Incipience and books

I am at the North American Conference on British Studies in Vancouver, Canada. The first day, at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park (a vastly overpriced way to breathe among the trees), I saw bald eagles in the wild. Apparently they’ve only been here a couple of weeks, for the salmon. Funny to first see ones national bird in the wild in another nation.

Among the other brilliant presentations I saw today was one on H. G. Wells as futurist, and Sarah Cole (author of a new book) talked about how Wells used terror and war. She focused on The War in the Air and The Invisible Man, and among other things talked about incipience. Wells built suspense through his pauses, as New York waited to be attacked by German airships. His invisible man also assumes that the only option for his invisibility is to do horrible things. It is the impending doom, the feeling sportscaster Charlie Steiner talks about when you start the 8th inning and the Dodgers are behind by one, that aspect of modernity that Cole referenced as a highlight of Paul K. Saint-Amour’s Tense Future, that “pre-traumatic stress disorder”. The great sin to Wells, she said, was lack of foresight.

Certainly it is popular to cast Wells as a prophet — it was even in his lifetime. But the period of his life I’m studying doesn’t have that. He has confidence, but it is focused on the present, on the importance of teaching science, not his later stories about man’s response to science.

Then this evening I went to UBC for a book launch for Sheldon Goldfarb’s book of musings on Sherlock Holmes. He had written a script for him to ask questions of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, played by an actor. It was an interesting way to discuss, in dialogue form, some of the themes from the Holmes stories. He implied that Holmes was needed in a time of waning faith, and used Doyle to express the idea that where he (Goldfarb) saw meaning in so many characters being named Arthur, or so many women in the stories being strong and smart, Doyle himself was just writing stories to make money.

That tied the day together. Wells turned to fiction to try to make money, because a friend told him he was working too hard to become a great essayist, and should just write made-up stories. It was easier and more lucrative. In the Doyle character’s whining about how no one looks at his many other books, it became clear that the popular books are what make the money.

But I do understand incipience. It’s what happened as soon as I entered MacLeod’s bookstore this afternoon. Books piled high, on the ground, leaning on bursting shelves. A feeling of impending doom. There it was, an early edition of Wells’ Certain Personal Matters. And more. The proprieter noted my conference name tag, and asked what I studied. I told him, and he showed me more in the science section and then, checking to make sure the till was minded, led me through a Staff Only door into the basement. (Yes, I will follow a strange man into a locked basement if books are involved.) He waved at the back wall. “Elizabethan back in the corner,” he said. “so left of that earlier, to the right…Victorian should be about here” and left me there. Only hunger and the need to get to UBC for Holmes prevented total bankruptcy.

4 comments to Incipience and books

  • jmm

    “I will follow a strange man into a locked basement if books are involved.” Well, sure.

  • jmm

    Oh and: one of your best shots, that photo of the suspension bridge.

  • I always enjoy your musings! But “Yes, I will follow a strange man into a locked basement if books are involved.” was the clincher!

  • Lisa M Lane

    Thanks, you two – nice to know you’re out there. 🙂

    Oh, and that shot is of what they call the Cliff Walk, which doesn’t move. It just sort of hangs off the cliff. The suspension bridge moves — a lot!