Thinking in Circles

Reading this story on Mary Douglas’s book Thinking in Circles: An Essay on Ring Composition brought to mind the book I’m reading now: Divine Days.

The feeling is familiar. You are listening to a piece of music, and nothing links one moment with the next. Sounds seem to emerge without purpose from some unmapped realm, neither connecting to what came before nor anticipating anything after. The same thing can happen while reading. Passages accumulate like tedious entries in an exercise book. Chaos, disorder, clumsiness, disarray: these must be the marks of poor construction or, perhaps, of deliberate provocation.

In a strange way, though, the very same sensations might also be marks of our own perceptual failures. Perhaps the order behind the sounds is simply not being heard; perhaps the logic of the argument is not being understood. Paying attention to anything alien can be like listening to a foreign language. There may be logic latent in the sounds, but it is not evident to untrained ears.

Leon Forrest uses a style in Divine Days (though not as seemingly chaotic as some of the texts referred to in the article) that starts, stops, backtracks, jumps ahead, then back again, turns, and doubles-back, all in an attempt to capture the narrator Joubert Jones’ thoughts and experiences at a given moment in the novel. It’s an attempt to mix history, rumor, and feeling all at once in every moment over the period of seven days in 1966. The effect can be dizzying and overwhelming at times. Though never boring and always engaging.

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