Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Making up for lost time

Mark Thwaite of RSB recently (and bravely) put up a post about being hit close to home which hit uncomfortably close to home. Being affected, or afflicted, by somewhat similar circumstances, I too lost for a time the attention necessary to sustained reading. In my case, the underlying loss occasioned sorrow more than grief (that is, without so much in the way of attendant anger, much less madness), but nonetheless altered my life in ways both mundane and profound. Though felt keenly, my travail is a faint reflection of his: unlike Mark, who speaks of the revelatory impact of Hamlet while in the midst of his own loss, mine was presaged by a message in the aether which prepared me for its impact and helped to sort it. I'm through the worst of it, I think, but like Mark (without his eloquence) won't elaborate further. I will respond to his reader response to Hamlet, or more precisely to the conclusions he draws, not to invalidate or contest them so much as to (I hope) sympathetically argufy them.

Hamlet is a full-blown portraiture upon which much has been projected, as with Hamlet the play, as with its author, himself oft mistaken for a fiction. But of all his characters, not to mention predecessors, Hamlet is the most self-regarding. He's become a by-word for madness real and feigned, and for doubt and delay (I'll fess up to a bit o' the latter, but not the former, nor even feigned sanity). Madness runs like a toxin through the play, which opens and closes with poisonings (to borrow from Empson's "Missing Dates": Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills. / The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.); but it is a madness of distinct character from that of say MacBeth or Lear. It is self-questioning, and steps outside itself to ask, not as a ghost in the machine but as an aura encompassing its larger context. One consequence is turning the device of mise-en-abyme inside out, foisting the play around the within the play, bounded in a nutshell, out into the gallery. Opening up these boundaries of the self does not dissolve the contents or compromise the coherence. It recasts selfhood as relational and contingent rather than absolute, perverse internal logic following a pattern established by external circumstance and event, opening up the play between them. But much of this is a modern imposition, a shift in emphasis conditioned by cultural evolution that, whatever the play's genius, could not have been foreseen. The sensibility was always there, its significance was not. It's a matter of perspective, and I suspect that Horatio's was more privileged than it's now considered:
And let me speak to the yet unknowing world
How these things came about: so shall you hear
Of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts,
Of accidental judgments, casual slaughters,
Of deaths put on by cunning and forced cause,
And, in this upshot, purposes mistook
Fall'n on th' inventors' heads: all this
Can I truly deliver.

The crowning touch on Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is to bring Horatio on at the last minute to deliver these final, fading lines. While the textual history suggests that in its time, Hamlet was a palpable hit, it then faded along with the rest of the works; Shakespeare wasn't restored to the canon until a century after the Restoration (and his identity not questioned until a century after that). In these, our times, following the death of the author and the resurrection, Hamlet speaks to us more strangely than was originally envisioned, with an authority invested over time.

While I've been putting these thoughts and words together, I've been stuck in The Queue by Vladimir Sorokin, but the log-jam has otherwise been broken (so too the blog-jam). After emerging from Within a Budding Grove, I put Proust aside for the longlist for the Best Translated Book Award (I'd read Bolaño's The Skating Rink [CR, 3%] and Aira's Ghosts CR, 3%] last year):
Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, Memories of the Future [CR, 3%]
Cao Naiqian, There’s Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night [CR]
Juan Filloy, Op Oloop [CR]
Hugo Claus, Wonder [CR, 3%]
Mati Unt, Brecht at Night [CR]
Robert Walser, The Tanners [3%]
For me, the best of the above were Juan Filloy's protoGombrowiczic ramble and Cao Naiqian's fine-hewn coarseness. Favorite Krzhizhanovsky story was of course "The Bookmark".

Other reading:
Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies: strong collection, people out of place
James Baldwin, Giovanni's Room: not so tender is the night
Roberto Bolaño, Monsieur Pain: mesmeric revelations diffracted through intermediary influence [CR,3%]
A.S. Byatt, Possession: slightly overdone, like its subject matter