Tom McCarthy’s C

[Tom] McCarthy’s new novel, C, is actually his third; but because he published his second novel, Men in Space, just before Zadie Smith drew attention to [his début] Remainder, C is the first to appear in the shadow of Remainder’s success. It must be said up front, though, that it is by comparison a disappointment. Whereas Remainder made a virtue of its obsessive austerity — “it works by accumulation and repetition,” wrote Smith, “closing in on its subject in ever-decreasing revolutions, like a trauma victim circling the blank horror of the traumatic event” — C plays fast and loose: it is elaborate and extravagant and continually expanding in scope from the first word to the very last. That said, however, this too must be clear: if C disappoints when compared to Remainder, it is, like Remainder, a triumph when compared to the pedestrian novels that continue to dominate our literary landscape.

My review of Tom McCarthy’s C is online at Killings, the Kill Your Darlings blog.

To Reiterate

Michel Butor says that to travel is to write, because to travel is to read. This can be developed further: To write is to travel, to write is to read, to read is to write, and to read is to travel. But George Steiner says that to translate is also to read, and to translate is to write, as to write is to translate and to read is to translate. So that we may say: To translate is to travel and to travel is to translate. To translate a travel writing, for example, is to read a travel writing, to write a travel writing, to read a writing, to write a writing, and to travel. But if because you are translating you read, and because writing translate, because traveling write, because traveling read, and because translating travel; that is, if to read is to translate, and to translate is to write, to write to travel, to read to travel, to write to read, to read to write, and to travel to translate; then to write is also to write, and to read is also to read, and even more, because when you read you read, but also travel, and because traveling read, therefore read and read; and when reading also write, therefore read; and reading also translate, therefore read; therefore read, read, read, and read. The same argument may be made for translating, traveling, and writing.

Lydia Davis

Fumbling for Exactitude

He expected people to make fun of, ridicule him. He expected people nowhere near his equal in stature or accomplishment or wit or anything else, to be capable of making him appear ridiculous. That was why he worked so laboriously and tediously and indefatigably at everything he wrote. It was as if he said to himself: ‘This anyway will, shall, must be invulnerable.’ It was as though he wrote not even out of the consuming unsleeping appeaseless thirst for glory for which any normal artist would destroy his aged mother, but for what to him was more important and urgent: not even for mere truth, but for purity, the exactitude of purity. … His was that fumbling for exactitude, the exact word and phrase within the limited scope of a vocabulary controlled and even repressed by what was in him almost a fetish of simplicity, to milk them both dry, to seek always to penetrate to thought’s uttermost end.

William Faulkner,
on Sherwood Anderson