Skinny Dipping

with the Angler

§79 [18.v.24.a : samedi] Two weeks have passed and I’m still playing in my private garden … intentions to come out : unrealized. But today… today! / V.W. begins her next diary entry on Monday, 5th May and resumes it on Monday, 26th May, so we are keeping pace, V.W. & I ,, across the century. (I’d worried that through focusing so much on my M.O. that I was neglecting V.W. and her diary, but no, she’s waiting for me or perhaps… For it seems to me that this diary may die of London, if I’m not careful … or perhaps London is burning. Then V.W. writes, “One of these days I will write about London…” and I will write about “London 1965” & “the great fire of london” ,, just you wait and see.)

“But my mind is full of The Hours,” she writes and then maps out her plan : she will “write at it” for 4 months, June through September “& then it will be done, & I shall put it away for three months” October through December “during which I shall finish my essays” — then January through April she will revise (essays & novel, I presume ,, in parallel : ?). In April of 1925, The Common Reader (her essays) will be published. In May of 1925 (on the 14th) Mrs Dalloway will debut in print.

Tempting to adopt V.W.’s plan ,, to write along with, and why not? But I won’t wait until June to start, I’m already writing and have been writing … what I haven’t been doing is publishing, but the essays, “my” essays or “my” exegesis which points to the poetry project :: Orpheus … that I must begin again.

§78 [4.v.24.b] V.W. took a bit of a break from writing in her diary, she was preoccupied with the move and settling into her new house in London, no doubt, but also a feeling that the diary shouldn’t take up too much of her writing time. / I was late getting to V.W.’s diary entry for the 5th of April 1924 by about two weeks, but, to my joy, I discovered that after only a few lines, there is a break in the text and V.W. resumes her entry on the 15th of April. So I’m not so far behind after all. I wrote in my notebook. Alice & I were just about to leave on a trip, so I decided I’d write this Skinny Dipping chapter on the road ,;, but that didn’t happen, did it?

In §75 I mentioned that I was making a structure for my M.O. (magnum opus) and doing a bit of outlining. I spent about a week trying to get the structure right, then I’ve been typing and typing ever since, adding new material to an already sprawling text. / I really, really enjoy writing and what I write gives me such pleasure that my major failing as a writer is doing anything about getting my work “out there”. Skinny Dipping, the writing and posting of these chapters responding in some way to V.W.’s diary entries written a hundred years previous, is a lazy way of getting something out there, but truth be told I’ve been putting off actually beginning my publication project here on This doesn’t mean that I haven’t been busy writing. Writing isn’t the problem. Deciding what, of everything I write, I should publish is the problem. This or that? Perhaps there are two problems, two related problems: indecision about what to present to you (my reader/s) and in what order, and the fear that tending to the publication of part of my M.O. will distract me from doing what I enjoy most : the actual writing of it.

Still in the last two months, I’ve had moments where I feel like I should stop being so precious about what I publish as part of “leadworth” (the never-ending serial antinovel that starts with “Breathless Overtures”). Yesterday, while I was working on a chapter I’d written the day before, I thought “why can’t I just begin here? why can’t the unfolding text begin with this chapter and just keep going?” Why not indeed?

§77 [22.iii.24.a : vendredi] Confession time: I have a compulsion for tidiness. I like to sort things, arrange them into categories, label them, file them, cross reference them, etc. &c et cetera. The mania for neatness interferes with my style. What I discovered in early 2018 (after years and years of failing) is that the kind of novels I want to write are messy, ambiguous, oblique … what I prefer are collages, mashups, rhizomic digressive dreamlike texts in which anything could happen, in which the characters could go anywhere in time & space to do anything they pleased. Writing novels (thus) has become a struggle against my nature. My compulsion for order could be why I became a scientist. I wanted to write books from a very early age, but I had so much that I wanted to write that all my attempts turned into messy explosions which I misunderstood as failures. I’d failed to make something that looked like what I thought it should look like. I could have given up. I could have said, I’m not cut out for this sort of messy work. It’s better that I remain in the laboratory where I can do tidy, systematic work that fits neatly into predetermined categories. But I didn’t do that. Instead, I just kept on writing messy unfinished failures until I realized, hey wait a minute! — I’m actually really, really good at this novel writing thing. Or maybe I’m not good at writing novels at all and it’s just a case of : writing novels (as bad as they are) is the best thing I can do.

I’m glad I’ve spent the last twenty years here at this desk doing what I’m doing right now. By remaining true to my calling and not becoming discouraged (or not letting being discouraged become a deterrent), I’ve created a vast body of work. Perhaps it is “a vast but private literature” but it is (even if minor) a literature. And this private minor literature penetrates, has seeped into the interstices of my library — I am a librarian too! Being a writer, curator, and reader creates the necessary conditions for experiences such as the one I’m about to describe.

Before me, open on my writing desk are two books. I could open a third, but that third book is on a shelf on the opposite side of the room, still I know it’s there and I know what’s inside of it. The two books I have open on my desk, side by side, are The Mystery of Majorana by Leonardo Sciascia and Birthday by César Aira. The first time I read these books was 2017 & 2019 respectively. The other book, the one still across the room on the shelf is Vertigo by W.G. Sebald, and I read that for the first time in 2009 (plus or minus). The reason I have The Mystery of Majorana and Birthday open on my desk is this : yesterday, I decided that I wanted to include some kind of reference to the disappearance of Ettore Majorana in the chapter I’m writing for my current work-in-progress. It’s been long enough since I read Sciascia’s account of that historical event that I thought it would be wise to brush up on the details so that I don’t get the facts wrong. So last night, as the temperature plunged below freezing for the second night in a row, I sat in my rocking chair in front of a broiling fire (toes and feet comfortably wrapped up in wool socks knitted by my mother) immersed in Sciascia’s account of the search for a lost Italian physicist. But Sciascia, being a decent writer and not just a historian or journalist, expands the Majorana’s tale to include the whole world of art, literature, and mathematics. In describing Ettore Majorana’s genius, Sciascia writes, “ has an insuperable dimension — a dimension of time, of achievement. A pre-ordained, indefeasible dimension. At the precise moment when the work’s accomplishment and perfection are achieved; at the precise moment when a secret is completely unveiled, a mystery revealed — in the sphere of knowledge or of beauty for the scientist, the writer, the artist — at that moment all that remains is death.” While this sounds dramatic and maybe says more about the mania that drives a person to undertake “the great work” than it does about the actual proportions of things — I mean, Leonardo Davinci didn’t kill himself after painting La Joconde, but the requirement that the great lifework of a genius remain unfinished is certainly a cliché. It likely isn’t the fear of death that led Marcel Proust, Robert Musil, Walter Benjamin, and Laurence Sterne to die before finishing their masterpieces. And it isn’t a coincidence that Don QuixoteUlysses, and Moby-Dick read as if they are unfinished. (From now on, I will leave all my works unfinished!!)

In the face of being called to Great Work (the composition of the Magnum Opus), a writer responds in one of two ways: (1) infinite delay, or (2) infinite digression. Both are aspects of the method of exhaustion.

The reason that these two books by Sciascia and Aira are open on my desk right now has to do with a young man named Évariste Galois. As far as I know (and I only know this from deduction), the first time I encountered Évariste Galois’ name was in Sciascia’s little book about Ettore Majorana. The reference Sciascia makes to Galois is so brief that you can excuse me (I hope) for not committing Galois’ name to memory back in 2017. Sciascia invokes Galois (after a lengthier discussion of Stendhal) as another example of a time waster, a genius who practices infinite delay to get out of the requirement of doing the great work. Sciascia writes, “...Galois, at the age of twenty, spends the night before the duel he knows will be fatal, in feverish anticipation, summing up in a letter to his friend Chevallier his life’s work, the work which cannot fail to be ‘at one’ with his life — the theory of operational groups.” Indeed, the morning after concisely writing out his mathematical theory (and a few other hastily written documents), Galois is mortally wounded and succumbs to death on the third day : a kind of antiresurrection.

When I read that sentence I thought, wait a minute! I’ve read that … well, obviously I read it before here in this book which I’m reading again tonight, but I’ve also read about Évariste Galois somewhere else because I could hear in my mind’s ear the following words ringing out as if hammered out on a gong: “But you can’t write a novel the night before you die!” Along with those words, I remembered (from somewhere) that “algebraic notation makes it possible to write a mathematical theory concisely, but there is no concise literary notation in which to express a novel in brief.” One might write a poem or even a cycle of poems quickly, the way Rilke wrote his Sonnets to Orpheus in just a few days, but with a novel, such a feat is impossible. A novel, even a short one, requires days and days.

All this about math and literary notation and the accumulation of days necessary to make a novel was coming from somewhere … it was all stored in my memory, but what was the source? I was certain that the source was César Aira because in the sentence in Sciascia’s book preceding the one about Évariste Galois contains the phrase “a musical mind” which is almost the title of a collection of César Aira’s stories, The Musical Brain. Was the source a story in The Musical Brain? I didn’t solve the problem until early this morning when I did a text search in my documents folder on my computer for “Évariste Galois” and technology served up a diary entry I’d written on Friday, 1 June 2018 where I’d translated a passage from the French edition of César Aira’s book, Anniversaire (later translated in full by Chris Andrews for New Directions as Birthday), which contained a reference to “Évariste Galois”. Sure enough, there he is! In Chapter IX of Anniversaire or Birthday. But it was Chapter X that most interested me when I read Birthday.

“You can’t write a novel the night before dying. Not even one of the very short novels that I write.” That’s how César Aira begins Chapter X of Birthday. Like Aira, I’ve been writing very short books for many years. I wrote my first very short novel in March of 1996 during a week that I was traveling. I’d driven all night from Baton Rouge to St Louis where I checked into a hotel exhausted. I was one year away from completing my Ph.D. in physics and I didn’t know what I was going to do next. I knew what I didn’t want to do: I didn’t want to teach physics to undergraduates. I might have been really good at teaching, but we’ll never know. What I wanted to do was to write books. But what sort of books should I write? I had no idea. By 1996, I’d written three books each one an example of a genre of literature that I’d enjoyed reading: fantasy and science fiction and the third book could be categorized as “popular science” or a “popularization of science”, a book about science written for readers who were not themselves scientists. What I’d learned from writing these three books was that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life writing fantasy, science fiction, or popular science. But I still wanted to write books. But what other kinds of books was a writer allowed to write? So over the course of a week in St Louis, in my hotel room, in bars, in cafés, on park benches, in museums, in the convention center, wherever I could find a semiquiet spot, I worked on a text that now bears the title No More I Love Yous. It was too short to be a book, it was only about 7500 words. I didn’t think it was a short story since I’d never read a short story like No More I Love Yous before. So, what I decided was that No More I Love Yous was a failure, an attempt at something that didn’t quite come off.

I won’t repeat the whole history of what became my series of March Madness novelettes since I’ve already done that in The Art of the Novelette … and I’m running out of time this morning … and I want to repeat something that César Aira already wrote: To discover a style is to realize it, in a complete and finished form, and after that there’s nothing left to do except to go on producing. Since artists generally reach this point while they’re still young, they spend the rest of their lives in an atmosphere of futility and disquiet, if not outright anxiety in the face of what seems a colossal task, which would require ten lifetimes to complete, and even then would yield very meager fruit: compressing the spring another fraction of an inch, taking one more step after leaping a thousand leagues…

If I had more than one minute left, I might attempt something approximating an erudite exegesis, but I won’t. You are … at least this time … saved by the bell.

§76 [16.iii.24.a : samedi] From that we can infer the size of V.W.’s notebook … as for me ,;, when one writes into the void, there’s never any danger in filling up a bottomless pit. The danger of engineering grand projects — M.O.s — is that (without careful planning) they will (if by land) collapse under their own weight or (if by sea) founder. Being a writer of extremes, I’m drawn to both the very large and the very small. I dream of fat books and skinny books ,;, I delight in either the epic or the haiku. / The diary (as a form) is brilliant ,;, sequence is all. As long as you don’t forget to inscribe the date, the diary accepts everything and holds up. Part of the genius of the diary is that it combines both fat and skinny : after six months or a year, the diary is already becoming a substantial volume, but each entry is an exercise in the short form. The diary entry gives one the skinny and the whole of the diary satisfies one’s desire for the grand, the expansive, the fluvial — yes, like a river, ever expanding as it flows intentionally toward and into the ocean, the great void itself. Literature is that ocean. Most readers are content with admiring what floats on top of that ocean, but there are a few of us who delight in diving deep. The greatest part of any ocean is what lies beneath the surface.

§75 [23.ii.24.a : vendredi] …which is unfortunately too true of me. My mind sits in front of a fence & pours out clouds of ideas; I have to stick spurs in sharp to make it jump. Just write. In the writing one finds one’s way. So many ideas, possibilities : I could write anything , so why don’t you?

I’ll spare you the details, but for the past several days I’ve been working on an outline or structure for my M.O. : how to arrange the material that is already written : ? (the architectonic phase). The structure itself is independent of the material, or it was originally so. I drew a diagram of what the novel should look like as a flow chart. I started with a very simple structure, sketched out in one of my notebooks on the 26th of February 2022, just about two years ago. Realizing that such a simple structure could not hold what I’d written, I immediately began drawing a more complex diagram. But that’s not what the book needed. Not to start with at any rate. / I’m thankful for one thing : I’ve kept up writing everyday, adding to the growing pile of paper with words in neat black blocks on each sheet, at the rate of two or three pages per day. I had a cloud of ideas and … well, one just has to write something, doesn’t one? so stick the spurs in and jump.

As a result of all this outlining, putting the text in some order, I feel elated, there’s an excitement : yes, yes, this is finally going somewhere. But then I think: It’s the same material, just shuffled differently. The building analogy is the most helpful: for twenty years I’ve been cutting lumber and stacking it. I’ve got plenty of lumber now, towering piles of wood, polished and straight. My granddad comes along and says, “What are ya gonna do with all that wood, son?” “I’m building a castle,” I say. “A castle!? Well, that sounds impressive. But it just looks like stacks of wood. When are you going to lay the foundation? When are you going to start framing?” “I’ll do that once I have enough wood.” “And when’s that gonna be?” “Dunno,” I say. “But I sure do like making wood.” “Seems like it,” says my granddad, “but you know there’s a storm comin’ and you might want to at least use some of that to make a hut.” “Yeah, I thought of that, but I really want to build a castle.” “Where you gonna put that castle when you build it?” “Up in the sky, I guess,” I say, thrusting my hands into my pockets.

I’ve heard it said … a work of art, a novel that the author intends as a work of art : what makes the novel a work of art is its structure, the actual arrangement of the material in a particular order — all those pretty sentences amount for nothing if you don’t put them in the right order. The implication of this is that if you take a novel, a great work of art, Mrs. Dalloway for example, and you shuffle the pages and read them in any old order, then those same words in a different order do not Mrs. Dalloway make. This seems a bit reductive to me. And that view of the novel leaves out what seems most important to me : style. When I read a book, I’m primarily reading (pretty) sentences and I do that sequentially, one after the other. If the sentences are interesting, then it doesn’t matter how great the structure is. Or maybe I just like working jigsaw puzzles. Okay, sure, it’s a combination of structure and style.

What I feel as I’m working on the structure, the plan, the arrangement of the already written words, is a sense of hope that these piles of paper with words on them written with style will become something, and what will it be? What will it be like to walk through the castle once it’s actually built? / Okay, coffee break is over. Back to work!

§74 [9.ii.24.b] Finally, now that L.W. is recovered from the flu and she doesn’t have to play nursemaid (as enjoyable as that is, no really, it’s great when someone else really needs you, although I suppose this is debatable since I recall that Bernardo Soares, in his Factless Autobiography, wrote that he would hate for anyone to have to take care of him when he was sick for the simple reason he can’t bear the thought of having to care for someone else when they are sick, there’s probably more to it than that, but I can’t be bothered to look up the precise passage at the moment given that I only have seventeen minutes left to write this note), V.W. is back working on “The Hours” which (as we know) will become her masterpiece (or one of them), Mrs Dalloway. How exciting to be sitting next to her at her writing desk as she labors in her mine, those subterranean caverns from which she’s drawing out literary gold. What do you imagine that I’ll draw out of my mine? literary radium (!) perhaps? L. Frank Baum, in writing The Patchwork Girl of Oz in 1913, described a village populated by “Horners”, round mulitcolored people with with (you guessed it : !) horns protruding from their foreheads who mine radium and use it to decorate the interiors of their houses. Clearly, this was before “we” discovered just how deadly radium is if used for ornamental purposes. Still the idea of literary radium intrigues me …

May I generalize? Could I say that we writers (poets : !!) are compulsive spelunkers? How many writers can you name who aren’t (or haven’t been) obsessed with death? — the Great Subject :: Caves (natural mines) have always been closely associated with death. Where else could the land of the dead be located except for the Underworld? Elizabeth Sewell writes about this in The Orphic Voice : connecting the story of Orpheus (the first poet) who goes down into Hades in search of his dead wife, Eurydice : caves (and by extension, mines) are “the site of a journey between the two worlds of the living and the dead.” I don’t want to make too much of V.W.’s mining for gold metaphor (too late : ?), but there’s also a danger of not making enough of it. But speaking of gold, here it is :

The great thing is never to feel bored with one’s own writing. That is the signal for a change—never mind what, so long as it brings interest. And my vein of gold lies so deep, in such bent channels. To get it I must forge ahead, stoop & grope. But it is gold of a kind I think.

What can I add to that statement? Nothing really, but being a writer (poet : !), I can’t not write something : one’s own interest in what one is writing is justification enough for writing it— “never mind what” it is that you write, as long as it really interests you, just run (naked?) with it. So what if your little fantasy novel gets streaked by nonfantasy diagonals! A zebra wouldn’t be half so interesting without its stripes.

§73 [3.ii.24.a : samedi] I’ve been up since 4 a.m. (it’s just past 8 o’clock now) and I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything yet. I’ve read a few pages of Joseph & His Brothers by Thomas Mann, the Sunday 3 February entry in V.W.’s diary, and some notes I wrote back in the summer of 2020 about “The Grand Inquisitor” chapter in Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. My mother calls this activity (the doing of whatever shiny thing catches one’s attention) “puttering”. I guess other people would call this kind of casting about puttering also, it’s not a private or obscure work, but I always think of my mother when I’m busying around without a clear object in mind : “I’m just puttering,” she’d say as she moved about the house doing this (picking up a sock) and that (wiping the counter) with no apparent system or plan. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve been at home most of the time. I don’t have to go anywhere : now that I’m a freelancer and so work from home. Rarely do I see anyone other than Alice (and at certain times of the year, my son when he’s home from college). Being at home so much has led me into increasing the amount of puttering I do. I clean the house constantly, keeping all the surfaces clear and wiped down. I’m constantly tidying up. The kitchen is the focus of a lot of my puttering since it is a site of constant activity (so much of our home life concerns the preparation of food : eating it takes much less time than either prep or K.P.). This tendency to putter in my physical space has probably led to a tendency to putter in my mental space. Now that I’m working more with the Brain (my private wiki where I do the majority of my writing) there’s more opportunity to putter since I can be constantly cleaning up the pages in the Brain, adding links, transcluding quotations, entering bibliographic information for the sources I consult. As the Brain grows it requires more and more attention and organization. I could putter endlessly inside the Brain. In theory, this puttering should lead to something : some finished project. All the note taking, commenting, contextualizing should lead eventually to the crystallization of a project+book. (I hope / that’s the theory.)

For about a month now, I’ve been spending 15 minutes to an hour each day organizing my library. I’ve taken all the books down from three bookcases and am arranging the novels in alphabetical order by the author’s surname. Not all the novels will be thus arranged since I have special groupings (collections / arrangements) for certain authors : for example I have a shelf for Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Philip K. Dick, Enrique Vila-Matas, and Roberto Bolaño. The Vila-Matas shelf brings together books by many of the authors and books that he’s written about in his novels, so there are books by Paul Auster, W.G. Sebald, Witold Gombrowicz, Robert Walser, etc. in that assembly. Sebald’s gravitational field attracts other books: Thomas Brown, Casanova, Chateaubriand, etc. I prefer to cluster authors together in a referential manner rather than alphabetically (making a kind of branching tree of relationships). Then I have other shelf in my study which collect together the books that are part of topical reading projects : Weimar, Occultism, Surrealism, Orpheus, Experimental Writing, etc.

I’ve been wanting to write something about unpacking my library and have written in my head a short book about my library and this activity of arranging while my hands are occupied with the task of shifting and arranging books. (What remains is the labor of actually writing such a book out in physical form.) One evening, I uncovered my collection of books about soccer and immediately I felt a pang of nostalgia for that time in my life when soccer was so important, when I devoted so much time and effort to following the game and even writing a book of my own about soccer (a book I published online as I wrote it, so it may still be out there somewhere). How could I let such a source of joy slip out of my life? I must recover some of that, I thought. Find my way back into soccer somehow. So books, as physical objects, carry the past and time, and when I hold a book in my hands which bears the marks of my past reading, I travel back and I am standing beside my past self, entering into a dialog. My past self says, ah, so this is how I turned out?

§72 [24.i.24.a : mercredi] The determined and resourceful V.W. has plucked back 52 Tavistock Square from “the snag in the lease” she mentioned in her 12 January diary entry : some technical point to do with a sublet and £10. In any case, the business is settled now and the Woolfs will be settled in their new digs by March (the month of novelette madness, for me).

I’ve arrived at a very important decision, and like most very important things, it was decided in a moment, a mere flash, a tickling of the inner ear : on Monday, I decided that I would complete work on Mallworld before any more “casting about”. This decision concerns (perhaps) the shape of leadworth (my dream of the serial novel) which I will be unveiling (ha!) ? … soon enough?? coming soon ???

During my vacation (a time of permission to do what I wish rather than what I’m expected to do) … not that I’m proclaiming any resolutions, but my main topic of contemplation was how to become more organized, how to work to a plan. My bee-like ways, dabbing my proboscis into this flower and then into that one, are enjoyable and the honey gets made in vast quantities, but eventually the honey has to find its way into a jar or we’ll all end up with sticky hands. And invent a Plan I did! I constructed a grid, fabricated a conceptual map, populated the fields with keywords, titles, deadlines, goals, objectives, and developed straightforward methods of record keeping and benchmarking to verify and track my progress. This is an extremely adult and serious way to proceed, I thought. But should one be so calculating with one’s play?

I’m back at Mallworld with a new title: This is Mallworld and V.W. is “back again tomorrow to The Hours” which she was looking at “disconsolately”—oh the cold raw edges of one’s relinquished pages. V.W. plans 6 weeks of writing ahead. I’m with you Virginia! Me too! You get on with The Hours/Mrs Dalloway and I’ll scribble what comes natural: nonsense. / V.W. concludes her diary entry with a note from “Morgan” aka “E.M. Forster” who says : “To whom first but you [he means L.W.] & Virginia should I tell the fact that I’ve put the last words to my novel?” V.W. remarks : “He is moved, as I am on these occasions.” Would I be correct in guessing (since this is 1924) that the novel which Morgan has just last-worded is A Passage to India? (Oh, yes it is!)

§71 [21.i.24.a : Sunday] My books are in disarray. Yesterday, three boxes containing the materials & parts to build three bookshelves arrived. Alice and I ran out of shelf space for our books a few years ago. Every shelf in the house is double stacked. I’ve already put one of the shelves together and will assembled the other two later today, then the process of putting my books back into some order can begin.

Not only are the books of my library scattered about in piles, needing arranging, but the books I’ve written need to be put into some order. While in Oregon last week, I began working on “The Plan”. I’ll spare you the details, but “The Plan” is an arrangement of twenty years of writing (the contents of my archive, a vast and private literature) into some kind of order. It seems incredible that I’ve written so much. At roughly two pages per day, one can make quite a pile of papers in twenty years : something like 7 millions words. (Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu is 1.5 millions words. This is not a boastful comparison, but rather a fact that brings shame : to have written so much, and to what purpose?)

Back in July, when I was talking with David about the writing life, I posed a question: do I spent the next N years writing new books or do I spend those years trying to make something of my archive? In reality, it will be a little of both. (It’s never either/or.)

At the end of the summer I came up with a (small “p”) plan to revise my Magnum Opus and just as I got started on the restructuring, revising, and rewriting, I couldn’t resist the urge to write something new. (The result of that three or four weeks of spontaneous typing was a novelette with the working title, “Material Conditions”.) I don’t regret having written a new novelette, but … it’s like a Lévy flight. I start something which I think will be BIG and then I get kicked into a new orbit which results in something small, dashed off, written on the run.

[21.i.24.b] Alice woke up, so I stopped writing this diary entry to make breakfast. Afterwards, I brewed another cup of coffee and have been catching up with V.W.’s letters. I’ve forgotten about the letter since November. In Letter #1432, V.W. writes (after she and L. lost their tempers): “Are we really like that? we said. Are we middle aged and content? Do we look like old cabbages?” A little wilted on the outside, but fresh and crisp in the middle? Some mornings, like today, I don’t feel so crisp on the inside.

In the next letter, to Gerald Brenan, she writes: “I am coming to the age when I sit staring at the fire saying ‘I’m so busy: I’m so fearfully hard at work: I’ve not got a word to throw at a dog:’ and so I do nothing.” That’s how I feel, how I’ve felt since… last November? I really was sitting, staring at the fire last night, thinking I should get back to… what? when I have so many projects, both reading and writing, and when the reading projects take up so much time : I spent three full days just typing up my reading notes for one novel, and three chapters from two nonfiction books. Everything I want to do, all the tasks I invent for myself, take up so much time. V.W. writes to Brenan: “And in God’s name, what do you mean by ‘working working working at my novel’? How does one ‘work’ at one’s novel?” For the last twenty years, I’ve equated work with actual typing. But there’s so much more that needs doing (than mere typing) when “working working working” at one’s novel. But what do I really know about the business? (only busyness, it seems)

I was pleased to see a familiar name mentioned in V.W.’s letter: Theodora Bosanquet, who was Henry James’ secretary and whom V.W. called “an astute and bold American”. Miss Bosanquet sent a manuscript to Hogarth Press which V.W. had on her desk to be read. I only know of Miss Bosanquet from Jacques Roubaud, who has named his succession of typewriters, “Miss Bosanquet I” up to  “Miss Bosanquet VI”, all after James’ secretary.

What V.W. says about letter writing, I could just as well apply to my writing of novelettes: “Please believe that I could write better if I took a little more time. But novelette writing is now a mere tossing of omelettes to me: if they break and squash, can’t be helped.” And this about Joyce’s Ulysses: “What about your defence of Joyce? … I rather agree that Joyce is underrated: but never did any book so bore me.” I really shouldn’t admit this, but I want to like Ulysses and Finnegans Wake more than I actually do. (I hope Rasan never reads this. We’ve been celebrating Bloomsday each year for more than a decade now. And how many times have I read Ulysses? six or seven?) Which is not to say that I dislike either book at all. I want to like them a great deal, but … the idea of Finnegans Wake is what excites me. I’d rather write Finnegans Wake than be tasked with reading it. But still, I return to both Ulysses and Finnegans Wake again and again for … what? out of sense of obligation? Who’s obliging me? The books I’m passionate about, the book that both dizzies and seduces me is The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa. I could spend the rest of my years reading only The Book of Disquiet. And why not?

In the Letters there’s a rather helpful biographical note concerning the V.W.’s and L.W.’s moved to 52 Tavistock Square, Bloomsbury. They’ve left Hogarth House and installed the press in the basement of #52. The move will be completed by 15 March when V.W. will resume work on The Common Reader and Mrs. Dalloway.

Now I’m in the third month of my publication project and I feel as if I’ve been neglecting it in favor of writing other material that is somehow not part of the publication project … yet? Why am I casting around for how to resume work on my Magnum Opus when I could be revising the next chapters for leadworth & manna? I know what I need to do, but how I dislike being deflected from my comfortable ways. How nice it is to sit here each morning and write for the desk drawer! No one will judge. No one will object.

§70 [17.i.24.a : mercredi] This entry comes a bit late : V.W. wrote on the 12th and this is the morning of the 17th. The cause of this delay is that I was away from my normal environs, outside of my usual space and routine. I knew before I left for Oregon that I would save this chapter for my return to Long Neck. Again (e.g. last March when I flew to Las Vegas), I decided to leave V.W. at home and catch up on my return. (Does writing such words even matter? If only to get something started…)

What seems to matter more is that due to the logistics of this year’s stay in Oregon (we arrived later in the evening, so I didn’t wake as early on the first morning so…) I didn’t get as much writing done and some mornings got no writing done at all. Not getting in a good writing session or missing writing completely is enough to put me in an edgy, irritable mood all day. I need to write, to put my thoughts in order, to feel as if I’d done something, but—shall I survive the process? The process, I suppose, is the elaborate writing rituals I’ve evolved over the past two decades of focused labor. How much of what I write is necessary? Its odd how unimportant my work seems, suddenly, when a practical matter like this [travel, in my case] blocks my way. I see how it appears to the world, from outside, not all cavernous & lit up as it appears from within. The contrast of outside & inside again : the world doesn’t need my writing, but I need my writing to be in the world (a statement that can be read accurately in at least two senses).

During the whole past week, I was thinking back to last year’s Oregon trip (see §24) and wishing that I could have awakened at 4 a.m. each morning and gotten a good start on another project ( last year, what I began in Oregon led to the first complete, if not finished, draft of a novel called Best Imitation of Myself ) or even brought my current work-in-progress ( Mallworld ) to some fuller form, but I couldn’t recapitulate my previous success. However, I was able to spend a great deal of time thinking about structural and organizational aspects of my work. What is easy is to sit down and just start typing. In a couple of hours I can type whatever comes into my head and feel as if I’ve had a productive morning, but such expenditure of effort only seems to be productive. It’s productive in the sense of causing pages to pile up, but if what I’m aiming for is making a work, then I need to attend to more than just the musical phase (of page production), I need to spend time on the architectonic and textile phases as well, and these latter phases might be the most important.

As of 2020, my list of projects begun (some fraction are completed, if not finished) exceeds 80. It’s possible that with some structuring (architecture) and weaving together (textile) I could produce half a dozen decent books out of that material. It’s possible that I’ve added another dozen titles to my project list since 2020, and the books I’ve written since 2020 are my best, the ones that I feel most confident about, but I would attribute my recent success to a more organized approach. But also, since last summer, I’ve been experimenting with a “slipbox method” (see §41) (similar to how Nabokov wrote his novels on 3 by 5 cards, crystalizing the entire project as a whole rather than starting at chapter 1 and bashing away until THE END in chapter Z : more or less “the method of Aira”) and this experiment has forced me to think more about organization. Also, the slipbox method bears some similarity to Raymond Roussel’s process described in “How I Wrote Some of My Books” : he would begin with the first sentence, then formulate a last (concluding) sentence by punning words and make letter substitutions, once sentence 1 and Z are set, the trick is getting from 1 to Z.

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