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.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

"...and would be thinking of my unknown reader living in an un-remodeled house in Hermosa Beach some Sunday morning in July. " I didn't know there were any of those houses left!

I came across a reference to your blog entry at the Complete Review this morning. For me, the publication of Zibaldoni is THE publication event of the year. I'm in central Mexico for several months, and the excitement of waking up Tuesday morning with it already residing on my Kindle was pretty magical. I miss being able to hold the object that must be the physical book, but with all the footnotes hyper linked, it is a complete joy to effortlessly jump from to and from the footnotes. The biggest drawback with the e-book version is the lack of serendipity. You are somewhat forced to read it in a linear fashion, or at least must make a concerted effort to "jump" to random pages. This is a book better read randomly, snatches found as you stop with a cup of tea wandering by the kitchen table where it sits. It is a wonder that in this era of non-reading a group of people were willing to put together such an over-the-top translation, and that a commercial publisher was willing to publish it.

-lascosas

Thomas McGonigle said...

The previous reader is to be treasured. Yes, to everything he says. Opened at any page as that was the intention of Leopardi... To provide that freedom in reading... If I typed better I would make a little selection...on page 1270 he is discussing childhood and the myth of the happiness therein... Which lead me to thinking of Gombrowicz's Ferdydurke... But I am just sad that readers in LA are thought by the editors of the LA Times to be stupid, so narrow their interests... But this is true of the editors of all the major newspapers, they really have an ingrained contempt and the writing and content of the papers are the evidence...

Anonymous said...

Briefly about the Library of America (LOA): several times over the past few years, I have learned about their new books from this blog. E.g., the Civil War volume and the Sherwood Anderson volume. I might have eventually found them, but you opened the path. The pretentious little snot, that told you you were not "important" enough should remember that he or she is in a business that is holding on by a thread, and that anyone who helps advertise a book, tantalizes the reader with its contents (as you do) should be cultivated--not insulted. There are lots of problems with LOA editions, but it is good to have so much work collected in one manageable book. One caveat, LOA does not respond well to criticism or suggestions. Several years ago I used their college edition of Walt Whitman. When I wrote to tell them that the edition should have had line indications (5, 10, 15, etc) to help students / teachers make reference to particular lines with ease (toilers in the field of The Cantos will understand what this means--not to have line indications)--I was told that to have put them in would have resulted in books of a significantly higher price!!

I hope I can rant on something. I recently was at the NYPL at 42nd Street. I needed to check a minor point in Helene Cixous' L'exile de James Joyce (French edition, 1968), (Main Reading Room--not offsite just plain old call slip) when I realized that the point I needed to clarify was probably in another edition, I check the catalog for other editions. Indeed the library had the 1972 English translation (which might be the edition I needed to check on the photos of Joyce used)--it is in the Berg Collection. One copy only with no indication of a "rare" or special nature to the edition that puts it in the Berg. To use the Berg now you have to email two to three days in advance and "negotiate" (the Library's word) with the Berg people to see the book. I needed 5 minutes to check something!!! When I asked several librarians about the Berg, I was questioned about did I know what the collection was. I was asked could they arrange for me to see the book elsewhere (NYU if it had it--it did, I learned, have three copies on the open shelves). I patiently explained that I needed no more than 5 minutes with the book. By way of establishing my legitimacy, I told them I had first started using the Berg Collection when Lola Szladits was curator--assuring them I could not only pronounce her name correctly but also spell it. Deaf ears. What does this have to do with LOA--probably not much--except perhaps that access to books, for a library user or a critic / blogger such as you Tom, is becoming more and more of a chore. Ugh!! But as someone in "The Godfather" said, "This is the business we choose."

Thomas McGonigle said...

I long ago stopped going to libraries though I have used the inter-library loan at the college... the library has now too often become possessed of a strange hybrid bookstore in the mall mentality...the Cixous translation was published by David Lewis, right?..remaindered long ago for a dolllar or two.. she went downhill after that book...