Naturally, I assumed that as the book progressed, this plan would change, because books always end up taking on a life of their own, and because a person doesn’t write about what he wants to write about but what he’s capable of writing about. I also assumed that, although everything I’d found out about Sánchez Mazas over time was going to form the nucleus of my book, which would allow me to feel secure, a moment would arrive when I’d have to dispense with those training wheels, because – if what he writes about is going to have real interest – a writer never writes about what he knows, but precisely about what he does not know. – Javier Cercas, Soldiers of Salamis
I often used to feel the same disgruntlement as Arthur Seaton. ‘Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.’ But at the same time I always knew that such contrariness ultimately ties its speaker or believer in knots; it certainly locked me into as inescapable a conundrum as the kindred contradiction of having once aligned myself so fervently with the song ‘I’m not like everybody else’.
Recently here I have been stepping out of character, because the alien found he wanted to be human, at least for a time. But even as I have been doing so, I’ve felt the contrary pull: the human wants to go back to being a bloody-minded alien. You’d think it might be different after all these years on earth, but it’s still the same. Only now it’s getting confusing. If I step out of the character of the human pretending to be an alien, only to assume another, that of the human-pretending-to-be-an-alien-become-human-again, then am I in character or out of it?
Like Midas’ fingers turned all he touched to gold (though perhaps without such dire consequences), I transform so much of what I see and feel into words. I don’t think I can help it any more than he could, though often I wonder whether I have the means of expression to describe the places – mental and physical – in which I find myself. I suppose that has always informed my writing, been the impulse for it, the not knowing rather than the knowing. Needing to use words to work out what I think and feel beyond what I (think I) know I think and feel; to translate the peripheries of thought and the edges of emotion into language. But however pioneering this settling of wild interior landscape may seem to me, sometimes simple expression is not enough. There are times when I can’t find the words I need to fix myself, to find rest or peace, but need to, to scratch a particularly persistent itch, to stop myself falling down a deep black hole. To keep myself away from those holes, if not the itches.
And so I have been wondering again, do I have to stop making sense to start making it, like Ben Marcus in The age of wire and string and thousands of bloggers with elliptical tendencies since? I’ve never been inclined to think so, and I’m still not sure I do, but more than occasionally I feel the need to try. To rap my fingers against my skull and start in on breaking up coherence, the long-established patterns of thought, and find what if anything is underneath. Stir the sediment into a muddy maelstrom, record its chaos, watch how it settles, reflect on it. Quantify and qualify the changes, if any. I find I want to do that much more deliberately, with less concern for shareable clarity, and more for the suggestive power of language.
Well, I think I want to, anyway. I may change my mind tomorrow. And whatever people say I am, that’s probably what I was, yesterday.
Still from Saturday night and Sunday morning via not _ going.
March 5, 2012 at 4:17 pm
I find myself not making sense more often than making sense, if that makes sense. Once I started stirring the sediment it never settled again. So while I enjoy observing and annotating the resulting chaos, I sometimes wonder how helpful this process really is when I can’t ever see clearly to the bottom. I catch glimpses, but never a wide-angle view. Regardless, as it also appears to be for you, I am hard-wired for messing around with words. I cannot stop, even if I wanted to, which I guess I don’t.
I look forward to future broadcasts, be they alien or human or some other permutation.
March 5, 2012 at 9:47 pm
bf, that all makes a lot of sense to me. Thank you.
March 5, 2012 at 10:37 pm
I have never been able to write with this kind of fearlessness. I spend ages being curious and then barely eke out something I hope to be cogent. I have never had much faith in the potential contents of my own mind.
March 6, 2012 at 10:30 pm
You know, I’m not sure it’s all that fearless. For example, I’m now worrying about just what I’ve committed myself to with this post, which I think means – outside of being in the moment of writing it – that I have doubts about the potential contents of my own mind too.