The Smoke-Ghosts of Art

April 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

Julian Bell, “When Fire Claims a Lifetime’s Work,” The Guardian (Review, p. 21) 19 April 2014

“Every painter’s nightmare”, other painters have been telling me, and one that comes real for quite a few artists, placing me in too good company, among the smoke-ghosts of art: all the legendary masterpieces of ancient Greece and China; epoch-making works by Mantegna, Titian and Courbet; oeuvres such as those of Carel Fabritius (wiped out in Delft’s gunpowder disaster of 1654) or of Thomas Theodor Heine (in the bombing of Leipzig in 1944), scant traces suggesting the brilliance that was lost. I review my past now and track the fearful possibility seeping, prophetically, into the imagery of my own pictures. A few years ago, travels took me to an ever-burning pit in the Karakum Desert, the abandoned outcome of a 1971 Soviet gas probe. It felt an imaginative homecoming, this endless end of everything, and I stretched my largest canvas to restage it. A canvas now dematerialised, along with some 60 others. Beat that, Gustav Metzger, master of auto-destructive art!

Time’s Up! Silence!

April 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

Virginia Woolf, “Craftsmanship,” The Death of the Moth and Other Essays

Perhaps then one reason why we have no great poet, novelist or critic writing to-day is that we refuse words their liberty. We pin them down to one meaning, their useful meaning, the meaning which makes us catch the train, the meaning which makes us pass the examination. And when words are pinned down they fold their wings and die. Finally, and most emphatically, words, like ourselves, in order to live at their ease, need privacy. Undoubtedly they like us to think, and they like us to feel, before we use them; but they also like us to pause; to become unconscious. Our unconsciousness is their privacy; our darkness is their light. . . . That pause was made, that veil of darkness was dropped, to tempt words to come together in one of those swift marriages which are perfect images and create everlasting beauty. But no — nothing of that sort is going to happen to-night. The little wretches are out of temper; disobliging; disobedient; dumb. What is it that they are muttering? “Time’s up! Silence!”

Finding a Language in which Making Art is Possible At All

April 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

Donald Barthelme, Not-Knowing: The Essays and Interviews

The problems that seem to me to define the writer’s task at this moment (to the extent that he has chosen them as his problems) are not of a kind that make for ease of communication, for work that rushes toward the reader with outflung arms — rather, they’re the reverse. Let me cite three such difficulties that I take to be important, all having to do with language. First, there is art’s own project … of restoring freshness to a much-handled language, essentially an effort toward finding a language in which making art is possible at all.

Unsaid Words Resonating Around the Edge of the Poem

April 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

Gary Snyder, “The Art of Poetry N° 74″ by Eliot Weinberger, The Paris Review 141 (Winter 1996)

So you think people should read the margins of your books?

This is an oral art. They should listen to the unsaid words that resonate around the edge of the poem.

No Longer an Author

April 9, 2014 § Leave a comment

Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle

Then we’ll take the train back to Malmö, then we’ll get in the car, and then we’ll drive home to our house and the whole way I’ll enjoy, really enjoy the thought that I’m no longer a writer.


March 31, 2014 § Leave a comment

Will Self, “The Selfish Gene” by Elizabeth Day, The Observer (“The New Review” section) 5 August 2013: 9

Does he ever get writer’s block?

“No. I get what I call ‘everythingitis’… where I get obsessed with the idea that everything has to be in the book.”

Very, Very Quiet

March 29, 2014 § Leave a comment

Deborah Levy, Interview by Mariella Frostrup, Open Book, BBC Radio 4 30 January 2014

Deborah Levy: After my father was arrested — along with Nelson Mandela and other family friends, who were fighting for human rights in the Apartheid era — I kept being asked to speak up at school. Speak louder, speaker louder — I was asked to repeat things all the time.

Mariella Frostrup: And that hadn’t happened before…

Deborah Levy: No. And so it wasn’t really that I’d become mute; I’d become very, very quiet. And I don’t think I wanted to speak — I was probably frightened about what my voice might sound like, because I was very sad. So, one day, in the playground, the school bully — who was a very tough Afrikaans girl, with white pointy teeth — asked me with uncharacteristic pity in her voice, “Are you dumb?” And I kind of shrugged because it wasn’t a yes or no answer. I was beginning to discover the power of silence, and I began to realise that what we don’t say is what really interests people. And that was an insight I was going to put to work later as a writer.

Was the Writing

March 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

Lars Iyer, “‘We Need a Cruel Comedy’: A Lars Iyer Interview” by Edwin Turner, Biblioklept 17 March 2014

It turned out that what I thought of as a kind of comic strip, light relief from my ‘real’ writing, was the writing.


March 27, 2014 § Leave a comment

Tim Parks, “Literature Without Style,” The New York Review of Books 7 November 2013

… What I’m getting at is that style is predicated on a strict relation to a specific readership and the more that readership is diluted or extended, particularly if it includes foreign-language readers, the more difficult it is for a text of any stylistic density to be successful. In the past, a work of literature would establish a reputation in its culture of origin, first among critics who were presumably equipped to appreciate it, then among the larger public; only later, sometimes many years later, would it perhaps be translated by those cosmopolitan literati who wished to make it known in another country. Now, on the contrary, everything is immediate; the work of a major established author is pronounced a masterpiece the day it is published; translations, even of less celebrated authors like myself, are often prepared for simultaneous publication in a score of countries. In the long run, whether through a growing awareness of the situation on the part of writers, or simply by a process of natural selection, it seems inevitable that style will align with what can be readily translated more or less into multiple languages and cultural settings, or into a readily intelligible international idiom.

… Such is the future of literature and literary style in a global age: historical novels, fantasy, vast international conspiracies, works that visit and revisit the places a world culture has made us all familiar with; in short an idea of literature that may give pleasure but rarely excites at the linguistic level, rarely threatens, electrifies, reminds us of, and simultaneously undermines the way we make up the world in our own language. Perhaps it is this development that has made me weary with so much contemporary fiction. In particular I have started reading poetry again. There indeed things can still happen with the language, and writers are still allowed to produce texts that are untranslatable and for the most part unprofitable.

Abrasions Upon the Text

March 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

David Winters, “Speeds & Shapes of Consciousness: An Interview with Evan Lavender-Smith by David Winters,” Gorse 1 (January 2014)

…[R]eal reading is rife with the imperfections of living. Readers err, ‘space out’, skip and stall; as Barthes puts it, a reader’s attention imprints ‘abrasions’ upon the text. And relatedly, as you say, reading can involve intuition as much as tuition — an idea, once read, isn’t just an idea, but an associative node, as affective and aesthetic as it is intellectual.

So, in this kind of reading experience, it seems like writing’s form or style is the site of its intersection with life. It’s almost as if, through form, something living is folded into writing. Then, in our encounter with that form — our skewed, errant ‘reading’ of it — this implicit life is animated: vivified. Or rather, writer and reader each enter a shared lifeworld, one that arises from within that formal ‘world of the book.’

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