The Book of the World is Written in Prose

So says Gerald L. Bruns, in his wonderfully illuminating introduction to Viktor Shklovsky's Theory of Prose (Dalkey, 1991). Bruns goes on to say:

A poetic universe is...a universe of correspondences. In a poetic universe, every fragment is a luminous detail. It resonates with the supersensual. It is in perpetual transport from the everydayness of its material appearance to the sphere of the transcendental where it is really located, and its impact upon consciousness constitutes a moment of vision or the sense of embracing the totality of all that is. There are overarchings everywhere. But a prose universe is just one damn thing after another, like an attic or junkyard or side of the road. Shklovsky says that Cervantes began his great book by organizing it as a dinner table, but almost at once things got away from him. Don Quixote, as Shklovsky emphasizes, is a narrative whose parts are out of place; and so is the world it mirrors, in which (in Ortega y Gasset's phrase) the poetic has collapsed, leaving only leftovers like the books Don Quixote reads. The prose world is a place of violent interruption; it is the nonlinear region of pure historicality that can only be described by means of chaos theories and models of catastrophe, or perhaps not so much catastrophe as the slow breaking down of entities piece by piece. It is an unpredictable and dangerous world in which everyone is someone's victim. We are liable to a beating at every intersection, because the adversary no longer dwells at the mouth of the cave or the depths of the fen but is going by in every direction, no more in place than we are.

[The image at the head of this post is Jean Rochefort playing Don Quixote, taken from "Lost in La Mancha," a fairly good illustration of Professor Bruns's point.]