Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Reading music: scattered notes

At times certain themes emerge in my reading matter; this time, music was the keynote, or more properly, the incorporation of musical form into the writing, playing on Walter Pater's old saw on art's aspirations. All of the following required a slower tempo than I'm used to, but with commensurate reward.

The theme was introduced by Ingeborg Bachmann's Malina, though I'd picked it up more as another instance of a poet's novel; she'd also done opera libretti, and takes opera as structure and tone for the three-part narrative (with three principal parts), while permutational elements of duodecaphony are compositionally brought in. Other (Viennese) influences include Wittgenstein (Ludwig not Paul: of what we cannot sing we must be silent), and Freud, not to mention the novelists. Mark Anderson contributes a voluble valuable afterword, "Death Arias in Vienna", situating all this and more (but alas not online). Philip Boehm's translation seems a bit flat, but I suspect it's a matter of trade-offs. [John Taylor in Context]

Curiously, A.G. Porta overlaps some of the same territory in The No World Concerto (translated by Darren Koolman and Rhett McNeil), especially Schoenberg and Wittgenstein. Again it wasn't so much the music that prompted me as his early collaboration with Roberto Bolaño (Consejos de un discípulo de Morrison a un fanático de Joyce (Advice from a disciple of Morrison to a fan of Joyce), 1984 Premio Ámbito Literario winner; didn't publish on his own til 1999 with Braudel por (by) Braudel). No World in turn won the 2005 Premio Café Gijón and is the first to be englished. So ... two mirrors bumping into each other walking down the road ... or,

As noted in the review linked below, it is indeed "vulnerable to the line of attack James Wood mounted against Paul Auster in a 2009 New Yorker takedown: 'Because nothing is persuasively assembled, the inevitable postmodern disassembly leaves one largely untouched . . . Presence fails to turn into significant absence, because presence was not present enough.'"; and the Austerizing is annoying (to nonfans like yrs truly; fans will eat it up) but mitigated (but only mitigated) by relevance to the formal conceits (the Tractatus as well as dodecacaphony [tho warped rather than wrapped]). (Incidentally, the review is wrong in its finding that "the only full proper name I found in the novel was that of Leon Kowalski"; the other is Mrs. Oedipa Maas.) (and my lukecoldness may be attributable to having recently read Malina, better where there's overlap, but unfair comparison). [Eric Lundgren in TQC; interview in Bomb]

Finally, a novel that attracted specifically because of the music: Kirsty Gunn's The Big Music, on the Highland bagpipes and the pibrach (since I can't spell piobaireachd), analogue to the concerto. The story also blends elements of genealogy, history, and pedagogy (the last would put me off were it not stylistically justified; that said, the authorial instrusive asterisks make explicit much of what is clear implicitly, and so annoys). The review below covers the ground, but I'll note that one note is never sounded (until the last appendix). [Andrea Scrima in TQC; interview]

(I'm also dipping into Songbook: The Selected Poems of Umberto Saba [George Hochfield & Leonard Nathan], but the early stuff loses its music in translation ...)