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.]


Iblogatory List

My reading in 2005 surfeited, as I was fortunate to discover much that was well worth while; my only complaint is that time permits reading no more than 100 books per annum. But even among such riches, a few gems (not already mentioned) sparkled particularly brightly:

Disgrace, J.M.Coetzee: I'd long been puzzled why I hadn't taken to Coetzee, as his background covers many of my interests (except perhaps for computers, more deeply than I, my maths being more heuristic, and my dabbling in linguistics and semiotics more touristic). My long-ago sampling of the early novels, and more recently of the essays in Doubling the Point, did little for me; The Master of Petersburg was better (but not as good as Bradbury, below), but Disgrace is a stand-out (as if that's news). I'm still not tempted to follow up with the Costello papers, but I am prompted to go back to The Life and Times of Michael K., particularly as a companion to recent reading of W.G.Sebald's Vertigo (worthwhile but not as good as what followed).

To the Hermitage, M.Bradbury: I've enjoyed his academic satires (a genre for which I have a penchant, despite being an outsider), but this is truly culminative. Best dual-track historical narrative I've come across, I think, at least 'til I think of another*. Also nicely dovetailed as a Diderot project into some LatAm reading, A.Roa Bastos' I the Supreme (though Rousseau takes precedence there; this circles back to Sebald's The Rings of Saturn structurally borrowing from Reveries of a Solitary Walker; Roa Bastos in turn impelled me into Roussel and into other neglected LatAm such as Bolaño, Infante Cabrera, Rulfo ... but I digress.)

Under the Glacier, H.Laxness: Among other things, a transposition of Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds from Ireland to Iceland. It gave me the push I needed in the direction Borges pointed, to read the old sagas, as a preliminary to further investigation of Laxness.

The Leopard, G.Lampedusa: The final paragraph is perhaps the finest conclusion of any novel (I think P.Fitzgerald evokes it to finish At Freddie's), not that any of the rest is slack. I'll have to follow up with his short stories. Overshadowed my discovering Bassani, Vittorini, Verga ...

Midnight's Children, S.Rushdie: Rightfully chosen as the best of the Bookers. Can't add to that.

Arcadia, T.Stoppard: Best of show for Stoppard, and that's saying something. Though I still have deep fondness for R&G are Dead in teleplay.

Of stuff that came out more recently, G.Sorrentino's Lunar Follies beat out H.Mathews My Life in CIA for enjoyment, though Robbe-Grillet's Repetition gets honorable mention; J.Barth's On with the Story did better with matryoshka device than D.Mitchell's Cloud Atlas ...

[* thought of it: Queneau's The Blue Flowers, but that's different ...]


Chess Variance

From ArtNetNews, 'bout a month ago, link-augmented:

New York’s contemporary art world appears to be in the throes of a chess obsession. In addition to "The Imagery of Chess Revisited [pdf]" at the Noguchi Museum [see "We Are Duchampians," Nov. 2, 2005), there is "The Art of Chess," Oct. 28-Dec. 23, 2005, at Chelsea’s Luhring Augustine gallery, featuring some ultra-contemporary takes on the game, including Yayoi Kusama’s pieces made from spotted ceramic gourds, Jake and Dinos Chapman’s set made from anus-faced, racially segregated figures of children and Mauricio Cattelan’s Untitled: Good versus Evil, a board that pits Superman, Che Guevarra and Martin Luther King, Jr. against Hitler, Cruella Deville and the snake from the Garden of Eden, among others.
For more chess, Glenn Kaino’s show "Of Passed Pawns and Communicating Rooks"[*] opens at Projectile on 37 W. 57th St., Nov. 10-Dec. 22, 2005, while Gabriel Orozco’s [no longer] current exhibition at Marian Goodman Gallery, Oct. 6-Nov. 12, 2005, features a suite of his geometric paintings, the patterns of which are purported to be based on the knight’s move. Finally, don’t miss the Noguchi’s public event on Jan. 14, 2006, when 2004 women’s chess champion and Chess Bitch author Jennifer Shahade will challenge all comers at the Noguchi Museum [having missed the opening blindfold simul with the current US champ].

[* also of interest, if offtopic, Ann Lislegaard's Bellona at topo'page]

[+ whence post title]


The Eschatological Constant

A haiku to get into form:


Kafka met Einstein,
talked the problem of our laws;
no transcript survives.

NB: untitled ≠ headless: That Ashbery's Waves may be equivalently viewed as Kafka's particules is enlightening (but then, cf "On Parables") ... "Zur Frage der Gesetze" (sorry, no Englishing online, though searching turned up J-Hillis wishing Jacques de France a Kafkaesque birthday) first appeared in Beim Bau der Chinesischen Mauer i.e. The Great Wall of China.

Which leads me to Empson's poetry (well, first was I led here, but Gotham recently put Collected Poems, ending in The Birth of Steel, into my hands unasked). Kermode's appraisal seems right qualitatively, but omits the quantification Empson often aimed for, making Nature poetry conform to its physical Laws, and processes, and imposed forms, sometimes with astronomical if not cosmological scope. Perhaps owing to limitations of language, the (often cyclic) terza rima doesn't come off nearly as well (Courage Means Running notwithstanding) as the more tightly constrained villanelles (Villanelle and Missing Dates [Kermode's complaint omits Empson's exculpatory note: "It is true about the old dog, at least I saw it reported somewhere, but the legend that a fifth or some such part of the soil of China is given up to ancestral tombs is (by the way) not true."]), where the form forces line repetition to appear natural in altered contexts. But I wouldn't concede that Auden's Miranda exceeds these efforts; maybe Empson was making up for this smack, or saying that embedding this in "The Sea and the Mirror" (in the context of The Tempest) was impressive in its own right.

(More bibliomancy: This machinery in turn sent me to open Conrad's "The Mirror of the Sea" at random:
For machinery it is, doing its work in perfect silence and with a motionless grace, that seems to hide a capricious and not always governable power, taking nothing away from the material stores of the earth. Not for it the unerring precision of steel moved by white steam and living by red fire and fed with black coal. The other seems to draw its strength from the very soul of the world, its formidable ally, held to obedience by the frailest bonds, like a fierce ghost captured in a snare of something even finer than spun silk. For what is the array of the strongest ropes, the tallest spars and the stoutest canvas against the mighty breath of the infinite, but thistle stalks, cobwebs and gossamer? Continuation to push the envelope ...)

The incantatory technique of line repetition is relaxed for another one of his best, Aubade (and Success, to a lesser extent). But the culmination of what can be accomplished under this constraint remains Frost's Stopping by Woods ..., wherein the immediate repetition establishes the context in the end; elaborated by these crit bits, of which Rotella's quantum mechanics overextend Natural Laws, but Montiero's observation that the late "Draft Horse" is Frost's own reworking of Stopping with The Path Not Taken overshadows my mere parodic mashup of meter of the former with scheme and theme of the latter. Which makes all the differance.

Addendum, perhaps related items: via 3QD: Barash on CPSnow's Arts & Sciences, and Dirda on Stach's new Kafka bio; meanwhile, continuing on EEuroLit, I've started reading Gombrowicz's Cosmos (in prior translation), though this may not be statistically significant ...

... to which I'll add further, the CPSnow di-culture-lead-in from prior addendum was thematic to Axess not so long ago, with pointers towards EELit in assessment of the state of European culture. (Which also has something to do with their Enlightenment issue; got to via B&W.)