Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence



This year's reading was nothing short of excellent. Expectations were more often surpassed than disappointed, by a wide margin, and more speculative bets nearly always paid off (summer was particularly kind in this regard). Thematic reading was also rewarded, whether exploration of 20thC Eastern European or Japanese Lit, or of the nouveau roman (I only picked up Pinget because of shelving proximity to Piglia [Artificial Respiration still to be found], similarly Sarraute because of Salvayre) and Oulipo (beyond the headline names: Queneau, Perec, Calvino), both of which owe progenity to Raymond Roussel (who in turn owes to Verne and so to Poe). Much of what I read was perforce in translation, depending on an interlocutor to capture the author's distinctive voice -- but this is less of a distortion than what a non-native speaker (not to mention one not culturally acclimated) would bring to the texts in the original. Sadly, such serendipity may fade along with the independent bookstores (Gotham Book Mart still in limbo, ColiseumBooks selling fixtures), where browsing is more likely to yield unforeseen discoveries, not (as in the majors) merely representative of a panoply of schools (unless a generic cash cow [not the case with translation] or otherwise carrying currency topically). Not that I'm likely to run out of reading matter (If only! I have books enough, but time?), but for me the pleasures of the unexpected diversion exceed those of the well-marked path.

It is a fool's errand to try to rank the books I've read this year (around 100, not that I tally) by any measure of merit, as these are incommensurable, each with its own. The best I can do is to isolate the books that gave me the most pleasure, from start to finish and beyond. Not that this narrows the field enough (to a score or so), but I'll settle on two: Olga Grushin, The Dream Life of Sukhanov (in April) and Marcel Benabou, Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books (in June). Why these? they extended the pleasure derived from other readings (Russian Lit & Nabokov, Roussel & Oulipo [not to mention Bartleby & Co.]). In any case, I'll be hard pressed to keep up the overall level of excellence in the new year. But it's going to be fun trying.


Blogger Conrad H. Roth said...

What, might I ask, does Roussel owe to Poe and Verne?

(not a loaded question)

8/1/07 03:56  
Blogger nnyhav said...

Jules Verne acknowledged his debt to Poe; Roussel oversubscribed his to Verne -- from How I Wrote Certain of My Books (trans T.Winkfield):
"I would also like, in these notes, to pay homage to that man of incommensurable genius, namely Jules Verne.¶ My admiration for him is boundless.¶ In certain pages of [...], he raised himself to the highest peaks that can be attained by human language.¶ I once had the good fortune to be received by him at Amiens, where I was doing my military service, and there shake the hand that had penned so many immortal works.¶ O incomparable master, may you be blessed for the sublime hours which I have spent endlessly reading and rereading your works through my life."
Footnotes therein (and in Caradec's bio) nail down the extent of influence, from using fortuitous similarities between words and phrases (and rebuses etc), to duplicating scenes and details (e.g. of Verne's Village Aerien in Impressions d'Afrique), to modeling character thereon (Martial Canterel in Locus Solus).

8/1/07 20:56  
Anonymous Conrad Roth said...

I've read both Comme j'ai... and Caradec's rather disappointing biography. I was just hoping you might shed some more personal light on the matter. For my part, I can (sort of) see the Verne link--more as a French cultural megalith absorbed by all, ie. as raw materials, rather than in any substantive manner--but Roussel reads like an anti-Poe to me. R has the lightest of touches, full of dispassionate whimsy; P is the most heavyhanded of writers, even when trying to be whimsical (eg. 'Angel of the Odd'). P's power seems to lie in the fact that every word he writes sounds like a pastiche of himself. Roussel, on the other hand, never sounds like himself, his prose disappears under the touch--like an Oulipian or a nouvel-romaniste.

9/1/07 04:46  
Blogger nnyhav said...

Aside from the pro/am split (each consummate), I think there's more direct relation than you credit: From The Murders in Rue Morgue: "It will be found, in fact, that the ingenious are always fanciful, and the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic." It will be found that the early detective genre itself is largely: first the facts, then the surprising explanation. I've said before (re: Borges' Death and the Compass, not to be confused with Foucault's monograph on Roussel, Death and the Labyrinth) that the genesis of many of Poe's tales is in analysis of technical points of reading (including physically, e.g. The Pit & The Pendulum). And what was mechanistic about Surrealism derives from both. But any influence (espcially stylistic) is indirect, mediated through Verne (whom I haven't read in decades) (and translation further obscures).

(Disappointing? At least Caradec's bio was enthusiastic, gotta give it that.)

9/1/07 15:22  

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