIBAN: Icarus isn't your father.
MIRANDA: Icarus is everybody's father.
CALIBAN: How's that?
MIRANDA: He fell.
--Some Episodes in the History of Miranda and Caliban (p.85)
...the brain itself is an altar, and on it are offered the thoughts and wishes that call up what cannot be put down, gods and demons and unnamable presences hungry for their moment, and every single one of them real.
At this point people sometimes stop me and say, 'Hang on, are you saying that these gods and demons actually have an independent reality outside of your mind?'
And I say, 'You can't speak of a reality independent of the mind, the mind is the only perceiver of reality there is. We all belong to one mind and everything that's ever happened or been thought of since the beginning of the universe is in that mind and it's all real. I can't always get to it and if I do I can't always put a name to it but it's all there and it's all real: the chair is in my mind and it's real; the table is in my mind and it's real, the birth and death of this universe and other universes are in my mind and they're real. And the great blubbering blue fnergl is in my mind and that's real too.'
'Aha!' says my questioner. 'The great blubbering blue fnergl may be real to you but it isn't real to me.'
And I say, 'Not only is it real but you're standing neck deep in fnergl shit at this very moment and you refuse to take any notice of it.' --The Bear in Max Ernst's Bedroom (p. 186)
Reality is ungraspable. For convenience we use a limited-reality consensus in which work can be done, transport arranged, and essential services provided. The real reality is something else--only the strangeness of it can be taken in and that's what interests me: the strangeness of human consciousness; the strangeness of life and death; the strangeness of what the living and dead are to one another; and the strangeness of ideas--Orpheus and Eurydice for example, Miranda and Caliban, King Kong and Fay Wray--that seem to have been with us from long before the stories of them happened.
The real reality, the flickering of seen and unseen actualities, the moment under the moment, can't be put into words; the most that a writer can do--and this is only rarely achieved--is to write in such a way that the reader finds himself in a place where the unwordable happens off the page. --Foreword
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