by Christopher Cyrill
I despise the word blog. I mean no offence to bloggers anywhere and mean no criticism of the concept. I just don’t like the word. I don’t like the word frangipani either.
After keeping a writer’s journal for many years I found rereading them a kind of torture that I expect to be reserved for my postdays. (My purgatory, my perdition – read what you wrote down about fiction and process at the age of twenty-nine…now push this rock up that hill, forever.)
I view all of my work to this point as juvenilia. And I can’t call this a journal if I negate its chronology, and give it space unaligned to time.
Perhaps we could call it an online diary or a glimpse of journal pages. Online cahiers. In the tradition of Steinbeck’s pencil written Journal of a Novel perhaps. But in this case a journal of non-novel – as I am between novels.
Call it as you feel/see/know it – if you are in love with liquid modernity then by all means call it a blog. (I don’t believe that giraffes or modernity ever ended. But Chronos may judge me more Lamarck than Darwin.) I will call it excerpts from an imaginary journal (online cahiers) for my own (lazy? antiquated?) state of mind.
In Notebooks 1951-1959, Camus writes,
Superb mornings. Drunken swallows.
Those who are not curious: what they know puts them off from what they ignore. (C.).
C is how I sign the edited work I give back to my students. The letter C. It is not a mark, it is my nickname that even some of my friends call me by and puns on the fact that despite having grown up in St. Kilda, beside the sea, I am terrified of it. The sea, see, the C.
A fretful arrogance makes me read that C as an invitation into Camus’s structure. Like the jazz saxophonist handing over the soundstage to the kazoo player. Poor me accepting the stage after Coltrane though.
Rumours of my disappearance, as reported in another literary journal, have been greatly exaggerated. I had no idea that anyone was looking for me and feel quite flattered.
I have, if at all, disappeared into a trilogy of novels, of which book one is now complete, book two will be done in a year – I have promised this before though – and book three is germinating. I am in the dreaming of book three and the dreaming is a non-place. I am also in that awful process of moving house – between novels and between houses: the house I live in gradually receding into small mnemonics, disappearing under my feet the wooden floors and the garden I planted gone to a ruinous brown-white, my Alyssum burnt, my cornflowers gone before the sprouting, no lilacs blooming in the doorway.
Road maps in my mind being rewritten or forgotten. Space and time reallocating. Books disappearing into boxes. A shoulder left in a garden – no longer my garden – alongside a spade I can no longer allow myself to use.
And the mnemonics of the architecture of the work just done – the novel into non-novel space – receding, decelerating the impulse/glimpse of sentence – images of a hospital wedding, a African American Shakespearian troupe, houseboat, a character named Sumac drinking mojitos with an actress he is trying to seduce.
I have written a vast amount during my disappearance; but will elaborate on that elsewhere, in further time, if necessary – I doubt it will be. I doubt anyone is waiting, or really looking for me.
Gone to Indiana.
I agree with Blanchot that the writer is writing when the writer is writing. And I have been writing – in a hidden, disappeared way that I wish was far more hermetic than has been sweetly claimed on my behalf.
I have in fact lived an unfortunately public last decade – working for the Australia Council, the Australian Society of Authors, as events manager at Gleebooks as well as teaching at various universities.
My third novel – Book 1 Quaternion, part of a trilogy called Crown & Anchor – has been delayed by a series of wonderful disruptions, my three children, and the care of them. Also by fiction editorship of magazines, now including Southerly, teaching my beloved students, starting my own writing school and a tense, unrelenting study of fiction. Pure study, pools of wax (yes, an antiquated reference but I do light candles in my house) empty bottles, exhausted coffee pots, exhausted lungs study. Some nights I fell asleep on Genette, other nights on Homer, dreaming of exhaustion at sea, Calypso’s mouth.
I consider my first two novels pretentious, young artistic adventures, but artistic failures. As both are now long out of print – I now no longer even get my yearly royalty cheque of eighty-nine cents for my first novel (the second was received with soundless acclaim and the sales ending praise – This book must be read twice to understand it.) – I no longer need to cringe when I see their spines on bookshelves. To quote the poet Tom Waits,
Gone, gone he’s long gone, gone to Indiana, ain’t never comin’ home…
So I decided to make a deeper study of fiction. What have I been doing – being a father – which means bringing in money and paying rent. Being an athlete – which means trying to cease studying fiction and making a choice between mind and body – another antiquarian notion surely. Finding in my body a sub-elite capacity I never knew I had – finding in my mind that I could only, like Mr. Ramsay, get to ‘R.’ If that – I may have to live in ‘P.’ But have I even got to ‘P’?
I learnt young that the art of losing isn’t hard to master. I lost a city, friends, words, sentences, paragraphs that did disappear into the many volumed anthology of writer’s lost manuscripts and unsaved documents. I am losing now a shoulder, a knee from exercise, dysfunction by excessive function, the body being overused, running its course, forgetting acceleration.
Acceleration is a dream I dream of as others dream of flying. I disappear into that dream.
What did I learn – I am unsure. I learnt nothing possibly – or I have lost it. I have developed some inklings of what I call the transient imaginary, I have developed ideas on text/ure, on enigma in fiction. I am working through this all now. I will write on it all in time, sometime, at my own pace. I am not sure if it will lead to haunted mansions or city gardens with soundless nights darkening into a silence that is a jazz on the city rhythms. I like both.
(An antidote those soundless city gardens that have inhaled and exhaled urbanity and liquidity.)
I am a slow thinker and a slow writer, I am best so.
And I have learnt to like being wrong or rather to live in a not-knowing, between. I have learnt to lose arguments, theories, words, cities, students, friends. Agents.
I have though learnt, or believed, or known before somehow – that the transitional paragraph kills the seduction of fiction, decelerates it, that chronology is a falsehood that can no longer be endorsed or practiced, or at least not by me, as a writer. And that a novel that does not ask, what are the limits of the novel? is not a novel. It is a romance.
My books are in boxes but in one of those boxes there is Musil’s journals and I believe more than know ( I am thinking of Faulkner here, the first sentences of Chapter VI of the immaculately disturbing Light In August,
Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders. Knows remembers believes a long corridor…
I have swooned over the erotic audacity of that sentence a thousand and one times.
In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together.
124 was spiteful.
I believe more than know that Musil wrote once,
The sentence is the tombstone of the thought that inspired it.
And along this page to the side of me another text awaits engravings on blank tombstones.
Between houses, between novels. Here the living in the not knowing is a perdition.
In Unpacking My Library, Benjamin writes,
‘Habent sua fata libelli;’ these words may have been intended as a general statement about books. So books like The Divine Comedy, Spinoza’s Ethics, and the Origins of Species have their fates. A collector, however, interprets this Latin saying differently. For him, not only books but also the copies of books have their fates. And in this sense, the most important fate of a copy is its encounter with him, with his own collection. This is the childlike element which in a collector mingles with the element of old age….To renew the old world – that is the collector’s deepest desire.
I am not a book collector – in fact moving house becomes a serious critical literary endeavour – what goes, what stays – but let me ask you this, What is your earliest childhood memory of a book?
Mine – a golliwog with a lollipop.
Gerald Murnane asked me the above question once.
I am not sure how many of you would have read Gerald Murnane’s personal essay I Have Never Worn Sunglasses which was published in Heat some years ago. I was taught by Murnane in my youth at the darkly shadowed Toorak College in Melbourne, now part of Deakin University. He was also for a long time a cherished, beloved correspondent. I stopped writing to him after the passing of his wife as I surmised he needed as much time away from bothersome ex-students as he could get. I am sure I was not a tragic loss to the great man. And anyway, he has been a rather prolific writer of late and so I feel he is still writing to me, after his fashion. I may in his spirit add an adjunct –
I have never owned an iphone.
I have never swum in a lake.
I have never gone diving for crayfish or any kind of fish or put on a black rubber suit and descended to a wreck. Not descending to the wreck, Adrienne tells me, may mean I have missed out on deep myths.
I have never read Colette.
I rarely use Google to source things.
I have never used gps navigation in my car.
I have never been denied a rental property that I have applied for.
I have never regretted any work that I have published even if I have grown to dislike that work.
I have never before written a so called blog.
I have never learnt a musical instrument. I come from a family of jazz musicians but cannot play a musical instrument.
I have never been to Indiana.
I have never, as yet, published a third novel.
I have found no other justification for my life except this effort to create. For almost all the rest I have failed.
Camus’s journals remain one of my unboxed books – along with Flannery O’Connor’s The Complete Stories, Benjamin’s Illuminations, Virginia Woolf’s novels, Herve Guibert’s Blindsight and the books I will be teaching next semester. One of which is To The Lighthouse. And Moby Dick – which brings me more terror of the sea.
In another of the unboxed books Eros the Bittersweet, Anne Carson writes,
Breaks interrupt time and changes its data. Archilochos’ written texts break pieces of passing sound off from time and hold them as his own. When I contemplate the physical spaces that articulate the letters ‘I love you’ in a written text, I may be led to think of other spaces, for example the space that lies between the ‘you’ in the text and you in my life. Both of these spaces come into being by an act of symbolization.
 Something in my memory tells me that this phrase in its fullest means “Every book has its fate according to its readers’ minds.’ Or similar. Brewer’s can’t help me, maybe someone will, without using Google. From memory or a book.
 Until today. Between houses, between novels and transitional ennui between a desire that becomes more frantic as time passes. Are fractals symbols of desire? Awaiting the next home, the next fictional world, the pulse of the sentence that awakes the golem. Losing momentum. Decelerating …All in a Tremble… (Keats’s phrase) against disappearing time and the disquiet of pausing creative work. I have not paused but I have faltered. I have tripped over.