Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Q             The world is calling is a cliché of what the young experience.  As one gets older increasingly it is the world within calling and that is finally the only to explain how the books pile up about me since it gets a little more difficult to go out into the world…
Q             Last night Denis Donoghue was here for dinner and I showed him a line in a new book from George Steiner that is coming from New Directions: THE POETRY OF THOUGHT From Hellenism to Celan.  I also mentioned that Steiner was the only critic today who did what Denis does: close reading of texts and writing for the general educated population…  Denis did not dispute this but did mention that he thought Steiner far better  read and in fact much more erudite… and then Denis mentioned the loathing that people felt for Steiner when he was a professor at Cambridge and the ridicule he was exposed to  if not to his face than  firmly to his back.  And I was saying I thought it no accident that Steiner was now being published by New Directions since that publishing is one of the very few that is still engaged in publishing what is genuinely of interest in terms of literary originality.  Happily Denis Donoghue’s WARRENPOINT is being reprinted in the near future by Dalkey Archive, the only other American publisher what keep to the Poundian way of : MAKE IT NEW.
Q             Of course Steiner’s touchstones are those epitomes of the obscure: Heidegger, Hegel, Celan,  Holderlin, Plato but he also fears not to venture into the works of Genet, Valery, Strindberg, Goebbels, Marx and the list goes on… I am willing to follow him as I am Pound… because the question is what to read next, or re-read next.
Q             Steiner also knows that things have changed:  “In the “free world” license has often been indifference.  What potentate in the White House would take note of, let alone dread a Mandelstam epigram?”  But is he saying that George W and BO are incarnations of Stalin… the comedy of it all…
Q             The sentence after the one just quoted:  “The image of Marx in the British Library rotunda is totem.  It is a celebration, now virtually erased, of the belief that “In the beginning was the Word.”
Q             An aside:  Heidegger is the great seducer of Jewish intellectuals, both mentally and physically, if I mention Steiner one has to also mention Levinas and of course Hannah Arendt  
Q             So Steiner has sent me back to the dialogues of Valery, he has returned me to Faulkner--- though never far from him to be sure and Poe as they are really the only American prose writers he is interested in while of the poets there are only Eliot and Pound…
Q             My only contact with Steiner was in a classroom--- too many years ago--- at Columbia and he was mentioning how fortunate I was to have been talking with Anthony Burgess who was the only English writer who was not an English writer, because to be an English writer was almost a term of abuse in Steiner’s vocabulary of criticism, Burgess if he wanted to, if he had not given into being an entertainer ,might have been a very great writer, he was the only one in Twentieth Century England who had this potential, all the rest of them were minor regional provincials…
R             I prefer Steiner’s pompous  attituding  (which is probably the worst that can be said.. but I still read carefully as he like Calasso are even at their most pompous are not devoid of interest) when compared to Geoff Dyer  whose bound galleys for ZONA a book he has written about STALKER  fell into my hands and  I tried to read  in it going to and from doctor...  I was going to write about it on this blog but I type so slowly....  i think that Geoff Dyer writes all the reviews in all the English newspapers and magazines... all the culture pages, all the commentary pages.
R             At one time I looked forward to London because of the number of national newspapers and their book pages… but that is no longer so and the reason is that Geoff Dyer is writing all those pages.  In the first few pages of ZONA  my eyes ran into or were run over by these phrases that I circled as evidence for my contention that he is solely responsible for all the book pages of the English newspapers:  1, the barman's jacket could do with a good clean   ,2, as anyone who has enjoyed a couple of bong hits already knows  ,3, Tarkovsky couldn't give a toss about the audience  ,4, the screen was no bigger than a big telly ,5, we were able to have a discreetly good gawp, 6,sitting near her at a lavish fund-raiser.
              It is the phrase, “no bigger than a big telly” that did it for me.  The instant response: Dyer writes all the English newspapers
S              I have been reading PARALLEL LIVES by Peter Nadas since the summer… and have made it to about page 200 with another 900 pages.  Some of that time was taken up with surgery and recovery but the actual reading of this novel by Peter Nadas is the most difficult, the most complicated, most demanding of my life.  And not being done inside a class, not being read against a deadline and not worried that I would have to fake the in depth review.. but already I know this is a terribly great novel, beyond probably my ability, but still demanding and I will not be able to show how he used Plutarch’s lives to structure his novel, I will not be able to talk about the use of time:  Is it taking place on 16 June as Peter Esterhazy suggested all novels now take place:  I spend three weeks reading the section:
Two women are in a cab on the way to the hospital where the older woman’s husband is dying, or about to die.. the younger woman is in love with this woman’s son… There is a terrible rain storm going on and the driver of the taxi has difficulty driving… it is possible the driver is an agent as this is still communist Hungary… the older woman loathes the younger woman, the younger woman is in awe of the older woman… the older woman and the younger woman eventually clutch each other and the older woman is remembering long ago another clutching as she was nursing a recently born child and the younger woman is described as having been used and abused since she could not get a residency permit to live in Budapest…  All of this is told with the objectivity and distance of Plutarch… almost as if we forget we are reading invented lives: while Plutarch was describing mostly historical figures, but which in some cases would not exist unless he had described them… Now what to made of PARALLEL LIVES… the discovery of a murdered man in a Berlin park and the insinuation that a young man did it… We creep on into the book ,900 pages to go and off to the side I am aware of a huge Murakami and even a Stephen King… but all three didn’t get the Nobel Prize and the mind drift as to which will be really talked about, reviewed, and most importantly like the movie box office results on Monday morning…
T              Francois Augieras is not a household name.  Probably and sadly for a good reason, but on the other hand I wish I could give his JOURNEY OF THE DEAD to every smart kid I know or will know and I wish some had given me this book many many years ago…  I had read his JOUNREY TO MOUNT ATHOS and  THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE which like JOUNREY TO THE DEAD were published by Pushkin Press in London, the only English publisher that can stand with Dalkey Archive and New Directions when it comes to being perfectly essential to anyone who might in any way describe themselves as interested in reading, in being well read or…
                JOURNEY OF THE DEAD is Augieras long life as wandering shepherd in Algeria in the early 1950s… he rivals Genet for the clarity of his writing, for the ordinariness of his understanding of human nature, for his acceptance and fearless  confidence…  as Genet mentioned when he was in Chicago for the Democratic Convention in 1968: the only sexy people were the leather clad police… all the mere political became uninteresting… Augieras writes, “Whenever the moonlight offered them up to my sense of purity and wonder, I loved these symbols of the twentieth century, the perfection of things that were easy to come by—guns, gramophone records.”  OR   “What makes Africa enchanting?  Is it the sound of dogs barking at night?”  OR three incidents:  “What whet my appetite was just being with women,; prostitution appealed to me, I didn’t find submissive young women so threatening.  Europeans didn’t interest me: they knew nothing of the steppe, the animals  I loved, they had no smell… How fine it was to be twenty and between a girl’s legs!   OR  I noticed a tall Arab boy of about eighteen with beautiful well rounded shoulders… I followed him into the darkness.  I kissed him in the lips but instead of kissing me in return he told me to meet him some distance away… He returned my kisses so passionately  that my eyes filled with tears… We stayed where we were, leaning  against a boulder .  At my waist the pistol gleamed  in the darkness  OR OR  I went into the sheepfold grabbed one of the lambs by its fleece.  I had my favorites and as the rest of the flock retreated to the far end of their prison with a great rumbling sound, kneeling on the urine soaked bedding and holding its head down , I imitated the rams and made violent love  to him.  The wool rubbed against my belly…”
U             Far gentler is another Pushkin title  HYMN TO OLD AGE  by Hermann Hesse… but that is for another time as is THE UNCANNILY STRANGE AND BRIEF LIFE OF AMEDEI MODIGLIANI by Velibor Colic.  Just by mentioning the Hesse and the book by a Bosnia writer living in France, one can see  the range of PUSHKIN PRESS
V             ISLE OF THE DEAD by GERHARD MEIER is a perfect Dalkey Archive book:  two old men walk around   a city in Switzerland, one of the guys talks a great part of the novel and the other guy listens and observes… 110 pages: “What has time, what has life done with these faces?”
                But more from ISLE OF THE DEAD on another day…  what an act of optimism…
W            Hard to believe but back in 1963 SIMON AND SCHUSTER  actually occasionally published real literature.  In addition to Michel Butor they published COMPOSITION NO.1 by Marc Saporta.  The book was unbound and came packaged in a bright orange, black white glossy box.  There was a sort of introduction on the inside front of the box telling readers what to do and reminding them that “a life is composed of many elements.  But the number of possible combinations is infinite.  He pages were wrapped in a narrow orange band with instructions:  The pages of this book may be read in any order.  The reader is requested to shuffle the like a deck of cards.
                VISUAL EDITIONS in London has reissued the book in a yellow box but does not mention on the title that it was translated by Richard Howard or the date of its original publication. Two introductions to the box are now included and a grey illustration is printed on the back of each page… the illustrations seem very intrusive and distract from the confrontation with words on a page and the shuffling of those pages as we are now also shuffling these illustrations. 
                Of course COMPOSITION No. 1 preceded THE UNFORTUNATES by B.S. Johnson but in one essential way these are quite different.  The Saporta is more radical in that individual pages are shuffled while with Johnson’s box it contained signatures of pages… and it seemed that he was shuffling events while Saporta was moving about elements… however in no way should one be discouraged from getting a copy or getting the box by Marc Saporta… this gauntlet remains ever new which cannot be said for ALL the books that Simon Schuster published in 1963, all of which are dead and gone.