Sunday, April 20, 2008


Vantzeti Vassilev reminded us that the Bulgarian communist regime in addition to helping writers not to write by sending them to luxurious writer's retreats on the Black Sea or in the mountains outside Sofia, to conferences concerned with progressive whatevers, to readings in factories, mines and other work places ALSO simply paid them not to write according to Georgi Markov who as you all know was murdered by the Bulgarian secret police in London.

This strikes me as the first thing I have ever heard that was actually a good thing the communists did and think how much good it would do in this country and in the World Republic of Letters if for instance George Soros instead of wasting vast sums of money attacking Republicans--- who enjoy his attention too much--- would set up a fund for paying writers not to write.

The fund would have to specify in return for a considerable sum that the writer would cease immediately all publication and would destroy all notebooks, all unpublished works, all journals and diaries and all letters... and as a result these writers could move on to some other inviting area of self-abuse in the years left to them.

Just imagine the resulting clear literary air and the future beckoning--- see, even I can get into the spirit of the good old communist days...

Just imagine never having to read a new book or even entertaining the possibility of a new book by: (there is no ranking in the list) Don DeLillo, John Updike, Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Mary Gordon, Philip Roth, Richard Ford, Charles Baxter, Galway Kinnell, Salman Rushdie, Bernard Henri-Levy, Gunter Grass, Sherman Alexie, Jonathan Safran Foer, Nicole Krauss, W.S. Merwin, Jhumpa Lahiri, Paul Auster, Sharon Olds, Junot Diaz, Jane Smiley, Francine Prose, Seamus Heaney, Katha Pollitt, Paul Muldoon, Umberto Eco, Amy Hempel, Dale Peck, Rick Moody, Barry Hannah, Edmund White, Billy Collins, Robert Stone, Anne Waldeman, John Edgar Wideman, Jonathan Franzen, Kevin Young, Mary Gaitskill, Russell Banks, Derek Walcott, Cynthia Ozick, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Lynne Tillman, Franz Wright, Carlos Fuentes, Louise Gluck, Philip Levine, Tim O'Brien, Martin Amis, Roddy Doyle, J. D. McClatchy, Mark Strand, John Irving, A.M. Homes, Alice Walker, William Boyd, Bell Hooks, E.L. Doctorow, Ian McEwan, Nikki Giovanni, Peter Carey, John Banville, Nadine Gordimer, William Gass, Lydia Davis, Margaret Atwood...

Once the program was in place Mr Soros might contemplate extending this program to include anyone who has ever published a book and somehow achieved a tenured position in the creative writing business in our universities. The colleges and universities do a pretty good job of discouraging publication but this would provide a modicum more of security against the possibility that any of these....(fill in any word you might like) will commit a book.

I confess I do not know what to do with genre writers. They like cockroaches and ants will always be with us.

Some people might be surprised to learn that a few of the writers listed above are still among the living... but the dread remains still.

If anyone doubts the benefits of my proposal just step back and think of the small pleasure knowing that there are no more novels from Saul Bellow and Susan Sontag! No more short stories from Raymond Carver! No more... I was going to mention a poet or two but

If anyone would like to nominate a writer for one of these Soros grants please let me know and I will silently add the name to the list.

AND BEFORE anyone says:::::: at a future moment I will write out a list of those writers whose books I am looking forward to.

Friday, April 18, 2008



The publicity people for the Library of America must have missed sending me a copy of A.J. Liebling that just came out. An editor at a newspaper sent me a copy as they were not going to review the book.

I always look forward to the Library of America books and in the Fall they have some interesting ones: the second William Maxwell, a Philip Roth and a book of poetry by Ashbery. I hope I will not be over-looked as the bound galleys should be coming shortly. In the summer they are doing a second book by Philip Dick which I will talk about one of these days.

But to the Liebling. If this editor had not sent the book to me I would not have discovered this meeting with Louis Ferdinand Celine:

For myself, I shall always remember him as a big-shouldered man, unexpectedly rugged and tweedy for a Frenchman, sitting in the dining room of the Vanderbilt Hotel in New York in 1934, eating strawberry ice cream after rare roast beef and at intervals pausing between enormous mouthfuls and great, grasping swallows to shout obscene regret for the Middle Ages, when the Church assured the common people that they would go to hell after death and be miserable in the meantime. "Then, at least, there were no false hopes," he said.

So, while I might have been skeptical of why the LOA was doing Liebling, I have been won over. The book is a compilation of all his writings during the Second World War and while it is a little marred with the fakery of having a celebrity editor whose name I will not mention it is a real book.

Many of us are waiting for the LOA to do the collected poetry of Melville, the books of Sherwood Anderson, the work of T.S. Eliot and of course: Where is Hemingway? Where is Glenway Wescott? Edward Dahlberg? William Carlos Williams?


In THE WRITER'S CHRONICLE, the trade journal of the creative writing business there was an announcement of the PEN WORLD VOICES FESTIVAL. "Over 200 members of the publishing industry attended a reception for the festival in March, boarding the ocean liner Queen Mary 2 to celebrate the upcoming event"--- hours waiting in a vast storage facility to board, searched as if getting on a plane, a thousand waiting to sail... lines like entering a detention camp--- "the on-board luncheon featured readings"---before the food people were ordered into a stadium seating theater to hear speeches about how the Cunard lines (remember they gave us the Titanic: the ship that God couldn't sink, as they say but as Julian Green once told me, "As they were saying that the iceberg was making its way..." were in favor of crossings, communication... And then there was a pathetic rock band with dragooned "writers" singing anti-George W Bush lyrics; I kid you not, and then the President of PEN was going on about the impending dawn of fascism in the US as witnessed by the denial of entry to a convicted criminal writer at Newark airport. The decor of the boat is down-market Las Vegas. "was hosted by Salman Rushdie, the festival chair"--- no, he did not show up as he had more important things to do: he was in London shilling for another of his unreadable novels.

Two writers by chance this week asked me if I had received the brochure for the PEN conference. Did you do what we did: throw them out? I did not ask why they had thrown them out but can only guess---

If anyone remembers Georgi Markov, the exiled Bulgarian writer who was murdered in London by agents of the Communist regime in Bulgaria they might remember his wonderful exposition of why the Communist regimes loved writers conferences, readings, writers visiting factories, writers retreats: the regime always dreaded the appearance of another book and the inevitable task of having to read it so why not find agreeable and progressive ways to hinder the writing of books and maybe even hinder the reading of books for probably the best way to discourage reading is to have writers read their own works in public along with colleagues, one of which always goes on for too long


I went to a sad lunch for Dirk Wittenborn at The Museum, a restaurant connected to that dreary junk shop MOMA. The dining room was large for the one round table so it seems that they had at one time expected more people. Never having met Wittenborn, never having read a word he has written or seen the film he wrote THE FIERCE PEOPLE--- like most people, as it seems to have gone direct to DVD, or seen another documentary he produced about the hard lives of rich kids and will I be going to see a new film he wrote that is due in the summer The Lucky Ones, something about Iraq War and I am sure it is not celebrating the American effort there---

These lunches happen all the time. They are designed to get word of mouth going... the occasion for this is the publication in August of PHARMAKON.. murder, drugs, rich people, fathers, children, privilege, cover-ups, pain, anger, sex...

Why write a novel instead of a screen play, I asked Dirk. "In a novel you can show thinking," Dirk replied

At the actual lunch of course the question who will write the screenplay and I was wondering, again, why bother with the novel as only then did people at the table seem animated: the movies are the reel world. Why do writers set themselves up like this? Well, money of course and the rich are as grubby as the next person and probably even more so...

Dirk was talking about his three therapists and I could hear them as they alternatively moved through his little talk: the one who dealt with his father/son issues, the next one who dealt with his intimacy/women issues and the last with the issues of drugs...

The pork loin was dried out and without flavour.

PHARMAKON has an opening line that the author is proud of: I was born because a man came to kill my father.

31--- I was reading THE WAGES OF EXPECTATION the biography of Edward Dahlberg by Charles DeFanti... DeFanti quotes as his concluding lines the epitaph that William O'Rourke had written for Dahlberg, For whatever Dear Readers there are now, or are to come Edward Dahlberg wrote 18 books and one masterpiece that will endure; at the end of his long life he had less than six people he would have called friend."

In a Village Voice review of this biography also written by O'Rourke:

"Dahlberg's bile was in direct proportion to the neglect he felt, which of course was enormous. Even if you produce a master work--- which Because I was Flesh surely is--- you can be ignored because literature plays little role int he life of the commonwealth."


"Dahlberg led his life seemingly enunciating one state above all, that of the writer as pariah, the glorious nay-sayer unsullied by commerce, fashion and vain success."

Dahlberg was payed the wages of his own expectations: rejection, isolation, and the curse of superfluity."

O'Rourke's review appeared in the Village Voice on April 16, 1979.

Can anyone imagine such writing in the newspaper that goes by that name today in the year 2008?

32 PS---

We were in Enzo's (Second Avenue between 2nd and 3rd Streets) for pizza this afternoon.

The guy from the funeral parlor across the street was in for a slice.

After he left I mentioned to Mike that I usually see him standing in front of the parlor waiting for a delivery.

If you shake hands with him watch his eyes. They start from your eyes and go down. He's measuring you. If you've shaken hands with him scratch your balls three times that'll keep him away for now.

As I was leaving Mike was looking in the Village Voice at a profile of Philip Glass. Enzo's is mentioned. Glass is a nice guy, Mike says. He comes here.

I tell Mike I see Glass around, sometimes up at the Domincans' bodega.

Friday, April 11, 2008



Well, I did hear from Europa Editions about my manuscript:

"I read your fiction with interest. You write with style and verve but, alas, I don't believe I could publish either JUST LIKE THAT or THE END OF A BEGINNING with success. I do hope that you are able to place the novels at another house.


Well, I did probably expect such a letter.
So then why did you send them out?
Because the writing is not finished until the book is read... even if one understands as a Paul Valery might write that no book is ever finished it is...

And as Turgenev: for those five unknown readers.


Well, I might posit the belief that publishers are the last believers in fortune tellers, though the proliferations of storefront psychics, personal advisors and other manipulators of the future, would indicate they are just a branch of a much larger industry represented by your local woman with the strange Egyptian props, sitting in a tiny storefront in the back of which is an over-weight gentleman watching a foreign language video on a flat screen TV.


Well, one does know the publisher/editor sits at her/his desk--- a desk strewn with magazines--- with a physical or mental form always near at hand on which they calculate the costs and future of whatever book they might be considering. They have to be able to come up with numbers for advanced copies to all the usual outlets and then calculate first month, first quarter, first half, first year and then subsequent sales figures... of course all these numbers are grabbed from the thickened air through which they move...


Well, we all remember Krapp in KRAPP'S LAST TAPE recording himself: Seventeen copies sold, of which eleven at trade price to free circulating libraries beyond the seas. Getting known. (Pause) One pound six and something, eight I have little doubt. (Pause) Crawled out once or twice, before the summer was cold. Sat shivering in the park, drowned in dreams and burning to be gone.


Well, I simply know on the day that Kent Carroll wrote his note to me, he was not in the mood to make up the necessary figures for these manuscripts just as Robert Weil, Richard Dick Seaver and John O'Brien before him...


Well, I had tried to describe the beginnings and the ends of that thing called The 60s. I had divided that one book into two books though they are or could be combined into one book. The first line of JUST LIKE THAT A Moment in 1965: Are you a Jew.
The second line: I was asked this question 35 years ago in Leipzig.

And from the last line of that book: ...all shaped up into the journey and the what had happened on my Spring holiday that year in Leipzig in the German Democratic Republic when I went over from Dublin to get away from it all, as I ad thought, but stocking the future when, dear one, you ask, and I begin...

THE END OF A BEGINNING is more complicated bound as it is by the fragments of a play about the death of a father and beginning after a moment from the play where a daughter and son are talking about the funeral preparations the reader is then dropped into the Upper West Side of Manhattan, into a moment after when the reader will move midst the sexual appetites of the Sullivanians, conversing with a strange world re-enacting the life and times of Charles Manson while Anthony Burgess sits in The Gold Rail on Broadway between 110th and 111th Streets complaining of the rudeness of Princeton while next door Johnny Greene of Greene County Alabama is remembering early in the morning the civil rights movement as it moved through bedrooms and in fields of Southern flesh which he is trying to re-create as Billy, fascinated by Ali McGraw's brother is washing dishes in Times Square after reading Rimbaud but tired of women who want him to tie them up...



Tuesday, April 8, 2008

POSTHUMOUS pleasure?


Again, I am moving into the posthumous life Edward Dahlberg talked about in 1970 in his windowless apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. There would be the necessary ironic moment of public recognition of Dahlberg with the publication of his confessions in that year but by the time of his death (1977) even the New York Times obituary managed to avoid mentioning his BECAUSE I WAS FLESH.


Not for no reason have I been thinking of Dahlberg as it is now three weeks that a publisher has had a manuscript. True to most publishers I am sure the manuscript is in a pile. The occasion for requesting it a little dim so now it is just one of those things. Too much experience of being in publishers' offices or in book review section offices and noticing the piles and piles and how whim directs the hand to whatever is right in front of a person.


Of course it is hard to face the truth that all of life is whim, accident... thus the elaborate schemes to describe, to falsify...


To forget the whim, the accident is the sitting down to write. At lunch yesterday with the Asst Consul General of Norway the talk turned to blogs and while she admitted that she was too old-fashioned to really be able to read these blogs she still wondered why one would write them?


He---to distance myself from the I who does this--- turned to the blog as a physical reminder of his own powerlessness but of course packaged within the most modern of technologies. I would rather be writing directly here what I will turn to when I finish typing this, but I too am old-fashioned enough to be at work on what is to be a book that is now in AJO, ARIZONA on the edge of the hole that was once the largest open pit copper mine, listening to a man who was just back from Belize, having cashed in his property there in order to return to... both of us it turned out were staying in the Marine Motel---Still for sale when looked recently again at the website--- both of us participating in the absence of any nearby body of water or boats tied to a dock out back of the motel...


Easily distracting me from the other project of reading Yasmina Reza's DAWN, DUSK or NIGHT so that I can chat with her at the beginning of May and to be able to contrast her book with William F. Buckley's little book about Barry Goldwater entitled FLYING HIGH.


Running at the same time into getting ready to read WELCOME TO SHIRLEY so as to find 800 words which will begin: You should know that a piece of white trash is writing this review.


Eagerly I embrace these tasks as they dilute the cloying sentimentality of my situation for did not E.M. Cioran once write that each book is a postponed suicide?


Never forgetting that Edward Dahlberg was very fond of reminding his listener that it takes a long time to understand nothing.


Didn't I know from the very beginning it would be like this?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

WEEPING AND VOMITING: ethnicity, race and Borges



"Are we going around in circles? We're going around, perhaps, but not in circles."

"Doesn't that make you want to vomit, too? To weep while you're vomiting."

from SOMEONE by Robert Pinget.
Translated by Barbara Wright


Celine mentions that we are all students of religion now. His now was the 1930s, 1940s.

Of course we are still students of religion and...


In 1983 I began to publish and edit: ADRIFT WRITINGS: IRISH, IRISH AMERICAN AND... I published three issues and then stopped. ADRIFT is now in the important libraries gathering dust.

I stopped publishing ADRIFT because I could no longer support the idea of an ethnicity based journal of writing.

After three issues of ADRIFT I had published all the important, significant and worthy writers who identified themselves as Irish or Irish American. In a folder I had poems from Thomas Kinsella which had arrived too late. I had not asked Denis Donoghue for a piece of writing for no reason but he should be included along with Desmond O'Grady and John Jordan... as examples of regret.

Because of the ethnic label attached to ADRIFT I received hundreds and hundreds of submissions all demanding publication because they took up so-called Irish themes, were set in Ireland or were describing what it means to be Irish American. By and large that is all these pieces of writing had going for them. I had hoped that the writing I had published existed independent of the ethnic label. These new submissions demanded publication because of their ethnicity... and I was invited to over-look their flaws as literature. I chose not to and the journal ceased.

The letters and submissons from Francis Stuart, Samuel Beckett, Brian Coffey, James Liddy and others await their transportation to some library.

This was a visceral understanding of the limitations of ethnicity.


Another aspect of ethnicity and literature. Many years ago I was in to see the publisher of Alfred A. Knopf. We were talking about Thomas Bernhard. Knopf had published three novels of his in translation and the combined sales of those three books was in the very very low four figures. Knopf persisted in publishing Bernhard to their credit. But this is not about the problem of translation of foreign writers. This publisher explained to me how Knopf thought about foreign writers. We imagine, you could say, that we preside over a sort of motel and each country has a room in it. For many years Thomas Mann occupied the German room. Camus had the French room along with Gide and Sartre. Hamsun had the Norwegian room. Sigrid Unsted had the Swedish room.

So of course I understood that Bernhard would have the Austrian room and that Julian Rios was being tried out for the Spanish room when Knopf published his novels... and Nelida Pinon was tried out for the Brazilian room.

But with the rise of mandatory diversity, publishing was quite prepared for that and of course served up the necessary Dominican Writer Junot Diaz... Sandra Cisneros as the needed Mexican-American writer... while the American-Indian writer was Sherman Alexie and all the while the dread Toni Morrison lurked... and publishing has been happily continuing on with newly discovered ethnics, Indians from India, Pakistani, Arab, Chinese, Japanese... and the list goes on... with the message that one is to read these writers as representatives of their ethnicity and only secondarily as literature... and you are to over-look the usual glaring evident flaws in the writing...


There was a way out of this awful mess via what Pascale Casanova called the World Republic of Letters but that didn't go very far because her two modern examples were William Faulkner and Samuel Beckett... education in America is wedded to the idea of ethnic diversity no matter the drivel being served up...


And while I am in this terrible bog I might as well bring up that other word: race.

Black and White or Colored and White or Negro and White or African American and White...

In Patchogue on Furman Lane in the 1950s, a Negro family moved in next to us. Neighbors came over and asked my father was he worried. He said they were cleaner than most of the white people in Patchogue.

In my high school class of 1962 there were no Negro students. There was one Negro teacher in the high school.

(I have used the word Negro as I remember Ralph Ellison talking about why he preferred it when he came to visit Hollins College in 1970... it was a step up from colored and... seemed a better word than Black. Of course in Patchogue the accepted word was colored and the formal word was Negro. My father used the word colored.


This weekend I was talking with Anna's mother who is 87 and originally from Estonia. She was saying that when she came from the camps in the early 50s it was understood that you wanted to have a Negro doctor as there were so few of them and they must have worked very hard to have gone to medical school and as a result they were the best doctors.


Michelle Obama was widely reported to have felt uncomfortable at that liberal bastion of affirmative action Princeton University. No one has, as far as I know, suggested the reason she felt uncomfortable was at Princeton she was directly confronted by the evidence that at the elite colleges Blacks or African Americans as a group are less gifted than their White or Oriental fellow students... a statistical fact that every one knows is true....


I have long believed that affirmative action is probably the single most destructive policy ever put into practice in this country.

Never again will there be women like Anna's mother believing as she did...

Affirmative action, I have also come to believe was the rich white liberal's way to get back at the source of his or her guilt--- growing up in a family where the maid, the cook or the house cleaner was Negro or Black or African American and then suddenly he or she is made to feel guilty about this during the so-called 60s-- what better way to get at the guilt than by permanently ruining the future of any Black or African American child by allowing him to advance thanks to affirmative action with the inevitable whisper behind his or her back... well, you know he or she is actually not as... even the most diabolical die- hard segregationist could not have come up with a better revenge for having been made to feel bad about... all the while being seen as doing such a good thing...


Remember back to the days of George Wallace? I seem to remember that an awful lot of Negroes or Blacks or African Americans used to vote for George Wallace even up North when he ran for President. When asked why they would say that you know where Wallace stands but he spreads the money around to everybody not like them liberals who tell you how much they understand your situation and then forget about you right after election day because you don't have the right college degree in how to steal the welfare monies under the guise of doing a study or consulting about the future.


I was asking my son why is that the Americans didn't kill all the Indians? We have both been reading of late about Geronimo and the terrible fate of the Apaches... I mentioned to him that I had thought of this question even back when Jorge Luis Borges came to Columbia University in the early 1970s. Richard M. Elman challenged Borges about his cruel portrayal of the Gauchos. Borges had replied along the lines that gauchos did not feel pain like you or I.. Later in the discussion that moved to 110th Street Borges again took up the question of Indians in Argentina by simply saying: there are none. They were all killed.

My son said the other day, you can't ask questions like that.