Thursday, May 30, 2013
his legs are crossed over each other
Vivienne Cleven's first book Bitin' Back has been written with an accent, and I know this is a statement I would not have been inspired to make if the accent had been an ordinary literary accent or book accent, maybe mildly Victorian, modern-British, or something literate-American, those default English-language writing-accents; but the accent in Bitin' Back is Queensland Country Town and the narrator is Murri so the sentences look like this: "Arhhh, a woman thinks a lot of shit, eh? A woman's thoughts get mighty womba sometimes!"
The narrator is not a reader, I found that out when she visits the library to help her son, but sometimes the reading-author pushes herself through the language of the nonreader-narrator and the book will use a phrase like "sour gape of bewilderment," or a set of words that is like a formal metaphor translated into the accent: "I notice the way his legs are crossed over each other like one of em Buddah people," a sentence that is not in one language-place nor is it in another.
And my feeling for the book in those moments is the image of two objects precariously united, thrown apart, and fighting to re-amalgamate, or two tigers arguing.
The author has broken character, the phrase "sour gape of bewilderment" occurred to her and by occurring to her it overpowered her; the most perfect way of saying the words "sour gape of bewilderment" are "sour gape of bewilderment," and she's not describing an action being performed by characters and then described by a writer, she's making a phrase, or echoing one.
Still the organism of written language takes English-Murri speech as its excuse and makes a shape, as fragments of matter that feel compelled to press together can unite in the excuse of a tree.
The other source that this book browses for its matter and form are film comedies, the goofy physical sociable unstable worried kind with everything thrown in, a bit of romance for the ladies in the audience, bit of violence for the gents: a footballer in a dress, a mother trying to keep a secret, a neighbour hanging over the fence, somebody's good-hearted ignorant mates who keep getting in the way, a genial love interest, an unambiguous villain, confrontations, "Booty blocks the exit with his large frame, his hands on his hips as he glares in at Nevil," out-of-character surprises that are supposed to make you laugh, a spindly man knocks out a country thug, a little old woman charges up in combat gear holding a shotgun (all of it as hoary as other old tropes, the man who lifts a baby and sees it piss in his face, or the plain one who takes off her glasses and the world beholds a beauty), material with a built-in referral channel back to a visual source being fed into prose to produce a nonvisual presence: such a strange feeling I have of being blinded by this book.
Also hearing music in the presence of this accent, the content could be anything but the voice is pleasant.
The references or roots outside the book change from phrase to phrase, first they point to living speech, then a film scene, then one of those normal literary accents, never stable, never one thing, not even one kind of thing, "even though," I say to myself, "it all came from one mind --" glancing around for a unifying force and imagining it there, in the existence of Vivienne Cleven, thinking like this against Barthes, who urges the death of the author, but somewhere, somewhere, this has been preassembled before it met me (that is how I feel) -- I am not the one who assembled it -- I would not have taken these pieces -- it is as if the book is whole somewhere else, and I am seeing fragments of the whole, in the order they are supposed to occur. A very strong sense of this, so that I can't think of the writing as a pure artifact.