by V. Ulea
V.Ulea: Just after my Quantum Manifesto appeared in Sein und Werden, and Crossing Chaos made a call for submissions for the quantum anthology (Quantum Genre in the Planet of Arts), I received a letter from Rachel Kendall, the editor of Sein und Werden, in which she asked me to review your new book, Scarabocchio. And there she copied your letter to her in which you specifically wrote: "'Scarabocchio' is not an 'easy' book, so I'd recommend you send it only to someone with a fairly complicated head. If you know what I mean..."  O, my, thought I, simultaneously responding "Yes, of course! Send it along!" But I wasn't sure anymore. I'm still not sure, and the uncertainty will stay with me forever regardless of my painstaking analysis and research and conversation we had in the most delicious Lebanese restaurant in the UK where you and your husband generously invited us after my review-article was published… That meeting contributed even more to the quantum obscurity from which your unique novel was generated, and those odd worlds on its pages multiplied even faster through the growing number of interpretations that even you, their creator, couldn't govern anymore. They captivated me forever, making me their prodigal daughter who keeps mentally returning to them.

Reading Scarabocchio has been a stunning experience for me not only because the work itself was outstanding, but also because it was in complete accord with the ideas I had just expressed in the Manifesto. Everything from plot to characters was in perfect alliance with my hypothetical statements regarding quantum fiction as a type of experimental, not genre, literature. As if illustrating the main points in the Manifesto your characters flooded my space, appearing as continuations of each other and of themselves, constantly diversifying - just as musical themes that blossom through their multiple variations. They gushed forth like mythopoëic waves, like voices in a fugue, flowing into one another, modulating, and begetting the next chain of variations-characters, some of which preserved the core while others began to form new "branches." 

As I mentioned in the review, a whimsical interlacing of the ideas introduced by Weimar Classicism (including its central concept of harmony and synthesis of Ancient Greek literature and romanticism) and those expressed by Glenn Gould (whose own path can be described as "reconciliation" with Romanticism through Wagner and Strauss) creates a contrapuntal discourse between artists and thinkers of all times. Therefore I called your novel "a contrapuntal movement of characters from the "southbound mouth" to the "northbound mind" and from the hedonistic summer to the Puritanical winter where the purple color of the passions yields to the grey color of brain and where the supreme reason is immersed in the endless metamorphic game of ever-changing and never-repeated forms: there are "twenty-five trillion snowflakes and each one different from all the others."

I was mesmerized by the numerous "inverted themes", and "mirror fugues" conveyed through the gleaming mirrors and vacillating reflections which expanded realities by mixing temporal and spatial borders. Your successful implementation of the quantum and contrapuntal technique made me think that, perhaps, the independent and simultaneously played voices in the fugue are analogous to the expanding parallel worlds in quantum reality, and this explains why the physical and musical realms sound so harmoniously in the multidimensional canvas of Scarabocchio.  And the characters… They appear like themes and variations, constantly mutating, but still preserving the core that makes them recognizable.

Grace Andreacchi: You've put your finger on something there, it's true I was thinking often in musical paradigms, particularly, but not exclusively in the 'Barton Beale' passages. I mean, it's pretty obvious if you label something 'Contrapunctus' you're thinking of a musical structure there, and those passages or interludes, the various 'Contrapuncti' that punctuate the narrative and serve as brief glimpses into Barton Beale's inner world, are written as a kind of musical joke (if you will) - there's a struggle going on as BB seeks to order the natural world according to his exclusively musical ideas, and by the natural world I mean here also the inner world, for he doesn't actually perceive the difference, if there is one. But the 'Contrapuncti' are only the most readily visible of the musical forms in Scarabocchio, announcing themselves as they do - there are others, more secretive, that only reveal themselves to the careful reader. Certainly you are right when you say the theme-and variations idea is used extensively. Particularly the Goldberg Variations, of course, are deeply embedded in the narrative. I've always admired the way Bach or Mozart is able to take a tune and stand it on its head and string it along, torment it, prettify it, glorify it, ridicule it, and somehow it's the same tune - only it isn't - or is it? I think this a much more interesting structure than the boring linear narrative that characterises much fiction, and much closer to actual 'reality', whatever that may be. I mean, we don't live life in a straight line, do we? We don't actually experience time as a continual narrative, and I'm not referring here to the infamous 'stream of consciousness' either. I think our actual apprehensions take place on so many levels at once, and these many threads are multi-coloured, infinitely varied. A thought has not one meaning but so many, and is interconnected to so many others - I see a beautiful church and what do I see? So many things at once - past, present and future, personal and fantastical and spiritual - all in a moment these things coexist in my mind, and it is this richness, for example (this is just one example, you understand) that I would compare to the theme and variations. Then the characters and their inter-relationships become like these many-coloured threads, weaving a rich tapestry or soundscape if you like, which is the book, the world of Scarabocchio.

There's a musical joke/secret/clue at the very heart of Scarabocchio - I put it there the way an architect puts a great lantern over the croisée in a medieval cathedral, to let in the light, to show off, to do something satisfying with symmetry. This occurs in the fourth chapter, the one that contains the account of the child's murder. You'll notice it begins with the musical directive 'tantôt libre, tantôt recherchée'- there's certainly a clue for you! And the opening passage is a purported entry from the Encyclopaedia Univeralis on 'heaven'. Just what the nature of this so-called Encyclopaedia may be I will pass over in silence. But if you turn to the back of the chapter, you will see it ends with an entry from this very same Encyclopaedia, the one for 'hell'. At the exact centre point between these two encyclopaedia entries is a page that bears the single directive: Vade retro, Satanas! The musically literate reader will easily recognise here the playful injunction common to those fugues known as 'inverted' - it means, roughly, now sing the same notes only upside down and backwards. This chapter is structured exactly like an inverted or 'mirror' fugue - from the point of that musical injunction the various elements (letters, diary narratives, etc.) do in fact run upside down and backwards, as it were. So for example, if you look at the series of letters (from the Poet, from Carolina Lily, from Beethoven) every letter is balanced by another letter, that is its exact opposite in meaning. I was also thinking of my favourite poet, Jean Racine, who managed to write his most perfect play Andromaque, in such a way that the exact turning point of the drama occurs at the dead centre of the text. Up to that point things all run in one direction, and after that they all run in the other direction. It's magnificent! And I was very struck by this, how the perfect symmetry adds a kind of formal beauty and weight to the drama, and it's more typical of musical than of literary art, that kind of perfection of form.

V.Ulea: Still, I'm sure that any great piece of art, no matter how symmetrical it may seem, contains deviations. Otherwise, it would be what I call the "imperfect perfection" - a completeness that exhausted its changeableness and ends in stillness, in dead beauty that is the opposite of the "perfect imperfection", always semi-balanced and asymmetrical with a possibility to change. Your own well-considered contrapuntally organized composition resolves into indeterministic freedom of meanings owing to its asymmetrical structure, which made the piece bottomless.

Grace Andreacchi: As to perfection of form, by this I certainly do not mean to imply stasis. There's a discussion in Scarabocchio, at that rather questionable dinner party of the Governor's, where natural forms as paradigms for the artist are discussed at some length. The perfection of natural forms always contains an element of asymmetry within the symmetry - this was famously pointed up by one of my great mentors, John Ruskin, it's the keystone to his understanding of gothic art. And it's this asymmetry within symmetry that gives rise to the perpetuation of new forms.

V. Ulea: It's the Abbess who quotes at the "questionable party" Ruskin's famous statement from The Lamp of Sacrifice, saying "It is not the church we want, but the sacrifice". Yes, Ruskin's spirit of The Seven Lamps of Architecture is hovering over the Scarabocchio's universe, making the Poet's excitement over the ruins-skeleton rather one-sided (Ruskin's concept of "marriage" between the soul and the body in architecture comes to mind). It seems that the ideas expressed in The Seven Lamps are also introduced in your novel like themes and their inversions and variations. I mean the themes of memory, sacrifice, power and the like, which correspond a great deal to the chapters of Ruskin's work. O, what a rich, truly quantum fugue of thoughts and characters you've composed, Grace!.. I remember your main character's, the Poet, speculations regarding the ruins he researches (The Stones of Monreale):

Why is it that the ruin is so often more interesting, and even more beautiful, than the finished building (...) A ruin is a place full of mysteries revealed. I remember a block of smashed apartments that stood opposite the museum in Frankfurt when I was a child. One could see the way the pipes were fitted inside the walls and connected to toilets and showers, also how the staircases had been arranged, the shaft for the elevator - everything was revealed as in an anatomical drawing. I was fascinated by this spectacle, and never failed to observe it closely whenever I passed by the museum.

His fascination with the "uncovered" anatomic structure of the building is the naïve joy of a determinist who believes that now he holds the "key" to the architect's mind.  In Scarabocchio, the architectural constructions allude to the living beings and, at the same time, they convey a Goethean idea of "frozen music", which connects the Temple of Segeste to Barton Beale's idea of the north… I'm just thinking, how confused and angry the mainstream publisher would be after mooring to such a non-Euclidean shore. The clash of the non-Euclidean and Neanderthal mentalities is like a cultural Big Bang that threatens to destroy both sides. I remember some delightfully witty and humorous scenes in Scarabocchio which parody that clash. Could you talk a little bit more about mainstream literature and the market for anything that's different?

Grace Andreacchi: You certainly open a whole can of worms there! Where to begin… It's a situation that has been evolving for several decades and is still evolving in very interesting new ways. It's a quantum situation, isn't it? There are many kinds of writers, many kinds of readers, and many kinds of books, and the books I write are never going to appeal to a mass market. The problem arises when books are treated as a commodity like any other, 'pile 'em high and sell 'em cheap', this is the situation in which we find ourselves today in relation to the traditional literary marketplace. If you go back to a time before the total commodification of literature (but really I should say 'of books' because the irony is that you can't turn literature into a commodity and still get literature), I'm not sure where exactly to place this golden age, for things have never been perfect for the artist to be sure - Lord Byron had trouble getting his later, more interesting verse accepted for publication. Having written the best-selling 'Childe Harold' he found  that his publisher, John Murray, desired more of the same! And was anything but enthusiastic when Byron attempted to move on. And Virginia Woolf and her husband founded their own press to overcome hostility to her experimental style of writing. So there is always resistance from the literary establishment to work that is 'different'. But, having said that, I would also say that, say, fifty years ago, an interesting writer had a much better chance of finding a publisher. I was first published in the 1980's and it was already difficult then, but it was to get a whole lot worse. I travelled into a 'perfect storm' in that, as my own work was developing, becoming more idiosyncratic, more interesting and complex, the world of publishing was becoming ever more conservative. Small presses were bought out by large commercial ventures, books, including so-called 'literary fiction' were mass marketed using the tools of the trade, and I found myself out in the cold. Considering I'd already had two novels published to reasonably good reviews and a play produced in pretty decent theatres in both New York and Boston, this might have been because my writing was just rubbish, but I think I'm justified in seeking another explanation. I think the so-called literary establishment of the moment is a very grim place, a very very boring place - and I refer here specifically to the English language publishers. Things are a little different in, say, France for example, although they are moving in the same direction. If I were French (a thing I love to imagine, and for this lapse on the part of a loving God I can in no way account) I would in all likelihood be a well-known and well respected author, perhaps even a Chevalier des Arts et Lettres. Oh how I long to be made a Chevalier des Arts et Lettres…! That is probably not going to happen, malheureusement. Be that as it may, and to move the argument along, the commodification of literature has brought about this deep conservatism, as publishers seek to publish only those books that are guaranteed to sell many many copies. Now in truth publishers have no idea what will sell, if they did then publishing would not be the crap game that it is, and every title published would be a Dan Brown or a Harry Potter in terms of sales. So they guess, and how do they guess? That black art is founded basically on what has gone before. They look for books as like as possible to those books that have already sold many many copies and they say, 'Good, let's publish that.' So anything new and different, anything interesting is immediately excluded ipso facto. This deadening philosophy reaches well beyond the world of best-selling trash, so-called literature has become completely infected by it. And there's a whole world of literary prizes, 'creative writing' programs, and long-established critical journals, all mutually reinforcing this culture of conservatism.

Ah, the 'creative writing' program! Now I begin to roll my eyes and froth at the mouth… These programs, originally the offspring of the American universities with their touching 'everyman' mythology, promise to unlock the creative genius in every sensitive suburban soul, without regard to the fact that most kids are not geniuses, indeed, are not even interesting. They encourage and perpetuate a culture of mediocrity and conservatism. I would have them banned. In their place I'd like to see writing courses where kids are taught the basics of writing, by which I mean the simple toolkit: this is a noun, this is a verb, this has to agree with that, this is a dependent clause. I find it genuinely tragic that, when I do come across young writers of real talent, they are nearly always illiterate. They are utterly deficient in the basic knowledge of language and often convinced that it is of no importance, of no use to them. But how can you hope to write well if you cannot even write correctly? Language is of infinite complexity, that is its strength, and as a writer one ought to be a master of language, to use it with aplomb, flexibility, elegance and wit, let alone correctness. You see, I am turning into a grumpy old lady!

But there is good news as well, very good news, and the good news is that the internet has changed everything. A revolution is taking place which nobody could have foreseen, and it is setting writers free from the tyranny of the marketplace. Through the internet I am able to reach out directly to those readers who are interested in the sort of writing I have to offer. The world of traditional publishing is dead as far as I'm concerned, I no longer need them. What had become a dead end - writing serious and challenging literature for intelligent people - is now a wide open highway. O brave new world! It remains to be seen what sort of people, what sort of writers and readers we shall find there. Once again, and as in the days of the quill pen, the only limit is the human imagination.

It's true my own imagination works in a way that you rightly refer to as 'non-Euclidean', but I have always believed there are plenty of people out there who like this sort of thing. Not everybody wants a boring and familiar book to take to bed at night. Some people enjoy complexity, and I believe the music of J.S. Bach still does pretty well.