Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Well, not quite the Forum, more like Linday and the group. Our last meeting was on 4th February and, by the evening of the 3rd, I still had not written anything to bring to the class. I resolved to seek inspiration in a 16th century ale house near to where I live, but sadly all inspiration was totally blown out of the water by the discovery of a couple of friends who were already ensconced in said premises, and who had indeed been so for a couple of hours. Needless to say, they were well-oiled.

I got home at around 2330, totally exhausted (from the week's work, not the pub), and realised that I was too tired to do anything. I toyed with the idea of working on the opening of the novel yet again, but then, with desperation setting in, decided to write the opening of the scene where Elias himself appears at the house of Helvetius. This is the most celebrated of the transmutations in the novel, and Helvetius himself became the talk of The Hague in 1667 when news of his success in the laboratory became known. Even the philosopher Spinoza came to visit him, and was convinced that the transmutation was indeed genuine. The mysterious Elias was never heard from again.... at least under that name. As I had already mapped the chapter out long ago, all I did was to expand the initial meeting into some sort of dramatic shape. I finished it around 0200, and crawled to bed. As is the way with last-ditch attempts to do something, it has proved to be something of a turning point for me...

The scene went down well enough the next afternoon, and I decided that, rather than continue to try and write the novel in sequence, which has been my modus operandi up until now, I ought to just write whatever I feel like writing; better that than not writing at all. So, I decided that the best plan of action would be to translate Helvetius's book The Golden Calf, Which the World Adores, into modern English. The book, published in Latin in 1667 and in English three years later, tells of his encounter with Elias. It's hair-raising stuff: the description of Elias himself is so vivid that it's almost like being in the same room as the guy.

Two weeks - and one trip to the Berlin Film Festival - later, and I've nearly finished the translation. Working with Helvetius's text - or rather the 1670 English edition - has brought me much closer to the events described, and has given me plenty of food for thought as to how I can expand this dramatically. (The hapless silversmith Grill will now, I think, appear in the novel.) Indeed, ever since starting my modern English version, the figure of Elias himself (who always looks in my mind's eye a little like V from Alan Moore's V for Vendetta) has come to inhabit my imagination in a way that he has not done so before. More importantly, all I want to do now is write, and time spent away from the novel seems like time deprived of something rich and living. Whether I can make my narrative rich and living of course remains to be seen, but the fact that the novel is demanding my attention like this now I trust to be a good sign.

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