Sunday, October 2, 2011

The shadow line of publishing

“Boogey,” I said quietly, glancing back from a corner of my eye. “You are a boogey boy.”

“I am a boogey boy,” he said back to me, head erect and calmly alert, through big, black eyes. Although we had not resorted to this particular honorific, before, he volleyed it back to me with a soundlessness implying both no objection, and that game geniality one expects of an English dog.

Such is a typical exchange between Whit and myself, as I might be wandering in an out of his visual range, between the study, the bedroom, the library and the kitchen - all linked, doorlessly in this simple farm building, filling a mug or toggling on the wi-fi, adjusting lamps and win-dows in expectation of the dawn. We will have gone out already, Whit at ease on a bed he has arranged for himself to survey these comings and goings, or doze - as he might like - a few feet from my desk. Forgetfully, I will usually have left the side porch light on, but he is accustomed to enjoying its illumination of the oak through his window overhead. Whit is nothing if not a creature of comforting quadrants.

“Boogey,” is nothing we can say, in particular. One’s language with a dog is often inflected with terms which emerge as sounds of an impression or a feeling, which is sort of what language must always have been, until it was necessary to link it to a negotiated antecedent. But an English dog, being the polyglot seer of feeling that he is, is enormously fluent in those organic neologisms which might be flung at him respect-fully, essentially acknowledging his presence. In short, he is a boogey boy, ratifying that he is here. We are unanimous in that and (what is much more typical of our discourse), we are spontaneous and harmless about it. 

Such are the circumstances which count for so much of the most in one’s life, that I keep this dossier more or less as Conrad’s young hero does in The Shadow Line, about an untried young man thrust into command of a sailing ship, who goes about his jottings more or less to keep in shape. The ship is becalmed and afflicted by malaria, a device for rural Virginia if ever there were one. But he knows he has actual, neo-grown-up things to do: get the ship into port, furnish medicine for his men, possibly indulge a change of linens. 

You might notice, we haven’t cobbled a shoe yet, or left instructions in the proper extraction of Pinot Noir. The skipper's dossier is not expected to outlast him, either. This shows, he says, that it was purely a personal need for intimate relief, and not a call of egotism - except, that the dossier figures within a publication Conrad committed to his London publishers in 1915, and subtitled, A confession. Doubleday got the book in 1922, the year of The Waste Land. The difference is, Conrad wrote his memoir late and gave it, as anyone might, his "undying regard." The web is too porous for such things. This is enough to make it decorative, but it does not strike me, as a very boogey boy. We shall see.

v  William Gedney photography
    Duke University Archives


  1. L, have you read, The Legend of Edgar Sawtelle??? In England people get dog golf memberships so their black labs can accompany them during a round!!!!

  2. Boy is that good news. I guess you saw, Derek had a thing yesterday, with a guy carrying a 3-wood at the 16th Gorge at Carnoustie (which surprised me, because I don't think that's enough club). He could certainly have used a lab for spotting and a corgi for shouting down the wind. But you would have figured that.