CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
The New Stylists
They were the first, in fact, to make up stories. Others before them had told tales, of course, had lied, had imagined things, but these were the first to rely strictly on language, its symbols, its logic, its effects. You would not know this simply by reading one of their texts. Their texts were like other texts, seemed like other texts to represent certain characters, places, locations; but whereas other texts might be at least partly drawn from experience, tradition, observation, these stories were—the fact has been rigorously established—produced from nothing. The sentences, on close inspection, resemble mathematical equations; they may be written and rewritten a thousand different ways without changing the underlying sense; and yet they are not, for that, obscure or lifeless or, as one critic charged, covinous. Our language itself seems to prevent that, and their writing, it has been noted, owed everything to their language. Doesn’t all writing? you ask. Certainly, yes, but before this new approach developed, writers owed a great deal to life as well, to their own memories, to everything that was not writing. That is what changed. And though we now, from an historical perspective, may look on it as a sort of breakthrough, it should be emphasized that this evolution in literature was originally seen (as is so frequently the case with innovation) as a defect. Indeed the trailblazing writers themselves largely understood their advances to be failures, and more than one New Stylist (as they came to be known) prematurely ended his or her career and, sometimes, his or her life, in desperation—of a sort now difficult for us to comprehend—desperation born of an inability to write in the old way.
From the very beginning the New Style had its critical proponents, to be sure, but even they were ready to admit that a certain incompetence nourished its development. Here, for example, is S. D., glossing the work of Mars Krogen: “As our ancestors out of lack—of wings, feathers, etc.—required instead their great ingenuity in order to fly, so Krogen, by sheer force of will, has managed to craft a perfect story where no such thing ought to have been found.” Krogen, and those who were or have come to be associated with him (Krogen was, as S. D. put it, “the father of so many already born”), did not write the way they did because talent or perception led them there; on the contrary, they wrote, in Krogen’s words, “the last way possible.” They did not have parents or grandparents who remembered their childhoods, who talked about the old customs or the old wars. And even with such parents, they could not have heard those stories; or rather, they could not have heard them as life but merely as words or, perhaps, in some instances, as narrative—never as real. They did not know the histories of the cities they inhabited or of the people that surrounded them. And even of their own lives they did not really have anything like what used to serve as experience. If they did, they would not have been able to articulate it, and therein lay the failure which caused them such distress—a failure, moreover, which they were helpless to oppose. They could not translate memory or vision; what passed before their eyes, through their minds, was filed away or recycled immediately, instantly and continually replaced; and they could no more describe it than they could experience it. The data was there, of course, but representation was, for them as for us, unthinkable. The most vividly detailed scene, the cleanest, most defined, had become as inscrutable as, to use an old metaphor, the face of God.
The new style emerged quite organically, when the faculties—what for thousands of years had been the faculties—necessary to the task of writing, of writers, ceased to exist. Language remained and, by consequence, remained in use. Some still want to return to the old way, and some still try, but where they succeed it is only the success of an old projector which, connected to a power source and turned on, still casts light on the wall. Others say they prefer silence, and in that they join a long and, it must be allowed, respectable line of antistylists who have nevertheless, in the final analysis, always failed to convince. Representation, of course, even with its purpose ta’en, continues apace. If what that word once meant has, to some degree, been lost, it is yet repeated ad nauseam in all the stories and essays and historical reports. It remains, against all odds, the preferred mode, every day borne ever further from its source. Which may not be as we prefer it, but, in accordance with the new style, it is all we are able to do.
Montherlant Is Montherlant
Montherlant chose to be Montherlant, this we understand. He is responsible, Montherlant for Montherlant, he who now is done. Montherlant is done, and yet we see at the borders of Montherlant room for refinements, for slight alterations here and there. We see how this with little pressure is Montherlant still. Take away his jacket, it could be. Even take away this one idea of his, this one thought, this reflection of a sunset in a young man’s eye. Still Montherlant, perhaps. Take away this eye. Rewrite this man. A little pressure, no more than little. We are still alive ourselves; in our imaginations there is space. We are dynamic, do not apprehend really what this means, to be fixed, to be Montherlant, though we have our assumptions about fixity. What today is perfect is only finished only tomorrow to be gone.
Montherlant wrote the writings of Montherlant, and no others. He could have written differently, he could not. That he did not write differently than Montherlant, it does not however follow he did not fail, nor that he did not deceive himself, nor that he was not finished before he began. Did not also could not. Immaterial, in any case: finished now. Montherlant cannot write differently, only his readers read him differently, when they read him, now and then. Islands are formed this way, by weather, by geology, by the oceans surrounding them, by people whose vessels run aground upon their shores. It isn’t a perfect analogy, no, but the objections we make to it are also imperfect. Object only imperfectly, finish, do not undo. Montherlant cannot be undone; he moves forward, becomes fixed, remains done. Life moves forward, and what passes through it becomes fixed. This, too.
Montherlant, too, though the oceans change.
There are those who say the past is not yet fixed, who try in this to comfort us, but no. No comfort yet this weather, nor the heaven from which it falls. It falls only. And if it were not so it would be thus. Who says there is always time means rather the past may be redeemed. And so? No matter to who is done. Who is done, and what, not what could once have been. Done, and not other than itself, and who has happened, even continuing, fixed.
Montherlant has happened. That is done now. Et derrière toi elle coule aussi cette sève, la tienne, pétrifiée et sans dimensions.
Louis Cancelmi is a writer and translator living in Brooklyn, NY. His work has been published in various journals, including the New England Review, disClosure, and Collectanea, and his plays have been produced in New York by Naked Angels. His recently completed short film Let Us Watch This Together can be viewed at http://www.louiscancelmi.com/letuswatchthis.html.