Of the Seasonal Sort

It is perhaps inevitable that, having agreed to transcribe the remaining pages of my adventurous memoir Conversations with Speyer, my old friend Jean-Pierre Sertin has (in his words), ‘succumbed to an illness of the seasonal sort’. In light of this, I ask my readers to be patient in their wait for the next part in the series.

I could, of course, fill up the space with witty and perceptive anecdotes relating to my new life here in America. Unfortunately, in the face of such institutions as sweet potato chips cooked in maple syrup, words fail me.

The Doors of Pineappleception (Part Six)

[Parts One, Two, Three, Four and Five]

It took some time to get through all that juice. But truth be told, I wasn’t all that aware of time, at least not after the fourth carton. Things like time, space, light, language – what are they? A surfeit of pulped pineapple does away with all these, or transports them, so to speak, into a different sphere – an alternate realm. If life, in its usual form, is a bank of grass, the juice of the pineapple bores a hole into this bank, which you, the drinker, may enter, at your rabbit-like will. Or to put it another way: if life is a fence of bricks, this hallowed fluid loosens the sealing cement and breaks away a brick or two, allowing one to put a hand, an arm – maybe even a leg – into a lost domain; another dominion of perception. Pineapple juice unwraps the tissue paper of perceived reality; it unfastens the lock of ordinary existence: it opens a portal unto a singular space, wherein the ordinary laws of nature do not, it seems, apply.

In real terms, what does this mean? Can real terms even say what it means? Will words do? Words will never do, it’s true. They can but try, those poor sweet troopers. We may let them struggle up the mountain of meaning, towards a summit they shall never reach, weighted down by backpacks of insurmountable odds: this is all we can do, all we shall ever allow, will forever permit – and so on and so forth. All of which is to say that, under the potent influence of many a pint of pineapple juice, I experienced things I can barely describe.

And yet here I am, and here you are. And it would be rude of me to take to the exit now, after all this build-up. So on I go…

You may know of the fourteenth century Italian painter Giuseppe Quinta. If you don’t, get thee to a specialist art history library and spend an hour or two gazing at the murals he completed in a small church outside Mantua in 1392. Look out, in particular, for the figures gathered at the centre of the wall to the right of the altar. Notice the folds of their dress. Oh those miraculous, gorgeously tortured folds! I could fold myself up in those folds. Sublime, sumptuous, succulent folds! Was painted cloth ever so sexy as this? I think not. Real cloth rarely approaches it – for which reason I have always considered Quinta’s work to be, for all its brilliance, somewhat over-romantic in tone: somewhat fanciful in its conception.

My over-dose of pineapple juice suggests that I may have been wrong. Such folds can be found in life. A bunched-up jumper can offer thrills as forceful as those set forth by our fourteenth century friend. And all you need to get you there is a heck of a lot of fruit juice. Who’d have thought it?

But of course, this is not all. Not all at all. Pleasures abound in the strange old land of pineapple juice abuse.

[Part Seven]

Stinkhorns, Mongrels and A Way with Words

As Domino has pointed out, with typical grace, the writer George Forthwith-James was, to all intents and purposes, ‘as slimy as a stinkhorn’. As I have countered, however, had she ever received a personal message from said scribe, she would have eaten her words pronto. For Forthwith-James had the rare gift of phenomenal charm: a magnetism that no logic could ever overcome. Face to face he was no great shakes – but when words began to spill from his pen there was no stopping him. He had a way with words – and god knows that this, much like a pretty face, makes up for all sorts of deficiencies. As waves re-sort the sand, so words strip the sinning beach clean.

Speaking of bastards, a month or so ago I devoted half a dozen posts to a loose review of Boris Yasmilye’s new novel The Bastard. The title, of course, does not refer to George Forthwith-James, or any sort of man: the bastard in question is the book itself, a bastard in the original sense (The Mongrel might have been a better translation of the title, but we’ll let it stand).

Having said this, The Bastard does deal with themes particular to Forthwith-James. Its main concern, after all, is the art of letter writing: our man’s favourite medium. And what it says about this appears to confirm the problem at the heart of this matter – that words written from one person to another have a power greater than words written to a general audience. Or should I say: words that appear to have been written from one person to another. For is this not what the best fiction does – it gives the appearance that the author has written it for us alone; that the novel is in fact a letter from them to us: a direct, personal appeal from one soul to another?

Intimacy shouldn’t be something one can ape – and yet Forthwith-James, like many a good writer, was painfully adept at doing just this. He used words to make connections; frequently false connections, or connections based on shaky foundations. But connections nonetheless…

Dowsed in Skunk Juice

So, I’ve finally taken a flying leap into the cold, soiled swimming-pool that is Turgidovsky’s new book. Before letting you in on the contents, however, I have a few more details to fling in your direction.

Detail no. 1. Contrary to yesterday’s post, the book is called Delicious Air of Life (or the Ugly God-damned Wife)  –  and not The Delicious Air of Life (or the Ugly God-damned Wife). Is that important? Who can say…

Detail no.2. The book has six hundred and fourteen pages. This makes it longer than The Lunatic. Much longer.

Detail no.3. Turgidovsky has broken his usual silence by speaking to a Russian newspaper. The interview (published yesterday) was, admittedly, a short one and revealed very little of interest, excepting the fact that the author had originally proposed to ‘dowse every book in skunk juice before selling them’. His intentions? Apparently he wanted readers to ‘recoil from the book: to create something so horrible that people would retch at the very sight of it’. Charming. So what put him off the idea? ‘It represents a serious lack of confidence on my part,’ he admitted, ‘to think that I needed skunk juice to make my book abhorrent. No. All I needed was words. If you can’t do it with words alone, why write at all?’

A dig at Oa Aayorta? I think so.

Hay in the Spine

As Stensson wrote last week:

I have it on good authority that this ‘Active Reading’ of which you are so foolishly fond involves such practices as reading in the centre of a haystack, or in a bath of beans, neither of which are, in my opinion, even vaguely safe environments for a poor, defenceless book..

Poor, defenceless book? Come now, Carl Stensson, since when have you battered your heart in a sugary pillow of pathetic sentiment? Books were not made to sit on our windowsills like vases, on our lawns like gnomes, or on our desks like unopened gas bills. It’s how long the words live on in your mind, not how long the book lives on on your shelf. Getting a bit of hay (or quite a lot of hay, as it happens) stuck in the spine won’t hurt one’s chances of understanding any sort of sentence that I know. There may be limits (reading a book under an Indian rainstorm is, I’m told, somewhat counter-productive) but these are blessedly few.

And so I say to you: open wide your glass cabinets, bring forth your first editions and go, go, go, out into the countryside and read, read, read until your little heads explode with words. Up a tree, in a brook, stuck in the mud, on a horse, on a stile, under a bridge, in the middle of a road – I care not where! I care not where….