Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


The Bookshelf of Good Intentions (slight return)

Ten years or so ago I made a little list that I've got through for the most part in the meantime. Of course it's not static, despite some items' persistence (like Eliot's Daniel Deronda or the remainder of The Canterbury Tales), and some things lead to others (eg Genji to Heike and Ise [and 100 Poets]), while others arrive with a thud (such as John E Woods' Arno Schmidt's Bottom's Dream). But it is not my purpose to update much less chronicle; rather, it's to mark a confluence that has allowed me to put a dent in the list.

Long absent from my list was Adam Mickiewicz's Pan Tadeusz, for lack of a translation not mired in period furnishings. Luckily for me, translator Bill Johnston felt similarly, and did something about it, and so too did Archipelago Books, for whom he'd also done Magdalena Tulli, Wiesław Myśliwski, Witold Gombrowicz & Tadeusz Różewicz (and, elsewhere, Andrzej Stasiuk and Tomasz Różycki) (all of which I'd read, many of which garnered prizes; I regret not being able to read Stanislaw Lem's Solaris, available only as audiobook). Johnston brings out how Mickiewicz subverts the epic form with elegiac comedy, sharing something of the sensitivities of Byron's Don Juan (as he remarked in a presentation at Poet's House in NYC last month). So this was the briefest of residencies on the BoGI, but prompted a further displacement ...

... since I figured, as long as I'm doing foundational national literature from the second quarter of the 19th century, what about Alessandro Manzoni's The Betrothed? Looking back 2 centuries rather than 2 decades (as Mickiewicz did), it also looked forward to unifying the Italian language (if not the Risorgimento, however alert to then contemporary echoes). Now, this ordinarily ain't my cuppa, à la Scott and all, but the first quarter to third displayed a mastery before threads started to fray, and Bruce Penman's translation made even the slogging bits tolerable.

Continuing with the impetus of the 1830ish theme, I've queued up my long-deferred Pushkin project (see top link), Nabokov's detailing of Eugene Onegin, along with the Little Tragedies (hey another Don Juan subref! yes that had its moment on the BoGI too). Moreso than Manzoni or Mickiewicz (a friend of his), Pushkin remains a presence in the national literature, particularly due to its penchant for incorporating its precursors (eg Dovlatov, Bitov). Not quite yet, other things to attend to, but as New Year's resolutions go, I think this one will be seen through.