“Carol wants me to write a novel: ‘You’ve met so many interesting people,’ she tells me.
Very good, there was a young man and he could never get his hands on enough women. That’s a novel.
There was an idiot and he became God. That’s the same novel. I can’t possibly think of any others.
It is rather pleasant to be the author of two such excellent novels. The critics are divided in their opinions. One lot believes that they should be shorter; another not, that they should be a mite longer. I rather prefer short critics to long ones. I like critics with tan shoes — look nicer, I think. . .”
-From The Journal Of Albion Moonlight by Kenneth Patchen, page 41.
This novel is quite possibly the book that made the biggest impression on me, ever.
Lord knows I’ve given it away to anyone who would listen. And sometimes those who wouldn’t listen, they still got a copy. So it was a wonderful surprise to read this last week a thoughtful appreciation of Patchen’s unclassifiable, angry, beautiful masterpiece on the Tin House Blog.
In his essay, J.C. Hallman talks eloquently about how a favorite, or “pivotal” book (such as, for him and for me, The Journal Of Albion Moonlight) can become a sacred, personal experience that is almost incommunicable to others, and that in fact a book’s “meaning” is largely personal:
“Of course books mean things. But it’s a mistake to think you can definitively articulate whatever that is. Every bit as important as what a book means is what it does. In fact, I think I’d like to say that what it does is what it means. The great irony of literature is that our inability to describe what happens to us when we read a book is compounded by our intense desire to do just that, to share the experience with another as soon as we’ve had it. Books are private experiences, but we never want to leave them private. Stories are the salve applied to the wound of self-consciousness, the laceration that leaves us discrete and lonely in our skins. We read to close the gap. When we’re done, we stumble after one another, inarticulate, hypnotized, hoping to spread the virus of our inspiration.”
My own introduction to Albion Moonlight came through Henry Miller whose book, The Books In My Life, is a must read if you’re interested in learning about a lineage of ecstastic, hyper-passionate, renegade writers who are often neglected today.
Like Kenneth Patchen for example.