Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence



W.S.Merwin, Summer Doorways: A Memoir: When one door opens, another opens ... whether prospectively or retrospectively. The jacket art is more accurate than the publisher blurb, which misplaces the trip to Europe in '48 rather than '49 (added his age to year of birth, looks like -- but we'll cut S&H some slack, since they're bringing out the rest of Don Barthelme's stories this fall), and which is only half the book. The opening, set on a Norwegian freighter bound for Genoa, is a doorway leading back to what led him there: an unintended door opening into Princeton, when he added its name to the College Entrance Examination because he'd heard his parents mention it, though they'd meant the Presbyterian theological seminary there; a recommendation from a newfound friend there led to tutoring sons of Old Money, despite that contingent being largely absent from Princeton at the time (WW II), and so to the European sojourn. But these just trace the main passage; many other thresholds are crossed. The prose is opulentelegant, tightly controlled but fluid; events, only the latter. Much the same could be said of Merwin's other writings, I s'pose.


Age and guile

No quibbles about this past weeks' reading, outflanking Murdoch's on all fronts, more than equal to, um, Sea^2:

Kingsley Amis, The Old Devils: Retiring to the coast (in this case Welsh) in good order for final orders. Lucky Jim may be funnier, and is no doubt more iconic, but this is richer, and no less cutting, however sympathetic it may seem to some. Leader's bio, letters, etc, have had KA in the lit-news of late: Dirda's summary of the ouevre (what?! even I'd read LJ by then) and a more enthusiastic take lead me to want to check out the genre play of The Green Man and The Alteration; I don't think that overall I'll take to him as I did, for example, to Anthony Burgess, or even to Amis fils, but TOD was not to be missed.

Tom Stoppard, The Real Thing: I had the good fortune to see this performed by the replacement B'way cast (how meta is that?), and the further good fortune that my date was too flummoxed by my attentions to pay much heed to what was going on up on stage. Good fortune held, it was the real thing: Yes, reader, I married her.



John Crowley, Little, Big: A FSF genre-bender densely interweaving myth, fairytale and childrenstory superimposed on modern NY. Thanks, Mr. Waggish, for bringing it to my wandering attention (however inadvertently). Very good (though GWoT is tighter ... wait, that acronym no longer refers to Great Work of Time) -- best use of an orrery since FSFitz (though the self-invention is of another order), but I found the Berbarossa bit a bit thin (if necessary). Harold Bloom liked it (nice how Bloomsday was Father's Day Eve this year). No matter. Somehow I don't want to say a lot about it.

I was just informed that today marks the 50th anniversary of the frisbee (nee Pluto Platter, now dwarvish). My regards to Harvey J Kukuk. What goes around ...


Unfairly Dickinson

After a friend asked what I thought better than Vendler didn't get in "Emily Dickinson Thinking: Rearranging Seriality" (not anagrammatic of surreality), I pointed here as a start, and followed with the following:

To breach the Canon with her Hymn --
Her Order -- got by Chance --
The Words -- whose Meaning hid within
A solemn Psalm and Dance --

They stand -- in crystalline Array
To take scriptural Turn --
But hold in Frieze -- lest Foot astray
Should shatter Keats's Urn --

Then Pieces fell into a Whole
A Fascicle of rime
That Frost -- accumulating -- stole
A Fragment+ at a Time --


Which got me wondering -- has Emileet Dickinson been done?


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First-person (sing)

It being Reading the World month, I'm sticking to English Lit for now.

Iris Murdoch, The Sea, the Sea: The novel is permeated by Shakespeare, in situation, incident and character (and not just the plays, more weighted towards the comedies). While I largely concur with C-R's assessment, more is afoot, as flaws in the narrative construction reflect objections to Will's plotting going off the track, and, more deeply, the embedded moral/ethical dimension (and mythic underpinnings) driving the action. But here the actors are themselves central (and the narrator, Chas Arrowby as director, moreso), competing with a more mundane reality, imposing their will (which glances off, without real effect except upon themselves, and that's affect). One technical nicety is how the prologic diary transmutes into memoir in the central section (Arrowby distancing himself from himself) before reverting to diary in the coda. Another is the self-serving variety of empathy that Arrowby employs to his own ends, complicated by a false empathy even with himself (mirrored in the aforementioned off-track racing). And then the pathetic fallacy, the sea, but the terrain as well, and the oracular sky ... but ultimately the magic fails not only Arrowby, but Murdoch as well, as well as she plays off Will.


Comp Lit City

Jacques Jouet, Mountain R (trans Brian Evenson)
Gary Shteyngart, Absurdistan

Two novels covering similar territory, poco satire with atavistic paternalism as theme. One is excellent. The other is a best-seller, selected as among last year's best by all the major US newspaper book reviews.

So, the latter first. Absurdistan is, in a word, Pomoblomov. Set largely in a bizarro Azerbaijan, it is not without its moments, and takes it up a notch in its fourth fifth (when it takes its Russian lit precursors a little more seriously, but it uses these as decoration rather than foundation -- given the political slant, perhaps the mid19c referent should be Who is to be Done?), but ultimately can't make up its mind, taking easy outs (but is this not like Oblomov? maybe, but not like Goncharov). Somewhat redeemed by a Bellovian aspect of the protagonist, and by its breadth of literary allusion (not just 19c, e.g. José Manuel Prieto), but still too lite for my tastes: what Graham Greene would call an entertainment.

Mountain R accomplishes more with less -- Olympian constrained by Oulipoan Jouet, in three parts (in 1:3:2 ratio), "The Speech" (assembly required), "The Construction Site" (a father-daughter colloquy), and "The Trial (Short Excerpt)" (novelist in the dock). Abstracted, shorn of topical referents and of literary allusion, it involves the reader in filling in the blanks. It is in turn part of a cycle, "La Republique roman", but the only part to be Englished (and even so not mentioned by the translator); Warren Motte provides a survey of what we're missing, while drunkenboat provides a sampling.