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?