‘Not to write. That’s the formula. Stand up right now, wash my hands of it and flee. Why do I say flee? Simply go away. I have to be simple. I should go away; then I won’t have to explain anything. I should put down a period and end here.’
‘I don’t want to write for myself. You say that, but deep down you’ve got a need to be read, to go beyond yourself; there is a desire for grandeur, for conquest.’
‘All that’s left is the tormented need to write something, and I don’t know what it is.’
‘Sometimes, the “self” who does what I don’t want to do is, in reality, the one whom I love because he releases me from that stubborn, hermitic no that I am bound to.’
From The Empty Book by Josefina Vicens (translated by David Lauer)
[What begins as an exercise of meta-fiction about a writer struggling to write anything worthwhile develops—this is provisional as I’ve yet to finish a first reading of the novel—into an enquiry into the nature of writing, fiction and why we read fiction (or why we read at all).]
‘In the end, art may not have been our invention at all. It may well have appeared in history as it does in the life of many individual artists: as an outside call, a sudden flash of inspiration, an inner wanderlust exerting such a powerful pull that ultimately we would have to say that Picasso got it wrong: the early humans did not invent art. Art invented humanity.’
From J.F. Martel’s Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice
It seems from the essays in Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs that Gerald Murnane is a writer that writes for his own pleasure and necessity. Murnane describes himself as a technical writer who is compelled to find words to explore the contours of his thoughts, a phrase he finds in Herbert Read’s English Prose Style, explaining that it “is a magical phrase for me. It has helped me in times of trouble in the way that phrases from the Bible or from Karl Marx probably help other people.”
My reading is obsessive by nature, often sending me into what is now a frequent pattern of reading a writer until exhausting all available work, reading some secondary material and, in some cases, reading the books that they acknowledge as influences. An earlier version of my reading self read Barley Patch nine years ago and, though I recall appreciating Murnane’s evident pleasure at playing with language, the book failed to trigger the sort of obsession I’ve experienced with Virginia Woolf, Dante, J. M. Coetzee, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Denton Welch, Christa Wolf, or Clarice Lispector. Triggering such an obsession required, firstly, for me to be the reader I am today, and secondly the essays in Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs.
What I find in Murnane’s essays is not just a writer that inspires a reader to reflect on existential questions, part of why I read what I read, but also a writer that opens blissful landscapes where I find colossal, quiet spaces. Murnane describes his own discovery of such spaces in discovering Jack Kerouac’s On The Road: “The book was like a blow to the head that wipes out all memory of the recent past. For six months after I first read it I could hardly remember the person I had been beforehand. For six months I believed I had all the space I needed.” It is from experiences like this that my love of literature comes, why I discover ecstatic spaces from human beings that I am never likely to meet, but considers companions in navigating this often ghastly world around me.
“Four months earlier to the day, on August 14, I had had the unforeseen good luck to meet Pascoaes in Oporto, for the first time and also the last. The impression of his emaciated, at times twitching, but always kind old face is fading away. The lively eyes and the humorous corners of the wide, thin-lipped mouth were strikingly framed, though, by the severe dark hat and suit which plain people wear in Southern countries. I may forget the fireworks of his conversation, with which he easily kept the younger men hanging at his lips. (In those days a Pascoaes cult existed in Portugal; perhaps it still does.) But his embrace I am still able to feel, the most Portuguese of all Portuguese embraces I have been accorded. When we took leave from him, my friend and I, to return to the city, he singled me, the stranger, out and hugged me with a particular warmth and fondness. Did he want to enthral me forever, by putting into that farewell gesture all the human solidarity of a Portuguese? It was the gesture of one who was clinging to life with his last strength. Perhaps it was magic “America,” from whence I came and to which I was soon to return, that he wishes to draw into his immaterial universe of living trees and mountains, in my person, one of the few, perhaps the last who had come to him from the young continent of hope? It meant no love or friendship or goodwill—we had hardly met!—but it sent out a stream of sympathy that will not cease.”
From Gerald M. Moser’s The Embrace of a Poet, Books Abroad, Vol.28, No. 4
“. . . he had long since given up on Schopenhauer. He accused him of betraying his own great creation, a philosophy that in its negativity far outstripped Christianity, by lapsing in his later years into pseudo-mysticism and a stuffy, academic doctrine of individual salvation. At the moment, he was in search of a substitute for this German apostate, and had reason to believe he had found one in a dyed-in-the-wool Spanish mystic. He had resolved literally to delve into this new friend, sound out his meaning, and with every deciphered line to cover up the lie he was himself living, to wit: that he lacked the courage to do damage to his pitiful carcass by his own hand, and was thus under sentence of looking forward to a normal demise somewhere on a bed of straw.”
From The Island of Second Sight by Albert Vigoleis Thelen, (translated by Donald O. White)