Friday, September 16, 2016



Thomas McGonigle, St. Patrick’s Day: Another Day in Dublin (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press
Thomas McGonigle has published three novels. The first is called The Corpse Dream of N. Petkov ((1987), a treatment of the last moments of the leader of Bulgaria’s Agrarian Party, executed by hanging in 1947.  The second is Going to Patchogue (1992), the story of a day trip there and back to the town on what the natives call Longh Island where the author grew up (he was born in Brooklyn in 1944). Now, more than forty years in the making – ‘Dublin-Sofia-New York 1972-2015’ -- comes St. Patrick’s Day: Another Day in Dublin – St Patrick’s Day 1972, that is, when the narrator, one ‘Tom McGonigle’, returns to the city where he was once a student at UCD, although the action, if that’s the name for it, is not confined to Dublin or to the year in question, but wanders hither and yon through time and space. Headlines referring to later events, such as the hunger strikes, and an evening out with, among others, a poet by the name of Nuala and a man called Jonathan who writes history about Belfast and Ulster, earn their unpredictable though unexceptional keep as readily as do recollections of Patrick Kavanagh and lectures by ‘Denis’ at a certain university. Spatially, while the eponymous day essentially consists of a via dolorosa taking in Grogan’s, Neary’s, McDaid’s, the Russell Hotel (where Tom is staying) and ending up in a bacchanal in Poolbeg Street, there are also side-trips to Paris, Sophia, Copenhagen, Flensburg, and other international locations, not forgetting Patchogue -- a name whose resemblance to the title of a book by, say, An t-Athair Peadar is just about the only literary connection that’s beyond this novel’s range, both in terms of names dropped and (mainly modernist) techniques adapted.  
                  But then Tom isn’t much of a one for the Irish – for the Irish in any form, animal, human or mineral (though few minerals are in evidence on the day in question). Or rather, it’s more accurate to say that he is and he isn’t. He acknowledges attachment – by blood and also by virtue of emotional and sentimental ties – but he also maintains detachment. He knows everyone, without seeming particularly close to anyone. He’s a displaced Yank, a deracinated Paddy. These and many other contrasts (not conflicts, interestingly) equip the narrator with his presence and his uneven though ineluctable momentum, and generate an extensive series of registers which constantly give way to each other, phasing in and out with no discernible pattern, with nothing, really, but their own unavoidable multiplicity. From such layering what might be described as a collage-like portrait of the protagonist emerges, as the book’s cover suggests by featuring a piece entitled ‘Pub Crawl Down Memory Lane’ by New York-based, Belfast-born artist David Sandlin. Tom is in mourning, that essentially modernist condition. He’s also a boozer, a jilted lover, an ugly American -- at least in the eyes of many of his fellow-imbibers, allegedly -- a traveller, a loner, a writer, a litterateur, and an emigrant traversing not the briny the ocean but that of his consciousness of loss. The collage view of St. Patrick’s Day, an assemblage of scraps, bits of material that have outlived their use but which are still knocking around, is also reinforced by the use of different type-faces. These, too, signal different registers, but they also suggest the distracted, or distractable nature of the apprehending subject, and depict the mind as a sphere through which anything might pass at any given moment. There is, then, an inveterate restlessness, or a kind of passive-aggressive attitude to direction and purpose, to the novel, so that the narrative’s stream of consciousness technique, to which restlessness is endemic, spills over into all aspects of the book, aesthetic, psychological, social, and whatever you’re having yourself.  
                  This is all fine and large in its way, no doubt, and it’s interesting to find in this age of literary reaction for find a work still committed to the indivisibility of matter and manner. One result of this commitment is that St. Patrick’s Day flaunts much of what might be expected of it. This is not to say that the story (for want of a better term) is completely random and arbitrary. Tom’s visit to Dublin, and his ability to afford it, is one outcome of the sudden and undignified death of his Donegal-born father in an upstate New York carpark. Thoughts of his father’s working life as an executive tacitly question the worth of such a career, which in the end turns out to be no more solid than the drink that lubricates the moment’s passing and then itself is passed. The mourning note is accentuated by attempts to undercut it, such as the fingering of the grimy banknotes that sustain the many rounds stood in the course of the day. The Yank has cash, but it’s a poor thing, all in all – the novel ends on an absurdist financial (and textual) note, reproducing a cheque for half a million pounds signed by Derek Mahon. Time’s uneven current and its inscrutable value is more to the point that the supposedly invariant reliability of currency. The rounds of drinks, and the rounds of the various pubs, are only the most obvious instances of a more general notion of circulation deriving from recollections of travel and, indeed, from recollections of all sorts. An interplay of repetition and difference underlies this shifting around, as ‘another day in Dublin’ suggests, in addition that subtitle’s paying a downbeat homage to, as well as establishing a distance  from, the book of June 16, 1904. This same sense also resides in Tom’s active dating life as a UCD undergraduate, which features a beauty from Réunion as well as various Europeans, and above all Barbara, a local, the moment of parting from whom, casual and unnecessary as it seems, continues to haunt him (haunting being a form of returning, which is a fundamental component of circulation). But special moments with Barbara coexist with a nostalgie de la boue for other people and places from earlier days – African students, dodgy lodgings, coffee at the New Amsterdam in South Anne Street or the Copenhagen, Rathmines Road.
                  In view of its mentioning so many well-known writers of the day, not all favourably by any means – and no doubt readers familiar with the scene back then will recognise many of the other personages – it might be thought that St. Patrick’s Day is a roman à clef . But there’s no clef, because there’s no one thing to be unlocked. True to the self-revealing character of stream-of-consciousness, what you see is what you get with Tom. And other characters, whatever their status, are just as much mixed bags and passers-by as he is. No particular distinction or merit inheres in being a local, a native, a national. On the contrary, although they may be at home in a certain geographical sense, the great majority of the characters seem displaced, for whom the pub is a wayside chapel, a time-out from the difficulties, domestic and otherwise, of so many other nameless days. Tom has found no basis for believing that being Irish is in any way a privilege. If it is, surely St. Patrick’s Day is when what such a privilege take persuasive form, one combining public affirmation with personal conviction. What we have instead is the pub and its personalities, or alternatively bands and cheerleaders from Tom’s native country. Such polarities are expressions of resistance and acknowledgement, allowing Tom to state that this may be how it superficially is but that he remains unaffiliated. And these differences are additional contexts for the confession of remorse-free estrangement that constitutes the narrative as a whole.  
                  In the course of the concluding bacchanal Tom is told, ‘It was a foolish idea coming over to Ireland to relive the past, when all grown people know the past is only in books.’ Well, not only. But whatever about this remark’s accuracy, it does underline the status of time in the book, both in how it is both the medium of memory and of the present (and, as noted, there are a few flash-forwards too, bringing to mind T.S. Eliot’s formulation: ‘Time present and time past/Are both perhaps present in time future/And time future contained in time past’). Even the remark itself is coloured by temporality, coming too late as it obviously does. The result is that, intriguing as the presences of, say, James Liddy, Leland Bardwell, Philip Hobsbaum and related figures may be, theirs are walk-on roles, appropriate representatives of that time and place. Their names remain with us, but in themselves, like Tom himself, they are embodiments of transience, just passing through. Time is a lot more powerful than any of them are, a superior character, as it were, replete with unpredictable agency and archival authority. It might be that, as Tom is told, ‘You talk too much of the past and your part in it’. But there’s a strong sense throughout that one of the few sure things is that spending time is our basic enterprise, an outlay whose recompense is as dubious as it is inevitable.  
                  Those lines of Eliot continue, ‘If all time is eternally present/All time is unredeemable’. Tom would appear to go along with that, at least up to a point, as with everything else. On the other hand, there it also seems that acknowledging transience, as memory inevitably does, is a way of not being at its mercy. And it may be argued that such acknowledgment is the novelist’s singular office, given his engagement with duration, change, mutability, persistence, the whole chronological apparatus of story. For that reason, perhaps, one of a kind though St. Patrick’s Day might be, it also glancingly gives its avatars their due  Ulysses, Under the Volcano, The Ginger Man being those most broadly hinted at obvious cases in point. Tom does come across as a something of a latter-day Stephen Dedalus, death-haunted,  recalling to the reader Stephen’s memorable borrowing: Il se promène, au lisant le livre de lui-même. He also has elements of Lowry’s Geoffrey Firmin, a soused consul from another country, his own state of mind. And if Tom is a peppery type of presence, the kinship between this book’s pub-crawl core and the world of The Ginger Man is plain enough.

                  The glimpses of these works, and numerous others, in St. Patrick’s Day help the reader find some bearings in its complicated discursive domain, and they also affirm the possibility of capturing transience while at the same time rendering it. A kind of continuity, however uneven, is thus paradoxically proposed whereby the impermanence of experience is a precondition for its retention. In that way, reading and writing are models of temporality, making their mark but always moving on to the next surprising thing. The particularly layered, stylistically unadorned treatment of this type of conceptual material is undoubtedly demanding, not that Tom or his author are going to apologise for that. Nor should they. And that’s not the only reason the book could get up people’s noses. But if in its simultaneous combinations and dislocations, its momentariness and recollection, St. Patrick’s Day provokes, in the long run it’s worth it. We could do with a bit more provocation.  

GEORGE O'BRIEN is the author of many books and in particular: THE VILLAGE OF LONGING and DANCEHALL DAYS which are classic memoirs about his life in Ireland.  

Saturday, September 10, 2016


The first copies of ST PATRICK’S DAY another day in Dublin arrive here on East First Street in Manhattan on August 8, 2016. 
In my mind the book began on the day I arrived in Dublin on the over-night ferry from Glasgow in September, 1964.  That is not to say I began writing the book on that sunny day, as I remember, stepping from the ferry and finding my way to Upper Gardner Street that first morning to find the bedsit where I would spend the first two days in Dublin…
I want this writing to be a record of both that moment in Dublin and what is happening to the now printed version of those years of days of minutes. 
Since 8 August, 2016… a reading has been arranged for at 192 Books at 192 Tenth Avenue on 28 September 2016  at 7pm   
I will also be at the bookshop at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana on 9 November and I am said to be meeting with students and faculty on the 10th of November.
And Marek Waldorf commented on the book at Good Reads:
Reminding me that we had talked digitally about his book and my book when his book was published by Turtle Point Press
AVAILABILITY.   As far as I know  McNally Jackson on Prince Street in Manhattan and 192 Books are the only bookstores in the world to carry ST. PATRICK’S DAY another day in Dublin.    It is available from Amazon (around the world it seems) and Barnes and Noble  and some other commercial websites. I hope it will one day be available at the University of Notre Dame bookstore.   
REVIEWS.   To date there have been no advance reviews in Publishers Weekly Library Journal of Kirkus.  At a later date I will describe the likely reason for that as my previous book GOING TO PATCHOGUE was reviewed in these places.   But that was a long time ago as was pointed out to me by Tom Whalen who reminded me that it is rare indeed for an author to have in my case a book published 24 years after my previous book, GOING TO PATCHOGUE--- though a paperback of that book was rather reluctantly published by Dalkey Archive in 2010 and is still in print as is my first book THE CORPSE DREAM OF N. PETKOV published in 1987 in hardcover by Dalkey Archive and later released in paper back by Northwestern University Press in 2000.  A Bulgarian version of PETKOV appeared in the “thick” journal SVREMENIK in Sofia in 1991.  There is sometimes talk of an actual book version of it in Sofia, but nothing comes of this.
FUTURE.  I KNOW I KNOW.  Things have changed.  Both of my previous books were reviewed in the New York Times.  Articles have been written about me and the books in both the New York Times and Newsday… but that is my impersonation of the aging actress or actor looking at his clippings collection as the house grows dusty.  A familiar figure.  Back then there were three bookstores within a brief drive of Patchogue.  St Marks Bookstore is gone…
I wait.  I look to the un-published books:  EMPTY AMERICAN LETTERS.


Monday, August 15, 2016


AS I WROTE EARLIER TODAY ON FACEBOOK: TODAY, ST. PATRICK'S DAY another day in Dublin is officially published by the University of Notre Dame Press. 50 years ago today, on the Feast of the Assumption as my sister Mary Ann McGonigle reminded me, I broke my knee during the Peace Corps training at Occidental College to go to Turkey to teach English. My life really changed back then. Later today on the blog I will try to tease out the connections between today then and now shadowed as today is by knowing that the woman who went to Turkey a few weeks from today 50 years ago and who was probably the best volunteer in the project is dying in a hospice uptown from where I am sitting on East First Street in Manhattan.

As I was writing these lines I felt very important, very much in the present moment and filled with whatever it is that allows me to sum up the world in a few sentences with my own individual experiences at the center of that place.
The reality is quite different as beyond a few people no one in the billions of inhabitants are aware of these two moments.
The publication of ST. PATRICK’S DAY another day in Dublin has gone un-mentioned in the usual organs of review: Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal and Kirkus. This is not unusual as the book has been published by a university press and as such is a bit away from the something or other…  the press has done what it can: copies have been sent to a list of suggested possible reviewers, been sent to the usual newspapers but it is likely these copies  are on its way to The Strand Book Store or an equivalent where it will be sold to that shop for few pennies on the dollar…
An August 15 book is simply old news to the newspapers and as such has a SELL BY stamp as prominent as the A in The Scarlet Letter.  The remaining two weeks of August will confirm my supposition or…
It is probably no accident that these lines are beginning to echo the man in Krapp’s Last Tape.
Additionally at the moment there has been no definite news from any of the individuals or magazines as to what may result… but according to the publicity person three small journals have expressed some interest in seeing copies of the book  but now most of these journals have large digital adjunct to the printed version and I am agnostic as to what it means to be published digitally… being “dated” as I am:  it is print I crave… but how old-fashion of me!  A relic
OF COURSE I am echoing the Pascalian fearful silences of the empty spaces.  But more immediately  I am echoing the narrator who is often confused with the author in George Garett’s POISON PEN where in talking about the job of a creative writing professor is to prepare students for bad reviews but for what is more likely: the Silence.
However in this writing  I am now in the afternoon and in a few hours I will be on the playing field opposite the swimming pool at Occidental College.  The Turkish languge classes have finished for the day …maybe there was a lecture on Turkish history …it is possible I looked at a page in the ARTUAD ANTHOLOGY  which City Lights had published and which I bought at the suggestion of Jim Kari who had heard about it as UCLA and who lived down the hall in the dorm and came from Hermosa Beach …duplicating that moment I opened the book and these lines:  THERE’S AN ANGUISH  There’s an acid and turbid anguish---powerful as a knife---whose quartering is as heavy as earth….(my eye skipped down to the bottom of the page):  It consumes only what belongs to it, it is born of if its own asphyxiation.
I don’t think I would have looked again at LIFE AGAINST DEATH…remember that?  by Norman O. Brown…  an attempt against the living death then being sold in America at the moment and of course it was very very popular and now forgotten…  the Artaud lead me many years later to David Rattray who had translated some of the Artaud texts and who helped a piece of my writing FORGET THE FUTURE into BOMB…
Of course for the sake of “my” book I hope this credit will allow BOMB to note ST PATRICK’S DAY another day in Dublin arrival though I will believe it when I see it. Mention of Artaud and how long ago was their publishing:  an ancient, I do believe!
TO CUT TO… I am sitting on the edge of the pool with my leg in the water… I must have fainted for a moment when someone stepped on my foot to block my passing  the ball on the soccer field and now  it hurts and hurts and that night it will swell up and a day later there will be surgery and recovery in Northern Wisconsin where my parents are living in exile from New York… at the end of October I will go to Dublin and in the spring I will visit those from the Peace Corps who are now teaching in Istanbul, Ankara, Bafra, Eskisehir and I will look for them again in the fall after having been in Bulgaria though some will have been thrown out Turkey for drugs and I will go back to Sofia and marry Lilia and eventually she and I will return to Dublin where I will continues to see the surgeon about my knee now mostly healed .and have to go over to London, to the American airbase at Ruislip to get a physical for the draft. A Scottish boy is also waiting for his physical and hoping he will not be rejected, as he so wants to leave Scotland…
The Peace Corps volunteer I saw in Eskisehir is now dying in a hospice where the pain is  controlled, mostly, as she told me last.
If I remember correctly, Artaud went mad on one of his voyages to/from Mexico and was taken off the ship to be institutionalized in Ireland for a while. 

I thought of Artaud years later when in Rodez to take the train for Paris after visiting Hannah Green and John Wesley in Conques… but all of that is for another time …now there is the waiting for the silence

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


From an unpublished manuscript by David Jones, “Teach the pupil that first you make one mark on the paper.  Then you make another.  And the significance of these two marks is the relationship between them--- which is a third, invisible mark.”

If I was editing a book section for this week I would start with a memorial notice for Peter Esterhazy by sending you to a long review in which I discussed many of PE’s novels when such reviews were possible in big city newspapers in the US—but of course no longer:
And the Los Angeles Times even let me go on again with Esterhazy:
I would skip to a line in the most recent  Patrick Modiano  novel LITTLE JEWEL (Yale University Press) to be translated,   “He was still speaking to me of about Persian of the plains. It was like Finnish, he said. It was also a pleasant language to listen to.  You could hear the rustle of wind in the grasses and the murmur of waterfalls.”
       Modiano like Claude Simon is fortunate to have only had one publisher in France, but then both are French and at one time they did things differently there… both writers, so unlike in many ways, live in the constant  confusion of past-present-future…all of their books form a whole as did Kerouac come to think of it…  and while both Modiano and Simon have Nobel prizes in their cases these prizes mean nothing, really--- the prize has allowed more of Modiano to appear in English… for Claude Simon  his Nobel was met by derision in the US summed up by Isaac Singer asking, is Claude a man or a woman… and not joking, sad to say…
The lines I have quoted from Modiano’s novel concerns itself with a woman who has met a man who knows 25 languages… and she has been looking for her mother who years before just disappeared as people tend to do in Modiano’s novels and as they disappear in our own lives… why even tell you more… those sentences tell you, here is a very very good writer and no more need to be said.  
All of Modiano’s novels---how I like the repetition of his books--- are always about looking, looking and wanting to know…
They are remarkable as is Simon in that they mirror my own and how like Thomas Bernhard I hate plotted stories…! Those machines carving the world into beginning middle and end with characters introduced, developed, inter-acting and complications thrown in their way and then THE END

I was thinking of Bernhard because Laura Lindgren sent me her translation--- that word does not do justice to the beauty of the actual book itself THREE DAYS  (Blast Books)  because I had met her and Ken Swezey in the ANTHOLOGY FILM ARCHIVES on Second Street a long time ago where we were all watching THREE DAYS a documentary made by a German showing and recording  Thomas Bernhard sitting on a park bench on three days and talking, just talking.  Lindgren has made a beautifully designed book composed of artfully arranged stills from the movie, nicely printed and with a generous use of blank space to allow the reader to experience the actual said words of Bernhard, as is proper: the words of Bernhard, and it is only because of the words of Bernhard that we go to him…

 I am hardly a cheery author, no storyteller; I basically detest stories.  I am a story destroyer, I am a typical story destroyer. In my work, at the first sign of a story taking form, or if I catch sight of even a trace of a story, rising somewhere in the distance behind a mound of prose, I shoot it down.

And I would go on and ask someone to read DISPATCHES FROM MOMENTS OF CALM  by Alexander Kluge and Gerhard Richter (Seagull Books)  which is a collaboration between the writer and artist that begins in a new year’s meeting at  Hotel Waldhaus in Sils-Marie…of course the reader and viewer recognize the place and its association with Nietzsche… the nervous words of Kluge moving so easily from Gemany to Lebanon and many other places echo the complexity of Richter who in so many ways is the only painter one can compare to Warhol--- but let me not explain that--- except I am thinking of two shows of Richter I have seen: the retrospective at the Tate years ago and another of the unveiling at MOMA of the complete series of paintings that came out of the violent deaths of Baader and Meinhof, October 18, 1977.
And I would ask for words on the interview book with  MARGUERITE DURAS  SUSPENDED PASSION by Leopoldina Pallotta delle Torre (SEAULL BOOKS)  and here is an answer to the question And how do you read?
“I read at night, until three or four in the morning.  The darkness around you adds greatly to the absolute passion that developes between you and the book.  Don’t you find hat? In a way daylight dissipates the intensity.”

Which strikes me as the perfect answer to those really stupid articles about “beach reads”, “summer reads” all invitations to mindlessness… whenever I see someone reading a book at the beach I know that is a person I would never want to talk with… newspapers and “quality magazines” are perfect beach readings…
But how I dislike the idea that a book review in a newspaper is just really as was patiently explained to me a number of times by book section editors as really being only a report of books being published,,. you are writing a book review you are not doing criticism whatever that is... and no newspaper person does criticism and remember of course that books of criticism are the first to be discarded when book collections are being narrowed down along with the biogrpahies of writers and…
I think I would want people to maybe read about a book by Ernesto Sabato  THE ANGEL OF DARKNESS… so a leap to Argentina and how did Sabato become lost in the shuffle?
But there should also be books from the past to go against the idea that only the new matters…the Poundian:  news that stays news… making it new is reminding of what was/is… so SAUL’S BOOK by Paul T. Rogers, celebrated for how many times it was turned down by the so-called real publishers and then taken up as the EDITORS’ BOOK AWARD given by Pushcart Press…
The world of homosexuals on the make and I am not talking about two Dads renting a womb to have twins… obviously inspired by both CITY OF NIGHT and LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN, still holds its own and is stillcontroversial as it once was as the repression ever continues about the actual lives as in the novel:  A guy finds a guy in the bathroom of the Port Authority bus station:
….”and let him blow me for a couple of minutes until my dick finally gets hard which is when I pump back and forth like I was cumming and put it out and wipe it off fast  with some shit paper, zip myself back up and tip.  When I close the door he’s still sitting there with his dick in his hand, smiling like something really tremendous happened.  I bet he thinks I came.  Most people don’t know it but guys can fake cumming just like hooers do. All you got to do is while the guy is blowing you, you bring up a little phlegm, pull your dick out of his mouth fast and grab ahold of it and while you’re grabbing it you put the phlegm from your onto your dick head.  The phlegm looks like cum.  I guess it must taste like cum too cause I never had no complaint about it.

When you look up what happened to Rogers, the perfect literary career: only one  book and he was murdered according to the bio in Wikipedia:

On September 22, 1984, Rogers was found dead in his apartment by the superintendent of his apartment building. Two days later on September 24, charges of murder conspiracy and robbery were laid against Christopher Rogers, the author's adopted son, and Nicholas Ondrizek, a drifter who had been staying with them. The pair reportedly beat him to death with a wooden plank, and then stole his wallet and bank card. He was 48 years old at the time of his death, and according to his editor was gravely ill with cancer.
The two pleaded guilty to the charges on October 9, 1985.