First composed at
[A good deal of embarrassing prose from 1997 has been deleted from the following]
Texture words according to meaning
INTEXT of '-le' and '-er' words
INTEXT2 of 'rootish' and 'rooty' words
Minor sound-texture categories and unclassifiables
Texture-word Coinages: Victorian and mine
Note on Source Editions (soon to come)
Texture Words Clustered Somewhat Semantically
A fundamental class of texture words, the 'gl-' words glint, gleam, glimmer narrate an almost-definitional quality of texture along the axis of light-reflectivity. One way of structuring the semantic relationship of the three words is as follows:
glint: one-dimension (a point of light)
gleam: two-dimensions (a shining surface)
glimmer: three(+)-dimensions (a texture of gleaming surfaces)
However, if glitter is considered (for morphological reasons) to be the doubling/dimensionalizing expansion of glint, the table might look a little different:
glint: a point of light
gleam: a shining surface
glitter: a texture of glinty points
glimmer: a texture of gleaming surfaces
The connection between the glint and the glitter is etymologically false but also tempting. It is difficult to say instinctually which of these structurings is more useful, so it might help to discuss some of the social and cultural meanings of the words.
[Note: 'Gl-' words slip very easily in to 'sl- and 'sh-' words: a glimmer is similar to a shimmer, a gleam is quite comparable to a shine, and so on.]
It is also important to understand the 'gl-' words in terms of their textural/dialectical opposites. Glitter and glimmer, being doubled or texxtured words, can't be said to have opposites, but glint can be opposed to blot, and gleam can be opposed to all things not shiny - dull. In "Outing Texture," Renu Bora, building on Fredric Jameson's theory of the postmodern, connects the "gleam" to the commodity-fetish, which also gives ideological weight to the gleaming/dull opposition:
Jameson's postmodern glossiness or sheen is more compelx than the glint, because the 'flatness' of style has a near-impossibility, an 'inherent contradiction,' for even though history or memory is effaced in a certain respect, the only way one could know this would be in contrast to a prior stage, perhaps modernist ... As Jameson illustrates in this work, the sheen of postmodernity dialectically subsumes and depends upon its (historical) opposite, raw roughness or softness, which can be fetishized in its own right. (Bora, 103)
The gleaming commodity-fetish was as much a characteristic of Victorian life as it is of the postmodern, and in both cases is dialectically engaged with an other both ideologically opposite and in some sense conceived to be prior to the modern. This is evident to an extent in the distinctions between the Podsnaps and the Veneerings as emblems of different strands of capitalist embodiment in Our Mutual Friend, as well as in the 'tackiness' of Waterbath in The Spoils of Poynton. (see shine, solid, varnish)
Dapple is a texture-word one always wants to return to, perhaps because it is so closely expressive of the fleshly. It tends to refer to animal flesh; nevertheless it will often be found closely linked to human desires. It is a critical word in Gerard Manley Hopkins's ode to texture, "Pied Beauty," and is the surface of desire throughout his poetry. (see dapple; see also the Bartleby Hopkins)
Dapple also appears in a particularly erotic passage in William Morris's News from Nowhere, when 'William Guest' is out for a ride with a one of a series of friendly companions in the summery social utopia of his dreams:
It was exceedingly pleasant in the dappled shadow, for the day was growing as hot as need be, and the coolness and shade soothed my excited mind into a condition of dreamy pleasure, so that I felt as if I should like to go on for ever through that balmy freshness. My companion seemed to share my feelings, and let the horse go slower and slower as he sat inhaling the green forest scents, chief amongst which was the smell of the trodden bracken near the wayside. (News From Nowhere, 64)
Here, the "dappled shadow" expresses a shared affect between the two riders, a natural state which, in this realm of heavily embroidered excitations, a pleasure imagined is a pleasure acted upon.
The commingling of the two riders' desires above is a staple of eroticism as expressed through texture. We see it quite often in these novels, including a particularly stunning passage in George Eliot's Romola:
The faces now just met, and the dark curls mingled for an instant with the rippling gold. Quick as lightning after that, Tito set his foot on a projecting ledge of the book-shelves and reached down the needful volumes. They were both contented to be silent and separate, for that first blissful experience of mutual consciousness was all the more exquisite for being unperturbed by immediate sensation. ... It had all been as rapid as the irreversible mingling of waters (Romola, 173) (see mingle, ripple)
Tito's hair touches Romola's for a second, while Romola's brittle old father waits nearby. But it's enough: desire, here a fluid, spreads out and coats both of them sufficiently, irreversibly. Scenes such as this tend to cap heterosexual romance-plots in novels, but they rarely succeed in capping the novels as such. The textures are too gushy (see below: Flow) to satisfy Eliot, and too uni-dimensional to be of interest to James for very long (however, see gush or throb).
These words express textures of moving bodies, which when viewed through the destabilizing medium of texture, are comparable to the glimmering and shimmering objects such as the commdity-fetishes alluded to above. Texture (and here we would be talking about Bora's TEXXTURE) not only blurs the line between surface and depth, it blurs the animate/inanimate, and spatial/temporal distinction.
Words such as shiver and shudder are capable of expressing sublimity and horror as much as they are the textures of moving bodies:
"I shuddered with horror as the scene recurred to me .... I trembled under her touch; I felt the witchery of her presence; I yearned to be assured of her love. The fear of poison is feeble against the sense of thirst." (The Lifted Veil, 30)
"I venture to tell you that your buildings smack too much of Christian barbarism for my taste. I have a shuddering sense of what there is inside- hideous smoked Madonnas; fleshless saints in mosaic, staring down idiotic astonishment and rebuke from the apse; skin-clad skeletons hanging on crosses, or stuck all over with arrows, or stretched on gridirons; women and monks with heads aside in perpetual lamentation." (Romola, 77)
Horror and sublimity, two of Eliot's favorite states of being, tend to involve the logic of rupture and violence more than they do texture, but it's startling to see how many texture words (and texture words involving the 'frisson') are woven into the fabric of passages such as these.
More commonly, the 'frisson' words express states of pleasurable affect through texture. Here is a passage where Owen Gereth is fluttering quite egregiously:
"Owen, inconsequent and even extravagant, unlike anything she had ever seen him before. He broke off, he came back, he repeated questions without heeding answers, he made vague and abrupt remarks about the resemblances of shop-girls and the uses of chiffon. ... If she had ever dreamed of Owen Gereth as finely fluttered..." (Spoils of Poynton, 42)
In 'frisson' states desire is unintelligible and indistinguishable from pure sensation, either because it's bearer is at a fever pitch of pleasure, or because someone has a finger on a sensitive area, and is tickling uncompromisingly.
Renu Bora suggests that the 'smooth' may be "texture's other," even as 'smooth' can be said to be a kind of texture itself. This is probably more pronounced in the different texture words that connote textures through flow. Many of these words contain sounds classified as 'liquids' and 'sibilants,' which double their effect. It is interesting to note that in the literature nearly all of these flow-words exist only in 'root' formation. It is only in later literary periods that people begin to speak of the 'gushy' sentiment, the 'sucky' job, the 'kissy' actor (...Arundhati Roy, in the God of Small Things, gives a character a 'bursty' suit).
Not surprisingly, flow-words tend to express the
movement of fluids. This is particularly important in Dickens' Our Mutual
Friend, where the flow of the
"And everything so vaunted the spoiling influences of water - discoloured copper, rotten wood, honey-combed stone, green dank deposit - that the after-consequences of being crushed, sucked under, and drawn down, looked as ugly to the imagination as the main event" (Our Mutual Friend, 219)
Flow-words also appear in Victorian 'sex-scenes,' usually capping off foreplay which consists of whispering, murmuring, mingling, and rippling (see 'Desiring-dissolution' above).
The '-ubble' words are involved with fluidity, but it tends to be of a precipitate, or solidifying sort. A bubble may be a somewhat rigid or self-enclosed bit of gas trapped in a fluid: as in the globule. But to bubble is also to gurgle, perhaps to rumble.
Bubbles can also be specifically textural (texturizing) when found in liquidy-hard substances like glass. One example of this is in News From Nowhere, when William Guest examines the crockery used by denizens of his utopia:
The glass, again, though elegant and quaint, and very varied in form, was somewhat bubbled and hornier in texture than the commercial articles of the nineteenth century. The furniture and general fittings of the hall were much of a piece with the table-gear, beautiful in form and highly ornamented, but without the commercial 'finish' of the joiners and cabinet-makers of our time. (News From Nowhere, 131)
Here the bubble is a blemish.
These words connote textures of speech, and in that they involve textures of unintelligibility, might function in ways similar to the 'frisson' words above. In some cases, the two types of texture words are mutually determinative, as in the following passage, where Romola is speaking quite clearly to her befuddled father:
"As Romola said this, a fine ear would have detected in her clear voice and distinct utterance, a faint suggestion of weariness struggling with habitual patience. .... At that moment the doubtful attractiveness of Romola's face, in which pride and passion seemed to be quivering in the balance with native refinement and intelligence, was transfigured to the most lovable womanliness by mingled pity and affection" (Romola, 95)
In News From Nowhere, the protagonist endures scene after scene with embarrassment at his ignorance of utopian custom, and mumbling and fumbling constitute the greater part of his apologetic utterances:
"I bowed before the storm, and mumbled out some excuse or other. I must say, I might have known that people who were so fond of architecture generally, would not be backward in ornamenting themselves; all the more as the shape of their raiment, apart from its colour, was both beautiful and reasonable - veiling the form, without either muffling or caricaturing it." (News From Nowhere,165)
The 'gloomy' words sometimes involve textured bodies sinking into homogeneity: the un-textured perceptive faculties of the depressed.
In addition to being the most interested in imagining scenes of horror and sublimity (see above), Eliot is full of gloominess and depression, generally constellating with other sorts of texture words:
"A dull mind, once arriving at an inference that flatters a desire, is rarely able to retain the impression that the notion from which the inference started was purely problematic" (Silas Marner, 37)
Here a dedicated dull rubs against a 'frisson'-word, and can't quite compete with the tempting textures of fluttery-flattery.
Many of the characters in these texts (and this is particularly true in Eliot and in Wilde's De Profundis) get trapped in structures which link dullness with the integrated circuits of human sociality. For these characters, the choice is either self-dissolution in some unpalatable form socialization or a ruinous complete withdrawal:
"'Low spirits!' I thought bitterly, as he rode away; 'that is the sort of phrase with which coarse, narrow natures like yours think to describe experience of which you can know no more than your horse knows. It is to such as you that the good of this world falls: ready dullness, healthy selfishness, good-tempered conceit- these are the keys to happiness." (The Lifted Veil, 37)
"The subtle and varied pains springing from the higher sensibility that accompanies higher culture, are perhaps less pitiable than that dreary absence of impersonal enjoyment and consolation which leaves ruder minds to the perpetual urgent companionship of their own griefs and discontents. The lives of those rural forefathers, whom we are apt to think very prosaic figures- men whose only work was to ride round their land, getting heavier and heavier in their saddles, and who passed the rest of their days in the half-listless gratification of senses dulled by monotony..." (Silas Marner, 29)
Thoughtful, productive survival is only possible, Eliot might argue, if a subject is engaged in the weaving and perceiving of textures of many different qualities, although the specificity of which textures is left open.
With Dickens, the gloomy is much more of a local phenomenon, and tends to manifest in constellations with the withered and the dingy, both of which are texturizable:
"A grey dusty withered evening in London city has not a hopeful aspect. The closed warehouses and offices have an air of death about them, and the national dread of colour has an air of mourning. the towers and steeples of the many house-encompassed churches, dark and dingy as the sky that seems descending on them, are no relief to the general gloom; ... melancholy waifs ... melancholy waifs ... melancholy waifs and strays explore them, searching and stooping and poking for anything to sell" (Our Mutual Friend, 450)
Here, the "general gloom" of London is balanced and perhaps contradicted (which is to say, texturized) by the "stooping and poking" of the "melancholy waifs."
The heaviest and thickest of the fluid texture words, they might be linked root-ishly to the more mobile '-ubble' words described above.
Ruskin deploys blood for ideological effect in a passage on the development of gothic architecture:
"the stony pillar grew slender and the vaulted roof grew light, till they had wreathed themselves into the semblance of the summer woods, at their fairest, and of the dead field-flowers, long trodden down in blood" (Ruskin, "The Nature of Gothic")
Ruskin narrates how medieval stone-work developed texture over the course of its history, using a softening series of texture words: stony, slender, summer. But the second half of the phrase returns from the vaulted roof to focus on ground-level. The invocation of blood ruptures the gesture which would blend a Cathedral into the easy textures of the "summer woods," and instead makes it grotesque, looming, a symbol of the violent histories that have transpired under almost-untouchable edifices.
In other cases, blood (and likewise thud and perhaps mud) may figure disruptions or collapses of the form of the human: bloody hands, a thudding body. In the following passage Our Mutual Friend, blood is part of a chain of undeterminable bodies, endless deferring of meaning and identity:
"a slant of light from the setting sun glanced into the bottom of the boat, and, touching a rotten stain there which bore some resemblance to the outline of a muffled human form, coloured it as though with diluted blood" (Our Mutual Friend)
The sun slightly illuminates the stenchy and corrupt bottom of the boat, in which there is a stain, a muffled form, a hint of blood, anything but a body.
The hardest textures to bear; the grim textures of abjection and exposure. There are perhaps three sub-categories: barren, rotten, withered.
Some of these words can in certain cases indicate an absence of texture, not so much in the sense of Bora's "smoothness" as in a more terrifying and profound blankness:
"A shadowy conception of power that by much persuasion can be induced to refrain from inflicting harm, is the shape most easily taken by the sense of the Invisible in the minds of men who have always been pressed close by primitive wants, and to whom a life of hard toil has never been illuminated by any enthusiastic religious faith. To them pain and mishap present a far wider range of possibilities than gladness and enjoyment: their imagination is almost barren of the images that feed desire and hope, but is all overgrown by recollections that are a perpetual pasture to fear." (Silas Marner, 14)
In this case, the blankness of the barren experience forces a subject to become a dim, shuttered consciousness almost incapable of accepting pleasurable-stimuli.
The rotten is also in a way about a disappearing texture, although in this case it is experienced as a sinking, a collapse. Our Mutual Friend abounds with images of rotten wood, such as the following passage where an investigative party is navigating the Thames in a small boat, surrounded by great grotesque and decrepit ships and barges:
"Not a lumbering black barge, with its cracked and blistered side impending over them, but seemed to suck at the river with a thirst for sucking them under. And everything so vaunted the spoiling influences of water - discoloured copper, rotten wood, honey-combed stone, green dank deposit - that the after-consequences of being crushed, sucked under, and drawn down, looked as ugly to the imagination as the main event" (Our Mutual Friend, 219)
Here the rotten and the moldy come into alignment with the more violently disruptive and explosive events of crush and suck.