The old placeholder version was a little too rough and ready, and this suits the bill much better. Is anything ever finished, or should we just move on?
All books are available at the bookshop.
The old placeholder version was a little too rough and ready, and this suits the bill much better. Is anything ever finished, or should we just move on?
All books are available at the bookshop.
Afloat on the ocean, the flotsam and the jetsam,
the shipwrecked of the drama-politique,
Ceci n’est pas un poème.
The Right State to Come
A Near or Future Tale
This is Anodynia: the state of least resistance.
We’re told the truth, the dream, the reset plan,
in segments we can swallow,
in factory unit phrases:
homogenised and harmonised.
We don’t use the capital letters
but we know that they are there.
Some of us write of Anodynia, though quietly:
After the Light Came
The resistance grew and blew
empathy into one another’s
shattered, screaming sensibilities:
individuals understood the light that came,
first as particles,
and then as waves
together, as polarities dissolved.
‘We’ was no longer a four-letter word.
In the future of the near and far,
we’ll dare to disagree,
but we’ll talk with one another, listen,
and we’ll agree to disagree.
Oh, the state of the state:
Introducing the new book Once Upon a Teller Fell, which is available to purchase via the bookshop link.
Here’s the blurb on the Amazon and CreateSpace pages:
‘This train is the last of the night, travelling north and east. It falters, with a long unearthly squeal, and it surrenders, this evening in the deep and still surrounds.
‘Who else here discovers green-blue gloss across the vast night sky? Beyond the nebulous solidity of the embankment, a corona of unexpected light weakly washes the world . . . even time can go nowhere when the world is precisely lit.’
Ragnar, Teller of Tales, alights from the broken down train and is lost in the City of Trees, the city that doesn’t exist: a place experienced in degrees of perception. Nature and the urban slide between each other. Illusions and realities of past and future-poems start to intertwine.
At home, somewhere and somewhen amongst it all, are Ragnar’s wife and children. In the City of Trees, the city that doesn’t exist, he must decide who to trust in his entanglements and navigations to find his family: Avia and her kin, fey but sharp in what might be witcheries; Ingmar, who would be king, obsessed by luck and also seeking escape; the missive other children of the place, illusory or otherwise.
Once Upon a Teller Fell is a story of intersecting illusions and realities, of past and future tales, of looking for the now.
If we look — what might we see, with which we may believe.
The author would like to acknowledge some of the various influences, to greater or lesser degrees, in the completion of this project. In alphabetical order of writers: the ‘good city’ considerations of Ash Amin; the spatial poetics of Gaston Bachelard; the invisible cities of Italo Calvino; the phenomenological inquiries into ‘played-with-ness’ of Sylwyn Guilbaud; the introduction to psychogeographic tracings in Peter Ackroyd’s London writings, as presented by Will Self. In alphabetical order of fragmentary aspects of certain places: the village of Avebury, Wiltshire; the coves and beaches of west Cornwall; the various forests of the former East Germany, Hampshire and Kent; the Larmer Tree Gardens on the Wiltshire/Dorset border; slices of Old Oak, Shepherd’s Bush and White City, west London; the old Wessex capital of Winchester; the city of Zaragoza, Spain. In alphabetical order of some story resonances: the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, the Icelandic Eddas, the mythology of the Norse, and last but not least, the occasional folk-wisdom fragments of Mandy Robbins. A place is many-layered.
Joaquín Garcia, a civil servant of Cadiz, it was reported, ‘failed to turn up for work for at least six years’ having been ‘caught after becoming eligible for a long service award.’ Señor Garcia, who was worried at sixty-nine, was employed ‘to supervise the building of a waste water treatment plant’, claiming later that he had been ‘moved to a post where there was no work to do.’
‘The newspapers called me El Funcionario Fantasma: that is, the phantom official to you,’ Garcia said. It was noted that the boss of the water company had not seen Señor Garcia for ‘years despite occupying an office opposite his.’ The water company thought he was supervised by the local authorities and vice versa. The deputy mayor noticed his absence when Señor Garcia became eligible to receive a plaque for twenty years’ service. Señor Garcia, it transpired, did go to the office ‘although not for full business hours every day,’ dedicating himself to ‘reading philosophy.’
‘The truth of the matter,’ said Garcia, ‘was that El Funcionario Fantasma was employed in the construction of part of a whole city that was fake.’ Some way outside Cadiz, they built a ghost town. This new city would be, it was said, ‘when finished, a to-scale fabricated town, built to code, complete with schools, roads — basically everything you would consider the necessary components of a functional city. Except, of course, no residents.’ There would be ‘separate districts in which it will be possible to test distinct products: Energy District, Development District, Water District, Agricultural District, and a downtown area. And each will be connected by an underground nervous system of sensors, water, and sewer systems.’
‘The ghost town,’ said Garcia, ‘was going to be a giant petri dish for city planning.’
He scratched his head.
‘Well, I grew bored with little to do. When the water plant had been built, it needed overseeing. There is no waste water in a waste water plant for no people. My mind began to ponder what I heard others saying about other aspects of the city: there could be trash or vandalism manufactured for the sake of a specific test, but what about stuff that becomes less essential when you don’t have, you know, actual residents? Stuff like public art? A call for projects was announced and entries came in from across the country. Well, philosophy and art are not so far apart . . .’
Garcia conceived of a zoo as art piece: what could be more of a thought-piece as a zoo-full of animals for no-one to look on? He had time to spare and, he reasoned, a man unnoticed as missing from his desk for six years could easily expect to gather a zoo-full of creatures without being interrupted. Unfortunately, Garcia mused, there was a tremendous flood. ‘It was almost Biblical,’ he said. The cages released the animals amidst the downpour. ‘Lions roamed the streets, a hippopotamus grazed from a tree in a central square and a bear was left crouching on a first-floor window sill.’
Señor Garcia, not rendered completely fazed, though only shortly before becoming eligible for a long service award, devised a further philosophical-art piece.
‘I conceived of the Kingdom of Enclava,’ he announced. It was, he explained, ‘a thousand square foot patch of land’. It was billed as ‘the smallest country in Europe’, Garcia went on, suggesting that he had situated his new country strip of land within the city of no people. He smiled a little, weakly. ‘Enclava has no citizens as yet.’
Señor Joaquín Garcia, artist, philosopher, El Funcionario Fantasma, did not receive the long service award he was due. Instead, he was ordered to pay a year’s salary and was quietly retired. He can be found, telling stories for beers, in the little back street bars of Cadiz, some way out from a ghost town that no longer contains a zoo or a small country.
Note: this story is a montage of the extraordinary/ordinary reported text from real events with fictional original linking narrative, written for the Magic Realism Blog Hop 2016 (details below references).
BBC (2016), Spanish civil servant off work unnoticed for six years [Online]. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-35557725 (Accessed July 25, 2016).
Beauchamp, S. (2015), A giant, fake city in the middle of the desert. Washington DC: The Atlantic [Online]. Available from: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/05/a-giant-fake-city-in-the-middle-of-the-desert/391652/ (Accessed July 25, 2016).
Parfitt, T. (2015), Hippopotamus on loose in Tblisi shot with tranquilliser — but tigers, lions and wolves still free. London: Telegraph
Squires, N. (2015), Welcome to the world’s newest country — the kingdom of Enclava. London: Telegraph.
This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. About twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (July 29-31, 2016) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Click on the blue frog button below to get the links of all the blogs.
If today the ability to read is everyone’s portion, still only a few notice what a powerful talisman has thus been put into their hands . . . and while those who have not been called seem to apply their reading ability to news reports or to the business sections of their newspapers, there are a few who remain constantly bewitched by the strange miracle of letters and words (which once, to be sure, were an enchantment and magic formula to everyone).
— Herman Hesse (1974)
Once, we could not write. Then, later, the nature of the spells we said and scratched opened up the earth and skies to us. We were awestruck in the wondrous world. Later still, we wondered at how clever we were. Here we are, now, swimming in the swathe of words upon words all saying the same things: we’re content with our words, our magickless words, and how clever we are.
Now, here, less is more. The careful selection of words is still a spell-sowing for those who know how to write and read them. The song writers and the poets know, as do the other watchers of the world. Once, we might not have understood so well (perhaps we find we’re still in a process of finding out): how could less be more? Of course, the sentiment is not so difficult, but the clean lines, the juxtapositions, the nature of what resides in the gaps might truly elude us. Mies van der Rohe drew a few graphite lines, perhaps, and which, later now, this writer still finds he’s learning: translation, from one art form to another, is a study in time. So, in words, in spells, less is more.
Yet, what of the abundance, the layers, the richness sewn deep into the fabric of all the very many books of the world? Gaps are deep within the very best and beautiful of these, within the torrid and the tremendous, within the ferocious and the frightening: some stratum of the spells, a magic seam; layers are silk thin, cotton warm, wool thick. Together, with the breath of air between, they enwrap, reflect and illuminate. Words are the delicate fabric of the human world.
Less is more. Too many words just stultify. The contentment of our modern content is a magickless morass. There was a time of awe, love, fear, respect out there in the eely black, studded with the milky sheen of stars. The fat sac of a watery moon glowered in the liquid night. We whispered soft incantations in the dark. Whichever goddesses we uttered love or reverence for, we trembled in the pauses due to them as well. Now we’ve forgotten what the words were ever for.
Our gods and goddesses are differently attired; our myths are self-aggrandisements. Magic doesn’t align with ego, and words seldom work the way they used to. What we often cannot see, or sense in other ways, is rarity. Words are rare. They can speak in tongues other than the shallow contentment of our modernity.
Once, we could not write. We have it in us to be awestruck at the wondrous world; we have it in us to be starstruck at the spells we might still lightly, deeply, sow and sew.
Hesse, H. (1974), My belief: essays on life and art. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Cited by Popova, M. (2016), The magic of the book: Hermann Hesse on why we read and always will [Online]. Available from: www.brainpickings.org (Accessed July 11, 2016).
(i) [I] don’t like to write, but [I] like having written. (ii) I like having written a book, but I can’t say I enjoy the actual work. (iii) I enjoy having written. (iv) I loathe writing, but I love having written. (v) Most writers don’t like writing; they like having written.
— Frank Norris (i)
quoted in The Bellman (1915)
— Cornelia Otis Skinner (ii)
quoted in Lubbock Avalanche Journal (1964)
— Clive Barnes (iii)
quoted in Wall Street Journal (1968)
— Irene Kampen (iv)
quoted in Press Telegram (1976)
— Gloria Steinem (v)
as attributed, in Idaho State Journal (1976)
There is a disconnect between the marvellous reality, extraordinary of the ordinary, of the lives we lead and the dulling density, the prosaic paucity of the minutiae of what we see as ‘work’. In reality, there are possibilities of magical beauties in the cafés, in angled augmentations of sunlight slaking the surfaces of walls, in the lived lives of breathing trees seen in all the in-betweens. Look, says the Muse, with fingers at the nape of your neck. There is the sudden comprehension of truths.
We can sense a great onslaught of words. Every one makes sense, in its own way. Together, they have a gathered integrity, perplexity, connected wholeness. We can sit and consider all the words that might be integral to some space, some time, some space-in-time, or space-time: the whole is it. Some days, some times or situations, we live in atomic moments. Words take on quantum satisfaction: everything, like now, fits, somehow.
We can practice the art of instancy in the looking or the being seen. Even the nature of the urban — its fabric and its flesh — can sense us. We can be aware of moments and how they play us, and how they play through us, whispering. All the instances we ever may experience, if we practice seeing, are neutrino particles in their rush: all this flow of interwoven sensory snapshots of so much more than photographic sheen.
From the whisper edge of the succinct, where moments play at the periphery of perception, where descriptions hang in space, there is the faint and furious burn of the suddenly known: the precision selection of a strand of words presents itself — a perceptive sudden connection to the world. The marvellous reality may be seen in densely drenched consideration and delineation. If we practice the art of instancy, we can capture the air itself in words.
Yet, in paucity, conversely, what can we know if we’re sunk in the sea sands of what we see as ‘work’? Our lungs are filled with saltwater and, instead of breathing words, we hardly breathe at all. Words, tangible or ethereal-ephemeral, cannot be seen as ‘work’: worked and woven, yes, but never ‘work’.
Reference (for all article epigraph quotes):
Quote Investigator (2014), Don’t like to write, but like having written [Online]. Available from: www.quoteinvestigator.com/2014/10/18/on-writing (Accessed Mar 6, 2016).
‘Ideas change, they warp and become salty, they run, they are eclipsed, they go dark. Ideas compost, they drop seeds . . . Ideas are saturated, incubated, stained, and blurred . . . Most live in the substrata, lurking in the forest undergrowth, in the pavement of my city, in the folds of skin behind your knees.’
from Beginnings? (Nora Bateson, 2015)
Come back and around in the art of going around in circles. There are things we can learn about letting things ripen and in our re-twists and returns. Drop in an idea or two and let them brew. You know (I’ll assert) the page can be a fantastic arena for fermentation (and, here, ‘fantastic’ is with a view to the blown out, a starsplash, out of the ordinary): the spread of yeast, the Petri dish. Or, mixing metaphors, drop in a bead of ink and watch it unfold in the water. We write and we wait.
Do you know what you wrote, one day, stone cold sober or otherwise, and later underneath the ink there is, you find, something sweet unique? What does it matter if they might say that all that ever might be written ever has been written? It never has been written quite this way. Though you may not have known it at the time, later when you read again you sensed something just breathing. We write and we wait and we listen in.
It may just be the brewing process, words steeped in the mash of time and place where they were written, steeped in the puttering and bubbling of the states of being, times and places of our returns of reading. We write and we wait, we listen in and we stir.
Underneath the ink is something quite unique. We create our tenebrous soft and wet-winged creatures and leave them in the dark. What is it that they’re silked with? What ‘ineffable utter neatness’ and ‘everything just connects-ness’ smothers them? What lies folded within the nascent, soft wet wings of a line? It may just be its settling that imbues its future reading with an artistry. We write and we wait, we listen in and we stir; we study with the keenness of mothers.
Come back and around in the art of going around in circles. There are things we can learn about letting things ripen and in our re-twists and returns. Drop in an idea or two and let them brew. You know (I’ll assert) the page can be a fantastic arena for fermentation: the spread of yeast, the Petri dish, where the salty long-tongued lick of lips is soft and small — the grub, the pup that opens up its silk-slipped wings, letting leatherings and letterings stiffen in the breeze you breathe across them.
We write, we wait, we listen, and we stir; we study and we are astounded, confounded, by the creatures we have made.
Once, come close, someone pulled at their lip and caught you there: maybe. A long time later, in a different life, you sensed a flickering of this, in a different city, at a time that found you unawares. It stopped you for a while: the way that once-forgotten touch tends to do.
Once, she placed her hand on my chest, and her print is indelible now. This sliver-moment is sunk in me. Of course, at the time, she knew what it was she was doing, entirely, and there’s no such thing as moments that look like slivers.
I stop writing for a while because of words . . .
The world we’re all enmeshed in is felt and lived within such multitudes of planes: some may see the numbers of it all, some the colours, music or other sounds, some may see in dance, in segments of time or times, or some might see in words. All the velvet stories of our days enwrap us. All the felt and chiffon descriptors of our current surroundings enfold us. Once upon a time comes close, sometime when we’re immersed in other lives: it breathes hotly at our ear.
The matter of our lives and words combine. What richnesses we keep concealed in the pockets of our days and in the depths imprinted in our fingertips. The depth-textures of all we write (whether on the air, or on the page, or onto someone else’s skin) are pressed with all the very many days contained within our fingerprints.
Once, come close, someone kissed you. It never left your lips, though you didn’t know how this would happen at the time; though, now, you don’t always think of it. All the kisses you’ve ever tasted do this. Imagine the intensity if they all came back at once . . .
We’re fingerprint-deep and kissed-stained through and through.
Later, in a different city, in the vegetation density of a different life, fractions with the weight of butterflies and with the mass of moments flutter because of utterly unconnected things. Or maybe connections are more complex than we think: the temporal-rhizomatic mesh we live within.
Once, when she kissed me, softly, leaving traces of her on me all these years gone by, she left a thread to whatever of this ochre scene before me now spins back and back to her. I haven’t the capacity to understand the links, but I know that something does.
The texture content of our written matters is depth-enmeshed infused; the flesh and grain of all our days, the intimate maps of our lives, the lived experience in all its rhizomatic connectedness, is intrinsic to our lines. That with which we are concerned is matter.
Once, come closer, someone left a gap in your life.
A writer is working when he’s staring out the window.
— Burton Rascoe
I have been staring out of the window for a while.
With grace, have faith . . .
be quiet say nothing
except the street be full of stars
— Pablo Picasso
except the canals be full of evening
and our hands full of lamplight
the sky the colour of irises
— Adrian Henri (from Spring Poem)
Some books take in time, and One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of those books. Some four months in the reading, this four-hundred page plus novel also encompasses time within its pages. Popularly considered as one of Márquez’s most celebrated literary contributions, if not the most celebrated of his works, this book has been on this reader’s list for quite some while. It is, once within its pages, an immersive read; however, herein lies a fundamental issue with what Márquez has produced — in returning to the pages, we must find our way back in.
One Hundred Years of Solitude (Penguin Books, 1972, 2014, translated from the original Spanish by Gregory Rabassa; originally published as Cien Años de Soledad, 1967) details the various trials and tribulations of some six generations of the Buendía family. Following the arrival of a group of travelling pioneers — including José Arcadio Buendía and Úrsula Iguarán — in a remote area of Latin America, the founding of the village, and later city, of Macondo soon takes place. So begins the dynasty of the Buendías. It is, however, with the opening gambit of the predicament that will later be the lot of one of their sons, Aureliano, which Márquez chooses to entice us into the tale that will spread out in its pages. Aureliano, later to be known as Colonel Aureliano Buendía, faces the firing squad in the book’s opening lines. He remembers the day his father, José Arcadio, took him to discover ice.
Márquez proceeds to unfold the stories of various characters within the family in the form of interacting vignettes. There is a density to the whole, as illuminated by Alejo Carpentier’s 1975 lecture encompassing his descriptions of ‘the baroque and the marvellous real’, and Márquez confesses in the latter pages of his novel that there is a certain cyclical nature to time that he is portraying. That is to say, deep into the work, we begin to read recurring scenarios and situations between characters, and the by-then aged Úrsula is convinced that history is repeating itself. Márquez declares an interest in the idea that time plays itself out all at once.
Despite the developing appreciation of these concepts throughout the read, the density of it all is exacerbated by the deliberate repetition and re-use of the same character names across generations. It is appreciated, in context, why this is done, but there are, for example, twenty-two different Aurelianos (some merely sketched, such as seventeen of the sons of Colonel Aureliano Buendía, all by different women; some, such as the Colonel himself, are much more detailed in the author’s following of his life); there are four José Arcadios, and a further Arcadio, two Amarantas, and three characters named or partly named Remedios, as well as other characters who also step through the pages. Further to all of this, Márquez makes denser the weave by detailing twins and other brothers, and repetitions of relationships between male characters and their aunts. Such is the complexity of the family by way of its names, it’s a saving grace that the publishers have included a family tree on the opening pages. Without this the danger is that the reader returning to the book after a reading pause of some days might be tempted not to carry on: which José Arcadio or Aureliano is Márquez referring to here, and which aspect of whose vignette are we currently returning to?
What begins as a tale that appears to be one that will follow the life of a revolutionary, who faces and will escape the firing squad — albeit first from the earlier perspective of the Colonel’s childhood — becomes an exposition of digressions into tales of others. Certainly there are tales of fantastic beauty and those which linger in the memory afterwards within all of this: Márquez recounts the manner of Remedios the Beauty’s ascension to heaven; the way in which yellow butterflies flit around Mauricio Babilonia, father of the penultimate Aureliano, wherever he goes; the brief description of the yellow flowers falling after the death of José Arcadio, father of the Colonel. However, we are sometimes left wondering about the tale in progression if we leave it for a reading pause, even at a natural break in the writing. How is it that Márquez has kept track of the abundance of detail, as Carpentier has it, in these vignettes? The author returns, pages later, to a seemingly forgotten aspect of a tale once told, and the reader has either forgotten this and is reminded of it, or the reader has no recollection at all of the aspect he’s being reminded of. Such is the danger of lengthy reading of One Hundred Years of Solitude.
To the characters who live in its pages, Márquez also adds the evocation of the ghosts of characters who have died and who linger in the memories of the occupants of the house that serves as the central grounding piece of the dynasty. José Arcadio, the original and forefather, is visited by the ghost of a man he killed and who contributed to his desire to travel, in search of the sea, later founding Macondo. In turn, he, José Arcadio, after spending his final days tied to a chestnut tree in the failing of his faculties, is referred to as inhabiting the life of a ghost there, before quietly slipping from the pages as the years also slip by. Melquíades, a gypsy from the early days of Macondo, appears in slight apparitional fashion to subsequent characters from future generations in a room in the house which collects no dust, and in which those future Buendías struggle to translate Melquíades’ parchments, written, as it later transpires, in his native Sanskrit. Those parchments form a thread throughout the novel, a prophesy of the family, but Márquez ensures there are many, many threads to follow.
Time passes within the various travails of members of the Buendía family, whose matriarch, Úrsula, mother of Colonel Aureliano, is a familiar if steadily ageing presence. Children are born, grow, and are abandoned by Márquez in decaying houses till old-age or packed off to the nunnery, forgotten by the reader until the author deems to have them resurface, if they will; or else they leave the house and Macondo, often returning from their travels across seas, from adventures in search of mysteries and myths, only to reach disturbing ends after Márquez has built them up so much in his overlapping vignettes. Such is death in reality, but nevertheless the suddenness of Márquez’s treatment of characters we’ve grown accustomed to over hundreds of pages is affecting. Even Úrsula, at the age of 122 before she lost count, has a death barely given half a paragraph, close to the four-hundred page mark. The Colonel’s eventual demise is likewise briefly attended to, as is his father’s, José Arcadio, who we follow through the fledgling pages of this novel in his ever-enthusiastically imagined schemes and inventions. Márquez writes time quickly, in some senses, despite the expanse of it in the whole of this work, and chooses not to dither too long in dialogue.
Characters are imbued with solitude throughout: such seems to be at the heart of Melquíades the gypsy’s prophesy. Even the house, which sees within its walls the hospitality of Úrsula, the revolutionary comings and goings of Colonel Aureliano’s various campaigns, in his returns, the unrequited and illicit loves and fervent vengeful preoccupations of Amaranta, Rebeca, Amaranta Úrsula, Remedios the Beauty, Aureliano Segundo and Fernanda, et al, seems to wear an air of solitude in itself. The house’s fortunes wax and wane, from the abundant times of Aureliano Segundo to the slow and suffocating stiffness of formality that his wife, Fernanda, later imposes on it, as Úrsula turns blind with age. Fernanda’s darkness consumes pages. Eventually, the house is swamped by four years of constant rain, but nevertheless Fernanda insists on persisting with the staunch formality of her own upbringing. The period of rain is bleak, and Márquez draws it with such skill that we want it to end as much as the characters do. At this time, at the height of bleakness, Márquez brings back Fernanda’s son, another José Arcadio, after her death, who she had sent to Rome to learn to become a Pope. He is as stiff as his mother, but there have been no papal studies. There is brief light though, following José Arcadio’s untimely demise, with the return of the penultimate Aureliano’s young aunt, Amaranta Úrsula, Macondo being a stronger pull than her study and husband in Brussels.
Time happens both quickly and slowly within Márquez’s novel. We forget about certain characters, such as Pilar Ternera, a madame, a prostitute, mother of an earlier Aureliano and an Arcadio, whose fathers are brothers: Márquez brings her back later in the work, at the age of 145 at the last count, fantastic though this is, then he lays her to rest in a vault beneath her final brothel. Rebeca, from the earlier days, slowly decays in a house we see nothing much of, and we forget that she’s there until Márquez tells us that now she’s finally died. We met her when she was young, dragging the bones of her parents in a sack. So much has happened between then and the final pages.
Such is a useful summary of One Hundred Years of Solitude: Márquez packs in so many details, so many vignettes, and so many characters that we struggle to remember it all. Maybe the same is true of generations. Maybe, as Márquez writes, we may see time as cyclical, repeating, or all at once because the ‘marvellous real’ of it all, as Carpentier has it, is that the extraordinary is the ordinary, and vice versa. Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is certainly a read that is immersive, if not a little frustrating with its dizziness of repeated character names, and this reader recommends an immersion of something more like four days rather than four months: time is an essential component of this book.