(Fiction: Bukowski’s Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions, and General Tales of Ordinary Madness & Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment; Screenwriting: Lynch’s Mulholland Drive)
Kurt Vonnegut taught me that in every story the character must want something. Dostoevsky and Bukowski both taught me that ‘want’ is inadequate. Raskolnikov, mad and manic, is the loud desperation that turns Dostoevsky’s Russia. Bukowski’s archetypal lowlifes stew in their quiet desperation, sitting in their own filth and drowning and flailing within themselves. Both made me realise my own writing – that the tension of desperation cannot be learned; it must be organic. It strips away the make-up and hair styles and ironed shirts and leaves you a drooling slave on the ground – it doesn’t matter if you’re lying in shit because you’re desperate. It’s a good thing that writers bed desperation nightly.
Fiction is a desperate art form. It’s self-indulgent and destructive and a priori. It rarely exists outside. It’s a mess of half-truths and denials but sometimes when a writer faces herself in her work, she has the potential to create something that can survive the outside; something that can breathe outside of her. Bukowski created truths that looked like lies. He puts himself in his own work and with every character forces us to look at him with him. He taught me to be stern with myself, to accept the ugly truths, because isn’t it honesty that lets fiction thrive? Under the guise of lies, we try to push our words over the cliff, and most times it ends bloody.
Fiction is one of the things that give me traction in reality. It’s the result of the piss inducing fear of mortality and the fear of myself – but with a healthy dose of cynicism, realism, and honesty, Bukowski helped me realise otherwise. His characters float through the world, doing what they want when they want, struggling to find connection and meaning (like some kind of entropic despair) – their desperation is padded and drunk but it’s sharp and sweetly true. To create truths like Bukowski is why I want to write fiction – whether on paper or film.
If Bukowski’s desperation is entropy then Dostoevsky’s is mania. Raskolnikov’s madness is born from his violation of ‘commonsense morality’. Guilt is the symptom of the tension of the character warring with himself – and what is guilt but self-flagellation; an intense desire to inflict pain on oneself? It is a feverish desperation – but one that pulls the story together (without it, we do not have Raskolnikov or his madness).
Dostoevsky is a taut writer. His words read like stressed coils, trembling with the wedding of divergent forces. The writing is not of his own but of his character’s. Dostoevsky’s ability to translate his character’s consciousness is something that reads organically. He becomes with ease. To be able to become Raskolnikov’s sickened mind is my desperation. Every writer knows how to become. But not every writer can become with their whole being. Dostoevsky isn’t present in himself when he writes. The seams are barely visible – is it Raskolnikov becoming Dostoevsky? Or is Dostoevsky becoming Raskolnikov?
When I write and become, I return with more than just a story. I gain experiences I would never be able to understand in this reality (such as killing) – not without consequence anyway. But there is still purchase, an anchor, even when I write. My words become stilted and artificial – the space between me and my characters is glaring. Dostoevsky becomes; I play. Bukowski lives; I pretend. It is real for them – there is truth. In other words, I need to be able to kill to write; instead of pretending to kill to write.
Lynch’s films are literary. Mulholland Drive is not only a film about desperation (to lose oneself; to find success; to be loved) but also a text heavy with literary metaphors and symbolism. What sets Lynch apart from both the literary and the cinematic artistry, is that his work is translatable and interchangeable between the two practices. When I write, I write with the film in my head – one foot in each medium – however my lack of experience specifically writing for film is a hindrance. When I lose the visuals, my writing suffers.
To write visual literature as Lynch does is my desperation. Films reject the inner but Lynch rejects the outer. He gives us the truth of our subconscious through scenes that are heavy with his words. Betty doesn’t simply look at Rita – we can sense the poetry behind that one gesture; we can sense Lynch’s words. He is projecting the subconscious to the forefront of the brain; throwing a projection of the unknown against the wall; he is shaking literary traditionalism at its core.
In a good story – on paper or film – the characters must want something. However much I agree with this, the word ‘want’ is grey; it’s too soft. It hits the ear like a rolling wave. ‘Desperation’ is the path of the lightening; the beat of the thunder. In desperation – whether of our characters’ or of our own (or maybe both if we are skilful enough) – we are creating truths. It is the only worthwhile thing writers and artists can bring to society. We cannot save people from burning buildings or take down drug cartels – but at least we can tell the truth. To be able to become; to be able to see myself through honest lenses; translate truths on all levels and across all mediums – these are my desperations.
©Yuki Iwama, 2015