Friday, March 27, 2015


When I think back on that trip to LACMA I believe that I think of paintings in the way that I experience books; the recognition of similar aspects, the white collar in Rembrandt's Portrait of Martin Looten (1632) being in the same family as the black space in Giovanni Battista Cremonini's Christ Nailed to the Cross (c. 1595), for in both of them you see the colour denying the other colours around it, and emphasising them by denying them, or, if you want to look at it another way, by herding them into pens and prisoning them there, or by imprisoning themselves; the white not going outside its own nature, and the black not going there either, but both staying in their dazzling corrals, so that everything outside the corral is a seething jungle by comparison, and subtle, like a jungle, coursing around with tiny wildlifes.

As I was talking to an artist on Monday evening about Robert Walser's The Robber, he said that it had something in common with Richardson's Pilgrimage, in that both authors were interested in the phenomenon of solitary joy.

Friday, March 20, 2015

someone to explain the picture to me

We saw some of those eyeballs at LACMA last weekend, all of them falling or flying around on their pink balloon strings, or bouncing out of soupbowls of blood; and the blood was very vivaciously heaving in evenly matched waves of careful lines, which were unmistakably pretty in their sweetiepie colours. There was one long vertical sheet-shaped piece dotted with these votive pictures (sometimes corpses, sometimes bells), like a page of little stickers. "After gazing admiringly at many scenes, all of a romantic nature, I was seized by a longing to write a verbal equivalent of the painting,' says Longus in his preface to Daphnis and Chloe – which is not what I've done; he doesn't describe the painting or praise it in the body of his story, he is breathing it or attempting to breathe it out as prose. "So I found someone to explain the picture to me, and composed a work in four volumes as an offering to Love and the Nymphs and Pan; and as a source of pleasure for the human race."

He says he's doing it to honour the aspects of life that the painting itself honours. So there is pleasure for him in giving honour. Dorothy Richardson in her Pilgrimage books is concerned because the novels she reads (this is ventriloquised through the character of Miriam) don't do honour to Life. It drives her mad – "It simply drives me mad" -- when an author tells you that a character "always" does something just-so. "Jones always wore a battered cricket cap, a little askew," is her example. "You know the whole thing is going to be lies from beginning to end."

(Her imaginary author is trying to mask his static "always" by waving active details in front of it: a "battered" cap has moved through various experiences, and the "askew" angle is humanly careless. She's right, the sentence she's invented would be degrading to any author who wrote it. Why? Because it's trying to hide what it is. And stabs itself in the back. And doesn't seem to know itself, or be aware of itself, or recognise itself; it's a stranger to itself. Which is a haunting vulnerability when you see it in someone, and you wonder what to say to them.)

Then I wonder, were the eyeballs "all" flying or falling around, or have I written an "always"? Thinking about it. Some were being carried by birds, that counts as flying, some were sailing through picture space – that counts as flying too – and the rest were toppling out of the blood-bowls, as far as I can recall. All of the disembodied eyeballs that I can remember were genuinely flying or falling. There were also kidneys and hearts but eyeballs were the favourite. Why eyeballs?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

disembodied eyeballs

When I decided to write about Kingsley's Geoffrey Hamlyn I was remembering people online who had mentioned the book and yet they hadn't read it – they were wondering what it was like -- and I thought that I would write something, and then they would be less apprehensive, which would disperse, magically, some benefit over the earth, and who knew what but there it would be, god help us all; and the Tibetan Buddhists who paint disembodied eyeballs must be relieved to know that other people will be reminded of the impermanence of life by the sight of these eyeballs, but other people have not written about Geoffrey Hamlyn as often as Tibetans in the past have painted disembodied eyeballs, and so I was not so sure, but you have to start somewhere – I said to myself – which is a lie …

Nobody is going to read Kingsley, though, after seeing that description of the call and response patterns I think I see in him, absolutely nobody. I am an unreliable executor, which is worse than being an unreliable narrator; at least the unreliable narrator still gets you where you need to go, being, in fact, secretly, a completely reliable narrator. Unreliable narrators are the kindest people. They sacrifice everything.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

allow me to write of other people's experiences

Henry Kingsley had never written a book but then he went to Australia and afterwards he did it. The same for Mary Theresa Vidal and Caroline Leakey. Australia convinced them to commit violence on their own unblemished previous records of not publishing books. It was a great silent continent, thinking of the quiet of the deserts. Longus of Daphnis and Chloe hopes at the end of his preface that fiction will not derange his mind with alien ideas. "I hope that god will allow me to write of other people's experiences while retaining my own sanity" (tr. Paul Turner). But the others are not afraid of that possibility at all: they have been stimulated or shocked and they drive ahead without a fear of their own characters; they don't worry about their sanity: they are reassured that they are quite strong or else they are insensitive to this form of brutality, and Longus was as well, if you read those words as a rhetorical gesture rather than a serious statement of feeling.

The readers are the ones who obsess and go deranged over characters, writing fanfic as they do, not being able to absorb or possess the characters themselves because their beloveds are already tied up with another, and will always be so, no matter how diligently they press towards them, and the author is not interested in that character by now, and would let it free if they could, for the fanfic writers to take (if they want it so much), but they can't, the characters can't be released, any more than you could pull out a word somehow and give it to somebody (André Maurois, in his autobiography, suggests that when you are a child words are not so much meanings as fields of emotion and that some children, in this respect, never grow up).