Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Quick takes

Gilbert Sorrentino, The Moon in its Flight: "I have attempted to tell this story many times over the past years, the past decades, for that matter. I've not been able to bring it off. I've never been able to invent—inhabit, perhaps—the proper narrational attitude. I begin to invent plausible situations that soon falsify everything, or unlikely situations that, just as soon, parody everything." So begins "In Loveland", but it applies to much of this short story collection: See Derik Badman & Dan Green for elaboration, with which (or whom, whatevar) I largely but not fully concur, in part because it's interesting to see how (if not why) the particular storyline fails to gel (if it had, perhaps into a novel? anyway, of these, the last is best), but on the whole this book feels the least of what I've read of his (which is a lot, but not all, and not his poetry at all). For the rest, "A Beehive Arranged on Humane Principles" and a couple of shorter pieces feel Barthelmean rather than Sorrentinose.

RSB has a couple RCF pieces on him, by Andrews and Creeley (cf Creeley's afterword to Splendide-Hôtel); also, a '94 interview with Laurence.

Alejo Carpentier, The Kingdom of This World (trans Harriet de Onis): "Magical realism" begins here (as lo real maravilloso in Carpentier's original preface to this novella), and here is much sparer and so more powerful than it later became (in Boom works such as The Explosion in the Cathedral—b'dum-pssh—). The life of the protagonist, Ti Noël, spans the Haitian slave rebellion against whites, then blacks, ending with mulattoes in the synthascendent, while religion shades from Catholic to Vodou — written while the former waged holy war on the latter. This is less to the point than the animism bracketing the story.

Graham Greene, The Comedians: I'd put off reading this until had a better sense of Haitian history, for which the preceding sufficed. Planned as an "entertainment", it became much more, a book that had an effect, and yet the cycle continues. More timely if less timeless than Carpentier. I suppose who the comedians are depends upon the stage set for them.

Danilo Kiš, The Encyclopedia of the Dead (trans Michael Henry Heim): I usually don't come back so quickly to an author, but Kiš is exceptional. The stand-out stories are those influenced by Borges: The title cut combines Aleph and Library, while "The Book of Kings and Fools", whose subject may have inspired Tlön, suppresses some details while others are imaginatively conjectured. Most of the stories derive from prior art or incident, but others (e.g., "The Story of the Master and the Disciple") seem to converge upon it. Kiš provides a postscript commenting on each story in turn (he notes the LDS genealogy project wrt "Encyclopedia", after the fact; I seem to recall Borges noting it in a similar context, don't know where). So rather than excerpting any of the stories, I'll include the last words of this testament:

"The reference to the 'arch-materialist Diderot' derives doubtless from the following letter, which I discovered thanks to Madame Elisabeth de Fontenay: 'People who have loved each other in life and ask to be buried side by side are not perhaps so mad as is generally supposed. Perhaps their ashes press together, commingle, and unite . . . What do I know? Perhaps they have not lost all feeling, all memory of their original state; perhaps a remnant of warmth and life continues to smolder in them. O Sophie, if I might still hope to touch you, feel you, unite with you, merge with you when we are no more, if there is a law of affinity between our elements, if we were destined to form a single being, if in the train of centuries I were meant to become one with you, if the molecules of your moldering lover had the power to stir and move about and go in search of your molecules dispersed in nature! Leave me this wild fancy; it is so dear to me, it would ensure me an eternity in you and with you . . .'"


Optical Allusion

Claude Simon, Triptych (trans Helen R. Lane): A compendium of film techniques, especially editing, structurally carrying a three-reeler of three interspliced narratives, in time as well as settings: rural, urban-industrial, Mediterranean resort (plus a circus act), from an "I am a movie camera" perspective. Simon doesn't miss a trick – the first two settings include projection (in a barn, a theatre) and the third, a movie set – and it's all done with wit (e.g., film rabbiting in its sprockets). But for me, it's more construction than novel, its subject matter all a matter of perspective on what ultimately falls flat, and all that cross-cutting goes against the grain; cinema buffs may find it interesting, but then by and large they'd rather wait for the movie (subtitled not dubbed). Speaking of projection, an academic take on blind spots and afterimages; more worth reading are an over- and interview.


I can name that tune in no notes

It's a bit scary when you can guess what's coming next on the radio from crowd noise ... I never owned any of Frampton's tunes, but just knew that "Do you feel like we do" was about to be borne.

(Sorry about the prior post not being as crisp as I would have liked, something there I failed to articulate, it'll have to do.)


In the beginning I left messages in the aether

David Markson, Wittgenstein's Mistress: Markson recently released The Last Novel, fourth book in a trilogy of which the seed was contained in this novel, which bears more palpable fruit. (Not that I've read them, but from the descriptions I've encountered I'd rather be working my way through Walter Benjamin's The Arcades Project, which, in fact, I am, between novels.) As I recall, when this first came out my interest was subdued by a co-programmer who was (is) a philosophy ex-post-doc (ergo propter?) (but as I think of it, perhaps ex-ante) (which is not to say Kantian) (I'm just not sure about his thesis) (if there was one) (but this was after that). But these are philosophical investigations of another order, or disorder: The narrator is not unreliable but her perception, memory, cognition are impaired. Prior episodes of madness have completely alienated her from human (even animal) contact, except through art and music (not reading), in which her interests lie not in the works but in the underlying artists (the only painting described in detail is by an unsigned and unknown artist), making for a sort of second-order engagement which is overlaid upon many of Wittgenstein's words (as material for Markson's bricolage) and overlaps his conceptions. It's a nice conceit, well executed in a brilliant comic confusion, though the conclusion doesn't satisfy, though I can't think of a better way to wrap it up. Beyond the coherence of the narrator in her in- or decoherence, there is the second-hand apprehension of literature via popular culture, context without content (even Pynchon's liner notes are online these days), pointed observation on Culture as well as on problems of depiction and language, which overrides the cheap thrills of recognition of allusions beyond the narrator's ken, a sort of brain candy that I suspect is more prevalent in Markson's later work; I'm now more interested in what preceded this. To turn to the author's story rather than his works, his role in rehabilitating Lowry (via thesis) and in refloating an unrecognized Gaddis inclines me more favorably towards his own efforts.

Other linkage:
Tabbi's reading of and interview with Markson
Badman's overview
TEV, likewise
A more recent interview


My top ten, and what of them I haven't read

The 10 20c authors (alluded to in prior post) I've chosen below are those I've been compelled to read just about everything that I could get my hands on; not necessarily the best of what the 20th century has to offer (though I think there's substantial overlap). But I haven't read all that each has offered, anyway (and only of that in English translation, as applicable) -- what follows is what's been left out so far:

Nabokov: Top spot in my book. Yes, I've even read the plays (indifferent though they are) and the translations (Igor, Lermontov) (not to mention copious secondary material), with only one monumental work left: Eugene Onegin was to have been a summer project, but other reading interceded. Actually, I once breezed through the Text (V.1), but a proper reading with the Commentary (V.2) awaits.

Borges: Alastair Ried's translations of unselected poetry, the out-of-print collaborations (excepting The Chronicles of Bustos-Domecq), the interviews.

These two stand apart, not only through their own writings, but also in extending my reading through both critical essay and literary allusion.

The 3IE:
Joyce: Finnegans Wake still intimidates from the shelf.
Beckett: Nohow On, Happy Days, and the miscellany.
O'Brien: The Poor Mouth, for fear it suffers in translation.

Pynchon: maybe the occasional NYRB essay, is all.

Eco: Of the fiction, none unread. Of the rest, of what's in print and aside from children's books: Kant and the Platypus, History of Beauty, Thomas Aquinas, Joyce, and I've only really browsed A Theory of Semiotics & Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language.

Queneau: Exercises in Style (a self-imposed constraint).
Perec: on nupraisal, nomissions.

Kafka: Amerika, though it's been a very long time since I've read the longer works.

Were I to add a poet to the above, it would be Pessoa (without omission in translation); a playwright, Stoppard (a few missed, most notably the latest); a critic, Bakhtin (not Volosinov/Medvedev, if that counts) ... and if he doesn't qualify as philosopher, then Wittgenstein (Remarks on Mathematics, lest it mess with my dayjob ... more anon). But among the 'greats' (those on just about every top ten list, except here, since it's my accounting of tastes, and I don't deny the greatness of e.g. Woolf or Faulkner), it's only Proust I haven't cracked (yet).



Much virtual ink has been metaphorically spilt over what should properly be considered the predecessor to the blog, whether as medium or as genre. In the latter case, that these are pieces for publication argues against diarists or occasional essayists, and for journalists of regular 'occasional' pieces casting their lines for larger audiences (than, for examples, 'zines). Two exemplars follow:

Flann O'Brien, At War: Among my top 10 20c authors, Eire is overrepresented by the Three Irish Exiles (3IE), Joyce, Beckett, and O'Brien. The latter, a case of internal exile, from himself as well, not least in name (Brian O'Nolan wrote these pieces for the Irish Times under the byline Myles na gCopaleen) but in displacement -- the mask slips only to reveal another. Here he is simultaneously Keats and Chapman:

See, I'm at the window now. I pull aside a corner of the blind and peer out. Dismal rain. A sodden fugure us making his way through the murk. He is approaching the house, he is going to call. Who can it be? I can scarcely make out his face but there is something familiar about his stride. The clothes too I have seen before. Now I see him! I know who it is. It is myself! I rush down and open the door just as the ring comes. Immediately I am confronted with the question.

'What were you doing at the window?'

'I was just looking out for myself,' I nimbly reply.

This is the third collection from Cruiskeen Lawn, of earlier pieces not quite as scintillating as the others (more excerpts). But even then he knew whereby a tale hangs off an execrable pun (e.g., As for drink, they tell me it can give you a red nose, a complaint that can be passed on to your children. Damn nosa, how red it is!* / *damnosa hereditas, a blighted legacy, but explaining the joke puts the humor out of its misery).

O'Brien's style (especially the cathecismic) has been pastiched by a number of bloggers, but without the feel for pacing and the superb absurd placing of the throwaway bit of erudition; I've indulged in it in bookchat myself, but like much else it was the most fun the first time. (The link may be self-indulgent, but. Best. Bookchat. Evah.)

Clarice Lispector, The Foreign Legion (trans G Pontiero): Short stories plus crônicas, the latter having that blog-journal feel. Lispector's stories vary (at least in translation) but her descriptions of that which words cannot capture about childhood ("The Misfortunes of Sofia", "The Message") are unmatched, though she's better known for her works on the worse off; both are well represented in the crônicas, as is the writing process and critical commentary. That these pieces, or fragments, come from her 'bottom-drawer' doesn't mean they're just shelf-liner. Here, she seems to anticipate Eno's ambient music more than reflecting Cage's 4'33" (though No.2 seems relevant as an Oblique Strategy):

In Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, I woke up in the middle of the night, as peaceful as if I were awakening from a peaceful bout of insomnia. And I heard an ethereal music which I had heard once before. It was extremely sweet and without any melody, yet it consisted of sounds that could be orchestrated into melody. It was undulating and uninterrupted. The sounds emerged like fifteen thousand stars. I felt certain that I was capturing the most primitive vibrations of air, as if silence were speaking. Silence was speaking. It had a low and constant pitch without any edginess, and it was criss-crossed with horizontal, oblique sounds. Thousands of resonances which had the same pitch and the same intensity, the same relaxed pace, a night of bliss.

It resembled a trailing veil of sound, with variations largely of shadow and light, sometimes of density (such as when the veil fluttered and folded over). The music was incredibly beautiful, and impossible to describe because there are no words to denote silence. The composer's presence was not felt; only angels in countless groups, impersonal as angels, anonymous as angels. When silence manifests itself, there is no warning; silence simply manifests itself in silence. As if you were to ask: what is the number 1357217? And this number were to come forward and reveal itself as 1357217. Silence can achieve the maximum: by becoming evident. And so my hotel room was inundated with the choral song of silence which became evident. And I was blessed in this manner. But I have no desire to renew the experience.

The rest is silence.


Rough Stretch

One of these days, one of these days isn't going to be one of those days.