Infinite Doubt

September 30, 2013 § Leave a comment

cliffs-water-sunlight

Infinite Doubt

Don’t be precious about this (a blog entry about the Canadian national anthem). There was a thread. A motion. I had it in my brain last Monday. But now? It is motionless. It is motionless. But I will find it again. I just have to feel it out: type like a maniac, or an idiot, or a three dimensional sphere of vibrating hysterical glass. (That doesn’t make any sense.) It’s alright not to make sense, I mean, at this stage. That’s where writing comes from—transition of nonsense to sense. Making the incomprehensible legible. The incomprehensible, the abstract, which writing, which culture, makes routine, or mundane. Not only making it legible—codifying it, categorizing, manufacturing meaning… But that’s what speech does too. Oral language also performs this function, but once something is written down it becomes formal, rigid, authoritarian. It can be altered, of course, but it takes on the appearance of being unalterable. At least, sometimes this is as far as it goes, to the person writing it.

The dictionary has become the arbiter of what is “correct,” even though its original purpose was not to define but to describe usage. To collect rather than ordain. It is therefore a huge responsibility to write. I have the weight of culture behind me, not only because of the huge responsibility attached to writing but because I am representing an institution which itself bears a huge weight, culturally. A study commissioned by museums claimed that citizens believe claims made by museums more than any other institution. This is an exercise of recursive propaganda. I am writing this now, these last few sentences, for no reason in particular, except as a means of delay. I’m not sure if these last sentences reconcile with the first few sentences because my brain is not functioning expansively. That expansively. Relative to its normal potential or performance.

There has to be a first for everything, even things that seem impossibly old.

When was the first performance of “O Canada” in Dufferin County? The answer may surprise you—but only if you’re an idiot, and only if this were Buzzfeed.

There has to be a first for everything, even things that would seem to transcend age.

Because “O Canada” transcends age, we are all exalted religious space-creatures. What.

A first sentence will lead to a second sentence. A second sentence will naturally provide a direction for a third. After three sentences, the blog will be in motion.

After three sentences the blog will be in motion. (Famous last words of an orator giving a speech christening the first use of “the blog,” his poorly designed and shoddily manufactured prototype steam engine which destroyed most of a city block in downtown London, clearing the way for further destruction of the tenements and slums which were impeding the elegant expansion of the city.)

I’ve written more than 500 words for a blog that was meant to be no more than 300 words, and I’m no closer to the end of the blog or even the beginning of the blog than I was when I first sat down to work. I should be finished by now. I should, but I’m not. I could write an entire novel delaying writing this blog entry (I mean, this other blog entry) and at the end of the novel, after writing the last sentence and closing the document, and getting up to stretch my legs and look out the window of this basement office at the men working on the road expansion on Airport, I would still feel lingering regret, regret and a profound feeling of failure. There is immense value in completing work that you have set out for yourself to do, spiritual as well as emotional value. I’m not sure about intellectual value. (Or perhaps, perhaps to even doubt the intellectual value of work, real work, is to reveal a certain intellectual laxity in my “performance.”) (In my performance? In my thinking, a lack of intellectual rigour. Rigour, rigour!) I maintain that I could write an entire novel delaying this action but it would not be a particularly good one, and I have to move on.

The national anthem. Don’t be precious. Respect the deadline. The deadline (even if it’s an arbitrary one) allows one to produce material. Without the deadline, there would be infinite delay, infinite speculation, infinite doubt.

kitchen-cat-watching

Infinite Doubt

David Foster Wallace’s lost novel about writing his landmark novel Infinite Jest, based on a scribbled joke found on a Post-It sandwiched in his copy of Edwin Williamson’s biography of Jorge Luis Borges. Consisting of personal notes, letters, transcripts of telephone calls, and excised portions of IJ and The Pale King posthumously stitched together by his editors, his widow, and a teleconferencing Jonathan Franzen into a manic depiction of Wallace’s attempts to redefine fiction while wrestling with his (now) very public demons. $22.95. 276 pages. Little, Brown. Fall 2014 release.

Conversation at a Literary Party

September 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

frog-scepter-prince-forest

Conversation at a literary party, with X, about Roberto Bolaño (multiple conversations that night about Roberto Bolaño, everyone having read something by Roberto Bolaño, everyone having a personal relationship with Roberto Bolaño)—it comes out that X doesn’t like Borges. “Didn’t care for Borges.” But she read Borges before she read Roberto Bolaño, she says. And she might like him more now. As if everything, even Jorge Luis Borges, comes from Roberto Bolaño. As if Bolaño’s rotting corpse were a garden and its twisting vines bore the fruit of all literature. Even Jorge Luis Borges. I can’t believe it. I think of the city in Borges’s story “The Immortals”, its halls of madness, its heroes and champions lying melancholic in their pits. That melancholy is Roberto Bolaño, I think, and it belongs to Borges. But it’s not really Borges’s either—it comes from the pampas, Hernandez’s pampas as opposed to the real pampas; music from guitars played by thugs; and more conventional sources, such as The Arabian Nights, Homer, Schopenhauer, and Burton’s Anatomy. It is the feeling Viking sailors had as their longboat cruised through impenetrable fog. It is the feeling one has when wandering a vast library for the first time. It belongs to both Roberto Bolaño and Jorge Luis Borges and everyone who came before and everyone who came after.

I don’t know how to resolve this post. I’m editing it over a month after its first draft, a first draft I’m not happy with. In that draft I said that the above melancholy had something to do with the rupture introduced by the understanding that things which do not exist do, in some sense, exist. And that their existence suggests that they exist at least insofar as we exist. That their existence—even if in only the most abstract sense—casts doubt on our existence, even though we are concrete and they are not. Even though we can be touched and concepts cannot. I’m not happy with what I wrote that first time and I’m only slightly more happy with this draft than I was with that draft. In any case this is what I feel both Borges and Bolaño understood.

September 11, 2013 § 3 Comments

cliffs-mountains-water

“For a long time I lived in the 19th century, then briefly in the 20th century, then the 19th century, then perhaps I receded steadily backwards in time, until the point of becoming a trogolodyte, a literal trogolodyte—then, I don’t know, a timeless place, where I learned about the 21st century, with velociraptors and Vladimir Nabokov—now I feel like I live in the 21st century, where I should have been in the first place, but better late than never, I guess.”

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