Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Happy Solstice ...

... for those who celebrate (and no this won't be the shortest post); otherwise, here's Wishing You a Meretricious and a Preposterous New Year ... I'm bookending December a tad early to avoid the holiday rush.

First, pendant to my addendum to the prior post, Julien Gracq (hail & farewell; what follows, the last of the surrealists upon the first), from Reading Writing, "Literature and Painting":

Duplication in art. Giorgio De Chirico exhibits in a Belgian gallery. On the first page of the catalog, a full-length portrait of the artist; in the grand uniform of the Academician, heavy, ungainly, his face devoid of thought, muttonlike and obtuse, beneath white, woolly hair, hands crossed over a jutting paunch, he brings to mind both an unskilled laborer disguised in the Academy's green costume and Ingres' Bertin. The same heavy build of bourgeois prosperity, the same grin of satisfaction, sly and sated. He is eighty-eight years old. After being submerged in academicism for fifty years, he is now remaking the paintings he painted at thirty without modification–simply recombining their elements, like an Erector set: streets with arcades, pink towers, empty squares, equestrian statues casting shadows, factory smokestacks, locomotives in remote landscapes–"unsettling muses" with heads of light bulbs, mannequins, bobbins, T-squares, artichokes. And these paintings that are so many impostures, these paintings that are tricked-out and soulless–which one might imagine being resigned to responding solely to market demand, gracelessly and after a long sulk–are not easily distinguished from those he painted half a century ago. The same edge of yellow sky at the horizon, below a heavy green firmament, the same magnet of the arcades, the same low walls masking a procession of railroad cars against the light. All of which, in advance and from the start, almost erased for me what surrealist painting at its best might have subsequently offered.

Ostensibly and conscientiously–through a rare combination of precocious indifference, cynicism, and longetivity–he was one of the first artists allowed to become his own forger. The big, white, wily tomcat that caught so many mice, the bulky manipulator of painting, peering slyly from the threshold of his catalog at the visitors of the galleries, presents an enigma, a slightly irksome one.

Well, yes and no. The execution of the late paintings seems not quite as fine, the composition a bit less compelling. (Gracq settles on the titles as betraying more of a fall-off.) But the overall effect is irksome–how so little can matter so much, rendering the self-pastiche so evident. But it hardly puts me off the early efforts, much less surreality ...

Other readings this month, offered without comment (but with linkage for the worthier efforts):
Alejo Carpentier, The Lost Steps, trans Harriet de Onis
Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground, trans Pevear & Volokhonsky
Witold Gombrowicz, Polish Memories, trans Bill Johnston (unlinked but not deserving remaindering)
Raymond Queneau, Letters, Numbers, Forms, trans Jordan Stump
Jean Rouaud, Fields of Glory, trans Ralph Manheim

What common denominator, beyond translation? All antimodern, in some sense ... for the last, I picked up Of Illustrious Men on spec a while ago, but saw that it should wait for its predecessor. A trip to Milwaukee's best used book store sufficed, also yielding up elusive old nouveau romans (Claude Simon, The Flanders Road; Michel Butor, Passing Time; Robert Pinget, Monsieur Levert) and others (Hermann Broch, The Spell; Octavia Butler, Blood Child; Stanley Elkin, Van Gogh's Room at Arles; Dezső Kosztolányi, Anna Édes, this last on spec, vote of confidence in translator George Szirtes); it took 2 hours just to winnow the fiction stacks. Like what NYC's Strand used to be, but no longer is (more miles of books, but the pavement is uniform, flat).

So, as I'd said, I'm looking to take this thang in a new direction next year, sorry about being a bit becalmed in the meantime. It's been a busy, eventful year (centennial historical re-enactment of the Panic of '07; hail and farewell Abby, poodle extraordinaire; betterhalf's best job evah, lucky her, luckier her employer), so I've read less than in prior years, oh well, never enough time anyway. In the meantime, while I don't maintain a blogroll, I'd like to reciprocate to those who list me on theirs, all of whom have more of interest to say (and no doubt more readers, but I'll overlook the superfluousity of backlisting them from this backwater in order to say thanks to them, and checkitout to the rest):
Group Efforts: The Valve, Long Sunday;
Solo Solons: Pseudopodium (loglist), Waggish, Notional Slurry (random blogroll: how fitting), Snark Hunt;
Book Reviewers: Scott McLemee, Rodney Welch.
(and then JGoodwin via delicious; sorry if I missed anyone.)


British subjects

Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands, struck me as a bit thin in places, or its author a bit thick. There are interesting but seldom argufying bits in the essays (most often book reviews) bracketed by sections on Midnight's Children and The Satanic Verses. Introducing the collection, Rushdie concedes that after the fact, "I find 'Outside the Whale' a little unfair to George Orwell and to Henry Miller, too." Which is to say, a completely wrong-headed attack on any quietist impulse, proposing instead making "the very devil of a racket" and denying any whale, prior to being swallowed by one of his own devising, the book he asks to be considered in context as "not a piece of blubber, but the whole wretched whale." (Not that this dilutes support for him against fatwa: such principles do not require saints or heroes as object.) Similarly, his complaints with V.S.Naipaul serve to bring certain parallels to mind, including the unequallible early success. Suffice it to say that the short form does not play to Rushdie's strengths.

J.G.Farrell, Troubles: Everything starts out amusingly enough, but ends badly. Said of the twins, this applies to everything in this story save the story-telling, which centers on Major Brendan Archer's return to a decaying English inn in County Wexford, Ireland, after the war marking the British Empire's zenith, not yet acknowledged as such, as the Irish assert independence. Nearly everyone is half-mad, and becoming moreso, the formidable troupe of elderly ladies hanging on perhaps most comprehensively representing Britain, though other facets are not lacking for representation. It is a lack that is the Major's comitragic flaw, a humorlessness despite natural empathy, and an inability to take leave of what is better left behind; and he is the best of what Britain has to offer here. Even the inn, the Majestic, has something character-like about it, its own heart of darkness an overgrowing Palm Court contributing to its entropical degradation. The narration itself blends British understatement with Irish absurdist irony into inseparability for all the mutual incomprehension (though seen only one-sidedly -- a technique perfected in Krishnapur [cf]). Now The Singapore Grip awaits.

Update 3.12: Kudos^2! In comments M. Snghark brings to my wandering attention a nearby exhibition (just north of Saint 'Patacathedral) of De Chirico's late works, mostly late 60s/early 70s, including a baker's half dozen bronzes (archaeologists included), revisiting earlier themes by popular demand; there are also a half dozen paintings from the 50's, in particular an earlier and stronger revisitation: Arrival at Another Place ('51) relies more heavily on Enigma of a Day than on the curator's identification with Mystery and Melancholy of a Street (only the van has moved from the latter, the surround, sans statuary, is from the former, and the figures in the background have moved forward; but I quibble). Giorgio De Chirico is not just my favorite surrealist artist (as are Duchamp and Magritte) but also my favorite surrealist writer, not for his memoirs (cf ¶4) but for Hebdomeros, also title of a self-sketch there, which is a nom de chirico paying homage to Apollonaire ('hebdomad' being a division of 7 days important to the cult of Apollo), though now joined by Aragon -- Exact Change link leads to both, and to Roussel as well. Exactly one week ago I was gazing upon MoMA's selection, one of which serves as monitory background. To think I would have passed this by if not for the commentatory intervention ... thx^3!