I have been away this week, which usually means I get to do a lot of reading. Sadly, Lison and Porto are full of interesting things, so I found barely any time for it.
The one thing I did read at any length was some Susan Sontag, a collection of short stories bought from the bookshop in Porto that is famous for being in the Harry Potter books (and maybe films, I guess?) — but not, as our taxi driver told us — where JK Rowling wrote every single book.
The collection, called Stories, is something of an autobiographical wander through various aspects of her life and identity, but written with the kind of certainty of language which does make you wonder if it is completely ficticious.
In Project For A Trip To China, Susan creates a series of lists of variables that can be considered for each aspect of the trip, a set of unknowns amongst a series of statements which cover her family’s relationships with China — and more general feelings about seeing and being seen in the country. She uses certainty of the language to develop a list in the way you might make a list of things you need before going on a trip, except this is a set of lists of things you don’t need to pack.
The story takes you through some of the strange exchanges that had happened in and with the country, as if by exploring these she can find the answer to her own equation with China. The fact that Nixon went to China before her, and that there is a woman who had her right foot amputated onto her left leg seem to want to be weighed against “I forget I was concieved in China,” — an idea of being from a place you are not born in, in a way that is more than ethnicity and history.
The reason there is so much shuffling of the unknowns here is because it is written before she gets there, she poses the idea of writing a book on China before she arrives because — possibly, reality will do the thing it does to all preconceptions when it arrives, and wash it away.
This is my last message to you before Christmas, which means it is probably worth giving you some games you can play over the festive period with whichever family you decide to become unconcious, festive balloons with.
So there’s this set of 63 Microgames. Like this:
Apart from being completely charming, the selection of games is really inventive, and shows the interesting power found in instructional language. The fact that by entering into the rules of one of these games changes how you accept the language presented, and most likely will change how you act in reality — for example: “Draw a tarot card. Keep it face down. Let this guide your day.” This is a great example of how the complete structure of the sentence, the full instructions, give you an entire new way of experiencing the world, as long as you play along with the game. I like it especially because it draws attention to how language is a game of symbols on top of reality, and that if everyone is playing the game, reality is formed by the language we use.
Thanks for reading Etch To Their Own, which is early, but I hope not too early for you. It was written with hunched shoulders by @CJEggett and proofread by holding up to the window to check if passing cars scream to a halt to correct me. Tell me about your favourite typo by email. Tell your friends about this newsletter, or send them here if they don’t like things in their inbox. Maybe next week will be a look back at all the good stuff I’ve read this year? Maybe next year will be looking back at all the good stuff I’ve read this week. Enjoy your Christmas — get fat and slow, easy to hunt by smaller pack (fun-size?) predators and ready for a long sleep.