Wednesday, July 20, 2011

PAIN IS BORING: some reading and the opening paragraph from ST. PATRICK'S DAY Dublin 1974

c--- Pain is boring and for the last six months I have been having pain in my lower right leg.  Seems I fell in the winter and now there will be an operation on the spine:  some have suggested I will end up in a wheelchair with loss of bowel and bladder while others have been more hopeful, including the Xray technician who said Good Luck after taking the final X-rays.

d--- More than forty years ago when I would talk with Edward Dahlberg is in windowless rooms on the Upper West Side of Manhattan he would complain about being posthumous.  He was exaggerating  a little as his Confessions  were about to be published but indeed he knew what he was speaking of because in the obit the NY Times, stupid as always, missed his real claim to the future: BECAUSE I WAS FLESH.
--- I have inherited this knowing  from Dahlberg…  and one can feel the stomping feet upon the grave… but I read his inscription: FOR THOMAS, WHOM I LIKE VERY MUCH AND WHO, I HOPE WILL BE MY FRIEND. DEC 21, 1970 NYC.  That friendship endured until the late Spring.  I published excerpts from an interview I did with him in the University Review, a free newspaper distributed on college campuses…I learned that you should not use the same noun twice in one paragraph, that you will always feel that you are be inflicted upon by the well known by writers of the day, and that you should never begin to write without first reading a book by a writer greater than you will ever be since writing should be a constant state of humiliation

---Today,  a list of well known bad writers would have to include Jonathan Franzen, Don DeLillo, Salman Rushdie, Jonathan Safran Foer … and they share the characteristics of all well known bad writers: relevance, imitation, fakery, pseudo profundity

E ---But I have  been reading a little and that is what I wanted to report.
And I will be reading for a long time: PARALLEL STORIES by PETER NADAS.  The bound galleys are more than 1100 pages and require the greatest possible concentration and so far each chapter opens another story and all the while I am aware that parallel lines do not meet except in the highest math… 

--- Finally a book that might nudge over ULYSSES though so far I have not found the classical allusions that stalk Joyce’s book to either a reader’s distraction or delight.

---When PARALLEL STORIES is published in November read carefully the reviews and see who is faking their reading of this book, who has skimmed it, who has copied from the publicity and if you think this won’t happen you should read  FIRE THE BASTARDS by Jack Green (Dalkey Archive) a book that shows exactly how far too many reviewers did not read William Gaddis’s THE RECOGNITIONS and even when copying  the publicity for it could not get that straight.  I have also heard that one of the straws upon the back of David Foster Wallace was his sure knowledge that many of those who had praised his INFINITE JEST had not read it and he well knew Samuel Johnson’s remark, it is better to praise than to read.

---I can only begin to hint at my own reading of PARALLEL STORIES by quoting the chapter title, “Everyone in Their Own Darkness”, as a possible way into the originality of the narrative but remembering as I discovered a quote I had inserted into my ST. PATRICK’S DAY Dublin 1974, “not to put too fine a print on it, Tolstoy did not believe in people.  The more closely his read characters…are examined, the clearer it becomes that the celebrated moralist was a determinist, a materialist, a behaviorist.  Although his eye for surface variations was so wonderfully acute that there is not a character in all his output who is not apparently unique, all are nothing but flesh, and all flesh is grass.  The flesh may lead to despair, but it is the only form in which fiction can so amply clothe itself…” 

---when I wrote about Nadas’s BOOK OF MEMORIES I mentioned the startling physicality of his characters, how their words were enshrined in a flesh that has so rarely been described and the same must be said for PARALLEL STORIES:  never have I read a description of male body hair to compare…but not in the service of pornography, to be sure…

--- the books of Nadas along with those of Roberto Calasso and the pleasure they give to me as a reader are reasons enough to want to survive this operation… I cannot escape the fact of writing before an operation is inevitably a before and the awaited after looms… Nadas well understands the need for such a sentence as he has also written a painful book about his own heart attack OWN DEATH, but has the mind to distance himself from this by publishing his text midst hundreds of photographs of the same tree on his property as that tree changes with the season…

--- which leads, again, to my assertion that T.S. Eliot’s THE WASTE LAND is the only poem in English to survive the 20th Century for:  April is the cruelest month

F ---I am also more grimly aware than ever before of the dire fate of the book.  The number of book shelves continues to shrink at St. Marks Bookstore and at the Strand more and more space is given over to non-book items and now the store is just a tourist destination to buy things with the STRAND name on them.  Of course they cannot compete with the used books at Amazon, but what is sadder is that for those of us who walk in the city, there are now fewer and fewer places to walk to… the boulevardier of Baudelaire has now lost his purpose, there is no longer a place for him… even in New York City.

G ---Blogs are an end in themselves, a constant item of frustration and isolation…they really mean that we are now approaching total atomization.. there are no longer public places where one gets together to talk…  one thinks of the great and famous pubs, bars, cafes… all gone no matter where you look in thr world.. all turned into tourist sites with fading pictures of authors… authors of books no one reads.. I am told Beckett’s picture is all over Dublin and it was in the airport in Dublin 20 years ago even, welcoming people to Ireland, to a country that hates its writers and makes a mockery of them by turning them into employees of the state, receiving monthly payments to make sure they never write anything of real significance… remember that was the purpose of the writers unions in the socialist countries:  give the writers so many perks, so many benefits that they would write less and less or they would writer more and more insignificant poetry… nearly every poet you can think of in Ireland now has a collected volume of more than 600 pages in length…  so those monthly checks coming from Aosdana buy the compliant silence and in the US the silence is bought with tenure from colleges and universities where the function of these writers is to turn out more writers who in turn will…

H---the most mysterious book this time around is FROM THE OBSERVATORY (Archipelago)  by Julio Cortazar combining prose and photographs by Cortazar himself of an observatory built in Jaipur by an Indian prince.  I have long been awaiting this English version as I picked up a long time ago in Paris the French version which is far grander with the photographs bled to the edge of the page and some pictures spread over two pages.  The American version is little meaner: the photographs are isolated by wide white frames, diminished in a way, as I do think we are supposed to be swept somewhere by the photographs, swept away from the determinism of the science that is discussed about the habits of eels, but the fragmented text, hallucinated in its rebellion: “that the redheaded night should see us walking with our face to the breeze, favoring the apparition of dream and insomnia figures, that one hand should slowly slip down naked back until coaxing out the moan of love…

---but I am willing to go most anywhere with Cortazar whose HOPSCOTCH, ever young, ever youthful, ever a model for what can be and what is no longer, and happily ARCHIPELAGO also has Cortazar’s  AUTONAUTS OF THE COSMOROUTE, the THE THE perfect book to buy before setting out on any long car trip, as that is what it is, a report on a car trip between Paris and Marseilles, where the rest stops, the accidents of the road become the… I like the dailyness of it, the photographs, the drawings, the accidents, the sadness that both Cortazar and his companion are both dead, this is a perfect memorial, but telling anyone who can read that it is what you are doing right now is of interest, if only you step back, one tiny step…

---I am not prepared to forget that Cortazar had the most repulsive activist political beliefs:  every murderous leftist regime drew his support  but in so much of his writing this did not contaminate his imagination, so in the way that we have learned to read Pound or Celine…

J--- HELDENPLATZ, by Thomas Bernhard (Oberon)  Bernhard’s last play.  A professor has returned to Vienna from Oxford and thrown himself out of the window…realizing  Austria today is no different than it was in 1930s when the Viennese quite happily cheered Hitler and to this day are little changed… familiar to readers of Bernhard but still as fresh as, and the surviving brother of the suicide is saying, “so you won’t think/I’m dead already which I am not on the contrary/the body is finished but the head is newborn/every day/ that’s a terrible situation…

---there is a very funny exchange between two of the servants of the suicided professor talking of his views of his children:  Suddenly one day you discover your own children/are non-humans he said/we think we are raising human beings/and then  they’re just carnivorous cretins/hysterics megalomaniacs  chaotic

---and how we are inflicted upon by actors, actresses, rock stars, do-gooders of every sort:  the whole world nothing but cynicism/megalomaniac actors/ abusing the Sahel-region/perverse Caritas directors/flying first class to Eritrea/posing with starving people/for the world press

---or as any thoughtful person knows every morning should begin with the New York Post and not the New York Times:  The so-called quality papers have always been boring/What we seek in the newspapers/is precisely the scum/I don’t need newspapers as my daily intellectual diet/it’s the absolute primitiveness of the Austrian  gutter press/ that I need every morning/I admit I would rather steep myself in that filth / than in the tasteless culture section of the Frankfurter Allgemeine (New York Times, right!) 

K ---   a few more books  that I have been reading and which increasingly look to being over-looked:

…BARLEY PATCH by Gerald Murnane.  Some of us discovered Murnane a long time ago when Braziller published THE PLAINS, and discovered finally an Australian writer of prose that could be read… but with the BARLEY PATCH Murnane  becomes a world class writer, someone who does fit into Dalkey Archive’s list with me, with Goytisolo, with Roa Bastos, with Lezama Lima… yeah ,and I threw in my own books because I forget that is my claim upon you my few readers and I wanted you to know the context of my books… along with Claude Simon, Robert Pinget, Andrei Bitov.
…Murnane prefaces BARLEY PATCH with a quote from Kerouac’s Doctor Sax--- just in that gesture alone shows we are dealing with a writer of a genuine independent spirit:  The Turf was so complicated it went on forever.”

…the first line of the book is: Must I write?  The second section a few pages later begins: Why had I written?  TO PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 20, 2011

L--- WERT AND THE LIFE WITHOUT END by Claude Ollier (Dalkey Archive).  I asked to review this for the LA TIMES and still might be given the chance but who knows… set within the mind of a soldier who has survived…” Stricken for life, shut away inside themselves, emptied, surrounded by paleness, place shadows, such is the fate of the living who must still live.”

…”All outbursts, fits of temper, and screams banished, permanent silence reigns, a great respect for others, here the meeting  place of the silent ones, the taciturn, the discreet.
In recent years I have had many students who have been in the terrible wars the US has been engaged in for the last 20 years.  In some of these classes the students get a chance to read STORM OF STEEL by Ernst Junger and discover that they are not alone… they see through the tawdriness of  the well meaning  writing that is cranked out attempting to describe their experiences but once they have read Junger they discover a context, they are not alone.. they are not…

M ---the best memoir books for the Fall: THE LETTERS OF T.S. ELIOT Volume i and Volume 2, far more interesting than any book written about Eliot.

N--- ST. PATRICK'S DAY Dublin 1974
AFTER  for a while, until discouraged by technology failure I was trying to scan ST PATRICK’S DAY Dublin 1974 so as to make it possible to be read in out new world.  Here is the opening
That spring I was staying at The Russell in the cheapest or as I have been taught to say, the most reasonable available room. The ones in the pubs think I'm loaded and they are almost right:  I am loaded but not always with money and there have been too many times or not enough of those times to put me at perfect ease with the idea of always being loaded and so what? When?  I have sat before the fire in the lobby of the hotel, a cold glass of Carlsberg in hand, realizing a lot of other sons have done and are doing at this moment what I am doing: drinking and travelling out the patrimony, a gift in my case, from all the years of my father's fear of doing anything which would endanger his retirement.
After forty-nine years of work at the American Can Company he survived only two years of doing as he put it: nothing.
Died, he did, alone in a parking lot with strangers looking on at his performance.
I, the son, will have gone through the small sum of money in less than a year.  There is no revealing the exact sum because money together with sex, religion and politics are all things the son was taught not to talk about with strangers because one never knew.
The future holds only watching each and every dollar spent