Tuesday, May 24, 2016


                  a start in some fashion of something on a Tuesday in May

                 SOON ENOUGH

 Saul Bellow wrote two good novels, but come to think of it, really only one: The Dangling Man.  I was going to include Herzog, even taking it down from a dusty top shelf but Bellow’s nerve left him and he had to put in a lot of filler between the letters Herzog is writing…  you know?... there was this guy George Garrett who had plenty of nerve and wrote two books that for me live on: Double Vision and Poison Pen… but it is Poison Pen that’s still jumping and shaking, being mostly letters from either Garrett or a guy he has stand in for him to people who are famous or once were and probably will only survive because they got mentioned in this book… and I won’t bother to mention their names, right now, as you’ll probably tell me how they do actually live on and all the rest of it but I will get to the rest of it soon enough.
But the thing that both Bellow and Garrett has:  each of them was interested in writing about “real” people… of course they made up “characters” and all the rest of it... but as Ginsberg dreamed of Kerouac’s books being published in heaven... for then, a moment, a more plausible place though the accident of being published by a so-called real publisher was actually Kerouac’s death warrant and it was only time before he would bleed to death in a Florida hospital…. like a friend of mine, Charlie Conklin sitting on a chair with a towel filling up with blood wrapped around his crotch, outside Foley’s, over there in the West Village, thanks to the kindness of the bar owner who provided the chair as he didn’t want Charlie to die in his bar since the cops would shut the place for weeks… a dead guy is never good for business…

So I turn to this question: does Europe exist?

Monday, May 23, 2016



I have known Tom Whalen for more than 40 years.  He is one of our best fiction writers, poets and a perceptive and authoritative critic of both literature and movies...  We both miss George Garrett and were recently exchanging notes about his work.  Tom, some years ago, published this review of Garrett's last novel that was sadly not much reviewed.  I hope  this essay will send people to one of those important novels that can change how you think about novel writing and the act of criticism.  In the novel Garrett's quotes from a Thomas McGonigle's article  "A Writer's Life" that Garrett commissioned for the Dictionary of Literary Biography and which is available at the Notre Dame Review website.Whalen has written other essays on Garrett which I will hope to reprint.  

             Review of Double Vision by George Garrett
University of Alabama Press, 2004

By Tom Whalen    (whalen.t@gmail.com

            The epigraphs for George Garrett's Double Vision underscore immediately the title's implied dialectical shiftings between fact and fiction: "Anything processed by memory is fiction," says Wright Morris, to which Garrett opposes Naipaul's "I would prefer fact." 
            In the novel's first paragraph we encounter the author, in all but flesh, speaking to us straight up as one George Garrett, recently having undergone an MRI and suffering from myastsemia gravis, a disease characterized by "double vision, drooping eyelids, muscle weakness and fatigue, occasional problems maintaining balance"—in general the body does a sort of slow fade.  Our narrator is at the kitchen window looking for a crow he has heard caw: "most likely a handsome fellow [. . .], a glossy shard of darkness, at this moment far from the fellowship of his black caucus . . ."  There is the sound of the crow, its "[r]eedy, repetitive caw."  There are the nutbrown facts of its location: "He is out there high and all alone in the budding branches of the sweetgum tree next door.  Peter Taylor's sweetgum tree, close by the toothpick fence marking the line between his place and mine."  But we can't see the crow, only hear it, "he is long gone."  As is, the next paragraph tells us, Peter Taylor, to which depends the paragraph (complete): "Death is much on my mind these days." 
            But look again at the novel's apparent straightforwardness and casual clarity, for beneath them lie, as behind any mask, a wealth of deceptive shiftings.  Double Vision is the tale of a writer/professor (retired) named George Garrett writing about, in part, his late next door neighbor, the writer Peter Taylor, their similarities and differences (that divide "between his place and mine") while at the same time in superimposition (double vision) writing about his fictional counterpart, novelist and retired professor Frank Toomer's relationship with his famous-writer neighbor Aubrey Carver.  Both Garrett and Toomer have been given an assignment to write a review of a biography of their respective neighbors.         
            As in his Elizabethan trilogy Death of the Fox, The Succession, and Entered from the Sun and his novels set in contemporary time, most recently The King of Babylon Shall Not Come Against You, Garrett explores the relationship of truth to the "liar's craft" of fiction and the treacheries fame can effect on the self.  Double Vision, besides being a testament to old age and disease ("the crummy and depressing little radiology waiting room full of sweat smell and sad humanity"), is a meditation on fame and its close cousin oblivion.  In it, memory merges with fiction, fact with fantasy, and behind the elegiac tone lies a ghostly, welcoming laughter. 
            The novel's third epigraph comes from Schoenbaum's William Shakespeare: A Documentary Life and concerns that "Patriarch of shifters," the Elizabethan (and short-lived, 1558-92) "university wit," poet, pamphleteer, playwright, drunkard and poseur Robert Greene: "With Greene we cannot always separate fact from fiction in the fantasies he composed on autobiographical themes, or the legend made of him by his contemporaries."  The crow that caws to the narrator and reader at the beginning and off and on throughout the book, besides a real crow on the page and in the air, wears the feather of allusion.  The first reference to Shakespeare in print can be found in  Greenes Groats-Worth of Witte (1592), when he tweaks that jack-of-all-trades, "upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, [. . .] the onely Shake-scene in a countrey."
            George Garrett's Double Vision is a brilliant, post-modern/Elizabethan marvel, a clear-eyed take on the writing life and its practitioners living and dead.  It's also a tribute to Peter Taylor, a diatribe against America's historical amnesia, a self-interview, a book review ("In a larger sense, I suppose, we can therefore consider this whole piece, fact and fiction tangled together, as a kind of an extended book review."), yet another academic novel ("The 'academic novel' has been kicking around for more than half a century, a well-explored and well-exploited genre, good ones and bad ones and (surprise surprise) mostly mediocre . . ."), a sifting and sorting of the past ("Feeling stronger than I have been, feeling a little more energy, I have decided to try to straighten up my attic office, years out of control."), cultural commentary ("public events, in their edited versions and repeated images, seem to possess the demonic power to trivialize what is best about us and to bring out the worst in almost everybody."), a satire ("Consider: if Jonathan Swift was right, that happiness is 'a state of being well-deceived,' then what do you make of a whole nation and its people being dedicated to 'the pursuit of happiness'?"), a postcard to the world:
Though I have loved you and lost you, times beyond counting, still I write again upon this instant, being in receipt of all your ordinary music, to inform you that I can't live without you.  I intend, by God and hell or high water, rain and sleet and snow and the wild spins of the wheel of fortune, to come back for more of the same.
            Double Vision may seem to have, as Garrett says of his house in Charlottesville, Virginia, a "sense of being all casually cobbled together," but in its structure, development, doubling motifs and bright connections it is anything but casual.  Double Vision gradually shifts from George Garrett reflecting on his life and the lives (and deaths) of other writers (Greene, Taylor, Larry Levis), to his fictional Frank Toomer writing about Aubrey Carver and realizing he cannot write the review of Carver's biography, but instead must think again about writing a novel on Robert Greene.  Then, in a masterful dissolve, we're in the 1590's at the moment Greene is tossed out of the Fighting Cock into a muddy street of London. 
            Damn the rain and the mud and the coarse laughter of strangers at this antic man in his cloak of goose-turd green rising up now from the mud as if he had been buried there and were rising again from among the dead intending to frighten folks out of their wits.  The cloak is all besplattered, his long hair and his pointy beard, naturally red enough to play the part of Judas Iscariot without any color or cosmetic, are covered with the mud and his face as dark as any African Moor's.
            The writer puts on the mask of a writer writing about writing, but the mask finally dissolves, vanishes, and all that's left is fiction, words on the page as present as the "cloud of presences" Garrett felt around him one night.  "I felt the presence and nearness of all my dead, close kinfolk and others too, friends and lovers of long ago and most mostly lost to memory by now."
            Neither we nor Garrett knows what that "something" is that the crow "calls out [. . .] loud and clear."  "A lone crow, a fragment of the night perched up high in a huge old tree, has called out something, a message I cannot decode or translate, and then flown away."  The important thing is that it called us to the window and, though we can't see it, we know it was there. 
                                                                                                -- Tom Whalen

First published in The Texas Review Vol. XXV, Nos. 1 & 2, Spring/Summer 2004.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


Yesterday during lunch with Jon Rabinowitz, founder of Turtle Point Press, he mentioned he was  reading Peter Taylor.  I suggested he might be interested in George Garrett’s DOUBLE VISION  as it concerns itself with Peter Taylor who in both imagination and in reality had been a next door neighbor of both the real and the fictionalized George Garrett.  It was last of Garrett’s novels to be published and was not reviewed in the New York Times or in many other places… it is one of his very best and easily joins THE DEATH OF THE FOX, POISON PEN and the short story Wreath for Garibaldi. 
I was introduced to Garrett by Chad Walsh in 1969  who suggested I go to Hollins College as George was there and in turn Garrett welcomed me into the MA program and sent me a year later via a phone call to Frank MacShane at the Writing Division of the School of the Arts at Columbia… Garrett made it financially possible for me to come to the University of Tennessee celebration of his life and work, well knowing as he told me that it was all a trial run for their hopes to bring Cormac McCarthy to that place… and so while they promised to publish a book commemorating this event of course that never came to fruition as the Garrett festival failed in its true intention to lure McCarthy there… something Garrett knew would be the result but to enjoy seeing and hearing all those who had been part of his life… and while I didn’t see him much in the following years I did talk with him just before his death when I was up in Massachusetts visiting my son, a student at the Groton School, and opening the pages of DOUBLE VISION  I know that on page 153:  “Frank also copies down one sentence from a piece, “The Writing Life,” by Thomas McGonigle: The dead are always with us.
                  And while I have published two books and a third on the way from Notre Dame…this quotation and being quoted in Annie Dillard’s A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek stake a miniscule and probably laughable point of culpable pride.
ONE  from the 25 March, 2016 TLS:  Geoffrey Hill writes, “In our present condition of oligarchic democracy…”  
TWO   In the WSJ for 1 April, 2016 it is stated that 95% of college professors in the humanities are self-identified as left of center.
There you have the US and the UK in 2016.  
Preface Two:

Books I am reading and books I think everyone should read or at least look into:
SEVEN SEVEN….. THE HATRED OF MUSIC  by Pascal Quiginard.  (Yale University Press.)   A book of fragments, reflections… the huge mistake of listening to music, all music, from a man who was a classical musician, who organized a major festival of baroque opera… a life long listener who stops…  understanding we are surrounded by noise from the time in the womb, noise we have no control over… he has a very disturbing reflection on the use of music in the Nazi murder camps where the murders were carried out to a soundtrack of the very best of classical music…
Quiginard joins at least in my mind Robert Calasso and E.M. Cioran as being the three essential thinkers of the current moment.  They are the only individuals who seem to be able to think, to be suggestive, to warn, to be clearing a way for thinking to continue.  Tied to no dreary political party, no theory, to agenda… with an absence of jargon and access to all the major world languages : ancient and modern…
Survivors of the so-called Sixties remember::: :the beating to death of a Black man by the Hells Angels who were guarding a Rolling Stones concert at Altamont as the band played on…
::: remember Charlie Manson took direction from the Beatles’ White Album when he sent those people out to do some carving in the garbage dumps as he sang on an album called LIE… just another guy wanting to play music… right in there with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and Doris Day’s son…
ah, the days of LSD and music…
EIGHT EIGHT…   I have been reading Thomas Wolfe again as I did so long ago when I read my first novel, his first novel LOOK HOMEWARD ANGEL… a book I came to on my own, the only novel I had read before going to college… but this time YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN… as I have thought to describe a party I was recently to and remembered that Wolfe had a very memorable party scene in this his last novel.  What I had lost touch with was Wolfe’s ability to inhabit lives other than his own and his description of the rich remains as essential today as ever… and it is no wonder that Wolfe was one of the first American writers that both Thomas Bernhard and Peter Handke turned to… something little known or appreciated as Wolfe’s books were forced to be forgotten by the creative writing industry in the US…
NINE NINE….I have also been reading  I the Supreme by August Roa Bastos.  The single best description of “a leader” and the immediate delusion that inhabits such a person.  Told in a startling original manner with no consistent timeless voice, no attempt at re-creation, no paying homage to the usual blandishments of suspense and plot.  A sole reliance on the exact moment each sentence is read in order to create the person of Franca… who becomes--- because of how carefully the centering of the book upon Franca---  every nasty leader along with usual bunch of the so-called good guys… to remember a leader is to always dip your fingers in the blood or another or the many…  in the same way that Joyce in Ulysses tries to describe a conversation between a father and son that in reality can never be, no matter how willing or how hopeful the parties might be… by sending Stephen and Leopold out to eventually meet… on the sure conveyor belt to  six feet under…
TEN TEN…I AM TRYING TO READ Laszlo Krasnahorkai, DESTRUCTION AND SORROW BENEATH THE HEAVENS.. . (Seagull Books) but it reminds me of SOUL MOUNTAIN by Gao Xingjian, the Chinese Nobel prize winner and which in turn reminded me that Jack Kerouac’s BIG SUR  or THE DHARMA BUMS which were both superior to Xingjian and I would suggest that the Chinese guy was trying to be Kerouac and while pretty good, fails--- at least for me—as I have been on that journey and to that place before with Jack Kerouac. 
ELEVEN ELEVEN…And sadly I was defeated by Klaus Hoffer’s AMONG THE BIERESCH (Seagull Books)  in which a young Austrian writer tries to imagine the life and culture of an obscure part of what was the old Austro-Hungarian empire…which seemed a not very interesting project though it is said to be popular in Germany… because in English we are fortunate to have a translation told very much from within the imagine setting that Hoffer is trying to urge into being…in the form of Gyula Illyes’s PEOPLE OF THE PUSZTA…first published in 1936 but available in English since 1967…
(an over-looked New Directions book, THE SINISTRA ZONE  by Adam Bodor  some years ago took us to one of these obscure border regions but some of us had read his THE EUPHRATES AT BABYLON…)
The only reason I knew about the Hoffer book is that it was translated by Isabel Fargo Cole whose essential translated version of “I” by Wolfgang Hilbig (SEAGULL BOOKS) and the book of stories THE SLEEP OF THE RIGHTEOUS also by Hilbig introduced me to finally a German language writer one could read after reading Thomas Bernhard, Peter Handke, Ernst Junger, Uwe Johnson, Ingeborg Bachmann…to lay out some names for context… and Hilbig lead to re-reading his wife, Natascha Wodin whose THE INTERPRETER was published in English as long ago as 1983 to no reviews…and ONCE I LIVED         from Serpents Tale… also not widely reviewed but if I had the power I would link her to Jean Rhys… in her ability to present the interior of her women in such a manner that individualizes them though they are hardly the positive roll models women have been cajoled into providing and happily do all the way to the bank and irrelevance… How these two people could be together… not having the German I cant answer that.. as Hilbig in “I” has created the perfect example of  a man who is inside the security apparatus of the DDR…and really inside every other apparatus including the American versions  which have sadly been endlessly romanticized by American writers…
Lastly I should have written about ATLAS OF AN ANXIOUS MAN by Christoph Ranmayr (Seagull Books) as I had long ago reviewed his THE TERRORS OF ICE AND DARKNESS… but that review is not available as I wrote it for Newsday day when that was a very good newspaper for books… The ATLAS is a collection of 70 some destinations but I have not ventured into it but not from laziness instead sheer jealousy--- I guess they do things differently in Austria and German where a good writer—on the basis of  his novel THE TERRORS OF ICE AND DARKNESS and THE LAST WORLD--- gets paid to travel…
Such is a moment and then a PS.
THE RECENT DEATH OF A GREAT WRITER…  sometimes the Nobel gets it right as with Claude Simon and I guess we can be happy that Patrick Modiano  got it recently—better him than any of the awful American prospects, Roth Delillo, Oates..who else…

Book review: 'Fiasco' by Imre Kertész
The second book of the trilogy about a young boy who survives Nazi concentration camps.
June 14, 2011|By Thomas McGonigle | Special to the Los Angeles Times


In 1944, a 14-year-old boy, future novelist Imre Kertész, was rounded up while on an excursion in the countryside near Budapest and sent to Auschwitz. And then to Buchenwald. Surviving the camps and returning to Budapest, he was asked, simply, by his surviving family and friends, "Where have you been?"
In his work, Kertész reflects on how quickly he discovered that no one really wanted to know what he had experienced. And yet, Kertész's entire literary life has been an attempt at answering that simple question in the trilogy of novels, "Fatelessness," "Fiasco" and "Kaddish for an Unborn Child" — an attempt that earned him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2002. His other books describe in particular detail his dreary survival under the communism in Hungary.
Finally published in an English translation, "Fiasco" is actually the middle book of the trilogy and describes, in the opening third, the fictionalized experiences Kertész must have had in writing "Fatelessness" — having it rejected by a publisher as being unsuitable for publication. "As I now see clearly, to write a novel means to write for others — among others, for those who reject one," he muses. The later parts of "Fiasco" follow a writer very much like Kertész who is going about his life in the tediously circumscribed environment of communist Hungary.
         Although "Fiasco" is outwardly a little off-putting — in Kertész's style, the reader encounters parenthesis upon parenthesis — the writer also succinctly explains how he could write about his awful experiences as a child that he described in "Fatelessness" and still remain faithful to his 14-year-old self's search for adventure and beauty amid the horror of the concentration camps.
Now, in translator Tim Wilkinson's handling, "Fiasco" completes the trilogy for English readers, a trilogy that is one of the best renderings of what it must have been like to survive a Nazi murder camp. As Kertész writes in "Fiasco," he could not avoid a responsibility "to transmit, in my own way, according to my own lights; to transmit the material that was possible for me, my own material, myself.… however, there was one thing that, perhaps naturally enough, I did not think of: we are never capable of interpreting for ourselves. I was taken to Auschwitz not by the train in the novel but by a real one."


Probably this is all a self-indictment for… knowing, I am about to give birth astride a grave in Beckett’s phrase… but then every book is that.

Friday, March 11, 2016


Warning: some of this might read like I am voting the graveyard...

TWO    “Helpless as a deck of cards,”  from a song by John Cale, who I have not listened to for years… but in Hobo Sapiens  closest among the living we  get to the sibyl who was Nico..
THREE    Going over the copy-editing for ST PATRICK’S DAY another day in Dublin which University of Notre Dame Press will publish in the Fall.  I have been reading some of the these pages since 1982 when prepared slides appeared in the Review of Contemporary Fiction. 
THREE  as I am reading the proofs  I test my prose against Pascal Quiginard’s THE HATRED OF MUSIC and I THE SUPREME by Augusto Roa Bastos… and I keep on with reading my own prose and can hear Edward Dahlberg annoyed with me and will Goytisolo go toward the book as his friend Julian Rios has read the manuscript and linked me to Fred Exley… too bad Carlos Fuentes is dead and having been a good friend of Julian might have picked up the book and remembered our conversation too many years ago when we talked in the Harvard Club for a Newsday interview/profile and our finding we both had Nelida Pinon as a friend of long standing=== and the same with the shade of Harold Brodkey who wanted us to be friends and who admired my earlier books, as I held him justly important and have never denied him as James Wood has done, it seems: Brodkey becoming a non-person to Woods, it seems as he marched through the American institutions  that could not make room for Brodkey… and both Julian Green and Francis Stuart are dead so can’t be called into witness my book…. And for that matter the other Julian--- Gracq--- is also dead... so one living Julian is sufficient… and more than enough as I see my book eventually on his shelves with the Arno Schmidt, the beautiful old Everyman many volume edition of The Anatomy of Melancholy  over next to the many books of Hans Henny John  but at least I have two of Jahnn’s books  The Ship (and is there a better title)  THE LIVING ARE FEW, THE DEAD MANY…  I wish I could say I saw that Rios had on his shelf two defining books: I THE SUPREME by Augusto Roa Bastos and A BRIEF LIFE by Juan Carlos Onetti…

EIGHT  But  I also wanted to mention that in Los Angeles Douglas Messerli is making a record--- published by Green Integer--- of our days and while the days are his: in the form of individual essays based on the music he hears, the poetry and fiction he reads and the movies and plays he sees, he has shaped into  annual books of his writings in these fields --- at the moment under the title: MY YEAR 2002, 2003,2004,2006, 2007, 2008--- fat volumes each--- however book by book he opens the front against forgetfulness and unique in American letters to be sure—a person who does not forget--- an attempt to hold in the present what should not be forgotten and because of this---unlike books focused on politicians and their followers--- Messerli’s book will never date, even if some of his enthusiasms might possibly be dimmed in the future his endeavor will be valued as he is  creating a record of what is to be remembered and shaping what will be created in the future as whatever is new is never created from nothing…