Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


filling forms in or out

Epistemological uncertainty: As is remains indeterminate, should ought lead elsewhere? (Counterclaim: If ought isn't the new is, it should be.)

Halldór Laxness, The Happy Warriors (trans Katherine John): Jane Smiley, in her preface to The Fish Can Sing, says "In 1952, he published one of my favorite novels, Gerpla, translated as The Happy Warriors, a mock Icelandic saga that explores (and sends up) violent militarism as a way of life." (She also wrote the intro to Vintage's collection of the Sagas.) There's more to it than that: in the next paragraph, she explores greatness tinged with irony and dark humor, both in the sagas and as refracted in Laxness' writings, which riff off this heritage. In this case, he hews closely to the form even while undermining it. One protagonist is profoundly stupid, but leads the other, a skald (a laywright, rather more than poet, less than bard), by the nose when it's not in the grasp of women; both struggle in the clutches of a destiny that they delude themselves to be grandiose. The commentary goes beyond the sagas, wide-ranging not only in terms of geography and first turn-of-the-millenium history, but also of religion and its ironies—our heroes choose to serve the upstart king who later became patron saint of Norway (of whom Snorri Sturluson wrote the saga, which I haven't yet read). The Happy Warriors can be read as the final saga, and though it works even without that referent, it is enriched and deepened by it. I hope Vintage takes Smiley's hint and brings it back into print (not everybody has an Icelandic next-door neighbor, after all).

Raymond Queneau, Elementary Morality (trans Philip Terry): His last book (1975), now available in English translation by a fellow poet who himself follows the form that Queneau established here: "First comes 3 series of 3+1 pairs, each pair consisting of a noun and an adjective (or participle), freely including repetitions, rhymes, alliterations, and echoes; next, a kind of interlude of 7 lines, each line 1 to 5 syllables long; last, a conclusion of 3+1 pairs of words (noun and adjective (or participle), more or less recapitulating several of the 24 words of the first part" (per The Oulipo Compendium, which I finished meantime, will only remark that Oupeinpo (plastic arts) section is weak, otherwise a must-have especially post-'pataphysics). The form, also known as the quennet (though Queneau dubbed it lipolepse), falls outside Oulipo's remit of mathematical determination, but it encourages a multidimensional reading. Bellos, in his introduction, comments that "Queneau was a mathematician as well as a poet", echoing Dupin's appraisal in The Purloined Letter (nonlipogrammatic despite the title; the Chamfort quote, Il y a à parier que toute idée publique, toute convention reçue, est une sottise, car elle a convenu au plus grand nombre, also provides the epigraph for Flaubert's Dictionary ... but I digress). That's just Part I; the remainder comprises prose poems hovering between aphorism and fable, with Part III inspired in part by Queneau's marginal notes to I Ching 50 years previously. Bellos remarks on the Eastern influence even unto a prospective basis for the lipolepse in the Chinese liu-shi as practiced by Li Po.


Blogger mahendra singh said...

This posting is pure catnip!

Whenever I hear the word post-'pataphysics, I put away my revolver. There is no need to use violent means in a post-'pata world for such a world is actually prelapsarian. Witness the entire phenomenon of the internet: it is essentially a "constrained" redaction of everything else, sans content, of course. If that isn't Edenic and pre-arbrarian, what is?

If I ever sell my ever so 'umble Snark, I could afford the Atlas Compendium but as it is, I shall reconstruct it mentally and save the pennies!

17/6/08 11:43  
Anonymous Cuchulain said...

Queneau was brilliant. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall for the meetings of Oulipo. Perec, Queneau, Calvino and Roubaud. He of the Hortense fame.

Had not heard of that particular work by RQ. Thanks for blogging about your readings!!


19/6/08 20:34  

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