Wednesday, October 31, 2007

You Yourself Must Be the Seventh


Absolute writer’s block this morning: I pull up stories, start picking through them, removing commas and ampersands with the thoroughness of a chimpanzee removing lice from its neighbor’s pelt. But two minutes later I decide that the same paragraph looked better with the original punctuation. At which point I realize that writers’ block, literary constipation, whatever you want to call it has officially set in.

One of the interesting things about writing stuff on this blog has been, for me at least, the way that it relieves these moments, or at least makes me feel like I’m experiencing relief. For example, right now I have moved from my traditional “serious writing” armchair, to the more relaxed “unserious writing” couch. I am semi-reclined; I begin thinking about the posture of writing, and the way that certain writers prefer certain physical positions while they write. Pushkin, my hero, wrote best lying down, in what I imagine was a gigantic four-poster with grapes and naked women strewn all over it. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, on the other hand, wrote while walking. He composed one sentence at a time, in his head, and then wrote the whole article or poem or whatever down as soon as he got home. Edward Said wrote standing up, prowling among a study's worth of podiums.

So already I’m writing again….but is this a good or a bad thing? Shouldn't I really be sitting there bent double, agonizing my way towards mastery? Shouldn't I be suffering for my art?

Real writing vs. everything else: this mental/spiritual battle royal has occupied me for years, not least of all because I am a puritan through and through and therefore addicted to fairly narrow ideas of work and productivity. Real writing: the work that produces a finished product, something whole and tight and perfect as a microwave - a “machine made out of words” or, failing that, a poem made out of things. Real writing, I assume, would be recognizable the moment I produced it and would fill my life with joy and self-gratification. I would stand back carpenter-style and observe it. “Ahhh!” I would say....putting my hand on my son's shoulder in a sort of Kleenex moment.

That blog entries are not real writing, however, is a fact I have become convinced of lately: one that has confused and shocked me and made me rethink the whole dynamic. It has led me, as I'm sure you’re tired of hearing, even deeper into the thickets of marginalia. But what is this kind of writing, and what does it do to me? Should I, for example, be combing my posts over and removing unnecessary punctuation? Should I be turning my sentences not twice but once, with my hand on the key? Or, is there something powerful in this speed (swiftness) and movement (intuition) that makes the adoration of mastery and perfection seem like the wrong move? “Anyone who looks for perfection in a painting knows nothing about art,” Ruskin said. I ask because I’m curious, I don't know.

On this topic: I’ve been reading a book by the Spanish writer/scholar/adumbrator Enrique Vila-Matas, called “Bartleby & Co.”, whose narrator devotes himself to tracking down all the writers who have ever decided to just put down their pens and not write. These Bartlebys – these "Artists of the No" – devote themselves, at a certain point in their careers, to the abandonment literature and the advancement of non-literature. Some of them go to great, even heroic lengths: they write books, tomes, encyclopedias, articles, describing in detail the "real books" they are never going to write. Long philosophical treatises on notwriting. Catalogues of footnotes to invisible texts. All in an attempt as the Bartleby Joseph Joubert says, to create something that would “replace ordinary reading, where it is necessary to go from one part to another, with the spectacle of a simultaneous word, in which everything would be said at once without confusion, in a glow that is…total, peaceable, intimate and uniform at last.”

Talk like this has the stupidness of true poetry to me: it makes no sense on a rational level but bites my intuitive line. There’s something in it that I feel I can use…something that pertains to what we’ve been talking about over the last couple of months maybe, that touches my obsessions. Early in the book, Matas’s footnoteist notes something incredible about the author Robert Walser:

Walser’s entire work, including his ambiguous silence of twenty-eight years, is a commentary on the vanity of all initiative, the vanity of life itself. Perhaps that is why he only wanted to be a walking nobody. Someone has compared Walser to a long-distance runner who is on the verge of reaching the longed-for finishing line and stops in surprise, looks around at masters and fellow disciples, and abandons the race, that is to say remains in what is familiar, in an aesthetics of bewilderment.”

Aesthetics of bewilderment.

Bewilderment…say it seven times and it begins to sound like a gum flavor. An artistic command hidden inside like an iron-on tattoo. I think of a huge stag lifting its head up for some reason. Moss is dripping down its jaws and neck.

What happens when the writing of non-writing (this is getting silly) begins to be more interesting than the writing of writing? When the things you do to relieve writers’ block end up feeling better than the story itself?

Found a poem last night that explains to me why this blog is called what it’s called. By the Hungarian hunter/gatherer Attila Jozsef:

The Seventh

If you set out in this world,
better be born seven times.
once, in a house on fire,
once, in a freezing flood,
once, in a wild madhouse,
once, in a field of ripe wheat,
once, in an empty cloister,
and once among pigs in a sty.
Six babes crying, not enough:
you yourself must be the seventh.

When you must fight to survive,
let your enemy see seven.
One, away from work on Sunday,
one, starting his work on Monday,
one, who teaches without payment,
one, who learned to swim by drowning,
one, who is the seed of a forest,
and one, whom wild forefathers protect,
but all their tricks are not enough:
you yourself must be the seventh.

If you want to find a woman,
let seven men go for her.
One, who gives his heart for words,
one, who takes care of himself,
one, who claims to be a dreamer,
one, who through her skirt can feel her,
one, who knows the hooks and snaps,
one, who steps upon her scarf:
let them buss like flies around her.
You yourself must be the seventh.

If you write and can afford it,
let seven men write your poem.
One, who builds a marble village,
one, who was born in his sleep,
one, who charts the sky and knows it,
one, whom words call by his name,
one, who perfected his soul,
one, who dissects living rats.
Two are brave and four are wise;
you yourself must be the seventh.

And if all went as was written,
you will die for seven men.
One, who is rocked and suckled,
one, who grabs a hard young breast,
one, who throws down empty dishes,
one, who helps the poor to win,
one, who works till he goes to pieces,
one, who just stares at the moon.
The world will be your tombstone:
you yourself must be the seventh.


Seth said...

You know what: don't even try to infect me with your block! I'm due to write all day today and I stupidly checked the blog before beginning.

Honestly though, and I'm dead-serious when I say this (you can ask Karen, I've been talking about it for about a year...): I do not discern any difference between my "serious" creative work and my blogging. No difference at all. I let both inform and almost be each other. (I'm handing in that "What's Cool" story in my next packet.

Now annotations--that's a different matter all together. These are "serious" writing to me and therefor full of writer's block potential.

I like that poem--good find. Seven, of course, is a holy number, a very, very meaningful number in terms of cycles...

Here's a bit of blasphemy: I'm not a Bruce fan at all. What the hell is that fucker doing there?

Seth said...

That is Bruce right? That's not you, dressed up as Bruce for Halloween.

Josh said...

Bruce Springsteen? I thought that was Smoky Robinson.

The lines between serious and non-serious, writing and non-writing are mostly porous, I know, and should be abandoned when their usefulness runs out. Art is like dog shit and you know when you've stepped in some.

When anybody asks about the blog name, I tell them that we're not just a seventh draft - we're a seventh draft of a seventh draft.