Tuesday, 17 March 2009

See a rook and it is a crow, see some crows and they are rooks. Trouble is, I can never remember which way that sentence should be said. Regardless, there is a massive black bird, a harbinger of massive black doom no doubt, outside my window and it is angry. It is sitting on the rusting hulk of the scaffolding, perched on a long warped plank of wood, whitened by the plaster dust. Maybe it wants some of my coffee. Maybe I should give it some.

In an effort to stimulate something emulating not original thought but rather warm thought, I began to read Kundera's The Art of the Novel last night. I like the way he dismisses Heidegger's seminal work in one sentence, suggesting every existential theme dealt with in Being and Time had already been unravelled by four centuries of European novel. Entirely without real substantiation and yet – like most of Kundera's writings – something rings true even if it doesn't hold up to a real logical or phenomenological scrutiny. The thing I really take from that book, and especially from the first chapter in which he sketches a shadow of Cervantes over the entirety of modern thought, is the morality of the novel. The statement that the only morality, method and purpose of the novel is enquiry, works. The only reason for a novel to exist is to discover what only the novel can discover, he says.

(Of course, I do not read completely without a critical eye, though it is early, relatively. Eurocentrism, political import, philosophy as a foundation for elucidation, the dullness of metanarrative, solutions towards a modern relevance. They're all missing from a book written in 1986. Yet, it still reads better than the ravings of a pro-Altermodernist.)

Arriving late to trends, that's my style. So late that they're not even trends, they fade and dissipate like oil in rain. The Wire, now leaving millions in expectant, petitioning hope of a sixth season, is no exception – I just watched season two. In itself it is like a contagious disease, no-one wants to see you, enforced isolation (too many spoiler blogs, wikis, reviews on the internet), catchy as fresh hell. It gets sold as Dostoevsky for television, HBO's Dickens equivalent, visual novels for those too inebriated to read. If a novel's only purpose of enquiry is enquiry, then crime naturally lends itself to the genre and crime of course naturally lends itself to detection.

So, a sprawling television series, some 40 characters, cross-city law enforcement, industry, complex social networks and endless, endless criminal activity probably deserves to get labelled as novelistic. There are those that are blinkered, they forget that the direction in some episodes is nothing short of soap-operatic, some of the characters are cardboard cut-outs with a funny hat, the product placement really starts to gall, the music is generally terrible. The series' main narrative device is for one of the minor characters to commit an accidental or careless crime, get caught and then have to reveal information as a bargaining plea. Was it Raymond Chandler who said that when he ran out of ideas he would just have a man walk into a room with a gun? There's a lot of that.

Yet the blend of slow-time, Rust Belt American politics, dialect & shifting hierarchies is presented in such a way that it would be churlish to not take note. I'm having trouble finding something to read at the minute, the English bookshops here in Berlin are too far, too expensive or too one-dimensional, so I'm given to television drama, much more so than film. Is this a dangerous shift? I'm in a genuine state at the minute – how is that someone who wishes to write cannot read?

So, to the day, perhaps into town for coffee, cigarettes and a chance to try and read once more. News filters through the radio, interference from somewhere layering over the voices in gentle building waves. Coup in Madagascar, admission of guilt from British Prime Minister, Obama to fight against high level bonuses, Austrian courts summon world press for Fritzl trial. Surprisingly little on Pakistan's current political situation and redress. Good aggregation of reporting and opinion >here<. Plenty to get lost in there, plenty to write about.

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