Thursday, March 27, 2008

GORKY, TOM WHALEN, EDWARD DAHLBERG along with old complaints


In New York City if you have a car you have to move it twice a week for street cleaning. On the street where I live that means sitting in the car from 9-10:30AM two mornings. This morning I was reading in a new book from Yale University Press: GORKY'S TOLSTOY & OTHER REMINISCENCES edited by Donald Fanger. GORKY'S TOLSTOY is a new annotated edition of a book that I have carried with me and read for more than 35 years. I have had different editions of it: one a Viking Compass edition and another from an English language publisher in Russia that dropped the chapter on Andreyev.

My knowing and having read this book was one of the frail foundations for being able to have conversations with Edward Dahlberg as it was one of the few modern books that Dahlberg approved of. It was also a book that was close to the heart of Hannah Green... and Nina Berberova.

Of course in Bulgaria when I mentioned the name of Gorky it was because of this book and then the first volumes of his autobiography but for Lilia, Gorky was synonymous with the dread and required novel MOTHER, a model of what Socialist writing was supposed to be and which she was required to admire in secondary school...

Now as I was again reading Gorky's book I was trying to remember what had caught me so and what continues to hold me. I think it has something to do with how Gorky in this book--- which details in a frank and fragmented way his friendships with Tolstoy, Chekhov, Sulerzhitsky, Andreyev and Blok--- the creation of that special country where writing is the center of the universe, where books are living presences and the whole world revolves around them and their creation... but in no way was this some sort of world removed from the actuality of living human beings in all their messy particularity, perversity and just being different. It was a world where friendship did not demand complete agreement in all matters but where there was a complex mutual understanding of the resilient frailty of the individual.

In a more perfect world I would suggest that all of the so-called creative writing courses require this book as a central text... of course you, patient reader, understand how radical this suggestion is because you know that these courses are now training courses in the stalking of success and have very little to do with literature, with the real living presence of a book...


Yesterday as I was waiting to send my son back to The Groton School where he in the Fifth Form and the dread college application process has slowly begun I was talking with him about vocation as opposed to jobs--- education as opposed to training--- but mostly I was talking about vocation and about how rare it is and why colleges and the world at large talks very little about it. I was talking, maybe too much, about how hard it is to know if you have a vocation and how hard it is to live it out if it does happen.

Of course I reminded him of Baudelaire's thought of there are only three beings worthy of respect, the priest, the warrior and the poet. To know, to kill and to create... and I mentioned that when I wrote about Ernst Junger I suggested that he was the only complete person in the 20th Century but you had to substitute his scientific work for the fact that he had not been a priest...

My son knows the quality of Junger about which I spoke through STORM OF STEEL. You always have to give a writer's credentials: his actual books, not his opinions.

I suggested to my son to watch how the future will be presented to you by these dread colleges and universities which are mostly training camps for a job that you would not do if they did not pay you money... and to ask questions to see if these colleges are communities of scholars as Paul Goodman suggests in the very title of his book on the university COMMUNITY OF SCHOLARS or are they just another step in postponing as in when you are in kindergarten they tell you it really begins in school and then they tell you it begins in high school and then in college and then in graduate school and then in post-graduate school and then it begins after you retire and and and...


In the mail from Obscure Publications number 57 in an edition of 70: "What an Edifice of Artifice!" Russell H. Greenan's It Happened in Boston?by TOM WHALEN. In 61 pages Whalen describes a novel by Russell H. Greenan that while recently reprinted has not become a central text of world literature. However I am not really concerned with that at this moment but with the fact that Tom Whalen does not have a book of his own stories in print from one of the major publishing houses in spite of publishing hundreds and hundreds of stories and poems in nearly every magazine in the United States

I remember back in 1970/71Richard M. Elman pronouncing that there are no undiscovered geniuses in the United States. It was always unclear to me whether he was mimicking what publishers believed about themselves or if Richard believed this himself. I am sure publishers do believe this and the evidence is all about us and this why there are so few interesting books being published. Publishers mostly no longer know how to read or have the time to read... it is after all a business and it is not based upon reading but upon the creation of copyrights of intellectual properties that can be... enough of this...

For 12 academic years which translates into 24 semesters and with two classes of Freshman composition I have read Tom Whalen's story End of Term now 48 times and each time I have read that story new nuance have shown themselves and each time the story stands revealed as one of the very very few stories that actually describes the powerlessness of a teacher in trying to explain why a student has not done as well as she might have and in turn the story becomes a meditation on what to do with the most awful information that is always coming our way...

In the current THE LITERARY REVIEW Vol 51/2 there is a new story by Whalen, The Effect which is a meditation on a sentence the narrator's wife says as she leaves him for work one morning, "Good luck with your work today." If only Blanchot was alive today to do justice to this story which is able within seven pages to suggest the vulnerable foundation upon which all story resides and in turn all of human life...


The obscurity of Whalen will be held against him. I can not imagine-- though by writing this I of course hope I am wrong-- any editor or other so-called powerful person reading these words and seeking out the story or going to

But this afternoon I can go again at random to read Gorky on Tolstoy, "And I see how much life the man embraced, how inhumanly intelligent he was, and how awful." Or an exchange with Suler, to whom he says, "You know how to love all right. But you don't know how to choose and you'll fritter away your energy on trifles." "Isn't everybody like that?" "Everybody?" L.N. repeated. "No, not everybody."


As I have mentioned previously I have been awaiting word myself from a publisher, now revealed, Europa Editions. Day 11 and no word.

a PS. On Friday an email. Manuscript received. Now day 13.

Sunday, March 23, 2008



A rare moment in publishing. The Library of America has published a very very good book: SELECTED POEMS by ANNE STEVENSON, the second of its Neglected Masters Award volumes. The previous one by Samuel Menashe was long overdue as they say. Menashe was much praised by Denis Donoghue, Derek Mahon, Donald Davie... it sometimes seemed that Menashe existed in England and Ireland but not in the United States. His poems are all very short and resisted paraphrase.

American critics and poets did not know what to make of Menashe so ignored him. Of course he did not teach creative writing which for a poet is always destructive. One could probably make a rule and say,if a poet has been teaching creative writing that is a reason not to read him or her. One thinks of fakes like Sharon Olds, Mark Strand, Galway Kinnell, Philip many years teaching, semester after semester, and nothing much to show for it except a slue of books that are copies of copies of copies of copies of previous books: each of these academic poets turned out faithful disciples who could be counted on to praise their master by writing poems in imitation of their master's imitations...


The Library of America has published the SELECTED POEMS of Anne Stevenson. An American long resident of England... biographer of Sylvia Plath along with two studies of Elizabeth Bishop... many books of poetry: and now this invitation to discover...

Might as well quote two short poems:

On Going Deaf

I've lost a sense. Why should I care?
Searching myself, I find a spare.
I keep that sixth sense in repair
And set it deftly, like a spare.


It's not when you walk through my sleep
That I'm haunted most.
I am most alive where you were.
And my own ghost.

That's a taste of a selected. The editor also includes the whole of CORRESPONDENCES A Family History in Letters. Ranging back to the early 19th century and on into the second half of the 20th...reads like something that should have been done many times before... but a rare precise rapt attention to detail and the suggestiveness of the constant loss which is life. One long section rooted in Cincinnati reminded me of Hannah Green's great visionary book THE DEAD OF THE HOUSE and other parts of Glenway Wescott's THE GRANDMOTHERS... that casual way Americans just move on and on, all the time losing.

Let us hope that this Library of America book will have rescued Anne Stevenson, at least, for a little while. I have a place for her next to LIFE SUPPORTS by William Bronk and ARK by Ronald Johnson.

Anne Stevenson's poetry will shadow your life, a little.


DAWN, DUSK or NIGHT A year with Nicolas Sarkozy. By Yasmina Reza.

I am a Francophile without a sentence of French in my head.

Everything that I know about contemporary France comes from having gone to Verdun, Lourdes and Paris and having read all the available translations of books by Celine, Gracq, Genet, Green, Perec. Drieu La Rochelle, Pascal.

I am probably over-qualified to comment on Yasmina Reza's impressionistic fragmented writing based on the year she traveled with Nicolas Sarkozy, then Minister of the Interior, while he campaigned for the presidency of France.

Such a book is totally unimaginable in the United States where we expect our political commentators to produce tomes that are more like tombstones for whomever they are writing about and stuffed with endless re-creations of events and personalities serving as a thousand tiny stakes into their subject's heart.

While I would have given--- as they say--- anything to have been invited to write a book like Reza's about either Richard Nixon or George W. Bush--- one quickly realizes the sheer impossibility of such a book... and I have selected these two men because they are the only really interesting presidents of recent years... that have the necessary complexity as to suggest a possibility for literature.

Reza mentions early on that she is interested in politics, "as a way of being." You now know this is a special sort of book... and her freedom from the receive wisdom comes quickly as she does not give the expected slurring with recounting a visit Sarkozy makes to George W... and while Reza's applying the word splendid as an adjective to Obama after a visit to his office is cause for possible alarm one is pleasantly surprised to note the following: "What makes you(Sarkozy)different from George Bush? How am I different from Bush? He was elected president of the United States twice. None of the journalists present in the room at the Sofitel seems to appreciate the intelligence of this response, and I will not see if quoted anywhere in the French press.

Reza notes "He (Sarkozy) seeems more elegant these days...He is elegant, yes, he's gone back to Dior. Before he wore Lanvin, Lanvin is normally the thing, but it has to be tailored, the sleeves cut, all kinds of alterations, Dior suits him better."

Even I note this detail and the observing eye...

I hope I will be given the chance to write more about Reza. Her book is to be published on May 3rd. Alfred A. Knopf.

---old news---

Now six days have gone by since that publisher has had my book in front of him...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

WAITING TO HEAR with consoling readings from ROBERT PINGET and LOUIS MARIN


"But who stuffed our heads full of these images? The people we saw in offices? Our reading matter? It must be our reading matter. If I had my life to live over again, as they say, I'd use all that reading matter to wipe myself with. I rather think I said in one of my exposes that every time I caught people reading I had them shot. It was a fantasy, it wasn't serious, but it said exactly what it meant to say. In short, even though those previous compositions weren't any use to me, I notice that I refer to them."
---from SOMEONE by Robert Pinget. Translated by Barbara Wright.

---second preface---

I hoped to transcribe the strange murmuring inside my head, inside your head, as you or I look at paintings, the "noise" that conveys a piece of a poem, a fragment of a story, a chunk from an article, an incomplete reference, the echo of a conversation, or a sudden memory. I wanted to capture the noise that exists only to soften the pain that is an integral part of the pleasure (or thrill /jouissance/) of mutely seeing forms and colors gathered on a canvas."
---from TO DESTROY PAINTING by Louis Marin. Translated by Mette Hjort. (Marin (1931-92) was director of studies at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris.


By now a publisher has had a manuscript of mine for two days. I have published two books, THE CORPSE DREAM OF N. PETKOV and GOING TO PATCHOGUE. Both books were reviewed across the country and I must be one of the few writers who has no complaints about the New York Times Book Review. There were also long articles in both Newsday and in the actual New York Times about GOING TO PATCHOGUE. Dalkey Archive only did the books in hardcover and they remain in print with them. Northwestern University Press did THE CORPSE DREAM OF N. PETKOV in paperback and that is available from them.

Of course there have been other books but as Kerouac said once about his own books, they are probably to be published in heaven: ST. PATRICK'S DAY, Dublin 1974, FORGET THE FUTURE, TRAVELS WITH A DAUGHTER, SATURDAY, SUNDAY and MONDAY, EMPTY AMERICAN LETTERS...and there is one I dare not even mention to myself anymore, but of course I know the title, LOSS OF DIGNITY: if you know the book LAST DIARIES by Leo Tolstoy you will have some idea as to the content and form of this book.

I have given the title THE BEGINNING AND AN END or JUST LIKE THAT or THE END OF A BEGINNING... to the book that is now off being read... I found myself describing the book in the cover letter and I mentioned the name Charles Manson... but I had the heart beaten moment when I discovered in the blurb for a recent success from this publisher also a mention of Charles Manson. This publisher does many European authors and a few American writers. This manuscript is not isolated in the United states...


Barbara Probst Solomon published the opening and the concluding pages to JUST LIKE THAT in her journal THE READING ROOM. No pages from the second part of the manuscript have been published. In this book I have been writing about what I take is now the beginning and the end of the so-called 60s... or at least the voices are from that moment or moments.


I decided to mention all of this because I wanted to write this before I heard whether this manuscript will make the transition into being a bound book.

At the moment it is beyond any suggestion of success or failure. If the manuscript is rejected anything I might say about the book takes on the burden of sour grapes.

I wanted to affirm a deeply held belief of mine: if a manuscript that has been requested is not immediately read by the person asking to see it... and I mean immediately--- a week to 10 days--- the manuscript's chance has vanished. The manuscript goes on the pile of to do and only awaits the order to be returned.

It has been my experience with Dalkey Archive and Northwestern University Press that I did hear within the week of the arrival of the manuscript at the publisher's desk. At Northwestern there was the ritual of an outside reader but the editor selected the reader who would approve the book.


I have written a book that I have not read before. There are enough books, really, in the world but as I found with THE CORPSE DREAM OF N. PETKOV and GOING TO PATCHOGUE a little room was found for them and they were read and I do believe this new little book will find a tiny corner unless the publisher retreats into the usual... and I will invite you my readers to suggest which excuse will be made by this person if it is to be returned.


Of course as Anna said, you would not know what to do if... and I tried to suggest to her that...

So we shall see.

Sunday, March 16, 2008



The Saturday Irish Times arrives in New York on Sunday morning. At one time The Irish Times was one of the greatest newspapers in the world and home to Flann O'Brien. Now it is the most appalling and complete celebration of every loony idea of political correctness imaginable. In the world of The Irish Times there are only victims and those confessing their previous status as exploiters awaiting their moment of being reborn as victims. The jellyfish has become a victim of the tides and its own tentacles...

In the most recent issue "Nobel Laureate" Seamus Heaney---long ago having forsaken poetry in favour of... can anyone suggest what he does now?--- though emblematic as a leading world class victim since he won one of the very big lotteries is writing to celebrate the universal declaration of human rights and will in future weeks be joined by Roddy Doyle, Maeve Binchy, Neil Jordan, Joseph O'Connor and Anne Enright who in the immortal words of The Irish Times have, "donated their time and creativity to a series created by the Amnesty International Irish Section..."

If you have long suspected that these writers were much less than they appeared to be this is a final seal of approval that you never ever have to give a thought to anything they might write in the future or for that matter in the past.

The only antidote for the experience of reading Seamus Heaney was going to Russ and Daughters Appetizing whose slogan is Lox et Veritas and which is more or less across the street from where I am typing this and getting for Anna a Heeb sandwich on an everything bagel. She had decided that she would forgo the Super Heeb in anticipation of having it next Sunday, Easter Sunday as it will turn out to be, and I know that the walking over then would be as efficient a remedy as it was this Sunday...


I had a lingering mental reservation about the above because I saw that Gabriel Josipovici was writing about Julian Barnes and as we all know Josipovici is one of the most loyal of readers of Robert Pinget's work but even Josipovici has given into The Irish Times and can write a sentence, "The English have always been repressed and ironical but there was never that sense of prep school boys showing off..."

Of course--- ho ho ho--- we all know English are repressed: Shakespeare, Marlowe, Blake, James Thomson BV, B.S. Johnson...and while Josipovici is annoyed with Barnes and announced as a result that the English have always been repressed, he will list the death of Cordelia as one of the greatest literary encounters with death forgetting of course that the scene was written by that repressed Englishman...

---after word---

In one of my other lives, hang on, I've only ever had one, I mean my other exposes, I said I was king of my own filth. Which came to the same thing, reading between the lines. In short, I observe that I'm not out of it. Can one be responsible for an observation? Of course, alas. At least in the current acceptance. I say that one is not responsible for anything. But whatever you do, don't ask me to prove it. I don't want to spend my life with my back to the wall. Because people who are, with their backs to the wall, they're there to be shot. Get away, with your foul rifles. Get way. There are meadows to gambol in, and I have just as much right to them as anyone else I want my place in the sun. For the moment it's in this garden. Very funny."
---SOMEONE by Robert Pinget. Trans. Barbara Wright.

Monday, March 10, 2008



Before I get to the 17th--- St Patrick's Day--- I have a round about way of getting there via the very poorly annotated journal of Edmund Wilson THE SIXTIES.(April 1960) (Page 25) "Only three inmates at Yaddo, the off season: Dawn Powell, Pati Hill and another girl who was writing a novel but hadn't published anything yet...I asked them all about dreams of flying... Pati Hill is supported by something that she says is like waterwings. She feels that she is able to do it, or ought to be able to do it without support, but never has quite enough self-confidence... the Green girl from Cincinnati plunges down a flight of stairs and at the bottom there appears a gigantic man's face."


I can assume everyone knows who Dawn Powell is. The only mostly forgotten American author who has been successfully reborn, and that rebirth is due to the fact that she is a very good writer and Gore Vidal wrote one of the most convincing and
inviting essays...
The friendship between Powell and Edmund Wilson can be described by an entry in Powell's DIARY for February 15, 1961. "Dinner with Bunny (Wilson) at Princeton Club...determined to be less than our sleepy age, afterward knew we wanted a drink but were hardly able to sit up and stay awake. Our feet with one accord strolled into Liquor Store where we each selected pints of rye, strolled out into cab and tore to our separate beds where we could drop our clothes, put nipple on bottle and slurp the whole thing down at ease.(page 421)


The "Green girl" is found in Dawn Powell's DIARY, "Arrived Yaddo... Very bright girls. Hannah Green (Cincinnati, Wellesley, taught at Stanford)...Hannah--- like Eugene Comstock--- warm, large, lazy, doggy-body, warm, juicy fruity voice, rich juicy blue eyes, clouding and brimming and laughing--- edible blue eyes, Luscious. Eyes give impression of beauty--- which may or may not be there. (page 408)


In 1972, Hannah Green will finally publish THE DEAD OF THE HOUSE, one of the very very few books by an American that can be thought to be genuinely visionary and which can sit easily on the same shelf for instance with the novels of Julien Gracq. It exists in American literature on the same shelf with THE GRANDMOTHERS, BEYOND THE BEDROOM WALL, GOING TO PATCHOGUE, BECAUSE I WAS FLESH, PATERSON...
LITTLE SAINT will appear after her death. "Mr. Nabokov" her essay on having Vladimir Nabokov as her professor at Wellesley is of the most delicate and clear...
Hannah was married to John Wesley about whom she wrote and who near 80 is still painting.
Not a day goes by that I don't miss Hannah who died... I can't bring myself to put the date down.
This year Nelida Pinon might be coming to America and so finally to again talk with someone who knew Hannah...
A long time ago Hannah knew two Irish poets: Thomas Kinsella and Desmond O'Grady...


Let Dawn Powell describe Pati Hill: Pati Hill arrives... familiar American girls in Paris or Rome---skiers, swimmers, ping-pongers, free-wheeling, friendly. If poor, their manners, accomplishments and dress are casually aristocratic and rich. Looking for adventure, love, the new pioneers--- not beatnik types but more adaptable, socially savvy. Pati--- high style Paris model maigre, chic, boarding school voice, wide ugly face trained to photographs, the delicate lady manner that draws service from everyone. One automatically brings her the things she has failed to notice--- so station wagon drives all around on her errands (as it would for K(atherine). A(nn). Porter (Dorthy) Parker..."

Let Powell continue Hill's description from the SELECTED LETTERS OF DAWN POWELL, "Pati Hill and I gathered buckets of snow and boiled it on the electric grill to wash our hair (avoiding the dry hard water). The snow was so hard we could have fried it like scrapple."

Let Powell in the Selected Letters describe both Hill and Green, "The ex-model Pati Hill keeps writing short plays for Spoleto and skis and defends all moot characters mentioned as "terribly sweet." This for Mary McCarthy too-- as Swados lifted an eye (me too) she was even more defensive. Then Hannah Green said, I hear she (McCarthy) is terribly beautiful and glamorous." Whereupon Pati squealed, "Beautiful! Glamorous! Good Heaves, she's the worst dressed most dreadfully dowdy creature I ever saw! I wish you could see her dressed up in what the poor dear thinks is smart. Goodness knows she probably spends hours fixing herself up and the transparent tops supposed to be seductive and showing her broken shoulder straps and Oh my word no---"...

"Pati Hill discovered a strange dirty old-style book in Mrs Katrina Trask's weird library--- a naughty-nun-and-hot-lover 1880 tale, Venetian Lover, translated by Whittaker Chambers! Full of naked bosoms and flagellations on white nun virgin flesh by older nuns and dark lovers---whee!"


Last week Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill wrote and asked if I ever saw a copy of Pati Hill's IMPOSSIBLE DREAMS to send it to her.
Now you see how the plot thickens...


In Flann O'Brien's felicitous phrase, the standing army of Irish poets is ever expanding. The numbers undreamed of in his time have been increasing of late at an accelerating rate as every town of any size in Ireland now offers courses on how to write poetry... the universities can not restrain themselves... and these alarming numbers have been added to by the Americans of Irish origin and sometimes of no origin at all. They used to talk of the beef and butter mountains in the EEC... but mountains of poems all of them written by shitting pissing poets...


There are four essential books of contemporary Irish poetry:
1, THE FIFTY MINUTE MERMAID by Nuala Ni Dhomhnall
2, COLLECTED POEMS (2006) by Thomas Kinsella
3, THE DARK EDGE OF EUROPE by Desmond O'Grady

That's is it. These four living poets.


One essential book of prose: WARRENPOINT by Denis Donoghue.


A FAREWELL TO PRAGUE and THE EDGE OF THE CITY by Desmond Hogan. In the hopes that Hogan will stay away from the dread short story virus that still infects Irish writers... I have hopes but they might be defeated. These two books offer some hope for an interest in writing as writing... probably in the long run this will be defeated, sadly...


Pati Hill ended up owning a village in France and having a show at the Cooper Hewett Museum in New York. For a time she was a copy machine artist who was making a copy of Versailles...


We once spent the Fourth of July Weekend with Pati Hill in her house at Stonington, Ct. We met the widow of Gaston Bergery, the famous model Bettina Jones... the talk of Drieu La Rochelle, Paul Morand...


We once spent two weeks with Pati Hill--- in another of her houses--- this time in Sens where she talked of being a mistress and when Curzio Malaparte came to Paris and where we were given key and essential lessons on what it means to be beautiful and why it is maybe better to be no longer beautiful and the meaning of friendship in France... in addition to IMPOSSIBLE DREAMS Pati wrote: THE PIT AND THE CENTURY PLANT, THE NINE MILE CIRCLE, ONE THING I KNOW, PROSPER and THE SNOW RABBIT (with illustrations by Galway Kinnell--- if only his drawing had stopped him from writing poetry!)

Pati Hill was an intriguing woman and remains a very dangerous woman, a dangerous memory...

Friday, March 7, 2008


----High Road---


At the beginning of February a woman from Harper Collins asked me if I would like to join a group of writers in Lisbon, all expenses paid for a long weekend, to hear about a novel, meet the author and tour the sites associated with the book, Codex 632, which seeks to prove that as a result of a long and complicated conspiracy the fact that Columbus was a Portuguese Jew had been suppressed. The bound galleys were sent to me and I should have refused as the book is a clunky mechanical effort hoping to duplicate the success, if that book can be seen as a success, The DaVinci Code.

But I did accept and began to read again in Pessoa because I realized I could finally see the city of this most wonderful of writers.

I re-read but did not act on Pessoa's words:

Travel? One need only exist to travel. I go from day to day, as from station to station, in the train of my body or my destiny, leaning out over the streets and squares, over people's faces and gestures, always the same and always different, just like scenery.

If I imagine, I see. What more do I do when I travel? Only extreme poverty of the imagination justifies having to travel to feel.


I watched IN THE WHITE CITY a film by Alain Tanner which walks Bruno Ganz about the hilly streets and by the shore front of Lisbon as he makes little movies showing what he sees and which he sends to a woman back home as a way to remind himself that he is away.

Because it is not on VHS or DVD I was not able to re-watch Tanner's RETOUR D'AFRIQUE... and the great lesson of that film that sometimes it is better to just think about going away and then not go away... though when I re-read a review by Vincent Canby which was not at all kind about a movie I remember liking very much because it reflected so well my own boredom and vicissitude in 1973..."It is never strong enough to prevent the boredom and futility experienced by Vincent and Francoise from seeping into the experience of watching the film."

Well, I had admired the film for so well depicting my desperate situation of living in the Earle Hotel in a room over-looking Washington Square--- the same room according to Richard M. Elman, that Lenny Bruce had lived in, behind aluminum foil covered windows... but that is all another story...


I had asked the guys at Dalkey Archive if they knew how to get in touch with Antonio Lobo Antunes whose new novel they were publishing, KNOWLEDGE OF HELL. I had written about two of his previous novels and he is the best living Portuguese writer. Dalkey Archive did not know how to get in touch with him. He didn't answer his mail.

So now I was confronted by the reason for why should I go to Lisbon?

To sit in the cafe Pessoa sat in?... to see some pretty buildings?... to note the downward spiral that was sure to be on display from the 1920s when Albert Jay Nock was in Lisbon and noted that they had the best bookshops in Europe because Portugal had the lowest rate of literacy in Europe and as a result the country was also free for the most part of billboards...


I tried to watch another movie LISBON STORY by Wim Wenders but it was nearly unwatchable. Ugly people in ugly places celebrating EUROPE... would probably be an unfair summary of the film but it put me in a very dark mood to think again about having been in Lisbon.

---the low road---


The e-tickets were long in coming but the details of the first class hotel, the meals to be eaten, the places to be seen and the description of the fellow travelers--- free lancers: one wrote for the Boston Globe, a few wrote for Jewish newspapers and one did something for SHELF AWARENESS... and myself...

I had already gone to Lisbon... if there was a financial incentive I could describe the whole weekend...


The e-ticket finally arrived and it was for tourist class courtesy of the Portuguese airlines and the land arrangements were from the Lisbon or Portuguese tourist office... so the journey was not sponsored by Harper Collins... and my excuse for not going finally was I could not see myself for 14 hours to and fro crammed into a tourist seat on a plane for three nights in Lisbon..

A low reason, I guess, and I did have second thoughts but still that crammed in sitting and the basic cheapness of the airline--- how was one to enjoy the sights, the meals after such a flight and then the coming back to a week of recovering...


I could never figure out why me? though a friend said I guess they know you write about foreign books with a real appetite but I knew deep down it was my connection to the LA Times that really interested them... and that connection is real and so this was really business and so finally on that low road I was surprised that they had offered me a tourist class seat on the plane-- but to be fair the nice woman at Harper Collins did say there was the possibility of an up-grade but the dice had been rolled and that up-grade should have been from Business to First to have any real meaning.


All through these last few weeks I was remembering Michael Oldfield, the former editor of Melody Maker, saying when I told him of this trip or junket as it might reasonably be described, "Everybody hates people who go on junkets."

I do not know if Oldfield is really correct though hearing of someone's good luck is never totally free of envy and begrudgery...


Jewish people in New York to whom I mentioned this voyage told me that they had long heard that Columbus was a Jew. I looked at Morrison's great definitive biography of Columbus and he argued that there is no real solid evidence for this rumour which has been about for centuries. A friend of Anna's was here from Barcelona and she said everyone there knows that Columbus was Catalan. Elizabeth Frank suggested to me that of course Columbus has to be a Jew now that generally in liberal circles Columbus is seen as a greedy Indian killing monster.. and such a book I added, to Elizabeth's insight, by suggesting that it was another little scratch of the resurgent European antisemitism that is a very real characteristic of the European left...

and so, a little sad--- I didn't get to ask my question though I had anticipated a certain real pleasure in seeing what would have happened if I had asked that question...


Did I learn anything?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008



George K a psychoanalyst friend used to say that the most intractable problem his patients had to face was that they had ruined their lives by making decisions based upon bad information about the world and about themselves. I often think that is why people read such crap books: that is all they have been exposed to. It begins in school when students by and large now are forced to read what is the correct political and ethnic flavour of the month. Quickly, smart kids understand that the vast majority of novels they read will be focused upon some problem one of the protected ethnic minorities are said to be uniquely faced with... and you are never to question the teacher as to why we are reading this crap instead of say Don Quixote.

The reason for this thinking was that I became aware of SHELF AWARENESS an on-line mechanism for, keeping booksellers and libraries aware of the very best crap publishers have on offer and this in turn lead to ALL OVER THE MAP the first episode of something called TITLEPAGE TV hosted--- as the announcers always say-- by your host Daniel Menaker. This episode featured (don't you like the language--- Richard Price, Colin Harrison, Susan Choi and Charles Bock...) It seems that Mr Bock's claim to fame is that he was born in Las Vegas and has a book that sells a lot. Susan Choi is--- I guess, as they say on SOUTH PARK, the token--- she is going on about some Chinese guy who was in the newspapers and is now in her novel. Colin Harrison writes about violence from the newspapers or something or other: he's married to a woman who wrote a novel about fucking her father for I guess fun and obviously later profit, and that leaves Richard Price who has written a novel about something that happened in the newspapers.

I have known Price for more than 30 years. I remember when he got into a fierce polemic with Richard M. Elman and again with Johnny Green of Green County, Alabama.. and I was aware of him as a fierce Sullivanian shuffling midst the beds of the Upper West Side and out on Long Island though most recently I ran into him some years ago when our daughters were playing softball: his daughter was on the Friends School team and my daughter was on the team from the school of The Convent of the Sacred Heart.

I watched a little of the show as Price recited the plot summary of his novel and it was as if he was reading the New York Post: could this have been his ironic celebration of Mayor Fiorello Laguardia reading the comic strips to distraught New Yorkers during a news paper strike-- for that is what newspapers really are these days: comic strips without the distracting drawings.

And that is where I stopped.

I had made that mistake my friend Eugene warned me against: you have to curb curiosity, you have to always be on guard as to what is out there wanting to get into your head. All of the above--- no matter what I have written--- love the attention: as long as I spell the names right they chalk it up to the idea: all publicity is good publicity... and i have given them some of my time...

I do wonder why Price bothers to write "novels." He writes good mainstream movie scripts that get made into movies so why all this typing up of novels... that are scripts in disguise?
Maybe only in Hollywood are novels still seen as being something real?

That's enough.

All the books by the people I have just mentioned as being on that show are already forgotten. I am sure you can hear them being boxed up to be sent to the remainder bookstores on the New Jersey shore.


Here are three pieces from TRACES OF INK by Robert Pinget that survived his death and will long survive all our deaths:

To know the hour of our death would be to deprive ourselves of our power of imagination.

To forget your own nothingness concentrate on that of someone else.

The only future is in the idea we have of the past.

TRACES OF INK was MONSIEUR SONGE'S last notebook. Pinget's books are available from Red Dust and Dalkey Archive.

Sunday, March 2, 2008



Museums are garbage dumps. They are a little better organized than the rubbish pits beloved of archaeologists...

Of course the claim is made that they contain the best that remains of bygone eras... an assertion rather than the total truth.

A modern art museum is of course an absurdity and always to be avoided.

If anything, a museum is supposed to contain the distant past otherwise I find it hard to distinguish between The Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney, The Guggenheim and a department store like Macy's or K-Mart.

Of course, how dare you?

Am I the only one to remember that the Guggenheim gave itself over to displaying the work of that "great" modern artist Georgio Armani?


The only modern art museum I think that can be defended as such was the overcoat that Jacques Rigaut wore when he came to New York in the 1920s. In the pockets of that coat he had match-boxes and inside each of them were the art he declared to be the best modern art.

Rigaut was a poet and prose writer who wrote "Lord Patchogue." He, myself, Henry David Thoreau are the only major writers to have been in Patchogue and to have written about it.

Rigaut is the subject for Louis Malle's film THE FIRE WITHIN based on the novel by one the third, fourth--- but who is counting?--- most important French writers of the 20th Century, Pierre Drieu la Rochelle.

Drieu came to a sad end in 1944 along with Robert Brasillach but both Paul Morand and Louis Ferdinand Celine escaped.

All that is another story.

One can only hope that someday their antagonist that dreary little toad Jean Paul Sartre--- clinging all the the time to his Aryan certification---, will have truly disappeared. Vladimir Nabokov, as you might remember, joins me in loathing every aspect of this stool.


I had gone up to the Met to see the Poussin show. I had gone with the hopes of seeing his "Landscape with Travellers Resting." I have always looked at that painting in the National Gallery in London in January. Having gone to Arizona, south of Tombstone, this January I did not see that picture. It was not in New York. I got a lesson in how to read an art show catalogue. Under the details of the picture's size in small type, Bilbao... the painting was there in another version of the show but is not in New York.

The Met tries to be all things to all people but I do go there because one can easily avoid the modern rubbish, all that stuff from after the French Revolution.

These temporary shows of course are probably a mistake. A museum is supposed to have some aspect of permanence to it. These shows undermine that... this constant shipping around of the merchandise--- and you tell me these museums are not like department stores?


Eugene Lambe who is now mostly no longer remembered beyond appearing in my book ST PATRICK'S DAY, DUBLIN 1974 and as a dedicatee of a poem by Derek Mahon used to always tell people from his attic apartment in Longacre in London that when going to an art museum to always know ahead of time what you are going to look at.

There is no way that something once seen can then be erased from the mind. You have to be careful what you look at.

Eugene well understood that it probably did no harm to people who toured through the museums, as if they were cattle being prodded on by minders and their own need to see everything because they remembered nothing of what they saw. These tours prepared people to go to department stores where everything was for sale unlike museums that still placed some things above sale, temporarily.

One of Eugene's favorite books was a book that described all the so-called works of art that were destroyed during World War One and Two. On a dull day it was the only book that could lift Eugene's spirits. The language of regret in which the book was written could make a sane man laugh out loud, Eugene maintained.

I will write more about Eugene Lambe but for now I can well imagine from beyond there in the grave, he would have been merciless with me, if I had recounted my visit to the Met last Friday. Of course you prepared yourself correctly: to see that one painting and of course it would not be there and I am sure you have found another painting that you did see and please, I don't want to hear about it unless it is the one with that wonderful inscription that Dr. Johnson got wrong, Et in Arcadia Ego.