Academic journal article Criticism

By What Strange Channels: Nicholas Mosley's Literary Circuits

Academic journal article Criticism

By What Strange Channels: Nicholas Mosley's Literary Circuits

Article excerpt

In May of 1988, nine years after his novel Catastrophe Practice was first published in England, British author Nicholas Mosley wrote a letter to John O'Brien, founder of Dalkey Archive Press and editor of the Review of Contemporary Fiction. By 1988, Dalkey Archive Press had published two of Mosley's books in the United States and was now preparing to publish Catastrophe Practice. Mosley's letter to O'Brien is a "brief progress report" to the American publisher, in which Mosley takes a moment to describe the results of an "intensive spell" he had just spent revising his book: "the whole thing has more internal liveliness and consistency, and thus, with luck, might after all hit the outside world with more impact."1 After an interlude of nine years-and the publication of three more books in what became his Catastrophe Practice series-Mosley's return to Catastrophe Practice derives from two sources: his desire to rework the aesthetic text and from the more external impetus of a forthcoming American edition of the book. To these ends, Mosley's processes of revision bring together complementary aspects of literature: the aesthetic economy of texts and the material processes of literary production, distribution, and reception. In short, Mosley's letter suggests how the text's "internal liveliness" is affected by and tests the literary practices by which it travels. By what strange channels, Mosley later asks, do his texts find their way in the world? And in what form do such channels return his work to him? With scrupulous attentiveness to these questions, Mosley's work considers the conceptual and material matters of literature, matters of both medium and message, that constitute the complementarity of literature and literary production.2

When Mosley returned to Catastrophe Practice in 1988, his revisions stemmed as much from the book's unique position in his body of work as from any inconsistency in its conception. Catastrophe Practice is the first book of the five-book Catastrophe Practice series, which concludes with the award-winning Hopeful Monsters, first published in 1990.3 At the time of his letter to O'Brien, Mosley had recently completed Hopeful Monsters, and in April of 1988 Mosley told O'Brien that he thought "this last book- Hopeful Monsters-will make the scheme of the whole if not exactly clear, at least there to be found with enthusiasm by anyone who cares to look."4 The exigency for Mosley's return to Catastrophe Practice thus issues from the circularity built into Mosley's serial form. While Catastrophe Practice was the first book in the series to be published, the narrative events within Catastrophe Practice take place last. Analogously, the events in Hopeful Monsters precede the events in the other four books, even though Hopeful Monsters concludes the series. The Catastrophe Practice series interchanges beginnings and ends, perplexing seriality and calling to mind the "commodius vicus of recirculation"5 with which James Joyce describes the circular structure Finnegans Wake. In a similarly circular gesture, Mosley revisits the inaugural book of the series only once he has written the subsequent four books. His return to the original book commences another beginning, but a beginning made possible through the sequences and consequences of the other books.

Mosley's return to the origin of the Catastrophe Practice series offers a suitably byzantine entry point into a critical interpretation of his work. Even if his desire to rework the initial installment of the series follows from the recursive methods of literary work in general, Mosley's careful attention to these recursive processes underwrites his particular literary project. Mosley develops a method of trial and error, whereby the indeterminate text and the wandering textual object ultimately converge to produce results. These results, however, must always be prone to revision. When Catastrophe Practice returns to Mosley via an interested American publisher, Mosley responds to its return as a manifestation of the unpredictable ends of literary circulation. …

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