“Now imagine the sea, just outside,” Seissan breathed. “The smell of brine, and everything dark and wet and when the surf crashes you think you are drowning, just for a moment.” He closed his eyes, his fangs pushing forward from beneath his upper lip. “So many nights,” he whispered. “Thousands of nights, the unending darkness. Trapped in this body, dying with every wave. All just to hold the blade—”
i have been musing a lot lately on the difficulties of the language in the novel. on the one hand, i have a lot of distance to cover, a lot of activity to describe; on the other i am striving for a richness in the prose that requires the reader, and the narrative, to pause and consider what is happening. so many novels just blow past me, leaving me with a flurry of movements that are read and forgotten; these stories feel not so much cheap or poorly written as sacrificed to some algebra of economy and publishing. yet if i wrote every moment at my most ideal level it would read like molasses, and much of the subtleties of plot would get subsumed by the words.
in short, it is a tricky balance, and it still doesn’t feel right in many places.
i have a lot of ways of describing what i hope the novel will be, in the end. i can do a bad elevator pitch, i can summarize it in a few paragraphs. but the feel of it, the impression of it, comes most easily as a collage of bits of music, lines of poetry, images, all of which have the feel that i am trying to impart and sustain through the novel as a whole.
so it is that lately i am thinking about gottfried helnwein.
i keep a postcard of this painting near my desk. i worked on a catalog of his some years ago, before these alice-esque paintings. unlike his earlier work, with its images of the third reich and injured children, these were more fantastic, without completely losing the sense of menace that i have always gravitated towards.
i’m still not sure to what extent i actually like his paintings. certainly they are disturbing, and what purpose they have beyond simply disturbing a viewer is a question i continue to ask. but what i take from him, for my own project, is how much he gets away with by sheer skill, by a mastery of his medium. the man could paint a trash bin and make it haunting and beautiful.
i wish he would do more with what he has; i think these alice paintings are riding a fine line between powerful and flat pop, and i haven’t kept up with what he’s done since then. but for some of the things he paints, well. if they were photos i would dismiss them as sensationalistic; if they were painted by a lesser hand i would probably just find them perverse. but there is a balance in helnwein, sometimes more successful, sometimes less, but in all cases a balance between form and content that invites engagement. they are luminous in person; the best of them feel like cracked doors, half-open portals.
fingers crossed i can find such a balance, whatever shape it may ultimately take.
There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep and still be counted as warriors.
She, too, is in me, and thus in this work. I have not thought of her in too long.
If I could let you know—
two women together is a work
nothing in civilization has made simple,
two people together is a work
heroic in its ordinariness
She was not young, it should have been no suprise, but it felt a blow nonetheless.
I am she: I am he
whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass
We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which our names do not appear.