Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


MoMA Dada

Prompted by the NYRB rave, I checked out MoMA's Dada show yesterday and found it to be as promised (as is the excellent catalogue, duly purchased). I couldn't linger for the films (another visit will be required) but progressing through the galleries brought on a growing if not knowing smile -- somehow the visitor parked foursquare in front of one canvas staring fixedly at the explanatory text off to one side was apt rather than aggravating, and it was hard to inhibit the impulse to unfurl my umbrella in the elevator descending from the exhibit. More bemusing was the LATimes artcritic's crass projection of narcissism, particularly in invoking the latest casualty figures, given the prominence given to George Grosz's work in the show. But even sarcasm is not without its humor; would that that could be said of such critics. 8.8: closer to the case.

Recent reading, attempts to return to childhood of one sort or another:

Thomas Bernhard, Extinction: Perhaps influenced (Q: How? A: Unduly.) by the tack my reading has taken lately, I see this further blurring the line between literature and performing arts (with self-commentary on the performance), with the rejection of heritage (beyond Bloom's personal anxieties) allied to representation's expropriation and extirpation of memory (Nabokov also commented on how personal memories were compromised by incorporating elements into his writing). (Waggish was there last year, with more on offer.)

Italo Svevo, A Perfect Hoax: A long short story dressed up as a novella by Hesperus (as is their wont, though they do contribute good ancillary matter), but still quite good for all that, and like his other writing drawn on himself ... Saba's afterword reminiscence concludes: "No sooner did he understand that he was dying and that he had really smoked that 'last cigarette' [his request for another LC denied], than his fear suddenly disappeared. 'Is this all there is to dying?' he asked his family. 'It's easy, very easy. It's easier,' he said, trying to smile, 'than writing a novel.'"

M.John Harrison, Light: Best thing along these lines since Gibson's Neuromancer. Pushing performative quantum-mechanical gnosticism to the limits (if there are any), in which mathematics has its own agenda. Not without flaws, but these overcome by its ambitious scope, the farther/deeper out you go, the older you get.


Extreme reading

Different ways of telling a story by writer's writers, lives of letters:

Robert Pinget, The Inquisitory (trans Donald Watson): An interrogation of a hard-of-hearing old retainer, in the service of investigating an unnamed crime, depicts provincial society through the filter of a peripheral character who, though reticent, nonetheless seems well informed, and so depicts his character through the filtering, as various subplots revolve around a missing plot. Beckett thought well of it, as well he might have, though he was reductive where Pinget was expansive. For me, definitely redemptive after the disappointment of Mahu.

Henry Green, Concluding: At a school for girls, future servants of the State go missing, while servants past (hard-of-hearing) and present (short-sighted) try to prevent events from getting out of (their) control as the day unwinds. Various subplots fail to resolve around a missing girl. While this was his favorite, it shan't be mine, I hope, as everyone else's is apparently Loving; RCF provides précises, but Dalkey concentrates on reissuing early and late work.

Nathalie Sarraute, Here (trans Barbara Wright): Commonplaces of language closely examined, found wanting, a word salad provoked by a missing ingredient. Not currently in the publisher's catalog, it's a late and somewhat belated work, probably not the best place to start, but one has to start somewhere ... and Wright, Queneau's premier translator, thought the effort well worthwhile (Maria Jolas had long been Sarraute's primary translator, Dalkey is reissuing). Sarraute also thought well of the late works of Henry Green (despite others' complaint that he did not have the same ear for his own class), how the language betokened an underlying psychology, though for her it seems that the psychology is the language. So, I won't give up on either just yet (it seemed to work with Pinget).

Giannina Braschi, Empire of Dreams (trans Tess O'Dwyer): A multipart exuberation, defying type: Assault on Time suggests Michaux in its rhythms, while The Profane Comedy reads like the love child of Walt Whitman and Gertrude Stein, and The Intimate Diary of Solitude goes the full pomo in a daisy chain of rôle assumption, as if Pessoa's heteronyms swapped personae. And, surprisingly, it all works, though you can't say just how. (PS 17.7 Ignore the extravagant introduction.

Winding down with Bernhard's
Extinction now ...)


Recent translations

Fernando Pessoa (Richard Zenith trans & ed), A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe Selected Poems (Penguin '06)
Zenith brings more to the fore of four of Pessoa's personages: Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, Alvaro de Campos, and 'himself'. While his prior collection, Fernando Pessoa & Co., is better overall (and atypically was my introduction, rather than the better-known The Book of Disquiet of Bernardo Soares), this nonoverlapping selection provides more depth via their production into the heteronyms (particularly de Campos) which are themselves a crucial aspect of Pessoa's literary accomplishment, not that the poems don't stand well by themselves (though some here are fragmentary, but then, so too was Pessoa). Pessoa's innovations to Portuguese poetics owe something to his familiarity with English (though his English writing is atavistic) and perhaps this eases translation; his last written words were in English, "I know not what tomorrow will bring," the day before his death.

Borislav Pekić (S.Dickey & B.Rakić trans), How to Quiet a Vampire A Sotie (Northwestern '05)
A personality at war with itself, Konrad Rutkowski, a medieval historian whose past as a Gestapo Obersturmführer catches up in a case of mistaken identity (you've got the wrong man!), rationalization buttressed by an arsenal of Western rationality (philosophy, historiography) in letters written to a distant brother-in-law, wrapped in commentary (preface, footnotes) by investigatory narrator Pekić, along with appendices of interrogation as mock Socratic dialogue (yeah, I'm lookin' at you, JH -- the chess thing doesn't work quite so well here either) and nihilistic Tractatus. Good and evil: Hegelian thesis and antithesis not synthesizing, but compromising. Ambitious but not without flaws, though these hardly detract from the overall effect. Pekic's widow started a blog this spring (English/Serbian), including excerpts from the intro and novel.

Peter Weiss (Joachim Neugroschel trans), The Aesthetics of Resistance Vol. I (Duke '05)
Western tradition, primarily as evinced in art, provide the frame and commentary for preWWII European leftist politics; the problems of artistic and political representation intertwine amid the fractures at the base of civilization. Top marks per Complete Review: "The Aesthetics of Resistance proves that a book can be political and convince aesthetically [pace Nabokov]. Weiss does more than that even: his novel is a superior piece of art, a fusion of subject, content, and presentation that succeeds on every level." I doubted this assessment in the middle, after a strong start, but an equally strong ending convinced; V. I works stand-alone, but I want to know what I have to do to get to V II & III Englished. The only flaw in this volume is Frederic Jameson's prefatory blatherings, which, if they belonged at all, belonged afterwords, but they don't (unless ironically). Weiss is better known for Marat/Sade but deserves to be better known for this.