Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


February reads

James Merrill, The Changing Light at Sandover [Atheneum]: Pretty much the longest resident of my Bookshelf of Good Intentions, but I'm glad I waited til after reading his Collected (October before last: while technically adept from the very start, I don't think he discovered where he was writing from until the 60s—not that that was always the same place, in fact it very much wasn't, but the earlier explorations seem to lack a grounding, often strike as form over substance, with complexity or erudition compensating [but I always have the problem that in reading chronologically I'm trying to follow the development of the poet at the same time as I'm learning how to read him/her, and the two don't seem separable]). Washington University archives and has recently made available scans of the source material (thx thepage). What's uncanny is the simultaneous construction and deconstruction of (the) mythos, moreso than the mythos itself (having it both ways works better in the former than the latter [tho the case may be made otherwise, or that each entails the other]); not perfect, but dazzling in form and sparkling in wit without being overdetermined by either, but I thought "Scripts for the Pageant" got off too slowly and more flawed, but I shan't nitpick, and it's all excused anyway by the ambition and the accomplishment—my fears of misreading thru Nabokov were misplaced, tho he does peek in a few times ... but for late 20th century American poetry, Merrill is just behind [one ouija footstep] ...

John Ashbery, The Vermont Notebook & Houseboat Days [in LoA's Collected]: Filling in early Ashbery; the former lightweight (Barbara Guest does such better) but the latter took me a couple of passes (so far); as I've said before (more generally), not just NY schoolcraft, but trying to knowingly assimilate and modernize a raft of French influences (troubadours, Rimbaud, Roussel, bits of Surrealism, Oulipoan constraints) and naïveté (cf eg [I can name that tune in 4 notes!] Ashbery & Darger) before decomplificating it (disingenuity not disingenuous), bringing it into the idiom rather than drawing it out from it. In the case of Houseboat Days, the changes in register both between and within made for a high degree of difficulty and added style bonus.

Mikhail Shishkin, The Light and the Dark (Andrew Bromfield) [Quercus]: amor vincit omnia ... the tale's in the telling, but what's telling are how seemingly trivial details correspond, and what this has to do with the nature of love and the relationship between writer and reader ... but it's almost lost in writing past its object. So I preferred Maidenhair.

Mario Vargas Llosa, Conversation in The Cathedral (Gregory Rabassa) [ff]:The Great Peruvian Novel? the interleaving of stories and chronology radical (esp Part I), reflecting underlying hybridities amid the dog's breakfast of social institutions.

Jaan Kross, Professor Martens' Departure (Anselm Hollo) [New Press]: Reimagining history in the service of reimagining the future, and not just of Estonia. Many familiar tropes made new, in what for me was otherwise less familiar territory.

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Unconsoled [Vintage]: Traversing the topology of a tangled web of obligations and performance anxieties. For all the craft in elaborating the dream-logic, it works too much against itself, being overly coherent in full for its parts (even if the author knew it). But it provided an excellent set-up for ...

Karl Ove Knausgård, My Struggle, Book I (Don Bartlett) [archipelago]: Bildungsromemoir, and memoreconstruction, not really comparable to Proust (as so much isn't) but not irrelevant (actually, finishing Proust was one excuse for not embarking on this sooner), it's just that framing it that way makes for flattening and downmarketing. Even though it's a top-seller for my favorite publisher, I might have passed on it (my lack of affinity for modern Nordic lit) but for the similarity with Jacques Roubaud's project (small-p) and the Kickstarter that put it at hand. Many better qualified than I have raved about it, but I merely warmed to it. May your mileage vary.