Author Tim Parks
Report from the Future I: Montreal’s Literary Avant-garde
It’s a literary event, taking place in French, mostly, but also in English in a downtown gallery packed with 150 people, at least. They’re mostly young, or youngish, and in any case hip. Not at all your usual literary crowd, in other words.
It begins with a gentleman called Eric Lint in an unserious hat who claims to be affiliated with the University of Villeray in Montreal. This must be fiction, you think, there being no University of Villeray, in Montreal or indeed anywhere.
Then Jhave sits down at one microphone, with Alice van der Klei at the other. The piece is called Teleport. He reads in English, she reads in French; she is the one who translated the English into French, and she’s also the chief editor of the online magazine bleuOrange. This is a bleuOrange event, and that alone would give it literary heft, bleuOrange echoing the French surrealist poet Paul Éluard’s mémorable image of the world as blue as an orange -- La terre est bleue comme un orange.
The two performers are sitting at a table at the front of the room, but the lighting – and everyone’s attention – is on the gigantic screens above. Unsettled and unsettling words and images flit across these screens in a post-apocalyptic universe of living creatures – a bird, an insect, a baby – along with indeterminate organisms, broken glass, and other menaces. You can see it here.
There is a story here. Hard to retell in so many words. It’s at about the time that I figure that out that I find myself impressed. Somewhere near the end are the words “longing for union.” Only connect, in other words. I can relate to that. I grew up with E.M. Forster. I don’t know if Jhave did, too, but this is a man with a literary sensibility, whatever his favourite reading has been.
There’s a whole programme, a lineup, just as with other literary events. Grégory Fabre’s Obliqueis next. Letters appear, quickly metamorphose into other letters, creating new words, new meanings, and new stories. A story that might have been set in Brooklyn is transformed on screen into a story about Odessa, and then into another about Berlin.
My eyes flit from one screen to the other and back again. I’m struggling to make sense of the story, the multiple, ever-changing stories of meeting a friend whose face and name and background keep changing. And what is the city where this is all taking place, anyway? It’s moving fast, and I’ve barely been able to read a line on one screen before I’m scrambling to see what’s jumping out at me on the other. I miss a lot, there’s no way to read it all properly, really get it. I catch a line about being “hand in hand on uncertain ground.” It all reminds me of that line of Leonard Cohen’s about a woman “who’s gone and changed her name again.”
I like some pieces more than others, the way I always do, whatever the event. I like the speed of this one. I find the experience of watching and listening to it exciting. The story – some version of the story – is about love, life, death, change. Something along those lines.
I like the fact that I find it so hard to write about the piece. When was it not hard to write about love, life, death, and change? When was it not hard to write about writing? To that extent this is familiar.
Reminds me of “a poem should not mean, but be.”
In the cunningly titled u-rss, Marc Veyrat plays with words, with computer language, with letters, with fonts, and with music, to create a piece that owes something to concrete poetry, something to rap, and something to RSS feeds.
I’m going to need a new critical vocabulary for this. Another good sign.
I find this piece difficult. At some point, almost on the point of giving up on it. I think, Only a wise man would so persist in his folly. Which is something I last heard from a writer commenting on a realist novel published as a book in the old-fashioned way.
It’s intermission. There’s more to come, but I have a deadline to meet, so head home to my own computer.
© Linda Leith 2011