April 2, 2019

Possible opening for a novel tentatively entitled: Solar Kittens / Amateur Compassion

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I’ve been thinking about how I don’t write about sex anymore. It has something to do with my gender. I am reading a book written by a woman that contains plenty of sex. I think: if I wrote this exact same sex in the exact same way it would still be different. It would read as male fantasy. It would be written with patriarchy sitting on my shoulder, egging me on. It goes without saying that I most often try to write in a manner that feels opposite to this. Which is perhaps only one of the factors that has resulted in my current practice ending up a bit sexless. But all the other factors have considerably more to do with my actual life.

I hated the idea that there can be such a thing as a masterpiece and I hated the fact that I wanted to try to write one. I also hated the idea that there can be no such a thing as a masterpiece. The world I’m writing about and within is more or less this world, but with one significant detail shifted, in that it is a world in which the only sex we know is cuddling. (However, there might also be a few other ways this written world differs from our unwritten one.) When you want to have sex with someone who doesn’t necessarily want to have sex with you – meaning, at least in this story, when you want to cuddle with someone who doesn’t necessarily want to cuddle with you – there is of course a certain understandable degree of disappointment. Learning how to gracefully breath through such disappointment is another question I hope we might eventually get around to.

There is a cartoon I saw on the internet. A corporate executive sitting behind a large wooden desk. In the first panel he says: “You want coal? We own the mines.” In the second and third panels he says: “You want oil and gas? We own the wells.” Fourth and fifth panels: “You want nuclear energy? We own the uranium.” Sixth panel: “You want solar power?” Seventh: “We own the… eh… ah…” And in the final panel: “Solar power isn’t feasible.” (No one owns the sun.)

In his book The Accursed Share, Georges Bataille writes about how everything on earth, all the growth and energy, originates from the sun. And there is always an extra part, beyond what is needed for human survival, that he designates with the French expression the devil’s share (or the accursed share.) We can use this extra energy to make art or we can use it to make war. How we use it says so much about what we value as a culture. I am writing all this from memory. I read the book so long ago. I will have to look at it all again to verify. Books one read so long ago are so explicitly faded in our memories of them.

I have been thinking so much about solar energy, about how much of what I read, especially from a mainstream perspective, seems misplaced. When I read that we will not be able to generate enough energy using solar and wind, I feel they are completely missing the point. The points are: 1) That these new, sustainable technologies will force us to use less, will demonstrate – on a real, lived, experiential basis – that resources are renewable but not infinite. 2) That there is more autonomy, and less greedy profit, in a decentralized power grid. 3) That the many exorbitant expenses of polluting the air and water are simply not being factored into the standard calculations. Environmental devastation is expensive on every level.

But it is mainly the first point I obsess over. Let’s say you have solar panels on the roof of your house. Each day, you will use only as much energy as these panels generate. When it runs out you go to sleep and wait for the sun to come up tomorrow. The energy is not infinite, not available twenty-four hours a day. There are limits and you learn, out of necessity, how to live within them.

This, for me, is the main lesson of sustainable technologies. They would force us to live differently, to be aware of daily limits, to find solutions that acknowledge real limitations. They do not make life easier in every way. They make life harder in some ways, ways that force a fundamental shift in how we see the world and our place within it. I also suspect that working within a series of concrete, reasonable limitations would bring along with it a kind of reality and even joy.

There is a novel I have never read about talking human ears. The reason I have never read it is that it has yet to be translated into English. It was written in Danish by Per Hojholt and is entitled Auricula. I often think about it. If someone could write a novel about talking human ears perhaps I am not letting my own writerly imagination roam freely enough. If I can write about absolutely anything, I ask myself, why exactly am I writing about this. Whatever the this might be in any particular instance. (I frequently ask myself a similar question about the world.) As I’ve read online, the premise of Auricula is that “time very briefly came to a stop 7 September 1915, which led to the birth of a great many ears (yes, ears) which floated around and got involved in especially the arts of the time.” On Goodreads, Nicolai’s review of Auricula is brief and to the point: “Not a very good novel, but an outstanding book.”

When I see a picture on the internet of miles and miles of solar panels – for example a solar farm in the desert – I think to myself: no, that’s completely wrong, they have it completely wrong, that’s completely the wrong model. I have no particular expertise or experience upon which to base this opinion. It’s simply a hunch. To me it looks like the old model and we need a new model. I of course feel the same way about the novel. Which I suppose is why I’m finding it so difficult to let the actual narrative begin. I prefer characters without names, perhaps for similar reasons that I prefer cuddling to sex, though sometimes I still have sex, or at least I used to. But there is an obvious problem with a character that doesn’t have a name. You have to find a way to refer to them which doesn’t create any further confusion in the reader than strictly necessary. When a character is speaking about themselves in the first person it feels natural that they would rarely refer to themselves by name, so in this mode the difficulty rarely arises. But I would hate to limit myself to first person for only this reason.

The story hasn’t started yet but it will. Since I keep telling myself that I am writing a novel and not an essay. (Though I have always liked the novels best that at times verge on becoming essays. Or at least I used to.) The world needs to change. Therefore, the novel also needs to change. But perhaps what is required of the novel is not that it change but that it disappear. That it become something else. The energy contained in fossil fuels once came from sunlight. The energy contained in literature once came from songs and rituals and stories and fables. Songs and stories once helped us understand how we should live. I do not see how the novel currently does any such thing. In a sense, we already know from which direction we came and therefore, coming full circle, in which direction we should return. But now I feel I’m becoming preachy and moralistic and, since I continue to write this novel, also very much a hypocrite. What kind of knowledge can be fully lived and in this way travel from generation to generation? What kind of knowledge will this novel not contain?


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1 comment:

Ann Wallberg said...

I need more time for a clever comment. In the meantime; just keep going and writing. You are relevant among irrelevance. Big hug Ann