Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Forward to new address

So no sooner do I generalize from one text than the next reparticularizes the notion: in this case, Robert Pinget's Between Fantoine and Agapa (in Trio), itself pocket philately cancelled in French villages, a terrain common to his writing. Per Updike: "Literary experiment and surrealism have certain natural channels into which to run, it would appear, not so unlike the well-worn grooves of realism; nonsense, being an inversion of sense, is condemned to share a certain structure with it, and a finitude of forms." Fair enough; after the fact, Pinget prefaces his first prose book: "I would like to add that this gratuitous game is here coupled with a mystifying game which gives it an appearance of serious, or let's say, secret, truth ... What more can I say? This: this little volume contains in embryo all the forms taken by my later work." (Something of Eleutheria, Beckett's first play in French, here). Vignettes and journal entries; from the former, binding more tightly to my prior post:
Something that must be taken literally is language. We never think more than we express. People who never say anything are play-actors. I mistrust "eloquent silences." You think you're understood by someone who confines himself to adopting a thoughtful attitude after your remarks: ninety-nine times out of a hundred, if you do nevertheless get him to say something, you see that he hasn't understood a word.
Language also consists of interjections such as: ah! oh! ee! These are enough for me, for each one implies a whole world of astonishment, admiration, reproach, etc.
There are exceptions to this law, but no one takes any notice of minorities these days. They're quite right. Let those who can't speak, write. In books, the rule is reversed. When a fellow writes: "In the beginning was the word," you may be quite sure that he doesn't know what he's talking about.
The more hesitant and involved a text is, the more profound its author is likely to be. A style, in fact, is a technique.
This preamble has no meaning. It's my excuse for beginning this story as follows:

(Opening of "The Casket"; I've already read Passacaille; That Voice remains.)


Life & Letters

Regions of the Great Heresy, Jerzy Ficowski; subtitled Bruno Schulz: A Biographical Portrait. Tragic, not in the classical sense, nor the romantic (Schulz considered to be last of the Romantics by some, though first of, or first among, the magical realists may be more accurate), in fact, without sense. His writing truly done in the Sanitorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass (in Polish, klepsydrą, an obituary icon [and often precursor to BSoD]); he was killed in retribution in an intraGestapo spat involving his protector, Felix Landau (last name courtesy of a Jewish stepfather); as Ficowski observes, per "The Comet":
So it is, so it happened, unprepared for and uncompleted, as an accidental point in time and space, without a settling of accounts, nor arriving at any finish line, as if in the middle of a sentence, without a period or exclamation point, without judgment ...
Schulz's story is replete with bitter ironies (the problem with such clichéd phrasing being that it loses force where most needed; I take the Berdhardian italic route). A letter to his last regular correspondent, Anna Plockier, suggests meeting the day that German-Soviet hostilities began; she and her husband were caught up in a joint German/Ukrainian operation: "they were transported with hundreds of others to the woods outside Truskawiec, executed, and buried in a mass forest grave. This slaughter took place in the setting of Schulz's 'Republic of Dreams,' a hallowed childhood spot in the woods near Truskawiec where beneficient powers ruled and any distant danger only heightened the brilliance of a secure existence." Cynthia Ozick's 1987 The Messiah of Stockholm seems to prefigure Ficowski's search for remaining traces of Schulz's legacy, with the twist that Yad Vashem was reponsible for the dismantling of a mural (commissioned by Landau) that came to light (yes, literally) in Drohobycz in 2001 (leading some reviewers, including one NYTwit, to question Ficowski's agenda and credentials, his being a non-Jew 'n' all dontcha know). Manuscript remnants of "Messiah" may still reside, misfiled, in the KGB archives.

For me, literature in translation plays something of the role that a pocket stamp album does in "Spring":
I opened it, and the glamour of colorful worlds, of becalmed spaces, spread before me. God walked through it, page after page, pulling behind him a train woven from all the zones and climates, Canada, Honduras, Nicaragua, Abracadabra, Hipporabundia ... I at last understood you, Oh God. These were the disguises for your riches, these were the first random words that came to your mind. You reached into your pocket and showed me, like a handful of marbles, the possibilities that your world contained. You did not attempt to be precise; you said whatever came into your mind. You might equally well have said Panphibrass and Halleleevah, and the air among palms would flutter with motley parrot wings, and the sky, like an enormous sapphire, cabbage rose, blown open to its core, would show in its dazzling center your frightening peacock eye, would shine with the glare of your wisdom, and would spread a super-scent. You wanted to dazzle me, oh God, to seduce me, perhaps to boast, for even You have moments of vanity when you succumb to self-congratulation. Oh, how I love these moments!
My fervor in this regard is limited to logos, broadly conceived, not that I pretend to comprehension. But occasional glints are enough to light the way.



It is a commonplace that all Vladimir Nabokov's books in English are dedicated "To Vera", his wife and amaneusis, and that she was his primary audience, but the extent to which she motivated his writing remains underappreciated. Variants upon her name often appear subtly encoded in his novels, seemingly acrostic filigree to major motifs but perhaps the seed from which themes grew. For example, squirrels in Pnin; on Victor's gift to Pnin, a blue glass punchbowl (158):

Margaret Thayer admired it in her turn, and said that when she was a child, she imagined Cinderella's glass shoes to be exactly of that greenish-blue tint; whereupon Professor Pnin remarked that, primo, he would like everybody to say if contents were as good as container, and, secundo, that Cendrillon’s shoes were not made of glass but of Russian squirrel fur—vair, in French. It was, he said, an obvious case of the survival of the fittest among words, verre being more evocative than vair, which, he submitted, came not from varius, variegated, but from veveritsa, Slavic for a certain beautiful, pale, winter-squirrel fur, having a bluish, or better say sizïly, columbine shade, from columba, Latin for "pigeon," as somebody here well knows--so you see, Mrs. Fire, you were, in general, correct."

(I have reproduced the typography as exactly as I could, because something else is happening here, an almost imperceptible shift from indirect to direct discourse [even to a closing quote mark], which has otherwise gone unremarked.)

The novels of the period, from Pnin through Ada, carry through this and other commonalities (in Lolita, it's the color of her iris); Pnin shares with Pale Fire not only the former title character, but seizures leading to altered states of perception (Pnin, Shade), ornithologists, and, it so happens, another disguised acrostic: In answer to a NABOKV-L query on Kinbote in Pale Fire, Alexey Sklyarenko notes that kinboot's Russian equivalent is vira (and later expands upon other kotorrelates). Unfortunately, the query itself elides the rest of the OED entry: "(not to be confused with cynbote OE or royal compensation)." Which may explain why Kinbote's an exiled King.

(I had been thinking about elaborating upon prior problematics of the caissic variety to describe how Nabokov wove language and literature into his composition, but the ground upon which such figures play proved too unstable to sustain the metaphor ... though the thematic structure behind multiplexed allusions corresponds well, as noted now and then and once [upon a time] again.)


This Way for the Gass, Ladies and Gentlemen

Still in The Tunnel. My initial throwaway comment (i.e., "a small prick of conscience") a bit too champing, too little play in too much play ('ludere' basis for allude, illude, elude, delude -- but the sense is mocking). Locally the writing is rich, but difficult (for its own sake), layered and intercut, larded with distractions (and throwaways) that undermine the whole. Historiographical Holocaustic ruminations have been better handled elsewhere:
"I am having difficulty gaining traction with Gass' The Tunnel. Seems like a lot of flash & trash on themes better handled by Boris Pekić in How to Quiet a Vampire."
-- my comment at Long-Sunday ...
Then, Gass, within the next few pages:
"Oh, gentlemen, it has been Sunday in our country far too long.
Am deutschen Wesen soll die Welt genesen!"

Such worldly intrusions into my reading are not particularly novel, catching chancy connections on my train of thought, however freighted ...

"P[oe] is the most heavyhanded of writers, even when trying to be whimsical (eg. 'Angel of the Odd')."
-- C.Roth comments in "Wrap-Up" below.

Yes, but ... such whimsy proves the rule:

"'After quitting this coast, the beast continued his voyage until we met with a land in which the nature of things seemed reversed -- for we here saw a great lake, at the bottom of which, more than a hundred feet beneath the surface of the water, there flourished in full leaf a forest of tall and luxuriant trees.'"*
* In the year 1790, in the Caraccas during an earthquake a portion of the granite soil sank and left a lake eight hundred yards in diameter, and from eighty to a hundred feet deep. It was a part of the forest of Aripao which sank, and the trees remained green for several months under the water." -- Murray, p. 221
-- The 1002nd Tale of Scheherazade

"It might even begin with a forest in the sea: huge trees like American redwoods, with their roots in the black benthos, and their leaves moving slowly in the blue currents overhead. There it might end as well."
-- JCrowley, "Great Work of Time", in Novelties and Souvenirs (Thanks for the pointer, Mr Waggish. The title refers to Marvell [Horatian Ode]; I'd meant to remark on the stanzaic structural similarity of Auden's September 1, 1939 to The Garden ...)

18.1 addendum: ... or not end (via):

"Underwater logging is possible because many submerged trees and logs are barely affected by their decades of submersion. Lake and river water is often too cold and too deficient in oxygen for decay organisms to survive. [...] Studies of logs raised from Lake Superior show slight color changes, but 'the properties are virtually the same as modern timber,' [...] And although sugars have leached from the Lake Superior logs, this effectively seasons the wood, making it highly desirable for use in musical instruments." Timbre!


Eternal Return

Prompted by Brodsky's (and one of my fellow alumnus') high praise of Andrei Platonov, I returned to his short stories in The Return (having set it aside after a so-so early story). The title story vindicates the judgment that Platonov's stories can compare to the best of Joyce's Dubliners, and I'm eager to test the theory that he reversed Joyce's order of composition by taking up the precursor novel The Foundation Pit. But the ancillary material has piqued my interest in another novella as a possible referent in a problematic passage of Nabokov's Pale Fire, actually Shade's "Pale Fire", at the end of the shaving stanzas of Canto IV:

And while the safety blade with scrape and screak
Travels along the country of my cheek,
Cars on the highway pass, and up the steep
Incline big trucks around my jawbone creep.
And now a silent liner docks, and now
Sunglassers tour Beirut, and now I plough
Old Zembla's fields where my gray stubble grows,
And slaves make hay between my mouth and nose.

Man's life as commentary to abstruse
Unfinished poem.
Note for further use.

The last bit of the top stanza is a seemingly unprepared departure from the travelling metaphors employed through the rest of it (though Kinbote's commentary floats a related draft for a prior stanza: "England, where poets flew the highest, now / Wants them to plod and Pegasus to plow"); the couplet following, handing the commentator the last word, is a similarly abrupt shift. But perhaps this conclusion alludes to Platonov's 1931 Vprok i.e. "For Future Use", a satirical tour of Soviet agricultural collectivization, wherein amongst the anecdotes a kolkhoz is constructing an electrical sun. This was the novella that prompted Stalin, with his own commentary marginally inscribed for guidance ("Talented, but a bastard"), to first set the State Critical Literary apparatus (and the rest of the apparatus as well) upon Platonov. It's a slender thread to hang upon, but Nabokov does spin fine webs ...


Recursive Script

"You have searched in vain, you have found nothing but envelopes. Open a hundred, open a thousand, you will always be stopped before opening the last. You think you have touched the essence when you take off the outer skins. You take the homunculus for the animal. But it is much deeper. These worms, these needles, etc., are only ... The true principle of life, the seed, the essence, the point that holds the animal, etc.
"In each drop is a drop, in each point another point.
"-- The last is a worm; but what is inside the worm?
"Nota. In opposition, works of art that have nothing inside them."
-- The Notebooks of Joseph Joubert, Paul Auster trans.

On onionskin. Chinese boxen. Stratified sampling. (Nota. More matter, with less art.) Who polices the police in different voices? Gnostic Teflon:

"The baroque knows no eschatology and for that very reason it has no mechanism by which it gathers all earthly things in together and exalts them before consigning them to their end."
-- Trauerspiel, Walter Benjamin (vide supra)