Caging Swallows

‘The chances of seeing an idea through to completion are inversely proportional to the time you’ve spent talking about it beforehand… if you’ve already extracted all the pleasure from the potential joys of a project before you’ve begun it, there remain, by the time you get down to it, only the miseries of the act of creation, its burdens, its labours.’ (Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Television)

‘The best ideas never get to the page. They are too good for the page. Don’t try and cage a swallow: let it fly free! The beauty of its flight will fade, of course, but at least the damn bird got a chance to spread its wings. The page merely petrifies an idea: it sends the swift board of thought, which once cut through waves, down through the water to the muddy ocean floor. We kill things when we capture them. Cameras, recording devices, notebooks and novels. This must stop. Accept the loss: this is life. Accept the loss and you may even learn to enjoy it’. (Johannes Speyer, in conversation).

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Extreme Reading

Fernando Aloisi, see post below, claimed he could produce blood blisters with the power of his prose. To the relief of many readers (you soft lot) this has not yet happened. In this post I will, however, put forth a handful of instances in which, regardless of the author’s intentions, readers have experienced extreme sensory reactions.

Let’s start with Siegfried Egtz, whose editorials in a leading Frankfurt newspaper have long caused involutary seizures across Northern Germany. Experts claim that it has something to do with Egtz’s excessive use of punctuation, especially exclamation marks. Others say that it is the content of his writing that rankles.

When moved, bodies will react in any manner of ways, some more extreme than others. I know of at least two people who fainted after reading the emotional closing scene of Alma Pedrova’s Another Form of Laughter. More recently, in Austria, a man’s hair was said to have changed colour after reading Goethe for the first time. Horror fiction often promises to make your hair ‘stand on end’. However, statistics show that hair is much more likely to stand on end after reading contemporary Macedonian fiction (see Goran Lded, The Static Poets of Strumica, 2010). An elderly resident of Kratovo currently holds the world record for ‘hair elevation’ after reading a particularly moving novel by Boban Direnevski.

Finally, I have been informed on several occasions of how certain writer’s have a tremendous knack of ‘moving their readers’ bowels’. People joke of ‘verbal diarrhoea’ – who knew that an actual form of it may exist? I, for one, have never got through a page of James Joyce without wanting to urinate into a large bucket.

Blistering Prose

Further to my previous post, I have been reliably informed that the Spanish writer Fernando Aloisi once bragged to an audience at a literary festival in Omsk that he could write a sentence ‘so extraordinary that every reader would automatically develop a blood blister at the centre of their tongue’.

The world continues to await this sentence with a keen sense of anticipation…

Explode Those Noses

Last Night at The Crippled Bee conversation turned, with all the style and swerve of a wind-scything swallow, to the subject of ‘sensory reading’.

Let me expand. You will have heard, no doubt, of the latest Scandinavian musical sensation: The Stockholm based Nose Explosion Project – a forty-nine piece brass ensemble whose main aim is (and I quote) ‘to make the noses of our audience explode’. As you’d expect, blaring, blasting and altogether bludgeoning trumpets, tubas and trombones are very much the order of all their raucous concerts, which are, I am told, both well attended and received. As it stands, however, not a single nose has exploded.

I wonder whether the violent melodies of the Nose Explosion Project (or NEP, for those in the nose) are quite to my discerning (i.e. somewhat traditional) musical tastes. Probably not. I am, nonetheless, a cautious admirer of their ambitions. Indeed, I rather wish that contemporary writers would take heed of this fantastic troop – or their ideas, at least. Too many present-day scribblers settle for the smallest sensory reaction from their readers. They want people to ‘like’ their books! To laugh, perhaps, or smile. To shed a solitary tear. To shiver.  To frown. Otters above! Is that all?

There are, of course, notable exceptions. Think of Hoçe, for instance, of whom it was written: ‘rarely does a reviewer resort to issuing a public health warning, but on this occasion I feel it is an absolute necessity: if you are to read this book with the same level of serious intensity with which it was written, you will almost certainly die’ (see here). Or Pyetr Turgidovsky, who starts every sentence with the hope that ‘it may bring vomit to the mouth of my readers’. There are also positive reactions. Ciambhal O’Droningham, for instance, has remarked how, like the best erotic writers, he expects his readers to feel no less than ‘constant, knee-shaking arousal’ from the majority of his sentences – ‘and preferably more’.

These writers aim high – and I thank them for it. Others, however, need to step up to the sensory plate: to think seriously about chasing a much wider range of readerly responses. Think closely about all the possible physical reactions. How marvellous would it be to write a paragraph that gave every reader an itchy ear, a strange pain in the knee and/or eight tingling fingers? Better still, how about beating the NEP at their own game? I look forward to hearing about the first contemporary european writer to make a reader’s nose explode.

Narrative in the Streets

Andy Hunter, who insists on calling me Gregory, sends the following information:

Broadcastr, a project by Electric Literature, just released an iPhone app which automatically plays audio stories specific to your GPS location. The iPhone app is free, and can be downloaded here …We all fall into routines, and travel the same paths every day. The Broadcastr mobile app reveals layers of narrative in the streets around us, connecting us to a wealth of memory we may never have discovered otherwise.

Being entirely unfamiliar with iPhone technology I can no offer no hints as to whether this ‘app’ is as interesting, or as frightening, as it sounds. Secretive man as I am, I dislike the idea of a phone keeping tabs on my location and connecting me to a wealth of undiscovered memories – but I am at least wise enough to appreciate that, as these things go, this may be a rather revolutionary way of meeting the modern reader’s needs.

One ponders just how adept the phone is at linking stories with locations. If I step into a bar in Irkutsk, I am greeted with a sample from Pyetr Turgidovsy’s The Lunatic? Are visits down East End London side streets to be accompanied by fictional re-renderings of Jack the Ripper? Is Oa Aayorta is any way involved in this project?

Blood and Cutlets

Needless to say, after all the anticipation, Death: A Way of Life was not the best-seller the publishers had hoped for. In fact, it almost completely alienated audiences and critics alike.

When these words were written, several years ago now, they sparkled and gleamed with sun-drenched truth. No one can deny that Pierre Manniac’s truly unhinged retelling of his years as Monte Carlo’s favourite limb-remover was a ‘popular’ book. It was sensational, certainly, but it never gained the attention of a significantly sizeable set of people.

Sometimes these things take time to seep in. Not everyone creates a sensation with their first book, even when it does include a scene in which a pot-smoking giraffe kicks a panda over the edge of a cliff. If pressed, I would have said at the time that Manniac’s work would either catch light immediately or be put out for eternity. I speak metaphorically, of course. In any case I was wrong. Instead, Death: A Way of Life has done that peculiar thing: it has grown on people. Slowly, slowly, its stupefying madness has weaseled its way into readers’ affections. Admittedly, don’t expect to find it sitting on the bestseller lists anytime soon: but don’t be surprised if you find the middle classes namedropping it at dinner parties. ‘One is reminded, inevitably, of Pierre Manniac,’ says Hugh, swallowing the olive whole. And so on and so forth.

Time and tide and money-spinning sequels. Well, naturally. Like many writers, Manniac made the great mistake of writing a memoir covering his whole life, seemingly denying the possibility of a follow-up (at least, not until enough years had passed to make it worth our while). A common dilemma, just as commonly solved. To write a life is to pick and choose. One can write a life a hundred times without repeating oneself. There’s always something fresh that can be dredged up from the muck of a man’s existence. If new stories don’t exist, new perspective on old stories do. If that fails, let fiction do the rest.

All of which amounts to this: Pierre Manniac’s new memoir/novel/book/call-it-what-you-will is coming out soon and it’s called Blood and Cutlets. Make of that what you will. Suffice it to say that animals and death will both be involved, probably in large, unpalatable doses.

Initial Enquiries

There is much to be said about F L C Gorngy, beyond that which can be found in this review. Time will tell quite how much.

For now, let us content ourselves with details. What, for instance, do his initials stand for? Pranksters are fond of positing fanciful guesses, ranging from the obsence to the even more obscene. There’s an unmanned pulley by the curtain of truth. Allow me to lend a hand…

Frederico Luigi Caspian Gorngy is, I have it on good authority, the answer to this particular riddle. Nothing sensational there: just three regular(ish) names. Gorngy’s initials do, however, beg a further question, which is: how many initials is too many initials? I speak as a literary critic, not as a man of the world. I don’t much care for how many middle names the man on the street posseses. Writers, though, are a different proposition.

Into the bucket of knowledge goes the gloved hand of curiosity. Out comes a collection of further facts. Three initials is small fry, as one might expect. There are, it so happens, more than a dozen writers operating out there with four initials. Take Alice H P G Catilley, or HBBN Toots. This is, however, only the start of it. What about five? How about the Portuguese poet G J J P I Prás? Or the Chinese novelist  Jin T J-N G Ho? The winner of this rather pointless competition, however, has to be the Czech writer Tomâs D J J H W Ýelický. That’s Tomâs Daniel Jan Jirí Winnerman Ýelický, for your information. The first four names originally belonged to his mother’s brothers. The ‘Winnerman’ refers to the name of an American sportsman especially admired by his father. His friends, evidently spoilt for choice, like to call him ‘Mario’.