Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence



Beyond reading Bishop's incomplete Complete Poems and collected "uncollected poems, drafts and fragments", this month has seen:

Juan Goytisolo's The Garden of Secrets, constructed around a gay poet being regrooved by the Falange or going to seed in Morocco (filtered through a literary conceit of multiple authors, and misdirection -- Shoptaw called the style of misrepresentation "homotextuality" in his Ashbery book, speaking of gay poets, but there's also something of The Conference of the Birds to it if one adds in author and reader [16.4 NYTSM author profile]), a good but short read, though not the one of his I was looking for, since his The Marx Family Saga (another A+, on order) seemed the proper follow-up after finishing:

Edmund Wilson's To The Finland Station, which builds from a romantic utopianism following the French Revolution to a cumulative climax, and that Marx-Engels thang has an odd dynamic (as does Lenin-Trotsky), but then, the political is sexual, and can make one redden. It was another sore point for Nabokov that Wilson represented Lenin as culminative rather than degenerative, reliant on the "official" sources (it takes a Potemkin village); History, coming full circle in its excesses, seems to have sided with Nabokov in the end, but with Wilson in the means.

In more 'normative' territory, Ogai Mori's c.1913 novella The Wild Geese (film version, The Mistress, spurred its translation) is perhaps old- fashioned by contrast, with a certain east/west female/male take on modernization and its facades. Another good but short read, more modern than one would expect.

Another by Škvorecký, The Tenor Saxophonist's Story, which could also be known as The Political Inspector Blues, a political novella with an apolitical protagonist, another good short read but long deferred (written in the mid50's, published in the mid90's); east/west confined to the West, though with some correlation to female/male -- again, the political is sexual, but to a jazz beat, which is importable as the expression of an oppressed class amidst orchestrated tyranny. The translation is a group effort, straining some of the cross-vignette links; the last chapter starts curiously similarly to an episode in The Engineer of Human Souls.

The most challenging, and ambitious, read of the month was an exigetical novel, Mario Brelich's The Work of Betrayal, which puts Poe's Dupin as hermeneutic dick on the case of Jesus and Judas, a different reconciliation of History, Myth, and Psychology, arguing that the truth resides in Gospel lacunae and apparent inconsistencies; less precise than Poe (and more Jesuitical than Dupin) and certainly less concise than Borges' 3 Versions, which it might be said to combine and elaborate. This argument is now being revisited by the Vatican, which brings up the odd eventuality of the papal appointment of a devil's advocate to rebut Judas' canonization.
Addendum 7.4: discovery of the Gospel of Judas (excerpts [pdf]).
11.4: Gopnik thereon. It's worth noting that while the Gnostic tendency in Borges' fictions is well-known (and given the orthodox dismissal of Gnostic heresies), Brelich's narrator takes pains to stick to established Gospel in making his case.



poems happen
as we happen upon them
sounding deep within
then rolling away
distance measured in moments
following the flash
of striking simile
turning on one word
not what or where we'd expect
to plug a sepulchre
holding an unlikely object
in ornate reliquary


Edgar Allan Piccolo

What's that? A compression of the title of the collection of Elizabeth Bishop's uncollected poetry, Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box, using slang cited in the OED (1946 E.Bishop North & South 50 He's drinking in the warm pink glow To th' accompaniment of the piccolo.)('piccolo' might also refer to a small upright piano, EB's early instrument). The juxtaposition resonates tinnily with Emerson's jingle-man comment, though it appears motivated more by Poe's compositional apparatus, however compromised:

Poe said that poetry was exact.
But pleasures are mechanical
and know beforehand what they want
and know exactly what they want.
Do they obtain that single effect
that can be calculated like alcohol
or like the response to the nickel?

Alice Quinn has assembled these poems largely from notebooks now ensconced at Vassar, including facsimiles of rough to finished drafts (the villanelle "One Art" shows the progression in almost any many drafts as lines), and, beyond limning this with the published work (or vice-versa), has provided a concordance with Bishop's life in the footnotes. However lightly trod, such footing is parlous with such a craft-conscious perfectionist as Bishop; at its most imposing, effectively satirized by Nabokov's Pale Fire, it distorts the life lived in letters. This was brought home in the very first footnote, quoting EB: "What form of punctuation to use for Aunt M[aud]'s conversation -- 'manner of speech, which was inclined to drift gently to and fro in the subconscious'", parallel to the stroke-inflected speech of Nabokov's adumbrant character:

I was brought up by dear bizarre Aunt Maud,
A poet and a painter with a taste
For realistic objects interlaced
With grotesque growths and images of doom.

Reading EB's Complete Poems, I had the sense that an important element of her technique was similar to that of the landscape painter, with each element of composition carefully selected and fitted in, not simply as a setting but as scenery in motion, populated and possessing a human significance, and appraised at a remove from but yet as an integral part of it, just as it becomes itself integral to the appraiser, whether the artist/poet or the viewer/reader, a connection absent from taking Nature as mirror or allegory. The paradigm extends beyond landscape, to cartography, to formal structure, to emotion, to memory, to allusion, to poetry. Even if not developed in the critical literature, it is still not nearly explanation enough, certainly in light of the evidence Quinn makes available.

And it is evident that what Bishop made available for publication was overly selective: Her Collected Poems is tighter than the Selected Poems of many respected poets. There are many gems in Poe & the Juke-Box, some just as well-cut and highly polished, and Quinn has performed great service in organizing this material for a general audience (more directly dealt with in Jan Atlantic, subscriber only). It's also served to put Virginia Adair on my radar. (What prompted me to take Bishop up was the occasion of a reception hosted by Gotham & FSG, heavily attended by a New Yorker demographic in which I felt somewhat out of place, artless and nowhere along the publishing chain, explaining myself NYer cartoon caption fashion: "I'm good with words and numbers. There's safety in numbers." I was told I fit right in.)

29.3 via The Page, Vendler in The New Republic sees this as a great disservice. Citing the weakest lines of what I've cited the strongest lines of. But what Bishop published was not without weak lines; these aren't her best, but contain better than her least, which will differ between estimations, which is not the sole province of the author, nor of the critic. (cf...)

10.4 Simic in
NYRB and NewCritter Logan weigh in
... and GWhite in


Continuation of the Foregoing

1) Another reappreciated poet's novel, this time Robert Creeley's The Island, about how much isolation depends upon others, and how much you can take with you, both of which explain the writer-protagonist, beyond owing quite a bit to his time in Mallorca, per interview on foray into publishing. Again, the language sensitivity, but particularly with the grammar, extending to sentence and paragraph and up, made to carry the weight, load-bearing elements putting each word, phrase, in stark relief -- the music of the prose is that of a Scriabin sonata -- putting a burden on the reader to make it all hang together (or separately).

2) Now Balkanism is proposed as a parallel to Edward Said's Orientalism; Blejić's intro, ""Blowing Up the Bridge", gives an overview. Even aside from the the misuse of "Andrić in his Nobel Prize-winning novel", it strikes me that this is perhaps, um, incoherent as a unified field of study. The new CONTEXT provides a less abstracted take on Sarajevo and on the more abstracted intelligentsia. (Also in CONTEXT, Mati Unt [link added to prior post, though title cuts 5 years off his life], and Flann O'Brien.)