Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Remembering on Memorial Day

Published in the Los Angeles Times. 25 May 2009

As recently as the late 1950s, in a small town on Long lsland near New York City, young people in school learned certain poems: Joyce Kilmer’s “Prayer of a Soldier in France,” Alan Seeger’s “ I Have a Rendezvous With Death” and John MacRae’s “In Flanders Field.” Does anyone still remember the fallen this way in classrooms?

This spring, “Dispatches” by Michael Herr appeared in the Everyman Series from Alfred A. Knopf, 40 years after the publication of Herr’s memorable article on Khe Sanh in Esquire (it is also one of the most memorable parts of “Dispatches”). How many literary books are there about the Vietnam War? Some would say Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” is at the top of that list, though for many people the experience of Vietnam probably derives mostly from movies, not books — “Apocalypse Now,” of course, or “Platoon,” or “Go Tell the Spartans.”

As the poems above may suggest, World War I seems to have left a deep impression, not to mention some powerful books about that conflict: “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque (still read in many middle schools across the country) and, now and again, Ernst Junger’s “Storm of Steel” (now in a very good translation by Michael Hoffman). “Storm” is probably the single best book ever written about the actual experience of an individual soldier in modern combat.

But for many around the world, is it Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” — with its description of a young man’s experiences of combat on the Italian front in World War I — that has had the most lasting literary impact?

One can’t help but think so, especially in light of Mark Thompson’s new book, "The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919" (Basic Books), which throws light on the true horror and sheer futility of that arena of the war. Thompson also points out that two other major world writers, besides Hemingway, were on that front: Robert Musil (“The Man Without Qualities”) in the Austrian army and, in the Italian army, Carlo Emilio Gadda, whose “That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana” is the only Italian novel of the 20th century that is reasonably compared in power and scope to James Joyce’s “Ulysses.”

But it seems that “A Farewell to Arms” is the book that has given shape and spirit to the way we think about war, how we read Herr’s book and, maybe, even how our view of 19 year so far involvemen or warin Iraq and it will be reflected in books to come. As Hemingway wrote:

I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice and the expression in vain. ... I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory... . There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity. ... Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates.

The quotation from Hemingway of course is finally echoed in the realty of the Vietnam War monument in Washington.

Monday, May 25, 2009


In the 15 years of its existence THE LITTLE REVIEW edited by Margaret Anderson and Jean Heap with the help of Ezra Pound published among many others: James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Sherwood Anderson, Ernest Hemingway, Hart Crane, Wallace Stevens, Djuna Barnes, Evelyn Scott...
It serialized ULYSSES.

Of course the english departments, those depositories of stupidity, ignore this sort of achievement in their adamant hatred of literature as does the vast publishing industry, thankfully shrinking day by day as I am typing this.

In an anthology published many years after of the closing of THE LITTLE REVIEW Margaret Anderson wrote: In 1929, in Paris, I decided that the time had come to end the Little Review. Our mission was accomplished; contemporary art had "arrived"; and for a hundred years, perhaps, the literary world would produce only: repetition.

With 20 years to go it is probably possible to say that Anderson is absolutely correct. She missed out on publishing Finnegans Wake but it is known that Faulkner was reading The Little Review. She missed out on publishing Ernst Junger and E. M. Cioran

95 percent of writers write today as if the last hundred years did not happen.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009




Summer seems to be a time when people PLAN to read. The lists are made. The intention is made but then of course…


What I will be reading subject to boredom, distraction and who knows what will show up and even after I made this list I forgotten to include so I stick it in right now THE SIXTH SENSE by Konrad Bayer with the mysterious line: “she wanted my body from me”

--OP OLOOP by Juan Filloy. Argentinian: “Alas, idiotically, I chose to enroll myself in the bitter school of constraint. I’ve turned my psyche into a stop watch of perfect and ineluctable exactitude…”

--THE COLLECTOR OF WORLDS by Iliya Troyanov : a recreation or a creation or an alternative yet a life of Sir Richard Burton, the 19th century traveler and translator: from the German of a Bulgarian: “She left behind a smile as small as the folded-down corner of a page in a book.”

--GEORGE LETHAM Physician and Murderer by Ernst Weiss… Weiss killed himself in Paris as the Germans marched in… had known Hitler in the early 20th century… “How could I, Georg Letham, a physician, a man of scientific training of a certain philosophical aspirations let myself be so far carried away as to commit an offense of the gravest sort, the murder of my wife?”

--THE NECESSARY MARRIAGE by Dumitru Tsepeneag… the third of this Rumanian’s novels to appear in English: “everywhere the smell of damp and mice and”

--MIRACLES OF LIFE by J.G. Ballard… “the prosperous Chinese businessmen pausing in the Bubbling Well Road to savour a thimble of blood tapped from the neck of a vicious goose tethered to a telephone pole”

--BRECHT AT NIGHT by Mati Unt… Brecht is in Helsinki in 1941 luxuriating while waiting to move to Hollywood while in Estonia the Russian communists and their Estonian fellow travelers are rounding up thousands of Estonians to be murdered including my wife’s grandfather…

--REX by Jose Manuel Prieto… whose NOCTURNAL BUTTERFLIES OF THE RUSSIAN EMPIRE is one of the greatest titles in all of literature… the final volume of a trilogy of which NOCTURNAL is the first…

--THREE DROPS OF BLOOD by Sadeq Hedayat by the author of THE BLIND OWL… the only world author from what is now IRAQ… THE BLIND OWL is much like STORY OF THE EYE… a singular book on a tiny shelf of such books

--ANONYMOUS CELEBRITY by Ignacio de Loyola Brandao I had read his ZERO a long time ago in an Avon paperback when such books were published as massmarket paperbacks … I love the many typefaces, the fragmented story,: read it in spite of the blurb from a hack and fellow traveller like E.L. Doctorow

--THE TANNERS by Robert Walser… I am not smart enough to understand the complexity of this novel…

--TREADING AIR by Jaan Kross and THE CONSPIRACY AND OTHER STORIES by Jaan Kross Since I am to be in Estonia one can only trust novels when deciding where to go

--NEWS FROM THE EMPIRE by Fernando del Paso.. I am still reading this book, paragraph, sentence by sentence… some books should never be read all the way through… one puts it aside and picks it up… knowing it might out live me…

--THE HALFWAY HOUSE by Guillermo Rosales I will find 300 words… another novel about the consequences of the criminal rule by communist gangsters in Cuba

--LOVE IS LIKE PARK AVENUE by Alvin Levin… the translator of Thomas Bernhard’s poetry recently published by Princeton was respomsible for getting New Directions to bring Levin back to life…

--THE ALLURE OF CHANEL by Paul Morand. Just that. And again: VENICES by Paul Morand… to read them together is to realize once again that all the really interesting writers in Twentieth Century France were on the right: the left produced for the most part apologists for mass murder who never scorned a thug if they could quote Karl Marx


And again THE DEATH OF VIRGIL by Hermann Broch…
and it is time again to be reading Plutrach in preparation for the great novel of Peter Nadas…


I will re-read my unpublished books:

All of it a homage to futility though containing a desire to…

The sad consolation of the two published books with the much copied reviews and articles that they provoked will accuse me or be accused by me: THE CORPSE DREAM OF N. PETKOV, GOING TO PATCHOGUE.


Of course I will hear about how times are hard in publishing, for books, for authors and all the rest of it and the amnesia is so apparent: it has always been a hard time…

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

SOME GOOD BOOKS and then a sad story


Vladimir Nabokov once said that when he was sent a new novel he would open it, scan the pages and if it contained mostly dialogue he would quietly close the book unread. The point being obvious, I assume…

I did not close Jeremy M. Davies’s ROSE ALLEY (Counterpath Press, Denver) as I am pretty sure Nabokov would also not have closed the novel. The making of a movie in Paris in 1968 told from the various viewpoints of some of the people involved in the making of the movie. Of course I thought of Fassbinder’s BEWARE OF A HOLY WHORE--- Fassbinder directed a film form VN’s DESPAIR--- and I was also thinking of Godard’s CONTEMPT…

I loved the genuine nastiness of everyone involved in the making of the movie and the various tones , “ Selwyn Wexler in his hotel room gets a hard-on thinking about me and the blood that goes into his cock could probably be put to better use.” Or. “…Wexler had put Myrna’s jeans in the glove box and gone down on her, complaining obscurely as she licked his neck some time later that he felt like this massive crustacean.” Or. “He settled in a township in Estonia tiny enough to escape the notice of any cartographer born west of the Danube. Content with a life of dirt and blood, gossip, manure and provincial pussy, he read Longfellow and broke up marriages.”

The novel comes with a helpful index. There is none of that cloying insinuating hooking of the reader into the thinking that this I a transcription of the reality of some group of young people thought to be of interest to the fleeting tastes of those who read with ears being penetrated by IPODS.

Counterpath also published sometime ago DIVERTIMENTI AND VARIATION by Heimito von Doderer who some know for his essential novels THE DEMONS, EVERY MAN A MURDERED and THE WATERFALL OF SLUNJ… sadly not as well known at Robert Musil but probably in the long run more significant he is the key for eventually understanding Thomas Bernhard… one can only hope that Counterpath will do THE STRUDLEHOF STEPS… then that link will become clear.

Again, von Doderer appears to be a realist in the dreariest sense of that word but gradually, ever so slowly we are inducted into vision…


Turtle Point Press has published:

THE DEAD OF THE HOUSE by Hannah Green--- a novel that sits in the sure company of THE GRET GATSBY, ABSALOM ABSALOM, ON THE ROAD--- a novel of vision and there is again no way to avoid that word--- a whole family history in less than 200 pages, all of American history, written in a language that resonates with the American experience but In such a way that it becomes the common human experience

LORD OF DARK PLACES by Hal Bennett is a far more brutal book than Hannah Green’s novel but --- if you have always suspected that Toni Morrison and all the other hustler of their dark skins were just that little bit of a fraud--- Bennett is the genuine corrective and probably one of the few writers of today who would have found himself walking along with Chaucer to Canterbury with a damn good tale to tell


THE SHAPE OF A CITY describes Nantes in such a way you will be forever using it as a model for when you read anyone else who describes any city ever again…

THE NARROW WATERS, a short boat ride that in 50 pages becomes a whole life’s story…

KING COPHETUA one of a the few novels that I know of that can sit next to Ernst Junger’s ON THE MARBLE CLIFFS with its precise message of BEWARE

READING WRITING if read along with Ezra Pound’s ABC OF READING: all anyone needs to know how to read, how to write and…

In the coming months Jon Rabinowitz who owns Turtle Point will also be publishing:

BY MYSELF by D.A. Powell and David Trinidad the autobiography of a star written in three hundred lines appropriate from three hundred autobiographies of show business people… one has always suspected that everyone in show business is actually the same person.

MARBLES by James Guida, a book of aphorisms… and if Guida can refrain from publishing in the future anything but more aphorisms he will become very very interesting. I will not quote from him as we have to see if he has the =genuine courage of this book or is it just a gimmick

CREATURELY AND OTHER ESSAYS by Devin Johnson is a book of little essays about nature by a man who mostly stays in doors…

Jon Rabinowitz the owner and publisher of Turtle Point Press is the rarest of the smaller publishers: he spends his own money--- taking no money from the taxpayers or foundations--- and publishes what he likes. It eats at me, it is true, that he has never wanted to publish my little books but one lives with such accidents of taste, badly, I fear.


A SADNESS falls on me with a phone call from Elliott Anderson’s daughter. He died on May 2nd. I had last seen him in January just after the doctor had taken out his cancerous stomach. He hoped that the intestines would take over. They did not and the cancer killed him. The last picture of him in my head : of his sitting on his balcony taking the sun then going down into the Pacific--- how to find your place?... Take Wilshire to the ocean, turn left and stop.

I first met Elliott really in 1965 at Beloit… before that we had been classmates but he lived in a fraternity but a year in France for him and a year in Dublin for me… he was wanting to write and actually gave the class essay at graduation, then the Peace Corps in Kenya, then Iowa—a visit to him there had Elliott talking about JMG LeClezio, then he was at Northwestern first as assistant to Charles Newman at Triquarterly then editor and famous for many issues devoted to American fiction and for a fat near 800 page issue devoted to the history of the little magazine… eventually forced out of the editorship by a creep by the name of Joseph Epstein who wanted the journal to have more essays since it was a journal published by a university--- since then no one reads Triquarterly (to be sure of this I looked in the NYU library yesterday and the pile of the last two years sits there never having been opened)… then Hollywood took to Elliott and he made money with a production company and wrote a few episodes for TV:

• "Silk Stalkings" (1 episode, 1992)
- The Brotherhood (1992) TV episode (writer)
• "Dragnet" (2 episodes, 1989-1991)
... aka "Dragnet: The Nineties"
... aka "The New Dragnet" (USA)
- Weekend Warrior (1991) TV episode (writer)
- The Payback (1989) TV episode (writer)
• "Adam 12" (2 episodes, 1990-1991)
- D.A.R.E. (1991) TV episode (writer)
- Witchcraft (1990) TV episode (writer)

Elliott told me the producers said they now needed someone younger... so he went into real estate and read mass market thrillers and watched sports. He had tried to write a novel but then couldn’t read or make sense of his own work and he for sure wouldn’t buy a novel like that. He had not published me in Triquarterly for whatever reason--- probably just forgetfulness but I came to forgive him by when I published for three issues ADRIFT, I made a point of publishing friends and people I knew form the group that was putting up the money, because all journals exist for that purpose IN PART if they are edited by human beings and not business machines--- just look at any of the journals edited by Ezra Pound or T.S. Eliot for confirmation of that…and that is why magazines like Vanity Fair and The New Yorker are finally only machines that are published to amuse Sy Newhouse much like an erector set used to fascinate clever adolescents…

Elliott was very tall and a man of the west. Anna when she saw us walking down the street said, the tall and the short of it. When I saw him on his porch in January with a tube coming out of his stomach he simply said, what will be… I missed going horseback riding with him in Malibu but I did have a nice lunch with him at the Getty Villa in July--- he insisted on paying---… he admitted to liking Cormac McCarthy and it is due to Elliott that I had discovered Le Clezio when that guy was actually a good writer…

I wonder if Elliott did actually have any manuscripts in that apartment? I do have a magic script Elliott write, western based on Hamlet… I once jokingly suggested that I would like to be a script doctor and make a couple thousand a week. He replied, NO WAY you just reveal yourself as a rank amateur if you had said 200,000 then the guys in Hollywood would have lapped you up. He said that in a nice restaurant in that Santa Monica. We were eating and he was drinking the money from the Hamlet western… people paid him money for many reasons other than to actually see a film made, a person had to understand that about living out here.