Remarks On A Lecture From Long Ago

Forgive me a spot of navel-gazing, but I wanted to make a few remarks that occurred to me while tippy-tapping out the lecture from long ago, almost a quarter of a century old.

As I indicated, it was a whim to post it. I remain fond of it, and it seemed worth resurrecting. I was determined to tap it out word for word, resisting the temptation to make any changes – which led me to wince, like the narrator, more than once. As with much, possibly all, of my pre-Wilderness Years scribbling, it contains a number of infelicities I would (hope to) avoid today.

What interested me were the three passages in quotations, the two statements by the judge and the letter from Flubb. The first two are exercises in methods I have not used in a long time (but which I enjoyed revisiting), the third is… I am not quite sure.

The judge’s summing-up in Curpin’s case is an example of my once much-practised version of Burroughs’ cut-up technique. No physical cutting was required. I used to buy a preposterous number of secondhand copies of National Geographic magazine, from the 1950s and early 1960s. (Around 1964 there was a change in their colour reproduction, and thereafter the photographs lacked the bright gaudy glory of the golden age.) The method, such as it was, involved casting my eyes over the text, more casually than skim-reading, until a phrase nabbed my attention, at which point I’d write it down and resume, looking for the next phrase, usually on a different page or a different copy of the magazine. Vast paragraphs of incoherent twaddle can be generated this way, my only contribution being a few tweaks here and there to make the prose flow grammatically.

The list of Flubb’s crimes is of course alphabetic. There was a time when I found this method indispensable, either for single paragraphs (as in the lecture) or to structure longer pieces, like The Immense Duckpond Pamphlet. I played around with variations, such as pairing letters in combinations or substituting alphabetic order with qwerty keyboard order. All very Oulipian.

As far as I can ascertain, what I think I was up to in the third bit, the letter from Flubb, was striving, tentatively, for my own style, my own voice. And it seems to me now that those two methods, the one pretty random, the other constraining, were decisive steps, that I wouldn’t write the way I do if I hadn’t relied on them for a while. (I also had a bash at surrealist “automatic” writing. The less said about that the better.)

End of solipsistic babbling. Normal service will be resumed.

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