Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Hypermodern Openings

August continues to provide uniformly hot reading.

Gombrowicz's Ferdydurke was, as promised, his best. Condemned by Nazis, Stalinists and Polish Communists in turn; you gotta love something that can bring people together like that, even in a chaotic mass of limbs. Translator Danuta Borchardt's decision to retain pupa adds a resonance in English of things unfinished in this reverse transformation.

Robero Bolaño's Last Evenings on Earth are excellent short stories by a more excellent novelist. Some stories, as with By Night in Chile, pivot on the final paragraph, or sentence; for others, that point is beyond the ending. "Anne Moore's Life", among others, brought to mind Dylan's "Tangled up in Blue". Only the last story, "Dance Card", didn't work for me, a departure from form. As for the novels, Amulet, also translated by Chris Andrews (who won the Valle-Inclan prize for translating Distant Star), will be next from New Directions, and his magnum opus 2666 is one of those selected for a 2007 translation grant through NEA. (Of forthcoming titles, besides this only Pynchon's Against the Day piques more interest.)

Robert Pinget's Recurrent Melody (Passacaille) is best described as Brian Eno's "Discreet Music" transcribed to prose. Like a short story, this novella really requires reading in a single sitting. His comment to the translator, Barbara Wright:
The object of Passacaille is to exorcise death by magical operations with words. As if the pleasure of playing with the vocabulary could delay the fatal issue ... and not just vocabulary: form (e.g., a shift to 1st person 2/3 of the way through), chronology, perspective are all in play, without markers, moving (without passion), "something broken in the mechanism" but it works, murmuring indistinctly, marginally. In Hollywords, Robbe-Grillet does Faulkner (unfair to all concerned, sure). Pinget to Wright, again:
Don't bother too much about logic: everything in Passacaille is directed against it.


change agent

archy found a blackberry
left behind by a departing
senior v p but still connected
must have slipped through the cracks
his messages were taken
by the executive suite
to be from an incoming
management consultant with
a direct line to the top
a mandate to architect
a corporate solution to
flatten the hierarchy
was assumed so they tried
to figure out what it meant
requests for minion type
were thought to be for administrative
assistance who was mehitabel
talking to what needed to be covered
so they examined their options
and backdated some memoranda
so they d be on file when the new
initiative caught up with them
but it didn t last long
as they say in the business
long story short
when no change was forthcoming
they saw they d been misled by
false prophets they should have realized
at the end of the day
nobody talks to the boss
that way

-- franz the cockroach


Path dependence

Today marks six months since I started working full-time again. I had the luxury of a few years of part-time work, which permitted me to broaden and deepen my reading, among other things, such as starting this blog; but time constraints have led this effort to turn into more of a reading diary than I had intended, not that I had any specific intention to begin with, nor ongoingly for that matter, outside of dealing with things literary, one way or another. More on this anon.

It's not the first time my work-life has been affected by an Act of Congress (I know, every time there's one, somebody gets screwed, but I've no complaint). I'd thought I'd left such dependencies behind, after a prior 'career' (in the sense of accreted on-the-job specialized knowledge) on rail rate regulation fizzled along with the ICC (hostile takeover by DOT), and I relocated from DC (ultimate company town, both divisions headquartered there) to NYC, with computer programming picked up on the way (along with a maths baccalaureate) my ticket. Consultancy led to a new career (I s'pose it's lasted long enough to lose the quotes) in which the programming was eventually set aside to redeploy analytical skills in the service of a function largely mandated, once again, by regulatory requirements. As with all my prior jobs, the only choice involved on my part was to take, and to make the most of (NB: not poundwise, but neither pennyfoolish), opportunities that were presented (as they were clearly superior to any alternatives I might have pursued, but didn't anyway -- and those making these opportunities available felt, accurately, that the return would exceed the risk) -- the exception being choosing to work part-time (following a stretch of working no-time, doing grad-level homestudy in maths, which, however quixotic, proved useful), which, alas, is no longer possible (or probable, almost surely). But, as chance would have it, so would I -- I once traced my work-life through the dictionary entries for 'volatility', starting with dispersion through media, my first 'real' job being in Pharma R&D, as a lab-tech, in "Dissolution Testing", on downers (no, really; yeah, a capsule summary). Now, it's a mismeasure of risk. So, the 'Stochastic' in the blogname is not gratuitous, nor merely an allusion to the Sortes Virgilianae. It's an optimization technique, an adaptive process. Pragmatic serendipity.

And so with my reading. All over the map. I'm surprised how much has been in translation, and how little American, but it seems to me that major literary innovation over the past half-century is likely to originate elsewhere. And for all the concern about the market for translations (and more generally for literary fiction), there's never been so much available. As in published. In book form. (Thanks esp. to Dalkey -- earned the right to complain [via].) Not counting all the efforts to make public domain texts available in the most public domain of all, them thar internets, starting with granddaddy Gutenberg, but extending to individual efforts, such as Risa Bear, Jack Lynch or Ray Davis. Nor to mention all the guidance provided for navigating the Liternets, and the books themselves. The scarcity is time, the opportunity cost the books not read. So it's time to bring this rumination to a close; got to get up for work tomorrow; at least I'll be able to read on the train.



Early August reading has been excellent.

Jacques Roubaud, The Great Fire of London: The first (and only English-available) branch of a monument in remembrance of his late wife. Dalkey has assembled a casebook, providing useful information and some insight, but ultimately in this portrait the artist remains absent. I knew him, however, as both mathematician and poet, and my measures were adapted with reference to the circumstances by which he was surrounded. A few observations:
A minor point: §61 projects rigid body transformations (translation, rotation, reflection) into the literary (translation in language, palindrome, mirroring). Projection is one (geometric) key to the project and its shadow, the novel.
The book is divided proportionately (between story, insertions, bifurcations) to the time spent in conceptualizing it.
Of his habits, walking, swimming, counting, reading are transits over land, sea, number, word, but it is the transit through time that prevails, under the core axioms "Poetry is the memory of language" and "Mathematics is the rhythm of the world."

Jerzy Ficowski, Waiting for the Dog to Sleep: Poet, Roma scholar and Bruno Schulz rehabilitator Ficowski brings the some of the latter's (and his own) technique to bear upon a less magical, more melancholy world.

Gilbert Sorrentino, A Strange Commonplace: After Crystal Vision, the deck has diminished from the Tarot to a regular deck of cards (cut in the middle), but the relationships between vignettes now take precedence. Dan Green (of The Reading Experience) summarized in Jacket, to which I'll add: the underlying structure depends upon relative position in each half as well as (if not more than) repeated titles, and upon the commonality of character names as well as physical elements and incidents shared among the stories. This became a must-read for me due to the money graf from an early (in MSM terms) LATimes review:
"Sorrentino couldn't help nodding to Melville's 'The Confidence-Man,' a text to which 'A Strange Commonplace' clearly owes a great deal. But where Melville's oddest novel employed a similar range of trickery as part of a formal inquisition into truth, appearance and identity's infinite masquerade, here the rancor overwhelms. Sorrentino, always in control, was aware of the risk he ran. Just at the point that the narration of another generically squalid affair begins to feel unbearable, the author mugs: "To rehearse the ups and downs of this shabby amour … would be tedious for me, and for you as well." A few chapters later, detailing yet another iteration, he winks, sadistically: 'It was especially boring and tiresome to hear him tell the story, again and yet again.'"
But this misleads, and misreads both: Sorrentino is not doing with sex (and love) what Melville was with money (and trust), the latter depending on explicitly on tradition both religious and literary for its sense of paradox, and on the progression of a journey. A Strange Commonplace is wrenched free of such referents, is static even as time moves on. Various excerpts: Brooklyn Rail, P&W, RSB.

But enough with the mature works; I'm returning to childhood with Gombrowicz's Ferdydurke.