a la recherche du temps perdu

Month: May, 2016

Gerald Murnane in praise of the long sentence

I even felt something such as the narrator of Remembrance of Things Past reported himself as feeling when he happened to stand on two uneven paving stones and when, according to one of the grandest passages in what I consider the most memorable book I have read, he could no longer doubt that time could be regained, so to speak. Proust’s narrator experienced again, after many years, the overpowering effect on him of the light and the architecture of Venice. I experienced something utterly different but equally forceful.

The great Gerald Murnane in praise of the long sentence, by way of Proust, Pynchon, George Borrow, and his own recollections, in Meanjin Quarterly.

I’ve written at some length on Murnane’s work in The Quarterly Conversation (here and here), in the print issue of Music & Literature‘s third issue where I consider his work in dialogue with Proust’s, as well as a short, off-the-cuff review of The Plains—perhaps his finest—on Goodreads.



Begin with time a clockhand’s seconds devaluing the pace of a sun they are supposed to somehow simulate     You were circadian rising with the dawn to hammer out your day even before the coffee had brewed the keys like pellets I could hear in the next room drowning my dreams     There was a rule that if you were working I could not intrude I could not make my presence known my breath too loud my movements as I untangled myself from the bedsheets too harsh so that they would disrupt your rhythm

I would sit with my right hand cupped in my left the thumb tips touching in a circle like the sloped sun over this chrome city or the patter of annular drops hissing against the sides of the overflowing coffeepot you long forgot was on the burner the circumference of your body its bones as it towered over me faking linearity the night before in its thrusts its jabs     I would meditate until you disrupted me without realizing you were enacting the very violence about which you had warned me and so I said nothing as I let your breathing intrude my lungs as I let your frenzy contaminate whatever peace I had been able to locate you throwing shirts and ties and trousers over the bed so that some lash themselves against my bare legs one tweed tie looping me right around the neck

Do you know what time it is? you ask panicked because working before work hours has now made you late for work itself     I offer no answer but look instead out of the window to the high-rise beside yours I see a woman in the frame moving her arm up and down as if she were ironing I see her put the back of her hand to her mouth to stifle a yawn and go back to her sawing movements the same I employed the night before after you finished removed yourself from my body like shrapnel and immediately began to snore     I recognize in this unknown woman’s rhythms the lonely motions of masturbating while one’s lover is right beside one     But what time is that to answer your question or how best to qualify experiences that exist beyond the scope of temporality for god forbid I run in to grab a cup of coffee while your keys are being pounded like my body was by yours the similar rhythm of it even disgusts me so early in the morning that your body or that your fingers house the same narcissism just dependent on different settings whether it be dawn or dusk

I remove a navy spotted tie from my forearm and hold it up a voiceless verdict and you smile in a sort of hazy agreement holding it up against the shirt you have already chosen knowing that I have picked a perfect match     For this I receive the quickest of kisses as one might kiss one’s pet goat or pat a young child on the head for waiting patiently at a street corner and with this you persist: But really, do you know what time it is?     There are clocks littered like forgotten relics across each wall all varying by several minutes your watch face down against your wrist’s pulse point your mobile face down on the dresser     What is this urgent need then to know the exact time or to ask the time of me as if I were a sundial or a barometer or because of a failed attempt to sit before you intruded with a body I want only at the moments when I want it that I have somehow retrieved a deeper answer about this very hour or this precise minute solely from sitting cross-legged on your cum-stained sheets

It is time, I say, for there is no other way I can state this and imbue it with the meaning I desire the syntax flimsy for I have not yet had coffee but I gauge from the anxiety of the scene that it is time yes it is time     And so I place my feet on the floor and the weight of the bed holding me while I questioned something or asked for something becomes a phantom memory now as I hook the navy spotted tie around your neck and pull pulling for all I have given you in taking myself away from you pulling for all you have thrust upon me in making yourself always noticed center-stage the insistent mannequin I must dress each morning before I can begin my own     The second hand on the wall clock behind your neck seems to have stopped but I trace the orbit with my eye placing my concave hands on your shoulders to signal that it is time

In some sense I have given you the time for which you have asked for I at least hear the front door slam before heading into the kitchen to mop up the coffee that has boiled over on the linoleum floor     My time begins now just at the point where the second hand has halted its cycle to the slamming of a door the removal of a body for which time as well as I must make allowance     While my own coffee boils I sit again hands in a circular mudra and I think of bodies and the woman’s motions being mine as I finish myself off with you spent and nearly dead beside me     A deluge of bells from the corner church means that it is 8 o’clock or that the church’s clock believes it to be 8 o’clock and so knowing that for certain or not for certain I sit with it for a while the only intrusion an imaginary arm in a suspended window the click of seconds passing even as they do not a subtle waft of your cologne staining my nostrils each time I inhale a new moment