You might be wondering what exactly I mean by the title of this blog. But don’t worry it’s all a little allegorical.
This week’s lessons involved the introduction of modernism into the module. Looking at Stephane Mallarme (1842-1898), one of the most important French poets in the 19th century, who experimented with form and presentation, was both stimulating and puzzling. His poem, Throw of the Dice reflected that a pattern within the form of a poem was key to the interpretation function of poetry. He actually got his inspiration from the template of printing advertisements in a newspaper and applied it to poetry. He experiments with shape and form. The want for a book to have dynamic relations in his art, as they don’t just want a book to be read from start to finish.
Here, the aesthetic of text is being developed to reflect the sensuous relationship the book has, and in turn, it’s textuality.
Following on from this we discussed Modernism. This genre requires us to do the real work as it makes an assault on realism and plays on from.
On the other hand, Post-Modernism challenges the reader to be an active co-creator of meaning rather than simply a passive consumer (Nichol, 2009). It is about playing, as much as it is about reading. We noted how World War 2 was a huge catalyst for creating questions, such as how is it possible to recreate and represent the horror of the war in poetry? This was seen as real life crisis in literature after the Holocaust. What was perhaps most interesting, was when our lecturer Stephen asked us what did we think was the modern alternative to this?
It was in fact, the climate crisis. How can a realist mode of fiction deal with the real climate crisis without it appearing as an intrusion of a fantastical event within a novel? We simply don’t have literary forms able to address it? If you are interested in this topical debate, Amitav Ghosh writes an infomative account of this crisis for the guardian. He asks where is the fiction about climate change and notes that this is also a crisis of culture and the imagination. Noting that even the finest prose stylists, such as Arundhati Roy, place all their writings about the crisis in various forms of non-fiction. (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/28/amitav-ghosh-where-is-the-fiction-about-climate-change-)
Going back to the title of this blog, it is actually inspired by Roland Barthes’s The Death of the Author. Roland brings us back to this allegorical sense of books. He demands to get rid of the author and how they only have a limited authority over the text. Similarly, we looked at Michel de Cateau’s Reading as Poaching in The Practice of Everyday Life (174). Cateau reflects on what he thinks is the actual relationship between the readers and the text. He states that it is up to the reader to make sense of the text, rather than the author. Again it is evident there is a non-fixity associated with the reader and regardless of how fixed text is, the reader can ignore this. Even when the text creates rules of authority, the reader can do what they want with these rules and in turn have their own interpretation.
This week’s set text, Nox (2010), by Anne Carson intimately reflects this. It is a photography reproduction and seen by some as having an affective dimension. Reading the text, I viewed it as a memoir, but not intimate. It involved on the left pages a translation of Cataullus 101, whilst on the right page, it features Carson’s memories of her brother and some of her own notes or letters. However, as I read this book I did not find myself getting emotionally caught up within the pages. I couldn’t decide if this was because not only did I not know her brother, but nor did she. When I first flicked through the book I saw glimpses of letters and pictures. I was drawn in by this intimacy. But, upon reading I found that they were mere clues and impersonal memories. I had expected detail and fond memories, instead I was met with a sad, empty feeling.
Although, this might come across harsh, at second glimpse I wonder is this the whole point of Nox. We are left with a feeling of sadness because we can’t comprehend how exactly we feel about this loss. Is this exactly how Carson want’s us to feel? She doesn’t seem to know how she should feel herself and does she want her reader to, in turn, feel this same feeling? If so, this has been very clever in my opinion. In fact, the added confusion of the Catullus 101, results in more confusion about emotions and feelings over this brother’s death. This is my interpretation of the Nox, even if it is not Carson’s objective. I believe this book is a form of consolation for Nox as she is lost in these feelings of mourning a brother she evidently did not know.
Yet, if we look at the argument of authenticity and artifice, it is clear that the many elements of the book have been highly designed. From the shadows being produced to the placement of the tears within the poem. Are these real tears? Or have they been aesthetically placed? For example, one of the main tears completely blurs out the word brother, can we really say this was not done for effect?
In other words, we are looking at this piece of work for consumer consumption. Why would such an intimate piece have been published and try so hard to look realistic? If we, as readers, are allowed to be the real voice of the book, do we argue that this is an intimate, emotionally moving piece, or do we decide that this has been manipulated into a piece of art and materially, hence taking away the intimacy and realism that has been tried so hard to achieve? Or do we just admire it for exactly that? For leaving the meaning of it completely ambiguous, for giving us no rules or reasons, but instead, a piece of art and literature that can evoke any form of meaning and emotion from the reader. Here, is the non-fixity of literature and the death of the author, as we, the reader, make our interpretation.
However, it is, in fact, the materiality of this book that creates it as a living, existing memory of Carson’s brother. Can it be argued that the object-style of this book has an impact on the reading experience and doesn’t just create it as a consumer-friendly book instead? Yes, notably this book is not cheap due to its form. But would the book still evoke the same feelings if it was a simple bound book? I hope to look at form and materiality further in this module as I think about my own ideas about creating a project.
Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author” In Image, Music, Text, p. 143. PQ2603.A57 IMAG
Certeau, Michel de. The Practice of Everyday Life. California: University of California Press, 1984.