Saturday 26 September 2020


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Pitch Dark by Renata Adler    {Reviewed by THOMAS}
He wanted the review to be a non-review. He wanted his reading of the work to be part of the work, but he wasn’t sure how this could be so. Maybe, though, his reading of the work is always the whole of the work, whatever the work, at least for him, how could it not be so, he thought. If he wrote about the work, is that, too, a part of the work, or is it another work, he wondered. He wanted everything to be about the work, in other words part of the work, but he had no idea, or only very little idea, about the limits of the work, so he didn’t know how to tell if this was so. He didn’t know how to proceed. Circumstances, he thought, are, as far as thinking about those circumstances goes at least, a set of information, he hoped this term was generous enough and without unwanted implication, circumstances are a set of information, but, in order to think about this information, or to make it available to thought, or, possibly, as a consequence of this process of thought, and, he thought, thought processes information, the information undergoes processing by thought just as animals undergo processing at the Alliance meat processing plant on the way the Richmond, a journey he seldom makes, but, anyway, in order to think about a set of information it is necessary to array it on a grammatical rack, for, he thought, it is grammar that determines how we think and not the content of the thoughts, and it is for this reason that he is more interested in novels for their punctuation that for their subjects, what novels are ‘about’ are seldom really what novels are about, or only superficially so at best. Pitch Dark by Renata Adler describes itself, or is described by her in it, or, rather, is described by the text’s putative author Kate Ennis in the text she has putatively written, the text which comprises the novel, as “a series of errors, first of love, then of officiousness, finally of language,” the language of the novel seemingly a means of access to a set of information that lies behind it, or before it, depending upon whether you are thinking spatially or temporally, spatially being presumably a metaphor in this case, though it is interesting that we tend to think that we are facing the future while referring to the past as what happened before, when what is before us is what we face, suggesting that really we are moving backwards into the future, facing the past, as in most novels, writer and reader both advancing with their backs towards the end of the book, sharing experiences in the past tense, always looking backwards though their backs are to the fore. The novel, this novel, Pitch Dark by Renata Adler, is, among other things, about how to write a novel about the set of information that comprises it. The book is about the telling of the story, not about the story as such. “Is it always the same story, then? Somebody loves and somebody doesn’t, or loves less, or loves somebody else.” The novel concerns, if that is the right word, the attempts of its protagonist, if that is the right word, to leave her lover of some years, or, possibly, also concerns her fear that her lover of some years will leave her, though, considering the fact that her lover has a marriage, home and life of his own, none of which depend upon her, the word ‘leave’ may be the wrong word. “But you are, you know, you were, the nearest thing to a real story to happen in my life,” she says. She has little else. The text is unravelled, threads leave off, snap, loop back, extraneous strands are caught in and peter out, really this is too much a metaphor and he is against metaphors, there is an extended section in which the protagonist, who has fled to Ireland flees Ireland, seemingly the only actions she takes or is capable of taking in the entire book, finding Ireland populated by characters who could well be minor characters from a Flann O’Brien novel caught off-guard between their appearances in that novel, caught unprepared at times when they have no role, resentful and perplexed at being so found, and by obnoxious ex-pats from America. She is more comfortable with her dissatisfaction, hopelessness and ennui than she is in taking action when such action is little more than exchanging a familiar dissatisfaction, hopelessness and ennui for one without the comfort of familiarity. Her identity is no more than the sum of her situation, the set of information that she attempts to make her way out of, or into, with her punctuation. Voices break off, or break in. “Wait a minute. Whose voice is this? Not mine. Not mine. Not mine.” Sometimes she is ‘she’ and sometimes ‘I’, she is uncertain of the degree of intimacy she has with us, or with her lover, her text is full of tentative commas, ambivalence, and a lack of direction or obvious goal, if, that is, something can be full of a lack. What could be more life-like, or like life, than that? The novel wonders how a novel treats the same set of information differently from any other way in which that set of information could be treated. Is the evidence, and are the proceedings, so to call them, of a novel anything like the proceedings of a court of law? What is the value of whose evidence in these proceedings, the proceedings either of a novel or the court? “The only ones permitted to bring the story to the court’s attention, the only storytellers, are the ones to whom the story happened, whom the facts befell. … The story is a dispositive for all stories that cannot be proven to be unlike it,” she writes, but all she has is a set of information that is an incomplete set, uncertain evidence, no context or statute, no precedent, no culpability that can be felt without sharing. “I look at you for signs of leaving me and find to my despair that one of us has already left. Maybe it’s me.” The ‘you’ addressed throughout, we realise, is the lover who she does not want to leave, in both senses in which that phrase can be read, the lover she wants at last to leave, or fears that she has lost, the lover whose attention she also wants to keep upon her. This ‘you’, though, also is the reader, who, like the lover, has a complete and separate life to which she is not essential, to which she is an aspirant rival. The lover and the reader spend some time, perhaps each evening, with her, intimately, she tries to hold them both with the text, but ultimately, she knows, both the door and the book will close as such things always close. “I understand that there must be others who are and always have been alone. In this way. They were never, how can I put this, going to be part of life. It is as though, going through a landscape, through the seasons, in the same general direction as everybody else, they never quite make it to the road. Whose voice is this? Not here. Not mine.”

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