Wednesday, September 11, 2013

From Harry Mathews' "20 Lines a Day"

“When you go to piss in the bathroom with people within possible earshot (and sometimes with no people around at all), you direct your jet at the edge of the pool of water in the toilet bowl so as to reduce the noise you make. (Long ago you observed that peeing on the enamel of the bowl splashed a spray over its edges—something even less nice than making a watery racket.) You are astonished when other men disappear into the bathroom and immediately produce the almost roaring sound of drilled water that you so anxiously avoid, pissing happily, or at least with no audible sign of hesitation, straight into the center of the pool, its deepest and so loudest point. You notice that your astonishment contains no trace of disapproval. You not only take no offense at the undisguised noise you hear, you even feel a certain admiration and respect for its instigator, like those a timid little boy feels for a confident grown-up. Perhaps your admiration is centered on this man’s so surely knowing that his behavior has no relevance to people’s opinion of him—he knows that no one cares whether he is pissing or not, openly or not, because everybody does it, and does it in the knowledge that they are practicing a universal act. This knowledge has somehow escaped you. What exactly have you imagined in its place?”
[I love this almost imbecilic prose mode that Mathews gets into in this book. An earnest/honest, observational/confessional mode of writing that lacks any narrative panache, but is somehow very effective. I never understand why people always call Mathews a "great prose stylist"—often the basic character of his prose is determined by its total lack of style, as with this excerpt here.]

1 comment:

  1. This observational but also quite self-reflective prose. strikes me as absolutely honest. Why bother about style, a style, a mode of being reveals itself. I don't really know enough of Harry Matthews prose to speak to it, but used him to translate Bataille's BLUE DU CIEL/ BLUE OF NOON where he did a perfect job.