First HOUSE Project — Strands

The most recent post and the one preceding it propose an initial possible project for exploring the feasibility of writers organizing themselves into syndicated publishing Houses. Short texts solicited from multiple authors would be compiled into an e-book; the texts, varying in genre and style and form, would be unified around a shared thematic element or strand.

What sorts of strands could be considered for linking these varied texts together? There are the grand themes of literature: love and death, fate and chance and choice, good and evil. There are the strands identifying genres: adventure, romance, horror, crime. There are properties of character and setting: the elderly, the mad, the city, the future.

At present I’m reading F, a 2014 novel by Daniel Kehlmann. In the first section Arthur takes his three sons to watch a hypnotist perform onstage. Midway through the show the Great Lindemann invites Arthur to come up. Arthur shakes his head and laughs: “It doesn’t work on me,” he tells Lindemann; “take someone else.” “But I want you.” “Why?” “Because that’s what I want. Because you believe you don’t want to.” Eventually bowing to his sons’ insistence Arthur walks up the center aisle and climbs the steps onto the stage. Lindemann engages Arthur in conversation:

“What do you do for a living?”
Arthur said nothing.
“Or don’t you have a job?”
“I write.”
“If what I write got printed, they’d be books.”
“A few.”
“That’s bad.”
“No, it doesn’t matter.”
“It doesn’t bother you at all?”
“I’m not that ambitious.”
Arthur said nothing.
“You don’t look as if you’d settle for a little. You might want to believe that of yourself, but actually you don’t. What do you really want? We’re all friends here. What do you want?”
“To get away.”
“From here.”
“From everywhere.”

Sometimes I think that all fiction is metafiction, that every novel is about novel writing. At least Kehlmann is explicit about it — or is it a trick, the author mesmerizing me into believing that his book is about writing whereas in actual fact… Writing, rejection, whether an unpublished manuscript is a real book, whether writing is a job if you don’t make a living from it, writerly ambition and indifference — surely all writers share these concerns; just as surely these concerns figure prominently in the collaborative Project and the possibility of forming writers’ Houses. But there are other concerns woven through this scene. Parenthood and childhood. The fluid boundary between performance and audience, between knowledge and belief, between free will and persuasion and insinuation, between desire and indifference, between consciousness and unconsciousness. Escape.

When you get down to it though, aren’t all of these themes about fiction writing?
Sure, but that’s not the only thing they’re about.
There is nothing outside the text.
But that’s not what Derrida meant…

This sort of  bivalent ambivalence should characterize the unifying strand in the proposed compilation project. Writing and writing about writing, fiction and meta — the strand should be two strands entwined, a double helix. But is bivalence a characteristic of the strand itself, or of the ways in which writers and readers engage that strand? Two guys walk into a bar: are they both writers? a writer and a reader? is the bar metaphorical for a novel? for the House? isn’t every guy-walks-into-a-bar joke a work of flash fiction? are the two guys aware that we’re watching and listening to them as they walk in?


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