jeudi 11 avril 2013

Writing, biro scrawls and digital media : Driving into the future, using the rear view mirror

I am fascinated by the physical act of writing - the scratching of a pen into paper, the painted hieroglyph, the clackety-clack of the typewriter, the biro scrawl, the keyboard - and the influence that the medium, the tool the writer uses, has upon the text s/he is crafting. I like to type, I love the hand-written manuscript, the chaotic notes, the scrape and swerve of ink, the fetish of choosing my tools, pens and notebooks, the use of the margin... Obviously, the medium used to communicate the text - the parchment, the printed book, an illuminated manuscript, a Kindle, a computer screen - also shapes the reader's experience of the text. 
Considering the influence of digital media on reading and writing, Marshall McLuhan words seem pertinent, "We drive into the future using only our rear view mirror"; we don't really know where we're going, only where we've been...Looking backwards, Robert Darton, in 'A Case for Books', quotes from a correspondence between two scholars in 1471, twenty years after the invention of the Gutenberg printing press,

'My Dear Francesco, 
I have lately kept praising the age in which we live, because of the great, indeed divine gift of a new kind of writing which was brought to us from Germany....things turned out quite differently from what I hoped. Because now everyone is free to print whichever they wish, they often disregard that which is best and instead write, merely for the sake of entertainment, what would be best forgotten, or better still, be erased from all books. And even when they write something worthwhile they twist it and corrupt it to the point where it would be better to do without such books, rather than having a thousand copies spreading falsehoods around the world.'

Margaret Atwood talks about her choice of hand-held tools here.

lundi 1 avril 2013

Plotin and San Antonio: a sweet antithesis

After a recent visit to the library with my daughters - who just love an afternoon spent hanging out with books - I came home with San Antonio and Pierre Hadot's book about Plotin, Plotin ou la simplicité du regard. I am quite happy with this combination of books by my bed. San Antonio is a 1950's wize-cracking old school French detective with a huge side-kick called Bérurier. The books are written in slang at an unstoppable pace with plots best described by the French word farfeleu (screwball or outrageous); they are also rather rude and terribly funny. San Antonio is the perfect accompaniment (or a sweet antithesis) to Hadot's dry and precise exploration of the works of the Roman philosopher Plotin. Hadot writes about philosophy in a pure understated style. He was much admired by Foucault and his work is mentioned in a great article here

jeudi 14 mars 2013


I've been reading about Cioran on this blog. Read the entry from March 12th about trying to reconcile facism and good writing; a very, very complex subject. In case you don't get there, I will quote a little section from Jessica Crispin, 

"Last year I taught a class on bad people who wrote good books, and how the reader can, or if the reader should, try to separate the writer from the book....Then I picked up The Temptation to Exist a few days ago, and holy fuck it is good. The first essay in the collection rails against Tao philosophy and the idea of detachment, and it feels completely fresh, as if he's fighting against yoga studio philosophers, prattling about inner wisdom and mindfulness:

Almost all our discoveries are due to our violences, to the exacerbation of our instability. Even God, insofar as He interests us -- it is not in our innermost selves that we discern God, but at the extreme limits of our fever. "

I am tempted to buy the book....

mercredi 13 mars 2013

re-reading Rebus, Ian Rankin.

As I wind down from too many late nights, long train journeys and early starts, I turn to re-reading Rankin and his brilliant detective novels, featuring D.I Rebus and Edinburgh. It is like slipping on a familiar jumper and an old pair of polyester socks. Whenever I read Rebus, I long for drizzle, microwaved dinners and an electric fire. Rankin does not do picturesque Britain, there are no twee hills, anti-macassars smell of damp and the only food served is whisky and crisps. Rebus and Rankin deliver cynical politics, disillusion and belief. The characters are as real as the crack on your wall and the plots mean you can't put the books down. Read 'The Naming of the Dead' you won't regret it.

jeudi 21 février 2013

Ian McEwan Saturday + finishing

I am in the last stages of my novel. In between corrections, proofreading and far too many late nights, I have been reading more Ondaatje and Ian McEwan's Saturday. I chomped through Saturday at an alarming pace, fell straight into the story from the very first page. It's a Mrs Dallowesque portrait, a day in life of Henry Perowne, neurosurgeon, a day where flesh, violence and the making of fish soup are deftly interwoven into games of squash, road rage, operations, rituals of affection and anti-war demonstrations. I have already begun re-reading this book, as the prose is beautiful, the sentences dense with meaning. The book feels archeological, or perhaps geological,  a reading experience of many layers, closely compacted substance but with the energy of time leading the reader through the day. So, I am reading and writing, writing and reading. And finishing my book, Walking On Stone.

mercredi 30 janvier 2013

writing in a second tongue; Beckett, Vyleta.

I write in English and in French. Writing in a foreign language, a second tongue, une deuxième langue, is a different process to writing with one's mother tongue. Naturally, the age at which one learnt the second language shapes the experience. I have only learnt and written in French as an adult. Following the Second World War, Beckett chose to write in French,"Je me remis à écrire en français avec le désir de m’appauvrir encore davantage", "I started writing in French with the desire to simplify even more". When I write in French, I am more conscience of the structure of the process. I construct a wall, align my sentences with care, place bricks slowly, spread cement. The text does not flow, it is built. The second language can induce a distance between the words and the things, the writer and the text. In the book, Interférences de langues et de cultures dans le monde francophone, they name the author's second language as a langue épousée; an expression far more poetic in French than English, translating as a married language. This Guardian article gives a little peek into Dan Vyleta's experience.

mercredi 23 janvier 2013

inside the skin of a lion michael ondaatje and Maylis de Kerangal

This evening I've been inside the pages of a The Skin of A Lion by Michael Ondaatje. Reading this book feels like biting into a raw lemon, diving into a January sea, the words steal seconds of my beating heart. Ondaatje captures bodies both in work and leisure,  making love, setting explosives and building bridges with sensuality. The images from the book are, this evening, branded in my mind: a nun falling at night from the half-built bridge; the imprint of a women's spine on a white-washed wall; a secret, like a small pebble that a man eats as a child, that grows inside him, that could have been cast away at the age of seven or twenty, but that now weighs down on his every walking step. I am reminded of the novel by Maylis de Kerangal Naissance d'un pont, The birth of a bridge. The mechanic of these two books are linked by steel and the stories of the strangers who come from elsewhere, to construct structures joining together two pieces of land.

samedi 19 janvier 2013

reading, re-reading Amos Oz : A Tale of Love and Darkness

I read books fast and usually, read from beginning to end. That is to say, it's rare that I don't finish a book. I can skim through the dull bits and then, if I like a book I'll read it again, and again and again. I've read some books more than a dozen times. They are like houses I return to, places I have known, familiar paths upon which my feet tread. I taught myself to read before I was four. I have devoured books ever since. A day never passes where I don't read. It's a kind of addiction, a nest, an escape. When I  read I am elsewhere, ailleurs. At the moment I am reading Amos Oz, A Tale of Love and Darkness. Slowly, I savour each word, taste their distinctive flavour, nestle in the paragraphs and make myself at home. The sentences and I are slow in parting. The book lingers in my mouth like the chocolate tart I made at Christmas; I don't really want it to end. I am cooking from the book Jerusalem at the moment. Israel is in my body and mind.