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.