Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence



Donald Barthelme's Flying to America: 45 more stories (well, 44 1/3) collects 30 that had appeared in Come Back, Dr. Caligari | Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts | Amateurs | Great Days | Overnight to Many Distant Cities | Sadness, (nearly) a dozen that hadn't, and (almost, maybe) 3 previously unpublished. So much of it was familiar (in its defamiliarizing way), but it's good to have it all in hand once again (my having passed along the aforementioned way back when). It's as hit-or-miss as always, more of the former than anyone has a right to, though, given the range. I recognized more than I'd expected to; it also led to recognizing a similarity with other stand-alone material (which fits in better with Ray's argument, so there, &thx). But I think the defamiliarization helped to revitalize the form. Speaking of which ...

My interest in Borges prompted me to pick up William Faulkner's Wild Palms [If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem] upon learning that it was his transmutation that introduced WF to the Latin American writers who would turn themselves into the Magical Realists, and in turn succeed so well in English translation. (I haven't read much WF outside of Yoknawhatevah, which casts a long shadow.) The dual story has a curious publication history, having been split in the late 40s by Malcolm Cowley (with WF's complaining complicity) and briefly in 50s France, though quickly corrected there, with translator Coindreau defending in essay in Les temps moderne: "To say that 'Old Man' gains by being printed and read independently of 'Wild Palms' is to pretend that a fugue would be more beautiful if the answer and the countersubject were detached from the subject." (Restoration took much longer in the US.) That the stories can function independently makes the interaction that much more remarkable, and it's not just a matter of parallel ravelling (f'rinstance, the narrative temporal reversal of roles between the doctor/landlord and the deputy warden). But an added frisson, given Borges as conduit to GGM et al, was afforded by the brief interlude with a Cajan character whose only word in English is 'boom'.

Borges likewise prompted Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, all the more as a segue from Walter Benjamin, from whom he was encouraged to embark on this summa, to whom he dedicates it. All of it held my interest (and I feel a rereading of Eco's Foucault's Pendulum coming on), but the Zohar chapters had that added philological aspect that beyond the pseudepigraphia aligns with getting to the crux of the creation of Constantine's Donation and of Ossian's verse. For a treatise on gnostical leanings, it's particularly apt that the Aramaic windowdressing on Hebrew writing should provide a key to unitary authorship:

This motley display of different styles is equally evident in the use of pronouns and particles and in the employment of forms and endings of nouns. In some cases, the forms used are those of the Targum Jerushalmi. Frequently, the various forms appear quite indiscriminately in the same sentence. As a result, every page of the Zohar displays a rainbow picture of linguistic eclecticism, the constituent elements of which, however, remain constant throughout. The syntax is extremely simple, almost monotonous, and wherever there are differences between Hebrew and Aramaic, the construction is distinctly Hebrew. Syntactical peculiarities of medieval Hebrew recur in Aramaic disguise.

As in the case of every artificial language, a characteristic note is introduced by misunderstandings and grammatical misconstructions. Thus the author in many cases confuses the verb-stems of
Kal with those of Pael and Aphel, and vice versa. He employs entirely wrong forms of Ethpael, and gives a transitive meaning to verbs in Ethpael. He mixes up finite verb-forms, chiefly in the many cases where the endings of the participle are tacked on the perfect; and his use of prepositions and conjunctions is often quite preposterous.

All the more apt in that, while written for publication in English (based upon lectures in same in New York), Scholem composed in German, with George Lichtheim translating. In any case, I've noticed that this is the longest string of untranslated reading I've done in a long while; continuing now with Salman Rushdie's Imaginary Homelands (and dipping into Dante Gabriel Rossetti, with Blake on deck).

Addendum 23.11: I could not let pass without mention that one section of the Zohar is Sava, "The Old Man"; per Scholem a coupla pages on:

"Which is the serpent that flies in the air and walks alone, and meanwhile an ant resting between its teeth has the enjoyment, beginning in community and ending in isolation? Which is the eagle whose nest is in the tree that does not exist? Which are his young which grow up, but not among the creatures, which were created in the place where they were not created? What are those which, when they ascend, descend, and when they descend, ascend, two which are one, and one which is three? Who is the beautiful girl on whom nobody has set his eyes, whose body is concealed and revealed, who goes out in the morning and hides in the day, who puts on the ornaments that are not there?"--Thus the "Old Man" begins his great discourse. The mystifying purpose is plain. It is also apparent in the not infrequent sentences containing some brief impressive-sounding obiter dictum which is not only in most cases entirely obscure but which in many instances cannot even be properly construed grammatically. It is sometimes difficult to avoid the impression that the author was acting on the good old principle of epater le bourgeios. However that may be, his capacity for declamatory, pathetical and sonorous prose was without doubt highly developed, and it is undeniable that he was a sovereign master on the instrument which he himself had fashioned.

I know some people who feel that way about Faulkner.


mo' mentum

Reading of late:

The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse Wyndham Lewis & Charles Lee, ed.: Sometimes the flame of inspiration throws up clinkers. The aporrhoea ranges from Abraham Cowley to Tennyson, with the best bits served up as hors d'ouerve and postprandial. While this serves to remind that even the best weren't always at their best, it's the forgotten, those left behind by shifting tastes (and those tastes themselves), that I found more of interest; overall, though, I prefer parody (e.g. eds. Dwight MacDonald, William Zaranka) as a means of teasing out such foibles.

V.S. Naipaul, A House for Mr. Biswas: One of those loose tight 19c-style thangs that I have such trouble getting through; in this case the book kinda like the ramshackle house, reading it kinda like being Mr. Biswas. The only other thing I'd read of his was A Bend in the River, long ago ... The Enigma of Arrival tempts, as anything borrowing from de Chirico (Apollinaire suggested the title) would for me (and "a sunlit sea journey ending in a dangerous classical city" brings to mind Broch's The Death of Virgil), but even though Servius' writing smiles, and the family portraiture excels, his style's just not my cuppa, so I may pass on ... anyway, glad perhaps somebody's satisfied now.

M. John Harrison, Nova Swing: A follow-up to Light, more quantum noir, won the award Light should have, doubling up on its lateness, this time generational. Nova Swing, while good, feels like the middle weak link to a trilogy (I can hope), not quite realizing its ambition. Vico Serotonin is tourguide for this pubcrawl among no-hopers nonetheless hopeful (opener). PS: I must mention the Rarebit-Fiend in conjunction.

I'm hoping my jadedness doesn't carry over into reading Donald Barthelme's Flying to America: 45 more stories (ed Kim Herzinger), just out, just in. (Of prior posthumous Herzinger compilations, I found The Teachings of Don B. to be essential, not so Not-Knowing.)