Thursday, February 26, 2009

THE TWO GREATEST WRITERS and THE UTTERLY FORGOTTEN

All of this is a gesture

1.

The two greatest living writers who happen to be American are William T. Vollmann and James McCourt. I should really have included myself in that by saying the three greatest writers… because if you are not prepared to assert this self-evaluation you might as well stop right now. I also do not like giving into mentioning that McCourt and Vollmann are American. Writing is only writing and once a writer is provided with a nationality he ceases to matter in some essential way.

But I have given in and the occasion is the forthcoming publication of Vollmann’s IMPERIAL and within the year the second volume of McCourt’s great novel , NOW VOYAGERS which joins TIME REMAINING as being his claims upon the world’s attention

Vollmann of course has been far more prolific and I won’t bother to list all his books citing only : his three thousand page seven volume RISING UP AND RISING DOWN meditation on violent death and THE ROYAL FAMILY a novel loosely centered upon northern California now joined by IMPERIAL which creates the far south of California, which will appear in the summer.

Vollmann is our Balzac, our Tolstoy--- since people like such comparisons--- though I should avoid the our since Vollmann belongs to the world as surely as does Faulkner and Beckett. Soon enough his worlds will seem a permanent part of the world’s imagination.

James McCourt creates in TIME REMAINING the existence, the fate of what it means to be homosexual in the modern world… as it journeys forth on a train from New York to the Hamptons… in NOW VOYAGERS the journey is through both time and space and imagines a world that will never pass away even as it is so obviously dead, remembering as Celine has remarked, you have to be a little bit dead to be really funny.

Happily neither Vollmann nor McCourt's work can be enlisted in any cause outside of literature.

One can well imagine Vladimir Nabokov on a rainy day in Portal, Arizona housebound and turning away from the note cards for LOLITA picking up the latest from Vollmann, remarking how heavy the bound galleys are of IMPERIAL and saying to Vera that Georgi Ivanov would have liked this book, this sordid march, this squishing of language and how anyone who reads surely remembers Nina Berberova's portrait of the Ivanov's existence in Paris that she re-counted in THE ITALICS ARE MINE

One can well imagine Nabokov as he journeyed away from Portal and stopping say in Douglas for a night at the Gadsden Hotel, squeezing it into their budget as the hotel seemed so right after that version of the Alps that they had passed through circuitously leaving Portal and finding the first volume of McCourt's NOW VOYAGERS left there by Thornton Wilder in the dream that is time, and remarking again to Vera here like that McGonigle is another writer who has learned from Andrei Bely how to be truly in a city as was Bely in PETERSBURG.


UTTERLY FORGOTTEN.

While praising these writers I was thinking of writers who I knew who seemed to be well published, even known but now… utterly forgotten…

Chad Walsh and Bink Noll were poets both nationally published, reviewed and now gone… they had stocked my life at Beloit College 1962-

I used to tell a Bink Noll story and I went to Marion, Virginia where Walsh had been a boy and a proof reader for Sherwood Anderson’s last newspaper. Another gone writer. In the public library was a folder for Chad Walsh but nothing of course recently in it.

Richard M. Elman had been a professor at Columbia. He had my fellow students write my obituary. He had been a teacher to Richard Price but then had a falling out… he published more than 20 books and all of them are gone… a book of memoir/criticism was published and is vaguely in print Sun and Moon Press has two unpublished books in its file cabinets. No one has been knocking on their door demanding they appear…

George Garrett will shortly be a year dead and he seems on the way to being forgotten… his editors are all dead, his students remember him but none of them are powerful publishers… by the of his life he had been honored, feted and now… gone. he is mostly an anecdote instead of a read writer.

Chandler Brossard: in spite of Dalkey Archive, Steve Moore and others this man who invented the beat world and who was victim of the worst instance of the malicious power of a vengeful stupid reviewer, Anatole Broyard...

BS Johnson… is nearly gone away…

James Liddy will be remembered for maybe another year.. there might be a posthumous collected poems but then… can a hole be made for him in the history of Irish poets.. is there a need for another Irish poet?

UWE Johnson will never be republished in the US… the dreariest Palestinian propagandist will be published by the new publishers of translations before they get around to this writer who found a form for precisely describing the consequences of the divison of Germany and the how of history working on a person’s mind…

Glenway Wescott will never get pushed into world literature.. he has become a regionalist writer, something he despised

John Hawkes once a required writer in nearly every introduction to literature course in American universities in the 1960s... being forced to read him destroyed many a person's interest in modern writing

Louis Bromfield...

Ellen Glasgow...

Paul Metcalf...

Francis Stuart...

Wright Morris...

5 comments:

dan visel said...

I'm extremely glad to hear that the second volume of Now Voyagers is coming out - is this also through Turtle Point? I just finished the first volume, which was exhausting but exhilarating - and I was left sad because it felt like a book that might never find the audience that will fully appreciate it.

Does B. S. Johnson really belong on your list of the forgotten? He turns fairly often in the blogosphere; New Directions just put The Unfortunates back in print, and there's the Jonathan Coe biography from a couple of years back which got a lot of attention. It does seem like people pay more attention to the novelty value of his forms rather than to what he's saying using the form, which is a shame.

I do wish more people would pay attention to Paul Metcalf - he falls between the cracks.

Thomas McGonigle said...

I would hope to be wrong about B.S. Johnson. I did a little review of THE UNFORTUNATES for the LATimes but don't remember many others...
Turtle Point will do the McCourt.
Metcalf had his three volume collected works... but the stupidity of... does one have to go on... GENOA is right there with IN THE AMERICAN GRAIN

Anonymous said...

Is H. G. Wells a forgotten writer? I remember in college I had to read Tono-Bungay. Our professor introduced it as a great comic novel in the line of Fielding's Joseph Andrews. I could never see it. You have set me thinking with your list. Perhaps it might be time to return to Wells and see if it is more than I remember it to be. Thomas, what do you think of Wells? I have never read Ellen Glasgow or Bromfield for that matter. But each, when I looked them up, seems to have won prizes. Perhaps that says something about prizes. I don't know what keeps some writers "alive"--vivid in the memory-- while others fade into a half-remembered estimation.

Anonymous said...

james purdy is gone

but not forgotten

not utterly anyway

Tor Hershman said...

I ain't never read but a few lines from any of them.
Of course, if you pick the "Right" lines.....

Stay on groovin' safari,
Tor