On Sertin’s Terms

Last night at The Crippled Bee, Jean-Pierre Sertin and I, after a drink or five, got down to the business of discussing search terms. I say ‘got down to the business’: this sounds as though our discussion was pre-ordained. It wasn’t, of course. Sertin’s mind, and mine, move along uncertain channels of wind. Our thoughts flutter like flakes of late winter snow. Down the weird stream of fancy we flow. Through the tides of…

Anyhow. Where was I? Yes: search terms. This is the subject to which we turned, apres much meandering. Sertin had, I fancy, read this post and it had, as well it might, turned on a switch in his creative mind. He was, as ever, full of ideas. And one idea bobbed to the surface more than all the others. And it was this:

To create a work of fiction directed solely by search terms. One starts – on a blog, perhaps – with a story. In time, restless web-adventurers find themselves paddling in the sea of your story. The search term that has brought them there offers for you, the writer, a new departure. You leave by the route by which people came to you. The reader directs the writer, but without knowing it.

There are all sorts of implications, no doubt, though one (i.e. ‘I’) would need to see how such a thing worked out in practice before offering full judgement. Which brings us, I guess, to the tricky part. Sertin is already notorious for working on twenty or so projects at once. His creative pockets are overflowing. He has more ideas than he knows what to do with. Will he, can he follow this particular one up?

Creative Fires

‘Bands squabble. Musical outfits, I mean. Vocals, lead, bass and drums: all that jazz, rock or pop. Squabble, squabble, squabble. Chickens over feed, foxes over chickens, hounds over foxes. What a sticky mess! Haven’t we had enough of it? Pull yourselves together boys. It’s just music. Then again, keep a hand on those cows – can you imagine a novel written by a band of writers? I’ll do structure, you do local colour, you do characters, you do style. That wouldn’t be squabbling chickens. That’d be carnage. World bleeding war. I know. I’ve been there – and at least two of my toes didn’t come back’ (Lucien Ropes)

Lucien Ropes reflecting, not for the first time, on the infamous Fires of Wilmeldestran project. I’m not exactly what he means by ‘at least two of my toes didn’t come back’ – I knew it was a tortuous experience, but I never heard of any actual dismemberment. But then, this is Lucien writing…

Google Knows Your Grandmother

It’s been some time, I fancy, since I last lowered my hairless hand into the lucky dip of search terms (last september, as it turns out). One would expect a sea of strangeness waiting to engulf me – and one would be right, for strangeness is certainly never far away when it comes to search terms. The world is simply jam-packed full of people typing peculiar things into search engines, only to arrive, for one reason or another, at my battered old door. Today I have picked just four of the many weird and wonderful lines I found lurking on my search term list. Trust me when I say that there were many more.

The first is ‘it becomes difficult not to fall in love with death’: an unsurprisingly mournful statement – one which must have led, I imagine, to one of the many articles on everybody’s favourite miser Pyetr Turgidovsky. But who might have written this, and what exactly were they looking for? Consolation? Like-minded nihilists? Or is it the title of an early Turgidovsky short story?

The aim of our second searcher seems more obvious. One doesn’t type ‘bapless burger’ unless one is, well, after a bapless burger. The question remains (and it is, I think, one of the big questions of our age): why is one after a bapless burger? To what extent would a recipe for a bapless burger differ from a regular burger recipe, save the absence of the bap? And how did this phrase link to my website? (is this, too, a title of a short story by the young Turgidovsky; the bapless burger being a symbol of his empty adolescent life perhaps?)

From the profane to the sacred. ‘Sunday of last judgement simplified’ is our third term (and here’s the article, I fancy, towards which it led). Now this one moves my mind in all sorts of ways. People do yearn for simplicity, and who am I to roadblock their highway of desires? Having said that, the Last Judgement (one of those strange historical things that is nonetheless yet to happen) is one of those things that, I would say, tends to resist simplicity. Here is someone, however, who clearly wishes to have the whole thing not only cut down to size, but timetabled. Maybe their Sundays tend to be busy, and they’d rather the Last Judgement didn’t encroach too heavily. Would it be possible to be judged after lunch, since I was planning to invite the vicar? How long do you reckon the judgement will take? Will there be toilet breaks?

Talking of last things: ‘conclusion on my grandmother’ is our last term (this the destination, I presume). Yet another case, it seems, of using the internet to seek the answers to purely personal questions. Someone is perplexed by the behaviour of a grandparent. They seek elucidation. Options abound. They could use their own mind. They could ask the help of other people: family, friends or professional counsellors. Or they could, of course, just see what google says. Google knows your grandmother like nobody does. This, as we well know, is nothing short of a fact.

Oh, only Oh

There is a quality to Aloisi’s fiction that is not found elsewhere. There is carefree-ness. There is confidence; unbridled, uninhibited, unrestrained confidence. It seeps through every sentence – and I love it.

So wrote Lucien Ropes of Fernando Aloisi’s On, Xavier! (read the rest of his high-spirited review here). I rarely agree with Ropes taste-wise, but he has certainly tripped upon a twig of truth here. Aloisi’s prose does something that so few writers are capable of. It soars like an eagle, dives like a guillemot and swims like an eel. It moves like a river of molten gold. One is reminded of the British painter Burne-Jones, who once expressed his artistic ambitions thus:

I want big things to do and vast spaces, and for the common people to see them and say Oh! – only Oh!

Well, indeed. What more can one say?

A Wolverine in Bulgaria

To no one’s surprise, least of all my own, I have been flooded with responses to my last postage. Readers (yes, it is plural) seem keen to pick up on two particular points.

All in all, there is general dissatisfaction with the evidence I present in favour of Lurgsy’s wolverine. ‘Fourteen poems doth not evidence make,’ writes one disgruntled individual. It’s a fair point. Fourteen poems doth not evidence make. But then I never suggested that these fourteen poems made up the entire evidence. There are letters also, full of references to the wolverine. There is Birovnik’s daily journal.  There is even a photograph. Granted, it’s terribly blurred – and the wolverine might as well be a plump stoat, or a fur jacket rolled into a ball; but these are minor quibbles. The body of evidence is not as weak as you might think it is.

Point number two: wolverines in Bulgaria? From whence did this wolverine come? What was an orphaned wolverine doing so far south? All perfectly good questions, to which I have no obvious answer. It’s an anomaly, I won’t deny that. But then, life is full of anomalies, just as our cities are full of tigers and chimpanzees. Animals get places: it’s a fact. Strange people pack them up and drag them across the world. When someone gets bored with something, they don’t take it back to its birthplace. They leave it wherever it happens to have ended up.

Consider this.  A circus comes to Sofia. There are hundreds of animals on board, including a couple of ferocious wolverines. They’re smaller than lions, but they pack a punch: too much of a punch. One of them is especially ratty – and will attack anything, literally anything. It had a go at one of the elephants the other day. By the time the circus reaches the next city, the trainers have decided to let this wolverine go. Not in the city: that would be foolish. No – they’ll push it out of the trailer once they get into the countryside. Let it wreak havoc in the wilderness.

Little do they know, this frustrated wolverine is pregnant. Soon after being dropped in off the woods of western Bulgaria, it gives birth. Bulgaria has wolverines. One day their feisty mother decides to take on an axe-wielding farmer. Bulgaria has orphaned wolverines.

Enter Tomas Lurgsy…

Lurgsy’s Wolverine (Pet’s Corner No.6)

This reminds me. Tomas Lurgsy wrote a poem called ‘each a vagrant mongrel’. Any fool knows this. But how many people can list the number of pets owned by the members of the Bulgarian Farm Poets Movement?

Pets is a tricky word, I know. Is a cow a pet? What if you don’t milk it? When does a stray cat become a pet? Suffice to say that, when in the country, the Bulgarian Farm Poets surrounded themselves with tame, half-tame and vaguely-tame animals: thirty at least – maybe more.

Amongst these, it is claimed, was an orphaned wolverine. As such claims go, this seems a relatively secure one: much more secure, I would say, than the claim that Ludomir Birovnik hand-reared seven golden eagle chicks. For although we have no photographs of said wolverine, we do have plenty of written evidence, including no less than fourteen poems. Sadly, these poems don’t appear in most collections of Lurgsy’s work. Why? Because they’re poor? Not exactly. Most of them are well below par, it must be said: but there are some strong works.

Strong is very much the word, I think. Disturbing is another word that suits. Consider ‘wolverine, sweet wolverine’ (or, if you’re eating lunch, consider it not). That’s some rather ‘heady’ imagery, make no mistake about. ‘Your sweat and fur float in my veins/your teeth sink sweetly into skin’. And all that stuff about a ‘hairy consummation’ – what has to wonder just what was going on there. Lurgsy liked his wolverine, that’s for sure. One might even say he loved it. Until it grew up, that is, and tried to bite his arm off. After that, I think we can safely say that their relationship went downhill. Or that the wolverine went downhill, in a tub, at high speed, into a lake (a weird way to put a once-loved pet down, granted, but then I’m no Bulgarian poet).

Other Indexes

Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night and find myself staring at the ceiling. Down from its stippled surface a certain question falls: why has no one ever compiled an Index of Indexes in Modern European Fiction? The question vexes me deeply. It seems like such an obvious thing to have done.

Useful, too. Only this morning I was thinking of writing a post following up on my review of Jaymer Veers’ latest novel Poppies: The Index. My readers would benefit, I thought, from an exploration of other ways in which indexes have been used in modern european fiction. Who wouldn’t? And yet, when I pondered it awhile, I simply couldn’t think of enough examples. The ground is always full of worms – but who has time to dig them up? On this particular occasion, not me.

Forgive me if this post, therefore, has an air of defeat about it. The truth is: I’m stumped. Other than Georges Perec (in his excellect Life: A User’s Manual) and J-P Sertin (in his less excellent but not half bad p.52) I can’t seem to think of any good examples of indexes in modern european fiction. There must be more of them out here, but they simply do not sping to mind at this moment in time.

Still, one man can’t have all of the answers all of the time, can he?