It's mid-May now, so that must mean it's time once again for my mid-May Martinmania. And surely enough, just like this time last year, my inspiration for the novel known as Rainbow is in the ascendant. Why else would I be experimenting with designing book covers for a novel of which I have so far written only 13,000 words?
One thing I know is that I am determined to write this thing, one way or the other--whether it needs to be written, slowly and tortuously, in the erratic fits and starts which have seemed to characterize its progress thus far, or, more hopefully, in a steady drive of inspiration that will carry the novel through to its completion this summer.
Of course, that is what I hoped for when I started writing the story at the beginning of last summer, but in any case, I am not set on that timeframe of completion as a definite goal. As I have stated before, this is my art, and it must be given the time it needs to grow and develop and evolve in an organic and natural way. I must have faith in Rainbow that it will continue to reveal itself and, through my hands, realize itself in its own good time.
Lately the story has in fact been doing just that, continuing its wondrous unfolding in my mind "like some kind of crazy, beautiful, glorious flower" (as one character describes Martin).
One quality of the story that helps me to maintain faith in it and in the value of writing it--no matter the difficulty, the daunting grandeur of the ambition, and the occasional loss of vision and inspiration--is what I might call its "untranslatability". One of the texts that inspires and underlies the novel is Whitman's line "I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable."
I see this line as being pertinent both to Martin as a character, in the sense that he is a mystery who cannot be contained by any simple definition of who he is as a person, and also to the novel itself, in the sense that Rainbow cannot be contained by any simple definition of what it is as a story.
I think that this quality is something it shares with many other literary works that rise above formula and conventional expectations and standard categorizations, and this is what I mean when I say that the quality of "untranslatability" helps me to maintain faith in the novel. I mean that it helps to remind me that this is one of the best ideas I have ever had, that I have here something original and fresh and new, something that might even be (as it indeed feels to me) powerful and grand (or, as a friend put it, "monstrous and majestic"), and that this story is a living thing, i.e., a story with a sparkling, vigorous life of its own, as Bluebird was (and still is... literary works always live as long as they have readers who bring them back to life, in an endless variety of iterations, with each individual reading).
I myself cannot explain or define this novel Rainbow. I can scarcely understand, at an intellectual level, what the story is about, why it is such a powerful vision for me, or why I feel so compelled to write it. That inability to adequately articulate the concept is not because it is devoid of substance, but indeed the very opposite: its substance (speaking here only of the idea that presents itself to my mind, not of my actual work) is, on the contrary, so full, so rich, and so deep, that it does not permit itself to be reduced to any simple explanation or summarization.
The closest thing I can compare it to is a fairy tale, or, perhaps even better, a myth. It centers on the character of Martin Lane, an artist and poet, and, to the extent that one may summarize what Rainbow is "about", it is largely about who Martin is, and the way in which he gradually discovers and expresses who he is. It is like a fairy tale in that Martin seems to transform, or rather to realize (both in the sense of "become aware" and in the sense of "make real"), himself, from something apparently ordinary and plain into a wondrous and magical being.
I do not mean that the story is a fantasy; I use the term "fairy tale" metaphorically. As I said, however, I think the word "myth" might be a better instrument to capture the nature of this tale. Martin Lane is a mythic figure, and his story is of mythic proportions. Despite his uniqueness, mysteriousness, and strangeness, I believe that Martin can also stand for human beings in general, a symbol of the uniqueness, mysteriousness, and strangeness of each one of us.
There is far more to the story, and far more to its mythic nature, than this one aspect can possibly suggest. The novel is "about" a multitude of things, and is also, above and beyond and encompassing all of those things, about one thing. That one thing I can only explain by writing the novel itself. I cannot give words to that one thing other than the words (every last one of them) of Rainbow.
In other words, Rainbow is, like Martin Lane, untranslatable.