Title: Starling

Author: Elizabeth Knox

In: Sport 28: Autumn 2002

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, March 2002, Wellington

Part of: Sport

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Sport 28: Autumn 2002



Yeats's description of automatic writing in his introduction to The Tower and The Winding Stair. I don't like this feeling— page 125 disagreeing with a book and trying to ‘defeat’ it in my imagination. This ‘trying to defeat a book’ is something I criticised in Tim Armstrong when I argued with him. I don't see how anyone who hopes to be a writer knowingly sets out to overwhelm, in their mind, the influence of what they read. Tim said he set out to defeat every book he read. Perhaps he should be a philosopher then and undo ‘reality’ as represented by a series of sentences. I think Tim takes more against the language in most writing (especially modern literature. Especially New Zealand literature, of which he says my One Too Many Lives is representative, because it's‘depressing’. Which is to say that no good comes of the passions of its characters. Yes—it is a New Zealand book, but its characters’ passions are otherworldly, not foreign, but otherworldly. They are defeated by limited possibility, which is New Zealand, but they're defeated not by what they can't do, but the nonsensical invisibility of what they care most about—their imaginary Game).
Tim describes himself as looking for a perfect expression in the English language. I annoyed him by saying, ‘What, like “Blow me down!” or “Fiddle dee dee!”’ He is not, he says, looking for a new poetic language, but perfect prose, perfectly logical and transparent.
Dad used to say that he was unable to write because he was a perfectionist. And, sure, he wrote over and over certain meaningful scenes in his novel about the ecstatic and the nihilist—a few of which he showed to me, others of which I read when I looked through his papers to discover whether he was the ‘writer’ he said I'd never be.
So, I distrust ‘perfectionism’ because it seems like an excuse not to write, because with Dad it was one of his excuses (the other was that he wasn't selfish enough, ‘unkind’ like I'm ‘unkind’, ‘egotistical’ like I'm ‘egotistical’—he never understood that in writing sometimes evenhandedness and objectivity are a terrible perversion of feeling). I wonder about Tim—I wonder if I should listen to him. Of course I would wonder since he didn't like One Too Many Lives. I wonder if he has too many scruples page 126 to be a writer which, after all, for a start, only means starting somewhere, even in the wrong place. It isn't heroic, or a quest, like a search for a perfect expression in English prose, and it isn't selfish or unkind, or even very strenuous. No one needs to be sanctified to begin, or forgiven afterwards. This is only a note, but see, I'm doing it!