Sunday, January 10, 2016


1.              From The Wall Street Journal:  Nobody needs to buy a book,” says Jane Friedman, CEO of Open Road, which promotes its titles via  “You have to make it appealing, and one of the best ways to do that is price.”
2.           A writing Life, again, as I had written such a life for the Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook of 2002, at the invitation of George Garrett, now dead, as soon I will be, no doubt, the only fate we can  be sure of.
BUT IN THE MIDST OF THIS SOME BOOKS THAT SEEM TO BE ALIVE FOR ME IN THE MOMENT…. The year of books for me: Wolfgang Hilbig’s “I” published by Seagull Books but the absence of any new books of translations of Thomas Bernhard was again a lost year though Douglas Robertson  at is making available unauthorized translations of TB and I have enjoyed the letters of TB to his publisher and a translation of UNGENACH and while not at the level of CORRECTION of EXTINCTION … still takes us to GARGOYLES of fond memory.  In so many ways Thomas Bernhard and Louis Ferdinand Celine… make remote every contemporary American writer… none that I know of come close to these two and I include myself in this… yet the writing continues as does the reading.

 I have finally discovered or renewed my acquaintance with Elemire Zolla whose THE ECLIPSE OF THE INTELLECTUAL has now been joined by THE WRITER AND THE SHAMAN  A Morphology of the American Indian because to go west as I am doing this month is to always go toward the American Indian…  which is probably of the higher sort of cliché…D.H. LAWRENCE… CAMILO JOSE CELA, even J.M.G. LeCLezio---all of the more famous… The American Indian is both always present and always absent…

(The phrase Native American  has a slight condescending tone to it: anything that is official academic speak is patronizing in some offensive way…
      For me the best novel about the American West remains Cela’s CHRIST VERSUS ARIZONA… none other comes close sadly, not even William Eastlake or LeClezio’s books who at least for me lost his way after TERRA AMATA…but I must not know what I am talking about as he did not get the Nobel Prize for TERRA AMATA but for what I thought the wrong turn…
          YET, Patrick Modiano is a worthy Nobel Prize winner and we are blessed with many of his books into English:  OUT OF THE DARK which moves from Paris to London in the 60s reverberated for me as he was able to describe at least in the London part of the book the world I knew there and in Dublin; the casual meetings with the rich, the famous, people in on something or other and open to meeting people like his narrator and I so identify with that narrator… it is embarrassing in some way… and my ST PATRICK’S DAY when it appears might be another proof via the descriptions of London and Dublin and dare I say New York City… a mingling among. a messing about with… now no longer possible for too many sad and obvious reasons.  Here is a bit from Modiano describing one of those typical figures who moved through our lives in retrospect, dramatically, reflectively and as the real cliché word would have it: unforgettable until of course forgotten but suddenly remembered by a McGonigle or here by Modiano: 
“He kept girls much younger than he was, and he put them up in apartments like the one in Chepstows (sic. There is no S) Villas.  He came to see them in the afternoon, and, without undressing, with no preliminaries, ordering them to turn their back to him, he took them very quickly, as coldly and mechanically as if he was brushing his teeth.  Then he would play a game of chess with them on a little chessboard he always carried with him in his black suitcase.
             NOTE: my wife as a 15 year old girl was living in Chepstow Villas many years later in the Estonian Center attached in some way to the Estonian Embassy, a legacy of unrecognized conquest of Estonia by the Soviet Union following World War Two, with her mother when a call came announcing the death of her father back in the USA where he was an itinerant Lutheran minister attending to the needs one of his congregations in Baltimore to which he traveled from their home in Edison, New Jersey, twice a month…
           and I too walked by that street,  year after year, when I would  go in January to London to visit the Oldfields who lived in Ladbroke Grove but to walk by this street and then along the Portobello Road always remembering the upstairs flat where I stayed when I  had come over from Dublin to go to a ball at Clivden... though Profumo and poor Christine Keeler were but a scent in the swimming pool where I went swimming with Antonia Peck, now dead, a suicide--- and Caroline Fleming  Bowder who wrote two novels and now writes plays which seem to be popular about people afflicted by  terrible diseases …
2.     My two books remain in print: THE CORPSE DREAM OF N. PETKOV (In paper from Northwestern University Press/hardcover  from Dalkey Archive) and GOING TO PATCHOGUE (In paper and hardcover from Dalkey Archive).  I am not fully sure of their actual availability from Dalkey Archive as I have had no accounting from them for many years but they remain in printed and listed on the Dalkey Archive web page.
3.     In the Fall of 2016 the University of Notre Dame Press is scheduled to publish my ST. PATRICK’S DAY (another day in Dublin).   Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, Julian Rios and James McCourt have supplied blurbs for the book and the book has been awarded the Notre Dame Review Prize. 
            I will believe this when I have the actual book in hand.  A contract has been signed.  The prize money has been received and the check did not bounce… ($1000).  There was no actual advance for the book and it would take hundred of thousands copies sold before I would have enough money to say get a plane ticket to Dublin.  This is the reality of publication in the real world outside the fantasy world of gossip columns in the pages of Vanity Fair…
I am not complaining but the sourness is evident XXXXXX xxxxxxxxxxxxxx  [[[[I moved a section from here to the end of the text so as to not confuse the reader--- few as they  may be----  as I do not want to dismissed as supping solely upon sour grapes]]]] xxxxxxxxxx

I am glad that Dalkey Archive has survived the severing of its ties to the University of Illinois and is now located in Texas with an office in Dublin.  While no longer distributed by Columbia University Press… Dalkey Archive books are available from Amazon, though not as easily accessible in the usual books stores as their current distributor is rather obscure.
And I have continued to write and have if anyone is interested  a few manuscripts that could and should be published: 
I am writing        WESLEY HE IS ALMOST DEAD
                           DIPTYCH BEFORE DYING.
YEARS AGO back when editors read books, read magazines and newspapers  I had two letters from editors after I published two stories in the VILLAGE VOICE  a son’s father’s day and Goodbye W.H.Auden  One of those editors Kate Medina was already a prominent editor and she continues on in publishing…
For years and years I have published hundreds of reviews in the Washington Post, New York Newsday, the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times… and have never once received a note from any editor of any sort enquiring after my so-called literary work… not even after both books were reviewed in the New York Times and Going to Patchogue was even the subject of feature stories in both the New York Times and Newsday…
Of course there is background

                                WHEN AT COLUMBIA in 1972  Nadine Gordimer taught at the School of the Arts:
"The natural writer's magic could be honed by a creative writing course, but never created. "Although deadly serious about his desire to write," she (NADINE GORDIMER) commented on student Thomas McGonigle, "he also has a an equally deadly facility." But she was delighted to be proven wrong on him when decades later, she began to notice and enjoy McGonigle's essays in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. [from NO COLD KITCHEN, A Biography of Nadine Gordimer by Ronald Suresh Roberts]             
                And then to really prove my own case I decided to put up what I have been working on as a way to avoid going back to finish EMPTY AMERICAN LETTERS, what might me my last book, a journey about Bulgaria, but to avoid that I have been writing out little voyages of going to Newfoundland and Mexico City with my father in 1973 after my mother died and this lead to what was here on the blog recently OVERLOOKED OBITUARY

FINALLY:  If you want to read the self-censored section please write to me and I will send it as a private communication:

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

DIPTYCH BEFORE DYING can this be read?

          For some time now in the delusion of being a writer I have been writing what I thought should be called DIPTYCH BEFORE DYING, based on the two journeys --- to Newfoundland and Mexico City--- I made with my father in the weeks before his death in the summer of 1973...recently i have thought it should be a TRIPTYCH as I discovered the imagined death of my first wife in Venice in the Spring of that year, while in Venice on the way to Bulgaria.  At the beginning of August we were staying at the Hotel del Prado on Reforma, in Mexico City... so

          The guy in the hotel tourist office gave us the tickets and said in the summer they try out young bullfighters.  It gives them, what is it you say, experience for the regular season…  You can’t learn to fight the bull in your head, I’m sure you know this, you can’t do it only in the country out there in a village way beyond the city: you have to come into the city eventually, be in the big stadium… these are not good seats but they are high up… that is the best way to see it for the first time, away from being there too closely, to see why people come to see what they are seeing, up too close it is all personality and something to be written about and make photographs of and you look at the people looking more than they’re worth.  And you can’t understand what they are saying… Americans always insist on the best seats in the house... you don’t want that, I think.
          However, did this man: here is the descriptive pause in recollection:  ---thick brown frames of eye glasses, heavy black hair combed back from the forehead, a broad face, blue suit jacket, white shirt and black tie, neither tall nor short as he never stood all the time I was in the office--- the brown envelope with the tickets had been handed across the desk to me, silver ring on the second finger of his right hand with a small green square of stone: enough you might say--- begins to talk to me in the office off the waiting room with the faded posters and the broken down over-stuffed leather covered  chairs which in the years developed wounds that had been sewn together, but never healed, he was saying, when he could see my hand was on the sewn wound of the seat of the chair next to the one I was sitting on. 
          The woman who sews our chairs no longer seems to be coming by the hotel, I can’t account for her disappearance as we pay her well and in cash and she did her work quickly with no expectation of something more, I think, but one can’t tell people all the time what to do and she was one of those people, maybe as your hand can feel on the wound---  the words from a song:  in mortis examine--- that is what your fingers are moving over and I have seen you with your father is it?... when you came for the car to see Teotihuacan… that is another reason for the seats I found for you and your father as already it is all too close to you and I am sure you feel this as he goes to sleep or if you awaken and see him sleeping, preparing his face, we say here, sleeping, preparing our last face to be remembered, something, maybe the only thing we do not have to do, to remember that---  what we looked like when we were last seen, though they remember and you will remember forever and ever as they say, ever and ever… replacing the living with the last memory, with your father you will enjoy going to the bullfight, it is not to my taste but it remains here and it will remain here though I am not in any way… sitting up in the heights you will not be targets for the wild ones who like to throw things and as long as your father keeps his hat on he will not be a provocation… it is written about in one of the English language books about Mexico that the little boys like using the bald heads of the gringo for target practice--- I do not know in pursuit of what it is they are training.
          Eduardo has come into existence.
          We never say Eddie or Ed like the Americans do in their constant intimacy, their constant drawing the wagon train into a circle, even if only on the basis of a person’s first name, Eduardo was saying, once the tickets for the bullfight had been pushed across the glass topped desk, I had a friend who called me Ed.  He had heard the name in an American movie he had seen and liked the sound of it, as it was foreign and we each saw the other as a visitor from some other place: I wanted to come from Russia and sometimes I wanted to come from China, don’t ask me why, while my friend wanted to come from the US of A.  He liked saying that: the US of A.  He liked the sloppiness of the Americans and told me the formality of our people will be the death of our people:  as you can see we were both experts before our time.  My friend said we were so formal we had a code worked out for the different coughs a person could utter for a multitude of purposes… and I’d ask him where his English originated and he would look at me as if I was talking about the dark side of moon or some other place at which point in an impossible to believe change of topic he asked if I was… and I will complete that sentence for you as it gives the wrong impression
          You are to take a taxi, Eduardo says, as a pause came after his sentence.  I notice as his hands moved about on the desk, moving pages from here to there and then straightening the little pile that a blue and white paperback book moved into view and then disappeared but not before I had seen the title The Clothes of a Dead Priest.  The author’s name was unfamiliar to me yet it seemed close in spelling to John Currier or it could have been John Carrier. 
          I did not ask Eduardo about the book as I thought his revealing it was all he had wanted to do, though I could not understand what he had wanted to tell me by showing this book.   
          A taxi, from the front of the hotel and the driver will know where to leave you for the entrance these tickets will allow you to enter.  I doubt the stadium will be very crowded since it is summer time but those attending will be there for the most honorable of reasons:  the tickets are cheaper, they can really feel superior to these toreadors, they will be encouraging of the young and sometimes the comedy is of the highest order since it is wrapped in blood and death, even if everyone involved is not of the first rank. And you should feel no compassion for any of it: this is the hardest aspect of going to such a spectacle, it is a moment away from the usual, a necessary turning from so as to turn back.
          Sea deep thoughts are to be kept away from yourself and you should enjoy wondering when the boy with the beer will be up to where you are seating yourselves … these trivial details are finally more productive, if one must be vulgar about such a matter.  There will be an element of winnowing to be witnessed:  the last days of the aged horses, the bulls that in some way are defective, not being fully worthy of being killed by a master… and while the bull hardly has much of a chance and the toreador runs his risks, there is always an unbalance… the superficial wounds inflicted on the bull, don’t ask anyone their opinion of any of this as this is your advantage of not speaking Spanish… the banalities of protest and explanation. 
          Trust yourself to what your own eyes see and be able to ask your father what he sees and I do hope he will be able to find words for what he sees as such a spectacle is more ably described by he who is closer to his own final moment but I fear I might be intruding upon your own wish to be closer to the end of the story, am I not right?
          I had been listening to Eduardo’s voice and while it is probably impossible for a reader to believe I could have remembered this conversation at this great remove---as the old books would have it--- I have to say Eduardo is here as close to me as the skin on my fingers is to the bones it covers.  Though there is no way I can claim to be an anatomist and use the resulting authority to plead my case:  yes, I did remember what Eduardo had been saying though I am willing to grant  some of my memory might be frazzled by the passage of the something or other, but that is neither explanation nor defense of the veracity of my transcription of his sentences.
          If it rains and it is likely to rain on such a Sunday, a boy will appear with clear plastic rain capes and the fight will go on no matter the weather… as in football matches: the weather contributes its share to the struggle, unlike baseball that is so easily defeated by the weather, baseball the constant humiliation of its players by the whims of the weather through which the football player and those in the impervious struggle with the bull labor for a conclusion must to be achieved no matter.
          I dislike the poverty of our languages to describe this weather my friend in Arizona calls the monsoons, admitting in his choice of this word, a failure of linguistic imagination, a poverty in need of bringing over from the far east this word, monsoon, but no matter, a Sunday outing for you and your father different from what you are used to--- I am sure--- back at home as it is for me also--- a time to rest, to sleep away the gloom that always descends with a fierce swipe of a mental scalpel that cuts always after two o’clock on a Sunday afternoon any strength we might have as we, the two of us know, the week will again be here and this foolish day of rest and never asking: rest for what?
          It makes me nostalgic, Eduardo says, leaning back against the high back of his chair which seemed to shrink him to only his voice though of course a man, really, a man who had found these tickets for the bullfight and who was not going away and would be at the hotel in the morning and was saying do look in.
          Would it be possible to imagine I handed Eduardo this photograph 

which I had taken during the intermission when these young men wheeled out this platform with a large Pepsi Cola bottle wobbling and after a few minutes in the rain they found as they tried to return the platform that the wheels had become stuck in the surface of the ring and additional workers were called into both push and pull the platform from the ring so the rest of the program could begin?
          There would be no need for the evidence, Eduardo was saying,  I do not always believe what I see as I am sure you are also skeptical of those who retreat and that is the necessary military word for this defection from the art of the tongue, if I may wax on before your scorn melts me to a puddle.  You have seen something we would not have seen and for that I can only thank you--- though of what significance can it have as already it is a form of ancient history, due only to evaporate as the color of your photograph will fade or as in some cases burst into a sort of golden obliterating stain?

I wonder if this is readable and if there is anymore the possibility of seeing something like this into what was used to be called book form? Please, keepi in mind that this is a prepared slide from a longer manuscript.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

SEAGULL BOOKS: The Best Publisher in English

         Seagull Books is now the publisher to go to for what is the best in world literature.  About the only other publisher of its authority is Robert Calasso’s Adelphi Editions in Italy.  Seagull’s seasonal catalogues are the first I look forward to. Of course there are other publishers, Archipelago, Open Letter, Dalkey Archive, New Directions and Two Lines  but for the breadth of their interests and the actual shape and feel of the books Seagull is in another class. 
         Of course one is curious about FSG but they seem to do fewer and fewer real books--- though in the immediate moment SUBMISSION by Michel Houellebecq and recently the ZIBALDONE by Leopardi as well as PARALLEL LIVES by Peter Nadas--- mitigate that reservation to be sure but as far as I can tell at the moment there is nothing very much to expect of  poor Alfred Knopf at 100 years with a picture of the aged Sunny Mehta posing with another relic Patti Smith in the Wall Street Journal society page--- such is the fate…
         Seagull Books originating in India is distributed by the University of Chicago Press---  they have German, Italian, French lists as well as books in many other fields beyond what I am mostly interested in, literature…  My shelves are filling with their books.  It is as if they have opened a delightful river of non traditional books dominated by the fragment and obsessive narrators, remembering suddenly Nicanor Parra saying to me sometime in the early 70s in  The Only Child  a bar on West 79th Street NYC:  “to echo him: the I is always another.”  Parra did not have to mention Rimbaud and it is this sort of intelligence and understanding at work in the selecting of books and authors by Seagull and here I will list some--- and you can see by the list why--- Peter Handke, Thomas Bernhard, Elfriede Jelinek, Laszlo Kraznahorkai, Alexander Kluge, Pascal Quignard, Yves Bonnefoy, Hans Magus Enzenberger, Jorge Luis Borges, Ingeborg Bachmann, Max Frisch… and in the mail yesterday: PAPER COLLAGE (Selected Aphorisms and Short Prose)  by Georges Perros, drawn from three books originally in French (1960-78) from Gallimard of this recluse’s thoughts…: at random:  It’s wrong to complain. If we knew where we came from, where we are and where we are going, it would be absolute hell.
         Pascal Quignard is a re-discovery for me as I had read now too long ago THE SALON IN WURTTEMBERG (Published when Grove Press was owned by a Getty woman and George Weidenfeld) and ALL THE WORLD’S MORNINGS… those were relatively traditional novels as Quignard at least based on the five books that Seagull has published: THE ROVING SHADOWS, THE SILENT CROSSING, ABYSSES, SEX AND TERROR, THE SEXUAL NIGHT. 
         What I treasure in Quignard is his ability to reveal my absolute ignorance and illiteracy when I attempt to compare my own memory and learning of what is in reality world literature.  His books rely upon the suggestive fragment, brief prose passages sometimes connected, often times not, ranging across the whole of world literature with a wonderfully sensuous understanding of the ancient world and in this he can only be compared to Roberto Calasso in their shared understanding that the---  like Krapp I now slam the tape machine off so as to avoid revealing my own pathetic attempt to understand either of these writers.
Of course Quignard is not much reviewed in the US---where if you are praised by the NY Times it is a form of abuse, such is the state of newspaper reviewing--- and the same went for Ingeborg Bachmann’s WAR DIARY written as an 18 rear old as WW2 comes to an end and her affair with a British soldier who turns out to be an exile Austrian Jewish guy who eventually leaves for what will be Israel… another text adding to our understanding of the only woman one really knows from the German language as it were… and there was Max Frisch’s DRAFTS FOR A THIRD SKETCHBOOK :  “what our American friends expect: a miracle!... they want to be feared and loved at the same time.  If we don’t manage that, they see it as anti-American”… to add to the long ago published notebooks from the 70s another writer who disappeared for the most part from America…
Here are two passages from ABYSSES  by Quignard and allow them to stand in for all the books by all the authors I have both  listed and not listed as being published by Seagull Books:
Libraries and museums took over from churches and palaces.  Sacred places where all the members of a group began to worship, gathering in silence around something neither-found- nor-lost (the fascinus of Osiris).  Societies that were increasingly religious and mythologizing, adoring themselves in the reflection of their past.  Flocks of sheep, horned animals and dreams circulating endlessly around the empty, trans-temporal envelope 
In the great age of exploration, the whole of the known world become drenched in ecclesiastical Latin---a fact we might well find astonishing.  All the more astonishing, indeed, as Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek were all more likely to have been spoken in the houses of Yeshua than the tongue of the Romans, which was merely the persecutory language of the triumphal arches and crucifixion.
          But I can not stop in the past--- if there is such a thing--- as Seagull has also published two books of conversations  with Jorge Luis Borges conducted by Osvaldo Ferrari in Borges 84th year:  and the most startling in ways that seem obvious in our moment of typing and reading…  Ferrari mentions that the American landing on the moon was welcomed by Borges but the rest of the world seems to have quickly forgotten it….  This leads to a discussion that in recounting sounds pretentious  in our dumbed down times but to just list some of the proper names:  Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Eric the Red, Melville, Whitman, Berkeley, Plato, Seneca, Saint Brendan, Denis de Rougemont, Columbus…...  of course it is not… but Ferrari and Borges tease the landing out and finally Borges is asked why this great adventure is now not talked about, marveled over:  “No, one doesn’t talk about it because one talks about elections, one talks about the saddest subject of all which  is politics. It is not for the first time that I’m the enemy of the State and of States and of nationalism which is one of the blemishes of our time.  The fact that each person insists on the privilege of having been born in one or another point or corner of the planet, no?  And that we’re so far from the ancient dream of the Stoic, that time when people were defined by their city--- Thales of Miletus, Zeno of Elea, Heraclitus of Ephesus, etc, who would say that they were citizens of the world.  It would have been a scandalous paradox for the Greeks..
       Later there is an aside, “the moon of Virgil and the moon of Shakespeare were already before the discovery, no? … There’s something so intimate about the moon…There’s a line in Virgil which talks about ‘amica silentia lunae’, which refers to the brief period of darkness which allow the Greek to get down from the wooden horse and invade Troy.  But Wilde, who doubtless knew about this, prefers to talk about “the friendly silence of the moon’.  And in a line of my own, I’ve said:  “the silent friendliness of the moon/ I quote Virgil badly) accompanies you.’
         That seems a good place to stop as you search out the Seagull books catalogue at University of Chicago Press.
         But come to think of it there is a better place—last week I read with my students in Freshman Composition 2 at BMCC  Peter Handke’s TILL DAY YOU DO PART OR A QUEST OF LIGHT (Seagull Books) in which a woman from what seems to be a Roman tombstone begins to speak and we realize it is the voice of the women mentioned in Krapp’s Last Tape… the only possible response to this great work of art where she takes issue with Krapp and what I have always enjoyed about the play when Krapp concludes:   “I can feel the fire in me now…”
         And I could even go on to Ralf Rothmann or Patrick Roth or Annemarie Schwarzenbach--- whose life and literary works trace out the sexual frontiers that are coming to be taken for granted in the US:… 

         Yet… it is a struggle to disbelieve that  it is now really all too late for such a publisher… I hope I am wrong since Seagull originating in India…maybe still has the ancient optimism from before KA---to echo Calasso...
AND A PS PS  when I went to fix some typos:  APOSTOLOFF  by Sibyl Lewitscharoff...caught my eyes across from where I am sitting--- a going to Bulgaria... and I have only scratched the surface!!!!