that’s where all the maps stop

I’ve been writing about James Joyce recently. Like many Joyce fans, I have my favorites between Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Ulysses, but I’ve never made a serious attempt to read Finnegan’s Wake. There are some people who admire it tremendously, and who perhaps even enjoy it, but most readers seem to find it impossible to get into.

Joyce apparently promised that, after Finnegan’s Wake, his next novel would be a simple novel.

David Lynch has not made a feature film since Inland Empire (2006). I hadn’t seen Inland Empire until recently, maybe because it was generally reported to be very difficult to follow, even by the standards of earlier Lynch films, or maybe because it’s three hours long, or both, but now that I have seen it I still prefer Mulholland Drive, which seems to be (this is not an original idea with me) a somewhat more traditional approach to the same general themes (specifically around Hollywood and its relationship to actresses).

William S. Burroughs started off with fairly conventional novels (Junkie, Queer), hit it (relatively) big when he went more “out there” in his style and techniques (Naked Lunch), proceeded to go way more “out there” (in The Nova Trilogy, for example), and then pulled back and integrated all of these into a final style (Cities of the Red Night).

I haven’t read Burroughs in a while, but Cities of the Red Night was always my favorite. It has the general structure and affect of a hard-boiled noir detective novel, and Burroughs builds on those conventional elements while going increasingly bonkers, much the same way David Lynch did in Twin Peaks and elsewhere.

The consistent thread here is not these artists, specifically, but my understanding of my own preferences, which are apparently very consistent.

This also makes me think of John Coltrane. I read an interview once with a jazz critic/enthusiast/musician (I don’t remember who, obviously) who said that it would have been interesting to see, if Coltrane had lived decades longer (he died at 40), if he would have continued to take his music further and further “outside” the traditional forms and modes, which was the trajectory he was on, or if he would have at some point moved back to more conventional forms, as Burroughs (who lived to be 83) did, and as Joyce (who lived to be 58) was apparently planning to.

The idea was that if you break things down beyond a certain point you just get complete chaos, and where could you go beyond that, in any art form? For a writer, would you start inventing your own alphabet?

All of this, of course, applies to me (this is my blog, after all 🙂 ).

I started out quite a bit more “outside” than I’ve ended up. (“Lee” in my name is for Burroughs, by the way.)

At one point, in writing the first version of Utown, I had one chapter (called “Eyes Wide Open,” if I remember correctly) which was quite “out there.” It was considered enjoyable (by some) and baffling & annoying (by others), and I realized that this was a dead end for me.

I do still have some of the “cut-ups” still available, and they make me laugh out loud (the highest praise possible, in my opinion).

Also, since I’ve been re-reading Across the River and into the Trees, it amused me to remember that I’d written this: Papa.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in James Joyce, Other, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.