It’s an endlessly fascinating subject, and the conversation was particularly timely, given the widely-acknowledged paucity of this year’s Booker shortlist - but we didn’t really break new ground until a few minutes before the end of the event, when Miéville made a point that I found so interesting I wanted to disseminate it further. The real schism, he suggested, lies not between “litfic” and fantasy/SF, but between “the literature of recognition versus that of estrangement”.
Sam Thompson in the LRB on Embassytown, Mieville’s latest novel:
Each Host has two mouths, so that its speech is a duet between two voices, but this is almost incidental beside the aliens’ main oddity: instead of the human system of signs yoked arbitrarily to referents, the Hosts’ language is ‘a direct function of their consciousness’, which somehow involves an inherent bond between each word and the thing it represents. In effect, they speak the prelapsarian language of Adam, in which words are numinous with meaning and the world is named without ambiguity. The aliens, walking contradictions of every theory of language, are perfectly literal-minded and incapable of lying.
From the Carcanet blog:
‘But then we realise something. Celan’s words are limpid, but appear so only if we adjust our expectations, allow his words to adjust our expectations: only if we are prepared to listen. Celan’s exactness clashes with what we think of as exact: the everyday is not exact, it is a cliché; realism requires vertiginous originality. But how can one be exact about what is truly unspeakable? One can only write knowing that one approaches and approximates, and that language fails you the while; you run after exactness, but the world gets away and your words fail. Beckett taught us about this failure because he knew failure and writing were synonymous.
Language, of course, in Celan’s case, was absolutely implicated in the violence he was writing about and writing after. ‘Reachable, near and not lost, there remained amid the losses this one thing: language.’ But German? After everything? Writing in that language was always already a brave defiance, a foolhardy act. It needed so much work not to allow worn words, decaying, imprecise words, weasel words, to distort and mislead. Celan’s poetry is sui generis, because it had to be.’
From Ready Steady Book:
‘‘Nobody’ in Alice has become a metaphor of the infinite number of those who do not exist. And this nobody, this metaphor which is effectively the anti-matter of humanity, then becomes a subject strutting around in our sentences. Lewis Carroll is aware of this metaphoric substitution: ‘nobody’ ends up with a life of his own, this non-entity striding about in our language, demanding that a space open up in grammar to accommodate him, creating a slipstream in his own lexical wake.’
John Ashbery reading from his new Rimbaud translation (via Poetry magazine)
From The Independent:
‘Thief, teenage master-poet, gun-runner in Africa, attempted murderer: the short life and sensational achievements of Arthur Rimbaud fascinate us. When I finished re-reading Carcanet’s parallel-text edition of his cycle of visionary poems in prose, in its new translation by John Ashbery, my head was full of words by those whom Rimbaud so palpably influenced, from Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” to John Lennon’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “I Am the Walrus”. It struck me that there was no real distance between Dylan, Lennon and Rimbaud.’
Other Observations says: yes, there is real distance.
From the International Anthony Burgess Foundation:
‘In his essay ‘Enduring Saturday’, reprinted in Urgent Copy, Burgess describes Waiting for Godot as a ‘terribly lucid charade’ which gives us a ‘mere restrained whiff’ of ‘la merde universelle’. The ‘real full rich rank Beckett’, he claims, is to be found in the novels and shorter prose works. ‘We’re all in it really, strapped to a porcupine sofa, waiting for God and water, becalmed in our filth […] His aesthetic is dedicated to the stripping off of illusion, showing what is left after the dissolution of shape, colour, habit, logic.’ Burgess was particularly impressed by Beckett’s statement that he was working with ‘impotence, ignorance […] that whole zone of being that has always been set aside by artists as something unusable – as something by definition incompatible with art.’ This emphasis on the ‘mess’ and detritus of modern life eventually found a place in some of Burgess’s later writing, especially in his apocalyptic vision of London in Byrne, where the dark November streets are paved with old wet tabloid newspapers, and the populace ingests an unwholesome diet of televisual pornography.’
Photo of the Day: A woman leaps from the fourth floor of a building set on fire by rioters in Croydon, South London.
See Also: London riots: Before-and-after images.
Larval Subjects finds an exciting way of thinking about writing in Deluze and Guattari’s concept of Deterritorialisation:
… Perhaps the best definition of deterritorialization is the decontextualization of something or a theft of a bit of code that then resituates that thing elsewhere. Here “code” is to be understood as formed matter that serves a particular function. When code is stolen it is separated and isolated from its original milieu or territory, liberated from its original function, and then resituated in a new territory …
… And here too we might discern the nature of literature. Deleuze and Guattari heap endless scorn on the idea that literature and writing resemble the world or seek to model the world. Rather, for Deleuze and Guattari, literature is not simply about something, it is something. It is a machine that has (…) deterritorialized certain elements of the world and that functions as a machine hooked into all sorts of other machines– physiological, affective, social, bureaucratic, etc. –functioning like a factory so as to produce certain effects (…) it produces something new through subtraction and becomes an entity that itself acts in the world.
It is interesting to contrast this kind of ‘newness’ with some of the suspiciously organic concepts about newness in literature, such as Harold Bloom’s combat between canonical authors and authors wishing to enter the canon. Other Observations also thinks it is important to keep forcing the inorganic break, the bricollage, implied in Eliot’s concept of Tradition, against the temptation to think of Eliot as arguing simply for continuity. We should be thinking the dead tree in Godot as a starting point.