Thursday, 18 March 2010

Pulling a Novel out of a Hat

Reading has always been a peculiarly magical experience- being transported into a different world full of colour that we travel to by looking upon a page of black and white. For me Stephen King put it perfectly when he said that ‘books are a uniquely portable magic’. It’s the magic in these paper blessings that I’ve been considering recently after re-reading Italo Calvino’s view on the subject that ‘in a narrative any object is always magic’. When I looked up ‘magic’ in the dictionary the first definition I came across was ‘the art of producing illusions as entertainment by the use of sleight of hand, deceptive devices, etc.; legerdemain; conjuring: to pull a rabbit out of a hat by magic.’ So I suppose seeing as every object in fictional writing is just that, fictional, technically they are deceptive devices created to entertain us with the illusions they create, allowing us to see what is not truly there.
Other terms that came about with further definitions were ‘enchanting’, ‘influential’ and ‘charming’ which to me are adjectives relevant to narrative, and the objects within that narrative, because without such enchantment or charm we would cease to read and be influenced by the messages we collect from various literature. Every narrative is influenced by the thought of its author even in the weakest of senses, and according to Lord Byron this original thought in itself is where the magic begins; ‘The power of thought, the magic of the mind’.
This music video always amuses me, but that aside, the lyrics are quite a beautifully clever way of describing a relationship as a narrative in a book. For me this is an example of how the illusive magic of narrative has woven its way into our lives.

Sex and Death know no bounds

I’ve been questioning Italo Calvino’s statement that ‘in the boundless universe of literature there are always new avenues to be explored’. I once was told that all literature boils down to sex and death, and this was the case all the more in Victorian literature, as these two themes were somewhat obsessions. Therefore if all literature no matter what genre encapsulates both sex and death, is the literature universe boundless?
I suppose in order to answer this question the ways in which these ‘avenues’ are ‘explored’ need to be looked at more closely. When I think about books I’ve enjoyed, even polar opposite genres, for example Romance and Crime I can’t help but draw out the same two themes. P.S I Love You, Cecelia Ahern’s novel is Romantic fiction but the book is centered around the death of the main character’s husband, and the Dr Kay Scarpetta novels by Patricia Cornwell are weighted with sexual tension between Marino and Kay Scarpetta, the two lead characters, as well as being full of grotesque deaths. However if I wasn’t looking closely at these two author’s works with my theory in mind, I would have never noticed, and definitely wouldn’t have found the themes at all predictable. Therefore I’ve come to the conclusion that the ‘avenues’ aren’t different in literature, but the ways they’re explored and written about are, keeping that universe indeed, boundless.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

"The beat and the chorus at the same time" unbreachable limit or a challenge?

For Milan Kundera ‘the novel cannot breach the limits of its own possibilities’. This quote has got me thinking about boundaries in literature and all art forms for that matter. The idea of ‘possibility’ covers such a grand span as possibilities are endless and come in many forms. So what is meant by the possibilities of a novel? I did some research on literature that has pushed its limits and the limits of its readers. What continued to appeal to me was controversial literature, works that have been banned for pushing boundaries and breaching limitations that nobody thought were possible. For example D.H Lawrence’s novel ‘Lady Chatterley’s lover’ was banned for pushing the sexual boundaries of its time. Surely this proves that novels can indeed breach their limits and create new possiblities.
In class we looked at the possibilities that could arise upon meeting a historic figure, my group chose Elizabeth I. We discussed who we could introduce her to, to test her personal limitations and ideals. We chose Katie Price, a woman who today is seen as having a scandalous power over the nation, as Elizabeth once did. I wrote a poem about Elizabeth and the limits she puts upon herself:


My virtue is my thrown
The Lord, your God
My husband
Born in place of man
Vanity’s my outcome

Marry not for scandal
Alliances, gifts
What sum!
But as for suitors
I want none

Drudgery my task’s converted
My rein, My crown
Is my Heir
The life of a simple family owned woman
Is for one I do not care.

What is so exciting about limits, possibilities and boundaries in literature, music or even within ourselves is that what some construe as limits, others see as eventual defeatable challenges. This is how individual art is created. I’ve posted an example of art defying the assumed limited physical possibilities, this is the BeatBoxer Rahzel, clearly to him limits are rules made for breaking.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Precision, Precision, Decision?

One of Italo Calvino’s definitions for ‘Exatitude’ is ‘a language as precise as possible both in choice of words and in expression of the subtleties of thought and imagination’. This to Calvino is what literature should be to prevent language being used in a ‘random, approximate, careless manner’. However I disagree due to the fact that this is what happens to me when I read ‘precise’ literature such as Ernest Hemingway:
Personally I read as a form of escapism and enjoy a metaphor and a simile here and there so I can come to my own visual decisions about what I’m seeing behind the text. Literature is experimental and an expression, for me a cap can’t be put on creativity. If every text was ‘precise’ there would be nothing left to explore, the concept of layered meanings and innuendos would be obsolete, and studying and exploring literature in schools would be unnecessary because what would there be to find and discuss? The very essence of the indefinite is what keeps art and literature interesting and alive. I would stare at a painting for longer if I couldn’t quite understand it at a first glance, and the same goes for books I’ve read. The one’s I have revisited are the ones that have baffled me, or that I can take a different interpretation from every time. One of my favourite artists Miss Van is the definition of enticing uncertainty. Her paintings are riddled with small illusions and hidden images which is why I would choose to gaze at her work wide eyed instead of a piece of still life.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Nonsense is as Nonsense does

Milan Kundera says that ‘when you reach the end of a book you should still find it possible to remember the beginning. Otherwise the novel loses shape, its “architectonic clarity” is clouded’. I see Kundera's point in a sense that if you read a book and can’t remember what has even happened in the beginning something is definitely quite wrong, but is a bit of confusion and nonsense all bad? I go out of my way to read and listen to strange and wondrous things because frankly they amuse me with their indifference towards conventional writing. And actually most of the texts and music I’ve enjoyed the most, and shared with others, is really just nonsense. Literature exists for our enjoyment, but enjoyment can come in many forms, not just from shape and clarity.

Take Tao Lin, a writer of poetry and novels known for his ‘trancelike’ and baffling originality. I can’t say he produces architectonically clear pieces but they don’t half entertain. To me his writing is like a literary jumble sale on paper, but the thing about jumble sales is-there’s always a good find in there somewhere that means something, or meant something to someone at one time. Therefore, despite his work being a little on the strange side it isn’t without meaning, it’s just whimsically dressed up to encourage a smile:

The Poem I Wrote In My Room After We Fought On The Internet And You Called Me A Dick And Said You Had To Go To Sleep And Said You Would Email Me Over Thanksgiving From Home But Then Said ‘Forget It’ After I Said About You Emailing Me Over Thanksgiving From Home That ‘I Doubt It’

A metal rod a lot longer than my head
can fit easily in my head.
I don’t want to think about it. I want to rearrange furniture
using telekinesis. I will make my bed
go through a wall. My bed will bump people
at Whole Foods, in the cereal aisle. ‘Sorry,’ my bed will say, and feel ashamed.
And cereal will feel ashamed. But what would happen
if you were a non-sentient being. And I was god.
I think an unrelated third-party would suffer.
I think I would like to break all the secret records.
The one for most consecutive days of quality over quantity.
Or just into your email
account. Because I like you very much, it is sad

that if I were you
you would be someone else. A disaster I think just happened
in the room that I am currently in. But I didn’t see. And it was sleeping
when it happened. And it didn’t happen. Carp had a secret.
It involved a beautiful muffin, a reoccurring dream,
and a kind of yearning that causes muffin shops to go non-profit.
Carp don’t have that anymore. Last week I saw TV snow when no TV was in the room.
I was staring at my pillow. My head was on it. When I was four
I stabbed live fish
in their faces. Every fish I stabbed
went to secret heaven. Secret heaven is the one where
the other heaven is called secret heaven. At night in secret heaven no one knows what to do.
Sometimes in secret heaven everyone is afraid of secret heaven.
My bed is thinking about secret heaven.

A band that I feel shares Tao Lin’s playful take on mood despite the topic is Soko. Listening to their lyrics complete with a lack of clarity at times, never fails to amuse me, and I relate more to the lead singer’s warbling than I do to any 'Penguin Classic'.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Humans defined by appearance

Pip's ideas in 'Great Expectations' of his family resembling tombstones reminded me of the disturbing Patrick Suskind novel I was once enthralled with, 'Perfume: The story of a Murderer'. I see both of these texts as reliant on a somewhat symbolic appearance when drawing conclusions about their characters. To Pip, square letters on his father’s grave means a square father by nature. This restrictive method of using appearance to represent personality traits made me think of the amusing yet strangely logical folklores. For example, a small head indicates a person of low intelligence, or a long forehead symbolizing a scholarly disposition.

This trail of though derived from something I read in Italo Calvino's 'Six Memos for the next Millennium'. Calvino says that 'The symbolism of an object may be more or less explicit, but it is always there. We might even say that in a narrative any object is always magic'. I love Calvino's faith in literature never being dull, because magic will always reside. He creates a mystery to shroud what we read, because if every object or subject is magic and symbolic in every text, surely nothing is ever as it seems?

For example, for Jean-Baptiste Grenouille in ‘Perfume’,a beautiful woman isn't just a beautiful woman, she is a delicious scent waiting to be made. Jean's 'gift' of creating such scents, capable of controlling the masses' emotions is disgusting due to his ingredients but alluring for its symbolic possibilities. Could the fact that Jean's perfume is always made from women's pheromones in fact be a symbol of the power women have over mankind? Could it not be the scent controlling the emotions of those who have experienced it, but the woman who the scent has come from?

I thought the film adaptation of this novel was a success at illustrating Suskid's female character's as having beauty that was a fatality waiting for Jean to exploit, and in Calvino's eyes I'm sure they would be seen as not just sensuous victims, but magic in the symbolic form of human kind: