There are times when when rising noise meant something else. Not now. He wants only her. And wants, rather than her making a “difficult decision” about childcare later, to just write it out and pack it in.
Understand? Fuck it. And there is all sorts of talent there.
There is a pub across from the Bolivarian Embassy of Venezuela. Or maybe it is the Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. And in that pub, after work, there is a middle-aged woman, neither particularly attractive nor unattractive. More attractive than not, but not in such a way that would draw the attention of the rest of the patrons of the pub. And she stands beside one of the higher tables, the tables that are surrounded by stools rather than chairs. She has a glass of white wine which she is not, at least during the period during which he observes her, drinking.
She stands at a sort of attention, staring into the distance. She stands like this for quite some time. Staring not off into space but simply straight ahead.
The Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic is not actually across the street but rather across the street and a few doors down. It is, actually, across from one of the two shops that are next to the pub. Or maybe even a little bit further down the road.
One might guess she has just received a phone call, or called a phone herself.
A large group of office workers come in; she is obscured by the party. And then she is gone.
Karl Marx, he once read somewhere, once drunkenly smashed a street light outside of this pub, was chased by the police for doing so, but, as is obvious in retrospect, escaped.
He asks his tutorial student, ‘Yes, but what exactly do you mean by literary here on the first page?’
She has no response.
‘One of the main things I think about essay writing is that a lot of your argument is established in your negotiation with your key terms. There is a presumption that everyone knows already what these words mean, or you’ve heard them in lectures or read them in books that you are, as it were, downloading them from. But that’s not the case – these seemingly capacious terms are often very empty, and so one has to struggle to fill them up again each time one uses them. So, then, what did you mean by literary here, and in this essay?’
‘I guess I meant form, or formed.’
‘That’s a start, but it can’t be the whole thing. Otherwise why not just say form? It’s a good enough word.’
‘Yeah, I guess it’s something more than that. It’s….’
Later, that evening, he got into what might well be called a massive row with his wife. They had just had a baby. In part, this is what couples do, or did, he knew, when they had a new baby. One of the things they argued about is, of course, sex.
It’s very difficult for writers to get on television in America.
Due to the BBC, it’s relatively easy for writers to get on television in the UK.
Thesis: these facts, and the pressures and opportunities that come or don’t come with them, have a lot to do with the ‘shapes’ of intellectual culture in the two places. Whereas in the USA, culture seems for the most part divided between something that can be emblematised by the yipping commentary on a NASCAR race on the one hand and on the other a graduate seminar in the Rhetoric Department at Berkeley, the culture in the UK can start to feel like just a a drawn-out closing monologue, set in a rustic pub, after the presenter has taken us on a wellies-on walking tour of Hadrian’s Wall.
Appreciated this rendering, in the New York Times, of the narrative temporality of the Federal Reserve as a sort of pseudo-Beckettian inversion of the logic of drama outlined in Aristotle’s Poetics:
It’s almost as if the Fed were designed to confound explanation of it, precisely so the Rick Sterns of the world could never hope to influence it. Aristotle, in his ‘‘Poetics,’’ described a formula for emotionally engaging drama that screenwriters still consult to this day, with central characters and a plot that moves from a beginning through a climax to resolution. Presidential elections can be molded into this Aristotelian structure perfectly, as can many major news stories.
The Fed, by contrast, seems more like somebody sat down with a copy of ‘‘Poetics’’ and carefully constructed its opposite. There is no beginning to Fed action; it’s always there, always acting, even when its action is to not make any changes. There is no natural climax. It’s just an ongoing conference between a group of economists. And it is never resolved. There is no single moment when the Fed is done.
In this formulation, the Fed is essentially an anti-dramatic, or even anti-evental, organisation. It is an institution designed, in that sense, to keep narrative from happening.
From (what was chosen to be) the first page of David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King:
Past the flannel plains and blacktop graphs and skylines of canted rust, and past the tobacco-brown river overhung with weeping trees and coins of sunlight through them on the water downriver, to the place beyond the windbreak, where untilled fields simmer shrilly in the A.M. heat: shattercane, lamb’s-quarter, cutgrass, sawbrier, nutgrass, jimsonweed, wild mint, dandelion, foxtail, muscadine, spinecabbage, goldenrod, creeping charlie, butter-print, nightshade, ragweed, wild oat, vetch, butcher grass, invaginate volunteer beans, all heads gently nodding in a morning breeze like a mother’s soft hand on your cheek. An arrow of starlings fired from the windbreak’s thatch. The glitter of dew that stays where it is and steams all day. A sunflower, four more, one bowed, and horses in the distance standing rigid and still as toys. All nodding. Electric sounds of insects at their business. Ale-colored sunshine and pale sky and whorls of cirrus so high they cast no shadow. Insects all business all the time. Quartz and chert and schist and chondrite iron scabs in granite. Very old land. Look around you. The horizon trembling, shapeless. We are all of us brothers.
“Insects all business all the time.” The line breaks – in its brilliance, but a brilliance that comes of its impersonation of a cliché – the lyrically chanting list of “stuff in a field.” (One can almost see an inspirational poster made of the phrase, the drone ants lifting improbably [if relatively] enormous items in their eternal effort to keep calm and carry it on. A horrific poster in an Amazon fulfilment centre?) It’s as if one part of realism (that Barthian effet de réel that comes of the mentioning of objects that serve no role in the plotward establishment of meaning) intersects with another notion of realism, the one mentioned in the post to which this one is an addendum – the deflationary mode, that which operates through the undercutting of lyricism, the bringing of things down to earth.
It’s an intersection like a minor car accident is an intersection, a comedic if jarring one. That’s what we sometimes forget about realism, perhaps, just how funny it is, is often meant to be. A higher form of comedy.