Writers Are Always Naked

A woman who built a whole sub-culture underneath a dress (1)

Today I’m feeling completely awful, because I’ve got yet another cold. Probably an airport souvenir. But there we go. I got my September issue of Vogue yesterday, so at least there’s some consolation. I’ve decided that instead of actually moving this morning, I can carry on writing. My head doesn’t hurt as long as I keep looking forwards, and not to the side. I was enjoying reading the catwalk show stuff, and reading about upcoming winter trends. Winter gives everybody an excuse to buy leather boots. I went through a two-year phase of wearing heeled boots every single day, with jeans. As a result, I have calves of steel, and six pairs of boots. Some people (especially my dad), would six is too many. However, you can never have too many pairs of shoes.

Clothes are people’s way of hiding things that they don’t like, and creating personas of their choosing. Wearing a sharp suit makes somebody more confident. A track suit is comfortable, but jeans can be as sloppy or as sensible as one would like. It’s all up to you, like wearing a shield. Even cashmere is like a protective layer, and it stops people seeing the soft and squishy bits.

Anyway, back to the task in hand. My novel. It’s going fairly well. I have ten chapters. I even have a rough idea of what might happen next. Not many people can say that. I wish I had somebody whom I could rely on for critical reading and suggestions, but allowing my friends to read it seems somehow like walking down the street naked. Letting people read your work is like letting them see you naked. That’s why I don’t very often publish poetry online, and it is why I tend to be less open about my novel to the people who actually know me. Do you beautiful writers understand what I mean?

There is something distinctly intimate about literature, and about writing as a whole. Literature can be a window into somebody’s innermost thoughts, but it can also be deceptively shallow. The depth of meaning can only be known to the author, and the meaning of a text is not something that he will ever have to reveal to an audience. Postmodernism toys with the idea of depth and surfaces, and becomes very much like cubism, or impressionism. What is there, and what is there not? There is no way of telling. You could get into a huge debate about the author function, and whether a novel exists because of it’s author or vice-versa. But in this [articular arena, where almost all of us are aspiring to be writers, screen writers, poets, everything, it seems unfair. Saying an author only exists as a story seems to almost void our own ideas of ourselves.

But there we have it. I am enjoying my own metaphorical nakedness. I might even consider letting other people see it, one day.


(1) http://www.wildsound-filmmaking-feedback-events.com/images/marilyn_monroe_white_dress.jpg


White Noise Is Rather Tough To Take…


White Noise by Don DeLillo was a novel I was expecting to dislike. For some reason, the front cover was repelling me, and I thought it was going to something similar to a postmodern ghost story. I was right, to a certain extent, because Don DeLillo does write a prelude to a ghost story. He maps the mentality of death, and an abject fear of what is to come, and what comes afterwards. His protagonists, Jack Gladney, and his wife, Babette, represent a kind of paralysis of mentality; their fear of death overrides their sense of everything else.

This, I think, can be considered both an advantage and a disadvantage. A disadvantage, because they live, believing that they can and will be dead at any moment; their marriage is overshadowed by a fear of the other dying, and so their petty rows, and Babette’s ‘arrangement’ with Mr Gray is insignificant, in comparison to her fear of losing the physical and emotional entity that is Jack. Therefore in many ways, the sanctity of marriage and union itself is questioned.

The cover that so unnerved me… (1)

Their sense of death however is an advantage because it allows them to explore the parameters of marriage in terms of a whole existence. Instead of a focus on small events, the couple manage to look at everything as a whole. The ‘airborne toxic event’ is not an individual disaster, and instead, the protagonist seems to focus on the impact it has on his entire life; the fact that it is shortened by this unknown threat. In some ways then, the fear of death provides a mechanism so that both protagonists can stay united by the unresolved fear.

The novel places a very heavy emphasis on the importance of technology to modern-day life. Throughout the text, phrases such as “the radio said” are used. This reminds the reader of George Orwell’s 1984, because there is an outside force that influences the character’s movement. The instantaneous information that is available through the television and radio influences the fear of death that Jack and Babette experience; unreliable information seems to only emphasize the unreliable nature of life, and the unpredictability of death. The relative power of the medical industry is also highlighted by Jack’s “brackets and stars” status. His doctor represents an omen, and therefore towards the end of the novel, Jack refuses to visit him, to find out more details of his impending death. This refusal shows a monumental step in his life, because he refuses to indulge the fear itself.

By far my favourite scene however, is when Jack shoots Mr. Gray, the man who has allegedly created the drug that removes a person’s fear of death. The shooting can be seen as an irony, because Mr. Gray represents being fearless. Therefore by causing him serious injury and plotting to kill him, he metaphorically attacks the idea of being unafraid of death. Gunshot wounds are an unnatural way to die, in the same way that it is unnatural to be unafraid of one’s own passing.

The novel itself is an interesting comment on 1980s society, especially because of the novelty value of technology at the time. I enjoyed it far more than I thought I should.


(1) http://theasylum.files.wordpress.com/2009/05/whitenoise.jpg?w=470



A Stroll Across the Somme with Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen (1)

Following on from the theme of yesterday, I began having a think about the First World War, and the implications it had culturally for England and Europe more widely. The poetry that emerged from this cataclysmic event shaped my own perception of “great” poetry; it was not complex in the same way as the modernists were, such as Eliot, and nor was it especially experimental, in the same way as Woolf. What it was, and remains to be, is simple and beautiful in its own way, something I think largely owed to the proficiency of its structure and the almost divine beauty of the metaphor and imagery used. Nothing so profoundly shocking had before been made so beautiful; consider the early murder ballads, and the unrestrained violence and depravity. It is shocking, but it is not made beautiful by the poetic forms imposed upon it.

Wilfred Owen was responsible for the war poem that perhaps epitomised the war for all: Dulce et Decorum Est. This poem was fundamentally an assassination of the meta-narrative that was behind the war, and the blind pursuit of false glory is striking when the imagery falls into place. And all of a sudden it is strikingly obvious that the life of a soldier ended, all too often, face down in a shell mutilated field somewhere in northern Europe. To a modern-day reader, it seems absurd, horrific even, that no one seems to have realised before it was too late, the total futility of the fight; perhaps however it was not futile. It’s result, when considered on a global events scales, was to create the Treaty of Versailles, which led to the gargantuan German resentment of Europe, and thus began to grow, from this political arsenic, Nazism.

That is not to say however that the individuals who fought nobly and honestly should be discredited; they succeeded in winning the war. It’s consequence is irrelevant when examining this from a short-term point of view. It is often forgotten that each individual person who died there had a family, was loved by somebody. They were not statistics. This I think is forgotten, in the same way that we attach very little individualization to the victims of genocide as a whole; they become statistics and examples, however not real lives that were lived. They are remembered as numbers as opposed to people. This is possibly what makes Owen’s poetry (and others, such as Sassoon’s) so poignant; it attached, and still does attach, a very real experience to those soldiers and avoids the broad and sweeping statements. The dead poet, who died on the fourth of November, 1918, precisely a week before the armistice was signed, allowed others just like him a voice. His voice became in many ways their voice, essentially because he was one of them.

The Great War, and the subsequent Second World War, had a rather profound and unexpected effect on society; they created “the bright young things”; people who felt as though they had been incapacitated by their lack of fathers, brothers, and uncles and instead became part of the high society whirlwind; they sought to be superficial, and extravagant in the wake of wartime severity and rationing. Religion began to fail people; Nietzsche declared that “God is dead”. And thus an almost pivotal change occurred. Consider works such as The Great Gatsby again; an immortal example of this superfluous society that lacked the artistic and moral depth of its predecessor, however made way for a new movement, in modernism and subsequent postmodernism, which really sought to prove the superficiality of the world, and to continue this premise of a lack of truth and absolute reality; without this, one’s actions can be justified regardless of what they are, and as such, lacking philosophical meaning simply means that you seek pleasure at face value, and nothing more. Nothing could stray further from the reality of Wilfred Owen.

If you haven’t had a chance thus far to have a look at Owen’s work, there is an excellent website  with all his work on. Reading them really does alter one’s perception of the experiences of the war, and of a lost generation as a whole; all remaining veterans of the First World War are now sadly deceased. The Somme itself, as well as Ypres, and other memorial sites are very moving; the images don’t do them justice.


(1) http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/resources/images/1267632/?type=display


Visiting the Marchmain House

Brideshead Revisited is perhaps one of my favourite novels written in the post-modern era, written around the opulent, decadent epoch of high society, which, similarly to The Great Gatsby, is one of excess. Excess of religion, alcohol, and finance. Excess for the sake of excess is an idea we can all sympathise with, because we’ve all wished for it in some form or another. There is no way of escaping our very human need to completely saturate ourselves with things we enjoy; we want to fill ourselves with pleasure, and for some people, the cost is irrelevant. This is certainly the case with Sebastian Flyte, the enigmatic best friend of our beloved protagonist, Charles Ryder. This idea can also be related to Plato’s Symposium and our need to occupy and improve ourselves.

Flyte represents an era of escapism, and the need to escape the control of his devoutly Catholic mother, and the restraints of university and the boundaries that society dealt him. It is almost as if he is a being reserved for the more liberal 1960s, and throughout the novel, there is the inescapable feeling that he somehow doesn’t quite belong, even though by birth, he represents the heritage of an ancient family, one well established in society. Again, we can all sympathise with the feeling of alienation; at some point, we all feel alienated from ourselves and our families, even if it is in a minute way, or in a way that creates an abyss between obligation and desire.

As members of humanity, we continually need to reconcile ourselves with reality and dreams and for some people, the only way to do this is to create an alternate reality for themselves; people enter a drug fuelled dream world and never succeed in emerging, usually because they don’t want to re-enter. Sebastian Flyte is one of these people; alcoholism allows him to inhabit a world that he feels as though he can control, even though the control is unreal, and superficial.


It is possible to consider the novel from a post-modern perspective, because many of the themes are based around superficiality, and the reality of religion. Roman Catholicism is perhaps, alongside Flyte, the most important element of the novel, controlling almost every event. In postmodernism, religion is proposed by Jean-François Lyotard as being a meta-narrative  or a story that we use to justify our existence and add order to the chaos of the world in which we live. The need to impose order on the absolute chaos of the universe is again, a very human wish. The rejection of these meta-narratives under postmodernism leads us to question the true influence of Roman Catholicism within Brideshead Revisited. Sebastian could be considered as a very post-modern figure, because he rejects this meta-narrative, and instead finds a different kind of meta-narrative for himself to understand and belong to. The ending of the novel, whereby the Marchmain house has been damaged by the army, but the Roman Catholic chapel that belonged to Lady Marchmain is intact, represents a disparity between religion and the practicality of the army It suggests that whilst the meta-narrative of Roman Catholicism appeared to have failed to regulate the actions of her family, the chapel itself is still a form of relative truth and comfort for the soldiers. Therefore Lady Marchmain’s efforts to preserve the heritage of her family was not a futile one; it was simply ineffective in relation to her direct family, but was found to be effective on a much bigger scale, and provided comfort; even if there is a relativism of truth to be considered.

The novel is one of the important ones in the modern world, I think. It stretches far beyond the physical content of the text and moves even a modern-day reader, because the themes are so very common. I wonder what everyone else thinks of Waugh’s masterpiece?


(1) https://sarahalicewaterhouse.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/brideshead_revisited.jpg?w=300


Learning the A, B, C…

When we first started learning the alphabet, words were little squiggles that we struggled to understand. A, B, C… Words were an uphill climb; they represented education that most of us, at the age of three or four, simply didn’t understand, or wish to understand. We were generally far more concerned with play-dough, and the possibility of sticking pasta onto paper with PVA glue. Many of us, even now, as adults, still would rather play with play-dough than plough through the science of linguistics. However, as writers, poets, authors and speakers of language in general, we become fascinated with words. With grammar. And most specifically, the way in which squiggles can be used to create something with significance in an infinite number of ways.


As I have mentioned before, structuralism and post-structuralism is very much concerned with the idea of language in relation to the world; the way in which it’s meaning is almost completely subjective. This can also be considered in relation to grammatical format; modernism in particular sought to remove conventional narrative forms to produce something more internally focussed, with less emphasis on the outside world, instead being a part of the protagonist’s psyche; consider Ulysses and To the Lighthouse; these are fundamentally modernist texts, using the trademark stream of consciousness format which one will greet as though it is Marmite; it will either be loved or despised, and rightly so; the liberation of being completely free to explore outside the parameters of conventional narrative can be fantastical. However it can also be a form of imprisonment to a reader, because they become absorbed in attempting to understand the outer parameters, and tend to then read against the grain to find this alienating meaning. This can potentially remove the pleasure from the act of reading itself.

So in our quest to understand the entirety of English Literature, or world literature, we grapple with ideas, and find that even once we think we’ve understood, that this understanding is only one interpretation of one meaning. This could be ridiculously frustrating, however for the knowledge junkies among us, it simply means we will never quite conquer the subject, but surely this makes it infinitely more interesting.

I’d be interested to know how everyone feels about the fluctuating nature of language, and whether its futile or fascinating.


(1) http://blogs-images.forbes.com/marketshare/files/2011/08/abc_blocks.jpg