Deconstructing literature may seem like an awfully high-brow way to start of on a blog, but this is actually more of a post in praise of the ridiculous. I’m not even going to guess at how many books are in circulation throughout the world, but needless to say there are more than 87. Standard fiction looks to tell a story and if the language used is relatively lucid, then all the better for sales. So for a book to really stand out, it either has to tell a really amazing story or doesn’t tell a story at all. For a great book, coherence becomes optional.
You only need to look at any bookshop’s best seller list to find a range of extraordinary stories, but to find an extraordinary non-story is a much more difficult task. The best starting point off the top of my head is Gertrude Stein’s “Tender Buttons” which looks at snatching brief moments of consciousness that aren’t affected by time or memory. Eyes glazed over yet? See what the lady herself has to say on “Mildred’s Umbrella”:
“A cause and no curve, a cause and loud enough, a cause and extra a loud clash and an extra wagon, a sign of extra, a sac a small sac and an established color and cunning, a slender grey and no ribbon, this means a loss a great loss a restitution.”
Get it? Part of the beauty of this is that we’re not really meant to. Stein believed that it was more important for her words to form their own rhythm than for their context to make sense.
James Joyce went nuts on the nonsensical as well in Finnegan’s Wake which, granted, does have a plot. You’ll never figure it out though just by reading the book:
“though a day be as dense as a decade, no mouth has the might to set a mearbound to the march of a landsmaul, in half a sylb, helf a solb, holf a salb onward the beast of boredom, common sense, lurking gyrographically down inside his loose Eating S.S. Collar is gogoing of whisth to you sternly how — Plutonic loveliaks twinnt Platonic yearlings — you must, how, in undivided reawlity draw the line somewhawre.”
Now while it looks like I’ve suffered a stroke in the middle of typing that paragraph out, I didn’t. Joyce didn’t stop at sentences full of words that together become completely illogical, but also used portmanteau words (a new word made up of two other words- like “spork”) to describe what was going on in his head.
Joyce was looking to write a dream-like state down on paper while Stein was capturing an intense moment of awareness. Yes these books are much harder to stay interested in while you’ve got them out on your train ride home, but they do a bloody good job of reflecting the bits of our world that we never really pay any attention to. We can all tell a daily narrative of getting up, eating toast, going to work, throwing a stress ball at the boss, etc. etc. but we may find it harder to describe how (not what) we dreamed last night.
Incoherent books are basically literature on methamphetamine which, let’s face it, is meant to do your head in.