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26.3.06

Facades

Beyond reading Bishop's incomplete Complete Poems and collected "uncollected poems, drafts and fragments", this month has seen:

Juan Goytisolo's The Garden of Secrets, constructed around a gay poet being regrooved by the Falange or going to seed in Morocco (filtered through a literary conceit of multiple authors, and misdirection -- Shoptaw called the style of misrepresentation "homotextuality" in his Ashbery book, speaking of gay poets, but there's also something of The Conference of the Birds to it if one adds in author and reader [16.4 NYTSM author profile]), a good but short read, though not the one of his I was looking for, since his The Marx Family Saga (another A+, on order) seemed the proper follow-up after finishing:

Edmund Wilson's To The Finland Station, which builds from a romantic utopianism following the French Revolution to a cumulative climax, and that Marx-Engels thang has an odd dynamic (as does Lenin-Trotsky), but then, the political is sexual, and can make one redden. It was another sore point for Nabokov that Wilson represented Lenin as culminative rather than degenerative, reliant on the "official" sources (it takes a Potemkin village); History, coming full circle in its excesses, seems to have sided with Nabokov in the end, but with Wilson in the means.

In more 'normative' territory, Ogai Mori's c.1913 novella The Wild Geese (film version, The Mistress, spurred its translation) is perhaps old- fashioned by contrast, with a certain east/west female/male take on modernization and its facades. Another good but short read, more modern than one would expect.

Another by Škvorecký, The Tenor Saxophonist's Story, which could also be known as The Political Inspector Blues, a political novella with an apolitical protagonist, another good short read but long deferred (written in the mid50's, published in the mid90's); east/west confined to the West, though with some correlation to female/male -- again, the political is sexual, but to a jazz beat, which is importable as the expression of an oppressed class amidst orchestrated tyranny. The translation is a group effort, straining some of the cross-vignette links; the last chapter starts curiously similarly to an episode in The Engineer of Human Souls.

The most challenging, and ambitious, read of the month was an exigetical novel, Mario Brelich's The Work of Betrayal, which puts Poe's Dupin as hermeneutic dick on the case of Jesus and Judas, a different reconciliation of History, Myth, and Psychology, arguing that the truth resides in Gospel lacunae and apparent inconsistencies; less precise than Poe (and more Jesuitical than Dupin) and certainly less concise than Borges' 3 Versions, which it might be said to combine and elaborate. This argument is now being revisited by the Vatican, which brings up the odd eventuality of the papal appointment of a devil's advocate to rebut Judas' canonization.
Addendum 7.4: discovery of the Gospel of Judas (excerpts [pdf]).
11.4: Gopnik thereon. It's worth noting that while the Gnostic tendency in Borges' fictions is well-known (and given the orthodox dismissal of Gnostic heresies), Brelich's narrator takes pains to stick to established Gospel in making his case.

5 Comments:

Anonymous perezoso said...

What is so odd about much of the literary left is the unwillingness to acknowledge who Lenin really was. After the attempt on his life (1919) he ordered approx. 10,000 people executed; many of them leftists and anarchists. This had been rumored about; then an old soviet (google for more info.) published his book in the 90s saying Lenin in fact led to Stalinism and must be viewed in nearly the same light.

I don't think Bolsheviks' failures imply that marxism itself is bankrupt, but that failure should have some relation to "leftist" thinking.

HAve you read the Nabakov story included in Updike's collection of short stories from a few years ago ("Once In Aleppo", I believe, tho' I may have title wrong) about life between the communists and fascists? I am not the biggest Nabakov phann ( I find the jazzy complexities of Lolita, and the Voltaire-lite a bit roccoco), but that particular story, regarding a man sort of losing track of his spouse, was rather moving and somewhat existential in tone: it captures the utter madness that many central european civilians must have undergone.

When does the PoeFest resume? I perused Poes' readings of Hawthorne's tales the other day: a bit similiar to a falcon dining on the heart of pigeon or something.

12/4/06 23:31  
Anonymous perezosp said...

(please delete if this irks thee).

And I am one who finds American 19th century lit. mostly hype and hot air, Bostonian oratory, yankee utopianism, preacherly exhortations ala Melville, or crackerbox realism; Poevian prose stands out from both the yankee do-gooder rhetorics of Emerson and Thoreau and the belle-lettres of Hawthorne, the old Testament meets Schack-schpeare hackeries of Melville, the loudmouthed narcissism of Whitman, the homilies and jests of Twain/Clemens (--though the later Twain was not without a dark wit). Poe's tales stand apart--I am not so fond of the poesy (or any poesy really, though I do read Coleridge and Shelley or Baudelaire once in a great while); though not that far from Hawthorne's in content, Poevian tales seem far more artistic, authentic, forceful. Tales of Hoffman, which I am only slightly acquainted with, may foreshadow some of Poe's themes, as do other British "goths' (I detest Brit. lit on principle, 'cept for a few--a bit of Dickens, Conrad), but few writers of any genre or country have matched the strange, dark beauty of his best stories such as Hopfrog, Masque of the Red Death; Fall of the House of Usher, Cask of Amontillado etc . many others. They are considered cliches now, hollywood product, silly, "goth": but regardless of Ho-wood's exploitation of them they remain gems of early, shall we say, cyber-pulp art. There are a few other American 19th writers I admire--Steve Crane, Bierce (who tried to do Poe but doesn't quite do it), but Lord Poe wins the laurel, methinks.

13/4/06 00:01  
Blogger nnyhav said...

Not much irksome, though our tastes arguably differ substantially.

No PoeFest here either unless you consider all the strands of influence: Nabokov (only thing I haven't done cover-to-cover is Eugene Onegin translation), Borges, Pynchon; OuLiPo, nouveau roman, and surrealism via Roussel via Verne; HGWells, ACDoyle, WBYeats (whose poems similarly exceeded technical requirements, though one of these days I'll have to dig up a parody starting "Hear the whisp'ring of the belles/Southern belles!"); Eastern Europe & Russia (most markedly Kafka & Dusty, but Bulgakov has a similar tone -- how much Poe how much Gogol how much ETAHoffman I dunno). But you give others short shrift, Melville particularly: Bartleby the Scrivener is the only contender with The Purloined Letter for the title of the Great American Short Story. (Ack!-ronym GASS!?) I recommend The Confidence-Man as antidote to this notion of hackery (unless you got something against Shakespeare and the Bible; cf oldold NYT Book-of-the-Month for ruminations thereon; less chaff than most bookchats). YMMV. Usually does.

13/4/06 12:15  
Anonymous perezoso said...

Re: Melville: There are, admittedly, a few passages in Moby Dick that are quite powerful--but I think the narrative is so odd, the characters somewhat unbelievable (tho' Ishmael is authentic to some degree), the entire mise-en-scene and implied metaphor rather monstrous, liek the whale itself. He shifts beween a soroeh allegorical tone and realism, and the message, if there is one arrives via that saxony, ala King James Bible voice (or shakespeare to some degree). It's the yawp barbaric, blasphemous to be sure--and not contra-theology, but irrational as well. I think it's the work of a deranged or at least delerious mind. Bartleby doesn't work for me either--pointless and dolorous, like Bartelby's own fate. Reverend Melville could write a bit on occasion, but there's far too much protestant exhortation to his writing mixed in with some strange, nearly Spinozaistic gleam. Madness, man; sort of like a case study. Conrad does the nautical sublime more effectively; apart from Poe's immaculate prose and craft, the writing of Steven Crane, even that ol' chestnut Red Badge, reveals a more creative and subtle writer; and I think a greater mind (and latinist, to some degree) than Rev. Melville, that poor bastard.

ACDoyle may be one of the greatest writers England ever produced, certainly equal in prose-style to Conrad, I would assert, even if he too hack-morphs. The prose of Baskervilles--finely chiselled, lapidary as they used to say. And not as simple as the schoolmarmies would think--the best thoughts of British empiricism come thorugh ACD"s stoies. Valley of Fear, ACD"s setting of the American West circa late 19th cent., featuring mormons, mason, etc. was about as terriyfing a story about frontier life I ever imbibed.

I am a bit ambivalent about Pynchon now, having read V. , Lot 49, and Vineland and still sort of working through GR. He's a bright boy, inventive, and tech-savvy too obviously, and not without heart, but it reads like an underground cartoon with some integrals thrown in, sort of a real smart R. Crumb. I mean, yes he's a creative force but the scenes too seem a bit mad. GR is over the top entropic psychedelia, if not sort of apocalyptic, and while not without some profundities, it sort of irks me, especially when I consider more sober military histories of WWII and the all real madness and atrocity. I mean, maybe Pynchon is sort of telling teh real story; and in some sense he's far more horrifying than most realize, as with the Vineland spooks--the thanatoids and so forth.

13/4/06 13:09  
Blogger J said...

apologies for hasty edit (no spectacles on, no coffee and Kessler yet)

13/4/06 13:10  

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