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Friday, 19 June 2009

Gained World . . .

One thing I do often is re-read Gabriel Josipovici’s ‘Everything Passes’. It is possibly one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. And one of our most crucial, in terms of where we should sit as writers/readers. Josipovici has shown his disappointment in British literary fiction on many occasions, but nothing has been as damning as the following extract from ‘Everything Passes’:

“—Rabelais, he says, is the first writer of the age of print. Just as Luther is the last writer of the manuscript age. Of course, he says, without print Luther would have remained a simple heretical monk. Print, he says, scooping up the froth from his cup, made Luther the power he became, but essentially he was a preacher, not a writer. He knew his audience and wrote for it. Rabelais, though, he says, sucking his spoon, understood what this new miracle of print meant for the writer. It meant you had gained the world and lost your audience. You no longer knew who was reading you or why. You no longer knew who you were writing for or even why you were writing. Rabelais, he says, raged at this and laughed at it and relished it, all at the same time.”

For me the importance is in the phrase: “It meant you had gained the world and lost your audience.” I suppose the ‘audience’ here is the other slope of Literature (the sort of Literature the critic Mark Thwaite succinctly labelled ELF): that which governs all plot, narrative, and characterisation. In other words, all the tropes of Literature that do not – even though we are told they do – re-tell our being-in-the-world. This audience expects it to always be told a certain way, a way that is neatly packaged and easy to understand, in a clever ‘Literary’ fashion (such a fashion also injects the reader with a sense of ‘cleverness’ that, I suppose, is crucial to this slope’s popularity). I guess when Josipovici states that in forgetting about this audience he [Rabelais] ‘gained the world’ this world is not only the world of Literature, but the real world around us. The real world is not neatly packaged, and easy to understand, it is fragmented and unquestionably difficult. When, for example William Burroughs stated that walking down the street is just like a cut-up he was right.
Literature is our world, our maddening, topsy-turvy, disordered and mystifying world. Literature should be difficult in this way, it should, like the things, the big things around us, be hard to understand. This is how we gain the real world in Literature.

For me, the importance of all writing is in this forgetting of the audience.


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