Saturday, June 14, 2008



I go to Brooklyn to visit the dead. That is when I was younger and we would go into Brooklyn to go to funerals. On the wall of a room in a great aunt's house was a tinted photograph of a relative who had lost his arm at Gettysburg.


I was telling a clerk in a bookstore that is getting ready to leave Manhattan for Brooklyn---after asking, Why? The lease is up.--- that I well know the trivial reasons why people move to Brooklyn but my parents fled that place in the winter of 46/47.
---You sound like it is war torn zone...

(I was in the bookstore to look for THE ORPHIC VOICE by Elizabeth Sewell which I had read about in an article by Mark Scroggins on Ronald Johnson.

Earlier that day in The Strand I bought a little book by her on Paul Valery which has a suggestive opening which reveals how far we have come from what writing about books was all about:

Magic mirror on the wall,/Who is the fairest one of all?

There are some people who cannot pass a looking-glass without a slight disturbance in their imagination...

Sewell will go on to write about mirrors as a way into Valery...)


To live in New York City is to live in Manhattan.


Going to Brooklyn by subway is coming up the stairs to the provinces.


In the newspapers there is talk of writers living in Brooklyn, a literary community in Brooklyn and a community of writers living in Brooklyn or we are a community of writers in Brooklyn... you get the drift of the dreariness: anyone uttering phrases like these is of the dead, or rather dead of ear, dead to history.

Imagine Joyce or Proust saying something along the lines: I am a member of the Paris community of writers or I am part of the community of writers in Paris...


Of course these writers--- usually "successful" whatever that might mean--- and we know what it usually means: I got a lot of money for something of an accident and then there are the hangers on, the servants of accident.


But Brooklyn: a thin population of white people who could live anywhere--- and a couple so-called successful Black folk and all the rest who do not look like them and who are waiting, waiting... patiently being studied by the Bagatelles pour un massacre


So go to Brooklyn to visit the dead and dying.


A momentary fit.


Ezra Pound would demand: and by what standards do you dismiss books written by people who live in Brooklyn?

Arbitrary to be sure.

Does anyone read books written by people who claim to live in Canada?


The late George Garrett told a story of being hired by the Ford Foundation the year they decided to give grants to writers. The foundation was swamped with thousands and thousands of applications. George and another person were hired to screen these piles in a weekend. Two guys and the director. The director announced: toss out all the male applicants for the first two hours. George thought to himself: well, he's the director and he must know what he is doing so they did it for the two hours and now had a much reduced pile of applicants in front of him. The director then said as you open the applications toss out all the women and anyone over 65.

You get the drift. The piles as the two days went on became manageable and the money was gotten rid of.

What I learned from that experience, George said, it would have been fairer to toss all the applications down the stairs and the ones that happened to reach the bottom would get the money.

THE LESSON: when you read an author blurb glowing with grants--- how do you think about the guy who just won the lottery?


A literary standard by which I slur the writers who admit to living in Brooklyn.

I have been reading the recently published BEIJING COMA by Ma Jian. (FSG) The novel tries to describe all of the recent history of China through the imagined life of a man who has been in a coma since the massacre at Tiananmen Square and as he gradually comes back to the world he relives his and his family's existence in China and by implication the whole modern history of China. The man's father was sent to a re-education camp for 22 years..."My father had long since severed his ties with his elder brother...during the reform movement in the early 1950s, when Mao ordered land to be redistributed to the poor and classified landowners as the enemy of the people, my grandfather, who owned two fields and three cows, was branded an 'evil tyrant'. My father's brother was forced to bury him alive. Had he refused, he himself would have been executed."

By comparison Brooklyn writers to a man or to a woman seem trivial.

I have spared you the taste of the dirt in the grandfather's mouth...

And don't mention Paul Auster and and and... not even his publisher reads Paul Auster's new books.