The doctor and the crab is one among the many series of literary experiments I have been conducting on Twitter ever since I have been on it. The question is how far can Twitter's 140 character format serve as a literary form. Can it be liberating? Can it feel free yet disciplined? Can it feel as though it had to be that way and no other? Can it be poetry?
For that reason I have written haiku, distichs, couplets, clerihews, and composed small episodes of various kinds, like Kafkaesque micro-fairytales, humorous anecdotes, philosophical games (if I can dignify them in such a way) and poetic conditions or prose poems. The imagination creates a location and immediately has to shape it. That is the poetry.
The current series involves the doctor (who has appeared in a number of my earlier efforts) and a crab. The starting point was a tweet by the poet Magda Kapa, to which I answered as below, and to which another contributor, Nox, added a remark. That's enough. This is the series so far. The italicised passages are mine.
Magda Kapa: North Sea Crabs for breakfast, North Sea Crabs for lunch, North Sea Crabs for ever!
- GS: Why not just dangle off the end of Cromer pier and become a crab?
Nox: If Thomas Bernhard and Bruno Schulz had a progeny, this is the story he/she would write! [And so I wrote of course....]:
- The desire to write a novel in persona of a Cromer crab is not to be lightly entertained, remarked the doctor, pushing aside the flounder.
- How muscular do you consider a crab to be? demanded the doctor, glancing up at the stormy sky. We haven't much time! Hurry!
- The doctor removed his crab-shaped ring, laid it on the table and watched incredulously as it began to move towards the salt cellar.
- I will never countenance crab sandwiches, the doctor declared. To me crabs are souls. See this carapace? he asked. I too am carapace.
- It was when the doctor started moving sideways along the beach that the crabs came to him in the rain with a fearsome clacking of claws.
- Now I too am a crab, thought the doctor. Now I too move sideways. The sea put out a long tongue and the sand slipped beneath his claws.
- In my early life as a crab, wrote the doctor, it was the rotten sex smell of the sea that nearly did for me. No therapists in the North Sea.
- It just didn't feel right at first, wrote the doctor. I mean a crab is just a crab to begin with. Those crazy eyes! But then it gets to you.
- After a while you begin to think like a crab, said the doctor. Edward de Bono with claws. Everything is lateral. Everything is salty.
The temptation for some readers is to identify the doctor with the writer, which is an alluring but unproductive line to take unless the reader is a psychoanalyst / therapist by inclination or profession, seeking to discover symptoms of some given personal condition in phrases like 'the rotten sex smell of the sea'. There is nothing to stop the reader reading in that fashion, but it is as well to remember that the imagination is not entirely circumscribed by the writer's condition. The balance between memory, observation and imagination is complicated. Besides, I have already invented my own absent therapist in the piece itself.
In this case, for example, both doctor and crab are aspects of the imagination. The imagination is not preoccupied with the condition of the imaginer, but runs around playing, seeing what else is possible to feel at depth. That is important because the position of the imaginer has to remain free and unfettered by ideas about himself / herself. So one may imagine oneself in the doctor's position all the better because one is neither doctor nor crab, and it is worth remembering that the imaginer might well have said something completely different. The imager is not concerned with solving his own problems, should he even perceive them as problems, because any solution would be the answer to a spurious question. The question is not self, but the world.