This is the kind of writing that demolishes me.
From Lynne Tillman’s This Is Not It
This is the kind of writing that demolishes me.
From Lynne Tillman’s This Is Not It
“Chekhov in his letters to his brother wrote: ‘Start writing from the second page.'”
“He was more blunt in conversations: ‘Tear out the first half of your story; you’ll only have to change a few things in the beginning of the second half and the story will be perfectly clear.'”
“The unity of a composition is not based on whether it has a beginning, a middle and an end, but whether it creates a unique interrelation between its parts.”
“The concept of unity (the whole) is historically changing.”
“Aristotle wrote in Poetics (Chapter 8):
‘Unity of plot does not, as some people think, consist in the unity of the hero. For infinitely various are the incidents in one man’s life which cannot be reduced to unity; and so, too, there are many actions of one man out of which we cannot make one action.'”
[all quotations from Bowstring by Viktor Shklovsky]
Jim is unable to utter a lie. He simply cannot believe them.
Jim, sitting with friends around a hotel pool, once said: “I think every word says something about its author.”
After overhearing a tasteless joke, Jim no longer spoke with Darrell.
Jim disbelieved everyone. His boss and his pastor, his spouse and his children; in fact, he found it impossible to trust humans (including himself) to know what they were talking about. And yet he believed what they actually said. The words they used.
Every statement or exclamation, every question, harrumph or faux-pas, he deciphered. Jim doubted each “slip of the tongue.” He said he believed in our languages.
Jim’s work was in “managing waste,” a lie that he knew they believed. He spent most of his time in the noisy outdoors. Chaotic, due to the mind-grinding sounds of the vehicular beasts they crept the city streets in, feeding them trashy fuel and guarding their grueling mastication. Loud and smelly as well. Rotten food, molded carpets, all manner of grotesque and disfigured things. Jim saw what was hidden, discarded. What most of us keep covered up.
His coworkers primarily proffered profanity. He believed them. But branching to politics or domestic intricacies, Jim only trusted their language. It didn’t really matter what content spilled forth (he would say), the words that they chose and the ways they were delivered provided the confessions they “meant.” “I’m afraid my wife no longer loves me” often intended its opposite, for instance, and nearly always equaled “I’m unhappy.” Words worked like that, held Jim, worked all around one another. “Assume the people are lying and the words will speak for themselves.”
Jim’s wife called this the “double bind,” or his “contra-contra-diction.” And “paranoia” in worser moods. “If you don’t believe in people,” she’d say, “and always think they lie, particularly to themselves…then say you believe their ‘language,’ but never what they actually say – really Jim – what have you?!” “You’ve got nothing!” she’d complain, “no substance, no content, no motive – just a jumble of words that you (one of them!) reassemble…what else can that be but the rattling workings of your garbage-compactor of a mind, Jim?” And Jim heard: “I don’t like the way you think. It’s not practicable. It’s egomaniacal and unfair.” How Jim reads an utterance, with faith in the language, between all the lines, “it’s relation,” he’d say.
“I can’t speak for somebody else, dear,” Jim replied, “I just translate what I hear, or apprehend.” “You say tomahtuh, I say tomaytoe, sort of a thing. That’s paying attention.” How words wrestle around and decompose, what parts go first, or crumble, get smashed. What words stick out, slide easy, remain. “And watch out for the oily and slime,” Jim would say, “that’s the trickiest danger to ‘manage.’”
“You’re not dealing with garbage here,” his boss declared, “I’m giving you straightforward instructions. There’s nothing to sift through or weed out, Jim. I need you to perform this task,” and on he would speak, accustomed to Jim’s sorting appraisal of words.
For Jim it was all the same.
Words were some overused and available aggregate, he thought. People picked them out according to habits and taste, “nature and nurture,” he’d cliché, and then bandy them about until they felt understood, or relieved, or just plain empty. But the resemblance was rarely precise. Jim believed that most people simply grabbed at terms and sounds, gestures and winces without much a thought for precision. “Think what all could be covered in silence,” he’d say, holding a field guide to transportational signage, or fingering the moves of sign language.
Most people just want to make contact, he’d hold forth, to be heard or effect something – a playing of power, a quest to convey – but not given much thought or concern. “I basically rummage through all their crap,” Jim continued, “with an eye out for volatile substances, wounded heirlooms or inadvertent mistakes they rid themselves of, and put a pretty clear picture together. Of their values and style, relations and status, family, religion and work.”
Joan (Jim’s wife) often speaks of what she deems Jim’s “arrogance.” “How can he suppose to know,” she’d decry, “a person’s life story or intentions, education or political beliefs from a talk about weather or baseball or drinks?” “It’s hypocritically bigoted, as if truth were the eye of beholding, each person’s puzzle to piece. Unaware of themselves, Jim presents some ‘true meaning’ – its Gnostic, religious, a myth,” she’d complain.
Yet Jim was resoundingly insightful and most often correct, which simply buggered them more. It seemed people really were giving something away when they opened their mouths, no matter what language they used.
“Words are functions,” Jim stated, “where text and image collide in a complex silence or sound.” “Nothing escapes, really, just gets alternatively pressured and squeezed, mangled and reformed, mashed into a mushed conversation.” “Every talker a monologue, every listener too, for the most part,” he said, “a dialogue running oneself, a wrecked chorus, I listen for pauses and patterns, I try to decipher the breathing of noise.”
“These are just Jim’s thoughts,” snarled Joan, “things he puts into words like nonsense.”
(to be continued? you decide…)
I’ve been sort of swirling in a kind of malconfident funk of late…performing exercises and blatherings just to keep the language flowing…today felt like a threshold…one of those – “if the flow don’t show – i’m constipated” sorts of things… many of my favorite bloggers have been moving toward a very free and open bursting of expression/language/image this summer and it’s really been fueling me, but i haven’t been able to open my own valves for some reason. I want to say – wow – there are a bunch of really talented creative persons making stuff on WordPress – and the virtual company means more than I think (I think). So thanks to all of you for working so hard to MAKE and BECOME – it’s inspiring – believe me…and whether you knew it or not – today you all conspired to inject or confront me with the Archaic Torso of Apollo – a magnificent accomplishment – and Rilke’s “you must revise your life” – a fine firm foot to me arse…
And then things simply have to change. Some blogger posted (today) that “this is a little silly” and “let the world tell you what you need to do” – but the world hasn’t said anything, and still it made felt sense. Someone else (somewhere in the world) decided to go home for the very tawdry reasons that make anything profound, while another (clearly from another section of the globe) has been taken by the moon.
What does that tell you?
Things have got to change. It’s not working. You’re not working (but of course you are, (I am) which isn’t what I meant, what I mean being of very little effect).
There are the readings…
A friend did email to say ‘don’t give up’ from a far different location on the earth, but perhaps the “earth” is not the “world,” perhaps world is an elsewhere? Or simply a voice I cannot hear, something divine.
I keep calling myself “you” as if that might make me other, but even I know you can’t escape yourself.
So I don’t.
I spent my day designing characters. Jim could never lie because he didn’t believe in language (or was it people?). Leonhardt could always tell the difference but is unable to comprehend the same. An author left an erotic drawing on his desk upon his death, causing great anxiety for his biographer, utterly incapable of fitting it into his knowledge of said subject.
Those aren’t me. So something needs to change, you tell yourself. You’re lost in language, but the labyrinth is becoming a pattern.
You think it might just be the heat, a metaphorical dehydration, you read about a wife who tells her husband he should find someone else with whom to talk about nothing, and you heard echoes of the voices in your home. Like the world saying things that almost register but you simply can’t believe. It’s nothing, like that.
You challenged yourself this past year to ‘get personal’, if you wrote real near what hurts others might hurt too, and people like that – empathy, identity, a pingback from the world – but it never became interesting, the personal, you kept sounding like yourself.
And wrote these letters you called journals, out of some idea (I guess) that a world might be within you that could tell you what you need. Or like Laurie Sheck said (she’s really in the world); that “skin has no choice but to converse with the world” – but does yours listen?
I guess what I am saying is that today brought clouds and wind (a welcome change) and those were world, and I heard something.
all that inspires, shocks and makes me purr
Zoe Ereni is a writer, performer and activist who would have been a style icon and comedian a century ago.
Dreams, thoughts, and experiences expressed through poetry and prose
Musings on poetry, language, perception, numbers, food, and anything else that slips through the cracks.
An archived blog about science & philosophy, by Massimo Pigliucci
research education, academic writing, public engagement, funding, other eccentricities.
Essays & Criticism of Contemporary Poetry and Literary Fiction
teacher, edu-nerd, learner