‘You’ve made a blog…Clever boy! Next: flushing.’

Don Paterson

Blog. Such an unattractive word, along with its unlovely sister, blogroll, but perhaps appropriate enough for the secretions that make their way onto many websites. Blogs range from the quirky and literate to the downright loopy– why are so many religious fundamentalists dedicated bloggers? Perhaps the blog offers a kind of virtual pulpit for creationists and other types of religious eejit, a pulpit where crackpot ideas are more often affirmed than challenged.  As a ‘blogger’ (ugh, I wish those scare quotes were a pair of tweezers) I wish that the name for writing one’s thoughts down in the form of an electronic essay, available for the public to read on demand, had been better chosen. The French do it more elegantly, or they are trying to: the boys on the burning deck of  the Académie Française want the French to call blogs ‘jouebs’ whilst their French-Canadian camarades prefer ‘blogue.’ (1) The Canadian option is suave, the French is naughty and intellectual–it sounds as though it was invented by the shade of Roland Barthes, fascinated in the afterlife by le plaisir de la toile, the pleasure of the net–‘joueb’ being short for ‘un journal web.’ At least with with ‘joueb’ there are playful connotations (jouer) rather than scatalogical ones.

‘Joueb’ is a word I’m tempted to adopt here not least because it chimes with the serious play I wanted to be in evidence on The Casket. When I began, I did not imagine that this would be the kind of web log of events and feelings, the boring blogtease in evidence on so many sites. Instead, I wanted a more formal version of a writer’s notebook. The Casket is a room for improvised observations; for ‘working without really doing it,’ as Elizabeth Bishop once described letter-writing; or, for the bonsai or capsule essay. I wanted it to be the sort of place where William Hazlitt, Samuel Johnson and the other eighteenth- and nineteenth-century essayists might want to kick their shoes off and sit down, alongside– in conversation and play with–other modern idlers, punks and thinking wastrels. Guy Garvey has a chinwag with Samuel Taylor Coleridge; John Keats plays pingpong with Nick Cave; that sort of thing.

That’s the Dream bit. The reality of writing here is always tempered by that toile of readers, and the ways in which you suspect you are being read. WordPress provide the blogger with stats, raw data, which give an insight into possible clusters of interest: the fans of Dude Lebowski often stumble here because of my Clive James piece, which happens to mention him; college kids, I guess, writing about F Scott Fitzgerald, stop by to read my comments on Tender is the Night. Nick Cave fans, Leonard Cohen fans drop in for some duende. But most readers are text-tourists, looking for something else. Search terms tell me that what they are looking for is often information about ‘people in caskets’ or ‘dreams of dead people in caskets’ or ‘images of virile beautiful men’ (that will be the Rufus Sewell essay I wrote when I first started). Occasionally, I now get searches directed at ‘Casket of Dreams’ itself, which is flattering, but generally, most Casketeers arrive here in some kind of hurry; possibly bewildered, but always wanting the answer to a question.

On the whole, I’m glad they do show up. This despite the fact that the feedback they leave is seldom edifying. Comments by readers are usually pretty useless:  the flatterers  usually want you to visit their joueb in return; the nitpickers are equally self-important (‘How dare you assert that The Arctic Monkeys are talented self-publicists?’  with best wishes from their manager, etc). Yet how long do my visitors stay, and what do they flick through, what consider? My stats cannot, thankfully, tell me that. Still, whether you are looking for images of the dead in caskets, or whether you want to think about saudade or negative capability, you’re welcome. F. Scott Fitzgerald is sobering up next door in in time for the final of scriptwriters’ pingpong, where he meets William Faulkner in the Hollywood grudge match of the century. Mark Rothko is talking primitivism and abstraction with Elizabeth Bishop over a glass of grog by the fire. So stop awhile. Put your feet up. The weather is drawing in, and in any case, there is plenty we have to catch up on.



It is finished. I am a fish. And Tibor Fischer? vanquished.

Struggle. Most of us spend as little time as possible engaged in it. Fewer of us still have ever relished it or even delighted in it. Struggle is something forced on us: constantly retreated from, we prefer any kind of anesthesia to thinking, examining, failing. It was perhaps ever thus. Christianity talks about taking up the cross; Hinduism has shraddha (the struggle to maintain moment-by-moment attentiveness to what we are doing and saying); Marxist politics is ‘the struggle.’ Auden, in his poem ‘Spain’, pits against all the mad, wondrous yesterdays and ‘romantic’ tomorrows an urgent, difficult present: ‘But to-day, the struggle’ is his refrain. Struggle, he argues in this poem at least, is essential.

Recently, however, I found myself feeling that somehow the political, the intellectual, even (and, as an agnostic, I use this word gingerly) spiritual imperative to struggle is being slowly washed away. My alarm was sparked when reading about Tibor Fischer’s comment in The Telegraph that he had never managed to finish a novel by Faulkner. Given that I am currently wrestling with As I Lay Dying, I found myself thinking of Fischer as something of a wimp: ‘call yourself a literary novelist and you can’t finish Faulkner? Gadzooks! What is the world coming to?’ Fischer’s comment seemed at that splenical moment to be part of a wider cultural languour, malaise, even. You’ve all seen the evidence. Think of the book bestseller lists where most of the top 20 are cookery books or biographies (don’t get me wrong, I love both genres, but in those lists you can almost smell the fear of the novel). Articles where it’s reported that sorting your rubbish into several categories is just too taxing and amounts ‘to an infringment of my human rights and shit’ (apologies to Armstrong and Miller there). Or that cooking a meal involving the use of a knife and vegetables you actually have to chop (yes, you, Nigella) is positively debilitating.  Fischer isn’t the only one, then, to ask ‘bovvered?’ However, his ostensibly innocent expression of defeat pushed me over the edge.

Thus, Fischer reignited my love of the noble struggle (ignoble, often enforced, struggle being the Lemsip Max Strength ideology of the modern workplace, at once sniffy and cowed): such is my competitiveness, that I determined to read Faulkner’s entire oeuvre on the spot. Of course, I can see Fischer’s point: Faulkner is clotted, elliptical, cussed in his lyricism. Reading As I Lay Dying can be as slow and even as treacherous as the journey of Addie Bundren’s coffin to its resting place. But, my God! Treading, backtracking, advancing over this ground of Faulkner’s: what a fight to stay standing! The language masters you like weather: ‘In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep’ is only the beginning of a slippery meditation: Darl floating between is and is not; the whole world in the novel sliding around the same way.

Faulkner confuses the hell out of me, I admit. But trying him on, exploding his words; that’s what we need to do with language if we are to deserve the name of ‘mensch’ (to borrow Primo Levi’s high term of praise). Failing again and failing better is what humans desperately need to do, imaginatively and politically (politics and imagination are not two). Imagination and the struggle to imagine keeps political will alive. I cease to picture what damage is being done by climate change and I am supine, servile, acquiescent, complicit. I see, visualise Bush’s stupidity, Brown’s acquiescence intellectually and emotionally and I fuel my will to act. Imaginative struggle does not guarantee decent political opinion or activism, but it sure helps. It means, at least, I am awake. It means I refuse to let myself off the hook when I fail to act. Try again, fail again, fail better. Struggle is the rudder of the imagination. Struggle is conscience, guttering sometimes, but never snuffed out.