Thursday, March 24, 2016

Spivack, Evocative Writing, and Lamenting Literary Noise

I have been pondering lately the distinct pleasure afforded by evocative writing - one in which words are meticulously measured and artfully poised; in which the narrative is defined as much by what is absent rather than blatantly present; where characters are suggested, distinguished by a smattering of habitual behaviors or a particular physical attribute; where space and stillness exist between the lines, the cadence measured, thoughtful and precise. The evocative writer weaves a certain intuitive enchantment; fictional individuals are perceived through a glass darkly, with much of their internal selves concealed like the submerged leviathan detected only by the trajectory of its spout or a hidden rose garden that is intimated by a wafting fragrance.

Recently I lost myself in Kathleen Spivack's Unspeakable Things for which I wrote a review for Literary Fiction Book Review's March postings - so I do not wish to abscond with their literary thunder by duplicating content here - nevertheless, Spivack's novel was extraordinary. Her prose redolent with a deft lyricism, imbued with an almost smoky appeal. Juxtaposed against a subsequent read - the character and plot of which were elaborated upon in tedious detail, Spivack's gossamer eloquence among the literary ranks gleamed ever more brightly.

I think it is also a question of noise – literary noise. In this tech-driven age mobile gadgetry is perpetually at hand, becoming as firmly anchored to 21st century selves as any blood and bone limb, compromising dinner conversations, intruding upon quiet reflection and literary habits with insistent zings and beeps, insatiable in their demand for 'friends' and 'likes'. So I find it with writers that insist upon relating it all, delineating each movement of character – from stair to chair and back again – so that the resultant narrative is overburdened; the prose, predictable with momentum motivated by sequential mechanical action, becomes, at the literary end, stilted, robotic and, quite frankly, tedious. Just as we are inundated with the clang and clamor of environmental noise, riveted by the bombardment of tweets and posts, ceaselessly engaged with trending content (much of which is vacuous), so we are regaled by meaningless matter in books of this kind. And how much more potent and powerful is the implicit narrative!

These novels of quiet power, of space and stillness, of evocative suggestibility, they impart, in the sheer musical repose of finely crafted narrative, a literary restfulness. Spivack shifts with luminous ability between past and present, between the solidity of the corporeal world to the incandescent suggestibility of the spiritual one. Ghosts weave and wander, with sinuous ease, among the piping and the reader feels, like young Maria, the evocative drama of "unspeakable things"; not only referencing dark deeds of the nefarious Rasputin, but also the haunting power of this lovely literary work and the compelling resonance of all that is left unsaid, by character as well as author.

10 comments:

  1. Very well put, Jaynie. I just finished reading A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD, and it demonstrates similar qualities to what you describe here. Thanks for writing about it.

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    1. Thank you, Lily, for stopping by. I am so glad you enjoyed my musing and must seek out 'A Visit From the Goon Squad' - it is always wonderful to discover evocative new novels!

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  2. Another beautiful musing. Thank you so much. I also admire the people who can do this. Maybe modern life is harder to depict this way than lives that lent themselves better to quiet contemplation.

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    1. That is a very succinct way of putting it, nonentity, but it made a lot of sense to me.

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    2. Yes, indeed - it is, I think, a challenge and one that Spivack met beautifully. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

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  4. Nonentity's point makes a lot of sense to me - how, by what means, through which rhetoric if you wish, are fiction writers to unearth the depths (or lack of them) underneath the 'robotic veneer'? Your musing, PJ, which beautifully extols the virtues of thougthful, precise, and evocative prose both in content and in form, surely resonates with me; on the other hand, I seem to resonate less and less with 'the times'...

    Which is romantic, perhaps, but only to an extent; one cannot declare the current human world null and void, no matter how inane its manifestations. Besides, violence is writ large on each and every wall - and in this, our era hardly differs from any near or distant past. Already, and very slowly, ongoing terrorist assaults seem to be waking us from our robotic slumber.

    And so, in answer to nonentiti's post, I'd say that evocative and artful writing should never restrict itself to lives immersed in 'quiet contemplation'. However, I do believe writers would be the wiser if they devote themselves to quiet contemplation - being an ideal state, rather than a prevailing reality anywhere in history - in order to grasp the ever-varying distances which divide happiness from sorrow and sadness from bliss... If it be true that 'God is a concept, by which we measure our pain' (J. Lennon), then perhaps the writer must play God after all.

    But in that respect only.

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    1. You are exactly right, Pim. Thank you for your most insightful comment.

      I do not mean to declare the current human world null and void, nor do I mean to propose fiction writers eschew a narrative that elaborates upon it. Spivack actually does a marvelous job of describing the noise of New York – she likens it to a raucous jazz which interplays beautifully with the classical renditions that come from the talented fingers of the Viennese Tolstoi Quartet.

      I think that the evocative and artful in writing can be applied to any time, place or subject, and that it consists primarily of an authentic voice that eschews, particularly, the superfluous, the redundancies, the plethora of narrative detail that the reader really does not need to know, that bloats the entirety.

      I propose instead a conciseness, a clarity – and one that does not necessarily do without atmospheric lushness. Yes, doubtless I am having my cake and eating it too, but there is a difference I feel between narrative lushness that contributes fundamentally to the literary atmosphere and superfluous information which over-burdens.

      Perhaps it is a matter of writing with thoughtful deliberation? And of course the critical necessity of a skillful editor...

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