Friday, June 06, 2008

Écriture caféesque

An Achievement in the Narrable World

Uncover’d in my siege of the used book shops the other day:

Microcosms, by Claudio Magris (The Harvill Press, 1999), translated out of the Italian by Iain Halliday.

Claudio Magris’s heroic jaunt down the Danube (and resultant book, Danube) attuned my eye to anything he did—I simply pounced on Microcosms. Here: unsettled Trieste and environs, people in historical flux and lingual upheaval. Caught up into a paragraph about writing in cafés:
It’s not bad, filling up sheets of paper under the sniggering masks and amidst the indifference of the people sitting around. That good-natured indifference balances the latent delirium of omnipotence that exists in writing—purporting to sort out the world with a few pieces of paper and to hold forth on life and death. Thus the pen is dipped, willingly or otherwise, into ink diluted with humility and irony. The café is a place for writing. One is alone, with paper and pen and at most two or three books, hanging onto the table like a shipwreck survivor tossed by the waves. A few centimetres of wood separate the sailor from the abyss that might swallow him up, the tiniest flaw and the huge black waters break ruinously, pulling him down. The pen is a lance that wounds and heals; it pierces the floating wood and leaves it to the mercy of the waves, but it also plugs the wood and renders it capable of sailing once again and keeping to a course.
How completely odd to think of that act nearly (in the process of being) replaced by the sterile chatter of keyboard pecking. One longs to keep the world at bay (writing), the better to reassemble it in one’s own brain-pan, of parts contiguous to oneself, or loud. Now, laptop’d, the world a jiggle and swoop off, there for the (mis)taking. I recall going to Paris, aged nineteen, A Moveable Feast tuck’d under one limb, thinking (of course) I’d need a café, a regular café, to do my writing in—little knowing that, penny-pinching to extend my stay, I’d find myself able to afford only a rare beer out, an uncommon coffee. And: the stance itself impinged, its historical moment gone, so that one wrote (in Café Tout Va Bien a dumpy joint in the lap of the Quartier Latin—possibly my only experience of acting the rôle so long-contemplated—though there is a piece of juvenilia titled “In the Café l’Escholier,” something about a “souvenir leaf,” writ fleetly in the Tompkins County Public Library):
Oh I am a ridiculous man this table is so small &
Today I am so big benign nearly popely

O love love love
Is this “failingly compelling” or “compellingly failing”

Adverbs poke poke poke
Why no gratuitous stability stability stability
Why such sweaty arpeggios
                                                      “what sort of ponderousness”
In no respite in reprise
Here here here how insupportably e clamorous I become

Language isn’t so strong befittingly
The sun is “niggardly” or “prudent” today
A stray beam is nipping a rooftop
I am reeling in terrific havoc
                                                      shooing Destiny
Gregarious like a child
Putting an index finger in its piggish nose

Days shuttle by with a taut precision
A bonesetting
Sheer & cherubic simultaneously coffee & Gauloises
Boiling water in a simple

Kettle ah the
Utensils of a normal life . . .
Ah café writing. The way it tempers one’s bigheadedess—that Syrian out there dipping beignets doesn’t believe a word of that shit. Plunged (today) into the everywhere identical bowels of the Dell (or whatever)—there’s nobody there to pull one’s head up out of the soup they is slurping at. Thus the saying (for the fob’d-off plagiary-hash that assumes the status of writing nowadays): “nutritious as a pixel.” If, writing, café-ensorcel’d, one thinks oneself into being the Apollinaire of the moment (see “stray beam”), one need only turn one’s head, readjust the slant of one’s gaze in the physical world to find some kind of other putty to make with.

Guillaume Apollinaire, 1880-1918