Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


End of May reads

Slowing it down over the last couple of weeks, I devoted a good half to a reread of Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, prodded by a group read instigated over to that lit forum. It had been more than 30 years since I had last (and first) picked it up, and, while smitten by the narrative bag o'tricks, I hadn't returned to it other than obliquely (through the movie and A Sentimental Journey [which well surpasses the Shandean traversal of France, to my mind the least of the volumes], both a few years back). Back then, the only source text with which I was familiar was Locke (and bits of Pope and Swift [and Shakespeare]); this time I returned with most of the referents under my belt (including Cervantes, Rabelais, Montaigne, some of Burton's Anatomy), but, for the most part, there they stayed, as what is best in the narrative does not depend upon its sources but on their contextual re-use, how fit into Sterne's seemingly ramshackle construction. At least for me, but it may well be that I had assimilated and internalized the fun to be had with systematics way back then at my first reading; the second go-round didn't seem to add much, and of that mostly at the margin.

So far as rereading goes, there are very few such on my Bookshelf of Good Intentions. New translations are the most likely to make it there (as did Elsworth's Bely's Petersburg and Burgin & O'Connor's Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, as will Calvino's Complete Cosmicomics when available here this fall). Of course I've reread many of my favorites (but not everything that's come out in the meantime); what remains on the BoGI at the moment are Foucault's Pendulum and Moby-Dick.

Other reading:
as mentioned, Olga Tokarczuk's House of Day, House of Night, the place of conscience and the conscience of place, in post-war Silesia (and as with Sterne, a fitting bracketing of a month that began with Hrabal);
Les Murray, New Selected Poems, yes good but I don't think of Nobel quality, too parochial;
and currently in the midst of The Poetry of Derek Walcott: 1948-2013, powerful stuff.


platonic liquids

the enigma within
the allegory of the cave
is that we are not just
the captive audience
but also the puppets
as well as the puppeteers
and even the wall before
and the fire behind
but not the sunlight filtering in


Getting press

To expand upon last month's note, my favorite publisher gets an NYObCit as source of Brooklynfluence, whilst bringing Knausgaard to a venue near you.
(my favorite publisher before [and now after] archipelago books? Dalkey Archive, and before and after that, New Directions ...)

But other indies involved in literary translation are getting deserved if deferred notice, and certainly got mine:
Graywolf's Fiona McCrae or Fiona McCrae's Graywolf (not exclusively translations, Per Petterson their Norwegian success story) (via the inestimable M.A.Orthofer, who's hot these days for Seagull Books, but that's UK [though available in US thru Uχ]);
Chad Post contributes The Official Launch of Deep Vellum update: so too Asymptote [interview];
Five questions for New Vessel, which inaugurates their list with six titles (I've got Marek Hlasko's Killing the Second Dog in hand).
Which is not to detract from the many worthy nonprofits on the scene ... but it's all good (if not yet all better).

But while indies are in, there's a winnowing of university presses under pressure underway, some being subsumed into the library systems, which have a different understanding of the function (though working on an improved understanding of their own [the proper study of mankind is the measure of all things]), which concerns me, being part of that audience outside academia that's long had the benefit of their offerings. (Current reading: Olga Tokarczuk, House of Day, House of Night (Antonia Lloyd-Jones) [Northwestern University Press: Writings from an Unbound Europe, series now discontinued])


Beginning of May reads

Since Hrabal, I've been on something of a tear, helped along especially by strong prose:
Stevie Smith, Best Poems [NDP]: light verse with a dark edge (or is it a heavy undertow?) but no less (and little more than) light verse for that, but no worse for that than the best such.
Ben Marcus, The Age of Wire and String [Dalkey Archive]: categorized as "stories" but too integrated for that designation, but then every designation is up in the air, proper names improperly purposed, terminologies terminating each chapter shedding more heat than light. There's glory for you (as H.D. put it).
Adam Fitzgerald, The Late Parade [Liveright]: More hit-or-miss than Donnelly, which of course means more miss, uneven even at stanza level (not the craft, the affect). I wanted to like it more, for the shared touchstones (eg Chirico), perhaps that got in my way. Something did.
Sjón, From the Mouth of the Whale (Victoria Cribb) [FSG]: latterday saga of an unnatural naturalist in banishment, more substantial than The Whispering Muse (nice conceit well played but) (cf TQC review).
Rodrigo Rey Rosa, The African Shore (Jeffrey Gray) [Yale/Margellos]: pared-down pairing of a shepherd and a Columbian self-exile in waiting in and around Tangier (cf BOMB interview).
David Malouf, An Imaginary Life [Vintage]: the exiled Ovid's meta-Metamorphoses, back to whence he came.
Raymond Queneau, Hitting the Streets (Rachel Galvin) [Carcanet]: a long-missing piece englished, tying together the strands of the demotic and Paris locales (and wordplay, though that's doubly hard to carry over, partly compensated by bilingual presentation, though proficiency in proper French only goes so far).

(Taking a break from that lit chatboard, thanks thereto [you know who you are] for some of the pointers ...)


Ontology and deontology

Objects in this poem are closer than they appear.
Money is no object, for poetry does not pay.
Poetry is theft, from the depths of allusion,
Estranged from con—no, denotation.
What is its object? To say what must be said
No other way, the rest an interval
Between discordant notes. No matter what


Hrabal-hrousing and more

So it was 8 years ago that I introduced myself to the writings of Bohumil Hrabal, reading in quick succession Closely Watched Trains, I Served the King of England & Too Loud a Solitude, so I was past due to circle back, especially with his centennial in full swing, and my favorite publisher obliged, with Harlequin's Millions—no, nothing to do with Rupert Murdoch's $415MM romance—one of Hrabal's later novels, wherein he takes the place of his mother, who takes her place in a retirement home in a retired castle, whose residents are not so much out of place as out of time, passing time with tales of times past. Only sixteen paragraphs long, but each a meandering chapter, it nearly doubled the page-count of my hreading: as Ron Slate puts it, "Hrabel described his technique as pabeni or “palavering” – essentially a high-strung gabbing, a narrative preference he discovered in Beckett and Joyce, but also in Cervantes and even Dante. His realism is a kind of gentle hysteria; his world is undeniably ours but rendered through what pretends to be unbridled, aimless speech. It is kindled speech, Hrabal seems to be telling us, that creates the reality and for this reason he has no taste for conventional novelistic telling. His generosity is the access to actuality as it rises up in language. Here lie the pleasure and the beauty." (excerpt)

The translator, Stacey Knecht, acknowledges connecting with Hrabal: "Apparently, it is possible to fall in love with a writer you've never met. I'm honored to have had the privilege of falling in love with Bohumil Hrabal, with his words and music and images. If he were still alive, I'd tell him so, but instead, I've made a promise: to continue translating his books and advising everyone to read them." Netherlands-based, she's on an East Coast U.S. tour (NY, Boston [10 May], DC [15 May]) this month, inaugurated yesterday at "A Discussion on Works in Translation and International Literature" the Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House. The readings there spanned a broad range, besides Hrabal:
Publisher Jill Schoolman, from her own translation, in Imagine Africa *new*;
Archipelago staff's Kendall Storey, a favorite from José Ángel Valente (trans Tom Christensen);
Chuck Wachtel, from Mahmoud Darwish (Simon Antoon), Aimé Césaire (Anna Bostock, John Berger) *new*, Meng Hao-Jan (David Hinton) (and another who escapes me, sorry);
and Richard Sieburth, on his translations of (16thc)literary Lyons, comparing Maurice Scève to Louise Labé *new*, refuting rumors that the latter was but a construct of the former. (oopsdate: a chat with Jeffrey Yang) (Sieburth was also the translator of Henri Michaux's Stroke by Stroke, the very first Archipelago I encountered.)

(Afterwards I dropped in on the BTBA reception, to congratulate Chad Post on his award winning an award, and met Alex Zucker, another translator from the Czech, who will be chatting with Stacey Knecht on 14 May @ WORD in Brooklyn.)