CAGEIn his essay, “Guadalupe”, featured in the latest issue of gorse, Dylan Brennan describes a scene that resonates with the whole endeavour of a literary magazine:
One man walked on his knees along panels of cardboard torn from supermarket boxes and his companion lifted up the cardboard behind him and placed it in front of him and I thought with my back I’d rather be the praying kneel-walker than the constantly crouching and bending companion.
What writer wouldn’t? Though their deities may differ, the one thing artists and martyrs share is a hungry ego, and all artists, no matter how shy, crafty or talented, want to be witnessed. For any writer walking that path on bended knee, a bit of padding is essential. But what’s in it for the one who makes it possible – the card-carrying companion?
What drives the literary editor to all that scouting, collating, and framing; the serious, thankless work of engaging and vindicating – all the slog involved in supporting and developing new work? Like the indie publisher, the drive of the literary editor remains a mystery; one on which literary culture depends.
This issue of gorse does more than gather a menagerie of modern work; it is a work of art in itself. Susan Tomaselli’s glittering, terse, and weirdly accessible editorial, “Je est un autre” – focusing on three aspects of Jorge Luis Borges’ thought – provides the contributing pieces with a chamber in which their resonances, relevancies and synchronies ring loud and clear.
The three short editorial pages skilfully foreshadow the themes of inauthenticity, repetition, heritage and persona that are played out in this issue, coordinating them into a coherent exploration of what it means to make literature.
Art of words
gorse is a self-declared “exploration of the art of words”. Founded by Tomaselli only two years ago, it has already carved out a space on the Irish literary landscape, featuring some of the most radical authors writing today.
Positioned as an alternative cousin to Ireland’s more mainstream Dublin Review, the confessional-based Guts or the increasingly prestigious The Stinging Fly, the magazine features many of the same authors as the “Whatever it is, We’re against it”-style 3:AM Magazine.
To say that it works in an “avant-garde tradition” is a contradiction in terms, and might imply a hackneyed rehashing of earlier-century work – this is not the case. gorse shares the modernist and postmodernist quest to unpick the mechanics of meaning, to expose the slipperiness of “truth”, but it is never different for difference’s sake.
Aodán McCardle’s “Four Poems”, for example, substitutes words with black boxes, forcing the reader to pay attention to how language operates. A poem precisely about art as interaction, it exposes how the creativity of language lies in its failure.
The muted, abstract cover designs, author-on-author duologue (Rob Doyle interviewing Geoff Dyer), fascinating photography and this issue’s haunting graphic essay on Wittgenstein (“Killary” by Thomas McNally) all set it up as a European Paris Review.
“The concept of plagiarism does not exist”
One of the most striking things about this magazine, is how much importance lies in the synthesis and arrangement of the work. Essays that may seem trite alone, take on a much more self-conscious significance through the prism of the editorial.
On the very first page, Borges is cited to remind us that the author hardly exists, except as a reiteration and communion with writers before.
Clichéd lines like McCardle’s “mirrored binary” … “distorted reflect” are not accidentally unoriginal lines. In fact, the writer plays on the very unoriginality, blanking out the letters after “reflect”, so that we are forced to remember that the author is perfectly aware it has all been said before. Three poems by Chus Pato further explore the idea of repetition and the impossibility of authenticity: “It happens every time a poet sets sail.”
The issue’s overall treatment of language as an unreliable tool, is further pointed up by the inclusion of the original with the translation by Keith Payne. “It is natural,” writes Fowler, SJ, “to be so covered in your translator”.
Joanna Walsh’s essay on Woolf’s “Orlando” opens with an iteration of today’s most commonly made criticism of Woolf – she is repellently posh and quite a snob. As with Walsh’s other works, the extent to which the use of cliché is deliberate is, at first, disconcertingly vague, but, helped by the editorial framework, the reader is quickly aware that there is more going on.
“And here I am impregnanted with her style” – the writer, like the whole collection, is playing with the idea of language as a broken record that traps even those most determined to use it for their own means. As a stand-alone text, this might not amount to much more than a writerly parlour game, but in the context of a literary journal set on exploring art and repetition, it lends a deeper resonance to the whole volume.
These pieces are full of little tricks. Gavin Corbett’s “The Commons” spends some time reflecting on the writer-as-ordinary-man, and his relationship with his muses. It is only at the end that we understand that the narrator himself is now carrying around a broken cello. “Who would dare to touch it. Or else it lives now in a Lost and Found office, lost until I decide to pick it up.”
In “The Law of the Excluded Middle”, David Rose explores how theory and art consume life. Later in the collection this idea is revisited through a completely different prism, when Lauren de Sa Naylor’s “Occupation of the Same Space” – half story, half exposition on contemporary theories of subjectivity/transubjectivity/intersubjectivity/intrasubjectivity – writes of fertility as creativity as a staving off. In this context, art-making is an act of life.
“For in the beginning of literature is myth”
The words “For in the beginning of literature is myth, and in the end as well” close the editorial. This idea acts like a refrain running through the whole volume.
The idea of literary pilgrimage features heavily. Oliver Farry’s essay on the value, or rather the worthlessness, of literary pilgrimage, comes after McNally’s place-embedded essay on Wittgenstein’s stay in Connemara, and before Brennan’s account of a religious pilgrimage.
The claim from Corbett’s narrator that: “the books are really all we have, and all that count,” is answered beautifully by Bridget Penny’s short story “Hugh Lomax”, which calls into question whether there is really such a thing as an author (resounding with the editorial reference to Borges’ “I’m not sure that I exist, actually”).
Framed by her own relationship with the musical, “Sunday in the Park with George”, Lauren Elkin writes about the omnipresence of art in her family life. In an inversion of de Sa Naylor’s idea, she claims that parents “create worlds for our children, like artists. But the content, the forms, the technique, that’s up to them. All we can give them are frames, and legacy.”
The idea of myth – the myth of writer-persona, and the myths that shape our literary heritage run fluently through all the pieces in this issue. It is not polemical; there is no single coherent thesis, but rather 17 variants on the themes first set out in the editorial.
“Nothing is communicable by the art of writing”
The issue also contains a number of fascinating gems – essays on movements that I hitherto knew almost nothing about, such as John Holten’s informative and engaging review on Djordje Bojic’s soon-to-be-reprinted “To Warmann”, offering immense insight into the LGB movement.
The essay is overwhelmingly packed with problematic ideas such as Bojic’s belief in “living one’s life as truthfully, as artfully as possible”, – without allowing pause for nitpicking. It does not interrogate these ideas – there is no time – but the very act of naming them catapults the reader headlong into all the potential meanings of art and literature.
Liam Cagney’s “Kill Music/Fake Music” engages with Nick John Cage’s “text music” of “spoon hammering” – as wanky and as serious as it sounds and something which, again, I knew nothing about. Like Holton’s essay, it is an exhilarating read, unapologetically smashing away at any lazy notions of what art is, and forcing the reader to negotiate with new parameters.
Engaged in an earnest act of exploration, gorse collects work that demands more from the reader. “It’s about asking people to slow down,” explains Tomaselli, “and to pay attention to what is being said and how.”
This issue is well worth reading – a raw and genuine exploration of art and authenticity, immortality, language and heritage.
[CORRECTION: This article was updated on Friday 7 October at 13.35. Liam Cagney’s essay is about John Cage’s “spoon hammering”, not Nick Cage’s. Apologies for the error.]