He told me this morning the four train is beast. Not beast as in animal. But beast as in best. I had taken it on Sunday after a visit to my Shrink. (I capitalize her name to make it proper). So I knew what he was talking about.
I am beset with the idea of the proper name. Derrida and my class on Psychoanalysis and Deconstruction has me in a funk. I have no idea what to write about for the course. Saw the Prof in the elevator today. (I capitalize his name to make it proper too). Maybe a thought transference? From Freud? Or someone? From the prof? If I listen to his words and while I listen I free associate maybe I can stumble upon something. Chance.
This is how I will write notes. Take a chance. We did read "Mes Chances," last week by Derrida. Did you ever play that game where you open Holy Writ at a certain page, read the citation your finger falls upon, "Jesus, wept," (for example) as a way to divine the divine? Deviner? Is the chance in the flipping the pages or in the falling of the finger? I am not sure.
To think about literature is to take a chance. That much I can understand. Haven't you ever heard the expression, "Let the story take you wherever it goes?" Or something like that. Or the question, "What'll happen next?" One could flip to the back of the book and read the ending before reading the beginning. But isn't that also taking a chance? Or am I conflating "chance" with "risk"? To take a chance is to take a risk. A chance is a literary risk. It works like fiction itself works. Didn't Terry Eagleton say -- or someone like him -- that fiction does not mean 'not true.' I think he said (I'm copying from a tertiary source) fiction means something like a story (either true or false) treated in such a way as to make it clear that it has significance beyond itself.
Where is this "beyond itself" located? I follow Eagleton (or is it Watt? Remember I am a sloppy scholar. Or, maybe its a veneer) up to the point he talks about fiction as treated in such a way that it has significance beyond itself. Doesn't he mean to say (or intend to say) that fiction is treated in such a way that we attune ourselves to the 'between' of true and false?
The chance fall of a finger on a page is fictional in that it is a gesture towards the structure of story. Story as fiction has an indeterminate value.
It is nothing like the dependability of the 4 train. With its known stops and repetitions. We're back to the question of authority. I guess. Back to the question of aesthetics.
Fiction matters in the novel for several reasons. It is related to chance. Here's how. Fiction does not exhaust itself. For fiction is not concerned with bringing the novel genre to its limit. Perhaps that is the beyond Eagleton/Watt seem to suggest. I don't think there is an exhaustion thesis inherent in fiction's structure. I cannot exhaust the novel for there are always new and different social norms and attitude to heteroglossia-ize.
The trouble with fiction is that it is prone to cliché because of this (or just muck). To get it right. To make the novel matter we have to be convicted that fiction matters.
Fiction is at stake in the life or death of the novel. For it is the novel form that bears the totem of fiction as either true or false. I cannot think of another genre that does this in quite the same way. Film? No. Film is not concerned with fiction. Maybe cartoons. But that is hysterical fiction. I am not concerned with fiction-cum-fantasy. Plays come closer. But they are also dialogical and concerned with performance as art. The novel, unlike the poem, or the epic, dabbles in pure fictional representation. Characters in a novel are not projected to stand the gaze of millions, to quote Cavell quoting Emerson.
Novels are like serial television series. It is the writerliness of both the novel and the television show that seem to connect themselves to each other: or should I say suture?
Novels are a semantic heteroglossia. What I mean to say is that they are led to the chance of one thought overlapping into another, on top of another, not as a film reel is wont to do, but rather in the way that being is wont to as an indeterminate, as not bearing the proper name.
I said earlier that novels are more like serial television shows. I think of a show like United States of Tara
or Six Feet Under. If I set Dickens Great Expectations as a paragon of the contemporary novel. Then television series seem to warrant the novel form.
I think Bakhtin is right. He is perhaps the most immense of the critics of the novel. He has two ideas that I think conform to the novel rightly. The first is his idea of heteroglossia. I take this to mean that fiction portrays events not as they are in the world, but as an interplay (like Kant's free play of the imagination) between one particular to another particular. The other idea is the carnivalesque. Novels upturn and overturn and roll over. This is related to chance. We read the novel to find out what happens next. Why? Because we hope for a singular event that will upturn the system and we can start afresh.
To read novels matters because they proposition the promise of a new narrative that resists yet incorporates old narratives. What I mean by narrative is not ideology. Yes, novels could be thought of as a function of ideology: to make the part stand for the whole is some kind of fucked up synecdoche.
Movies matter. That is the problem. They matter too much. For they present us with something we desire more: a world. In a novel we have to create a world. That is the narrative. If one is prone to ideology one will resort to the movie form more easily than to the novel form. Novels create revolution. Movies capture revolution.
The 4 train is more like a novel than anything. It is here that I return to Walter Benjamin. In an odd way he is the champion of the novel. Don't you think? In the train I can come upon an idea that resembles something like, "is something like a fiction happening here?" It is not in the predicability of station after station riding along through familiar stops and turns. It is the chance that an utterance will occur. Which I will take stock. David Foster Wallace mentioned writers in subways in his essay on literature and television. He said writers are the spooky ones who always stare and seem a little sketchy. It is the chance of fiction -- of life itself -- of the anti-auteur theory of movies that make novels matter. It is the stuff of novels, of fiction, made from a soup of undecidability that makes them palpable as fodder for movies later on. Have you not noticed the sheer number of movies based on novels? No. I am not saying movies do not matter. I cannot claim that at this point. What I want to say is that novels matter in a different way from movies. They matter in the way that people are unsure if television even matters.
When I get off of the 4 train at Mosholu Parkway I walk up the grassy hill in the direction towards the park. I notice again the 4 penetrates as a solitary to its termination one stop away. It will venture back again towards Manhattan. In its predicability is the chance another writer will aboard. Not I this time. But another.
Subscribe to stones of erasmus by Email
The 4 Train on Sunday
I am an educator and a writer. I was born in Louisiana and I now live in the Big Apple. My heart beats to the rhythm of "Ain't No Place to Pee on Mardi Gras Day". My style is of the hot sauce variety. I love philosophy sprinkles and a hot cup of café au lait.