Enjoyable Hours

WordPress (the dear provider of this blog) has clearly decided that I may be out of ideas and has taken to giving suggestions whenever I complete a post. Here are three of the most recent offerings:

  • Have you ever lived outside the country you were born in?
  • What’s the most enjoyable hour of your typical weekday?
  • Food and oil prices have been on the rise in many parts of the world. Has the economic climate affected you?

Strangely, none of these questions seem to have inspired me in the least, which is why I have taken it upon myself to pose, for the benefit of other bloggers, a range of rather more intriguing mind-ticklers:

  • To what extent should we take seriously Andrey Torg’s claim that ‘Pyetr Turgidovsky represents a low point in contemporary Russian literature’?
  • Does the appearance of an obscure fruit or vegetable in a title of a novel count as evidence of desperation on the part of a writer and/or their publishers?
  • Where were you when Yevgony Nonik died?

I will, of course, provide my own answers in due course.

Along With the Fading Light

Yesterday evening I started reading a short story. I was seated on the floor by the window in the room where we usually eat. The light of a slowly dying sun fell lazily through the glass, illuminating the turning pages.

About half-way through the story, as the sun entered its final throes, my wife entered the room and enquired whether I wanted a light turning on. The increasingly dim light was putting a strain on my eyes, I could not deny it, and yet I said ‘no’. I was adamant, I was insistent, I was direct. I did not want a light turning on.

Why? The answer is simple. I had started the story by the sun, and I was determined to finish it by the sun. Just as there is a narrative inside every book, so is there one outside. The appearance of a harsh, unnatural light would destroy the atmosphere. It would intrude upon the reading experience in a most unpleasant way. No, I had to go on as I had started. I would continue reading by the moon, if need be (need didn’t be: I completed the story shortly after sunset).

Now, I would be lying if I said that this was the first time this had happened to me. As a young man I had a very similar experience, which I recounted to my late mentor Johannes Speyer – a well-known expert on reading and its processes. He was, of course, deeply interested in my case – and praised me for my resistance to the intrusion of light. He warned me, nonetheless, against making a habit of reading in this way. ‘You have learnt something from your experiences,’ he explained, ‘but the lesson will be lost if you repeat it over and over. Expand the experience. Learn a new lesson’.

What he meant was that, wonderful as it was to read with the fading light, this was only one way of getting something out of a story. The next step was obvious. I should re-read the story, but in different circumstances. This time, I should anticipate the death of the sun by turning on the light before I started. The following evening I might consider mixing the two experiences: start with no light, only to switch one on mid-way. The evening after that, I might try the opposite: start with light and finish in the gloom. After that, I should consider re-reading the story in the morning, then the afternoon, then the middle of the night, then…

Speyer’s system, needless to say, was an exhaustive one. ‘Read, re-read, and re-read again’, was his mantra, which is a remarkable idea in theory, but a tricky prospect in practice. Yesterday evening I started reading a short story. Will I be re-reading it this evening? We shall see…

Story in a Bottle

The Graffiti Novelist (see here and here) has a history. His stories have never sought a large audience – if they have consciously sought an audience at all. Before he started writings on walls and doors, on ceilings and floors, he used to write on paper. How conservative of him. What he did once he’d written the stories on paper, however, hints at a rather more progressive approach. Or should I say old-fashioned? For the Graffiti Novelist used to stuff his stories into bottles, like a marooned sailor, and toss them into the ocean. As with his recent work, no story was ever reproduced. Each bottle boasted a brand new tale.

Where did they go, these stories? Who can say? They bobbed about, no doubt, on the uncertain and restless seas. Some of them were washed ashore on sandy beaches. Others hit the rocks, or the prows of ships and boats. If any of them were actually read, the Graffiti Novelist never heard of it. But this is beside the point, as far as he is concerned. He does not yearn for reader’s responses, like a child waiting for a smile from its mother. To write is all.

Speaking of putting stories in bottles, you may recall the rumours that a lost copy of Eva Holubk’s poetry collection, The Marmalade Jar, washed ashore on the Fijian coast a couple of years ago. This was followed by similar instances in other countries, confirming the possibility that someone was depositing the book inside bottles and throwing them to the mercy of the raging waters. Alas, we have as yet no solid proof that this was the case. If it was, however, some credit must go to the renegade for getting rid of the poems in such a novel way. Much better than selling them on e-bay, in my humble opinion…

Neither Satire nor Spoof

How to categorise the work of Fritz Kakfa? Categories be damned: they are but cages created by lazy minds. And yet those writers who eternally evade them, who constantly squeeze between the bars – how can we not keep coming back to them, and wondering how it is they have avoided the inevitable branding that is such a feature of our age?

Back to Kakfa. Where do I stand on the crazy Czech writer? His career has been controversial to say the least. But even those disposed towards outsiders have struggled to take him to their hearts. What is his purpose? He appears to write nothing more than hackneyed modern-day versions of Franz Kafka stories. Sure, a certain charm lies in his protestations that the similarities between his work and Kafka’s are ‘a matter of sheer coincedence’, but no one buys this line anymore, do they? Once you get past the fact that he is a compulsive liar (albeit an entertaining one), what more is there? Is any of his work actually worth reading?

I remain unsure. Does Franz Kafka need updating? I think not. But Kakfa has done it all the same. And somewhere someone seems to have liked the results – or published them at any rate. In fact, Underneath the Bunker has re-published one of his stories, the infamous Super-Psychosis. You can read the first part here.

What must be said is this: Kakfa’s reworkings are neither satire nor spoof. Nor, I think, do they celebrate the work of their predecessor. What they do is something else entirely: something peculiar, if not pointless – but not so pointless that I can’t help myself returning to them, half-full of wonder, but bristling with suspicion.

Exoskeleton

‘What if Edward V had been a crab? The question is indeed a pertinent one. And to begin with, Uu’s sly reshuffling of history raises a whole host of intriguing issues. For a start, the question of Richard III’s path to the throne is – in light of this new evidence – almost entirely cleared of dirty leaves and other miscellaneous debris. For all the queries that flutter like persistent moths around the stuttering light of Edward IV’s marriage, the possibility of his wife having given birth to a crustacean would appear to settle the debate; ancient British laws clearly stating that no monarch shall be allowed to have an exoskeleton…’

(more here)

The Graffiti Novelist (Part Two)

There are records, of course. Most of the stories have been photographed by someone – a practice that the Graffiti Novelist refuses to condone, though it helps to spread his fame. For him, a record destroys the ‘essential eventness’ of the venture. And, after all, he is not writing to be known. He is writing to be read; in the correct conditions: as the author intended. But he is fighting a losing battle. If we do anything now, we record. Everything must be available and accessible. Nevermind whether it is or isn’t accessed.

Fame threatens to take apart his practice. One night he was discovered writing a story on a wall by a fan. The mood was spoiled. One simply can’t have fans getting in on the act. The Graffiti Novelist works alone, or not at all.

Last week he started writing on the road. In a cul-de-sac to the south of Stockport he wrote one of his longest stories yet. It started in the driveway of one house and stretched all the way to the crossroads. By the time someone got around to photographing it, half of it had been washed away by a man washing his car. Now we don’t know how the story ends. Unless of course we speak to those who read it. Two men, returning in the early hours, consumed the story whole. And yet they remain tight-lipped over its denouement. ‘You missed your chance,’ they say.

The Graffiti Novelist doesn’t give you many chances. Don’t expect that to change.

The Graffiti Novelist

They call him the graffiti novelist, but what he writes are short-stories. There is rarely enough space or time for anything more. Working largely on garage doors, side walls and old bridges; and under the cover of darkness too – who could ask for more? Every story is original, and will never appear again. These stories are conceived, and created, in situ. They last as long as it takes for someone to complain to the relevant authorities. This can be as long as several months, as in one case, or as short as several hours, as in another. One must catch these stories when you can. They will not be repeated.

Every now and again, he finds a larger space. In May of this year he covered a whole house. He thought the house was abandoned. A man left his house one morning to find it covered in words. Whilst he had been sleeping someone had wrapped him in a story. He was not impressed. He did not even read the story (others, fortunately, did). One day soon the graffiti novelist hopes to write a story on a famous building: an art gallery, perhaps, or governmental offices. He won’t, however, accept a commission. He does it only when it isn’t asked for.

One thinks, of course, of Natalie de Roquet, who wrote a novel on the inside rooms of her house. The circumstances, however, were a little different. De Roquet was incarcerated. The Graffiti novelist could not be more free.

One thinks, also, of Tosca Calbirro. He has written on various objects, including toilet roll, a dress, and a shower curtain. As far as I know, though, Calbirro has never put words on a building.