- Orbital Operations
- Orbital Operations, 24 September 2023
Orbital Operations, 24 September 2023
Hello from out here on the Thames Delta, where I am probably still shuffling around like An Old, having thrown my lower back out last weekend.
I wrote the following while full of very strong painkillers. I have no idea if it makes any sense, but I’m leaving it there anyway in case it’s useful to anyone.
Bram Van Velde
“What I am saying does not mean that there will henceforth be no form in art. It only means that there will be a new form and that this form will be of such a type that it admits the chaos and does not try to say that the chaos is really something else. The form and the chaos remain separate. . . . That is why the form itself becomes a preoccupation, because it exists as a problem separate from the material it accommodates. To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.”
Samuel Beckett in conversation with Tom Driver, 1961
My creative career probably looks, from the outside, like I’ve zigged when everyone else has zagged. Right place (ish), wrong time, every time. I’ve always followed my gut. This is why I am poor. I always have a plan, but that plan is usually just three ghost sightings in the back of an old almanac hidden in the cellar of a second hand bookshop in 1930 and I just wing it the rest of the time.
Now Samuel Beckett: he had a plan, of sorts. He had fallen in with James Joyce, become somewhat subsumed in the man and his great project, and needed a way out as an artist. Joyce was, in Beckett’s view, the great apotheosis of language. They were both on the same track, but Beckett could and should never write like Joyce. Beckett needed another way, and it took him ten years to find it.
Beckett himself wrote of James Joyce:
Here form is content, content is form. You complain that this stuff is not written in English. It is not written at all. It is not to be read – or rather it is not only to be read. It is to be looked at and listened to. His writing is not about something; it is that something itself.
The artist Bram Van Velde showed him part of the way - or showed him his thinking was on a correct path. Joyce was the maximalist master of language. Beckett would break language down. Abstract literature, like Van Velde’s abstract painting, like music, would let in the chaos.
Per Pascale Casanova:
To create an upheaval worthy of Joyce without following him on the path of the ‘apotheosis of the word’ compelled Beckett to …inaugurate a different branch of literary modernity, the ‘literature of the unword’.
I’ve always talked about bringing things in from other artforms to your own. It’s not the stealing that matters, it’s what you do with it. Will Eisner’s first great love, which he iterated on throughout his career, was theatre.
The viewer of a film is prevented from seeing the next frame before the creator permits it because these frames, printed on strips of transparent film, are shown one at a time. So film, which is an extension of comic strips, enjoys absolute control of its reading — an advantage shared by live theater. In a closed theater the proscenium arch and the wings of the stage can form but one single panel, while the audience sits in a fixed position from which they view the action contained therein.
- Will Eisner
This is why I constantly crap on at you about films and old tv and obscure books and music. This is my method. I hunt around for the things that speak new words to what I do, not least so that I can escape my own formative influences and find new territory.
Is it always, or even ever, successful? No. These are experiments. You learn things from experiments. Even - perhaps even especially - the embarrassing failures. As in all things, our mistakes and lapses teach us, if we just stop for a while and listen to what they tell us.
‘What complicates it all is the need to make. Like a child in mud but no mud. And no child. Only need.’
If you’re one of the people who needs to make things - and I think a lot of the people reading this are - then the first need is to do experiments. The world doesn’t need more of what it’s got. It needs new things. It’s not making the things you see, so much as it is making things with what you see. Combining elements with your own tastes and lived experiences. Maybe find yourself some time soon to just sit and think about that for a bit.
Look after yourself, don’t lift anything heavy, and 'I’ll probably see you next week.
My name is Warren Ellis, and I’m a writer from England. These newsletters are about the work I do and the creative life I try to lead. I send them every Sunday to subscribers. Feel free to send your friends to orbitaloperations.beehiiv.com , where they can read the most recent letters and subscribe for their own.
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