Friday, December 18, 2009

STILL READING AGAINST and the MOST IMPORTANT book about the novel to be published

8--Since my mother died on December 21, 1972 the Christmas holidays and the end of the year have been drained of some of the dreary levity that infects much of the population. I remember taken the undecorated Christmas tree and placing it next to the stable set up in front of the Catholic Church in Saugerties, NY.

9--Some books seemed to be of value this year--- giving into the convention of the moment--- and the listing is to the purpose of seeing if in a year or in five years they still remain in my mind, if I am still about because there comes a moment when the life turns and what is to be always expected gains a tiny bit more of focus.

10--TIEPOLO PINK by Robert Calasso (Knopf) was the book that gave me the most intellectual pleasure, a book to go back to again and again as I have done with THE RUINS OF KASCH, KA and THE FORTY-NINE STEPS.

11--Finally, someone --- Calasso--- by looking closely at the work of Tiepolo explained why after him and after the French Revolution and continuing to this day art seems to be not very interesting, beyond being a sort of brain vomit from the solitary imaginations of the artists.

12--BRECHT AT NIGHT by Mati Unt (Dalkey Archive) was the first Estonian novel I have reviewed. By connecting Brecht’s stay in Helsinki on the run from Hitler in 1940/41 with the Soviet destruction of Estonia Unt shapes his visionary novel into a commentary on the obscurity of history while not for a line avoiding the particulars. Brecht waiting for a visa and permission to travel across the Soviet Union to the paradise of Hollywood, all the while cheering on the murderous thugs of Stalin is the highest comedy that crucifies one with one’s own powerlessness

13--VOYAGE BY DUGOUT OR THE PLAY OF THE FILM OF THE WAR by Peter Handke is his final comment on the breakup Yugoslavia in the form of play. I read it in manuscript in a translation by Scott Abbott. That it has not been published is a scandal and shame. Brad Morrow at CONJUNCTIONS chickened out of publishing it even after he had announced it for publication some years ago when he became aware of the intellectual lynch mob lead by the happily dead Susan Sontag who wanted to drum Handke out of literary existence. Happily that has not happened and Handke has a short novel DON JUAN HIS OWN VERSION (FSG) coming out in February, reminding us that he is one of the few world writers who has been mostly available to American readers. One hopes that some genuinely daring publisher will do the play along with reprinting A JOURNEY TO THE RIVERS Justice for Serbia that Viking had the courage to publish in 1997. Not for a moment should anyone think that things have been settled in the Balkans.

14---THE STRUDLHOF STEPS by Heimoto Von DODERER, translated by Vincetn Kling is another book I read in manuscript. If you know Von Doderer’s THE DEMONS, EVERY MAN A MURDERER and THE WTAREFALLS OF SLUNJ you know why this should be available. He is equal of Robert Musil and has the advantage of having completed his great books. This is not to put Musil down in anyway but to suggest that Musil is not the only classic Austrian writer form the earlier part of the 20th Century. Kling has translated more than half of THE STRUDLEHOF STEPS but sadly our literary publishers like skinny novels so how long will we wait?

15---In manuscript form though happily scheduled to appear in the New Year is a short novel by Imre Kertesz, THE UNION JACK… Kertesz is in the pantheon of Hungarian writing that has to include Sandor Mari, Antal Szerb, Peter Nadas, Peter Esterhazy and Attila Bartis.

16/16--One should not hold the Nobel Prize against Kertesz in the same way that one should not hold the same prize against Herta Muller. While they might get things really wrong with writers like Pearl Buck and Toni Morrison in this case the Nobel committee did a real service to the book. In a hundred pages Kertesz gets exactly right the dreary deadening reality of socialist Hungary and at the moment he is causing an uproar for mentioning that one really can’t read those Hungarian writers who were published during the communist times without thinking about what they had to do in order to function as writers… who did they sell out, who did they stab in the back, what lies did they tell or tell by omission… and this is the truth for all of Eastern Europe. The communists made mistakes and infrequently allowed a good book to slip through but you probably have more fingers on your hands than you would need to enumerate these writers or books.

17/18--The one American book… but you know I dislike mentioning the nationality of a writer… that I continue to read is IMPERIAL by William K. Vollmann (Viking). I would even say it is THE American book and will be read or at least I read it along with Henry James’s THE AMERICAN SCENE and two books about the west of Ireland by Tim Robinson STONES OF ARAN and CONNEMARA. I am taking IMPERIAL with me in January when I drive about Imperial, the Salton Sea on my way to Douglas and Tombstone where once again I will take up CHRIST VERSUS ARIZONA by Camilo Jose Cela which is the best book ever written about the American West.

19—Coming: THE THREE FATES by Linda Le. (New Directions) I reviewed an earlier novel of hers, SCANDAL… part of the Vietnamese diaspora in France... while her books are rooted in personal experience they have a visionary quality that leaves her on the edge of a terrifying possible descent and it is only her continued ability to find words that keeps her among the living.

19---Coming: PURGE by Sofia Oksanen. (Grove) Estonian Finnish writer who writes of the terrible consequences of the Soviet occupation of Estonia and the attemps to live with the consequences. I wish they had started with STALIN’S COWS and can only hope that will appear eventually.

19---Coming: NOT ART by Peter Esterhazy (Ecco) Stupidly Ecco skipped the essential sequel to CELESTIAL HARMONIES that called into question everything that Esterhazy had so confidently written about his father. This book continues the story of his mother from HELPING VERBS OF THE HEART, an earlier book which published in a very poor translation.

19---Coming: THE MUSEUM OF ETERNA’S NOVEL by Macedonio Fernandez (Open Letter). Do not be put off by the rather common introductions but find the wonderful essay by Jorge Luis Borges who acknowledges that Fernandez taught him everything , well in a fashion… Finally a genuine step beyond TRISTRAM SHANDY.

20—RIGHT NOW: ROBERT BRESSON A Passion for Film by Tony Pipolo (Oxford) Pipolo writes without the usual film critical theory rubbish but happily he guides the viewer into the greatest ( why not) movie director… Don’t worry I know: John Ford, Dumont, Bela Tarr… but last night I Saw The Trial of Joan of Arc… the opening is so intimidating, so devastating as an image of angry power on the march… and we know it will be met by Joan in all her complexity about to be reduced to ashes except

20—RIGHT NOW. I have been reading the four novels by Juan Jose Saer that are available in English. THE WITNESS, THE INVESTIGATION, NOBODY NOTHING NEVER, THE EVENT. I came to Saer by way of a visit with Alain Robbe-Grillet who on the floor had a book by Saer opened and underlined. I wish I could remember which one it was but Robbe-Grillet mentioned that Saer had been much influenced by his work and now upon reading him I can well see that and if only more writers were so wonderfully influenced. Saer is a lefty writer whose literary work exist first as literature--- well aware of the need for a genuine modern approach since the realist novel is a dead relic of a miserable moment in literary history--- and whose radical politics discreetly underlines the force of his sentences and forms and the reader is convinced of the terror that gripped parts of South America. In contrast I do not for moment believe a word Eduard Galeano writes because he is so crude in form and thought: just another leftist hatchet man.

And I would pay a quick homage to the single greatest novel to come out of South America I THE SUPREME by Augusto Roa Bastos, another lefty but with this novel he is in my personal pantheon with ULYSSES, JOURNEY TO THE END OF NIGHT, EUMESWIL and…

20--- As it is so demanding, … I have only tried again and again to read BLOOD FROM THE SKY by Piotr Rawicz as I have been forced to think closely about the murder of the Jews of Europe and this came about by reading MURDER WITHOUT HATRED Estonians and the Holocaust by Anton Weiss Wendt.

I had known nothing about how Estonians in order to please their German friends went about killing all the Jews and gypsies who remained in Estonia in 1941. The now knowing about the cool murdering, the distributing of the murdered children’s clothing and toys to Estonian children, happening even in the smallest towns, towns we had gone through this summer where there is no memory of these terrible events has changed my wife whose first language is Estonian and as a result it becomes hard to think about going back to Estonia until we have thought more about these events…

21 I am writing the last pages of NOTHING DOING which began with three men traveling in a painting by Poussin and has move about and through Douglas and Ajo, Arizona, been to Hermosa Beach, to Sofia, to Paris, to Patchogue… three men--- soldier priest poet--- described by Baudelaire, transformed by paralysis all looking for where they are to be buried. Of course it is a comedy trying to avoid in Denis Donoghue’s phrase, the penury of fact.

The best news only for those who read the whole post: IN APRIL Continuum will publish Steve Moore's THE NOVEL AN ALTERNATIVE HISTORY. Moore begins with the first novels written in 1190-1800 BC in Egypt and so unlike all the other books about the novel I have ever read he has genuinely tried to read every major novel published in ALL the world's languages, north, south, west and east. This is the first part and he stops in 16/17 century in China. He will continue with the so-called modern. But just from this work, you will never ever again think that Flaubert, Austen, Dickens, Eliot etc etc are the be all and all... never ever again will you think that 300 pages is a long novel... Moore will create a revolution in how we think about the novel or at least that is my hope...