I approached the novel today for the first time in months, possibly for the first time this year. Abject boredom drove me to it, plus a weekend of bright sunshine and gentle excess in which I achieved precisely nothing and earnt no money. The novel is still there. I approached it and found it to be still there. I crept up on it from behind, softly softly with the pen, and there it was, still there. It had not moved nor written itself. No paragraphs were lost and the ending had not changed. Novels do not write themselves, they just remain there.
So it is left to me then. Armed with notes from a good friend, I set about a reread, but an unengaged one. I need to find the money to print out the entire thing on paper, with margins, so I might take it away from here and write all over said margins with a pen, marking arrows and corrections and insertions in such a way that cannot be done on computer. Here, however, be reminders, aids to memory.
What is the novel all about? Modes of truth, the unreliability of stories, cities within literature as characters. What is it not about? Berlin or Krakow. What is the novel also about? Methods of narration, creation and memory, the plots of photographs. What can the novel be said to be not about? Modern politics, fallible narrators, death, sex, the holocaust. What things are contained within the novel, but cannot be said to be its concerns? All the above. What things are not contained within the novel but concern it? Globalisation, emotional diaspora, music.
There are serious faults thus far, today revealed this much. An entire layer of narration is unbelievable. The layer, confessions of a journalist, is supposed to be a transcribed oral account. And yet it reads like prose, it reads like the narrator is simply writing it. There must be obfuscation here but not like this - perhaps the narrator can confuse already stated ideas with his own, laying claim to them in the kind of philosophical plagiarism that occurs within each of us everyday as we boldly navigate and chart waters of thought that have long since been mapped? For at least a year, I have been fascinated with written scripts, television and screenplays, as a potential for poetry. The defined structures of screenplays – font, alignment, spacing – offer an arena in which a playful redefinition could give rise to not just some interesting forms of concrete poetry, but also intriguing filmworks. Perhaps this could be incorporated? What would it mean to invent a type of punctuation for transcription? Like shorthand, or a copyproofers notation, it could exist as a network of signs and signifiers that serves as a visual, literary and cognative medium – a means of correction, elucidation and expansion. Predestined marks, open to interpretation.
Chapter titles need working on as well. At the minute I have implemented about five different schemas for naming blocks of text. Easily done, but important, I must once more reduce the entire thing to plain text, break the chapters down once more, segment it further into three acts and then think about the chapter titles. Probably, I will continue an obsession, to use text from the body of prose retrospectively to prove titles which signpost. I've also thought that it might be nice to issue a development through this device alone. The chapter titles, depending on where the words are sourced, could be prompts for deja vu, stealing from future passages, or reinforcements taken from earlier chapters providing a trajectory back into previously absorbed materials and themes.
I'm reminded of Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5, which I took down to the canal and read again today. In particular, I think of the way the Tralfamadorians see time. It mirrors exactly the narrative structure of the book, with events occuring, as the book will have it, like insects in amber.
The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion here on earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.
Vonnegut uses commas well. That must be remembered. What else be remembered? Well, and time is getting on now, that within my own book I need more of transition between the novel-within-a-novel and the main body of prose. Or at least a sectioning that provides a natural indication that the brain must be engaged in a faster gear. It really helps the end section if the microcosm of this inserted narrative helps you forget the details of all that has gone before. The end phase of the book should be approached with a unidentifiable stance caused by the previous reading and not a specific armoury of details and plot connotations that can be hurled at the gaping holes in the ending's structure.
It should also be noted, here, by me, that the ending is weak, unsatisfactory and without craft. Twists or revelations are not what's needed, but rather doubt. Somehow, the end paragraphs and chapters must instil doubt, must make you disagree with what has gone before not because it is wrong, but because the logic is flawed, because it is a logic that the reader did not subscribe to but found himself following. Now it is over, the reader should choose to reject this logic, reject the predicates and non-conclusions and present an argument of the reader's own which cannot express exactly what is wrong, just that something is.