Telling stories

beginning middle end (18 July 2013)

beginning middle and end (18 July 2013)

The first day of December, the first Sunday in Advent, the first day of our southern hemisphere summer. And the first day after the end of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

My participation in NaNoWriMo had me commit to writing – during the month of November – 50,000 words towards my new novel, the working title of which is “You Wouldn’t Dare!”

The truth is that I wrote about half of what I’d committed to. And about half of what I wrote might ultimately find itself inside the novel.

To me, the three big benefits of being involved were: 1/ the discipline of writing every day, 2/ training myself to write down anything and everything that came to mind, and 3/ I discovered things I wanted to write but didn’t dare write.

It was the middle of winter when the Sky Rialto poster (above) was pasted on the building next to where I live. I have now gained a new layer of understanding of those words. The sequence in which a story is told need not conform to any chronology. The sequence in which the story was written will certainly not do so.

The fundamental tendency of matter

Legion (cover)

Legion (cover)

The human brain, three pounds of tissue, held more than a hundred billion brain cells and five hundred trillion synaptic connections. It dreamed and wrote music and Einstein’s equations, it created the language and the geometry and engines that probed the stars, and it cradled a mother asleep through a storm while it woke her at the faintest cry from her child. A computer that could handle all of its functions would cover the surface of the earth.

The hundreds of millions of years of evolution from paramecium to man didn’t solve the mystery, thought Kinderman. The mystery was evolution itself. The fundamental tendency of matter was toward a total disorganization, toward a final state of utter randomness from which the universe would never recover. Each moment its connections were becoming unthreaded as it flung itself headlong into the void in a reckless scattering of itself, impatient for the death of its cooling suns. And yet here was evolution, Kinderman marvelled, a hurricane piling up straw into haystacks, bundles of ever-increasing complexity that denied the very nature of their stuff. Evolution was a theorem written on a leaf that was floating against the direction of the river. A Designer was at work. So what else? It’s as plain as can be. When a man hears hoofbeats in Central Park, he shouldn’t be looking around for zebras. (William Peter Blatty, in Legion [pp104-5]) 

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Originally published by Simon & Schuster in 1983, and subsequently turned into what Rinker calls “a more than satisfactory sequel … Exorcist III (which, mercifully, has nothing to do with Exorcist II: The Heretic).” Legion appeared in a Tor paperback edition in 2011 (Tom Doherty Associates, New York).

Knight on a plough horse

Daily rituals are important … and there are several I try not to miss.

In the morning, a glass of pomegranate juice helps me swallow the meds and supplements – after I’ve lit candles and chanted Christian and Buddhist prayers.

And every day – usually in the evening – I write.

Knight of Pentacles (Rider-Waite version)

Knight of Pentacles (Rider-Waite version), artist Pamela Colman Smith; from the actual 1909 deck, no longer under copyright.

Drawing Tarot cards is not generally part of my daily routine … although, over the past few days, I have done it several times.

This morning’s card was the Knight of Pentacles. The knights all represent work, effort, and responsibility, but this one (in the words of Biddy Tarot) “is engaged in the often toilsome, routine efforts required to realise the dreams of his heart.”

Biddy describes the Knight of Pentacles as methodical and rigorous – meticulous, or even a perfectionist – ascribing to him such qualities as patience, reliability, responsibility, and commitment. “Though his visions may not be earth-shattering, and his methods are certainly not original, the Knight of Pentacles sees that everything he undertakes will meet with nothing but success.”

Biddy talks about “[the] need to follow a routine to ensure that an important task or job is completed from start to finish at the standard expected.

“You are in ‘implementation mode’,” she adds, “and are committed to getting the job done, even if it requires hard work along the way.”

Doesn’t this sound like she’s talking directly and specifically to as us writers?

I don’t actually need reminding that I will “make sure that everything is planned and executed down to the finest detail … will never leave a job half done … complete all assigned tasks and projects to a certain standard and … follow through on [my] promises.”

If you’re still in doubt about your role as a knight on a plough horse, read Biddy Tarot for yourself.

Free to choose

Not comfortable —
an incurable malaise.
It won’t get better.

Disillusionment —
anything but satisfied.
Find something to do.

Reality and
meaning … purpose, destiny …
it’s all invented.

None of it matters —
yes, we already knew that.
So we’re free to choose.

Be natural … be yourself

A great deal of effort seems to go into the quest for the self — or, at least, a great deal of talk centres around the topic.

When you get to thinking about it, though, that’s just us being ourselves!

As John Weeren wrote recently:

no practice is needed
to be yourself
you’re you no matter what

Another thing: life is empty and meaningless …

If you want your life to mean something, it’s entirely up to you.

The only unnatural act is the one that cannot be performed. (William S Burroughs, Alfred Kinsey, et al)

Certainly nothing is unnatural that is not physically impossible. (Richard Brinsley Sheridan) http://www.bartleby.com/100/308.24.html

 

Do things mean something?

Words cannot have ultimate meaning, after Babel; they are no longer centered on any truth; they don’t correspond to reality the way we think they ought to.  In vain we try to find universal meaning in written and spoken language; in vain we try to make ourselves understood.  But all is vanity, and a chasing after the wind. (EddystoneLight, in The Agony of Babel (Myths of Language, Part II))

Roland Barthes, in an interview entitled ‘Do Things Mean Something?’ (first published in Le Figaro Littéraire, 13 October 1962), explained that his passionate, lifelong interest was “the way men make their world intelligible to themselves. … Men give a meaning to their way of writing; with words, writing creates a meaning which the words do not have at the outset. That is what must be understood. That is what I try to express” (Barthes, 1985 (2): p8).

Such seemingly straightforward speech might wisely be regarded with scepticism. In her Introduction to A Barthes Reader (Barthes, 1982: xi), Susan Sontag reminds us of Barthes’s assertion that “The aim of literature … is to put ‘meaning’ into the world but not ‘a meaning’”. She also warns that “Barthes is always after another meaning, a more eccentric — often utopian — discourse” (Sontag, in Barthes 1982: x).

Back in the ‘seventies, Philip Thody (1977: p100) had remarked that “Barthes has not so far always had a very enthusiastic reception in England.” Regarding as self-evident the view that language which sets out to communicate ideas should first of all try to be clear, Thody considered such a view “difficult to eliminate from minds brought up upon Hume, Russell or Ayer” (ibid). Branding Barthes as “one of nature’s structuralists,” Thody — who apparently regarded as axiomatic the view that ‘la clarté est la politesse de l’homme de lettres’ — accused structuralists generally of “the new obscurantism … neither Foucault, Lacan, Lévi-Strauss nor Roman Jakobson writes books whose meaning leaps off the page” (Thody, 1977: p109).

Thody went on to suggest: “Surely it would have been better if Barthes had set out with the conventional aim of communicating with his readers and influencing their way of looking at language and society” (Thody, 1977: p102). Jean-Paul Sartre — with his commitment to writing as communication (Sontag, in Barthes 1982: xix-xx), and an “intellectually brutal, bon enfant view of the world, a view that wills simplicity, resolution, transparence” (Sontag, in Barthes 1982: xxi), but which at times descends to “latent philistinism” (Sontag, in Barthes 1982: xx) — might well have sympathised with such an attitude.

Always an assiduous and meticulous writer, Barthes (1985 (10): p81) insists that the only way to create a dialectic is “through a readiness to write, to enter into the movement of writing, as exactingly as possible.” Sontag (in Barthes, 1982: viii) observes that “[Barthes] always wrote full out, was always concentrated, keen, indefatigable.” Nevertheless — while not always easy to understand — Barthes makes “no efforts not to be understood” (Sontag, in Barthes, 1982: xvii).

But it is not always Barthes’s intention to be unequivocal: for Barthes, as for Nietzsche, the point — in many instances — “is not to teach us something in particular … [but] to make us bold, agile, subtle, intelligent, detached. And to give pleasure” (Sontag, in Barthes 1982: xvii).

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

Barthes, R. 1982. A Barthes Reader : Edited and with an Introduction by Susan Sontag. London: Jonathan Cape Ltd.

Barthes, R. 1985. The Grain of the Voice: Interviews 1962‑1980 [39 items], translated from the French by Linda Coverdale. London: Jonathan Cape (1985). Translation copyright © 1985 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc; originally published in French as Le Grain de la voix, copyright © 1981 by Éditions du Seuil. 
(2) ‘Do Things Mean Something?’, from an interview conducted by Pierre Fisson, first published in Le Figaro Littéraire, 13 October 1962.
(10) ‘On S/Z and Empire of Signs’, from an interview conducted by Raymond Bellour, first published in Les Lettres françaises, 20 May 1970.

Thody, P. 1977. Roland Barthes : A Conservative Estimate. London: The Macmillan Press Ltd.