Stan Cary quotes Anthony Burgess on Joyce and dream-literature; all of it is worth reading, but I especially loved this paragraph:
Our educational tradition, both in Britain and America, has conditioned us to look on words as mere counters which, given a particular context, mean one thing and one thing only. This tradition, needless to say, is geared to the legalistic and commercial rather than to the aesthetic. When a word is ambiguous we are uneasy, and we are right to be uneasy when that word is set in a contract or official directive. But the exploitation of the ambiguity of a word is, as Professor Empson has been pointing out for the long time, one of the joys of the literary art. […] When life is freed from the restrictions of time and space, as it is in dreams, the mind makes less effort to sort out contradictions, or gentler ambiguities, and a word may ring freely, sounding all its harmonies. This free ringing, in a zone of psychological experience which has all the doors open, may well set jangling all the phonetic and etymological associations which the mind is capable of accommodating – foreign languages not taught in public schools, songs little known in the great world of singing, scraps of conversation almost forgotten, dead slogans, posters long torn from their walls. Joyce was psychologically right in refusing to limit the associations of dream-words to what some abstract image of a reader or critic could most easily take in. In throwing vocables of great, though arbitrary, complexity at us he was being true to his principle of artistic communication. Paradoxically, when an essential word or phrase in a book about a dream is least intelligible, then it may be most intelligible.
Clarity is a fine thing, of course. In its place.
Addendum. I just happened on a paragraph from Dmitry Bykov’s literary biography of Pasternak that seems to resonate well enough with the Burgess passage that I thought I’d quote it here:
Его стихи оставались той самой «последней соломинкой» потому, что в каждой строке сияет фантастическая, забытая полнота переживания жизни: эти тексты не описывают природу — они становятся ее продолжением. Вот почему смешно требовать от них логической связности: они налетают порывами, как дождь, шумят, как ветки. Слово перестало быть средством для описания мира и стало инструментом его воссоздания.
His poems remained that final straw [that desperate people such as Gulag prisoners could use to cling to life, unlike—according to Varlam Shalamov—the poetry of Pushkin and Mayakovsky] because in each line shines the fantastic, forgotten fullness of the experience of life; these texts do not describe nature, they become a continuation of it. That is why it is ridiculous to demand logical coherence of them: they swoop on you like rain, they make a noise like branches. The word has ceased being a means for the description of the world and has become an instrument of its re-creation.
Further Addendum. I’m in the middle of David Mitchell’s wonderful Cloud Atlas, and this sentence asked to be included here: “I don’t say that yarn’s got a hole sack o’ sense, but I always mem’ried it, an’ times are less sense is more sense.” (N.b.: “hole” = “whole,” “times are” = “sometimes.”)
‘Nother ‘Dendum. From Andrew Michael Field, “The Aesthetics of Nostalgia: Ashbery’s Cornell-like Poems“:
Reading Ashbery, like the experience of living, is constantly analogous to this notion of a game being played, although with rules we are not intended to wholly understand. And this experience breeds not only frustration, but also, in a way, a new strategy of and for reading. For in reading an Ashbery poem, like looking at a Cornell box, the goal is not mastery. The goal is, rather, enchantment and absorption. And enchantment or absorption do not work in a linear or logical way, but instead catch us unawares, compelling us to open our eyes to moments we’d never dreamed possible.