Saturday, April 07, 2018

The end of literature, part one

The saints were uneducated. Why, then, do they write so well? Is it only inspiration? They have style whenever they describe God. It's easy to write from divine whispers, with one's ear glued to his mouth. Their works have a superhuman simplicity. But they cannot be called writers, since they do not describe reality. The world won't accept them because it does not see itself in their work. 
                                                     EM Cioran, Tears and Saints
A surprising conclusion: realism, the new narcissism.

It might explain why I prefer to read non-writers. But what do they write about if God no longer whispers in their ears?

Peter Handke called Thomas Bernhard a "secular Austrian saint" and also endorsed his status as a non-writer when he noted that it was only in his final novel Extinction that he saw "the rudiments of description, of enthusiastic description of locales and spaces" which for him "is the most important thing in literature". (Note here the bogus diversity that remains acceptable to British literary professionals.)

What does Bernhard write about instead then? It's hard to say without misdirection; content is the impurity in his form. He compared what he did to a pianist perfecting his skill:
what some do with notes, I do with words. Simple as that. I'm not really interested in anything else. Because getting to know the world happens anyway, by living in it, as soon as you walk out the door you're confronted with the world directly.
Self-education then; an ear glued to the music of sentences, with the world as refuge.

To where does this lead; what is such writing for? We might ask the same of the superhuman simplicity of JS Bach's non-writing, which does not describe reality either. How might we describe what Tatiana Nikolayeva's Ich ruf zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ stirs in us?


Cioran again: Bach: languor of cosmogony; a scale of tears upon which our desires for God ascend; architecture of our fragilities, positive dissolution—the highest of all—of our will; celestial ruin in Hope; the one mode of destroying ourselves without disaster, and of disappearing without dying. . . . 

Such writing is as distant from us now as the saints'; alien even. Could we be witnessing the endgame of realism, in which content has triumphed? The end of literary history. Whatever we do, whatever we write, genre takes possession of it.

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