The Drinking Dog; The Drunk Scholar

Karin Cope. Passionate Collaborations: Learning to Live With Gertrude Stein

Not to mention the dog!

Yes, that's it. In fact, I began to hear the dog because I had begun to think about writing again for myself. And to do that you have to take certain risks, you cannot be looking for the questions or the answers, you have to be willing to enter into a space of not-knowing-where-you're-going, a space of a certain kind of floating, of absent-mindedness, of indistinct boundaries, a space where what you know and what you experience are intimately linked — in which they have to have a relation to one another. In short, I had to start living again, to value the small details of my own life again, in order to hear the dog, and to begin to understand Stein. There's a wonderful thing that weekend painter Joanna Field — who is also the psychoanalyst Marion Milner — says in her book On Not Being Able To Paint. Arguing that creating, in the sense of artwork or invention, can only happen within a protected space, "a place for absent-mindedness," that the environment has to provide a framework "in which we are freed, for the time being, from the need for immediate practical expedient action," she suggests that you must have, both in yourself, as well in those around you, "a tolerance of something which may at moments look very like madness." Then she goes on to say something that begins to get at the crux of this play issue we've not really quite addressed yet:
The question then arises, are we going to treat all phenomena that are often talked of under that heading as symptoms, something to be got rid of, or can we, in our so objectively-minded culture, come to recognise them as something to be used, in their right place? In our childhood we are allowed to act, move, behave, under the influence of illusions, to play "pretend" games and even get lost in our play, feel for the moment that it is real. In adult life it is less easy to find settings where this is possible (we get other people to do the pretending, on the films and the stage), although we do find it within the framework of the analytic session as patients.
The story of the dog…
Okay, here it is. Perhaps you've heard that peculiar claim that Stein makes in How to Write: "Sentences are not emotional, paragraphs are"? She explains this insight by saying she understood it when she listened to her dog drinking. This made no sense to me for years, for maybe ten years. I accepted it — what else was I supposed to do with it? What are you going to say about such an utterance and its peculiar justification — that it's false? How would you prove that? Then one day I was — well, you have to know, I had just then started to live on a farm and we had a dog there and for years I'd not lived in a house with a dog, for twenty years maybe. So that day I was sitting there, and the dog came in and began lapping at her bowl. And so I thought of Stein's phrase and said it, and all of a sudden I understood it. For there was the sound of the dog's lapping, a kind of rise and fall, very punctual, and there was great exuberance in the repetition of the sound of her tongue hitting the water and scooping a tongueful back into her mouth, a kind of kew-lup, kew-lup, kew-lup sound, and I realized that if you took only one of those laps then, well, the whole thing would mean nothing to you, it would be sort of incomplete, emotionless. Never mind that the dog would not really get any water, you yourself would not be able to figure out what was going on, you would develop some thirst in relation to this lapping —
Thirst-in-relation-to-lapping — a kind of will to meaning that is only satisfied by being in the world?

And so for day 2081