Thursday, December 6, 2007
Bathroom Monologue: Personally, I Prefer Marquez
"I'd ask you if I could be Borgesian for a minute, but a Borgesian minute could easily last two hours, and Borges would get away with it, because he's in the literary canon. But if I could be Borgesian for a minute, since my problem is with canonical literature (or at least, with the scribblings that have been printed under that umbrella), I want to say how much I hate the writing things that have already been written. Sure, if I intend to write Don Quixote, with or without sampling it, that's good and well. Yet I spend so much of my time reading, sometimes reaching a titanic (for me) five books a week (then defragmenting my brain by staring a television all weekend, with the TV in various states of ON and OFF), that when I come up with a line I like, or even a notion I like, and then I read it in someone else's book later, I feel a rage that is distinctly realistically magical (I'd say, "magically realistic," but that sounds like a slogan for Lucky Charms cereal). In writing my first novel, two Orcish archers (who have horrible aim and have been treed by a Goblin) provided me with a clever line about one's thinking that "figment" was a mint extracted from figs. I thought it was very funny. Two years later I found the same "fig mint" pun in Yann Martel's Life of Pi. He'd published his book seven years before I read it; I'd written mine two years before I read his. This kind of thing happens too often. I swear, public school or college should have prepared me for this crap. Nobody writes, "To be or not to be, that is the question" and thinks it's his own (at least, not without a lesser degree of sanity than I'm comfortable admitting I lack). But how the Hell do you dig yourself out of that? It's especially troubling because I liked Martel's book. I liked his line. It fit the character, the scene and the tone. There was no way he stole it from me, but it was God-damned mine. Maybe a potential publisher wouldn't catch it. Maybe she hadn't read Martel's book. But what if she'd read Andrew Crumey's Pfitz, and another of my lines was in there? I read Pfitz. Not carefully. I had to read it over a weekend for a class, and didn't think it was that clever. But what if one of my good lines is in there? Or in The Five People You Meet in Heaven? Or in The Yiddish Policeman's Union? Or what if one of them's in one of J.T. Leroy's books? I'd never be able to live with myself if I shared a beloved line with Leroy, even if he really was a hoax made up to sell books by a middle aged woman who couldn't get published without a gimmick. I hate J.T. Leroy. But I read Leroy. I read Martel, and I read Borges, because I'm really scared that all of my good lines are floating around in well-manicured paragraphs on fresh pages on library shelves I've never visited before. And that's probably why I read five books a week. It's definitely why I watch a blank TV screen so much. And if you'll be so kind, you won't blame me for this Borgesian minute ticking beyond sixty seconds."