Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


November reads

My reading schedule was abbreved this month perforce ... all were good, but nothing blew me away (Mehigan's poetry came closest).

Samuel Schuman, Nabokov's Shakespeare [Bloomsbury]: As per prior post, I'd hoped more would be made of the concordance. As it happens, Schuman passed away shortly after that, and will be sorely missed by the Nabokovian community, scholarly and otherwise, to which he long contributed.
Daniel Kehlmann, Measuring the World (Carol Brown Janeway) [Vintage]: an historical comedy of errors ideas, cruel & deadpan (that last aspect exculpating the flatness of the prose) (& how german is it?), and for me Gauss & von Humboldt is a great hook. [MAO]
Italo Calvino, Collection of Sand (Martin McLaughlin) [HMH/Mariner]: late and various essays, the first third on exhibitions the strongest, followed by progressive lightening in occasional pieces and reflections on travel. [tranlator's intro]
Joshua Mehigan, Accepting the Disaster [FSG]: per Adam Kirsch, prompting my picking it up. Transcends "New Yorker" styling (which, yes, I have a problem with).
Edouard Levé, Works (Jan Steyn) [Dalkey]: Art: apprehension & appraisal, an unmanifested manifest. [MAO]
Gerald Murnane, A Million Windows [only large print avail in US]: A further extrapolation and involution of his distinctive writerly concerns, perhaps pushing the boundaries a bit too far (but plaudits for taking the risk). [Emmett Stinson]

Coming up: I seem to have instigated a reading group on Shakespeare's sonnets ... part of my interest is in Booth's annotations recasting to the Renaissance eye: the flux in English though seems largely fixed by Shakespeare (who was twice as close to Chaucer as we to him) but more by circumchance than design (and the sonnets themselves not rehabilitated til the Romantics, later then than the plays).


back up some more

Once again, a curiosity fished from comments at thevalve (and re-dressed here); in a response to a question regarding overlaps between chess and poetry, rather than taking the route of chess problems as the poetry of chess (or bringing up Nabokov as is my wont), I went the other way round and posted a conundrum poem I'd concocted long before:

magic won the tourney’s quintain
the knight’s sheer determination too
detouring only when facing six
completing the circuit though outnumbered
and skewering the anchored ring

I'll get to its solution below, in due course (for those who would rather ponder). Meanwhile, notes on form: the traditional conundrum / riddle poem / charade is typically of the "What am I?" variety, with an unknown object given voice to list its properties or attributes, often from its own perspective (to further defamiliarize). Popular in England over 200 years back (farther if one counts kenning), the form never really went away, not just in current constructions as a minor form anyone can play, but also contributing along the way to the sensibilities of such as Emily Dickinson & Sylvia Plath, the latter f'rinstance in "Metaphors":
I'm a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf's big with its yeasty rising.
Money's new-minted in this fat purse.
I'm a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I've eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there's no getting off.

Nine syllables in nine lines ... pregnant with meaning, one might say (via, more). The form doesn't require the first person, though, so long as the context of a hidden meaning is clear.

In the example I pose, the explicit description is of a jousting tournament at which one event is a quintain, attempting to run a lance into a fixed target. I've complicated it a bit by adding opposition to overcome along the way. But, not being satisfied with mere correspondence to the implicit meaning, I've tried to embed an algorithm for unveiling it within the wording. The reader may be the judge as to how well this succeeds. I'll repeat it so as to obviate scrolling:
magic won the tourney’s quintain
the knight’s sheer determination too
detouring only when facing six
completing the circuit though outnumbered
and skewering the anchored ring

So, consider this as an instruction set operating upon itself. Without excessive parsing, then ... quintain, defined as a jousting contest, tilting at fixed target (or the target itself), alternatively denotes a 5-line poem. This particular 5-liner has 5 words per line; a square (skewer?) matrix, if you will.
outnumbering suggests numbers are relevant, though only six appears explicitly, unless one counts homophones, in which case the matrix has these entries:
xx 01 xx xx xx
xx xx xx xx 02
xx xx xx xx 06
xx xx xx xx xx
xx xx xx xx xx
I'll bring in the chess aspect now, as the knight's tour, in which the piece visits every square in succession, is signalled by tourney, detouring and by sheer determination (determinism), circuit, and outnumbered (since the representation is shown by which move number occurs on which square). 5x5 is the smallest square board on which a knight can complete the tour, but in this instance 01 and 02 do not appear to be a knight's move apart.
This can be resolved, though, by attaching the left and right edges, top and bottom likewise, to form a torus (aka anchor ring). Then 01 and 02 are a knight's move apart, and continuing in that direction one can add 03, 04, 05, before hitting the starting square 01, but the square labelled 06 is a knight's move away in a different direction (detouring only when facing six):
xx 01 xx xx xx
xx xx xx xx 02
xx xx 03 xx 06
04 xx xx xx xx
xx xx xx 05 xx
With this pattern established, resume the prior direction (with diversion on hitting 6 modulo 5) to fill in the rest of the grid:
12 01 20 09 23
16 10 24 13 02
25 14 03 17 06
04 18 07 21 15
08 22 11 05 19
Result is a knight’s tour on a torus that resolves into a magic square (same sum in adding rows, columns, or diagonals) by cutting the joined edges, squaring (skewering) it, as it were.

In 25 words or less, a fair bit of complexity/abstraction, but hardly a lasting cultural artifact. It was brought back to mind by The Guardian on magic square stamps, which in turn made me aware that I had unknowingly employed a known variation of De la Loubère's (or, the Siamese) method (cf Wolfram's MathWorld). Also, this was constructed before I'd encountered the writings of Georges Perec (yes, I was geek enough to work out the knight's tour in Life: A User's Manual, but blanched at the Graeco-Latin square for being unable to identify its constituents), but I offer it in homage.

(as noted, a much-stripped down version of the above appeared at thevalve)


back up

As far as I can tell, I was the first to use the phrase "persistent ephemera", in a comment to Scott McLemee's farewell QuickStudy blogpost (which is dated over a year after QS's "archive" ends, and which isn't his last post either, not by a long shot, he even took it back). These days the top hit is for a largely unviewed BelfordSyndrome vid, go figure. Meanwhile, "persistent ephemeral node" became a datastructure thang, go reconfigure.

The nature of the nets is that some things fade away, others remain, without rhyme nor reason, and especially without context, as with historical phenomena but quicker. There are still a score of my Usenet posts out there (though no kibology), and even then I knew enough to take some care with what I committed to posterity, however uncertainly. The other side of the coin was losing stuff I'd rather not have, such as when the NYTimes, so-called newspaper of record, wiped their literature forums clean. When spinozablue went white last year, not just sorry to see it go, I had to reconstruct and repost my Philosophy of Composition take-off atop my take on Shakespeare.

So, to exercise a bit more diligence, I'm scraping up some other net-droppings, odd bits that might otherwise evanesce, adding a bit of embroidery as seems fitting. First up, flashfic fished from the comments to a piece on (not that I think it's going anywhere, but the site's been inactive for years now) on the problem of signage with a half-lifetime guarantee to warn future civilizations not to dig up a transuranic radioactive waste dump:

Casually wielding the geigerdowser like a walkingstick, Amgen Horsson made his way through dense undergrowth, intermittently lit by shafts of sunlight penetrating the flowering canopy high above. Midwinter, while the foliage lapsed into dormancy, was the only window open for exploration in this region; as spring approached the vegetation would regenerate faster than it could be hacked away even with the most finely honed machete. Tales were rife about the Lost Expedition of a decade earlier, which tarried too long and was not located by rescue teams until the following year, when skeletal remains were found entwined 50 feet above the ground. But even this impediment would not have discouraged the truly intrepid energy prospectors, had not the area been designated holy ground, a cultural reserve marked off by large granite plinths bearing mysterious markings attributed to a long-lost civilisation that possessed, in addition to a vindictive cosmology evidenced by the anguished totems, a surprisingly advanced technology. It had been surmised that the array had functioned as a astronomical calendar, but recent excavations nearby had identified large energy discharges that pointed to another function for this central site, perhaps as a repository of concentrated decaying matter much more efficient than the naturally produced black substances that were previously thought to be the bulwark of this ancient society’s energy production. Given the increasing need for extended half-life sources, interest became intense in the possibilities afforded by the foresight of these anonymous forefathers. Fortunately, the enlightened Council of Convenance had lifted the taboo on exploratory development, over howls of protest from Ur-ologists claiming that a still untapped heritage was being forever pissed away.

So yeah transurinic waste, but recent developments suggest another waste disposal issue connected with another potentially hazardous substance ...


Poor Yorick

Samuel Schuman's Nabokov's Shakespeare [Bloomsbury] fell short of expectations, too much gloss for one steeped in VN or WS, in other words too much time spent in précis (aside: sans accent, precis is the Commodore genus of butterflies), but not without its moments, one of which was a citing of fellow Nabokv-lister Jansy Mello, of excellent fancy, demonstrated by the following from her recent talk in São Paulo on "Art and Infinity" in psychoanalysis:


End of October reads

I don't participate in or plan on themed readings but enjoy hitting a sequence that coalesces around some center (or one might say vortex), which this time around started with Weinberger's An Elemental Thing (prior post) and continued, Eastward Ho!, with:
Julián Ríos, Poundemonium (Richard Alan Francis w/ author) [Dalkey]: also pundemonium, ideosyncretically (cf interview)
Thomas McEvilley, The Arimaspia [McPherson]: a journey to India via Greek philosophy (see Chas Bernstein's intro)
The Collected Poems of Octavio Paz 1957-1987 (Eliot Weinberger et al) [NDP]: among other things bringing together ancient Indian (east and west) mythos; also, Surrealism

and then on to other themes ...
António Lobo Antunes, Knowledge of Hell (Clifford E. Landers) [Dalkey]: I apparently got hold of Lobo Antunes by the wrong end (as I had with Walser, see prior post, and Miguel's reassessment of Caravels, my prior Lobo Antunes), but the upside is that it only improves as I go on. And I will be going on.
Poems of Nazim Hikmet (Randy Blasing & Mutlu Konuk) [Persea]: matter-of-fact lyricism, undercut by Commutopianism (however human-faced), understandable given his personal history.
Julio Cortázar, Fantomas versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia (David Kurnick) [semiotext(e)]: Miguel covers it better than I can, I'll just add its format ahead of its time (eg Eco's excursion with Queen Loana), and its bill of particulars somewhat out-of-date though perennial (eg do a global replace of IBM or Google in this piece with NSA) ...

Meanwhile, Archipelago Books celebrated 10 years, 100 books from 25 languages a couple weeks ago at the Wythe Hotel; at my table were Mr. Waggish (whose site I've long sullied with comments) and translator Ross Benjamin, whose englishing of Clemens J. Setz's Indigo is forthcoming shortly from Liveright/Norton (cf boardchat) and who's currently working on Kafka's diaries for them (I've read both of the ones he did for Archipelago, and of course Maar on Nabokov). A good do for the press that's inverted the "3%" translation problem (that's right, 3% of Archipelago's publications were originally in English and so untranslated) (and yes it's getting to be time to consider an end-of-year donation to keep the string alive).


Beginning of October reads

So, I hit the hundred book mark for 2014 early this year, late last month, and what I've been reading since was largely gleaned from indiepresses at the Brooklyn Book Festival, picked up largely on spec, which makes for some unevenness but more than compensated by its rewards. About halfway through, as is October (meanwhile, Archipelago Books hit the hundred book mark, published over its ten year existence, and I'll be celebrating both booklandmarks with them tomorrow night at the gala) ...

Stig Dagerman, Sleet: selected stories (Stephen Hartman) [Godine]: the child struggles to maintain innocence, defenseless against older children, just so-so; I keep trying but I'm still just not taking to Scandinavian Lit ...
Mina Loy, Insel [Melville House]: something to put side by side with Breton's Nadja (with some of the same flaws), and an inquisition of Surrealism, and more prose-by-poet (yet another hook for me) but a bit disappointing, but I'll be following up.
Gonçalo M. Tavares, Jerusalem (Anna Kushner) [Dalkey]: confluence of the marginal ... I wondered to what extent it played off early Lobo Antunes' psychologizing; I liked it better than [MAO]
James Kelman, if it is your life: stories [Other]: varied, some misses but when he hits he hits hard.
Frankétienne, Ready to Burst (Kaiama L. Glover) [Archipelago]: Spiralist story expertly translated [MAO] [John Taylor {whose translations of French poetry I must pick up}]
Peter Weiss, Leavetaking (Christopher Levenson) [Melville House]: semiautobiographical bildungsroman, concise without sacrificing range; I'm still hoping that the rest of The Aesthetics of Resistance will be englished. [MAO]
Eliot Weinberger, An Elemental Thing [NDP {thx4 the tote!}]: mythic essay(s) from all over the map ... I'm reading his Paz translations, this seemed to fit, but so too "The Vortex" after Frankétienne (neither of which make mention of Nabokov's ascendant spiral).


End of September reads

Robert Walser, Microscripts (Susan Bernofsky) [New Directions]: The more I read the better he gets (maybe because I started with The Assistant). With him you don't know where you'll be three sentences from now.
Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Running Away (Matthew B. Smith) [dalkey]: I'm still on the fence with him, he reminds me a bit of Aira, except nothing happens. [MAO]
Georges Perec, I Remember (Philip Terry, David Bellos) [Godine]: I gave up being a completist of the englished works with How to Ask Your Boss for a Raise, but this seems essential to getting at where Perec is coming from. [MAO]
Muriel Spark, A Far Cry from Kensington [NDP]: I've seen this described as less astringent than her other work, which is saying something. Prior to this I'd only read Loitering with Intent, long ago (and with enjoyment but without follow-up); now I've got Memento Mori queued up, and an eye out for a coupla others, prompted in part by a fellow denizen of The Woods.
Tadeusz Konwicki, A Minor Apocalypse (Richard Lourie) [dalkey]: Immolation is the sincerest form of satire. Overly broad, though not without its moments (though some of them dated); I preferred The Polish Complex.
Milena Michiko Flašar, I Called Him Necktie (Sheila Dickie) [New Vessel]: A catalogue of the margins: hikikomori meets discarded salaryman, tautly told from former's perspective. [MAO]
Miljenko Jergović, Sarajevo Marlboro (Stela Tomassević) [archipelago]: Bosnian conflicts. Among the first published by Archipelago, and now in its fourth printing, and deservedly so. Don't know why it took me so long.
Christian Bök, Crystallography [Coach House]: Poetics refracted therethrough: “a pataphysical encyclopaedia that misreads the language of poetics through the conceits of geology.” Some gems, and works overall, but I'm an easy mark for this sort of thing.


August into September reads

I circumstantially spent the end of August offline, and otherwise with limited reading time, so when better to tackle another tome long reposing on the Bookshelf of Good Intentions? this time, the Penguin Classics edition of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur (Janet Cowen ed). I expected it to be interesting as a sourcebook for the Arthur legends and such, but hadn't sussed it was a compendium of prior sources, and a flattening of their styles. After a promising start it became a slog, cartoonish, bringing to mind Edna St. Vincent Millay's riposte (whether about History or Life): "It's not one damned thing after another. It's the same damned thing over and over." I took a break Labor Day weekend after Book X to pursue other readings, and was glad of the change in tenor, as Malory got to the Grail legend, even if afterwards that uptick faded in the recounting of the dissolution of the Round Table; I suppose that reflects the underlying source material.

Fortunately the rest of my reading has more than made up for any disappointment (Michael A. Orthofer's reviews linked as available):
Ramón del Valle-Inclán, Tyrant Banderas (Peter Bush) [nyrb]: the bridge from Europe to Latin America for developing its own tyrant-lit (of which Roa Bastos' I, The Supreme reigns supreme). [MAO]
Richard Flanagan, Gould's Book of Fish [Grove]: the first three-quarters as good as or better than they say, but overwrought (and overmeta) at the finish. [MAO]
António Lobo Antunes, The Return of the Caravels (Gregory Rabassa) [Grove]: over a year ago I'd been disappointed by The Land at the End of the World (Margaret Jull Costa), which I found misanthropomorphic at its best, acid-etched jade, but uneven ... I can see where it's hard to keep it up over the full course of the story (the opener brilliant and another peak midway thru) but I don't see how the variation correlates. But I have Miguel to thank for prompting my return to him so soon, and to be rewarded as his was. Profoundly disorienting, and that's before considering my sketchy schematic sense of Portuguese history (and the literature, no more than Lusiad summary): despite or because of the mixed chronology, the first-third person shifting, the tortuous syntax, it works. Knowledge of Hell now at hand, and Fado Alexandrino in prospect ...
Péter Esterházy, The Book of Hrabal (Judith Sollosy) [Northwestern U]: well, it's Hrabal's centennary; but also of interest in Hungarian-Czech relations. [MAO]
Ernesto Sábato, The Tunnel (Margaret Sayers Peden) [Penguin]: I see its reputation as "existential" as something of a red herring, yes it makes gestures in that direction but it is at heart a schizophrenic love affair, both subject and object (that is, Maria as well, or as unwell, or nearly). It makes more gestures in Borges' direction (particularly with a precis approximation of "Death and the Compass"), and I also find it curious that it was apparently originally published in the same 1948 issue of Sur as "Emma Zunz" (Miguel mentions that Sábato may have had Bioy Casares have a prior look). (And then too, gestures towards illness as metaphor in the arts, and its symptomatic over-analysis ...) [MAO]
Éric Chevillard, The Author and Me (Jordan Stump) [Dalkey]: going over the top of even his own over-the-topitude; borne with a cauliflower. Early release, but not for good behavior [review board hasn't met].
Roberto Bolaño, A Little Lumpen Novelita (Natasha Wimmer) [New Directions]: the first new englished Bolaño prose I've been eager for since 2010 (I waited for The Third Reich & Between Parentheses to be remaindered; lower expectations fulfilled); slender but strong portrait, flirting with criminality (tho a tad peeved that of 109pp only 70 or so writ upon). [MAO]


August reads (so far)

The fiction has been excellent, as has the weather ...

José Saramago, Raised from the Ground (Margaret Jull Costa) [Mariner/HMH]: Higher hopes justified, though this initial exposition in his signature style didn't displace any of my favorites, though that style is perhaps even more appropriate to this storyline.
Umberto Eco, Inventing the Enemy (Richard Dixon) [HMH]: one of the more disappointing collections of his essays (his preface opens "The title of this collection ought to have been the subtitle, Occasional Writings" and it's too like occasional poetry, not of the same caliber as the good stuff). Not that it doesn't have its moments, but they were fewer, and some of it felt warmed over (overdoing excess in Hugo and Dumas, the lists more listless ...), but one of the better essays, "Why the Island Is Never Found" segued nicely into ...
Peter Matthiessen, Far Tortuga [Vintage]: I was actually put on to Matthiessen by the NYTSM profile that just preceded his obit, and this particular title as the best-regarded if not best-known; but also by John Latta's last notebook entry. (And this and the books that follow below were hard to come by this side of the pond, all came by way of UK.) But on to Spenser Island ...
Arno Schmidt, The School for Atheists: A Novella=Comedy in 6 Acts (John E. Woods) [Green Integer]: Schmidt slows down your reading, the later the slower, so this one moreso: I'll let MAO explain. (And taking this on is just warm-up for Bottom's Dream ...) I will mention that among the namechecked authors (Cooper, Bulwer, and of course Shakespeare) is Verne, segueing again ...
Adam Roberts, Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea (Illus Mahendra Singh) [Gollancz]: Ingenious homage to Jules Verne, and to the illustrated novel. Roberts has long been playing with various sci-fi tropes (bit out of date, that link, he's been busy) but also had a special interest in Verne; I wonder whether this will be translated into French.
Italo Calvino, The Complete Cosmicomics (William Weaver, Tim Parks, Martin McLaughlin) [Penguin]: by and large a reread but from long long ago, not dated even though the science it riffs on is, and this time round I came to appreciate another element beneath it, esp the Qfwfq tales, prodding me to dislodge Italian Folktales from the Bookshelf of Good Intentions. A couple of iblogatory links to particular stories: "Mitosis" is summed up by Joy Division, and I sumbled upon this before "Meteorite" ...