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.