Monthly Archives: July 2011

Dispersing

The year it went wrong, the year I turned up, turned your life upside down… You wandered in beech forests, rolling the fine silky leaves between your fingers. Sat by ponds, by the sea, drinking the beer you always carried around in your rucksack. Beer tasted better there, didn’t it, tasted like it’s supposed to. CDs and graphic novels in the local libraries… you’d like to find and thank the person in charge of acquiring the music for the libraries in those days, wouldn’t you, and tell them about the debt you owe them… Coastal walks, surrounded by that special pale blue-grey light, the chill wind from the Sound. You sat on the beach by Elsinore castle, level with the cannons, staring out at the coast opposite: at another country, another language. Who were you, what were you in this your foreign home country? Someone sitting on the beach… The year you ceased to belong to yourself… To whom then? Me? But even I was barely there. We were stretched out, the two of us, like the clouds stretching out over the water, across the two coasts, blowing away, dispersing… You’d forgotten most of the language of this old new place, you spoke like a Kaspar Hauser, you were afraid to speak, you still thought and dreamed in the other language, the one that was to become ours. A private language, was that what we were forming, what was forming itself in us? Hardly, our words hardly belonged to us. Yet wasn’t that the year you first began to know language, to inhabit it even as it resisted you? Resisted you on the one hand and pulled you deep into yourself on the other, as you stuttered your way through one language and dreamed yourself away in another?

So, there were those long walks of unravelling, where you went out with no fixed purpose, no special destination, seeking the space that is yourself. Maybe such vacancy was all you sought to lose, then find, your wish being to move through the city simply as a presence, stepping free of intentions and timetables, as if invited to a secret celebration.

– John Welch, from ‘There and Back’

But the material of experience is not the material of expression and I think the distress you feel, as a writer, comes from a tendency on your part to assimilate the two. The issue is roughly that raised by Proust in his campaign against naturalism and the distinction he made between the “real” of the human predicament and the artist’s “ideal real” remains certainly valid for me and indeed badly in need of revival. I understand, I think no one better, the flight from experience to expression and I understand the necessary failure of both. But it is the flight from one order or disorder to an order or disorder of a different nature and the two failures are essentially dissimilar in kind. Thus failure in life can hardly be anything but dismal at the best, whereas there is nothing more exciting for the writer, or richer in unexploited expressive possibilities, than the failure to express.

— Beckett, from a letter to a fellow writer (via here)

A white screen

A white screen. Shut it down, open it. Start from the bottom, then, where you are. Start with what you see. (Why this need to type anyway, to start again?) Rescue what you can, or let it return to life. From nowhere. But you aren’t nowhere, you’re here. A desk under a white lamp… Runny nose, slight fever, things a little surreal. A pot of white tea… And your surroundings? Endless rain. No run today then? It’s been a week, hasn’t it? A week of illness and drunkenness, of lying in sweaty sheets. You miss the park, your beloved Victorian park, flanked by tennis courts and the pitch-and put, with the anachronistic concert pagoda in the centre. The reflecting pool where they race model speedboats. Lawn bowling, croquet, mini railway tracks. The putting green, the bush that smells of hops, the skate ramps always, in dry weather, full of kids with their boards and bikes. Dogs begging for balls to be thrown… No run for a week… Again the wish to get straight, to get right with your body, with the world, with God. To get the drink and drugs out of your system once and for all and never need them again. A massive detox: healthy at last. To have done and dealt with everything: to allow peace to grow from the inside out… Or to start over and over until all has been said that needs to be said and your life is once more a white screen and the need to blacken it has ceased. To be free of me at last.

Sometimes it is necessary to depart. Sometimes it is necessary to leave it all behind. That’s how I understood the act of blogging, back when I started Spurious, the blog which shares the same name as [my] novel. As someone who had made some progress as an academic – a journey which implies valuable training as well as compromise and despair – I thought a kind of exodus was necessary, from existing forms of published writing. Leave it all behind! I told myself. Leave the Egypt of introductory books and academic journals and edited collections behind. Leave the slave-drivers behind, and the sense you have of being a slave. Leave capitalism and capitalist relations behind. Leave behind any sense of the importance of career and advancement. Leave behind those relationships that are modelled on investment and return.

Lars Iyer

I love it. It gives you more than the rural sense . . . because you get up in the morning in the village, or wherever, and you go to get your daily load, you walk through the field and you know that at the same time most of the nation is doing the same. It gives you some exhilarating sense of being with the rest. If you look from the height of a dove, or a hawk, across the nation you would see it. In that sense it was nice. It gives you a certain insight into the basics of life.

Joseph Brodsky

8 CREDO

Pharmaceutical wonders are at work
but I believe only in this moment
of well-being. Unholy ghost,
you are certain to come again.

Coarse, mean, you’ll put your feet
on the coffee table, lean back,
and turn me into someone who can’t
take the trouble to speak; someone
who can’t sleep, or who does nothing
but sleep; can’t read, or call
for an appointment for help.

There is nothing I can do
against your coming.
When I awake, I am still with thee.

9 WOOD THRUSH

High on Nardil and June light
I wake at four,
waiting greedily for the first
note of the wood thrush. Easeful air
presses through the screen
with the wild, complex song
of the bird, and I am overcome

by ordinary contentment.
What hurt me so terribly
all my life until this moment?
How I love the small, swiftly
beating heart of the bird
singing in the great maples;
its bright, unequivocal eye.

— Jane Kenyon, from ‘Having it Out with Melancholy’