Barley Patch (Australian Literature Series)

Barley Patch by Gerald Murnane (Paperback, 2011)
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The Viaduct Murder. Ronald Knox. The Rebecca Notebook. Daphne Du Maurier. The Lady in the Looking Glass. Virginia Woolf.

The Saint in the Sun. Leslie Charteris.

Auto Da Fay. Fay Weldon. The Incredulity of Father Brown. Gilbert K. Trust the Saint. Beasts and Super-Beasts. A Little Learning. The repetitive phrases scattered throughout Inland , coupled with a disappointing, stagnant rendering of memory, time, and fantasy, make the novel a tedious read. No currents or tides disturb the deep water. The pool is far inland, in soil that is mostly clay. If any stream flows into or out of the pool, it is only a trickling stream. He may only be able to continue writing by imagining a reader for his as yet unpublished work.

However, if this is the case, the length of the novel does not justify these perambulations; Murnane leaves unexamined his Derridean slippages of meaning and identity. Does this mean something or nothing? That was three years ago, and just a week or two back I finished a 70, or 80,word book called Barley Patch. In the following passage, the author is explaining why he thinks he does not have the kind of imagination necessary to write fiction which he clearly has , and why that capacity would not, in any case, interest him: "[In italics, asked by a reader:] Surely I have paused at least once during a lifetime of reading and have admired the passage in front of me as a product of the writer's excellent imagination.

I can recall equally clearly my having paused often during my reading of the book of fiction 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles,' which reading took place in the winter of I doubt that I paused in order to feel gratitude or admiration towards any authorial personage. First that story is told in a carefully distanced third person, but then it becomes first person, and toward the end there are rote mentions of the fictional frame: "I would have reported in my abandoned work of fiction that the chief character, while he watched the rain Later in the book, those devices become simpler.

For example, pp. This slipping back from hypotheticals about unwritten fictions, to examples of those unwritten fictions, to the writing of the fictions themselves, also happens in "A Million Windows. That curious idea returns in a strange, almost mystical fashion at the end, when he speculates that characters in fictions might have even more complex lives beyond the fictions of which they are a part: "During all the years while I had been a writer of fiction and while I had sometimes struggled to write fiction -- during all those years, I had wanted to learn what places appeared in the mind of one or another fictional character whenever he or she stared past the furthest place mentioned in the text that had seemed to give rise to him or her Now, I was free to suppose what I had often suspected: many a so-called fictional character was not a native of some or another fictional text but of a further region never yet written about.

The former is more interesting than the latter, and the fact that the book starts with one and ends with the other is a sign that Murnane hasn't purified his project. To be exact, there are three founding fantasies: that fictional characters in fictions may lead lives beyond the fictions of which they are a part; that imaginary characters may also be objects of attention in the context of fictions that don't include them; and that it might be possible to wander in the spaces implied by a novel, even if they are not described. This last comes from a meditation on a reproduction of Claude Lorrain's "Landscape with Samuel Anointing David," which has an enticing uninhabited distant landscape.

These fantasies congeal, I think, into a single desire to disappear multiply, repeatedly, beyond rescue: not only out of "the place that I called the world," as he says, and not only into fiction, but through or beyond fiction to places only partly represented, or not represented at all. The desire is inseparable from Murnane's sense of writing: he repeats and elaborates it in "A Million Windows," The book got a very unsympathetic review in the New York Times, June 19, , which misses much of Murnane's point.

As the desire works itself into books, it produces an idiosyncratic theory of metafiction in which the usual acknowledgment of the artificiality of writing is mingled with a stubborn insistence that immersion happens best, or only, in imaginary figures within imagined fictions. I think Murnane isn't in control of this fantasy, which is a desire for full empathetic imagination and real immersive picturing, undercut by a disillusion about desire and a need to exhibit its failure.

Just as deeply as he seeks immersion, he believes that it has to be constrained--in this book, immersion is located only certain rare species of invented creatures, and yet he cannot decide which sorts of creatures, because that would mean giving up the multiplying metafictional frames that protect him from those very creatures.

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For a reviewer like David Winters, it calls attention "to the way the content of a work exceeds whatever words are read or written. It's true that "Barley Patch" is a disquisition on the openness of fiction: but that is its argument, not its expressive value. What matters here is how all that goes wrong, repeatedly, because Murnane is not, even as he writes, in control of his desire, which is at once to disappear into the work and to turn the sad impossibility of that disappearance into art.

View all 3 comments. Nov 05, Stephen rated it really liked it Shelves: fiction. There are little ecstasies we might experience on this day that live beyond language. Their meanings point beyond the brilliantly shining colors of the gem worn on an old woman's necklace; the butterfly that lands on the top branches of the tree outside the window, adding a grace note to the morning breezes; the warmth a lover has trapped within her bathrobe when fresh from the shower, as she encloses you within it.

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Murnane calls these moments sacred vessels, and the place of these vessels in ou There are little ecstasies we might experience on this day that live beyond language. Murnane calls these moments sacred vessels, and the place of these vessels in our lives is the subject of this strange piece of fiction. There are the worldly signs and the eternal signs. Most of us experience these little ecstasies and will then decide to get something nice for the wife - it feels that good.

Or will thank goodness the bills have all been paid. But since Murnane is a poet he looks beyond the immediate reaction, convinced these vessels contain truths that most of humanity wouldn't recognize even if it came with a gift certificate to our favorite restaurant. These sacred vessels are exactly what Emily Dickinson is writing about when she wrote, There's a certain Slant of light, Winter Afternoons — That oppresses, like the Heft Of Cathedral Tunes — It's no accident that she's describing them in terms of the Christian Church, the place where these sacred vessels have been ritualized into the Mass.

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The next line she describes the "Heavenly Hurt" where "We can find no scar, but internal difference - where the meanings are. And what better vessels for sacred meaning in the world than the female body?

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Murnane apologizes for his obsession about this in a paragraph devoted to Proust, The reader should not suppose that I fail to recognize the workings of the imagination in other writers of fiction because I search out too eagerly and read too hastily passages referring to young female persons. I tried to recall just now the occasion when I read for the first time the passage of fiction that has affected me more than any other passage that I have read during sixty years of reading fiction.

I seemed to recall that I was walking across a courtyard on my way towards the front door of a mansion. I had been invited to an afternoon party that was then taking place in the mansion. A motor-car just then arriving in the courtyard passed close by me, causing me to step suddenly backwards.

My stepping thus caused me to find myself standing with one foot on each of two uneven paving-stones. What happened afterwards is reported in the relevant passage in the last volume of the work of fiction the English title of which is Remembrance of Things Past. And that's it, he doesn't tell us anything more about that meaningful passage, about what he found so spectacular about it.

Barley Patch (Australian Literature Series) by Gerald Murnane | LibraryThing

And, basically, that's how he treats his sacred vessels, pointing them out but telling us nothing about what's inside. This would have to make Gerald Murnane one of the oddest poets I've ever come across. Ordinarily once a poet spots a sacred vessel he tries to contain the experience in a poem. Murnane does everything about a poem but try and write one.

In that sense he's an excellent Catholic, honoring the experience too much to vulgarize it with words and images.

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Gilles Deleuze says of Proust: "the signs of love anticipate in some sense their alteration and their annihilation. It is the signs of love that implicate lost time in the purest state. The sacred vessels within love are rare and infinite and forever being destroyed at its moment of utmost purity. Whether through poetry or parenthood time must be regained. Murnane is more amusing about lost time than Proust, and I have a friend who compares his "reports" on these vessels a favorite Murnane word to the child-like, weird noises Glenn Gould emits when seated at his piano playing something intricate like the Bach of his Goldberg Variations.

Especially amusing noises when it comes to Murnane's sexual fascination with those women out there! The genius of the Catholic altar is that it sets up distances between the observer and the observed that is imbued with mystery in the spaces between. It would seem that everything about modern life, from the world of social media to the advances of science, is out to destroy this sense of mystery.

Who wants to read what we can very well read for ourselves? Too many people, too, too many people prefer it this way.