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Break Every Rule, Part 1

Break Every RuleCarole Maso’s Break Every Rule is a quiet, elegant book of essays. Every sentence here is a gem. Remember that time you walked barefoot across a pebbled beach, marveled at every sea-bitten thing, picked up some bright form that warmed your palm, that had some power in it. That’s what it’s like reading Maso.

The first chapter, “The Shelter of the Alphabet,” is a series of ruminations on home, the idea of it, the concreteness it sometimes takes, how it remains elusive:

I think of all things that are outside the range of our memories or imaginations or intelligence or talent—it’s the place I suspect which is our true home. If we could get there we would finally be okay. But we can’t. We are homeless, groping, roaming in the darkness, aware of only a fraction of it.

She writes much about her travels, her peripatetic life, and how words became home for her, housed her like no other place, structure, or idea:

I am a wandering soul—but not an aimless one. I’ve learned well how to listen and I’ve gone wherever my work told me to go. Wherever my work took me, insistent, I went. I have been forced, in order to continue writing on my own terms, to leave over and over again. I who live everywhere and nowhere have built a home of language. I have been forced to create a home of my own making. A home of music and desire. I can at this point make a home wherever I go. I open my large artist’s notebook, I pick up a pen, I turn on the radio; I dream of you—the best, the most mysterious one, the most remote and beautiful aspect of self.

Reflecting on a sentence she had once written, one she considered “[d]arkly imagined” and “a splintered, troubling thing,” she writes:

It so captures my emotional state in language, mirrored, and as a result becomes company, something present, something palpable….The language construct is no longer about an emotional state for me, but has become one, and in that way I am no longer utterly isolated in it and without a viable structure. Home is any ordinary, gorgeous sentence that is doing its work.

Home for me is in the syntax, in the syllables. In the syncopations and in the silences. A movement in the mind, the eye, the mouth. Home is the luminous imagination. India haunting me after the Satyatjit Ray retrospective. Home is in Sappho’s fragments, in imagining what was there before the papyrus tore. The imagination providing a foundation, a roof, and windows that let you see forever.

Here’s another reverie:

When I write sentences I am at home. When I make shapes. When I do not, I am damned, doomed, homeless; I know this well—restless, roaming; the actual places I’ve lived become unrecognizable, and I, too, monstrous, am unrecognizable to myself. In the gloating, enormous strangeness and solitude of the real world, where I am often inconsolable, marooned, utterly dizzied—all I need to do is pick up a pen and begin to write—safe in the shelter of the alphabet, and I am taken home. Back into the blinding waves, the topaz light, the fire. Or far off into the enthralling, voluptuous dark.

When you get a chance treat yourself to this interview with Carole Maso by Brian Evenson.

So what about you? What are your ideas of home? What/where/who is home for you? What is language for you? What are words for you? Gary Lutz once called the sentence “a lonely place.” William Gass often calls it a “container of consciousness.” So what is a sentence for you? A paragraph? A page?

  • John Madera is the author of Nervosities (Anti-Oedipus Press, 2024). His other fiction is published in Conjunctions, Salt Hill, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His nonfiction is published in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, New York State Council on the Arts awardee John Madera lives in New York City, Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

8 thoughts on “Break Every Rule, Part 1

  1. lovely post, john. if i could, i would make carole’s sentences my home. i would put up little paintings in her vowels, twist myself comfortable in her punctuation.

    this is an old story, but carole blurbed my first book. one night, i dreamt i got a box of books, her blurb stretched in 36 point font across the back, the only words there: no other blurbs, no author info, nothing, just carole’s words. it was many weeks before i got the real thing from her, during those weeks, i kept imagining the back cover of my book: “i finished this book.” –carole maso.

    her real words were much more elegant and generous.

    1. Oh wow, what an incredible dream, Lily. Did you ever get a chance to share it with her? I wish I could dream so lucidly. Actually, I wish I could remember my dreams at all.

  2. Love this book. Love Maso’s work in general. Love Lutz’s “sentence is a lonely place” essay. Love Gass’s work.

    Home, for me, is the feeling I get when I am with my wife.

    Language, for me, is the chief enemy of existence. Words, for me, are the soldiers in language’s army. Sentences are brigades. Paragraphs are divisions. Pages are battalions. And I am the enemy combatant.

    1. Hey Chris,

      Sounds like an echo of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti:
      “There is no longer beauty except in the struggle. No more masterpieces without an aggressive character. Poetry must be a violent assault against the unknown forces in order to overcome them and prostrate them before men.”
      –The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism, Figaro (Paris, Feb. 20, 1909)

      So, hyperbole aside, what is it about language, that inspires aggressive offense/defense? Does language oppress? territorialize? terrorize?

  3. Adorno says: In his text, the writer sets up house. Just as he trundles papers, books, pencils, documents untidily from room to room, he creates the same disorder in his thoughts. They become pieces of furniture that he sinks into, content or irritable. He strokes them affectionately, wears them out, mixes them up, re-arranges, ruins them. For a man who no longer has a homeland, writing becomes a place to live.

    1. Beautiful quote. I like that image of falling into the text like plopping or nestling into furniture, and of rearranging them, wearing them out. How about reupholstering that loveseat, that armchair, or better yet, putting all of it onto a bonfire?

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