The Tip of the Bull’s Horn

March 21, 2015 § Leave a comment

Tom McCarthy, “Writing Machines,” London Review of Books 18 December 2014: 21-22

In ‘Literature Considered as a Bullfight’, Michel Leiris compares the writer to a toreador. Imagine a bullfight without the bull: it would be a set of aesthetic manoeuvres, pretty twirls and pirouettes and so on — but there’d be no danger. The bull, crucially, brings danger to the party, and for Leiris, that’s what the real is: the tip of the bull’s horn. He, too, disappoints by offering candid confession and exposure of personal peccadillos as examples of dalliances with the bull-horn — i.e. Oprah literature. But Leiris’s conceit is rich in ways that even he seems not to realise. Think about it: if a matador is gored, the bullfight, the entire spectacle, suddenly comes to an appalled halt; what the bull’s horn brings to the party is not just danger but also the possibility that the party itself could be catastrophically interrupted. If the bullfight is an analogue for literature, and if the bull’s horn is a vision of the real, then what the real represents is an event, something that would involve the violent rupture of the form and procedure of the work itself. The real, here, is no longer anything like a fact or a secret. It doesn’t depend on any putative correspondence between the writer’s work and the empirically understood world. And it certainly has nothing to do with authenticity.

. . . The matador is gored, the real jumps out and punctures the screen or strip of film, destroying it. This is a real that happens, or forever threatens to happen, not as a result of the artist ‘getting it right’ or being authentic, but rather as a radical and disastrous eruption inside the always and irremediably inauthentic; a traumatic real; a real that is psychoanalytic as much as literary: the real that Lacan defines as ‘that which always returns to the same place’ and as ‘that which is unassimilable by any system of representation’. The challenge isn’t to depict this real realistically, or even ‘well’, but to approach it in the full knowledge that, like some roving black hole, it represents (though that’s not the right word anymore) the point at which the writing’s entire project crumples and implodes.

What We Can’t Articulate

March 21, 2015 § Leave a comment

Tom McCarthy, “Kafka and the Crash of the System: An Interview with Tom McCarthy” by Jonathon Sturgeon, Flavorwire 26 February 2015

In a way, all of my books are about this kind of quest for the now, to close down the buffer zone of consciousness and self-awareness and irony or language or whatever. Just to close that down and occupy “the now” — which is an impossible or unrealizable fantasy. I guess that’s what Present Tense Anthropology ™ would be. But U. never achieves it. All he ever achieves is buffering. That space of delay and separation. . . . Nothing is less contemporary than contemporary art or fiction. Than art that has something to say about the now. I think the whole point of the now is that it’s precisely what we can’t articulate.

Zombie Art Form

March 20, 2015 § Leave a comment

Tom McCarthy, “Tom McCarthy by Frederic Tuten,” BOMB 131 (Spring 2015)

FT Every few years or days, we hear the cry that the novel is dead. But then something comes along to prove that it is not only alive, but that it manifests itself in full vitality and beauty. May I ask you what you think of this statement? I believe we share a common feeling that it is not the novel that is dead, but the lack of imagination that invests it.

TM No, I think the novel is and always has been dead, and this is the very precondition of its perpetual regeneration. Don Quixote is a novel about how novels don’t work (the hero tries to enact all these episodes from books, as though to test their propositions, and he, they, flunk each time); about a fundamental, systematic dysfunction written right into the medium’s core. And that’s more or less the first major novel! It’s a peculiarly zombie art form, with all the goriness, the cannibalism, and so forth that that term implies (it’s not as though you need to cut open Ulysses‘s stomach to see what it’s been eating: it’s got everything from Defoe to Sacher-Masoch dribbling down its chin!). The novel stumbles onwards, ineluctably, gorging and disgorging its own death, its own deadness. So the novel’s not just dead — it’s undead. The type that matters at least: the committed, engaged, self-aware novel that wrestles with the contradictions of its own condition. The middlebrow novel, by contrast, the type that doesn’t acknowledge or address this situation, but just ambles along happily believing that a naive, uncritical realism could ever work in the first place, let alone now — that would be undead too, but in a way that somehow doesn’t seem to really matter.

Tom McCarthy, “Tom McCarthy: A Kafka for the Google Age” by Tim Martin, The Telegraph 19 March 2015

“I don’t think we need to abandon the form of the book just because the internet has been invented,” he says. “Most other media formats work: you get an iPhone and it does something, and if it doesn’t do that thing, you take it back for a repair. But the book is deliberately set up not to perform a certain function, to systematically frustrate. It’s always been a dysfunctional medium, and since it never works, it never stops working.” He grins. “So I’m perfectly happy writing books.”

The Impossibility of Writing The Book

March 20, 2015 § Leave a comment

Tom McCarthy, “Tom McCarthy by Frederic Tuten,” BOMB 131 (Spring 2015)

I finished the first draft of C a week before my first daughter was born. Five years and another daughter later, my next — short — novel is coming out. The writing definitely got slowed down. Sleep was a major problem for a couple of years — there just wasn’t any. But it all works its way back into the work. Satin Island is, to some extent, a book about a restless struggle with the impossibility of writing the Book. Social life — well, you go out and meet interesting people, and that galvanizes ideas and gives birth to other projects. It all finds its way back, even, especially, the time-wasting. If you think about it, time-wasting is probably the central theme of most modern literature. Leopold Bloom spends his whole day time-wasting; Marcel Proust, his whole life.

Writing as a Form of Displacement

March 17, 2015 § Leave a comment

Ben Lerner, Interview by Max Liu, frieze 16 March 2015

I always have to claim not to be doing something in order to do it. . . . You don’t always write what you set out to write, so writing can be a form of displacement.

. . . As a poet, I also ask myself how silence informs words. How is silence felt? How is negative space activated in a poem? So, in both my fiction and my poetry, I’m exploring the ways in which an absence can be felt as a presence.

Exploring the Space Left by my Subtraction

February 21, 2015 § Leave a comment

David Winters, Infinite Fictions: Essays on Literature and Theory

In this respect, when writing reviews, I’m less intent on making prescritions than on exploring the space left by my subtraction.

The Never Before

February 14, 2015 § Leave a comment

Peter Markus, “Fiction as Magic, Language as Spell: Peter Markus with Lily Hoang,” The Brooklyn Rail 3 February 2015

The hum is what I’m ultimately and unfailingly chasing after in all of this: when I bring my gaze to a painting, when I lean my ears to any acoustical sound, when I hold in my hands the pages that belong to others, when I enter into whatever kind of church or other kind of cave that I seek to climb and hide inside. Some might call this a search for the primal, or the sublime, or the spiritual, or an encounter with the otherworldly, or better yet the hunting down for that thing itself which hasn’t yet been named. For me that’s what it all boils down to: the wish to tap into the never before. That’s the best way for me to try to say it with words. I want to be transported to a place where words no longer mean what we think they mean. Maybe this is the revelation behind it all, the magic herb for us to place beneath our tongues.

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