Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


File under RTWT *

On Friday, Alex Estes described what Archipelago Books is up to (which is ten years, a hundred books, and more). Alex gets at much of what (read: who) has made Archipelago succeed, but I'd add a further point: the relation with translators is a two-way street, and the respect is reciprocated (even, or maybe even especially, during the editorial process). It not only makes for a superior product, but opens opportunities for choice offerings (and Jill Schoolman continues to demonstrate both impeccable taste and diverse range in her selection). You might say it's confirmation bias, but it's the only publisher's list I've read over half of.

Archipelago's most recent success has been in bringing Karl Ove Knausgård to an American audience, which has become steadily more appreciative as each of the six volumes has rolled out. On Thursday, Eurozine carried Anne Patterson's translation of his ruminations on writing and editors (and critics) and publishers (but no, not the publishers of translations or the translators) (whew!). (Further reading and lotsa links over to that lit chatboard.)

Go read.

* Read The Whole Thing, though Round The World Trip might also apply in this case (and it amuses me that it's the stock ticker of Twitter backwards).


March reads

In writing about my reading, I've mentioned the recent turn towards poetry, but not the more recent turn towards more recent poetry, now getting its turn. Only now, in part because of the now somewhat less extensive gaps in my reading of established (or historied) poets, more because of a pro- and confusion of signposts, contradictory and unreliable, hard to distinguish from and among the billboards. The samplings and commentary in lit-mags and websites are all over the place, often insubstantial as adverts, whereas academia evokes "a breakfast joint in Los Angeles [where] old comedians gather: They tell jokes, but they never laugh. Instead, they just say, 'That's funny'." Granted, there's a lot more competence in the craft out there, but also less to say and more saying it, seemingly more than are listening, yes an embarrassment of riches but hidden amid much greater embarrassments.

So thanks to a little help from my friends, in particular Steven (no mean elegiast himself) who put me on to Susan Howe (wow, poetry and Peirce! got The Midnight queued up) and, more recently, as in this past month:
Carl Phillips, Quiver of Arrows: Selected Poems 1986-2006 really gave a sense of evolution as poet, the stuff before 2000 well-crafted but more tentative, miss-or-hit tho not without moments, but then, after, the assurance that sustains those moments, often thru the full poem, and the refinements of technique and idiolect that make it happen (eg the structural overlay of breaks and italics, the latter multivoicing);
Timothy Donnelly, The Cloud Corporation, one apparent heir to Ashbery, demonstrates, among other things, an art of modification of commodification, the repackaging of myth and of prior art, a dialogue between form and function, an argument about what the culture has become.
(and now Steven's on about Adam Fitzgerald ...)
I would be remiss in not mentioning, last fall, Mahendra's standing a round of D.A.Powell's Cocktails, adding his own long lines; see also an amazingly long lineage ...

which (setting aside the near-misattribution) segues into another, both a poet and a mathematician, in the latter role former head of Morgan Stanley Fixed Income Research when I worked there some 20 years back (and with whom I worked on yield curve representation): Jim Tilley, who retired to launch another career as poet, and with whom I reconnected with this year, in person at his reading at KGB Bar (along with Frannie Lindsay & Nick Flynn, under the auspices of Kate Gale's Red Hen Press).
In Confidence, his debut collection, shows him finding a form that integrates his background in maths (but differentiated from the Oulipo project) without letting them dominate, more as a repository of analogy, another prism through which to diffract the human condition, with its own limitations, what I like to call warmly analytic; finding a voice, sometimes doubled, parallax views spanning between poems. I'll let him speak for himself, in verse and interview, and in his forthcoming collection, Cruising from Sixty to Seventy: Poems and Essays (and it looks as if he'll be back at KGB Bar come September). (Speaking for myself, the project interests me beyond the personal connection, as I've essayed into the territory myself, f'rinstance Rough Cut or Regula Falsi.)

Other reading:

Lorrie Moore, Bark: up there with BofA, in fact with some of the objectionables muted, or at least transmuted (see below). Of the 8 stories, for me only the Nabokov tribute fell flat (but I can see why she felt she had to do it), and the tendrils between stories adds something further (though I can see David Auerbach's complaint of "creepy, sub-supernatural angstploitation [... stemming from an] impulse to impose a private 'outsider' view on ordinary materials through sheer will -- because that's the only thing that can make it worthwhile. [...] It's a lousy approach." Too harsh, but nonetheless pertinent:
"HOSPICE CARE: IT'S NEVER TOO SOON TO CALL read a billboard near the coffee shop in what constituted the neighborhood's commercial roar. Next to it a traffic sign read PASS WITH CARE. Surrealism could not be made up. It was the very electricity of the real."
The story "Foes" is pure provocation, a poke at progressivism which succeeds in pissing off reviewers for The New Republic and the NY Observer, though otherwise it probably reflects more of the flaws inherent to A Gate at the Stairs ...anyway, the overall impulse here is more to set personal failures against those of the world at large (with variable results).
on to a trio on the writerly (and the place of such in culture) (or is it t'other way 'round?):
Gerald Murnane, The Plains: somewhere between Inland and Barley Patch but all are must-reads. Rare unanimity on that lit chatboard.
B.S. Johnson, Albert Angelo: MAO preferred Christie Malrey's Own Double-Entry which disappointed, but I'm in agreement with him on this'un.
Toomas Vint, An Unending Landscape (Eric Dickens):a nice conceit, 3 versions or variations around writing one story, from po-mo to mo to pre-mo, but I found execution to be wanting as it progressed or rather regressed, the last one derivative of Chekhov's "Lady with Lapdog" (if you're going to do that you gotta get yer game up to that level), so kinda like passed through the Austerizer.
and ...
Kingsley Amis, Take a Girl Like You: A tease and a bastard: the book, that is. Well, and the author. Oh yeah, the main characters too. And everybody. But unlike what else I've read of his, the denouement outdoes the ride.
Gilbert Sorrentino, The Abyss of Human Illusion: the art of disenchantment, of demi-mendacity, late vintage Sorrentino, valedictory and maledictory.
Wilma Stockenström, The Expedition to the Baobob Tree (J.M Coetzee): the latest from my favorite publisher, a tale of loss compounded from which much is to be gained.


February reads

James Merrill, The Changing Light at Sandover [Atheneum]: Pretty much the longest resident of my Bookshelf of Good Intentions, but I'm glad I waited til after reading his Collected (October before last: while technically adept from the very start, I don't think he discovered where he was writing from until the 60s—not that that was always the same place, in fact it very much wasn't, but the earlier explorations seem to lack a grounding, often strike as form over substance, with complexity or erudition compensating [but I always have the problem that in reading chronologically I'm trying to follow the development of the poet at the same time as I'm learning how to read him/her, and the two don't seem separable]). Washington University archives and has recently made available scans of the source material (thx thepage). What's uncanny is the simultaneous construction and deconstruction of (the) mythos, moreso than the mythos itself (having it both ways works better in the former than the latter [tho the case may be made otherwise, or that each entails the other]); not perfect, but dazzling in form and sparkling in wit without being overdetermined by either, but I thought "Scripts for the Pageant" got off too slowly and more flawed, but I shan't nitpick, and it's all excused anyway by the ambition and the accomplishment—my fears of misreading thru Nabokov were misplaced, tho he does peek in a few times ... but for late 20th century American poetry, Merrill is just behind [one ouija footstep] ...

John Ashbery, The Vermont Notebook & Houseboat Days [in LoA's Collected]: Filling in early Ashbery; the former lightweight (Barbara Guest does such better) but the latter took me a couple of passes (so far); as I've said before (more generally), not just NY schoolcraft, but trying to knowingly assimilate and modernize a raft of French influences (troubadours, Rimbaud, Roussel, bits of Surrealism, Oulipoan constraints) and naïveté (cf eg [I can name that tune in 4 notes!] Ashbery & Darger) before decomplificating it (disingenuity not disingenuous), bringing it into the idiom rather than drawing it out from it. In the case of Houseboat Days, the changes in register both between and within made for a high degree of difficulty and added style bonus.

Mikhail Shishkin, The Light and the Dark (Andrew Bromfield) [Quercus]: amor vincit omnia ... the tale's in the telling, but what's telling are how seemingly trivial details correspond, and what this has to do with the nature of love and the relationship between writer and reader ... but it's almost lost in writing past its object. So I preferred Maidenhair.

Mario Vargas Llosa, Conversation in The Cathedral (Gregory Rabassa) [ff]:The Great Peruvian Novel? the interleaving of stories and chronology radical (esp Part I), reflecting underlying hybridities amid the dog's breakfast of social institutions.

Jaan Kross, Professor Martens' Departure (Anselm Hollo) [New Press]: Reimagining history in the service of reimagining the future, and not just of Estonia. Many familiar tropes made new, in what for me was otherwise less familiar territory.

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Unconsoled [Vintage]: Traversing the topology of a tangled web of obligations and performance anxieties. For all the craft in elaborating the dream-logic, it works too much against itself, being overly coherent in full for its parts (even if the author knew it). But it provided an excellent set-up for ...

Karl Ove Knausgård, My Struggle, Book I (Don Bartlett) [archipelago]: Bildungsromemoir, and memoreconstruction, not really comparable to Proust (as so much isn't) but not irrelevant (actually, finishing Proust was one excuse for not embarking on this sooner), it's just that framing it that way makes for flattening and downmarketing. Even though it's a top-seller for my favorite publisher, I might have passed on it (my lack of affinity for modern Nordic lit) but for the similarity with Jacques Roubaud's project (small-p) and the Kickstarter that put it at hand. Many better qualified than I have raved about it, but I merely warmed to it. May your mileage vary.


January reads

Short takes on what I've read this month, augmenting chatboard reports, to initiate a regular feature (or bug) (as the short essay seems elusive):

Alasdair Gray, Lanark: Opening and closing the month with urban dystopiae. I got started on him last year with Poor Things (rollicksome monstrosity) ... what can one say that hasn't been said already (or better, as by Burgess)? Gray rises to the challenge, too bad the Booker didn't (though they did with Kelman's debut, which I also caught up with last year).
Francis Spufford, Red Plenty: see Crooked Timber seminar.
M.John Harrison, Empty Space: A Haunting: end of the Kefahuchi Tract (better than Nova Swing but not Light).
Hugo Claus, Even Now: Poems (David Colmer): I got to attend Archipelago Book's launch party in November at Flanders House to meet the translator (his first NYC visit); he's been on a roll lately, with Verhulst, Bakker; his Oz provenance well suited to Englishing Flemish. (cf MAO)
Thomas Bernhard, My Prizes: An Accounting (Carol Brown Janeway) or, Travels with My Aunt; lighter fare. (cf MAO)
Alejo Carpentier, Reasons of State (Frances Partridge): overegged even for satire.
Wieslaw Mysliwski, A Treatise on Shelling Beans (Bill Johnston): and on preferring sax to violins (tho no less excellent in voice, I preferred Stone Upon Stone).
William H. Gass, Cartesian Sonata: uneven on many levels, kinda minor but latitudinous.
Cloud Gate Song: The Verse of Tang Poet Zhang Ji (Jonathan Chaves): [aka Chang Chi] an attempt to carry over rhyme and structure of Music Bureau (folk), Regulated Verse and quatrains, an iamb per character, that works best for 5-char RV and occasionally for 7-char quatrains (and perhaps the folk component helps; but too taut for 5-char quatrains, too slack for 7-char RV).
D.H.Lawrence, The Rainbow: lost traction in the bridge ("Anna Victrix"), ungrounded unlike the rest, but I have other probs w/ DHL's delivery ...
then thither on a dysturban jaunt:
China Miéville, Embassytown: first half amazing, second half routine, felt like lost op in dropoff from brilliant to clever.
Orly Castel-Bloom, Dolly City (Dalya Bilu): a whiff of Queneau in the demotic and Barthelme in the demonic (who's yer mommy?) (cf MAO)
César Aira, Shantytown (Chris Andrews): still more good stuff, nicely involuted, though too tightly tied, as is so often the case.

backfilling: December:
Julian Rios, LARVA: Midsummer Night's Babel (Richard Alan Francis, w/ Suzanne Jill Levine & the author) as previously noted, sheer punnography.
Evan Dara, The Lost Scrapbook: how could I resist a blurb from my chatboard? ("a towering piece of American literature and one of the best 3 novels of the nineties!") and for 2/3 of the way I was on the same page, but the last third is a different novel, not that it's not good, though I'd say not as good, but unlike the fused fragments preceding it, the coherence of narrative location and POV shifts as if a phase change had suddenly occurred, and ties between the two parts are tenuous (w/ exceptions), it feels as if the potentialities of the first 2/3s are foreclosed upon rather than realized (and yeah I considered whether that's the point) ... even so, still among the best the 90s had to offer in the US (damn faint praise, in my book) (and no not sorry to have taken it up, no not at all) ... my plaint here may be similar to that of those who didn't get the Bhutan stuff in Lindsay Hill's Sea of Hooks so hey ymmv.
Gherasim Luca, The Passive Vampire (Krzysztof Fijalkowski): too capital-S Surreal, but ... the objects! (OOO nowadays connoting object-oriented ontology rather than the objectively offered object, but to me it'll always be castling long).
Frigyes Karinthy, A Journey Round My Skull (Vernon Duckworth Barker): old New Journalism.
Breyten Breytenbach, Mouroir: prison writings, variable and sundry.
Roddy Doyle, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha: more Booker catch-up.
Clive James, Nefertiti in the Flak Tower: following up on Opal Sunset and confirming his standing as poet to be taken seriously (but not too, at least not always).
Georges Perec and the Oulipo, Winter Journeys (various, mostly Ian Monk): itself an Oulipian microcosm sparked by a short story Perec penned for a publisher's catalogue, which then underwent a delayed rapid expansion, first by Roubaud, and continuing to this day ... Queneau's characterization of Oulipo as "rats who construct the labyrinth from which they plan to escape" (tho I'd prefer 'contrive') nowhere rings truer. The first half, culminating with Mathews' contribution, is best, afterwards falling off but not without its moments. But it isn't completist stuff, even with some of the inside games, as what's on the outside still sparkles.
Seamus Heaney, District and Circle: his poetry worth being completist about, I minded the gap; this and Electric Light had mixed reviews, I think more bound up with conceptions of ought than is.
Yves Bonnefoy, The Arrière-Pays (Stephen Romer): interesting to consider in relation to Murnane (not by intent nor aesthetic but ontology).
Gerbrand Bakker, Ten White Geese (David Colmer): IFFP winner (cf above, and MAO).
César Aira, The Hare (Nick Caistor): twice as long as what else has been englished, which makes for greater proliferation of loose ends (all tightly tied in the denouement of course).


Closing the books

... no not on the blog, just on the year. I resolve to give a better account of myself in 2014, but when resolution time rolls around I always start out by putting at the top of the list "get serious" ... then I start giggling ...

But one resolution is well worth keeping before year-end: supporting non-profit literary publishers. I'm partial to Archipelago Books myself, what with my penchant for translated literature, and they've had a banner year (again!) (and despite my being on Board); but I would be remiss not to mention a new entrant in the field like Two Lines Press. And it helps to keep procuring their offerings through your local independent bookstore ...

I'll wrap up with a couple of poems I perpetrated this year:

I don't know where the day went
somehow it got away from me
going so fast it was just a blur
so I can't say where it got to

another day to be counted lost
among so many misplaced lately
I have a calendar full beyond number
and can't recall where it got to

when they say you're either for us or against us
          I say I'm against us
which I say is not to say I'm with them
and they say oh one of those
          they're all the same
so I'm not alone

but with you it's different


Best of 2013

2013 has been an excellent year for reading (yeah, no, it's not over yet, but). Shifted some cinderblocks off the Bookshelf of Good Intentions: Remembrance of Things Past, The Tale of Genji (though now Tyler's followed with Heike), & Infinite Jest (& Norman Davies, Europe: A History). Collected Poems by Czeslaw Milosz, Barbara Guest, & Zbigniew Herbert (& Paul Muldoon, to '98). Twoscore authors I hadn't encountered before (and only a handful of poets among them) (where've I been?).

But on to the stuff that the year brought fresh. First, the best in translation:

1. Mircea Cărtărescu, Blinding: The Left Wing (Sean Cotter)
I finished it, but I'm not finished with it. It did not finish me, but it's not finished with me. Wow. Tis wondrous strange, all-encompassing, if schizophrenic, symmetries imposed and broken, some allusions dropped like hints both carefully and carelessly, others fully elaborated and more. Now that I've read it, Nostalgia just ain't what it used to be. But now I must wait, impatiently, for the following volumes to be englished. (LARB's review gets at some of it; the Pynchon comparison is telling, beyond what he makes of it, but even that's only part of it—Blinding is in Gravity's Rainbow territory, and others besides: Romanian surrealism, in an imagined Bucharest that residents recognize; physiological-genetic-evolutionary, and behind that, complex maths, like fractals, chaos theory, which are being brought more to the forefront in what he's writing now—longer wait).
2. Laszlo Krasznahorkai, Seiobo There Below (Ottolie Mulzet)
Many reviews (eg TQC) take art beauty divinity as the base, but I take it to be the gaze and the traversal (the first half of which touched upon by Eric Foley, and Nietzsche's BG&E#146(ii): ... when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.) (the second half, not just travel but preparation) in its apprehension. His best so far, which is saying a lot.
3. Javier Marias, The Infatuations (Margaret Jull Costa)
More The Imputations, working at both narrative & meta levels, keeping alternatives (some not even mentioned) open all the way through; very impressive. (Read A Heart So White earlier this year, first fiction for me, having got to him first via Reading Writing, just as with Julien Gracq, Written Lives preceding this year's reading of The Opposing Shore (Richard Howard); all excellent).
HM: Gert Jonke, Awakening to the Great Sleep War (Jean M. Snook); okay, so that was 2012; if it must be this year, Pierre Michon, The Eleven (Jody Gladding and Elizabeth Deshays). Though I still have Gerbrand Bakker's Ten White Geese (David Colmer) in the queue, and a couple by César Aira, and Wieslaw Mysliwski's A Treatise on Shelling Beans (Bill Johnston) to look forward to.

Best in English (and the U.S.) this year:

1. Lindsay Hill, Sea of Hooks:
The map is not the territory, but it's all we got. Another poet excelling in prose form.
2. Charles Newman, In Partial Disgrace:
The first third blew my socks off, and it didn't weaken so much after, though some seams shown. To think this was the preliminary study for what I shudder to contemplate (and somehow apropos how it comes to hand, so imperfectly yet). As it is, a dense thicket and varied topography for which the map is the terrierstory, deeply allusive in an underground way and self-referential if -irreverential (haven't noticed anyone else noticing Flann O'Brien's 3 beginnings and 3 endings), Pynchon comparison warranted (and so many flourishes ...perhaps pynchon-l will take it up the way they did Pale Fire, but no, not with Bleeding Edge happening). (cf Robert Boyers remembers Charles Newman)
3. Renata Adler, Speedboat:
So it's a reissue, add it to my fave NYRBs. Barthelmean, Ashberian.
HM: William H. Gass, Middle C: Yes, Middle C is excellent, yes, Gass the past master. But masterpiece? not so sure. Can variations on a theme qualify? (I wouldn't even accord Exercises in Style.) But who am I to judge? (wait innit the central question?) (despite anticipating the keynote). For one thing, Thomas Hardy pervades, I suspect beyond the simple multiple allusions, but I hardly know him. Other ponders: Middle C is the note that exists between staves. The last chapter centers on his encounter with Songs That Never Grow Old, a "fake book" (though neverever called such). Faking it as mimesis, or is it t'other way round? (and will it be covered in Music & Literature?) And, in oeuvre, fullcircleback to Ohio; in some sense cumulative?

And no, not Pynchon's Bleeding Edge, not that it wasn't enjoyable, but it's an entertainment (in the Graham Greene sense, qualified; and better than the other such) but a bit more, The Crying of Lot 49 all grown up (but it was such a cute kid); I thought the middle half best (beginning kinda Simpsons, ending kinda obligatory), though that trademark Pynchon patter carries one through.
But in the category of entertainment, John Scalzi's Redshirts is hard to beat (even for the Hugo), and in the SF slot I still have M. John Harrison's Empty Space to fill the time.

This merely scratches the surface of this year's reading, but I would be remiss in not mentioning satisfying my itch for more esoteric stuff: Raymond Roussel, New Impressions of Africa (Mark Ford) was amazing, incredible lotsaways; I'm currently in the midst of Julian Rios, LARVA: Midsummer Night's Babel (Richard Alan Francis, w/ Suzanne Jill Levine & the author), an orgy of language; and I'm saving George Perec & the Oulipo, Winter Journeys, for the solstice.


Lessons learned

... from the LIBOR, FX, crude oil, gold fixings:

Mark-to-Market: If you're not the market, you're the mark.


Jonathan Franzen as Performance Artist

To begin, I've never had much interest in Jonathan Franzen's writing, not that I thought it bad necessarily, just not the sort of thing I have much taste for (upper-middlebrow New Yorker-smooth social-realistic satire of manners—which may not be fair, but y'know), and in any case put off by the posturing around it, particularly the anti-postmodern stance (esp 'his earnest ironist outhipstering art-for-my-sake take on Gaddis'). But it would seem that Franzen displaces the pomo element to outside the text, in his crafting of a persona to complement (and market) his writing, which remerges with the text in his latest, The Kraus Project.

My primary interest in this is in Karl Kraus and in the Vienna of that age, and I wasn't about to be put off by Franzen's "Hey you kids get off my LAN!" shtick (though I was pleased to procure through Amazon, if not the Kindle edition). Per Steve Danziger, I expected that "Franzen’s quirks are a bearable tariff for this otherwise exceptional, bravely unorthodox, introduction to Kraus, and perhaps, in this context, they reflect the inevitable disorientation that accompanies any reader’s journey back to the transformative texts of his or her youth." (cf Adam Kirsch's take) I further expected that the Project involved projections (in the footnotes) of Kraus onto current culture and of Franzen onto Kraus, neither very convincingly (as expected). But this does not adversely affect the translation itself, and Paul Reitter gets nearly equal space in the notes, if not equal billing.

I segued into The Kraus Project from essays in Esther Allen & Susan Bernofsky's In Translation: Translators on their work and what it means, multiple perspectives by practitioners, the first few essays more of the same old (occasionally relieved by digression) before it gets cooking (the most interesting to me were Haruki Murakami's afterword to The Great Gatsby and Jose Manuel Prieto's annotated translation of Mandelstam's "Epigram Against Stalin" [ObCit Stalin's Blue Pencil] [both essays themselves translated]). Given Franzen's nod to Harold Bloom in settling on Kraus [over Pynchon] as literary father figure, it seems appropriate that kenosis (the breaking of the vessels) should provide continuity:

from the last essay in In Translation, Clare Cavanaugh on "The Art of Losing: Polish Poetry and Translation":
Finally, I want to quote a stanza from Milosz's exquisite "Song on Porcelain," in the splendid translation that Milosz himself produced in collaboration with Robert Pinsky:
Rose-coloured cup and saucer,
Flowery demitasses:
You lie beside the river
Where an armoured column passes.
Winds from across the meadow
Sprinkle the banks with down;
With bits of brittle froth—
Of all things broken and lost
Porcelain troubles me most.
The "small sad cry / of cups and saucers cracking." Milosz tells us in the English variant, bespeaks the end of their "masters' precious dream / Of roses, of mowers raking, / And shepherds on the lawn." Milosz violates his own translatorly preference for preserving sense at the expense of form here. This poem about the fragility of both human-made forms and the human form itself retains its pathos in English precisely because Milosz and Pinsky have managed to reproduce so movingly the stanzas and rhymes in the original. (I first heard the Polish original song in a student cabaret in Krakow in 1981, and the melody I heard fits the English version as neatly as it did the Polish original, a tribute to the translators' gifts.)

from Karl Kraus, "Heine and the Consequences" in The Kraus Project (trans Jonathan Franzen*, with notes also by Paul Reitter), a mere handful of pages after Kraus complains that Heine's lyric is lite-operettic depending for value on the music:
The structural backbone of his [Heine's] attack on Börne consists of direct quotations from Börne, and every time he brings Börne out to speak you can detect quite precisely the point at which Börne stops and Heine's own yakking takes over.[74] He does it in the heavy-handed porcelain story.[75] At every step, you want to revise, condense, deepen. "In addition to the Polish soldiers, I have characterized the occurrences in Rhenisch Bavaria as the next lever which, following the July Revolution, gave rise to the agitation in Germany and had the most profound influence even on our countrymen in Paris" is not a sentence I would have let stand. The parts without a frame; the whole without composition; that short-windedness that has to keep catching itself in a new paragraph, as if to say "So, and now let us talk about something else."
[74] ...
[75] Ludwig Börne includes an extended anecdote about porcelain. As Heine has it, Börne once explained to him that it was by publicly smashing a tea service that Napoleon tamed Europe's aristocrats. Fearing for their beloved porcelain, they became more compliant. Next, according to Heine, Börne proceeded to confess that upon acquiring a 'sumptuous' tea service of his own, he began to appreciate how those aristocrats felt. He even started to worry about how his activities as a critic might affect his porcelain. How would his porcelain fare if he had to flee across the border and there was no time to pack carefully? In the end, however, Börne gets his priorities in order. Heine closes out the anecdote by (imaginatively) citing Börne as saying, "But I am still strong enough to break my porcelain bonds, and if the authorities make it hot for me, truly, the beautiful gilded teapot, and the scenes of marital bliss and St. Catherine's tower and the Guard Headquarters and the homeland, will all fly out the window, and I will be a free man again" --PR

And this is where Franzen's contribution (beyond translation) to The Kraus Project gets interesting. Ostensibly (ostentatiously?) about the formation of Franzen's sensibilities as a writer, the cracks show: it becomes something else, a performance piece for the persona he's constructed elaborating upon the construction (or is it deconstruction?) of that persona. And it's here that there may be more kinship with Kraus, the feuilletonist ranting against feuilletonism, than is evident in the overt claims. Beyond which, the play with the translator inhabiting the author also extends to the persona (and again, "the Bloomian laugh was on me").

The most concise instance of this is Franzen's otherwise superfluous footnote to "And how gloomy the thing that brightens the idler's day": Indeed, nobody is funnier than depressives. Not only that, but the more depressive they are, the funnier they are—up to a point. My friend who committed suicide was the funniest friend I ever had. Now that's funny.

For all that, using Kraus as a springboard for such fun and games does not diminish the service in providing access to him in English. Do such fun and games add anything to our understanding of Kraus? Perhaps.


Shaping up

So, the blog has passed the eight year mark, even if the past year fits on the front page. It's not that I don't have something to say, I just choose to do so in another venue (even more dated than blogging), content for the blog to be an eddy in the backwaters of the internets. I wouldn't even be adding this ripple if not for the four-year forecast I made four years ago in my sole foray into econoblogging.

No need to click through on the above except for verification or elaboration (capsule summary, lifted from an update: potential for a rare configuration, a inverted humped yield curve, as occurred in Germany in spring '94, but regardless there's relative value in the belly of the curve; further updating here & here). So. what happened? While the US Treasury curve has remained "normal" (positively sloped, but hardly regular, in that the inflection point is still out beyond 3 years out, but thankfully no longer beyond 5 years out [thanks Bernanke, though I think the tapering talk was aimed more at Congress' fiscal (ir)responsibility]), the TIPS curve was inverted & humped in spring '12 (and Aussie govvies went inverted & humped down under shortly thereafter). For Treasuries, the midmaturities performed well over the period, with rates down 1.1/4% (1.1/8% for 10yr, 7/8% for 30yr), and with rolling down the curve (i.e. getting closer to maturity) the recommended 7yr was best in show, yields down 2.71% (vs 5 yr 2.44%, 10yr 2.03%, 30yr 1.11%). Because of the drop in rates, capital appreciation increased along with maturity, further bolstered by higher coupon income, so net profits were greatest for the 30yr, 37.1/4% over 4 years (10yr 26.1/2%, 7yr 21.1/4%, 5yr 13%). But on a risk-adjusted basis (using duration), the 7yr again had the best relative return. All in all, not too shabby as such prognostications go, and the prospect of an inverted humped Treasury curve in a couple of years remains in play, but I'm not making any predictions, I'm just sayin'.