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

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


One of the real benefits of living on East First Street in Manhattan is that it is within walking distance of ST MARK'S BOOKSHOP.

It is the BEST bookshop in the United States.

I have not been to Denver or to Portland so until I have seen the bookstores there I am willing to admit that possibly there is a better bookshop than St. Mark's in the US.

One quick test of your local bookshop would be: go in and see if they have up front a copy of the new selection of essays by Raymond Queneau LETTERS NUMBERS FORMS from the University of Illinois Press as did St Mark's on Sunday night.

Of course you know the work of Raymond Queneau: Zazi, The Bark Tree, We Always Treat Women Too Well, The Sunday of Life, Children of Clay

Sunday night I noticed that Queneau has a teasing sort of essay about the diary of Julian Green...

(I always write his first name Julian since I approach him always as an American writer who happens to write in French; I well know that in France he is Julien Green)

And while it will be another day before I write about the necessity of reading Julian Green--- I wanted to acknowledge one of the genuine good reasons to be living on East First Street.

If you can not WALK to a good bookstore--- and I have just defined one above--- you are not living a civilized life. As to why this is true I am going to avoid answering that question beyond saying: as you continue to read these lines if you do so you will come to understand in a way superior to that easy simple answer I could well construct for my question.

Finally further substantiation of the above: a week ago I discovered not up front but on the ordinary shelves at St Mark's Bookshop ENERGY OF DELUSION by Viktor Shklovsky (Dalkey Archive)--- written in Shklovsky's 88th year--- is the best critical book to be published this year for those who like to think in such terms: concerned with the idea of plot in novels... but that title: Shklovsky quotes a letter from Tolstoy who is consoling a friend who has been experiencing difficulty,

"I know this feeling very well-- even now, I have been experiencing it lately; everything seems to be ready for writing--- for the fulfilling my earthly duty, what's missing is the urge to believe in myself, the belief in the importance of my task, I'm lacking the energy of delusion; an earthly, spontaneous energy that's impossible to invent. and it's impossible to begin without it."

Shklovsky is the great formalist critic who makes us aware of novels as novels, stories as stories. He takes them apart and shows how they work as if they were machines made of words and words made into sentences arranged in a particular way. His writing is crystal clear, unburdened by jargon and his authority comes from his own literary works separate from his critical work: ZOO OR LETTERS NOT ABOUT LOVE and A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY: MEMOIRS, 1917-1922--- just as the authority of T.S. Eliot as a critic comes from THE WASTE LAND and FOUR QUARTETS, just as the authority of Ezra Pound as critic comes from his poetry and THE CANTOS...

Monday, November 5, 2007


Tomorrow I am going along to listen to Denis Donoghue lecture in his Introduction to British Literature class at NYU. He will be talking about KING LEAR.

In 1964-65 Donoghue was a lecturer at University College, Dublin.
I heard him lecture on KING LEAR then and his theme was as I remember how Shakespeare tried to find language for feelings.
He quoted Cordelia's great reply in Act One Scene One: Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave/ My heart into my mouth. I love your Majesty/ According to my bond, no more nor less.

I might have it all wrong from back then but I have over all these years used Cordelia's sentence as part of my own refusal to reach for the ready made phrases after my parents died... and it allowed for many a tortured moment with this or that person...

On Thursday as Donoghue was finishing up his second lecture on TWELVE NIGHT he indicated that he was now interested in Shakespeare's use of the word "bond."

I learned from Donoghue the use of the phrase, "to tease out."

I am not very good at "teasing out" much of anything but I can admire someone who does it with the skill that Donoghue bring to this near lost art.

I sit in the back of the theatre where he is talking and notice the students hard at work shopping, messengering, annotating work for other classes, reading The NewYorker, and some are even taking notes with no text in front of them. To be honest there are many who do have the textbooks along with them and read along as Donoghue reads long selections from the various texts and shows how those words work and no other word is possible...

In 1964-65 he lectured in the old Physics theater at UCD there on Earlsford Terrace.

In the front row was the celluloid curtain of nuns and priests while ranged up to the rafters were the hundreds of other students...

Today as then Donoghue lectures from no notes and with only the text in hand speaks out perfectly balanced sentences that remind me of my own failures as a college teacher but also of all that is being thrown away as students are constantly directed away from the reading of the actual words in front of them by the far more fashionable ideologues of gender, class, race who would much prefer to harangue upon the racist, class and gender issues implicit in the yellow pages of the local phone company...

Donoghue began last Tuesday's class by asking if students had seen that film LAST TANGO IN PARIS which featured at that time the depiction of a controversial and unhealthy sexual act involving the use of butter. Only two or three students raised their hands as having seen the film. Donoghue reminded the audience that the Marlon Brando character is saying in the other famous secene in the film in the tango palace, "If music be the food of love, play on,"
Donoghue mentioned that the Brando character should have realized that this was a bit of foreshadowing of his death later in the film because of what comes later in that passage in TWELVE NIGHT...

In January YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS will publish Donoghue's ON ELOQUENCE. In the book he recounts--- among other things--- his own student days at UCD and how he came to lecture there and how inadvertently Donoghue would bring to a close the glory days of UCD by promoting the inclusion of modern writers in the syllabus. It had been the glory of UCD that they did not lecture on any writer from after 1900. It was thought that such writing could be talked about in the pubs... as indeed it was in McDaid's, O'Dwyer's, The Bailey...

that is all for another day

Sunday, November 4, 2007


Before the hounds of accuracy track me down: I went looking for Ezra Pound in the Royal Hibernian Hotel.
Since torn down.
What went on in the Royal Hibernian Hotel will have to wait for another time involving as it does drinking and taxis...

Out for a constitutional and so to The Strand Bookstore to look at the bound galleys.

FANON by John Edgar Wideman... you know Wideman I am sure--- or as Edward Dahlberg would have said you having heard of him and that is sufficient.
This new "novel" is not due out until next February.
I am sure it will, as they say, be talked about.
A novel celebrating a mostly forgotten guy whose message boiled down to: the most productive thing a black man could do in this life is to kill a white man.
Professor Wideman I am sure is an authority on murder. His brother is a convicted murderer and Mr Wideman's son is a convicted murderer.
Mr Wideman teaches writing--- what else--- at Brown University--- where else?--- the dumbest of the Ivy League schools and his students are probably the dumbest of the lot.
Mr Wideman's first few novels were actually interesting: A Glance Away, Hurry Home, Damballah.. but then he became a voice of something or other...

Also at the Strand the bound galleys of Joyce Carol Oates' The Journals.. when I glanced through the pages.. I have no one to talk to.. sunburn on legs....

Gore Vidal will be remembered for only one line: what are the three saddest words in the English lanaguge: Joyce Carol Oates...

Where to Begin?

For three years, out of key with his time,

He strove to resusitate the dead art

Of poetry; to maintain 'the sublime"

In the old sense. Wrong from the start---

No hardly, but seeing he had been born

In a half savage country, out of date...............

Of course I begin with Ezra Pound... having missed seeing him in early 1965 when he came over to Dublin after the memorial service for T.S.Eliot in London... how long ago all that seems: the going to the Hibernia Hotel and the asking for Mr Pound... is it even possible to imagine ever again such a moment of a seeking out in such a way...

Of course there was another time of going to the cemetery in Meudon looking for the grave of Louis Ferdinand Celine...

Of course there was visiting Julian Green in Paris in his 90th year...

Of course there was being told by Jorges Luis Borges that he himself preferred James Joyce's poetry: those other books are just so much gossip...

And then there was Francis Stuart and Ernst Junger...

But what about Anthony Burgess and Hannah Green and John Jordan and Denis Donoghue and Juan Carlos Onetti and James Liddy and Jack Spicer and T.S.Eliot and David Jones and Peter Handke and Thomas Bernhard and Jean Genet and Curzio Malaparte and

you gotta start someplace or no place and that is probably where I am at the moment: finally to quote :

The enemy--- he is ourselves. That is why it is idle to talk about preventing the wreck of Western civilization. It is already a wreck from within. That is why we can hope to do little more now than snatch a fingernail of a saint from the rack or a handful of ashes from the faggots, and bury them secretly in a flowerpot against the day, ages hence, when a few men begin again to dare to believe that there was once something else, that something else is thinkable, and need some evidence of what it was, and the fortifying nightfall, took loving thought to preserve the tokens of hope and truth.
---from Cold Friday by Whittaker Chambers (from the library of Father Flye, James Agee's friend)