No doubt the turn to more personal themes here at the blog makes it tedious to read. But the intention was to reach a kind of impersonality that streams through the personal, if I can put it that way: to release interiority over to the streaming of the outside. That sounds vague. Well, it's the experience at the heart of the telling that happens here (of blogging).
My turn to literature, to reading recent literary works, is my attempt to understand what telling might mean, and how the non-tellable, the event in which dispersal and streaming occurs, might be told. The idea: only the telling that belongs to literature is adequate to the experience in question. Of course, this will require a definition of literature - of what it might mean to read today books written today (or recently): books which experience the challenge of the disappearance of the older order, of that contract between reader and writer that depended on the security of traditions and custom.
Perhaps Kafka's famous dictum that a literary work should be like the axe which breaks the frozen sea inside us might be understood in these terms. Waggish writes wonderfully of a kind of the refinement of certain storytelling techniques in American fiction:
Modern day American fiction has evolved into a sort of psychological shorthand, in which physically descriptive details and moody variations on images have come to point to a shortlist of mutually agreed upon emotions. By definition, none of them are particularly original.
Then he writes:
... they tell us what we already know - or rather, reiterate what we've already heard. The pretense lies in perpetuating the myth that these stock emotions have an emotional veracity transcending their unoriginal artifice.
How can we be told of what we don't know? By another kind of telling - one which breaks with stock emotions. This describes wonderfully, for me, the disappointment of reading a magazine like Uncut, which recycles tedious macho myths about filmmakers , musicians and writers. It reminds me of the writers I used to try to read because they won this award or that and of a literary repetoire - the tedium, say of A. S. B---- and writers like her, who belong to a consensus about what literature is what it is meant to be. Who allows herself to be pictured - how repugnant! - and interviewed at length. I find this loquacity unbearable - and the desire to be tied to a photograph - how repellent! True, there are some writer's photographs which attest to a kind on inward disturbance or collapse - I think of Leiris's picture on the back of Manhood, but the tying of writing to a proper name is already unbearable enough ...
But here is the point: coming back to reading literature after many years, I experienced the power of a telling that broke up the frozen sea inside me. And revealed that what was inside me was never there, that the inside, like the alveoli of the lung is only the fold of the outside. What does this mean?
Josipovici's In a Hotel Garden bears upon an encounter between the grandmother of one of the characters, Lily, with an unnamed young man in a hotel garden in a town in Italy. We hear about this event at third or fourth hand, and the drama of its unfolding and its impact upon those who hear it is the drama of the book. In particular, the book concerns Ben's attempt to get the story of the hotel garden from Lily. She has alluded to it, but is unwilling to tell him about it as such. They go for a long walk. Later, Lily says:
On the walk [...] When we really tired. Coming down on the other side. And then sitting having coffee in the hut. I had the feeling that I was telling you about it and it was making sense - to me and to you. I don't need to find the words, they were just there, I had only to think them and you heard them. Not even think them. Do you know what I mean?
Ben says he does not.
We were so tired [...] It was if we turned inside out. Do you understand? Like gloves.
Curious that W. and I have separately written of a tiredness so complete, of a boredom so encompassing that there is no one there to be tired or bored. And both of us wrote of being turned inside out like a glove. No more interiority. Only the streaming of the outside.
This is telling. This what it means to tell of the hotel garden - to write, but also to read.
For many years, all of my 20s, I wanted to write and devoted as much time to writing as I did to my studies. Reading back now, I see I wanted to seize on the bareness of telling - to write a writing which spoke without details, which burnt away the dross and left the raw experience. Reading Kafka again, and Handke, taught me my mistake: telling asks for details; it demands them. Only by details - Klamm's eyeglasses, the faces of the peasants, the beer in pools on the floor of the public house - might telling occur. This was a life-changing lesson: literature's gift, which can also be the gift of film (Tarkovsky, Bresson ...) and of music (Will Oldham, Bill Callahan), is given by way of details. Only thus might the event, the hotel garden, be told.
There is one reason that keeps me writing: hope. The hope that I might be able to write what I need to say because it could not be said in any other way.
That said, I am not writing.
There is also the hope of reading, which is much the same: to find, at last, the narrative that allows me to breathe and to step forward actually; not vicariously through a character or the author's experience, but actually to step forward.
How do I understand these lines? I ask myself, Is to step forward is to let something fall into the past? To exorcise the narrated event and the need to narrate? Perhaps. This hope is the life of writing, of reading. But what if the event in question and the accompanying need is the condition of all narration, of all telling? Then it will never recede. There is only hope and there can only be hope.
But this is bad faith - literature's bad faith - that one might be able by way of the details to have done with the event. For there is no having done. The event is always on the verge of oblivion, of falling into the absolute past, just as it is on the verge of disappearing into the future. Experiencing the beatitude of this remove of literature is what gives us the hope and abandonment of reading and writing.