Wordless Acts

“I’m a failed musician. As a kid I used to punk around with pals and find objects along our riverbank to bang on, bought pawnshop guitars and drums and broken-keyed organs and made music out of our not knowing what we were doing. It was pure accident, those moments when we found ourselves in the middle of some sound spell. We knew it when we came out of it, the times that we went there, the times we were somehow taken. I can count the times on one hand, but I hold those times in my hand still like stones or fossils that somehow manage to float, have found a way to displace space and gravity and have pushed back against the failings of memory and the thinning out of time. Those moments stopped occurring, it seemed, even then, once our hands seemed to know where they ought to go, what chords they ought to be playing, and it was this sense of knowing (or thinking that we knew what we were doing) that killed the magic of our song. The same might be said about the writing that I write, that my hands sometimes travel to dead spaces, dead water so to speak, and I am at my best when I go to the page as if going there for the first time. I think it’s good to forget what you think you know about the act or the craft of writing fiction and poetry and I’m sure this might be true too of most any other art-making process. Here I’ll reach out to familiar ground and make use of a line from Jack Gilbert: ‘We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars.’ I mean, why see and say what’s already been seen and said, right? To gaze up at the sky at night should be a wordless act, a moment that is only reduced by knowing or naming what the eye sees and what the mind can’t contain. Why put anything in a container? What’s the use of a beautiful frame if what is framed is the same old photograph we’ve all posed for before? In the end, if I had to say it straight up, I don’t look for meaning in much of anything that I pick up to press my face against, though I’m constantly on the make or prowl for that which will place me closer in touch with that sense of being in a state of awe which can leave us with its own kind of silence.”
Peter Markus, “Fiction as Magic, Language as Spell: Peter Markus with Lily Hoang,” The Brooklyn Rail 3 February 2015

The Telling of What is Being Told

“I can’t say that I can see any faces behind the names and the words that I am calling forth out of the alphabet. I can see and hear the words on the page but not much more than that. I don’t think too much about the who — the characters — who move in and around these landscapes. I don’t bother to think too much, either, about the what. I tend to pay closest attention to how the telling of what is being told is being shaped, the contours and textures of the sentence, and I have an unflinching level of trust that story will emerge organically by subverting character and causality and plot in favor of style and musicality and voice. Language, for me, in my hands, is raw and elemental and ornamental and if you play around with it long enough or hold it tenderly and reverently in your hands and look and listen to it close enough it’s only a matter of time before good things start to take shape around it.”
Peter Markus, “Fiction as Magic, Language as Spell: Peter Markus with Lily Hoang,” The Brooklyn Rail 3 February 2015

The Never Before

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.

All Things Resist Being Written Down

Franz Kafka, Diaries, 1910-1923 (New York: Schocken Books)

20 October 1913. …I don’t even have the desire to keep a diary, perhaps because there is already too much lacking in it, perhaps because I should perpetually have to describe incomplete — by all appearances necessarily incomplete — actions, perhaps because writing itself adds to my sadness. …All things resist being written down.

Down the Tubes

Boyd Tonkin, “The Week in Books,” The Independent 14 July 2012

When a dodgy server pulls the literary plug

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Andrew Blum’s eye-opening book Tubes, which asks the question: where is the internet? Andrew Gallix, editor of the smart and sparky literary webzine 3:AM, has had reason to find out. His server went down and 3:AM, with its 12 years of archived articles, vanished. Who ran the server, and from where? Gallix’s quest led to Dallas, to Missouri, and to some bloke called Florin in Bucharest, Romania — the zine’s unwitting host. Florin seems to have switched it on again. O, brave new world…
[Full title: “The Week in Books: Welcome back, Ovid — for English poets, you always were the champion
Plus — in search of the internet and the true colour of fiction”]

To Distract Me From Myself

“I would shoot guns and thrust bayonets through flesh to distract me from myself; I would whip, torture, wrestle, drive racing-cars over cliffs to distract me from myself; jump from helicopters, throw hand grenades to distract me from myself; I would march right left right screaming orders in my throat, obeying orders in my throat, to distract me from myself. I would build muscles I never knew I had, to distract me from myself.”
Deborah Levy, Beautiful Mutants, 1989: 45