Tuesday, March 17, 2009

NEW and OLD: Lim, Marten and Fine

In the background Joy Division as I type.


In the mail:
They came to me with compliments about this blog.

I have tried to read each of the books.
I know that Marten has published an earlier book with Turtle Point Press.
I am interested in why I have not read more.
The Marten book is in the tradition of Bataille’s The Story of the Eye.
I am probably not strong enough to read about a janitor and what he collects.
FOG & CAR by LIM is more appealing but I can’t get beyond the names: MR FOG and SARAH CAR.

Publishers objected to MURPHY and SB was willing to change it to any name they wanted.

I liked the short paragraphs, the short chapters. And I liked the reported reading within the book.

No blurb from Gordon Lish who I had thought dead but whose ghost must have blurbed Marten’s book and I guess it would be inevitable that such a person is one of the undead.

Steve Katz blurbed the Lim book.
Boy, he’s been around a long time. In 1968 I had liked his EXAGGERATIONS OF PETER PRINCE. But then he went on and on writing and even becoming a tenured professor and director of creative writing didn’t stop him and was published in all those places that specialize in log-rolling--- you publish my book and I’ll publish your book…

BUT: FOG & CAR seems to be a book that has to be gotten out of the way. It is too long and not for a moment do I like the division into a sort of his and her version. At least many pages have a lot of which space but that forces the reader to look at each and every word, and probably with the eraser part of the pencil…
BUT now that the book is done with and one is heartened to see that Mr. Lim is a high school librarian, a socially useful profession.


In the early 1970s Alfred Knopf published four novels in illustrated laminated hard covers without dust jackets. They charged $3.50 each. It was an attempt to bridge the gap between hard covers and paperbacks. There was a book each from David Ohle and Kathy Black and two novels by Warren Fine. Fine had previous published THE ARTIFICIAL TRAVELER and a tale in the New American Review, The Mousechildren and The Famous Collector. The two Knopf novels are: IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM and THEIR FAMILY. Both novels are in the imagined voices of settlers on the early American frontier in 1779 and 1800… The books gathered tiny reviews… they did not seem relevant in that time in which Ellen Willis, a then prominent Village Voice writer, could seriously write that good writing is counter-revolutionary.


How to persuade people to read them, find them…

Greg Kuzma, a poet who once knew Fine, wrote me of Fine’s drinking himself to death in the 1980s having finished one more still unpublished novel, THIRST, though Kuzma couldn’t find it when he went to look for the manuscript.

Kuzma send me a poem he had written about Fine which contains these lines that can serve both as a commentary on SECTION ONE OF THIS POST and on…

I read/ another book of his (Fine’s) after his death/ forty pages of In The Animal Kingdom./ There were no two sentences alike,/ and not a single one I’d ever seen/ That’s the sort of writer he was./ Daring and original and strange./ I stopped reading the book. It was/ too much work. Besides, I said/ Warren’s dead. What does it matter?

Monday, March 16, 2009

GHOSTS by CESAR AIRA with an afterword about teaching

(a version of this review was published in the Los Angeles Times

By Cesar Aira
Translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews
New Directions: 139pps, $12.95.

Are there ghosts in “Ghosts?” Short answer: you betcha. Long answer: well that is what reading this wonderful novel is finally all about: what is a ghost?

Or maybe not. The fourth of the Argentinean Cesar Aira’s more than seventy books to be translated into English (the third to be available in the United States) is an incitement to the sensuality of thought, of wonder, of questioning, of anticipation.

Beware: some novels are quite shy about announcing their intentions, the greatness that lies within. “Ghosts” is a model of such reticence , “ On the morning of the 31st of December, the Pagaldays visited the apartment they already owned in the building under construction at 2161 Callle Jose Bonifacio, along with Bartolo Sacristan Olmedo, the landscape gardener they had hired to arrange plants on the two broad balconies, front and rear.”

Admittedly not the most gripping of opening sentences but readers who have had the good fortune of reading the two recently published Aira novels and their opening lines, “Western art can boast few documentary painters of true distinction.” (“An Incident in the Life of a Landscape Painter.”) or “My story, the story of “how I became a nun,” began very early in my life; I had just turned six.” (“How I Became a Nun”) will remember their own startling realization, as they began to read on, that the brevity of these novels and the inauspicious opening were all aspects of the ingenuity of the author who has established himself as one of the greatest writers and it is not ludicrous to place him in the same garden with Nabokov and Borges--- both masterful insinuating charmers.

“Ghosts” takes place in the construction site for a luxury apartment building in Buena Aires on New Year’s Eve. And the first deception is that it does not concern itself with the owners of the apartment building but with the men who are building it and in particular the large family of one of the workers who is living in one of the half finished apartments and acting as watchmen. Much of the novel is taken up with the comings and goings of the preparations for and the actual party welcoming in the new year. This being in the southern hemisphere there is an oppressive heat wave on and there are many mischievous children and assorted relatives, lovers and hangers on milling about. While always interesting, the conversations ,the careful detailing of the uneventful activities complete with the letting go of fireworks seems random yet there is a great delight in the ordinariness of life complete with the gentle though pointed rivalry between the Chilean workers and their Argentinean surroundings. Of course one is reminded of early novels of Manuel Puig such as Betrayed by Rita Hayworth which saturated itself in the rhythms of ordinary speech and left the meaning to the reader…

However the distractions, the ruminations hold the reader and one which begins with trying to to tease out the difference between the built and the unbuilt continues, “The unbuilt is characteristic of those arts whose realization requires the remunerated work of many people, the purchase of materials, the use of expensive equipment, etc. Cinema is the paradigmatic case: anyone can have an idea for a film but then you need expertise finance, personnel, and these obstacles mean that ninety-nine times out of a hundred the film doesn’t get made. Which might make you wonder if the prodigious bother of it all--- which technological advances have exacerbated if anything--- isn’t actually an essential part of cinema’s charm, since, paradoxically, it gives everyone access to movie- making in the form of pure daydreaming. It’s the same in the other arts, to a greater or lesser extent. And yet it is possible to imagine an art in which the limitations of reality would be minimized, in which the made and unmade would be indistinct, an art that would be instantaneously real without ghosts. And perhaps that art exists under the name of literature. “

My reason for this long excerpt is to both hint at the genius of Aira and to preserve the plot of the novel which concerns itself with Patri--- the increasingly obvious center of the novel--- the eldest daughter, but not that old, though burdened with looking after those mischievous children, shopping, chores but who has seen the ghosts, “they (the ghosts)seemed to be making an exception for her, as if she were the object of their ostentatious senseless amusements. She didn’t take offense, because it wasn’t serious. It was more like a flying puppet show, a out-of-place, unseemly kind of theater. She had seen naked men before of course (although not many); she didn’t find that especially frightening. But there was something implausible about it since you wouldn’t normally see men without clothes except in particular situations. The way they were floating in the air accentuated the ambivalent impression…”

A final reviewer's sigh: the charm--- if that is still meaningful--- so refreshing and what a gift in such trying times, looking forward to reading a new Aira novel every year for the rest of our lives!

An afterword ON TEACHING.

( By Auberon Waugh quoted by his son Alexander in the book FATHERS AND SONS The Autobiography of a Family)

Teachers live in a small world and their job is an unpleasant one. Among the few consolations it offers is an aura of semi-divine omniscience which enables them to patronize and feel important. This is what is threatened every time a pupil raises his hand with the correct answer. How pleasant it must be for a teacher, as he ignores the raised hands in front and approaches some bemused oaf in the back who hasn't the faintest idea what he's talking about, to imagine he is making his contribution towards a fairer, more equal, society in the future.