Friday, December 28, 2007



"The misery of having perpetually to begin, the lack of the illusion that anything is more than, or even as much as, a beginning, the foolishness of those who do not know this, and play football, for example, in order at last "to advance the ball" one's own foolishness buried within one as if in a coffin, the foolishness of those who think they see a real coffin here, hence a coffin that one can transport, open, destroy,exchange

Among the young women up in the park. No envy. Enough imagination to share their happiness, enough judgment to know I am too weak to have such happiness, foolish enough to think I see to the bottom of my own and their situation. Not foolish enough; there is a tiny crack there, the wind whistles through it and spoils the full effect.

Should I greatly yearn to be an athlete, it would probably be the same thing as my yearning to go to heaven and to be permitted to be as despairing there as I am here.

No matter how sorry a constitution I may have, even if-- "given the same circumstances"-- it be the sorriest in the world (particularly in view of my lack of energy), I must do the best I can with it (even in my sense of the word)-- it is hollow sophistry to argue that there is only one thing to be done with such a constitution, which must perforce be its best, and that one thing is to despair.
----FRANZ KAFKA October 16, (1921)Sunday


I put the quote from Kafka's Diary there as a way to tell against myself. I have never really "gotten" Kafka. I think I have read myself through almost all of his work. He does not stick. I know that there are many--- Nabokov, Calasso come to mind--- who look to him with...

As far as I know, Edmund Wilson is the only writer to not be taken in by Kafka: "Kafka's reputation and influence have been growing till his figure has been projected on the consciousness of out literary reviews on a scale which gives the illusion that he is a writer of towering stature," "A Dissenting Opinion on Kafka"

"If,however, one puts Kafka besides writers with whom he may properly be compared, he still seems unsatisfactory. Gogol and Poe were equally neurotic, in their destinies they were equally unhappy; and if it is true, as Mr Savage says, that there is present in Kafka's world neither personality nor love, there is no love in either Gogol or Poe, and though here are plenty of personalities in Gogol, the actors of Poe, as a rule, are even less characterized than Kafka's. But,though the symbols that these writers generate are just as unpleasant as Kafka's, though,like his,they represent mostly the intense and painful realization of emotional cul-de-sac, yet they have both certain advantages over Kafka --for Gogol was nourished and fortified by his heroic conception of Russia, and Poe, for all his Tory views, is post-Revolutionary American in his challenging , defiant temper, his alert and curious mind. In their ways, they are both tonic. But the denationalized, discouraged, disaffected, disable Kafka, though for the moment he may frighten or amuse us, can in the end only let us down. He is quite true to his time and place, but it is surely a time and place in which few us will want to linger -- whether as stunned an hypnotized helots of totalitarian states or as citizens of freer societies who have relapsed into taking Kafka's stories as evidence that God's law and man's purpose are conceived in terms so different that we may as well give up hope of ever identifying the one with the other."


In the title of John Murray Cuddihy's book THE ORDEAL OF CIVILITY we probably have everything we need to know about Kafka. The sub-title elaborates: "Freud, Marx, Levi-Strauss, and the Jewish Struggle with Modernity." Cuddihy is or was a professor of sociology at Hunter College. The question of course: if one is not Jewish why should one care about Kafka?


The problem of Kafka is also the key problem in the United States when it comes to the question of what German writers are available. If one is honest, Americans only know two German language writers: Kafka and Remarque. They know Remarque for his sentimental ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT which they read in Junior High School and they read maybe the Metamorphosis by Kafka in college. That is it.

Of course on the positive side by focusing all the reading of German literature on Kafka and Remarque Americans are preserved from Gunter Grass and Christa Wolf.

But the loss: without Ernst Junger, Robert Walser, Uwe Johnson, Arno Schmidt my own life would be far dimmer than it might be. These writers, each so different from the other, combine to provide a way to understand the world, a way to describe the world that enables the thoughtful person to find his or her own way in the world: they do not seek disciples which of course is what reading Kafka produces...


A tonic end, finally, of the year from Louis Ferdinand Celine:

Living, just by itself-- what a dirge that is! Life is a classroom and Boredom's the usher, there all the time to spy on you; whatever happens, you've got to look as if you were awfully busy all the time doing something that terribly exciting--- or he'll come along and nibble your brain. A day that is nothing but a mere round of the twenty-four hours isn't to be borne. It has to be one long, almost unbearable thrill, a twenty-four copulation, willy-nilly.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007



The news arrives of the death of Julien Gracq.

If you were reading the New York Times you learned nothing of who this man was and why--- for those who read--- it is a very sad moment and also a moment when it can finally be said that all the "old ones" are now dead.

(A very good obituary by the translator James Kirkup can be found in The Independent newspaper from London. The last line, "HE and his work are lessons to our expiring humanity."


We living in the present--- those of us who claim to write--- are now all alone.

Julian Gracq has now finally joined Ernst Junger, Julian Green, Francis Stuart, Glenway Wescott, E. M. Cioran, Edward Dahlberg, Nina Berberova, Jorge Luis Borges and--- I would add personally though I well know she does not rank in this listing--- Hannah Green, though with her THE DEAD OF THE HOUSE, if she had lived longer and been able to finish her second book, might have been comfortably installed within this group.

To have known these writers, to have read them, to have talked with them, to have seen them is to have been given the gift of participating in literature, in writing and reading as it once was and is now no longer so.


In Julian Green's diary, "Lunch 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..."


Thanks to Turtle Point Press the reader today can find these books by Julien Gracq:
READING WRITING, THE SHAPE OF A CITY, THE NARROW WATERS, KING COPHETUA. In the shops you might be able to find second hand copies of THE CASTLE OF ARGOL, THE OPPOSING SHORE, THE DARK STRANGER, BALCONY IN THE FOREST. At you can read Gracq's essay on Ernst Junger's ON THE MARBLE CLIFFS which should then lead you to STORM OF STEEL.


---The creative artist who steps back and tries to understand what he is doing stands before his canvas as before a green and intact prairie: for the writer, the literary material he would like to recapture in its freshness is already similar to what passes from the second to the third stomach of a ruminant.

---At ninety, no writer, if he is still writing, can hope to maintain all the quality of his production. But in painting, Titian and Picasso--- others,too,no doubt--- manage perfectly well. No writer is brilliant until full adolescence at least. But, in music, Mozart--- others,too, no doubt--- was. Which tends to corroborate physiologically the hierarchy of the arts as promulgated by Hegel (which is fine by me). Historical counterproof would provide the same result: of all the arts, literature was last to appear. And one day, no doubt, it will be the first to be eclipsed

---Nine-tenths of the pleasures we owe to art over a lifetime are conveyed not by direct contact with the world but by memory alone. How little we have preoccupied ourselves, however, with the different nature, fidelity, and intensity of forms cloaked in memory, depending on whether it is a painting, a piece of music, or a poem!


If you wish to see proof of what I have been writing read carefully all the reviews of the Library of America volume of the works of William Maxwell being published in January. Not a single reviewer will question why this and the second one in the Fall is being published. Not a single review will question why there has not been a volume devoted to the work of Glenway Wescott whose novels permit the emergence of someone like William Maxwell, whose whole literary reputation begins and ends with his connection as fiction editor to The New Yorker magazine. Maxwell was a decent writer and human being, fortunate in those he edited and who claim him as an inspiration but his writing is nothing more than that. It does not re-arrange in any way the statues in the garden. One might thing of his writing as being a bench with a brass plaque attached.


This writing on this Christmas morning is finally dedicated to Anna Saar McGonigle who suggested I launch myself into this form of writing

Friday, December 21, 2007



FADE OUT seems like a perfect title for what a blog is all about,really, a reflection of the inevitable personal urge toward such an activity, and of the fate of the individual who gives into the urging that comes from a sense of his own slow disappearance which is what such an activity implies


However, it is also the title of an early Grove Press novel by Douglas Woolf which I picked up for a dollar in the SOHO Housing Works bookstore--- Housing Works is one of those charities designed to provide well paying jobs for a few people who in turn "help" a designated population--- while I was waiting for another shop to open... the long familiar book: the fading grey cover photo of a cane being held by a man's aged hand and two legs caught in motion, the light blue lettering of the title and author's name: an EVERGREEN ORIGINAL with the original price of $1.75 crossed out with a pencil and on the inside page the reduced price of 39 cent or 3/1.00.. in the hurried penmanship of the guy who was doing this marking for the remainder Marlboro bookstores--- sometime in the late 60s or early 70s which used to be all over New York City... when Grove back then was clearing out its shelves during one of it periodic crisis...

Calling to mind of course that GROVE PRESS along with NEW DIRECTIONS were the most important literary publishers in the latter half of the 20th century and without Grove Press it is very likely that today we would not have known of the work of swriters like Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, William Burroughs, Henry Miller, Robert Pinget, Alain Robbe-Grillet...I could go on... there is still a Grove Press but it basically exists to sell the re-published editions of such authors as they lost any sense of what it means to be an innovative literary publisher; now publishing more from whim or from a sense of what seems right...

But FADE OUT. Douglas Woolf went on to write ten more books of stories and novels by the time of his death in 1992... two are available--- of course--- from DALKEY ARCHIVE: who else, that successor to Grove and New Directions.

FADE OUT was published in 1959 when Woolf was 37. Dedicated to Robert Creeley. From the cover: FADE OUT is chronicling the experiences of its 74 year-old-hero as he struggles for a life of dignity in a world which treats old age like a dangerous disease.

The opening paragraph brings you right into that world:

Mr.Twombly was awake before Cynthia. Usually they slept only until the sun entered their room, and usually Cynthia woke first, woke him. Not today. Perhaps the sun had grown too weak for her or, hard to believe, would be in the room for too short a period to interest her. Yesterday it had been just twentynine minutes; this morning, although he was too late to time, he knew it would be a few seconds less. And Cynthia lay with her head pillowed by her hands, in sun and unaware. When he scratched her underside with his fingernail she stretched her long neck a little, opened her eyes to blink at him. Mr.Twombly did not really like to tease her, but he did not like to see her sluggish either. Shaking his head he dropped her two breakfast flies. Some days he preferred not to watch her dismember and devour them, so he lay back on the pillow listening her knock her rocks, and listening for Kate's snoring to stop, soon Ben's, little Gloria's. When finally that happened he knew, even more surely than when he felt the sun, that a day was here.
Mr.Twombly had been living with his daughter's family for only four months but in that time he had had ample opportunity to learn the rules of the house.

FADE OUT awaits you. I am sure you noticed that the author has a certain respect for his reader. He is not bothering to tell you what/who Cynthia is or might be...


Yet, the personal reason I rescued FADE OUT was because I have been brooding on the appearance of the first of two books from the Library of American devoted to William Maxwell. At some future moment I will write about Maxwell but it is the absence of a Library of American volume or volumes devoted to Glenway Wescott that had me thinking
of the process of fading...

Glenway Wescott wrote THE GRANDMOTHERS, PILGRIM HAWK, GOODBYE WISCONSIN... but in this mood of fading it is hard to work up the energy to rehearse the greatness of GLenway Wescott's achievement or the destruction of that reputation by the inattention of publishers, incompetent editors and a academic world given over to the adulation of hacks beyond number.

Yes, Pilgrim Hawk is available from New York Review Books... but the general unawareness of Wescott and for that matter Douglas Woolf or Edward Dahlberg... to shape it into a question in order to push away the final resolution of such thoughts: what is to be done?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007



Diane Williams and Alain Arias-Misson read the other night at the KGB bar on East Fourth Street in the East Village.

The obscenity of naming a bar-- known for its literary evenings--- in honour of the KGB requires a trivializing sense of humour that needs to tramp over the memory of Osip Mandelstam to mention only one victim of the KGB.

In my mind I always call it the GESTAPO BAR... but no one even bothers. The millions upon millions of victims of the KGB in the hierarchy of victims in the 20th Century simply do not matter because they were the unfortunate by-product of a progressive left wing movement that made a few mistakes...

Diane Williams, the short story writer, is now published by Dalkey Archive. Listening to her read was as if I was listening to a voice from the grave: as if Gertrude Stein was reading with six feet of earth piled upon her corpse. The words have no connection to any recognizable version of human emotion. Some think this an accomplishment.

Alain Arias-Misson the other reader is the author of CONFESSIONS OF A MURDERER, RAPIST, FASCIST, BOMBER, THIEF OR A YEAR IN THE JOURNAL OF AN ORDINARY AMERICAN... A book I used to have but never read. It looked like a photo-copy of someone's journal.. the writing was designed not to be read. Arias-Misson was introduced to the audience with the assurance that he was writing a transgressive work of fiction. He read from a book just published by Dalkey Archive: Theater of Incest
One sentence made me regret I was literate, "she devoured my genitals."

I had gone to the bar to talk with John (Jack) O'Brien, founder and publisher of Dalkey Archive and The Review of Contemporary Fiction. I had not seen him in 10 years or so. We talked. I realized I missed talking and corresponding with him. Our friendship seemed now like something from the past. It has become an object to talk around and about.


HISTORIC DOCUMENTS II. The Correspondence between Thomas McGonigle and John (Jack) O'Brien.

Third Letter

20 July 1981

120 Thompson Street #10, NY NY 10012

Dear John O'Brien:

Thanks for the magazine subscription to Adrift and YES will come up with some about Higgins.. the challenge.. have you been in touch with Francis Stuart? 2 Highfield Park DUBLIN 14 he and Higgins used to do reviews in tandem for HIBERNIA... Stuart married the daughter of Maude Gonne lived in Germany during the war up shit's creek as a result author of BLACKLIST SECTION H he is the dean of writers at the moment in Ireland--- the voice of rebellion... in a way it would have been the perfect issue of the magazine to do the 2 of them but Eastlake is not much talked about... trouble with Higgins is that in Ireland he is not much about got his reputation abroad and lived there for so long people don't know what to make of him. Do you by chance know James Liddy, poet teaches up at University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee once put out ARENA in Dublin? I'll be writing him to see if he has any leads... Celka's name came up when James was in town in June on way to Dublin--- they had met him when they knew Dahlberg in Spain... I have also been in touch with Goytisolo in Paris because I like his writing and his anarchism and wanted him to speak at the Libertarian Book Club, the oldest anarchist group in USA founded back in the late 40's.. possibly he'll be in NYC this Fall for his new book-- though he says he doesn't know...

send 5 copies (Review of Contemporary Fiction) to NEW MORNING BOOKSTORE
169 Spring Street
NY NY 10012 Att: Ron Kolm
Ron says he'll order more when they move and I'll be keeping my eye on them did this on the way back from post officer Friday is my day to walk over to St Marks will chat with those guys then and will stop in at the Gotham tomorrow when I am on my messenger job for Maple Vail which is a book manufacturer... from absolutely cursory reading glance at Review just what we need actually designed to be read!!!
enclosed is a little piece from a long book i did ST. PATRICK'S DAY, DUBLIN, 1974 James Published it up in Milwaukee later in the book there is a tiny mention of Higgins and the Celtic Mews club which is in "Balcony" reason for that I of the novel am married to Bulgarian who worked in the club which during the way was restaurant for English language school where I taught--- very complicated will try to work that out in Piece on Higgins will write later in the week I know a man who says he is Gaddis's best friend a man Malcolm Raphael used to be bartender at the 55 now is doing legal work goes back a long way with Gaddis... do you know him or the bar?
more later...a good week to look forward to with the review in hand.



---(Aidan) Higgins. See previous annotation. BALCONY OF EUROPE, maybe his best book.

---Francis Stuart. Prolific Irish writer. Later when I asked him why he went to NAzi Germany replied, "It is the obligation of a writer to place himself in the situation of he greatest moral ambiguity possible. He published in ADRIFT one of the best summaries and attacks on the Irish short story under the title, "The Soft Center of Irish Writing" in which he compared the drivel written by Frank O'Connor etc to the mere knitting of sweaters in worn out patterns.

---Eastlake (William) author of The Bowman Family Trilogy, The Bamboo Bed, Castle Keep

---James Liddy poet and editor of ARENA, the best short lived literray magazine to be published in Ireland in the latter part of the 20th Century. He paid me four guineas for a four line poem. I had to buy a round of drinks for a circle of writers in O'Dwyers that Spring of 1965 in Dublin. The poem was "Short Thought on Death." In the circle of drinkers were Brian Lynch, Micheal Hartnett, Brian Higgins, Anthony Cronin, Leland Bardwell...and there were others...

---ST PATRICK'S DAY DUBLIN, 1974 is a long novel by Thomas McGonigle. Sections appeared in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, in The Gorey Detail, a seminal journal from Ireland. The book was to have been published by Dalkey Archive but something happened. Many letters will discuss this book and yet the mystery is still there: why has it not appeared.

---Dahlberg (Edward) BECAUSE I WAS FLESH is one of the very best American autobiographies or memoirs. It can easily sit on the same shelf with the great autobiographical books of Julian Green. In ARENA a few sentences among more from Edward Dahlberg, "Solitude is the virulent disease of our century A man will sit the whole day in his room and gnaw the walls that inter him, and the draperies that shroud his light rather than risk a single encounter."

---Cela (Camilo Jose) you can now finally read a newly translated book, CHRIST VERSUS ARIZONA (Dalkey Archive), "I know they say I 've got bugs growing on my body, fleas, lice, crabs, snails, no, but if you want I'll wash myself really clean and put on my other shirt, lots of people would like my Sunday shirt for a shroad..."

---Goytisolo (Juan) author of COUNT JULIAN, JUAN THE LANDLESS... and more recently sadly some trivial books celebrating homosexual Arabic culture--- Jean Genet a far far better writer took pleasure in tormenting him, long ago.

---New Morning Bookstore has been described.

---Ron Kolm a poet, bookstore manager for many years. Famous for publishing the same poem Suburban Ambush in over a hundred little magazines. Published a few slides from Thomas McGonigle's IN PATCHOGUE in an anthology, The Low Tech Manual.

---Gotham Book Mart, a once important bookstore on West 47th street. Famous for never paying its bills, stiffing in particular small literary presses.

---Maple Vail Book Manufacturing Company. THOMAS McGONIGLE worked for more than 20 years as messenger forthis company out of an office on Fifth Avenue. Maple Vail manufactures at two plants the actual books for many major publishers. A long book EMPTY AMERICAN LETTERS was written by McGonigle in part involved with his job... another item in a litany of failure and isolation

---Malcolm Raphael. A bartender at The 55, the only straight bar on Christopher Street in the 1970s. One of his wivs was seduced by Lucien Freud. The 55 was one of the 3 memorable bars along with the 602 Club in Madison, Wisconsin and The French Pub in London that was often a pilgrimage route for "those in the know." Champagne drinking with Francis Bacon, the painter, was indulged in by Thomas McGonigle in the French Pub in those years... in the 602 Club far more sordid activities were under-taken... Malcom was famous for getting distracted from his duty of serving up the drinks at the cocktail hour that lasted from 1PM until 9PM at The 55.

---William Gaddis famous for The Recognitions but his best book is JR.

Fourth Letter

120 Thompson Street #10
NY NY 10012

--July 1981

Dear John O'Brien

talked to people at Gotham and St. Marks bookstore they both said they will be ordering if you don't hear from in 2 weeks let me know and I'll get on their case

have you written to Books & Co. up on Madison Ave. that is the other classy place and should be interested in review
All the best



---Books & Co. an important bookstore for a time next to the Whitney Museum on Madison Avenue in New York City. Owned by a heir to the IBM fortune. Long gone now.
Famous for the wall of books: the single most important acknowledgment of a writer's place in the world of literature in the 1980s, early 90s. If an author's books were not on the wall that person did not exist as a writer. There was also a series of landmark readings. Madison Smart Bell read with THOMAS MCGONIGLE once and they were introduced by HANNAH GREEN, author of the visionary, harsh and delicate DEAD OF THE HOUSE

Monday, December 10, 2007



In addition to the ABC OF READING by EZRA POUND (1) I want to let you know about a few other essentially helpful small books

INTIMATE JOURNALS by CHARLES BAUDELAIRE. (2) Translated by Christopher Isherwood with an introduction by W.H. Auden. Published now by Dover. There was another introduction for an earlier edition by T.S. Eliot which is available in his selected essays.

The INTIMATE JOURNALS is a book to take to heart and head as they say.

Just as with the ABC OF READING it is a book that can not be exhausted. It does not date.

LXX. There are no great men save the poet, the priest,and the soldier.
The man who sings, the man who offers up sacrifice, and the man who sacrifices himself.
The rest are born for the whip.
Let us beware of the rabble, of common-sense, good-nature, inspiration and evidence.


Some time ago in reviewing a novel by Ernst Junger I mentioned the three vocations available for a man and how Junger himself if we allowed the scientist to replace the priest was able to embody all of these vocations. As far as I know he is the only modern man so gifted. I am no longer happy with the replacement of the priest by the scientist and can only note that in the last years of his very long life Junger converted to Catholicism. He died at 103 in 1998.


XL. One must work, if not from inclination at least from despair, since, as I have fully proved, to work is less wearisome than to amuse oneself.

Thursday, December 6, 2007



During the next few weeks I will be reading and then finding 800 words for Day the new novel by A.L. KENNEDY. On a whim I put her name into Google--- I still resist using Google as a verb--- and discovered: 1, A.L. Kennedy is Scottish, 2, she is a stand-up comedienne, 3, she has been a judge for a number of "prestigious" literary prizes.

Two thoughts came to mind: one, in the movie The Swimming Pool, CHARLOTTE RAMPLING plays a mystery writer who is complaining to her editor or agent (I forget which) about not winning any literary prizes. This guy replies, Why bother? Literary prizes are like hemorrhoids eventually ever asshole gets one.

That is the final definitive word word on such prizes.

two, by looking up A. L. Kennedy via Google I was 'knowing a writer', a little. That phrase, 'knowing a writer', was the title of an article I did for the Review of Contemporary Fiction about DAVID MARKSON. In the article I talked about knowing David Markson. Afterwards, he got very angry about what I had written. He wrote a threatening letter to me and disparaging letters to other people about me. It has always been unclear to me if he knew that I had not wished him any harm and in fact I had only been reporting on 'knowing the writer' and how that had not in any way affected what I thought about his writing. I do not know if he knew or knows that I had been one of the two essential early readers of the manuscript of WITTGENSTEIN'S MISTRESS, that had been turned down by every publisher in New York, after it was finally submitted to Dalkey Archive and thus contributed one of the essential voices that pursuaded John O'Brien that this was and still to this day an important novel which continues to be well read and appreciated.


I propose to publish at random moments annotated versions of letters exchanged between myself and John (Jack) O'Brien, the founder and publisher and editor for both The Review of Contemporary Fiction and Dalkey Archive press. I am publishing these letters because they provide an accurate and true account of the literary life in the 1980s and 1990s of the last century.

The First Letter
3July 1981
Dear John O'Brien:
I had written to Gilbert Sorrentino about his interest in the novel CADENZA and in the coarse of his reply he mentioned that you put out The Review of Contemporary Fiction with an issue devoted to him. I am enclosing a check for $5.00 hoping it will cover the issue. Later I'll probably subscribe. Do you plan to put the magazine in bookstores? I work at New Morning Bookstore Saturday and Sunday nights and I am sure they will carry it as would St. Marks over on St Marks Place.
I am editing the magazine adrift. The notice is attached.
all the best
Thomas McGonigle
--Gilbert Sorrentino in answer to a question of what he would be reading that summer (1981) wrote to the New York Times that he would be reading CADENZA by Ralph Cusack. Now(2007) published by Dalkey Archive.

--New Morning Bookstore was on Spring Street in SOHO. It was owned by the people who owned High Times Magazine. It was a key ingredient in defining the artistic environment of that moment in SOHO when that area was an artistic center in New York City. Nicholas Ray lived in a loft a few floors above the shop. The founder of the bookstore was a heroin addict and pusher. He blew his brains out with a .352 magnum revolver.

--Adrift, a literary magazine of Irish and Irish American Writing which Thomas McGonigle founded and edited. It received support from the American Irish Cultural Project. It was the first magazine of its kind and published as long as there was literary material of interest. It exhausted the idea of ethnic based literature for Thomas McGonigle.

The Second Letter
July 8, 1981
Dear Mr. McGonigle:
Thanks very much for your letter. I am very pleased you got in touch with me; Gil told me that you might be writing. By all means I would like to have copies of the Review in New Morning Bookstore and St. Marks Bookshop. So, if you are in a position to do so, please find out if these stores would be willing to carry the magazine and where, therefore, I should send copies. I very much appreciate your suggestion.
I am particularly pleased, however, that I am now in contact with someone who must know the work of Aidan Higgins. Could I perhaps persuade you to wrote something on him for the issue I am planning? The deadline is not until October 1, 1982. I would also welcome any suggestions you might have for other contributors to this issue. Aside from Gil, I don't think I have met anyone who has read Higgins. So you can see the problems I expect to have with the issue.

I am enclosing a few brochures which might help the bookstores decide whether they want to take the magazine and which you might show to potential contributors to the Higgins issue. I am also enclosing a check for a subscription to ADRIFT.

Thanks again, and I look forward to hearing from you.

John O'Brien
--Gil. Gilbert Sorrentino. Prolific American writer. His best books are The Sky Changes, Steelwork and Gold Fools. Another work, Splendid Hotel, would be the first book reprinted by Dalkey Archive, a press eventually established by John O'Brien and among many other books would re-publish most of Gilbert Sorrentinto's books and also two books by Thomas McGonigle, but in the latter case only in hardcover for some reason.

--Aidan Higgins. A writer who along with Samuel Beckett, Francis Stuart, Flann O'Brien, Ralph Cusack, John McGahren and Desmond Hogan are the only Irish prose writers worth reading after James Joyce if you are thinking along ethnic lines. Higgins' best books are Balcony of Europe and Langrishe, Go Down.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


( + )

CAHIERS/NOTEBOOKS 3 by PAUL Valery, Published by Peter Lang is the best book of 2007.

By picking this book of course I am giving in to the YEAR END but I do it with the higher purpose of trying to draw attention to a book I am almost sure will not appear in a single bookstore in the United States.

You can get more information about the book at
You will discover that Peter Lang is a large academic publisher with a number of bases around the world.

Paul Valery needs no introduction. I have written about the 29 volume facsimile edition of his notebooks. The one I have now picked is the most recent and the third in a series of 6 based upon the huge two volume edition of the typeset version published in Paris some years. This volume is devoted to six of the 31 subdivisions Valery envisioned that his notebooks could eventually be divided into: Psychology, Soma and CEM, Attention, Sensibility, Memory and Dream.

This is not a book you sit down and read cover to cover. It's importance is in now one more volume is available of this great monument of thinking. I am immediately drawn to the section devoted to memory.

--Memory would not fit elegantly into my system. Nothing reseals it in what exists at any given moment, yet it does exist

--Memory awaits the intervention of the present.

--Memory, at once the condition and the material substance of mental work.

From my first reading of this volume, readers will be happy to note that Valery does not participate in the dated Freudian foolishness. In the most important way possible he is giving words to the work that is now being down in what is now happily called Brain Science... he is another who can be enlisted in the exposure of the myth of the so-called unconscious...

I will not have exhausted this book by the end of 2008.


Other books that should be noticed...

1. NOW VOYAGERS; THE NIGHT SEA JOURNEY by James McCourt. I will not say it is a furthering of the saga of MAWRDEW CZGOWCHWZ--- which of course it is--- but a reminder that McCourt has written another book that almost equals his masterpiece TIME REMAINING

2. FROST by Thomas Bernhard.

3. SUNFLOWER by Gyula Krudy


5. THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES by Roberto Bolano.

6. LETHE The Art and Critique of Forgetting by Harald Weinrich.

7. MONTANO'S MALADY by Enrique Vila-Matas.


9. THE COMPLETE POETRY of CESAR VALLEJO translated by Clayton Eshelman.

10. STORM OF STEEL by Ernst Junger. (actually I re-read this book since it is the single best book ever written about the experience of modern war.)

11. TRIUMPH FORSAKEN The Vietnam War, 1954-1965 by Mark Moyar. (Finally a true detailed history of the Vietnam War... sadly, it will only be read too late... no, I hope everyone would read it as it is the best commentary on what could well happen in Iraq... but in no way am I hinting about anything that might smack of conspiracy or anything like that... just how almost every perception I had and most likely you had about the Vietnam war is and was wrong...


13. CHRIST VERSUS ARIZONA by Camilo Jose Cela.

14. ON ELOQUENCE by Denis Donoghue.

For such lists there is no reason to be bound by the trivial chopping up of time into years. And I might as well add one more:


One more of course:


Sunday, December 2, 2007



This is the week when the English and Irish newspapers and magazines run their BOOKS OF THE YEAR. I read the sections in the TLS, The Spectator and The Irish Times. The TLS like The Spectator and The IrishTimes has a gang of writers writing little essays about their year's best books.

I will not make one of those lists of who said what. Most of the writers who contribute to these sections are or will eventually be just names: publicists, academics, once popular novelists and poets. My one exception will be to notice that George Steiner did not report that he had read, as in previous years, with a passionate and defining interest, 10,000 pages of Heidegger manuscripts.

I was saddened, a little--- one always hopes for some evidence of change but of course--- to realize the dread Philip Roth's latest had been read by a number of these people. Roth is a perfect example of POSHLOST, that wonderful Russian term made popular by Vladimir Nabokov:

Corny trash, vulgar cliches, Philistinism in all its phases, imitations of imitations, bogus profundities, crude, moronic and dishonest pseudo-literature--- these are obvious examples. Now if we want to pin down poshlost in contemporary writing we must look for it in Freudian symbolism, moth eaten mythologies, social comment, humanistic messages, political allegories, over concern with class and race and the journalistic generalities we all know. Poshlost speaks in such concepts as "America is no different than Russia" or "we all share in Germany's guilt. The flowers of poshlost bloom in such phrases and terms as "the moment of truth," "charisma," "existential" (used seriously), "dialogue" (as applied to political talks between nations), and vocabulary (as applied to the dauber). Listing in one breath Auschwitz, Hiroshima and Vietnam is seditious poshlost.

Of course, any reasonably well informed person can make a list of contemporary writers who personify POSHLOST: Toni Morrison, Russell Banks, Rick Moody, Joyce Carol Oates, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Franzen, James Patterson... I can't go on with this list. I guess if you see a course listing for the contemporary novel at a college or university... 90 percent of the writers will exemplify Mr Nabokov's...

As to Roth...
It must have been in 1971 when I first met Nelida Pinon. You might remember her as the Brazilian writer whose REPUBLIC OF DREAMS came out some years ago... she was included in that defining anthology of South American writing published by Tri-Quarterly... there was a short story of a woman who gave birth to an egg... she was a close friend of Clarice Lispector...

Pinon is still alive, travels constantly-- was the first woman to be the President of the Brazilian Academy... she visited back then a class given by Hannah Green at Columbia University. She must have come to Columbia at the invitation of Frank MacShane who was probably one of the best writing program directors in the country at that time or since. Nelida was only one of the many who came to Columbia at MacShane's invitation: Niconor Parra, Jorge Luis Borges, Jose Donoso... that apologist for Stalin, Pablo Neruda...

... but the point. Nelida was telling me that on this her second visit she was only meeting writers and people who are not famous. On her first visit she had been forced to meet the famous. Then when she met Roth at a restaurant on 8th Street in Manhattan she learned that famous American writers are very different from... all Mr Roth could talk about other than his own writing and the sense of himself as an important writer was that this was to be his year to make a million dollars. Nelida learned from Roth that in America it is somehow decided that each year one writer will make a million dollars. Two years before it had been Saul Bellow and then William Styron and this was to be his year. Of course she was talking about Portnoy's Complaint.


Elsewhere in the Books of the Year issue of the TLS is an article by Gabriel Josipovici in which there is:

what has happened to our culture such that serious critics and intelligent well-read reviewers, many of whom studied the poems of Eliot, the stories of Kafka and the plays of Beckett at University, should go into ecstasies over Atonement or Suite Francaise while ignoring the work of marvelous novelists such as Robert Pinget and Gert Hofmann?

Mr. Josipovici must be living in some fantasy world. You can get out of many good colleges and universities without ever having read the three authors he mentioned and I can well assure him if a reviewer ever talked about such writers or of holding them in esteem-- they would simply be thought to be sadly out of touch with the needs of the newspaper or magazine.


FORTUNATE READERS: there is no excuse not to read Robert Pinget's books. Almost all of them are available in English. I was reminded of this by seeing Joanne Gunderson at the 20th Annual Independent and Small Press Book Fair. She has through her small press RED DUST made available all of Pinget's small prose books and his plays. DALKEY ARCHIVE has his great work THE INQUISITORY available. A reader might find MONSIEUR SONGE who in some way is of the same family as MONSEIEUR TESTE by Paul Valery... but both Mr Pinget and Mr Songe are, as they say in Ireland, their own man... or those other late books THEO OR THE NEW ERA or BE BRAVE or THE ENEMY--- all well translated by the great Barbara Wright...


Still the same old thing. He's read so many books that he tries to remember them all together I think.
Why all together.
Because he's in a hurry, he hasn't got time now to reread them one after the other so as to write his own.
What is his own?
That bundle of pages he gets you to read bit by bit.
That isn't a book it's just scribble you can't understand a word.
It's the best he can do.

or in Pinget's last published book TRACES OF INK:

And then the years pass.
What can he do to overcome it?
One line plus one line. and keep going at all costs.

And from earlier in the book: Mortin says I'm waiting for the rats of memory.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007



I picked up a copy of the bound galleys of ANNIE DILLARD'S new novel THE MAYTREES at the downtown Strand Bookstore. $1.49. An N was penciled in at the upper left hand corner of the cover. It was a reject from the rare book room. The book is written as if from a great distance and seems to echo in some way--- beyond my ability to figure out--- EVAN CONNELL'S novels MR BRIDGE and MRS BRIDGE.

I first met Annie Dillard at Hollins College in 1969-70. She had been a student at the college and had married Richard Dillard who was a professor. She spent a lot of time in the little snack bar near the library. She must have heard me talking about an incident in Patchogue as it later appeared in her now famous PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK. (I am not going to take down that book to find the exact page. One has to have some slight dignity)

I put my own story into my own little book GOING TO PATCHOGUE (Dalkey Archive):

Dad talks of the first winter. On the morning when the bay froze over for the first time I went down to the beach and walked out on the ice. Sea gulls had been trapped in the ice. Some of them were still alive. I hit them over the head with a piece of drift lumber. Then I took a penknife and cut the bodies off at the first joint of the leg. I left behind a little forest of bloody stumps. We had a lot of sea gull soup that first winter.


I last saw Annie in the 1980s at a bookstore up near the Museum of Natural History--- long gone now, but once one of the great bookstores. She was signing books and I was surprised that the line was out of the store and into the street. Men, women, all ages and dress, lined up with piles of her books. She was famous, an authority, a knower of nature and of the finer feelings, one sensed


As my year at Hollins College wore on Lilia and I drifted apart. I went up to New York City. Lilia stayed at Hollins College where she received two and half years credit for being Bulgarian and having been a gymnazium student in Sofia. Annie would talk to Lilia and suggest that she marry a professor but make sure he is tenured. It is the perfect life. Lilia was not interested in that as she was interested in the very young son of the the Dean of the College; she did not marry him.

Within a year of winning the Pulitizer Prize for PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK Annie Dillard was done with Richard--- but kept his name as Doak simply does not--- and years later George Garrett told me Annie had moved on to husband number two because he was younger and would be the father for her child and when that ended she realized she needed an older man for husband number three and to whom she could read the reviews of her books without him getting jealous... this story has been told hundreds of times across the South.

Last year when I was preparing to drive my daughter to Vanderbilt, George was again telling me an ANNIE DILLARD story as relayed by her former husband still living in Hollins, near Roanoke. It seems Annie was in the mountains nearby and having a hard time writing. Would Richard have dinner with her. He agreed as they were still friendly after a fashion. The dinner went well enough and as they were leaving and saying goodbye in the parklng lot Annie suddenly asked Richard if he could do a favour for her. He agreed and she asked could he dispose of her garbage as there was no collection at the cabin where she was living. She opened the trunk of the car and it was stuffed with large plastic bags of weeks of garbage. It seemed like old times, Richard said. I was always taking out her garbage back then.


There is a whole other area of conversation about Annie Dillard when it comes to blurbs... but that has to be for another time...


GOOD NEWS. GOOD NEWS. GOOD NEWS. Steve Moore wrote and told me that he had just received his copy of ALEXANDER THEROUX'S LAURA WARHOLIC or, The Sexual Intellectual. A Novel. 888 pages. The perfect way to end the year.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007



PaulValery, Arno Schmidt and Julian Rios have created three great literary monuments that are inconceivable in these United States of America.

I was in the library last night to pay again homage to two of those monuments: the CAHIERS of Paul Valery and ZETTELS TRAUM by Arno Schmidt.

Paul Valery wrote something every morning of his life. After his death 29 volumes of a facsimile edition of these jottings was published. 26,600 pages.

Valery himself never fully organized these jotting but recognized that they did fall into certain areas. He believed that it was very hard to draw distinctions between philosophy, literature, art, science and mathematics and that any civilized man would of necessity be interested in everything.

To make a long story short, Valery eventually came up with 215 sub-classifications under which this massive mountain of writing could be organized.

But the monument is on the shelves in the form of those 29 volumes, each approx 900 pages, measuring 8 x 11 inches...

In more recent years a Pléiade edition has appeared in which those pages are transcribed and arranged into broadly based categories. Those two books comprise 3248 pages... and are serving as the basis of the English language version that is slowly making itself available from Peter Land Editions. Two volumes have been published and a third is coming out as I am typing or is possibly on its way here right now.

"I have a unitary mind in a thousand pieces (p62) from the section Ego in volume one of the Lang edition.

Valery would have taken to the bog. There can be no doubt about it. But there is one little disadvantage to the bog: if you hit the wrong key, words, sentences, sections disappear never to be... in those printed volumes there is a strange permanence that no electronic media can equal.

An earlier version of these words got lost. There is a sadness that falls down upon me. These are not the inspired words of that previous version. They come from afar.


A reader can begin to read PAUL VALERY with his short book MONSIEUR TESTE. Valery "speaks" or "writes" in/of the "character" of Monsieur Teste. Everything is called into question.


In that lost bit of the bog I had been writing about John Jay College of Criminal Knowledge and about having to repatriate my academic book collection, my folders of student essays, long lists of long gone students, and my collection of wall clippings. One such clipping quoted Andrey Platanov's thought that a writer should know, "what God is thinking about."

I was also writing that the powers to be have decided that those who do not hold a sinecure in the form of lifelong tenure are to no longer have an office in which to meet students, gather our few wits about us, to organize ourselves for the teaching. I am sure they know what they are doing and it will be of a great benefit to the students and the college as a whole. It will allow us to arrive each day with our offices on our backs in the form of tightly bound bundles which will contain the tools of our vocation. I will miss that office that I have occupied with a few colleagues for these 19 years but one must move with the times... I will remember one of those clippings of a photograph of Celine standing near the gate of his house in Meudon and under which was a slip of a quote from some interview he must have given, WASH YOUR HANDS.
Like a heteronym of FERNANDO PESSOA I will set up my office at a far table in the student cafeteria...


I will come to Arno Schmidt some other day. His ZETTELS TRAUM is an even greater monument...


But to the living. This morning as every morning Julian Rios looked down from the front window of his house in Saint-Martin-la-Garenne at those trees midst the Seine that Monet had discovered in paint.

LARVA is Rios's great book and is available in English. To say it is a novel like FINNEGANS WAKE, like ZETTELS TRAUM...

but again all of that is for another day. Unlike them, it comes with a fold-out map, a pictorial section and index.

Julian Rios signed a copy for me: TOM LE MOT

Friday, November 23, 2007



I walked out in the afternoon to see if the building was still there in which Louis Zukofsky was born (1905) and lived out his childhood in the Lower East Side of Manhattan

97 Christie Street, just below Grand Street is a 6 story walk up with an iron flight of stairs to the entranceway. To either side of the door are four shops, two up, two down: WING HANG LASER VIDEO CENTER, JM WIRELESS CELLPHONE REPAIR, NEW EAST AUTO DRIVING SCHOOL CORPORATION, ALL STATE RESTAURANT EQUIPMENT CORP.

When Zukofsky was born there, the signs were not in Chinese as they are today but would have read like Chinese to a person such as myself. Yiddish would have been the language of the streets and not like today, Chinese and Spanish

In the park in front of Christie Street I noticed a group of young Chinese men playing touch football. A good sign of...

I wondered if there was right then a eleven year old Chinese boy who was reading through all of Shakespeare's plays because his public school teacher, like Zukofsky's, had offered a prize for answering what he later described as "pretty stiff questions."

I think not.

Probably that teacher last week was asking the boy to read some dreary relevant but awful crap in simplified English and then writing about something he already knows... His parent(s) would be offered a bribe to make sure the kid showed up at school--- hard to believe but this is now public policy in New York City--- and the teacher at the end of the day would remind the children that next week they would all share on how the celebration of Thanksgiving had revealed the racist nature of American society.



(Yes the same man who wrote HUNGER, a novel that simply has to have been read by anyone who thinks himself or herself well-read)

Take a city like Minneapolis, a city the size of Copenhagen, a center of commerce in the West--- Minneapolis with its theaters, schools, "art galleries," university, international exhibition and five music academies. There is one bookstore--- a single solitary one.* What does this bookstore advertise, and what does it have in its windows and on its shelves? Decorated congratulatory cards, gilt edged collections of verse, detective stories, some sheet music for "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "Home Sweet Home," dear and departed Longfellow, and all the variations of the latest inkwells. Then there is that whole deluge of "fiction" that belongs to a large nation with aspiring female scribblers. Now the bookstore is also a patriotic bookstore: it has the histories of the United States wars and lithographs of Washington; it has Uncle Tom's Cabin and General Grant's memoirs. And then it has all of America's magazine literature.

Now I would still rather read a collection of sermoins than Grant's memoirs. Grant was a man who could not even write his own language correctly; several of the generals letters are preserved as stylistic curiosities. I would rather read the city directory from cover to cover that these American detectve stories.

* There are two Scandinavian ones, selling stationary and collections of sermons.








and then... if one continues with LORINE NIEDECKER

if one continues with JACK SPICER

if one continues with ROBERT DUNCAN

if one continues with CHARLES OLSON

if one continues with RONALD JOHNSON

if one continues with JAMES MERRILL

and finally if one continues with LOUIS ZUKOFSKY and then announces that this list pretty much sums up what anyone really needs to know about American poetry in the Twentieth Century...

I was thinking about this because finally a biography of LOUIS ZUKOFSKY is about to appear: THE POEM OF A LIFE by MARK SCROGGINS and this afternoon I am going to walk down to 97 Chrystie Street a few blocks away from where I am sitting on this cold day after Thanksgiving, to see if the building where Zukofsky was born in 1904 is still there...

In the 60s I used to go into the Catholic Worker place on Christie Street to pick up copes of THE CATHOLIC WORKER to sell in front of St. Francis de Sales Church in Patchogue--- for the cover price of one penny.

But I have been thinking about ZUKOFSKY whose body of work is still mostly unknown but from what I am able to read is the one gorgeous bloom before the last flowering of that great list above, RONALD JOHNSON---

Maybe you have heard of ZUKOFSKY'S : "A" and then BOTTOM the two volumes on Shakespeare, the Catullus translations, the A USEFUL ART Essays and Radio Scripts on American Design, LE STYLE APOLLAINAIRE and PREPOSITIONS the collected critical essays in which he quotes from one of his favorite writers, HENRY ADAMS, writing about being a student at Harvard in THE EDUCATION OF HENRY ADAMS:

No one cared enough to criticize, except himself who soon began to suffer from reaching his own limits.




It is no accident that I quoted early on in this bog from WHITTAKER CHAMBERS... who people will discover was a good friend of Zukofsky's at Columbia...


By taking into your heart and brain the poetry of the above poets...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


The newspaper this morning like every morning (By starting in this way I have labeled myself as... because I know that reading the newspaper is no longer a normal activity and I self-consciously mention this newspaper reading shadowed by Marina Tsvetaeva's good and necessary cursing of such an activity) reports of another scandal in school testing. There is always a scandal in education.

A long time ago Albert Jay Nock pointed out that when the perfectly good classical high school was disbanded and replaced by the so called modern educational system that of necessity it would have to be endlessly reformed, fixed, reconfigured, fixed again because the people running the education industry dare never think really on what they are doing...

The other night at FREEBIRD BOOKSTORE I was talking with a graduate of Harvard. I mentioned that I had heard it was pretty grim for under-graduates and that they never really got the best professors and that at Harvard there was very little sense of being part of a community of scholars. This no longer young man replied, "Yes, that is all true but you get great contacts for opportunities later in life."


I do not think that our American society will ever return to the Great Tradition. I see no reason why it should not go on repeating the experience of other societies, having already gone as far as it has along the road of that experience, and find that when it as last realises the need of transforming itself, it has no longer the power to do so.

And then from A JOURNAL OF THESE DAYS June 1932 - December 1933

April 24, 1933

I am greatly impressed by the number and quality of the bookstores in Lisbon. They are an interesting and an encouraging sight. The whole population of Portugal is less than New York City's, and I hear that 70 per cent of it is illiterate, which, if so, makes the reading public very small. It is astonishing to estimate, roughly the number of bookstores that New York or any American city, would have if they stood in the same proportion to the number of people who are able to read. The literate Portuguese, moreover, seems able to manage French and Spanish as well as his own tongue, for the shops carry a large stock in both languages. English books are few and of a low order, mostly shilling shockers; and there are hardly any German books, except in translations. All this sets one thinking afresh about the social value of a wide-spread, indiscriminate literacy.

June 30, 1933

One sees a considerable blessing in illiteracy when one remarks the utter absence of signboards along the roadside. They hardly exist in Portugal; one may drive a hundred miles without seeing one. I do not think it would be unfair to say that the only advantage of our general literacy is that it enables people to read advertisements.

REMINDER REMINDER Walking, at that time, those streets of Lisbon was the poet FERNANDO PESSOA whose book THE BOOK OF DISQUIET sits comfortably on the shelf along with ULYSSES, THE MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES, DEATH OF VIRGIL, THAT AWFUL MESS ON VIA MERULANA, LARVA...

April 21, 1933
In the view of the modern novelist, love is apparently reducible to sheer transactions carried on inter stercus et urinam, and this, I suppose, passes for a realistic view; but I doubt that the human spirit will be permanently satisfied with it, and hence I doubt that the works which reflect it will have any place in literature. Novelists may yet rediscover sentiment as being quite as much a reality as trees and boulders, or even as the determination of blood to this or that part of the human body.

ANOTHER REMINDER. Nock wrote two books tracing out the life and works of Rabelais. He was no dour puritan.

I have not mentioned his great autobiography: MEMOIRS OF A SUPERFLUOUS MAN as the title cuts too close to the very bone of my own life.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007



As November wears on the memory: of having just finished up working on the dish washing line in the cafeteria at Beloit College and hearing the news that the President had been shot. JFK. That night I walked alone to the library while many students went to the chapel. I simply then and still to this day do not really understand how people could be so moved.

Yeah, I know in a intellectual way why people are moved but...

I was thinking, as I remember it now: one less politician.

A few years ago in EAT AT JOE'S a pizza joint on Second Avenue in Manhattan between Fifth and Fourth Street a guy was saying: they should dig up JFK and shoot him again and that goes for his brother too.


Writers I have known who are now dead: Chad Walsh, W.H. Auden, Bink Noll, Kenneth Rexroth, Stephen Spender, Patrick Kavanagh, John Jordan, Francis Stuart, Jakov Lind, Hannah Green, Michael Hartnett, Edward Dahlberg, Jorge Luis Borges, Brian Higgins, Frank MacShane, Richard M. Elman, Julian Green, Malcolm Cowley, John Currier, Liam O'Flaherty, Anthony Burgess, Nina Berberova, Philip Hobsbaum, Tillie Olson, Kay Boyle...

And there are those who should be dead....

or are dead but don't know it


Do not search for truth-- But seek to develop those forces which make and unmake truths.
---Paul Valery


In Clair Wills' very good book THAT NEUTRAL IRELAND, a broad, clearly written description of Ireland during World War Two there is a delicious moment when she is describing a popular quiz program QUESTION TIME and the host asks a contestant for the name of the world's best known teller of fairy-tales. The expected answer was of course Hans Christian Anderson but that was skipped over in favor of "Winston Churchill."


Anthony Burgess once told me the reason Churchill got tossed out of office as fast as he did in spite of his so-called heroic role during WW2 was because it was the first election when the many veterans of the British army could vote and everyone of them hated Churchill because of the cigars he was always photographed smoking. The ordinary soldiers had to make do with roll-your-owns or Woodbines and here this fuckin bastard had been puffing cigar smoke into your face every day of the war...

Monday, November 19, 2007



T.E.D. KLEIN, the much under-rated horror writer, sent me in a packet of clippings an article by Steve Wasserman from the Columbia Journalism Review. It contains what I will from now on take as a solemn injunction shadowing the fragments of this bog:

The predicament facing newspapers... is the sea change in the culture of literacy itself, the degree to which our overwhelmingly fast and visually furious culture renders serious reading increasingly irrelevant, hollowing out the habits of attention indispensable for absorbing long-form narrative and the following of sustained argument.


SO, while this swamp might have the appearance of being a collection of random thoughts it is no more fragmented than the NOTEBOOKS of PAUL VALERY or that grand collection of fragments embodied in the arbitrary 15 volumes of the THE COLLECTED WORKS IN ENGLISH published some time ago in the Bollingen series by Princeton University Press.

The reader can enter it at any moment, move back and forth as they might also do in HOPSCOTCH by JULIO CORAZAR and I might as well mention: books by five other authors will fall from the shelf as required: E.M. CIORAN, MAURICE BLANCHOT, ROBERTO CALASSO, MAX STIRNER, LOUIS FERDINAND CELINE.


The most disappointing book of the early part of this coming year will be IMRE KERTESZ's DETECTIVE STORY. (Knopf, January 2008) Set in a mythical, possibly South American country it concerns itself with being the confession of former police interrogator. Much is made about protecting and supporting the "Homeland." And what ideology is present is distinctly of a fascist authoritarianism.

When questioned a woman at Knopf said it was being done at the suggestion of Kertesz's German publisher and the writer himself. Published originally in Hungarian in 1977 it could then have hardly concerned itself with the more obvious experience of the Communist dictatorship in Hungary itself.

So a little anti-American opportunism trumps Knopf's wise and thoughtful publication of two previous Kertesz novels in new translations, FATELESS AND KADDISH FOR AN UNBORN CHILD which were part of a trilogy. Of course the very title of the third book of the trilogy FAILURE might have posed some problems... but at least readers would now know why Kertesz is an interesting and important writer and the debate could really be had as to why Hungary has within its borders three writers--- Kertesz, Peter Esterhazy and Peter Nadas--- who tower over every single living American writer in the audacity of their accomplishments--- authors of books that refuse to repeat the dreary exhausted forms of what passes for innovative fiction in this country. If I was younger and had a gift for languages as did James Joyce learning Norwegian so he could read IBSEN, I would try to learn Hungarian... but I have no gift for languages and so I must endure this insult...

Readers can find these authors at and fortunately many books by Esterhazy and Nadas have already been translated. I have to always mention these three authors together as I find it impossible to rank them... I think of them as a complete tiny far away country. You too can get a visa at your bookshop.

Sunday, November 18, 2007



ROBERT EARL KEEN is a singer from Texas and did a show at Fillmore East on Irving Place in New York City Saturday night. I knew of him because of his song, "The Road Goes on Forever," which is one of those songs that once heard is never forgotten. Celebrating two young people: drugs, cars, guns...Bombay Gin... and then there is Gringo Honeymoon and Merry Christmas from the Family which has the endearing lyrics: Send somebody to the Quik-Pak store/ We need some ice and an extension cord/ A can of beandip and some Diet Rite/ A box of Tampons and some Marlboro Lights...
The best Keen CDs: Gringo Honeymoon
West Textures

Pete Miller a publicist at Bloomsbury has in addition to that job taken over a used bookshop in Brooklyn: FREEBIRD 123 Columbia Street. He had a party Sunday night celebrating this and had along the French author, PIERRE BAYARD whose new book HOW TO TALK ABOUT BOOKS YOU HAVEN'T READ is just that: a self-help book for people who don't read.

On my way there Anna the wife told me her cousin was reading the book having been given it by his father who works for Barnes and Noble. According to the cousin all the employees of Barnes and Noble are being given copies of this book. His father didn't have time to read the book so be passed it to his son... of course all those people you see working at Barnes and Noble are not employed because they like to read books. Their chief job is alphabetizing the stock and adding and removing titles based on printouts that come from the central office...


At the concert two details: an awful lot of the audience spent much of their time talking to each other, working their cellphones, IPhones, Blackberries--- all the while that Keen was singing just like the multi-tasking students in Denis Donoghue's classes. However a lot of people in the audience to which I joined sang along with Keen as we all knew the lyrics from having heard them many many times... something that ding happen many times when I was going to MAGAZINE , JOHN CALE or NICO concerts

Brooklyn seemed like a far away place from here on East First Street in Manhattan. Having been one of the very few people at the party who was actually born in Brooklyn-- if maybe the only one--- those long dark streets from the subway station at Bergen, those carved up Browstones all tastefully decorated, the spare modern restaurants good for a pre-suicide snack were pointedly juxtaposed for me by walking over the Brooklyn Queens Expressway... the sound of the noise of rushing cars... the music that a Stockhausen might have appreciated that begins as...

None of those people at the party or in those brownstones were thinking of why as Thomas Wolfe said, only the dead know Brooklyn...

Or as Celine was saying, you have to be a little bit dead to be really funny

Friday, November 16, 2007


Later today the Los Angeles Times Book Review section for Sunday will be posted and a version of my review of THE BAD GIRL, the new novel by Mario Vargas Llosa will be there.

Readers might be interested in my version of the review before it had to be fitted into the available space on the printed page. I will provide the opening and the final paragraphs. Both versions will be published when my collected works are published in heaven to echo Jack Kerouac

There is nothing wrong with the Los Angeles Times version of the review. It reflects the careful work of the Deputy Editor Nick Owchar, former student of both Christopher Ricks and Geoffrey Hill. The editor of the Book Review David Ulin continues to maintain the Los Angeles Times Book Review as the only genuine alternative to the New York Times Book Review. Many readers will remember how Steve Wasserman actually put the Los Angeles Times Book Review into the center of what passes for thinking in the world of book reviewing. Ulin, Owchar and the other editors continue that difficult work.

THE BAD GIRL by Mario Vargas Llosa.

Boy meets girl. Girl disappears. Boy meets the same girl again and again through all the remaining years of their lives that restlessly travel the world from Peru, to France, to England, to Japan, and finally ending in Spain. While such a story is easily capable of dragging the reader through a long sentimental swim in a sea of bathos, Mario Vargas Llosa by close attention to the historical and political detail of the years from 1950 to the last decade of the Twentieth Century has provided a compelling hypnotic updating of the classic SENTIMENTAL EDUCATION and at th same time has created through his narrator the translator Ricardo Somocurico and the genuinely mysterious and ever tantalizing "Bad Girl" characters who will possibly stock out imaginations when it comes to describing this most awful and exciting moment of recent history much as does Flaubert's novel provide a window in to mid-Nineteenth Century France

But THE BAD GIRL is first and foremost the story of this love or rather of Ricardo's lifelong love for Lily and of course that can touch a nerve for many people. I only have to say the name MELINDA and I have replaced Ricardo in the novel much as when I read SENTIMENTAL EDUCATION I became Frederick in his hopeless life long attachment to Madame Arnoux. I do not know if this is an exclusively male thing but all suspension of disbelief happened once I understand the dilemma of Ricardo. How a woman might read this novel I do not know and can not know.

It is unlikely that THE BAD GIRL will be re-read by many people. It is, and should be read, as they say, because it is a compelling mixing of the public and the private, the intimate with a sure understanding of how the world really works but it is an entertainment: it does not become a great mountain to which the reader must return again and again-- as with Cortazar's HOPSCOTCH, Lezama Lima's PARADISO or A BRIEF LIFE by Juan Carlos Onetti.


As I was re-reading the above paragraphs and in particular the final paragraph it could possibly be read as the insertion of a dagger into the heart of the book since people are always looking for reasons to avoid reading. I might be guilty of a venial sin of over-scrupulosity but I am happy to report at St Marks Bookshop it is faced out and seems to be selling... I cannot help but be jealous of people who have launched themselves into reading THE BAD GIRL. They have begun to create a constant faithful memory of a happy time well spent.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


In the front hall of John Jay College of Criminal Justice CUNY were two young men recruiting for the Marine Corps officer's training program. I asked if this was the PLC course. They said it was and that I might be a little too young for it. I said, I had been once very favorably disposed to that course.

I am sure they did not know what to make of this man walking away.

In a letter (January 25, 1963) home from Beloit College I wrote to my parents back in Patchogue:
USMC. I'm going to Rockford to take the test as this will be my last chance and I want to take the training this summer the first half... Last night and most of the day it hovered around -10. Today it is a little warmer but not much

A second letter (February 1, 1963) I wrote:
I am giving up the USMC deal. It was so cold and sluggish that it is almost impossible to get to that center in Rockford that is like a corpse and as cold as Arctic. As a result I'll work this summer if I cant get an invitation to bum around the country which would be ideal.


To reread, then; to reread after having forgotten-- to reread oneself, without a hint of tenderness, or fatherly feeling; coldly and with critical acumen and in a mood terribly conducive to ridicule and contempt, with an alien gaze, and a destructive eye-- is to recast one's work, or feel that it should be recast, into a very different mold.


The personality is composed of memories, habits, inclinations responses...


In each of our individual lives, at the depth where treasures are buried, there is the fundamental permanence of a consciousness that depends on nothing


Nothing is so strange as lucidity at grips with inadequacy.


I knew that the works are always falsifications or contrivances; fortunately the author is never the man. The life of one is never the life of the other; no matter how many details we accumulate on the life of Racine, they will not teach us the art of writing his verse.


Nor is the life of author ever the life of the man he is


I was yearning for a splendid theme. How little that amounts to, on the page!


... it is ignoble to write from enthuiasm alone. Enthusiasm is not a state of mind for a writer.

Monday, November 12, 2007


To begin with the last.

Gyula Krudy died in 1933 and his last day was imagined by Sandor Marai in SINBAD COMES HOME.

New York Review Books has just published Krudy's SUNFLOWER with a beautifully written and informative introduction by John Lukacs.

In 1910 Ezra Pound writes: All ages are contemporaneous. However the full force of the 20th century had not fallen down upon his head and our heads such that for the vast majority of people, to speak of yesterday is to speak historically, to speak of last week is to talk of ancient history and to mention something that happened last month is suddenly to enter pre-historic time

If you have discovered Sandor Marai: EMBERS, CASANOVA IN BOLZANO and most recently THE REBELS...and have maybe found Marai's MEMOIR OF HUNGARY (Central European University Press) and excerpts from his California journals published in The Hungarian Quarterly, you know how special Marai is.

I tried to explain Marai in the LATimes, "Thanks to this first English translation of EMBERS, our ever-shrinking world of culture seems a little bigger... The statues in the famous metaphorical garden of T.S. Eliot's literary tradition will have to be re-arranged to make room for this powerful work."

Krudy writes a prose that has never been read in English--- even in translation this is evident---

Three passages:

For his afternoon naps at home his head reposed on a silken cushion stuffed with female hair, curls that women bestow only on especially favored lovers; he had also collected in his apartment and held in the most sentimental regard various feminine mementos, such as ladies' shoes, forgotten petticoats, unforgettable hosiery, shifts, handkerchiefs, and hat feathers...

It was a clock face worn out by all the expectant, desperate, fatal glances cast by eyes that ahd long ago turned into varicolored pebbles along the Upper Tisza. The Roman numerals had faded, the hands were bent like a drooping mustache, the circumbalent pilgrims' robes tattered. But the tireless mechanism labored on, it still had so much left to accomplish here on earth: such as marking the hour of someone's death.

this extraordinary woman left the door ajar, and woke from a deep slumber to a heavy hand on the nape of her neck, a trembling, joyously quivering palm cleaving to the mound, not unlike the mons veneris, found in buxom women below their neck vertebrae and from where miraculous cables and telegraph wires signal the nuptial moment. An ancient minstrel song already calls the nape the most desirable and most vulnerable bastion of that splendid castle known as the female physique. Eveline had a neck equally suited to the necklace and the noose.

Another novel by Krudy THE CRIMSON COACH was published in an English translation in Hungary in 1967. The introduction does not mention Marai because under the Communism he was a non-person. Krudy is presented as a progressive writer interested in the powerless and obscure.

Lukacs, mentions in his introduction to KRUDY'S CHRONICLES, a selection of Krudy's journalism, that Krudy was "deeply conservative and a traditionalist. He had a great and abiding respect (more: a love) for old standards, old customs, older people. (His favorite season, as he himself often wrote was autumn-- and after that, winter)... like the greatest historians of mankind, he was essentially a Prophet of a Past."

But the day wears on...

I had wanted to talk about how Thomas McGonigle came to know John (Jack) O'Brien, the founder of Dalkey Archive.

McGonigle happened to read in the May 31, 1981 New York Times that Gilbert Sorrentino would be reading that coming summer: Lawrence Sterne, books by Zukofsky, Pinget, Eastlake, Cela, Calvino and a novel CADENZA by Ralph Cusack. The last time McGonigle had heard that name Cusack was in the back room of Grogan's in Dublin in 1974. A guy was talking about having visited Cusack in France and that Cusack had published CADENZA the only novel that could be compared to the best of Flann O'Brien.

Sorrentino was written to and in reply mentioned a John O'Brien, had begun to publish a magazine, The Review of Contemporary Fiction out in the Chicago suburbs and that might be of interest...

Thomas McGonigle thought he was about to write about John (Jack) O'Brien. He thought he was going to write about writing for The Review of Contemporary Fiction. And there would be the story about how Dalkey Archive came to be and how Dalkey Archive published THE CORPSE DREAM OF N. PETKOV and GOING TO PATCHOGUE and how it did not publish ST. PATRICK'S DAY (Dublin, 1974) but Thomas McGonigle at the moment has hesitated not from any sense of fear but from a certain slight fever of reluctance...


The Romanian writer Mircea Cartarescu is interviewed and profiled in the latest post at, which is the most important culture site in the world. It is based on the best cultural articles from the three major German newspapers and is one of the very very rare sites that seems to be genuinely interested in a real cross-section of political and aesthetic view points. It used to come every morning, five times a week, but now it is only comes twice or so a week.
The site was celebrating Cartarescu's trilogy ORBITOR (Glaring) originally published in 1996, 2002 and now finished in 2007. The site reports that it, "describes a city awash with thrills and nightmares... captures the socialist capital (Bucharest) in the moment of its downfall. His magical realism gives a prefab block--- in reality a celebration of the perpendicular--- on oval window and the socialist years a metaphysical superstructure. Bucharest becomes a mystical city." Cartarescu says of his book, "Sometimes I explain my book as a mystical butterfly or a flying cathedral."

In 2005, I reviewed for the LATimes Cartarescu's first book to be translated into English, NOSTALGIA. (New Directions) I talked in terms of Joyce, Pessoa, Hamsun and could have easily gone on to Faulkner. And if you may forgive the blurb I buried in the review, "NOSTALGIA is gripping, impassioned, unexpected--- the qualities the best in literature possesses."

Earlier in the review I had gone on about reverberating nuance and self-consciousness but I tried to lure readers into the book with: "NOSTALGIA opens with "The Roulette Player, a hypnotic suspenseful prologue in which a man rises to an unimaginable level of success playing Russian roulette and, when no longer facing any challenger, decides to challenge himself by adding bullets to the revolver."

After reading the interview profile of Cartarescu I got in touch with New Directions his American publisher and heard back that it is unlikely that they will be doing any more of his books as NOSTALGIA has sold only around 500 copies.

No reader should think that figure is unusual. Back in 1979/80 I remember talking with the publisher of Alfred A. Knopf after CORRECTION by Thomas Bernhard had been published. This guy reported to me that to date they had sold a combined grand total of around a thousand copies of all three Bernhard books they had published, GARGOYLES, THE LIME WORKS AND CORRECTIONS.
Happily, Knopf was not discouraged by that figure and maybe New Directions will have a change of heart.

I had wanted to talk about my own books but that will have to be for another day.

Before I go, I was also thinking that today in two sections of a freshman composition course at John Jay College of Criminal Justice CUNY, students were describing their experience of reading Ernst Junger's STORM OF STEEL. I also was re-reading it in preparation for talking about it on Wednesday and found this tiny bit that seems to be a fitting end to this writing.
It is from late in the book in the year 1918:

"I led my three platoons string out in file a cross the terrain, with circling aeroplanes bombing and strafing overhead. When we reached our objective, we dispersed into shell-holes and dug-outs, as occasional shells came lobbing over the road.
I felt so bad that day that I lay down in a little piece of trench and fell asleep right away. When I woke up, I read a few pages of TRISTRAM SHANDY, which I had with me in my map case, and so apathetically, like an invalid, I spent the sunny afternoon."

Sunday, November 11, 2007



The death of Norman Mailer was announced in the newspapers today--- "I thought he was dead a long time ago," a woman was saying this afternoon--- brought to mind a conversation I had with Nina Berberova--- you remember her I trust for her short novels and her magisterial memoir, THE ITALICS ARE MINE,--- a few years before she died. We were talking about well known writers and less known writers and how so much of American literary life is based upon the manipulation of the machinery of publicity. "In Russian," I remember Berberova saying, "we always make the distinction between a history of publicity and the history of literature. We make an absolute distinction between publicists and writers. On one hand you have people like Yevtushenko and certainly Mayakovsky and others I can't be bothered to mention who belong to a history of publicity and on the other hand there are those such as Mandelstam, Khodasevich, Nabokov and Akhmatova who of course belong to the history of literature."

Obviously, Norman Mailer is now a mere mention in a history of publicity as is the recently dead Susan Sontag. I am sure the obituary writers are fine tuning their obits for Tom Wolfe who is part and parcel of that world and come to think of it: isn't it about time that he passed beyond?--- or maybe he is already dead... as surely as are the guys who wrote THE WHITE HOTEL and THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP


Peter Dimock is a writer. Dimock has also been an editor at Knopf and is currently an executive editor at Columbia University Press. Dimock is a writer who wrote one of the very few books to bear re-reading that came out of the experience of the Vietnam War: A SHORT RHETORIC FOR LEAVING THE FAMILY. I mention this because his book gives authority to the warning that he sent me after reading a few of my previous blogs, "It's good to hear your voice in this possible non-air of literature. I hope you don't give in to the temptations of being swept away by this virtual world unless you are sure that's what you want--- how to gauge such a calculation or choice (if it is one), I have no idea. There is probably no reliable language for such a decision."

I have no immediate answer if indeed an answer is possible or needed. I am aware that I began doing this sort of writing within the moment of my own recognition that something was done with... and maybe it has been done with for many years and only now am I getting around to knowing this. I am aware that I can not live beyond my immediate moment.

Read A SHORT RHETORIC FOR LEAVING THE FAMILY by Peter Dimock, published 1998 by Dalkey Archive; probably not available at your local bookstore... but I am sure you can get it from Amazon.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


Denis Donoghue has concluded his two lectures on KING LEAR. He drew this listener's attention to an essay by Sigurd Burckhardt, "The Quality of Nothing" by adding that the author had been a friend and was a suicide. I have not read the article yet. Of course the essay is about the use of the word nothing in the play.

Donoghue also quoted from the famous Auden essay on the fool in Shakespeare. And he again quoted from Kenneth Burke and R. P. Blackmur. I mention these names because Donoghue is the sort of lecturer who is generous in his quotation and I have always found these leads to be productive of thought.
Most of Donoghue's lecture was composed of quotation from the final three acts of the play. It was an almost a perfect act of Walter Benjamin criticism: you will remember that Benjamin argued that the perfect act of criticism was quotation from the text under discussion and by the very quotations the critic's meaning would be made clear....

If I was a better typist I would quote at length in the same way...

I sat in the last row of that converted movie house on 8th Street. I noticed three students about me: the girl sitting next to me did not have the text before her. She took some notes and then stopped. The young man to her left typed on his laptop all through the lecture. He looked to be doing an assignment for another class. He also did not have the text with him. Immediately in front of me was a young lady also hard at work on her laptop scanning through the whole of the 75 minutes site after site... if you say I was not myself paying attention to the lecture by being distracted by these young people you would be wrong.

Now as then I have been thinking about whatever was going on in their heads? I do not know what to make of them. You just remember that no attendance is taken in this class so why do they go along to the class? Surely Donoghue's voice must serve as some sort of distraction... Donoghue is not bothered by this, he says and to be fair to the room at large there are some students who do read along with him and are taking notes...

"Certain things must happen..." Donoghue is saying as he launches into the lecture... "Certain things," I repeat to myself... and I take away the memory of tenderness of Donoghue's voice as he begins to read the passages when Cordelia and Lear are reconciled.

And then as the 75 minutes come to a close Donoghue is reading the last lines of the play when Edgar is saying, "The weight of this sad time, we must obey
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest have borne most: we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long."

and Donoghue adds: "that is that with a minute or two to spare."


I know this is going to read--- as the kids might say, if they are still using this phrase--- a little heavy but please bear with the job of reading this passage from W. B. Yeats. It is from his book Essays and Introductions and is entitled EMOTION OF MULTITUDE.

Denis Donoghue quoted most of it during his first lecture on KING LEAR the other day and as I heard it I realized it was one of those defining texts about to the awful dilemma facing anyone who starts to write a blog, aware in some part of his own imagination that the word blog quite possibly has a surplus L that conceals the real nature of this enterprise. But first Yeats:

I have been thinking a good deal about plays lately, and I have been wondering why I dislike the clear and logical construction which seems necessary it one is to succeed on the modern stage. It came into my head the other day that this construction, which all the world has learnt from France, has everything of high literature except THE EMOTION OF MULTITUDE. The Greek drama has got the emotion of the multitude from its chorus, which called up famous sorrows, even all the god and all heroes, to witness as it were, some well-ordered fable, some action separated but for this from all but itself. The French play delights in the well-ordered fable, but by leaving out the chorus, it has created an art where poetry and imagination, ALWAYS THE CHILDREN OF FAR-OFF MULTITUDINOUS THINGS, must of necessity grow less important than the mere will... The Shakespearian drama gets the EMOTION OF MULTITUDE out of the sub-plot which copies the main plot, much as a shadow upon the wall copies one's body in the firelight. We think of KING LEAR less as the history of one man and his sorrows than as the history of a whole evil time. Lear's shadow is in Gloucester, who also has ungrateful children and the mind goes on IMAGINING OTHER SHADOWS, SHADOW BEYOND SHADOW, TILL IT HAS PICTURED THE WORLD... Indeed all the great masters have understood that there cannot be great art without the little limited life of the fable, which is always the better the simpler it is, and the rich far-wandering many imaged life of the half-seen world beyond it...
(my emphasis, not in the original)

As I heard that I knew that by writing this blog I had fallen ever deeper into the atomization of the self and in turn as I am reading a blog I was falling into another atomized life because these solitary acts portray vividly the death of conversation, of the possibility of community: we are caught in the solitary voice as a fly on flypaper

Donoghue went on in his lecture to talk of the word BOND and how in many ways KING LEAR is an attempt to understand the consequences of bonds being broken and as I added, one can hear the very sentences trying to break the bonds of the very words they are composed of...

An aspect of this atomization can be seen in the proliferation of writing programs across the country and indeed across the world--- even in Ireland and France--- and whether those programs are "creative" or ordinary freshman composition courses is of no matter...

All of these programs fall apart because they all fail to realize that writing can never never be separated from reading and in fact any piece of writing is only finished when it is read by another. In all of these programs reading is an after-thought because it is only learned slowly and over many years--- it can not be neatly packaged into a once or twice a week class or into a 14 or 16 week course... a nation of writers within a nation without readers...

But why continue?...

Answer: it goes on
i leave the pronoun with no noun