Patrick White: Flaws in the Glass (first 155 pages.)

Linguistics is one of those fields that have no real use for those of us who are natives to the language in question since much of it is already ingrained. It only becomes a useful tool when studying a foreign tongue. Reading Patrick White has given me the opportunity to put into use these tools in a new different way. Had it not been for those studies I think I would not have enjoyed Patrick White’s autobiography Flaws in the Glass as much.

In it you’ll find the usual British English with many instances of articles or conjunction elicitation. At times the nominalization is eye-catching in its use in Australian English such as fossicking and acquaintanceship, I mean, how do you fossick and since when did an acquaintance become a process? As far as I know how to use ‘acquaintance’ it is more of a stage rather than a continuous process.

There is a fondness for compounds too in the first 40 to 60 pages, almost as if the language didn’t, couldn’t do with single words and wasn’t enough to describe the environment. We have examples such as, double-youlker, biscuit-colored, not-so-successful, stage-struck, tea-trays, pansy-shaped, bomb-scarred, green-to-yellow tones and many many more, almost, as I suspect, as a manipulative technique on the part of the writer to emphasize his roots to the land. It is as if there is a need to stretch the language to the maximum; as if it is incessant to unify words to explain a whole.

Furthermore, you’ll find in the text that nouns enjoy some of the most wonderful modifiers like the following ones I loved so much that I underlined them and kept them for myself: the odd recce, those ochreus houses, a packet of foolscap, grubby at the edges, an etiolated beauty, the maker’s fretsaw and smiling treacly smiles. Possessive noun modifiers also gave a new twist to the tongue such as: a welter of adenoidal sighs … nosegay of pink oxalis. Some of the biggest noun modifiers ever brought uncountless giggles to my face, just take a peek at this:

It is also why an unlikely relationship between an Orthodox Greek and a lapsed Anglican egotist agnostic pantheist occultist existentialist would-be though failed Christian Australian has lasted forty years. p.102 (my italics) or

Language is indeed what makes this text so fresh and new despite the fact that it has been on the shelves a long time, I was rather thrilled in finding so many new words and phrasal verbs that I have never seen before, it refreshed my language. New phrasal verbs such as junk up and bawl out and even a few idioms like odd and sods sparked a curiosity that I hadn’t seen in ages.

I also increased my vocabulary immensely with new words that my CD ROM Macmillan (American) English dictionary lacked a definition for such as, saltpetre, planchette, latticed, caryatid, pinchbeck, gunyah, tittuping, thick fug, flibbertigibbets, archimandrites, sabras, a revenant, doxie and a slew of other vocabulary that the book indicates with an asterisks as if the language wasn’t foreign enough already.

Although there is a knack to hold in high esteem the mother country, the UK, the local language is used to de-colonize the mentality as the list of words above indicate, there is a preference for the local and new as opposed to the old and known.

Just as well because I somehow have an underlying belief that he uses/manipulates language to suit his aim, purpose, to convey his roots. There is a sense that he enjoys language so much that even when he breaks off from a relationship like the one with Sir William Dobell when they were ‘…belting out obscenities as hard as [they] could.’ He says, ‘I believe the chandelier tinkled a bit …’ this is giving language more power than one would expect.

On another plane, Patrick White, born in London, raised in Australia, is one of those expats who are more citizens of the world than the country they profess to belong to. Like Robert Graves, he just went through a minefield unscathed while serving in the army during WWII where he became a well-traveled man and during much of his stints abroad he picked up on the romantification that writers tend to exploit once in a foreign land. I often wondered as to the significance of geography in autobiographies and pondered what do we want to rub in or what kind of statements are we making when we do so? I mulled this as I went along reading getting the sense that the writer wanted to pull us into a glitzy glamor that we are suppose to know of and thereby cause some sort of envy.

Much of the autobiography is a retelling of uneventful nights made pleasurable by the uncanny eye of the narrator. He has dexterity to describe psychological states, like when he describes Baron Charles de Menasce smile, he says the following: ‘Round the corners of his mouth clung that faint webbing which cynicism leaves on those too tender to have faith in others and, worse still themselves.’

Homosexuality plays a significant role in identification but it is not the whole of the story here, while it is part of the telling, it is a part as much as in any other person when he or she says they are Catholic. There is much self-retrospection or reflexive thinking going on here as far as autobiographical interests go, so that at times you’ll read that what he is reliving all this, to tell you, the reader, he’ll say he is doing nothing more than ‘recycle shit’ yet for the same token you’ll here that what he is doing is ‘painting this self-portrait’. More oft than not, one gets the sense that more things are being said than what it is written.

Patrick White focuses much in the habits of others which begs the question, what does he want to say by making note of the habits of others? From my point of view, I think we have a case, if not an inkling, of an author wanting us to get closer to him.

The issue of influence is also a recurrent one, which necessarily raises the question: Why give a historical account of others and their fate in an autobiography? Worse yet, inevitable, as a writer, one becomes aware of one’s place, which is nearly God-like since one is retelling the fate of others as one sees fit, and according to one’s agenda. I say this because the juxtaposition with the fate of others, to that of ones own, can be used to justify ones being and is very much present in this autobiography. At times Flaws of Glass just plainly resorts to vignette biography to justify ones judgment of others. I find theses vignette biographies interesting though because they serve to reinforce how the author thought and gives great insight into the ontological and epistemological value system of the subject.

All in all this autobiography gives much into the account of the writer in question, the only flaw I saw was that of relying so much on the lives of others but in the end I guess we are all nothing but the product of our surroundings.