Thursday, 26 November 2009


This is the brochure for Free-E-Day on Tuesday December 1st 2009. A day to celebrate independent artists in all forms of art. Free-E-Day does so by independent artists giving away a sample of their art electronically to any fan who requests it.

On December 1st itself, between 9-11pm GMT, I will also be hosting a webchat on the Year Zero Writers on "Reigniting Modernist Literature". The starting text for consideration is reproduced below. You can send in questions into Year Zero Writers as comments and we can use them throughout the chat. Hope to see you dropping by. We can make it lively with your input. And here's to a great Fee-E-Day.

"Reigniting Modernism In Literature"

There is much discussion about form in literature with all the new publishing media available. But these mainly concern themselves with production and distribution.

I want to broaden the debate to form on and within the page, as part of our artist's palette as writers. To revive and carry on the experiments of modernists such as Joyce and Faulkner which seem to have ground to a halt after William Burroughs' & Terry Southern's cut-up techniques. My call is to drag the novel into the 21st century artistically, as well as in its distribution and production.

So what do I mean by experiments in form? There are plenty of 20th century novels that play around with either or both space and time, Faulkner being a wonderfully rich exemplar. These are experiments in narrative structure. I am interested in the possibility of going more quantum, down to language itself.

Sentences are linear, yet human thought and even our speech is far from linear. Can you tackle the flurry of simultaneous bombarding thoughts and still remain legible to a reader? Personally, I write 'Voice' rather than 'characters'. Straight away the level of reality that the words are describing is plastic and unfixed. The words may not describe any material reality whatsoever, but purely sculpt using language and human thought. I favour words that have more than one meaning, or at least have a secondary echo (maybe in their original root) that works against the main, established meaning. Sound is a very important feature for me as a writer. What is the precise relationship of us writers, petitioning the private, intimate space inside a reader's head as their minds process our words 'silently' inside their mind. This is where drawing on some of the features of poetry's lyricism can be of use.

some examples:
"The idea of brewing the kettle (to pour over a sleeping ex-lover) briefly flittered behind my eyes. But I simply wasn't favoured with the element of time."Here, element has two tracks, the second echoing the notion of kettle.

"I patted the soil into the configurations I required, before gently threading each decapitated rose stalk into some strategic salient, thorns primed to press the flesh. Dug in, and out of sight. Cameo-flagged, in order to carve my relief on his body." Play on word camouflage, with cameo and relief sparking off one another and relief having a further meaning in relation to emotional relief from the act of revenge.

"That’s sex for sale so cheap, they’re giving it away. The bottom’s dropped out the market. A perfect knicker-elasticity of supply and demand." There is no material reality being expressed here, yet the knicker-elasticity of supply & demand, I believe conjures up something very clearly in the reader's mind. Simply through the power of new word associations, rather than a visual sense from description.

"Binge drinking is just bulimia for those too squeamish to put their own fingers down their throats. What with their demure paunches and their chary beer-bellies. Watch them wobble past. That flesh jiggle corona, in the no-man’s land between abdomen and hips. ‘Love handles’ being just so wide load of the mark. The ensemble rounded off by the peeping thong. An inverted arrowhead, directional rather than warning."
I'm just going to describe this as riffing words and meanings off one another.

As writers, what is the relationship of the spoken word and verbally constructed thought, to those words ordered and set down on a page? We acquire language verbally through imitation as infants and only retrospectively are the symbolic approximations of alphabets and spelling applied to the spoken language we already confidently possess. As writers we can do all sorts of visual things with these alphabets. Spatially we could render words non-linearly. The book cover for "Everything Is illuminated" hints at the possibilities, but leaves it at the cover rather than continuing inside. Alasdair Gray performs spatial things with his words and he is also a visual artist. Of course, some of what I am proposing appears to be very hard to reproduce in online representations, where software options are far more restrictive. Yet it is not just to be thought of an exercise in graphics and typography. There must be reasons for breaking up the uniformity of the written word.

How many books do you read where the metaphors seem tired and second hand? Most metaphors have probably been constructed in some novel or other. Time for us to forge some new ones. Language being to the fore in this endeavour. Again, without wishing to being seen wedded to science, but I would point at so much of modern scientific theory in astrophysics, theory of mind and microbiology, themselves being wonderful metaphors, where the actual hard science is less easy for them to express (particles that have no proven existence other than they 'should' exist etc). How come it is the scientists who are forming these rather wonderful metaphors and not us writers? Using our imaginations, we should be informing them and giving them the tools to further their own expression. Seems we have the language, but scientists have the creative imagination. Time for us to step up. Scientists tend to specialise within just one scale, be it quantum, microbiological or cosmic. We writers can skip across any within a single paragraph if we are so minded.

Where I do deviate partly from the modernist tradition, was their tendency to try and reconfigure new meanings by ripping established understanding from the moorings of its context and to cast them into new guises. (maybe a reason for Modernism running out of steam was that they took this as far as they could go with it). While I'm not against that as a path of inquiry for writers, I am interested in the linguistic roots behind those original contextualisations. They are not random. They are not neutral. They embody hidden relationships, often to do with power; for example the split of Anglo-Saxon and French Norman words in our language, often reveals the dominant power wielding Normans to have much of our vocabulary in religion, law, cookery, property and the like, whereas the AS words tend to be more humble and down to earth. Here it seems to me is a very rich source for stripping away 'meaning', the very nominalism that organises our world around us. Striking at the very root of 'realism', rather than flailing around fettered by it. Think of the word 'table' and all the different contexts of it; from a glass coffee table with "Ideal Homes magazine resting on it", the same table used in a sex act, a dinner table, a soldier eating his rations off an upturned ammo case, a table created by an artist out of an animal's ribcage, an unopened Ikea flatpack table - all a table according to Plato's ideal forms nominalism, but all with very, very different contexts and in the case of the Ikea one, a potentia of table only...

The modernist project has had a sabbatical for some 40 years. Time to put it back to work and reinvestigate the written word and its subunits, sound, rhythm and etymology.


PD Allen said...

I have played around with nonlinear verse. You can find some examples at my Songs of the March Hare website.

Most notably

And in various sections of the Consumer Reports

Sulci Collective said...

Thanks, will check them out.