NOVELS: I posted a bit of Foucault’s Daughter on year zero and it made me realise I don’t know if she wants to be a novel, with all those ‘events’ and ‘moments of change’ and ‘plot twists’ you read about in ‘How to write a novel’ books. She seems to just want to be. As for her father, oh I don’t know what he wants. Maybe another chance to tell us all what he knows. Anyway Dan said I should consider letting the work be what it wants and not try to impose a form on it. which I think is excellent advice. Thanks Dan! He also mentioned Steve Macqueen and that film he made which won the Turner Prize of a house falling and collapsing over and over and over. It always reminded me of My Own Private Idaho. And Dan said it was an example of someone making repitition very poetic and dramatic but you could try it and it would just be boring/pretentious/both. I see exactly what he meant. I wonder if I am guilty of that.
Here’s what Dan said:
That’s a very big question. There was a really good discussion of this on farmlanebooks in the context of Veronique Olmi’s great novella Beside the Sea, and it’s something I’ve mentioned in various review pieces of short stories. There comes a point, the triple chocolate pudding point, when intensity and rich cadences no longer add to but detracty from a piece because you sinply get acclimatised/worn down, so the edges are taken off and the prose gets greyed out. I think where that happens varies from book to book but beside the Sea is one side of the point, The Line of Beauty the other. One answer is to give the book breathing space, rhythms so the intense parts shine. Though that may defeat your object
It’s complicated by the fact that once you get through the grey and the boredom, you can actually pick up again and the repetition itself becomes a factor that serves the novel. Warhol was a master of this, of course. The best example from my generation is Steve McQueen’s stunning Deadpan, the endlessly repeated film of a house falling down that won the Turner Prize the year of Tracey Emin’s bed. And in literature it has been done most recently and famously in “The Part About the Killings” in Bolano’s 2666. What happens fromthe endless repetition is that the piece becomes disembodied (it’s like saying the same word again and again until it just sounds daft and meaningless and you can’t imagine it’s a word that means anything at all), and you are taken beyond the words to a meaning that’s absolutely symbolic. Get that right, like Bolano, and it’s breathtaking and metaphysical. Get it wrong, like Lionel Shriver in We Need to Talk About Kevin, and it’s just interminably contrived, self-absorbed, and dull. As an author, it’s safer to think about the first threshold.
DREAM: I was in a room with you and you were sitting over me and you started to touch me in a very suggestive manner. Starting to stroke my belly (we were fully clothed). I was so shocked I jumped and screamed at you:
‘GET OFF ME YOU BIG GAY!’
Later I saw you had a Guardian column, with a posh photo and everything, in which you looked a bit like a blonde Gary Numan (he was peroxide blonde once wasn’t he?) and you had quoted me and I felt pissed off that I’d just fed you copy for your journalism career.
The dream ended with you standing over me and I don’t know what happened next.