Monday 2 June 2014

Since I was twenty there have been books I read in short bursts, keeping them by me for months, dipping into a few lines to check the internal weather, unable to read more: plotless, intimate writing that plumbs depths rather than covers ground. Less like reading and more like diving into language then stopping short, having your moment and eating it in the stillness of complicity.

The heart of reading is atavistic and possessive: out of a pan of undifferentiated yearning come these words you could have written yourself. Could have but shouldn’t have needed to. Shouldn’t but did.

We read with all the reading we’ve ever done. We write through all the reading we’ve ever done. Idra Novey writes through Clarice Lispector (Sylph Editions Cahier 23). Elfriede Jelinek (Sylph Editions Cahier 18) writes through Robert Walser. Anne Carson (Sylph Editions Cahier 21) writes through Joan of Arc, Francis Bacon, Hölderlin, Paul Celan.

Clarice Lispector’s Cronicas appeared in a Brazilian newspaper in the early seventies. Where’s a newspaper now that would publish these? Actually, as I learned at the airport waiting for a delayed flight, journalists rant through jocular teeth, making the shift for their readers to the World Cup on TV, seamless.

Cronicas are short pieces arising out of the thoughts or observations of a small daily life, the sudden revelations you might have experienced before but which strike with the force of upheaval when you experience them again. Just as The Hour of the Star, her last novel, leaves narrative gasping in the gutter, the Cronicas are fully estranged from journalism.

Clarice: The Visitor by Idra Novey
The writer as visitor to the reader’s life, with all the wiles and the wherewithal to dismay and invigorate. What more can a book do? Sting and move on. Leave a residue of sisterhood, call it that, and suspense. Such a relief that you can know and not know at the same time, the condition of the other.

Her Not All Her by Elfriede Jelinek
Robert Walser via the sensibility of Elfriede Jelinek – and the reader makes three – featherweight upheavals one after another. Crushing modesty and persistence. Constant unseating for the reader. Who is shaping whom and can we be further reduced on the page?

Nay Rather by Anne Carson
The voices of Joan of Arc had no stories and she did not know what language they spoke. What do your voices sound like? asked her inquisitors. Ask me next Saturday, she replied. Are they one or many? they asked. The light comes in the name of the voice, she said.

While staying up at night the Cycladic people invented the frying pan, says Anne Carson through the Greek poet Ibykos.