On Inducing Reverie

I mentioned something about my (sc. Stendhal’s (you can see how easy

it is to say something truly original!)) theory that the chief function of literature is to induce reverie; – a bold critic might

suggest the reading state is better characterised by “sustained attention”. – Now, I must say, I don’t like the sound of “sustained attention”; – I

feel it might impact a bit on my pleasure; and it is perhaps the antithesis of my intention. Stendhal possibly fits in between, but you see, the book

quoted from is Stendhal’s Love, which is about love, and it is with the particular reverie induced by being in love (that irrational,

unstructured, dreamy sort of thought) which Stendhal is comparing literature. Here’s a fuller quote (which also addresses a few other issues that

have been on my mind):

“The reverie of love defies all attempts to record it. I find that I can re-read a good novel every three years

and enjoy it as much every time. It arouses feelings in me which are related to whatever tender interest is engaging me at the time, or, even if it

makes me feel nothing, it gives variety to my thoughts … As for the new light which a novel is supposed to throw on human nature … well, I am very

conscious of my original views and like to come upon marginal notes which I wrote about them at a previous reading. But this sort of pleasure only

holds good for the novel’s function of furthering my knowledge of man, and not for its chief function of inducing reverie. This reverie cannot be

imprisoned in a marginal note. To do so is to kill it for the present, since one begins to analyse pleasure philsophically.”

Now I’d

broadly go along with this: – the pleasure I feel with any work of art is this same pleasure of reverie: as I say, an irrational, desultory,

unstructured mode of thinking which  is a pleasure in itself: – and so, a book I enjoy is one that can induce this reverie in me (by whatever means

that is, I couldn’t say); – although, as I was thinking amidst a long reverie I was having yesterday as I walked along to the shops (for it is not

art alone which gives this pleasure, nor even love, but sometimes just walking by oneself) – a reverie which just happened itself to be largely on the

subject of reverie (though later drifted into a question of whether democracy was fundamentally based on moral weakness and cowardice, which idea I

then thought of using in one of my many future novels) – that aside from this, novels could also induce in me an admiration for their technique –

their literary style, if you will – which probably appealed to some different, aesthetic sense within my brain, separate from this reverie.


I said in the previous post, this reverie becomes even more extreme when I am writing myself, reaching an almost ecstatic state.


matter which I derived from my morning’s walk – this was approximately at the railway crossing – was that my antipathy towards contemporary art,

which I’d also previously argued was based on the fact there was no real communication between artist and viewer (a red painting might set any train

of thought off in my mind, but it is no achievement of the artist that it has done so), was probably not a true view of things: – perhaps it was

better to take this reverie as a criterion and admit that its failure was precisely that it induced none – along with a corresponding lack of

admiration for technique. – I was reminded then, halfway across the railway bridge, of Clive Anderson once saying that the reason he didn’t often

laugh at other people’s jokes was because he could always see the punch-line before it arrived).


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