Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Filling in the ellipses

No. 2 pencil at ready ... Castle to Castle, North, Rigadoon treat of Céline at the end of WW II in Sigmaringen, Zornhof, and transit by rail through Germany respectively and retrospectively, if not chronologically. The most impolitic of writers, his narration smacks of Quixote's Inferno; Céline's ravishment parallels that of Europe. Vonnegut, in his introduction to Rigadoon, puts it better than I can, with only the occasional false note; I'll isolate those comments that underscore Céline's hypocritical misanthropy (which mitigate egotism as well as each other):

"[...] Céline has been praised as a stylist. He himself mocked the endlessly repeated typographical trick that made every page he wrote easily recognizable as being his: 'Me and my three dots ... my supposedly original style! ... all the real writers will tell you what to think of it! ...'
"The only writers who admire that style enough to imitate it, as far as I know, are gossip columnists. [...]
"With no especial help from his eccentric typography, in my opinion, Céline gave us in his novels the finest history we have of the total collapse of Western civilization in two world wars, as witnessed by hideously vulnerable common women and men. [...]
"Readers may find their experience softened and deepened, too, if they reflect that the author was a physician who chose to serve patients who were mainly poor. [...]
"After years of unselfish and often brilliant service to mankind in literature and medicine, he revealed himself as a fierce anti-Semite and a Nazi sympathizer. [...]
"The anti-Semitism appears only flickeringly here and there, and usually in the context of his being absolutely ga-ga about all the varieties of treacherous and foolish human beings. [...]
"Since he is punished and dead, and since the Nazi nightmare is so long ago now [1974], it may at last be possible to perceive a twisted sort of honor in his declining to speak of remorse or to offer excuses of any kind. Other collaborators with the Nazis, of whom there were tens of thousands in France and millions in all of Europe, had stories to tell of how they were forced to behave as badly as they did, and of daring acts of resistance and sabotage they commited, at the risk of their lives.
"Céline found that sort of lying ludicrous in a very ugly way.
"I get a splitting headache every time I try to write about Céline. I have one now. I never have headaches at any other time. [...]"

I think I've just about run out of fair use. Vonnegut also notes (opens with) the dual identity on the tombstone (while in the text his mother's is effaced) but without remarking on the author/narrator distinction.
(This just in: Jonathan Littell's Les Bienveillantes takes the ideologue's (i.e., not Céline) side for the first time in a long time.)

Changing trains, I followed up with Claude Simon's The Trolley, his late, spare novel. In a word, Proustian -- but having not lost a lot of time on reading Proust myself, I'll leave it at that.


Discordant notes

Gotham under siege: The best bookstore in NY held for ransom: The NYSun concludes: "When the previous location went on the market, Woody Allen expressed interest in the 'Wise Men Fish Here' sign, according to the Web site" -- fair-play turn-about on the last time GBM was in the news: "Materials related to the life and career of Woody Allen have been acquired by the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin. The collection was compiled by Andreas Brown of the Gotham Book Mart & Gallery in New York." (Maybe time to call Kawaga?)

With pardon gone begging and amnesty annulled, it's worth recalling that effects driven from the poles of the political spectrum pervaded: The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis by Humberto Costantini [Norman Thomas di Giovanni trans] serves as counterpoint to Roberto Bolaño's By Night in Chile, which it no doubt influenced, down to the final pivot-point.


Back to schooltime

... picking up where I left off:

Robert Graves, Good-bye to All That: Remarkable in its time, so successful in setting the standard that it seems less remarkable now. I preferred Cummings' The Enormous Room.
(And the Borges bestiary is a minor work, sporadically insightful; I'd prefer to see more of his poetry and essays translated.)

Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Castle to Castle: I'm withholding comment until I'm through the rest of the journey; North & Rigadoon grace my TBR shelf. Oh well, just one comment: Being decreed an island governor, a la Sancho Panza, is a brilliant touch, or brilliantly touched.

Peter Ackroyd, Chatterton: This novel deserves wider notice for posing the problem of authorial posing, and of the muddy lines between plagiary and fair use: A fair idea of the layered complications may be had in §2 here. In many respects it makes Peter Carey's My Life as a Fake superfluous. The story, motivated by the difficulties of publishing from the late 18th century to now, also succeeds in revisioning the circumstances of the proto-Romantic's death in such a way as to comment on subsequent Romanticism, especially its image of itself. (I stumbled upon this in looking into an alternative version of The Great Fire of London, per Roubaud; my tastes are tuned to just this sort of literary perplexity, when it works, as this does; YMMV [not May, Must], but you knew that already.)

John Banville, The Book of Evidence: A disappointment. Derivative of Nabokov's Lolita (with heavy allusion thereto), it deploys a new strategem of exculpation, that egoism and lack of empathy are, in their way, innocent. But this sordid, naïvil tale is unrelieved by any object motivating its narrator, including inculcating any empathy on the part of the reader, withholding Nabokov's implication by rhetorical sway, a neat trick if you can pull it off, as Nabokov does, often, but which fails under a bleaker (I was going to say Graham Greene of Brighton Beach, but Ian McEwen of The Cement Garden is closer) sort of sensibility. As commentary on Lolita it leaves too much out, and stand-alone it leaves Lolita out, with too little remaining.

I shan't say so much about the best by three Nobelaureates, so much has already been said:
Halldór Laxness, Independent People: Sort of the Moby-Dick of sheep-farming, updating the Sagas;
Yasunari Kawabata, Snow Country: Novel as renku? Precise and spare.
Imre Kertész, Kaddish for an Unborn Child: A "no" with a bow to Thomas Bernhard -- the finishing school ruminations bring me fullcircle to Graves. Full stop.


nos petits cretins

Kenzaburō Ōe does not play fair.

A Quiet Life is narrated by Ma-chan, daughter of a novelist who, grappling with depression by accepting overseas posting in the groves of academe, leaves her to look after her mentally afflicted but musically gifted elder brother. As with previous novels the situation parallels Ōe's, but unlike them here the role of the father's father is limited. So far, so fair. The last chapter doesn't quite come off, and so (however formally necessary) diminishes what precedes it. Only fair. My problem is that, Ma-chan writing her graduation thesis on Céline (in college I read Journey to the End of the Night in an all-niter, but Death on the Installment Plan took longer, the title being the etymological definition of mortgage; finally put paid to it), gives specific attention to Rigadoon, and to the American author Mr. K.V.'s championing of it in its preface: So, completing this novel I pick up Rigadoon to find that Vonnegut's intro insists on the necessity of reading the trilogy (of which this is the third) from the beginning -- clearly the implication is that I should have already read Ōe's prior work on this subject (of which I'd read only Teach us to Outgrow our Madness). Not fair. (Vonnegut too was college fodder, but I never put Slaughterhouse 5 together with Céline.) So, to temporize, I'm reading Robert Graves' Good-bye to All That, which had been on my list since Cummings' The Enormous Room ...

I bought A Quiet Life at the same time as The Silent Cry, but the first-person section of Pinget's Passacaille features an adopted cretin, so it seemed the time was ripe for the former. Of such loose associations is my reading trajectory made. Pinget and Salvayre, both chanced upon, opened my eyes to the fact I'd just scratched the surface of the nouveau roman in exhausting Alain Robbe-Grillet, so now Claude Simon, Marguerite Duras and Michael Butor await (the latter's Mobile seems timely to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Interstate Highway System*); Céline now precedes them. I've also been dipping into Most of the Most of S.J.Perelman (prompted by the maths guy [pdf] of the same surname, whose declining of the award overshadowed the stochastic Itô's Gauss prize) and Borges' atypical but archetypal The Book of Imaginary Beings (which I'm being careful not to rotate π/2).

Note to TEV: I'll look into RSSing after a brief hiatus (I know, lapses between posts are long enough as it is); meanwhile, I'm amongst the Raybotted.

* (from an old post-election egroup post): [In 2004 Bush/Kerry by county,] the blue overlay uncannily tracks the Interstates, especially I-5, I-55, and I-95 north/south, but also I-20 through the Deep South, I-25 in the SW, I-94 ... one can even see traces of I-35 and I-90 cutting through red territory, and short routes like I-79 in western PA (I'll spare you the New England list). Of course one would expect the urban/rural split to correspond, but major routes of the interstate network are excluded (I-80 or I-65 quite red for example) or ambiguous (I-40 a red on blue sandwich, I-10 a dotted line) ... it's as if Democrats fall prey on a handful of highways to the old gibe: "You're from New Jersey? What exit?"