elina hirvonen’s when i forgot: “memory is one of life’s burdens that we can do nothing about”

if you are interested in the effects of time, memory & violence on the human subject, then buy and read this book!

  

Elina Hirvonen’s When I Forgot opens in a Helsinki cafe where Anna Louhiniitty is drinking coffee and reading Virginia Woolf Mrs. Dalloway — or maybe it’s Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. However, she is soon at the mercy of intrusive memories of her brother, Joona, whose mental breakdown seems connected to the events of 9/11. Eventually the recollection of the impact of violence on both her family and her boyfriend’s — his father came back from Vietnam a broken man and died in a V.A. hospital — overwhelms her. Anna is forced to try to do the impossible, to break free from her past and develop a less painful identity, one which . . . pardon my psychobabble . . . From the publisher’s jacket copy:

An astonishingly assured and compelling debut, When I Forgot explores the relationship between a sister and her brother, the past that they share, and the painful memories that shape their lives forever.

Anna is on her way to the hospital where her brother has been institutionalized when she falters, and in that pause her world splinters in a blazing display of memory and madness, of childhood security treasured and shattered, and of families blighted by psychological trauma—her brother’s and that of her boyfriend’s father, a Vietnam vet. September 11 serves as a backdrop for the story, and the Finnish perspective on America and its politics is as uncomfortable as it is compelling. 

 


 

the opening pages of elina hirvonen’s when i forgot: 

 

1 

Why I’m happy

I’m happy because I have a steam engine (that works).

I’m happy because I have Daddy Mommy Sister Grandma and got a Stiiga bike for Christmas.

I’m happy because I’m in the science club and when I grow up I’m going to be an inventor and win the Nobel Prize.

I’m happy because I get to live my whole life in free and independent Finland and because my Heavenly Father loves me and takes care of me.

Joona Louhiniitty 3A

 
2

I can make it. This day.

There’s the smell of sun-warmed dog shit and damp earth. A bent woman in winter boots from the eighties and a child in muddied jeans whose tongue darts out around his icecream moustache. There’s the long morning when you don’t
have to look at your watch.

There’s the café where you get old-fashioned coffee and thickly iced mocha squares and where you feel like someone’s just told you a secret. There are the clacking trams and the footdragging kids on their way to school and the grey-headed women who prop each other up as they cross the street. There’s the book I got from Ian. There’s Ian, who loves me.

There’s the book.

There’s the world I am allowed to enter. Three women on a single day in different time periods. The writer Virginia Woolf, who filled her pockets with rocks and walked into the water.

You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can’t fight it any longer, I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work.

I’ve read Virginia’s suicide note many times, but keep coming back to it. What did the rocks look like? What was she thinking as she sank under the water? Did she have time, before losing consciousness, to regret what she had done?

 

 

3

 

I first saw Ian three years ago in a university lecture hall. He had been invited from ColumbiaUniversity in New York as a visiting lecturer for the literature department’s Virginia Woolf seminar. Ian was fortyish, but looked older. He was in brown corduroys and an orange-yellow sweater and the same kind of bumpy-soled health sandals that my mother wore when we were small. He stood in front of us looking thin and a bit hunched, a glass of water in one hand and a sheaf of paper in the other, turning his head back and forth looking for a place to set them down.  

The girls in long skirts and the boys who pulled their wispy hair back into ponytails talked loudly about literature (‘Orlando like totally expanded my sexuality, man’) and last night’s party (‘So I wake up on some fucking tech student’s floor and I’m like uh sorry’) and Ian kept saying excuse me, excuse me please to get everybody to quiet down. Finally he set down the glass and the pile of paper, stamped his sandal and shouted ‘Shut the fuck up!’

When Ian started to talk, we were all quiet. He sat on the table, pushed the papers aside, and took a sip of water. His gaze was intense and his voice deep and dark, as if someone were humming quietly just behind his words.

First Ian told us why he became a literary scholar. ‘I’m convinced that it’s important to remember. Only by remembering can we understand something about ourselves. But I happen to have a terrible memory. I wanted to fill in the gaps by stealing from others.’ Ian looked away, took a drink from his glass, and began talking about this dazzlingly intelligent woman who lived a hundred years ago and who wanted to capture even the tiniest movements of the mind, to dive into a person’s inner world in a way no-one had ever done in the history of world literature.

His voice tightened something in my throat. I wanted to raise my hand and tell him that remembering isn’t really all that great. Memory is one of life’s burdens that we can do nothing about. I wanted to stand up, make the note-taking and enthusiastic nods stop and shout that all I want is an escape from memory.

Ian’s face flushed and his hands drew swoops in the air. His hands were thin and his wrists were hairy and I wanted to put my hand there too.


4

The phone rings before I get to the end of Virginia‘s letter.

‘Where are you?’ My mother’s voice as doubting as ever.

‘Transcribing an interview,’ I lie. ‘What?’

‘Don’t get angry. Could you please go see Joona?’

‘I told you already. I want to make up my own mind when to go.’

‘Yes, you told me. But it would mean a lot to Joona if you’d go now. He needs you. To get better.’

Oh fuck off. That’s what I want to say. Fuck off and let me live my own life for once. But you don’t talk like that to your mother. Not any more, now that you’re grown up and living in your own place. Not to the mother who has to care for Joona like some gigantic child. Not to the mother who in her whole life never had a door she could lock against other people’s intrusions.

‘Joona is not going to get better.’

‘He could be less unhappy. He says you don’t care about him any more.’

‘Jesus Christ.’

‘Joona asks about you all the time. What should I tell him?’

‘You don’t need to say anything. I’ll go out there when I get this done.’

He says you don’t care about him any more.

Where does he get off saying that? Where does he get off using a smarmy, crappy, hypocritical word like ‘care’? Caring’s been poisoned by children’s songs and politicians. If only we could all just care about each other we’d all be happy happy happy.

But he’s right, I don’t care about Joona. What I feel for him is something else. Nothing warm or fuzzy or happyhappy. I feel more towards him than anyone else in the world. I wish he would just vanish and I’d never have to remember anything about him.

 

When I was born, the world was already full of Joona. He had golden hair, a bright voice, and a racing car covered with stickers, which he crashed over and over into the yellow painted wall of our room. One day the paint cracked into flaky figures and father locked the car in the attic.

Joona played sad songs on his brown plastic recorder and sat for hours with a picture book in front of him without turning the pages or saying a word. He dreamed of dropping me along with carrots, turnip cubes, and celery stalks into Grandma’s old iron pot and stirring my pink baby flesh into a savoury stew. On bad days he crept over to my white crib and pulled my downy hair out of my head with both hands. On good days he pulled a blanket over the table in our room and we crawled under it to play. We had a torch and mashed banana and played Jonah in the belly of the whale. Joona pulled me into his lap and rocked me back and forth. I imagined behind the blanket a stormy sea, on whose waves our whale would rock up and down for ever.

Joona’s golden hair and ringing voice are my first memories of the world. For a long time I was sure that Joona was the whole world.

On my plate there is a half-eaten mocha square and a ring of coffee left by my cup. The man at the table next to me stares into space and a tram clanks by outside the window. I close the book and run my fingers over its rough cover. I feel like apologizing to the people in the book.


5

When I was five and Joona seven, Father drove into our yard in an old hearse.

We were swinging with my mother. Joona sat alone on one swing and she held me in her lap in the other. When we heard the car horn, all three of us jumped up and ran to see what was happening. The car was big and black. The radiator grille had a big dent in it and someone had drawn a huge peepee in the dirt on a back window. I hoped my mother and father wouldn’t see it. I tried to look like I didn’t notice anything.

Father ran his fingers along the steering wheel. He had rolled the window down and ‘Roadrunner’ was playing on the radio. His hair was messed up in the back, he had unbuttoned his top shirt buttons and golden chest hairs curled up out of the opening. He drummed on the wheel with his knuckles to the beat of the music and smiled so wide his teeth showed. My mother’s hand was hard and tight around mine.

‘Henri,’ she said. She sounded as if she had to make an effort to control her voice. Father closed his eyes and lifted a finger to his lips.

‘Please don’t.’

‘We agreed.’

Father turned the music up and got out of the car. He smelled like he’d been at sea. He came up to us and lifted Joona and me in the air. My stomach flipped over.

‘Let’s go for a ride,’ he said. ‘A spring outing.’

Father pulled Mother close and I got squished in between. Father smelled of sweat and pipe tobacco and Mother of grass and her pink face lotion. Their smells mingled and plunged into me till I felt dizzy.

‘Have dead people driven in that?’ Joona asked. Father said they had. ‘But they’ll be happy to see a smiling boy in the back seat.’ My mother didn’t say anything. She turned away and I cried out, because at that moment I thought she would never come back. But when after a while she returned, she had put on a flowery Marimekko scarf and on her arm she carried a basket she’d bought at the market. In the basket were a bottle of juice, a package of cookies, and sandwiches wrapped in grease-proof paper. We climbed in the car, all four of us, Mother in the front seat next to Father and Joona and I in the back. The car’s leather seats were hot from the sun and stuck to the backs of our legs.

‘Maybe there’s dead spirits in here,’ Joona whispered. I thought of wrinkled old grandmas and grandpas sitting on the seat with us, nodding their tiny shrunken heads and eyeing the other cars for more dead people. The sun shone in through every window and when Joona sat in just the right spot, the peepee on the back window thrust up out of his head like a horn. Mother laid her hand on Father’s thigh and I could see in the rear-view mirror how they both smiled a little. I turned around and knelt on the seat and waved at the bearded man in the car behind us, and laughed when the seat back hummed against my stomach.

We’re a happy family, I thought. It felt like the sentence had flown into my mind from the page of a book. I imagined myself a rosy-cheeked pigtailed girl from a children’s book, off on a huge exciting adventure for which someone had already written a happy ending.

Father drove fast. The front windows were open and an earthy wind blew my hair into my eyes. Mother clung to the hem of her scarf. Father honked his horn as he passed a Volkswagen beetle. The driver showed us his middle finger. Joona responded by making a circle with his thumb and forefinger and pumping his other forefinger through it. I stuck my thumbs in my ears and made a raspberry with my tongue.

‘Henri,’ Mother said quietly when Father passed a carrot-coloured Lada and two other cars. I saw her hand squeezing Father’s thigh so hard her fingers were white. Father put his hand over Mother’s and laughed. ‘Ain’t it great, kids?’ he shouted over his shoulder. We mumbled something, because we didn’t want them to get cross.

Vad i helvetemenar du?’ Mother asked when Father passed a speeding sports car with its windows open and a motorcyclist wearing a leather jumpsuit: What the hell do you think you’re doing? Mother always spoke Swedish when she didn’t want us to understand. My stomach twisted and my skin got goose bumps, even though it was hot. I tried to take Joona’s hand, but he had his clenched in fists and was staring at the back of Father’s neck with a face as blank as a doll’s.

‘I’m enjoying life!’ he shouted as if my mother were a long way away. ‘You should try it some time. Just once!’

Then Father shouted: ‘Shit!’

Glass tinkled.

Mother screamed.

Something went crunch. As if someone had broken a small bird’s neck.

I was on the floor listening to a banging noise coming up out of the car. The carpet smelled like wet dog. Joona breathed warm air onto the back of my neck. I scrunched my eyes shut and waited for someone to come and lift us out.

Mother was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. Father said it wasn’t serious. His shirt front was splotched with blood from her nose. At the top, where the shirt was open, the blood had dyed his chest hairs into reddish-brown clumps.

When the ambulance men helped Mother into the ambulance, he didn’t say anything. I sat on the curb and wrapped my arms around my knees. I didn’t say anything either. Or else I was screaming. I can’t really remember.

‘Mother was just in shock,’ Father said. ‘When she comes back, everything will be like before. She will probably look funny with her nose all bandaged up. But otherwise everything will be fine. Just like before.’

We were sitting at the kitchen table and Father was grilling hot sandwiches. Joona knelt on the chair on his hands and stared at the wall. He hadn’t said a word all evening. Father set the steaming sandwiches in front of us. Ham, pineapple, melted cheese. When Joona picked up his knife to cut into his sandwich, Father grabbed his hand.

‘Let us pray,’ he said. ‘Let us thank the good Lord for watching over us today.’

The chair banged on the floor as Joona jerked his hand away and jumped up from the table. His cheeks were red and he looked at Father as if not really seeing him.

‘What if it wasn’t God?’ Joona asked in a grown-up voice. ‘What if it was the devil going into you and driving like crazy?’

‘What?’ Father said. Red splotches appeared on his neck. ‘What did you say?’

The radio beeped to signal the hour. A piece of paint the shape of a face had flaked off the wall. I took a bite of hot cheese. Tears popped into my eyes. I held the milk glass with both hands and drank. The milk ran cool into my mouth and all the way down to my stomach. It felt as if it were washing me clean on the inside. Washing me away.

—from http://www.tinhouse.com/books/catalog_wif_ex.htm

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a summer reading list

holiday reading suggestions from the brits

Andrew O’Hagan

I’m not a natural holidaymaker. I find beaches sweltering and boring unless they are swept with rain. But in recent years I’ve begun to come round, mainly because my daughter loves rock pools and sand, an appetite nurtured quite brilliantly by her mother. The world from Bude to St Ives is an action painting of beautiful light, mad water, inordinate weather, and fine sensations. They live in Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse — at one or two fictive removes — in much the same way they do in life. Woolf was a child when she first saw Godrevy lighthouse in St Ives bay, and the memory came back to her as a vision. She remembered for the rest of her life the taste of salt on the lips and the holiday delirium, a kind of English symbolism growing out of that place and that time and that unusual mind. Every summer now there are a few days when I see my little girl shimmer at the edge of the surf with bucket and spade. She is fearless. The perfect summer destination is an ideal part of themind as well as an ideal part of the world, in this case Britain’s craggiest shore, a place that is covered in barnacles and dreams.

Iain Sinclair

The book about "place" to which I return, as often as I venture along the banks of the Medway or roll up my trousers for a paddle in Ramsgate, is All the Devils Are Here (Granta, 2002) by David Seabrook. This is no comfortable travelogue, but a motormouth elegy, an Ancient Mariner rant, as compulsive, deranged and inspirational as the topography it describes. Cultural memory for Seabrook is a stand-up routine, a hysterical conspiracy. The man is a rottweiler for truth. He knows and loves the thing he describes: the secret history of TS Eliot on Margate sands, drunken carry-on orgies in Deal, John Buchan counting the steps in Broadstairs, Nazi bankers, patricidal artists. And the microclimate of Chatham, where Dickensian spectres cohabit with youthful prostitutes who "pound locked cars like gibbons at Longleat".

Seabrook, hustling through the arcades, brushing against hedges, diving into charity shops, never lets up. He gives his readers an ear-bashing they won’t forget. I swear that book talks in my sleep. Off-message, downriver Kent is rescued, definitively, from the heritage pirates, the development-pitch scammers, the theme-park cowboys. Here is documentation as rich and strange as the fictions of Nicola Barker (who has done her bit for the same territory). When Seabrook died, earlier this year, it was a horribly premature loss: now this mysterious author is fated to become part of the zone he described to such effect; an anecdote, a rumour, a legend.

Ali Smith

A powerful first novel about the history and the landscape of the north-east coast of Scotland, the Moray coast, came out earlier this year — The Tin-Kin by Eleanor Thom (Duckworth). It catches something about the locality I’ve not read in any other writer since Jessie Kesson; it conjours landscape by strength of voice, and its take on history is as bracing and cleansing as the local weather.

Claire Tomalin

The obvious holiday book is Antony Beevor’s tremendous D-Day (Viking), to be read somewhere on the south coast of England looking across to France while you plan a further holiday in Normandy. Or you could try HG Wells detailing the destruction of the south-western suburbs of London and the attack on London itself as the population flees Martian invaders, in The War of the Worlds. He wrote it in 1897, and it is still so frightening it becomes exhilarating.

Alan Warner

Michael Moorcock’s novel King of the City (Scribner, 2000) is a functioning barometer of London’s seismic moral shifts since the Thatcher years. While his Mother London is justly celebrated, King of the City presented us with a global metropolis – a seething, ethically complex London, slyly skewed by Moorcock’s humanity, his playful and exhilarating inventiveness, delightfully flip-switching from invention to reality. Dennis Dover is more than just a contemporary paparazzo, with his finger on both the shutter and the faltering pulse of our times. Dover becomes a mirror of our perplexity. The personal iconography of Moorcock’s fictional world has become so rich, each work he produces forms part of a complex echo chamber, singing beautifully into both the past and future of his own mythologies; just as London itself is the great, stuttering energy source, simultaneously contemporary and Dickensian, wired through invisible counter cultures. This novel is even more relevant a decade on, where the kings of the city — in all their sly disguises — have bust the banks; where political sell-out and naked corruption have become acceptable, where media giants and dodgy billionaires kick away at the flaky keel of democracy. King of the City questions how happy these decades of merciless consumerism have left us and probes the constructs of authenticity, as to what real London actually is — from the old hippies of Ladbroke Grove to the generation who now tell us how hard they’ve worked to get on Big Brother. Glorious.

Sarah Waters

Cynan Jones’s lovely, poignant short novel The Long Dry (Parthian Books) is set in coastal west Wales. The action is confined to a single day near the end of parched summer, in which a calving cow wanders off from its herd and must be tracked down by its farmer, Gareth. This makes the book sound rather mundane, but there is nothing mundane about it. Its focus is on the interior lives of its characters — Gareth himself, his troubled wife Kate, his teenage son, his young daughter, Emmy — and its themes are weighty ones: loss, decay, ambition and disappointment, the pull of the land and the hardness of living on it. This is not a novel that encourages tourism. Gareth has the farmer’s disdain both for visitors, who think the country is a "park", and for incomers, who mispronounce Welsh words and let their dogs run wild in the fields. But Jones’s sense of place is acute, and his passion for the landscape — for its colours, its creatures, its textures, its scents — is absolutely magnetic. The book is an especially resonant one for me: though set in Ceredigion it conjures up the exact feel of my home county, neighbouring Pembrokeshire, with its dusty summer lanes, its flower-crowded hedges, its sweeping vistas of pasture and ploughland — "and the sea before you," as Jones puts it, "silk and blue above a line of thick gorse, bursting into yellow".

—from http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/jun/13/recommended-books-by-authors

 

 

deleuze says le clézio’s act of becoming via fabulation reveals his pedigree—melville, kafka, céline

Gilles Deleuze, "Literature and Life"  

 

Translated by Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco

Critical Inquiry 23 (Winter 1997)

 

To write is certainly not to impose a form (of expression) on the matter of lived experience. Literature rather moves in the direction of the ill- formed or the incomplete, as Witold Gombrowicz said as well as practiced. Writing is a question of becoming, always incomplete, always in the midst of being formed, and goes beyond the matter of any livable or lived experience. It is a process, that is, a passage of Life that traverses both the livable and the lived. Writing is inseparable from becoming: in writing, one becomes-woman, becomes-animal or -vegetable, becomes-molecule, to the point of becoming-imperceptible. These becomings may be linked to each other by a particular line, as in J. M. G. Le Clézio’s novels; or they may coexist at every level, following the doorways, thresh- olds, and zones that make up the entire universe, as in H. P. Lovecraft’s powerful oeuvre. Becoming does not move in the other direction, and one does not become Man, insofar as man presents himself as a dominant form of expression that claims to impose itself on all matter, whereas woman, animal, or molecule always has a component of flight that escapes its own formalization. The shame of being a man—is there any better reason to write? Even when it is a woman who is becoming, she has to become-woman, and this becoming has nothing to do with a state she could claim as her own. To become is not to attain a form (identification, imitation, Mimesis) but to find the zone of proximity, indiscernibility, or undifferentiation where one can no longer be distinguished from a woman, an animal, or a molecule—neither imprecise nor general, but unforeseen and non-preexistent, singularized out of a population rather than determined in a form. One can institute a zone of proximity with anything, on the condition that one creates the literary means for doing so. André Dhôtel, for instance, makes use of the aster: something passes between the sexes, the genera, or the kingdoms.1 Becoming is always "between" or "among": a woman between women, or an animal among others. But the power of the indefinite article is effected only if the term in becoming is stripped of the formal characteristics that make it say the ("the animal in front of you .. ."). When Le Clézio becomes-Indian, it is always as an incomplete Indian who does not know "how to cultivate corn, or carve a dugout canoe"; rather than acquiring formal characteristics, he enters a zone of proximity.2 It is the same, in Kafka, with the swimming champion who does not know how to swim. All writing involves an athleticism, but far from reconciling literature with sports or turning writing into an Olympic event, this athleticism is exercised in flight and in the breakdown of the organic body—an athlete in bed, as Henri Michaux put it. One becomes animal all the more when the animal dies; and contrary to the spiritualist prejudice, it is the animal who knows how to die, who has a sense or premonition of death. Literature begins with a porcupine’s death according to Lawrence or with the death of a mole in Kafka: "our poor little red feet outstretched for tender sympathy."3 As Karl-Philipp Moritz (1756-1793) said, one writes for dying calves.4 Language must devote itself to reaching these feminine, animal, molecular detours, and every detour is a becoming mortal. There are no straight lines, neither in things nor in language. Syntax is the set of necessary detours that are created in each case to reveal the life in things.

 

To write is not to recount one’s memories and voyages, one’s loves and griefs, one’s dreams and phantasms. It is the same thing to sin through an excess of reality as through an excess of the imagination. In both cases it is the eternal daddy-mommy, an Oedipal structure that is projected onto the real or introjected into the imaginary. In this infantile conception of literature, what we seek at the end of the voyage, or at the heart of a dream, is a father. One writes for one’s father-mother. Marthe Robert has pushed this infantilization or "psychoanalization" of literature to an extreme, leaving the novelist no other choice than that of the Bastard or the Foundling.5 Even becoming-animal is not safe from an Oedipal reduction of the type "my cat, my dog." As Lawrence says, "if I am a giraffe, and the ordinary Englishmen who write about me … are nice, well-behaved dogs, there it is, the animals are different…. The animal I am you instinctively dislike."6 As a general rule, fantasies simply treat the indefinite as a mask for a personal or a possessive: "a child is being beaten" is quickly transformed into "my father beat me." But literature takes the opposite path and exists only when it discovers beneath appar- ent persons the power of an impersonal-which is not a generality but a singularity at the highest point: a man, a woman, a beast, a stomach, a child…. It is not the first two persons that function as the condition for literary enunciation; literature begins only when a third person is born in us that strips us of the power to say "I" (Blanchot’s "neuter").7 Of course, literary characters are perfectly individuated and are neither vague nor general, but all their individual traits elevate them to a vision that carries them off in an indefinite, like a becoming that is too powerful for them: Ahab and the vision of Moby Dick. The Miser is not a type, but on the contrary his individual traits (to love a young woman, and so on) make him accede to a vision: he sees gold in such a way that he is sent racing along a witch’s line where he gains the power of the indefinite—a miser…, some gold, more gold…. There is no literature without fabulation, but, as Henri Bergson was able to see, fabulation—the fabulating function—does not consist in imagining or projecting an ego. Rather, it attains these visions, it raises itself to these becomings and powers.

 

One does not write with one’s neuroses. Neuroses or psychoses are not passages of life but states into which we fall when the process is interrupted, blocked, or plugged up. Illness is not a process but a stopping of the process, as in the "Nietzsche case." Moreover, the writer as such is not a patient but rather a physician, the physician of himself and of the world. The world is the set of symptoms whose illness merges with man. Literature then appears as an enterprise of health; not that the writer would necessarily be in good health (there would be the same ambiguity here as with athleticism), but he possesses irresistible and delicate health that stems from what he has seen and heard of things too big for him, too strong for him, suffocating things whose passage exhausts him while nonetheless giving him the becomings that dominant and substantial health would render impossible.8 The writer returns from what he has seen and heard with red eyes and pierced eardrums. What health would be sufficient to liberate life wherever it is imprisoned by and within man, by and within organisms and genera? It is like Spinoza’s delicate health, while it lasted, bearing witness until the end to a new vision whose passage it remains open to.

 

Health as literature, as writing, consists in inventing a people that is missing. It is the task of the fabulating function to invent a people. We do not write with memories, unless it is to make them the origin and collective destination of a people to come still ensconced in its betrayals and repudiations. American literature has an exceptional power to produce writers who can recount their own memories, but as those of a universal people composed of immigrants from all countries. Thomas Wolfe "inscribes all of America in writing insofar as it can be found in the experience of a single man."9 This is not exactly a people called upon to dominate the world. It is a minor people, eternally minor, taken up in a becoming-revolutionary. Perhaps it only exists in the atoms of the writer, a bastard people, inferior, dominated, always in becoming, always incomplete. Bastard no longer designates a familial state, but the process or drift of the races. I am a beast, a Negro of an inferior race for all eternity. This is the becoming of the writer. Kafka (for central Europe) and Melville (for America) present literature as the collective enunciation of a minor people, or of all minor peoples, who find their expression only in and through the writer.10 Though it always refers to singular agents [agents], literature is a collective assemblage [agencement] of enunciation. Literature is delirium, but delirium is not a father-mother affair; there is no delirium that does not pass through peoples, races, and tribes and that does not haunt universal history. All delirium is world historical, "a displacement of races and continents."11 Literature is delirium, and as such its destiny is played out between the two poles of delirium. Delirium is a disease, the disease par excellence, whenever it erects a race it claims is pure and dominant. But it is the measure of health when it invokes this oppressed bastard race that ceaselessly stirs beneath dominations, resisting everything that crushes and imprisons, a race that is outlined in relief in literature as process. Here again, there is always the risk that a diseased state will interrupt the process or becoming; health and athleticism both confront the same ambiguity, the constant risk that a delirium of domination will be mixed with a bastard delirium, pushing literature toward a larval fascism, the disease against which it fights—even if this means diagnosing the fascism within itself and fighting against itself. The ultimate aim of literature is to release this creation of a health or this invention of a people—that is, a possibility of life-in the delirium. To write for this people that is missing … (for means less "in the place of" than "for the benefit of").

 

We can see more clearly the effect of literature on language: as Proust says, it opens up a kind of foreign language within language, which is neither another language nor a rediscovered patois but a becoming-other of language, a "minorization" of this major language, a delirium that carries it off, a witch’s line that escapes the dominant system. Kafka makes the swimming champion say, I speak the same language as you, and yet I don’t understand a single word you’re saying. Syntactic creation or style—this is the becoming of language. The creation of words or neologisms is worth nothing apart from the effects of syntax in which they are developed. So literature already presents two aspects: through the creation of syntax, it not only brings about a decomposition or destruction of the maternal language but also the invention of a new language within language. "The only way to defend language is to attack it." "Every writer is obliged to create his or her own language."12 Language seems to be seized by a delirium, which forces it out of its usual furrows. As for the third aspect, it stems from the fact that a foreign language cannot be hollowed outin one language without language as a whole in turn being toppled or pushed to a limit, to an outside or reverse side that consists of Visions and Auditions that no longer belong to any language. These visions are not fantasies, but veritable Ideas that the writer sees and hears in the interstices of language, in its intervals. They are not interruptions of the process but breaks that form part of it, like an eternity that can only be revealed in a becoming, or a landscape that only appears in movement. They are not outside language, but the outside of language. The writer as seer and hearer, the aim of literature: it is the passage of life within language that constitutes Ideas.

 

These three aspects, which are in perpetual movement, can be seen clearly in Antonin Artaud: the fall of letters in the decomposition of the maternal language (R, T, . . .); their incorporation into a new syntax or in new names with a syntactic import, creators of a language ("eTReTé"); and, finally, breath words, the asyntactical limit toward which all language tends.13 And even in Céline—we cannot avoid saying it, so acutely do we feel it: Journey to the End of the Night, or the decomposition of the maternal language; Death on the Installment Plan, with its new syntax as a language within language; and Guignol’s Band, with its suspended exclamations as the limit of language, as explosive visions and sonorities. In order to write, it may perhaps be necessary for the maternal language to be odious, but only so that a syntactic creation can open up a kind of foreign language in it, and language as a whole can reveal its outside, beyond all syntax. We sometimes congratulate writers, but they know that they are far from having achieved their becoming, far from having attained the limit they set for themselves, which ceaselessly slips away from them. To write is also to become something other than a writer. To those who ask what literature is, Virginia Woolf responds, To whom are you speaking of writing? The writer does not speak about it, but is concerned with something else.

 

If we consider these criteria, we can see that, among all those who make books with a literary intent, even among the mad, there are very few who can call themselves writers.

a chronicler of privileged moments: “chaos and old night seems to linger on inside me”

"People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading."

". . .a beautiful phrase is the most important thing in the world. . . nothing else really matters."

Logan Pearsall Smith


Much influenced by the style and thought of Walter Pater, Logan Pearsall Smith (October 18, 1865 – March 2, 1946) was an American essayist, critic, and coiner of aphorisms and epigrams. He inspired Virginia Woolf’s character Nick Greene/Sir Nicholas Greene in Orlando.


REASSURANCE

I look at my overcoat and my hat hanging in the hall with reassurance; for although I go out of doors with one individuality to-day, when yesterday I had quite another, yet my clothes keep my various selves buttoned up together, and enable all these otherwise irreconcilable aggregates of psychological phenomena to pass themselves off as one person.


THE GREAT ADVENTURE

Before opening the front-door I paused, for a moment of profound consideration.

Dim-lit, shadowy, full of menace and unimaginable chances, stretched all around my door the many-peopled streets. I could hear, ominous and muffled, the tides of multitudinous traffic, sounding along their ways. Was I equipped for the navigation of those waters, armed and ready to adventure out into that dangerous world again?

Gloves? Money? Cigarettes? Matches? Yes; and I had an umbrella for its tempests, and a latchkey for my safe return.


THE BEATIFIC VISION

Shoving and pushing, and shoved and pushed, a dishonoured bag of bones about London, or carted like a herring in a box through tunnels in the clay beneath it, as I bump my head in a bus, or hang, half-suffocated; from a greasy strap in the Underground, I dream, like other Idealists and Saints and Social Thinkers, of a better world than this, a world that might be, a City of Heaven brought down at last to earth.

One footman flings open the portals of my palace in that New Jerusalem for me; another unrolls a path of velvet to the enormous motor which floats me, swift and silent, through the city traffic—I leaning back like God on hallowed cushions, smoking a big cigar.


FACES

Almost always the streets are full of dreary-looking people; sometimes for weeks on end the poor face-hunter returns unblest from his expeditions, with no provision with which to replenish his daydream-larder.

Then one day the plenty is all too great; there are Princesses at the street-crossings, Queens in the taxi-cabs, Beings fair as the day-spring on the tops of busses; and the Gods themselves can be seen promenading up and down Piccadilly.


THE OBSERVER

Talk of ants! It’s the precise habits, the incredible proceedings of human insects I like to note and study.

Walking to-day, like a stranger dropped upon this planet, towards Victoria, I chanced to see a female of this species, a certain Mrs. Jones of my acquaintance, approaching from the opposite direction. Immediately I found myself performing the oddest set of movements and manœuvres. I straightened my back and simpered, I lifted my hat in the air; and then, seizing the paw of this female, I moved it up and down several times, giving utterance to a set formula of articulated sounds.

These anthropological gestures and vocalisations, and my automatic performance of them, reminded me that it was after all from inside one of them, that I was observing these Bipeds.


CHAOS

Punctual, commonplace, keeping all appointments, as I go my round in the obvious world, a bit of Chaos and old Night seems to linger on inside me; a dark bewilderment of mind, a nebulous sea of speculation, a looming of shadowy universes out of nothing, and their collapse, as in a dream.


THE GHOST

When people talk of Ghosts and Hauntings, I never mention the Apparition by which I am pestered, the Phantom that shadows me about the streets, the image or spectre, so familiar, so like myself, and yet so abhorrent, which lurks in the plate-glass of shop-windows, or leaps out of mirrors to waylay me.

—from Logan Pearsall Smith, More Trivia (1921)