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.
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.