Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Jump Diffusion

Switching gears, from Broch's meditation (including Socratic dialogue between Virgil and Octavian) on whether a poem is meant to be, or not to be, to an Oulipoan Hamlet Festshrift, Hortense in Exile by Jacques Roubaud, whom I'd not yet read, unlike other authors of that ilk (Perec, complete in translation, including the incomplete 53 Days, about which I have no complaint other than that he ended too soon; Queneau, everything in trans but Exercises in Style, a self-imposed constraint [hey, readers can do that too], and merely sampling many sonnet permutations [also available in the original]; Calvino, all in their English renderings save Italian Folktales [I'll get to that too one day]; Mathews, well, not everything, but everything everybody else reads) ...

but I couldn't make that big a jump without interposing something, so settled on Jiří Gruša's The Questionnaire. The recent interview hosted by his US publisher gives a chronology at variance with other sources, in particular with what Josef Škvorecký has to say in his '99 preface (2 months served in '78, involuntary exile in '80), and filling in his ambassadorships to Germany and then Austria with a brief stint as Minister of Culture (or was it Education? per prior other source: "I'm always half-way on the road between Prague and Vienna."). It would appear, on the evidence of his text, that the charge of 'initiating disorder' was not unfounded, and that his C.V. is similarly chaotic, or, at least, questionable. It's a shame, though, that the interview to which the Context interview refers isn't linked or where it appeared cited, unless of course that interlocutor is also an invention, since the supposed arrest date in her intro is prior to completion of the novel, as noted at its end (February 28, 1974-April 14, 1975), one can suppose ... particularly given what follows, in conclusion: Narraverunt mihi fabulationes, sed non ut lex tua; ego autem loquebar de testimoniis tuis ... but it could all be erroneous factchecking ... or more chrononautical chartistry. And wit still carries over borders in translation. So it seems I couldn't have found a better bridge (catwalk?) between such otherwise widely disparate books.

(Posts may become fewer and farther between til the new year. Work happens.)


My Work Here is Undone

My meanderings among the unfinished would be incomplete without mention of Nabokov's The Original of Laura, a work he consigned to the flames but not yet enkindled; Vera famously rescued Lolita from a backyard auto-da-fe, and could not herself put the torch to Laura, passing it on to Dmitri. There is an echo here of my current reading, Hermann Broch's prose-poem-slash-fiction The Death of Virgil, randomly stumbled on in my explorations of eastern European writing (though with a nudge from the Gotham Bookmart staff, towards Sleepwalkers, based on my interest in The Man without Qualities, but as always I sidestepped, being more of a randomwalker, as reflected in the name of this blog, which also bows to the sortes Virgilianae), wherein Virgil's last wish to burn his offering melds classical and modern conceptions of art and its place in life. And it seems one of Nabokov's working titles for Laura was "Dying is Fun" ...

(Addendum: It had occurred to me [before DoV] that Stevenson's death would itself provide ample tinder for literary reinterpretation [Neil Munro notwithstanding], but I'm not aware whether this has been tried. Some of these might ...)


Out of Place, Out of Time

Continuing with unvarnished opining on unfinished works, I took up RLStevenson's Weir of Hermiston, the novel he was working feverishly upon when overtaken by a stroke. Many threads converged on this choice of reading, among which were the high regard in which Stevenson was held by both Borges and Nabokov (the latter's nods in his direction in Pale Fire as I'd mentioned Carolyn Kunin mentions in reference to Shade's stroke; but the Lectures in Literature on Jekyll & Hyde catch Nabokov nodding in averring that "there is a down-to-Hyde drug and a back-to-Jekyll drug" when these are one and the same [and, like STColeridge's Kubla Khan, it started from a dream!] ... where was I? oh yeah), and the novellae long short stories The Beach at Falesa and The Ebb-Tide confirm this estimation. Weir is different, though, both a departure and a return, reconstructing the Scottish homeland from exile in Scott-ish historical romance, drawing upon Stevenson's strained relations with his father (another prompt to read, ntm the Turgenev thang), but at a level of wordcraft much higher than his prior novels. Unfortunately the Penguin preface [Paul Binding] excerpts the best examples (e.g., single paragraphs uncannily sketching character), and contextualizes the fully plotted but half-written novel in psychobiographical terms -- and it's Stevenson's misfortune (and perhaps source for volatility of his reputation through the years) that his life was stranger (well, mo' fey) than his fiction, which attracts apologists to the man rather than the work, which is poor reflection thereon. For Weir to be acclaimed and acknowledged a masterpiece, rather than having had that potential on evidence of masterful work, is overstatement that serves Stevenson's corpus ill. That this effort was a new stage in development, promising much but not to be fulfilled (and in some ways demonstrating a shift in the models chosen, Hardy amongst them -- one rap against Stevenson has always been lack of originality, but this complaint seems superficial, as matter can be moulded to fit form as originally as form designed to contain matter), does not put it at the peak of his production, and I think that the aforementioned long shorts better represent Stevenson's work at its best, and better than his contemporaries at this length. Had he continued ...


Markov Chain Letter

Obligatory linkage: Random sampling in the process of realization.


Without Qualification

My prior complaint on Pessoa's barren Teive carried over into Vol 2 of The Man without Qualities, particularly the previously untranslated continuation. Vol 1's orchestrals first diminish into a long duet, then the rest of the company is reintroduced in instrumental fashion to briefly recapture the fuller sound of the initial volume. Here Musil rightly cut it off, as the continuation, withdrawn when already in galley draft, consists of mere etudes: Ulrich becomes vaguer as focus is restricted (removed from more revealing social interaction), shallower as his depths are plumbed; and worse, satiric essay applied to pedagogy becomes didactic. Ulrich's analysis of psychology has something of the Baron of Teive's equipoise between rationality and feeling. As with scientific research, negative experimental results do not merit publication except among a specialist community. More successful than Musil's "Precision & Soul" (or even Poe's merger of mathematician and poet in "The Purloined Letter") is Nabokov's reconciliation via reversal of the trope: "... I think that in a work of art there is a kind of merging between the two things, between the precision of poetry and the excitement of pure science." Which, as practitioner in both of the latter venues, he could better appreciate, and give us some glimpse or a glimmer of.


Stoical Rejection

Sudden, ingenious ideas that were partly expressed in exactly the right words and that could have been raised into monuments -- but disconnected, in need of articulation ... And my will wouldn't collaborate if it had to have aesthetics as a partner and couldn't leave the thoughts in isolated paragraphs of a potential story -- just a bunch of sentences that sounded striking but that would only really have been striking if I'd written the story in which they were expressive moments, pithy observations, linking phrases ... Some were witty sayings, ingenious but unintelligible without the surrounding text that was never written.
-- Fernando Pessoa, The Education of the Stoic: the only manuscript of the Baron of Teive

Precisely the problem with this slender read, or perhaps not quite; the difficulties of elaborating an essayist who disdains to essay may be intractable. Two years delayed in release, the Baron's complete works add little more to the excerpts previously provided in Zenith's Selected Prose of Fernando Pessoa (which, along with Fernando Pessoa & Co. and The Book of Disquiet, are essential); the fragments do not cohere, even with supporting (con)text, and the effort ends up as inferior to the Decadents even as the Baron is sublimated out of existence (as is the wry humor with which Pessoa's other heteronyms are presented). Only for hardcore Pessoans. (But among the supporting texts is a brief newspaper article on the person from Porlock, living within each of us -- but now I must attend to other business.)