Tuesday, 19 May 2009

The novel is soon to be retitled. It has to be. So much has changed, so much has happened, so many incarnations have been passed through by that the body of work I tentatively and laughably call the novel, that a renaming must occur. What names have I been through before? Well, nothing more serious for this project than a working title, a title appropriated from a sung lyric. Present in it was a vague conceptual connection, also a feint air of a 1930s detective novel, which I liked. But no sense or depth and so it is not to be repeated here.

What process can we undergo in order to title things? There are many routes to name chapters, just on this shelf now. Calvino's story within a story, perhaps? Kis oscillates between simple numbers and beautiful short sentences that could just as easily pass as the words on the Now Playing board at a Montmatre cinema's retrospective, or perhaps some anonymous underdog Malevichian cubist's triptych. Jack London, the author of the current book I'm reading, uses no titles. In place are simple orientations: 'Chapter Three' - an indication of serialisation or editorial influence perhaps? And what of those books which use chapter headings in a seemingly Victorian way (but I guess rooted before this in the European greats... Dumas, Cervantes etc.), describing the events that are about to happen, or even better the moral crux upon which the drama of the following pages rests? Think of Marryat's chapter entitled "In which our hero prefers going down to going up; a choice, it is to be hoped, he will reverse upon a more important occasion." Think of B.S. Johnson's wonderful, smug attempts at the same in Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry!
Chapter I The Industrious Pilgrim: an Exposition without which You might have felt Unhappy
or better still
Chapter XX Not the Longest Chapter in this Novel

I have been responsible for many terrible names in the past. Looking back now at horrible books I wrote and deemed experimental in order to justify their unreadability and potent lack of structure, direction, grounding conceptual consistency (am I not doing the same now?) is an embarrassing task. Glasnost, Addicted To Ghosts, Thousands Drink Colours, Ill Fabric. Pretentious, nonsensical, unresearched; it is hard to bear now. Now, that is, in the knowledge that in two years or six months or whenever, I will look back at these words here and think the same thing. It is titles, however, that give us some kind of indication as to the mindset, like windows into the soul of the novel. An image, that is all it requires, an image to stand out and then it takes on a life of its own, cajoling the mind towards connections where connections there seemed none, toward inward creations within the reader. Titles are the rules within a novelistic soft fatalism, they are the boundaries that allow free will, the boundaries around the limitlessly wordless.

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