On and Oa (Marginalia 1)

A heaving sea of speculation surrounds the rugged island that is the elderly novelist Oa Aayorta. Large waves toss up drifting rumours: he is writing a ‘twitter’ novel, it will be called A Rather Lengthy Afternoon, the book will be published in the shape of a trapezium (or trapezoid), it will consist of a series of interlinking poems about fruit, it will be his last book – and so on and so forth.

Now for the bracing sea breeze of truth. Oa Aayorta has been treading water for some time now. Contrary to all of these reports, he has not been writing a new novel at all (or at least, not outside of his head). He has instead been taking part in two great traditions: marginalia and defacement.

Two great traditions? Call it one – writing in the margins, or over the words of other people’s novels is, in anyone’s book, an act of defacement. But like so many acts of destruction, it is also an act of creativity. Many of our greatest writers have been prone to a little marginalia. Think of Anthony Panna, or Mary Mistict. Controversial, maybe, but one cannot deny their powers of creativity. Marginalia remains a criminally undervalued genre.

So: Oa Aayorta is ‘treading water’? Let me rephrase that. He may be wasting away his precious afternoons scribbling in the margins of other men’s books; or he may – he just may – be re-inventing marginalia for the masses.

More on this, needless to say, later.


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