Sunday, November 10, 2013


In A Cloak of LIght: Writing My Life, Wright Morris reflects on how he came to write The Field of Vision:
It was not possible, it occurred to me, to make such an observation about McKee except in the clichés to which he was accustomed. In his nature, which I found appealing, they acquired the luster of a finer metal. His character, indeed, took the clichés of his life and fleshed them out in a way that made them appealing. Slowly I came  to realize that these clichés were my subject, and my problem was how to use them, rather than abuse them. As I sometimes felt ambivalent about the character of Boyd—where he overlapped and where he departed from the character of the writer—so I was sometimes troubled by the ambiguous nature of many clichés. How was it possible, I wondered, the they could be at once the truth of the matter and its parody. But so it was I often found them.  Later I would ponder the astonishing fact that the truth of clichés contradicted the truths of more sophisticated language, and that the character of a people had its source in their speech more than in their customs 
From reading the novel I can see how this worked in the cases of McKee and Boyd; I prefer Ceremony at Lone Tree, but they think and speak the same way there.

Does the character of a people have its source in its speech more than in its customs? I should have thought that on the whole the customs manifested themselves through the speech, with the speech modifying, perhaps by reinforcing, the customs. Flann O'Brien reflects on this toward the end of "Myles na gCopaleen Catechism of Cliché", collected in the The Best of Myles:
A cliché is a phrase that has become fossilised, its component words deprived of their intrinsic light and meaning by incessant usage.Thus it appears that clichés reflect somewhat the frequency of the incidence of the same situations in life. If this be so, a sociological commentary could be compiled from these items of mortified language.
Is not the gun-history of  modern Ireland to be verified by the inflexible terminology attaching to it? A man be be shot dead but if he survives a shot, he is not shot but sustains gun-shot wounds.... And the whole affair is, of course, a shooting affray. You see, there is no other kind of affray. If it is not a shooting affray, it is not an affray at all. But it might be a fracas.
The reflection on McKee and Boyd appears on page 184. On page 241, Morris wins the National Book Award for The Field of Vision. On page 249, having driven to California, he trades in his Studebaker for a used Jaguar:
Lacking the panache that went along with the car, I spent several days, and long evenings, explaining why it was that I had bought it, I, of all people, when it was apparent to my friends that I had struck it rich, having written a best seller. Why didn't I play the role that was thrus upon me, life- and dream-enhancing as everybody found it? I was an ignoramus. In explaining my folly to others I hoped to explain it to myself.
And on page 251, he meets the woman who will be his second wife, a matter he takes some considerable time to announce to the incumbent. It struck me on reading this sequence that there are clichés of situation as well as of speech; but I don't know what to make of that insight or even if it is one.


  1. Affray is generally a continuing offence that has the following elements:
    a disturbance of the peace by one or more persons that is violent;the disturbance is either public or private;a bystander of reasonable firmness of character might reasonably be expected to be terrified.

    1. Quite so, but in the columns of the Dublin newspapers--I take it when the IRA was settling internal disputes or having at the established authorities--evidently an affray had to comprise some shooting

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