For a first proper blog post I thought I’d begin by discussing what I’m currently working on. Having read John’s new novel, A Summer of Drowning, an article-length piece came to mind, focusing, as its starting point, upon a quotation taken from the work’s concluding paragraph:
I am getting used to the fact that, in my house, there are shadows in the folds of every blanket and imperceptible tremors in every glass of water or bowl of cream set out on a table – and, some days, there are tiny, almost infinitesimal loopholes of havoc in the fabric of the given world that could spill loose and catch me out wherever I am. (p.328)
On a first reading, the strongest sense which I came away with was the connection between this havoc in the fabric of the given world and the pervasiveness of desire as a destabilising force within the novel as a whole. After generating the title, ‘Desire as “havoc in the fabric of the given world”: Subjectivity, Text and Dwelling in John Burnside’s A Summer of Drowning’, I sketched out a rough structure and set down a draft of the first few thousands words. I soon began to feel increasingly uncomfortable with the work, however. There was something dissatisfying, not just about the writing, but about the piece itself on a conceptual level:
- A problem of tone: An ‘academic’ register felt alien to the work, particularly when discussing the writing of somebody I knew personally and had worked with. In retrospect, I think one of the reasons that I was so averse to meeting Don DeLillo during the writing of the thesis was probably the result of a wish to avoid the personalisation that would lead to the same problem of tone (which raises its own set of questions, but that’s probably best left for another time).
- A problem of Method: If the ostensible object of the work was havoc and desire in A Summer of Drowning, then a conventionally academic form of exegesis also posed a number of methodological problems. By its very nature, such writing, particularly with the heavily philosophical/theoretical quality that I bring to it, will tend to emphasise the structural and the logical in its given object. Such an analysis accordingly shapes the possibility of the form which the essay can take. When the object of inquiry is the collapse of such logical relations, however, there would appear to be an inherent conflict between what is to be read and the form which such a reading can take. The challenge would then appear to be how to fashion a tone and a structure which does not obscure its object, but which instead, channelling Heidegger, brings it into proximity.
Upon further reflection I came to the conclusion that perhaps the two concerns were not only related, but essentially the same. Just as John had attempted to find a language and a structure which could evoke that havoc, yet still remain within a rational, coherent framework of a ‘conventional’ text which did not use typographical devices to represent such a collapse (compare his novel to The Trick is to Keep Breathing), so too this was the challenge faced by any inquiry of his text.