Forget everything I said about writing in the previous post. This is a pitch for incoherence, wild craziness, and generally tearing up the pea patch. It’s about writing that the author is barely able to get onto the page because if you’re out of your mind you can’t keyboard, and if you’re truly screamingly hysterical you can’t even hold a ballpoint. Maybe shouldn’t be trusted not to stab yourself with it — fatally. (Hmmm. “The Ballpoint Murders.” A series? All the victims are suicidal authors?)
I love torrents of sensory scraps in malapropped words and adjectives slid sideways from what they really mean. A clue meant to be written in blood but only a few letters were scrawled and they are malformed, dripping. Scraps on the back of a paper sack too greasy to keep from skipping and stinking. A list in the gutter, soaked in rain, just a fuzz of ink. Graffiti that can’t be read because it is in code or a foreign language or slang invented by adolescents. Great long torrents of multi-syllabic words badly translated or maybe just addled. A telephone number written on the palm of a hand — should you call it?
You can’t forget fragged language because the brain insists on getting sense out of everything unfinished or inscrutable and your subconscious will worry at them for days. Once in a while, like a single kernel of popcorn finally heated through, the thing will pop into sense. It turns out to be lyrics from a song you thought you’d forgotten long ago.
Maybe you should carry a recorder and sing into it as a way of stirring up the more obscure parts of your memory connectome. I like to sing and whistle while I drive. So long as the song is not so troubling or evocative that I drift toward the borrow ditch. (Some say barrow ditch, one letter means a different suggestion. Is it where the dirt was borrowed for the road or is it where the wheelbarrow travels? How old is the word?)
Those of us who read see bits of words — not even syllables — everywhere, but those who do not read — what do they see? Or do they only hear language? Incoherent shouts in the night echoing among the buildings, swallowed by the leafy trees. Or the monologue of the schizey, captured inside the skull, giving instructions you’d better not execute. Execute.
The highly educated don’t just have words, they have whole phrases that stand for concepts in the philosophical systems of “great men” (never women) that most people have never heard of because how much money did they make? Well, then they don’t matter, do they? Who reads James Joyce? Who reads Ezra Pound, whose Cantos are like crossword puzzles with all the clues redacted? What people read is the readers talking to each other with cryptic theories, scruting the inscrutable. Hoping to know better than anyone else, and get the right to put letters behind their names. Of course, anyone can put any letters behind their names. That sells writing.
To write mysteriously, incompletely, with slang that comes from some specialized world: crime, science, another planet, kids . . .it will often entice people like any puzzle, but with the justifying aura of being literary. Why is literary with its deluge of adjectives and adverbs confusing the action any better than just the facts, ma’am. Why does the phrase “just the facts” have no ring to it until one adds the suggestion that a woman is telling too much, getting hysterical?
Then there is the strategy of using socially forbidden words, though it’s perfectly plain what they mean. You’re not DOING it but some people will veer off and slam the book shut. Other people won’t even notice because they use those words all the time. They are often meant to be intensives, but how can they be intense if every kid on the street uses them in ordinary conversation?
When I was a kid there were words that could not be explained except maybe in Latin and in circular definitions so that if you looked in the dictionary you’d be shuttled among five or six words. Now you just go to Wikipedia and there will be a photograph of it, no mistake.
Incoherence — how do you make it cohere? Right now we are threatened by three huge environmental forces that we have only begun to understand: hurricanes, forest fires, earthquakes. All throw up blinding mists and fogs. They are worse in the night time, even with all our technicalities, ways of seeing with infrared, ways of communicating with gizmos, ways of analyzing with screens and charts of windspeed and current patterns. We still can’t see where the storms are going, can’t see who’s pinned under the rubble, can’t ask people if they are still there after the winds and water have passed through. What possible virtue is it to know?
A new book has been released: “Montana Noir,” that seeks to make open range and small towns sound hard-boiled and dangerous. The only thing puzzling about this is that it must have been harder to earlier make them sound spiritual and comforting. Mountains are not magnificent and compassionate — they are killers. More people die in Glacier Park every summer by falling over cliffs than are killed by grizzly bears. The victims are not mountain climbers — they are dumb tourists who ignore warning signs and common sense.
Small towns hold patterns of resentment and old grudges going back to the original death-dealing wrenching of the land away from the original occupants — not “owners” because owning in an illusion, an hallucination depending upon registration at the court house where records are easily altered. We don’t talk about all this.
Media people talk about religion all the time with smart alec confidence about what it is, but all they ever see is institutions full of politics within and without. Rules and talk. Dogmas and words on the sides of buildings. Because the reality of religion is inscrutable, ineffable, impenetrable. All the fuss about books written a couple of millennia ago is a con, an excuse to own something, sell something, reduce it all to a formula. What really matters cannot be said, only felt.
Take my hand. Wait! What word is tattooed there?