The novel is dead: Long live the novel

I think it was Will Self who in the past has made several claims the novel is dead, usually when he is publicizing his latest novel? He is not alone. Many have said something similar, often for a similar reason. It’s an old rort. The look at me novelist engaging in a little self-flagellation over his chosen craft – the novel – following up with, and here look at my latest – you got it – novel.

I believe in the slow novel. The slow-dying novel. Perhaps the problem is not that the novel is dead, rather we are being ‘entertained’ by as good as brain or industry or novel-dead novelists or ‘deader than deader’ bought novelists. It’s not entirely their fault – they have been led down through this novel is dead garden path so long they couldn’t help but drink at the poisoned novel is dead well – lured there by you got it – money for the next novel.

We still live in an age of publishing which is owned and controlled largely by giant mixed-media conglomerates using consolidation-techniques of the late 20th century dribbling over into now in publishing that seems to have a project to kill off diversity in publishing.

Using the constricted market, the consolidated conglomerate run industry has been made easier business – fewer less diverse products, selling way more copies of each un-diverse novel, creating their ‘stars’ who weave the same old same un-diverse old rope you find in any shopwindow of limited product-range where variety is only now a word on a magazine cover.

What would happen if new-well-developed craft appeared on the front bookshop-paid-for-by-conglomerates table. Would readers have a nervous breakdown?

Instead of fewer and fewer choices by fewer and fewer voices which logically will one day be one – one publisher with one author on one table with a zillion books – the same book sold over and over and over for centuries. Sound good? It does to me. All that free time not having to say: when am I going to read a book again? I read it! Ten years ago. What a relief!

My once doctoral research looked at the period when digitisation once offered a chance at democratisation over the oldie-big-corporation-run publishing industry.

The big players killed off one such possible – Gemstar. The owner – Yuen. Where is he now BTW? He didn’t look the history of Allen Lane – psst drop the price – but Yuen didn’t look or didn’t hear.

Maybe he was too busy being cosyied up to – and cosying up himself to them of course – hearing one or more of the big players say with a smile: come in on old boy. It’s seductive – money for the new novel. Have a chair in our club where the good old boys and girls enveloped Mr Gemstar with ideas of ebooks and ereaders as luxury-items. Leave it to us old boy to run the market and it will flock to you, old boy.

https://www.theguardian.com/media/2002/oct/09/newscorporation.rupertmurdoch

p99 ‘Publishing: Principles and Practice’ Sage Publications UK 2011

What noise does a Penguin make? Let’s all sound like Penguins for a moment – in 1935. 6p of Penguin chanting in old money. Not six shillings for old hard covers. Allen Lane ‘the bugger that ruined the trade’ – who made the paperback boom. And did it boom – like a thousand penguins in the snow and ice arriving at the ocean. The paperback which we all grew to love and carry around everywhere. We love hardcovers too of course – but could we as well have grown to love an ebook that stood for democratised literature?

And so with the not so new digital now not so great industry the offshoot of paperbacks that once dominated the market and used the word – democratisation –  then – democratisation of information – small companies springing up all over the auction – only to dry up and become only Amazon and Apple – in the main – and bingo the digital revolution which supported literary ideas-of-reader-choice – as any endangered species in any jungle you care to roam into has to be supported or dies from neglect or poisoning or will die – shot between the eyes – under the reasoning ‘let’s make it all a smaller more manageable-market with the management-cry of more profit yes for us. Good old boys and good old girls’ culturally watching over – you got it – the endangered – nearly dead and or dying novel.

A Rainy Day in New York

From the moment in Annie Hall when he led Marshall McLuhan out from behind a film hoarding in a New York cinema I have been a huge fan of Woody Allen. He is America’s best writer director of ensemble urban comedies – truly a unique filmmaker.

Europe & Freedom of Movement

As Brexit continues morphing out over the coming months, I think we should begin sharing experiences of what it has been like to live in and freely travel around Europe before our rights disappear. The ‘good’ the young of Britain in particular are about to lose.

Automatic right to be and travel inside Europe without a visa, attend universities, work without foreigner status conditions, to learn languages, share in the life as citizens of Europe with equal rights.

What the Europe Union does so well is not to look towards obvious economic stimulants as bridges to future social, cultural and economic activity, but to social and cultural stimulants, which when aggregated from individual life-changing experiences multiply in exponential societal ways, not only across Europe but across the world. Europe is a civil and cultural force unlike any other.

Here is an early pre-FOM personal European experience, before freedom of movement was instituted, but giving reason to why it is so good for societies and individuals.

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus. The ancient Odeon, built by Herod Atticus 161 AD, situated at the foot of the rock of the Acropolis with the Parthenon as a backdrop. The Odeon of Herodes Atticus written up by Vernon Kidd in the New York Times, describing a 1981 Athenian summer component in a plethora of Europe-wide festivals, The Athens Festival awaiting travellers… “plays of Euripides, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Aristophanes … presented by the National Theater of Greece, the Amphi-Theater, the Art Theater and Northern Greece State Theater. Tickets: from $1.20 to $6. July 5 to Sept. 25.” As Kidd’s NY times article detailed, Ancient Greek theatre in the ancient Odeon was only a small part of a Europe-wide extravaganza of arts festivals in the summer of 1981.

So, unaware of any of the above, one hot early July ’81 evening I wandered up the road from my Plaka hotel to the Acropolis, this young filmmaker then resident of Hong Kong. As darkness gathered, I sat myself on a wall to take in the dusk scene at a spot overlooking the lit-up Odeon of Herodes Atticus theatre. A rehearsal was going on way down below. Intrigued very quickly by what I saw, I hiked down the hill to find out what it was I was watching. A poster outside the Odeon announced the Athens Summer Festival’s showing of The Acharnians by Aristophanes. Had I see an Aristophanes play before? No.

I returned to my hotel and the next day bought a ticket for the play at a ticket outlet – (prices of the day ranging from $1.20 to $6). I found a Penguin translation of the play in a bookshop, read it, and no wiser I have to say set off a night later to see the performance.

The Acharnians was first performed in 426 BC. A strident anti-war play it is credited with being the oldest staged Greek comedy. I didn’t know what to expect because the Penguin translation did not make anything clear. Still, I had seen the rehearsal. That was enough. The play itself would do the rest.

The Odeon theatre is an extraordinary space, but on a hot July summer night it is other-worldly. The night air made translucent by light was alive with what looked like tiny floating tips of flowers, rising in the warm air all throughout the amphitheatre. In jeans, t-shirt, sandals surrounded by Greeks in evening dress I felt a rank outsider. Yet nobody cared.

What truly resonates with me most, nearly forty years later, is how an ancient play, interpreted, performed and directed as it was, was soon so relevant for a 1981 audience. Filled with dance, mime, mask, and music, George Kounis’ (or Kouns’) production lifted me off my seat. This was not a stilted play from Ancient Greece, a production I remembered too well from university productions. The Penguin translation was swept from my mind.

Dicæopolis, a native of Acharnæ and an ex-soldier returns disillusioned from the Persian wars, heartsick at the miseries and stupidities of the conflict. Not shy in making his views known, with earthy gestures he rails against fellow citizens, while a chorus of startled, indignant citizens in white masks, odd hats and fantastic bed square sewn quilt costumes, rush in dance formation from one side of the stage to the other, all to a cacophony of startling music and sound effects, remonstrating with him and each other. The audience was in stitches inside minutes. I didn’t understand a word yet understood everything.

As a writer it is hard to communicate the effect this experience has had on me: the hot July night, the western world’s most ancient comedy, the mime, dance, costume, design and performances, Greeks all around me ‘rolling in aisles’, the old director helped on stage after the performance – I felt as if theatre itself, not only the ancient Greek concept of  ‘spectacle,’ had finally been made clear to me.

Athen_Odeon_Herodes_Atticus_BW_2017-10-09_13-12-44

photograph by and courtesy of Berthold Werner 2017

Lee, JFK and Stephen King

It’s tough being a writer in this organised politically-controlled oligarchic world of ours. Publishing is a strategic asset in a stable of assets essential to a well-tuned oligarchic universe. The message whatever it is must be edited. That seems to be the last law of the universe, the one Scientists haven’t yet owned up to.

Try thwarting it and you will be edited out of existence says a footnote on the first page of the Oligarchic Manual. Try beating the system and your Sun will shine no more.

So, I guess even the great Stephen King obeys this largely hidden law of our Oligarchic Universe. (I say great because book sales obviously equate with greatness, right?) It has nothing to do with well-oiled sales machines. Sales = Greatness and vice versa.

So, I went, I must say with hope, to read 11.22.63 by the undoubtedly great Stephen King. And what did I find?

Well, my mother always said: if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all. But when did I ever listen to my mother?

What on earth was King thinking about?

Not the truth clearly. His novel is fiction, okay. Only he put some real people in it, no? Like Lee Harvey. Poor old very dead Lee Harvey. The man who some people keep saying was guiltier than his own imagined sin. Lee Harvey with his Carcano Model 91/38 rifle which he probably couldn’t have hit a barn door with from 100 metres, but somehow reverse-actioned Newtonian physics with a tree blocking his way, hitting a moving target, from how far was it? Killing a President.

Go figure. Many have tried. I don’t need to debate this. To my mind at least if Lee were on the sixth floor of the Book Depository that fate-filled day and fated time, he would have had more chance of hitting Parkland Hospital than the man it is claimed he murdered in the way convention says he committed this crime – the myth now co-signed by author Stephen King.

Another Outsider

Mother died today. This morning at 11. Having a sudden feeling suddenly all might not be well I called. The nurse told me my mother had died six hours before.

No one sent me a telegram: Mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Yours sincerely. I had been back and left my number just in case she worsened.

Flying back to see her it was winter. Getting off the plane at five in the morning I went and swam in a pool to get my head straight. Driving up into the hills I stopped at a bakery in a small shopping centre. On offer were the same rolls loaves and sweets I knew from my childhood. I ate them in the early sun under a 7am clear sky, drinking hot coffee. Then I drove on to see her at the home. The nurses were kind. You are the one abroad aren’t you? We heard of you.

The home where she lived is half a world away. The nurse on the phone said the funeral will be tomorrow or the next day. The body had been taken away.

I have been away for twenty years this time. If you add up all the years in between the times we saw each other, contact was sparse over the last thirty-five years.

I watched as a Roman Catholic sister came in and said to her: I know you are a woman of great faith, would you like me to give you a blessing? My mother looked up at her with adoration in her eyes. Yes, she said. The sister took her hands in hers. I bless your eyes for all the beautiful things you have seen. I bless your nose for all the wonderful flowers you have smelled. I bless your lips for all the kind things you have said, and I bless your hands for they have held all your children.

What do you do? the sister asked bouncing a little on the vinyl floor. I write, I said. You are all creative. Then she left, coming back to confirm my telephone number. Is this still yours? Yes, I said, mine.

My mother and I used to be very close, before others made a weapon of the distance between us. I am a writer, before that a filmmaker. Not the lawyer my mother wanted me to be. So there was that in the silence between us.

The last thing she said, I hear you have not been well. Given all the laps up and down in the pool I said they would have scraped me off the bottom by now if I weren’t. She didn’t laugh, just closed her eyes, went back to that half dream, dozing morphine state.

I suppose I needed a caretaker to walk in, say, You’ve no need to justify yourself, my boy. I’ve read your file. You just lost contact with what you were once.

It was true. Or maybe I am confused as to what it was in truth. After I left the first time whenever I wrote we were two points in space inching further and further away. She looked at me with her one good eye, her beautiful mouth ruined by a stroke. You are looking well on the whole. I nodded. I keep fit. We only have one body so I guess I have to. I wondered if hers was ready.

The room was oblong, purpose-built, bigger but plainer than I expected, the walls covered with my sister’s paintings. Photo albums were scattered around. Over in the corner on the floor in with some other dusty paperbacks I found a copy of my last book.

My mother liked her apple juice. I helped her drink some. She was connected to a catheter. She couldn’t get up, her life now like Bukowski’s beer sodden sadder than all the dead Christmas trees in the world. In the corridors residents pushed metal walkers.

I never saw my father’s body. I’ll never see hers. On my last day I kissed her forehead near the large cyst. I have to go to the airport, mother. I hope to see you soon. Yes, she said. No anger, no hopes and no dreams. I could  have looked up through the roof at the mass of signs in the stars and laid myself open to the benign indifference of everything, but there are no signs to be had. I left, walking the corridors, thinking: if I meet my family at the door I hope they greet me with shouts of hatred.

Narratorial Unreliability

Christian Mihai discusses his ideas on unreliable narrators, something he likes to see writers use, and a technique he says he uses himself. Still, he misses a fundamental point – all narrators, storytellers, dramatists, poets, are unreliable. From Homer, Shakespeare to Sartre, no writer tells, gets close to ‘the truth’, even if he or she is prepared to die in the process of collecting all the observable details of a factually based fiction.

Catherine Lacey

Do we trust Tolstoy’s account of Napoleon in War and Peace? Perhaps… if we are Russian.

Narrator unreliability doesn’t have to be a first person account, though the most obvious modernist exploitations of narrator unreliability in fiction use that form. The best approach – for this writer at least – is when the writer sets out to deceive us, and by convincing us that he or she has told the truth, transfers any doubt on narratorial reliability to a reader’s interpretation of the tale.

Experiment, what experiment?

..handheld shaky cam, found footage, ultra-violence, meta-storylines, etc., all becoming part of the broad pop cultural landscape and assimilated into the commercial marketplace. This translates across all cultural lines – music, art, technology, etc. as the outsiders and untouchables of yesteryear are today’s TV spokesmen and tastemakers..

…experimental film seems to represent more fully the true potential and magic of cinema

…for brief moments in history, think the ‘beats’, the real ground-shakers, the true risk-takers, manage to do something that is life and culture affecting, their minds drafting the future…

One Writer’s Journey

I grew up watching Superman, The Cisco Kid, O.S.S., hearing war stories, chasing down moth-eaten army uniforms back when milk arrived in a horse and cart marvelling at the colour style of actual coca leaf sugarpop in Coke bottles blinking at motor cycles Dick Van Dyke falling over a couch cowboy films shot in daylight B/W then coloured nights of my father’s home-grown vegetables, born with words in my mouth – ‘gimme-that’ , ‘how-dare-you’,  ‘what-the-fuck’ –

– ideas as fixed and eternal as the motives for every war, growing into Kidnapped bicycles desert boots Seventy Seven Sunset Strip Disney Land Rear Window Psycho Lawrence of Arabia, the annual anxiety of packing the car at holiday time, each and every moment stilled in memory of the forever mysterious parodies of life or art even if parodies weren’t even an option back then. I knew the Beatles before the Monkees, Bogart before Belmondo, but I can’t say I recall the idea behind the Summer of ’42 before it was a film conjured into a Mad magazine parody or whether it co-existed in the smash crash and kill dinky toy mind of George W. Bush. I believe I’m not alone, even growing more bewildered year on year by the incoherence of images and texts surrounding me from birth arresting my natural river environment in the far southern climes the commercial and cultural ink-blotting over my childhood my natural world a parody of some story my mother told me, those seconds on a baked sidewalk hearing JFK was dead, pink socks on the rock ‘n rollers, moments things events sounds sent to make life even more dangerous curious frightening, a direct result of the industrial military complex, Elvis Presley Chuck Berry even, the jack shit political influences beaten into the worrying shame of death in the world, prejudice, organically connected and woven into a general valueness held dear by so many years on from that day when morality was gunned down in broad daylight.