Thursday, December 25, 2008

VARIETIES OF FAILURE: Cheever. Messerli, Spicer, Littell and Cela


In the new year there will be much talk of John Cheever: two books from the Library of America will collect his stories and novels while there will be a tell-all biography detailing the failure of his life along with the lives of his wife and children. The biography will sell some copies and provide an unintentional, I hope not, distraction from the actual books that Cheever wrote.

The Library of America fell into a sad trap by not publishing the Journals of John Cheever which detail his life that in its failure was more interesting than any of the actual stories or novels--- though some of them are quite readable to be sure. The Journal and the reading of it reminds one of course of E. M. Cioran's great essay on the Crack Up by F. Scott Fitzgerald... and in this moment when two movies are devoted to stories by Fitzgerald it is probably of value to remember the last lines of Cioran's great essay, "Fitzgerald The Pascalian Experience of an American Novelist" from ANATHEMAS AND ADMIRATIONS:

A novelist who wants to be nothing but a novelist undergoes a crisis that for a certain time projects him outside the lies of literature. He wakens to certain truths that devastate his awareness, the repose of his spirit--- a rare event in the world of letters where sleep is de rigueur, an event that in the case that concerns us hast not always been grasped in its true significance. Thus Fitzgerald's admirers deplore the fact that he brooded over his failure and, by dint of ruminating so deeply upon it, spoiled his literary career. We on the contrary deplore that he did not remain sufficiently loyal to that failure, that he did not sufficiently explore or exploit it. It is a second-order mind that can not chose between literature and the "real dark night of the soul."


Douglas Messerli is the publisher of Green Integer Books and what had come before, Sun and Moon Press. With hundreds of books in print Green Integer is one of the most important literary presses in the US.

Messerli is a poet, novelist, critic and teacher. Of late he has been publishing his collected essays on all things cultural in the form of yearly gatherings under the title MY YEAR___. Two have been published so far: MY YEAR 2004 Under our Skin and MY YEAR 2005 Terrifying Times. He has said that friends have asked him to write a memoir of his life and times but he claims he has not an interest in that so these books of collected writings on literature, film, art and both directly and indirectly public affairs can serve as a record of his times and of his participation in the current moment. He eventually will publish both bacwards to 2000 and forward to "the end of his life."

For the most part the essays are reprinted as they were written and of course they serve as a record of his reactions to what he has read, heard, seen...but by refusing to explicate, by refusing to comment beyond a brief introduction Messerli wants the reader to pretend that time has not gone on, and while I know he must still be interested in these essays I want to know why and how we are supposed to read them... of course I think I would rather read Messerli's essays from a far distant moment in time... but he can not live himself into so thirty years from 2004 or 2005... and so again one has to admit that the French have done these things better with the published journals of Andre Gide and Julien Green (remember of course Green is American) Michel Leiris... I miss the dailyness of Messerli's life, his avoidance of the ordinary in which what he read, saw and heard was surely embedded.

Will I read My Year 2006, My Year 2003? Of course.

At the time when I was given the two books of Messerli's I was also given a curious book by Joshua Haigh Letters from Hanusse (The Structure of Destruction: 3) Not having books 1 and 2... I am waiting to see those other books by Messerli in which he seems to be trying to efface himself on the evidence of Letters from Hanusse.


Jack Spicer was a name passed about as being the one real poet whose life and work was the absolute necessary critique of every single poet in the United States. Sadly he seems to have been taken up by a nearly unreadable but fully tenured bunch of so-called poets though there is nothing new in that. He self-published many little books or had them published. He drank himself to death.

In an ideal world you would need only read the Collected Poetry of T. S. Eliot and The COLLECTED POETRY OF JACK SPICER (my vocabulary did this to me) if you wanted to read the very best poetry published in the English language in the 20th Century...

Here is a nice example from 1956:


What can I say to you, darling,
When you ask me for help?
I do not even know the future
Or even what poetry
We are going to write.
Commit suicide. Go mad. Better people
Than either of us have tried it
I loved you once but
I do not know the future.
I only know that I love strength in my friends.
And greatness
And hate the way their bodies crack when they die
And are eaten by images
The fun's over. The picnic's over.
Go mad. Commit suicide. There will be nothing left
After you die or go mad.
But the calmness of poetry.


In March, Harper Collins will publish THE KINDLY ONES written originally in French by Jonathan Littell and now translated. Winner of the Prix Goncourt, among other awards, purports to be the memoir of a high SD officer in Nazi Germany during World War Two. The "novel" is much concerned with the mechanic of murder on a mass scale and how Max Aue participated in the mass killings all the while maintaining a delicious distance from the events. My favorite line is, "And that is how, my ass still full of sperm, that I resolved to enter the Sicherheitdienst."

The reader of THE KINDLY ONES is unsure how to read such a novel. Are we supposed to identify with just how difficult it is to kill women and children, the strain it puts upon the nerves and stomach of the man or woman who has to do the killing: damn it there are just so many of them to kill and the terrible smells and sounds they make... of course we know that Littell is Jewish and that adds an additional level of complexity to one's reading...


AN END NOTE AS COMMENTARY: from Christ Versus Arizona by Camilo Jose Cela:

...each of us has desires nit also loathing and prejudices, we all have our own or received ideas, some are true and others not, prayers are word games, God doesn't listen to them because he doesn't care for wit, and he laughs at the meaning of our little words, too, he laughs at the value of our parables with their timid, meaningless morals, with purposes, sure, but without meanings, God, has a another, harder, truer voice and won't allow himself to be confused by our nattering despite the fact that he keeps hearing about our countless misfortunes, our spectacular and significant misfortunes...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


The following appeared today (23 December 2008) in the Los Angeles Times book blog JACKET COPY

On Borrowed Time" at year's end

The end of the year is a celebration of simplification and cliché -- everywhere you find "best of" lists, and, as Jan. 1 approaches, resolutions get made for the new year. Behind those resolutions is the idea that life is short, so you better make some changes right now. (And behind that, of course, is the familiar Latin “vita brevis, ars longa,” usually translated as “Life is short and Art is long.”)

According to "On Borrowed Time" (University of Chicago Press), an endlessly intriguing, illuminating and smart new book by Harald Weinrich, the phrase about life and art had been originally written in Greek in 400 BC by Hippocrates in a little book of “Aphorisms”: It was the very first sentence of the first aphorism (in fact, it was the first four words).

Weinrich, holder of the chair in Romance literature at the College de France, is the author of many books of which two are available in English, "Lethe: The Art and Critique of Forgetting" and "The Linguistics of Lying," the very titles of which suggest their usefulness in our current situation in the United States regarding public and private morality. Weinrich is one of a dying breed of intellectuals (George Steiner and Roberto Calasso among them) and those already dead (Erich Auerbach, Ernst Robert Curtius and Hannah Arendt) who stock the well-read, thoughtful imaginations of readers and move with practiced skill through classical literatures and the major literatures of the world.

Weinrich's book, as it traces the complex meaning of the sentence "Life is short and art is long," offers startling juxapositions of writers such as Emily Dickinson and Pascal, John Keats and Gottfried Benn, Dante and Ben Franklin -- along with Seneca, Gide, Shakespeare and many others. He sends readers back to these writers, and even urges us to see again (if we haven't already) the film "Run Lola Run" or a popular entertainment like "Boeing Boeing" so that we will rethink such simple words as time, art and life.

Here is what he says, for instance, about art: "We must not think of the modern concept of art as it was developed in the cult of genius in the late Enlightenment and in early Romanticism. We must avoid all the ideas of inspiration, spontaneity, and creativity that are associated with this concept. Art...[is]...a complex object of knowledge formulated in rules that can be taught and learned.”

And that idea has been around a lot longer than the course "Introduction to Creative Writing" at your local community college.

The final words of Weinrich's book? “Time in short supply.” Those four words perfectly articulate the inarticulate feeling gripping some of us as we wake on Dec. 26 or Jan. 2. Weinrich will do for the brain what Alka Seltzer does for the stomach.

-- Thomas McGonigle

Tuesday, December 9, 2008



"Culture is based on the treatment of the dead; culture vanishes with the decay of graves--- or rather: this decay announces that the end is nigh." (from Ernst Junger's Aladdin's Problem, a meditation in the form of a novel on end matters but as in all of Junger's work there are other suggestive asides, "The state has become a multi-armed octopus, drawing blood in thousands of ways," and "Business is, after all, other people's money and that is what bankers live on."

Of course Junger is the author of STORM OF STEEL the single best book ever written about the experience of combat.


From one of my favorite books of 2008--- since this is the season for such phrases, though this book is better than that---: PIONEER CEMETERIES Sculpture Gardens of the Old West by Annette Stott, University of Nebraska Press:::

Many cemeteries have been abandoned or gone through periods of total neglect. An article in the Denver Post in April 1967 noted that with its weeds huge ant hills and broken headstones a local nineteenth-century cemetery "actually more closely resembles a dump than a cemetery in this sector. The Helena, Montana, Independent Record ran photographs in May 1980 of hundreds of tombstones and bases "lying hither and thither" in the county gravel pit. The inscriptions dated from 1880 to 1905, and concerned citizens had been asking if road crews, were desecrating an old rural cemetery. Research by the sheriff's department and the Montana State Historical Society as well as letters to the editor gradually revealed the truth. The old Catholic Cemetery near St. Mary's Church in Helena had been turned into a park in the late 1960s or early 1970s. The Booster Club of the Catholic high school had volunteered to help clear the ground, and after obtaining releases from as many descendants as could be located, the tombstones and monuments had been hauled out to the pit, where they were expected to be used as landfill. Many of the oldest cemeteries in Rocky Mountain cities met a similar fate as cities expanded, but more often the monuments were transferred to newer cemeteries. Whether monuments were moved or discarded, all trace of the original cemetery was lost in the process of transforming it into a city park and the recipient cemeteries were also altered.

I trust the point is taken. RURAL CEMETERIES is a moving reminder of the sheer transitory nature of American life. We live in the eternal present and are permanent victims, always surprised, always astonished and if we have a linger memory it is taken as a sign of weakness unless it has been packaged up into expressing the self


I had written of James Liddy in the present tense in a recent post and I received a note questioning my use of the present tense has he was now in the past tense according to google having died in early November.

I have known or rather I first met James Liddy in 1964in Dublin in O'Dwyer's pub at the corner of Lesson Street... and I would have gone on about--- but he did pay me four guineas for the following poem which appeared in the last issue of ARENA, (1965) the most important magazine published in Ireland in the 1960s.


Bright white bird
claim me
for black paradise.

I had to buy a round of drink for among others, James Liddy, Brian Higgins, Anthony Cronin and I think Pearse Hutchinson and Leland Bardwell...

James Liddy's best book is BAUDELAIRE'S BAR FLOWERS and the best poems were published in the three issues of ADRIFT that I published: "Glass of Oblivion, "Ossie Esmonde: The Blueshirt Goes to Heaven"


I was going to go on about James Liddy and the what he had or had not done but on Saturday (Dec 6, 2008) at the Small Press Fair midst much rubbish I discovered NOVEMBER ROSE A Speech on Death by Kathrin Stengel... published by Upper West Side Philosophers (NY, 2007). Stengel has written on the death of the other and how to understand the fact of that death without resorting to feel good pyscho-babble or self-improvement moralizing...(though tinged with one little marring section on a need to explain the occasion for the book; this can easily be ignored) in a language as clear as reading Cioran or Unamuno...:

"Death turns the survivor's life into public property by virtue of the stigma that it bestows upon him, thereby subjecting his every move to particular scrutiny, and by virtue of the deceased's sudden, unrestrained availability.
As the deceased can no longer stand up for himself or protect his privacy, he enables the arrogation of his life. Everything can be said about him, everything can he ascribed to him, everybody's perspective on him is the only valid perspective." (p 65-66)

Thursday, November 27, 2008



With a certain amount of moaning about thinking there was no one who could read my new writing with an eye to publishing it but always remembering Richard M. Elman in 1971 pronouncing: there are no undiscovered geniuses in New York and remembering even then thinking how wrong he was and surely he was saying this to be provocative though as the years went on I was of course really aware of many undiscovered great writers and the accidents of their obscurity...


Not totally closed down, but pretty close to it, I still read the newspapers--- kept up as they say--- but dreading discovering a name with whom I might have something in common and dis-regarding the memory of the agent who said: I can't eat lunch off of you and the probable futility of approaching... the initial establishing of credentials, the asking to be read, the sending of the manuscript and then the waiting with the sure knowledge, though drawn from the actual experience of publishing my two books, THE CORPSE DREAM OF. N. PETKOV and GOING TO PATCHOGUE (Dalkey Archive), that if an editor does not get back to you within a week there is really very very little chance they will be interested because by then they will have forgotten why they asked to see the manuscript and it will just be another thing on a pile that has to be gotten through in some fashion


Could be the season but I was taken by a profile of Carrie Kania in the New York Observer and how she had re-vitalized Harper Collins' paper line and in the profile it had talked about her growing up in Wisconsin, of having been on the outside in Milwaukee during the 80s and her coming to New York to be in publishing and how she had learned of the power of books published by a certain imprint. She mentioned Grove's Black Cat and IT IS right there I probably said to myself, well she is young and yet that was how I had learned to read by trusting the New Direction imprint and the Grove Press imprint and had been published by Dalkey Archive which was inspired by those presses.


I liked her emphasis in the profile on paperback originals and the possibility that they represented in terms of not a lot of money invested and their availability because most people no longer bought hardcover books...


So I was composing a letter in my head to Carrie Kania and it would have begun by saying I used to visit Milwaukee in the early 80s and into the 90s to visit with James Liddy who I had first met in Dublin in 1964 and who now presided at Axel's Tavern, taught a very popular course at UWM on the Beats and who was spooked by the reality of Jeff Dahmer, the cannibal, and knowing one or two young men who had been killed by that guy... and I would have said my parents had died in exile in Menasha, Wisconsin,far from Patchogue


And while all the writers she was publishing as originals were far younger than me I did have a very good book on the so-called 60s A BEGINNING OF THE BEGINNING and AN END OF THE END...


Right here I was thinking why would someone who was really plugged into the present moment be interested in such a book?

Well, just in the talking about her own past Kania was not a total creature of the present moment and surely realized that without some knowing of what had happened...

But how was I to describe my own book that neatly contained that over-talked about moment but this time from a young man going off to East Germany from Ireland in 1965 discovering the Vietnam war, the bed of a young man.. the echoes of all that was surely coming even then and how brief it would all be... the coming back and so the necessary end of that time now on the Upper West Side in 1971-72 when people were re-enacting as theatre that iconic figure Charles Manson as they were being sneered at by Anthony Burgess who had seen it all so well... even as the weird sex lives of the Sullivanians and the...

and while the opening and last chapters of the first part of this book had been published by Barbara Probst Solomon in The Reading room I could not expect Carrie Kania to know who Solomon was or to remember that I had read at the KGB bar and I was going to say of course I had read there...


And to try Carrie Kania's patience I would ask if she had has been reading about the recent gang killing in Patchogue when a gang of white and black kids went out looking to kill a Mexican and ended up killing an Ecuadorian as I had published only in hardcover with Dalkey Archive GOING TO PATCHOGUE which if anyone cared is the only book to explain why such things happen... and while reviewed across the country NYTIMES, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, LATIMES, full pages in The VILLAGE VOICE and NEWSDAY... now it still languished only in hardcover


But I knew I was then venturing to the edge of looniness as no editor really wants to know all this, but I guess though one never knows...


SO I thought to write this as an example of how writers stew stew and toll beads of futility though in my case by reviewing with some frequency for the LA Times and in years gone by for the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune and doing interviews for Newsday and The Guardian in London I would not be talking about A BEGINNING OF THE BEGINNING and AN END OF THE END if I did not believe it was literature and deserved to be read, could hold its own against those writers I had reviewed, Bernhard, Bolano, Cela, Celine, Kerouac, Cioran, Green... since it did not just re-package the so-called 60s but tried to find a form that... and I knew one of the reasons those kids went looking to kill in Patchogue is that no one had ever taken the time to write of those lives without the dreary condescending tone of outraged journalists and that Ecuadorian man would be buried as just a victim as surely as the 60s were buried in the tawdry familiarity of "what everyone knows." and while I had not much faith in my own self I did know that A BEGINNING OF THE BEGINNING and AN END OF THE END was now distant enough from myself to be the final real word on the so-called 60s and GOING TO PATCHOGUE told a story and might just force a little a moment of hesitation as people rushed passed Patchogue on the way to the Hamptons or Fire Island...


The picture of Carrie Kania illustrating the profile shows her reading a book DIRTY, NASTY BAD, BAD THINGS. I don't have a clue what that book might be. I guess I should have gone to Amazon but I just have to walk out of the door down here on East First Street... walk by the Catholic Worker as the guys line up in the morning...


I am really here. I wonder if Carrie Kania...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


In this coming Sunday's New York Times Book Review (November 30) Newsweek hack David Gates gives Toni Morrison's new novel A MERCY a black kiss.

The photograph of Morrison with bright light shining upon her face reminds one that surely BO will be inviting her to his inauguration to read as JFK invited a dottering Robert Frost.

Of course informed observers have reported that Morrison will receive her second Nobel Prize for literature next year since the Swedish Academy wishes to overcome its inherent racist attitudes as expressed in having only given her one Nobel Prize thus allowing people to compare her to Pearl Buck, the writer most people associate her name with when commenting on Morrison's first Nobel Prize.

Friday, November 21, 2008


A collage to help me forget the futility of writing since each day is spent, hour by hour, consciously trying to forget that writing is futile and in my ignorance of not knowing a single publisher who might be capable of publishing my new books, sadly, and since Heidegger mentions that one of the aspects of the activity called writing is based upon "conversation" act of writing is complete until it has been read by someone other than the writer...


A quote from what is probably the best literature site in the world:

Frankfurter Rundschau 18.11.2008

The poet Olga Martynova writes about Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and Varlam Shalamov and recounts a memorable decision that Georgi Vladimov had to make as editor of the periodical Novyi Mir. He could only publish one text about the Gulag, and had to decide between Solzhenitsyn's "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" or Shalamov's "Tales from Kolyma": "'You see' Tvardovski admitted, 'Shalamov might be the better writer. But' – and here the hidden mechanisms started to kick in - 'Solzhenitsyn's novel can be published in one go. Even if the censors tear it to bits, it will at least remain whole as a work. But with Shalamov's short stories, the censors would simply remove the best ones and the rest would perish.' And so it was ultimately down to censorship that Alexander Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel prize, went into exile, and taught mankind, and the Russian people in particular, 'not to live a lie'. While Shalamov, who was not allowed to publish a single paragraph in Russia during his lifetime, died bitter, sick and lonely in 1982."

One hopes that everyone would have read the KOLYMA TALES by Varlam Shalamov but I well understand this is probably not possible as it is the grimmest book ever written and its obscurity is testament to its power. Only A TESTIMONY by Alatoly Marachenko comes close. People have been stuffed with horror by the current and recent focus upon the Nazi killing machine, so stuffed is the public that there is little room for any other victims...


To try to outlive the awfulness one can end up reading collections of letters in which one discovers comments about people one has known and well liked:

WORDS IN AIR The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell sent me to the index and NELIDA PINON but before I quote I opened again THE TRIQUARTERLY ANTHOLOGY OF CONTEMPORARY LATIN AMERICAN LITERATURE, published by E.P. Dutton-- does anyone remember when that was a real and important publisher?--- and there is an inscription to me from Nelia prefacing her story "Brief Flower": TO DEAR THOMAS NOT A BRIEF AFFECTION BUT A LONG ONE I HOPE. Nelida Pinon New York 1971. I had met Nelida through Hannah Green and that year Nelida was living in a bare apartment in Brooklyn with a young elegant protege...this time in America, Nelida told me, she was not meeting famous people. In a previous visit he had met famous people. Updike had been warm and hospitable and a meeting with Philip Roth in a low bar on Eighth Street in Manhattan had been very disturbing as he felt called upon to make an advance on her and at the same time telling her, bragging almost, that this was his year to make a million dollars as had Bellow and Styron in previous years... and it is what he thought he deserved, she said.

Nelida Pinon no longer much travels to the Unites States. She reported on a later visit when she discovered universities in America are of no real importance and what happens in them seems to have very little impact on the country as a whole in spite of most academics' inflated sense of self importance. She learned this when she was invited to a big conference at Duke University and during that time she had the occasion to watch the local news reports and never once did any of them ever report on the conference which had brought writers and intellectuals from all over the world to discuss...

I do remember her talking about Lowell and his mental breakdown... but in the letters Nelida's affection for both Lowell and Bishop seems...

Bishop writes on September 21 1962, "Nelida has been here once to talk the higher Portugese with me and I think she will come now twice a week."

And then on November 7, 1962, "That girl Nelida came to call--- with a poet friend---pretty awful--- the Teasdale school, I think. They treat me as if I were 100--- help me up steps,etc! I hate lack of respect--- hate respect--- never pleased, I guess."

On December 24 from Lowell, "They (the Fairfield Foundation) also might be able to finance a trip by Nelida to New York. She might get a Ford if you and I and Keith sponsored her. I think she would have to apply first."

On January 8, 1963 from Bishop, "I don't want to mean-- but I don't think Nelida would be a good person unless there are fellowships to spare. Her novel is so bad, really. She is nice, personally, but arty and pretentious. I could have told you this that first time I met her, out of my superior knowledge of the language and the customs, but for some reason I was being discreet... maybe Nelida will learn. Clarice suffers the same kind of datedness provincialism, etc-- but she really has talent..."


Edward M. Burns has just published with UCD Press in Dublin: A PASSION FOR JOYCE. The Letters of Hugh Kenner and Adalyne Glasheen. Kenner writes to Glasheen that, "DENIS DONOGHUE is not one to bury himself in a magnum opus, spending years away from the gratifications of celebrity continually conferred and renewed... Donoghue is an articulate ass."

The magnum opus was a biography of W.B. Yeats. Over the years Kenner and Donoghue had run into each other in reviews of each other's work. And I remember Donoghue in 1966 in the UCD Kevin Barry Room I think it was--- I might have the wrong room--- mentioning that the problem with Kenner was that he had no voice of his own. When he writes of Joyce he sounds like Joyce, like Beckett when writing about Beckett, when writing about Wyndham Lewis, Lewis...

As we all know, Kenner left really only one solid important book THE POUND AGE and it is a model of critical writing. DENIS DONOGHUE has written one of the greatest memoirs in WARRENPOINT and it easily holds its own in the company of such books as MANHOOD by Michel Leiris, BLACKLIST SECTION H by Francis Stuart, LITTLE SAINT by Hannah Green and A TRIP TO KLAGENFURT In the Footsteps of Ingeborg Bachmann by Uwe Johnson.


And why not: the best book of 2008. ON PAIN by ERNST JUNGER just published by TELOS PRESS:

There are several great and unalterable dimensions that show a man's stature. Pain is one of them. It is the most difficult in a series of trials one is accustomed to call life... Tell me your relation to pain, and I will tell you who you are!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

CHRIST VERSUS ARIZONA by CAMILO JOSE CELA: the perfect book for this moment or any moment

For the last year or so, midst other readings and writings, I have been reading CHRIST VERSUS ARIZONA by Camilo Jose Cela (Dalkey Archive). It is the perfect book for this exhilarating or gloomy moment, as the case might be. Or it is for any other time.

In my mind it shoves over a little Celine's JOURNEY TO THE END OF NIGHT.

CHRIST VERSUS ARIZONA is both very hard and incredibly easy to describe. On one level it is 261 pages being told by, "My name is Wendell Espana, Wendell Liverpool Espana, or maybe it isn't Espana but Span or Aspen, I've never found out for sure, I've never seen it written down..."

The book goes on for those 261 pages without a period. It is vaguely centered on Tombstone or Tomiston the most notorious town in Arizona and upon the famous gunfight at the OK Corral. But as there are at least a hundred different versions of that gunfight in reality--- I might be under counting--- these are just two of hundreds of places and events mentioned in the book...

Cela through Wendell Liverpool Espana has created the great necessary epic of Arizona and by implication the West. He never falls into a dreary realism which attempts to describe the psychologies of any of the people he mentions or takes the time to tease out a dreary plot of conflict and either resolved or un-resolved resolution... he counter-points a vast array of "characters" with the constant refrain from the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary... and while it is easy to lose track of these characters they gradually inhabit your imagination and while some appear and re-appear you are gradually brought into this familiar yet mysterious world that seems as timeless as that created by Rabelais or Dante, forsaking always the temptation to fantasy or invention. My own GOING TO PATCHOGUE is a genuine companion to CHRIST VERSUS ARIZONA

In homage to the last few days (early November 2008) I thought to share some selected lines from Cela's book and telling you these should give you a very good idea as to why I put this book on the top of what everyone should be reading. I have not cited any of the famous Earps who are mentioned of course in passing ...

It is all an eerie counterpoint to the shrieking political celebrations going on beyond my windows here on East First Street in Manhattan still at 2PM on the day after...


...there's a lot of loneliness around here, and rosemary grass is used to fix up vaginas, to fake virginities, and my friend and I still have two steps to go, drinking beer and pissing on the Chinaman's door...


...she gets her mouth of your asshole puts in her tongue a little and sucks hard, like a vacuum, it's called the "black kiss" and it was invented by Bonne Mere Mauricette, a madam from Napoleonville, near New Orleans, my mother does it to anyone who pays for it, I'm exempt, she doesn't charge me for it...

3 you know if it's true that they instituted proceedings against Christ in Arizona?, no, no I don't know, nobody can take Christ to court because he's God and God always wins, God can work miracles and change a woman into a lizard with three eyes and horns, it depends what he wants, Christ-- rather, God--- is tougher than Arizona...


..where the Papago Indians stand and brood about poverty, loneliness and the wind, and the Papago Indians don't like that name, they are the Tohono-O'Odham, the cactuses resemble bell-towers, surrounded by disaster...


...what's bad is when a man wants to put his thoughts into another person's head, that's a sign that death is lurking nearby and feeling brave...


a man has to come from somewhere. what's bad is being a stranger, all strangers go around dragging a dirty bloody history that they don't want to tell anyone, silence ends up making the bones ache, but anything is better than the gallows, strangers don't have any traditions and that's why they rob banks and trains, they cheat at cards, they steal cows and horses and they shoot you in the back, tradition doesn't forbid robbing banks and trains or cheating at cards or stealing horses but it does forbid killing a man from behind


Negroes want to turn their children white and the only thing that matters for whites is making money, if this isn't the end of the earth it's something very close to it...


...when halfwits finish coming they also fall asleep if the woman sucks their cock very carefully, first their thoughts fade away and then they doze off,


Ronnie killed him with a bullet between the eyes, the price of life is life and no one escapes this law, nobody can know what will happen after they go


nobody knows it God is male or female but if she is female instead of male the Grand Canyon would be the cunt of God, the horrendous Grand Cunt of God

11. have to organize what you're saying so people don't get confused, the best way is to keep telling the story in terms of the dead, I said to him, it's very easy to talk but bringing order to what you're saying isn't so easy...


...reason is worthless if a man can't get a hard-on, words are always traitorous and end up betraying whoever speaks them, if a men were mute the jails would be empty and the gallows wouldn't have been invented, man is an animal that doesn't know enough to die on time and keeps praying to go on living...


the opposite of mercy is indifference--- people think it's cruelty--- but what's really bad about cutting off a dead man's privates is doing it without even looking, when giving someone food or drink you must look into his eyes, the same applies to forgiving insults or cheering up sad people...


the Chinaman Wong wasn't a murderer because he didn't kill living men but instead disinterred dead children, afterwards he would slice them up or shred them, all very carefully, the soybean shoots with minced pork were also delicious...


there's always one woman that would like to blow the hanged man, custom doesn't allow it and the law even less, it's a pleasure that hardly any woman gets to enjoy...


my little brother Pato Macario's flatulence doesn't make any noise because by now all his farting has smoothed out the wrinkles in his asshole, we usually say "ripe avocado, fart for sure," real men's farts sound like whiplashes, they crack the wind


...dogs don't piss on the houses of the dying, they are very respecful and go straight past, this detail doesn't belong here but I wanted to note it down before I forgot


it's the custom to smile at the hangman and spit in the face of the man sentenced to death, men are born wearing their masks and every line already carved in its place, on the forehead, the corners of the eyes, at the corners of the mouth, in the cheeks the same things have always been done, spitting on the one who loses and smiling at the one who wins


the women wait at the Nabor Guevara tavern, groping and feeling each other up, their hearts pounding they while away the time telling each other dirty stories and killing doves by squashing their heads, they also strangle roosters by pinning them their between their thighs, there's plenty of pleasure in it


...nearly every day remembers Maggie Cedarvael the little neighbor girl who as a child used to play with his little cock, she would fondle it delicately and also suck it, later she died of tuberculous, this game of life and death is upsetting

Monday, October 27, 2008

TRANQUILITY or a book to buy right now,0,1679894.story
From the Los Angeles Times
'Tranquility' by Attila Bartis
By Tom McGonigle

October 26, 2008


Attila Bartis

Translated from the Hungarian

by Imre Goldstein

Archipelago Books: 292 pp., $15

"Tranquility" is a moving, emotionally complex, subtle, shocking novel -- and the inadequacy of these words of praise might be overcome by considering imagery, such as the narrator's "remembering how I crawled, like a creeper, upon the back of that woman. Like a slug on the wound of a decaying fruit tree." Or this: "You live only as long as you can lie into the mug of anybody, and without batting an eye. And when you can't anymore, well, it's time to get hold of that razor blade." Or this: "[The narrator's mother's] nakedness was like that of the dead, in whom only the corpse washer and God take any delight."

The first of Attila Bartis' books to be made available in English, "Tranquility" may come as no revelation to those who have followed the incredible explosion of literary greatness coming out of modern Hungary: Péter Esterházy, Peter Nadas, Imre Kertész, Zsuzsa Bank. Each of these writers may seem like an individual voice speaking into a solitary silence, but the effect is of a startling chorus and of a sustaining vision of how to survive in a world that is increasingly hostile to the individual imagination.

Andor Weer, the narrator of "Tranquility," is a writer of short stories entangled with his aging, controlling mother who is terrified by the thought of being cremated (she has been told that her corpse will sit up in the oven). Once a leading actress on the Budapest stage, she has been reduced to playing bit parts as a punishment for being unable to lure her violinist daughter back to Hungary from the West.

Spanning the declining years of the Communist regime, Bartis' novel presents a form of narration that twines a record of Andor's day-to-day life as a writer with what are surely snippets, both long and short, of stories echoing his own mastery of the short story (by which Bartis first rose to prominence in Hungary) in a novel that moves effortlessly through all levels of a truly damaged society attempting to recover from communist devastation.

Bartis comes close to exemplifying Louis-Ferdinand Céline's wonderfully provocative comment that one has to be a little bit dead to be really funny. Bartis fractures any sense we have as to whether the characters -- the narrator, his sister Judit, his girlfriends, his mother and father -- are actually alive or dead. And it doesn't matter, for even the minor characters imprint themselves thoroughly upon one's memory.

Bartis creates an atmosphere of believability in this novel without forsaking the use of irony. Early in the story, for instance, Andor reads a short story to a provincial audience about a homicidal priest who kills off his congregation with poisoned communion wafers. After the reading, the priest in the village invites Andor to supper. "I've got a pretty good ceremonial wine, if you've got the courage," he tells him. During the course of the evening, the priest reveals himself to be one of those rare members of the clergy -- a priest who actually does believe in God -- and, next morning, as Andor leaves on a train, the priest gives him a book as a gift.

It isn't a copy of Augustine's "Confessions" or some such but is something else entirely, which isn't revealed for another 30 pages. What that book is won't be identified here -- no plot spoiler for readers -- so get the book as soon as you can.

McGonigle is the author of "Going to Patchogue" and "The Corpse Dream of N. Petkov."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

2666 BY ROBERTO BOLANO, TRUE CRIME and TRANQUILITY: some hints for reading now


2666 By Roberto Bolano has landed and will be making its way into bookstores. It probably should have come with stickers: ONLY TO BE READ AFTER READING THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES. As 2666 is likely to be the only big literary book of this season--- and it is a genuine literary book, the real thing--- most readers will have read THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES in great expectation of 2666 but new readers will find the first long section of 2666 tough going though for readers of THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES we well know there is a reason, a purpose behind what could be very off-putting: the entanglements of four academic critics with a reclusive German author's life and novels.


To date no one has mentioned the name B. Traven but since Bolano is soaked in literature and surely he is aware that B. Traven is the only German author who is in anyway mysterious and surely Bolano is depending on our faint memories of Traven...


2666 is a baroque balloon capping Bolano's career. It is not a Finnegans Wake to his Ulysses. It is of a piece with all his work.


If Bolano was alive I think that he would be reading two other books published this season in New York. As 2666 is filled with violent crime he would be reading the Library of America's TRUE CRIME, edited by Harold Schechter. He would have remembered Williams Burroughs talking about how essential crime was to American life: it was there before the Indians… as you well remember.

TRUE CRIME: from the first murder and the first hanging in Boston mentioned by William Bradford to Dominick Dunne, by way of Jack Webb (Dragnet) and a wonderfully rescued piece by Dorothy Kilgallen who I remember reading in the old Journal American which my father brought home at night turned to the comics page though mother was listening to her on the radio having lunch at Sardi's talking of the celebrities lunching around her and her husband Dick..

Much as the characters in Robert Musil's great novel THE MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES were fascinated by a brutal psychopath, TRUE CRIME has stories about the two disturbing and ever fascinating contemporary killers, Charles Manson and Ed Gein who together occupy much of the popular imagination with either their deeds or their influence on an endless series of trashy violent movies


As I was reading Robert Bloch's piece on Ed Gein (the inspiration for PSYCHO) I was remembering Duane, the boyfriend of Bink Noll in Beloit, talking about growing up in the same town as Ed Gein. Duane was a little odd being a male nipple fetishist who published a newsletter for those so inclined from Noll's basement via a post office box in South Beloit. Duane said that was the most disturbing aspect of Gein's career was that he had supplied meat for sausages to the local butcher shop and when he was found out people realized they had been eating their relatives for quite some time…

Another friend who had become a cop in Wisconsin after college told me that he had been up the state lunatic asylum to look at Ed Gein who was their prized exhibit and was a reminder that criminals are very very ordinary looking.


TRUE CRIME is the best anthology that the Library of America has published… well to be really scrupulous it is the best if you also say that their anthology on Los Angeles and about American in Paris are also included in that bite of praise…


AND TRANQUILITY (Arhipelago Books)the first novel of Attila Bartis to be published in the United States would attract Bolano. I have written a review of it which will appear shortly in the LA Times… SO not to chew the cabbage twice. Bolano would have liked the particularity of detail in TRANQUILITY: the acceptance of the appearance of convention and then the trusting to a fearless honesty and the necessity of destroying chronological time in the telling of his narrator's entanglement with his mother, his father, his father's whore and the sister in exile… Bartos with this novel joins that little essential pantheon made in Hungary composed of Peter Nadas, Peter Ezsterhazy, Imre Kertesz and Zsuzsa Bank

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

J.M.G. LECLEZIO: Getting older sometimes just means getting older


Let's not kid ourselves into thinking literary prizes are meaningful. They are a real pain in the ass. You will have seen the film The SWIMMING POOL and remember when the Charlotte Rampling character complains about not getting any literary prizes her editor consoles her with the sentence, Literary prizes are like hemorrhoids, eventually ever asshole gets one.


SO, the Nobel and J.M.G. LeClezio. A Canadian correspondent wrote complaining of Swedish racism in that they failed to give the Nobel Prize a second time to Toni Morrison for her having to live in such a hostile environment as the United States…

Of course we all know that the three saddest words in the English language (according to Gore Vidal) Joyce Carol Oates grew a little sadder and more Chinese food was consumed as Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill once told me that when she was invited to Princeton she was surprised that the chief subject of conversation there was about Chinese versus Indian take out…

Of course we all know that Princeton is a dumping ground for second rate Black intellectuals that even Harvard could no longer stomach…


One should be happy he got the prize if only in the hope his earlier books will be re-printed in the US.

Let us remind ourselves that the Nobel did get it right when it gave the prize, to Claude Simon and Camilo Jose Cela and again they didn’t give it to that hick P. Roth.


I took down from my shelves that pile of LeClezio books. He has been well published in the United States.

In 1970 I must have written to LeClezio as I have a little note from him in which he carefully mimics the typewriter in his block lettering: The mind is not too well but the hand continues to write.

I had written to him after reading TERRA AMATA which was the fourth of his books to be published in the US by the long gone Atheneum…

I had heard of him on a pig farm in West Branch Iowa from Elliott Anderson who had been reading FEVER, a collection of Le Clezio's short stories.

Those early seven books: FEVER, THE INTEROGATION, THE FLOOD, TERRA AMATA, BOOK OF FLIGHTS, WAR, THE GIANTS… catalogue a vision of disintegration of the known world… the desperate isolation of the individual and I probably had written to LeClezio suggesting that Max Stirner so long ago had talked about the creative nothingness out of which everything is possible…

Again when I go to TERRA AMATA, THE FLOOD… I am midst that collapse and LeClezio's ability to find a language and form for it: "He turned into writing; it turned into crossing-out." (TERRA AMATA) or "All that remains now is writing, writing by itself, groping its way with words, searching and describing, meticulously in depth, hanging on hammering out reality, rejecting compromise." FEVER (1965)


Of course all young people should be so imbued… and not seek out as today the tired best sellers and mimicking them as seems the case for 99% of what is published in the US today.


And the great ambition: "You must abandon the field of solitary contemplation, the false protection of forgetfulness; you have to sally forth recklessly into the open, determined to explore the outside world in all its aspects, driven on by a mad desire to invade every space and drain every attraction to the dregs. No longer, either, by analytical reason, but by a willing acceptance of the illogical in your reactions to every room and person, each tree, each speck of dust… (THE FLOOD).


I have mis-placed THE BOOK OF FLIGHTS but with WAR and THE GIANTS LeClezio gives himself over totally to the visionary in the hope of staying alive: "One day, round noon, he looks round him, in the big city where he lives; he stops moving, and looks round him. He stops flapping the twin cushions of his speaking lips, he stops blinking his eyes at the sight of set pieces, women, cars, trains, films, pages of essay-poem-novels and looks round him. In a single stroke the world stops moving. (THE GIANTS)

THE GIANTS appeared in 1975 and for almost twenty years LeClezio did not exist in the US. I tried and failed to get Dalkey Archive to reprint the early books.

In France, of course LeClezio continued to publish and I picked up VERS LES ICEBERGS in the hope of seeing that one day into English or… and I waited.


In 1993, finally THE PROSPECTOR and THE MEXICAN DREAM appeared. Larry Kart (some day I will write about him--- one of the great editors of our time) then editor of the book section of the Chicago Tribune allowed me to review them… by then LeClezio was part of the usual forgetfulness.

In my review I wrote that THE PROSPECTOR was a romance… and while it did not continue in the vein that I had treasured in those earlier novels… of course in 20 years a writer… I disguised my disappointment and allowed that he had written a very good novel, one that as they say, kept me reading… I imagine nothing much happened for Godine, the publisher of this novel… I had found some words they could use as a blurb but there would be no paper version, I was sure of that. The book of essays THE MEXICAN DREAM was a hodgepodge and sadly LeClezio had given himself over to a too easy self-hatred of being a white European writer.


When I read again today in THE MEXICAN DREAM… I see something I had missed before… and which I have only recently become aware in regard in my case the state of Arizona and the native peoples living there: I know nothing. I know nothing.

LeClezio was trying to share that idea with his readers and only if he had been able to free himself from his ordinary European self-hatred so as to truly give words to what he mentions was, the greatest disaster in human history: the destruction of the various Indian civilizations in the Americas… if only it was possible to do this but not from now comfortable and well rewarded self-hatred…


Since then the novel ONITSHA, and a book of stories THE ROUND AND OTHER COLD HARD FACTS have appeared from Nebraska…and seemed too conventional for me… in 2004 Curbstone published WANDERING STAR and not for a moment was I interested in LeClezio's take on the Palestinian/Israeli situation…the novel might have been a parody for all I know and LeClezio was creating a mock entertainment.. Not for a moment did I believe that he could inhabit the experience of an Israeli or Palestinian woman… not for a moment was I unaware of the dreadful fall into the imperialism of LeClezio's imagination and a politically correct and calculated arrogance that had displaced his heroic stuttering yet articulate hesitation that had shaped those early book…but it is for these later books that he was being honored so possibly the comment in THE SWIMMING POOL is not too far off…


Maybe in real old age LeClezio will return to the consoling truth of the last lines of TERRA AMATA: How can one bear witness? I am only an actor who doesn’t know the play he's acting in. What I've done I've done by chance, like a gnat in a strong wind. I've said first one thing, then another. I've written pins, tobacco, passions, suffer, nylon, seed. You've read zip-fastener, top, beauty, woman, cigarette, cloud. And accurate chance is its own individual path. But I've said enough. Now it's your turn."

Sadly, I doubt it.


Re-located material.

Of course Princeton is a wonderful place…according to the late George Garrett, Princeton used to recruit Black students and allow them to go through the first two years with no grades… just passed them along and then in the final two they began to be graded and flunked out. Princeton thus had to it both ways: good liberal admission policies and then ruthless preserving of the degree….now of course the more typical graduate of Princeton is Michelle Obama--- discovering the nasty secret racism of Princeton which allowed her to go there and being half way alert discovering she was probably just not as smart as the non-Black students she found herself among… and of course she was aware of how the good liberal professors treat the hired help. No wonder many Black people voted for George Wallace…

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

AIDAN HIGGINS: How His Writing Died


I was asked by Cornelius Anthony Murphy (Assoc Prof)--- as it is listed on his e-mail---to write about Aidan Higgins since I had contributed to the Review of Contemporary Fiction a piece entitled "51 Pauses After Reading Aidan Higgins" now many years ago.

Cornelius Anthony Murphy (Assoc Prof) decided it was not for his book of essays on Aidan Higgins.

Aidan Higgins wrote two great books LANGRISHE, GO DOWN and BALCONY OF EUROPE. He also wrote some very good short descriptive travel pieces and short pungent notices in Hibernia, a newspaper in Dublin… and then he made the mistake of writing and writing and writing and writing.

Actually READING a book (LIONS OF THE GRUNEWALD by Aidan Higgins.

Got to find some therapy
This treatment is taking too long.
"Twenty four Hours"
---Ian Curtis. JOY DIVISION


Letters from Cornelius Anthony Murphy (Assoc Prof):

Any word on the Higgins article? Sorry to be a pest but the publisher is on my trail. I am hoping…

I really hope you can pull something together, about LIONS, or something else even (Balcony?) as I really…

Just checking to see if you've been able to muster any enthusiasm for the Higgins piece. I too re-read LIONS recently and am less taken with it than previously--- bad time in the game for me to shift my point of view! I hope you've found some way through the thickets that appear to have sprouted around you…

Letter in reply:

You will have an essay… but since you asked for something I will write and have I think a way into Higgins.


I must have bought LIONS OF THE GRUNEWALD by Aidan Higgins in January of 1994 because in those years I was going to London in that month for a few weeks every year. As I open the paperback, as I have been opening the paperback during the summer of 2008 and now it is the autumn and I am still opening the book: it is falling apart and the pages long ago began to brown and I am sure it will not survive for many more years.

The edition I have was published by Martin Secker and Warburg Ltd--- then part of Reed Consumer Books --- as paper original with what they fall French flaps. The name of the author is printed in a golden box. That year Secker books had a distinct look and that ended rather quickly.

Currently LIONS OF THE GRUNEWALD seems out of print both in the UK and in the US. It is available for 99p in the UK and for eight dollars in the US.

As many know Dalkey Archive has taken to reprinting many of Higgins' books and it is a noble endeavor. From the very start of that press the publication of Higgins' work was a priority.

I do not know if Dalkey will be publishing for the first time LIONS OF THE GRUNEWALD in the US… but I am pretty sure all the people who want a copy of this Higgins title already have it and it is unlikely that many people would be seeking it out.


Of course I could be wrong and hope I am wrong as everything that Higgins writes is of interest as he and Desmond Hogan and Dorothy Nelson are pretty much it when it comes to prose writing in Ireland after James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Flann O'Brien, Francis Stuart. Of course there are many many prose writers in Ireland: almost as many as the standing army of Irish poets but but but…


Berlin is a fascinating place, maybe less so now that it has been reunited and become a sort of entertainment zone for the privileged subsidized international artistic middle class. During the time of a divided Berlin Uwe Johnson--- as readers may actually remember--- wonderfully perceptive hard earned and authentic books were set in Berlin and in that moment of two Germanys… but now as the years have gone by writers as good as Julian Rios and Ceese Nooteboom have fallen under the sway of Berlin and come to a certain defeat… and part of the reason is that they are not prepared to admit their ignorance of the complexity of Berlin--- they have to use it as background, mere background painted on…


Higgins's book is based on his own residence in Berlin--- just before the actual fall of the Berlin Wall as a guest of one of those international sinecures that the German government uses to get people to come to Berlin for a period of time…

Higgins gives into the mostly deadly of all traps: the academic literary satire… and crosses it with a sentimental entanglement of the central character Dallan Weaver who is a guest of DILDO (Deutsche-Internationale Literatur-Diesnt Organisation and it is probably right there in that footnote attached to a listing of characters, just after the CONTENTS that the book falls apart.


---It is understood that LIONS OF THE GRUNEWALD is Higgins's favorite book


The trouble continues right in the prologue with a slice of jazzed up or down potted history: "Zukov's men, the advanced spearheads, entered Berlin through the northern suburbs, screeching as they ran. The infantry went in first over the mine fields and tank traps to be blown to glory; others came on screeching wave after wave. Then the tanks went in."(P.1-2)

This is immediately followed by, "The sneery sculptor who had fluent Spanish asked Weaver what was his astrological sign." (p.2)

The word sneery, astrology and the previous ham-fisted allusion to the Battle for Berlin got me to close the novel right there the first time I tried to read the novel though I had noted that Rudolf Hess is helpfully listed with the others characters in the book as "the last Nazi in Spandau Prison." (P. x)


So, one tries again in the summer, so many years later, having remembered having defending Balcony of Europe for an early issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction-- when it was neither profitable or even useful for a resume to echo Flann O'Brien.


Well, the Weavers ( do we really read Higgins, wife and child?) house hunt for a place during their Berlin stay. There is party going. Mention of Rudolf Hess comes before two mentions of the "bullet riddled Amerika Haus" (p33) and "Amerika Haus was bullet riddled." (p46).


"And where had the brainy Prof read that all whales have syphilis?" (p.33) It is that word brainy coupled with Prof that makes the sentence read like a bad translation…


Early on and sadly dominating the book THE AFFAIR complete with the wife Nancy, "the dispossessed and disgruntled spouse." (p.97) There will be the other woman, Lore, who will having been made pregnant: "Their child's life had been terminated in The Hague by the sinister lady abortionist…"(p.267).


Another unnecessary word: "The right-hand window of Margot Schoeller's famous bookstore…" (P.71) How could could Higgins allow his man Weaver to think that or he to write it? But it sets up a moment of letting us know that Higgins, Weaver knows Samuel Beckett who has just received the Nobel Prize. AS good anecdote is recorded, "Watt (dismissed by its author into Weaver's ear as not so much shit as dysentery." (P.73).


But the book is not all heterosexual. After all this is Berlin: "Two sad sodomites frantic with grief and betrayal were copulating in the snow, lit by the headlights of a parked car… Weaver averted his eyes as he would have looked away from a bloody traffic accident. (p.56).


12 pages are given over to Weaver's child's writing. Enough said. A sort of filler, I guess. Allows for a ink drawing by the "brilliant son" (P.87) of the author.


3 pages of dreams. No check attached for listening. At the going rate today of 150$ per fifty minutes…how many sessions would they require?


But followed up by more Dublin gossip: well that old warhorse Brendan Behan hungover demanding that his wife, "Come up here with you now, Bethrice, an' thrim me toenails." (p.135) and there is mention of "wild Ralph Cusack" (P.134) and I would have liked to have had him about for more than a name drop.


And then the reader is off to drunken Spain but we have been there and in far better verbal company in BALCONY OF EUROPE but we are quickly--- since these pages are read quickly out of embarrassment--- though it takes ages as is said but we are back in Berlin right smartly: "The British Council always gave good parties."(p202); "Lore(the mistress, girlfriend whatever as the kids might say) had discovered a good Japanese restaurant near Fat George's flat…" (P.211); "In the summertime (when the living is easy) it was a very different story."(p.216) The parenthetical phrase is Higgins and he bears full responsibility for it, sadly.


But off to Munich during Olympic season. Israelis will be murdered ( it is THAT Olympics) and now it gets cloudy. Is the following the author, Weaver or who? "When a pure negroid (small n) American could run faster, jump faster and fly first over hurdles faster than any white man, that only confirmed his own conviction abut racial degeneracy: those fellows had just come down out of the trees. (p241)


I missed listing some more "famous" people who appear or are mentioned: Per Olaf Enquist, Leni Riefenstahl, Volker Schlondorff, Margarethe von Trotta who you might like to know, "spent some time under the table retrieving poor shots, sulking 'shitshitshit!"(p243)


And not to let a name go: "Hess was still serving pit his life sentence in Spandau Prison, the Russians would not him go. (P.252).


Now that we are nearly at the end of the book a selection of letters from Berlin to Weaver and one letter from Lore that prepare us for the disappearance of the wife and how true something lives… some years after the body of the book.


And an epilogue he (whether it is Higgins or Weaver?) conflates a meeting between Gunter Grass and Max Frisch and manages to drag in Uwe Johnson and an allusion to Ingeborg Bachmann which is supposed to?... beats me, I have to point out that one of the he's or the proofreader overlooks the misspelled Frishe (p299) while making some point about the Gauloises smoked by Grass and the pipe tobacco stained fingers of Frisch…


I found a book marker reminder (though I can't explain the dates because as we know LIONS OF THE GRUNEWALD was published in 1993) of an earlier reading of LIONS OF THE GRUNEWALD in the form of a newspaper clipping, now a darker brown than the pages of the book: from the December 25, 1978 THE VILLAGER ( a local paper in Greenwich Village, NY:

DEATH ON 12TH STREET: At 6 pm on December 12, a resident of 343 West 13th Street was found by two friends hanging by the neck in his apartment. The 31 year-old resident, wearing a leather-studded collar, a gas mask with the air vents closed and other assorted sexual equipment, apparently choked to death. The case while is may be an accidental death, is being investigated by the First Homicide squad.

But this scrap can serve as a telling commentary for we know that much of LIONS OF THE GRUNEWALD appeared in previous books and while movie directors are endlessly providing new versions (think of Oliver Stone's various Final cuts of ALEXANDER) I would have had no problem---as is said--- with a book solely of observation and quotation but the sheer dreariness of the love/sexual triangle: why not just publish the divorce degree and parts of the hearing transcript if such exists?


I would like to read a NEW book by Higgins of his life in Ireland.


Aidan Higgins is still the best English-language prose stylist in the country.
---Nuala Ni. Dhomhnaill.

New York
1 October 2008

Thursday, October 2, 2008


Following the example of Witkiewicz who recorded on each of his paintings the substance that he was using as he painted, I will write that in the background I am listening or aware of PERMANENT, the Joy Division complilation.


Everyone who is walking in Paris has had these words in their head: "So this is where people come to live; I would have thought it is a city to die in."

Of course it is the first line of THE NOTEBOOKS OF MALTE LAURIDS BRIGGE by Rainer Maria Rilke in the translation by Stephen Mitchell. I noticed in St Marks last night that Dalkey Archive has just published a new translation by Burton Pike. I can't compare these lines as I didn't copy it out in the shop because I did not have a pencil along or the money to buy it. Burton Pike finished the great revised translation of Robert Musil's THE MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES... so that is one reason to buy it. The second reason is that Dalkey Archive is one of the tiny handful of literary presses that continues to do real books. The third reason to buy it beyond your own reading pleasure is to buy an extra copy for that graduating high school student you know. The fourth reason is that that the book is memorable in form and continues to delight by carefully illuminating what exactly the word sensitive means... and it avoids all the cliches that might be attendant upon such a sentence.


Turtle Point Press sent me their new Lord Berners title DRESDEN, another autobiographical text that joins three previous Berners titles: THE CHATEAU DE RESENLIEU, A DISTANT PROSPECT, COLLECTED TALES AND FANTASIES and one of the greatest books about childhood, FIRST CHILDHOOD.

One reads Berners slowly. Here is a sentence from early on in DRESDEN that makes one sad at the shortness of the book, a book beautifully designed and printed, " My mother had at first intended to accompany me to Dresden, as she had accompanied me to Resenlieu, but she was unwilling to interrupt her hunting season, and I was allowed to travel alone.

I can not comment on Berners music but he was held in high esteem by Stravinsky and that is compliment enough.


Turtle Point Press has some of the VERY BEST BOOKS IN PRINT at this moment and there are not words enough to try to convince you of your getting them right now and reading them right now:

THE DEAD OF THE HOUSE by Hannah Green. I often think that this is the perfect great American novel. In less than 200 pages it is a vision of life so luminous, so complete that of course it is known only to a few even though it is of a familiar nature: the growing up in a wealthy home near Cincinnati, of a summer holiday in Michigan, of the death of...but mark the word vision

LORD OF DARK PLACES by Hal Bennett. While I do not like to mention a detail I usually do not hold with, I will say that this is the best novel written in the 20th century in the United States by a person who happens to be Black--- but once that detail is said I will also say it is also a vision of life that is only echoed by Celine as to the true nastiness of people and the delusions that they walk though and participate can not understand the contemporary racial situation in the United States until you have read this novel which it also has to be said, is very comic when it comes to the question of penis size and lynching... which after all is said and done--- to repeat--- blah blah blah on the editorial pages of newsapers...


I should also mention that Turtle Point Press has four books from JULIEN GRACQ: KING COPHETUA, THE NARROW WATERS, THE SHAPE OF THE CITY--- a model for how to describe a city, any city, in this case Nantes--- READING WRIITING, a book that has helped me to read and which is--- thought not outwardly--- one of the best descriptions of how to read that has ever been written


And they have just done the first of a very long work by James McCourt NOW VOYAGERS; THE NIGHT SEA JOURNEY... a chracter from an earlier book, Mawrdew Czgowchwz re-appears and sets forth..

I have said that I am jealous line by line of only one book: McCourt's TIME REMAINING... when complete McCourts new work will certainly re-arrange the statues again in the garden of the world novel. It will be right there next to PARADISO by Jose Lezama Lima.


I confess again that I fear my own books will never appear in the company of the books I have just been describing from Turtle Point Press... the publisher has read and then that terrible silence...Dalkey Archive published two of them and then they never issued them in paper.. for reasons...

Friday, September 26, 2008

COMMENTARY ON TODAY: things don't change

from H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.


Democracy: The worship of jackals by jackasses.


Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.


The government consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office.


The men the American public admires most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.


The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.


Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.

A selection supplied by Paul Rux.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


"You live only as long as you can lie into the mug of anybody, and without batting an eye. And when you can't lie anymore, well, it's time to get hold of that razorblade."

from TRANQUILITY by Attila Bartis. (Archipelago Books)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

An ordinary incident in one of their camps in Communist Bulgaria

Something from my other life. is what I took from George and I am telling Karri about George's story which I took to calling The Shroud. Recollection, at times, fills up the room he was telling me of when he had been asking in Bulgaria--- that year when he was there for the whole year--- about what had gone on in the camps under the Communists. He was interested in the camp of Lovech because it was near Pleven where he grew up. He had been surprised the executioners and the victims both wanted to forget their times in the camp. He had been told of an incident which happened with certain regularity. There would be the usual roll-call in the morning after which the men were issued with shovels and other tools but on certain days one man would be issued, in addition to his shovel or rake, a large dirty piece of canvas, that he was expected to carry all day as he went about his assigned digging in the field. This was nothing new. He and everyone knew what was coming. Suddenly, sometime during the day, the man carrying the piece of canvas would be set upon by the guards and slowly and methodically beaten to death with long clubs. The other prisoners and guards would watch this activity. The body would later be rolled onto the canvas and taken away. No one remembered any sound ever being uttered by the guards, the other prisoners or now, the dead man.
This activity never varied except for one time which was mentioned by three of people George talked to. One day the commandant who always participated in the beatings brought along his son who must have been around 11 or 12 years old. The boy was forced to stand close to his father and while he was not allowed to beat the prisoner he was still splashed with the victim's blood and it seemed so calculated, these people said because they remember very specifically how the father had drawn a line in the dirt and told his son to stand behind it, not to move, no matter what.
These details of calculation were what held George and how, while people mentioned them, there was never a second of refection upon what it might mean. There was a polishing of the detail as if that is all that mattered. It could have been that people or the people I talked to did not have sentences to describe what they had seen beyond the facts of what they had seen.
He was sure I could imagine that man carrying the piece of canvas or possibly the boy standing there behind the line in the earth, but you were not there so that might allow your imagination to… though that is unfair

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

LIBRARY OF AMERICA: why it is the center of any real library


The LIBRARY OF AMERICA is one of the brightest lights in the dimming world American publishing and I have followed it since its beginning. i have been both appalled and pleased with it all these years. At first I was almost prepared to define the Library of America as being the gold standard of publishing but in fact that must be the PLEIADE editions published by Gallimard in Paris.


Not in my lifetime will there ever be an English language equivalent of the Pleiade whose books are models of publishing beauty and integrity. In Paris, when an author is selected for the Pleiade all of that author's works are published complete with well written notes. This is not the habit of the Library of America and it has resulted in two truly botched books which should be withdrawn. I am speaking of the Gertrude Stein and the Richard Wright volumes. They are embarrassment and do an active dis-service to the reputations of the authors.


But over the years I have constantly read in the Library of America's Poe, Faulkner, Melville (though Melville's poetry is not included)Henry James, Henry Adams... OK the list can go but simply put my room would be bare indeed with the Library of America. It is a putting aside of those paperbacks and becoming an adult.


I already know that in February/March there will be volumes devoted to John Cheever, Lafcadio Hearn and A. J. Liebling...


But in the now I have been reading in the new volumes devoted to Katherine Ann Porter, William Maxwell, John Ashbery and Philip Roth. It must be understood that one usually does not sit down and read these sorts of books cover to cover no matter what reviewers pretend... one of the details that emerged from the discussion of the suicide of David Foster Wallace was that he was well aware that many of the reviewers of his big novel INFINITE JEST had not read the whole book... and all astute readers well understand the fakery in much of the writing about books in the United States. Readers should find Jack Green's great defining book FIRE THE BASTARDS (Dalkey Archive) on just how truly awful book reviewing in in the United States.


How does one read the Library of America books?... I was reminded of Ed Burns talking about his summers with Michel Leiris in France. Before setting out for their summer holidays there would be the going to the bookstore to decide on what would be read that summer... inevitably a Pleiade edition would be selected both because of the ease of carrying those beautiful books and the authority of the editions... Ed was remembering the summer of Goncharov... unlike the Library of America the Pleiade thinks of itself as creating a library of world literature...


I have been reading in the Ashbery...a poet that becomes readable with the distance of this edition. One has to carry a poet when one goes traveling and Ashbery helps with seeing what is OUT THERE.

Now should he be up there with Ezra Pound? or T.S. Eliot? or William Carlos Williams?


The Katherine Ann Porter volume collects her stories and journalism... and while the stories are essential the missing SHIP OF FOOLS is a serious problem and something that would not have happened it this had been the Pleiade. I read the bound galleys of the Porter stories while in Arizona and in the California desert. By making them available again our literature seems a little more populated just as happened with the two volumes devoted to John Dos Passos...


The second William Maxwell volume is more a homage to his role as an editor at The NEW YORKER and his still living presence in New York literary circles though I am pretty sure that the actual man, who I met at Glenway Wescott's memorial service, would be a little embarrassed by these volumes because with no volume devoted to Sherwood Anderson there is no context for his own work. Maxwell would probably also suggest that Glenway Wescott should also have appeared before his own books were published. Of course the Maxwell volumes are treasured for the quality of the writing, for their sheer readability but there is something a little wrong in how naked they sit in the Library of America and I can well imagine that Maxwell, if still alive would rather be talking about Anderson and Wescott's work than his own.


At the moment I am in the midst of a discussion about education at John Jay College here in New York City. Of course the relevant document is in the volume devoted to Thomas Jefferson... about the power of the sweeping broom and the necessity of sweeping out the faded leaves... to allow what remains to flourish...


The Cheever volumes at least seem to collect all his fiction though we will have to see when they appear...


I am looking forward to Hemingway, Fitzgerald, more Kerouac, T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, the poetry of Melville, the remaining Henry James, Howells...James Baldwin... Edward Dahlberg and of course as I mentioned above: Glenway Wescott and Sherwood Anderson...


How many publishers invite expectation anymore in the United States?

Monday, September 8, 2008

ALFRED A KNOPF PUBLISHERS DIED or is Sonny Mehta Really Dead?

The news arrived today that some time ago the venerable publishing house of Alfred A. Knopf died. The death notice arrived in the form of their Spring 2009 catolog which is expected to be their last though there is no real telling given the unreliability of communications these days.

Readers of course have known that the current Alfred A. Knopf has long been living on the interest from the memory of certain books this firm published over the years. While they were a very prolific firm it was sustained by a list that would include I THE SUPREME by Augusto Roa Bastos, WARRENPOINT by Denis Donoghue, TIME REMAINING by James McCourt, GEEK LOVE by Katherine Dunn, THE MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES by Robert Musil, SOME INSTRUCTIONS by Stanley Crawford, WOMEN AND MEN by Joseph McElroy and the many books of Thomas Bernhard including CORRECTION, FROST, EXTINCTION, GATHERING EVIDENCE. There was the rumour that possibly a collected stories by Thomas Bernhard might eventually be published but it seems the firm's death has put such hopes to the wall.

The evidence of the death of Alfred A. Knopf comes from a study of the catalog in which the dead and the recently dead are mingled with startling promiscuity: in the fiction division "work" by Maeve Binchy, Elie Wiesel, Jayne Anne Phillips are counterpointed with novels by an unknown editor of a once prosperous newspaper and a surgeon from Stanford University while in the poetry division only the dead are being published: Kenneth Koch, Mark Strand, Jack Gilbert and J. D. McClatchy still evidently--- through the miracle of science--- writing from beyond the grave... there are some so-called nonfiction books ripped from today's and yesterday's newspaper headlines: the battle of Vicksburg is there with just what you have long been wanting to read, a biography of John Cheever... and then anotherbiography of Cornelius Vanderbilt.. there are two novels by female graduates of Harvard University and that is a certification of genuine awfulness... and one can easily over-look a novel by a female Canadian but that is to be forgotten before it is even published as was her earlier book... such is the sad fate of Canadian literature, a literature killed by generous government subvention.

And then beyond satire is Spade & Archer, a "prequel" to The Maltese Falcon.. I kid you not, and the bitter snickering laughter must continue with the new and collected stories of Jay McInerney along with three trashy British novels by Walker, Mason and Hensher, otherwise known as The Shirt Makers of Jermyn Street, London.

I almost forgot: there is more death on display: another translation of Cavafy by the New Jersey writer Daniel Mendelsohn as if Edmund Keeley's versions didn't exist... why would anyone bother?...

The academy sadly is well represented by sure to be dreary unreadable books by Alan Wolfe who thinks that liberalism has a future and Elaine Showalter discovering--- guess what?--- women writers... and there is Jebediah Purdy writing about the meaning of freedom while teaching law at Duke where I wonder if it still unsafe to be a white lacrosse player...

It is a sad day knowing that Alfred A. Knopf Publishers has died and I take no pleasure in any of this.
Is it possible that Sonny Mehta died and a stand-in has been steering the ship?
I did hear a rumour that it is possible Mehta died in a plane crash on his way south where he was to work on a sequel to Bill Clinton's Memoir which had the provocative title, THE PRESIDENT'S BODY but that has not been confirmed though it was alluded to in a recent communication from Patrick Chamoiseau from Martinique where he had been awaiting Mehta and where Pat has been hard at work on EXXON also a sequel as it happens, to his famous the mostly unread novel, TEXACO.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

NOT TO BE READ and a little discovery



not to be read


not to be read

not to be read.

Increasingly, I have given up any thought that my manuscripts will ever be read and then published. From everything I know about publishing I no longer believe that there are editors capable of reading and publishing what I have written. I am sure there are editors who know how to read but they are no longer willing to go through the necessary motions of preparing the way for the publication of my manuscripts. Most editors defer to either the sales force or their imagined sales force when deciding on the possibility of publishing a manuscript.

An editor when considering a manuscript is always dealing with the thought of filling out the projected sales figures for the book: copies advanced, first month sales, three months, six months, year one sales, year two sales...

Of course these figures are all imaginary and they are closer to the reality of the lottery where it is more likely you will be hit by lightning than winning one of the big lotteries... as they say in New York a dollar and a dream...

As we all know lotteries are a wonderful tax on the poor who are the biggest suckers for this form of gambling. And so you might say the sales projection form is a sort of tax on the imagination or maybe better it is the closing of the imagination.

And do not think that there is any hope in the smaller independent presses. They now operate along the same lines and in many cases are even less adventurous than houses like Knopf or FSG. They are even more given to suppose trends and all too often gone over into the multi-cultural sham as they know it is way to squeeze money out of the government or foundations.

Agents are not much better. When my books were published and well reviewed across the country, including the all important New York Times,I made the rounds agents with a list provided by Sam Vaughan then a senior editor at Random House and the former publisher of Doubleday. The most honest agent simply said, I can not eat lunch off of you... and that is the bottom line with agents.

Of course there are still accidents and that is how they have to be characterized when actual literary books are published today. If you have been reading this blog you know what I mean by literary books. I am not talking about fake books by Paul Auster and Don DeLillo... and the list of these is too long to go into... again.

Truth be told: some of the impetus for these thoughts came as a result of driving last week to and from Nashville where I returned my daughter to her third year at Vanderbilt. The poverty of Vanderbilt in terms of literature is legendary... the academic bookstore is more interesting in selling t-shirts and water bowls for dogs... but Vanderbilt is not as awful as Harvard as it lacks the actual hatred of the imagination which is the hallmark of Harvard and the city of its location, Cambridge.

As we were driving along 40 we saw the signs for the Book Cellar in Crossville, Tennessee. Located in a down-at-the-heels mall, the shop is a huge barn of a building with a vast collection of mostly mass market paperbacks. A large section of Christian Fiction and self help books that were of help another year. There was a stand alone bookcase with multiple copies of all of Danielle Steel books. A daughter was calling her mom on a cell phone while standing in front of the James Patterson collection. She did not know if they had read this title and her mother thought they might as well read it again as she also had forgotten if they had read it...

I could go on and make lists of the various collections in the shop... but it was the tiredness, the ache of what could be that tore at me.

I think it would be better if there was more illiteracy in the country. Remember some time ago I mentioned Albert Jay Nock noting that the best bookstores in Europe were in Portugal which at that time had the highest rate of illiteracy: there was no market for books geared for the semi-literate.

In Virginia just off 81 we were drawn to the Green Valley Book Fair which is open for a week or so at different times throughout the year. Again a vast size and all the books are newly remaindered. Stuff that doesn't sell... and in every category... last season's self help books and it was nice to see a very big pile of the last novel by Rick Moody but of course that will not stop his stupid publisher from printing more and more books by this guy... of course seeing these piles you realize that those wonderful sales figure projections must not have worked... it was a shop as testament to the fallibility of these editors... yet they continue to be guided by them when it comes to the sort of manuscripts that I have produced...



not to be read

not to be read

not to be read


Finally I found a copy of ISLANDS by Jean Grenier published by Green Integer in 2003. Of course it was not much talked about. Grenier (1898-1971) is unknown in the US thanks to the genuine stupidity of American publishing.

ISLANDS is a book essentially of essays introduced by Albert Camus. Camus writes in his introduction about what this book did to him, "Suddenly a great theme of all the ages began to resound in us as a disturbing novelty. The sea, the sun, the faces from which we were suddenly separated by a kind of invisible barrier, removed themselves from us without ceasing to fascinate us. In sum ISLANDS initiated us in disenchantment; we had discovered culture... (Grenier) prefers to speak of the death of a cat, of a butcher's illness or the fragrance of flowers of passing time. Nothing is really said in this book. All is suggested with incomparable force and delicacy. This nimble and agile language at once exact and dreamy has all the fluidity if music."

And so the opening line of ISLANDS in the chapter The Attractions of the Void: "In each life, particularly at its dawn, there exists an instant which determines everything..."

A little later, " I was one of those men predestined to wonder why they live instead of actually living or at most living only on the margins."

The second essay Mouloud the Cat begins, "The world of animals is made of silences and leaps."
The death that will eventually come to this cat is the stuff of the most awful nightmare that any horror novel you might have ever read... pales by comparison.. while I had to read Grenier's words, and as you must, and not for a second regretting reading them, I do not know what to make of this new understanding... the only consolation is that I still have more pages of Grenier to read...

I hope you will find ISLANDS and also be on this voyage.

Thursday, August 14, 2008



In 1968 when Lilia and I went from Sofia via Dublin to join my parents in their exile in Menasha, Wisconsin I came to learn the name of a young writer who had just taken up teaching at Lawrence University (then College) in nearby Appleton, Mark Dintenfass. In the following year he would publish a novel MAKE YOURSELF AN EARTHQUAKE. I never met MD as I was teaching seventh grade at St John's Polish Catholic Church School and getting ready to escape to Hollins College via George Garrett and Chad Walsh. I did go to listen to Kenneth Burke, I think in that year, but I might have gone to see Burke a few years later up in Appleton...

MD typified what I thought was going to happen to me: I would contrive to publish a novel, have some sort of MA and end up teaching and living out my life as a writer in residence at some leafy college like Lawrence, teaching a writing course, teaching a course of my own creation on writers I liked and meeting visiting writers... having a house within walking distance of the college... growing old with many trips to Europe and eventually a second home somewhere or other to provide a contrast to the winters of Wisconsin or the north or maybe it would be the reverse in terms of weather if i lived in the South.

Of course that did not come to pass. The white male writer with tenure at a small college is now nearly an extinct creature having been replaced by various women and the far more fashionable and necessary ethnic writers of whatever sex.

The occasion for these "thoughts" was finding MONTGOMERY STREET by Dintenfass among the books in my storage unit. It is a surprisingly good book that is of necessity and sure fragmentation as his narrator assembles a possible film from his memories of growing up in Brooklyn.

Of course like all of Dintenfass's books---THE CASE AGAINST ORG, OLD WORLD NEW WORLD, A LOVING PLACE, MAKE YOURSELF AN EARTHQUAKE--- it is out of print and I went to the computer to see if he was still among the living. On the jacket of MONTGOMERY STREET there is a photogrpah of a chunky dark haired man with dark glasses, heavy eye brows and brooding moustache.

MD is still among the living at least according to an article from the Lawrence University magazine: which writes of his many years of teaching and how twentyfive years ago the novels stopped and he was teaching writing, directing plays and is now a professor emeritus: it is mentioned that his favorite novel came within a few thousand copies of making the NY Times best seller list... one or two students talked about him as a good teacher and he remembered playing softball for Lawrence for 20 years. His hair is now white or gray; he has softened at the edges and he is remembering that one of his novels came within a few thousand copies of making the New York Times best seller list


I have not been able to write of my parents' exile in Menasha,Wisconsin and I do not use the word exile lightly as it was an exile from Patchogue and my father's job in New York City. He was sent there by the American Can Company which owned his flesh as was very common back then.

Menasha is a factory city on Little Lake Butte des Mortes... a city of taverns, factories, next door to Neenah home of Kimberly Clark and a museum devoted to paper weights. My father and I went up to stand by the grave of Joe McCarthy who is buried in Appleton... I published a poem or two in the local newspaper... I remember Roger who worked part time at the funeral parlor who had the job of making sure that eyelids did not pop open during viewings... he had taught eighth grade in the same school and his mother listened to country/western music...


All writers prepare today to be forgotten if they have any brains about them. The books are on library shelves. The books are in the fewer and fewer second hand book stores. The books are in the rather insulting or humiliating listings at Amazon where prices start at .01 cents plus postage.


If a book does not generate some sort of critical response it is doomed to disappear into the...


One could write and essay on MONTGOMERY STREET and nothing would happen... maybe MONTGOMERY STREET would no longer retail for .01 cents for brief moment.

One could celebrate the quality of the writing, the writing as an attempt to deal with the persistence of memory and the attempt at shaping of memory into film.. and while the novel leaves it open at the end, the reader is left with the exhilarating feeling that this book is an actual real substitude for what would only be a very derivative movie... MD creates in MONTOMERY STREET that miracle of demonstrating that the read word has advantages over the word that has been used to provoke moving pictures...


I wonder if MD ever tried to describe the winters in the Fox Valley where Appleton along with Menasha and Neenah are? Did he try to describe the smells of the paper manufacturing plants? Did he try to describe the go-go bars up on the highway or the taverns that seemed to be on every corner of those cities? Did he think of Glenway Wescott who came from near there in Kewaskum and wrote a book of stories GOODBYE WISCONSIN and just maybe the great American novel if such needs to be mentioned, THE GRANDMOTHERS? Did he think of Lorine Niedecker also living nearby and working in hospitals as a cleaning lady while corresponding with Ezra Pound and Louis Zukofsky?

Or did he think too much of Brooklyn or waste a lot of time thinking about being so far away from...

Or has he been saving himself, for that moment when he will be free of students, and now able to once again...

Friday, August 1, 2008



--Fragments which in many ways exemplify the total powerlessness of writing in such a medium.

--Back from a voyage with my son through the deserts of Arizona and California and from being at Hermosa Beach, near Los Angeles.

--I did not know my son very well because he lives four streets away from me in New York City, with his mother, because many years ago she decided her feelings had changed and she wanted to grow spiritually.


--I came back with few words that insisted on being written down.

--I did not know the names of the plants through which we walked or drove by.

--I did not know the names of the geological formations we passed through or upon.

--I could not say one word of the language of the Tohono O'odham nation through we drove.


--We toured Pomona College as my son is entering his last year at a prep school in New England.

--Pomona College seemed to be a little paradise whose whole educational purpose was centered upon the actual individual student.

--I would hope my son would go to Pomona.
I do not know if he will be able to resist the well cultivated seductive attractive illusions of the Ivy League.
If he falls for one of those colleges or universities it will be too late.
He will discover as countless students have done that the undergraduate student at these institutions is always an afterthought to the professors they encounter.
They will discover their role of being the student as nigger as was said in the so-called Sixties.
Of course for the vast dull majority of such students they will be too embarrassed to ever admit their mistake in going to these so-called institutions of higher education.


--In Los Angeles the book section of the Los Angles Times was being merged into the larger Arts and Entertainment section. There were the usual protests. Most over-looked the one fringe benefit: books would no longer be segregated from the other arts. It will be the duty of the book section editor to assert the absolute necessity of books and that books of course are intimately connected to the other arts as indeed they in turn are connected to books. Books for too many people are seen as just stepping stones to the supposedly higher realm of movies. No good writer really wants to see his book translated to the silver screen.


In Long Beach, Acres of Books, a vast second hand bookshop, is closing to make way for an arts complex in an area of Long Beach called the East Village. Only a real estate genius could not see the humour of such a situation.


We voyaged through the land about the Salton Sea on our way to Palm Springs.
Both places are two sides of a coin that should provide the setting for a great novel.
I would love to have a house in Salton City or Salton Sea Beach.
I would think living midst what was once promised to be a great resort would be like living in Year Zero in Berlin in 1945.


But it might also be nice to have also another house in Palm Springs or Rancho Mirage (again the genius of the real estate wonder workers) as I could imagine myself as being Ingmar Bergman or Max Frisch traveling from their Palm Springs or Rancho Mirage (Sweden and Switzerland) through the devastated landscape of Germany in 1945. How these places are the necessary complements of each other.


I came back to New York City knowing that there was no purpose in my unpublished books.

We had lunch with the owner of Green Integer Books (Sun and Moon Press) Douglas Messerli. Conversation turned to Richard M. Elman. Messerli had published TAR BEACH the last novel of Elman who is now dead. Messerli has two unpublished novels by Elman in his files. He showed me one with the title LOVE HANDLES.

If you have to ask who is Richard M. Elman? If you don't know who Richard M.Elman is or if his name is obscure you know why those two manuscripts have not been published.


How to imagine, again, the possibility of ever publishing another book?


I wanted to


SATANTANGO the great seven hour film by Bela Tarr was waiting for me when I got home.


I had wanted to talk about the Library of America books devoted to Katherine Ann Porter and William Maxwell and John Ashbery.


I had wanted to talk about the new Collected Poems of Jack Spicer.


I had wanted to talk about MUTE OBJECTS OF EXPRESSION by Francis Ponge (Archipelago)


I had wanted to talk about SENS-PLASTIQUE by Malcolm de Chazal. (Green Integer)


I had wanted to talk about TRANQUILITY by Attila Bartis. (Archipelago)


I had wanted to talk about THE UNIMAGINABLE MATHEMATICS OF BORGES' LIBRARY OF BABEL by William Goldbloom Bloch (Oxford University Press)


I had wanted to talk about ESTHER'S INHERITANCE by Sandor Marai (Knopf)


But I did finish reading Robert Pinget's SOMONEONE (Red Dust, 1984): "That's my own personal and private blessing, to forget and to lose my papers. If I had a good memory I wouldn't lose anything and then I wouldn't know what to do, I'd be bored rigid. Always having to ask yourself what have I forgotten, this keeps you going. And when you find something you'd forgotten to look for, what joy. This is very frequent."

In an afterword Pinget mentions, "As for the subjects treated in my novels, they are taken from the most banal, apparently derisory, everyday events in which there is nothing than can make a novel,
but which I have chosen for my material.


I had wanted also to talk about ON THE BRINK by Gerhard Roth (Atlas Press) and HOMAGE TO CZERNY: STUDIES IN VIRTUOSO TECHNIQUE by Gert Jonke (Dalkey Archive)


Ed Burns came back from Paris with a report on the actual death of Albert Cossary. The titles of two of his little books can sum up all these words: MEN GOD FORGOT and THE HOUSE OF CERTAIN DEATH