5 March 2014

Covering the Territory

Filed under: Fiction, Ktismata, Reflections — ktismatics @ 6:57 am

This one scientific study, this one business, this one war, this one church: each individual creation is simultaneously a part of a larger reality and a separate reality in its own right. How does the reality of the larger category of Science, Business, War, Church shape the way you create this particular instantiation?

Say I want to write a novel. All the novels ever written comprise the larger reality of The Novel. There are abstract properties that apply to most novels: they are fictional, they are written by one person, they’re pretty long, there are characters, there are stories involving the characters. There are novel-writing skills: good writing technique, imagination, character development, dialogue. There are subcategories of novels, the “genres” of fiction: science fiction, romance, inspirational, literary. Then there is the environment where novels “live”: publishers, bookstores, the reading public. There’s what the customers want out of a novel: characters they can relate to, some sex and violence, snappy dialogue, straighforward story development.

Then there is my novel. A man is sitting at an outdoor café table. It’s southern France. It’s raining, late afternoon. He’s sitting by himself, drinking a beer. Just like every afternoon. He’s distracted, lost in thought – he’s just heard disturbing news from a distant friend. After a while he realizes that there’s a woman standing across from him, greeting him by name. She extends her hand…

This is the reality as it exists inside this particular novel, a novel that isn’t even written yet, a reality that’s being summoned into existence out of the formless void of the individual imagination. I’ve read plenty of novels, I’ve worked on my skills: now I’m writing this novel, creating this one idiosyncratic creation. I’m totally immersed in this emerging reality that’s taking shape around me. To me as I write there are no other novels: there’s only this one.

Say I’ve finished writing the novel. There it sits in the agent’s slush pile, one manuscript among hundreds, thousands, millions. What’s distinguishes mine from the rest? Perhaps nothing: it’s a product of the novel-writing industry. It’s a cottage industry comprised of hundreds of thousands of individual practitioners working in relative isolation. From forty thousand feet my novel is identical to every other novel.

I can approach the work of writing a novel in one of two ways. I can think about where my novel sits in the larger reality of The Novel: the component parts, the skills, the genres, the market. I want to make my novel enough like everyone else’s so that it’s attractive to the publishing industry and the reading public, but different enough that it stands out from the competition. Or I can think about the guy getting up from his café table to greet the woman. Does he kiss her extended hand, shake it, grasp it tenderly? What does he say to her? Does she join him for a beer? Why has she come?

In my view, the only escape from Baudrillard’s world of the simulacra, of copies without originals, of representations without realities, is to ignore The Reality and to create this particular reality. Instead of seeing a world overwhelmed by more and more of the same, you find – or you create – a formless void where nothing exists except pure unprecedented possibility. Are there any formless voids left in a world inundated by mass-produced simulacra of everything under the sun? From forty thousand feet, no. But right here, right now, the guy at his café table rises to greet the woman. He bumps his leg on the table, sloshing just a little of the beer out of his glass, but neither of them notices. The man reaches out to take the woman’s extended hand as the waiter stands by the open door of the café, empty tray in hand, watching the motorcycle as it splashes its way between the double-parked cars toward the sea…

*   *   *

The preceding is an exact replica of this post, dated 4 October 2006. Is it, like Menard’s Quixote, different now, maybe even better, more original than the original?


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  1. Hey I like your stuff… Your take on some lacanianisms has been instructive…my own work has been to some degree a response to baudrillard where I’ve generally given up on worrying about or wishing in relation to others and my own ignorance is subject to the immanence of a terminal species… An Other to that horrible human thing… What may be the only unfinished piece of human business would be to enter analysis….we shall see.

    Comment by mobi ditch — 13 June 2014 @ 7:45 pm

  2. Thanks mobi. I thought for awhile that if anyone ever commented on this post I’d start blogging again. I’m not feeling it though. Congratulations on immunizing yourself from audience response. I have written long fictions as if there never would be readers, but it’s hard for me to abandon the romantic conceit that some day my texts will be discovered, will resonate with others, will change their lives and make me famous. At the same time I find myself increasingly alienated from others, disappointed in them, resentful, contemptuous, dismissive. This is the sort of ambiguity that fuels my fictional imagination, but I feel sunk into inertia now. I get the sense that letting myself settle into complacency might not be such a bad option. Maybe become a decadent like Des Esseintes. Or like Jarmusch’s vampires, I can continue exercising my isolated imagination wedded to cultivated connoisseurship, occasionally refueling my depleted libidinal energy by sucking the life out of some vital innocent who happens to cross my path…

    Comment by ktismatics — 14 June 2014 @ 9:34 am

    • Hey, buddy… been a while… don’t give up the bucket… :) Tell the truth I left the philosophical proclivities behind, felt I wasn’t getting anywhere with it in the same way you are in fiction; yet, I just changed genres: went back to my first love, poetry :) Not sure why I ever left it to begin with, but maybe you should quit worrying about an audience here on WP … I gave up on that long ago. I just keep it for myself. Although now I’m gaining a following lol But working on publishing to smaller journals and eventually a chapbook then on to other stuff….

      I hope you don’t give in to lethargy and defeat… you have greatness in you! Don’t give in to self-defeat!!!

      Comment by S.C. Hickman — 12 September 2014 @ 5:04 pm

  3. Hey Craig. I’ve been following your recent poetic exploits, amazed at your ability to turn on a dime from other pursuits. I’ve wondered if writing poetry lets you enter into a more spontaneous engagement of the unconscious, embracing a praxis toward which you’d been moving explicitly in your philosophizing. I also wonder whether the poetic practice thrusts you more deeply inside your own head or more broadly into the world your head is inside of. It’s a varied set of works you’ve been assembling: congratulations on this new direction.

    I appreciate your encouragement. A lesson I’ve continually attempted to learn is distinguishing between my own failings and the failings of others. I.e., there’s greatness in my books, and if people don’t like them it’s their own damned fault! There are echoes of arranjames’s anti-psychiatry here: it’s an epidemic of depression and anxiety and lethargy out there because the world can be a depressing and anxious and enervating place. Your own nascent apocalyptic fiction is embedded in this sort of pessimistic worldview, so clearly you know what I’m talking about. It seemed you were trying to write your way not out of the doomed world but through it, passing into the unknown other side. In my own fictionalizing I’ve cultivated an almost ascetic isolation, digging networks of tunnels under the world that my characters and I can explore — kind of like the creature in Kafka’s short story “The Burrow.” At the end of my last novel the tunnels seemed to have merged back into the world. Did this movement portend a post-apocalyptic transformation of the world, or a collapse of the tunnels?

    I think it’s too soon to tell. Like you, I recently turned 62, which dramatically changes the game. I can coast in from here: decorate the tunnel walls, bring in some provisions and some books, put my feet up. Of course I entertain the fantasy that one day I’ll hear the wizard’s stick rapping on my door, summoning me into a new adventure to which I reluctantly accede. Or maybe I’ll find that even in my own insular contentment I just cant stop expanding the tunnel system…

    Comment by ktismatics — 13 September 2014 @ 7:57 am

    • “What may be the only unfinished piece of human business would be to enter analysis”

      That was an interesting observation, I daresay. Except you can do it yourself. But it comes up naturally, even with a predisposition against it, when “I find myself increasingly alienated from others, disappointed in them, resentful, contemptuous, dismissive. This is the sort of ambiguity that fuels my fictional imagination, but I feel sunk into inertia now. I get the sense that letting myself settle into complacency might not be such a bad option. ”

      Maybe you can do that, to me it’s easier said than done, although I always think I want it. In any case, the full complacency must come in bursts alternated with more contemptuousness and ‘alienation from others’. The ‘office visits’ idea occurs when you feel the abyss you’ve usually been subject to be now seen as an external image but seen only by oneself which then repairs itself into one’s own always-known genius. Others have always been right, oneself has always been right. The new moments of complacency aren’t the same as inertia, which one can’t be complacent about. This summer was so unreally near-perfect that I settled into real complacencies that looked like interior design magazines in my own house; I’d become one of Chandler’s pansey decorators to some degree, except that I swam at the beach, etc., started keeping up with the daily news studiously. I started seeing things like a rich person with his baubles, and then falling over the precipice into the poor people. Only to get right back up, and then finally see the diagram of the abyss this morning, never leave the house today when I’ve been more active than ever in recent weeks, and then discover you’ve got comments here.

      “A lesson I’ve continually attempted to learn is distinguishing between my own failings and the failings of others. I.e., there’s greatness in my books, and if people don’t like them it’s their own damned fault!”

      I’ve been discovering ‘yes’ and ‘no’ about that. It goes along with the contemptuousness, which I practice regularly and then wonder why those I feel contempt for have little response to me. They can always feel the contempt even if you ‘act differently’, as if you weren’t contemptuous. I’m sure of that.

      “in my own insular contentment I just cant stop expanding the tunnel system…”

      I can’t stop either, even if I never elaborated it as such as you have. Somehow it takes you along, you discover you don’t want anything but your toys and idiosyncrasies if you’ve had the freedom to get them, and then you don’t need them so much if they’re within reach and then captured. I then start feeling much less alienated, wronged, and dismissive, and stop hating so much. But I do eliminate things that are obviously intrusive and destructive. If you’ve gotten used to them, that’s not a pleasant process either, but it probably pays off. I recall Krishnamurti writing back in the 60s or 70s that ‘it doesn’t even matter if you have all the parts working perfectly, but rather what is important is to let the unknown come into being’.

      So maybe there’s a delay after the ‘parts are working perfectly’, which is not that far from Derrida’s warning about the dangers of masturbation. One ought not to masturbate, but it seems worse if you don’t want to. Things like that. If you turn your apartment, for example, into a kind of frame for oneself as a ‘still life’, that’s like masturbation, with or without it. Even if you worry about over-watering and discover that some Paphiopedilums seem almost completely wilted but revive totally when just removed from the plant with the stem on and placed into a crystal vase. Then you see the Lady’s Slipper and the clitoral-looking thing the slipper seems to be peering at, and this is more endearing than the old-fashioned annuals.

      Yes, part of it is age. This early 60s business is rife with ‘too late’ sensations.

      Comment by Patrick — 26 September 2014 @ 5:24 pm

  4. I agree that the attitudinal current alternates between indifference and contempt. I don’t see a synthesis emerging, no sort of golden mean between the two poles. I’ve been trying out the phrase “beneath my contempt” as expressing the variety of hauteur I’d like to cultivate.

    Though I’ve not been blogging or writing fiction, I have been making rather frequent entries into my cahier. I’m not sure it qualifies as self-analysis; I use it more as a place for contriving crackpot schemes. I find myself oscillating between real schemes and imaginary ones, though I’m not sure I can tell the difference. In recent years my synthesis has entailed writing fictions about them, though the existing “suite” has attained a kind of artistic closure for that particular array of crackpot schemes. At the same time, I don’t feel that I’ve actually resolved many of the obsessions that fueled those schemes; it’s more that I’ve given the crank a few more turns from where they started. There are hooks built onto the books that I could build onto, redesigning and overhauling the fictional apparatus, extending the tunnels. Or I could go in some other direction altogether. Or I could cash the Social Security checks and buy ingredients for some nice meals — minestrone with crusty bread is on the menu for tonight.

    Comment by ktismatics — 27 September 2014 @ 11:33 am

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