Objects would suddenly fall or fall apart, cars go off course, dogs drop to their knees. The Army was doing sound experiments at a nearby desert in those days. I was nervous all the rest of my life, she wrote. She was a novelist and enjoyed some success. But always she had the fantasy of a different kind of novel, and although gradually realizing that all novelists share this fantasy, she persisted in it, without knowing what the novel would be except true and obvious while it was happening. Now I’m writing, she would be able to say.
She broke off.
Where would you put a third arm? is a question asked in creativity-assessment tests, or so I have heard. Will this different kind of novel be like that, like a third arm? I hate creativity, she said. Certainly not like a third arm. It would be less and less and less, not more. Barthes died, he never got there. She named other attempts—Flaubert, etc. Other renunciators, none of them clear on what to renounce. This chair I’m sitting in, she thought. Its fantastic wovenness, a wicker chair, old, from the back porch, brought in for winter. Me sitting here, by a lamp, wrapped in a quilt, beside the giant black windows, this December blackness, this 4:30 a.m. kitchen as it reflects on the glass. The glass too cold to touch. The loudness of the silence of a kitchen at night. The small creak of my chair.
They got into our car at a stoplight. It was cold. We never lock the doors in back. There were two of them. At the apartment they terrorized us. It took all day, most of the night. There was beating and thrashing and scorn and damage and fear. Sounds I didn’t know could come out of us. Above all it was boring. In the sense that it was all actions and all bad; there is no life of the mind available amid beating and thrashing and scorn and damage and fear, no space at the back of oneself to go to and think anything else. Long stretches of boredom that fill up with something like thinking but there is nothing to think except what it is, what it is to be in this, and what it is to be in this is simply and utterly nothing but what it is, no volume around it, no beach, no reverie. At one point Washington raised his arms to me and blood ran down both arms to the floor. I watched it hit the tiles, it would have been something to think about, cleaning blood off tiles. Sometimes it’s better to just replace them. Eventually in fact that’s what we would do, replace the white ones. We kept the black ones, which were sort of speckled anyway. But “eventually” is not a concept of mind that exists amid beating and thrashing and scorn and damage and fear. Even when they had Washington dance in the red-hot shoes, I wasn’t imagining analogies, Snow White, I was soaked into Washington’s dread, it had no edge. That is what boredom is, the moment with no edge.
To survive you need an edge.
Read the rest of “We’ve Only Just Begun” at Harper’s.
She visits others. Before they’re up, dawn, she walks to the lake, listening to Bach, the first clavichord exercise, which she plans to have played at her funeral someday, has had this plan since she first heard the music and, thinking of it, she weeps lightly. The lake is whipped by wind and tides (big lake) doing what tides do, she never knows in or out. There is a man standing on shore and a big dog swimming back to him with stick in mouth. This repeats. The dog does not tire. She peels a swim cap onto her head, goggles, enters the water, which is cold but not shocking. Swims. High waves in one direction. The dog is gone. Now she is alone. There is a pressure to swim well and to use this water correctly. People think swimming is carefree and effortless. A bath! In fact, it is full of anxieties. Every water has its own rules and offering. Misuse is hard to explain. Perhaps involved is that commonplace struggle to know beauty, to know beauty exactly, to put oneself right in its path, to be in the perfect place to hear the nightingale sing, see the groom kiss the bride, clock the comet. Every water has a right place to be, but that place is in motion. You have to keep finding it, keep having it find you. Your movement sinks into and out of it with each stroke. You can fail it with each stroke. What does that mean, fail it.
These were my three favorite (?!) reading experiences in 2015:
Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. 1973 first edition trade paperback by Viking. Cover design and illustration by Marc Getter.
Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson. First Vintage Contemporaries edition, trade paperback, 1998. Cover design by Carol Devine Carson.
Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed. 1978 mass market paperback by Bard Books, a division of Avon Books. No designer or illustrator credited.
I can’t seem to muster language lately, to make the words do what I want them to do.
I’ve read a number of excellent (or really good) books in the past few months and haven’t been able to write more than the first few sentences of an ostensible “review” before giving up…mostly because those first few sentences usually resemble the kind of boring moaning dithering whining I’m doing now.
There were the two red books by Anne Carson: Autobiography of Red and Red Doc>. BLCKDGRD sent them to me back in September and I wolfed them down. Autobiography is the superior volume (which is saying something because Red Doc> is grand stuff too). What is it? What is Autobiography of Red? A novel? A poem? A history? An essay? Shall I get bogged down in description? No? Instead, let me be clear:
What I want to think/feel when I read is, How is this possible? How is this allowed?
–which is what I thought/felt reading Autobiography of Red.
From Autobiography of Red:
What else, what else?
Okay, so after the Carson I did manage a review Kazuo Ishiguro’s fantasy novel The Buried Giant—why did a review come out so much easier than anything on Carson, or, say, The Free-Lance Pall Bearers by Ishmael Reed (which I read after the Ishiguro)? Ishiguro’s book was familiar territory, fairly easy to describe—the Carson novel-poems and Reed’s picaresque performance are wholly different animals than the conventional novel.
The Free-Lance Pall Bearers by Ishmael Reed is, I hate to say, dazzling. I know what a lazy term that is, but the novella is just that—it dazzles. It zips. It zings and zounds and skips and scatters, and just when you think you have a handle on its allegorical outlines, it sticks out its tongue and jeers at you. The Free-Lance Pall Bearers is a mirthful and merciless satire on the USA written in a howling vernacular and set in an outhouse. It’s abject, picaresque, volatile, hysterical (in several of the senses of that word). I will relieve myself from summarizing the plot and instead offer this image of its perfect epigraphs:
Okay and so then I read Joanna Walsh’s collection Vertigo. The stories here hum together, evoking consciousness—consciousness’s anxieties, desires, its imaginative consolations. It deserves a full proper review (or just take my word and buy it from The Dorothy Project), but in the meantime, a wonderful passage from “Half the World Over”:
I also read two more by Le Guin: Rocannon’s World (I hope to have an exchange on it with the novelist Adam Novy posted some time in the not-too-distant future), The Dispossessed, which I’ve read three times.
Also: Paul Kirchner’s The Bus 2, which, again, full review in the not-so-far-off-future. But until then, a sample:
From Red Doc>.
Still recovering from Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red. Haven’t felt so zapped by a book in a long time. Amazing. Try to write something about it on here soon. Million thanks again to BLCKDGRD for sending it my way.
It was not the fear of ridicule,
to which everyday life as a winged red person had accommodated Geryon early in life,
but this blank desertion of his own mind
that threw him into despair. Perhaps he was mad. In the seventh grade he had done
a science project on this worry.
It was the year that he began to wonder about the noise that colors make. Roses came
roaring across the garden at him.
He lay on his bed at night listening to the silver light of stars crashing against
the window screen. Most
of those he interviewed for the science project had to admit they did not hear
the cries of the roses
being burned alive in the noonday sun. Like horses, Geryon would say helpfully,
like horses in war.No, they shook their heads.
Why is grass called blades? he asked them. Isn’t it because of the clicking?
They stared at him. You should be
interviewing roses, not people, said the science teacher. Geryon liked this idea.
The last page of his project
was a photograph of his mother’s rosebush under the kitchen window.
Four of the roses were on fire.
They stood up straight and pure on the stalk, gripping the dark like prophets
and howling colossal intimacies
from the back of their fused throats. Didn’t your mother mind—
From Anne Carson’s novel-poem Autobiography of Red.
What is an adjective? Nouns name the world. Verbs activate the names. Adjectives come from somewhere else. The word adjective (epitheton in Greek) is itself an adjective meaning “placed on top,” “added,” “appended,” “imported,” “foreign.” Adjectives seem fairly innocent additions but look again. These small imported mechanisms are in charge of attaching everything in the world to its place in particularity. They are latches of being.
This is the second paragraph of Anne Carson’s poem-novel-romance-history-etc. Autobiography of Red, a book I got in the mail yesterday from BLCKDGRD (which: thank you man!) and feel a totally electric feeling about. The passage above I mentally highlighted, for classroom purposes, I suppose, and otherwise, and the twists in dives and dips in this book-thing are, I don’t know, what hyperbole should I grab?
This Dickinson poem is a sort of epigraph to Anne Carson’s novel-poem-poem-novel Autobiography of Red. I had never read either, before today, somehow, but oh my electric!