Writing the Digital

bonTo a certain extent, writers are concerned with identities. Those of their characters, of themselves towards those characters, towards the written work itself, towards all the possible perceptions of their own self, their being-in-writing and so on. In Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen, one of the protagonists, also named Joshua Cohen, is a struggling writer given a job of ghostwriting an autobiography of the in-novel Google-equivalent’s creator whose name is Joshua Cohen as well. Obviously, a lot to say about identities:

Fiction writers mistrust the truth, nonfiction writers swear by it, while ghostwriters – who are typically laidoff journalists with novels in the drawer – are divided down the middle. And even that division is split. By which I mean, the relationships I’ve had with my ghostees have always replicated. What happens is I end up rewriting everybody, and so I become rewritten myself. Haunt the lives of controlfreaks, egomaniacs, career narcissists and solipsists, your lovers, your wife, your mother, and you become them too, inevitably.

(In the book, the above fragment is crossed out in an experimental-typographical manner, I spared that for the comfort of reading). I’d argue that such rewriting occurs within any kind of writing. Writing is always some kind of dealing with one’s own ideas which obtain more apparent, material form when voiced through a text. That way, they can be analyzed again and may change one’s perception of themselves or their surrounding world.

Writing in the Information Age (we’re still in that one, right?) is obviously complicated by the new media’s informational chaos. Cohen-the-protagonist-writer’s debut novel was unfortunately published on 11th Sept. 2001, when everyone were pretty much concerned with other topics. A lot is said about the development of Internet itself and other connected technologies. There’s something about religion and mysticism, also with its relation to technology. And there’s other stuff, too.

Generally, the book seems to be flawed in that it’s kind of all over the place thematically. I’m a bit disappointed as I expected a lot from a novel which was to be like “Philip Roth’s work (…) fired into David Foster Wallace’s inside the Hadron particle collider.” I don’t want to condemn it totally. It’s very in my taste, experimental, metafictional, well-researched. Maybe it’d need a better editor, or something. Entropy is mentioned several times in the plot, so maybe that’s a clue? I’m not sure, though. I’ll give it a second chance in the future; at least, I really want this book to captivate me.

A Book of Madness

ijThe funny thing was when I got to the physical end of the text, I immediately turned pages back to the beginning, with some faint ideas and guesses, and realized the infinity.

What struck me the most was how, paradoxically, the novel is repelling and absorbing at the same time. With all those footnotes, heavy jargon, non-linearity and general fucking-with-the-reader thing, Infinite Jest is a challenge indeed. However, to the very end I thought that it’s more or less balanced with what’s really endearing and entertaining about it; the humor (even the E.T.A’s students cringey jokes which I simply loved), reflections on life and society (like most of the conversations between Marathe and Steeply) or moments of absolutely sincere, emotional havoc (like Mario’s conversation with Moms about sadness). Maybe that’s what makes DFW’s work transcend postmodernism. It’s not just a gargantuan, complex piece of prose; to put it simply, it has a heart. One way or another, that’s probably what DFW himself intended it to be like, I think I’ve mentioned that in the earlier post.

Its structural dimension is a completely different thing. How does this sincerity, hope and wholesomeness go together with the obvious, obsessional effect connected with continuous rereading and drawing different theories and interpretations? Answers are not given directly? Answers are not given at all, and all we have is the world in all its fucked-up-ness and its interpretations? Man what’s your story?

Or maybe it’s not about any answers at all. As I’ve read, DFW once said to Franzen that “the story can’t fully be made sense of.” That kinda makes sense. The world can’t fully be made sense of and that’s okay, because subsequent stories and retellings are what makes it all go round. As DeLillo beautifully (as always) put it,

[o]ne of his recent stories ends in the finality of this half sentence: Not another word. But there is always another word. There is always another reader to regenerate these words. The words won’t stop coming. Youth and loss. This is Dave’s voice, American.

I’ll Tell You About Another Novel That’s Even More Strange…

cosmos gombroSome time ago I had the chance to see an excellent theatrical adaptation of Cosmos by Witold Gombrowicz and so I’ve decided to scribble a few words about the novel by – undoubtedly – my favorite Polish writer of all time.

Gombrowicz’s style is hysterical. It’s dynamic, fast-paced, full of linguistic quirks and rich in philosophical themes. His characters are usually set in situations which make them consider their identities in relation with the surrounding world (society, culture, etc.) what was inspired by author’s own experiences.

Cosmos is his last novel and, I think, his most interesting one. A story about Witold and his friend Fuks who stay in a guesthouse in Zakopane is a surreal, postmodern and multi-dimensional tale about language, perception and – as always in case of Gombrowicz’s works – concealed perversion. To be honest, I don’t know why I’m forcing those crime story patterns everywhere but in case of Cosmos we have a very specific pattern of such kind, where both of the mentioned characters start to notice how different elements of their surroundings seem to have an unclear meaning which they try to uncover. Quite early we can infer that it’s not so easy, if not impossible:

I don’t know how to tell this . . . this story . . . because I’m telling it ex post. The arrow, for instance . . . The arrow, for instance . . . The arrow, at that time, at supper, was no more important than Leon’s chess, or the newspaper, or tea, everything—equally important, everything—was contributing to a given moment, a kind of consonance, the buzzing of a swarm. But today, ex post, I know it was the arrow that was the most important, so in telling this I move it to the forefront, from a myriad of undifferentiated facts I extract the configuration of the future. But how can one describe something except ex post? Can nothing be ever truly expressed, rendered in its anonymous becoming, can no one ever render the babbling of the nascent moment, how is it that, born out of chaos, we can never encounter it again, no sooner do we look than order . . . and form . . . are born under our very eyes?

A great deal of the plot is dedicated to those reflections about our understanding of reality, the way we give meaning to its elements and what relations there are between time, space, external objects, our imagination etc. There’s a lot to say about how it can be viewed from the perspective of ontology, individuality, relativism, philosophy of Heidegger, Husserl and so on, but I’m not here to write academic analyzes.

What I love about the novel as well as the entirety of Gombrowicz’s writings are those attempts to make a sense out of the surrounding world what is juxtaposed with an overwhelming absurd of it all. Since I’ve read Ferdydurke in high school I’ve been drawn to such theme quite strongly in literature – and not only. I cannot really imagine its full character without the way how Gombrowicz plays with Polish language and creates a very original style, however it doesn’t mean that nobody else cannot appreciate it in other languages. Translation of Cosmos by Danuta Borchardt (published in 2005 by Yale University Press) is excellent and though I’ve read only fragments by far, I can recommend it without any doubts.