on the difficulty of text

I’m not sure where to put this so I guess I’ll just put it in here because it’s mostly random, but I feel the need to discuss something very seriously. I don’t even have a question, or not really, but I want to discuss the difficulty of texts, which is probably a very random kind of topic, so maybe this is on topic, but everyone’s asleep and I think I just want to type about an idea for a minute.

I’ve been very unproductive for most of this month though I’ve also been somehow very busy doing not much of anything but now I’m writing a novel, started it Sunday, I think–already amn’t sure–and I’m just over 20,000 words in, but I didn’t get any written today, by which, I guess, I mean yesterday, now. It’s going well, though, real easy like, getting it all down and there’s even a homunculus, so, I mean, killing it, basically, yes? And, as is usual, things are becoming more complex and interesting in the writing and it’s forcing me to take extended breaks where I stare at the sun and let my mind drift around until everything comes together but also changes. I think I’m trying to write two different novels simultaneously into the same text, but it should be more like four, but I think that’s second draft stuff, so I’m not worried yet. The real goal right now, as always, is to get the first draft finished so I can see where all the pieces fit.

I think this is the first novel that’ll require real and actual work, which I’m unaccustomed to but also exhilarated by. So I kind of already know that I’m going to be rewriting it once I finish, but that’s a good thing, maybe. Usually it kind of comes out mostly just right the first time around, which is pretty nifty or delusional or maybe both and might be I won’t know until someone publishes another one of these buddies. Anycase, ramblings.

It’s essentially a pornographic novel about pornography and alchemy. Or a pornographic novel about alchemy. Or an alchemic novel about pornography. Probably the distinction doesn’t really matter, if any of those mean anything. It’s very much not the kind of thing I write and it’s mostly quite straightforward but every other chapter is sort of a challenge to the reader to sort out what’s happening. And, I don’t know, I feel this weird push and pull, have felt it for the last year or so, between making the complex/complicated digestible [maybe more readable, really, with plot, even, and those kind of tricks] and just demanding the reader to keep up and follow where I go–though that’s not really how I write: more demanding the reader to discover the novel within the text. Does that make sense? Probably not.

But so this one was meant to be a linear novel about porn, basically. Like, yeah, exactly that. But then there were bonsai trees and movie stores and homunculi and ravens and peacocks and coma patients and suicide and the structure began to take shape and it’s all magnum opus/bipolar-like and taking on four parts and so because all of a sudden the novel’s about alchemy, it obviously can’t be about alchemy, get me? Of course not, but follow, please.

So–I don’t even know where I got this idea but it’s deep down there–if you’re writing a poem about, say, the color grey, you’re not allowed to use the word grey, because then what’s the point? Why not just call the poem Grey and talk about how grey everything is? It’s like how The Road is about what happens after the end of the world but you never really know what caused the end of the world, though maybe it’s pretty painfully obvious, and maybe it’s not. Who’s to say? Anycase, so you know about alchemy? Probably not. Of course not! No one knows about alchemy! And maybe that’s the point.

So we come to the difficulty of the text. And so I’ll finish the novel as it dictates in this form, which is growing more surreal and opaque but also holds onto threads of causation and effect and the like, a narrative and characters to hold onto. Oh, too, cycles are important–Obviously!–because what is bipolarity without the, you know, cycles? And so the novel becomes a circle, which makes other difficulties to the structure. So I have a novel about cycles [the four parts already follow the seasonal pattern–clever!] and alchemic progression [or whatever a better term for that should be, so long as it’s not magnum opus again], so it can’t really tell you that’s what it’s about. But, okay, so the complexities are mounting, which will turn the four act structure into something a bit larger and make it essentially–I hope–four books happening simultaneously even as they progress linearly in this endless cycle, and I feel there’s a true value in challenging the reader, not through obfuscation, necessarily, but by being demanding–which is to lose a great many of the readers–because I think the text and the reader should be interactive. The whole of the novel should happen not on the page but within the reader. And I don’t mean that just in an emotional context, but in an intellectual one. Without the interaction with the reader’s life, there is no novel, because a novel is a series of questions left blank and the blanks are filled by the reader. At least that’s what I think a novel is meant to be. Or at least those are the kind of books I want to read and so they’re the ones I write. Without the reader there is no novel and so the responsibility of the writer, of me, is to reach aesthetic heights and to challenge her, to fight her, the reader, over every possible conclusion and reaction. And how to achieve this? I’m not sure yet, because that’s highly contextual and individualised to the novel, so maybe I’ll be better able to answer that after I finish draft one.

But, at the same time, I think there’s a value in making a large text digestible, if that makes sense the way I mean it to. I mean to turn the grand and awesome [as in full of awe] into a concise statement, a simple story packed full of more than just the surface actions, but also enjoyable just for that purely surface level. Like, how Blake’s Chimney Sweeper [I think this is the poem I’m talking about] is a pleasure to read because of its rhythm and musicality, but is so much more than just a seemingly simple nursery rhyme about being a good boy and going to heaven [being, essentially, the opposite of that: a social critique and a giant step forward in the labor movement]. And so there are two routes to basically the same place, but it’s the going that matters, not the endpoint.

So there’s a choice between dense simplicity and a labyrinth. I can’t decide how to go about it. They both have plot and characters, but it’s mostly the difference in prose styling. I think both may be appropriate–but, again, probably won’t know for certain till the end–and maybe it will be a mix of both: a dense and simple labyrinth. Should the prose be thick or only the implicit meaning? It’s a mix now, but it may very well become quite a bit more. But when you’re testing the limits of reality, shouldn’t the limits of language be tested as well? But maybe because I’m doing all this existential tomfoolery I should leave a map with a key, rather than just hand them a compass and toss them into the precarious forest full of all kinds of linguistic monsters.

My mind’s racing because the possibilities just keep expanding. I’ve also decided it shouldn’t be a romance, which is always the hard part for me, keeping the leads apart, forcing a wedge between them and keeping it there because it belongs there, except in story magic where anything can become overcome. And since it’s a novel told in a circle where the end is the start again, the action must rise and fall like waves but never resolve even though, of course, it resolves, and then reality must refract and time dilates then constricts, and everything becomes another, because this is alchemy we’re playing with, and so the goal is perfection: gold, immortality. And so it becomes an aesthetic problem as well as a structural one, and the prose will be the troubleshooter, I suppose. There’s a way through the madness, but what is more valuable? Do I limp in the direction of Joyce [metaphorically, I mean, because the goal is to reinvent language, not to imitate my teachers] or after someone like Erickson [which is to make the complex simple, I think]. And therein lies the trouble!

But I would like to talk about the difficulty of text and what the value there is, or how we measure that value. If something is wrought sublimely but is deemed unreadable by most who read it, then have we gained anything from it? Does a work of magnificent and serious literature have to be in difficult language? Of course, I mean, that’s not true. Take a novel like, say, The Great Gatsby, which is by no means a difficult read, but reaches high, though maybe isn’t in the same stratosphere as something like The Waves or Moby Dick. And it seems fitting that a novel about magnum opus should be a sort of magnum opus, yes? Likely I’m too young for such a thing, but it’s become a challenge now to me, but, yeah, clearly I’m wondering what the purpose of language is here. It’s meant, of course, to bring us together, but I can’t help but feel alienated by it, and sometimes it’s the alienation of the text that matters. A novel that challenges you is the kind of novel you dive hard into, even almost against reason. The question then becomes, Can I write something at that level? Probably I can’t, but more importantly is the question about whether or not that goal should be a goal. To fight the reader is to lose to most of them, to go on unread, to be just one of those artefacts in the world that people talk about but don’t experience. And if a novel is something that demands a reader, what is it without the reader?

Of course those aren’t really relevant and I’m not really asking a question because I’ve not made up my mind yet, and probably I won’t have to make up my mind because the novel knows who it wants to be and I’m just the vehicle it uses to get there, but I wonder. I want to talk about this so I can better understand what it is I’m trying to say about them.

I think I’ll try to sleep now.


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