Thursday, 15 June 2017
What is the reason for and what is the effect of writing a book without full stops? Although the production of such a gush of text requires virtuosic skills from a writer, reading it does not necessarily require virtuosic skills from a reader (although it may). Written without full stops, does a text more realistically represent the ceaseless flow of thought (often in many different rivulets at once) or perhaps the unstoppable momentum of time? (if there is a difference between the two). The full stop is an artifice, an arbitrary attempt to represent thought and time as if we could control them by the application of punctuation (perhaps not such a bad idea). Here are four books from our shelves, each written in a single sentence:
Solar Bones by Mike McCormack $38
Written in one long sentence (in which line breaks perform as a higher order of comma), McCormack’s remarkable and enjoyable book succeeds at both stretching the formal possibilities of the novel (for which it was awarded the 2016 Goldsmiths Prize) and in being a gentle, unassuming and thoughtful portrait of a very ordinary life in a small and unremarkable Irish town. The flow of McCormack’s prose sensitively maps the flow of thought, drawing feeling and meaning from the patterning of quotidian detail as the narrator dissolves himself in the memories of which he is comprised. This wash of memory suggests that the narrator may in fact be dead, the narrative being the residue (or cumulation) of his life, the enduring body of attachments, thoughts and feelings that comprise the person. Few novels capture so well the texture of a person’s life, and this has been achieved through a rigorous experiment in form.
Phone by Will Self $37
Self’s great achievement and presumed intention is to create, by the breaking and reconstitution of language, a remarkable study of how thought moves in the mind, looping, moving at any one moment on many parallel tracks, in cul-de-sac curlicues and feedback loops. Thought is constantly assailed by interference, often arising from the mechanisms of language itself but also from the instability of referents, and Self’s text is full of rather funny linguistic jokes and precise ironic observations, and is frequently every bit as irritating as your own thoughts. The identities of the narrators segue into one another, the actual world barely registering on, and having no clear delineation from, the loosely bundled and rebundled memories and urges that hardly pass as personhood, the distance between each stitch of ‘actual’ narrative containing great tangled loops and knots of mental thread. If our thoughts cannot define us, what can be the organising principle of our identities?
The Last Wolf by Laszlo Krasahorkai $36
Written in one virtuosic 73-page sentence which exerts enormous pressure on language to make it more closely resemble thought and which makes form the primary content of this novella, The Last Wolf tells of an academic who is commissioned to travel to Extremadura in Spain where he seeks to determine the fate of the last wolves in that barren area. We read his relation to a Hungarian bartender in Berlin of the accounts of Extremadurans made to him via a translator (and usually based in any case on further hearsay), nesting the subject of the story in several layers of reportage, rumour and translation, the performative complexity of which is repeatedly punctured by the offhand comments of the bartender. Krasznahorkai, as usual, succeeds in being both comic and morose, this hopeless tale of human destruction and the frustrating impassivity of nature is one in which meaning is both invoked and withheld much like the presence of the last elusive wolf (or, rather, much like the story of the last wolf, for it is narrative that is the true quarry for the hunter).
Zone by Mathias Enard $45
Enard's text is like a ball-bearing rolling around indefinitely inside a box over surfaces imprinted with every sort of information about the Mediterranean, from from Barcelona to Beirut, and Algiers to Trieste (the "Zone"), past and present. Enard very effectively uses the necessarily one-directional movement of a sentence to sketch out, through endless repetition and variation, the complexity of the political, cultural, historical, social and physical terrain of the entire Zone, as well effectively inducing the narrator's patterns of thought, mesmeric, irresistible, but containing pieces of painful psychological grit not yet abraded from the his personal history and his involvement in the recent traumas of the Zone, in Croatia and elsewhere.