Between two frames

The speed of a cinema film is 24 frames per second. God knows how many frames per second flicker past our daily perception. But it is as if at the brief moments I’m talking about, suddenly and disconcertingly we see between two frames. We come upon a part of the visible which wasn’t destined for us. Perhaps it was destined for — night-birds, reindeer, ferrets, eels, whales… Perhaps it was destined not only for animals but for lakes, slow-growing trees, ores, carbon…

Our customary visible order is not the only one: it co-exists with other orders. Stories of fairies, sprites, ogres were a human attempt to come to terms with this co-existence. Hunters are continually aware of it and so can read signs we do not see. Children feel it intuitively, because they have the habit of hiding behind things. There they discover the interstices between different sets of the visible.

Last night before bed, I read John Berger’s essay “Opening a Gate” in Why Look at Animals? This section struck me, perhaps because it was so similar to what I was trying to get at when wrote about the idea of the beyond-world. I like the idea of multiple beyond-worlds, not destined for us that we occasionally catch glimpses of, perhaps out of the corner of our eye, perhaps head on.

When I wrote about the beyond-world, I mentioned Shoal Creek in Austin. It’s right in the middle of the city. There is a sidewalk that runs along it. Once evening, I was walking on that sidewalk and came upon an owl sitting on a branch. It was directly in front of me and staring right at me. I stopped in my tracks and stared at it for a moment. Perhaps longer than a mere moment, it’s hard to say. The world around me and the bird seemed to shift: colors changed and there was an electricity in the air. It may simply have been that the sun was going down. In fact, whenever I see the word “gloaming” that moment comes back to me. It alone captures the sudden shift of colors and texture that came so suddenly and just as suddenly disappeared.

The other thing that Berger’s description of a different perception found between two frames reminded me of was a lot of the writing of Haruki Murakami. He describes this as combining objective language and personal language. Murakami’s personal language feels like a beyond-world, something seen by—perhaps destined for—one person only. It’s the interplay between the world everyone agrees on and one individual’s beyond-world that I enjoy so much about Murakami’s writing.

In some some sense, this feels like what much fiction writing and some non-fiction writing, like the writing of Rebecca Solnit and Robert Macfarlane. Perhaps this is only true of the authors I love—such as Calvino, Borges, Carter and García Márquez—who take their queue as much from folktale and mythology as they do from science and reason. I return again and again to the writers who are able to communicate the internal life of a character or themselves.

Murakami’s screw

He felt agitated. Random, senseless thoughts flitted about his head. But all these thoughts were just variations on one theme. Like a man who has lost his sense of direction, Tsukuru’s thoughts endlessly circled the same place. By the time he became aware of what his mind was doing, he found himself back where he’d started. Finally, his thinking process got stuck, as if the folds of his brain were a broken screw.

Some time ago, I wrote about Tolstoy’s screw: an image of a mind stuck on a single idea that has been with me since I read War and Peace in my twenties. It was strange, but not surprising, to see this same image when I was reading Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage recently.

Between two languages

According to Wittgenstein, there are two kinds of languages: objective language, which is logically and easily communicable by anyone who reads it, and private language, which is difficult to explain via language. Earlier in my career, I thought that a novelist is someone who had both his feet in the realm of private language, that he would just withdraw messages from private language/thought to create his stories. But since when, I don’t know, I realized that the language in a novel gains a special strength if I skillfully mix and alternate private language with objective language; the story itself becomes more dimensional through this process, as well.

Haruki Murakami, discussing his new three volume novel 1Q84. This tension between private language and and objective language drives Murakami’s novels, and it’s largely what sets Murakami’s work apart from that of other writers. His characters are so compelling because they travel uneasily between these two languages.

English-speakers like me will have to wait until September 2011 for the first two volumes of 1Q84. That’s almost a year. I might just have to reread Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World to get me through.

Like the novel itself, the interview is divided into three parts:

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