Wednesday, January 9, 2019

DEBILITATING SELF-ABSORPTION


                                                    



(THIS IS AN augmented and slightly different post of the previous one)  

                                                           8
Last week I signed the contract for the Bulgarian translation of my 1987 novel THE CORPSE DREAM OF N. PETKOV.  It is scheduled to appear in Sofia in the Spring from CIELA a large Bulgarian publisher which also owns a chain of bookstores in Bulgaria.  

                                                           14

In preparation for this publication I found two letters which read the book from first  an American point of view and what is new with this post a second letter reads the book from a Polish point of view which concerns itself with the self-absorption of countries and in particular in the East.

                                                           18
  
I found a letter from David Rattray who some might remember as poet, as the first major translator of Artaud--- still the best--- and DIFFICULT DEATH a disturbing novel by Rene Creval in particular.  

Semiotext published a wonderful collection of  David's writings put together by Chris Kraus, HOW I BECAME ONE OF THE INVISIBLE

David read my novel and sent me the following letter which also included a page of typos in the book that should be fixed in a new edition which happened when Northwestern University Press did the paperback version:

June 18, 1987
Dear Tom, The Corpse Dream of N. Petkov is a tour de force.  I was riveted as they say, although it is a tale I wouldn't want to identify with, I guess I am forced to, willy-nilly.  The 12-minute interior monologue of a man being strangled, compressed into 120 pages or less---I count the dozen-odd pages of documents  as something that  might flash past in a split second--- then the many pages of your autobiographical track, and the interviews, which further whittle it down--- less than half is straight Petkov--- so I tried to imagine all this as a speeded-up tape actually being spoken in the 12 minutes and I believe it is possible even if in a Martian Donald Duck falsetto--- provided Piko's thoughts and rejoinders run in tandem, and the author's voice and documents are flashed onto a wall--- it would fit ---a tight fit, but so is that noose or loop as you consistently call it.  Like Piko I am a raki man; it takes one to appreciate one. The ignoble is also in a state of humiliation.  Apart from this book I had never read a line about Petkov that fool who persisted in showing character. The dream of dying in one's bed with one's hand held is in the papers, on TV, in Reader's Digest. The puff of wind exploding the speck of ash into the air is the reality hitherto reserved for the few, now made available for all.  Have you heard of Bogdan Borkowski's film Le Poeme which shows a dissection in progress to a sound track consisting of an actor's voice declaiming Rimbaud'sDrunken Boat in impassioned tones?   For the man being hanged to imagine a major earthquake reminds me of Kleist's  novella "The Earthquake in Chile" in which the young man has just climbed  upon a stool n his dungeon cell to hang himself on a noose he has fashioned somehow, when the first giant tremor of the great earthquake of sixteen-something causes the building to collapse and lands him unscathed in the street.  Therefore I at first misread your line "An earthquake would get him out of there."  Obviously you are referring to getting Dimitrov out of the saddle, not Petkov out of the noose.  I loved the Hyperborean or Austral icecap fantasy on p62.  Having spent half my life worrying  the lie that creeps i when we are speaking and the abyss between thought, word, and ear, I have to plead for Gosho and Petko and their liking for the sound of their own voice.  Maybe that was their direction finder  as it is in a way our direction finder when we share in meetings.  We are all as blind as bats in many ways, and I read that that is precisely how bats do find their way through the maze of pitch blackness--- the sound of their own voice bouncing off obstacles---  it is shows them where to go and where not to go.  "Fly my little bird but remember no bird makes a nest in a cloud."  I was put in mind of Gilbert White in Selkirk the speculation on whether sparrows migrate south in winter or were ravished up into the empyrean where they somehow levitated on the highest clouds.  I really loved your book.
                                             DAVID (Rattray)



                                   TWO
A letter from Tomasz Mirkowicz who I was introduced to by Steve Moore who had met Tomasz at Joseph McElroy's loft in New York City.  He was one of the most distinguished translators of American fiction...you must remember he was working during the long drawn out changes in Poland in the late 1980s... (his Wikepedia bio follows) 

                                                                    
                                                 WARSAW    31 January 1987

Dear Thomas ,
My apologies for responding so late, but I was out of Warsaw when your book and letter came... Driving is hell (in the winter here) and even using a word processor  is hard, since because of the electricity shortages my screen gets kind of wobbly during most of the day, and I've even lost a few pages when the current was cut outright.
I was fascinated by your book [THE CORPSE DREAM OF N. PETKOV] and vast questions it opens, how little is remembered  and how little do we now of what has been happening elsewhere; much as we here try to restructure  our own history and not allow it be forgotten, know quite a bit about Russia Hungary, Czechoslovakia, nobody I asked has ever heard of Petkov--- the name draws a blank, and so does recent Bulgarian history, other than what we get in the papers.  The standard opinion is that Bulgarias love Russians (the only country with no Russian troops), and somehow no one has questioned this concept.  And--- not suprising ---it's really sad how the histories of each country in the block resemble each other:we too had a Petkov, but he was lucky to escape across the border in the boot of a foreign diplomat's car.  And he too is forgotten, and so are others... SO in a sense your book is not only about Bulgaria and Petkov, he is more of an archetype standing for the countless figures unjustly murdered and unjustly forgotten.  I'd like to talk to you about this sometime.  And I hope the book is a success when it comes out.  It deserves it! (And I'll be letting some friends read it here.)

Here is a machine translated Tomasz Mirkowicz entry in Wikipedia:

Tomasz Mirkowicz [edytuj]

Go to navigation.Go to search
Tomasz Mirkowicz (born 1953 in Warsaw , died on May 7, 2003 ) - Polish translator of English-language literature, literary critic and writer. As a critic, he specialized in American postmodernism . During the martial law he actively supported the democratic opposition - Zbigniew Bujak was hiding in his apartment.
He translated, among others Ken Kesey 's Ken- ONE FLEW OTHER THE COOCOO'S NEST , 1984 George Orwell , Midnight Cowboy James Leo Herlihy , and the prose of Alistair MacLean , Stephen King , Robert Ludlum, and Charles Bukowski . He also translated from English. English novel The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski .
He translated two books by Marek Hłasko into English.

Book author [ edit | edit code ]

  • Geography lesson: lipograms
  • Pilgrimage to the Holy Land of Egypt: a lipocephalous novel (1999)
  • an extensive 3-part article The Golden Age of the American Novel (" Ex Libris " 1994 from nru 60)

Sunday, January 6, 2019

YES, ANOTHER NEW YEAR... but a glance from DAVID RATTRAY



This is the contract for the Bulgarian version of THE CORPSE DREAM OF N. PETKOV which is to be published as a book by Ciela in Sofia in the late Spring of this year.  

After "the changes" in Bulgaria in 1990, a translation of my novel appeared in a "thick" journal, Svremenik #2, 1991.  The journal was modeled on the famous Russian journal which of course was known for publishing One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.





There were discussions of the novel in the newspapers of the moment, but it never appeared as book for too many reasons to go into but I am pleased that finally it is to appear and I appreciate the trust that the editors and certain writers both in English and in Bulgarian who have read the novel in either both languages or only one and who have that it has not dated, that it is not a book of a moment but written inside the attempt to pass beyond the moment of its creation.  

              7-- In preparation for the Bulgarian version I found a letter from David Rattray who some might remember as poet, as the first major translator of Artaud--and still the best--- and Rene Creval in particular.  Semiotext published a wonderful collection of  David's writings put together by Chris Kraus, HOW I BECAME ONE OF THE INVISIBLE

David read my novel and sent me the following letter which also included a page of typos in the book that should be fixed in a new edition which happened when Northwestern University Press did the paperback version:

June 18, 1987
Dear Tom, The Corpse Dream of N. Petkov is a tour de force.  I was riveted as they say, although it is a tale I wouldn't want to identify with, I guess I am forced to, willy-nilly.  The 12-minute interior monologue of a man being strangled, compressed into 120 pages or less---I count the dozen-odd pages of documents  as something that  might flash past in a split second--- then the many pages of your autobiographical track, and the interviews, which further whittle it down--- less than half is straight Petkov--- so I tried to imagine all this as a speeded-up tape actually being spoken in the 12 minutes and I believe it is possible even if in a Martian Donald Duck falsetto--- provided Piko's thoughts and rejoinders run in tandem, and the author's voice and documents are flashed onto a wall--- it would fit ---a tight fit, but so is that noose or loop as you consistently call it.  Like Piko I am a raki man; it takes one to appreciate one. The ignoble is also in a state of humiliation.  Apart from this book I had never read a line about Petkov that fool who persisted in showing character. The dream of dying in one's bed with one's hand held is in the papers, on TV, in Reader's Digest. The puff of wind exploding the speck of ash into the air is the reality hitherto reserved for the few, now made available for all.  Have you heard of Bogdan Borkowski's film Le Poeme which shows a dissection in progress to a sound track consisting of an actor's voice declaiming Rimbaud's Drunken Boat in impassioned tones?   For the man being hanged to imagine a major earthquake reminds me of Kleist's  novella "The Earthquake in Chile" in which the young man has just climbed  upon a stool n his dungeon cell to hang himself on a noose he has fashioned somehow, when the first giant tremor of the great earthquake of sixteen-something causes the building to collapse and lands him unscathed in the street.  Therefore I at first misread your line "An earthquake would get him out of there."  Obviously you are referring to getting Dimitrov out of the saddle, not Petkov out of the noose.  I loved the Hyperborean or Austral icecap fantasy on p62.  Having spent half my life worrying  the lie that creeps i when we are speaking and the abyss between thought, word, and ear, I have to plead for Gosho and Petko and their liking for the sound of their own voice.  Maybe that was their direction finder  as it is in a way our direction finder when we share in meetings.  We are all as blind as bats in many ways, and I read that that is precisely how bats do find their way through the maze of pitch blackness--- the sound of their own voice bouncing off obstacles---  it is shows them where to go and where not to go.  "Fly my little bird but remember no bird makes a nest in a cloud."  I was put in mind of Gilbert White in Selkirk the speculation on whether sparrows migrate south in winter or were ravished up into the empyrean where they somehow levitated on the highest clouds.  I really loved your book.
                                             DAVID (Rattray)







Thursday, November 29, 2018

A FATAL ATTRACTION TO THE WRITINGS OF MAURICE BLANCHOT




      The beginning of a celebration of the publication of MAURICE BLANCHOT A CRITICAL BIOGRAPHY By Christopher  Bident (Translated by John McKeane) Published by Fordham University Press, 2018.

Preface to the post:

Georges Bataille on Manet:

Manet deliberately rendered the condemned man’s death with the same indifference as if he had chosen a fish or a flower for his subject…

In it Manet paid scrupulous attention to detail, but even this is negative, and the picture as a whole is the negation of eloquence; it is the negative of that kind of painting which, like language , expresses sentiments and relates anecdote…

Our modern world can only experience an inner transfiguration, silent and in a sense negative. To speak of it, as I have done, is to speak of a definitive silence…

Radically cured painting of a centuries-old eloquence.

A FATAL ATTRACTION TO THE WRITINGS OF MAURICE BLANCHOT

     This review of a novel by Maurice Blanchot ended my writing for the Washington Post. 21 July, 2002. It was cited by a reader in a reader's survey by the newspaper as exactly the sort of review they didn't wish to see in the newspaper.  
      Of course such a survey tells us more about the required stupidity of readers of the Washington Post than about the actual review.

Another Castle Reviewed Thomas McGonigle July 21, 2002 AMINADAB By Maurice Blanchot Translated from the French By Jeff Fort Univ. of Nebraska. 199 pp. Paperback, $22 

Aminadab is a startling provocation, a gauntlet thrown down to the fiction reader -- and yet there is no complicated theory or code to be cracked in order to participate in the originality of Maurice Blanchot's 1942 novel. 

Maurice Blanchot may hardly be a household name in America, but in some circles he is one of the essential writers of the 20th century. Blanchot, who still lives in Paris, was born in 1907 and has been writing for more than 60 years. Little about his personal life is known beyond the facts of his education. 

As far as I'm aware, only one photograph of the author has ever been published. By thus sealing off his private life, Blanchot forces the reader to face his thought and words alone, without any of the easy comforts of gossip or biography. 

The actual thrust of his entire literary career, as well as his philosophical view of the world, can be discerned in the very titles of some of his books: Awaiting Oblivion, Vicious Circles, The Space of Literature, The Madness of the Day, The Step Not Beyond, The Infinite Conversation, The Unavowable Community, Death Sentence, The Most High, The Gaze of Orpheus. 

If one needed two sentences to sum up, grossly and so unfairly, Blanchot's suggestive and reverberating thought, these might serve (from Friendship, 1971): "One would like to think, each time, in a single language, which would be the language of thought. But finally one speaks as one dreams, and often one dreams in a foreign tongue: it is the dream itself, this ruse that makes us speak in an unknown speech." 

While there is no mention of Kafka by Blanchot before he published Aminadab (his second novel, after Thomas the Obscure), most readers today will come to the book already having read, say, The Castle. Even now there is still a real oddness about Kafka -- about whom Blanchot has written many essays -- and Aminadab possesses a deliberately Kafkaesque mysteriousness. Here is its opening:

It was broad daylight. Thomas, who had been alone until now, was pleased to see a robust-looking man quietly sweeping his doorway. The shop's metal curtain was raised halfway. Thomas bent down a little and saw a woman inside lying on a bed that took up all the space in the room not occupied by the other furniture." 

Thomas does not go into that shop. He notices a building across the street and a couple looking at him from a high window, "The girl . . . made a quick sign with her hand, like an invitation; then she quickly closed the window, and the room was submerged again in darkness. Thomas was quite perplexed. Could he consider this gesture truly as a call to him? It was rather a sign of friendship than an invitation. It was also a sort of dismissal." 

What is so strange, and unforgettable, about this opening and the novel as a whole is what is not there. We will never "see" Thomas. We never find out where he has come from. We never resolve the contradiction between an invitation and a dismissal. We learn nothing "about" Thomas yet we become accomplices in his journey through this large house both looking and not looking for this girl and her gesture. We find ourselves participating in the oldest of all stories: the quest. 

As he moves haltingly, blindly and stubbornly through the house, Thomas will meet a variety of "characters" who have names attached to them: Lucie, Barbe, Jerome, Simon, Joseph and, not least, Aminadab, who guards a great door. Thomas will even be chained to Dom for much of the length of this novel -- and then not chained to him. Along with the complexities of this Kafkaesque fable, we accept all of this because the very language engulfs us. As Lucie tells Thomas, with that sure French knowledge of the complexity of the human heart, "Our intimacy will not be disturbed in any way. Not to think about me: that will mean thinking about me without there being anything to separate us. By refusing me the gift of a few particular thoughts, you will be offering me not only all your other thoughts and attention as a whole, but also your distraction, your absence, and your distance; you will absolve me of all that is yourself, and you will open up to me all that is not you. That, then, is what I ask of you, because I want to remain as close to you as possible. Neither silence nor night nor the deepest repose will stand in the way of our friendship, and this room will be for us a favorable place for sleep." 

Every sentence of Aminadab is an invitation to think, about language, about responsibility, about life. Blanchot's density requires us to slow down our reading; he makes us pause, grow uncomfortable. 

Yet we are taken by Blanchot's seerlike ability to penetrate to the core of some of the darker aspects of the 20th century. 

As one of the servants in the house replies to Thomas, who has refused for the moment to beat him: "You don't look at us; you look at what you have to do to us. You don't see our fault; you keep your eyes focused on your action. All executioners are like that. Some of them are deaf and mute. What would they have to say or to hear since the truth is in their battering hands and their lashing whip. You, you're a natural born executioner, the kind that says, 'It's still not too late,' even when your knife has cut the throat of the culprit."

Saturday, November 24, 2018

A PURPOSELESS PUGATORY


I have not been posting at the blog for some time.  The isolation of the writer has never been greater and now when there are no longer any book sections in American newspapers that even attempt to describe... the best books... when to look at The New York Times Book Review is to be insulted.  Mediocrity seems the only quality  they seek to praise.  The Wall Street Journal continues on Saturday to publish a book section but literature is by no means its focus... and while the pieces on history and art etc are of interest they usually lack authority.  I know no one who reads The New York Review of Books... but it should have died a long time ago... though the publisher New York Review Books is now one of the great world publishers as it is about the only publisher that has not been totally swamped by political correctness coupled with an adoration of identity politics... and earlier this month I was invited to Beloit College to read.

SELF-QUOTING from a page on Facebook

Invited by English Department at Beloit College. Gave craft talk in basement classroom to 20 students. One question. Read for 30 minutes with no questions to be asked by audience. Four faculty in audience plus the professor who invited me... mostly students from his class. No one talked to me. Two dinners with 3 faculty members. One serve-yourself-lunch with one faculty member. The college seemed in emotional lockdown with students incredibly atomized and solitary... public spaces sparsely populated and when not so mostly individuals looking at cellphone and laptops... reminded me of my experience when visiting universities in East Germany in 1965 and Bulgaria in 1967... a touchable dutiful silence. But at Beloit, people seemed in shock after two years of bruising nasty arguments about identity... the chair of the English department mentioned that the chair rotated and it was his turn to take out the garbage... while said with levity I found myself shocked at the  so evident self-contempt... and finally I was told the new head of library does not have a degree in library science and first order of business is to throw away 50,000 books... to be decided by an information expert which is the jargon for a non-expert in books.


 TALKING AT
             by  Thomas McGonigle
                  BACK FROM BELOIT
-he remembers saying to Anna as he was driving from Wisconsin for Chicago:  how easy it is to go full speed into an abutment of a highway overpass. 
-the sentence was spoken calmly and precisely and Anna did not respond.
-Explain.
-he was invited out to Beloit College to read from his books and to give a craft talk.
-he was a student at Beloit College and was given a BA degree in 1966.  He dropped out of the college for the academic year 1964-65 to be a student at University College, Dublin and made his first journey to the East by going in the spring of 65 to the German Democratic Republic, the DDR.
-Anna and he flew from Newark, New Jersey in the early morning of November 7, to Chicago, Illinois, rented a car at the airport and drove up to Beloit. 
-they flew back from Chicago on Sunday arriving at midnight in New Jersey.
-3 nights in the Beloit College guesthouse and one night in a motel in Appleton, Wisconsin. 
-Other than Beloit they were in the following places or cities: Madison, Verona, Fort Atkinson, Oshkosh, Neenah, Menasha, Appleton, Watertown. 
-According to the car rental receipt, 116 miles were driven which must have been a mistake as the mileage between all these cities and the going to and from Chicago is at least 444 miles, he was saying, though it might be possible to think it had only happened in his imagination or in his hope for it to have happened or he had it confused with another trip to the mid-west:
1
-He was to be saying and he did not say, My first attempt at…  allowed me to resort to the sayings:  that instead of history--- my last year at Beloit--- repeating as farce the three nights at Beloit seemed to be a dropping into a purgatory with no prospect at the end of being …. I need not fill out the traditional belief but I would wish to avoid the easy resorting to saying, it seemed like a dropping into an abyss.
--He writes and then said,  On November 6, 1918 my first literary creation died or should I say--- I ruthlessly and out of necessity killed him as sure as the imaginary German bullet--- and thus begun the writing that lead me to this moment of my reading talking to and with you.  The person to whom that writing had been directed to did not respond to it and I discovered here in the library of Beloit College that I had been not alone in writing with such a purpose as I shared that with Dante and Petrarch who each had begun out the same impulse but I didn’t learn until much later the reality I came to find myself in--- as Turgenev remarked: I write for my five unknown readers and find myself as lonely as a finger.  That war---World War One---ended as you might remember on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th day in November, 1918. When I finally did talk with the girl to whom that first writing was meant, she admitted she had read the story as I had kept her first name, Melinda and added an L to her Brady, but she never approached me and yet she wondered how I had known her birthday was November 6?  This of course was a long time ago before the current moment when a simple search on the internet reveals such information so easily… but I had wrote with her in the mind of my creation based on seeing her one morning on the second floor of Patchogue High School.  I was a senior and she was a sophomore… now, in the present which seems more fictional than that other fiction, the past, we are two people who have  been married three times and she lives in a great house on  large tract of land in rural northern Maine and I live on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and find myself spending long weekends at a near lakeside house with my wife, 30 miles from that apartment. In New Jersey, in a town with a Main Street that is crossed by Haig, Pershing, Joffre and Foch streets with a little side avenue named for Petain and there is an American Legion Hall named for Joyce Kilmer 
-BUT every writer should have at least one great prejudice that is beyond argument and I will name Julian Green as the great writer of the 20th Century and I hope to read and to  be read to on my death bed. 
-Julian Green American born not made as he liked to say was the only American in the French Academy and the first non-French person in that body.  He succeeded to the chair that had been occupied by Francois Mauriac…  but for the immediate purpose of this talk there is in his PERSONAL RECORD 1928-1939 a link to another writer who I always think of as being the great writer of Wisconsin GLENWAY WESCOTT.
Green kept a diary as did his friends Gide and Mauriac and all of it along with all his writings are published in the Pleiade edition and he might have the largest number of volumes in that series… but the quote : 19 December 1928.  Lunched yesterday with Wescott.  He told me that it seemed to him impossible for a journal to be written that should be absolutely sincere and bear the stamp of truth.  But sincerity is a gift--- one among others.  To wish to be sincere is not enough.”
-Knowing that was my introduction to Julian who I first visited in Paris.  I would see him for almost the next two decades and did a profile of him for The Guardian in London which was a little embarrassed to publish since that paper was aggressively liberal and skeptical of religion but with Green that allowed me to report that when I asked him what he looked forward to at 90, he simply said Purgatory. 

BUT THERE IS GOOD NEWS.  THE DECEMBER ISSUE OF THE HOLLINS CRITIC IS TO HAVE MY VERY LONG ESSAY ON ANNIVERSARIES BY UWE JOHNSON... THAT CAN WITHOUT HYPE BE COMPARED WITH THE GREAT BOOKS OF JOYCE, PROUST AND MUSIL...  ANNIVERSARIES IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM NOW FROM NEW YORK REVIEW BOOKS..AND I WOULD OFFER A MONEY BACK GUARANTEE AS TO ITS QUALITY... ONCE BEGUN TO READ YOU WILL AT THE END BE SADDENED THAT THE BOOK IS ONLY 1600+ PAGES AND YOU AVE NOW LIVED EITHER AGAIN OR FOR THE FIRST TIME THOUGH THOSE YEARS FROM AUGUST 1967-1968 AND AT THE SAME TIME BACK TO THE 1930S BOTH AT FIRST IN GERMANY AND THEN LATER IN NEW YORK CITY.