Thursday, April 03, 2008

The novel sentence: fictions of experiment

Dies: A Sentence, Vanessa Place
Augustino and the Choir of Destruction, Marie-Claire Blais

The sentence going on, without end...don't we dream of it? Unbridled. The comma, such a nuisance! Inserting itself, demanding. The patriarchal period, the severe splice; what affect do these traffic lights have on our language? On our telling?

In the third of her trilogy, Quebecois writer Marie-Claire Blais looks directly into the underbelly of the moment, and she doesn't hold back for the entire novel. Literally:
Much of the book’s complexity is due to Blais’ unconventional use of punctuation: there are almost no full stops in the text (not more than 25 in well over 200 pages) and no quotation marks, so the responsibility of indicating a shift from one narrative to another, or an exchange of dialogue, falls to the comma. Quill and Quire
Recently in the Montreal Gazette Blais suggested that the choir of destruction "is what we go through now..."
"We have the voices of destruction that we hear every day," she said.... "And sometimes we have someone like Augustino who is trying to have a future. And he's feeling like many, many young people around him. Trying to be positive about something that is difficult."
Relative newcomer Vanessa Place, a criminal appellate attorney and co-founder of the magnificent Les Figues Press offers a 50,000 word, one-sentence novel set in World War I, and often right in the trenches of it. Circumnavigating, diverging, listing, relishing in the feast of language on so many levels...it comes out, as Stein says, and after a while it doesn't have to come out ugly. This is the price paid for all the experimenting...our "crisis jubilee"....

Dies: A Sentence is a thing of beauty right from the beginning:
The maw that rends without tearing, the maggoty claw that serves you, what, my baby buttercup, prunes stewed softly in their own juices or a good slap in the face, there’s no accounting for history in any event, even such a one as this one, O, we’re knee-deep in this one, you and me, we’re practically puppets, making all sorts of fingers dance above us, what do you say, shall we give it another whirl, we can go naked, I suppose, there’s nothing to stop us and everything points in that direction, do you think there will be much music later and of what variety, we’ve that, at least, now that there’s nothing left, though there’s plenty of pieces to be gathered by the wool-coated orphans and their musty mums, they’ll put us in warm wicker baskets, cover us with a cozy blanket of snow, and carry us home...
Difficult to excerpt, but my experience with it so far is really one of waves, small, very distinct movements that blend one into the other. And the language! Check this out:
there was sausage in my veins and roast pork beneath my feet, what's worst you say, you callous bastard, how can you squat there armlessly stirring a pot of camp stew and feign sudden irony, it'll get you nowhere, you know, that bit of levity one wears like a rubber nose in the face of cold terror, such weak crooked lenitive proves a man's uncrutch... (29)
Not since The Waves have I been compelled to read an experimental novel through. Not just to appreciate the concept but to actually read it through. Now I haven't yet finished Dies, but it isn't for lack of pleasure. More to come on Place, who is currently working on an ekphratic novel. The work is clearly the point. And what a refreshing way to end this mini-interview...when asked about book contracts etc, she replies:
I've no hope of finishing, though expect I will finally stop in three to five years. I don't have a contract, or prospects, for this book, but am dedicatedly unconcerned.

On a side note, here is Angelica Houston introducing Edna O'Brien in conversation with Vanessa Place...

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