Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


How we go on

(appended 8.10 below)

From writer's writers on to writing about the writing life.

Michel Butor, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Ape (trans Dominic Di Bernardi): (I think I'm so educated and I'm so civilized ...) The backmatter summarizes this well; what I can add to it is the mirroring of the narrator's adolescence (and confusion between reality and fantasy) with that of modernity (actual timeset) and civilization (recourse to medieval myth). Much is left as an exercise for the reader, as the strands don't pull together too strongly; autobiographical reference becomes more prevalent in later writings, and for Butor, "writing is a way to be several people at the same time". Or perhaps at different times.

Enrique Vila-Matas, Montano's Malady (trans Jonathan Dunne): Praised for its literariness and erudition, but it didn't click for me even on its own terms. The title-cut (of 5 sections) works best, but even then is heavyhanded; the following section, "Dictionary of a Timid Love for Life", is a synthesis more artificial than that of Bartleby & Co.; the denouement, "The Spirit's Salvation", only recovers somewhat in its opposition of German writers cited previously to a German writers' conference. Literarian illness is a chronic complaint, here it shades into hypochondria (and Butor did better with vampires).

Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Mandarins (trans Charles De Wolf): While the earlier stories collected here establish his chops, I found the later ones more compelling. The writings are a multifaceted mirror of a multifaceted writer looking in on himself (a selfcontained Rashomon Effect, evident in "The Life of a Fool" [a hint of rengu here as well]) and his vocation ("O'er a Withered Moor" brings R.E. to bear on the death of the author), and descent into a depressive inevitability (especially "Cogwheels", the last story, published posthumously). This also got coverage, and deserved attention), as part of this summer's Reading the World.

and on ...

Cesar Aira, How I Became a Nun (trans Chris Andrews): Through the Looking Glass Darkly: Little did I think this would be the icing on the cake, a novella that begins and ends in strawberry ice cream. Not so much writing about becoming a writer as such, but as with the first two above, textual manifestation, it trumps Butor (from a six-year-old rather than adolescent perspective), and renders Vila-Matas' disappearance in the text unbecoming. Fundrous!


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