I’m on day 78 of re-typing and rewriting James Joyce’s A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man. I’m also on day 23 of reading Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis backwards and recording it on my soundcloud channel.
Reading backwards has been a curious experiment so far. I’ve noticed that my brain will try its best to assemble a phrase or a sentence logically or rather the way I’m used to reading it. For example, take a sentence like:
On this same evening – Gregor could not remember having heard the violin during the whole time – the sound of violin playing came from the kitchen.
Same line, only backwards:
Kitchen the from came playing violin of sound the – time whole the during violin the heard having remember not could Gregor – evening same this on.
Sometimes my brain will transform the above passage into something like this (I’m taking a bunch of incidents here, for this doesn’t occur all once), when I read it:
Kitchen from the came playing violin the sound of – time whole the violin during heard the having remember could not Gregor – evening this same on.
My mind will try to force my speech to put the indefinite article or adverb pronoun in its proper place. It will also try to take words like “crutch-handled cane” and read them as “cane crutch-handled” as opposed to the way I want to read it, “cane handled crutch.” As I go, I try my best to be faithful to my basic constraint which is: to read it all backwards. A few times I’ve been successful with the whole page, even re-reading it to be sure, but more often than not I’ve been letting whatever happens happen. With that method, however, it’s been quite illuminating to discover the way Kafka used simple staccato-like passages, as if Gregor/he were a fidgety insect. Read a backwards passage like:
glances piercing, bright darted eyes black his eyebrows bushy his under
I visually see: g, p, b, d, e, b, h, e, b, h, and u. Not a lot of flow there, with the exception of the “e,” in eyes and eyebrows. Take the same line and read it forwards:
under his bushy eyebrows his black eyes darted bright, piercing glances
Fascinating to me is that the passage is definitely fluid, but it still has that same staccato effect from the backwards version. It was only upon reading it aloud backwards that I picked up on that phenomena occurring throughout what I’d read. Kafka being clever enough to write an entire novella on an insect is one thing, but did he mean for the reader to flip through the pages in different directions, or am I just looking for something spontaneous in my experiments? My guess is that in uncreative writing or, in this case, uncreative reading (?), a reader/writer will take things from the seemingly mundane and imaginatively/analytically form various dimensions to the reading/writing process.
In my retyping/rewriting of The Portrait Of The Artist As Young Man, I’m at the part of it where our young Stephen Dedalus has been infected by puberty and existential angst ( I like to think puberty and angst of any kind go hand in hand in creative brains). Stephen/Joyce is enamoured by a young lady, calling the obsessive thoughts of her “feverish,” while at the same time feeling anger at the parochial pronouncements and the telling rebellious ideals of his elders. While the language at the beginning of the book was short, infantile, and confusing, now it’s become melliflous and clear. Joyce utilizes a bigger vocabular (definitely a reader’s writer), and urbane phrases in poetic-like paragraphs. It’s become a joy to read his description of that fever described earlier:
All day he had though of nothing but their leavetaking on the steps of the train at Harold’s Cross, the stream of moody emotions it had made to course through him, and the poem he had written about it. All day he had imagined a new meeting with her for he knew that she was to come to the play. The old restless moodiness had again filled his breast as it had done on the night of the party but had not found an outlet in verse.
First of all, how swoon-y is it to think of a young Joyce writing love poetry (his dirty love letters to Nora notwithstanding!), based purely on the confusion he felt in teenagehood. Secondly, I’ve noticed (as with before): 1. odd compound words like “leavetaking,” for one, 2. many run on sentences sprinkled with commas or colons, and, 3. Words like Mr or Mrs have no periods.
The same sort of thing happens in The Metamorphosis. Kafka uses dashes and commas quite a bit to unite thoughts and phrases. I think this might add to the staccato effect I noted. It also makes me think that writers used to experiment a great deal with how sentences and phrases were formed. The perfect sentence was less important than the perfect way to communicate an idea or rather, the perfect phrasing for a writer to impart an image was more important than the academic. Of course, my belief is that you need a good balance and it’s best to start to with a strong knowledge of the basic formation of a good sentence. What makes Kafka and Joyce ingenious to me is that they were able to take knowledge and distort it so it still made perfect sense to their readers. It’s an almost intuitive way of writing the way a reader will instinctually read a work.
Funny enough, I find synchronicity in all this:
1. My children are both going through puberty. My son’s voice started cracking a few months ago.
2. Speaking of intuitiveness, in my review of Upstream Color it’s my impression that Carruth has tapped into a resurgence into the interconnected innateness in relationships and the natural environment. A great writer will tap into that resource and infect its reader with an idea or a thought. It keeps the reader reading and the film watcher thinking long after the movie has finished. It’s a theory I’m trying to form into an article and hopefully I’ll have time to further expound upon it here or in a publication.
3. It’s spring here in Toronto and a lot of the animals have gone through their metamorphoses as well. I’ve been keeping a keen eye on the development of the animals and plants at the park while children go through their own changes.
Edited to add: Since I’m on the 23rd day of 55 with The Metamorphosis, I’ve been eyeing my copy of Nabokov’s Lolita for a similar treatment, only not reading backwards or aloud. I’m still researching a good constraint for it, but it fills me with glee to work in some way with this book.
I’ve joined the film critic magazine Next Projection as one of their new film reviewers. I’m very excited about this new venture. I’ll be doing movie reviews, film analysis, retrospectives, and opinion pieces there. I already have a few weeks worth of movies and research to review and assemble which means I have a pleasantly busy schedule.
I will continue to include reviews and analysis on this site as well.
My writer’s group Moosemeat will be launching our new chapbook soon in July. I’m very chuffed to have another story in there this year. More details on the launch in a few weeks as it comes to me.
As you can see, my art shop now has a tab/page ready on this site. Just two of the many painting that will be up for sale:
“Home” 12 x 16, acrylic on canvas
“Charlie scream” 12 x 16, acrylic on canvas
I’ve been putting together the photos, prices, and how to order from here. Will launch that at some point while I work on “Charlie and Crush Are Here” the visual poetry graphic novel.
A young reader of this site and filmmaker by the name of David Vaipan sent me information on a project he’s currently working on. “It’s a feature-length adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Homer’s Odyssey [&c.] titled You (Plural).” I found it very intriguing.
Check it out here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/youplural/you-plural