Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence



It's time I took a different tack.

I've been doing this thang nearly 3 years, 2½ as a reading journal, but that's served its purpose, the time has come to swerve its purpose. Not that its concerns, nor mine, have become any less literary, just that this is no longer the way to address them, at least as a rule. It often feels as though I only scratch the surface; now it no longer itches as much.

For convenience, I've supplanted the first post (moved that into the second) with a table of contents, indicative, by month not by (approximately weekly) post. Typically low-tech of me, but 'twill serve. As to the new direction (which doesn't preclude gestures in the old one), that should become evident in subsequent weeks (or months), if you get my drift ...

Making amends (10.9): If you must know what I've been reading, I've outsourced the listing to WorldLitForum: Recently Finished Books (just type nnyhav in the UserName field); similarly with what presently in future will have been read in Recent Purchases (these protosurreal tenses sure are complicated, as it were, what it is, shall be, without end).


Banality of Evil

Hermann Broch, The Guiltless (trans Ralph Manheim): A heavyhanded indictment tracking the cancerous rise of the Nazis to the cellular level. Not without force, but a slight disappointment after The Sleepwalkers, as Broch here ties together previously published stories on the pre-war Zeitgeist, but binds them too tightly to let them breathe, too concerned with its overarching purpose: apoliticism as complicity: "... it is precisely from such a state of mind and soul that Naziism derived its energies. For political indifference is ethical indifference, hence closely related to ethical perversity. In short, most of the politically guiltless bear a considerable amount of ethical guilt. One of the purposes of this book has been to show this and to show the profound reasons for it." FAIL. Both in principle, given the uncertainties inherent in political and ethical action [and worse, the levelling with the truly complicit, and those with the pretense of certainty, and those mistaking or unforeseeing consequences], and as art. The grain of truth (they came for X, but I was not X) is contaminated by the ergot of transcendental surety. Funny, that's more or less what he says about the German character.

Georgi Gospodinov, And Other Stories (trans Alexis Levitin & Magdalena Levy): Short shorts with a long range, more hits than near-misses (yes I wrote that before seeing concurrant prior link) both in conceit and execution, e.g. Peonies and Forget-Me-Nots & Blind Vaysha, Gaustine & A Second Story (too telegraphic). And First Steps inspired me to twitterfic ... and, as with the above, the material is subject to re-use in his other writings, oddly given the second epigraph: "Nobody can enter twice into one and the same story."—Gaustine (Hey, Gospodinov's short stories are a rent in the fabric under this post's rubric, but what can you do.)

Aleksandar Hemon, The Lazarus Project: With each book, Hemon keeps raising expectations, then exceeding them. (Reviews range from very good to wow! but it's only fair to also link the local papers implicated in the book.) This time, a tightly woven dual-track historical emigrant narrative, better than the Bradbury in my best-of-'05. Sharing surnames across a century might seem clunky stitchwork, but it holds, as do the almost subliminal connections drawn between the narratives, and the times. Not to give short shrift to the local delicacy (pace da Trib), where Hemon's strengths as a stylist can distract from the structural finery. And these are but means for a compelling story, make that two, of how much is lost, how easily, how much there is to lose, how hard it must be held. Best-of-'08.

Richard Hughes, A High Wind in Jamaica: Feral children foist upon a feral grown-up world. The Henry Darger cover almost put me off; pace Mr.Waggish, this is a wholly different kind of strangeness, not that of an outsider aesthetic, but faux-naïveté, more fabular, a not-quite-coming-of-age disguised as an amoral children's tale in its diction, occasionally belied by an aside, a citation, a learned allusion. Often compared, favorably, to Golding's Lord of the Flies (which I don't miss missing myself); the plotting and flow are superb yet subversive (just imagine Amis fils' tween fiction).


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.


Six words

Descending order of merit, and reading:

Patrick White, Riders in the Chariot: Misfits versus philistines. Guess the winner.
Álvaro Mutis, The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll (trans Edith Grossman): Tangled Up in Blue in print.
Dubravka Ugrešić, The Ministry of Pain (trans Michael Henry Heim): Exile from superseded to undersea depatriation.
Thomas Bernhard, The Loser (trans Jack Dawson): Not quite as good as Gould.
Tatyana Tolstaya, On the Golden Porch (trans Antonina W. Bouis): Expecting more, protagonists disappointed. Me too.

19.6 updated Mutis link to Updike's NYer review, via SPLALit

27.6 appending three more:

Marguerite Yourcenar, Coup de Grâce (Grace Frick): Modern romantic tragedy, end of nobility.
César Aira, An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter (Chris Andrews): Humboldt's physiognomy naturally rearranged, gone awry.
Ryū Murakami, Almost Transparent Blue (Nancy Andrew): Burroughs does Japan, or vice versa.