It’s Monday morning. The yawning gulf of your workweek stretches before you like a festering baby mouth. How long until the cold monotony of this unmatched abyss becomes heated, for a short moment, by the weekly report known in your heart of hearts as #AuthorFail?
Ho! The time for failure, my cubicle-bound friend, is now.
In this edition, Jeffrey DeShell’s entire career stands as one long flatline. He ignores the initial call (you too, may participate) to write about one specific failure–and so expands into the existential depths of Sartrean gloom, Keirkegaardian trembling, and Kafkaesque comedy. Yes, such writers are a sad and surly lot…yet we love them all the same.
For me, the concepts of failure and success slide easily into one another. When I publish a novel, when I hold it in my hand, touch the cover, turn the pages, I feel like the object is both a success (in that it’s finally an object, existing in the world) and, inevitably, simultaneously, a failure. The feeling of failure is real, oppressive, discouraging.
The novel as object marks, to me, a failure of possibilities. The book is the (grave) marker of infinite options narrowed and drained into a shadow. A shadow of what it could have been, yes, as all the choices taken, restricted and created by language in the translation from the perfect and luminous image/story in my mind to the (oft) mistaken and imprecise sentences now fixed on the page certainly marks a type of failure. I once possessed something ineffable and beautiful, something I could only approach by writing. But by writing, I destroyed that perfect image/story. And so writing becomes the impossibility of communication; an impossibility that ruins the original image/story. If writing communicates, it communicates only that impossibility.
But there’s a deeper failure, almost a death, and that’s the failure of so many possibilities destroyed. With every choice taken—be it on the level of single words, or syntax, characters and their attributes, characters and the color of their eyes and choice of shoes, places and times etc.—an infinite number of other choices has been rendered impossible, moot. The novel as a shroud of all the books it is not. Think what could have been! And see what is.
The failure is mine: it belongs to me and is me. One of the possibilities destroyed is the possibility of me. The change in tense from the one who was writing the book to the one who has written the book is a kind of death (the impossibility of biography). The possibilities enjoyed while writing the book, the desire enjoyed by writing the book, give me hope, and the illusion of work and control. And the end of the book when it is published is the end of that illusion and hope: “I could be” changes into “I was.” The person (who was) writing the book is no longer present, alive, possible, and the book is a book of mourning.
At the same time, the novel is now out. Where once was nothing is now something. That is a success. The novel grants me an identity, that of novelist, an identity I can translate into a way of being in the world. The novel gives me what “I” do and what “I” am. It now has a chance to be read by others, the possibility to make its own way in the world, so to speak. But those possibilities pale in the face of what could have been.
The novel is not the novel. I am not the novelist.
Jeffrey DeShell has published five novels: Arthouse (FC2),The Trouble with Being Born (FC2), Peter: An (A)Historical Romance (Starcherone), S & M (FC2) and In Heaven Everything is Fine (FC2), and a critical book, The Peculiarity of Literature: An Allegorical Approach to Poe’s Fiction. DeShell was a Fulbright Teaching Fellow in Budapest, and has taught in Northern Cyprus, the American Midwest and Bard College. Currently he teaches at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He lives in Denver with the novelist Elisabeth Sheffield and their two children.
Last week: #AuthorFail 3: Gretchen E. Henderson
Next week: #AuthorFail 5: AD Jameson (Big Other’s own)
Davis Schneiderman is a multimedia artist and writer and the author or editor of eight print and audio works, including the novels Drain, Abecedarium, and Blank; the co-edited collections Retaking the Universe: William S. Burroughs in the Age of Globalization and The Exquisite Corpse: Chance and Collaboration in Surrealism’s Parlor Game; as well as the audio-collage Memorials to Future Catastrophes. His first short story collection, there is no appropriate #emoji—with collaborations from Lance Olsen, Cris Mazza, Kelly Haramis, Stacy Levine, Tim Guthrie, Andi Olsen, and Megan Milks—will be released in Fall 2019.
His work has also appeared in numerous publications, including Fiction International, The Chicago Tribune, The Iowa Review, and TriQuarterly.
He is Krebs Provost and Dean of the Faculty at Lake Forest College.