Tuesday, November 14, 2017

looks calm because it is serial,

There is a sentence in the middle of Leslie Scalapino's Defoe, 1994, that is probably trying to explain to you why she has written it the way she has: "A book looks calm because it is serial, which is a form unrelated to suffering." That sentence comes just after one about detective novels; "Why the form of the detective novel as if it were a certain thing known which is about finding corpses." And then on the next line like this:

it is out before.
Seeing (our) actual in reality dying in that the (other) finds the corpses after they're dead.

Later when she mentions detective novels again it becomes evident that by "suffering" she also means "the present." You can only suffer in the present. In this book she wants the immediacy of a certain kind of detective fiction – she wants to be the sort of author who can write, "I walk into the room. Bang," to indicate a shooting, so that the reader feels as if they are encountering the sentences just as they are being made, as if the writing and the reading were being performed at the same time. The blurb on the back compares her somewhat freeform association of ideas to the automatic writing of the surrealists. Her ideal sentence would not be one that is "dying" and leaving the reader to "find the corpse" but one which comes to life when they reach it.

She is not thinking of the kind of detective novel (or rather not considering the aspect of the detective novel) that Fredric Jameson was writing about in the essay* on William Carlos Williams's Paterson, 1946 – 1958, when he says that Williams's doctor making house calls fills the same narrative role as the detective who has a reason to visit every different class of society, enabling the author to voice broad-ranging opinions about recent events, scandals, political corruption, the behaviour of people in mansions compared to the ones in slums, and so on. Scalapino is not interested in that calm overview technique, but she wants to comment on the state of society nonetheless, especially when it comes to abuse meted out by the rich and powerful. Her abuse is not planted inside a network of cultural specifics, however (or not one that she describes, although the reader can see that she is drawing on some definite things, like the American experience in Vietnam); and in this she is, again, not like the detective novels that Jameson is thinking of, though he refers to the genre as if it comes in only one flavour: I think? Dozens of people were shot up the road from us a little over a month ago and the sheer ruthlessness with which the city has responded to "the abject" is taking all our breaths away, as it is supposed to; we are caught inside an ad campaign, a muscular effort of will.

*The Poetics of Totality, published in The Modernist Papers, 2007.

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