It is Done

It is done. The memoir, that is. All ten chapters (c.70, 000 words in total) have been published online, free of charge, for your reading pleasure. Could I be more munificent?

Granted, the manuscript is not in perfect form. There are some errors along the way: misspellings, lost words and such-like. This is unfortunate, and not wholly the fault of my restless typists. When time bestows upon me several truckloads of hours, minutes and seconds, I will endeavour to put this straight. In the meantime, I am confident that the book does me proud. I believe that I have tackled a difficult subject to the best of my uncertain ability – and stand by the results, whatever one thinks of them.

In other news, I will shortly be taking another break from this blog. Relocation to a different country, coupled with a surprisingly busy work load, means that this particular blackboard will see little chalk for the next few months.

Whilst I’m away, allow me to remind you that there is always a lot to read (and re-read) in these regions. Over seven hundred posts on this blog alone, and over a hundred edifying essays on my sister site. Browse, by all means, but don’t forget that words are there to be read, not glanced at. It is in this spirit, indeed, that I have decided to stop updating for a while. I have written more than enough on the topic of obscure European literature during the last seven or eight years, yet very few of my ponderings have, I suspect, been chewed over as methodically as they deserve. Perhaps the power of my contribution to his little-watered field has yet to be fully appreciated? Let us hope so.


Writing in the Sky

He was a great influence on my work, but the fact remains that Johannes Speyer was not always on speaking terms with ‘the truth’. That is to say, he and ‘the truth’ sometimes fell out. They didn’t always return each others’ calls. They often passed each other in the street without tipping a cap, or asking about the weather. He and ‘the truth’ were not bound together, like bosom buddies. They reserved the right to differ on certain matters; to go their separate ways when circumstances demanded it.

In the penultimate section of my brilliant memoirs, Conversations with Speyer, I dealt with an episode towards the very end of Speyer’s life, in which he recounted to me (and another man) a story about sky-writing. I have always doubted the veracity of this story (also covered here) for various reasons, not least the issue of impracticality. I doubted, in short, that a sky-writer (under Speyer’s orders) could write a full sentence in the sky.

Now I have seen this. Granted, this is present-day skywriting (not 1980s skywriting), patronised by a much more wealthy man. Nevertheless – disregarding the content of the piece – there is no denying that looks good. Which begs two questions: one, was Speyer telling the truth after all? And two, if sky-writing looks this good, why aren’t more writers doing it?

The second question is, I think, the more important one. Indeed, in light of this recent incident, I fully expect Jonathan Franzen’s next novel to be written in the sky. Paper is a thing of the past. Everything, from now on, should be written in the sky. Including this blog.

One or Two Finely Tuned Sentences

Towards the end of the day a book of condolences was passed around. No doubt they should have brought it out earlier, for it took a long time to get around the room. The problem with these literary/academic funerals is that almost everyone there takes writing too seriously. Some people there took close to half an hour to construct a single line. I would like to think that they were struggling to capture the essence of Speyer’s personality, or the weight of our loss, in one or two finely tuned sentences. The truth, however, is that they weren’t really thinking of Speyer at all. They were competing with one another…

The last part of my memoir has been posted. Enjoy it here.

Festival Spirit

You may not be shocked to hear that our conversation was at this moment interrupted by the arrival of a cat, which Speyer treated warmly, and addressed (to my surprise) as ‘Madame Hanska’. This was the first time I had ever heard Speyer refer to one of the cats by name. No matter that it was, by all appearances, the wrong one (a tag around the cat’s neck, I later noted, read ‘Gabriella’). The very fact that he was admitting the animal’s presence was impressive. Perhaps some of the festival spirit had rubbed off on him after all?

Conversations with Speyer, Chapter Nine, Part Three

And in the meantime, season’s greetings to you all. May your holly be decked with snowflakes etc.

A Frightening Row of Dashes

At certain points in his life he confessed to having an ‘unhealthy obsession with the minutiae of writing’. To put it another way, all he saw was the details. ‘I could let the ideas drift,’ he said, ‘so long as the commas were exactly in the right place. I was in the grips of what an old friend once called “punctuation fever”. I would even dream about punctuation. I once dreamed that I was tied to a post in a large white room. Into the room came columns of commas, semi-colons, and full-stops. They formed circles around me and began to dance to some terrible thumping music. Midway through their dance their ranks were swollen by a phalanx of question marks, exclamation marks and brackets. Last but not least came a frightening row of dashes. Oh it was unbearable!

Conversations with Speyer, Chapter Nine, Part Two

Lost Its Moorings

Within a few pages, however, we begin to enter darker waters. The reader, no matter how conscientious, feels his or herself drifting away from an increasingly inhospitable writer. There are no life jackets, there are no rafts, and there are no goggles. Large waves of largely indecipherable prose crash against us. A thick mist of muddled opinions falls upon us. A fine sleet of ambivalence sweeps over us. The chaos and anxiety is relentless. If ever a book has lost its moorings, this book is it. The further one gets into it, the choppier the water gets. By the end of it, you’d be excused for feeling sick. One can see why it was Speyer’s last book.

Speyer’s book may have lost its moorings, but my memoir certainly hasn’t. No: this boat is watertight – as you can see for yourself, in the latest chapter.

To Stop, In Short, In Order to Start

Not enough thought went into either reading or writing, of that he was sure. People churned out words like endless pats of butter, or snakes of sausage meat – and other people swallowed these words without chewing, or thinking twice about the flavour. ‘We need to slow down’ he noted, ‘or better than that, stop entirely. For a week, for a month, maybe even for a year, we should put down our pens. We need to take stock of everything that has been written already. To re-read what has gone before. To rethink our very attitude to the process of creating and consuming. Writing is a wonderful, wonderful thing, but we are in danger of losing sight of what it means, and of what it can do. We need to stop, in short, in order to start again’.

Conversations with Speyer, Chapter Eight

(Read the whole memoir here)