Misreadings

June 26, 2015 § Leave a comment

Jamie Fisher, “A Patron Saint for Sadsacks: What Snark Says About Failure — and What Literature Says Back,” Los Angeles Review of Books 10 June 2015

The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure 300dpi

… In his introduction to the BDLF, Andrew Gallix suspects “that there is indeed a touch of Schadenfreude about the pleasure derived from reading these anecdotes of writerly woe.” There’s a name for this pleasure, and this narrative tradition: It’s snark. …

… Gallix’s introduction suggests that in writing the BDLF, Rose “may have been exorcising some demons of his own.” …

… Gallix places Rose’s work alongside any number of famous literary silences in the face of imperfection: “Rimbaud’s renunciation of poetry …, the Dada suicides, Wittgenstein’s coda to the Tractatus, the white paintings of Malevich or Rauschenberg, Yves Klein’s vacant exhibitions, as well (of course) as John Cage’s mute music piece.” Gallix describes the appeal of “absolute whiteness,” untrammeled potential.

This is true enough, in its way; any artist has coped with those moments of paralyzing uncertainty, when silence or irony seem better than wreckage. But Gallix’s misreading of Cage is, I think, telling. Cage intended the vacancy of the work to supply a stage for the ambient environment. His point wasn’t that art is incapable of speech, or that the artist has, finally, nothing to say. His intention was to draw a circle around a small section of public life and say, All that is inside this circle is art. It’s a circle of reception, an announcement that he is willing to listen. When Gallix calls Cage’s piece “mute,” he fails to understand that it is a stage for the people, and the experiences, we don’t usually choose to hear. …

You Will Fail

May 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

Nicholas Wroe, “Frank Auerbach: ‘Painting is the Most Marvellous Activity Humans Have Invented,’ The Guardian 16 May 2015

He says the obligation to take account of the art that has gone before carries two demands: “first that you attempt to do something of a comparable scale and standard, which is impossible; second that you try and do something that has never been done before, that is also impossible. So in the face of this you can either just chuck it in, or you can spend all your energy and time and hopes in trying to cope with it. You will fail. But as Beckett very kindly said for all of us, ‘try again, fail better’, and painting just took me over.

That’s Why We Have Art

May 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

Leonora Carrington, The Believer, November/December 2012

There are things that are not sayable. That’s why we have art.

Without Taking the Easy Way Out

May 29, 2015 § Leave a comment

Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Urgency and Patience

With this preparatory phase carried to its extremity, the danger lies in never starting the novel (Barthes’ syndrome, in a way), like the narrator of Television who, due to exaggerated scruples and anxiety from the exigencies of perfectionism, settles for a constant state of readiness to write “without taking the easy way out and actually doing so”.

Writing/Not Writing

May 29, 2015 § Leave a comment

Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Television (1997)

I reflected that, if your goal is to write, not writing is surely at least as important as writing.

In Solitude

May 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

“In solitude you don’t need to make an impression on the world, so the world has some opportunity to make an impression on you.”
Claire-Louise Bennett, “Claire-Louise Bennett on Writing Pond,” The Irish Times 26 May 2014

The Magnificent Mystery of Everything

May 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

Claire-Louise Bennett, “Claire-Louise Bennett on Writing Pond,” The Irish Times 26 May 2014

… I remember that transition, if you can call it that. How all that felt boundless and primal, profound and bizarre, became dreary and doctrinaire. It was at precisely this juncture that I began to write. The function of this impulsive activity was not to make sense of things, the opposite in fact — I wrote in order to keep rationality and purpose at bay, to prolong and bask in the rhythmic chaos of existence, to remain adrift from the social contract and luxuriate in the magnificent mystery of everything. I was writing, not to connect with other people, but to experience and augment my affinity with the universe. It was, after all, the whole cosmos I felt a part of and wished to respond to — not just my small portion of it, the here and now of my specific, increasingly circuitous, circumstances — but everything, everywhere, always.

Out of all the artistic mediums literature is perhaps the most anthropocentric, and so, once I decided I wanted to make a book, I immediately encountered many difficulties as I tried to get to grips with the sorts of things that normally go into one. Narrative, for example, stonewalled me right from the off – I couldn’t take to it at all. Hardly surprising: narrative, after all, is not simply a literary device — according to narrative theory the capacity to tell stories is a basic human strategy which enables us to develop and reinforce a cogent and enduring sense of self. Identities are forged in this way, rendering us visible, surveyable; other people can say they know who we are. But who I am is not what I am or how I am; my identity is not all of me, it doesn’t even come close — it is simply a function of me, an aspect that has significance and viability within the social framework, but nowhere else.

Yet, despite its partiality, it is this portion we are duty-bound to cultivate and uphold throughout the course of our entire lifetime. This boundaried and stable self — the social being — doesn’t concern me very much. What I want to delve into and express in my work is the peregrine self — the being who is fluid, exotic, and nebulous — what a very distinguished individual might disdainfully refer to as a “wishy-washy sort”, who ought to “pull themselves together”.

How then to convey the permutations of a formless entity through a medium inherently geared towards the manifestation of a clean-edged and consistent character? Quite the conundrum. However, in contrast to literature’s integral social dimension, the act of writing itself is almost entirely antisocial — indeed, lots of writers will tell you just how lonely writing is. It’s true, writing is a gloriously solitudinous place. And it was there, in that zone, I wanted to sink, without succumbing to the pull of narrative drive, which is always more or less in reach, like a ghastly, bedevilling, rudder.

Solitude, by its nature, doesn’t have much of a plot and it doesn’t throw up too many events either. Life, from the outside, becomes rather small. Yet in that tight spot one’s awareness and sensitivity intensifies to such an extent that the daily round, no matter how unvarying it has become, is a conduit to a more transcendent contact with reality so that, for example, objects are not simply insensate functional things, but materials, substances, which have an aura, an energy — even, occasionally, a numinosity. Categories lose their hold and the surrounding environment is rewritten and revealed. What Italo Calvino calls “anthropocentric parochialism” has been given the slip, and the world again feels at once ancient and fresh, intimate and indifferent, porous and immaculate.

… In solitude you don’t need to make an impression on the world, so the world has some opportunity to make an impression on you.

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