The Wayward Few

‘The wayward few, as I call them, take for their subject-matter scenes and events never reported in any fictional text but likely to have taken place in the vast zone of possibility surrounding not just every page but the merest sentence on that page. And the mental space that I mentioned just now extends so far in every direction from every fictional text that the wayward ones, as I call them, are able to write as though the content of many a seemingly separate fictional text adjoins, or is entangled with, the content of many another such.’

From Gerald Murnane’s A Million Windows, p. 23

It might be that no one writes about the virtuality of fiction better than Gerald Murnane. I don’t know his work sufficiently well yet. The absence of wide acclaim is unsurprising, these quirky fictions are not the stuff of the mainstream. This is writing for the wayward few. His distinctive, idiosyncratic style, beyond its stylistic signature, seems utterly sui generis. I understand better what fiction does to me (for me?) for reading Murnane.

Eternity Has No Moments

Quote

‘(Surely a person is able to sample the experience of eternity without having to read fiction? I found just now a passage that I copied more than thirty years ago from the translated writings of Alfred Jarry: “It is fine to live two different moments of time as one: that alone allows one authentically to live a single moment of eternity, indeed all eternity since it has no moments.”)

From Gerald Murnane’s A Million Windows, p. 17

Thoughts on Gerald Murnane’s Tamarisk Row

It seems that Gerald Murnane’s way of viewing the world is born of astonishment. Herbert Read quotes Picasso, upon viewing an exhibition of children’s drawings: “It took me many years to learn how to draw like these children.” My reading of Murnane is provisional, based on the essays in Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs and the novels, Barley Patch and recently Tamarisk Row, yet what seems possible from my reading is that Murnane’s astonishment is that of a child.

This is not to detract in any way from the sophistication of his vision, but his way of capturing reality with an immediacy and sensitivity that reveals the wonderment in the mundane. Picasso’s apparent obsession with drawings that have the properties of a child’s perspective I think was something different, an inherent conservatism perhaps, that glorified what he saw as primitive art, a retreat from the idea of progress rather than an opening up of vision.

In Tamarisk Row, Murnane’s vision, his astonishment, offers a way of seeing the world that is familiar, but long repressed. Something hidden is brought to light and, as a consequence, offers an opportunity to come away with an expanded perspective. Taken at surface level, the narrated story of a slice of a young boy’s life is simple, but what Murnane does is to emphasise the immanent strangeness. This is what the world looked like before  being stifled by the experience of adulthood.

My intention this year is to read more or less chronologically through much of Murnane’s writing, interspersed perhaps with Clarice Lispector’s stories, another writer that for different reasons never fails to have a profound effect on the world around me.

Gerald Murnane’s Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs

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.

 

 

Some Well-Intentioned Reading Ideas for 2015 (updated)

These are not reading resolutions. Writers promising literary gifts lead me astray too easily for these ideas to be fixed in any way.

This year I read widely covering fifty or so writers, concentrating my reading more deeply only twice on Houellebecq and Anne Carson’s work. In 2015 I’d like to read more deeply into the work of some of my favourite authors: alternative Dante and Homer translations (and Adam Nicholson’s The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters) ,  more Ballard’s short stories, always more Beckett, John Berger, Roberto Calasso, more Anne Carson, the new Tom McCarthy, Robert Musil’s diaries, Hélène Cixous, Coetzee, Jenny Diski, Dostoevsky, Marguerite Duras, Pierre Hadot, Houellebecq’s new one if translated next year, Kafka’s short stories, László Krasznahorkai, Clarice Lispector, Bourdieu, Doris Lessing, Nabokov, Alice Oswald, Robert Macfarlane, Nietzsche, Atiq Rahimi, WG Sebald, Thomas Mann, Christa Wolf and Virginia Woolf.

Beyond these ‘old chestnuts’ (as Beckett called his favourite authors) I’m looking forward to unexpected surprises within the pages of the following new books, either missed in 2014 or due in 2015, by authors I have not read before:

  1. Kirmin Uribe – Bilbao – New York – Bilbao
  2. Claudia Rankine – Citizen: An American Lyric
  3. Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor – Dust
  4. Ceridwen Dovey – Only the Animals
  5. Karin Wieland (trans. Shelley Frisch) – Dietrich & Riefenstahl: The dream of the new woman
  6. Can Xue – The Last Lover
  7. Anna Smaill – The Chimes
  8. Han Kang (trans. Deborah Smith) – The Vegetarian
  9. Paul Celan – Breathturn Into Timestead
  10. David Winters – Infinite Fictions: Essays on Literature and Theory

There are several other writers whose older works I’d like to get around to exploring sometime soon including Jens Bjørneboe, Martin Shaw, Ivan Illich, Eva Hoffman, Ivan Goncharov, David Abram, Ágota Kristóf, Rebecca Solnit, Tomas Espedal and Elfriede Jelinek.

As always, distractions are greater than my ambition, but if I manage to take in a decent selection of the above I’m expecting a good year in reading. There are several other titles I have my eye on but I’m mindful of your patience and Molloy’s admission that ‘if you set out to mention everything you would never be done.’