*Richard Makin’s essay “Makimonos” was recently published in a screw in the shoe Anthology of Challenges (Golden Handcuffs Review). Composed as a series of reflections on Makin’s writing methods, the text can also be read as a defence of unorthodox and experimental approaches to fiction, including such works as Louis Armand’s panoramic novel The Combinations, which was shortlisted for The Guardian‘s 2016 Not-the-Booker Prize.
Imagine the outskirts of a vast, futuristic city whose interior is unreachable, for you are consigned forever to its margin, a zone of permanent electrical storms, acid rain and the wreckage of past conceits.
Accepting and encompassing banality — all this is obvious, I know — circumscribing many voices, invited or otherwise. And are you a part of it? Yet at the same time to remember (this is difficult). And the Everlasting Clocks — and the reckoning of the tide, the moon and the stars. And there are films. And there is the wireless, with its pumping, beating valves.
Another, I suppose because it’s no longer current, is correspondence with the big, inherited books.
‘An organic spaceship: a vast single-cell amoeba,’ she adds.
Anything that could be said doubtless has. Are there any unhelpful ways to read? Are there models, however remote, that we can point to as being analogous? As for writers, they all touch different nerves.
Basically, the whole cave gets taken over. (Say that again.) It was like being tonguetied. Bracketed words seem to release tension, changing tack when a change of tack is needed — but yes, flowers for the dead, I hadn’t thought of that.
Can I say a degree of resistance is involved? And can this resistance not be contained by an appropriate classification? Scattered throughout are forms of aside, the interjecting words of another.
Complete, with stratospheric brass, when he becomes acutely aware of his own mortality, and simply wants to leave.
Composition is one continuous accident, a rumoured presence; none of this really concerns fiction, the dregs of the novel. Call down fire.
Did anything else survive?
— Bells tolling in the distance, seditious murmur in the head, passers-by morphing into demons.
Of disconcertment: once the reader accepts the lack of orientation, she becomes oriented. (Does this mean there’s no conclusion?)
Don’t forget remarks on colour.
Eavesdroppage: a sudden clattering noise from the kitchen, or other peoples’ mouth. Every book I’ve read was made of fragments. Every detail is supplanted — an experience in which even the recent past is constantly being used up, traded in.
If one writer speaks of a desert (say, of eremitism) this will conjure a quite particular image and sequence of words — a simultaneous forgetting and remembering, scratching down impressions at hazard. In this manner, letters are regrouped according to the exegencies of the case. But the stranger I met on the train had never heard of the man without qualities.
This is no more than how things are. At first, this can be unsettling, yet therein lies an abundance, an inexhaustibility; uneasiness becomes adopted sinew.
Fracture has to be addressed at some point, the gaps in between.
Genres — well, what can one say? Given the evasion of linearity and plot, how may we perceive any relationships? I am utterly lacking in imagination, can only build with what I find about me in the world. Gold I have glimpsed.
Hard copy drafts must be read aloud from the music stand. He also says that the writing is an elaborate analogue simulation. (Not sure about this, but yes: steampunk interiors.)
Now he is washing his hands at the rusty tap.
He then observed that the parenthesized comments act in counterpoint to gravity. He wakes up back in an operating room close to the front, grey dawn seeping through the skylight.
Hey, in Einstein’s doctrine, the well-specified instant remains an absolute! Honesty doesn’t come into it. (How about, ‘What I’m Not Doing’?) Another says writing can be made in small steps, purged of self-loathing.
I appreciate the use of quixotic. I began to make a list of writers who are important to me — any excuse for a list — then felt a resistance to including it. I began with an unfathomable attraction to certain words, allowing them to leach into their surroundings as they deemed fit. I began with material culled from notebooks, carried always, gradually expanding this material over time. I began writing the portraits of anyone and everyone. It brought in little money. I called out to the angelic host.
I feel this covers just about everything I can think of. I can convince myself that the act of writing responds to an unconscious hunger, a definition of the book as living talisman. Several times I’ve found myself looking up various obscure flowers; I can’t think of any more to say. At first, I didn’t believe that I could do this, then I accepted that I could. You see, I’d like to feel that something universal and everyday is being invoked, which could turn a nerve in anyone. I think of the book as hermetic. I struggle to identify metaphor; things are what they are. I cannot recognize. If there is a book, I can’t see it. I once dreamt I wrote one that was composed entirely of invented words. (If so, what’s the significance of this?) I’ve never done this before, sat with my back to the entrance, writing as if my life depended on it.
Imagine photographing writing. (No.) I’m composing this in the laundromat, face-to-face with a tumbler. I’m not integrated; I’m not sure I know what a naturalistic novel is. I’ve yet to unearth a narrative in my own or any of the lives I’ve collided with. I’m reluctant to credit one writer before another. I’m tempted to list science fiction, crime, horror and the supernatural, comedy, mediaeval romance, holy writ, the historical novel, and miscellaneous warfares. I’m trying to think around myself. I kept writing and could not stop. In the absence of any overarching plot, I split into a series of compartments: a pitted cellular pattern, a mass of cavities gleaned from corrosion. It’s about investigating the neutral axis.
Is that a description you’d endorse, or at least accept? Is there something about the novel that you’re drawn to, in spite of the drastic contrast?
In this way they talked and I listened: ‘That one,’ they said, and suddenly I knew what they were.
Fragment as evaporate.
Fragment as tesserae — wood or bone or password: a die.
I think of composition as something along the lines of ‘note to self’. It might be more pertinent to say that the material drawn from memory is inenarrable. It’s all a bit off-planet.
That’s an interesting question, regarding conception; writing seems to have no boundaries, yet everything is weighed at anchor. Writing can work directly on the nervous system, bypassing interpretation.
It’s said that writing often happens on trains. The pursuit is an attempt to draw structures from an existence that seem more resonant than those inherited, and invariably struggled against. It would be unhelpful to read while expecting events to connect with one another. I used to be irrepressible.
Let it be clear that this is not a matter of idle games of calculation. Fragmentation in the act of reading forms a much-needed symmetry.
Many are the non sequiturs that have little or no obvious link to their surroundings.
‘Maybe,’ he thought, ‘I’ve been living here alone too long. I’ve become strange.’
But he could not leave, as this felt like returning to somewhere that did not need returning to.
‘Maybe I’m reading things in the wrong way, in the wrong order. Maybe it’s my head or my eye or my tongue, drifting as one continuous thought, silenced only by chapter headings in the broken passage of time. My vision, it was odd that day, had become corrugated.’
A translucent halo of liquid flame forms about his head.
I think of this as a species of writing that is concrete. No age has been so self-conscious.
Note to self: get a proper job. Notwithstanding, the writing does contain narrative strands, tributaries.
Of love and of contact with other worlds; all writing is prayer. Of throwing something ahead of oneself. A correspondence that occurs to me is with the programmatic secrecy of the heretics: Gnostics, Cathars, acolytes of Mani (only ex-create et cetera). Or an editor’s annotated remarks to herself while trawling through a manuscript. Should I be looking elsewhere for a context, maybe something that transgresses the novel altogether? Perhaps rising plainchant, recusant gospel: pain soup.
Personally, I read this motif in relation to the act of giving flowers to the dead. There’s something egalitarian about the fragment.
Picture the construction of a gothic cathedral without a ground-plan, clusters of teeming detail from the outset. There’s no plot, although a great many things happen. It comes out of nothing and returns: perfect grace.
Picture the making of a mosaic without the guidance of an overview, its maker navigating the placement of each fraction by chance, face pressed close to the frozen pavement.
A piece broken off, the underfinished portion: I am, I remember, I watch, and although there are no voices. . . .
Poet equals maker, more or less. (Could someone check this, please?)
A protozoan of ever-changing shape: any attempt to forget — the positioning of choirs in separate places, to sing in countrapuntal mass.
Rare or archaic words often stand in for neologisms, by accident as it were, an undercover obscurity. The recollections interwoven throughout are deeply embedded; they remain anonymous, untraceable for the reader (unless one happened to be a witness, and furthermore could remember). Right now, of course, everything is out of the question.
Roots include anecdotal detail, mangled dictionary definitions and unacknowledged, often skewed and deeply interred citations, or citations grafted together to form hybrids — to wit, ‘The death from which you shrink is sure to overthrow you’.
See notes on colour, for example, the colours of misremembered films. See notes on weaving.
Shadow of a fragment, a time and space intermediate, something given. Fragment as cherished gift.
Or simply attempting to write down everything you’ve ever noticed happening (in that sense, the task is straightforward enough). Someone once said reading your fiction is like landing in an unknown country — there are familiar markers but the terrain is always new. I am aphrodisiac for you, and vice versa.
Someone once said reading your work is like being drawn into endless, superbly crafted cul-de-sacs, yet always being able to find one’s way home.
Then, something about masters and slaves and whether it is ever possible for them to become brothers in spirit.
‘So now for the rest of your life, you are cast out here,’ she says, gesturing toward a nearby wasteland.
Some of these routines contain attempts at humour, others quarantined irony. Suppose the content were merely a series of questions endlessly repeated, after all? I can’t jettison this approach, cannot casually shift my attention to another mode.
Thank you, I knew I’d end up quoting myself. We took the decision to modify the small number of dating errors that appear, a history of ruptures. I have failed.
The abandonment of time is disconcerting, yet seems to function. I just kept wishing he’d get on with the story, yet felt madly goaded to write myself. (Try reading the chapters either side.) The circumstances in which I undertook this are those of a common existence: the fading hallucination and other media.
Consider the impossibility of truly sharing a single memory with another human being.
To which he replies, ‘As with all forms of divination, I have no idea of the outcome, nor would I ever wish to, having no desire to know anything. Once the result becomes apparent, I still don’t know what’s happened, what has been summoned.’
One day I watched someone knitting on a train and realized this was nothing like writing.
The novel can’t exist because it is so readily interrupted, ever-prepared for its own discontinuity: a sum of retrievals. The point is that such writing, by its very nature, resists any given genre — but we all know that words have the power to shapeshift us.
The reader will find numerous references to Hermes. There are references to mineralogy, human anatomy, the periodic table, meteorology, alchemy, botany et cetera. Sequences are repeated; I relish tasks that appear mindlessly systematic. But there will always be some detail that doesn’t fit.
Herein is an autonomy — numberless contradictions, a resistance to equilibrium. There’s much dream-work. There is sustenance in the fragment.
Nothing very much remains to be said. There were impenetrable marshes on the steppe. (How do you know all this?) The scale is one of several features that seem to bring the book into collision with the centuries. Readings aloud are multiple, and doubtless way beyond what other writers might consider a tolerably sane practice. The text is built.
I can only begin to list. The text often reads as self-reflexive instruction. A triptych must balance, peak at a zigzag centre. Just then someone rang me up to find out whether I’d ever been an accident.
The uncertain direction makes extrapolating personal references a challenge; a world must be apprehended rather than comprehended. Writing refuses to be corralled into any existing or undiscovered category — it changes direction quite suddenly, veers off at a tangent. An author could be a distant relative of trauma.
Fuck, this bewildering and endless task of marshalling.
This is impertinent, perhaps. I’m intrigued by the circumstances in which someone would undertake such a visionary and unworkable vocation.
The task is impossible, of course, but I feel driven to make the attempt, the interweft of untold fictions. Here are some common concerns: defamiliarization, allusive citation, words thieved (if that’s possible), found language, the emptying of ashes into the sea.
Fantasize a final endpoint, a time when there’s nothing left to write.
To make his voice as clear as possible for the decisive conversation thatwas now imminent he coughed a little, as quietly as he could, of course, since this noise too might not sound like a human cough for all he was able to judge.
To place a detail amid other details — encircling, navigating one another. This repeated action tore every scrap of skin off the back of my hands.
Watch out, this is the edge. (Wouldn’t it be easier if we just met?)
All the time we have bodies it will be impossible to meet face-to-face. There’s rumour abroad that we know a great deal about ourselves, but what remains unwritten seems important too, the invisible foil illuminating a residue.
So, to conclude, I find myself trying to frame analogies with other things I’m vaguely aware of. I had some questions.
In the next room meanwhile there was complete silence.
He was puzzled; everything about her puzzled him. Spores were implanted to see how and what they might germinate. Writing makes itself. (Yes, we know.)
I mean your tendency to crook language flexed into a curve, a curve of forgetting.
Richard Makin, author of Mourning