A hedge before me, one behind,
a blackbird sings from that.
above my small book many-lined
I apprehend his chat.
Up trees, in costumes buff,
mild accurate cuckoos bleat,
Lord love me, good the stuff
I write in the shady seat.
Archive for August, 2007
Allusions to Beckett’s writings crop up in several places in Pinget’s novels. The famous final words of The Unnamable are paralleled in this phrase from That Voice: impossible to finish impossible not to finish impossible to continue to stop to start again. Similarly, Pinget often expresses a desire to develop, that is, fill in details and expand his prose, an intention soon offset by the admission that he cannot do so. This struggle of reduction against amplification, which may well have been tensely experienced by the writer as he was writing, obviously relates to Pinget’s affection—yearning—for poetry. (He recounted that writing the expansive The Inquisitory was a “nightmare.”) The same tense, even paralyzing, focus on concision and amplitude increasingly characterized Beckett after Comment c’est (1961) and its English version, How It Is (1964). The Greco-Roman rhetoricians believed that literary works could be profoundly analyzed by appealing to these two critical touchstones: the intention or need to amplify, the intention or need to reduce. Their vantage point is well worth reconsidering.
I liked this quotation in Julia Reed’s review of Annie Dillard’s new book in the New York Times Book Review last Sunday:
Shelby Foote once wrote to Walker Percy [about Chekhov's works]: “How he does it is a mystery you can’t solve by analyzing it — he just does it out of being Chekhov.”
I think this is a nice summary of what I would call “style.” It’s everything from the words the writer uses to the way he arranges them to the facts he chooses to highlight or play down. It’s the perspective we’re given on events and characters and even the opinions we’re encouraged to have (or not to have) about them. It includes conscious and unconscious choices with regard to all of the above, but all those choices must match or mesh somehow into something that is believable and capable of evoking genuine emotion, and yet leave much to be figured out and always something (or more than one thing) that can’t be understood.
And works that have all that? They are what I call “literature.”