Sunday, June 6, 2010


It’s a neologism of sorts, but really just a bad pronunciation, that has grown, to me, to mean taking an old work and injecting it into a new one. It’s not quite cannibalizing as Raymond Chandler put it, so I’ve grown to make it into something completely new. Wait, stay with me here for a moment, I’m simply sharing a thought and it doesn’t have to mean anything, because I’m framing another concept.

In Life is Elsewhere, as I detailed yesterday, there are many snippets from various poems written by the main character, Jaromil. Reading the novel, I am led to see these as perhaps sections from Kundera’s own poems. Before settling in as a novelist, Kundera was a poet, amongst other things, and Life is Elsewhere makes that readily apparent, because it is such a condemnation of the poet that it would be completely farcical if not for the fact that Kundera likely saw himself as a poet at one point and is, in fact, lampooning himself.

I feel like this is the kind of novel that any poet should read and be able to fight against it or should give up his or her chosen art—it’s a romantic view of poetry, but it links the art with immaturity, with youth, to the extent that with the working title, The Lyrical Age, Kundera is referring to youth—what’s so enlightening is that there are beautiful definitions of what a poem is, what poetry should do, and all of it lies in the usual uncertainty of Kundera’s work. What I mean to say is that reading this book as a poet is like picking through history as a socialist, where you have to look at the various failures and the characters you disagree with and you have to have a sort of inner monologue about what you think your purpose as a poet is. I had similar fun with an article from Fidel Castro that we read in my Latin American seminar last semester; someone who is claiming to be supporting an idea that you support, this is the transitive property, and this person should be your friend. So reading becomes a game of dramatic irony; as I’ve said before bending art to my worldview has become a pastime, so you simply know more about the world (or your personal view of the world) than the author of whatever you are reading. Maybe you could try it, or maybe everyone already does it? I don’t know, I’m simply sharing it because it’s like tons of fun.

Ha-ha, that said, let me get back to the point—if I were able to create history, I would have the snippets of poems in Life is Elsewhere be clipped directly from Kundera’s poems written in youth. It would be fictive layering, of a different kind, since the reality would be injected into the fiction. This would not be without its precedents in my knowledge, meaning that my imaginings over the origins of these poems are not entirely original.

They come, in part, to what I’ve read that Grant Morrison did with a character in The Invisibles, a comic-book series so crazy that I’ve yet to make myself pick it up. The Gideon Stargrave stories in this series, Morrison states, “are direct quotes from the Michael Moorcock-inspired short stories [he] wrote obsessively when [he] was 17,” which presents us with an interesting comparison. However, the layers on this story do perhaps run deeper, as Moorcock sees the stories as pure plagiarism.

Is Morrison then simply claiming to have quoted stories he wrote as a teen in order to somehow bring up cryptomnesia as a defense for plagiarism? The answer to this question is unknowable and ultimately not all together interesting. No matter what Grant Morrison did, what is of interest is what he said he did, so in this case words are louder than actions. Why exactly would Morrison take stuff he had written as a kid and put it into what he’s writing later on?

Well, we’re getting back to the question of getting better as a writer, then, aren’t we? In a currently abandoned novel I created the character of Philip Forger without much thought to his actual name. Now, looking back on it, I realized that Philip would obviously specialize in forgery, the aptronym forming on its own as a moment of revelation. This suddenly presented an answer to an issue that had been bothering me—what do I make of the novel that I wrote during National Novel Writing Month a year and a half ago? Do I trash it or gut it or simply edit it?

I came to the realization that I could effectively not do anything and still have the book exist. It’s like what Stephen King does to Insomnia in the Dark Tower series. Dark Tower is essentially the culmination of all of King’s writing: it presents a multiverse of all his stories and also ended up impacting many of his books that he wrote to allude to this series. For Insomnia, King ran up against a corner, because he basically reached a plot hole. He was finishing the Dark Tower seven-book series, but the ending wasn’t meshing with the novel he’d written earlier. So he simply writes it off, has a character say that he was interpreting the universe wrong, so the book was messed up.

It’s not a fulfilling or fair answer, but it does the trick, surprisingly enough. Sometimes the easiest way out is the best. So I got to thinking that I should look for the easiest way out for myself and I determined that I could take the book I had already written, already put the hours into, if you will, and I could inject it into the fictional world by way of Philip Forger. He wrote the book and all of the simple slip-ups with the universe I’ve been created, all of the stories that can’t quite make sense now, they are explained away because the book is a forgery. It’s the work of not the writer who escapes into the fiction but of the fictional character who pulls out just far enough to see the world for what it is, but only temporarily. Like Deadpool or Agent Smith.

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