Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Readings: Semiannual Year in Review

Best book published in 2011: While it's not mentioned in any periodical's year-end best-ofs (not even among TLS's 72 contributors), in a rare and rarefied consensus (explicit at least between the first two interlocutors below), the bookchatroom I frequent converged on Gerald Murnane, from which I extract a minimally edited colloquy:
Funhouse: So Barley Patch. It's metafiction, but it's not like any other metafictional work that I've read. It's an extended meditation on why Murnane gave up writing fiction for fourteen years that begins with the question "Must I write?" This involves delving into his life story (while recognising that this is a fictional representation of his life). The life we glimpse is a prosaic one: attending Catholic school, feeling repressed, living in the suburbs of Melbourne and other towns around Victoria, reading books and eventually writing them. Murnane has never left Australia and has barely left Victoria, and physically this book doesn't leave those locations, but it feels expansive.
It's built on repetitions, both within the novel and within Murnane's body of work as a whole, as he returns to the plains and his timidity and the mental landscapes he constructs. Those mental landscapes that he finds lurking behind the words on the page of the books that he reads and writes are the key to answering the questions that he poses about the function of literature. You almost inevitably find yourself drawn into his fictional world in the way he describes being drawn into others. This is about what it's like to lose yourself in a book. Late in the book he talks about reading about the notion of the memory palace and recognising that he had stumbled upon something like that inadvertently in his own work, and it's true, he has:
Tract after tract of mostly level grassy countryside, each with trees on its farther side -- this would have been universe enough for me.
I had quite an emotional reaction to this book. It feels like Murnane is laying himself bare, exposing his personal inner world to us in an honest and generous way. I was moved.
nnyhav: Well put, better than I could've. There's something a little strange in his meditation on forgoing writing seeming at the same time the culmination of all that went before it (even if it isn't—I'll have to read more of him to find out, and since it sounds like Inland covers much the same territory if not metaterritory, I'm gonna hafta be patient ...). Also for all the comparisons it is truly sui generis (and generous).
Funhouse: Thanks, Dave. And you're right, it does feel like a culmination of what has come before and that is odd in the context of giving up what he had been doing.
And you're right about it being sui generis even as you can detect echoes of other writers and voices. I didn't mention before but I get something of Kurt Vonnegut in Murnane's tone, with the hint of naivety that belies the philosophical seriousness of the work. And Barley Patch in a way reminded me of Coover's The Universal Baseball Association, with horse racing instead of baseball, and the sense of descending into this fictional construct.
johnnywalkitoff: I'm with Dave...well put, man. Early on in my reading of the work I was thinking that it was like metafiction but not like the typical "you are reading a book, this is language, these are pages" type of way, because the fiction itself does not seem as important as compared to being aware of what images of the mind it gives the reader (sometimes there seems to be an absence of language when the reader/ writer get the images right) and thinking of the book as a book of strong and recurring images...and the religion or science of images.... and blahblahblah, but when I got to a certain point and quit thinking it was just beautiful.
(Great call on the Vonnegut, not explicit, but once you said it...reminded me of how Vonnegut always said he felt the most comfortable writing sentences that sounded like the way he talked as a person raised in INdianna (?)...I think that is in the collection of essays, Palm Sunday)
oneofmurphysbiscuits: It's a very long time since i've read a novel and determined from the first page that i was being spoken to, not told something or enjoined to listen—he has no need to command, i was being spoken to. As metafiction it is metafiction of the utmost care and intercession, free play in the novel is intercession and kindness, he watches after things and people as does Chekhov ( "if we can't talk about this, then it means we'll have to talk about that, and i don't want to, so did we mistime things after all?"—it's heartrending and i can't but thank him enough) There's also so much in the book that resonates with me as to his descriptions of topological and phenomenological space and my own commitments be they to prose or poetry. (for such a short novel there is so much room, so much textual space within which he's able to get to work, it's extraordinary, and extraordinarily loveable, given the book's contents). Above all, i was stunned by his apprehension of phenomenological space as a space of and for empathy and solicitude.

(My initial blurb: "fiction inhabited / inhibited". It's a sure thing that I had the book in mind in playing the horses' oddsmaker in my prior post. Also, from revivified Context: Nicholas Birns Reading Gerald Murnane. [Dalkey Archive])

Other notable readings (published whenever) not discussed here in the interim:
Laszlo Krasznahorkai, The Melancholy of Resistance (George Szirtes) [NDP]: another figure my bookchatroom can agree on.
Fumiko Enchi, A Tale of False Fortunes (Roger K. Thomas) [UHawaii]: the medium is the message ... historical fiction framed around a supposed counter-perspective (ostensibly seen only by Enchi as a child in an antiquarian collection) to the millenium-old A Tale of Flowering Fortunes, panegyric to a regent, from the empress' side (inspired by Tanizaki's "A Portrait of Shunkin" but reaching much farther back, and with a classicist's authority). Spirit possession, both real and feigned, is a feature of Heian narrative and operates here as well, but with an implied modern aspect that tales serve a similar function. I'm only familiar with the titles of some of the works cited, but the story supplies enough background for that not to matter too much. Anyway, an impressive departure from the better-known Masks or The Waiting Years.
Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, A Mind at Peace (Erdag Göknar) [Archipelago]: "The greatest novel ever written about Istanbul."—Orhan Pamuk, precisely: a lovesong [choose any preposition] Istanbul; a bit much of le café Aldous Huxley (but more charitable), but then the time (late interwar) and place were dialectical ... (paperback is re-edited; recommended).
Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita (Diana Burgin & Katherine Tiernan O'Connor) [Vintage]: sheer magic, best of USSR ... (Ellendea Proffer's commentary slants toward didactic); mostly reread (after Ginsburg's pre-uncensored version, long ago).

Overall this year, about half by writers I hadn't encountered before (and more than half translated, but that's par); authors indulged twice include Eric Chevillard, Fumiko Enchi, Cormac McCarthy, China Miéville, Umberto Eco (but one was the Confessions of a Young Novelist rehash) ... but among my favorite authors, after having read a dozen of his fictions (plus essays & poems), I finally lost all constraint and delved into:
Raymond Queneau, Exercises in Style (Barbara Wright) [NDP]: good fun and more but not so much so as to make it less good fun (read to accompaniment of The Art of the Fugue as performed by the Canadian Brass, as "Queneau explains that the idea for the Exercises came to him in the 1930s, after he and his friend Michel Leiris had attended a concert at the Salle Pleyel where Bach's The Art of the Fugue had been played. What particularly struck Queneau about this piece was that, although based on a rather slight theme, its variations 'proliferated almost to infinity'." [BW intro; o&btw WKCR[.org]'s Bachfest is running thru year-end]). Now it will be difficult to get my hands on any Englished Queneau I haven't already read ... tho I s'pose I should check out a newer translation of Zazie dans le métro, as the one I have is the Olympia Press Traveller's Companion edition (which had been "previously been announced under the title 'Zazie or the Sex of Angels'" ... The Blue Flowers still my fave, but back to the book at hand, how can I exercise resistance to temptation? By exorcising it:
So I'm on this bus, the S bus, around lunchtime, it's really packed, and this guy gets on, just a pup, wet behind the ears, he's got a hat pulled down over them, jammed down like a cap on a long-necked bottle, with this cord like a twist-top around it. Discord, that's what he was about, standing in the aisle, getting jostled as people tried to get past, he turns on the guy next to him and sputters Get offa my feet! The guy says Get offa your own feet, and a seat opens up so he does.
Later, on the same bus, I see the same guy talking to a buddy over in the Cour de Rome. And this other guy
really knows how to push his buttons.

For th' coming 2012
Jacques Roubaud, Mathematique (Ian Monk)
Gerald Murnane, Inland
Laszlo Krasznahorkai, Satantango (George Szirtes) (long anticipated)
Arno Schmidt, Bottom's Dream (John E. Woods) (not yet announced but due)
(I'm also hopeful the first installment of Cartarescu's Orbitor [Blinding] will make an appearance late next year, tho 2013 looks more likely ...)