Thursday, September 18, 2008

Luc Sante interview

Guernica magazine has a great interview with author Luc Sante currently on their site. Those close to me know how much Low Life was a book that impacted my life and imagination in way that is often hard to describe. I still feel it resonate inside of me when I walk down certain streets. If you are into histories of place, there is no better read. If you live NY, you better get a copy asap. It should be required with your driver's license.

Some interesting discussion about rhythm in the interview.

Excerpt from Sante::
Actually, songs don’t provoke visual images for me. I hadn’t exactly been aware of this before. What I get from songs is language, but not necessarily the actual lyrics. Hmm. This line of thought seems to be getting neurological… Anyway, I sometimes get words from instrumentals, but mostly from music I get rhythm. And timbre and inflection, stuff like that, which makes it sound much drier than it actually is, but in any event the image-generating portion of my brain involves some entirely other lode.

It’s funny—if music produces words, words do produce images. Despite this, music and images seem to live in different sides of the brain. I guess I think in analogies, which tend to be visual. And images produce images—the more images I see the more I can imagine, which, in part, accounts for my addiction to images and my stamina for consuming vast numbers of them at a time.

Whenever I’ve searched for the origins of rhythm in my life the only thing I’ve ever been able to find is the rhythm of the litanies in the Latin mass—the ora pro nobis iteration in funeral services and the antiphonal ceremony of rogations in the fields. Otherwise music was pretty much absent from my early life—my family didn’t get a record player until I was nine, and the radio only seemed to issue news and soccer, later baseball. Music crept up on me in childhood from a variety of ambient sources. In any case, soul music came to seem like something I’d always known, and—beginning when I was nineteen—reggae even more so, as if I’d somehow heard it in infancy.

Rhythm in writing is somehow analogous, but it’s a completely intuitive matter. I don’t really understand the process. It’s related to the substance of Flaubert’s famous letter to George Sand: “When I come upon a bad assonance or a repetition in my sentences, I’m sure I’m floundering in the false. By searching I find the proper expression, which was always the only one, and which is also harmonious. The word is never lacking when one possesses the idea. Is there not, in this precise fitting of parts, something eternal, like a principal? If not, why should there be a relation between the right word and the musical word? Or why should the greatest compression of thought always result in a line of poetry?” This is crucial stuff for me. I write intuitively, not knowing where I’m going, not knowing what the next sentence will be until this one has guided me there, and knowing how the sentence goes begins with my hearing its rhythm in my head, and then filling in the specific words. If the sentence is cloddish and clunky, it’s simply wrong—and not just wrong-sounding but wrong in its meaning. I realize at this point that I seem to be conflating two separate senses of the word “rhythm”—beat and flow—but they are inextricably linked in my mind and the matter lies largely outside my ability to articulate it. Rhythm also guides my reading, that part of which has nothing to do with acquiring information. There are certain writers whose rhythm is immediately congenial to me. Among the living, I think of Geoff Dyer, whose books I’d devour even if they were about metallurgy or stamp collecting. His rhythm carries me through, exactly the way the rhythm of a dancehall number takes over my body.

image via Guernica

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