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?




  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

    • As you’ve noticed I’ve returned to essay writing. Had a good run on poetry, though: almost 400 poems of which about 100 or of publishable quality. Of course I’m a harsh critic of my own work after the fact :)

      Have you been continuing in your cahiers? Doing anything else?

      I’ve been working on both my dystopian sci fi quartet and my fantasy novel as well. Those are going good. My problem is always the need to do what others are not. Something different. Quirky. Miss your posts…


      Comment by S.C. Hickman — 11 November 2014 @ 8:10 am

      • “always the need to do what others are not. Something different.” The force propelling my own fictions is this injunction to “get different.” That’s the motto of the Salon Postisme, a fictional institution/praxis introduced in the first chapter of the first book. The Salon and its practitioners/clients generate the narrative’s impetus.

        Very glad to hear about your writing progress, Craig. I’m interested in this idea of “publishable quality.” How would you characterize it? How do you distinguish the 100 that make the cut from the 300 that don’t?


        Comment by ktismatics — 12 November 2014 @ 11:00 am

      • I don’t, at least not in the sense of some universal notion. From what I’m reading most of it is beyond doubt all too subjective in the area of editors and publishers these days. The culture I grew up in is gone: the age of print is gone. Even if you see it everywhere, books are dead.

        This is the time of Indie’s and self-publishing. Getting published by a formal old-time book publisher is an iffy business from what I read on post after post of even the best published authors in various fields… so who am I to presume to know that answer?

        My remark was mainly dealing with the typical aspects of openings, hooks, etc. And it depends if your audience is for the mass appeal, or literary? That truly is the cutting line: how many people do you assume you want to have read your work – the top readers, the echelon who love difficult and complex prose, etc. Or just your basic internet blip reader whose vocabulary is built out of the base set of street talk and music? Nothing demeaning here, but there is a difference.

        In my fictional writing I’ve had to compromise a great deal and tone down my knowledge of the English language, so that I might be able to reach the younger generation. I’ve begun tapping into the blogs and sites that cater to younger people to see what kinds of things are actually being bought. In other words I’m a word whore discovering the tribal worlds around me: a cartographer of YA if you will. :)


        Comment by S.C. Hickman — 12 November 2014 @ 11:34 am

      • Nicely put.


        Comment by ktismatics — 12 November 2014 @ 12:48 pm

      • As for counterpoint:

        Of all the forms of literature, that of the prose poem was the form Des Esseintes preferred. Handled by an alchemist of genius, it contained in its slender volume the strength of the novel whose analytic developments and descriptive redundancies it suppressed. Quite often, Des Esseintes had meditated on that disquieting problem—to write a novel concentrated in a few phrases which should contain the essence of hundreds of pages always employed to establish the setting, to sketch the characters, and to pile up observations and minute details. Then the chosen words would be so unexchangeable that they would do duty for many others, the adjective placed in such an ingenious and definite fashion that it could not be displaced, opening such perspectives that the reader could dream for whole weeks on its sense at once precise and complex, could record the present, reconstruct the past, divine the future of the souls of the characters, revealed by the gleams of this unique epithet.

        Thus conceived and condensed in a page or two, the novel could become a communion of thought between a magical writer and an ideal reader, a spiritual collaboration agreed to between ten superior persons scattered throughout the universe, a delight offered to the refined, and accessible to them alone.

        To Des Esseintes, the prose poem represented the concrete juice of literature, the essential oil of art.

        That succulence, developed and concentrated into a drop, already existed in Baudelaire and in those poems of Mallarmé which he read with such deep joy.

        When he had closed his anthology, Des Esseintes told himself that his books which had ended on this last book, would probably never have anything added to it.

        In fact, the decadence of a literature, irreparably affected in its organism, enfeebled by old ideas, exhausted by excesses of syntax, sensitive only to the curiosities which make sick persons feverish, and yet intent upon expressing everything in its decline, eager to repair all the omissions of enjoyment, to bequeath the most subtle memories of grief in its death bed, was incarnate in Mallarmé, in the most perfect exquisite manner imaginable.

        Here were the quintessences of Baudelaire and of Poe; here were their fine and powerful substances distilled and disengaging new flavors and intoxications.

        It was the agony of the old language which, after having become moldy from age to age, ended by dissolving, by reaching that deliquescence of the Latin language which expired in the mysterious concepts and the enigmatical expressions of Saint Boniface and Saint Adhelme.

        The decomposition of the French language had been effected suddenly. In the Latin language, a long transition, a distance of four hundred years existed between the spotted and superb epithet of Claudian and Rutilius and the gamy epithet of the eighth century. In the French language, no lapse of time, no succession of ages had taken place; the stained and superb style of the de Goncourts and the gamy style of Verlaine and Mallarmé jostled in Paris, living in the same period, epoch and century.

        And Des Esseintes, gazing at one of the folios opened on his chapel desk, smiled at the thought that the moment would soon come when an erudite scholar would prepare for the decadence of the French language a glossary similar to that in which the savant, Du Cange, has noted the last murmurings, the last spasms, the last flashes of the Latin language dying of old age in the cloisters and sounding its death rattle.

        – Huysmans, A Rebours, 1884, chapter 14 (emphases mine)

        And from the Wikipedia entry on Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979):

        Officials at Goskino were critical of the film. On being told that it should be faster and more dynamic, Tarkovsky replied: “[T]he film needs to be slower and duller at the start so that the viewers who walked into the wrong theatre have time to leave before the main action starts.” The Goskino representative then explained that he was trying to give the point of view of the audience. Tarkovsky supposedly retorted: “I am only interested in the views of two people: one is called Bresson and one called Bergman.” (emphases mine)


        Comment by ktismatics — 14 November 2014 @ 1:55 pm

  5. Haha… yea, got to love the decadents… the illusion of endings. But does anything truly end? Even Frank Kermode in his The Illusion of an End which takes in this same theme of the End of Literature realized as long as there are humans with desires… literature will remain. It may vanish in the telling, but it will remain as long as human do. Will our artificial cousins or children read literature? Who knows? Isn’t the dream of immortal poets always been to survive in their works… yet, in a thousand years I doubt anyone will even remember the creature called homo sapiens.


    Comment by S.C. Hickman — 14 November 2014 @ 7:02 pm

    • Linguistic complexity isn’t just a nostalgic longing for a prior literary golden age that likely never existed. The posthumans are retrofitted with bionic enhancements to Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, substantially enhancing vocabulary and syntactic complexity and accelerating the supply of and demand for rococoesque intricacies in prose and poetry. Unfortunately, only the wealthiest 1% can afford the upgrades; the rest continue sliding down the gradient toward linguistic entropy, their patois now consisting largely of monosyllables, grunts, and gestures.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by ktismatics — 14 November 2014 @ 7:24 pm

      • Sounds like the ‘Semantic Apocalypse’ that Scott Bakker’s been touting for a while now? Dystopia for the masses, clones for the elite: AI Smart Cities filled with transgendered engineers, with drone hived warriors wandering the outskirts, and the mumbling slaves below the citadel of shadows heaving biopower into the AI’s lifecycles.


        Comment by S.C. Hickman — 14 November 2014 @ 7:45 pm

      • As an emissary from the future I’m here to tell you that your tetralogy proves to be an underground phenomenon, triggering a spontaneous uprising against the financial elite and dramatically altering the course of history. Who won the war? Unfortunately I’m not at liberty to divulge…


        Comment by ktismatics — 14 November 2014 @ 7:58 pm

      • I kid of course, but I like the premise. On a related note, I recently read George Saunders’s latest compilation of short stories. A minimalist in the Raymond Carver vein but funnier, Saunders has two stories in which the narrator takes a pill that enhances his verbal fluency. It’s pretty great to watch, over the course of just a few sentences, the prose kick up from the most mundane functionality to florid extravagance. And then when the drug wears off the language deteriorates commensurately — kind of like Flowers for Algernon actually. It would be pretty cool to pull off this trick over the course of a longer arc, with narrators getting either more or less fluent as determined by their access to the neurolinguistic enhancements.


        Comment by ktismatics — 14 November 2014 @ 9:48 pm

      • So is there an actual decline in linguistic competence among the US populace? It’s an empirical question, but not an easy one to answer. On a cursory review, there is evidence of a small but significant decline in working vocabulary, dipping among the post-WWII cohort of school kids and holding pretty steady since then. Then again there is the well-documented Flynn Effect: the tendency for intelligence/aptitude test score averages to improve over historical time, making it necessary to renorm the tests upward periodically. It seems clear that verbal ability increases with education and family income. So if in future generations the wealth gap widens and education increasingly becomes a for-profit private enterprise, then the divide between literate and illiterate will increase.

        But if kids today are roughly as literate as the preceding couple of generations, then why do published fictions seem to be getting simpler in structure and vocabulary? Is work too intellectually demanding now, so that it’s too exhausting to parse complex fictions? Has the information explosion — textual, visual, auditory — required people to accelerate their input processing, such that written fictions are just too slow? Or is the presumed dumbing-down of fiction an illusion? If sample novels were run through a vocabulary checker, would there be an overall decline in literacy level for contemporary novels vis-a-vis those written in the 40s or 60s or 80s. Studies like this can be done more easily now that so many texts are stored online.


        Comment by ktismatics — 15 November 2014 @ 10:57 am

  6. Not sure if I see it as a decline: I think that it is the simple fact that we now live in a visual culture, not a book culture: movies, video games, youtube, mobile phones, texting, etc. We live in a realm of blindness where everything is simulated now, and we’ve forgotten that effect: we exist in Baudrillard’s world, even if we pretend otherwise… Only those either old enough or who have realized that book culture was always an elite pursuit, not a mass occupation. Even the pulps and comics have gone anime and visual now.


    Comment by S.C. Hickman — 15 November 2014 @ 11:48 am

  7. I agree. If photography hadn’t rendered portrait painting obsolete, would artists ever have moved on to impressionism, cubism, abstract expressionism, etc.? “Show don’t tell,” the writer is advised, but the injunction is metaphorical. It’s TV and movies that can actually (or virtually) show. With CGI even the fantastically unreal can be shown, immersing the viewer in alternate realities. The actors speak their lines with emotional inflection, the close-up shots revealing facial expressions, posture, gestures, tics — stimuli more likely to trigger the mirror neurons of audience identification than are mere words on a page. What can a textual fiction do that a visual fiction cannot?


    Comment by ktismatics — 15 November 2014 @ 12:35 pm

  8. Hey, Buddy… I see you’re still lurking round the shadows… when you coming back to posting? Did your book ever get published? Dam, miss reading your latest reflections!!!


    Comment by S.C. Hickman — 15 July 2016 @ 6:00 pm

    • I’m not sure why this comment didn’t come up for moderation — I just came across it mired in limbo. Maybe after a blog has been inactive for a long time WordPress decides it’s dead. Books get published? Nah. Let me know if you want to read any of them, though, and I’ll fix you right up. You’ve been writing up a storm over there on your blog — nice work.


      Comment by ktismatics — 20 August 2016 @ 10:51 pm

    • I just disabled the moderation function — the days of personally offensive commentary here on Ktismatics are long gone, and the occasional spam ads I can clean up after the fact.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by ktismatics — 21 August 2016 @ 12:05 am

      • So do you still write, or have you quit that, too? Work, family, life… yea, I know it’s tough, but man you got to let your daemon have its way… let that creative jive move in your bones again… :)


        Comment by S.C. Hickman — 21 August 2016 @ 3:32 am

      • Again somehow I missed seeing this comment — probably user error, should just let the robots run the show here.

        I believe that the two of us are trying to see something that is hidden, or perhaps to usher that thing across a threshold. Something about fiction, not just as late-stage capitalist entertainment industry but as oracular summons, or as demiurgic abomination, or as promethean affront, or maybe even as some kind of hope. I’ve written another long piece, working title “Imaginary Fictions for an Imaginary Audience,” but I’m skeptical about it. There will be something coming though, I feel certain, though of course as you know well when we reach a certain uncertain age the time horizon simultaneously recedes into the murk and builds a great wall right in front of your face. But soon…


        Comment by ktismatics — 31 August 2016 @ 5:28 pm

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