Thursday, June 18, 2009



Leaving one’s room to go travelling is probably always a mistake and to go to Europe, to go to the East one cannot avoid committing an injustice, to be not aware enough, to know that one does not know enough…

In FADO, a forthcoming book of travel essays, the Polish writer Andrzej Stasiuk writes. “To travel is to live. Or in any case to live doubly, triply, multiple times.

I am surprised by Stasiuk’s lack of hesitation in his assertion. Surely memory would assert itself… for to travel is to be killed, to die en route… surely he must be aware of those tiny towns that were set in motion and I am not just thinking of the recent century… but to leave those villages for the new world. It was not an accident of hyperbole that the Irish talked of coffin ships sailing from Europe… did not those from Poland, from Germany… of course many did not die crossing over and I live here on East First Street in Manhattan midst the remains, still of their arrival…


This morning, Anna says she had an email: her grandfather was killed on 2 October, 1941 in Kirov. He had been set in motion on 25 June 1941, from Tartu in Estonia. His bag had been packed for weeks… our bags have been packed for three days… Anna did not know her grandfather, Richard Raago’s death day. My mother heard many stories… I think we will learn many things in Estonia… they had come to get him… no one knew where he was taken, there was no one to ask…


I would say Eastern Europe began for me in 1960. Bear with me. The year is arbitrary but on Sunday in the Cranbury book store for fifty cents an Avon Original paperback EICHMANN MAN OF SLAUGHTER by John Donovan with the blurb: The murder of 6,000,000 Jews: Hitler demanded it, Himmler ordered it--- ADOLF EICHMANN DID IT!

I am sure I bought this book in 1960 or in 1961. I remembered the photos on the inside of the cover a large hole filled with dead bodies, one body in convict clothes pulled out and lying on the incline leading into the hole filed with dead bodies. Another picture of people getting into a freight car… On the inside of the back cover: a box of wedding rings; the three ovens in a crematoria with human remain; a prisoner pointing his finger at a German soldier wearing a cloth cap while another German soldier wearing a more formal hat looks on…

In those years I had other books: THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF HELL, THE SCOURGE OF THE SWASTIKA… I had sometime later …. THE KNIGHTS OF BOSHIDO but that didn’t have the same impact.

Those years I followed the trial and then the execution of Eichmann… the holocaust had arrived in the Unites States.


Until the early 60s World War Two had been in the Pacific for most Americans, I dare say. My grandfather had build airfields in Burma I was told. Other uncles had been in the Marines in the Pacific. In their houses they had picture histories of those island campaigns but did not talk about… one of them had a tattoo on his arm and smoked Camels…

Pearl Harbor and Tokyo Harbor and Douglas MacArthur summed up WW2…

In Europe--- if we thought about it: Hitler and Rommel and little later reading the books of Willi Heinrich: CROSS OF IRON, CRACK OF DOOM and MARK OF SHAME and another because it was about young boys my own age I read many times: THE BRIDGE by Manfred Gregor… I do not think I was atypical…

Why I didn’t I read THE NAKED AND THE DEAD or FROM HERE TO ETERNITY? Maybe they were too long or… and in the case of Heinrich and the Gregor? They were about the other as I would probably be forced to describe them later on.

Because of Eichmann’s capture I bought my first hardcover: Hitler a Study I Tyranny by Allan Bullock and then a copy of Mein Kampf from Ben who ran The Patchogue Book Store, a secondhand book store on Main Street that was owned by Ben a guy who worked on a town sanitation truck and the opened the shop after work. He had thick glasses and sat in his shop in his green sanitation department uniform. John tells me Ben sold everything. It is where people went to get titty magazines… my copy of KAPUTT was bought there. Ben is long dead and the store torn down to be replaced by a court building.

Literature had no appeal for me. How could it? In high school they wanted us to read the novels of Thomas Hardy and SILAS MARNER and plays of Shakespeare: Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, Julius Caesar and Macbeth… that was literature. The Shakespeare was explained via film clips… now kids are drowned in ethnic literature and surely never read that sort of junk ever again… who wants to learn life lessons from Korean prostitutes as they interact with Hispanic reformed drug dealers who live to support their sisters created by Toni Morrison


These paperbacks about Jew killing… that is what one now thought World War Two was all about… what was going on over there in Eastern Europe and would still be going on if there were Jews left to kill.


The Hungarian Uprising in 1956 had confused me.… the pictures in LIFE Magazine and I guess at 12 I didn’t understand why the US didn’t help the Hungarians… THE BRIDGE AT ANDAU by James Michener… describe the new travelers who were fleeing the failed uprising… we read of Pal Maleter and Cardinal Mindszenty living on in the American Embassy


Do I know anything more about Eastern Europe now?

I have read Tadeusz Borowski: THIS WAY FOR THE GAS LADIES AND GENTLEMEN.. about the famous soccer match and Borowski’s suicide by gas after the war, after a friend had been imprisoned and tortured by the communist regime that now used Auschwitz for its own prisoners much as the Communists re-opened Buchenwald for its own prisoners of the German Democratic Republic…

And I have read KAPUTT of course…

I have read The Gulag Archipelago…

I have read THE FINAL STATION: UMSCHLAGPLATZ by Jaroslav M. Rymkiewicz which describes the limits of being able or not being able to describe the Warsaw ghetto…

No, I will not go on and make a list of books…

I know nothing about life in Eastern Europe.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Is it then that you have reached such a degree of lethargy that you acquiesce in your sickness? If so, let us flee to lands that are analogues of death. I see how it is, poor soul! We shall pack our trunks for Tornio. Let us go farther still to the extreme end of the Baltic; or further still from life, if that is possible…
---Charles Baudelaire


At the end of the week I am going East: to Poland and Estonia. There was a time when Cracow was not in the East but that is possibly true only if one reads history though today fewer and fewer read history and then only a history which compliments whichever prejudice is the ruling theme of the contemporary moment.

In Estonia I am going to Tartu which Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn describes as a charming town with numerous Latin inscriptions, a hillside park in the town center, a city that seemed to him to be part of Europe.

A.S. had come to Estonia to escape the constant eye of the KGB in order to work on The Gulag Archipelago and mentions that in the camps of the Gulag he never met a bad Estonian but he knew, “there were some Estonians who helped drive their country into Communism, others had helped keep it there; still others had worked in the early Cheka and some had contributed to the defeat of the Whites at Livny in 1919.”

The detail: numerous Latin inscriptions…


To go Cracow is to visit the Cracow castle and see the scene of Curzio Malaparte’s visit in KAPUTT to “I am the King, der Konig,” said Reichsminister Frank, Governor-General of Poland, spreading his arms and gazing upon his guests with proud complacency… I should be the happiest man alive, I should truly be like Gott in Frankreich, if the Poles were grateful to me for all that I am doing for them. But the more I strive to allay their misfortunes and to deal justly with them, the more they despise all I am doing for their country. They are an ungrateful people…”

As they walk about the castle Frank’s wife points out a, “small room with walls that were totally bare and whitewashed. There was not a single piece of furniture, no carpets, no pictures, no books, no flowers--- nothing except a magnificent Pleyal piano and a wooden music stool. Frau Brigitte Frank opened the piano, and leaning her knee on the stool stroked the keyboard with her fat fingers. “Before taking a crucial decision or when he is very weary or depressed, sometimes in the midst of an important meeting, “ said Frau Brigitte Frank, “he(Frank) shuts himself up in this cell and sits before the piano and seeks rest or inspiration from Schumann, Brahms, Chopin or Beethoven. Do you know what I call this cell? I call it is his eagle’s nest.” “He is an extraordinary man, isn’t he? she added gazing at me with a look of proud affection. “He is an artist a great artist with a pure and delicate soul. Only such an artist as he can rule over Poland.”

“Yes,” I said a great artist and it is with this piano that he rules the Polish people.


Later in KAPUTT, Malaparte will visit Fischer, the Nazi Governor of Warsaw, and the condition of the children in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, will be discussed, “It’s the children who worry me. (Fischer says) ‘Unfortunately there is little that can be done to reduce the children’s death rate in the ghettos. I should like however to so something to relieve the suffering of those unfortunate children. I should like to train them to love life, I would like to teach them to walk smiling through the ghetto streets.”

“Smiling?” I asked. “Do you wish to teach them to smile? To walk smiling? The Jewish children will never learn to smile, not if you teach then with the whip. Neither will they ever learn to walk. Don’t you know that the Jewish children do not walk. Jewish children have wings.”

Friday, June 5, 2009

REPETITION or insistance

Book Expo the annual publishers show settled down in New York City. In the few weeks before it I had been invited to meet some distinguished authors who would reveal to me what goes on in the mind of an automobile dealer, how a former powerful executive deals with bone cancer, the art and practice of dog fighting and how stones and gardens can heal my mind. There would also be famous “literary” writers and politicians on display: Sherman Alexie would be there.

In 1929 Margaret Anderson decided to close THE LITTLE REVIEW, the magazine she and Jean Heap edited with the sometimes help of Ezra Pound. In the course of 15 years it published the early work of among others: T. S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, William Carlos Williams, Gertrude Stein, Sherwood Anderson, Hart Crane, Wallace Stevens, Evelyn Scott and Djuana Barnes.

James Joyce serialized “Ulysses” in the magazine.

Anderson wrote in afterword for an anthology of some of the writings that had appeared in the magazine, “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.”

80 years on from the closing of the Little Review can anyone argue with Anderson?

Yes, she missed publishing Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and that is about it, really.

It is known that both Beckett and Faulkner read the Little Review so as to make sure they would not be repeating too much…

20 years from today will there even be books? Will the repetition have come to an end?

Any evidence for that hope is pretty thin, at the moment.

If you doubt the end of the book as we know it today ask yourself the question: when was the last time you used a typewriter?

(homage to G. Stein for those who know the reason)