Sunday, 8 January 2017

The Loveard-Turner Letters (4): JL to ST

Hey You,

One might argue that the reason for literary criticism being outside the mess and stuff (what Forster might call muddle) of life is partly to do with an aping of science.  It is to do with it not being a specific I who writes, but an I who writes who could be You or Anyone who had the language and thought to write it.  It is positing an objectivity.  It commands the authority of the objective.  It is the passive observer making observations and noting down these observations for all to read, and by all, the observer means one’s peers: other observers who speak the same jargon-laden language.  The critic has left the building and the machine, this machine named One or The Observer might be left to perform the exact measurements, and detect the patterns needed to generate the thesis, to process it, and print it out to send to the right journal (so it might fulfil its REF obligations), and so be read by other machines.

Do you see?

One of the earliest texts (in a way) that resembles what you describe is Rene Descartes’ Meditations – that series of reflections and self-experiments that foreground his thinking about his own thinking.  Indeed, he believes to affirm his knowledge of his own existence upon this thinking: Cogito ergo sum and additional jazz.  But I submit that you are overemphasising the word thought in your designation of what you call the thinkerly text.  One doesn’t want (perhaps) it to be like a maths problem, in which one has simply filled the box marked ‘Show your Working’, but rather as something that also shows the force and the emotional intensity that motivates, and is part of, their thought.*

Don’t you feel?

Because this is how the writer truly steps through, smashes the experimental glass that might separate her from her life, her from us.  Or, indeed, him.  Because let us be specific here.  One essayist possibly of interest to you is Thomas Glave – I have his collection Among the Bloodpeople (swing by and I’ll lend it to you)and his writing is frequently visceral, intensely personal.  He has style and knows how to use it.  He has total command of the interiority that modernism gifted us in the last century.  He smashes the glass and through the spiderwebbed chaos and shards come thoughts and feelings: on the murder of queer Jamaican men, on joy and writing, on James Baldwin.  But to steer it from essays alone and over to fiction: David Markson in his Wittgenstein’s Mistress shows in accumulating fragments the thoughts and feelings of a woman who appears to be the last person living on Earth.  The same applies to what Tyler Malone calls Markson’s Notecard Quartet of novels: Reader’s Block, This is Not a Novel, Vanishing Point and The Last Novel, all of which sift through the detritus of world culture (largely anecdotes and facts about major writers and other figures), and foreground the making of themselves in ways that are strangely moving.  I would also include Lydia Davis’ The End of the Story, her only novel to date, which both shows the creation of the novel, and the thought and feeling that assembles it, with her characteristic attention to the process that a mind goes though.  Her novel, like Dept of Speculation, is about a break up. (Maybe in shrugging off linearity you have invited circularity?)  A lot of the suggestions that are coming up do seem to be about brokenness, endings, disappearances.  What you seem to be asking for is both for the writer to there, present, but also to be uncertain, to be restless and questing, perhaps without ever finding what they set out to find.  Put overly poetically, anyway. 

But – to draw you too through the glass (do be careful where you step) – why?  Not that I disagree, per se.  But what is it about uncertainty that appeals?  Why – one might say – do you ask of this thinkerly text a tentativeness?  Even, maybe (though this perhaps comes from me rather than you), a brokenness? 

Ask I.

*You do use the word ‘living, breathing, feeling human being’, but I wanted to make a point about emphasis.  Nor do I want to deny the thrill that the cerebral has, but the word ‘thought’ alone doesn’t convey this, I don’t feel.

I didn't know this – and oh, the cover of that collection is wonderful.

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