Sunday 17 January 2016

In an interview in The Paris Review William H. Gass says he changed his handwriting, letter by letter through the alphabet, when he was twenty, to set himself at a remove, to start again. I smile in recognition. He would get asked to write wedding invitations in his new ceremonial hand, he says. I smile again. I changed my writing, likewise, with intent, at fourteen not long after I started keeping a diary: new writing, new self, deep gulfs on every side, reliable defences. I did wedding invitations too, in my ceremonial hand, with a certain artificial elegance, so much like strands of barbed wire, as William Gass says.
Descartes, examining a piece of beeswax fresh from the hive, brought it near a flame and observed all of its sensible qualities change. He wondered why he should believe that wax remained. Couldn't he give that puddle in his hand another name?
I used to read Fiction and the Figures of Life to students; this flexibility as writer, as philosopher, as respondent to the immediate world, put me on my home ground as a teacher, rescued me from academe while covering my back. Willie Masters' Lonesome Wife was another early purchase: I liked the fonts and the playfulness, the search for a way to say; I liked less the tits and ass. I chose William Gass off displays in St Marks Bookstore et al in the 1970s and early 80s. In the heart of the heart of the country. On being blueThe world within the word. Whatever it is that makes you pick up this book or that. A few lines about beeswax. The playfulness, the ambiguity, the overreach, the pendulum experiencing a rush and then settling: tock tick, tick tock.

eyes, his new book, finds me ready and up to date with William H. Gass though I haven't read him for years. The novella called In Camera, the first piece in eyes, is home turf. Two isolated people and a shop full of old photographs that may have been stolen. What further twist or sideways move can we manage? How far can we extend—our remit—our patois—ourselves? What is going on here? There's no saying. You get to the end of the story and then what you see around you is the the outside world upside down, as it should be, coming in, as you have never seen it (because you haven't been outside), as it is. All your photographs have been taken away but you are living in a pinhole camera.

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