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!


Anonymous said...

Tom: thanks for another great post -- why is it one can read afew hundred words of tom mcgonigle and come away learning something (as opposed to reading a few thousand words on some litbloggers' site and come away feeling that much closer to death)? an ability to place everything in the proper literary context plus an eye essential critical detail, i suppose...

that p. roth story is even better than the one claire bloom tells, in which (if memory serves) bloom and her daughter move in with roth and shortly afterwards the duaghter's teenage girlfriend finds herself alone with roth and very quickly fighting off the great man's generous offer of insemination.

and to think the silly tart refused him! one can only hope roth manages to find another wife, even or especially at this late stage of the game (as did saul bellow), to ensure the generation of some writerly progeny -- for who else but a p. roth jr. could keep alive the literary memory of mid-century new jersey? and who else would even care?

Unknown said...

Thomas, you reminded me the time when I read "A day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" by A.Solzhenitsyn.
A little pre-history! In my first novel "The seeds of the fears" I gave the stories of seven prisoners /zeks/ of one of the bulgariian camps/i.e.Belene/told by them to me. According to my knowledge it was the second book about the bulgarian GULAG. My book was presented to the bulgarian community of New York and in the broadcasting of the "Voice of America" in bulgarian language about my book in 1991 the journalist called me "the bulgarian Solzhenitsyn"/ kind of compliment to me/. The first one was writen by a prisoner of Belene and was a very good as documentary, but not so good as a literature. When Solzhenitsyn novel was published for the first time in Bulgaria /it was the first cracks in eastern european rejims during the reign of Chrushtev/. It was one of my characters/zeks/ who gave me the novel and told me:"You have 24 hours to read it! There is a long line of readers for it!"
After the colapse of communizm I read a lot of the litarature about the the camps. And on the top of my list two writers share the top place: Varlam Shalamov and Vladimir Bukovsky. Solzhenitsyn comes next. I like Vladimir Bukovski because of his absolute presentation of the betrayal of the West and Big Powers of the dissident cause. The "Kolyma Tales" is much, much, much better than "A day in.." but I understand the considerations of the editor G. Vladimov:"At trhis time nobody would dare to publish even 1/10 of "Kolyma Tales"!

Anonymous said...

Nice post about Shalamov, a truly great writer. For those interested, there is a brief chapter in Ryszard Kapuscinski' travel book Imperium that gives a gruesome history of the Kolyma camp. At the moment my favorite travel writer is Jeffrey Tayler who lives in Moscow.