Jan 132010

I read Julio Cortazar’s “Axolotl” yesterday.  In this story, a man visits a Parisian aquarium and becomes captivated by a strange species of salamnder until he becomes one.  Though the story is unusual, there were clearly desire-resistance patterns built into the structure and it seemed to follow a logical (albeit odd) progression.  This pattern seemed less clear in Leonard Michael’s story, “In the Fifties.”  I’m curious to see how that story comes apart on closer readings.  I’ve also been trying to make my way through Shklovsky’s Theory of Prose.  Here are some gems from chapter 1: Quoting Spencer…”The merit of a style consists in precisely this: that it delivers the greatest number of ideas in the fewest number of words.”   “The purpose of art, then, is to lead us to a knowledge of a thing through the organ of sight instead of recognition.”  This idea was particularly interesting.  My children do this all the time.  They try to describe something they don’t understand or have a word for.  Tolstoy calls it (according to Shklovsky) “seeing for the first time.”   Shklovsky is more dense and harder to understand in chapter two.  I’ve also been reading Leon Surmelian’s “Techniques of Fiction Writing: Measure and Madness.”  This is an older book but very thorough…a few quotes from him.  “Plot dramatizes the idea.”  “Pain is the difference between what we expected and what we discovered, what we hoped for and what we got, the difference between illusion and reality.”    “Desire would cease to be desire without pain.”  I’m wading in to Calvino, Angela Carter and Millhauser’s “The Barnum Museum” today.

—Richard Farrell

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