The Man of the BookBy Becky Palapala
September 17, 2011
This. Right here. What I’m saying now. Everything I will say. People have said it. People have asked the questions I’m asking and answered them, but here I am. Pursuit of new answers is nothing but bargaining with old answers.
It became desperate, for me, when I was reading Jonathan Evison’s West of Here. I enjoyed it immensely at first. Then I had to stop reading. I’d already read it before. There was nothing wrong with the book.
I’ve read almost nothing since.
“Crabwalk,” I said. “By Gunter Grass. This is Crabwalk.”
“You think every book is Crabwalk,” said a friend whose own manuscript I had compared to Crabwalk.
“No, just the ones that are, but there are a lot of them.”
Crabwalk is about Nazis, kind of, old and new, not that it matters.
Scuttling backwards to move forward.
Crabwalk is also, in turn, other books and stories and movies and poems.
West of Here is Crabwalk and Crabwalk is the “Garden of Forking Paths” (this, too, involves Germans), and that reminds me of Yeats.
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
Which reminds me.
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
All roads lead to Eliot.
Did he say make it new, too?
DA DA DA...
Nothing is anything but a reference to something else. And that’s whether we mean or know it to be or not. That, too, is Eliot.
I can’t have a thought. Not one. Not of my own.
Either can you.
Trying. Even trying. Look at what you’re up against. LOOK AT THEM.
I bought Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind because the description on the back reminded me vaguely of Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler and J.L. Borges’ “The Library of Babel”.
The fucking Library of Babel.
It’s almost too terrible to talk about.
I couldn’t finish The Shadow of the Wind.
I have a recurring dream about sitting in a study in Buenos Aires watching J.L. Borges write.
In the dream he can’t see me. He keeps daguerreotypes and tiny dishes of loose change. It is just like the study Eliot uses in my dreams, but Borges’ study is dusty and baroque. The curtains are brocade. I leave fingerprints on everything.
Eliot’s curtains are linen, rocking in a maritime breeze, and the furniture is immaculate–dark wood and indifferent ivory. Surfaces are smooth and cool to the touch. There are no shadows, no clutter. He licks his pen. He watches me watch him.
I used to believe in an embarrassing way that I was communing with them, that in the dreams, these men were the men, but they say everyone in your dreams is you. So I return to these places to be alone with myself, I guess. Nothing ever changes.
Ideas have archetypes.
Containers within which a finite number of related human thoughts rattle and stick. Stick together, shake apart, rattle, stick again elsewhere. Then it’s new. But not really new. And eventually all partnerships are exhausted.
Like matter, archetypes of ideation can’t be created or destroyed.
This very idea comes from a box labeled “Jung, et al”.
And then again, the archetypes themselves are items in other, larger containers. Nesting dolls of human awareness.
The largest of which is…what?
Temporal provincialism is intractable.
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
On some shelf in some hexagon, it was argued, there must exist a book that is the cipher and perfect compendium of all other books and some librarian must have examined that book; this librarian is analogous to a god.
Inhabit the garden; shall we follow?
…respondebat illa: αποθανειν θελω.
. . . guess i’ll have to read crabwalk . . . loved the tin drum when i read it back in the day . . .
I’d definitely recommend Crabwalk.
But that’s to anyone, no just to you.
But especially to you, maybe, since you might have already spent more time thinking about the time present/past thing than other people and might enjoy it more.
On the other hand, I’m not convinced my literary neuroses are anything more than that; I may have totally fabricated any relationship at all between the two books.
I really did enjoy what I read of WoH. I even kept it. I plan to finish it.
I was just having a talk about Jung with a friend today, as I interpreted his dream, which I love to do even though I know I’m full of shit.
Thanks for this, Becky. I was worried I’d not have anything heavy to cogitate on today…
And now I can cogitate on the word “cogitate.”
As you know, I love your dreams. Our dreams. The dreams. I haven’t used the word daguerreotypes in fifteen years. What a great word. Despite its meaning, I only see a candy dish filled with tiny dragons. A playful sampling of our sins.
Here’s an idea: When you read, when you write, don’t look back.
For me, it’s less about looking back and more about a terrible obsessive tic I have where I’m constantly looking for patterns.
I’m good at identifying little patterns within the big pattern, but I can’t seem to get far enough away to see the whole picture.
And so many of these guys were so good at it. So, so close. Cobbling the pieces together.
And postmodernism usually holds that there is no pattern, you know. No metanarrative. But the writerly part of me, at least, think’s that’s the coward’s way out. That it’s just giving up. That someone out there could do it. Or has done it. That I want it to be me.
Or, at least, I want to be able to understand that person if I ever find him.
I must admit: it’s impossible not to notice the patterns. I find this happens most obviously for me when I hear music. I’ll hear something and immediately realize the influence. I like the idea of stepping back and finding the bigger picture, or even trying to believe in one, because to some degree, it gives value to the present and to the future, and then there is finally potential for what you argue is impossible: an original idea. Thinking is crazy. It’s like you’ve got to cover all your bases, secretly believing that in another dimension the score is squared.
I think I might wake up in a cold sweat on the vision of your Eliot dream. Man alive, licking his pen and watching you watch him! Sitting next to someone with a headpiece filled with straw, I imagine.
Enjoyed reading these questions getting asked, I wish more artists were tackling the larger connections.
A friend with a psych degree once told me “You writers are always into Jung,” explaining that the lack of scientific method has caused him to fall out of favor. Though it seems to me the shrinks could use some imagination.
Also, I’m not just saying this because the author’s face is several comments above mine, but whatever its roots are, West of Here is worth getting through.
Bah. Psych majors are always such buzzkills. Their questions are always looking for answers. They can’t appreciate a question for its own sake.
. . . ha! thanks, nathaniel . . . for the record, i would say the roots of west of here sprouted not from a modernist seed, but a transcendentalist–namely, emerson . . .
I totally didn’t mean to presume anything about its inspiration. That’s front-end stuff.