Friday, 27 June 2014

Nostalgia, Homeache: Worlds Literature Festival, Norwich (9)

from Hiroshima, Mon Amour


Xiaolu Guo’s provocation was a plea to move away from the close concerns of the novel and to enter the public forum on many levels at once, as writers, as artists, as film-makers, as journalists, as theorists. One should return to the ethos of 50s cinema in Europe, or even earlier, to the time of manifestos between the wars. To the time of Dada for example. To its energy. Her own fictional characters, she told us, were always writing unpublished manifestos.

There should be an end to endings as closures too. Great literature, such as Calvino's, did not produce neat Hollywood endings. The arts should not be content to be confined within the limits of a craft. Art should engage in the public forum. It should be full of ideas, however unfinished.

To support this she showed us four filmclips, from Cocteau’s Le Sang d’un Poète, from Godard’s À Bout de Souffle at the start and from Truffaut’s Jules et Jim and from Resnais' Hiroshima, Mon Amour, as scripted by Marguerite Duras. She invited us to be revolutionary public auteurs. Why should literature be a monoculture - the novel and nothing more? Why should we restrict ourselves to being wordsmiths? She talked of Derek Jarman, Chris P{etit, Neil Jordan and John Berger  all of whom had oproduced work in a variety of media.

Nostalgia was a novelist's preoccupation. The novel had become lazy and complacent. Let's explode nostalgia!


A little like Wojciech’s provocation, Xuolu's could be regarded as a wake-up slap in the face of the novel. But one might also see it as the throwing open of a window. It had little, perhaps, to do with nostalgia as such, except in its dismissal of conventional novelistic versions of it, but it was hard to resist the call of raw memory especially when the voice on Hiroshima, Mon Amour asks us ‘Why deny the obvious necessity of remembering?’

Remembering lies at the root of this: how we remember, what we remember, what we choose to present in order that it should be remembered, but what we invent or imagine having remembered or desire as part of the complex mixture each of us has to balance. We were reminded that we were talking about tightropes here. It may well be that the higher the tightrope the better.

My own decision was to retitle nostalgia and call it ‘homeache‘ just as one might refer to toothache, or stomachache, or bellyache or head- or heartache. The ache exists. I couldn’t sleep on one of these nights and wrote down these thoughts that may constitute a poem, about homeache.

See the next post for the last of the Worlds 2014 reports,  the poem, Homeache. 

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