Stochastic Bookmark

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The Top 10 (or 25 or so) Progressive Rock Albums

It strikes me that I've been remiss in expostulating upon some of my other interests on this here blog, with music being perhaps the most notable omission. Not that I'm any sort of musician: yeah I composed a party piece for piano, the detritus of lessons in my youth, the most lasting of which was, you've heard of white noise? I've got white rhythm. And my tastes are somewhat, ahem, eclectic, with preferences for baroque chamber, combo jazz, and psychedelic rock and its spawn.

Prog seems something of a catch-all, unified only by its decade. I'm going to narrow the field by excluding what tilts more toward art rock or experimental rock or fusion (themselves not particularly well defined categories), so much though I enjoy and esteem Zappa, Beefheart, or Berlin stuff (Bowie included) (just f'rinstance), I shan't consider them here. As to criteria for selection, perhaps only my baroque sensibility can explain, but probably no better than the selection itself:

10. Queen, Queen: Lost in what they later became, Queen started out as a prog band, and their debut was solid (unlike the pallid follow-up, Queen II), before finding their audience and formula with Sheer Heart Attack (my first concert was that tour, sandwiched between Mahogany Rush and Kansas [who you will note are not on my list]). Good enough to bump such stalwarts as ELP, Rush, et al out of the top ten.

9. Spirit, The 12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus: The band's only fully realized album, but oh my what a splendid dawning.

8. Dixie Dregs, What If: The first band on this list with multiple albums worth consideration, but this is the one where they hit their stride, and it stands out from the others, the title cut particularly. Got to see them live and tight in the Student Union at College Park, Md.

7. Jethro Tull, Aqualung: A more difficult choice, between this and Thick as a Brick, one of the few concept albums to live up to the concept (and conceived because Aqualung was misconceptually marketed as a concept album; the very idea!) (oh and the original cover), but I'll take the diversity on display here (and in Living in the Past for the most part). Saw them from the nosebleed seats on stadium tour, in which they played favorites up through Passion Play, itself oft-cited but a falling off, but not such a plummet as the subsequent albums.

6. Genesis, Selling England by the Pound: Another hard choice, from among more contenders (Foxtrot, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, and even Trick of the Tail though a tad too slick, but no, no others), but I seem to be in line with the consensus here.

5. Yes, Fragile: As with the Tull above, narrowly edging out Close to the Edge, and for the same reason (and, as above, head and shoulders above the others). My first vinyl LP purchase.

4. Robert Fripp, Exposure: Now things get complicated. King Crimson has several albums up for grabbing, from the seminal In the Court of the Crimson King, through Lark's Tongue in Aspic and Red, to Discipline (which I got to see live in a small theatre setting in DC). What sets this one apart? Well, Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno for one, or two. (I'm excluding his prior collaboration with Eno in (no pussyfooting) and Evening Star on proto-ambient grounds; see below for other cases). And with Fripp, how far he's willing to push it is the virtue (not that he's ever slack), and here he's pushing in many directions at once, without losing force. OK, so I have mentioned this one previously, but in another context.

3. Gentle Giant, In a Glass House: Yet another difficult decision, with Free Hand in the same league (cf Rick Moody or John Covach), and Octopus (and Interview and The Power and the Glory) in the running, all with different virtues but all virtuous and virtuosous [sic]. I had to pick this one up as an import because the distributors didn't think it'd play in America, so I had to pick this one.

2. Pink Floyd, Meddle: Yes, I know, Dark Side of the Moon and all, but still, no contest, certainly not with anything that followed that (and I liked that, very much). Of course even their debut album was proto-proggy (still have to track down tribute band Polka Floyd's rendition of Interstellar Overdrive on accordian), but this is the one where it all came together. (I also have a soft spot for Ummagumma even though the band later disowned it to the man.)

1. Phil Manzanera, Diamond Head: After all these years, in fact through them all, my favorite, the best of what prog has to offer. I'll let him tell you all about it. It shares some material with the best live prog album, 801 Live (so too does Eno: Here Come the Warm Jets would be my selection from among his preambient solo efforts), and some personnel with Roxy Music (again spoilt for choice, anything up to Stranded).

As always, YMMV, but if you're not familiar with some of the above (and in agreement on others), take 'em out for a spin.


End of June reads

More unevenness (and slower going) in the latter part of the month:

Stig Sæterbakken, Through the Night (Seán Kinsella) [dalkey] family ties unravelling, similar to Grunberg's Tirza though less blatant, though I had similar problems with it, as well as my not connecting with Nordic lit generally (sagas and their progeny excepted), which is itself similar to my not connecting with upper-middlebrow suburban lit (like Updike), as if Scandinavia were itself a big continental suburb ...
Harry Mathews, The Case of the Persevering Maltese [dalkey] essays of varying interest (to me, his personal perspective on Oulipo & Co. the most interesting).
Ricardo Piglia, Artificial Respiration (Daniel Balderston) [Duke] disappearances backgrounding in historical context (including intellectual & cultural [& the Europe hangover], which he teaches, here too thanks to translator's end-notes), taut and compelling: my book o'the month.
Brigid Brophy, In Transit [dalkey] riffey pomo gendrebender, first person singularity and duality.
Julien Gracq, Balcony in the Forest (Richard Howard) [Columbia] strategic withdrawal in the phoney war (I preferred The Opposing Shore, though not by much).
Renata Adler, Pitch Dark [nyrb] more tightly woven than Speedboat and I think suffers for it, though redeemed somewhat in last third.

A-and, even more throwaway lines (queries and theories, lifted from lit-chat):

Is a square meal an entree with four sides?
If language is the medium of thought, what's the angle of refraction?
Where does the time go, and are we there yet?
Now that the weather's broken, who's going to fix it?
... so I was like literally? you mean figuratively and he was like no I was using literally figuratively and so I was like literally? and he was like exactly! and I was like no, more like approximately and he was like literally? ...
To achieve serenity, skip the dip in serendipity.
Striving for wisdom may be vanity and a striving after wind, but whether vain or no, at least it's my own striving, and no one else's smells as sweet. And besides, the Preacher was an old fart.
It's common knowledge that our individual delusions are a rational and effective way of dealing with our mass delusions.
The curé is worse than the diocese.
if you think gaming the system is the system, the system's gaming you.
Inside every fat man are two thin men trying to get fed.
Those advising you to reinvent yourself are the ones holding the patents.
I tried to gaze long into an abyss but it turned out to be only a mirror.


Beginning of June reads

Finished with The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948-2013 (Glyn Maxwell ed) [FSG], for now, finding his post-Nobel efforts less consistent, perhaps taking license to extend himself or his readers with The Bounty but it feels as if he's trying too hard, before a return to form with Tiepolo's Hound (and The Prodigal a slighter falling off, and White Egrets slight return). Moving on to The Complete Poems of César Vallejo (Clayton Eshleman) [UCal], (still filling substantial gaps in the canonical) ...

But my reading has been interspersed prosaically with other authors I've never before encountered, all worthwhile to varying degrees, many of whom I intend to encounter again:

Dimitri Verhulst, The Misfortunates (David Colmer) [Thomas Dunne/St Martin's] dusting off familial nostalgie de la boue, unconventionally (and Colmer collected another translation prize ...)
Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Monsieur (John Lambert) [dalkey] the effect of affectlessness (people, really) (I also have Running Away at hand).
Svetislav Basara, Chinese Letter (Ana Lucic) [dalkey] existential riffing with a killer ending, other moments too, but somewhat scattered (and more scattered scattering to come with The Cyclist Conspiracy).
Marek Hlasko, Killing the Second Dog (Tomasz Mircowicz) [New Vessel] con-job noir but beyond genre, actors speak louder than writers.
Hilda Hilst, With My Dog-Eyes (Adam Morris) [Melville House] assent into madness (I'm a sucker for poetry & mathematics); more madness to come with The Obscene Madame D (LARB review) (cf Crassus Agonicus via 3%).
Leonid Tsypkin, Summer in Baden-Baden (Roger & Angela Keys) [NDP] the puzzle of Dostoevsky, his fervors, and championing of the downtrodden except the Jews, who in Soviet times esteemed him despite or because (I suspect it colored Nabokov's judgment) and his place among other authors (seemingly unavoidable in Russian Lit; I've got Bitov's Pushkin House lined up next in this category, another delaying tactic on Onegin) (TQC review; Tsypkin's only other work, The Bridge over the Neroch and other stories, just became available from NDP , but it looks as though it's more a warm-up).
Andrej Blatnik, You Do Understand (Tamara M. Soban) [dalkey] short story short (3am review) (Yes I must check out Lydia Davis).
Marie Chaix, The Summer of the Elder Tree (Harry Mathews) [dalkey] love and separation, the ongoing story, with interruptions, and recommencements.

Also, got out to see Italian Futurism at the Guggenheim and Entartete Kunst at Neue Galerie ... wouldn't have bothered with the latter but for the former, or the former but for the venue (which I last visited for Kandinsky 5 years back), but the combination was irresistible (and will be there til 1Sep).

add: finally, WSJblog Q&A with my favorite publisher.


End of May reads

Slowing it down over the last couple of weeks, I devoted a good half to a reread of Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, prodded by a group read instigated over to that lit forum. It had been more than 30 years since I had last (and first) picked it up, and, while smitten by the narrative bag o'tricks, I hadn't returned to it other than obliquely (through the movie and A Sentimental Journey [which well surpasses the Shandean traversal of France, to my mind the least of the volumes], both a few years back). Back then, the only source text with which I was familiar was Locke (and bits of Pope and Swift [and Shakespeare]); this time I returned with most of the referents under my belt (including Cervantes, Rabelais, Montaigne, some of Burton's Anatomy), but, for the most part, there they stayed, as what is best in the narrative does not depend upon its sources but on their contextual re-use, how fit into Sterne's seemingly ramshackle construction. At least for me, but it may well be that I had assimilated and internalized the fun to be had with systematics way back then at my first reading; the second go-round didn't seem to add much, and of that mostly at the margin.

So far as rereading goes, there are very few such on my Bookshelf of Good Intentions. New translations are the most likely to make it there (as did Elsworth's Bely's Petersburg and Burgin & O'Connor's Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, as will Calvino's Complete Cosmicomics when available here this fall). Of course I've reread many of my favorites (but not everything that's come out in the meantime); what remains on the BoGI at the moment are Foucault's Pendulum and Moby-Dick.

Other reading:
as mentioned, Olga Tokarczuk's House of Day, House of Night, the place of conscience and the conscience of place, in post-war Silesia (and as with Sterne, a fitting bracketing of a month that began with Hrabal);
Les Murray, New Selected Poems, yes good but I don't think of Nobel quality, too parochial;
and currently in the midst of The Poetry of Derek Walcott: 1948-2013, powerful stuff.


platonic liquids

the enigma within
the allegory of the cave
is that we are not just
the captive audience
but also the puppets
as well as the puppeteers
and even the wall before
and the fire behind
but not the sunlight filtering in


Getting press

To expand upon last month's note, my favorite publisher gets an NYObCit as source of Brooklynfluence, whilst bringing Knausgaard to a venue near you.
(my favorite publisher before [and now after] archipelago books? Dalkey Archive, and before and after that, New Directions ...)

But other indies involved in literary translation are getting deserved if deferred notice, and certainly got mine:
Graywolf's Fiona McCrae or Fiona McCrae's Graywolf (not exclusively translations, Per Petterson their Norwegian success story) (via the inestimable M.A.Orthofer, who's hot these days for Seagull Books, but that's UK [though available in US thru Uχ]);
Chad Post contributes The Official Launch of Deep Vellum update: so too Asymptote [interview];
Five questions for New Vessel, which inaugurates their list with six titles (I've got Marek Hlasko's Killing the Second Dog in hand).
Which is not to detract from the many worthy nonprofits on the scene ... but it's all good (if not yet all better).

But while indies are in, there's a winnowing of university presses under pressure underway, some being subsumed into the library systems, which have a different understanding of the function (though working on an improved understanding of their own [the proper study of mankind is the measure of all things]), which concerns me, being part of that audience outside academia that's long had the benefit of their offerings. (Current reading: Olga Tokarczuk, House of Day, House of Night (Antonia Lloyd-Jones) [Northwestern University Press: Writings from an Unbound Europe, series now discontinued])


Beginning of May reads

Since Hrabal, I've been on something of a tear, helped along especially by strong prose:
Stevie Smith, Best Poems [NDP]: light verse with a dark edge (or is it a heavy undertow?) but no less (and little more than) light verse for that, but no worse for that than the best such.
Ben Marcus, The Age of Wire and String [Dalkey Archive]: categorized as "stories" but too integrated for that designation, but then every designation is up in the air, proper names improperly purposed, terminologies terminating each chapter shedding more heat than light. There's glory for you (as H.D. put it).
Adam Fitzgerald, The Late Parade [Liveright]: More hit-or-miss than Donnelly, which of course means more miss, uneven even at stanza level (not the craft, the affect). I wanted to like it more, for the shared touchstones (eg Chirico), perhaps that got in my way. Something did.
Sjón, From the Mouth of the Whale (Victoria Cribb) [FSG]: latterday saga of an unnatural naturalist in banishment, more substantial than The Whispering Muse (nice conceit well played but) (cf TQC review).
Rodrigo Rey Rosa, The African Shore (Jeffrey Gray) [Yale/Margellos]: pared-down pairing of a shepherd and a Columbian self-exile in waiting in and around Tangier (cf BOMB interview).
David Malouf, An Imaginary Life [Vintage]: the exiled Ovid's meta-Metamorphoses, back to whence he came.
Raymond Queneau, Hitting the Streets (Rachel Galvin) [Carcanet]: a long-missing piece englished, tying together the strands of the demotic and Paris locales (and wordplay, though that's doubly hard to carry over, partly compensated by bilingual presentation, though proficiency in proper French only goes so far).

(Taking a break from that lit chatboard, thanks thereto [you know who you are] for some of the pointers ...)


Ontology and deontology

Objects in this poem are closer than they appear.
Money is no object, for poetry does not pay.
Poetry is theft, from the depths of allusion,
Estranged from con—no, denotation.
What is its object? To say what must be said
No other way, the rest an interval
Between discordant notes. No matter what


Hrabal-hrousing and more

So it was 8 years ago that I introduced myself to the writings of Bohumil Hrabal, reading in quick succession Closely Watched Trains, I Served the King of England & Too Loud a Solitude, so I was past due to circle back, especially with his centennial in full swing, and my favorite publisher obliged, with Harlequin's Millions—no, nothing to do with Rupert Murdoch's $415MM romance—one of Hrabal's later novels, wherein he takes the place of his mother, who takes her place in a retirement home in a retired castle, whose residents are not so much out of place as out of time, passing time with tales of times past. Only sixteen paragraphs long, but each a meandering chapter, it nearly doubled the page-count of my hreading: as Ron Slate puts it, "Hrabel described his technique as pabeni or “palavering” – essentially a high-strung gabbing, a narrative preference he discovered in Beckett and Joyce, but also in Cervantes and even Dante. His realism is a kind of gentle hysteria; his world is undeniably ours but rendered through what pretends to be unbridled, aimless speech. It is kindled speech, Hrabal seems to be telling us, that creates the reality and for this reason he has no taste for conventional novelistic telling. His generosity is the access to actuality as it rises up in language. Here lie the pleasure and the beauty." (excerpt)

The translator, Stacey Knecht, acknowledges connecting with Hrabal: "Apparently, it is possible to fall in love with a writer you've never met. I'm honored to have had the privilege of falling in love with Bohumil Hrabal, with his words and music and images. If he were still alive, I'd tell him so, but instead, I've made a promise: to continue translating his books and advising everyone to read them." Netherlands-based, she's on an East Coast U.S. tour (NY, Boston [10 May], DC [15 May]) this month, inaugurated yesterday at "A Discussion on Works in Translation and International Literature" the Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House. The readings there spanned a broad range, besides Hrabal:
Publisher Jill Schoolman, from her own translation, in Imagine Africa *new*;
Archipelago staff's Kendall Storey, a favorite from José Ángel Valente (trans Tom Christensen);
Chuck Wachtel, from Mahmoud Darwish (Simon Antoon), Aimé Césaire (Anna Bostock, John Berger) *new*, Meng Hao-Jan (David Hinton) (and another who escapes me, sorry);
and Richard Sieburth, on his translations of (16thc)literary Lyons, comparing Maurice Scève to Louise Labé *new*, refuting rumors that the latter was but a construct of the former. (oopsdate: a chat with Jeffrey Yang) (Sieburth was also the translator of Henri Michaux's Stroke by Stroke, the very first Archipelago I encountered.)

(Afterwards I dropped in on the BTBA reception, to congratulate Chad Post on his award winning an award, and met Alex Zucker, another translator from the Czech, who will be chatting with Stacey Knecht on 14 May @ WORD in Brooklyn.)