Friday, May 27, 2011


Here is an example of what a typical issue of a book section of a newspaper or magazine or whatever you want to call it should contain in this last week of May, 2011.  It is seriously lacking  in books dealing with aspects of the various physical sciences and mathematics.
15- reviews
16- announcements
  17- just  telling
 18- selecting
 19- sheer freedom of it all
 20- but as one man, with no gold in the pocket, so can’t commission a few paragraphs about what I am going to list
21- would people like to follow up with little paragraphs
22- last week before Memorial  Day weekend
(have myself been laid up)
23- Summer reading suggestions are always crap…
24- The cover announcement--- if this was a review section relic---:: two more volumes of Paul Valery’s CAHIERS/NOTEBOOKS ( 4,5) are now available from Peter Lang. 
25- I do guarantee you not a single newspaper, not even the TLS has written about this.  1300 more pages of Valery available in English joining the 1800 pages previously translated.  Of course everyone thinks…who knows if they do or not… but the prose is more accessible than the poetry in many ways  so for those who live within the fortress of American English… skeptical of all translation after reading a very disturbing book by Jordan Stump, THE OTHER BOOK, which while not really in any way an attack on the idea of translation does  fit into my head a very real impediment when thinking about all the translated books I have read or will read… but I have the feeling Stump didn’t intend this though I know it is a real issue  and most people are skeptical of translations…
26- Anyway:  Paul Valery: 
27- Of death and the afterlife.     — Scarcely any though has been given to the afterlife, of a dog or a hen.  It’s dead it’s dead.  And yet the dog was trained, he had a memory and a kind of intelligence and an education. By common consent the dog’s memory is allowed to perish but not a man’s. 
29- The superiority of  man is due to his useless thoughts.  
30-The age of why. Children ask, “why?” So we send them to school which cures them of this instinct and conquers curiosity with boredom.
31-Could have picked a hundred more:  the sections in these volumes: language, bios, mathematics, science, time, homo, history-politics, education, system, philosophy, consciousness, theta…
32- Just that listing shows the range:  why I am reluctant to even contemplate reading an American writer,,,
33-THE OTHER BOOK by Jordan Stump. University of Nebraska Press.  A description of different versions of Raymond Queneau’s  Le Chiendent: a copy, the manuscript, a translation, a critical edition.  The same translation existing with two titles, two publishers but same translator, Barbara Wright… Either:  Witch Grass or The Bark Tree. 
34- Stump discusses a few of the sentences Wright just did not translate.  Nothing seems to have been lost, nothing has been gained.  The sentence just did not get into English and as a result you can begin to see the problems or as the subtitle has it “Bewildermets of Fiction.” 
35- So when I read The Bark Tree and when I am thinking about reading the Witch Grass… am I reading Raymond Queneau’s Le Chiendent?
36- That question becomes the impediment.  One understands why publishers hide even for a writer like W G Sebald the fact that Austerlitz was a translation… was something missing from the dust jacket of the hardcover edition.  If it had said on the dust jacket that would have been a discouragement in the view of the chain stores… and Random House wanted to protect its investment: translation hurts that investment.
37- ROBERTO BOLANO   is at the moment really part of the imagination of Americans who read… I won’t list all the little books that New Directions published that established him and upon which Farrar Straus & Giroux was able to launch his two “big” book THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES and 2066. 
38-Of the New Directions books I like NAZI LITERATURE IN AMERICA the best.  Because of the great success of all of these books by Bolano we are now at toward the end of his works and in no way is there a falling off:  BETWEEN PARENTHESES a large collection of his essays, articles and speeches deserves more than a glancing read:  I was taken by a tiny review of two books, Experience by Martin Amis and My Dark Places by James Ellroy:  “Amis’s book ends with children.  It ends with peace and love.  Ellroy’s book ends with tears and shit.  It ends with a man alone, standing tall.  It ends with blood.  In other words, it never ends.”
39- I wanted very much,  I wanted and hoped  A THOUSAND DARKNESSES by Ruth Franklin was going to be something more than a collection of reprinted revised essays that  had appeared in magazines.  That it is still mostly is rather sad.  I had wanted her to begin the nudging over of Roberto Calasso--- there is a hint that maybe she is of that fine a sensibility--- who sits in my mind as the best literary critic writing today.  The adjective literary seems not to do justice, and the word critic seems to need some sort of adjective and  I cannot tell you why.  Calasso of course ranges across the world and while he has not yet gotten to China I can imagine in his old age, China is his destination. 
40-Ruth Franklin’s book is a collection of essay about books about the Holocaust.  She divides the book into witnesses and Those Who Came after which concludes with an ominous phrase:  The Third Generation.  Of course living in New York City we know all about survivors, then the children of survivors and now we have the grandchildren on and on into…  Individually each essay is fine enough, a book is reviewed the author’s whole career is rehashed and on to the next one.  But that is all the book is.  I wanted for Franklin to have maybe forgotten those original reviews, called up what remained from them in her own memory and now to see what remains… at  the end of the book, she is reduced to writing about a kid’s book by Tony Kushner and Maurice Sendak, BRUNDIBAR.  She ends with one of those near impenetrably vague but probably profound lines by Elie Wiesel, ”’A novel about Auschwitz is not a novel, or else it is not about Auschwitz.”  For a novel about Auschwitz can never only be a novel about Auschwitz: it is a novel also about Armenia, about Siberia, about Cambodia, about Bosnia, about Darfur, “Though I go, I won’t go far…I’ll be back. Love. Brundibar.”    
41- That is a line which either Franklin will soon realize is a line to be embarrassed about or a line to be ruthlessly subjected to thinking and to an understand that such lines have nothing to do with the putting words on a page… and while she writes wonderfully about Imre Kertesz she might have learned that such a line is not worthy of her intelligence.
42- One reason to read criticism to find out more about authors we have liked and in particular about books of theirs that have not been translated.  I have read everything that is available in English by Michel Leiris…
43- I am sure my readers know who Leiris is:  MANHOOD, RULES OF THE GAME… one of those singular French writers who shaped much of one aspect of my mind… JOHN CULBERT in PARALYSES writes about Michel Leiris’s travel book, though that is such an approximation as to be almost insulting, about his report on a ethnographic voyage into Africa called L’Afrique fantome… why no one has translated this book is beyond me.  As well written as any of Leiris’s books I have been assured by those who have read it in French and about a part of the world that is so poorly represented in world literature and in the world’s imagination and to have a book written by a writer like Leiris…  just beyond my simple comprehension…  Culbert makes this book temporarily available as I am reading his description of L’Afrique fantom.
44-University of Nebraska has a very good line of history books devoted to the West of the United States.  THE JOAQUIN BAND by Lori Lee Wilson is no exception to this.  Telling the complex story of an early outlaw band lead by Joaquin Murrieta which operated in California during the time of the Gold Rush leads her deep into the our now much more complex understanding of the West and much of our current understanding of the complexity is due to of course a refined interest in how many different groups, interests etc.  were involved. 
45- Usually the movies are accused of catering to a narrow stereotyped view of the West but as those who have actually seen a great number of Westerns well know this is not the case.  TV might have presented an often simple minded view of the West but the actual movies were always much more interesting and a very good book along those lines was recently out from YALE  HOLLYWOOD WESTERNS AND AMERICAN MYTH by Robert B. Pippin.. and once I got beyond the horde of people he owes debts to and the fact that he seemed to have had every breath of his life subsidized by some academic slush fund or another Pippen has actually written a fine book, fine in that he has actually watched for instance THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE and THE SEARCHERS and saw how in so many ways these are genuine American masterpieces that like each new reading King Lear reveals something new.. and as a result remain ever new…
46- But THE JOAQUIN BAND invites the reader into the heart of the complexity of what actually did happen… she provides, guides but ultimately allows the reader to try to make sense of the material…  the complex story of robbery, murder, hangings, lynchings, prejudice and hatred on all sides… this withholding is a genuine departure from most history writing, where the author is so concerned with sorting out and revealing THE truth that error always has to creep in when the final verdict comes down from the authorial high. 
47- But do not think this is some dry theoretical academic exercise in linguistic torture:    “One of his (newspaper) staff members covered the hangings.   The young fugitive “ spoke a few words asking for forgiveness and confessing that he had committed crimes.”  He died hard because his hands had not been tied lightly due to his wrist wound.  His good hand instinctively yanked free and grabbed the noose. For ten minutes he struggled. Finally the executioner stepped forward and pried his hand out of the noose so that he could expire.
48- THE LAND AT THE END OF THE WORLD  by Antonio Lobo Antunes…   W.W. NORTON is finally making available in a newly translated version and one only has to compare the new version to the one published so confidently many years ago by Random House as being shocking, revelatory of the terrible wars in the Portuguese colonies in Africa…  modeled  I am sure on Albert Camus’ THE FALL, a man is telling of his experiences as a  doctor in these wars…with the new version the book grows, longer, more complex and one has a real sense of what Antunes was all about….
49- Again the problem of translation.  Which book today published in translation and well received is going to be revealed as being only half done and that half done poorly done… 
50- I had reviewed a later book by Antunes which of course makes me grateful this new version of his first book as it goes some distance to explain the style of Antunes and that he did not evolve from a rather ordinary realistic writer of short declarative sentences as that first incompetent version had allowed for…
51- Never do reviewers or writers ever admit defeat or failure or incompetence or inability but I stand before you in all of those aspects of shame when trying to describe the experience of attempting to read: IMPRESSIONS OF AFRICA by  Raymond Roussel and NEW IMPRESSIONS OF AFRICA by Raymond Roussel
52- The IMPRESSIONS OF AFRICA is translated by Mark Polzzotti and looks and is surely prose.   Polizzotti quotes Harry Mathews as saying that Roussel’s language taught him how “writing could provide me with the means of so radically outwitting myself that I could bring my hidden experience, my unadmitted self into view.”
53- The NEW IMPRESSIONS OF AFRICA is translated by Mark Ford and looks like poetry with the French on one side and the English on the other. The book is illustrated and one can see that the French poetry rhymes while the English does not.  John Ashbery says, “Poets especially will be in Mark Ford’s debt and it is a “valuable resource for contemporary English-speaking readers.”
54-Summer travel.
55- Well, as awful as any other time but good for any season:  ENGINEERS OF THE SOUL by Frank Westerman… the reader gets a chance to follow Westerman as he uses some books by Russian writers to visit the sites of some of great projects--- during which hundreds of thousands of men women and children were murdered--- that Stalin launched in the building of the communism or socialism in the Soviet Union  and guided by the books that a variety of communist writers wrote about these projects Westerman travels to see the consequences, walking in the footsteps of these engineers of the soul, which in itself is such a wonderful  knot of words within the atheist world of Soviet communism… such writers, Gorky, Babel, Pilynik, Paustovsky…
56-But for another version of travel: here fiction leads to a so-called non-fiction book.
57- As I mentioned in another post THE SLY COMPANY OF PEOPLE WHO CARE by Rahul Bhattacharya  from FSG was one of the nicest reads these past few months--- about a young man finding himself in and trying to get about in Guyana…well, that leads to the accident of a book Knopf sent over: WILD COAST ,Travels on South America’s Untamed Edge,  by John Gimlette who is one of those English writers, a lawyer in another life, who goes off to places, writes about them and people buy the books instead of going there and like Paul Theroux and a myriad of other travel writers.. one always wonders how it happens… how these writers like the magnet and iron filings…the finding  of the characters, the weaving in of some history but all the interesting stuff, not the boring stuff and then how do they remember all of this stuff?
58- I open the book see the photograps--- the little collage as film script---: Devil’s Island, then the Dutch part with strange murders, the Guyana bit with Jim Jones…
59- But will I go on with the reading?...  A Bulgarian friend, a writer was saying to me once that he was astonished that I or anyone in the US would be interested in Bulgaria!
60- One of those comments, said probably just in passing but it does contain  the nub of the whole matter: how do we become interested in places, the other place, one’s own place…
61- So toward the end
62- As there is no real end and within theto be continued: DARK DESIRES AND THE OTHERS by Luisa Valenzuela.  She was an early Dalkey Archive author with HE WHO SEARCHES while being published by the so-called big publishers who now in the present moment have allowed all her books to go out of print.  This new book which set out to describe through indirection the ten years she lived in New York City, a woman with no city other than academic appointments.. on the speech making circuit and gradually fading away so I was surprised by this book appearing… for all these years I have read a short story of hers with students THE VERB TO KILL and it continues to be of interest, all those readings, good bad ,indifferent ,required have not dulled the story…
63- DARK DESIRES AND THE OTHERS is neither journal nor collection of essays but more a pile of paragraphs some connected, others  just that, a paragraph followed by another paragraph.. notebooks are indicated by cover color, with the possible echo of Kafka… but ten years of a person’s life.  I might be the only person who can say: I want my paragraphs to be so published…
64- How to decide if you want to be inside the mind of LV:
A== and working alongside international  human-rights organizations
B==The Guggenheim grant that I’ve always dreamed of and have now pocketed is burning a hole in my pocket
C== Badly written notebooks, like the result of someone “getting rid of lice,”as Cortazar put it
D==  writer in residence at the Center for Inter-American Relations, at NYU and Columbia
E== I confess that I have lives, said the other; I confess that I have fucked.  I say and what luck.  The odor coming to me now from between my legs is mixed, it is my gift and the other’s too, rather acrid, sharp, not entirely pleasant, but the best you can ask for on this earth.
So much sperm!  I love it when I go to the bathroom and I loosen my muscles and it comes out of me as if it was mine.  A white gush, something with a life of it own.  Though not all of them give it to me.  And not all of them have so much.  But this one does,,.
65- And truly to be continued:::::  THE SEAMSTRESS AND THE WIND  by Cesar Aira.
66-Again, startled by,”.. (Aira is)one of the most prolific writers in Argentina having published  more than eighty books.
67- Another way to try to close:  shall we proclaim this THE SUMMER OF DAVID STACTON as the New York Review Books is issuing his THE JUDGES OF THE SECRET COURT which is centered upon the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth who was the brother of then much more famous Edwin Booth who was considered by many of the time as the greatest actor alive and in particular for his performance as Hamlet.
68- David Stacton (1923-68) was a prolific novelist given to writing novels usually based within history.  When you look at old issues of book reviews his name is a constant presence  and then he died.  He wrote novels set in feudal Japan ancient Egypt, Europe during the 30 Years war, and he wrote genre westerns, mysteries and even soft-core gay porn… 
69- Who could resist a novel such as THE JUDGES OF THE SECRET COURT where the last page reads:  It was Julia Ward Howe who once asked Charles Sumner if he had  heard of young Booth yet.“Why no, Madam,” said Sumner, I long since ceased to take any interest in individuals.” “You have made great progress, sir,” Julia told him.  “God has not yet gone so far---at least according to the last accounts.”  Tucson November 1959- April 1960
70- I was thinking the New York Review Books  is dedicated to making available the background to the literary history of the United States of the late Twentieth Century which could be said to have two mountain peaks: Saul Bellow on one hand and on the other, Jack Kerouac and off to himself William Gaddis.  Of course I am disregarding Faulkner, Hemingway and Dos Passos but they are there in the moment before what we call the late Twentieth Century…  all the other scribblers find themselves in the shade or shadow or sunbeam or moonbeam of these guys.
71- THE BIRTH OF DEATH AND OTHER COMEDIES The Novels of Russell H. Greenan by TOM WHALEN.  From Dalkey Archive.  While it probably helps to have read the novels of Russell Greenan---IT HAPPENED IN BOSTON, THE SECRET LIFE OF ALGERNON PENDELTON, THE BRIC-A-BAC MAN, among others---  Whalen’s book is an introduction to an American writer who probably few have read though all his books were well published, well reviewed and continue to remain in print in France where a few of his books have appeared even though they are not available in their original English versions… you might think of Whalen’s book as an invitation to read the books of Greenan’s as he makes them into compelling temptations… but of course you wonder who, who.  Well, takes care of the author and I’d suggest reading any of the available essays if you want to know why this book is to be read but more importantly you might want to read the fiction and then the poetry and  while you can see the hundreds of stories, poems and their publication information it continues to be one of those dreary and typical mysteries: why… start with the story End of Term.”  This is for one of Whalen’s best stories and captures perfectly the impossibility of the teaching profession…
72- So that is a good way to end: go to and report back to me what you have discovered.  You don’t have to write a thousand word essay.
On into the future:  PARALLEL STORIES by PETER NADAS. THE DEVIL’S CAPTAIN Ernst Junger in Nazi Paris 1941-1944 by Allan Mitchell. HAMLET OR HECUBA by Carl Schmitt. FROM THE OBSERVATORY by JULIO CORTAZAR