Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The Damned United

Listening to Lawrence Norfolk discussing The Damned United, book and film. The more distance I get on that book the less I like it, the more miserable in spirit it seems. Miserable and false - not false as in 'not a true record of real events', but not true to what it invites us to believe as truth. It is a false invitation. You are invited to touch fictional flesh but what you get is twitching neon.

And somewhere in there lies my entire distrust of - or at last unease about - the novel project. It is in the appropriation and presentation of events as real in a believable sense. Most of the time it does not trouble one too much because the fictionality remains somewhere in sight, even if only as a faint blur on the horizon. I like stories. I like knowing stories are stories. I like imagining the characters in stories as imaginable people. I know we are in the world of the imagination, furthermore I even know that the world that is, at bottom, real, also appears to me as an imagined construction. I know I cannot quite know the world. It is when the novel makes extra claims on reality that it begins to annoy.

The closer Peace got to imitating Clough and trying to penetrating the 'real' Clough's mind the less I believed. I felt exactly the same unease about it as I feel about dramatic music on the news, or the endless camera tricks that seek to illustrate' the contents of someone's speech. I sense a falsehood, a deliberate act of falsification.

We don't have the same problem with poetry, a medium in which we know not to expect documentary. Everything in a poem - from its appearing in lines, to its storehouse of literary devices - proclaims its artificiality, and it is precisely in that respect that it is true and respectful of the proper difference between language and the world. A poem strives to act on language as the world acts on us. It recognizes the sense of the world as a construction by employing overt construction.

Novels at best give you scope and action: poetry at best gives you depth and resonance.

The trouble is I think I still have a sense of human obligation to the otherness and unknowability of Clough, that is despite all I think I 'know' about him. The 'bond' between Peace and Clough may be a little like that between Max Clifford and Jade Goody.

I know. This may be not be fair. It might not even be absolutely true. But it's in the bones, and I can't help it. Its as true as I can make it. I think we should be better than this.

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