Sunday, 16 November 2008

This is the third time I have begun to write this entry. Each time I have been bewitched by an overheating CPU, a victim of latent, silent programs eating away at my computer's performance until it slows, crawls into an unreachable hang - that stasis into which each urge of frustration is swallowed, like sound in space.

What did I want to write about? It is not so easily forgotten, I wanted to write about finishing Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon. In a rare exclusion, my honesty allows me to say that - for once - I namedrop here not through movements towards self-importance, nor to convert those that know me or don't. Need we a persuasion that allows for a middling intellect to be appreciated? Writing here; I do it to ask for conversation.

Having been consumed by the novel for the best part of two months (and it is not an easy book to encounter casually, my re-readings mean I have certainly read it twice), and finishing only now deep into Berlin autumn, I simply want to talk about it with someone. There are the endless webpages featuring comment and review, all offering endless lists and eulogies to the frantic scope of the thing. I too seek to make something of something, nothing of something. I too want to add my penance and penury; I who has not understood enough and will never.

There are those books that end a writer's career before it has begun, those authors whose shadows loom upon the wall in whichever room you write. Bewitched here in the study, I move downstairs into the freezing, damp wintergarden to look at the frosts and black shapes follow me into the dim electric light. Pynchon is here with me, shutting doors.

But, that said, I am in fact one of the lucky ones; this is something I never could have ever been capable of imagining in a book, let alone something that I could have grasped enough to try and imitate. I am able to leave it, to remain distant within my oh-so-now colliding prose - essay, travelogue, memoir - entirely, entirely happy that the book exists and not afraid to say that I cried at the end.

When so much is made of the fractured pre-emptive scientific explorations, the unwound conspiracies, the deafening plotting, of vortexes within vortexes, of lives coloured by nationalism and filled with characters who each have names and histories so immaculately crafted that they now exist as real as any supposed 'historical' figure - when so much is made of this, it becomes too easy to forget that it is the most powerful story of friendship, a novel of absent fathers, disconnected children, unmet ambitions, stolen lovers. And then within a second, within my own run-on sentences, the novel becomes the most fiercely political statement on Americanism, on the history of Western thought, on our relationships with otherness, on reclusive societal truths, on the wretched, wrenched treatment of the misunderstood, the miswanted - all that which is hidden within education, that which remains unrevealed.

There is too much to be said in short, too much now. Sleep must be thought about; I have been having maniacal dreams each night, a sure sign of desperate processes at work. My cerebral flickers have been trying to right those wrongs, to work out how much of the novel's supposition I knew but never realised and how much I must now abandon. If the perfect modern American novel should not only relate, but also represent America - in structure, in flaw, in ambition - then what is to be thought of an American novel that does this and, in doing so, undermines everything it claims? What then is to be thought of that nation and of all other nations, and what is to be thought of literature and thought itself?

These are the spirals I settle into, echoes of nonsense, of non-understanding, a lack of intellect in the face of something great. Yet, a departure: this cliff-face fires me, entertains me, I am sufficed by it. Our Weissensee night draws in, across the car-lots, over the autobahn lanes, round the lakes and past the great herds of shivering trees. Perhaps today may be marked in Berlin as the first of winter. There, it is so.