Everythingitis

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.”

Will Self, “Five Minutes With: Will Self” by Matthew Stadlen, BBC News 2 February 2013

Well the book has to be in some way a kind of synecdoche of the entire world. …You get this creeping feeling that everything has to be in it, so you’re wandering around the streets and you see a plastic comb lying in the gutter and you think, “Have I got plastic combs in the book?” … and then you hear somebody refer to President Mobuto of Zaire and you think, “Is President Mobuto in the book?” and eventually it becomes this affliction called everything-itis.

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Very, Very Quiet

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.

Untranslatable

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

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.’