In the last post I raised some questions – or, at any rate, I constructed an environment in which questions would inevitably come to graze. In the next couple of posts I intend to examine, prod, explore and penetrate a handful of those herding queries.
To start: Tosca Calbirro’s novel Under An Unquiet Sun, as we should all know by now, was printed on toilet paper (read more about it here). Contrary to popular opinion, this was not a one-off experiment: no less than three other novels by Calbirro (The Wind’s Shadow Cuddles The Cornfield, If Yesterday Ever Comes and The Long Road Under A Thousand Bridges) had already been published in this form, although none were ever as readily available as Under An Unquiet Sun.
The novel was accepted, by most, as an experiment in reading – a challenge thrown down to the reader by the writer. The book asked to be consumed in a particular way; to be read in a particular room and, once read, flushed down the toilet, with all the other refuse.
But what of the story the novel told? Was this relevant? Many critics joked that Calbirro’s prose was just what they expected from a project of this sort (i.e. it was shit). Jinpes Terenk, conversely, argued that ‘Calbirro’s prose loosens the bowels’; that the rhythm of his writing had an apposite effect on the body of the reader. The irregular jolts of the plot were, he thought, carefully designed. Or at least they worked – for him.
A small group of readers went so far as to praise Calbirro’s writing in itself; noting the irony that ‘such an elegant writer should consign himself to the men’s room’. They found his prose had a calming effect: they warmed to his many characters. They were, in short, reluctant to follow the writer’s instructions and flush their fictional friends away.The content cut across the form.
One can only hope that they overcame their fears, for one dismisses Calbirro’s desires (or whims) at one’s peril. Though I would disagree with the contention that Calbirro is, in essence, a talented stylist – I still believe that he is a great writer; and that this greatness lies in this constant tension between content and form. A deliberate, carefully designed tension? I’m not so sure. The power comes, perhaps, from the randomness of the juxtaposition rather than the closeness of the relationship. Calbirro’s refusal to tie form and content together is, maybe, his most masterly move. As ever, he leaves it to the reader. After all, is not form bigger than the shape and structure of a novel, bigger than the typeset, the page setup and the line breaks? Form creates itself through the process of reading. Calbirro attempts to control this, whilst confessing that it cannot be controlled. What we do the privacy of our own lavatory is up to us. It’s a personal thing…