Postcards From Another Planet

My 2008 Guardian piece on spam lit is referenced and quoted here:

Dan Piepenbring, “Postcards From Another Planet,” The Paris Review (website) 3 September 2014
spamlit

…And in 2008, the Guardian ran a piece on spam lit and its practitioners, especially Ben Myers and Lee Ranaldo, both of whom have published volumes of work derived from spam:

These instances of found poetry—often containing nuggets of unwitting but unalloyed beauty—seemed, in Myers’s words, like “scriptures from the future” or “postcards from another planet.” Discovering them in your inbox made you feel like Cocteau’s Orpheus picking up cryptic poetic messages from the underworld on his car radio.

Splendid Failure

William Faulkner, “William Faulkner, The Art of Fiction No. 12” by Jean Stein, The Paris Review 12 (Spring 1956)

All of us [Faulkner and his contemporaries] failed to match our dream of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible. In my opinion, if I could write all my work again, I am convinced that I would do it better, which is the healthiest condition for an artist. That’s why he keeps on working, trying again; he believes each time that this time he will do it, bring it off. Of course he won’t, which is why this condition is healthy. Once he did it, once he matched the work to the image, the dream, nothing would remain but to cut his throat, jump off the other side of that pinnacle of perfection into suicide. I’m a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And, failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.

The Experience of Nothing

Karl Ove Knausgaard, “The Other Side of the Face,” The Paris Review 28 May 2014

This intimacy, which did not just apply to the sun, but to all things and phenomena, is impossible to explain, I now find, for it appears to be a personification of the world, imbuing it with spirit, but it wasn’t, it was something else, a sort of interiorization, perhaps, as if I approached objects and phenomena in the world in the same way that I approached familiar faces, with the same trust, without ever having thought of the sun or all the rest of it as persons, as being alive. It was rather that everything had a face, every tree, every hillock, every bicycle, and therefore was something I felt connected to, for I saw the tree, the hill, the bicycle, and I recognized them. This way of seeing is gone. The sun is the sun, a tree is a tree, a hill is a hill, a bike is a bike. I no longer regard the world the way I look at faces, it is as if the faces have turned away from me.

[…] This familiarity or intimacy may seem like an addition, for now the world is just the world, but back then it was always something more, but it wasn’t an addition, it was just the reverse, it was that the object or the phenomenon was seen as something in itself, something in its own right, with an identity of its own, this is what created the intimacy that gave everything a face.”

[…] It’s easy to think that now I see the world as it really is, as faceless, blind and mute matter. Just as these photographs of necks allow me to see the human being as it really is, flesh and blood, cells and strings, biology. In everything I write, there is a longing for out there, to that which is real, outside of the social realm, while at the same time I am aware that what is out there, beyond the light of the faces, and which we occasionally catch a glimpse of, through art, turns everything to nothing. That the experience of the sublime is the experience of nothing. That God is nothing, which we exist in spite of. And this is why the real is such a dangerous category. In ourselves, as bodies of flesh and blood, things growing somewhere in the world, we are nothing, and I think this is why I am so fearful of the cultivation of organs, the manipulation of genes, of the human machine on an operating table, since even though it saves and prolongs life, it also reduces it, brings it closer to nothing, a wire, a string, a tube, a gutter.

[…] To be socialized is to learn to see yourself as you appear to others. To bring up a child is really nothing other than representing or personifying this, the gaze and the voices of others, for at the outset the child possesses only a sort of undifferentiated self, permeated by feelings and needs, which can be, as it were, lit or extinguished, but not otherwise controlled. Since this is all, it is also nothing, that is to say, unknown. Something is lit, something is extinguished. All the boundaries one gradually imposes as a parent, all the prohibitions and commands, do not only have to do with teaching the child how to behave, are not just about making it function without friction in daily life, though that is perhaps often the motivation, but it is also always a gaze, it is also always a place from which the child can see itself from the outside, from a place other than the self, which only then can emerge as its own, whole self. It becomes an adult. One process is completed, and another sets in: slowly the world turns its face away.

[…] We live in the social realm, which is sameness, the light of the faces, but we exist in the non-identical, in what is unknown to us, it is the other side of the face, that which turns away mutely, beyond the reach of language, just as the blood trickling through the tiny capillaries of the brain is beyond the reach of the thoughts thinking them, a few millimeters away, in that which upon closer inspection turns out to be nothing more than a chemical and electrical reaction in the spongelike object that the neck holds aloft.

In the Spaces Between

“This touches the very core of what it is to be human, as I see it, namely, that to be in yourself is inhuman, since that which is human is always something that becomes in relation to something else, yes, the human is this otherness, that we become ourselves in and that we exist in. To bow down is to bow down before something, to be stiff-necked is to be stiff-necked in the face of something, to worship is to worship something, and to look down is also to look away from something. This relativity, which is as complex as it is abstract and intangible, since it occurs in the spaces between, and has no object, no place of its own, never fixed, always in motion, turns the concept of biological man into a fiction, an image among images, nothing in itself, except in death, when for the first time the body no longer grasps at something, no longer seeks anything, and only then is it something in itself, that is to say, no longer human.”
Karl Ove Knausgaard, “The Other Side of the Face,” The Paris Review 28 May 2014

Slumgullions

“I’m fated to deal in mixtures, slumgullions, which preclude tragedy, which require a pure line. It’s a habit of mind, a perversity. Tom Hess used to tell a story, maybe from Lewis Carroll, I don’t remember, about an enraged mob storming the palace shouting “More taxes! Less bread!” As soon as I hear a proposition I immediately consider its opposite. A double-minded man — makes for mixtures.”
Donald Barthelme, “The Art of Fiction N° 66,” The Paris Review 80 (Summer 1981)

[See F. Scott Fitzgerald.]

The Picture Played in My Head

Woody Allen, “The Art of Humor N° 1” by Michiko Kakutani, The Paris Review 136 (Fall 1995)

The best time to me is when I’m through with a project and deciding about a new one. That’s because it’s at a period when reality has not yet set in. The idea in your mind’s eye is so wonderful, and you fantasize it in the perfect flash of a second—just beautifully conceived. But then when you have to execute it, it doesn’t come out as you’d fantasized. Production is where the problems begin, where reality starts to set in. As I was saying before, the closest I ever come to realizing the concept is in prose. Most of the things that I’ve written and published, I’ve felt that I executed my original idea pretty much to my satisfaction. But I’ve never, ever felt that, not even close, about anything I’ve written for film or the stage. I always felt I had such a dazzling idea — where did I go wrong? You go wrong from the first day. Everything’s a compromise. For instance, you’re not going to get Marlon Brando to do your script, you’re going to get someone lesser. The room you see in your mind’s eye is not the room you’re filming in. It’s always a question of high aims, grandiose dreams, great bravado and confidence, and great courage at the typewriter; and then, when I’m in the midst of finishing a picture and everything’s gone horribly wrong and I’ve reedited it and reshot it and tried to fix it, then it’s merely a struggle for survival. You’re happy only to be alive. Gone are all the exalted goals and aims, all the uncompromising notions of a perfect work of art, and you’re just fighting so people won’t storm up the aisles with tar and feathers. With many of my films — almost all — if I’d been able to get on screen what I conceived, they would have been much better pictures. Fortunately, the public doesn’t know about how great the picture played in my head was, so I get away with it.

Making It Less

Joan Didion, “The Art of Fiction N° 71” by Linda Kuehl, The Paris Review Fall-Winter 1978

I start a book and I want to make it perfect, want it to turn every color, want it to be the world. Ten pages in, I’ve already blown it, limited it, made it less, marred it. That’s very discouraging. I hate the book at that point. After a while I arrive at an accommodation: Well, it’s not the ideal, it’s not the perfect object I wanted to make, but maybe — if I go ahead and finish it anyway — I can get it right next time. Maybe I can have another chance.