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.

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…

Sammakon in Turku

I was in Finland last week, in the western city of Turku, facing down five days of clear blue skies and 30 degree sunshine, weather Londoners can only dream about. Turku is a friendly, gentle-paced city.

I found a bookshop not far from the hotel.

What caught my eye right away was a small John Fante hardcover in Finnish lying on an outside table, selling for 3 euros.

No dumping books in remainder shops, not in this corner of the bookworld anyway. There it was at a price anyone can afford – with the added value of being in translation. Sammakon is not an average bookshop, even if it could be mistaken for one at first glance.

There are two sammakko.com shops, the other in Helsinki. Sammakon’s owner publishes, sells and translates from English himself, especially his favorites – Bukowski, Fante, the beat poets and novelists. His first book was a translation of Charles Bukowski’s The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills. And don’t they just. After coming across this minor miracle for the world of books in English, one that so intimately caught my eyes, all both of them, it was on the bus for the drive back to Helsinki, for a day and a half of restaurants and walks, before flying back to rainy, chilly London.

Harvey Weinstein, M&Ms (MGMs or MFMs), SCB and the dreaded typo

When I wrote Uncorrected Proof, I thought – as it was a novel set in publish9ng, warts, bad behaviour, mistakes and all – what’s the BIG thing that sticks most in an editor’s craw…the typo of course.

Perhaps there are a few more things that stick in editors’ craws but the typo is a great place for me to start....a craw by the way for those who are not up with the term is ‘a pouch in many birds and some lower animals that resembles a stomach for storage’ ..(worth knowing and possibly connected to the punch-line).

But why should typos stick so deep and hard and mean in the editorial craw? Well, I’m sure it is annoying for editorial purists at times to stumble across a (strategic) typo (that OMG moment, that moment of editorial triumph): SEE how much unhoused-trained writers-like-you need us! Let me be frank, thank the gods for the eagle eye of a munificent editor – like Mike Phelps without the coach-guy telling him how to swim – had to drop a sport reference in there somehow.

But heinous literary crimes aside, and stepping back from the taking of an editor’s role in vain, it seems there might also be a wider issue here, one of power (where Harvey comes in) – when is power never involved? Editors play a very important and often uncredited role  in keeping writers ON MESSAGE – for the benefit of all of society. (Heaven forbid writers are left to their own rational devices on the MESSAGE).

In toto, our creative managers play an important role. Just look at how incredibly naughty & thoughtless Charlie Sheen has been over the last few days. If it hadn’t been for the sensible handling of him by Hollywood’s best and finest (Moonves and the rest), SCB* might just have shocked Libya off the front page. What a travesty, the entertainment industry deflecting our attention back to the real battle – extracting mega-media-revenues from impoverished consumers. Eventually SCB will head back to rehab, end of story (for a while), while Libya’s gonad-breaker keeps us politically glued, at least for a few more daily editions.

Apart from his penchant for power what does Harvey have to do with this?  His critique on CNN of SCB’s obsessions, Harvey’s own craw-charged battles with auto-gratification – on the floor chasing M&Ms – but that, like Charlie Sheen’s reel motives, and my typo-fictionalisations, is another story.

* Sacked Charlie Boy, the saga of off-message Charlie Sheen, a not so ‘poor’ not-so young actor learning how to get over himself.

LA

One Writer’s Swimality Check

In the drink fogly.

When I started my swimalog I thought at the the time I could document the mental processes, thought patterns throughout long(ish) swimming sessions, that’s what I planned anyway.

Q: So you haven’t been successful?

Not if you look at the number of blogs dedicated to swimming, no.

Q: Was it too hard for you?

The long swims were hard enough by themselves but then when I got swim-fit enough I found it wasn’t because it was hard to think and swim, just hard to remember afterwards what my mind was actually thinking while swimming, and the fact a lot of what I did think was banal – like lap 22, lap 23, lap 25, hang on it that was 24 or was it etc. When you cruise you lose track, when it’s hard you are absorbed in muscle fatigue and aches etc and when is this going to end. You might think of a phrase of music that repeats over and over and that goes on in the background of other thoughts or  sometimes even how hungry you are, or just how easy it seems, as you try to concentrate on reaching out your fingertips, keeping your kick to minimum but existent  – we’re talking freestyle here – as you just roll on to lap ends and turns and roll and turn and head on into the next lap and getting through it all. Some days are great, some not so great – banal, as you can see. There are many concerns that run through your mind as well, but the thoughts are fleeting and are lost by the swim’s end. One thing though, the harder it gets, the closer you get you get to the end, the more you are concerned with the physicality of it all – perhaps a precursor of final days concerns in any life.

Q: Okay that’s internally. What about externally – other people? Is it better some days than others?

Better when it rains and the pool empties. Way better.

Q: So you learned, one, that swimming highlights an anti-social side in you, and two, you were forced to give up on the original idea – pretty good progress.

Thanks. I branched out in the blog into other topics to keep myself and potential readers interested. And I’m not anti-social, though I accept swimming has a solitary side to it.  On a bad day I have managed the occasional rant about pool etiquette with someone who looking back may or may not have deserved it – there are two sides always to these sorts of disputes – but I’m well and truly over that. Swim and let swim is my motto now.

Q: So failing yourself and others you learned something of a better way of handling social relations and conventions. But on your main goal, in well over two years of lukewarm attempts, you failed miserably. You set out to observe and not having the stamina to maintain the observatory technique or even capacity to reinvent a charting of the banal progress of an ordinary  swimmer’s daily routine, you gave up. And made no friends.

Thanks. I made one or two friends, a few acquaintances as well. On the observation, you try it, see how far you get.

Q: I didn’t start this idea, you did. So what’s next?

Keep on keeping on. Maybe I will find a way to observe and recount a swimmer’s progress eventually. But in defence of my efforts, it’s a little like writing dialogue – slavish recounting of ‘everyday normal discourse’ rarely makes for good dramatic dialogue, or readable material – ditto for any blog on the mental processes while swimming.

oh dear.

Bukowski


It was Bukowski’s birthday (16th August) – the LA Times alerted me.

“I was drawn to all the wrong things: I liked to drink, I was lazy. I didn’t have a god, politics, ideas, ideals. I was settled into nothingness; a kind of non-being, and I accepted it. It didn’t make for an interesting person, I didn’t want to be interesting, it was too hard.” Women

More than any writer of recent times he made himself and East Hollywood a person and place you wanted to know. In an uncanny way, he made himself the writer you knew without meeting. The story of publication with John Martin and Black Sparrow is a hell of a ride – one that given the state of the publishing industry today makes you shake your head and wonder what went so horribly wrong. How and why did the spivs take control? Moneybags spivs walked in one day and a good part (the best part) of writing and publishing gave up the ghost and died. What happened to that generous reader, writer publisher spirit that John Martin recounts, those early days – he wasn’t imagining or romanticizing it. It was there. (It’s still there in pockets and angles and bolt-holes all over – the connectiveness reliant on the Web – the spivs are desperate to colonise and control the Web now as well.)

Back then when publishing was open for any and all business John Martin said  to Bukowski – I’ll give you a hundred dollars a month (we’re talking late 1960s) and you just write for me. I’ll publish you. Just go and do it. Bukowski went off and wrote Post Office in a whirlwind.

John Martin is still a beacon in a wilderness we really should call –  information control – or entertainment froth – or laugh your way to the little bank blues – not book publishing, not anymore.

Bukowski made you laugh out loud about things that were no laughing matter. He just made his humanness (really, Chinaski’s) matter to you. No one has captured him yet on film. Mickey Rourke and Matt Dillon – put them together, maybe (Jeff Bridges could do Bukowski really well). Or as a friend said – Mickey Rourke now – yes, Rourke or Bridges could do Bukowski now.

Any film takers out there? Any producers with the heart to try again?

ElephantEars Press

Uncorrected Proof Review by Kristin Johannesson

Uncorrected Proof – Louisiana Alba


A review by Kristin Johannesson.“… the random cannibalization of all the styles of the past, the play of random stylistic allusion.” Fredric Jameson. 

ʻUncorrected Proof’ could be seen as a labyrinthically shaped many-dimensional map, pointing above and beyond itself by showing mirrored images of other places in literary time and space. And that’s one reason why you do not feel trapped by the, also present, postmodern paranoia. In this book as in real life. Painting pictures pointing beyond themselves out into a vast literary universe, you may feel lost in a labyrinth but it can, and for me does, feel like an opening, or a broad road, in it’s freedom to play out and stay away from an apparent order of themes according to fit the forms in the styles of the past, and norms or ideas of originality and individuality. The text stretches out of and becomes wider than the thickening plot, which is something I think can be inferred if employing multiple perspectives on the puzzle pieces presented – which, to use the map metaphor again, can be viewed from a distance at the same time as you are caught up in it/them.

In other words it does, in my opinion and to my appreciation, knit parodies and parallells into something in which it is possible to discern a pattern, in and through the somehow accented spy novel style, making the pictures and scenes full rather than fragmented in relation to the substratum one can sense somewhere in the heart of the text. To try and concentrate my impressions in one sentence I would describe it as confusion in association with the flexibility of not being one and itself. I have personally become deeply involved in this hectic story, and though I have read it over and over from cover to cover I still do not feel I am done with it. I use the word hectic as at many points there is a bit of a stressful atmosphere with the characters and the ones who in parts in their turn play the characters, as with the authors from various times and places who file past. Others such as the fishing scenes and the pasta recipes are a bit of a break, through being a bit more worldly.

Alba’s work in itself is in my view an original one. To pick but a few illustrative
quotes which echo my impressions when reading:

“It is not just a runaway relentless river of words following mental storms or unauthorized brainwaves”,

“Themes do not overflow story into labyrinths of uncertainty, ruthlessly impoverishing if not demolishing, exactitude”.Who in the book in the end is the one or ones who has/have done wrong, if there is such a one in the story, is hard for a non-literary person like myself to express. As for picking the parodies, who has written what may not be the (only) point of interest. Hopefully. I for one am unable to identify most of the over a hundred authors said to figure in the text. To try and espy one final conclusion, a main paradox may be that the novel builds a lot on parody/pastisch as technique and in turn plagiarism as a theme, which could lead to some interesting questions on where the line can/should be drawn, for what kinds of creators, and what you have the right to do what with/with what. 

Notes from the diary of the reviewer’s work
raw thoughts which c(sh)ould be refined. the truth may be purer in this version than in the next. i’ll go with the next one.

The first copy I read was from the library. I saw some review, got curious, and made a suggestion for the library to buy it (which is my normal way of getting many of the books I read). I read this first, borrowed, copy of the book, among other contexts, while washing clothes and while watching clothes wash.

1: Excerpt Six; Inside the plot (UP, Acknowledgements)
2: Excerpt Four; Archie thinks it through (UP, p 65)
3: Excerpt Five; Alessandro gets on the case (UP, p 71)
4: Excerpt Three; Archie & Cal try to sort it out (UP, p 81)
5: Excerpt One; Ellen Spartan contemplates her fate (UP, p 86)
6: Excerpt Two; Chaos at Folio (UP, p 109)

And later, through X months’ hard labour, resulting in the above, I won my own copy. Fair enough. And fair and square. “[I] found the order (or found the copy on Google Book Search 🙂 Either way, [I] did it.”

“Hi Kristin, the copy will be sent to you on Monday.”

I re-read it when on a flight to New York. And back. I might not have concentrated as hard as I should. At this moment a clarinet played by a neighbour is mixed with birds singing through the open window mixed in turn with relatively silent electroacoustic music from my computer. The temperature is very/too high. And in addition coffeepipyng hoot out of the glede. I also made my own correspondences between style, theme and reading. For example, eating haggis when I read the part on scots. “And yer nae even scottish”. I made the pasta in the recipes in the book when I read those. Following the instructions I did use olive oil. And then I didn’t. (But to use another one of my jotted down quotes from the book “every author lies in every case”, you shouldn’t take my word(s) for this. As for haggis, I’m a vegetarian.) I have also been pondering on the author. One personal (but still quite unoriginal, I have read this opinion in other places) guess on the subject of the author Louisiana Alba, is that this is not a non-fictional character. But I would not swear on that either. “Because I know nothing about this guy.” But I am a “friend” of “his” on Facebook. Some other intriguing passages are for example the equations describing how the book (the book(s) in the book/the actual book) was written, the question “Is that Heidegger quoting Kundera or Kundera quoting Heidegger or Homer Simpson misquoting both?”, and speaking of Homer; blurbs by Homer and Brontë, the pictures of authors on the cover, the thank yous to many more in the preface. The familiarity of them seem to cover and cushion some of the literary tumbles of the eponymous author, the implicit author, the fictional author and the reader.

As at the moment being involved in library and information science, I also at points in my reviewing progress saw parallels to knowledge organization and cataloging, as well as some kind of hyper- or at least intertextuality, in the alphabetical list of authors and artist in the preface, pictures of some of them quite neatly organised on the cover, and and as mentioned reminds me of a map – which a catalogue can be as well, often concerning documents such as literature and often interesting in itself in what has been chosen for representing and how it is represented, making new stories out of, as well as new relations and associations, between older works. Some of the charm of this book lies in it waking curiosity and associations, and some of the challenge with the book lies in it making you want to solve some of its riddles, such as where allusions are, to whom, and what this in turn might imply if interpreted “correctly.”

The Paste Land
“Lou maintains you have look through the prism of Duchamp’s Mona Lisa..the mustache on the most famous woman in art..Everything is a comment, a value add on, a parodic piece of fun, a slide off the original text into something else..built inside text which itself is built inside text and so on..Foucault’s comment in ‘What is an author’, an author is only a collection of statements that have come before, comes into play. Writers often play with borrowed stories (Shakespeare mercilessly so)..Lou referenced over 100 styles. T.S. Eliot borrowed from the whole of the literary world. The Waste Land could be The Paste Land. (You are quite free to use our emails as well if you like – Uncorrected Proof is an open book published by an open press)”

– Geoff Berry… ElephantEars Press – e-mail correspondence June 2010
http://elephantearspress.com