Monday, 18 April 2011

Once upon a public spending cut...

In an age where inspiration and cultural enrichment are measured in GBP per kg, Natalie Stone considers the true cost of paper-cuts and why ‘a good book has no ending.’ (R.D. Cumming)

Of course, a good story always has a good ending, but books themselves - they never really end. That’s the best part. Books endure unendingly through the ages and enter again and again into the narrative of our lives. For what is life if not one long, unpredictable narrative?

Alright – that’s The End of that. After all we’ve heard it all before, haven’t we? These words are now whispers in our threatened and crumbling libraries: Constant, persistent, maybe even slightly irritating, but essentially just a wave of incomprehensible hush, washing away any sort of constructive sand castle progress without a trace over and over again.

And you would have thought by now that it should be accepted that books, thoughts, imagination and ideas are the cornerstones of our society – this is where we can put our wider truths into context, where we can pass ideas down the ages, where we can make sense of ourselves. Just look at the Pagemaster, look at Roald Dahl’s golden phizzwizards, Shakespeare’s ridiculous influence throughout the whole of narrative, look at1984, The Grimm Fairytales, Plato, Dickons, Levi Strauss. Even Derrida – the guy who tells us language is a limitation of expression – even he wrote it all down in a book. If we lose our libraries, one of these unique places where thoughts can percolate through history, there certainly will be a Paradise Lost. Forget the author: this is the death of the reader, the death of the Hungry Caterpillar and rise of the invisible bookworm. Blake would not be pleased. Oh all-encompassing metaphor, thou art sick.

Now, the power of words seems an issue so well-thumbed it has dog-ears as clich├ęd as an Andrex puppy. It may be battered, but it’s an argument as straight-forward as a time-line. Yet here we are all over again, having to guard the very things that allow us to even express opinions in the first place.

Were words always a useless means of defending themselves or, as thoughts pile higher, is striving to be readable becoming steadily more self-defeating? At the end of the story, is the pen just a promotional pen you borrowed from work and never returned? Are we stuck in some large, deeply analytical and complex, self-parodying, literary paradox that no one quite understands? I do hope so. It would make me feel a little less self-defeatist. And that’s always nice.

Let’s go back to life as a narrative. Our narratives are written as children – and they can’t be re-written. You can’t go back to that time when you are only potential and re-draft that difficult chapter with the awkward phrasing, the one that some obnoxious columnist in the New York Review pointed out. This is the time you begin to position yourself in the world.

Through childhood we’re plotting our own plot. Martin Amis may assert that he would need a ‘serious brain injury’ to write for children, because in doing so his notion of ‘fiction is freedom’ is disrupted by ‘intolerable restraints.’ Yes, perhaps there are restrictions on such a narrative voice, but these ‘restraints’ ultimately unlock eternal new worlds – worlds which lead to the ability to command a narrative voice with such contempt. These worlds where we spent our childhoods don’t disappear when we close the book. And we all know that Amis was a little Macaulay Culkin in the Pagemaster once upon a time, and that every thought that he had was a vowel, a memory, a consonant, an emotion, a punctuation mark in his unwritten biography. Because reading as a youngster kick-starts that narrative in a world where there are only endless possibilities. The fact we can remember what got stuck in Mr Twit’s beard and not to be ‘lat’ to Kipper the Dog’s ‘bithday party’ is testament to their mighty cultural weight. There’s an impossibility in arguing that writing to contribute to the very process that allowed you to write is a worthless endeavor.

Oh if only fiction were freedom. But restraints are everywhere we look. From language itself to those infamous public spending cuts, our freedom of thought is always in danger. If we lose our words what have we got left? So let’s make these whispers in our libraries louder. Let’s keep trying to re-word the power in words. It’s a truth which can only be re-written, but one which ultimately sits there quietly underlying everything else, hoping that someone can measure its worth with more than just words.

Let’s regroup. What have we got to fight with then? Oh yes that’s right, only the very thing that we are trying to defend. And goodness knows what isn’t a giant, multi-faceted and entrapping paradoxical metaphor these days. Life is full of them. So sure, the limits of language are certainly there – but the limits on the imagination? You tell me.

But ask yourself this: If you cut the once upon a time will it all end happily ever after?

The worth of a book is to be measured by what you can carry away from it [James Bryce]

1 comment:

  1. "Never should we be able to say: that was where our knowledge was and no longer is today."