Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Multistory short

But there are other writers whom one must read when one is young, because if one comes to them when one is old and gray and full of days, then the reading of these authors can hardly be pleasant. It may be blasphemy to say that in order to enjoy Baudelaire or Poe we should be young. Afterwards it is difficult.One has to put up with so many things; one has to think of history, and so on.
-- Jorge Luis Borges, This Craft of Verse

Then from the very first page you realize that the novel you are holding has nothing to do with the one you were reading yesterday.
-- Italo Calvino, if on a winter's night a traveler

To pick up where I left off, John Barth is not being well received (on either coast) these days. (These protestations of "just give me the story straight" remind me of BRMyers, interviewed by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette shortly after his "Reader's Manifesto", saying that his favorite and the exemplary Nabokov novel was Laughter in the Dark. Without irony.) Barth, like Poe, was a discovery of my youth; timely (for me), but perhaps of a time. One aspect he shared with Calvino was in linking narratives through intrusive narratorial devices tending towards the hyperbolic. Curiously, just after Cloud Atlas came out, David Mitchell expressed some ambivalence about Calvino's above-quoted.

But it leaves me to wonder whether it's more a matter of an unrepeatable experience embedded in a certain aesthetic, a frisson that can not be recaptured on rereading. I've found the linkages in Borges more elliptical, and thought that this perhaps made it immune to such loss; similarly Kafka's pocket parabolic form rewards revisits, as whatever was lost is replaced by a deeper appreciation. (Some, a few, touchstones of Poe's work similarly for me.) This comes to mind in part because after 20-odd years I just returned to W.S.Merwin's The Miner's Pale Children (now twice out of print), which anticipated the micronarrative popularity that followed, and which also recalled G.Manganelli's Centuria: 100 Ouroboric Novels, translated only this past year, accompanied by similar complaints of obsolete technique; bin there, tun that. But Mitchell's last word on Calvino applies here (and, to a lesser extent, to Merwin's Houses and Travelers and Manganelli's All the Errors) as well: "... however breathtakingly inventive a book is, it is only breathtakingly inventive once. But once is better than never."

[4.2.06 Kawabata's Palm-of-the-Hand Stories deserves mention, but I read this too late to include in consideration beside Kafka's shorter shorts.]


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