hard to believe i was walking around here just two months ago.
a late 19th century painting by elie pavil – late time-wise, but just right in terms of season and feeling.
approaching from the far end, in february 2012.
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.
it’s so rare that i have an idea for a short story (err, and by short i usually mean around 7-8 thousand words, that seems to be my sweet spot) that i had to take a few days away from the novel and put one to rest. around the house it’s being described by the shorthand of “the wanking man-goat story” but it’s a little more than that. 😉 i mean, i hope it’s a little more than that . . .
titles are usually one of the hardest things for me: note that i still don’t have a decent title for the novel(s) and the two drafts are bouncing around on my computer as TGD (the gatekeeper’s daughters, from a very early idea of the social structure) and The Wolves / Malcolm (very flat boring titles for the two parts that may or may not have to be two books in the end).
but i really don’t like having things completely untitled—it feels lazy and not-done, and i very much needed this story to be Done so i could get back to tending my monster. so i started to think about aspects of the story, what’s it all about? like if i was back in grad school or something. and i came up with terra incognita but that felt a little ehhh, however the alternate Terra Ignota sounded a little better, since it had that hint of ignorance and ignoble and all things ig- in the second word. not sure if it’s final but titles are one of the things i revisit the least, so it will probably stay that way at least through the first dozen or so rejections.
the point being: so i was googling around for various latin phrases, with terra and mundi and nascuntur in them, and i tried out terra ignota, and i found an artist by the name of Ana Maria Pacheco. who has a print series with that title, but all her work is damn lovely:
i really, really want one of her paintings or prints. i also really want her work on one of my book covers. one by my father and one by her: perfect. remind me when i’m rich and famous and have that kind of clout. in the meantime, you can do as i’m doing right now and go over to her gallery and sigh a lot: