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Transformers

By Lisa Robertson

I’m in an isolated country house reading Thomas Carlyle as the crop sprayers pass over the fields. Sartor Resartus; both colza and wheat: the treatment cycles are never synchronized. My own synchrony with the place emerges when I rush upstairs to pull in the airing duvets, shut the windows as I hear the tractor-engines start up. Otherwise the silence in this house—the very particular soft silence of a stone house—is so thorough that I’ve begun to have a new experience of style in my reading. Here I’m feeling prose style as a physiological transformer. This started in the winter with Thomas Bernhard, who I now turn to for the psychotropic sensation brought on by his careful lapidary repetitions and the way they extend and intensify temporal relationships, those of the characters and events in the book—it is Correction, I am reading it very slowly, in sips almost, to savour the cognitive trip—but also in the time of my own thinking, a kind of sipping too. It’s a very calm intensity, like Adams’ Shaker loops perhaps. I’ve come to the recognition of time as style, or style as time, I’m not sure which. I think about it when I’m walking between the groomed, weedless fields, looking at the architecture of the long firewood piles behind barns and between pasture oaks. As I again consider the elegant yet twisted psychotropics of Bernhard’s style, comparing it to that of Carlyle—a chaotic ruffling, like a brisk breeze whipping around fresh green branchlets—two friends from a nearby village drop by for an Easter Monday visit. I have just bought a pretty little Italian coffeepot, so I proudly offer them espresso, and we sit at the kitchen table where close by the kerosene heater is making its gentle hiss and sputter. The Spring is still cold but I am tired of lighting fires and carrying wood, so I put up with the stink of kerosene. My friends and I mostly talk about our reading; she and I share a passion for Christa Wolf and Anni Albers, and lately she’s crazy for Aeschylus too, whose stories she gloriously narrates at the table with the radiant gusto usually reserved for very juicy and of-the-moment neighbourhood gossip. He is an aficionado of Barry Traven and Peruvian politics. Eventually our talk turns to Guy Debord, as it sometimes does. My friends are older than me; he knows a Mexican philosopher in Paris who knew Debord, and he tells me that his friend described arguments in bars with the Situationist, who would spring up and break the bar-table to emphasize his point. That’s a style. And then my friends have finished their little black coffees, and they rise to leave me to my kitchen reading beside the kerosene heater. I’m feeling a bit dizzy. The rest of the house is cold.

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Posted in Featured Blogger on Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013 by Lisa Robertson.