“The twelve steps that curved up and over the fireplace ended in a landing. From there, a further flight of stairs led up to the attics. At 2 a.m. Martha went upstairs to kiss the kids good night. She found Hazel hunched on her bed, head down, pale hair spread over her knees, hands clasped at the back of her neck. When Martha approached, the girl did not look up. From the room’s bare boards a small orchard grew, apple trees in full leaf and heavy with fruit. A child’s rocking-horse stood by the wall. Floating like a wraith through the doorway, Martha left in a shower of leaves, her spiking fingers tangled with twigs and boughs.”—Alan Burns, Revolutions of the Night, 1986.
“The stars were so bright, and shooting stars so plentiful, it seemed to be snowing stars. Harry counted thirty comets. A meteor shot to earth and hit a patch of waste ground north of the town. Then it became apparent. They were not meteors but children, naked babies with chubby limbs. They had been propelled into space by a terrible explosion. On their return to earth, their velocity had made them phosphorescent. A urning child flew into a tree. The tree became its funeral pyre.”—Alan Burns, Revolutions of the Night, 1986.
“Here in the desert, fear is precise. Never an obstacle. Fear is real, is nothing like anguish. It is as necessary as a day of work well done. It is localized, familiar and inspires no fantasies. Here there are only wind, thorns, snakes, wolf-spiders, beasts, skeletons: the soil’s very nature.
At the Motel though, fear is diffuse, televised like a rape, a murder, a fit of insanity. It torments the mind’s gullible side, obstructs dreams, bruises the soul’s trouble.”—Nicole Brossard, Mauve Desert, 1987.
“'Time is more severe than the public, however, with books. The public at least pounces on the best-sellers, even if to forget them almost as fast. […] say 500 novels a week are published (far more today no doubt) five get reviewed, one everywhere, two here and there, and two very little; those five become 260 at the end of the year, not necessarily the same five; of which five get remembered in Christmas lists. That makes fifty after ten years, of which five get remembered for the decade. And fifteen over three decades, quickly reduced to five or less for literary histories. But by now out of thousands published. So it's a lottery. Fun to start with, since the young tend to seek fun. Sometimes one of these 7,800,000 or so gets rediscovered and revived, not necessarily among the most successful at the time. Frequently the best are ignored and the next best with the worst highly praised. But success in a lifetime doesn't necessarily mean bad, nor does failure automatically mean good though ignored. It's amazing how little this matters now, it's worked out jocularly at the time of a first novel over forty years past, to rinse all false ambitions away. And vaguely confirmed by mild and indifferent observation since, watching authors prancing through press and parties wrapped in their own blurbs. The lottery accepted, by one who never wins lotteries. Accepted also is the strong risk that grammatical experiment is automatically ignored or unseen, though begun long ago and explored with very different characters and plots. The most plotless being this text, which is bound to have a zappy ending.'”—Christine Brooke-Rose, Life, End of, 2006. From Jimmy.
“A fine-looking man, the son transformed, doomed to meet his death, stopped to talk to me, on his way back. He had been dying on the battlefields. I invited him to lunch. I was filled with admiration for what he had seen. He ruined my velvet-covered furniture by scraping his greased boots over it. The incident gave rise to satirical verses. He was a troublemaker who tried to kidnap and kill, but the plan was found out, troops were summoned, with instructions to shoot on sight. So order was restored. A strike was called, no papers were printed, the town was still. I could not find out, men and women were falling, soldiers caught the disease, the schools were turned into hospitals, thousands died. Bread was sold by card. A relative sent me all I needed from home, but I could not cook the food, the people’s police were free to enter. I found a room unoccupied, and there I sat on a chair. It was raining on the bright uniforms. Shivering, weary, unable to walk, ill and tired, I discussed plans for my return, and for the return of those who planned the commander’s fall.”—Alan Burns, Europe After the Rains, 1965.
“What is writing?
Imagine an ant colony carrying one by one a bit of food to their nest. The crumb of sustenance is bigger and heavier than any of the ants, yet they manage. They forage everywhere for their food; it is the instinct to survive. What others reject, they collect. Nothing is wasted.”—Tragically under-recognized artist/novelist/wrestler Rosalyn Drexler on writing in her 1964 canine love story The Cosmopolitan Girl.
“Another twenty rooms and then there’ll still be more and you’ll tell me to describe them, and more and more kitchens servants tell-tale tittle-tattle secrets of the bedchamber families mile upon mile of streets and stairs and lumber rooms and junk-shoips of antique-dealers grocers butchers skimping and scraping everywhere in our heads how dreary it all is always starting over again why, all these dead people around us all these dead people we third degree to make them talk when will you have finished I haven’t asked anything, am I always going to have to start again the evenings in the bistro in the street what how why
Pull yourself together, describe them”—Robert Pinget, The Inquisitory, 1962.
“Am I pushing or dying? the light up there, the immense round blazing white light is drinking me. It drinks me slowly, inspires me into space. If I do not close my eyes, it will drink all of me. I seep upward, in long icy threads, too light, and yet inside me there is a fire too, the nerves are twisted, there is no rest from this long tunnel dragging me, or am I pushing myself out of the tunnel, or is the child being pushed out of me, or is the light drinking me. Am I dying? The ice in the veins, the cracking of the bones, this pushing in darkness, with a small shaft of light in the eyes like the edge of the knife, the feeling of a knife cutting the flesh, the flesh somewhere is tearing as if it were burned through by a flame, somewhere my flesh is tearing and the blood is spilling out. I am pushing in the darkness, in utter darkness.”—Anais Nin, “Birth”, 1938.
“It was amusing to watch their backs, one lost her footing and rolled over, she was seized by the legs and pulled along. Divided from the women by the width of the room, the guards watched in silence. Two girls carried fire from behind a screen in iron dishes as tall as themselves, suffering magnified their limbs, no greetings, no word, the wind rising, their voices lamented, I could not distinguish one from the other, we went on eating, their breasts hanging over us like long potatoes. The sound of drums on stage confused with exploding shells outside, the building was roofed with tiles, the pillars painted, the walls streaked with lime. She was seated in shadow, her face oval in the dim room, she carried an umbrella which she twirled to prevent any man staring at her, she offered me a bowl of milk, placing it at my feet, it was not necessary to know what she meant by the movement, there was no mystery,she used a poem to kill. The troops were outside, there was no time for marriage, I gave her some clothes but she would not put them on, she sent them out of the room. Because she had been bitten by one of the dogs, she kept her face half-hidden. I had only to wait, the idea was to do nothing at all. The stage was a fortress surrounded by a wall,loopholed, on either side were piles of grenades for the last troops who kept guard. The crumbling of the place brought out the rats and other vermin, circus dogs dressed in yellow, wearing caps, trotted on money. Her hunger was so strong her flesh was like earth that disappears, with her skirt held up she ran with the spotlight, she scrambled for paper and rubber, there was no space, she had no form, she drifted in the strong light, in the haze of dust her face was white, her body bare, she wore no jewels, I had no desire at all.”—Alan Burns, Europe After the Rains, 1965.
“The current of the crowd wanted to sweep me along with it. The green lights on the street corners ordered me to cross the street, the policemen smiled to invite me to walk between the silver-headed nails. Even the autumn leaves obeyed the current. But I broke away from it like a fallen piece. I swerved out and stood at the top of the stairs leading down to the quays. Below me flowed a river. Not like the current I had just broken from, made of dissonant pieces colliding rustily, made of hunger and desire.”—Anais Nin, “Houseboat”, 1941.
“It was not that I was indifferent, I was not, but I was calm, I had no part of her trembling. I felt that I did not care for the means by which this women’s had been broken, but I was relieved when I was no longer with her. This was deplorable, but the fact remained. There had been a number of factors and their effect had been cumulative.”—
A bit of the nightmarish ambiguous flood of Alan Burns’ Europe After the Rain, 1965. More 60s surrealist finds from the Brooklyn Public Library.
“At night there was the desert, the shining eyes of antelope jack rabbits, senita flowers that bloom only in the night. Lying under the Meteor’s headlights was the body of a humanity that did not know Arizona. Humanity was fragile because it did not suspect Arizona’s existence. So fragile, I was fifteen and hungered for everything to be as in my body’s fragility, that impatient tolerance making the body necessary. I was an expert driver, wild-eyed in mid-night, capable of going forward in the dark. I knew all that like a despair capable of setting me free of everything. Eternity was a shadow cast in music, a fever of the brain making it topple over into the tracings of highways. Humanity was fragile, a gigantic hope suspended over cities. Everything was fragile, I knew it, I had always known it. At fifteen I pretended I had forgotten mediocrity. Like me mother, I pretended that nothing was dirtied.
Shadows on the road devour hope. There are no shadows at night, at noon, there is only certitude traversing reality. But reality is a little trap, little shadow grave welcoming desire. Reality is a little passion fire that pretexts. I was fifteen and with ever ounce of my strength I was leaning into my thoughts to make them slant reality toward the light.”—Nicole Brossard, Mauve Desert, 1987.