Monday, 24 June 2013

Worlds Literature Festival 13:
Summing Up Sjön and Ozeki

In the darker, more cavernous space of the university council chamber, after the light-suffused delicacy of the cathedral hostry, it might seem we are on a trajectory from an age of gold to an age of lead, and, who knows, very likely to a sort of cosmic annihilation.

Certainly things are changing. Our histories never move smoothly forwards but proceed by a series of judders and jags, some of which are wildly exciting peaks offering vistas of ever more exciting, ever more complete states of being, and others that seem worse than pits, abysses that are 'cliffs of fall / Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed' as the great poet Gerard Manley Hopkins put it.

The title for this series of salons has been WAYS OF WRITING / WAYS OF READING, and that is, in some ways what we have been dealing with. We have considered the nature of stories, the position of the self in a polyvalent information system that modifies the wiring of the mind. We have come across developments in appliances (and changes in the meaning of such terms as appliances) that complement, overlay, expand or even possibly supplant the  book object and all it does or has done while sending us into a tunnel of voices, images and lost rivers even as we roam the streets. We have thought passionately about the art of the novel in the face of commercial standardisation, about definitions of experimentalism, and the virtues of literary reportage over the three or five part novel form. We have watched the progress of a rebellious idiot-genius boy as he writes novels in teen language, expands into blogs, into magazines, political censorship and out again and have heard the suggestion that the sheer speed and miniaturisation of the reading process thins out the content and substance a slow reading might provide. In the same session we considered the possible locations of a protean self, an I figure that conveys meanings and relationships that may be understood as a form of palimpsest of claim and counterclaim. 

Day One


In asking a poet to sum up the the discussion you are in danger of being summarised by your images, and there have been some marvellous ones. Sjön’s Mr Spoon suddenly emerging from his position in language into the world, complete with neckwear is one of them. It was almost like that moment in the Mass when the host actually becomes the blood of Christ. It was only Mr Spoon, but then again he was more: he was the word made flesh, or at least an iron based alloy. The story itself, he argued, was almost immaterial, since there were only seven stories, it was more the way spoons, electric cables and pigs (electric cables and pigs being figures he picked on by chance) got mixed up in them. a kind of crowded meta-zoo of the way the human imagination experiences its own predicament.

Sjön's producing of Mr Spoon demands a answer, so I offer you Ms Fork, who is in fact a punk as demonstrated by the safety pin atteched to her tines by a piece of Blutak™ which I trademark by way of reference to a late discussion on the last day of copyright and branding.


At one point in Ruth Ozeki’s provocation the whole world with all its works of genius and idiocy was crowded into the thin film of the computer screen, a screen that conditioned not only its own reading but our very being, the pigs and electric cables of our brains. We were, in effect, becoming extensions of the system we had devised in a new version of the stand-off between ghosts and machines. This raised serious question about the nature of the self, that figure who appeared in Japanese literature in the form of the 'I' novel, where the reader is invited to form a relationship with a voice that is posited as that of the author's own, sincere, individual self. She told of her own dependence on Google and other forms of ready information retrieval and how strange it was to let go of it.

The image I will remember here is of the lonely non-technological cabin in the woods when the question of information retrieval, also known as memory, finds that its first instinct has been to configure the question in the terms of a Google search.  Impatience, said Ruth, was death for a novelist. All technology, she added, was a way of defeating time. This shows the common uneasiness we feel about the effects of new technology, about how it begins to blur not only time but also the difference between the self and the other. There was a slowing down in the cabin, a deepening. The cold turkey of the cabin in the woods offers a cure, though we cannot know whether it ios a temporary or permanent one. We may have lost Mr Spoon for ever but we have the cabin in the woods.

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