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."