Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


When the prose turns weird, the weird get going

The blog serves as a locus at which to collect one's thoughts; the chatroom is where one disperses them. Yes, no, it's not that simple; the accommodations overlap (shared bathos), but "extended argument" takes on differing meanings between them. But while blogs regularly provide chatfodder, I find I've reversed the process, my prior post herding chats into something more sustenant (I hope), but which may seem warmed-over to my fellow bookchatterers. Sorry 'bout that, here we go again ...

Giddy-upping my hobby-horse: I've finally finished Nabokov's list of the best of what the 20th century has to offer (when it was only 2/3 thru, and all from the first 1/4) by making it halfway through Proust, and reading John Elsworth's Pushkin Press translation of Andrei Bely's Petersburg: Bely did his own revision-excision of the 1916 (or 1913-14, depending on form) version in 1922, this latter what first Cournos ('59) then Maguire & Malmstad ('78) relied on, while McDuff ('95) and Elsworth ('09) go back to the former version (which explains relative lengths). The earlier one was first serialized in Sirin, which was the nom-de-plume Nabokov stuck with through his early career; but the later one was published in Berlin, where Nabokov was residing at the time. I think there's more cerebral play in the earlier version, and that it's intrinsic to the novel (not to mention explicit), tightening it up as Bely did somewhat akin to, say, Sterne editing Tristram Shandy down to a more manageable length; but there doesn't seem to be an English translation that would permit such an assessment. M&M complain that Cournos made even more cuts, while the rap against M&M is overliteral and unliterary, or something like that. Dunno about McDuff, but Elsworth gets it: I know some of the wordplay had to be left behind, but the spirit of the thing is preserved. And in that spirit, that is, of cerebral play:
In Vladimir Nabokov and The Art of Play, Thomas Karshan has added something to the critical mix by considering play as the unifying theme in his work (I take issue only with the definite article, an indefinite one more appropriate). Karshan himself could have been a bit more playful by bending the rules of the academic monograph (such as "I have said it thrice: What I tell you three times is true"), but the tracing of play (both rule-based and free: the Russian and German words carry broader connotation) through Kant, Schiller & Nietzsche to more direct influences on Nabokov (Voloshin, Bely, Aikhenvald) is well played. The applicability of the concept to early novels like King Queen Knave and The Luzhin Defense is evident, but suffers some distortion in consideration of later work (not that it isn't operative, and despite which there's food for thought where it isn't). However, the chapter on "Pale Fire and the Genre of the Literary Game" stands out, tracing a different provenance from Erasmus to Pope and Swift and beyond, and providing other fresh insights.
Also, more Nabocommentary, via the listserv, Cycnos | Volume 24 n°1 Vladimir Nabokov, Annotating vs Interpreting Nabokov

Short takes on other highlights:
Michal Ajvaz, The Golden Age (Andrew Oakland) [Dalkey]: Rrosélavian
Wieslaw Mysliwski, Stone Upon Stone (Bill Johnston) [Archipelago]: deftly fit together without mortar
Bernard Share, Inish [Dalkey]: the tale's in the telling, and it's telling what can be made out of an advert placed by an import-export expat
Eric Chevillard, Palafox (Wyatt Mason) [Archipelago]: endeavouring to haruspicate surrealism's exquisite corpse
Arno Schmidt, The Stony Heart / B/Moondocks (John E. Woods) [Dalkey]: the first, collective scholarduggery; the second the best of his I've read yet, and I've read (with pleasure) all of Woods' Dalkey offerings now, and the best yet to come, his rendering of Zettel's Traum (translating Poe the central conceit) to be published within a year
Elias Khoury, Gate of the Sun (Humphrey Davies) [Archipelago]: Compounded persevering Palestinean crises of identity, resisting erasure; intertwined stories, families, destinies. Ranks with the best of Roa Bastos, Donoso, Andric, Selimovic
Yasushi Inoue, Tun-huang (Jean Oda Moy) [nyrb]: filling in lost time, hoarded against the hordes ... falls off a bit towards the end, otherwise a well-imagined and well-researched reconstruction, tautly told with subtle overtones (also apt after the Rexroth renderings of Sung poetry)
Fumiko Enchi, The Waiting Years (John Bester) [Kodansha Int'l]: (Onna zaka, the women's slope, separate temple path): Meiji matron thanklessly holding family together; at the same level as Masks (Onna men, which I picked up at the Milwaukee airport of all places), once again exceeding Tanizaki, approaching Kawabata, her models. Enchi deserves to be better known; latest book acquired is A Tale of False Fortunes (Roger K. Thomas)


Waxing poetic, waning prosaic

Half the year gone by, not much to show for it in these parts, though I've kept up with bookchat, which has put more poets on my radar than anything else, making for a larger proportion of my reading. (Obligatory linklift: What we talk about when we talk about poetry when there's poetry about and we're not about to get in to a bout about what poetry's about.)

The biggest undertaking was Ezra Pound's Cantos, a group reading of which petered out after the first 30 (so too the Cantos themselves; I expected the Pisan Cantos to be the high point but they were but a relative maximum). I picked up the Companion by Carroll Terrell (of Terrellton) after 30 so as not to be lost in the weeds, and weeds not wildflowers they are, but it covers the grounds well. It was a bit odd to read Pound railing against high finance at a time when that sport is again current ... still I don't think politics makes for good poetry (of course Plato had it t'other way round); nonetheless, it's part of the warp & woof (mad dog!). Given his insistence on the importance of 'right names' it's more than a bit odd that he so often muddles them (not just Chinese transliterations, nor even corrupting Western names, but pure misidentifications), not to mention his ideosyncretic take on Chinese (among other things); and clearly he didn't know when to say enough. That said, it doesn't take away from the achievement of the initial cantos or the technical innovations throughout (well, middle excluded), and also led me to Browning's Sordello, and prompted me into The Analects of Confucius*, and, serendipitously, Kenneth Rexroth's 100 Poems from the Chinese, a less literal than liberal take, the Sung sometimes mediated through French renderings, but strictly speaking that wasn't his aim ... for my part, a relief from Pound's agenda and sounding an ironic note on poet-polity: "Chu Hsi (1130-1200) is the great philosopher and historian, founder of Sung Neo-Confucianism. That is, he gave the ancient code of the scholar gentry a new religious and philosophical content, owing much to Ch'an Buddhism (Zen) and Taoism—the sort of etherialization undergone by a doctrine when it no longer corresponds to reality at all. However, he gave Confucianism another 700 years of life. As might be expected, his poetry is formal—'neo-classical.'". Similarly ironic: Pound's insistence in being acknowledged as unacknowledged legislator.
*oops, speaking of irony, left this note out: VI 13: "The Master said to Tzu-hsia, 'Be a gentleman ju, not a petty ju." with note "The original meaning of the word is uncertain, but it probably referred to men for whom the qualities of the scholar were more important than those of the warrior. In subsequent ages, ju came to be the name given to the Confucianists."
Odds & ends:
Jack Ross covers Cantos LXXII-LXXIII w/ englishing of latter;
JEHSmith on Pisan: I disagree with his conclusion; Pound recantless, even Terrell lapses in suggesting (through another cite on CVII 69) that dropping the last word from exceptis viris religioses et Judaesis was exculpative, when every other ref is supposed to confirmatively imply any missing bits;
and Edmund de Waal's The Hare with Amber Eyes, beyond intrinsic interest, provided clear counterpoint.

Other poetry-related reading was more rewarding: Haffenden's Empson bio, Mendelson's The English Auden: Poems, Essays and Dramatic Writings 1927-1939, Geoffrey Hill's Selected Poems (wow!) ... Muldoon, Heaney ... and stuff queued up for the second half includes selected Hall and Lorca, early Ashbery and complete Merrill. Prose, that's another story, a good one, but for another post.