Under The Plan: Interpolated Stories By David Rose
These texts were born out of a sense of frustration with the author's own short stories, along with much other current short fiction, and a need to open up the formal possibilities of the short story; an acknowledgement that the world is too various, reality too multi-stranded, to be restricted to a single perspective or narrative plane
Here, in an instructive online preface to Confingo’s recent collection of stories by David Rose, we have a justification for a postmodern volte face
, a means of slipping the knot of formal narrative measures by circumscribing, instead, the reader’s apparatus of apprehension. The approach is brave. Making no concession to consequent complexity, Interpolated Stories
(the title, interestingly, is entirely without artifice) imitates the ‘multistranded’ nature of thought processes by perplexing its audience with counter-intuitive juxtapositions.
The writer, instead, opens windows on suggestion, giving the illusion of synthesis in the paradox of cognitive dissonance.
If our personal streams of consciousness are recondite and generally impenetrable to rational interpretation, it is only possible for the story writer to convey the infinite ‘variety’ of dynamics that animate the randomness of perception by overlaying them with a palimpsest of coherence in order to render that intransigence intelligible. Virginia Woolf achieves such a sleight-of-hand in Mrs Dalloway
by casting a Modernist kaleidoscope of disparate thoughts and images over the measured linearity of a single day’s events, thereby imposing a kind of formal structure on an otherwise intractable cacophony. If any compromise is made to authenticity – to the circus of colours and sounds that accompany real trains of thought – then it is restored in approximation, in yielding a feel for a ‘narrative plane’ beyond
David Rose makes his own concession to the confinements of a ‘single perspective’ by presenting a series of short stories in more or less conventional form, before interrupting each narrative with interjections in bold lettering in order to distinguish the new passage from the main thrust of the predominating story. But if the effect fractures the attention then it is fortunate that Rose is well-served by the cleverness of his writing, for the interpolated texts produce, in a sometimes tangential, sometimes removed, capacity, satisfactions that have little to do with narrative reconciliation or cohesion. The writer, instead, opens windows on suggestion, giving the illusion of synthesis in the paradox of cognitive dissonance.
And yet, there is a subtle assimilation of contexts, of narrative and of overview in evidence here: a story of disassociation, of anomic isolation, might be qualified mid-sentence by a germane critical perspective, a postmodern theory whose ‘light’ illuminates intellectual traffic, dispensing the jargon of supra-national discourse into the realm of the personal and fictional. If Rose’s co-mingled vignettes are in one sense divergent, then they are also knowingly self-reflexive, indicating not so much a failure of narrative structure as yielding a complementary overview whose sudden insinuation both supports and is questioned by that narrative’s fundamental impermeability. In the opening stories here, Rose harnesses discourses of first, art, and then, postcolonial theory in order to describe the socio-cultural mindset of his protagonist(s), and to deliver an unsolicited value judgment on their place and function in the texts. That the process balances each story on an intellectualized fulcrum is a comment, rather, on the failure of modes of jargon to fully apprehend the universe of fictional meaning, especially from an intra-textual standpoint.
Rose’s approach is rendered the more fascinating by the disturbance it creates: the mental isolation and intellectual rigour of the art gallery guide in Amongst the Corots
is singularly ill-suited, singularly too ‘aware’, to be subjected to the scalpel of discourse. Rose’s prose is too elevated, too well-engineered to fall victim to the studied aridity of his own textual examination. Terminally infused with the lingua franca of the gallery, the narrator measures all he sees in polychromatic artistic textures:
‘She changes her hairstyle every week. I have
to guess what she has copied. After Mantegna, it was
a chestnut rinse Rossetti. Then a black spiky Picasso,
then short and blonde like Monroe – her Warhol.
Then what she called her Van Gogh – brushed over
Unable to adequately place the narrator, who is an amalgam of all he ingests and therefore a work of fiction per se, the countervailing theoretical voice abandons a critical evaluation to a kind of acceptance of that most human of conditions, ‘an essential loneliness’, here described and possibly mitigated by the artworks in which the narrator is existentially absorbed:
‘The consolation of art is precisely this: its insistent
barb, its gloating nudge, its reminder of imperfection,
Each canvas a layer of his life, flayed and tidied up.
This is apposite, a necessary retreat from the jargon that can never do full justice to the art whose deconstruction is the consummation it most desires, particularly
when the author’s prose is so deliberately intransigent. The eloquence of David Rose’s stories resides in that knowing hinterland; in the paradoxical place where narrative reality is almost a cipher for the theory working on it.
The same might be said of the émigré ‘actors’ of Empire
whose shifty deceptions are an intuitive defence mechanism against an arcane, institutionally-mandated, system of dispensation and withdrawal, if not a reaction to the tautological straitjacket of theory; except, perhaps, where the two – the surveilled cypher and his postcolonial deus ex machina
– nearly dovetail into one definition:
‘This is not routine. Little offices don’t have routine surveillance. This is not two countervailing tendencies exerting a torsion on our discourse
These last are intimations of the artist’s Norwegian ancestry, insinuating a third italicized ‘voice’ into a Bakhtinian dialogue of interpolations...
The early solipsism of the narrator’s ‘impressionable years’ in ‘Decrescendo’ gives way to a kind of accord, a recognition in the philosophical acolyte that his overarching reliance on the elevated euphoria of epiphany is too easily conflated with the blandishments of love, and more especially, lust. The self-absorbed cut of his mien and the elevation of his language make of him an unreliable narrator, at once an obsessive prey to the luxuriant positivity of the great thinkers, and a foil to his own quixotic urges:
‘In my tramps through the copse beyond town I was aware of a current pulsing from tree to tree, xylonic pylons, of sap mingling like lovers’ saliva, of […] stones aligned, patterned like iron filings’.
But the narrator’s own search for meaning is almost answered in the increasing frequency of interpolated religious tracts whose presence sermonizes a state of mind, enabling, in the end, a near transformation.
Rose’s narrative is a journey through a landscape of bridges (themselves prismatic preoccupations for Munch) and towns, animated by the shadow of Viking raids rendered in adumbrated chronicles.
That a sense of alienation, of deracination, runs through Interpolated Stories
like a cable stitch, unites a disparate collection in tone, if not in thematic verisimilitude. And it is significant that the epiphany effected in ‘Decrescendo’ is repeated elsewhere. The portaloo-erecting workman at outdoor events (‘Jakes in Two Shakes’), whose initial disinterest in Shakespeare is mediated watching the players rehearse, is finally transfigured as efficiently as the accompanying academic discourse might allow: aporia – ‘a disruption […] to the norms of the genre’ - is enacted on at least one member of Shakespeare’s audience, who is now ‘civilized’ as completely as any of that band of rustics who animate As You Like it
And strongest of all, in a suite of stories that yield greater satisfaction on renewed acquaintance, is the brilliant touchstone of ‘Edvard Munch Surveys Staines Bridge’, whose capacity to infiltrate the consciousness, or rather the extraordinary sensitivity, of the eponymous artist yields a remarkable testament to research and to a proclivity for eavesdropping on a time outside of our own. Posited on a, perhaps fictitious, visit of the artist to England, Rose’s narrative is a journey through a landscape of bridges (themselves prismatic preoccupations for Munch) and towns, animated by the shadow of Viking raids rendered in adumbrated chronicles. These last are intimations of the artist’s Norwegian ancestry, insinuating a third italicized ‘voice’ into a Bakhtinian dialogue of interpolations. Rose describes Munch’s self-destructive propensity for colouring mood in tones of introspection, of familial disharmony and illness, for the spectre of Death is never far away in the reiterated murmurings of names. The odyssey is katabatic, conducted in a murky terrain whose details are backlit by distant fires in Munch’s imagination: the alarums of pillage, of distant centuries, are visible manifestations of psycho-geographical irruption and anxiety, against whose presence the hyper-sensitive artist struggles:
‘Each canvas a layer of his life, flayed and tidied up. And if one were sold, he had painted a copy to staunch the loss. But still the time was lost to him. Until finally he was spent, nailed into an insufferable present’.
A concluding word, here, for the artist Leah Leaf, whose hypnotic images intersperse the book like shards of smashed glass. A distillation, almost, of Rose’s approach, they are sky-written fabulations, free-ranging interjections building stories within stories.
is published by Confingo
More information here.