Archive for May 8th, 2009


All the words you think are old and all the words you speak, you stole

Writing about writing is dangerous business and usually to be avoided. I avoid it when others start jabbering on about their process and how you should write. Nonsense, all of it. Unless, of course, you’re my hero. In which case, i’ll carve the words into my eyelids just so i don’t lose them. Anyway, this is about a movement.

I’m going to work from the ground up.

A story. It starts with a sentence. A sentence needs words to be a sentence. More specifically, a subject and a verb, maybe toss in a few articles, a preposition or three, maybe an object, and, if you’re feeling dangerous, throw a conjunction in there and watch it all slosh around until you throw down a period like so. So, yeah, a sentence. You need those. But what if you don’t want those? Well, then don’t write seems to be the common sense answer. However, we don’t need a sentence to be a sentence. We don’t need a subject or a verb. We don’t need a complete clause. This is nothing new. Fragments, we accept them as usable.

A scene in a film is usually comprised of several cuts. A cut is like a period. So, let’s say you’re making an fight scene and you have thirty cuts in thirty seconds. Those one second flashes are sentences, sometimes fragmentary, but they do the legwork. They progress a story. Now, sometimes you eliminate the cut like in The Russian Ark, which is a beautiful film made up of a single 90 minute uninterrupted take. The longer you go without a cut, the more complex and laberynthine the sentence becomes. Then you have the sentence equivalent in Grossman’s beast, which is about as perfect as writing gets. The represent a story told in one sentence. A novel length story. So we’ve two extremes here: sentences that aren’t sentences and sentences that are entire stories.

We want both. Or i want, rather. I want to write the longest sentence ever written and i want to write stories without sentences.

A plot, you need a plot. But that’s not true. Joyce taught us that lesson. But still, something must happen. What if nothing does? Is it not a story anymore? How much of life involves nothing? The days we spend just lying down staring at ceilings.

Characters, yeah, those are important. But they’re not necessary. A story without a subject, though, sounds, well, empty. It is. It’s very empty. Like the hull of a ship or a gutted cathedral. I want to tell that story. Characterless, humanless: it’s not a void, it’s a door. Or we can keep the characters, but watch them from a distance. Observe them, but never make contact. Then again, we can jump right in, jump straight into the meat of them and inhabit in a world existing only between the walls of their head.

Write using the five senses, they say. But what if i want none of them? Or maybe i’ll just pick a few of them.

Grammar, too, we needn’t bother.

Now, i mean, the postmodernists have done these things, i think. I’ve not read them, so i guess they don’t matter to me. Mostly, i want to just do a lot of things quite differently.

I always liked writing sentences like they were poems. Brandish the flourish like fencers. I wanted to be Will Christopher Baer, writing those sentences that sing with such elegance you nearly cry. But i feel like i’m cheating when i do that. Not to say any sentence i’ve written is that exceptional, but i think i do hit a few out of the park every once and a while. But, yeah, i’m done with those. I can’t do them anymore. It’s hollow to me and i get no enjoyment from it. I move towards a simplification. Simplify everything. That’s not to say Minimalism, which i’ve grown to dislike as well over the years. But i’m gutting stories, taking out half the meat and leaving a third of the bones. Rip down the setting, kick out the characters, and watch as nothing happens. Too, i will never write in first person again. Or, well, i probably will, but not for a long while, i imagine. I don’t like doing it anymore. Pull back to the narrator, the observer. When i’m in a character’s head, i get carried away with the sentences.

So what do i want to do? It’s hard to say, really. I’m kind of drawing on a lot of my influences and trying to tie them all together. Not just literary influences, but everything. Surrealism/magic realism, absurdism, existentialism, Taoism, Dada, film [Akira Kurosawa, Terrence Malick, and on and on], music [Tom Waits, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and on and on and on], visual art [Dali, which, i guess is just grouped in with surrealism], mythology, religion, transcendetalism, Theatre of Cruelty, Theatre of the Absurd, the wind blowing, the sound a rock makes when you throw it at a car, everything. I want to pull it all together. Too, i want to disorient the reader, pull them in ten directions at once and leave them curled up tearing out their hair trying to figure out which way up is. I want my stories to feel like those perfect scenes you see in films made by dead russians.

It’s about silence and stillness. Silence especially. How does one write silence, though? A good question. A very good one. But it’s what i want to write, what i’ve always been interested in. Stretch the limits of language, make it all something new. Form a new language. Words are just symbols and we can attach meaning of our choosing. Words are sounds too, though, and it’s important to keep that in mind.

Logic needn’t apply either. Life is a dream and the rules only apply because everyone can’t stop agreeing on the terms. Reality is maleable. It bends and shifts and turns and twists and sloshes over into the parts we tell ourselves aren’t real while the imaginary keep bubbling up from underneath and infiltrating what we once thought was real but now looks displaced.

So, where do we go and how do we get there? This is a process, possibly a very long process and i’ve really no idea where it’ll go. It’s so inarticulate at this point.

And most of it’s about theatre. Or the nature of theatre, rather. I’m going to write a play and hopefully direct it. I’m drawing on the Theatre of Cruelty, Living Theatre, and the Theatre of the Absurd for these ideas as well as the very strange experience i had at a play in high school. My mind was discombobulated and all these ideas about the boundary between spectacle and audience became to rigid for me. I want the audience to be an active participant in the show. I want the audience to have a visceral experience, one they’ll never forget. Bring a show to them and bring them into a show. Get everyone in the theatre jostling together.

Film, too. I’ve ideas there, but that’s later. Same with music. For now, i’m sticking with theatre and short stories and novellas. Maybe a novel will sprout up, but probably not for a few years.

It’s about reality and what it means to be alive in the world. Identity, even. Deindividuation and technology frightens me. Dehumanisation and the unreality of life boggles my fried mind. Because none of this is real. Memories are pure fabrications, imaginary, and wholly fictitious. Why is that important? Because memory informs who we are, every aspect of our identity. Which, oddly, in turn, effects our memories or how we remember our memories. Too, the way we remember our memories informs our present, which shapes our future. The past is everything, but it’s all imaginary. None of it is real. Or, rather, everything is real, which amounts to the same thing. Your dreams and hallucinations are just as real as the life you live, as the present tense of your actions. Which brings us to identity, i think. Identity, too, is imaginary. Or, rather, it’s never fixed. You are never the same person. Our identities are contextual and dynamic. Our identity even shapes our brain. Literally, the neurophysiology changes because of who you decide to be when you decide to be you, whichever version of you that may be.

But do those things matter? Certainly not. Then what’s the point?

Do we need one?

And we don’t. It’s enough to run down the halls naked banging a frying pan with a ladle shouting the Apostle’s Creed.

What am i trying to say here?

Does that question matter? Is it not enough that you’re reading?

And you see, i’m getting all lost and caught up here. What i mean to say is that we needn’t have a reason. For anything. There’s no answer because there are only questions.

But, anyway, back to it. There’s so very much i want to do and it’ll take me a long time to do it, but i’ve already started. Just experimenting with form and grammar. It’s a process, and it might be years before i finally get it right.

And that’s probably semi-good enough for now. A bit less than coherent and a bit more than nothing.

There will be more about this at a later date.


May 2009
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