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Thursday, 27 October 2011

Moving Parts: an introduction to the poetry of Tim Love


Moving Parts

The intelligent layman no longer looks to poetry for insights into our times. The only surprise is how poets got away with it for so long. – Tim Love, ‘The Great Poetry Hoax’




On the back of Tim Love's poetry chapbook, Moving Parts, which I bought from HappenStance some months ago and have picked up and put down a number of times over that time, it says of his poems:

His poems challenge perception. Sometimes they aren’t what they seem, but then again, they are. They offer themselves like canvasses in a gallery, the white box of the page inviting the reader in. The process is playful and serious and, like all good art, demands no less than absolute attention.

The average poem is eleven-years-old and earned him nine pounds. Twenty-seven of the twenty-eight poems have been previously published in magazines. It is a good introduction to a literate and thoughtful poet. Some of the poems are straightforward and playful, like the opening poem, ‘Love at first sight’ which, I’m sorry to say, I will now forever associate in my mind with Brotherhood of Man’s ‘Save Your Kisses for Me’ – apologies to all those who are familiar with the song, because it’ll probably be running through your head for the rest of the day; not all first loves are expressions of romantic love. It is a poem that does what all good poets do, it misdirects. I recall another poem once that talked about two brothers I think and it’s only at the end of the piece you realise that the poet is actually going on about a pair of swans. You can read the whole of ‘Love at first sight’ by clicking on the hyperlink if you’ve not already done so but it begins:


You look down. She’s looking at you. You look away. You look again.
She’s still looking. Don’t stare
because she’s beautiful but because
you’re lost in thought. Every moment counts.
The reflection of misplaced lights
reminds you of an art gallery. Don’t touch,
stare.

Art and art in galleries in particular is a recurring theme in this collection; five other poems mention them and if I was searching for an alternative to the word ‘collection’ then it wouldn’t be unreasonable to describe Moving Parts as a gallery of poems. Of course discounting the actual pages none of the parts move, but parts will move you. And parts will move you to put the pamphlet down and go and do something else instead. And that’s fine. I’m sure Tim would say that was fine, but he’d hope that the next time you find yourself wandering through his gallery of poems that you might stop and linger a while in front of the more difficult poems.

Back in 1998 Tim wrote an essay entitled ‘Not so Difficult Poems’ which begins as follows:

First there is a mountain
then there is no mountain
then there is.

An academic criticised this as being at best nonsense. In fact it's a reference to an old Chinese text (by Lao Tzu?[1]), pointing out that if you analyse something, you may lose sight of the original object, but later, the object returns richer than before. However, what the text doesn't point out is that before you study a piece you need to realise it is difficult and that it's worth the effort. The critic found these words from a Donovan song difficult because they're deceptive – neither the context nor the content give the readers any hint that work is required. This demonstrates one of the many types of difficulty prevalent today, but not the most difficult to deal with. It's just a matter of finding the "missing key".

The opening poem in the collection lulled me into a false sense of security because I turned the page and found: ‘Iron Birds’ which I struggled with despite the fact it’s only ten lines long. I wandered away. Came back. Tried again. Still locked. Checked my pockets – no key. Mooched off again. Don’t worry, I’ll get back to it later down the page.

I decided to simply plough my way through the collection, just get to the end and see how the overall shape felt, see what themes revealed themselves. Galleries and art crop up in several poems as I’ve said, as do bridges (including the wonderful Paul_Valérysentence, “Bridges are vulnerable; / they don’t enclose.”); words and language, of course; children; old people and birds. With a title like Moving Parts I expected more machinery but other than the lovely poem ‘Windmills’ towards the end this didn’t jump out at me; science in general, yes, but no great emphasis on mechanics unless he adheres to Valéry’s view that a poem is “a kind of machine for producing the poetic state of mind by means of words,” which is one of the many quotes he has catalogued on his quotes page. I asked Tim if he generally agreed with what Valéry said and he does:

I'm happy to going along with Valéry. Though I've read little of his poetry, I've read quite a lot about him and like his attitude.

Then I looked a little closer at the image on the cover and wondered what the hell it was supposed to represent. An image of bacteria perhaps? So I asked Tim:

The cover was the first that Helena [Nelson] suggested (from some pictures she already had, I think). She offered some others later, but I preferred the first. It shows parts on the move, and has an organic/artificial/lab mix that suits the book's material.

Language, of course, fascinates Tim. Can’t imagine a writer not captivated by language. One of the most striking poems in the collection is ‘The Fall’ where he tracks the transformation of language over the past 6000 years:


Spanish and Portuguese split 600 years ago,
Sanskrit and Greek 4000 years before,
So there must once have been
a common tongue, a first kiss

Now American and English have split and…


a fire engine that used to hee-haw
like a seaside donkey goes wow wow wow

“Words are too significant,” writes Tim, in ‘Misreading the signs,’ “too few, unable to describe without pointing or denying, / their meaning flicked like abacus beads as we scan.” The poem is set in an art gallery and Tim is obviously asking us to compare how we look at art and how we look at poetry. This is something Tim addresses in one of his essays, ‘Attention, Agility and Poetic Effects:

Reading often doesn't proceed linearly through the text. Even in prose there's typically 10% of saccades (eye-movements) backwards. In poetry this percentage is likely to be higher. In particular ambiguity and confusion will provoke backtracking or regression to lower layers. The amount of backtracking needed will influence the reading strategy.

I hadn’t really thought about it until I read it here but I do find myself flitting back and forth over poems in the same way I do works of art for example, to backtrack to ‘The Fall’, when I read “London leaves fall / yellow as cabs” I found myself diving back to the line “American and English split months ago” because, as everyone knows, London’s taxis are black. This is an obvious connection but it highlights the fact that these poems work in layers.

In ‘Action at a distance’ Tim writes: “words aren’t the world / but they take us where we want to be.” In just the same way as Newton’s flawed mathematics “got us to the moon and back” these flawed tools serve us but only up to a point and that point is where our imagination steps in and ably demonstrated by his son blowing “gunsmoke from his fingertip” and then playing dead.

In an article about aging written about a year ago Tim writes:

I'm not very autobiographical and have never depended on intense inspiration or imagination. I think I've become more efficient at finding and exploiting material. Who knows, I might even be improving with age...

I might have disputed that until I learned that he has two boys, Sam and Luca, so the daughter in the opening poem and ‘Mark’ in ‘Taking Mark this time’ are creations, although I have little doubt that he remembered his own children when writing the poems.


                                …as I chase the night into
the cul-de-sac of dawn, cities closing the distances between them,
one or other claiming every village like young lovers, greedy
I carry him still sleeping to his bed, his doll eyes
Briefly opening. He’s only four, only everything.

But just as birth opens the collection old age and death are not far away from the dying swan in ‘Touch’


Further on, the lockmaster told me it was no use
phoning anyone; if I could touch it,
it would be dead by morning.

via “the toothless sucking / [on] moon-flavoured sweets” in ‘Estuary’ to “the darkness flapping / so close to you, so huge” in ‘Crows’ nests’, the final poem in the collection.

Tim’s fascination with art is obvious. There are references to Van Gogh, Munch, Turner, Mondrian and Vermeer, in fact his poem ‘Misreading the signs’ is set in Amsterdam where the poet shelters from the rain in a gallery (presumably the Rijksmuseum) where he finds himself transfixed by Vermeer’s Woman with a Water Jug:


                              Causality becomes patter, a loss
of narrative where viewpoints fail to accumulate – Vermeer’s
yellow moment expands to fill a postcard, calendar or jigsaw.

Now I have to wonder if one of the signs that Tim is misreading here is the name of the painting, because Woman with a Water Jug (on the right) was the first Vermeer to arrive in America circa 1887 and currently resides in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. There is a painting in the Rijksmuseum which also depicts a woman with a water jug but it’s called The Kitchen Maid (on the left).

Vermeers

He doesn’t make the same mistake (assuming this was a mistake) in ‘He understands but he doesn’t love’ – the only piece in which was previously unpublished – which opens:


So here I am, in the famous Chinese Room.
If you’re thinking of galleries or palaces
you don’t understand.

I thought I was being clever here assuming the setting was the room designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in the Ingram Street Tea Rooms, Glasgow. That said, examples of Mackintosh's room design, furniture and fittings are now on display at Glasgow's Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, effectively replicating the room, although that all happened probably years after this poem was written, I would imagine. I was, however, wrong. In an entry on his blog Tim writes:

The title's a quote about Picasso (by a fellow artist, I think).[2] The Chinese room is a thought experiment by philosopher John Searle. A person in a room receives slips of paper through a slot. The paper has squiggles on it. The person looks these squiggles up in a book which has instructions on what to scribble on a piece of paper that's pushed back through the slot.

Unbeknownst to the person the squiggles are Chinese and the notes being passed out are reasonable responses to the received messages. The people outside think that the person in the room understands Chinese. Does s/he? Does "the room" understand? If not, what does? How can you tell? How much do you understand of what you say?

And then, as in any other gallery, I found myself back in front of that painting, or, in my case, that poem:


Iron Birds

You lay out words to tempt them,
another poem about poetry.

Rhyme radio valves with light bulbs.
Rewrite airstrips with painted decoys.

Ancestors can't save you. Burn your foodstores.
Murder the medicine men. Empty your shelves.

You have seen them flying overhead.
They will come again. You will write about

how their vapour trails are like the broadening,
fading scratches on your lover's back.

My wife has an expression that I’ve adopted since it’s a good turn of phrase: the ‘decoder ring poem’. I’ve written about them before; they’re poems where there is a missing element and it’s impossible to make complete sense out a poem without being in possession of that ‘key’ or ‘code’. Some poems are like Fort Knox; every line holds secrets if only you can find yourself on the same wavelength of the poet. I’d like to meet the person who sat down and read Tim’s poem, ‘Closure’, which is not in this collection, and got it first, second or even third time. Have a crack at it and then look at his notes.

In his article ‘Attention, Agility and Poetic Effects, which I quoted from above, Tim goes on to mention:

A literary work has many features, some of which might be considered as "layers". For example, Roman Ingarden developed Aristotle's concept that a literary work of art has at least four layers[3], starting with sound, then sense. Perceived properties (like beauty, difficulty, etc) can slide from one level to another. In an experiment by Song and Schwarz where people were shown recipes in different fonts[4], a recipe in a font that's hard to read was thought to be harder to execute than the same recipe in an easy font. Similarly, speed of reading (controlled by layout) can affect the perceived speed of the narrated events, and a surprising layout can be synchronised with a narrative surprise.

[…]

Upper layers can have emergent features absent from lower ones (emotions only exist at higher levels) or can have effects that contradict those of lower layers (a story full of jokes can be sad). Interpretation is not a straightforward progression from lowest to highest level. A higher level interpretation can provoke a re-interpretation of a lower level.

All of the above suddenly makes reading a poem feel like a very difficult thing indeed. In his article entitled ‘My system’ Tim outlines what he expects from a reader. It’ll take up too much space to address all of them but these two jumped out at me:

    • When someone reads a text they will try to make sense of it using explicit or implicit instructions about how to combine the text's components. Readers will bring their knowledge to the text, but the context within which they meet the text matters too.
    • The reader experience takes priority over the author's. If the author decides to give two characters the same name because they had the same name in real life, that's not helpful. If a poem came into being as an exercise in syllabics, but the reader gets nothing from the syllabics except puzzlement re the line-breaks, that's not helpful.

Let’s go back to ‘Iron Birds’. This is what I got out of it:

The title reminds me of the expression the native Americans used to use to describe trains, ‘iron horse’ and I suppose had there been planes in their day that’s what they would have called them. I’m not sure if I made this connection before I read the words ‘ancestors’ and ‘medicine men’ but it’s there now. When you talk about laying out words to tempt them I remember the old joke about an Irish woman trying to feed a helicopter bread. The birds symbolise the passengers, the so-called ‘jet set’ if that expression still exists. No one reads poems on planes. And they are even less likely to read ‘modern’ poetry where people think it’s okay to ‘rhyme radio valves with light bulbs’. What is poetry to these ‘birds’? Airstrips are where planes land (fall to earth literally and metaphorically) but why the decoys, to distract them, to force them to crash? Is that what happens to people who try to read ‘difficult poetry’? Do they get ‘fed’ with decoys and not real food? If the birds are the readers then the ‘you’ who sees them must be the writers. Are writers cruel? If they hurt their lovers they are. How are the scratches inflicted? Because they are selfish and only write what makes them happy? The great writers that have gone before us, their reputations can’t excuse us. We need to destroy the crap we have been writing that we say has power but, like the medicine men of old, our words only have any power if people believe in them and not always then.

Iron Birds

I sent that to Tim and he directed me to his post Notes about ‘Iron Birds’ where he wrote:

[W]hen technologically advanced cultures visit more primitive, isolated ones, they often give presents. After the visitors leave, a religion might develop in the hope of getting more presents, based on rituals – building imitation landing strips and planes, or imitating the behaviour of people with walkie-talkies, etc. The title alludes to the primitives' impression of planes. Some isolated poetry writers are being compared to Cargo Culters. The poem begins:

You lay out words to tempt them,
another poem about poetry.

Later they're mockingly told to "Murder the medicine men. Empty your shelves." (medicine men are the wise men, the lecturers; shelves can have both food and books). At the end the hopeful visions of vapour trails are compared to scratch marks fading on a lover's body.

I personally think the poem would have been better served with the title ‘Cargo Cult’. That is the missing key. Personally I think a poem that doesn’t contain all the necessary elements for a reader to work it out on his or her own is a bad poem. For me, ‘Iron Birds’ is a bad poem because it fails to meet my needs and expectations. Tim writes:

The variation between readers can be attenuated by writers. For example, a writer can hint at something in a way that few people might notice. Later the writer can be more explicit for the readers who didn't get it the first time.

For me he didn’t do enough here. I wasn’t alone. In her review of the collection, although not talking about this particular poem, Sue Butler writes:

When friends take me to an exhibition of abstract paintings, I stand in front of each one whispering to myself, Don’t look for narrative. Don’t look for narrative, hoping that eventually I will see something I recognise.

[…]

To my frustration, I can hear things rattling throughout this pamphlet that I can’t fully understand or grasp firmly enough to fully appreciate. I’ve hammered and hammered on the glass but I just can’t open up a crack.

In poetry though we are told to make every word count and so there is rarely an opportunity to open up a text later on, especially not one only ten lines long. In this poem there is no later. I sent a copy to a fellow poet in New York and asked him to see what he made of it and he did no better than I did but I like the way he put it:

I'm more, I don't know, annoyed after being told what it's about than I was before when I did (and KNEW I was failing) the best read I could.

That’s it. Exactly! I also knew I was failing as I was reading it. Well said, that man. I don’t mind failing in front of a piece of abstract art because I’m not an artist, but I mind failing in front of a poem.

Back in 1997 Tim did something quite brave. He reviewed his own collection which, at the time he had intended to call Misreading the Signs – he couldn’t remember when I asked him why the name change. And the review is not all gushy and glowing either. A wise man, to get in there first before the critics. Whereas I honed in on ‘Iron Birds’ he picks on the next poem in the collection, ‘Giraffe’, saying:

‘Giraffe’ [uses] imagery at the expense of sense, symptomatic of a more general conflict between feeling and intellect that is not always well resolved.

I am not sure I would have been brave/stupid enough to include that poem. I struggled with ‘Iron Birds’ but at twice the length I gave up on ‘Giraffe’ completely. (In an e-mail to me Tim described the piece as a “‘Martian Poetry’ metaphor-fest.”)

These two or three poems aside I actually enjoyed this collection. I had to spend far more time with it than I am used to. That is not a criticism of the poetry but a confession on my part: I don’t often read or even try and read chapbooks like this because they require and deserve more time that I find I can spare. I need to do something about that; I really do.

I like Tim Love. I have no particular reason for liking him – our paths cross rarely, we pass the time of day and then trundle on our way – but he’s someone I find I can relate to. I was never employed full time as a computer programmer but I did work as a database designer for several years. He’s also been writing for about the same time as me. His first poem was published in 1972 in a school magazine, the same year as me; Tim is two years older than me. His first collection wasn’t published until 2010; mine was the same. He also writes the kind of articles I aspire to and publishes them on a variety of sites, Litrefs, Litrefs Reviews and Litrefs Articles but also check out the list at www2.eng.cam. Seriously, if you’re an inexperienced poet and are fed up dumping raw emotion on the page and calling it poetry this is the guy you should be reading. I would have given my eye teeth when I was nineteen to have access to the kind of articles he writes. Probably the main reason I like him is that, when he was younger, he looked like my one-time best friend, Tom. Stupid reason to like anyone but there you go.

Moving Parts is available from HappenStance for £4.00 + postage but if you want to sample more of his poetry for free just click on the following links:

He has also produced some small videos to accompany some of his poetry which you can view here.

***

Tim LoveTim Love was born in Portsmouth in 1957 just round the corner from Dickens' birthplace. After writing a computer game (Tim Loves Cricket) he decided to do a Masters in Software Engineering. Prior to that he apparently worked at Southsea's South Parade Pier and Shippams Meat Paste Factory. Between 1980 and 1983 Tim travelled the globe visiting India, Morocco, France, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Austria, Eire, Scotland, Italy, Wales, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and Spain. He wrote his first web page in 1993 and has been active online ever since. He lives in Cambridge with his Italian wife, Mariella, and bilingual children, teaching others how to program.

His poetry and prose has appeared in many magazines. He won Short Fiction's inaugural competition in 2007. More detailed information can be found here.



REFERENCES

[1] The proverb goes: “At first, I saw mountains as mountains and rivers as rivers. Then, I saw mountains were not mountains and rivers were not rivers. Finally, I see mountains again as mountains, and rivers again as rivers” and is credited to Hsin Hsin Ming

[2] A Japanese artist, Riichiro Kawashima, once asked Henri Matisse what he thought of Picasso. Matisse answered, "He is capricious and unpredictable. But he understands things."

[3] According to Ingarden, every literary work is composed of four heterogeneous strata:

  1. Word sounds and phonetic formations of higher order (including the typical rhythms and melodies associated with phrases, sentences and paragraphs of various kinds);
  2. Meaning units (formed by conjoining the sounds employed in a language with ideal concepts; these also range from the individual meanings of words to the higher-order meanings of phrases, sentences, paragraphs, etc.)
  3. Schematized aspects (these are the visual, auditory, or other ‘aspects’ via which the characters and places represented in the work may be ‘quasi-sensorially’ apprehended)
  4. Represented entities (the objects, events, states of affairs, etc. represented in the literary work and forming its characters, plot, etc.).

[4] Hyunjin Song and Norbert Schwarz, ‘If It’s Hard to Read, It’s Hard to Do: Processing Fluency Affects Effort Prediction and Motivation’, Association for Psychological Science, Vol. 19, No. 10

Saturday, 22 October 2011

The Instructions


theinstructions


Verbosity is like the iniquity of idolatry – 1 Samuel 15:23




Being in love is tough, especially if you’re a ten-year-old boy whose first name happens to be Gurion; who’s been expelled from school after school following accusations of acts of violence; who has a propensity for vandalism; who’s probably a genius, possibly mentally disturbed (Levin, in interview, says, “I don't think Gurion's necessarily right as a human being”[1]), is definitely Jewish an Israelite and who just happens to have been smitten by a red-headed Gentile (a Unitarian, not that that makes much difference) called Eliza June Watermark, even if she doesn’t look like your dream girl, Natalie Portman. Oh, and to top everything off you may or may not be the long-awaited Messiah, a suspicion reinforced by two birthmarks on your wrists, two Kabbalistic symbols representing the name of God which your mother makes you cover up with makeup. Really, being in love is probably the least of your problems, come to think of it.

It took Adam Levin nine years to write The Instructions working on average six hours a day, seven days a week whilst holding down a teaching post (he took one week’s vacation a year), during the middle of which his back gave out and so he had to write for two years standing up, but this is the germ that formed the idea from which the book developed:

I started writing about this kid I went to junior high with. He stayed in a motel and smelled like cigars. I don’t know if the other kids made fun of him because they knew he was poor or just because he was different or weird, but in my head, I was like, I want to write about this kid. And then the book rapidly became this other thing.[2]

although in another interview he says:

Nowhere really, unless maybe from the sentence "I towel-snapped the ass of the Janitor," which used to be the first line of the book.[3] Or from having spent my childhood suspecting I was the messiah. Or from having dated a red-haired painter, or from having ceased to date her. Or from having enjoyed fistfights as a boy, or books, or from needing something to do while smoking at my desk.[4]

So who knows?

Gurion ben-Judah Macabee’s life may be complicated, but then Gurion ben-Judah Macabee is one complex kid. An only child of average height and weight, his father (Judah) is a Jewish civil rights lawyer who makes a living defending neo-Nazis on trial for hate-crimes and his mother (Tamar) is a former Israeli Defence Force sniper of Ethiopian descent now employed as a clinical psychologist. As far as these two are concerned their son can do no wrong (Levin says, “The mom takes him seriously as a force. The dad doesn't take him seriously enough.”[5]) and use their respective abilities to defend him against all challengers. For example, when Sandra Billings, a caseworker at the school he is attending when the events outlined in The Instructions take place, attempts to administer standard Psych. or IQ tests she is blocked by Tamar who point blank refuses to concede that her son might have any kind of behavioural disorder and at one point tells the woman bluntly, “You lack the capacity to fathom my son.” Judah defers to Tamar on all matters pertaining to their son’s education.

Although his parents could never be described as devout, their son most definitely is. A Torah scholar, whose ability has not gone unnoticed by the Rabbis who have taught him, some of whom who would not have been at all surprised to see him become the greatest scholar of his generation, his insight into scripture from a very young age is prodigious in every sense of the word. And yet, when we first meet him, he comes across more like a bully than a prophet.

When we first encounter Gurion he’s been expelled from a number of schools, including a yeshiva, beginning with the Solomon Schecter School of Chicago in May 2006 for physically assaulting the Headmaster, then from the Northside Hebrew School a month later for supplying weapons to students (the ‘weapon’ being a homemade device called a pennygun constructed from a two-litre soda bottle sawn in half and a balloon), then from Martin Luther King Middle School six weeks later for apparently assaulting a student with a brick (a charge that he denies). In September 2006 he is enrolled at Aptakisic Junior High. It is noteworthy that when he is expelled from his first school he is in Grade 4 and in just over three months he’s been moved up to Grade 7, but when he starts at what is to be his last school they demote him to the more age-appropriate Grade 5 and immediately place him in an experimental disciplinary program known as CAGE for observation. Within three weeks it becomes patently obvious that, academically at least, he should be moved back to Grade 7, however, it’s decided that he should remain indefinitely within the Cage.

carrelThe object behind the Cage is to seclude difficult students. Whilst there, they are not taught the way normal students are. Instead they work on assignments suitable to their grades within one of forty carrels (small cubicles with a desk for the use of a reader or student in a library) so that there can be no contact between classmates. Infringements are dealt with harshly and promptly – they maintain a zero tolerance policy – by their monitor, a “bent Australian claw-fist” called Victor Botha. All schools have rules but here the only time anyone seems to talk to the kids it’s about enforcing these rules. Gurion calls them “robots” and it’s not an unreasonable term to choose.

A good example takes place one morning when Gurion’s mother lets her son sleep late and takes him into school later. When Jerry the Deaf Sentinel asks Tamar to extinguish her cigarette and she insists on finishing it he visibly struggles with how to handle the situation. When she asks him how he would usually respond, he admits:

“There is no precedent,” Jerry said.

“No precedent at all?” my mother soothed … “Would you have me believe,” she said, “that your superiors have failed to establish a protocol for dealing with those who illicitly smoke cigarettes on school grounds?” The cherry was almost down to the letters. Probably three more drags.

“There’s a protocol,” Jerry said, grinding his kicking-toe into the pavement. Then he spoke the largest string of syllables I’d ever heard from him: “I’ve followed the protocol, but when it comes to what to do about someone who, after you’ve followed the protocol, continues to smoke, there’s just nothing in the manual. If you were a student, I suppose I’d go inside and write you up.”

“That is what you should do then,” said my mom.

“But that’s just silly,” said Jerry.

“Maybe it is you who are silly, Jerry,” said my mom.

“Maybe!” Jerry said, eyes gone wide and hopeful at the sound of his name on her lips. He choked on something that would have bloomed into laughter if he wasn’t a robot.

Of course as soon as you segregate people you unify them and units naturally look to be led; the charismatic Gurion turns out to be a natural leader. The question is: In what direction is he going to lead his followers?

On the back of my copy of The Instructions is an unusual quotation:

“WE DAMAGE WE”

It doesn’t make sense, does it? It is not something that originates with Gurion though. But, in his role as leader-cum-rabbi it is something he becomes associated with. He is sitting in his carrel during an interval when talking is permitted, when two pupils, Ronrico Asparagus and Jenny Mangey come into the Cage and rush up to him. “We have questions,” said Mangey.

She hands him a piece of paper with the following written on it:

WE DAMAGE
DAMAGE WE
WE DAMAGE WE

They want to know which one it right. Needless to say, bright though he is, Gurion doesn’t understand the question.

“Which one?” Mangey said to me.

Ronrico said, “It’s one of the first two. I know it.”

Mangey whispered, “Ronrico was bombing [graffiting] the lunch tables and the bleachers with the first two, and he thought he was so smart. But I told him he was not so smart and that we should write WE on both sides of DAMAGE.”

Ronrico said, “You didn’t say which side of damage we were on, Gurion, but you did say we were on the side of it; not the sideszzz of it. You said the side.”

Oh! At the end of Group you mean, I said.

After some discussion Gurion comes up with an explanation that seems to satisfy the two of them:

We are all against the arrangement, always. I said, Sometimes we are on the left side of damage and other times on the right. Often we are on both sides, so both of you are correct.

Rye_catcherThe beginning-of-class tone sounds and Botha scatters the huddlers to their respective carrels but that is the moment the Side of Damage as a group comes into existence. There is definitely something of a Life of Brian feel to it. Or maybe Life of Brian meets Lord of the Flies (although you could just as easily describe it as Animal Farm meets The Catcher in the Rye) because, although The Instructions is undoubtedly a funny book, much of the time and in a variety of ways it is also a very serious book. Anyone looking for a light read should stop reading right now. And I’m not simply talking here about the dimensions of the book. At 1030-pages (edited down from its original 1500) it requires more than a little perseverance to wade one’s way through it, especially when you learn that it only covers four days, although there are flashes backs and forward. In fact one chapter only covers eight minutes in time (pp.873-902).

To you and I this is a novel. To Gurion, the sole narrator, this is scripture. Published in 2013 (that’s not a typo) by his followers it is an account of his final four days at Aptakisic Junior High and what amounts to – in his, and their, opinions – a spiritual rebirth of the Israelites. He may or may not be the Messiah, and several pages cover the question whether or not a potential messiah would be aware that he was destined to become the Messiah-proper, but that doesn’t stop him writing scripture in case he is the Messiah. Many of his peers already believe he is the Messiah and a few adults, if pressed, would also be willing to concede that that thought may well have crossed their minds.

Hasidic Jews tend to have a particularly strong and passionate belief in the immediacy of the Messiah's coming, and in the ability of their actions to hasten his arrival. Because of the piousness, wisdom, and leadership abilities of the Hasidic Masters, members of Hasidic communities are sometimes inclined to regard their dynastic rebbes who are descended from him as potential candidates for Messiah. Many Jews, (see the Bartenura's explantion on Megillat Rut, and the Halakhic responsa of The Ch'sam Sofer on Choshen Mishpat [vol. 6], Chapter 98 where this view is explicit) especially Hasidim, adhere to the belief that there is a person born each generation with the potential to become Messiah, if the Jewish people warrant his coming; this candidate is known as the Tzadik Ha-Dor, meaning Tzaddik (a Hebrew term literally meaning "righteous one" but used to refer to holy men who can, for example, perform miracles or act as an intermediary between man and God) of the Generation. However, fewer are likely to name a candidate. – Wikipedia

Having read that last paragraph (and putting aside my Christian upbringing for the moment) I can see why there would be those who when faced with Gurion’s at times frightening intellect and insight into the scriptures might wonder if he was a potential candidate. Let’s face it, Jesus was young once and although the Bible skips over most of his life actually there must have been those who wondered what kind of kid this was. Even at five years old, we are told, Gurion asked scriptural questions so complex that his mentor, a rabbinical scholar, was moved to transcribe their conversations. Despite professing to have lost all interest in all things spiritual or liturgical I could not help but get caught up in some of Gurion’s arguments and it was hard not to think of Luke 2:46-47:

And it came to pass, after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both hearing them, and asking them questions: and all that heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

At the time Jesus was twelve.

The thing is, if Gurion is the Messiah then he is a savage one. One of the gripes Christians often make is how different the Gods of the Old and New Testaments are distinguishing between a vengeful Jewish God and the Christian god of love and so I suppose that a Jewish messiah would also reflect their version of God. (I am, of course, playing devil’s advocate here but I don’t want to spend all my time in the comments showing why the two ‘versions’ are perfectly compatible.) The simple fact is, whether rightly or wrongly, the Jews have been persecuted for generations (all you have to do is read André Schwarz-Bart’s The Last of the Just to get a good picture of that) and so it’s not unreasonable that a twenty-first-century’s messiah’s first act, the first thing that piques people’s attention, might be something called Ulpan, a set of guidelines for the construction of, effective operation of and dissemination of a weapon known as a pennygun.

It can, of course, be used to fire other objects like pen nibs and wingnuts. But the thing about Uplan is that it outlines just how quickly the news might be spread:

Tonight, the first night on which Israelites have received these instructions, is May 27, 2006. Do as you’re told and in one week from tonight, 183 Israelite boys will be armed with pennyguns. Two weeks from tonight, 2,380 Israelite boys will be armed. Three weeks from tonight, 30,941 Israelite boys, and four weeks from tonight, just three days before the summer solstice, 402,234 Israelite boys will be armed with pennyguns. Well in advance of the start of next school year, all the Israelite boys in North America, if not the world, will be armed with pennyguns. Never again will we cower amidst the masses of the Roman and Canaanite children.

All they have to do is each invite thirteen Israelite boys into their backyards after Shabbos and deliver the instructions to them just as Gurion has delivered them to them. Simple. Elegant. A little frightening.

Some time into to the book Gurion learns that his original set of instructions, Uplan, has been amended slightly and renamed simply ‘The Instructions’ but this is not why Levin’s novel is called The Instructions. These were simply Gurion’s first instructions, his first scripture, followed by ‘Story of Stories’ which is, in essence, just a school essay written in March 2005 in which he tells the story of his origins. No, The Instructions purports to be a document called ‘The Instructions,’ word-processed by Gurion, then “translated and retranslated from the Hebrew and the English by Eliyahu of Brooklyn and Emmanuel Liebman,” before being published by McSweeney’s in two sections: “The Side of Damage” and “The Gurionic War.” It is now being reprinted in the UK by Canonagte.

Despite his air of religious superiority Gurion is not a frummer – he doesn’t sport a fedora and tzitzit – opting for a hoodie instead. And that’s the odd thing about the narration here. Although a scholar and a prodigy, he’s nevertheless still a ten-year-old boy and often his choice of language betrays that fact. Gentiles will have difficulty with all the Jewish expressions in the text; the irreligious with have trouble with all the biblical stuff (what exactly does Gurion mean when he talks about Canaanites, for example?[6]); but the slang adopted by Gurion and his school friends is something most will struggle with: if someone is ‘dental’ he means they’re crazy (see footnote though[7]); ‘kaufman’ indicates kookiness; ‘gooze’ is either nasal mucus or saliva. Context helps in most cases but not all.

In her lengthy (and most helpful) report on Gurion, which we get to read in full at the beginning of Chapter 7 and which serves as something of a plot summary, his caseworker identifies three distinct styles of speech used by Gurion:

1. A highly refined, organised, and even scholarly English rife with dialectic that is vocalised at breakneck pace, as if Gurion is highly irritated.

2. A syntactically complicated, analytical style that makes use of both clinical and idiolectic vocabulary, is often peppered with biblical references and is vocalised either a) slowly, explanatorily/revelatory, as if Gurion were soliloquising by the footlights; or b) at the aforementioned breakneck pace.

3. A clipped manner of speaking that mixes the dialectic speech and vocabulary of #1 with the vocabulary of #2, while also incorporating the slang and imperative tonality of a street-thug. This code is vocalised in any number of ways, often in as many as three or four within the span of a single utterance.

What she also notes is that members of the group that belong to what she dubs “the Maccabeean Collective” do not simply mimic his chosen style of expression at the time, but “they engage [in] it convincingly, i.e. they don’t just adopt Gurion’s lexicon (which adoption could certainly be ‘faked,’ i.e., just because someone pronounces a word doesn’t mean they understand what it signifies), but his syntax (unfakably analytic).”

The bottom line here, for the reader, is that most of the conversations that involve Gurion, whether with his fellow students, his headmaster, his parents or rabbis, become lengthy (both in overall length and in the length of individual utterances many of which can last a half-page or longer), intricate and convoluted. Even the simplest thing is never taken on face value and is open to debate.

All in all, despite its mammoth length, not much happens in The Instructions and much of the book consists of these lengthy interchanges waiting outside the headmaster’s office, sitting at the dinner table with his parents, on the bus on the way home or while waiting with Flowers who many assume to be his father if not an imaginary friend (at least that’s his caseworker’s opinion). Gurion doesn’t get Pat-Morita_(Karate_Kid)dropped off home. His parents have arranged for him to be left with the novelist, motel owner, and ex-lawyer Flowers, who serves as something of a beta reader for The Instructions. Flowers forbids Gurion “to portray him as a wise old black man who gave life-lessons to an Israelite boy.” “I think you best not harp on about being the Messiah,” Flowers tells him. “[L]eak it in slowly while you’re hooking everyone, and then Blast!” So, something of a Yoda/Master Miyagi then too. He seems, however, less in thrall with the boy than Gurion’s parents and yet all of them treat this messiah-thing as just a phase he is going though.

Is it such an unreasonable thing for any Jewish kid to have a messiah complex? In interview, Levin admits the thought had crossed his mind growing up:

When I was a little kid, for a little longer than was reasonable, I thought it was possible that I was the Messiah. But I’m not the only person who thought they were the Messiah. I’m not in the minority when it comes to young Jewish boys, especially in America. It’s part of our culture. You have people telling you, “You’re the smartest and the handsomest!”[8]

It is tempting to think that Gurion is mentally ill, broken, damaged in some way. I suspect he might be tempted to agree with you himself. Gurion is drawn to kids who are, as he puts it, damaged. Meeting Eliyahu of Brooklyn, a Hasidic new arrival at Aptakisic – who is both shrewd, damaged and an Israelite (within minutes of his arrival he ensures he’s under Gurion’s wing) – causes Gurion to reflect that “Everyone I liked who wasn't damaged was a scholar. Rather, everyone I liked who wasn't a scholar was damaged. Or maybe the first way. The stress kept shifting.” His scriptures  are primarily for “all the Israelites,” but also for “anyone who's on the side of damage.” In his heart of hearts, Gurion realises he can't lead both the chosen and the damaged, but as a member of both groups he refuses to choose: the Side of Damage forms around him and simple assumes him to be the leader. They, however, are not his only followers. In all the schools he has attended prior to this, scholars have been drawn to him and he now has hundreds of young, pennygun-toting disciples for want of a better word who address him as “Rabbi” and are at his beck and call.

At its core though The Instructions is a love story – the moment of the first kiss between June as she prefers to be called and Gurion is simply wonderful ("I can't tell my face from her face.”) – but you have to dig through a lot of verbiage to get to it; still it’s there. When Gurion, who is exceptionally open with his parents, tells his mother that he is now in love with Eliza June Watermark, Tamar pronounces her name “the single most goyishe” [un-Jewish] she's ever heard. June is not in the Cage – he runs into her while waiting to see the headmaster and it’s pretty much love at first sight for both of them – but, like Gurion, June is also a troubled but talented young girl. When June reveals that she's a Unitarian, Gurion is upset and angry, but decides, partly on the strength of their matching birthmarks that are “an abbreviation of Adonai's best written name,” to convert her; since Adonai neither yells “No” nor paralyses him during the impromptu ceremony, he assumes he has God’s approval and pronounces June an Israelite. This is often how Gurion gauges the rightness or wrongness of his decisions. He’s not expecting God’s voice to boom from the heavens but when he stalls he takes that to be a sign from God. He never says, “Let God strike me down if such-and-such happens,” but it’s that kind of mentality. The thing about Gurion is that he has a very Jewish view of how his love should develop. As Gurion supposes he must be proclaimed Messiah before doing what Messiah does, so he comes to understand he must declare his love for June Watermark before being in love.

The real problem I had with The Instructions, bar its length (and since the size of the book has raised its ugly head again, can I just go on record and say that no book needs to be 1030 pages in length, I don’t care who wrote it or what it’s about?), was trying to decide if Gurion is a good guy, a bad guy or a deluded guy. Charles-mansonbookingphotoWas he a young messiah or a young Charles Manson? The basketball team and their fan club, the Shovers, are the force to reckon with at Aptakisic. Gurion dreams of leading a revolt among his fellow misfits, while constantly getting distracted by the big questions: Why does he keep getting into fights in spite of proclaiming himself a man of peace? Kids fight, yes, even I got into fights when I was ten years old, but the viciousness of Gurion’s assaults escalates and I found myself uncomfortable with what begins to happen and unwilling to excuse him or the mob that takes its lead from him. Very few religions promote violence and yet name any religion that has not got caught up in violence at some time or other and often as the aggressor? Holy wars are still wars whatever way you look at them.

The Instructions is not an easy read. Some parts are, but I lost my way many times in its labyrinthine depths. At times it captivated me, but as I got further and further into it I became more and more frustrated and, then, like dropping off a cliff, we hit page 769 and things start to speed up and then, on page 871 it’s like we’ve fallen off a cliff and we continue to fall until we smash into the CODA on page 1021 and everything dissolves in a puddle of confusion, at least I was confused, but by then all I wanted to do was finish the damn book and be done with it, so I’m perhaps doing those final few pages a disservice here, but whether Gurion escapes following the so-called 11/17 Miracle or ends up in the hands of Mossad (the national intelligence agency of Israel), I don’t think we’re supposed to know for sure, just like stories were told about what happened to the Christian Messiah after his death, if, indeed, he did die, because Gurion certainly believes that he cannot.

Books on this scale tend to be epic in their scope – I know there are exceptions like Joyce’s Ulysses – but truly The Instructions is only as long as it is because of Gurion’s/Levin’s obsession with minutiae. Maybe it’s a Jewish thing; it certainly feels like a Jewish thing. Reviews of it (the Internet is awash with them and really doesn’t need this one) are mostly positive but with reservations. If I had to boil all of my qualms down to a single expression I would have to describe The Instructions as a flawed masterpiece. I’m sure that I missed much of its subtlety but I caught enough to realise that on top of a great deal of time, a great deal of thought has gone into this huge volume. It is littered with cultural references and religious allusions many of which – perish the thought – you will probably only get on a second read. In one instance, the Hebrew word for charity, tzedakah, is confused with pop singer Neil Sedaka – I missed that one – but I did pick up on the fact that Eliyahu was there in the role of Elijah who the scriptures say has to come to herald the Messiah.

Reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads are across the board but there are more favourable reviews than negative; I won’t get into a debate about how there are too many 5-star ratings out there in general. The papers have also been mixed, although I think ME Collins’ comment in the Chicago Sun-Times saying that, “Levin has formed a world motivated equally by moral fervour that gropes at profundity but really just re-enacts every episode of Hogan's Heroes, if Hogan had been 10 and a yeshiva boy,”[9] was a both bit harsh and inaccurate. I also suspect that age might be a more important factor in how people view this book than some. When I first read Catcher in the Rye as a young teenager I was blown away by it; twenty years later I was mostly underwhelmed and not nearly as sympathetic towards the character of Holden and this is something that Levin notes too:

When you read that when you’re younger, he’s just so cool, he’s dreamy, right? But then you’re older and you’re like wow, he’s kind of a prick, but he’s also more pitiful. As I’ve gotten older, I love that book. I’ve read it a million times, like most good Americans, but when you first read it you sort of don’t see how horrifying the world is from where he stands. And then when you’re a little older, as an adult, you see it’s rich with fucked-upness. And that’s the genius of Salinger. And he does that with Franny and Zooey, too.[10]

I am fifty-two years of age. I have little patience for ten-year-olds of any race, gender, nationality, religious persuasion or intellectual ability.

Bottom line: would I recommend this book? Yes. Would I read him again? Most definitely, yes. Would I read him again if he wrote another 1000-page book? No way in hell.

You can read excerpts on line here, here, here and here.

***

Adam LevinAdam Levin's stories have appeared in Tin House, McSweeney's, and Esquire. Winner of the 2003 Tin House/Summer Literary Seminars Fiction Contest and the 2004 Joyce Carol Oates Fiction Prize, Levin holds an MA in Clinical Social Work from the University of Chicago and an MFA in Creative Writing from Syracuse University. He lives in Chicago, where he teaches writing at Columbia College and The School of the Art Institute.

His next book will be a collection of short stories which he spoke about in an interview on Bookslut:

What can you tell us about your next book, Hot Pink? And what kind of project will you tackle after that? Another novel?

Hot Pink is a collection of short stories, many of which were published over the last ten years in places like Tin House and McSweeney's Quarterly. They are not "interconnected," and so they aren't terribly easy to discuss as a group. There's a story about a legless girl who's in love with a girl who has both legs, a story about a doll that pukes, a story about some violent mimes, a story about a comedian with dementia, and then six or seven other stories about none of the above. They range from more conventional first-person narratives to less conventional second-person narratives, and the majority of them took between one and three years to write.

I don't know for sure what's coming after Hot Pink, but I'm thinking a very short novel.



REFERENCES


[1] Aimee Levitt, ‘Adam Levin Talks About The Instructions, Riverfront Times, 21 October 2010

[2] Geoffrey Johnson, ‘Adam Levin’s “The Instructions”’, Chicago Magazine, November 2010

[3] The first sentence is now “Benji Nakamook thought we should waterboard each other, me and him and Vincie Portite.”

[4] Betsy Mikel, ‘Chicago Author Spotlight: Adam Levin’, Chicagoist, 20 October 2010

[5] Aimee Levitt, ‘Adam Levin Talks About The Instructions, Riverfront Times, 21 October 2010

[6] Since he mentions then along with Romans I would assume that he is talking about the nation and not the early Israeli non-Zionist movement, Canaanism

[7] Betsy: Can we get a comment on “bancer” and maybe “dental”? Cohen’s review said you use “dental” for mental but that’s too easy. Someone said you said dental means suck, but suck means suck so what does dental mean?

Levin: Dental does not fuckin’ mean mental.

Jack W: With regard to “dental,” etc. … was there any inspiration gleaned from the Anti-Dentite Seinfeld episode, where the dentist converts to Judaism purportedly for the jokes? I watched that episode probably ten times trying to connect it while reading TI a la Dark Side of the Moon and Wizard of Oz.

Levin: Anti-dentite! That was a good one — maybe. Not knowingly, though.

from The Rumpus Book Club Interviews Adam Levin

[8] Julie Steinberg, ‘Adam Levin on His 1,000-Page Epic, “The Instructions,”’ The Wall Street Journal, 1 November 2010

[9] ME Collins, ‘Review: “The Instructions” by Adam Levin’, Chicago Sun-Times, 29 December 2010

[10] Jen Penkethman, ‘An Interview with Adam Levin’, Hipster Book Club, February 2011

Monday, 17 October 2011

Tamarisk Row


Tamarisk Row

I am writing these words in the place that is called by many persons the real world. – Gerald Murnane, ‘Boy Blue’[1]



Had the book I’m about to talk about been written by . . . I was going to say a lesser writer, but let’s just go with a different writer . . . had this book been written by a different writer I have no doubt that it would still have still found a publisher and an audience (possibly even a broader readership than it did find) although it’s unlikely that the book would have been called Tamarisk Row and it would probably have turned out more like Clive James’ fictionalised autobiographical account of his childhood in Australia, Unreliable Memoirs, than the work of fiction I’ve just read which, financially at least, might not have been such a bad thing for the author in question because the story at the core of Tamarisk Row is one that people (especially men who grew up as boys in Australia in the early post-war years) would be able to relate to and might want to read but it would have likely started the author down a path that would have resulted in him not living up to his full potential as a writer; would have reduced him to a mere storyteller, and that would have been a crying shame because Gerald Murnane writes like no other author I’ve ever read, in fact like no other author that most people will have read and because of that his readership tends to fall into two camps, simply put, those who love him and those who loathe him, but I can also envisage a third camp (who knows it might even be the biggest of the three camps) comprised of those who can’t quite make up their minds when it comes to him, who can see that the man can write but can’t understand why when he can write as well as he obviously can that he chooses to write the way he does and for many people that determination will be based on attempting to read this, his first work of fiction, which to be fair is probably his most straightforward book and if people find they don’t like this one it’s highly unlikely that they’re going to be won round by any of his others.

Had Murnane decided to tell his story in a more traditional fashion, in the style of the books he read as a child perhaps, then we would still have learned about who did what to whom, where and how, but we would not have seen it though his eyes. Yes, we read books to prove we’re not alone (C S Lewis), but we also read to see the world through another person’s eyes and Gerald Murnane has a unique way of seeing the world. Many of the things he says are confusing to me as a fellow writer though, things like “I believe I am barely capable of abstract thought. I can only think by considering images,”[2], “I [have] never created any character or imagined any plot,”[3], “Writing never explains anything,”[4] or the fact that he refuses to refer to his books as novels but rather as something he calls “true fiction” which he describes as follows:

People complain to me that my fiction has hardly any dialogue. Those people had better sit in front of their television sets. True fiction can't be made to sound like a stage-play or like a soap opera, with people shouting at one another. True fiction has the silence of the mind that it comes from. True fiction sounds like a cave underground or underwater. The characters in true fiction cannot speak; they've been underground for so long that they've forgotten how to speak.[5]

Tamarisk Row does contain dialogue but the reviewer in the Weekend Australian makes an interesting observation:

[R]ather than using quotation marks, Murnane places the dialogue inside dashes. In effect, we don't so much hear the characters speak as hear the echo of their words in the mind of the narrator, many years after they have finished speaking.[6]

Tamarisk Row was first published in 1974 when Murnane was thirty-five although he began writing it when he was twenty-five (it took him four years to complete), and so the characters in the book will have been with him for about fifteen years, the action being set circa 1948 at which time both the young protagonist, Clement Killeaton, and Murnane himself, would have been about to enter the fourth grade. This requires clarification. In Australia, Primary School is generally for children aged 5–12 but the first year at school is not referred to as the first grade; it goes under a number of different titles such as Preparatory, Reception or Transition. This would make Clement about 9 going on 10 when he is in Grade Four which makes sense since Murnane was born in 1939 and the book is based on events from his own life which has led to the book often being referred to as being semi-autobiographical. Murnane, however, “says that he makes no distinction between autobiography, biography and fiction. To him it's all fiction.”[7]

Tamarisk Row is the story of a young boy growing up Catholic in the predominately Protestant and fictional town of Bassett which just happens to bear a striking resemblance to the town of Bendigo in Victoria in which Murnane lived for a time. Clement’s father, Augustine, is a compulsive gambler (but only on horses) and the family live in perpetual poverty. It is the man’s only fault. When he has money, MelbourneCupunlike some of his fellow gamblers he doesn’t drink it all away, chase loose women or fritter it away in some other fashion, he spends it on his family; those days are few and far between because the man is perpetually in debt. Clement’s mother stays very much in the background disapproving of and yet still tolerating her husband’s lifestyle whilst trying to ensure that their son grows up to be a good Catholic and quashing whenever she can any interest he shows in horse-racing. The boy, a solitary type, prefers to play alone rather than with his school friends. He doesn’t appear to have a best friend but there are a number of girls that he gravitates towards when he has the chance because he’s getting to that age where he’s becoming curious about the opposite sex but mostly he keeps himself to himself inhabiting worlds of his own creation. Clement sees his father as an almost heroic figure and idolises him; Augustine’s addiction is never spoken about in front of his son. It’s inevitable that the boy is going to inherit his father's obsession with racing but Clement applies the racing mentality to all aspects of his life – for example, he deliberately answers questions wrong in a test at school so he could fall back a little before sitting his Geography paper (his best subject) for which he receives full marks but it is not quite enough to get him the first position and he is narrowly pipped at the post – and although he is interested in girls it’s notable that the only time he actually gets sexually aroused is once while playing one of his solitary racing games.

"Someone has written that all art aspires to the condition of music," Murnane says, quoting a line from one of his essays. "My experience is that all art, including all music, aspires to the condition of horseracing."[8]

Already the motifs and themes that appear throughout Murnane's fiction can be found in Tamarisk Row as we can see in the Author’s Note from which he quotes when discussing how the book was written:

None of my books has been written in an orderly way from beginning to end. Tamarisk Row took four years to write and it only came together after I'd drawn a grid of more than 200 squares and numbered the squares. Each number was meant to correspond to one of the themes of the book or one of the clusters of images in the book.

If you could fill each square on a calendar with a picture instead of a number, and if each picture could show clearly some event or landscape or recollection or dream that made each day memorable, then after a long time and from a great distance the hundreds of pictures night rearrange themselves to form surprising patterns.

Tamarisk Row is one such pattern.

Sometimes I thought of the numbered squares as the squares on the page of a calendar. Each numbered square was meant to give rise to about a page of prose but as I went on writing each square gave rise to many more than one page and in the end the text has the shape of a teardrop lying on its side.[9]

He has said elsewhere, “I write fiction in order to discover the pattern of myself and my life,” and “I decided that falling in love was nothing else than wanting urgently to see a woman’s landscape.” What is clear is that these terms – in particular ‘pattern’ and ‘landscape’ – have taken on a special significance for Murnane, a deeper meaning. When he looks at things he sees things, he comprehends and interprets rather than merely imagines:

I have learned little from staring at things, not even at images in my mind. I have learned much more from details that have appeared at the edges of my vision. I prefer to look out from the sides of my eyes until one or another detail winks at me... And I choose the word winks because a wink from one person to another often signals that the two persons share a secret knowledge, and I often feel, after some detail in my view or in my mind has winked at me, that the visible world wants me to learn its meaning or that the farthest places in my mind are well-disposed towards me.[10]

He doesn’t make this particular distinction in Tamarisk Row – although he does mention at one point holding a holy card “obliquely in the sunlight to see the dull sheen of the circles of golden dust around the heads of the holy people” – but there are numerous instances where Clement falls into an object particularly a colourful one like racing silks or the priests’ vestments or marbles:

At night he sits looking up at the electric light globe with a marble held close to his eye trying to explore all the wine- or honey- or blood- or ocean- or lake- or stained-glass-coloured skies or plains where winds or clouds or ranges of hills or curls of smoke are trapped forever and to decide what secret tunnels or caves or valleys or walled cities or thickets or abandoned laneways might never be explored because they lie deep inside it close to its very essence where its truest colours would envelop any traveller who reached there trying to discover what has lain for so many years in the heart of the glass that people have carried without thinking from place to place and what it is to be inside a place that all other people see only from the outside.

In a letter to David Watson upon receipt of an unsolicited gift of one of his photographs Murnane wrote:

A thing seen from the side, so to speak, tends to resemble something else and that something else is always FULL OF MEANING in a way that the thing looked at directly never is.[11]

What he’s trying to write about are “the things that only one person has seen in his or her own mind.”[12] This is most likely why Murnane has been content to live his entire life within a small area of Victoria because all his travelling, all the landscapes he wanders through, are constantly available to him. In a radio interview Murnane makes this observation about the book:

[O]n the cover of the first edition of Tamarisk Row is a giant blue globe which a lot of people, I've found out over the years, thought was a photograph of the planet Earth from space, but in fact it's a close-up photo of one of my precious glass marbles. The marbles that I played with as a child, I used to use them to represent racehorses…[13]

In the back garden of their house Clement constructs elaborate farms, estates and racecourses, a property he calls Tamarisk Row, which absorbs him for hours on end:

[O]ut among the tall ragged weeds of his backyard he keeps stumbling on the familiar roads that he has been forming for years with his own hands to lead back the owner of racehorses to the shaded houses where their wives wait during long hot afternoons, stripping off one piece after another of their clothes as the heat grows worse, and to make long and trying the journey of one man, the owner of a horse named Tamarisk Row, back to the property where his wife has waited so often during the years of their marriage but has still not yet heard late one evening that their horse has won the prize they know he deserves.

Clement is nothing if not a conflicted young boy. Soon all his private obsessions are mixed up in his head: horseracing, Catholicism, marbles, birds, sex. Colour in particular is tremendously important to Clement. And order. He mimics his father’s record keeping:

He begins as a small boy in grade two making entries of a few words in each of a few columns. Before he has finished writing about half the marbles in his collection he gets from his father a much bigger ledger and starts a new system of entries with one whole page for each marble. Because his mother tries to stop him from wasting his time poring over pages of nonsense night after night, his list of entries grows very slowly. But all the while the number of his marbles increases steadily. Towards the end of his grade-three year he reviews what he has done and counts his marbles and calculates that it may still take him several years and perhaps two or three more volumes to bring his work up to date.

marblesHis interest in marbles is started by his father, clearly the major influence in Clement’s life, when he hands over an old tobacco tin with about a dozen marbles in it that he had found when he was a little boy. “Clement values these marbles so much that he never takes them out of the house and seldom shows them to another boy.” Another marble he values highly is one he digs out of the ground in his backyard, one that apparently belonged to the boy who had lived there before him.

Clement’s need to organise things mirrors Murnane’s own:

I have been described by my wife and by several friends as the most organised person they have ever known, and I admit to a love of order and of devising systems for storing and retrieving things. My library is meticulously ordered, as are the many filing cabinets full of my letters and journals and manuscripts and typescripts and private papers. I have sometimes thought of the whole enterprise of my fiction-writing as an effort to bring to light an underlying order – a vast pattern of connected images – beneath everything that I am able to call to mind.[14]

This idea of looking for patterns in the world around us is not new. Some Hasidic Jews do mathematical research on the Torah assigning numerical values to a word or phrase, in the belief that words or phrases with identical numerical values bear some relation to each other. The assumption behind this technique is that numerical equivalence is not coincidental. This practice is called Gematria. Scientists too look for patterns in nature, like Fibonacci numbers, the Golden ratio or the fractal geometry (see the website Patterns). Darren Aronofsky's film π concerns a number theorist who believes that everything in nature can be understood through numbers. These are patterns that anyone can see. What Murnane is looking for are patterns that only he can see.

Although Clement might feel like the book’s main protagonist actually quite a bit of time is devoted to his father and his attempts to get rich. In coming to understand Augustine we’re placed better (now there’s a horseracing term if ever I read one) to see why his son – and by extension Murnane himself – has turned out the way he has. In much the same way as Clement is a dreamer so is his father. His ultimate dream is to own a horse which he will name Silver Rowan and which will win, at the very least, the Gold Cup. (Clement’s dream is for his fictional horse, Tamarisk Row, named after the property in his backyard, to do the same.) Over the course of the book Augustine does in fact acquire two horses, Clementia, who wins her maiden handicap but breaks a leg later and has to be put down, and Sternie, named (but not by Augustine) as a joke after the Jew who first owned him, Hyman Sternberg, who, once he learns about the new name, curses the horse – “he said he hoped the vucking [sic] mongrel would never win a race.” Gus is not the kind of man to look a gift horse in the mouth, even an accursed one, and so when he is offered the second horse at a bargain price he cannot refuse it. The big question, and one the book answers, is whether the curse stuck.

Unlike many of Murnane’s later works of fiction Tamarisk Row does read like a conventional novel. There isn’t much of a plot – it feels, and is, a slice of life – but you do feel when you reach the end that although not every question is answered you have come to the end of a significant chapter in the family’s life; the book ends with them packing up and leaving the house at 42 Leslie Street. Murnane is not fond of the notion of plots:

[A] book that contains plot and dialogue seems to me to work on the assumption that all a reader wants from reading is the illusion that he or she is seeing real events re-enacted. Or even, worse still from my point of view, watching a film. […] My fiction is a report of what takes place in the mind of a writer. It may have characters or 'personages' is my favourite word, there may be personages like Cynthia and Cyril in it, but there will be lots more.

Because he has based Tamarisk Row on events in the real word it is true that the book has no plot because none of our lives follow a plot. What he is doing is exploring “lives that I might have lived, [and] men that I might have been”[15] albeit the fact that these lives might be very similar to the one he actually lived. This is how he conceived of the book in the first place:

The first part of a book that comes into my mind is usually the central image or the title. Sometimes the central image of the title of a book will stay in my mind for years before I begin to write the first words of the book. [...] The title and the central image for my first book came to my mind at the same moment when I decided to call a glass marble Tamarisk Row. After I have the central image fixed in my mind clusters of other images begin to appear around the central image. Then I begin to see connections between images that hadn't seemed connected before. [...] After I discovered the image of the glass marble in Tamarisk Row I saw in my mind the image of the corner of my back yard in Bendigo behind the Tamarisks. I saw a man and his wife living on a stud farm in a corner of my back yard in Bendigo. Next I saw an image of the coloured glass in the front door of my house in Bendigo. Then I remembered that I'd once looked into the green-gold-coloured glass of that door and I'd thought I could see there tiny landscapes in a strange country.[16]

When I think of my fiction in this way, I am somewhat of a mind with the narrator of ‘In Far Fields’, who saw his fiction as resembling a map of a country district in which the small towns were images and the roads connecting the towns were feelings.[17]

I mentioned at the start that had the book been written as a straightforward narrative that it might not have been called Tamarisk Row. The reason I mention this is that it was actually “under a lilac tree that [Murnane built his] first toy racecourse in Bendigo”[18] although it is also true that there were tamarisks in the garden at the time even if he didn’t find out till years later that was what they were called.

The role of women in Murnane’s novels is one that has been written about before. Quoting from Velvet Waters Karin Hansson had this to say:

Woman as landscape/place becomes part of Murnane’s exilic motifs, his search for the “true home,” and his “image of an image of a woman” (VW 154) in grassy landscapes.

[…]

Whether the imaginary women occur in the shape of naked girls in magazines or madonnalike figures they belong together with the female notion of place whose true nature cannot be explored and revealed by objective geographical study.

[…]

In the dualistic structure that is also part of Murnane’s geographies, place is private, emotional, and filled with mystery and nostalgia, whereas space is public, rational, and transparent. In the process of the quest, which implies turning space into place, the women figures, representing otherness, serve as symbolic catalysts.[19]

Just as he calls his writing “true fiction” one of the purposes of his fiction is to locate his “true home” – the expression appears for the first time in Tamarisk Row – and certainly women comprise a part of that pattern/landscape. In his later works of fiction Murnane uses his adolescence and young adulthood as source material for the images on which he based his writings but in this first book the only women who appear are his mother, Jean, the nuns and a number of schoolgirls, Margaret Wallace, Therese Riordan, Pauline Duffy, Barbara Keenan and “the girl Mendoza,” all of whom know that Clement wants only one thing, to see them with their pants off. Oh and to learn the secret of Therese’s ‘Foxy Glen’ – nothing rude, simply a small tin she keeps locked but it’s still noteworthy that it gets described as a place. Really what Clement wants, not only with the girls but with everything, is to get to see beyond, beneath or within, to expose these hidden landscapes – Murnane admits to a fascination with buried things. What is interesting though is when Clem does get to glimpse a mons pubis eventually and briefly (I’m not saying whose or how) this is how he describes it:

[F]or just two or three seconds he sees clearly … a low white ridge split by a narrow unpromising fissure with nothing else to distinguish it from the pale slopes around, so that any man or boy who chanced on such a place after years of searching would probably go on looking for the strange shape that he was really after. – italics mine

Landscape with LandscapeHe could have been describing a mound of earth. He’s not aroused by it. This brings to mind a line from a later work of fiction, Landscape with Landscape: “I was always looking for some kind of ideal scenery which would correspond to obscure places in my thoughts.”[20] I actually get that. I also felt somehow cheated when I saw my first naked woman. Now I realise that no woman could ever compete with the image of what a woman should be like that sits unresolved in my head; she doesn’t exist. He’s looking to see what cannot be seen, that probably doesn’t exist to be seen.

Tamarisk Row features a recurrent motif of Murnane’s writing – a striving for a moment of revelation wherein the narrator will comprehend the relationship between his inner and outer worlds. The exact source of that revelation is a mystery, but it will apparently occur when a certain landscape is reached or seen from a particular point of view. This revelation, if achieved, will disclose no less than the essence of life itself.[21]

Whereas the girls are mostly shy (or at least feign shyness), Clement and other boys his age have no qualms about being seen naked around each other. The boys have no compunction exposing themselves to each other, knowing it to be something ‘wrong’ (‘wrong’ equals ‘fun’), and they often play games that involve a certain degree of genital abuse, hitting and twisting; the game of “snatches” involves “running silently at some boy who is standing in another direction and … [wrenching] the fellow’s balls until he screams and drags himself free.” There’s even a scene where Clement and a boy called Kelvin Barratt mimic their parents having intercourse when they have the house to themselves on day:

This time Clement allows Barrett to decide what game they will play. He lies on his back while Barrett lies on top of him so that their things rub together. The other boy presses too heavily on Clement. He pleads with Barrett to get up and go but the boy pins him down and bounces up and down on top of him.

Thinking back to when I was that age I can relate to some of it, the delight at seeing a flash of a girl’s white pants, and a growing curiosity about what girls my own age were like but I don’t recall the boys having much interest in each other’s privates; we peed openly but that was about it, although I must have been about that age the one and only time I’ve ever been kicked in the goolies: that is something I will never forget and I thought toothache was the worst it could get.

Religion is also a major part of this book. The Killeatons are devout. Even Jean who has converted to Catholicism to marry Gus. Clement is brought up as a Catholic in a town where it matters whether you are Catholic or Protestant, something as a Glaswegian I can relate to strongly. What I find a little hard to relate to is how serious young Clement becomes about the faith he has had imposed on him and he certainly does far more than most kids would do at that age, barely going through the motions. There is a scene where Clement meets with Margaret Wallace: she is inside her father’s aviary and so there is a wire mesh between them. He wants to come inside but she won’t let him:

Margaret insists that no Catholics are allowed inside because they keep too many secrets from other people and dress up in coloured robes that no proper Australian would dream of wearing and speak in foreign languages when they pray. The boy offers to explain the mysteries of the Catholic religion to her if she will only let him explore the aviary with her. […] Clement persuades Margaret to weave her rifle-bird feathers through the wire-netting to make the shape of a purple screen. She agrees to turn her face away, and he murmurs – bless me Margaret for I have sinned this is my first confession Margaret and I accuse myself of – I have thought bad thoughts many times about a girl who goes to a State school – this is all I can remember Margaret and I am very sorry for all my sins.

Murnane briefly trained for the Roman Catholic priesthood in 1957 but he admits that his main motivation was simply to get a room to himself where he could have peace to write. When he discovered he only was allowed fifteen minutes time to himself per day he soon left. I found this comment by Karl L. Schmude of interest; it’s from his 1981 Aquinas Memorial Lecture:

In books like Murnane's Tamarisk Row, the treatment of childhood affords a means by which authors seek to come to terms with the traditions which shaped them. The promises and celebrations of the Catholic upbringing, the burdens and sacrifices, the haunting mysteries, the unutterable sentiments – all these experiences were part of a distinctive way of life beneath the conformities of a mass secular culture. They furnish the means of explaining what one is – or, more often, obliterating what one used to be. Thomas Keneally has suggested that authors do not write problems or preoccupations out of their system: they write them in; absorb them into the blood stream, as it were; then move on to other themes.[22]

If you’ve never read Murnane before this is as good a place as any to start. I’ve actually read four books by him now, the other three being (in the order in which I read them): The Plains, Inland and Barley Patch. All his other books are available Barley Patchbut mostly only second-hand from Australian websites and they are not cheap. The version of Tamarisk Row I read was a reprint of the original 1974 version; a later version was released in 2008 by Giramondo Publishing. This new edition gives us the final two sections as Murnane intended them and the type is apparently more expansively and readably set than in the rather dingy 1974 original.

I cannot pretend that he is an easy read. It took me six days to work my way through the 188 pages in this book (285 in the revised edition). You cannot rush him and I defy anyone to try to speed-read him. Often when you get lost in a sentence you can’t simply skip to the next one because it might be an inch down the page or two inches or, in the case of the penultimate section, there is no next sentence, the whole thing is one enormous sentence two pages long (three and a half in the 2008 printing) – actually it is “four grammatical sentences interwoven.”[23] But why?

In the … years since I wrote Tamarisk Row my sentences generally have become shorter. The long sentences in Tamarisk Row are many hundreds of words long surely the longest sentences ever written in this country. Anyone can write hundreds of words one after the other, the point about my long sentences is that each of those sentences is a sound grammatical sentence. I wrote long sentences because I believed that only a long sentence can explain how everything in the world is connected to many other things.[24]

The sentence is the building block of all Murnane’s fiction:

The basic unit of all my writing is the sentence. I write first one sentence and then another sentence. I write sentence after sentence and after I’ve written each sentence I read that sentence aloud. I read it aloud and listen to decide whether the sound of that sentence is the sound of my own voice.[25]

One of my greatest pleasures as a writer of prose fiction has been to discover continually the endlessly varying shapes that a sentence may take.[26]

His aim is to write “a pure sentence” which, he says, “has not one word too many, not one word out of place.”[27] He describes himself as a technical writer and says that “the task of this sort of writer is to report in the plainest language the images that most claim his attention from among the images in his mind and then to Emily Brontearrange his sentences and paragraphs (and, if applicable, his chapters) so as to suggest the connections between those images.”[28] This tends to give his writing a considered flavour not unlike Emily Brontë who he cites as an influence; In Inland he mentions Wuthering Heights as a book he repeatedly returns to and “[a]s a young man Murnane dreamt of falling in love with a woman resembling Catherine Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights.[29]

What is striking about Tamarisk Row, having read his later and latest works of fiction, is how far along the road he was in developing his own personal style at this stage.

Imre Salusinszy describes the book as being "nothing less than the Great Code of Murnane's imaginative iconography" (Tamarisk Row Form Guide, 157). Tamarisk Row features a complex web of images involving calendars, colours, grasslands, creeks and rivers, Catholic rituals, priests' houses, horse races and racking skills, marbles, stones, freckles, books and libraries, and tunnels and secret places, and all have been used repeatedly and with remarkable consistency by Murnane in his subsequent fiction.[30]

What is probably the most absorbing thing about this book for me is that we get to see the making of a writer. Apart from his homework and keeping his ledgers up to date Clement does no writing in this book. He doesn’t see himself as a writer, imagine that one day he might become one or even feel any pressing need to write down his thoughts; all of that is to come. I was much the same when I was nine or ten. I had yet to discover myself. And yet, at the age of fifty-one, I’ve probably written as much as Gerald Murnane had done by my age. I can trace back aspects of my personality to those tender years although I’ve never felt compelled to write about them.

Murnane is a fascinating character and since his work is so personal it is helpful to find out as much as you can about him and his world view which is a very different one to most people’s. I’ve quoted a few times in the article from ‘The Breathing Author’, an essay Murnane wrote. It is available in full online and is preceded by a short Q+A from the author Pradeep Trikha which is also illuminating. You can read the whole thing starting here.

Murnane would never argue with anyone that his books emanate from his own life experiences but I suspect that one of the reasons he avoids terms like semi-autobiographical is because he sees them as superficial. He is more interested in his “deep self.” This is a term I have seen him use a couple of times in interview. The expression is not his own but one he has adopted from Proust:

le moi profound, the deep self. Now I hide behind that expression… When I sit down to write (I) wasn’t thinking of autobiography or any sort or revelation. I simply wrote what I felt was uppermost in my mind. We can blame it on my deep self if it turned out to be recognisably like someone you know.[31]

Murnane’s writings are “less about the biographical circumstances of the narrator and more about producing a precise account of a very particular imagination and worldview.”[32] Now I can see a reader scratching his head when he reads a sentence like that. Surely if it reads like autobiography and the details correspond to the life of the author even if the names have been slightly altered then, for all intents and purposes, it is autobiography and what is Murnane going on about? He’s using the kind of language that religions have used for years but what he is trying to communicate is his own personal mythology. He believes that the real world is only a part of a much bigger world:

In my view, the place we commonly call the real world is surrounded by a vast and possibly infinite landscape which is invisible to [the] eyes … but which I am able to apprehend by other means. The more I tell you about this landscape the more inclined you might be to call it my mind. I myself often call it my mind for the sake of convenience. For me, however, it is not just my mind but the only mind.[33]

Why do we imagine, daydream? Is it not to escape from the mundanity of our lives? And in those dreams we do indeed travel. For most of us our journeys are fairly arbitrary but there are people, Keith Waterhouse’s Billy Fisher for example in Billy Liar, who revisit their own imaginary worlds again and again, in his case Ambrosia. This is no different for what people do every day in Second Life or even what we’re doing now. Just think about how people talk about the Web in spatial terms like going into a chat room. When I first logged onto the Internet and entered the word ‘poetry’ into a search engine and a few seconds later a list of all the websites came up the first word that came into my mind was: home. Clement’s father, in order to flee his debtors, has been forced to move his family many times – Murnane talks about moving home about twenty times as a child – and he talks to his son about feeling isolated from his true country. In some respects this is Ireland from where his family hails but it’s really Australia itself which the Irish Catholics came late to, finding it already ruined by “the bigoted Protestants and Masons” that had arrived there ahead of them. Augustine dreams of finding a place they can truly feel at home. He tells his son they can

dream of plains far inland that are probably too harsh anyway but where perhaps a few Catholic families could live in a little community whose roads led only to properties within the settlement and nowhere else beyond it.

To Augustine this may be little more than a pipedream but not to Clement. He believes that even in Bassett Catholics “might see corners that the Protestants had overlooked and which could still remind them of great mysteries just out of sight behind ordinary-looking things.” Understanding all of this helps us to realise that although Murnane himself rejected the formal religion of the Catholics he never quite shook a belief in a something else, a bigger picture. He has devised his own ways of trying to comprehend the universe he finds himself a part of and of communicating his understanding to others as best he can and that is what his works of fiction are. What is also clear is how resistant this invisible landscape is to exploration which is why so many of Clement’s tentative probings come up dry. Clement sees his family represented by an illustration on a calendar of Jesus and his parents (who, of course, were Catholics) on the road from Palestine to Egypt because underneath the illustration are the squares Murnane talks about in his opening note that form the outline of his story: Clement is Jesus and 42 Leslie Street is Egypt.

Owen Richardson in his review of the 2008 reprint wrote that Tamarisk Row is “one of the very best books about childhood and the world as the child finds it.”[34] I’m not sure that Murnane would be overly pleased with that assessment. It is certainly the best book about this particular boy’s childhood. He might settle for that.

Gerald MurnaneSo, should you read this book? Well, why would I write about 7000+ words if I thought it was just esoterica? Despite a propensity for longer sentences than are really necessary no matter how grammatically correct they might be, Tamarisk Row is actually quite an accessible novel, a moving and believable, portrait of a family muddling their way through hard times and of the bond between son and father that never wavers despite Gus’s frequent absences to pursue his dream.

If this review has piqued your interest I have two more articles about Murnane:

You can read a short extract from the book here.

I’ll leave you with a clip from the very end of the documentary Words and Silk where Murnane reads a slightly edited version of that long sentence at the end of the novel.



video




REFERENCES


[1] Gerald Murnane, ‘Boy Blue’, World Literature Today

[2] Gerald Murnane, ‘At the Edges of Plains’ in Ashley Crawford, editor, Wimmera: the work of Philip Hunter

[3] Gerald Murnane, Barley Patch, p.5

[4] Gerald Murnane, ‘Why I Write What I Write’, Meanjin, vol. 45, no. 4, December 1986

[5] Gerald Murnane, from the documentary film Words and Silk

[6] Imre Salusinszky, Weekend Australian, 5 April 2008, p.40

[7] Elisabeth Hanscombe in a comment on my earlier article Inland: common ground between Gerald Murnane and Samuel Beckett

[8] Interview with Simon Caterson in The Australian, 3 October 2009

[9] Gerald Murnane, from the documentary film Words and Silk

[10] Gerald Murnane, ‘At the Edges of Plains’ in Ashley Crawford, editor, Wimmera: the work of Philip Hunter

[11] Quoted in David Watson, Precious Little: Traces of Australian Place and Belonging, p.51

[12] Gerald Murnane, from the documentary film Words and Silk

[13] Interview with Ramona Koval on ABC’s The Book Show, 12 October 2009

[14] Gerald Murnane, ‘The Breathing Author (An Essay)’ in Pradeep Trikha, Delphic Intimations: Dialogues with Australian Writers & Critics, p.103

[15] Gerald Murnane, from the documentary film Words and Silk

[16] Gerald Murnane, from the documentary film Words and Silk

[17] Gerald Murnane, ‘The Breathing Author (An Essay)’ in Pradeep Trikha, Delphic Intimations: Dialogues with Australian Writers & Critics, p.106

[18] Gerald Murnane, from the documentary film Words and Silk

[19] Karin Hansson, Gerald Murnane’s Changing Geographies, p.14

[20] Gerald Murnane, Landscape With Landscape, p.176 & p.231

[21] Nicholas Birns, Rebecca McNeer, A Companion to Australian Literature Since 1900, p.295

[22] Karl L. Schmude, ‘From Greene to Gordon: The Changing Accent of Catholic Literature’, Aquinas Memorial Lecture 1981, p.16

[23] Gerald Murnane, ‘The Breathing Author (An Essay)’ in Pradeep Trikha, Delphic Intimations: Dialogues with Australian Writers & Critics, p.116

[24] Gerald Murnane, from the documentary film Words and Silk

[25] Gerald Murnane, from the documentary film Words and Silk

[26] Gerald Murnane, ‘The Breathing Author (An Essay)’ in Pradeep Trikha, Delphic Intimations: Dialogues with Australian Writers & Critics, p.116

[27] Gerald Murnane, from the documentary film Words and Silk

[28] Gerald Murnane, ‘The Breathing Author (An Essay)’ in Pradeep Trikha, Delphic Intimations: Dialogues with Australian Writers & Critics, p.109

[29] Karin Hansson, Gerald Murnane’s Changing Geographies, p.12

[30] Nicholas Birns, Rebecca McNeer, A Companion to Australian Literature Since 1900, p.295

[31] Gerald Murnane quoted in Paul Genoni, Subverting the Empire: Explorers and Exploration in Australian Fiction, p.148

[32] Nicholas Birns, Rebecca McNeer, A Companion to Australian Literature Since 1900, p.295

[33] Gerald Murnane, ‘The Breathing Author (An Essay)’ in Pradeep Trikha, Delphic Intimations: Dialogues with Australian Writers & Critics, p.113

[34] Owen Richardson, ‘Tamarisk Row’, The Age, 17 March 2008

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