“DW:This brings us quite neatly around to a question with which we could ‘close’ this discussion, if only by opening it onto others. Let’s say that, as ever, literature’s death looks a little exaggerated. If this is so, I’m with you in ardently wanting not to ‘have done with’ the modernist impulse, in the way we’ve sought to describe it.
“How then might writing return to the problems that modernism presents? Or rather, how will writing refuse to delude itself that it’s rid of those problems? And can it still do so while ‘making it new,’ that is, without lapsing into pastiche, or fetishising a ‘period’ that’s part of the past?
“For the record, one literary form I do think is ‘dead’ is the novel of ideas. I’m a cultural pessimist insofar as I can’t see our future producing another Mann, a Goethe, a Sartre. But nor would I want it to. I’d say the days of the great, stately ‘philosophical’ novel are gone, and they’re gone for a reason. Put bluntly, I think it’s no longer enough for writing to ‘thematise’ its conjuncture. Today, treating modernity as a theme has become one more way of turning away from it.
“You mention Bernhard in the same breath as Lydia Davis, which I think is fruitful. What I mean here is that I read Bernhard for the same reasons I read some recent American writers. I want to say that I read for the style, but I don’t mean ‘style’ in the ‘superficial’ sense you astutely describe. In the work of the writers I most admire, a style is always also a stance. That is, for them, a way of arranging words on the page is also a way of reaching a view of the world.
“I don’t want to go on and on, so all I’ll say is this: if modernism persists, it surely doesn’t do so as a disembodied idea. Instead, it’s deeply embedded inside the stylistic stances of writers who might not think of themselves as ‘modernists,’ but whose writing itself somehow can’t help but be modern.”
On a Friday afternoon some weeks ago the Guardian published an interview with the Italian writer Andrea Camilleri, an author best known in the UK for the series of detective novels about Salvo Montalbano. In this interview Andrea Camilleri discusses his friendship with fellow Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia and how his prose recharges him within a couple of pages. “I call him the electrician Sciascia. What I mean is that, when I feel like my batteries are low, I take up a book by Leonardo, I open it, I read two pages and my batteries are recharged,” says Andrea Camilleri.
The following Saturday I escaped Leicester for a day of rooting around Nottingham with Jenny. There was a trip to a fine vegetarian & vegan cafe, where me and Jenny enjoyed smoked tofu sandwiches, and, later that afternoon, Jenny delighted in vegan cake & ice cream. On the final trip into Waterstones I remembered about Leonardo Sciascia and bought two collections of his novellas. So far the only novella I’ve found time to read is his last published work of fiction, A Simple Story. The translation of Sciascia’s prose is deceptively transparent leaving the complexity to the political and moral interpretation of the stories plot
Last Saturday in the same feature series the Guardian published an interview with M. John Harrison. A writer whose work I admire for the same reason Andrea Camilleri describes his admiration of Sciascia. It is an excellent profile and one that gently complements the two video interviews with M. John Harrison produced recently by Arc.
The interview with Harrison appeared in The Guardian due to the publication of the long awaited novel Empty Space. My copy arrived last Thursday and I have been reading it slowly. In part this is due to a poverty of time, but also so I can prolong my enjoyment the novel. So while I do not wish to comment on the quality of the book yet, having not finished the book, I’m willing to say that it is a recharging experience that’s putting time spent reading Katherine Mansfield & Paul Bowles short stories to a less mercenary use.
It’s also a novel bringing Narborough Road — the road infamous for drink, violence & sex that all cities have — to Space Opera, and that’s something I get behind because I’m not a fucking puritan who hates the excesses of life.
“I call him the electrician Sciascia. What I mean is that, when I feel like my batteries are low, I take up a book by Leonardo, I open it, I read two pages and my batteries are recharged.”
— Andrea Camilleri.
The breaking up of the grand Narratives …leads to what some authors analyze in terms of the dissolution of the social bond and the disintegration of social aggregates into a mass of individual atoms thrown into the absurdity of Brownian motion. Nothing of the kind is happening: this point of view, it seems to me, is haunted by the paradisaic representation of a lost “organic” society.
— Lyotard, The Post Modern Condition, p.15
This morning these were the first words Jenny sent to me via Google Talk.
‘As is always the case in genuine science, we can only proceed along this path. It is impossible to reach the end. But this is a shortcoming only in the eyes of those who do not understand what knowledge is.’
The real ideas of a poem are not those that occur to the poet before he writes his poem, but rather those that appear in his work afterwards, whether by design or by accident. Content stems from form, and not vice versa. Every form produces its own idea, its own vision of the world. Form has meaning; and, what is more, in the realm of art only form possesses meaning. The meaning of the poem does not lie in what the poet wanted to say, but in what the poet actually says. What we think we are saying and what we are really saying are two quite different things.
– Octavio Paz (Alternating Current)
Describing—that is the last ambition of an absurd thought. Science likewise, having reached the end of its paradoxes, ceases to propound and stops to contemplate and sketch the ever virgin landscape of phenomena. The heart learns thus that the emotion delighting us when we see the world’s aspects comes to us not from its depth but from their diversity. Explanation is useless, but the sensation remains and, with it, the constant attractions of a universe inexhaustible in quantity. The place of the work of art can be understood at this point.
— Camus, A.,p87. The Myth of Sisyphus. Penguin Classics.
For an absurd work of art to be possible, thought in its most lucid form must be involved in it. But at the same time thought must not be apparent except as the regulating intelligence. This paradox can be explained according to the absurd. The work of art is born of the intelligence’s refusal to reason the concrete. It marks the triumph of the carnal. It is lucid thought that provokes it, but in that very act that thought repudiates itself. It will not yield to the temptation of adding to what is described a deeper meaning that it knows to be illegitimate. The work of art embodies a drama of the intelligence, but it proves this only indirectly. The absurd work requires an artist conscious of these limitations and an art in which the concrete signifies nothing more than itself. It cannot be the end, the meaning, and the consolation of a life. Creating or not creating changes nothing. The absurd creator does not prize his work. He could repudiate it. He does sometimes repudiate it. An Abyssinia suffices for this, as in the case of Rimbaud.
— Camus, A.,pp89, The Myth of Sisyphus. Penguin Classics.
“Art is just the ash left if your life is burning well.”
– Leonard Cohen
“A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to discover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.”
– Albert Camus
My life is burning well.
Dr Cardoso beckoned the waitress and ordered two fruit salads, no sugar or ice-cream please. Then: I have a question for you, said Dr Cardoso, and that is, are you acquainted with the medecins-philosophes? No I ‘m not, admitted Pereira, who are they? The leaders of this school of thought are Theodule Ribot and Pierre Janet, said Dr Cardoso, it was their work I studied in Paris, they are doctors and psychologists, but also philosopher, and they hold a theory I think interesting, the theory of the confederation of souls. Tell me about it, said Pereira. Well, said Dr Cardoso, it means that to believe in a ‘self’ as a distinct entity, quite distinct from the infinite variety of all the other ‘selves’ that we have within us, is a fallacy, the naive illusion of the single unique soul we inherit from Christian tradition, whereas Dr Ribot and Dr Janet see the personality as a confederation of numerous souls, because within us we each have numerous souls, don’t you think a confederation which agrees to put itself under the government of one ruling ego. Dr Cardoso made a brief pause and then continued: What we think of as ourselves, our inward being, is only an effect, not a cause, and what’s more it is subject to the control of a ruling ego which has to impose its will on the confederation of our souls, so in the case of another ego arising, one stronger and more powerful, this ego overthrows the first ruling ego, takes its place and acquires the chieftainship of the cohort of souls, or rather the confederation, and remains in power until it is in turn overthrown by yet another ruling ego, either by frontal attack or by slow nibbling away. It may be, concluded Dr Cardoso, that after slowly nibbling away in you some ruling is is gaining the chieftainship of your confederation of souls, Dr Pereira, and there’s nothing you can do about it except perhaps give it a helping hand whenever you get the chance.
— Antonio Tabucchi’s Pereira Maintains. (Pages 112-113).
‘Arthur Schopenhauer wrote that dreaming and wakefulness are the pages of a single book, and that to read them in order is to live, and to leaf through them at random, to dream. Paintings within paintings and books that branch into other books help us sense this oneness.’ Jorges Luis Borges, ‘When Fiction Lives in Fiction’ 160-162, trans. Esther Allen, in The Total Library: Non-Fiction 1922-1986, p.162
A note from Borges passed on to me via a friend. She sends me a lot of lovely quotes like this.