Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence



ArnoŇ°t Lustig, Fire on Water, two post-Holocaust Czech novellas: Porgess (trans Roman Kostovski) deals with the narrator's visits to the fair-haired boy of Jewish Prague, paralysed by a bullet to the spine while escaping transport on the last day of the war, and, The Abyss (trans Deborah Durham-Vichr), with David Wiesenthal, another camp survivor, enlisted in border patrol in the mountains, swept into a crevasse by an avalanche, recalling loves past, present, and before either. There's a lot of metaphoric force to these situations, some of it needfully dispersed in characterizing how lives could go on afterwards, but some needlessly dispersed by what sometimes appears to be casual or rushed translation (though in the first case, jazz as motif may explain some of the difficulty).

Cynthia Ozick, The Din in the Head (phrase borrowed from Krashen on language acquisition; okay, kidding, is it Virginia Woolf? not attributed -- but it does appear in Lustig's Abyss as well): The latest collection of essays, many excellent as usual but more misfires than usual, including the title cut, defending the novel against all comers, conflating various modes of internet delivery along the way, particularly silly in that the best essays included herein are online, on Helen Keller and Gershom Scholem (her takes on Saul Bellow [New Republic review], Delmore Schwartz, Isaac Babel [from intro to Complete Works] also well worthwhile, and my interest piqued on Robert Alter's pentateuch translation; but the James entry, obligatory in any Ozick collection, is a bit weaker than usual, and the afterword is, well, unfortunate); it is her ongoing concern with literary language as integral to life (as well as the other way round), and her engaging with the reader as few essayists or novelists can, that has had me read everything she's put into print, except her first novel, Trust (which the obligatory autobiographical essay, weakest of these among her collections, does not persuade me to read), or her last (yet). On balance, less lasting than previous efforts, sooner to be eclipsed (as she says Trilling has been -- but she's the more compelling essayist, even the less excellent pieces offer flashes of insight), perhaps due to a greater topicality (a more private Dabashi explosion recorded in a meeting with Iranian dissidents in an essay on Nafisi). And, for the LS collective, I'll close on an one of the extracts Ozick comments on from Schwartz on Seurat:
O happy, happy throng,
It is forever Sunday, summer, free
All this discloses a poet's escape, if he wills it, from the commanding Zeitgeist. Or even if he does not will it, if it comes unwittingly, unsummoned, from his nature -- libertarian, untethered, deaf to all authority but the imperative inward chant.

A conclusion seemingly at variance with the conclusion of the poem:
The voice of Kafka, forever sad, in despair's sickness trying to say:
"Flaubert was right: Il sont dans le vrai!
Without forbears, without marriage, without heirs,
Yet with a wild longing for forbears, marriage, and heirs:
They all stretch out their hands to me: but are too far away!"


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