Sunday, July 26, 2009


If America needs, as is often said A WRITER that one writer is: WILLIAM T. VOLLMANN.

At the moment he is the only writer in America whose death I would mourn.

Vollmann is the only writer who might and might already be a genuine world writer to whom it would not be necessary to attach mention of his nationality.

No living writer in America can equal his accomplishments and of course you can go to Wikipedia or any of the other sources for all the back ground.
But I stake out my claim by listing:

RISING UP AND RISING DOWN: Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom and Urgent Means

(and I would also mention that there are 12, yes, 12 other books that flesh out… and do not clutter…





And its companion book IMPERIAL Photograpy by William T Vollmann

((((and I well know that eventually there is always a qualification so I will put it up front but the very qualification indicates the seriousness with which I take Vollmann.

As I read Vollmann I am reminded of :

Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Ernst Junger.

Vollmann, Solzhenitsyn, Dostoevsky, Junger: the same mixture of riveting objectivity, the same urge to document, the same unashamed emotional identification with whatever they are writing about, the same acidic intellect, the same access to a language unafraid of a genuine apprehension of an always very real possibility of a crippling silence just ahead

And now the distinctions: Solzhenitsyn was actually a prisoner in the Gulag.

Dostoevsky was stood up against a wall and fully expected to be shot for his political beliefs.

Junger fought for five years in World War One in the trenches (receiving the pour le Merite) and was again in the army in World War Two, he actually did drop LSD with Albert Hoffmann, he did do real science as a ……..

And that is the vital difference.

Vollmann has been looking and always there is that distance… things have happened to him but they are a consequence of his looking… and this leads at time to a nagging sense of self-hatred that introduces a tiny thread of distrust into this reader’s consideration of his work…

BUT that is it… so as we move to why he is so central to my understanding of his importance. He is not part of the academy, he is not off in some drearily famous college teaching creative writing or literature, he is no darling of the academy, no one looks up to him, he is not cited as a good role model… he is discovered by word of mouth by readers passing on his books.

Sadly, he does have a literary prize but I am sure he knows just how worthless that is and is appropriately embarrassed by it: the only thing you get from having any sort of literary prize is that it guarantees an obit in the NY Times…


1306 pages about that part of California centered upon the Imperial Valley… you know where: south of Palm Springs, north of the Mexican border, west of the Colorado River, out there east of LA… a pendant to THE ROYAL FAMILY which was located up there around SF…

You open the book: grey pages black type… white squiggly maps… WILLIAM T. VOLLMANN. IMPERIAL.
A reproduction of a death certificate for a John Doe, Unknown Mexican issued by the County of Imperial, dated 7/29/24 but the copy was issued on Oct 22, 2002.
In Memory of SERAFIN RAMIREZ HERNANDZ unknown, missing, illegal, Mexican. CONTENTS
10 pages worth. More maps drawn by WTV.

Part One


A photograph of a huge cross on a hillside in Slab City.


I think we all feel sorry for ‘em
---Border Patrol Officer Gloria I. Chavez, on the subject of illegal aliens.


The All-American Canal was now dark black with phosphorescent streaks where the border’s eyes stained it with yellow tears. --- These lights have been up for about two years. Officer Dan Murray said. Before that, it was generators. Before that, it was pitch black.

He was an older man, getting big in the waist, whose face had been hardened by knowledge into something legendary. For years he’d played his part in the work first begun by Eden’s angel with the flaming sword…

It is RIGHT THERE with the “flaming sword” with “Eden’s angel” that my case rests for the genius of William T. Vollmann and if you do not get it, I probably cannot convince you of it though I will try in future posts … but you should get yourself to a bookstore to get a copy of IMPERIAL. I don’t think Viking is printing up a whole lot of this book and I am sure the book of photographs by Vollmann published by Power House books will also disappear very quickly…

I well know that a new Thomas Pynchon novel is coming out next week but I do know Pynchon is reading Vollmann’s book. Pynchon is self aware enough to regret the poor timing of these two books coming out at the same time. Just one of those things.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


The news has come that Frank McCourt is dead. I have heard of him and that is sufficient as Edward Dahlberg would say.

Denis Donoghue was never asked to review a book for The New York Times after he panned McCourt's first and much lamented Angela's Ashes. His crime was to have questioned the literary merit of the memoir and to point out the unearned bathos of much of the writing.

McCourt's work quickly became the token white male contribution to the great ethnic sweepstakes that is contemporary American literature. He is the official Irish delegate joining those other profitable and endlessly self-important scribes such as Sherman Alexie, Toni Morrison, Junot Diaz... who sniffing out a soap box even a hundred miles away never fail to rush themselves to the necessary cause of fattening their bank accounts on behalf of....

It is known that McCourt first tried out his routines on his captive New York City high school students and they unable to escape had to endure his endless revising of his Irish saga... his leaving the New York City school system was one of the few blessings of his success

Finally, what is lost in the elevation of such a writer as McCourt is the availability of much greater writers, happening to be Irish but without the degraded sensibility so in evidence in his and the work of his ever expanding family of scribes.

I am thinking of writers such as John McGahren, Francis Stuart, Denis Donoghue and even Seamus Deane whose memoirs easily stand comparison to memoirs by writers like Michel Leiris and Thomas Bernhard... and sadly the novels of James McCourt are shaded by the mistaken notion that he is part of the Frank McCourt family.

Monday, July 13, 2009


In FADO a book of essays by Andrzej Stasiuk that Dalkey Archive is to publish in September there is a short essay on the Yugoslavian--- as they were once called--- writer Miodrag Bulatovic. Of course the name was not unfamiliar as he had once been as well published as any foreign writer ever is in the United States. I remembered his A HERO ON A DONKEY and another title which I had never read but which Stasiuk mentions WAR WAS BETTER.

In an anthology of Yugoslav stories DEATH OF A SIMPLE GIANT I found a story by Bulatovic, The Lovers. Two lines: "It was definitely a form of illness to want anything." and the last line of the story, "I remember how your lips rotted away."

I do not think that any story published by an American author in the last 50 years comes close to the sensibility that would allow for two lines like these to appear in a story that is 15 pages of type. I can not imagine an editor who would have the courage or the taste to publish such a story today.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


No longer that possibility to write as I do not have the connection.

What do I mean?

In every country of the former Soviet Empire from Bulgaria to Estonia there is a word for connection, for that person who will help you in whatever matter is at hand

If a person does not have a connection there is the shaking of the head and the lowering of the voice: it is or was very sad, he or she did not have a connection so it was not possible.

I have come to that moment in writing.

While in memory the pleasure of writing remains… the reality is that I do not have a connection that would allow my words to be read.

Dalkey Archive, Turtle Point, Harper Collins, Arcade, Melville, FSG have found even JUST LIKE THAT my most accessible novel and the one with the easy hook of being a book from the so-called Sixties to be too something or other…

I could delineate the reasons these publishers found for… but what is the point.. I could show the whim that lead them to whatever it was that they actually did publish…

I have no connection… and everyone should understand that publishing is a simple a matter of whim.. just as in the life in Estonia under communism: whim masqueraded as political reasoning…


Even reading becomes difficult.

For two weeks I have been reading the new translation of PORNOGRAFIA by Witold Gombrowicz that Grove will publish in the fall, published only to maintain some connection to the reputation that made that publisher.. but when our hostess in Helsinki falls asleep looking into the poster of a pensive PAUL AUSTER… what hope is there for reading?

Anyone who might think that Paul Auster is a writer is beyond help… even my reading of PORNOGRAFIA is shadowed by the fact that Grove feels it must foreword the book by a popular writer like Sam Lipsyte--- who is supposed to write funny stuff about “losers” though his press agent seems to get him space in popular magazines to look down upon… but the bound galleys are not burdened by his words except for the blank space where the Foreword is supposed to be…

Even mentioning Auster’s name is a victory for Auster…

I wrote a review of NORMANCE by Celine for the Los Angeles Times... it might appear on 12 July... of course I remember and Celine’s words shadow these: you have to be a little bit dead to be really funny…