Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Untied Nations

Danilo Kis, Hourglass (trans Ralph Manheim): A novel bookended between prologue and table of contents, a club sandwich interleaving travel scenes, notes of a madman, criminal investigation and a witness interrogated. The form owes something to Pinget, the title (perhaps more) to Bruno Schulz, but dissociation, disintegration, and magnification of petty slights in the midst of the grossest indignity of the modern age are Kis' own. Noah is given prominence, Shoah remains distant except in more particular emanations, as in a Jan '42 massacre:
The brain of Dr. Freud, the surgeon. A chunk of frozen, gelatinous pulp, perfectly intact, looking like a lamb's brain served whole (at the Danubius Restaurant in Vienna, 1930). The snow, trampled all about by heavy soldier's boots, seemed only slightly melted around the brain, whose convolutions, comparable to those of a walnut, and network of fine capillaries were clearly visible. The brain lay in the snow at the corner of Miletic Street and Greek School Street, and I Heard someone say to whom, that is, to whose skull, it had belonged. So this was the brain of Dr. Freud, the surgeon: a small snowy island between paths trampled into the snow, an intelligence torn from its cranial husk as a mollusc is torn from its emerald shell, a trembling, throbbing mass, lying in the snow as in a refrigerator. But (seeing as how I knew whom it belonged to) it was nothing like the brain an idiot in a glass container; it was the brain of a genius, preserved and protected in nature's incubator, so that inside (the incubator), freed from its corporeal shackles, a dark pearl might develop, the pearl of thought at last materialized, crystallized. from Notes of a Madman
No excerpt stands alone, and the sensibility is often closer to that of Victor Klemperer's diary, but this is all the more remarkable in its construction, per interview (cf. Hemon on Kis): the end is truly cumulative, everything leading to it necessarily and sufficiently.

Andrei Platonov, The Foundation Pit (trans Mirra Ginsburg): High expectations foundered as this really didn't get off the ground for me. There's a sharp divide between the lyrical and satirical in Platonov, and however brave (no, foolhardy) the latter, however clever its construction from the then regnant (google wants to know if I meant pregnant) slogans (with which I have only a passing familiarity; A Cheng's The Chess Master, while similarly infused with particulars of the Cultural Revolution, does not depend so heavily upon them) and from characters drawn from Russian literary history (but alas only as types), however clever the synecdoche represented by the provincial project, it remains pasteboard, flat however well articulated. Not to say it doesn't have its moments, and its scope exceeds its slender length, but in the end it just doesn't work, for me anyway.


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