26 March 2008

The Senses of Metafiction: The Spray of Phenomena

"Warmth, gloom, smells of my bed, such is the effect they sometimes have on me. I get up, go out, and everything is changed. The blood drains from my head, the noise of things bursting, merging, avoiding one another, assails me on all sides, my eyes search in vain for two things alike, each pinpoint of skin screams a different message, I drown in the spray of phenomena. It is at the mercy of these sensations, which happily I know to be illusory, that I have to live and work. It is thanks to them I find myself a meaning."
[Beckett, Molloy, p. 111 (1st Black Cat ed. of Three Novels)]
"There is a stew simmering on a gas ring and occasionally Toby stirs it, listening to the chimes from the Salvation Army mission across the street playing 'Silent Night.' He remembers other Christmases, the smell of pine and plum pudding and the oil smell of his steam engine. ...

"He tastes the stew. It is flat and the meat is tough and stringy. He adds two bouillon cubes. Another fifteen or twenty minutes. Meanwhile, he will take a shower. Naked, waiting for the water to heat up, he is examining the graffiti in the toilet cubicle, running his hands over phallic drawings with the impersonal interest of an antiquarian. He is a plant, an intrusion. ..."
[Wm. Burroughs, Cities of the Red Night, pp 244-45]
"Often, when I was young, last year, I walked out to the water. It spoke to me of myself. Images came to me, from the water. Pictures. Large green lawns. A great house with pillars, but the lawns so vast that the house can be seen only dimly, from where we are standing. I am wearing a long skirt to the ground, in the company of others. I am witty. They laugh. I am also wise. They ponder. Gestures of infinite grace. They appreciate. For the finale, I save a life. Leap into the water all clothed and grasping the drowner by the hair, or using the cross-chest carry, get the silly bastard to shore. Have to bash him once in the mush to end his wild panicked struggles. Drag him to the old weathered dock and there, he supine, I rampant, manage the resuscitation. Stand back, I say to the crowd, stand back. The dazed creature's eyes open—no, they close again—no, they open again. Someone throws a blanket over my damp, glistening white, incredibly beautiful shoulders. I whip out my harmonica and give them two fast choruses of 'Red Devel Rag.' Standing ovation. The triumph is complete."
[D. Barthelme, The Dead Father, Ch. 12 pp. 105-06]
"So we get near the end of the book, and nothing resolved. But then, only segments have been given you of these few people. They are in no way representative of anything, necessarily. Such the perfections of fiction, as well as that honed cruelty it possesses which makes it useless. Everything it teaches is useless insofar as structuring your life: you can't prop up anything with fiction. It, in fact, teaches you just that. That in order to attempt to employ its specific wisdom is a sign of madness. Can you see some shattered man trying to heal his life reading Tender Is the Night? In the back files of the Ladies' Home Journal there may, at least, be found the names of various physicians who will get you to the grave with a minimum of anguish—so they say. There is more profit in an hour's talk with Billy Graham than in a reading of Joyce. Graham might conceivably make you sick, so that you might move, go somewhere to get well. But Joyce just sends you out into the street, where the world goes on, solid as a bus. If you met Joyce and said "Help me," he'd hand you a copy of Finnegans Wake. You could both cry. Why is it that this should be? It is because fiction is real. When you writhe for Christopher Tietjens or the Consul, you writhe for real things that do not live, that do not represent anything anywhere, that have no counterparts in life. It is unsupportable to be so enslaved by the writer. Many people hate it, so they will read only 'nonfiction'; they'll not be tricked! If I say that Dick Detective is a man with the qualities of the green tissue on which I am now typing, and only those qualities, what then? I make him up. What a pleasure, my pleasure, it is true. He will teach you utter failure if you try to use his chapter as a handbook for living.

"It is this fact, that fiction is an invention of the voice, that tends to make writers' lives a shambles. [pp. 215-16] ...

"That evening, the fantastic silence, branches cracking in the cold. The sunset, frigid and subtle, essence of winter. The dark trees stretch down the slope toward the shining black ice of the river in shadow. The colors of the sky are rose, blue, pale yellow, and violet—almost amethyst. Let me say that it is amethyst. A small perfection. Dick and April stand outside the house, happy in the quiet. Civilized. April stokes her husband's thigh, Dick holds April about the waist. Delicate amethyst in the sky, growing slowly indigo. They stand again, after supper, the brilliant ice-cream moon of North America comes up luminous. A portrait of the poet and his wife: you and I and moonlight in Vermont. Dick thinks this, then he sings the line and laughs. April laughs. They are in Vermont! Vermont! They are in the moonlight in Vermont!"
[Gilbert Sorrentino, Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things. Last culminating para., pp. 242-3]
"I made my way to the edge of the old city easily enough. From the street din of motorcycles and buses to the voices of the long bazaar. The thoroughfare narrowed as I passed through the Lohari Gate, a brickwork structure with a broad towerlike fortification on either side.

"Once inside I began to receive impressions, which is not the same as seeing things. I realized I was walking too fast, the pace of the traffic-filled streets I'd just left behind. I received impressions of narrowness and shadow, of brownness, the wood and brick, the hard earth of the streets. The air was centuries old, dead, heavy, rank. I received impressions of rawness and crowding, people in narrow spaces, men in a dozen kinds of dress, women gliding, women in full-length embroidered white veils, a mesh aperture at the eyes, hexagonal, to give them a view of the latticed world, the six-sided cage that adjusted itself to every step they took, every shift of the eyes. Donkeys carrying bricks, children squatting over open sewers. I glanced at my directions, made an uncertain turn. Copper and brassware. A cobbler working in the shadows. This was the lineal function of old cities, to maintain an unchanged form, let time hang with the leather goods and skeins of wool. Hand-skilled labor, rank smells and disease, the four-hundred-year-old faces. There were horses, sheep, donkeys, cows and oxen. I received impressions that I was being followed."
[D. DeLillo, The Names, ch. 12]
"When something real is about to happen to you, you go toward it with a transparent surface parallel to you own front that hums and bisects both your ears, making eyes very alert. The light bends toward chalky blue. You skin aches. At last: something real.

"Here in the tail section of the 00000, Gottfried has found this clear surface before him in fact, literal: the Imipolex shroud. Flotsam from his childhood are rising through his attention. He's remembering the skin of an apple, bursting with nebulae, a look into curved reddening space. His eyes taken on and on, and further. ... The plastic surface flutters minutely: gray-white, mocking, an enemy of color.

"The day outside is raw and the victim lightly dressed, but he feels warm in here. His white stockings stretch nicely from his suspender-tabs. He has found a shallow bend in a pipe where he can rest his cheek as he gazes into the shroud. He feels his hair tickling his back, his bared shoulders. It's a dim, whited room. A room for lying in, bridal and open to the pallid spaces of the evening, waiting for whatever will fall on him.

"Phone traffic drones into his wired ear. The voices are metal and drastically filtered. They buzz like the voices of surgeons, heard as you're going under ether. Though they now only speak the ritual words, he can still tell them apart.

"The soft smell of Imipolex, wrapping him absolutely, is a smell he knows. It doesn't frighten him. It was in the room when he fell asleep so long ago, so deep in sweet paralyzed childhood ... it was there as he began to dream. Now it is time to wake, into the breath of what was always real. Come, wake. All is well."
[T. Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow, p. 754]
"Rough dogs, barking, splashed into the river chasing sticks. Coats and ties had been hung in the trees and men were hurling stones at soda bottles or skimming pieces of slate and loudly counting the skips. He picked out squealing children and the laughter of the women. If there hadn't been a wall he would have seen them scuffling on the edge of the water. The land fell and the trees parted so that seated where he was the Ohio might have made his eyes blink, but the wall was eight feet high and wound in its vines like a bottle of claret. The bench was damp and cold, shadowed all morning by the elms, and he slid his bible under him. It was a poor garden, given over to ground ivy and plants that preferred deep shade, for the sun reached it only at the top of the day when it found an opening between the crowns of the trees and the head and body of the church. Absently, he felt the pores of the cement. The shadows of the elm leaves passed gently over the vines and grasses. In winter one could see quite easily through the gate at the end of the garden to the river lying placidly in its ice—leaden, grave, immortal. He had never learned when the key had been lost but the lock was rusted now and the double gates were bound. By spring, when the ivy leafed and thickly curtained the pickets, his blindfold was complete. Nevertheless he could see the sand rising in little puffs and the brilliant water striking the shore. It wasn't true, but Jethro Furber felt he had spent his life here. Certainly he had brought to the garden the little order it had, laying the walk with his own hands and clearing the graves of weeds and creepers, carefully scrubbing the markers. The rough cold bench was as familiar to him as his skin, and the garden, with its secret design and its holy significance, was like himself. He smiled as he considered it (he had considered it often)..."
[Wm. Gass, Omensetter's Luck, pp. 75-76]

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