Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Thin reads and thick

Queen Loana shifts gears in its second half, wherein the self is regained and the world, another element actively necessary to memory, lost, but this does not work quite as well in the end as in the first half, though on the whole the construction from missing pieces is worth the game.

Richard Ellmann's selection and translation of Henri Michaux may be representative and comprehensive within its timeframe, but in short order shows weaknesses amid its strengths (the latter perhaps best on display in "Voyage to Great Garaban"). There is something of 'outsider art' to his prose, by which I don't mean naïve or primitive, but underdeveloped aesthetically, which I suppose is the risk one takes in developing an aesthetics of one's own.

Lydie Salvayre's The Lecture (despite the nice anagram to lecteur, not of its French title) trails off. Ostensibly a monologue on the declining art of conversation, it plays upon a character sketch on a self-regarding orator himself meagre, failing, self-refuting, mimicing voices while the mask slips unnoticed. But this applies as well to the narrative, slack despite its slimness. It was at least preparation for ...

The Memoirs of Giorgio de Chirico (one of my favorite small-s surrealists, along with Duchamp & Magritte), which, while informative, largely rants against the Modernist conspiracy of so-called intellectuals and other poseurs (including big-S Surrealists) to foist daubs that cannot aspire even to mediocrity upon a credulous public for ill-got monetary gain and so to undermine reception of de Chirico's supreme genius and sensitivity of which envy predominates ... quoted with misanthroproval: "There is only infinity to give us an idea of the extent of human stupidity" -- Ernest Renan ... otherwise, an interesting life, but this book does not compare to Hebdomeros, perhaps the best among surrealist writings for literary quality.

Enough of disappointments. And on to recommendations. Things picked up with ...

Gil Sorrentino's Crystal Vision: Prompted to pick this up by his late lamented departure, this eulogizes lost midcentury workingclass Brooklyn through the device of the Ryder-Waite Tarot deck's imagery. While I've found Sorrentino's pyrotechnics more to my taste than his gritty realistic postwar renderings (however structurally overlaid), this succeeds in bridging the two, with particularly delicious yet sensitive takes on immigrant autodidacticism (which, in the final analysis, applies universally) and a capture of a multiplicity of voices for which his ear is finely tuned.

Other promptings led me to M. John Harrison, and to the paperback reissue of The Course of the Heart. What can I add to the raves except to say that it puts something like Ian McEwan's Atonement in the shade.

Somehow, back when I was devouring Grass & Böll, I completely missed Arno Schmidt. Nobodaddy's Children trilogizes midcentury Germany with boy-meets-shewolf, boy-loses-shewolf stories told in their bare inessentials, demanding the reader to fill in lacunae, apparently ruthlessly cut from a more elaborate pre-text, rebuilding upon what's been left standing. (The 'German James Joyce' nonsense must spring from these difficulties; no such thing.) My lack of a deep familiarity with German literature was a hindrance, but not insurmountable; the obstacles are many anyway. The functional intention of the style is hinted at the end of the first chapter of the first book, "Scenes from the Life of a Faun", Flatland dimensionality resolved into Jungian Pleroma, the second time in as many books this latter had emerged.

The gem of recent reading, though, was Marcel Bénabou, Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books, translation by David Kornacker, prefaced by Warren Motte. Allusive, playful but tight, the confessional aspect also brought the deficiencies of The Lecture into stark relief, under recursive paradox; it also outshone the more explicit Bartleby & Co. Nearly perfect.