Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


July reads

A bit early, so as to coincide with my ninth bloggiversary (and I still haven't figured out what I'm doing here).

Susan Howe, My Emily Dickinson [NDP]: I prefer hers to Helen Vendler's (whose selected poems and commentaries, close readings opening into variants, possible sourcings, philologies, construction etc, which I found [in Apr'13] informative and frustrating even exasperating but I needed focus and argument; still, a slog [Vendler in '96 Paris Review: "I don’t think I’ll ever write about Alexander Pope, and I don’t think I’ll ever write about Emily Dickinson [...] They are not on my wavelength as much as some other authors, and life is short. [...] I’m much more drawn to authors that I feel close to by temperament. I feel close to Stevens by temperament. I feel close to Keats and to Herbert by temperament. They are indolent and meditative writers. I don’t mean indolent in personal character, but they like to roam freely in their thinking about a topic, so that Herbert will come back and back to affliction and Keats will come back and back to the sensuous life. Emily Dickinson cuts things off very short, and that always seems to me rather shocking. She ends poems too soon for me." Spoke too soon. Well before Poets Thinking. Anyway, no, it's not Glenn Gould playing Mozart.]), Howe gets there firstest with the mostest, but both augmented my own (cf). I wonder at how poorly Dickinson was received even by the New Critics (who should have known better), how well read she was, and how T.W. Higginson was instrumental and crucial to her. Not that there isn't room for quibble, but Howe guides the reading rather than imposing it. (And I'm glad I read The Midnight first, for added context.)

Edouard Levé, Autoportrait (Lorin Stein) [dalkey]: High artlessness I didn't take to as MAO did (nor do I think I'll take to the more recently translated Works [excerpt], but he rightly complains how little attention he gets [I account for some of the hits]) (and in related attention economy news, he [and Scott Esposito, who also rejected my input] take exception to Tim Parks, though nobody mentions the difference between international and anglophone sales). It does whet my appetite for Perec's I Remember though [1Sep].

Bohumil Hrabal, Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age (Michael Henry Heim) [nyrb]: Pure palavering, his first novel in this voice, nonstop, but less (or mostly) of interest than (or because of) what followed. (Currently reading Saramago's Raised from the Ground on the same pretext though with higher hopes [thx Miguel!])

César Vallejo, The Complete Poems (Clayton Eshleman) [U California]: "Trilce" is amazing, as is its translation; "Human Poems" varied and surprising, but what brackets these, "The Black Heralds" feels dated and "Take This Cup From Me" too polemic to be poetic.

Andrei Bitov, Pushkin House (Susan Brownsberger) [dalkey]: Yet another romp through Russian literature, this time from a late Soviet perspective. Think I'll hold off a bit on his latest, The Symmetry Teacher (and as for the Nabokov deep dive into Pushkin, well ...)

Maurice Scève. Emblems of Desire: Selections from the Délie (Richard Sieburth) [archipelago]
Louise Labé, Love Sonnets & Elegies (Richard Sieburth) [nyrb]
16thc Lyonnaise reponse to and transmission of Italian Renaissance (which I got to hear Sieburth read from and comment upon) and which prompted a revisit of John Ashbery's "Fragment" (from Rivers and Mountains).

Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses [Viking]: Long a resident of my Bookshelf of Good Intentions. His Pynchon is showing, moreso than in what else of his I've read (Midnight's Children, The Moor's Last Sigh, Haroun and the Sea of Stories), and which I've generally preferred; Shame is the next (and perhaps only other) thing of his I must read.

William H. Gass, Life Sentences [Knopf]: A mixed bag, willing to stretch the essay form ... and On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry [Godine], a bit off-color.

W.G. Sebald, A Place in the Country (Jo Catling) [Penguin]: Yes his trademark style, but in these essays it loses something of what makes the novels so compelling, but what? obliquity? can't put my finger on it.

César Aira, Conversations (Katherine Silver) [NDP] Critical discourse talking the talk on a tightrope with the cameras rolling (on the floor, laughing).


The Top 10 (or 25 or so) Progressive Rock Albums

It strikes me that I've been remiss in expostulating upon some of my other interests on this here blog, with music being perhaps the most notable omission. Not that I'm any sort of musician: yeah I composed a party piece for piano, the detritus of lessons in my youth, the most lasting of which was, you've heard of white noise? I've got white rhythm. And my tastes are somewhat, ahem, eclectic, with preferences for baroque chamber, combo jazz, and psychedelic rock and its spawn.

Prog seems something of a catch-all, unified only by its decade. I'm going to narrow the field by excluding what tilts more toward art rock or experimental rock or fusion (themselves not particularly well defined categories), so much though I enjoy and esteem Zappa, Beefheart, or Berlin stuff (Bowie included) (just f'rinstance), I shan't consider them here. As to criteria for selection, perhaps only my baroque sensibility can explain, but probably no better than the selection itself:

10. Queen, Queen: Lost in what they later became, Queen started out as a prog band, and their debut was solid (unlike the pallid follow-up, Queen II), before finding their audience and formula with Sheer Heart Attack (my first concert was that tour, sandwiched between Mahogany Rush and Kansas [who you will note are not on my list]). Good enough to bump such stalwarts as ELP, Rush, et al out of the top ten.

9. Spirit, The 12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus: The band's only fully realized album, but oh my what a splendid dawning.

8. Dixie Dregs, What If: The first band on this list with multiple albums worth consideration, but this is the one where they hit their stride, and it stands out from the others, "Night Meets Light" particularly. Got to see them live and tight in the Student Union at College Park, Md.

7. Jethro Tull, Aqualung: A more difficult choice, between this and Thick as a Brick, one of the few concept albums to live up to the concept (and conceived because Aqualung was misconceptually marketed as a concept album; the very idea!) (oh and the original cover), but I'll take the diversity on display here (and in Living in the Past for the most part). Saw them from the nosebleed seats on stadium tour, in which they played favorites up through Passion Play, itself oft-cited but a falling off, but not such a plummet as the subsequent albums.

6. Genesis, Selling England by the Pound: Another hard choice, from among more contenders (Foxtrot, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, and even Trick of the Tail though a tad too slick, but no, no others), but I seem to be in line with the consensus here.

5. Yes, Fragile: As with the Tull above, narrowly edging out Close to the Edge, and for the same reason (and, as above, head and shoulders above the others). My first vinyl LP purchase.

4. Robert Fripp, Exposure: Now things get complicated. King Crimson has several albums up for grabbing, from the seminal In the Court of the Crimson King, through Lark's Tongue in Aspic and Red, to Discipline (which I got to see live in a small theatre setting in DC). What sets this one apart? Well, Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno for one, or two. (I'm excluding his prior collaboration with Eno in (no pussyfooting) and Evening Star on proto-ambient grounds; see below for other cases). And with Fripp, how far he's willing to push it is the virtue (not that he's ever slack), and here he's pushing in many directions at once, without losing force. OK, so I have mentioned this one previously, but in another context.

3. Gentle Giant, In a Glass House: Yet another difficult decision, with Free Hand in the same league (cf Rick Moody or John Covach), and Octopus (and Interview and The Power and the Glory) in the running, all with different virtues but all virtuous and virtuosous [sic]. I had to pick this one up as an import because the distributors didn't think it'd play in America, so I had to pick this one.

2. Pink Floyd, Meddle: Yes, I know, Dark Side of the Moon and all, but still, no contest, certainly not with anything that followed that (and I liked that, very much). Of course even their debut album was proto-proggy (still have to track down tribute band Polka Floyd's rendition of Interstellar Overdrive on accordian), but this is the one where it all came together. (I also have a soft spot for Ummagumma even though the band later disowned it to the man.)

1. Phil Manzanera, Diamond Head: After all these years, in fact through them all, my favorite, the best of what prog has to offer. I'll let him tell you all about it. It shares some material with the best live prog album, 801 Live (so too does Eno: Here Come the Warm Jets would be my selection from among his preambient solo efforts), and some personnel with Roxy Music (again spoilt for choice, anything up to Stranded).

As always, YMMV, but if you're not familiar with some of the above (and in agreement on others), take 'em out for a spin.