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 www.junger.org you can read Gracq's essay on Ernst Junger's ON THE MARBLE CLIFFS which should then lead you to STORM OF STEEL.
So from READING WRITING:
---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