Britain's first book blogger (November 2000)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Opening every day

Vague thoughts about discontinuing this blog. Perhaps nothing more to say. No wish, at least, to go further in this direction. Then again, discontinuing the blog would be the same as carrying on. It isn't a book or a body of work. More like breath condensing on a pane. So, vague thoughts instead. Go with vague thoughts, the thoughts that lap like waves. Why, for example, was there a peculiar calm when I sailed into Portsmouth Harbour trapped in the bilges of HMS Victory? With the sea becoming shallower and the space between seabed and 3000 tons disappearing fast, I felt nothing. To die so close to home, I thought, after having survived the long mission (which didn't happen), wouldn't that be terrible? No, not really it seems. I didn't mind; not even then.

A vague answer arrived later when the Victory sailed into view again. Against all habit, I listened to BBC Radio 4's Book at Bedtime which, so far this month, has been Hardy's The Trumpet Major, read by Julian Rhind-Tutt. Great name. Despite being from Wessex, I didn't really know Hardy. So I listened with interest. Bob Loveday leaves Overcombe and his unrequited love to join Nelson's flagship. Is this really Great English Literature, this affected Mills & Boon tripe? I listened on. A Napoleonic love triangle. A 19th Century soap. One stilted sentence after another. A reticence in ten parts. Listening on, however, brought the indifferent calm, and sleep soon followed. Sentence upon sentence plumped up the pillow. Sheep and more sheep gliding over a gate. It's also why, I realise, that since beginning to read Thomas Bernhard's Frost in bed, I've been unable to read it anywhere else.
Today he admitted he had burned all his paintings. "I had to get rid of those things that were a perpetual reminder of my worthlessness." They had been like ulcers, opening every day and silencing him. "I did it quickly. One day I realized I'd never make it as a painter. But then, the way everyone does, I refused to believe it, and protracted the agony for years. And then, the day before I was due to leave, it struck me forcibly."
In not being able to read the book anywhere else, nor at any other time except before sleep, I recognised the need for a calm that only one sentence followed by another and then another can bring. It's also why I can't stop reading even to take notes, to remind myself later on, in daylight, what it was that moved me so much. Not one about the repetition of 'jab' on page eight, nor the intriguing mention two pages later that the narrator was reading "a book of Henry James's" (so unThomas Bernhard), or the valley (so Bernhard) on page eleven in which the painter says "you can walk back and forth for hours, without the least anxiety" and was "like walking centuries before human settlement". It would be like waking up to annotate a dream. All these thoughts about reading, however, all these wonderings about the peace of descending into sleep in spirals of sentences however dark they are in themselves, all these thoughts came to me as I read, they were part of the descent, they were what I sought and what I sought to end.

3 comments:

  1. Talk of "discontinuing this blog" written at the start of a piece which itself quite fully, quite beautifully articulates just precisely why you MUST keep on writing it ... the 'sphere needs you man!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Do not discontinue this blog, please.

    Re: reading Frost in bed: your last paragraph eerily summed up my experience with the book.

    You must go on!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Heh. Thanks Mark and Todd. As carrying on would be the same as discontinuing, I'll carry on. :)

    Frost is amazing. Michael Hofmann is a Godsend.

    ReplyDelete

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