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“What a joke it is to read or hear—as I have read or heard more times than I can count—that writers ‘see more clearly’ or ‘feel more deeply’ than non-writers. The truth of the matter is that writers hardly ‘see’ or ‘feel’ at all. The disparity between a writer’s works and the world per se is so great as to beggar comment. Writers who arrange their lives so as to ‘have experiences’ in order to reduce them to contemptible linguistic recordings of these experiences are beneath contempt.”
—Something Said, by Gilbert Sorrentino
Via strange twists of events, connections that could only be re-constructed through fantastic imagination, I have been moved back into perusing publishers for work that inspires, raises and extends one’s ideas of what “art,” “literature,” “human” are.
While most publishers must infuse their catalogs with books that will sell, there are still a few presses that are simply committed to grandeur – to works that express and challenge what humans are capable of making, thinking, expressing, creating – works that assess and challenge our condition of being.
Two presses I’d like to promote – that continually provide works that surprise and engage (fully) and elastically foment my boundaries of concept and possibilities – with bewildering form and content – in other words, publishers from whom you might randomly purchase titles and ALWAYS be made richer, better, exponentially more humane – (THIS IS A REMARKABLE THING):
please visit them and order…ANYTHING…
your life will be BETTER.
It will have to be something new, you think to yourself, beginning. What’s been done before is already present. All the brief and poignant things gathered. Already processed and past-eurized.
Heroes are made, families described. Every aberration. Otherwise we wouldn’t know, would we? So much sex and images, and the inner lives of children. Histories and sciences, and the nothing that affords, beyond.
New probably just means different, you say, using old words already. If it’s a word it’s definitely been done. Or an action. Dreams and thinking too. Which leaves you with little, if not naught.
You once composed a text of tinntinnabuli – it was fascinating to you. Also a fugue of sorts, even a classical symphony, all in words, one in the twelve-tone scale. Little matter with a missing orchestra. Fit snugly into your drawers.
The series of anthropomorphic fruit. What they felt and how they perceived, from rind to seed. Even the veins in their fleshes, bruises, and each distinct and delicious juice. Cycles of life, inevitability of change, sprout to rot.
Yet it’s what you do. Identify moments and make them stories to exist. Wrapped in the tangles of problems, sentence-wriggle-thread your way elsewhere. A place that looks like knowledge. And sometimes feels.
Like mathematicians with their unknown variables – it’s the ocean you swim, an amoeba almost.
You sought after mastery but found it banal. Meaning didn’t make any sense. You turned to hypotheses, but not the wilder the better. You had to squeeze through gaps, hoping for openings. A friend called it spelunking, and it did seem dank and cold and blind. Often.
Restatement is not what you’re after. Nor refining. If thinking is digestion, you order an autopsy and strange foreign parts. Intake as transplant.
Distinctive takes a while, but quickly regurgitates style, and you’re back to remarking, remembering…remorse.
Today you’re dissecting an Else. Not again, or if\then, or more, but the Else. What else? you say. You don’t know. But it lies here dismembered, deconstructed on your desk. It’s pretty messy. The pieces aren’t going to fit, even though you’ve studied jigsaws and puzzles. Inventing new ones feels like metaphor or code, a twiddling thumb to decipher, something no one has time for even if they wish they did.
It will have to be something new to count as satisfaction, you consider. And you take up the large eraser.
Writing: the Blocks
“and everything here like an incomprehensible explanation”
There are those times of overwhelm. Edit? Create? Organize? Submit? Wander about (for “inspiration”)? or sit and stare (“meditation”)?
There are those times. So much written, nothing sold. Years of working, thinking, learning, feeling…orphaned. Turned away. Left out. Sent back.
Here’s the open field and some more ever-uncertain time. Feels fragile. I feel I should be making, arranging words toward unknown meanings or inferences, but I’m also drowning in them – so many of my own, millions of others as well. Approved words, theirs, successful words, words now “bound,” where mine (I try the positive) are “free,” “independent,” “loose”… not owned by any other hands or minds.
But the words seem to want it. They emit their own desires. For partners, for dances, for strolls. Attachment. They even like to work! Anything at all – they just want to be, active.
Mine aren’t. They jimmied their way around my emotions and spleen; infested every nook, cranny and fold of my brain; strained my throat and cramped my hand…but once I’d rid myself of them – sealed them between the bars of blue lines, they began to wither and starve. Atrophy. My words – these voiceless victims.
They’ve got plenty of company all lined up and folded together – hell, they’re stacked on top of each other…but they need human parts for life. Need eyes and mouths, lungs and ears, hands and minds, perceptors, receivers and nerves. I look down on them all like leaves from last winter, or hidden away in mausoleum-like drawers. I feel sorrow.
There are zillions of others – exactly the same as mine but for their order – speeding all over the world – through wires and lights – through voices, canals – held gently in hands – slick and shiny on mags – proclaimed on billboards and signs. But not mine. Not these innumerable identical versions but for my script, my experience, my faulty manipulation.
What gives at these moments, these gulag-ish terms of withholding and stasis?
A letter or email perhaps. A talk with my wife or my sons or my daughter. A glance at a spine or a page. Some music with lyrics. A friend. They are moving, alert. Every-ready for use. In use. Wording their function. My continued submissions might be jail-breaks for them. My blogs and my posts and my readings. The phone calls. We could try it? See how they still work?
Or even something like this. This query of what do they want? Working them into myself. Materializing them.
I don’t know. I don’t know if it helps. I can’t tell at this moment. They seem stuck. And yet not. Here they are, ever coming, ever becoming, nothing.
Like us. Maybe I’m stuck. Becoming nothing (inevitably) but becoming nonetheless, all the while.
I guess I’m suggesting that there’s really no such thing as stasis or block in living beings. Regardless what or who or how, we’re becoming (the 5 Ws all taken care of). Now & Here all five essential questions are active whether I write down answers or not. As long as we breathe. Work is going on.
And words, so eagerly activated.
N Filbert 2012
Writing: the Apparatus
“one can think of the work (of writing) as a dialogue between the two distinct demands bearing on it (the demand of possibility, the demand of the impossible). Or between its two poles (measured form, measureless disintegration) or between the embodiments of these two ‘centers of gravity,’ if you will: reader and writer…two come together in a place where neither can be found…One of them keeps dragging it into the light of day as a completed oeuvre, a realized whole, something that has actually taken form and come to be (read, that is, or, you could say, heard), while the other pulls it back into the dark whence nothing ever springs (but where there is a chance that, coming to pieces, something might come to be written or said)”
– Anne Smock, What is There to Say? –
-the demand of possibility, the demand of the impossible-
The tools the writer possesses.
That there must be something to say…that it is impossible to completely say. Finally, definitively, to have done with, saying experience.
What does one make of this? With this? Paradoxical demand, desire, exigency – imperative, self-generating, uncaused and ineffectual, drive?
Our tools: awareness. Attention. Passion. We observe and take note, feel-with, and seek to spell it out (for ourselves, for world).
Our tools: available language, sound, gesture. Entering the woven barrier and thoroughfare of what is shared, common, constitutive, we act, operate, select, arrange, choose, rearrange from this quilted information of the world, our saying of it. Or singing, or stating, shouting or whispering and mumbles.
It seeks into fact. We construct an object, made up of nothing, of airwaves, scratch-marks, designs. Barely effable cues, hints, notions and signs. We begin again with that. With what it fails to say, to communicate or reveal. We tinker with and tamper, excise and expand. Ever the remainder. Inexact invention. Something there, some things not.
We pursue what is not. What fell aside or seeped away. The evaporate. The unknown (here I adore the French: je ne sais quoi – that feeling that one knows it, and knows it so well and so deeply, and yet is unable to say what it is that one knows!).
Endless anticipation, expectation, a lusted desiring…
Endless frustration, falling short or to the side, inevitable (inherent even?) failing, shortcoming, irresolution.
These are the tools of the trade. The writer’s apparatus.
A caveat: from time to time I’ll wager to say we all of us take in some language or sound, vision or world that seems “just,” feels ripe, adequate, full and exact to the perception of our experience. This is wondrous, thrilling, satiating, “ecstatic,” a moment’s completion, wholeness, perhaps.
Yet is it? What does the masterful painting, the pregnant poem, the echoing song or fulfilling experience result toward? Yes, toward, not “in.” Not arrival but generation, bursts of multiplications of words, sounds, sights and movements now invigoratingly fueled and stimulated – fecund to go on…for more…fuller…richer…or even repeat!?
“Such then, would be my task, to respond to…speech that passes my understanding, to respond to it without having really heard it, and to respond to it in repeating it, in making it speak…To name the possible, to respond to the impossible. I remember that we had designated in this way the two centers of gravity of all language…Why two to say one thing? – Because the one who says it is always the other…”
– Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation –
On “the writer type”:
“One can describe this type as the person in whom the irredeemable solitude of the self in the world and among people comes most forcefully to mind: as the sensitive person who is never given his due; whose emotions react more to imponderable reasons than to compelling ones; who despises people of strong character with the anxious superiority a child has over an adult who will die half a lifetime before he will; who feels even in friendship and love that breath of antipathy that keeps every being distant from others and constitutes the painful, nihilistic secret of individuality; who is even able to hate his own ideals because they appear to him not as goals but as the products of the decay of his idealism. These are only isolated and individual instances, but corresponding to all of them, or rather underlying them, is a specific attitude toward and experience of knowledge, as well as of the material world that corresponds to it.”
On the writer’s region (“nonratioid”):
“There is no better way to characterize this region than to point out that it is the area of the individual’s reactivity to the world and other individuals, the realm of values and valuations, of ethical and aesthetic relationships, the realm of the idea…in this region facts do not submit, laws are sieves, events do not repeat themselves but are infinitely variable and individual…there is in the writer’s territory from the start no end of unknowns, of equations, and of possible solutions. The task is to discover ever new solutions, connections, constellations, variables, to set up prototypes of an order of events, appealing models of how one can be human, to invent the inner person…which then nevertheless branches out somewhere into a boundless thicket, although not without somehow fulfilling its purpose…”
These quotes come from his exceptional small essay Sketch of What the Writer Knows
which I desperately wanted to reproduce here…
if it “rings true” for you – please find a mentor and friend in Robert Musil: