How to Battle One-Book-Fatigue

April 24, 2008 at 2:50 pm (Sampurna Chattarji, The Reading Room)

 

‘It is the beginning of the end’.

 

I have picked that line out at random from William Burroughs’ The Adding Machine. I am trying the exercise he mentions in one of the essays in this wonderful collection, titled ‘Creative Reading’. It’s the exercise he calls ‘intersection reading’. Say you’re reading on the train all the way home from Nariman Point to Andheri. You’re lucky, you’ve grabbed yourself the window seat, your bag is safely stashed on the rack, it isn’t raining (yet), so there are no drippy umbrellas to threaten your book with splotches, and you’re reading. Let’s say you’re reading The Adding Machine by William S. Burroughs. You read the line ‘It is the beginning of the end’ and just then the lights blink off and the train grinds to a halt.

 

Life has intersected with your place in the book, with that very sentence you picked out. Burroughs would have it that it’s all pre-programmed, what is seemingly random is really significant at that precise moment in your life, and no other.

 

I’m trying out a different sort of ‘intersection reading’. It comes out of the Must-I-Read-One-Book-At-A-Time Syndrome. So I read say four books at a time. But that’s also too linear. A chapter here, a verse there? Nah! Fortified by the knowledge that I am, after all, proceeding under a Burroughsian blessing, I intersect not life with lines, but lines with lines.

 

And this is what happens:

 

I saw the wild hawk-king this morning

Sacred: purdah-veils, halal meat, muezzin towers, prayer-mats;

Death of the author: whodunnit?

Doctor Bream read through the letter to parents then signed her name at the end.

 

I love it. (Is it nonsense?) I love it.

In and out I dip again, changing, at random, the order in which I pick up the books:

 

The black hole of the masses

and then on a whim went for Indian Nectar

Then you went home, all of you went home.

grandmother’s moles like witchnipples

 

It is a kind of mad poetry and I’m wondering if I will hit upon something truly sensational. (Before someone hits me for being a sensational waste of time.)

 

 

awake in the beached boat of the marital bed

Every Christmas we feed the poor.

One afternoon in June

L.A., New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong

 

You can lay your strategies as carefully as you like,

Every message is a verdict

You seem to move continually forward

been there

 

‘Every message is a verdict.’ Precisely what Burroughs would have said. It is almost seamless. Dare I ruin what could be a perfect example of fragmented wholeness? The books tempt me, taunt me.

 

This cushion or pillow takes the form of a narrative space

She was History

I heard it said

Racked by toothaches

 

The absurdity of absurdity.

 

The desire to be clever purely by chance. The desire to control the desire to be clever purely by chance. Will I start cheating, then? Will I turn and riffle the pages looking for a better line? I better not.

 

And so one last, grand, reckless show of nonchalance:

 

…a legend half-heard/in a train

a sort of baleful twilight

it was the end

an ice-cream van crying and hurrying on

 

‘the end’ has appeared twice in this little game, and that, surely, is a sign. Trains have appeared twice. They are telling me something. Get on with it. Move on. I do. I forget about switching tracks, and I read, linear-style, chapter and verse. I have just found the perfect way to battle one-book-fatigue. Thank you, William. Thank you, ice-cream van.

 

 

[Lines quoted from: Salman Rushdie’s Midnight Children, Carol Ann Duffy’s Feminine Gospels, Neville Wakefield’s Postmodernism: The Twilight of the Real and The Oxford India Anthology of Twelve Modern Indian Poets edited by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra.]

 

Sampurna Chattarji

 

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