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CROSS TALK

Edward Williams

Translucent Buildings

——There is no question that I believe–I keep coming back to it in my reflections–that a person who comes to my work with high expectations will read it differently from one who comes to it randomly.  Though sometimes I think quite the opposite! That a person who comes to my work with no expectations, will read it differently from one who already has delusions, I mean decidedly false hopes–of whatever variety they must be. Or, need I say it, there is the one wearing a ready frown. One way or the other, I am hopelessly confused, as to what state of mind I expect, or hope, my reader to be in! But the further and deeper truth is I generate more content just from thinking about this shifting, wary, expectant, hypothetical reader. I like that! My hypothetical reader!  Perpetually, I am in a very agitated state, I have a highly frivolous relationship with any reader who lights upon these passages, which in themselves are always propositions. My writing largely consists of an explanation of itself; it is essentially a defence, of a lifelong project, a drawn-out strategy, like an acceptance speech I keep giving, or a sermon couched in apologetic terms.   I am preparing notes, examining my own working methods, questioning my own logic, presently, for one or another of these meandering, though artful talks, which are considered in advance, then caught up in their own confusion.  This is the score, and the constant paradox, that I am preparing myself for what appears to be a spontaneous address, profoundly without regard for the actual audience. Because–strickly speaking I am going to be responsible to that audience, right around the corner,  just if and when I decide what the long prepared for occasion requires. I will have become totally voluble, just as I arrive at the abstract question of my usefulness. Abstract indeed, and swarming with a kind of promise. A cascading light.  One cannot tell from what direction this powerful, I want to say illicit, illumination comes. Whence it originates. In my path, though, are translucent buildings, somehow blotted out from afar, and yet bursting through the interior. It’s an expansive moment, in a vice grip.

The Future

——All through history people have sagely envisioned the world, the very ground where they walk,  as a perennial stage set, as if a thing existing outside of time–to study, but not to doubt as to its . . . foundation. Powers and precedents beyond have hoisted up the backdrop, like a classroom map one could unfurl, and study. Mentally, all of time still is there, serving this the planet we live on. Every day people walk around with the image of the world existing as separately from themselves, for it is there, isn’t it, all the time they are hopping around? But as they silently say that to themselves, walking back to the car, walking towards the event which, in the close and reachable future, awaits their presence–still, in their minds they are already wondering, and remarking to nobody in particular, how it got this way. And how they got in the groove. The stability of things is quite lucky; it’s almost a secret that you have this ability at all, to survive a slice of time. You might say nothing ever really surprises you. Events roll off you, because the superior attitude is to take things with some caution. And resonate in your being, yes, the very thing you are thinking to talk about, there it is!  Though it is so . . . obvious.  All the words are leaning and partaking of it.  And I am plagued, for the enabling of the person who lights upon it, the world has to be so strangely familiar, and totally real just for them–or else!  I always fear for you, my friend, who are going to stumble right in the moment of your reckoning.  And the horizon will crack. It is only a patchwork of general theories, how we got here, and this photograph of the future I brought, for discussion, can it sustain our fury? The funny world has to be precise, for us to experience it, I know that. Life, it is a foil, a crushing sacrifice, a daily defeat of any proposed meaning that could go beyond the setting.  The little city, it is rigged up. The order of what happens is verily construed so as to give us all triviality.  This is what makes us giddy.

The Streetcorner

——-The setting may seem to be lasting, but it isn’t eternal. The impression is flowing from one moment to the next, on this streetcorner where I arrive once again, stop and pivot.  The abberrant thought always hits me, right here. I think that reality cannot be witnessed by those who have left reality; for the vantage point is gone. Only the living can witness life, time is a medium all around us . . .   It could be that these great souls, the dead, these people who have passed out of life, have an alternate view of it. But that is just it, isn’t it? It would have to be quite different, unheard of, and  just to the degree that I hear the silence of the night around me.  Life is a  privileged arena, a totality without escape routes.
——No aerial view exists, that drumbeat scene just persists, and slightly alters its messages; the damp shadows, the unfocused moon beyond the splintering red lights, the brick wall–this is obscurity, tenuous, and it is all we know. It was the silent happening of the traffic light changing that quietly informed me, once again. A thought already formed, it just jumped into my head. The dead, nobody in history, knows I am here.
——I get the chilling idea that this world is on its own, and many others have gone off to join a different, majority view of the universe at large. This obscure street corner in time is abandoned to the only witness of one who passes by–whose forcible thinking drives him to dire, but spectacular conclusions, severing the moment from plausible eternities, condemning it to shreds of  memory.  Then I have to ask, where is this held, and how can it compete? I mean with the superior arrangements the dead have already discovered? I think to develop a superior attitude myself, as one who is stranded in life. In a mocking tone, in surviving, I challenge the baseline mystery.
——Many songs convey the idea, a scrapbook of emotions can be teleported to the longed-for dead, who are pictured as grieving.  Quite sincerely, with faultless lyrics, he or she absurdly tries to reckon a radical isolation, but in reality the night has louder voices.  There is no place to stand outside this whirling of artificial lights, there is no upper atmospheric view of things happening down here, in a skirmish.  As I bend down and pick up a nickel on the sidewalk. Or decide not to move, but stand rock still, which gets me only more into the center of this .  . . infallible universe.
——Time surrounds you, is jealous, it has sewn up alternate routes, including those in your thoughts. Memories are time-stamped, earthbound,  labelled in chronological order first of all. Oh yeah, that is the truest thing I have said yet; one knows more or less when it happened, even when they forget the what.  What might still be under discussion! I know exactly the order of my emotional discoveries, and cannot be controverted, in that arena.

A Person

——It seems to follow as transparent and obvious, that a person’s uniqueness, guaranteeing them salvation, is the same thing that is their constant opportunity and prevailing burden. A person, the stronger they feel their own existence, will keep changing into the very oddest representation. A person is collected in the events that happen around them, then newly reconciled along the way, as if in conversation with the person they have been. One becomes defiant, transparent, only comfortable with the one they have been,  all along. Absolute uniqueness is achieved, and inwardly known, while by the same process made invisible to others. Unshakeable life resolves a person into a bland, stalwart appearance, as if one’s rioting inner self had been deadened along the way.  Comically, life seems to be an experiment in fitting in, precisely where one does not. Irony, at first dear, becomes cheap. There are various sets of rules, but only sloppily observed. A person, what is a person?  The idea is a good one, if there were actually appearances to be made, in which a person was fully required!
——Alas, it is so complicated being a person, that the idea occurs that this complication is the person. The mood of it at least, shifting.. One becomes supremely aware that only they see the exact situation. The source of emotion is in that exactness.  Are there words for it? Ah, too many–all the words have an edge, the vocabulary is shaking.
——Alas, one dully keeps measuring his or her self against an assumed or an overheard or constantly broadcast standard, which is never exact. Exactly not exact, you might say. A person is  shifting to accommodate to what seems age-appropriate, or defying the same–which amounts to the same thing, as anyway they can never escape the odd reality of their own own awareness. Who is it that follows you around? Are you a representative human? Hardly!  You might stride right into a semblance of an ongoing new person, greeting opportunity as it shakes out. Sure, and I might engage the shadow of my youthful person, always burning to prove a point or two. You could burst into a new decade with a vibrancy that surprises everyone. Everyone says that! I anticipate that someone will say to me, in the very moment when I have achieved a great inner peace, why did you compromise?  That is one of the hopeful threads . . .
——But behind each of us lurks the triumphant, original person–who has an ability to keep the familiar trail, the certain person in mind, whom they’ve kept company with in many episodes, and repeating scenes.  Sometimes I barricade the doors at night, sometimes I wander outside and greet my shadow self, who is all alone in the sparse moonlit street.

Fame

——Is fame bestowed, or realised first within the person? I think one always becomes famous in their own eyes, takes increase by virtue of their own ambition, before anyone else gives them recognition–at least the kind of recognition they can accept, which must come close to matching their own self-image, their own standard.  So, it is all a wash; one gets just short of what one thinks they deserve, and remains running. If in fact anyone is truly famous in their own eyes, if they have been free enough to posture and admire their own ambition, and be amused with the results, from the distance which life provides, which is what counts, which is the epitome of a reflective mind, they never will be satisfied with always cheaper worldly credit. But they will not scoff,  it will only occur to them that if the world has recognized them, it should then supply them with concomitant riches, and of course the means to spread the news of their existence far and wide. That all might then greatly benefit-from the proliferation of their work. (No one even considers the issue, of course, unless they are known to themselves as the creator of great work.) The stranded genius, who is so inwardly confident, is forever poor, relatively speaking, when he considers the debt he owes the world. For of course it was the world that gave him cause, to set out on the path towards glory, it was the world that was the assignment. Was it not? Once cold fame ensues, me bethinks it irreversible, and the calculations of such a status, having begun, in fact, before anyone even noticed he was so assiduously working–well!, one cannot return the compliments fast enough.  Thus exposed, the famous one will always desire more riches, and want to be appreciative of the public weal, than ever before. Tears are in his eyes, the debt can never be repaid. This can be observed in every case.  Even I, who have only achieved fame in my own eyes, fervently dream of a material fortune, and galloping reputation, while knowing I will always outrun them both–because I talk way too fast and have topics galore. Well now!

Old Movies

——These old movies –it is hard to believe they were once brand new movies. They seem to be just thorough-going old movies. Like it was even obvious to anyone who sat down in a theater to see one of them, these projections, hoisted up in a kind of remarkably rickety medium, that these were historical in the first sight of them, which means that these movies were preliminary and they projected a future. The audience knew that they were viewing the beginning of something, and beginnings are sentimental. The first movies put you in a mood. Movies had a future, and the first try-outs were obviously that, so no one could have thought they were contemporary, but they immediately viewed them as old movies, spinning in time. People watching could laugh at the primitive techniques, the blatant plots and familiar characters, the incompetence, the miraculous dissembling of the obvious. I stay up late at night and watch old movies sometimes. And I think, what a treat to see such innocence.  I think, it was a more inventive time back then, people allowed ideas, roughly formed, knowing it was the inflowing of the future–which is where we are now. We are in the future of those old movies!  And we don’t allow anything like that, we are sophisticated. Is that it?  That we require . . . new movies. We even remake old movies, which were, as I said, old to begin with. An astonishing reversal has occurred here, and in a relatively short span of history.
——The cogent thesis I wish to explore (to come at this another way) is that the old movies were old to begin with. This may be hard to comprehend for people nowadays, who live as if they were in a present tense movie themselves. But what I am doing is speculating.. I speculate that people in the past were excited to watch the original movies as tentative explorations, ordinary scenes just borrowed from life, miraculously projected in a very tentative fashion, handled quite badly in a ridiculous form of presentation, meant solely to amuse. Cranky traditionalists at the time thought that movies could never make new content like privileged art and literature always had.. But the dichotomy is more profound, there was technology, a driving force of nature, ideas about reality, driving this new medium.  People could create the historical back then, whereas nowadays, so desperately creative as we are, we conceive of the absolutely new, and we can contemplate the past as a category, and invest our imagination in it, for one motive or another.
——I think it is only now that we indulge in what is brand new, but only if it is utterly spiffy and pain free, sparkling. People in the past limped along under a burden of being in the past, I think, and I think, and am saying over and over here, people who made these old movies actually made them as old movies. Here me out. It is like furnishings were needed. Everything was invented in this way, to get furnishings for the present hour. And now we lapse into wonder at the the sight of anything old, as if to ask: how did it get here? I am thinking they brought it in deliberately, or at least half-consciously, with a sense of destiny: to make a future world. This is the future world these old movies were meant to be seen in, repeatedly by modern audiences.  Now it is that certain point where audiences are watching so many old movies, that some genius, glutted by this inheritance, gets the bright idea and finds the gift of artistry, to make a new movie. One which resembles reality scene by scene so frightening in verisimilitude, that it will be a red carpet–virtually a transition to . . . where imagination spins its wheels.
——Originally movies were clumsy improvisations, they were modern art, of course–or they were art’s cousin, advertising and propaganda. They are driven by either high motives, or low motives, but the point is they were actually new. But what is actually new is done in light of the future in which it will shine. You see. But now we have reached the apogee, the brick wall.  But now, now virtually all movies are made with pretensions to be like life; the artist is gone, and everything is commercial. Even the technology has taken over. And the content is entirely recycled from the past, even incestuously feeding off old movies themselves, but more often off old books.  It’s a sub-genre, anyway, and I am not sure why I am challenged to figure it out, except that it is so obvious that the old movies were never new, and that the new movies will never be old . . .

Garden Variety

——-I cannot figure out how people get along without an accompanying deep inquiry, how they seem to just live, accumulate a narrative of their own life and yet never put this life against the shuddering backdrop, the question of their own person. My writing represents that question, which did not randomly intrude one day (like in adolescence, or in a creative writing seminar), but was there at the irretrievable dawn of a being foisted off on the world. I feel I sprung out of some impetuous uniqueness–that’s it! Which consequently I can only imagine must have been needed, especially for this place. Therefore my story is vital, it must be taken as significant. With such a sense of importance did I arrive, blameless in life!  How, I wonder, do other people live without the important shadow self of their own sustained inquiry?  Why do they all not have an ungainly, blushing, imperfect record trailing along with them?  If I make to discuss this, anyone is going to reply that, yes, sure, they understand, and they surely do have such a beseeching, shadow self. But where is the evidence on their part? Do they never have time to jot down a odd refection, that seems to set them apart? Or pipe up in a small party, some night, of their peers? Is it the case that life meets them so squarely, that they are every day used up in the act of living? And there is no space, no compulsion to express the general situation? My compulsion—it is just automatic. It traces back too far already, and yet projects wild futures. Why others were not born in crisis I do not know. My crisis, I have noted, is not of a garden variety. And will not be hijacked. I will not be found, nor championed by either literature or philosophy–the one, I know would make a celebrity out of what personality it found, lurking in a casual style of expression; and the other, horror of horrors, would make and package up a representative human, out of my singular consciousness.

Modus Operandi

——If I am gauging what I write with an eye as to how it is eventually read by distant  readers, who are separated from these sentences in time, by the circumstance of my being unknown to them, though I address them nevertheless, it is with the most careful, self-critical eye–more, I think, than ever I would employ should fortune already have granted me throngs of fans and flatterers.  How’s that?
——Indeed, the latter situation (throngs of fans and flatterers, so phrased) is difficult and distasteful to imagine. I am so dedicatedly obscure, I seek refuge in reflections that I can tell are the most far-flung, most secretly held–and yet, perforce the most rewarding once put forth. My elite readers are, like me, protected from conflict, say, with received literary opinions and territorial squabbles. This may be assumed to be the prideful stance of any unknown writer, really. He is one who is more careful, writes more with an eye towards his eventual status, writes in an important sense more as if he were actually being read, than the famous guy who has unfortunately gained worldly approval, and therefore finds himself wholly free–and unsupervised.
——Success, I figure, has had that effect on him, and he is at sea, precisely in terms of his reputation. For it, his reputation, it is increasingly clear to him, is an insignificant achievement. He knows he can be replaced, and that that is what surely awaits him. Success, I have reckoned, is surely the first step toward one’s eventual eclipse. One can feel the encroachment, and the resentment of the audience will find a place in his heart. Aha! It becomes obvious to the public author, obvious he has no effect on anything. His naive fantasies, of being an effective public figure of some type, having been made foolish, the author, who also knows (in his heart) that it was undeserved, premature!, though he did have talent, now faces the prospect of having to maintain his reputation. And this strictly on the basis of his own guesswork, while having to plan, and agonize over the plan, of another damn book.
——Whereas, look at the contrast! The knowledge that one is unwatched, that one is addressing an unlocated audience, whose faculties for comprehension and whose imaginations are preternaturally superior;  and yet the knowledge that one is commissioned, however that is to play out–this will make the incipient historical author, like me, alert in the production of what is truly readable, what flows and ignites the mind. . . .   And I will elaborate pointedly even in reference to my own condition, setting the crisis of communication in profound terms only. For I hold their attention, these future readers, precisely on this profound issue of how it is that I was not heard in my own time. It is, I will say, the discrepancy that makes the author in the first place, makes his speaking seem to himself a necessity. Because that is the dramatic condition of talking in a mystery.
——What if, in a changed world, I awoke and had an audience waiting with baited breath for every script rolled out?  My readers!–flushed with anticipation, they are lining up for the next installment, nudging each other in line.  I imagine this, and then I realize I am so superior in my attitude, I would always be dissatisfied with any public that I was supposedly reaching. Seriously, would I start issuing fluid commandments, like red meat to a starving public? I think not, I would declare it to be relative–the attention I was now receiving. Oh, I would say, I’ve had experience of this kind of thing, at various times in my life I have suffered this attention, and survived it. I would be tempted to outwit this fate, and, deviously, go back to my old notebooks, the original and unresolved jottings in the void, and re-issue them, though worked over, in a jubilant second draft.

Charter

——-“The longer a straining and struggling set of truths, in their most exquisite, perilous expression, are kept from the consideration, the view, of a gluttonous, decadent public, the more they will, he is sure, come to utterly define the age. What he means is, the longer his voice is unheard, and his words ignored, the  more their future is secured.  What once had, in the competition between his contemporaries, only an outside chance of permanence, now earns the ultimate guarantee, because it has outlasted all their antics, and their sneers.  History, he says to himself, will serve his texts up as the exemplar case itself, the vital reference to the times when they were written, though he felt an incomprehensible shadow of doom the whole while he was stubbornly at work.  But his stockpiled descriptions, even the loose opinions of his fictional characters, his fallible scenery, even though fawned over as utterly obscure by a few, and never pictured by the rest, as it  gushed and spilled from his pen, shall go down as the best available report, carefully composed with fidelity and sensitivity.  Amazing! As if he knew intimately the habits and thoughts of the very same people who, at the time, declared him incomprehensible. Though of course the question of there being a future time, in the consciousness of any indolent reader, swinging in a hammock on a summer day, so to speak, is rendered problematic right within his suspenseful narrations, which seem almost in every sentence to pose an existential question, or internalize an eternal quandary–only to dramatically withdraw it. out of concern for this same, maybe happy reader. As if it were too much to speak, really, about life right as it is happening, but one must always be removed, be comfortable, in order to consider what he is about to say. He is the equivocal author who is on a par with the reader, who is the profound target. As if the book, his book now, but any book really, was an invitation to revelation, and could only fall from your hands, as it suddenly struck you what it was saying.”

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