It is hard sometimes to hold on to the truism that behind every successful work are dozens of failed works. This is to be expected, I guess: The combined weight of all those go-nowhere drafts, emails for collaboration that go unanswered (or, worse, declined after reviewing the material), the pieces finished but unable to find a home, begin to press and crush upon the chest. They swim and stir; I remember the names of their characters, the thrust of their themes.
There was a nonfiction piece I was writing called “SICKNESS/THE BODY” to be about my experience with hospitals, ailing family, a progressively declining father, and the kind of acute body erase/body awareness I developed through physical abuse and a suicide attempt and disordered eating. There is a novel called A PAPERSHELL EARTH, which is more or less a gnostic/occult parable about Being, perception, and Will framed in a classic sci-fi narrative and woven into a psychedelic hypersymbolist religious fantasy. There is the novel A SONG FOR THE DEAD, which likely will never be completed, based on the experience of losing my father and the impossible pursuit of a perfect biography to generate a perfect eulogy.
I want to combine so many elements. I want the gothic and the philosophical and the psychedelic and the symbolist and the occult and the literary and the autobiographical and the confessional and the liturgical and the poetic. I see a lot of weakness in certain literary or Weird or genre or essay works; they feel unnecessarily incomplete, scared to take on contradictory aspects. I don’t believe you can put elements into a work that do not belong together, because I believe all combinations merely evoke or produce different emotions and thoughts, and so we must apprehend what we are given as opposed to casting it aside. I think we produce endless reproductions of weak work when we fixate on making things feel of-a-piece as opposed to following the abstract emotional logic of the work.
The issue is this creates… terribly abstract and abstruse, if evocative, work. I don’t feel uncomfortable with my writing acumen; I’m 27, nearing 28, and I have a distinct voice that develops in competence over time. My writing now is better than it was six months, and better than it was a year ago, and better than it was five years ago, and back and back and back.
I am frustrated by my failure, though. I see friends with published books, stories, essays, poems. I see friends as featured columnists and thinkers. I see friends as critics and artists. I do not begrudge them their successes, minor and major both, because I’ve seen the work they put in and know that the work they have done does not negate or enhance the work I have (or have not) put in myself. I wonder why I haven’t seen that kind of success, however. Certainly, the fault lies within me: not enough writing, as the first and last issue; not enough promotion; not enough consistency; not enough finished works; not enough continuously shopped and pitched works.
The labyrinths pour out of my head when the conditions are right, but it’s so hard sometimes to create them. I am most proud of my labyrinths; if I want, I could write a poem as keen as a knife, to cut into your heart and leave your shirt and mine stained with your blood, and once I wrote things like that. (They’ve been published and I’ve won awards for them; I don’t talk about this much.) If I want, I could write dazzling science fiction and fantasy, adventure stories. I could write essays. I have, and I likely will again.
But I prefer my labyrinths.
Every novel I’ve ever outlined and fallen in love with, every novel I’ve finished, every video game I’ve worked on and every major essay series I’ve been most proud of has been one of my labyrinths. The slow, winding, prosaic and poetic (perhaps overengineered, overwritten, overwrought) labyrinths, with digressions and side corridors and displaced centers and trap doors. Slow blockages and vast currents of word and thought. A thing that begins as explication which blossoms inevitably and by its own will into a dense and hideous forest of bending and moving trees, a living world of its own, a wild sea.
FOG was written, after all, as a single unbroken cyclical chapter. BLACK NOISE was outlined to follow the Fool’s Journey. A WORLD OF ONLY FLAME is a massive six book pastiche with side tales and short stories where each chapter functions as a novelette. I like big things, structural things. Call it the fascist in me (or the communist; Lenin and Stalin did after all erect monumental architecture of their own, as did Mao).
But this is an essay on failed works and has devolved into cheap self-directed praise. Why do these massive works of mine fail if, to paraphrase Nietzsche, I am so wise and so clever and so good with words?
Because I get bored.
This is why my twitter voice shifts so often, why I find funny what I find funny, why I read and listen wide. I see a thing, I apprehend it, I pursue understanding it, and then: I discard it, at least temporarily, and I either follow its tendrils or seek its antithesis, strike out and away, to something new, like an amoeba slowly absorbing the world.
I produce failed works and am, as yet, a failed writer because I follow this deliberately haphazard and self-contradicting path where my peers do not.
It does not help me that not only do I not protect my brand or my works, but I actively seek to do the opposite. I want to be a virus, or a cloud of viruses: I want to seed the air, of the commons and the world of art alike, with images and ideas and modes and juxtapositions and passageways. I want to produce the thing which breaks itself.
There is a philosophical problem: dialectically, that which resists itself becomes itself, that which first says No even to itself becomes at last the ecstatic Yes, for the initial Yes becomes the force which erases identity and being and subsumes it into the confirmed. It is only by negative that affirmation can come, only by the breaking away that the individuation can occur, and all things are individuated and perpetually individuating, unified and broken at once. And so too are all works of art, intentionally or not. And the theoretical, the philosophical, the poetic, the literary, the fantastical, are all but different methods of producing this Breaking which releases at once that true and perfect Thing.
Because, see, there is nothing you can include in a work that doesn’t belong. All it does is make the work Itself Alone, whether to taste or not.
It all winds back because it’s all one great big labyrinth.
I wonder if I will ever produce non-failed works or if perhaps my legacy and power shall come through a tireless procession of these failed fragments and partial works.