Airplanes, Hyphellipses, and What's Next? [The Invented Part]
On this week’s Two Month Review podcast, we’ll be discussing the seventh, and final, part of The Invented Part (“The Imaginary Person,” pages 441-552). As a bit of preparation, below you’ll find some initial thoughts, observations, and quotes.
You can also download this post as a PDF document.
As always, you can get The Invented Part
for 20% off from our website by using the code 2MONTH. It’s also available at better bookstores everywhere.
In a couple weeks, the second season of the Two Month Review will start up and will feature Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller by Guðbergur Bergsson. As with The Invented Part you can get this for 20% off from our website by using the same 2MONTH code. A preview podcast about Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller will go up on August 10th, and on August 17th we’ll be talking about pages 1-31.
This is likely going to be a quote-heavy post, so why not start things off right:
How to end.
Or better: How to end?
Adding the question mark that—nothing happens by chance—has the shape of . . . / OF WHAT? / INSERT HERE /; sharp and pointy pages like the edges of the wings of Jumbo Jets / FIND, PLEASE, A BETTER SIMILE TO CREATE THE ATMOSPHERE OF AN AIRPORT /, slicing into both those who rise and those who fall, pulling them, dragging them down the air-conditioned aisles or making them fly in pieces through the air to land just inside the airport of these parentheses / COULD THERE BE PLACES MORE “BETWEEN PARENTHESES” THAN AIRPORTS? (EXPAND) / that more than one person will criticize or judge as unnecessary; but that, in the uncertainty of a beginning, are oh so similar to hands coming together in an act of prayer, asking for a fair voyage now drawing to an end. And good luck to all, wishes you this voice / ALLUSION HERE TO THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE VOICE OF THE SIREN LOUDSPEAKERS THAT SING AND CONFUSE TRAVELERS IN AIRPORTS? TO THE IRRITATION OF SUCCESSIVE CHECKPOINTS CLOSING LIKE CHINESE BOXES OR RUSSIAN NESTING DOLLS? / that the gag of the parentheses renders unknown, and yet—like with certain unforgettable songs, whose melodies impose themselves over the title—it recalls the voice of someone whose name you can’t quite identify and recognize. / BOB DYLAN? PINK FLOYD? LLOYD COLE? THE BEATLES? NILSSON? THE KINGS? / And, yes, if possible, avoid this kind of paragraph from here onward / FORBID ANY FUTURE MENTION OF ELECTRONIC READERS ON PAIN OF DEATH? / ALLUDE TO THAT CHINESE CURSE “MAY YOU HAVE AN INTERESTING LIFE” TRANSLATED NOW INTO MILLIONS OF ASIANS ENSLAVED BY THE WEST TO PRODUCE THEIR SMALL ELECTRONIC INVENTIONS THAT, LATER, WILL IN TURN ENSLAVE THEM, TURNING THEM INTO ADDICTS OF A NEW FORM OF OPIUM? THE CYCLE OF THE INTERESTING LIFE? HAKUNA MATATA? / FEAR THAT THE WHOLE THING IS BEGINNING TO SOUND LIKE AN OBSESSION OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT, FEAR OF BEING LIKE THOSE LUNATICS SCREAMING IN EMPTY STREETS / because, they say, it scares away today’s readers, accustomed to reading quickly and briefly on small screens, counting up to one hundred forty, and send / AND, ALONG THE WAY, ASKING, JUST TO KNOW, WHAT PARENTHESES MEAN AND WHAT IS THE RAISON D’ÊTRE, BUT PLEASE; WITHOUT SUCCUMBING TO IMAGES LIKE “PARENTHESES ARE LIKE PRAYER PINS” / THE THING ABOUT PARENTHESES AS “HANDS COMING TOGETHER IN AN ACT OF PRAYER” IS MORE THAN ENOUGH ALREADY / and . . .
(All the caps above are actually in small caps, and a different font in the book itself. But not American Typewriter, the font that has come to stand in for the Transcended Writer in earlier chapters. Something new.)
This might sound familiar, and that’s because here’s the opening of the novel:
How to begin.
Or better: How to begin?
(Adding the question mark that—nothing happens by chance—has the shape of a fish or meat hook. A sharp and pointy curve that skewers both the reader and the read. Pulling them, dragging them up from the clear and calm bottom to the cloudy and restless surface. Or sending them flying through the air to land just inside the beach of these parentheses. Parentheses that more than one person will judge or criticize as orthographically and aesthetically unnecessary but that, in the uncertainty of the beginning, are oh so similar to hands coming together in an act of prayer, asking for a fair voyage just now underway. We read: “Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate;” we hear: “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.” And good luck to all, wishes you this voice—halfway down the road of life, lost in a dark woods, because it wandered off the right path—that the gag of the parentheses renders unknown. And yet—like with certain unforgettable songs, whose melodies impose themselves over the title and even over the signature lines of the chorus, what’s it called? how’d it go?—this voice also recalls that of someone whose name isn’t easy to identify or recognize. And, yes, if possible, avoid this kind of paragraph from here onward because, they say, it scares away many of today’s readers. Today’s electrocuted readers, accustomed to reading quickly and briefly on small screens. And, yes, goodbye to all of them, at least for as long as this book lasts and might last. Unplug from external inputs to nourish yourselves exclusively on internal electricity. And—warning! warning!—at least in the beginning and to begin with, that’s the idea here, the idea from here onward. Consider yourselves warned.)
So, not exactly the same, but made up of the same bones. Although now that we’re on the airplane, approaching the end, coming in to land, we get to see how The Writer/Fresán puts the meat on those bones. It’s almost like seeing the rough draft, but in the mirror, after The Writer’s story has unfolded, in contrast to that opening section in which he’s a little boy, having the singular experience that will make him into a writer.
And yes, the novel is an ouroboros, as The Writer looks out the window to see a beach that’s mighty close to the one in part one . . .
Now he looks out the little window and down below is a beach, and the mouth of a river opening onto the sea, and a speck floating in the water that—he could swear it—is a boy who looks up at the sky and points at the airplane and at him inside it, looking down. Now, at the end but again at the beginning, his mouth is full of water and laughter. He’s drowning but, seen from the present of his future, as if invoking the ghost of vacation past, he knows he’ll survive, that he’ll live to tell it and turn it into a story. But knowing how it ends doesn’t remake it any less interesting. Just the opposite, the details of that small moment merge with the immensity of what’s to come and, for example, now he can specify that the novel, the same novel, that his parents are reading is Tender Is the Night (1934, first published in four installments, between January and April of that year, in Scribner’s Magazine) and that its author is Francis Scott Fitzgerald (St. Paul Minnesota 1896 / Hollywood, California, 1940). He also knows why they’re arguing, near but far away, on the beach, unaware their son is drowning. And also—courtesy of Ways of Dying—he understands in detail what’s happening—the way the water is entering his body to dilute his blood. The fireworks of endorphins getting ready to explode in his brain, throwing the party of the white light at the end of the tunnel. An entire life revisited in a couple minutes, like one of those little books with pictures printed in the margins that, when you flip through it at full speed, creates the illusion of a kind of movement. Seeing himself from outside as if, correcting what he just finished writing, he were reading himself and, reading himself, he remembers how he read once that one of Truman Capote’s favorite questions was what do you imagine you would imagine—“what images, in the classic tradition,” to be precise—in that eternal moment of drowning.
So what is real, and what is this book exactly? In some ways, this chapter totally pulls the carpet out from under the reader—makes sense that it all takes place on an airplane—or overturns the chess board, or whatever metaphor you prefer to use when referring to some literary mindfuckery. Regardless, this is the chapter in which what you’ve been lead to believe—that The Writer broke into CERN and now can control reality as if it were a piece of writing—didn’t happen.
Of course, something went wrong, nothing went right. The whole moment had the tremulous and ultraviolent choreography of one of those old silent (but seemingly filmed at full volume) Keystone Kops movies. Or, better, of one of the Coen brothers’ movies where dreamers and visionaries like Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski or Llewyn Davis or Herbert I. “Hi” McDunnough or Tom Reagan or Ulysses Everett McGill don’t get what they deserve but do get what a good story deserves, and so—for them as for him now—events precipitate, yessir. They spotted him approaching a restricted access door and, immediately, he was jumped on by several guards who—they weren’t fooling him—were direct descendants of SS officers. They quickly subdued and removed him without a beating (“Elvis has left the building,” he thought as they cuffed his hands and feet and dragged him out of there), but executing a series of tai-chi martial arts moves and Vulcan death grips on his cervical nerves that left no trace, and he wasn’t so much tossed as deposited in a holding cell that was far nicer and cleaner than the flat he lived in and that, oh boy, seemed decorated entirely with, yes, IKEA-brand furniture. [. . .]
And then—ultimate humiliation—he was rescued by IKEA.
IKEA, who wasn’t as he’d thought him, as he’d described him, as he’d, in part, invented him.
IKEA was an excellent person, who had always been very grateful to him for everything, and who pulled strings and used his considerable influence to get him released and paid his fine in the millions for “attempting to bring about the end of the world.”
I love the fact that even after admitting this, The Writer falls right back into making fun of his invented IKEA and everything that he stands for. Although in the greater scheme of things, this imagined IKEA gets in the final—and maybe the best, or at least the one that hits closest to home for me and The Writer—shot.
At the Swiss writers’ conference, The Writer is on a panel playing the role of slightly older writer who can crap on the new trends with some authority and respect. He does all of his various bits—about writers who don’t read, who just want to be known as being writers (see all of #AmWriting on Twitter ever), about Twitter, about the future of books being more concerned with the package than the content, etc., etc.—the same sort of bits we’ve been reading (and loving, and cheering on) for five hundred pages. And then, there’s a long response from his archnemesis IKEA, who lays bare the truths of conventional readers:
I’ll take this opportunity to give you some far more useful advice than the advice you once gave me, ha. No, seriously, listen: enough already with these books about writers, books about writing. Nobody’s interested in literature, beginning with the majority of readers, man. And writers are only interested in their own writing and, at most, to seem impressive, the writing of some distant dead man whom they latch onto as if they’d known him all their lives. Normal people just want to pass time and feel represented. Haven’t you ever read the comments on Amazon that condemn a book with the worst rating? No? Read them and you’ll learn. The reason is always the same: ‘I didn’t identify with any of the characters’ or ‘There wasn’t a single character worth getting to know.’ Why do you think all my books have the characters’ faces on the covers? [. . .] And also, enough with your referential mania and stop with your enumerations and lists and going around pointing out and acknowledging each and every one of your sources and debts and allusions. This display of honesty is in bad taste and it makes you look like the combination of an old man of the nouveau riche and a little orphan of literature. The worst of both worlds. And no one expects or asks you for that display of honesty. We all steal things, nobody admits it, and we don’t like that you go around reminding us of our little sins. [. . .] And while you’re at it: quit repeating that thing about the one hundred forty characters of Twitter. That’s not how it works. Not exactly. Don’t talk about things you don’t understand and, even worse, don’t get pissed about what you don’t know. Relax, man.
As I was finishing my reread of The Invented Part, I was reminded of a piece of punctuation that I helped (with Kaija Straumanis) to invent some years ago: the hyphellipsis.
This was something that we came up with during a translation workshop that was meant to function halfway between a normal ellipses and an emdash. We envisioned it as three dots floating halfway up, in the space where a normal emdash would go. Looking back on it though—and trying to figure out how best to represent it in three-dimensional space—it might make more sense to think of these three little dots suspended mid-line between two parenthesis (. . .)
Which, more so than an ouroboros, represents the overall pattern of this novel. On the two ends, you have the two parentheses—one looking toward the future, one toward the past. In between, we have five sections that are held in between these two hands, each dependent more on its overall surroundings than what came before or after, almost like little dots held aloft. Like a hyphellipsis.
So what comes next?
The Dreamed Part is out in Spanish, there to be read by all of you whose comprehension of the Spanish language is far more advanced than mine. (It takes quite a bit of attention and expertise to wade through the torrents of language and games and lists and references when reading Fresán in English; I can’t imagine what it’s like trying to undertake this in your second language.) And he’s currently working on The Remembered Part, which will round out the trilogy.
Two things I know: The Spanish press has referred to the first two volumes of the trilogy as Fresán’s own Inland Empire. A big fan of David Lynch’s works (we spend most Mondays discussing Twin Peaks: The Return), this totally makes sense, especially in the way in which The Invented Part opens up his creative process, peeling back layers, letting the reader see how his own personal obsessions and touchstones are invoked, recombined, expanded, and woven into his texts. This thrills me to no end.
The other thing I know is that The Dreamed Part has much more Nabokov than Fitzgerald. Does this mean that it’s more stylistically tricksy and less straight emotional? That’s also thrilling.
Looking back over the novel we just finished reading, here are a bunch of ideas of what might lie ahead: More on Ishmael Tantor. Full explanation of what happened to Penelope’s son. More about the rivalry with IKEA. Some sort of recourse from trying to break into CERN? Or maybe something entirely different, a new reworking of these tropes into a beautiful, imaginative, mind-bending novel?
Whatever comes next, I’ll be there for the ride, enjoying every second of it.