Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Continuing regardless

Flight, Mikhail Bulgakov: A play upon the original White Flight, from St Petersburg to the Crimea and beyond into exile, in eight dreams, each ending in darkness. The irony is layered, spread thickly among religion, ideology, society and culture -- Pushkin's Queen of Spades provides one touchstone (as it has for James, Nabokov) -- but the crowning irony is the reversal of fortunes of those who opt to return (as if there's somewhere to return) in the end: Khludov, whose return is meant to expiate, is based upon Gen. Slashchov, rehabilitated by the Red Army into long service. The play was suppressed by Soviet censors and attacked in the press (cf. The Master and Margarita, §13), in part because it distinguished among the variety of Whites, in conflict with the official rendering of a uniform class enemy (one of Nabokov's complaints about received knowledge in the West about the exile community).

Fatelessness, Imre Kertész: A matter-of-fact rendition of a 14-year-old's year at concentration camp, without the worldly knowledge to see otherwise than what's taken as given, finally seeing on return that others so see it, or choose not to, either way complicit in their fate and that of others, not that there's anything wrong with that, or any other more effective choices (cf.Paxton on Vinen). (OK, so that's more garbled than usual: the young narrator takes his experience as just part of the natural order of things; which it is. An empirical observation upon empiricism follows. Also, sparking the thought: "Never forgive those to whom one has done injury, whether or not repaid", and the corollary, "Once owed forgiveness, never repay in kind.")

The Auden link above reminds me -- was Nabokov's "(picnic, lightning)" just a smack at Auden's "Death is the sound of distant thunder at a picnic."?


Why I Read How I Read What I Read

What I read is evident from the reading diary this blog became. Literary fiction, more of it in translation than I would have thought, as well as poetry and belles lettres, always with emphasis on the innovative, whether classic or contemporary. A smattering of philosophy, criticism, history, biography, but with a bias towards the unsystematic yet reflexive, building a framework via interpretation rather than the other way round: it is not the matter, but how it is related, that is telling. And so, the how: reading to tease out the relationships within and among works and words, understanding how it is put together, delving into strata of meaning that interpenetrate by design. Why, then, beyond a proclivity for analysis (which has otherwise served me well)? It is a model of thought, of epistemology, of representation, derived from but irreducible to its components. The question partakes of CSPeirce's thirdness, where the how is seconded and the essential elements, the firsts, are other people's thirds: It is a pragmatic decision to treat this derived and refined evidence as fundamental and all-encompassing, as the best manifestation of a republic of letters, as opening a window on the human condition. Because it bootstraps wisdom (including knowing its limitations) rather than receiving it. But also because it amuses me. Moreso than other forms of aesthetic expression. 23.10.06 -- and then there's empathy [paper] -- of the authors listed, I score half the Sci, half the SciFi, half the Philo/psycho, nearly sweep the foreigners, but little else, so perhaps my empathy is misplaced? (via

Recent relevant reading includes Pater's The Renaissance, itself seeming as decandent (relative to Arnold & Ruskin) as the late Victorian writing that took its cue therefrom (confirming my bias against both system and late Vickyness); also, Athanasius Kircher: the last man who knew everything (more properly, the last pre-Enlightenment polymath, decadent in his own way), ed Paula Findlen -- while in the neighborhood, John Banville's Kepler, underrated, a strong historical novel which will eventually prod me into his other works of the period.

I have had the luxury and the leisure to pursue this line of literary investigation more diligently over the past few years, all the while knowing that the resources are inexhaustible and that the alloted time only permits a cursory exagmination of the territory. Time is, time was, time's past: It's time for me to allocate now scarcer reading time to more purely analytical topics, in maths, but with a view towards praxis; the last time I embarked on grad-level home-schooling in this was between jobs 8 years ago, and while, as with literature, there's so much I'll never know, the magnitude of what I don't know is bothering me more than it had, even though the prospects of putting it to use are diminishing; but then, that was the case before and it turned out to be time well spent. So the postings here will be sparse, perhaps taking another direction. Time will tell.


Howahyah Five-O

Readings prompted by fiftiversaries, in Hungary and on the highways:

László Krasznahorkai, War & War, trans George Szirtes (note the latter blogs under "News"): The author's website supplies a better précis (and motivation, and samples) than I can provide, though I can add a pointer to the relevant work of Mario Merz. The experimental form, that may restrict minor character perspectives to a single (numbered) run-on sentence, reads surprisingly well and naturally in English, but then I've been known to oversubordinate myself. This is post-WW II not post-revolution, and the emphasis in on the premillenial decade; the protagonist, a provincial archivist, may well stand in for the nation here.

Michel Butor, Mobile ('62; trans Richard Howard '04): Across the American atlas A to Z, state by state, common proper placenames recurring, setting up an associative interstate network, blurring the boundaries between them by interleaving taxonomies of:
Cars of various makes, gas stations, 28 flavors at HoJo's;
Audubon's Birds of America, mail-order catalogues;
State flowers, birds, mottoes;
Natural features (rivers, lakes, mountains, caverns), National Parks, Forests, Reservations;
and so on to the divisions that then mattered: Native Americans; African-Americans: racism (for whites only); the Salem trials.
In the cities, foreign-language newspapers, radio, cuisine;
Regional variations in quotation: Franklin (Information to Those Who Would Remove to America), Jefferson (Notes on the State of Virginia), Louis Sullivan (Autobiography of an Idea), Andrew Carnegie (The Gospel of Wealth) ...
D'Agata's introduction (otherwise somewhat misconceived, overconnecting to the Interstate Highway System, just turned 50 this year) quotes Butor elsewhere: "The problem of the United States is the problem of what happens to Eurpean civilization when it arrives in a landscape that permits it to develop on a larger scale." But the cover blurb is better informed, pointing to the dedication "In the memory of Jackson Pollock", gone now 50 years, on whose later works the aesthetic of Mobile relies -- it has taken twice as long to rediscover the merits of Pollock's late work as it had for Mobile to garner any critical attention.