An aside, or: the train pulled out

Notes. 20/09/2010.

Interviewer: Have you read the two writers who have so often been identified with you — Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler?

Cain: I read a few pages of Dashiell Hammett, that's all. And Chandler. Well, I tried. That book about a bald, old man with two nympho daughters. That's all right. I kept reading. Then it turned out the old man raises orchids. That's too good. When it's too good, you do it over again. Too good is too easy. If it's too easy you have to worry. If you're not lying awake at night worrying about it, the reader isn't going to, either. I always know that when I get a good night's sleep, the next day I'm not going to get any work done. Writing a novel is like working on foreign policy. There are problems to be solved. It's not all inspirational.

--James M. Cain, "The Art of Fiction No. 69", The Paris Review 73, 1978.

The films which have most excited me recently are Skolimowski's two films and The Enchanted Desna [1964]. These are films about which I don't know what to say critically, which give me the feeling of having a lot to learn. Also Rossellini's film about steel. They are films which cut right through me, whereas with others I can see what to take and what to leave. I say this is great, but I could never do it myself. I don't rate these three films above or below the rest, they are the films I want to talk about because I really don't know what should be said. On the other hand I know very well what to say about Gertrud: I don't mean that I would necessarily be right, but I can say at once that it is like Beethoven's last quartets. Whereas with films like Walkover [1965], I want to talk about them precisely in order to discover what to say. But as I make films, I can look for anything I need to find in a film: I don't need to talk about it.

--Jean-Luc Godard, interviewed in 1965, "Let's Talk About Pierrot", Godard on Godard (Da Capo Press, 1986), p.232.

Interviewer: Are there any rituals that get you going on a literary project?

Böll: When I am involved in an extensive project there is no ritual — I go to work and write until weariness forces me to stop. With shorter projects I shirk: I straighten up my desk and then straighten it up again, read the newspaper, take a walk, tidy up my bookshelves, drink coffee or tea with the lady I'm married to, smoke a lot, let myself be diverted with visitors, telephone calls, even the radio — and then at the last moment I am literally forced to begin, jumping on a train, if you will, that's already pulling out of the station.

--Heinrich Böll, "The Art of Fiction No. 74", The Paris Review 87, 1983.

Interviewer: Your characters and you yourself often say they don't care about anything, which sounds like total entropy, universal indifference of everyone towards everything.

Bernhard: Not at all, you want to do something good, you take pleasure in what you do, like a pianist, he has to start somewhere too, he tries three notes, then he masters twenty, and eventually he knows them all, and then he spends the rest of his life perfecting them. And that's his great pleasure, that's what he lives for. And what some do with notes, I do with words. Simple as that. I'm not really interested in anything else. Because getting to know the world happens anyway, by living in it, as soon as you walk out the door you're confronted with the world directly. With the whole world. With up and down, back and front, ugliness and beauty, perfectly normal. There's no need to want this. It happens of its own accord. And if you never leave the house, the process is the same.

--Thomas Bernhard, 1986, from an interview originally published in the Autumn 2006 issue of Kultur & Gespenster, trans. Nicholas Grindell.

All literature is an attempt to make life real. As all of us know, even when we don't act on what we know, life is absolutely unreal in its directly real form; the country, the city and our ideas are all absolutely fictitious things, the offspring of our complex sensation of our own selves. Impressions are incommunicable unless we make them literary. Children are particularly literary, for they say what they feel and not what someone has taught them to feel. Once I heard a child, who wished to say that he was on the verge of tears, say not 'I feel like crying,' which is what an adult, i.e. an idiot, would say, but rather, 'I feel like tears.' And this phrase – so literary it would seem affected in a well-known poet, if he could ever invent it – decisively refers to the warm presence of tears about to burst from eyelids that feel the liquid bitterness. 'I feel like tears'! That small child aptly defined his spiral.

To say! To know what to say! To know how to exist via the written voice and the intellectual image! This is all that matters in life; the rest is men and women, imagined loves and factitious vanities, the wiles of our digestion and forgetfulness, people squirming – like worms when a rock is lifted – under the huge abstract boulder of the meaningless blue sky.

--Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, trans. Richard Zenith (Penguin, 2002), p.107-8.

Such is the lot of a being who is born, that is to say, who, once and for all, has been given to himself as something to understand. If natural time is at the centre of my history, I see myself also surrounded by it. If my first years are behind me like an unknown land, that is not by a chance failure of memory or for lack of a complete exploration: there is nothing to know in those unexplored lands.

--words gathered by M. Merleau-Ponty & J.-L. Godard, "The Testament of Balthazar", Cahiers du Cinéma in English 6, 1966, p.44.


Daniel Kasman said...

Love that Godard quote.

Trevor said...

While reading this very interesting collection of quotes, I was reminded of the following words of Paola Marrati from “‘The Catholicism of Cinema’: Gilles Deleuze on Image and Belief”:

“The task of thought, in philosophy, cinema, or elsewhere, becomes the task of a conversion of faith. We ‘moderns’ need to believe in the world; our problem is not the absence of a God but instead our absence from this world. What we lack is belief in the possibility of creating new forms of existence, of experimenting with new forms of life. Such a belief is a matter neither of knowledge nor of representation but rather of a conversion of thought. Cinema, for Deleuze, at its best moments has this power of conversion, the power to film not reality but the link between humans and the world.”

The Pessoa quote is very interesting in this context. The idea of the “real” is something that has fascinated me recently, and I feel like Pessoa’s words really capture what, for me, I see in the cinema. What I love about film is that it is “not real” and yet “real” at the same time. We lack the language to speak about this properly, but Bernhard’s point that getting to know the world happens all the time is apt. Film seems to be about something more or different than simply “getting to know the world,” because that “happens all the time.” Why do we value art, which is something separate from and different than that “world”? The second paragraph from Pessoa seems to capture this in such an exquisite way that I can’t fully wrap my head around it.

Matthew Flanagan said...

Thanks, Trevor. I think I side with Daney on this one, at least in terms of the project taken up by Cahiers in the late '60s-70s (one Daney never gave up on after that):

‘L’Axiome Cahiers: c’est que le cinema a rapport au r eel et que le r eel n’est pas le repr esent e—et basta.’

Or: ‘The Cahiers axiom is this: that the cinema has a fundamental rapport with reality and that the real is not what is represented - and that’s final.’

Always of the world, because the link is never absent.