Dear Associates,

I am the literary critical detective.

In my work I examine the mise en scene of classic detective stories carefully, paying attention to the smallest metaphorical detail, sifting through the facts and then distorting them according to my whim.
My friends have been kind enough to express some interest in my observations and so to this end I am making this journal available. I hope that you might also find it of some interest.

The Literary Critical Detective.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Reading Trajectories

My reading is usually fairly wide ranging – both by necessity and by choice. This attitude has not made for a very coherent bookshelf but it has helped me immensely in my work as a literary critical detective.

However, over the last few weeks a certain pattern seems to have emerged from the vagaries of my choices.

The last few texts I have read are:

1.     Alexandre Dumas fils, La Dame aux camellias
2.     Alphonse Daudet, Letters from my Windmill
3. Anatole France, Crainquebille, Putois, Riquet and Other Profitable Tales
4.      Anatole France, The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard
5.      Cara Black, Murder in the Marais.

The next book I will be reading will be Jean-Paul Sartre’s classic, Nausea.

I drew up this reading record last night for my own benefit. When I did so it occurred to me that all these volumes have one thing in common. And that one thing, or place, is Paris.

I will limit myself to just two comments about this fact.

Firstly, let me say that I hadn’t really intended to read two books by Anatole France at all. I bought one in a small shop in Oxford, the other on an antique stall in Yorkshire. Strangely enough, they each cost the same amount – £4. They were also in a similarly poor condition: their spines were ripped and their pages slightly damp to the touch.

 They are just the kind of volumes that Françoise chastises me for buying. ‘But why,’ she says, ‘do you insist on filling your study with these musty old books when you could buy pristine new copies of the same texts.’ She is right as always. I am sure that I could have bought modern critical editions of these works.

My interest in old Anatole really only lies in his complicated and somewhat patronising relationship to Proust – he wrote the ‘Preface’ for the younger man’s Pleasures and Days. France’s style is easy going and at times quite lyrical (at least in these translations) but is nothing compared to that of his one time acolyte. It lacks the insight, precision and even the directness of Proust.

The second thing I would wish to say about this unlooked for connection is that my own writing has caused me to think about Paris. So perhaps the coincidence is really no coincidence at all.

Now, however, my focus has shifted. Another text lies in front of me – and it is one that is set in a different city in a different country. St Petersburg. (I am looking at the small globe in my study as I write these words. Leaning the candle towards its surface I can see the dot that represents the city).

The text is Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment. This is a text that has, in a sense, always been there ahead of me. It is now almost time to confront it.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

In the Clearing: a space to think and write.

I have finally managed to create a kind of clearing in my study. I will now be able to look around me and get my philosophical bearings.

I thought I had understood the literary materials I had been working on. I had made perfect kinds of non-sense of them. The case was almost closed. It soon sprung open again. The more I thought, the more I had to read. And the more I read, the more I needed to read. And the more I needed to think and write.

The mystery novels were soon buried under a mass of other materials. Texts piled up on texts. I pushed  various objects to the back of my desk. The photos of Proust and the old Broadwood piano were shoved away. One old postcard fell down the back of a bookcase. I did not retrieve it.

There, on the floor, were copies of works by Plato and Aristotle, arranged in piles. To my right, all the documents relating to one of my previous projects had spilled out of a folder and had not been replaced. Sheets of lined paper covered in faded, hand-written notes; copies of paintings; music; manuscript paper; the letters of some great author.

Now, though, I have got everything in something like an order.

Françoise is very happy with this change. She attributes this miraculous event to her own influence, her own pervasive sense of propriety. When she came into my study a few moments ago she almost fell over herself with surprise. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘it’s about time. I told myself you needed to have a good sort out. How could you ever have expected to get any work done with all that paper sitting around?’ I told her that I was a critic, a detective-critic, and that all these documents were essential to my thinking. Her face lit up with a smile that told me that she felt nothing if not sorry for me. ‘You call yourself a writer,’ she continued, her tone one of supreme condescension, ‘and yet you never write. You tell me that you are reading and yet you never read. All you ever seem to do, so far as I can see, is take books off the shelves – books that I will only have to put back.’ These were, I admit, hard words to hear – hard because true. Françoise sees through me.

I’m sitting in the clearing I have created for myself. I am calm.

The philosopher Heidegger speaks of standing in the clearing – a space in which Being is revealed. My clearing is not that kind of clearing. It is just a space in which to write.