The Truth and the Silence

‘When his old friend, Madame Ganderax, complimented him in front of one of his paintings, saying “Bravo Degas! This is the Degas we love, not the Degas of the Affair,” Degas, without blinking an eyelash, replied “Madame, it is the whole Degas who wishes to be loved.” (Linda Nochlin, Degas and the Dreyfus Affair)

‘The truth about about any artist, however terrible, is better than the silence… I don’t see how the “lies” we write and the “lies” we live can or should be divided. They are seamless, one canvas, for me’ (John Fowles)

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Self-Deceiving Snow

‘So many writers hover horrifically, caught in the air like cautious hummingbirds. They ice a stodgy egg-laden cake with obscene floridity; with sugared petals strewn on a bed of almond cobbles. They batter half-truths in layer upon layer of some rich and heavy substance; something so sweet you forget why it was you ever took a bite. The crust, you see, is almost always greater than the core. The words stand tall like shadows cast by a small man in the evening light’ (Walter Snow)

There he goes again: the great Walter Snow, ever tumbling into his own trap. He is a work of art in himself, though he never produced one (not a worthy one, at any rate). But then I never just take the work on its own. The work is not the work – not really. The work is the work, and the writer, and the reader, and an eternal set of circumstances. The work is the work and its place in the world.

More on this one day…

Spotted Mongrel

A handful of observant readers (my wife included) noticed an allusion in the last post to a late poem by that Hungarian master Tomas Lurgsy. The allusion, of course, lay in the line ‘each a vagrant mongrel’; also the title of a Lurgsy poem.

There are those who say that pointing out an allusion rather spoils it. They are probably right: I bring this one to light only because I made it, as it were, unknowingly. This confirms my wife’s belief that I am at my cleverest when trying not to be clever.

Factual Bark, Fictional Bite (Pet’s Corner No.5)

The author Egor Falastrom, as we all know, is not above putting himself into his books. He readily admits that his protagonist Egor Poeur (star of such works as Dark Dreams of a Delirious Dog-Catcher, Further Dreams of a Delirious Dog-Catcher, Still More Dreams of a Delirious Dog-Catcher, and the forthcoming  Beauty’s Tutor) is ‘but an enhanced and improved version of me’. A vastly-enhanced-and-improved version, that is – as Heidi Kohlenberg was to find out. As she puts it: ‘Egor Poeur has it all; sensitivity, sexuality, wit, wisdom, and an amazing ability to tame wild dogs’; whereas Egor Falastrom has a ‘valiantly hideous nose’ and a copiously sweaty brow. Poeur is a projection of Falastrom’s dreams: the man he wishes he was.

But what about the dogs? Falastrom’s books, as the titles suggest, are full of dogs. Are they too fantastical projections; enhanced and improved versions of actual mutts? It would seem so. Falastrom does, after all, own several dogs: each a vagrant mongrel, rescued from the streets, nursed back to some sort of life and puchased, for a pittance, by the lonely writer. One of them, Samsom, he has described in interviews as ‘a pug-nosed wretch of a bull-dog with a severe dribbling disorder and three limpish legs, like charred tree stumps’.In his fiction, however, Samson becomes Sammo, a fiercely handsome beast who ‘drives bitches wild’. Thus the poor creature is generously rehabilitated – albeit in words.

In Case You Hadn’t Heard (Part Two)

[Part One]

‘Edgar Francine. The Man from Bordeaux and all that. Picking up the Cheques and The Holy Wars. Don’t tell me you’ve never read his work? What do they teach you in schools these days?’

My wife’s nephew politely reminds me that he left school several years ago – and that most modern schools do not contain courses on obscure French literature of the early twentieth century. I nod my head gloomily. Well, of course. What did I expect?

Still, this relation of mine is a charming young man – and he won’t end the conversation without letting me have my say; regardless of whether or not he cares for the content.

‘The key word when one considers Edgar Francine,’ I said, ‘is repetition’

‘What?’

‘Repetition’

‘Oh yes’

‘Just like this singer of yours, Francine enjoyed repeating himself. He did it frequently. Human beings are forgetful asses, he believed, and won’t follow anything unless they’ve heard it several times. Beauty can be subtle, he admitted, but subtlety is not for the people. Most readers require signposts. They don’t just want a pretty sentence; they want something assuring them that, yes, they were indeed quite correct in thinking that that was a pretty sentence. And so, whenever he wrote something of which he was either especially fond, or which held particular importance in the narrative, he repeated it. Sometimes a word, sometimes a sentence: sometimes a whole damn paragraph or page. It was, he thought, the only real way to get through to people. The novel isn’t a democracy, he once said: you shouldn’t think that every sentence deserves as much space as the next. Some sentences are more equal than other sentences. Some sentences deserve more space.’

My wife’s nephew nodded eagerly. ‘Oh yes,’ he said: ‘oh yes’.

‘You see, Francine enjoyed repeating himself. He did it frequently. Human beings are forgetful asses, he believed, and won’t follow anything unless they’ve heard it several times. Beauty can be subtle, he admitted, but subtlety is not for the people. Most readers require signposts. They don’t just want a pretty sentence; they want something assuring them that, yes, they were indeed quite correct in thinking that that was a pretty sentence. And so, whenever he wrote something of which he was either especially fond, or which held particular importance in the narrative, he repeated it. Sometimes a word, sometimes a sentence: sometimes a whole damn paragraph or page. It was, he thought, the only real way to get through to people. The novel isn’t a democracy, he once said: you shouldn’t think that every sentence deserves as much space as the next. Some sentences are more equal than other sentences. Some sentences deserve more space.’

My wife’s nephew nodded a little less eagerly.

‘More apple juice?’ I asked.

In Case You Hadn’t Heard (Part One)

My wife’s nephew popped by yesterday and drank us out of apple juice. Whilst doing this he spoke, as he often does, of American ‘rock’ music.

Now, music and I have never kept close harmony. A bit of Bartok whilst I’m in the bath; Mozart whilst mowing the lawn; Puccini when cooking pasta: otherwise, I’m not really the musical type.

This extends to music containing words. I can stand opera, on the whole, when I don’t understand what it is they’re talking about. Popular songs, on the other hand, drive me up the wall. They seem to me the epitome of banality, trading in cheap rhymes and false sentiments; words manipulated, curdled and spoiled by the cursed blanket of tunefulness. Sickening stuff.

My wife’s nephew, needless to say, disagrees. He simply adores songs; following various bands with the sort of enthusiasm I reserve for Western Hungarian folktales. ‘You should hear this,’ he squeals; ‘this is unbelievable’; ‘this music will blow your mind’; ‘this is the best thing ever’ –  and so on and so forth. All very exciting, I’m sure. It’s just I can’t seem to get excited by a man mumbling over a droning guitar.

I do enjoy, however, the discussions that our differences engender. Though I find it hard to like his music, I certainly like talking about it. I can even see, at times, what it is he likes about it. I perceive its likeability, but I cannot enter it.

Yesterday, for instance, he was talking at length about the lyrics of a particular American band – whose style he termed ‘literary’. I was unconvinced, of course, by the literary merits of said scruffy musical outfit, but I heard him out nonetheless. And though I reserve my judgement as to the ultimate truth behind his statement, I will at least say this: my interest, once again, rose like a loaf.

The singer in question, he said, had a habit of repeating certain lines; not in the chorus (i.e. the ‘rousing bit’) but in the verse (i.e. the ‘bit before the rousing bit’). There was no pattern to his repetitions. Indeed, he wasn’t even sure he approved of them. It was as if, he said, the singer merely wanted to show off a good line twice.

‘Oh yes?’ said I. ‘Sounds like we have a bit of an Edgar Francine on our hands’

‘Edgar who?’

[Part Two]