Tuesday, July 30, 2013

DISPLAYING A BOOK finally not edifying possibly



            More common than I suspect:  displaying books as memorials or as reminders of once I…
            Today, I moved the four volumes of MY PAST AND THOUGHTS  The Memoirs of Alexander Herzen.  I had bought them after seeing them in the small rooms of Eugene Lambe in Longacre, London above what had been the Bertram Rota Booksellers. 
            Eugene has been dead for many years now and London seems a little emptier, at least for me. 
            The Herzen books were on a small table in front of the wall on which a David Hockey drawing was  displayed.  Often he had a small vase with a couple of tulips and nearby was a wooden sculpture in the shape of tulips.  No other books were ever visible. 
            I had first met Eugene in Dublin in the 60s--- when for a time he had been studying the law at Trinity, down he was from The North, and he informs much of my ST. PATRICK’S DAY Dublin 1974 which is supposed to come from Dlakey Archive in the spring of 2014.
            The reason for moving the Herzen books is that yesterday at Anna’s I was looking into a few novels by Giles Gordon, who before he became Prince Charles’s literary agent, before he was a publisher, he was a novelist, whose novels possibly could have joined B.S. Johnson and Ann Quin and Alan Burns but that was not really to be though who knows… Ann Quin exists In the Dalkey Archive. 
            But Giles Gordon was introduced---- also how association of names works---- to me at a luncheon club off of Longacre by George Lawson who was the owner of Bertram Rota and when I asked Lawson who had long been a subject of conversation from Eugene as in “your man Lawson”  could he tell me about Eugene replied, “O, you mean my servant…”  
            I will leave it at that as it is teased out a little in ST. PATRICK’S DAY Dublin 1974.  Eugene was the father of a son Orlando by a Canadian heiress of the Hudson Bay Trading Company. 
            One year when I visited Eugene he had had a heart attack and was saying all the doctors can tell you is you have had a heart attack and he had another in a gay dancing place in Covent Garden.  At the funeral, his two brothers were revealed to be generals in the British Army--- one of them head of British forces in Bosnia--- attending the funeral surrounded by security.  A poem was dedicated to Eugene years before by Derek Mahon. 
            As far as I know there is no grave for Eugene, so he is as disappeared as these words will eventually be and as he slides from the  memory of the few who still know the name…
            Another book that I moved was AZEF  by Roman Goul. 
            Octavian Cretu--- the best man at my wedding to Ruth--- knew him in some way when we all lived on the Upper West side in the early 70s when one way aware that the neighborhood was home to still the many that had escaped from or survived the horrors of the communism and Nazism.  It gave a certain seriousness even to those of us who frequented the Gold Rail or Forlini’s or The West End yet who were aware of the ghost of Lorca and Kerouac. 
            Octavian was a refugee from Romania and that was the beginning of our friendship as I had lived in Bulgaria  1967-68 and unlike too many people at that time I had no illusions about the pleasures of the communism.  Goul published Nabokov and Brodsky in his journal The New Review but there was about him that feeling of being excluded as academics at Columbia had no interest in the Russian √©migr√© experience as there was neither money nor prestige in it. 
            Of all the people I have met from the East only Nina Berberova  knew of him as he was the first person who met her when she arrived after the war.  Berberova was more tolerant of my lack of Russian and accepted my reading of the Russians in English, something Goul was not really interested in and who could blame him?
            Of course just mentioning both Berberova and Goul I am aware of how deficient our experience of Russian literature is:  Georgi Ivanov is not known.  That is my reason for writing that.  A book of his poetry has appeared but not his prose which is the singular claim he should be making on our reading.  Without his books of prose available in English it can be said we know not relaly Russian literature in the 20th Century and that is why I had  AZEF on display.

IMMEDIATE REASON for writing this post today: 

In the Aug 5, 2013 The NEW YORKER:  “His (David Gilbert) previous novel “The Normals” veered uneasily between the influences of Jonathan Franzen and Don DeLillo.  His new novel more singly follows the example of Franzen but lacks the formal coherence and affecting sincerity…”
            Need I tell you this thought is by James Wood?  By reaching for those two names  he reveals the impoverished dreary deadened condition  that allows one to say ain’t much going on in American fiction writing and with poetry missing since the death of Ronald Johnson in 1998 the country finds itself further bereft of a single major poet. 
            Imagine 300 million people and not a single major poet actively writing and publishing. 
            This last lurch to avoid thinking of what is not happening today in writing in the US. 
            Of course it will be objected to but I simply ask where is there a novel being written in the US or recently published in the US that could sit comfortably on the shelf with Camilo Jose Cela’s CHRIST VERSUS ARIZONA or Andrei Bitov’s PUSHKIN HOUSE or Thomas Bernhard’s CORRECTION or Mati Unt’s BRECH AT NIGHT or Hannah Green’s THE DEAD OF THE HOUSE?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

SQUISHED BY REALITY



SQUISHED BY REALITY    or how it came to be that the editor of the Los Angeles Times book section did not reply to my asking to review the Zibaldone by Giacomo Leopardi.

I open PATERSON by William Carlos Williams as I am staying five nights a week in Edison, New Jersey.  Is this the best guide book to New Jersey?  One always wants a book about a place or based on a place where one is living. ULYSSES serves that purpose for Dublin and finding no book of this kind I wrote GOING TO PATCHOGUE  as that was MY place from which I came.
One does not open such books on the first page and this time I found early on a fragment from a letters from Edward Dahlberg and this sentence among others, “ I can continue with  my monologue of life and death until inevitable annihilation.”
But in the countryside or rather in the suburbs as that is what Edison, New Jersey is, a suburb to New York City, to Newark, to New Brunswick, one needs constant distraction as concentration seems always to bring one to the question:  how did I end up here?  Is it permanent? What if it is permanent? Is this a sort of mad questions or worry that is not based on much of anything.
Of course, I have been coming to Edison for now 20 years as this is where Anna grew up and I am staying in the house in which she grew up.  I well understand my isolation since I was not born here, I have not been a parent here so acquiring in that way a place in this place:  I am a looker on. 
A drive this morning to another place nearby, Rahway, as I had to go to a car wrecker to get a replacement window for the window that was broken in the car back in January, was the day’s first errand and then the second errand was to go to the A&P to get two half gallons of milk and a package of filters for the coffee machine.
A moment in the day: a note from a guy at the Library of America telling  me I am not important enough to receive a bound galley of a book I asked for.  They are doing cost cutting and the blog I was writing was deemed not of a significant nature.  It is my way to participate in the general cost cutting nature of the present moment. 
If one is sane one must grow used to one’s marginality. It was no accident my mentioning that letter by Edward Dahlberg as when I knew him now more than 40 years ago he was complaining or simply remarking about his marginality of having been alive posthumously for a generation…  for the twentysomething year old self that I was, I knew this was most likely, even then, for me, my own fate…
I could feel it really in truth more inarticulate then than now, even then:  whatever it was had not happened and yet I have remained faithful to this vocation  probably more by default and accident than design… remembering the awful sentence of Richard M. Elman saying in 1972 was it: there are no unknown worthy writers in New York City, that is one of those polite fictions the young embrace out of their arrogant ignorance of just how aware publishers actually are.
            Even to this date, 2013, it is hard to work up disbelief in his dogmatic statement, the best are known, they are not unknown.
            At the moment I am waiting to be told by Dalkey Archive exactly when they are  to be publishing ST. PATRICK’S DAY Dublin 1974.  The contract was signed last year in the spring, money changed hands and the waiting began. 
            From my experience of the two previous books I know this is probably in some way the best part of the whole publishing process and while I have nothing to complain of in the fate of those books, both well reviewed in the New York Times and both still in print if you look at the Dalkey Archive website and the web site for Northwestern University Press ---I make this distinction as in the current crop of DA books GOING TO PATCHOGUE got dropped from the listing that appears in every new DA book… and I am hoping that it will be restored for the 2014 books… of course this is a petty vanity, an admission of fragility or marginality… and recently my name disappeared from the in-print and available books when you put it into the self-help computers at Barnes and Noble… though to be honest Amazon still believes that my books are alive and McNally Jackson Bookstore even stocks one of them… is it the only bookstore in the US that stocks my books?...
            Here in Edison, a sort of geographic donut about the hole of Metuchan, there is a bookstore in Metuchan but they alphabetize mass market paperbacks and I just don’t understand what they are doing.   The owner told me they were fortunate to have a member of one of the great gangster families who is a self-published author and he sells a great number of books through their store.  At first I thought that unusual but then Burke’s bookstore in Memphis has a special relationship with John Grisham whose autographed books help that shop with the bottom line.. In the Barnes and Noble in the Menlo Park Mall  there are no literary books in the fiction and literature section…  even New Directions books are not evident.  The people who work there spend their time arranging and re-arranging the mostly mass market books… books that are such distraction, so destructive, so tyrannical as they only prepare readers to read more and more of these books…. Dahlberg watched day time television as he well knew a crap book only prepared a reader for another mouthful of shit…  He never criticized people who watched television… as television did not destroy the ability to read. TO read a Jonathan Franzen book, to read a James Patterson book, to read a Toni Morrison book,  to read a Stephen King book, to read the whole… creators of illiteracy or stupidity…  no wonder the very intelligent young go to the sciences, to the so-called dead languages …  one English class is all it takes where a student is required to read and approve of  the ethnic choice of the day, the gender choice of the day… English classes in college are staffed by the equivalent of people who still believe the earth is flat, that gravity does not exist, that the sun rises and the sun falls…
            But all of the above is held at bay by a few books  at hand:  PATERSON by William Carlos Williams, MOBILE by Michel Butor, Zibadone by Leopardi, The SHORT FALL by Marek Waldorf, THE SILENT CROSSING by Pascal Quiginard, A HEAVEN OF WORDS by Glenway Wescott…  I use them to stay among the living  as Edward might say and how he would disapprove of me going to recently published books—though he approved of the prose of Glenway Wescott and Leopardi would meet his approval…

                                          Evidential commentary on the above.  

            Here is the letter I wrote to Joy Press at the LA Times asking after the possibility of reviewing  the Zibaldone, the note books of Giacomo Leopardi published in a beautiful edition of 2502 pages.  I have been reviewing for the LA Times, the Washington Post and, Newsday and the Chicago Tribune for more than 25 years.

Joy, 
            I noticed by my desk calendar that last year this time the LA Times had mostly run of money for freelancers but the recent news seems a bit more upbeat and firstly,  I still appreciate your running my review of Calasso’s. La Folie Baudelaire.
            I have restrained myself from suggesting the possibility of reviewing but  from FSG comes in July  the 2502 pages (yes the number is correct) of Leopardi’s ZIBALDONI. (notebooks)  Leopardi is the greatest Italian poet after Dante.  I can well imagine the first impulse but… the sheer enterprise of a commercial publisher doing such a project… but who is Leopardi? 
          Here is a quote  that, at least to me, is the one secret deeply repressed  central thought of everyone in Hollywood and maybe everywhere and as I put it on my blog:
Leopardi the greatest Italian poet in succession to Dante and  Petrarch, writes: "There are two truths which most men will never believe: one, that they know nothing, and the other that they are nothing. And there is a third, which proceeds from the second---- that there is nothing to hope for after death." And true to that he was able to write about his own "work": "I never achieved any real work. I have made attempts..." and finally, "if I were a poet..."
            I first discovered Leopardi in the title of John Rechy’s novel CITY OF NIGHT  way back in the 60s… which came from James Thomson  who wrote THE CITY OF DREADFUL NIGHT in 19th century England and who drank himself to death but not before learning Italian so he could translate Leopardi…  (David Rattray had BOMB published a section from my book FORGET THE FUTURE which was about Thomson…)
            The publisher of FSG, Jonathan Galassi, has published a wonderful selection of Leopardi’s poetry and now has arranged for this…
            Leopardi made it to 39 years, was a hunchback who accumulated nearly every sort of illness that the human body can endure yet by 16 he was able to read/write and speak Hebrew, Greek and Latin and as time went on he was fluent in English, French and German… and the notebooks  or night thoughts might be a better way of thinking of them reflects this vast reading and thinking and what it is all focused on: liberating himself  and people from the too many of the old tempting fall back ideas when things get really awful… there is a wonderful freshness and directness in these pages and in so many ways he created the necessary liberating backbone for the possibility of a united progressive Italy..
            I think I can find some words so as to make the notebooks accessible to your readers and I would stick to whatever word count you wished and would be thinking of my unknown reader living in an un-remodeled house in Hermosa Beach some Sunday morning in July.
            I know this is an unusual sort of possibility but given the rather dreary reality it is also important to remind ourselves of such books being published etc etc…  this is really good news.
                             There was no reply.

I am well aware that the letter is chatty and I probably assume too much of the editor in her knowing that under previous editors of the LA Times I had written long  reviews of writers such as Thomas Bernhard, E. M. Cioran, Peter Esterhazy, William Vollmann, Herta Muller…but as a character might say, I had me hopes.