Essays about the joys of rereading seem to be a perennial thing. Just search “joy of rereading” and you’ll see. I’ve read a few essays about this and they’re fine. But I’ve yet to find one that really gets into what I see as the juicy territory of how and why we reread.
So this is a first foray into the possible mechanics of the desire that drives us to return to particular books. Also, is there a small set of common reasons we do this? Or is it entirely personal and hidden, even from us as we keep doing it, a compulsion words can only approach without capturing? This first attempt will be expansive and general. Maybe I’ll write about some specific books later. For now, some more questions and a few awkward leaps toward some kind of answer.
I hope to have some new posts up soon. In the meantime, here’s an essay I wrote about Australian author Gerald Murnane. It appeared in Music & Literature No. 3 many years ago, but never made it online. Thanks for reading!
Gerald Murnane’s Exquisite Failures
I saw nothing absurd in what I was doing—sitting at the heart of the scene I had dreamed of fifteen years before and yet dreaming further of another scene that would lead me at last into the real world. I had the pleasant suspicion that I was about to complete a neat pattern I had often admired as a subject of fiction. I might have been about to demonstrate that at the heart of every scene assumed to be real was at least one character imagining further scenes that would be closer still to reality. —Gerald Murnane
Gerald Murnane’s Landscape with Landscape comprises six interlinked narratives that echo one another, evoking a sort of chorus or book of possible lives about an anonymous, would-be writer.
The collection’s title is one we might expect to find on a gallery wall beside a symbolic realist painting. It might spur us to imagine a layered representation of a panoramic scene, complete in one sense yet with any given image partially concealing several others. Murnane’s choice to title this book as if it were a landscape painting is no gimmick: its six narrators are writers in the suburbs of Melbourne who are all obsessed with an abstract notion they call “landscape”—a metonym for a certain purpose in their lives, a far-off yet “peculiarly real” place inside each writer—and who have a common desire to hold such a place in their minds. Protecting the meaning of this private landscape and its purity as an idea secretly alive within them, in order to capture some or another part of it in their fiction, is the narrators’ shared tragicomic vocation.
At times I feel utterly ravenous online, with this belief that today I can defeat it all, beat back the internet’s power over me if I can find the perfect content each day to soothe my soul. But there’s so much out there and so little of what I really desire, in between all we’re forced to view, that stays with me.
Feeling overwhelmed and frantic about the internet is also a bit like prayer, or how I used to imagine prayer might work. Neurons firing within my gray matter produce a signal? Out there some kind of interstellar transit occurs. Riding the ripple of a gravitational wave toward the God-system with other prayers. Sort of waved through the gates by the angels after dodging demons and asteroids to reach another dimension that’s not a dimension, sideways across time into time outside of time, like the “Other” category of my phone’s daily report of my screen time.
I have a new essay in 3:AM Magazine called “The President’s Bucket.” It’s a hybrid piece that includes a dark fable. I wrote it at the invitation of Andrew Gallix for the journal’s ongoing “3:AM in Lockdown” series.
My contribution was the forty-fifth in the series, among artworks, writing, videos and more by a fantastic group that includes Joanna Walsh, Joseph Schreiber, Rachael de Moravia, Anna Vaught, and Steven J. Fowler. I’m finding it to be essential reading for two main reasons. First is that it shows of course the current state of the world during the coronavirus shutdown. But it also reveals how creative people are getting by, while taking care of themselves and their loved ones, while somehow generating new work.
The next morning my Dad is back at his camp to start his great hunt again. The heat keeps him awake. He rarely sleeps. Cicadas buzz like little machines in the trees. He has no bullets, but he wields his knife. He eats cicadas when he gets hungry, or kills a lizard. Sometimes I ride my kangaroo to bring him pork chops and apple sauce. The part of the woods that Ronald Reagan burned down are all grown back.
My grandfather is at the top of the mountain looking for my grandmother. She’s been missing for years and each summer she’s been gone her earthquakes destroy more of the town. Soon, everyone has left. My grandfather stays and promises to find his wife and learn why she’s done this for so long.
Me and my mom and my sisters move back to the house. My father stays in the woods. He keeps hunting Jesus. He walks with a knife and studies the blood from when he shot Jesus once and gave him five wounds. He follows the trail of big red drops through the woods and into the corn field where the Berlin Wall has reappeared. He cannot cross. He has not seen Jesus for years. The weather gets hot. The heat makes my Mom fight with my sisters who skip school to fish all day and night in the canal. They dive in with sharp sticks and spear fish. One night my Mom sneaks over and locks them in their room. When she finally unlocks their door she says, “No more fish!” and breaks their wooden spears. My sisters walk past me and yell, “Don’t you follow us!”