from Serialscribbler
Gad Hollander

 

Working Notes:

Serialscribbler (as the title suggests) is an ongoing work, so far only in prose, though there's no rule about that. It started a couple of years ago, when I sent out a piece of scribble on a postcard every day to someone I knew around the world. The texts were continuous (a lot of drivel thrown in) but each recipient only received a fragment. The idea was to re-integrate other people's (not necessarily writers or artists of any description) responses in my own writing. So far, that hasn't happened, and after some 120 postcards I stopped sending them out, especially as the internet seems to throw a slightly anachronistic twist on the project. For the time being, then, it's still an open-ended project and anything might happen with it.

From some working notes on Serialscribbler found in my notebooks from the last few years:

The language eludes me just as I step into it. I do not have the power to seize it, let alone transform it.

Serialscribbler—what is more than language in it—
now sit in Waterloo station
now hear & be tempted to bark
but not bark, quarantine—look up "bark"—
then & now reconciled (thru fog)—may as well not pay & suffer the consequences—what if someone gets up & leaves in the middle of a word—how do we find the middle of a word—if poetry is an approximation, the world is a wild guess—guests come & go, trains depart & arrive, film rolls.

Snatch scribbler—between picking up dog shit & chasing after the puppy, the memorable phrase or fragment might fall into place. More likely it will not. Take in the decent weather while it lasts—a day or two—then brace yourself for the onslaught of dark winter days.

Write without closure, as if each block of text were a prelude to the soundwork or video. Take it one sense at a time and then return— not quite, but in a spiralling form rather than a circle— serialscribbler.

"the natural suspicion of words"

Sometimes it happens that even Serialscribbler, who by definition is busy at all times if not totally self-absorbed to the point of oblivion, sometimes (I say) it happens that Serialscribbler will devote some attention to another experience, eg, reading a stranger's book or looking at a sculpture, even feeling it to gain some tactile experience of it.

I write in prose by default . I don't know where to break the line in free verse and I don't like having the line-lengths predetermined by fixed verse forms. It's an interim solution. I write in prose but think in poetry.


I took editor to one side and had a quiet word with him. This is for my own good, I whispered, and proceeded to disable his editorial tools, lopping off his hands, extracting his tongue, etc. He seemed to understand and, as I now read it, thanked me profusely with his lolling head and rolling eyes. Then I began to practise my fiddling, keeping an eye on his writhing body while folding, turning one word into another the way dough is turned before being given time to rise. I dredge up the analogy (more fiddling) with a tinge of regret, even shame, for bread is my favourite food in all the world—I suppose I would kill for it—and to mention editor in the same breath as bread seems almost blasphemous; ah, but I remember there's a limit to words and it's just been reached. So let's step back a step, retract that near-blasphemous breath, inhale deeply, say: I fiddle is to say I scribble within the confines of my own space, despite the neighbours' persistent complaints about the screeching and scratching, their calling in the police who, in any event, are powerless to stop me fiddling when I explain that the noise is just a scribbling, a turning of one word into another in the manner of kneading dough, careful to point out that I'm not inciting any revolutionary acts by invoking the analogy and, at the same time, carefully keeping editor out of view lest he give the wrong impression or, perhaps, because I'm ashamed of him. Upon leaving the police shake my hand—I've always had a way with the police, as one has with children or animals—and I resume my fiddling. Editor is hurt, professionally and physically, and since this has just been established as his necessary condition, we are now both faced with a steep learning curve which we need to get used to, each in his own way.

I am no virtuoso, it must be said, and fiddle only because I'm curious; my fiddling is spurred on by a vague desire to discover the new sounds rather than improve or polish the old ones. That's not to say I don't appreciate the old ones, much in the way editor does, but it's not enough to fulfil my desire. Editor, in contrast, has a way of expunging the new sounds with a stroke of his pen, somewhat like an abortionist, fossilizing them before they ever take flight. He believes my desire is misguided, that there is a better way of channeling and controlling it, that it should be put to better use. While he was fit and able he'd always wanted to have a virtuoso at hand (forgive the expression) and had dreamed of making me one of his own. Ah, but there are too many virtuosos, cried Robert Schumann, spitting on the polished parquet floor. Editor is confounded by the riposte. I can see his mangled body, thinking: surely you mean virtuosi. He is certainly not humming a melody inside his head, because as I snatched the pen and disabled him I discovered, to my shock, indeed my shame (after all, he is/was my editor), nothing in his internal makeup remotely connected with music. Instead there were millions of micro-blueprints stacked on top of each other, slightly curled at the edges like wafers, each bearing the imprint of some formula for a melody, past or present or future: all nuts and bolts and intricate scaffolding, which in its way presented a dazzling construction that any virtuoso would have given his right arm to play (forgive the expression), but without the slightest indication of what voice or tone or timbre such melodies might be borne upon. In fact, a moment before disabling him I informed editor that there are no more virtuosos in the world, only students, and to my surprise (and eased conscience) he seemed more relieved than disturbed by the news. I was not telling him the whole truth, of course, but our relationship is such that it forgoes the elaboration of truth (on my part because its structural complexities would be overbearing, while on his part the aesthetic and moral dimensions would defy his comprehension); rather the smallest grain of truth is often enough to maintain the fragile rapport between us. So for the moment editor and I live side by side, reconciled to each other's exclusionary habits; I fiddling, he nodding his wobbling head, keeping time for the sake of appearances. Occasionally, when our respective tasks come full circle and we turn a mutual glance of recognition towards each other, we will take a break together over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, our dreams oozing incoherently from the corners of our mouths, dripping like bird shit on the cafe table, as life flows to and fro on the pavement before our eyes—his, like mine, darting back and forth with unabashed lust as one young woman or another comes into view—only to have our little reveries promptly interrupted by a waitress asking, "Are you all right, sir?" So that I'm forced to look up and around me, awkwardly, desperately. Editor has suddenly absconded and left me to answer her simple query. In a futile attempt to grasp a pen with my mouth and scribble "yes" on any scrap of paper, I have, not for the first time in my life, accidentally overturned the table and chairs. Remorse for my reprehensible behaviour towards editor momentarily seizes me, and a shameful tear is about to fill my eye as the waitress, brimming with kindness and efficiency, comforts me: "Don't worry, sir, it's all right." Dutifully she bends down and shuffles on all fours as she cleans up the mess around my truncated legs; her breasts, liberally exposed to my parched and crippled gaze, sway slightly with her scrubbing movements, as if to say: drink, drink my compassion, o scribbler.

As a student of fiddling I am prone to daydreaming, especially when I practise my bowing and fingering, which I do religiously yet by all accounts hopelessly, for whether I practise once a week or every day of the week, whether I fiddle on street corners or in cafés or in the privacy of my room, the result is always, acoustically speaking, a scribble. It has to do with distraction, of course, and the enticement offered up by an image of loveliness passing by on the street, in a café, or across the walls of my room. Oh, but I like that, remarks a progressive tutor, a specialist on expressionism, his ear ever alert to the permutations of the new sounds. Annoyingly, I must watch my posture at all times—me, a cripple, watch my posture!—make sure my eye-line does not stray too far from the strings, and always keep my feet firmly planted on the ground. Such, at least, were the rules given at the outset, when I was a mere sub-scribe, long before I became a student, and although I'm now at post-graduate level the same rules still apply, the cardinal one among them being "never drift into mindless reverie." The trick, as another tutor advised us, is to dream without affecting a dreamer's countenance, to cast one's mind off in some direction while the (very same) mind stays focused, enrapt by the intricacies of the hands' manoeuvres. As you can see, I haven't given up yet, perhaps because I've noticed that over the years tutors come and go, experts become fallible, if not completely discredited, histories get revised, wars start up and arrive at their conclusions, stores change ownership, buildings get torn down and re-built, and things generally move on—whereas scribbling just evaporates into the atmosphere like so much vacuous sighing and, despite its noxious fusion with the air we breathe, is accepted as just another waste product with a tolerable, low-level health risk, no more dangerous than the toxins given off by other human wastes. The fact that nobody pays any attention to it, however, could prove tragically fatal under certain circumstances—for example, if a scribbler were to be retroactively regarded as talented, even a genius, and we, human kind, belatedly berated ourselves for having been so deaf, so blind, and beat our breasts with futile lamentations, and tore each others' hearts out with proprietary fingernails, and waged suicidal wars in the name of said dead scribbler, now canonised, his or her pen emblazoned on the national pennant billowing proudly over our burning libraries, day and night, etc. But in the case of students, even at post-graduate level, such potential catastrophes are highly improbable, as unlikely as a cataclysmic end of days, so there's really no need to fret, no need to get anxious over our performance, no need (or indeed desire) to seek encouragement from our peers or advice from experts, because scribbling is merely a process, nothing more, a perpetual practice session with or without a fiddle, and in any case, as otologists have shown, the human ear's threshold for noise rises by the hour, edging nearer to a level of infinity with every exclamation, every grunt and moan, every scratch or tap of the finger, with every etched apostrophe or comma on a blank page. As one of our most distinguished tutors put it: Our potential capacity to listen to everything will shake the foundations of our belief systems to their core. I was thinking, as it happened, about the word as the foundation of faith (not my original thought, just pondering an old one) when he added: It's something we should consider with the utmost gravity and tackle with a measured rationality. I think he was soft peddling doom, imploring us to reinstate a more humane threshold for the ear's intake of noise before it's too late. Too late for what, I wanted to ask, eager to join the debate. But being a cripple, being doomed to my studies, playing uncontrollably with my fiddle, I would have been unable to get my point across to him, over there, on stage, behind the podium, without upsetting the furniture and provoking a riot. All the same, upon leaving I reflected that despite my restraint it was an interesting outing for a bleak winter's afternoon, and I went away believing that my knowledge had increased by two- or threefold.

Although I'm sometimes mistaken for a cripple, sometimes I'm not. It is therefore just as true to say that I am as that I am not a cripple, and it's a matter of political interpretation whether you believe one or the other of these truths. My identity as a scribbler has not been affected one way or the other in this respect, but this is probably due to the perverse social conventions of our time. In the old days they would have certified me, put me in a safe place behind walls for my own good, and said no more about the matter; invisible, I would have been perceived as either happy or unhappy. Today our techniques are more subtle and sophisticated, especially in the free world, where we take pride in the fact that we can air these issues openly and hold interesting debates at our local cafés or on television or occasionally even on a bus, on the way home from work, though that is still somewhat rare owing to our collective fatigue after work. But those of us who don't work, who are less weary, will not hesitate to launch into such democratic debate if we should come upon a fellow non-worker on the bus, even heading home at 5 a.m. after an all-night party, just when our fellow workers are setting off to work on that bus, though they may not be sufficiently awake to participate in the debate and are possibly too preoccupied with their night's dreams, reconstructing the details, thinking of plausible explanations for implausible events, half-consciously tying together random associations in their minds, their hands struggling to support their drooping yawning heads, their bleary eyes peering into the pre-dawn darkness as they silently ask themselves what does this or that object mean in that incongruous setting, among such unlikely people, and is the dream object connected with the real thing they stumbled upon only a few days earlier, after not having seen the likes of it for years, their brains persistently searching through this miasma of vague objects and people for some kind of solution, a key, as if these freshly painted dreams were riddles that only needed the correct answer to facilitate a stress-free day at work and allow them to confront their superiors with the confidence of people who know themselves, whose selves have been revealed to them in dreams, regardless of how menial their jobs might be and irrespective of their professional status, their pecuniary position, their grooming or their physical appearance in general—it being their democratic prerogative, theoretically, to be themselves in any guise they choose—because they saw the light through the dusk and, having opted out of a now raging democratic debate, heard a voice in the wilderness and were born again on the upper deck of the bus at 5a.m., en route to work. I know all this for a fact because, having participated in that democratic debate, I witnessed their revelations with my own eyes and quickly scribbled everything down while it was all fresh in my mind, when their dreams were far less obscure than they are today.

Since then reverie has been my precise goal, and my fiddling studies are only a means of dealing with the pragmatic side of other dreamers' dreams. One fine day, as we return from our afternoon ritual of ogling nymphs on the banks of the boulevard, editor and I will come upon a list of words posted on our door, with a set of instructions to consider their place in my scribbling. Editor is keen to proceed, sensing an opportunity to regain the high ground in our relationship, but I remind him of our pact and avert his deployment for the time being. He is all but dead, a mere copyist, but I too am suddenly paralysed by a bout of amnesia, my lifelong years of study failing me miserably. Conscientiously I copy the list into my computer and it comes out like this:

Shame

The private

The secret in narrative writing

Representations of time

Event

Expectation (the future) in narrative

My computer (or rather its editor) automatically capitalizes the first word in each line—not what I expected, but I leave it as it is. I imagine the software writer will claim responsibility, perhaps a former poet eager to accommodate traditional verse writers. But, capitalized or not, the words are easily comprehensible, so I feel at least partially redeemed by my scribbling studies, imagining that any reader would understand them: the typography and size of a word has no bearing on its meaning, I remind editor, though it may be argued there's a difference in degree. Though I would have preferred the initial words without capitals, it seems pointless (and too difficult) to change them now. (Perhaps in future the software writer, a being of necessity in the future, will include an instruction that would allow the computer's editor to distinguish between a list of items and lines of verse; perhaps another instruction might be added that would allow its editor to discern a writer's intended nuance for a given word, or line, and automatically capitalise such words—for example, "life" as typed in by an immortal's fingers.) But this is beside the point. The point is I don't understand why or how language and writing coexist, though I understand and to some extent sympathize with the historical expediencies that have conjoined them. But how, after so many thought-bearing hours in such claustrophobic proximity, have they failed to find their separate autonomous domains? Have they just grown used to each other and learned to be mutually tolerant? Have they gone a step further (backwards, it seems) and learned to coexist, perhaps even to love each other in our thought processes? If that were so—though I don't for a moment believe it—why? what for? We scribble, day in, day out. If we advance, writing lies in wait, ready to devour us; if we retreat, language stabs us in the back. Would it not be better if we had neither—no language, no writing—if there were no scribbling, no anti-scribbling, no pauses and deliberations over their duration, if everything were simply a constant torrent of some alien construct pouring into the well of truth, that shameless metaphor born from the union of language and writing. I'm not alone in this my bafflement. My incomprehension is borne out by the writers I read, writers who have nothing to do with language, who don't know the meaning of the word, writers as removed from representations of time, event, expectation and futures as Greek shards, who have as little idea about shame, the private, the secret in writing as that extrovert Yaweh, who have never even heard of a narrative concept. Those writers I read, those are the writers I write, that is, those writers I re-write; that's why they write and why I write, why we, they and I, write, tuning our scribbling fiddles to a sorrowful pitch. Editor reads the very same writers I write, and yet invariably incinerates their pages, marking every word for approval before burning them, and sometimes adding a last-minute grammatical correction in his head. But editor reads only what has already been written, texts, what may never be re-written, that's impossible, what may only be read over and over and over. Whereas I and the writers I read write only to re-write each other and will not allow ourselves, for our verbs are many, to be re-written otherwise, distracted by a shopping list of contingencies with moral and historical imperatives, since we're ambitious to succeed our scribbling with our failure. That shopping list belongs in my pocket. It is revealed (like a furtive cigarette in the street) when I go shopping and use language as a counter, when I'm talking face to face, seeking out your immediate reply, my lips smacking each other, my jaws moving like pincers, my tongue slithering between movements of jaws and lips, my vocal chords dilating or contracting like synchronized swimmers, my lungs and every other pertinent organ acting in time and with deceptive ease to allow me to articulate something or other, this or that. Thus we talk and act, sometimes sequentially, sometimes synchronously. The articulation of our bones, as well as what we concoct with language, says something about our life, in death, after the flesh has rotted away and the worms have moved to another body, yet language itself can never exhume the writing that went on (perhaps on a daily basis) before the final heartbeat. While the writer, o scribbler, is steeped in shame, in some perverse privacy or in the self's profoundest secret, the body of writing is perpetuated in its own skin, marking out its own as-ifness the way silence delineates the borders of language. Let us admit, let's say, that I have murdered you and am now stricken with remorse, dumb with shame and crippled by guilt; whatever I've done, whatever else I'm doing, I am not writing. I am outside the writing, doomed to carry in my language as author some pitiful mental inflammation throbbing with a succession of phonemes, each in turn having been orphaned by its murderous language, the same that suckled it, that gave it comfort in the face of silence. Which is all well and good, is as it should be in the realm of as-if, but as the writing proceeds what if, scribbling, it revealed itself in some sacred alphabet, a revelation earmarked as a future holy text, as though writing were shame and privacy and secrecy itself, to be divulged in our death? And what if that as-if were an angel, classical, orthodox, with the power to unleash language's ultimate terror—though I and the writers I re-write don't know what that might be—would editor allow it to fulfil its divine mission, or would he intervene and, effectively, overthrow the lord in our household? Such questions seem infinitely difficult when, of an afternoon, editor and I return from viewing the maidens by the river, slightly tipsy from their beauty.

I like, I say to him before reaching our door, a poetry that is definitive in its ambiguities, but cannot be as passionate about it as I am about a poetry of ambiguous definitions. Reaching for the list of words on the door, he calls me a hypocrite.

I was so ashamed that, if writing were language, "so" would never survive under the burden it claims to support, for shame draws us back through time, as even the earliest scribblers evoking Paradise were at pains to point out, and during that interregnum every act of love and war perpetrated by the species has accrued to its surface. Since writing is not language, however, it is easy to articulate the so of it, to say it or spell it or memorize it for future use. And I hid, editor confessed to me once, for I was so naked.

The nonsense we tolerate, I confessed back to him in a moment of compassion, is nothing compared to the nonsense we produce, especially when the latter is predicated by a collective pronoun and dressed, how can I put it—I paused, I scratched—aphoristically? he offered.

(work in progress)


Issue Two
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