Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Plumbing the surface

... and scratching the depths:

A new translation of late books of Henri Michaux, Grasp (Saisir) and Stroke by Stroke (Par des traits), was the occasion for an intimate gathering at Gotham BookMart for translator Richard Sieburth, no stranger to challenges of this sort, who recited the latter title piece and notes on translation as well as retailing the story of Alan Ginsberg's visitation of Michaux in Paris, putting the latter between himself and a photographer more interested in the grounds than the figures. The investigation of protolanguage through calligraphy evokes Noguchi's chess pieces (as his lithography often evokes Noguchi sculpture), Sherlock Holmes' Dancing Men, the traces left by cellular automata (qv Wolfram), and Poe's A. Gordon Pym (Professor Feather earlier supplied Michaux with the nom de Plume, though Dr. Tarr seems at work here). I'd earlier looked into Miserable Miracle, not his best (not a machine but a recalibration of the machine, an altered state that is but a mere simulacrum of transcendence, or of the abyss), but which hints at potential for his approach -- crosstriggering different representational forms, not amorphism, more sort of a modal synesthesia. In later conversation Sieburth also retailed the tale of Roubaud's geometric exploration of Philadelphia, which landed him in the projects ...

Leading to other reading: Harvey's The Island of Lost Maps unfolded like the extended magazine article it is, but not without points of interest, interleaving a Baedeker on map making, collecting, archiving, and restoration with the investigation of the motives behind Gilbert Bland's carting off rarities from major antiquarian collections (and Harvey's motives in pursuing the story). A journey half again too long, better editing could have brought it home.

Vladimir Voinovich's The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin was not quite as extraordinary as I'd hoped, though it was an enjoyable romp with some nice satiric touches, particularly its ending, which reiterated that of Victor Shklovsky's also slightly disappointing Knight's Move, read the following day, so I turned my head and (cough) laughed. I detect a whiff of Swift ... ho-hum, anyway, I wanted to get into the latter to better grasp the end of StPete's Silver Age and abortive 20's movements and to backfill some influence on Bakhtin; Dalkey obliges, and it turns out that Shklovsky's
notion of estrangement is not far removed from that of Michaux ...

Another sort of estrangement, another sense of 'saisir' (distrainment), another Dalkey, Lydie Salvayre's The Company of Ghosts, like Oe's The Silent Cry (mentioned earlier via addendum, and leading to current reading, Natsume Soseki's Kokoro [the heart of things]), deals with the continuing aftermath of WW II on noncombatant casualties. In this case, a dual account (but a different duality from Oe), a counting and recounting, repossession of what is never lost, never possessed, or lost forever, double entry bookkeeping for mother/daughter housekeeping. And another word to supplement the vocabulary, paralipomena, which might apply to another book perused since last I wrote:
I wonder if I can do this. I am convinced that only by tracking down the labyrinth of the No can the paths still open to the writing of the future appear. I wonder if I can evoke them. I shall write footnotes commenting on a text that is invisible, which does not mean it does not exist, since this phantom text could very well end up held in suspension in the literature of the next millenium.

Related by a clerk (like so many of his subjects), Enrique Vila-Matas' Bartleby & Co takes this form; Pessoa & Co* has a part (or parts) in it, as does Kafka, Musil, all those unfinished ruins of German, French, Spanish, other European, even Anglo Lit. If I weren't writing a book this isn't the book I wouldn't write. (Sorry, it couldn't be left unsaid.) But the key text is Hofmannsthal's Lord Chandos' letter (rough trans), the eloquent denunciation of coherence (shades of Miserable Miracle!) that disproves itself. John Banville has also picked up on this, both in his review of Coetzee's Elisabeth Costello, and in his Newton Letter.

* Richard Zenith has supplemented his first collection, which first put me on to Pessoa, with more translations, augmented with stuff that's turned up more recently, in A Little Larger than the Entire Universe, with which I've supplemented my TBR shelf.


Blogger Phritz said...

The LITerary Lad generally goes through an "apothegm" stage, does he not. Nietzsche sort of takes over, like in the early 20's, for a few years; or other masters of proverbs, epigram and maxims (thankfully I missed out on Benjamin , for which you could delete me, I guess--tho I do associate something like "banality" with the Arendt gal). Then one day Lit. boy starts taking apart all those renowned bon mots, say, "That which doesn't kill us makes us stronger." Whaaa? Not really; no , in many cases that which doesn't kill us hurts us greatly and we may not completely recover. One can do the same with TS Eliot or Emerson or nearly any poesy. Finally one begins to detest truisms, epigrams, the argument by insinuation typical of the bon mot.

30/5/06 20:51  
Blogger JR Vitug said...

Great article!

24/11/18 09:11  

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