I had travelled to Saint-Mézard, a remote commune in southwestern France, bringing with me books by Ricardo Piglia, Enrique Vila-Matas, Renee Gladman and Lucy Ellman. As is often the case, I read less than expected, preferring for much of the time to lose myself in contemplation, sitting quietly listening to the birdsong and observing the landscape. As Vila-Matas wrote, “Here in this village . . . where the hours pass in a slow but lively fashion, I think only about life.”
What little I read, Piglia’s diary, in which he fictionalises himself, and Vila-Matas’ novel in which he pretends to be writing a private diary that is trying not to become a novel, made me think mostly of the absurdity of all the time I spend deciphering symbols on a page that purport to represent life. It seems a decidedly odd way to use the apparently endless, but definitely finite and limited time alive, particularly during a week in which a radical, hard right—unelected—administration has taken control of this country.
Writers like Piglia and Vila-Matas—both books, The Diaries of Emilio Renzi and Mac & His Problem are brilliant—highlight this absurdity. In both cases, thought itself is given a fictional characteristic and placed into a character (or series of characters). In this way the history of fiction can be represented as a progression that represents the idea of the Other. Both books express the Other by means of varied signs that mark distinct ruptures in the idea of writing and the nature of fiction. I’m doubtlessly explaining this badly. It made more sense as a conversation over a glass of local wine. Camus wrote, “We can only ever have a dissonant relationship with the world because we seek out truths about it that we cannot find or verify.”
Enjoy your holiday, and do keep reading and posting. I’m conscious too of time passing, and spending a large part of it with books, but…well, it’s a distillation of lived experience, after all. As for that unelected elite of boors now in charge – I’ve just done my first ever post with a political slant; felt I couldn’t keep silent any longer. Those bigots are poisoning our countries, but they start with language, as Orwell pointed out so long ago.
Thanks. I’ve too many unread books to stop reading, absurd though it sometimes seems. Just when one thinks one’s scraped the bottom of the barrel of British (and American) politicians, a new low appears. It’s excruciating.
I often think we read to try to make sense of the world around us, particularly when it’s once again descending into chaos. Certainly, many of the writers of the past seem to articulate much of what we’re going through at the moment.
I think they do, yet the context and perspective makes the challenges of each age so different.
Thanks for the interesting bookhints!
Even though I’m Canadian now (American by birth and for 50 years) I’ve been utterly dismayed this summer. You read Piglia and Knausgaard — a good move — I re-read War and Peace, which actually helped quite a lot.