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Tony Grist

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That Review of That Book [Mar. 6th, 2005|02:07 pm]
Tony Grist
I don't normally do this, but I guess I've raised expectations, so here's what I finally wrote about the Elias book.

THE PAGAN ELLIPSIS by CHE ELIAS. Six Gallery Press, 2255 Tilbury Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15217. ISBN 0-9746033-8-4.

It took me a long time to read this book. It's a work of fiction (I guess) but it doesn't use any of the traditional hooks. There's no plot. There are no characters to speak of. It kicks off, it continues for 300 pages, it ends.

But I stayed with it. At times I got really cross, but something about it- its chutzpah, its unpredicability- kept me turning the pages. I didn't think I was going to understand it any better by the end than I did after 20 pages (and I was right) but I still didn't want to miss any of Elias's tricks.

It reads like automatic writing. Maybe this effect is precisely calculated, intensely laboured, but I doubt it. The randomness feels too real to be faked. The way I imagine it, Elias charges at the narrative, fingers dashing across the keyboard, not pausing for thought, accepting whatever word his subconscious tosses up, capitalising at random, switching tenses and narrative voice, dropping one story before it's finished and picking up another. Sometimes he sounds like James Joyce, other times he's more like Daisy Ashford (9 year old author of The Young Visitors.) Occasionally he becomes completely incoherent. Dreams, fantasies, self-analysis, fragments of verse are tumbled together like clothes in a washer.

Picasso said he'd spent a lifetime learning to paint like a child. Elias seems to be on a similar jag. By writing fast he by-passes the inner censor, the inner critic, the inner grammarian. Nothing is too filthy, nonsensical or stupid to be said. Awkwardness equals innocence equals beauty. The result is an extended portrait of consciousness, of a particular consciousness, more daring, careless and tripped out than anything I have ever read.

P.S. This will eventually appear at New Hope International Review On Line

[User Picture]From: besideserato
2005-03-06 06:37 am (UTC)
I have to get my hands on this book. I wish I could comment on the review itself, as you have mentioned your conflicted feelings about it, but what good are such comments from someone who has not read the book? I do however, like your reference to Picasso and learning to paint like a child.

In general, your comments give the impression that this book is worth reading for something other than the standard three-act routine that literature has always been. There is nothing wrong with it, of course, it's just that books have stopped being inspired and become the outcome of formulas, geared by careful targeting and thorough market research.

The simple idea that there is a book that refuses this is almost enough for me to call myself a devoted fan. I think about a writer bypassing inhibitions by charging at keys and resurfacing with a product of pure existence. It makes me think of the Japanese word kirena, which means both beauty and purity.

Of course, I have not read it, I have no idea what it feels like to float through it and it may very well be nothing as I expect. Still, I respect Elias for giving the world this and daring to spit in the face of a sacred tradition that have become vulgarized by the masses and their lack of concern for creativity or aesthetics.

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-03-06 06:47 am (UTC)
Good. Elias deserves readers. He's doing something rather brave.

I certainly feel challenged (as a writer) by his work. I'm terribly, terribly careful about style and the mot juste and all that stuff- but what if I just let rip the way Elias does? What then, eh, what then?
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[User Picture]From: besideserato
2005-03-06 07:17 am (UTC)
Isn't that an exciting thought? What IF you just let it go? What might you find? Why don't you try? Forget character development and plot twists and just let the beauty of words guide you where they will.

This sounds like a wonderful exercise. Perhaps I will join you!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-03-06 08:42 am (UTC)
If I did it now I would just be copying Elias, but I'm going to be thinking about it.

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[User Picture]From: besideserato
2005-03-06 08:47 am (UTC)
Well, the fact that he inspired you to try this will always be there, but I agree that you may want to wait a little while before you do it so that you can start with your own voice and thoughts. I am really curious about what you will come up with.

I think, too, that it's a great exercise to get us loosened up for a day of our character-developing and traditional plot crafting! We give Grisham and Brown a run for their money any day in terms of story-telling! [Wink]
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2005-03-06 11:49 am (UTC)
I agree with besideserato: I would like to see what you come up with.

(And, for that matter, I'd like to see what besideserato comes up with, too, because she's also a fine writer.)

I am wrung out of ideas today. I have nothing left to say in LJ. I feel like running away.

But now I'm thinking that automatic writing might be my ace in a hole.

May I also play?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-03-06 12:02 pm (UTC)
"I have nothing left to say in LJ. I feel like running away." I feel like that all the time. The terror of the blank update screen.

Automatic writing might be a way of shaking something loose. I think I'm a little frightened. What if I don't like what I find myself saying?

Also, having just read Elias, I'm afraid of simply channeling him.

But I'd love to see what you come up with.

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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2005-03-06 11:51 am (UTC)
I liked the review so much I'm almost convinced I would enjoy the book.

I really liked this: "Dreams, fantasies, self-analysis, fragments of verse are tumbled together like clothes in a washer."

And also "...daring, careless and tripped out...."

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-03-06 12:04 pm (UTC)
I really think you might.

He writes with such freedom....
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