Eternity Has No Moments

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‘(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.

Not to Write

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‘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).]

Art Invented Humanity

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‘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

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.