“It feels right to recount the history of Immanuel using ‘we’. But soon in the story, the pronoun starts to break up.”
Immanuel is about two churches: one in Winchester entangled to the other in Lagos. It’s the story of the traces left by those churches in Matthew Mcnaught’s life, and in the lives of his old friends.
While I was reading the book, NASA released the first set of images taken by the James Webb telescope, a set which included this image, entitled Deep Field: SMACS 0723. As they say, it is a long exposure of a patch of sky which is about the size of that covered by a grain of sand when held at arm’s length* from the eye. In it we ‘see the light from’ galaxies which are billions of light years away. That is, we see them in the same way we might see a cloud of dandelion seeds as captured by a smartphone camera, except, because of conceptual changes forced upon us by concrete experience of the world, the act of seeing changes in quality. We are seeing light paths, some of which have been bestowed curves due to the distortions of space around incredibly massive objects, other light paths whose time of origin was consistently 4.6 billion years ago. They bear a constant relation to us of appearing-4.6-billion-years-ago, because they are 4.6 billion light years away from us (though getting further). They remain in the sky, yet we know that many of them have long since dimmed, and maybe died – we are seeing their trace. These are facts of a quality that goes beyond our life. Time and space, tangled together in an Einstein knot, more fiendish than a Gordian knot, because although an emperor could cut the latter, the Einstein knot cannot be cut, even by an empire as powerful as that of the United States.
What is the constellation of forces that makes a text dystopian? Weirder, what makes one want to create a dystopia? Consider this –
An owl is watching from a skeleton tree, as people board the buses. The vehicles are old, but not in a quaint way, and some are dented. They seem scratch built from the leftovers of an imperial past, and people pack onto them, carrying bags, battered laptops, and cracked smartphones. The convoy wakes, the sound of engines soon lost over the city scrub, but the owl doesn’t seem disturbed. Its eyes blindly stare as the trucks disappear into the outskirts, picking up speed past the towns, the haunted tanks from lost armies, and abandoned imperial outposts, and goes on into the desert. The landscape isn’t safe, and speed is essential – rising dust from the column mixes with heat and fumes, and as night falls some buses split off and pass into the mountains. Onboard one of the rattling carriages an empire-adjacent storyteller has escaped the core and dedicated his life to following one of the occupied, Omar.
“The drivers did the fifteen-to-twenty-hour trip in one shift, often with the help of hashish or amphetamines”
I was going to see West Side Story, and I had a bit of time earlier in the day, so I thought I might put on La La Land to see how it’s aged.
Always, around, the posters, the crowd, in the background. When Emma Stone goes into the restaurant, she slips through time slightly, caught by a melody. Potent icon of a lost time, attractive to romantics, the jazz piano solo. Trying to escape the grind, or be successful at creating a kind of special creation, having the cake and eating it.
The problem with a generation declaring literature to be basically over is that it deprives the following generations of the thought that their lives and thoughts might be worth novelising. It results in the experience I’ve had with Ben Lerner, Luke Kennard, Sally Rooney, suddenly recognising myself in the books, thinking – ah, so this is how novels shore us up. But then on the back cover of The Topeka School I read Sally Rooney’s comment – “To the extent that we can speak of a future at present, I think that the future of the novel is here”. And I feel strange. Does each modern novel writer think they are entourage to the last writers? Do they always feel the door shutting after them?
The extravagance of poetry is this contention that it deserves the amount of space it takes up. If done unconsciously, it can underwhelm, but with great confidence it shines. Like a single acorn sat in the centre of an small warehouse.
I imagine a solid gold maze hung from invisible wires in a large room, undulating under the diffuse light. Although for some it is not a luxury, poetry is luxurious speech.