“Freedom comes with the decision: it does not wait for the act. She felt freer, more at peace with herself than she had felt in months. But I wont think about that, she decided deliberately. It is best just to be free, not even to know you are free, not to let it into the conscious mind. To be consciously anything argues a comparison, a bond with antithesis. Live in your dream, do not attain it, else comes satiety—or sorrow. Which is worse, I wonder?”

—William Faulkner, Soldiers’ Pay

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Woke early this morning but did not get up straight away. Lay in bed for some time and watched the light move gradually across the wall. A beautiful day. After a light breakfast, Jennifer and I went cycling around Cardiff Bay barrage. We found a bench overlooking the water and talked for awhile. Bright blue cloudless sky.

On returning, I settled down to read a few articles and blog postings. One of the finest literary blogs around is Cynthia Haven‘s The Book Haven, hosted by Stanford University. The site covers a rich variety of topics in a lively and accessible way, and includes reviews and interviews alongside thought-provoking essays. In addition, Haven is alert to the political and cultural turmoil that continues to shape contemporary American consciousness. In a recent post, she draws on the words of American writer James Baldwin to examine how literature can lead to greater empathy and understanding between people and communities:

There’s a direct line between our moral and social crises and the collapse of the humanities. […] Here’s one reason: literature is our chance to explore the world of  the “other,” to enter into some head other than our own. You can’t read The Brothers Karamazov without being able to understand multiple ways of living and thinking in the world, and some quite alien to one’s own p.o.v. That’s precisely what’s lacking in today’s public life, and that’s the understanding that should have been grounded in our educational system.

James Baldwin put it in his own insightful way: “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was Dostoevsky and Dickens who taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who ever had been alive. Only if we face these open wounds in ourselves can we understand them in other people.”

— Cynthia Haven, The Book Haven

Catherine Morley on editing a new collection of essays that explores the legacy of September 11 on modern and contemporary literature
Catherine Morley (ed.), 9/11 (Bloomsbury, 2016)
Catherine Morley (ed.), 9/11 (Bloomsbury, 2016)

We begin our conversation having marked the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. What led you to put together this new essay collection?

I have been interested in way in which we have come to narrativise and conceptualise the September 11th terrorist attacks for some time now. They occurred shortly after I moved to the UK to start my doctoral studies. I remember, very vividly, standing before the window of a shop selling televisions and the image of the plane hitting the second tower. It seemed unreal, and indeed at the time many commentators noted that it seemed a moment designed for mass televisual consumption. I thought then that my watching this terrible image unfold across multiple screens seemed like something from a Don DeLillo novel. I remember writing a short diary piece about it at the time, how it reminded me of the Airborne Toxic Event in DeLillo’s White Noise. Since then, I have always been keen to see how novelists, dramatist and poets might approach representing something that seemed to defy representation by its vast scale. So, when offered the opportunity by Bloomsbury to put this volume together I jumped at the chance.

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Blue sky. The air is calm and cool. Early signs of autumn. Went cycling along the Cardiff Bay barrage and feel better for the effort. Just thirty minutes of exercise resonates for the entire day. After breakfast Jennifer and I headed to our shared office at Cardiff University; we have just over a week remaining on our contracts, so are gradually moving our few belongings back to our apartment. Since we do not own a car, we do it in piecemeal fashion, a few objects at a time.

Currently reading

William Faulkner, Novels 1926-1929 (Library of America)
William Faulkner, Novels 1926-1929 (The Library of America)

On my bedside table is the first volume of the collected novels of William Faulkner, published by The Library of America. Since giving away over two thirds of my book collection, I decided that I would keep only those volumes of lasting value and durability. Since Faulkner has been of interest to me for a long time, I thought I would begin at the beginning and work my way steadily through his entire works. (I have similar plans for Flannery O’Connor, but I will write about that some other day.) One of the benefits of the LOA editions is that they are printed to last a lifetime, and each book includes several novels. I have recently begun Soldiers’ Pay, an energetic debut novel with a clear debt to Joyce, and aim to proceed through Mosquitoes (a satire of 1920s bohemia), Flags in the Dust (a novel that originally appeared in a heavily edited edition under the title Sartoris in 1929), and, wait for it, The Sound and the Fury, which crowns the first volume.

William Faulkner’s Novels 1926-1929 is available from The Library of America.

Other reading

  • Frida Kahlo‘s personal letter to Georgia O’Keeffe
  • Praising David Cronenberg’s adaptation of William S. Burroughs‘ Naked Lunch on its 25th anniversary
  • Asymptote publishes excerpts from Walking with Robert Walser

British writer shares what motivates him to create fiction, and how he came to write and publish his debut novel, The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas
Daniel James
Daniel James

When did you first decide to become a writer?

I honestly can’t recall a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. It was less of a conscious decision and more of a realisation about my own nature. I think the only real question was what kind of writer I wanted to be. When I was young, I loved books, cinema and comic books equally and I dreamed of writing stories for each of those mediums. I used to draw and paint a lot as a child and the idea of writing and illustrating my own graphic novels always appealed to me. Similarly, the visual storytelling inherent to cinema, as well as using light and sound to bring different worlds and atmospheres to life and create an end to end sensory experience for people to get lost inside, seemed to map to the way my brain worked.

When I’m writing, I’m often visualising the story unfolding and simply describing what I see in words or hearing the characters inner thoughts and dialogue and transcribing it. This was certainly the case in my debut novel. It was almost as if the story already existed somewhere, out there in the darkness, and was being transmitted into my brain. It’s more than just words and images however. It could be an atmosphere that I sense, like a feeling from a waking dream, that I want to recreate and share in a story. (more…)