“Queequeg was a native of Rokovoko, an island far away to the West and South. It is not down in any map; true places never are.”
~Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
“Queequeg was a native of Rokovoko, an island far away to the West and South. It is not down in any map; true places never are.”
~Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
David Bowie performing the song, “Blackout,” live in Dallas, 1978.
In 1974, Bowie read Nova Express by William S. Burroughs, met with Burroughs (Beat Godfather Meets Glitter Mainman, Rolling Stone, February 28, 1974), and was influenced by Burrough’s “cut up” writing technique. Here are Bowie’s cut up lyrics for Blackout, which appears on the 1977 album Heroes:
Oh you, you walk on past
Your lips cut a smile on your face
Your scalding face
To the cage, to the cage
She was a beauty in a cage
Too, too high a price
To drink rotting wine from your hands
Your fearful hands
Get me to a doctor’s I’ve been told
Someone’s back in town the chips are down
I just cut and blackout
I’m under Japanese influence
And my honour’s at stake
The weather’s grim, ice on the cages
Me, I’m Robin Hood and I puff on my cigarette
Panthers are steaming, stalking, screaming
If you don’t stay tonight
I will take that plane tonight
I’ve nothing to lose, nothing to gain
I’ll kiss you in the rain
Kiss you in the rain
Kiss you in the rain
In the rain
Get me to the doctor
Get me off the streets (get some protection)
Get me on my feet (get some direction)
Hot air gets me into a blackout
Oh, get me off the streets
Get some protection
Oh get me on my feet (wo wo)
While the streets block off
Getting some skin exposure to the blackout (get some protection)
Get me on my feet (get some direction, wo-ooh!)
Oh get me on my feet
Get me off the streets (get some protection)
Get a second
Get wo wo
Get a second ? breath on advice ?
And a second blow
In an excerpt from Beat Godfather Meets Glitter Mainman, Bowie and Burroughs discuss the importance of dreams in their work:
Burroughs: Do you get any of your ideas from dreams?
Burroughs: I get seventy per cent of mine from dreams.
Bowie: There’s a thing that, just as you go to sleep, if you keep your elbows elevated you will never go below the dream stage. And I’ve used that quite a lot and it keeps me dreaming much longer than if I just relaxed.
Burroughs: I dream a great deal, and then because I am a light sleeper, I will wake up and jot down just a few words and they will always bring the whole idea back to me.
Bowie: I keep a tape recorder by the bed and then if anything comes I just say it into the tape recorder. As for my inspiration, I haven’t changed my views much since I was about 12 really, I’ve just got a 12-year-old mentality. When I was in school I had a brother who was into Kerouac and he gave me On The Road to read when I was 12 years old. That’s still a big influence.
The cut up method of writing that Burroughs and Brion Gysin invented in 1959 can perhaps be thought of as conjuring the dream state of any piece of text. Burroughs described the process in The Cut Up Method (1963), and included at the end of his essay a cut up version of what he had just written, which perfectly demonstrates the process and its poetic value:
ALL WRITING IS IN FACT CUT UPS OF GAMES AND ECONOMIC BEHAVIOR OVERHEARD? WHAT ELSE? ASSUME THAT THE WORST HAS HAPPENED EXPLICIT AND SUBJECT TO STRATEGY IS AT SOME POINT CLASSICAL PROSE. CUTTING AND REARRANGING FACTOR YOUR OPPONENT WILL GAIN INTRODUCES A NEW DIMENSION YOUR STRATEGY. HOW MANY DISCOVERIES SOUND TO KINESTHETIC? WE CAN NOW PRODUCE ACCIDENT TO HIS COLOR OF VOWELS. AND NEW DIMENSION TO FILMS CUT THE SENSES. THE PLACE OF SAND. GAMBLING SCENES ALL TIMES COLORS TASTING SOUNDS SMELL STREETS OF THE WORLD. WHEN YOU CAN HAVE THE BET ALL: “POETRY IS FOR EVERYONE” DOCTOR NEUMAN IN A COLLAGE OF WORDS READ HEARD INTRODUCED THE CUT UP SCISSORS RENDERS THE PROCESS GAME AND MILITARY STRATEGY, VARIATION CLEAR AND ACT ACCORDINGLY. IF YOU POSED ENTIRELY OF REARRANGED CUT DETERMINED BY RANDOM A PAGE OF WRITTEN WORDS NO ADVANTAGE FROM KNOWING INTO WRITER PREDICT THE MOVE. THE CUT VARIATION IMAGES SHIFT SENSE ADVANTAGE IN PROCESSING TO SOUND SIGHT TO SOUND. HAVE BEEN MADE BY ACCIDENT IS WHERE RIMBAUD WAS GOING WITH ORDER THE CUT UPS COULD “SYSTEMATIC DERANGEMENT” OF THE GAMBLING SCENE IN WITH A TEA HALLUCINATION: SEEING AND PLACES. CUT BACK. CUT FORMS. REARRANGE THE WORD AND IMAGE TO OTHER FIELDS THAN WRITING.
The cut variation images shift sense advantage in processing to sound sight to sound. Bowie: “I will sit right down, waiting for the gift of sound and vision.” No advantage from knowing. “And I will sing, waiting for the gift of sound and vision.” We can now product accident to his color of vowels. “Blue, blue, electric blue / That’s the colour of my room / Where I will live.” Systematic derangement: seeing and places. “Blue, blue.” Cut back.
If you find yourself in London soon, check out the exhibition David Bowie is at the Victoria and Albert Museum (modestly, “The world’s greatest museum of art and design”), 23 March – 11 August 2013:
The V&A has been given unprecedented access to the David Bowie Archive to curate the first international retrospective of the extraordinary career of David Bowie – one of the most pioneering and influential performers of modern times. David Bowie is will explore the creative processes of Bowie as a musical innovator and cultural icon, tracing his shifting style and sustained reinvention across five decades.
The V&A’s Theatre and Performance curators, Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh have selected more than 300 objects that will be brought together for the very first time. They include handwritten lyrics, original costumes, fashion, photography, film, music videos, set designs, Bowie’s own instruments and album artwork.
What Was I Scared Of?
by Dr. Seuss
I was walking in the night
And I saw nothing scary.
For I have never been afraid
Of anything. Not very.
Then I was deep within the woods
When, suddenly, I spied them.
I saw a pair of pale green pants
With nobody inside them!
I wasn’t scared. But, yet, I stopped
What could those pants be there for?
What could a pair of pants at night
Be standing in the air for?
And then they moved? Those empty pants!
They kind of started jumping.
And then my heart, I must admit,
It kind of started thumping.
So I got out. I got out fast
As fast as I could go, sir.
I wasn’t scared. But pants like that
I did not care for. No, sir.
After that a week went by.
Then one dark night in Grin-itch
(I had to do an errand there
And fetch some Grin-itch spinach)…
Well, I had fetched the spinach.
I was starting back through town
When those pants raced around a corner
And they almost knocked me down!
I lost my Grin-itch spinach
But I didn’t even care.
I ran for home! Believe me,
I had really had a scare!
Now, bicycles were never made
For pale green pants to ride ’em,
Especially spooky pale green pants
With nobody inside ’em!
And the NEXT night, I was fishing
For Doubt-trout on Roover River
When those pants came rowing toward me!
Well, I started in to shiver.
And by now I was SO frightened
That, I’ll tell you, but I hate to….
I screamed and rowed away and lost
my hook and line and bait, too!
I ran and found a Brickle bush
I hid myself away.
I got brickles in my britches
But I stayed there anyway.
I stayed all night. The next night, too
I’d be there still, no doubt,
But I had to do an errand
So, the next night, I went out.
I had to do an errand,
Had to pick a peck of Snide
In a dark and gloomy Snide-field
That was almost nine miles wide.
I said, “I do not fear those pants
With nobody inside them.”
I said, and said, and said those words.
I said them. But I lied them.
Then I reached inside a Snide bush
And the next thing that I knew,
I felt my hand touch someone!
And I’ll bet that you know who.
And there I was! Caught in the Snide!
And in that dreadful place
Those spooky, empty pants and I
were standing face to face!
I yelled for help. I screamed. I shrieked.
I howled. I yowled. I cried,
“OH, SAVE ME FROM THESE PALE
GREEN PANTS WITH NOBODY INSIDE!”
But then a strange thing happened.
Why, those pants began to cry!
Those pants began to tremble.
They were just as scared as I!
I never heard such whimpering
And I began to see
That I was just as strange to them
As they were strange to me!
I put my arm around their waist
And sat right down beside them.
I calmed them down.
Poor empty pants
With nobody inside them.
And now, we meet quite often,
Those empty pants and I,
And we never shake or tremble,
We both smile and we say…”Hi!”
No one reads Arno Schmidt (1914-1979), a little-known major German writer whose corpus ranges from (seemingly) straightforward stories to writing that assails the reader with a literary and linguistic density of the highest degree—he is Germany’s Joyce.
Parsing Schmidt’s trade=mark syntax will reveal, among much else: tremendous wit, metanarratives, caustic social commentary, and passages fully charged with melopoeia.
English readers will have to wait for the amazing John E. Woods to finish translating Schmidt’s magnum opus, Zettels Traum (Bottom’s Dream)—it’s twice as long as Finnegans Wake—but, for the meantime, Woods has already provided us with sublime translations of Schmidt’s works, and he recommends the Collected Novellas as the place to start. In addition, I would suggest beginning with the volume Nobodaddy’s Children, which contains Scenes from the Life of a Faun, Brand’s Heath, and Dark Mirrors. [(un)justly (un)read]
Arno Schmidt (1914-1979) is not a well-known figure in German media studies. For the most part, his writings have never enjoyed large audiences and his complex works seem destined to stay at the margins of critical inquiries. Although Schmidt has slowly gained recognition as a “giant of postwar German Literature,” academic criticism so far has produced only a paucity of serious scholarly inquiries. One of Schmidt’s primary concern was to outline the various forms of knowledge formation. The changing nature of these processes of knowledge formation through television and radio posed a special interest. The shift in the transfer of knowledge, from a written text as the storage room of information, to immaterial knowledge production, in the media of radio and television, finds its succinct expression in Schmidt’s literary text Zettels Traum. Embedded in a narrative that claims to preserve our cultural past and present and to serve as a dialogue partner between reader, writer, and text, Zettels Traum, I argue, brings to the forefront the problematic nature of the immaterialities of communication as exemplified in news broadcasting in postwar Germany. The immateriality of communication signals the dissolution of the complex configuration of closed narratives and simultaneously replaces the traditional form of memory with images that orchestrate our forgetfulness. [Watching TV with Arno Schmidt]
Considering the enormous philological and historical erudition of Schmidt’s texts along with the abundance of references, allusions, and parodies of texts from the German, British, French, and classical literary traditions, it should not surprise us that Zettel’s Traum remains a neglected text…. From the outset, Schmidt’s Zettel’s Traum is visually distinguished from other books by its sheer bulk — 1334 pages and dimensions of 12.8 x 12.3 inches (owing to the photomechanical reproduction of the original typescript). With its irregular formatted pages and its division into various columns, the text, as an unknown reviewer observed, gained the status of an “elephantine monster” among postwar German publications. A reader of Zettel’s Traum encounters enlarged letters, advertising materials, photographs, pictorial elements supplementing the verbal narration, alterations, additions, and many other devices revealing the text outside the strict purview of literature.
For over ten years, Schmidt filled 130,000 Zettel (index cards) with information. It took him four years to transform Zettel’s Traum into a narrative of twenty-five hours in the life of the main characters of the text, Daniel Pagenstecher, usually called Dan, Paul Jacobi and his wife Wilma, and their teenage daughter Franziska. All four participants engage in the various problems connected with a translation of Edgar Allen Poe and discuss the life and works of Poe. Throughout the text, the central narrator, Daniel Pagenstecher, to whom the critics often refer as the alter ego of Schmidt, complements the discussions by inserting historical events, psychological findings, geographic discoveries, and cosmological insights. Additional comments and quotations from sources such as literary and historical texts unveil the multilingual texture of Zettel’s Traum as a labyrinthine narration.
…The title and the epigraph of Zettel’s Traum hint at Schmidt’s method of writing in the service of a dream. In this instance, William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of many allusions. “Zettel,” German for the “warp” of woven cloth, evokes Bottom the Weaver as translated in Friedrich Schlegel’s rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is essential to grasp Schmidt’s literary allusions to understand the structure and the signifying practices in Zettel’s Traum. [Arno Schmidt’s Zettel’s Traum: An Analysis]
Zettels Traum (1970) by Arno Schmidt is an innovative novel written in three columns with comments in the margins in the style of a scholarly work. This novel which can be translated to mean Slip Dream, is written in the avant garde prose of the Abstract Expressionist style, with concepts such as the Shower Field, which is an erotic metaphor for the Color Field theory of painting. The subtle eroticism of Zettels Traum intrigues the mind, expressing events which otherwise would seem too obvious, and the group consciousness of those involved in a larger project forms two plot lines, which convey the novelistic metafiction to the reader, with the discussion of literary texts, such as Edgar Allen Poe and James Joyce. [Innovative Fiction Magazine]
[Schmidt’s] writing style is characterized by a unique and witty style of adapting colloquial language, which won him quite a few fervent admirers. Moreover, he developed an orthography by which he thought to reveal the true meaning of words and their connections amongst each other. One of the most cited examples is the use of “Roh=Mann=Tick” instead of “Romantik” (revealing romanticism as the craze of unsubtle men). The atoms of words holding the nuclei of original meaning he called Etyme (etyms).
His theory of etyms is developed in his magnum opus, Zettels Traum, in which an elderly writer comments on Edgar Allan Poe’s works in a stream of consciousness, while discussing a Poe translation with a couple of translators and flirting with their teenage daughter. Schmidt also accomplished a translation of Edgar Allan Poe’s works himself (1966–73, together with Hans Wollschläger). Some critics even dismissed Zettel’s Traum as non-art, or sheer nonsense, and Schmidt himself as a “psychopath.” but Schmidt’s reputation as esoteric, and that of his work as non-art, has faded and he is now seen as an important, if highly eccentric, German writer of the 20th century. [Wikipedia: Arno Schmidt]
Schmidt divides Zettels Traum into three columns, each of which corresponds to a particular theme. The center column reflects upon events which took place between 1965 and 1969, the time in which Zettels Traum (ZT) was actually written, and introduces to the reader the texts of Edgar Allan Poe. The center column of Zettels Traum foregrounds the various texts of Poe. Daniel Pagenstecher himself an author, as well as central narrator of the events in Zettels Traum, lives a scholar-hermit’s existence near a village in Northern Germany, and assists his friend Paul Jacobi, likewise a writer, in the translation of Poe’s works into German. The action is confined to the events of a single summer day. Present are Wilma, Paul Jacobi’s wife, and the Jacobi’s teenage daughter Franziska, who thinks she is in love with the much older Dan. Throughout the day, the five discuss Edgar Allan Poe’s writings and what they reveal of his life and ideas. During the discussions Dan offers his explanation of his theory of language, the etym-theory, to the left of the main column. While the figures discuss the works of Poe in the center column, in this left-hand column Dan tells stories about Poe’s life and inserts citations from Poe’s texts that illustrate his etym-theory of language. Serving as a type of footnote, the right-hand column contains citations and comments that supply additional information and references to other texts. [Watching TV with Arno Schmidt]
“In Schmidt, then, we have a fusion of the striving for scientific thinking with a commitment to modernist writing; for him the founding father of his art is not Zola but Lewis Carroll.” – Keith Bullivant, “Arno Schmidt: The German Context”, in the Review of Contemporary Fiction (Spring, 1988). [The Complete Review]
By playing on the dialectic between consciousness and the unconscious, Schmidt conveniently centers the use of citation on a lack of memory, a repression, or an inability to differentiate between text and intertext. Hence Zettels Traum breaks from the traditional understanding of citations by questioning their presuppositions. Most fundamentally, Zettels Traum is a text about texts, a discussion and dissemination of the writings of Edgar Allen Poe. [Arno Schmidt’s Zettels Traum: an analysis by Voker Max Langbehn, in Innovative Fiction Magazine]
The German Book Office reports that compared to the more than 50,000 foreign titles published in Germany each year, only about 3,000 German books make it into translation worldwide. Of these, fewer than 40 works of fiction are translated into English each year, Woods estimated.
For three decades Woods’ award-winning work has often topped this short list, but not for much longer. He plans to retire within a year after finishing Arno Schmidt’s 1,330-page opus, Zettel’s Traum, which will be titled “Bottom’s Dream,” in English.
“When I’m done with ‘Bottom’s Dream,’ I’ve done my work,” he said. “I plan to enjoy Berlin. I love this city. It sparkles for me.” [John E. Woods: Bringing German literature to the world]
The classic Bigfoot image is from a 1967 film by Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin, at Bluff Creek in Northern California (see video below). The Bigfoot might be fake, but the scarred and battered film stock is the real deal, real enough perhaps to inspire a few new Hipstamatic filters. The movie Elf is a Christmas classic from 2003, starring Will Ferrell as the feral elf, Buddy, seen here in Central Park in homage to Patterson’s Bigfoot. And the alleged and unverified photo of the late great J.D. Salinger was snapped by Paul Adao in 1988. Another Adao photo illustrates a wonderful New York Magazine story by publisher Roger Lathbury from 2010, Betraying Salinger. I scored the publishing coup of the decade: his final book. And then I blew it.
Bonus: there’s been another Bigfoot sighting — in our portfolio.
Jed Birmingham wrote a great article a couple years ago, Black Mountain Review: Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker, about William S. Burroughs and his appearance in The Black Mountain Review in the late 1950s. The Review was the art and literary journal of Black Mountain College, the experimental liberal arts college that existed in North Carolina from 1933–1957. Here is Birmingham’s description:
Founded by progressive educator John Rice in 1933 near Asheville, North Carolina, by the late 1940s, Black Mountain College attracted key figures (or soon to be) in the experimental arts: John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Josef and Anni Albers, David Tudor, Clement Greenberg, Charles Olson, Robert Rauschenberg, Franz Kline, and Buckminster Fuller. By 1954, the College was on its last legs. In fact, the winter of 1953/1954 was arguably the lowest point in the College’s history. Out of this winter of discontent grew the idea of a literary magazine. Olson had turned Black Mountain into his own classroom and writers like Ed Dorn, Michael Rumaker, John Wieners, and Fielding Dawson attended the college. Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley along with Olson would teach at the College in its closing years.
There were only seven issues of The Black Mountain Review published, as seen in the seven cover images above. I love these covers, and how the publishers began with the idea of a consistent design template with minimal differentiation, perhaps to create an identifiable “brand,” but by issue five their own artistic and experimental inclinations took over, obviously under the influence of John Cage and Franz Kline, and overthrew the rigid structure. It like a visual representation of a mind expanding. Beautiful.
For large version of each Review cover, and more, see Black Mountain Review: Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker.
The recent New Yorker science fiction issue, their first ever, included a great essay by Anthony Burgess from 1973, The Clockwork Condition, in which the author comments on his most famous book, A Clockwork Orange, and the “very close film interpretation” by Stanley Kubrick. Most interesting is Burgess’ description of the origin of the title, as well as the various lexicographical connotations of the antihero’s name, Alex:
I first heard the expression “as queer as a clockwork orange” in a London pub before the Second World War. It is an old Cockney slang phrase, implying a queerness or madness so extreme as to subvert nature, since could any notion be more bizarre than that of a clockwork orange? The image appealed to me as something not just fantastic but obscurely real. The forced marriage of an organism to a mechanism, of a thing living, growing, sweet, juicy, to a cold dead artifact–is that solely a concept of nightmare? I discovered the relevance of this image to twentieth-century life when, in 1961, I began to write a novel about curing juvenile delinquency. I had read somewhere that it would be a good idea to liquidate the criminal impulse through aversion therapy; I was appalled. I began to work out the implications of this notion in a brief work of fiction. The title “A Clockwork Orange” was there waiting to attach itself to the book: it was the only possible name.
The hero of both the book and the film is a young thug called Alex. I gave him that name because of its international character (you could not have a British or Russian boy called Chuck or Butch), and also because of its ironic connotations. Alex is a comic reduction of Alexander the Great, slashing his way through the world and conquering it. But he is changed into the conquered–impotent, wordless. He was a law (a lex) unto himself; he becomes a creature without lex or lexicon. The hidden puns, of course, have nothing to do with the real meaning of the name Alexander, which is “defender of men.”
At the beginning of the book and the film, Alex is a human being endowed, perhaps overendowed, with three characteristics that we regard as essential attributes of man. He rejoices in articulate language and even invents a new form of it (he is far from alexical at this stage); he loves beauty, which he finds in Beethoven’s music above everything; he is aggressive.
The new form of language that Alex invents is Nadsat, which “is basically English with some borrowed words from Russian. It also contains influences from Cockney rhyming slang and the King James Bible, the German language, some words of unclear origin, and some that Burgess invented. The word nadsat itself is the suffix of Russian numerals from 11 to 19 (-надцать). The suffix is an almost exact linguistic parallel to the English ‘-teen’….” Thus, Alex invents and speaks a “teen” language, a common occurrence the world over. By propagating a new form of language, he is partaking in creative destruction of the existing dominant language in his culture (English), but that is just an analog to the real violence he perpetrates on society. If only Alex had become a linguist and author like Burgess, (or a namer?) then perhaps he wouldn’t have been so violent. Then again, we can’t retroactively “cure” literary characters any more than the society of A Clockwork Orange could.
Bonus: A lexicon of Nadast words from A Clockwork Orange.
The great children’s book author and illustrator — and all-around brilliant artist — Maurice Sendak died this morning. Most famous for Where the Wild Things Are, first published in 1963, and In The Night Kitchen, 1970, Sendak wrote and/or illustrated many books, produced and designed theater, opera and ballet productions, and has left us with a body of work that will be influential for years to come. He will be greatly missed.
Here are two fantastic interviews with Sendak by Stepen Colbert from January of this year that really show Sendak’s wit and mind in top form.
Grim Colberty Tales with Maurice Sendak Pt. 1
“Author and illustrator Maurice Sendak contemplates the complexity of children and the simplicity of Newt Gingrich.”
Grim Colberty Tales with Maurice Sendak Pt. 2
“Maurice Sendak considers the state of children’s literature and gets high on markers.”
I heard this wonderful interview with Mike Nichols who is currently directing a revival of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. The cast includes Philip Seymour Hoffman as Willy Loman, Linda Emond as Linda Loman and Andrew Garfield as Biff Loman.
Mike Nichols: ‘Salesman’ By Day, Artist Always
Interviewed by Robert Siegel
National Public Radio, All Things Considered
March 9, 2012
Photo: Matt Sayles/AP
The New York Times published a book review last Sunday by Dani Shapiro (The High Road), of “Wild,” a Hiking Memoir by Cheryl Strayed. I want to quote part of the review, which quotes a passage from the book about how the author created her name:
To begin to understand something about Cheryl Strayed, know that Strayed is not her given name. We never find out the name she was born with, but we are made to understand with absolute clarity why she chose to change it, and just how well her new name suits her. Contemplating divorce, she realized that she couldn’t continue to use the hyphenated married name she’d shared with her husband, “nor could I go back to having the name I had had in high school and be the girl I used to be. . . . I pondered the question of my last name, mentally scanning words that sounded good with Cheryl. . . . Nothing fit until one day when the word strayed came into my mind. Immediately I looked it up in the dictionary and knew it was mine. Its layered definitions spoke directly to my life and also struck a poetic chord: to wander from the proper path, to deviate from the direct course, to be lost, to become wild, to be without a mother or father, to be without a home, to move about aimlessly in search of something, to diverge or digress. I had diverged, digressed, wandered and become wild. . . . I saw the power of the darkness. Saw that, in fact, I had strayed and that I was a stray and that from the wild places my straying had brought me, I knew things I couldn’t have known before.”
This is a beautiful expression of what it feels like when you discover the perfect name, whether it be for a company, product or service, or, as in this case, for someone’s own identity. Sounds like a great book.
Jhumpa Lahiri, author of “Unaccustomed Earth,” “The Namesake” and “Interpreter of Maladies,” had a wonderful Opinion piece in Sunday’s New York times, My Life’s Sentences, which got me thinking about the role of sentences in writing, and how this applies to naming. Lahiri begins,
In college, I used to underline sentences that struck me, that made me look up from the page. They were not necessarily the same sentences the professors pointed out, which would turn up for further explication on an exam. I noted them for their clarity, their rhythm, their beauty and their enchantment. For surely it is a magical thing for a handful of words, artfully arranged, to stop time. To conjure a place, a person, a situation, in all its specificity and dimensions. To affect us and alter us, as profoundly as real people and things do.
I love this concept of enchantment, of what a magical thing it is for a mere “handful of words, artfully arranged, to stop time.” Lahiri continues with a great example of such conjuring:
I remember reading a sentence by Joyce, in the short story “Araby.” It appears toward the beginning. “The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed.” I have never forgotten it. This seems to me as perfect as a sentence can be. It is measured, unguarded, direct and transcendent, all at once. It is full of movement, of imagery. It distills a precise mood. It radiates with meaning and yet its sensibility is discreet.
The concept of the sentence as a stopper of time and a conjurer of places, people and situations is beautifully put. This is what we strive for in our naming work here at Zinzin, to go beyond mere identification and representation, and to evoke other worlds, imagery, movement, meaning and mood. When it works, it is magic, whether in a name, a sentence, or a poem. Speaking of poetry, the poet Robert Creeley has a rather different take on the idea of a sentence: “Oh yes, the sentence,” Creeley once told the critic Burton Hatlen, “that’s what we call it when we put someone in jail.” One writer’s “conjurer of worlds” is another writer’s jail cell.
From a poet’s perspective, the conjuring takes place on the lips of the speaker and in the mind of the listener/reader, independent of the structural norms of narrative prose, or any “norms” for that matter (see Kurt Schwitters, Die Sonate in Urlauten). For the writer of narrative prose, however, the sentence is a cellular organism–blood of the writer blood of the book–bringing stories to life. I’ve referred before to Don DeLillo’s 1993 Paris Review interview, but this bears repeating here:
…the basic work is built around the sentence. This is what I mean when I call myself a writer. I construct sentences. There’s a rhythm I hear that drives me through a sentence. And the words typed on the white page have a sculptural quality. They form odd correspondences. They match up not just through meaning but through sound and look…. I’m completely willing to let language press meaning upon me. Watching the way in which words match up, keeping the balance in a sentence—these are sensuous pleasures.
For DeLillo, the sentence is the existential force that that wills his narratives–and thus himself as a writer–into being. Bill Gray, the reclusive novelist protagonist of DeLillo’s novel “Mao II,” says at one point: “I’m a sentence maker. Like a donut maker, only slower.” Elsewhere, Gray–speaking from a gray zone between character and author–illuminates what appears to be DeLillo’s core concept of the sentence:
Every sentence has a truth waiting at the end of it and the writer learns how to know it when he finally gets there. On one level this truth is the swing of the sentence, the beat and poise, but down deeper it’s the integrity of the writer as he matches with the language. I’ve always seen myself in sentences. I begin to recognize myself, word by word, as I work through a sentence. The language of my books has shaped me as a man. There’s a moral force in a sentence when it comes out right. It speaks the writer’s will to live.
The language of my books has shaped me as a man. For DeLillo, there is no “I: The Writer” who writes sentences; it is only through writing that the writer is born. The sentence begets the writer, and to live, the writer must write the right sentences, which in turn create the writer, until they become interchangeable. Lahari:
As a book or story nears completion, I grow acutely, obsessively conscious of each sentence in the text. They enter into the blood. They seem to replace it, for a while.
Sentences enter the blood, for they are the red blood cells of prose; the author and her works have become one. Lahari goes on to elucidate the special something that great sentences must possess if they are to ignite the reader’s imagination:
The most compelling narrative, expressed in sentences with which I have no chemical reaction, or an adverse one, leaves me cold. In fiction, plenty do the job of conveying information, rousing suspense, painting characters, enabling them to speak. But only certain sentences breathe and shift about, like live matter in soil. The first sentence of a book is a handshake, perhaps an embrace. Style and personality are irrelevant. They can be formal or casual. They can be tall or short or fat or thin. They can obey the rules or break them. But they need to contain a charge. A live current, which shocks and illuminates.
Again, this beautifully describes our approach to naming, to go beyond names that merely “convey information” in favor of names that “breathe and shift about, like live matter in soil.” Replacing Lahari’s first “they” with “names,” and we get right to the core of great naming: [Names] can be formal or casual. They can be tall or short or fat or thin. They can obey the rules or break them. But they need to contain a charge. A live current, which shocks and illuminates.
To paraphrase Don DeLillo: Every [name] has a truth waiting at the end of it and the [namer] learns how to know it when he finally gets there. For sentences, poetic fragments and names alike, there is a unique, individual truth waiting to be uncovered, and uncovering it is the journey.
Every telling has a taling and that’s the he and the she of it. Here is a 1929 recording of James Joyce reading the Anna Livia Plurabelle episode of Finnegans Wake, where he speaks in the brogue of an Irish washerwoman. Below is the full text of this episode. Can’t hear with the waters of. The chittering waters of. The last paragraph is one of my favorite passages in the whole book, and hauntingly beautiful in Joyce’s reading. Beside the rivering waters of, hitherandthithering waters of. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Well, you know or don’t you kennet or haven’t I told you
every telling has a taling and that’s the he and the she of it. Look,
look, the dusk is growing! My branches lofty are taking root.
And my cold cher’s gone ashley. Fieluhr? Filou! What age is at?
It saon is late. ‘Tis endless now senne eye or erewone last saw
Waterhouse’s clogh. They took it asunder, I hurd thum sigh.
When will they reassemble it? O, my back, my back, my bach!
I’d want to go to Aches-les-Pains. Pingpong! There’s the Belle
for Sexaloitez! And Concepta de Send-us-pray! Pang! Wring out
the clothes! Wring in the dew! Godavari, vert the showers! And
grant thaya grace! Aman. Will we spread them here now? Ay,
we will. Flip ! Spread on your bank and I’ll spread mine on mine.
Flep! It’s what I’m doing. Spread ! It’s churning chill. Der went is
rising. I’ll lay a few stones on the hostel sheets. A man and his bride
embraced between them. Else I’d have sprinkled and folded them
only. And I’ll tie my butcher’s apron here. It’s suety yet. The
strollers will pass it by. Six shifts, ten kerchiefs, nine to hold to
the fire and this for the code, the convent napkins, twelve, one
baby’s shawl. Good mother Jossiph knows, she said. Whose
head? Mutter snores? Deataceas! Wharnow are alle her childer,
say? In kingdome gone or power to come or gloria be to them
farther? Allalivial, allalluvial! Some here, more no more, more
again lost alla stranger. I’ve heard tell that same brooch of the
Shannons was married into a family in Spain. And all the Dun-
ders de Dunnes in Markland’s Vineland beyond Brendan’s herring
pool takes number nine in yangsee’s hats. And one of Biddy’s
beads went bobbing till she rounded up lost histereve with a
marigold and a cobbler’s candle in a side strain of a main drain
of a manzinahurries off Bachelor’s Walk. But all that’s left to the
last of the Meaghers in the loup of the years prefixed and between
is one kneebuckle and two hooks in the front. Do you tell me.
that now? I do in troth. Orara por Orbe and poor Las Animas!
Ussa, Ulla, we’re umbas all! Mezha, didn’t you hear it a deluge of
times, ufer and ufer, respund to spond? You deed, you deed! I
need, I need! It’s that irrawaddyng I’ve stoke in my aars. It all
but husheth the lethest zswound. Oronoko ! What’s your trouble?
Is that the great Finnleader himself in his joakimono on his statue
riding the high horse there forehengist? Father of Otters, it is
himself! Yonne there! Isset that? On Fallareen Common? You’re
thinking of Astley’s Amphitheayter where the bobby restrained
you making sugarstuck pouts to the ghostwhite horse of the
Peppers. Throw the cobwebs from your eyes, woman, and spread
your washing proper! It’s well I know your sort of slop. Flap!
Ireland sober is Ireland stiff Lord help you, Maria, full of grease,
the load is with me! Your prayers. I sonht zo! Madammangut!
Were you lifting your elbow, tell us, glazy cheeks, in Conway’s
Carrigacurra canteen? Was I what, hobbledyhips? Flop! Your
rere gait’s creakorheuman bitts your butts disagrees. Amn’t I
up since the damp dawn, marthared mary allacook, with Corri-
gan’s pulse and varicoarse veins, my pramaxle smashed, Alice
Jane in decline and my oneeyed mongrel twice run over, soaking
and bleaching boiler rags, and sweating cold, a widow like me,
for to deck my tennis champion son, the laundryman with the
lavandier flannels? You won your limpopo limp fron the husky
hussars when Collars and Cuffs was heir to the town and your
slur gave the stink to Carlow. Holy Scamander, I sar it again!
Near the golden falls. Icis on us! Seints of light! Zezere! Subdue
your noise, you hamble creature! What is it but a blackburry
growth or the dwyergray ass them four old codgers owns. Are
you meanam Tarpey and Lyons and Gregory? I meyne now,
thank all, the four of them, and the roar of them, that draves
that stray in the mist and old Johnny MacDougal along with
them. Is that the Poolbeg flasher beyant, pharphar, or a fireboat
coasting nyar the Kishtna or a glow I behold within a hedge or
my Garry come back from the Indes? Wait till the honeying of
the lune, love! Die eve, little eve, die! We see that wonder in
your eye. We’ll meet again, we’ll part once more. The spot I’ll
seek if the hour you’ll find. My chart shines high where the blue
milk’s upset. Forgivemequick, I’m going! Bubye! And you,
pluck your watch, forgetmenot. Your evenlode. So save to
jurna’s end! My sights are swimming thicker on me by the sha-
dows to this place. I sow home slowly now by own way, moy-
valley way. Towy I too, rathmine.
Ah, but she was the queer old skeowsha anyhow, Anna Livia,
trinkettoes! And sure he was the quare old buntz too, Dear Dirty
Dumpling, foostherfather of fingalls and dotthergills. Gammer
and gaffer we’re all their gangsters. Hadn’t he seven dams to wive
him? And every dam had her seven crutches. And every crutch
had its seven hues. And each hue had a differing cry. Sudds for
me and supper for you and the doctor’s bill for Joe John. Befor!
Bifur! He married his markets, cheap by foul, I know, like any
Etrurian Catholic Heathen, in their pinky limony creamy birnies
and their turkiss indienne mauves. But at milkidmass who was
the spouse? Then all that was was fair. Tys Elvenland ! Teems of
times and happy returns. The seim anew. Ordovico or viricordo.
Anna was, Livia is, Plurabelle’s to be. Northmen’s thing made
southfolk’s place but howmulty plurators made eachone in per-
son? Latin me that, my trinity scholard, out of eure sanscreed into
oure eryan! Hircus Civis Eblanensis! He had buckgoat paps on
him, soft ones for orphans. Ho, Lord ! Twins of his bosom. Lord
save us! And ho! Hey? What all men. Hot? His tittering daugh-
ters of. Whawk?
Can’t hear with the waters of. The chittering waters of. Flitter-
ing bats, fieldmice bawk talk. Ho! Are you not gone ahome?
What Thom Malone? Can’t hear with bawk of bats, all thim liffey-
ing waters of. Ho, talk save us ! My foos won’t moos. I feel as old
as yonder elm. A tale told of Shaun or Shem? All Livia’s daughter-
sons. Dark hawks hear us. Night! Night! My ho head halls. I feel
as heavy as yonder stone. Tell me of John or Shaun? Who were
Shem and Shaun the living sons or daughters of? Night now!
Tell me, tell me, tell me, elm! Night night! Telmetale of stem or
stone. Beside the rivering waters of, hitherandthithering waters
Telmetale of stem or stone. The recording above of James Joyce reading from Finnegans Wake was made in 1929, and is one of only two recordings of Joyce reading ever made. The other, from a passage in Ulysses, was made in 1924, is hard to find online and apparently is of poor quality.
UbuWeb has a Joyce page where you can download the mp3 of this recording, accompanied by Sylvia Beach’s story about the making of the two recordings — she made all the arrangements and took Joyce to the sessions.
See also: A blessing paper freed the flood.
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