‘In my opinion the truth, so called, is a much overrated quantity. The trouble with it is that it is closed: when you tell the truth, that’s the end of it; lies, on the other hand, ramify in all sorts of unexpected directions; complicting things, knotting them up in themselves, thickening the texture of life… To lie is to create’ (John Banville, Ghosts)
‘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…
‘I cannot say which I prefer; which I would most like to see finished’. This I wrote in reference, below, to two of Luigi Narsceni’s incompleted tales. It was, perhaps, a thoughtless observation, for Narsceni’s stories delight despite their unfinished status. Like them we may: but do we dare ask for the fatal polish? Do we dare desire completion? Wouldn’t this ruin everything?
And yet did I not suggest, hint and/or politely consider the potent possibility of someone else taking Narsceni’s reins and running with his half-chewed ideas? That I most certainly did. Playing devil’s advocate, maybe, but it’s a thought I’d like to take a stroll with, all the same. To what extent might we license the arrival of such a ‘finisher’ – and would this be all they were – a mere framer of somebody else’s picture – or would they deserve more credit than this?
More importantly, would they ever exist? Who wants to pick up someone elses scraps and turn them into something more wholesome?
Look at it another way: writers have always been scavengers, constantly grazing on the plains of other people’s stories and ideas. Creativity is not about creation out of nothing, but a series of somethings: it is about the ability to assemble, stitch and edit – to steal what looks good, and toss away what doesn’t. The best writers (and, indeed, artists of any sort) are canny vultures with a taste for good meat and absolutely no manners when it comes to taking that meat.
So what’s to stop someone waltzing along and ‘borrowing’ some of Narsceni’s starting points? Absolutely nothing. Of course, no one will ever be blatant about it. Narsceni’s tales will be transposed, I’m sure; twisted to suit someone elses needs. But we can be sure that they will, in one form or another, be stolen. The world is stolen goods. Nothing is or will ever be sacred when an artist is involved. It will only look so.
Meanwhile I challenge someone to do their theft in the open; to commit their writerly crime in full view. Why not? Here’s an idea; why don’t you steal one of Boris Yashmilye’s unwanted titles and one of Luigi Narsceni’s unfinished stories and make a go of it? Don’t be bashful or embarrassed. Step forward and show your guilty face! Steal away to your heart’s content! Take these two toys and glue them together. See what you can make of what others half-made for themselves. Be honestly creative…
Minds inspire dreams. Dreams inspire minds. Can we create new things within dreams, or do they reveal things already created; simply neglected, hidden, shrouded by mundane workaday thoughts?
I know not. I have given up trying to understand dreams ever since that summer I dreamt about vast armies of blue squirrels marching across the Gobi desert every night for eight weeks. This doesn’t mean that I don’t still wonder, however, about the differences between the creative and the dreaming mind.
Take Louis Térrad, for example. All eleven of this Swiss writer’s novels are, he claims, ‘no more than transcriptions of his dreams’. He writes in the mornings, after waking; writing of what happened, in his head, during the night. ‘I am no writer, really’, he says, ‘more of a dream documenter: a matter-of-fact witness to fantastic thoughts that are, but are not quite, mine’.
Not quite his? Térrad’s honesty, his overweening humility, always strikes me as strange. He comes across as a tremendously guilty man – a boy with jam on his hands hovering around the kitchen door waiting for a smack from his mother. He can’t seem to wrap his head around the possibility that he is a creative writer: that he wrote these stories – that they emerged from his mind, and not someone elses. Why is this? So what if the ideas come from his dreams? They are his dreams, after all. He isn’t stealing other people’s dreams. His dreams, his mind – his stories, surely?
The bottom line is that Térrad can’t trust the creativity of his dreaming mind. None of us know quite how creative minds work; but creatively dreaming minds are stranger still. The dreaming mind is a mult-tasking magpie: stealing from here, from there, from everywhere: from nowhere. Indeed, Térrad’s dreams are full of ideas he cannot place or trace. The links between dreams and life can be obscure. The creatively dreaming mind, meanwhile, cares little for copyright laws. It takes what it likes, from wherever it likes. Térrad’s anxiety, perhaps, derives from this – from the fear that his stories are other people’s stories, which his head has appropriated, mysteriously, and coughed up in another form.
And yet, eleven novels later, no one has ever claimed that Terrad is a plagiarist. The process is a weird one, and we may never understand it, but the final result is such a pleasing one – it’s hard to complain. And equally difficult to stop wondering. It seems we will never stop asking questions which have no answers. For which I thank the gods.
I have been poisoned. I know not how and care not why. Rest assured the sad thick venom of happiness is swimming like some grinning eel through the quick rivers of my bloodstream. Oh, tragedy, tragedy! A glorious sense of well-being has overcome me! I have been ensnared by the outside chance, the sneaking possibility, the lingering contingency that life – that strange old beast – might not be as bad as it seems.
Oh silliness, silliness. What am I thinking? The wisdom of Domino cries out to be heeded. But my mind has other ideas. It bathes in the vale of joy, like some red-faced boy spinning a sun yellow yo-yo and sucking, nonchalantly, on a scarlet lolly. It hangs like a unconsciously cheery teenager around the bus-stop of delectation, a wide smile plastered across its dazed, delighted face. All is lost, surely? Happiness can only grind me down. Last time I experienced anything close to this it took the deaths of two close friends, the reading of fourteen bad novels and the over-eager jaws of a frustrated beagle to recover my equilibrium. The situation is fraught with danger: make no mistake about it.
I fear a resulting lack of enthusiasm. This is only natural. Happiness is a mean old mistress. She takes you away from things. She is possessive. She doesn’t care if she gets in the way of your interest in Eastern European folk tales. It’s all the same to her. It means nothing to her if one’s blog is not undated as regularly as it once was.
Ah, the despair that contentment brings! But wait: am I not writing still? Does not the thought, the dreaded suspicion that well-being will kick a hole in my creativity produce, in itself, just enough doubt to keep me going? Musing on the negative power of joy is a curiously energising experience, ergo a positive move. Balance is, incredibly, maintained. I still smile, but in reflecting on my smile I gather enough angst to ensure that the smile will not cancel out a lifetime of fertile frowns. I do not make myself sad, as such: simply sad enough to reach a state upon which sadness may be spread like buttery words on the bread of paper. Having done so, my sadness is spent – and contentment returns. And all is good – which is to say it isn’t all good, but good enough, under the circumstances, in light of certain truths: considering the essential nature of things. Which is great, no?
The saga of Edmund the Honest (aka Edmund ‘Blumin’ Ek) continues. Now one of Norway’s most middling investigative journalists – a fellow named Fredrik Ruud – has tracked him down and followed him around, from a safe distance, to ensure that he is sticking to his principles.
The shocking results? Well, it depends on whether you ever believed that Ek was serious about tossing modern pleasures aside and living a life of charming simplicity in the mountains, with only a white cat for company. I, for one, was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt – and as things stand, it seems that I was right. It’s only early days, of course, but during a week of watching from afar Ruud saw nothing to contradict Edmund’s original vision. Edmund the Honest is living up to his name. The games consoles have gone – and in their place the fishing rods, rakes, hammers, lathes, hoes, hacksaws and various boat building materials have appeared. What’s more, Edmund the Honest will not be writing his next work on a computer, but on paper. Remember that stuff? Incredible…
Far from giving him credit for his refreshing determination, Fredrik Ruud remains doubtful that this represents a good move for the bad boy of contemporary Norwegian literature. ‘So what if he’s actually doing it,’ Ruud writes, ‘when the truth is that it can only have a detrimental effect on his writing’. He goes on: ‘if his forthcoming Apologia doesn’t turn to be the most tedious piece of writing to have ever been penned, I will be highly surprised. What will become of the bouncy junkyard sparkle of Edmund’s prose? I’ll tell you what. It will be suffocated by a giant fluffy pillow of piousness.’
Clearly Ruud is unaware of the fact that the ‘bouncy junkyard sparkle of Edmund’s prose’ has already run its course – and has been in serious need of an update for some years now. Still, not all of his points are bereft of interest, bringing us back to some very old questions, accompanied by a salivating pack of ravenous and lingering doubts. What if Edmund the Honest begins to enjoy the ‘simple life’ too much? What if he stops writing? Is his happiness the most important thing, or is the most important thing the work he is creating, which may in turn cause us to be happy? If his misery makes more than one person happy, is it thus a good thing? Should we be praying for a very cold winter to hit his mountain, and push him a little closer to the edge; the dangerously beautiful, ever-creative edge?
There are many more questions where that lot came from. But there’s no reason to over-indulge. So let me conclude. The bottom line, so far as I am concerned is this: regardless of its quality, I can’t see myself not enjoying Edmund the Honest’s Apologia when it comes. The circumstances surrounding its creation are already interesting enough to lend it a meaning of its own. Whether this is a good thing, or a bad thing, is up to your personal preference. The fact remains: the book will be interesting, whatever form it takes.
The active readers among you (which is, I hope, all of you) may be interested in reading this article, which offers many a lesson as to how the size, shape, lighting, furniture, carpeting and geographical position of a room can affect the thought processes of the person ensconced within it – with some interesting, if not predictable results.
Of course, as active readers, we shouldn’t really care what sort of room best stimulates the reading mind. No, no, no. My interests have always centred on variety; on scrambling towards the point at which a multiplicity of perspectives converge (or don’t, as the case may be). I do not pander to perfection. I may find it easier to read a book in a large white-walled room than in a small blue wall-papered cell, but this does not mean that I will learn any less about the book from the second experience. A text will never be ‘best’ understood in the ‘best’ conditions, but through journeying across a range of conditions, which should complement, rather than compete, with one another.
And rooms are only the start of it. A lot of people choose to work and read in rooms. But there are so many other options; a lot of which will seem, at first, distracting – but can, with time, work just as well. Take this wonderful fellow, for instance. Now, there’s an active reader for you. He doesn’t require a room designed according to scientific theories as to what conditions best stimulate creativity. He’s above – and beyond – perfection. Bless him.