Death Becomes You, Dear Novel

The novel is dead, so eulogizes Will Self, the serious, difficult novel, which I suspect is the so-called literary novel that’s been hanging around on book corners ever since modernism and has caused a few scuffles with readers and critics alike.

I’ve read some of Self’s work. I like that he perambulates long distances. I even enjoy that he pulls words like “benison,” “Gesamtkunstwerk, “Panglossian,” and “melioristic” out of his rattlebag. But, then, when it comes to fiction, I favour Maximalism over minimalism — it’s the cherry picker in me.

But, sod you Self and your aging anxieties that you will cease to be as a writer for being the reason you’ve chosen to write about the death of the novel.

Although I must admit it’s sobering news for a writer like myself who is still brewing in the vats of the emerging writing life. It also brings on a tidal wave of creative anxiety to be told the book is dead even before I’ve even had a chance to get a book published. It’s akin to telling a child don’t bother living because you’re only going to die.

Ok, let’s say the novel is really dead, nails are in the coffin, mourners are dressed in black, and the Gutenberg press weeps tears of ink.

That’s fine by me. Bring on the wake! Let’s open the bubbly and get rip-roaring drunk on the death of the novel because all it means is that the Graustarkian literary standard by which all books are written is now demolished. There is no “great” book left to be written, no “great” writer about to swoop down in a blaze of tweed and pipe smoke to carry off the novices in his golden claws. Anyone now has a chance to write a book — and that includes me. A great new brave world of opportunity knocks. Open Sesame!

Unless, of course, it’s all premised on sell, sell, sell and there will be only a handful of novels that can shift the tectonic plates of the mind to new visions, eclipse and super nova the life of the emotions, and locate the soul in the overwhelming somatic rush of flesh. If the death of the novel is simply leading to a land of mediocrity, then I want to go down the mine with Self and his canaries and face the subterranean gases. I’m not interested enough to live with the endless flow of entertainment toxins that will pass through my body pretending to be art. Thanks, but no thanks. My kidneys are working well enough to know piss when it streams before me.

But if the novel is dead and a panoramic vista of new horizons opens up with the Millennium Falcon on the nearest hill, I’m up for the ride. Let’s park that old literary junker out back and get into something more relevant, more post-postmodern, something that isn’t flashy but is made from the recycled goods of the past. Everything under the sun has been done before, and done better, so let’s space hop to new frontiers on the magic of the past and the literary genius of the moment will become less obvious and more fulfilling.

Why should the death of the novel be such a bad thing? Ovid, a writer, proclaimed the beauty of metamorphosis, the power of mutability over the fragility of things, the freedom of the finite self to the many selves. And what is fiction but a series of little deaths of the selves. A writer dies with each book he or she writes and is reborn again with a new one.

So if the novel is dead, I for one am not going to let it go gentle into that good night. I’m going to rage and fight and get as many words down as possible. I’m going to write as if the devil himself is at my heels and wants my soul for eternity.

The time is ripe to rise like the phoenix from the ashes of dead novels.

Le livre est morte, vive le livre!

He Knows his Buffing From his Brushing

I’m a man who loves to polish his shoes and boots. Learnt it from my grandfather who was an artist when it came to brushing and buffing.

He’d lay down the daily paper, the Daily Mail, on the kitchen floor, and on one knee he’d unscrew his tin of polish, gently rub the bristles of his brush into the wax, then work it into the leather, a deep concentration on his face. Then he’d put the shoes or boots aside; let them soak up the polish while he dead-headed the geraniums. After about ten minutes, he’d kneel once more and buff the shoes with his polishing brush until they shone in his hands.

I like to sit in my favourite chair at home with my tin of Kiwi polish and brush and buff using the same two brushes my grandfather used. They are ancient now, the brush I use to apply the polish like a battered old badger with bristles missing and stained by polish. And the buffing brush has polished so much, its bristles are uniformly misshapen as if a strong gust of wind is always blowing.

And I just came across an article in the Guardian on how to get the perfect shine. Here it is:

1. Remember, you can’t cover dirt with polish. Dust and detritus should be removed using a cloth or brush, and the shoes allowed to dry naturally.

2. Apply polish using a dedicated shoe-cleaning cloth or a brush with natural bristles. Work the polish in — shoecare is as much about nourishing the leather as approving the appearance.

3. Don’t use too much polish — a little dab will do. Dampness in the cloth can help.

4. Allow 10 minutes drying time and then buff to a shine using a different cloth or brush. Wear with pride.

Planet of the Apes

I just read an interview with Paul Bettany in the Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/feb/12/charles-darwin-rutherford) about his new role as Darwin, the man who brought us evolution.

Not surprising to me, at least, is that the religious hordes are riding out on their shibboleths and denying our human past for a holy spook. But then only something like 39 percent of Americans believe in the theory of evolution. Which then tells me that the remaining 61 percent are living with misguided principles. So much of what the dazed and confused believe has had such a powerful role in the shaping of our lives, and I want to say lets try a bit of the atheists world-view for a change and see if that will make a change.

I’m not saying that science has all the answers, but it asks the big questions whereas religion says pluck out your humanity and replace it with the eternal.

Science allows us to evolve, move forward and experience new life. Religion simply moves us backward, allows a lapse in progress as a moral obligation. Religion has not let us evolve, does not advance us intellectually, creatively, emotionally, or spiritually. It is not a creative force but a destructive one. A spiritual life is one of an ongoing connection between the self and the spirit. Religion severs this connection and says deny the self, which is in essence denying the spirit, for the sake of some eternal nowhere.

A life of spirit is not a giving up of the self to a savior or God but an acceptance that we are all part of a greater unknown. Organized religion only wants to stymie humanity, weigh it down with eternal promises or damnation, take away our atoms and cells and replace them with edicts and commandments and sermons.

But change is at the soul of us all. Change is our basic element more than carbon.  Change is our building blocks but religion wants us to believe that this is not the case and that the root of our humanity is a state of eternity.

God is stasis. Jesus leads only to a spiritual freezer where we are all just lumps of flesh waiting for the hand of God to defrost us and give us eternal life.

I for one am glad Darwin killed God.

Major Flaw

Has this ever happened to you? You’ve gone shopping. But you’ve opted to stay in the car. Your wife returns. But you are no longer in the car. (She’d been gone such a long time you decided to take a walk.) On returning you watch her rearrange some guy’s groin while he’s under a car (fixing something important, no doubt) that’s similar to yours, but isn’t. And then you tap her on the shoulder.

Just read on the Guardian about some guy, Brad, whose wife, Charla Muller, offered him sex every night for a year for his 40th birthday? Jesus, what if all he wanted was a CD?

And now there’s civil war brewing in Pakistan. Chancellor Darling’s targeted the rich in the UK. Mr Smashing Pumpkins is charging money for fans to get access to his video blog. The Bush administration authorized brutal interrogation (what a surprise!). Miss California doesn’t think that same sex marriage will give her the crown she desperately needs to run a Christian household of her own. And lettuce is a kind of daisy.

I don’t know how to go on. And now I’m in a quandary as to whether I should be putting dressing on a daisy?

I love cardinals. Especially Richelieu. And cardinal sins. Not fair, I want a pair of red cardinals nesting  in my tree!

And on top of all that, I’m wearing last week’s clothes today. And a little sprig of fennel in my teeth. A lacy bit of lace in my brothel creepers. And foreign jargon down my pants.

I priced a fishing rod yesterday. I can get a rod, reel, and little tackle box for under $25. Now that’s a deal. Now when people talk to me about the recession, I can reply with “Gone Fishing.”