Invention



Live and invent. I have tried. I must have tried. Invent. It is not the word. Neither is live. No matter. I have tried. While within me the wild beast of earnestness padded up and down, roaring, ravening, rending. I have done that. And all alone, well hidden, played the clown, all alone, hour after hour, motionless, often standing, spellbound, groaning.

Beckett -- Malone Dies


It's very silly really -- this continued fixation -- what would it feel like -- what would it be like --

I ask these questions of art -- writing especially, because it's the only medium which seems within my reach -- but these questions can be asked of music, of painting, of making something, anything.

But I wonder also if the greatest invention is the self. How do I mean this? There are tropes -- we don masks, play roles, assume characters -- this is the work of an individual, one in a society, one who is surrounded by standards and seeks some way of developing. But this all seems like the description of some process of contrivance. It also describes a process far more concrete than that which we experience.

What is the self? Is it some coral reef-like structure? Is it like water seeping into sand, bleeding out and over barriers? Is it a core of darkness -- a wedge of light coruscating or wrapped in filaments? Is it a globe held delicately and safeguarded? Is it a nothing? Is it rather a process -- the process of invention or retelling or recollecting? A process of sense-making and story-telling?

Is it good to do this work -- the work of engaging with the self, of pretending that it is something, and somewhere? If so, why is it good? How does it help? Why is it a help? If it is not good -- a harm or at least an obstacle, why is that so?

In The Ravishing of Lol Stein, by Marguerite Duras, everyone invents. The narrator certainly does, he tells us about it. Lol also invents, and John Bedford does, inventing his role with regard to his wife -- Tatiana Karl does -- they all invent. Lol lives a life which she must invent after her own is interrupted. She is a young woman who is living as fully as could be imagined, or so we are told -- she is a dancer, and dancers live with body and mind united. But she is interrupted, arrested from living -- she sees her lover love another, and in that seeing she ceases to be herself -- she ceases. And from that point on she invents. They call this madness. Duras calls Lol 'her little madwoman' in Practicalities.

In Hiroshima, Mon Amour there is also invention. How does it work here? There is something which is enormous, unfathomable -- Hiroshima. There is also the Frenchwoman's love in Nevers. She is also a young girl, living and loving, arrested by the murder, the humiliation, the rejection. She is also mad, mad because of a lover and a loss. She becomes an actress and invents. And Hiroshima? It is a madness which is beyond understanding. It is death and madness. It dies, and then reinvents itself. There is the New Hiroshima Hotel. The new city does not sleep. It watches always. They make a movie to tell of Hiroshima -- they invent it anew. Both events are beyond understanding -- both surpass and overwhelm and yet seem to beg for interpretation and understanding.

The Frenchwoman tries to understand Hiroshima. She believes she does. She does not.

The Japanese man tries to understand Nevers. He believes he does. He does not.

Does the Frenchwoman tell the truth about Nevers, about her lover and her madness? Does it matter whether she invents?

In Lol Stein, the narrator tells us of his lies, his inventions. He gives us his opinion -- tells us how he thinks it is. Does he invent Lol's madness? Does it exist before its invention? Does he invent love? The love between Michael Richardson and Lol, and then between Michael Richardson and Anne-Marie Stretter, then between Tatiana Karl and Jack Hold, then Jack Hold and Lol, and so on.

Does it matter how the invention is done? I go beyond myself now, but what if I were to tell a tale of fabrication -- complete fiction? What if, like Bernard in The Waves, I made Percival into a great knight, riding against death -- what if I inflated his stumbling horse into a pure charger, made his death not a twisted back but an elemental annihilation? What if I reported the facts, straight as they are, no embellishment, no filigree?

It comes down to effort -- for Beckett at least. 'Live' is not the right word; nor is 'invent.' It is trying which matters, whatever that is.