Necessary information: for more than 30 years sections from ST. PATRICK’S DAY Dublin 1974 have been appearing in journals and magazines both in the United States and in Ireland. It was supposed to be published during this coming Spring but I have been told that publication has been postponed.
In too many ways to mention I find that my life has been ruined.
1- I have been planning to do IF I WAS THE BOOK SECTION EDITOR and here are the books for this week
2- I got distracted and thought about the problem of what to do about books that get themselves forgotten as happened because I found in my books TRAVELING LIGHT by Lionel Mitchell.
3- Coming out in 1980 it was one of those--- as they like to say--- path breaking books that sadly did not break any paths--- not because it was not a path-breaking book--- and while favorably written about by Stanley Crouch, Mitchell died a nasty gruesome death from AIDS and not being wildly reviewed in the so-called mainstream media….
4- Mitchell in some way was a Black or Negro version of a contrary version of what it meant to be homosexual or even sexual in the United States and is much like John Rechy who is still thought to be marginal while in reality having written the single best book, CITY OF NIGHT, (now in a 50th Anniversary edition) as to what it felt like to be homosexual in the 50s and 60s USA.
5- What distinguished Mitchell was that he dared to take up the inevitable question of violence, real physical violence and he did not make it nice, alluring or respectable
a- Of course there is also Hal Bennett: I had had the experience of urging through Turtle Point Press a new edition of Hal Bennett’s LORD OF DARK PLACES but that also did not get its place in the sun of readers and did not move over the dead statue of Toni Morrison one inch though Bennett is to my mind one of the rare truth tellers of American Letters.
b- As is the fate for most truth tellers Bennett has been ignored and died in a veterans’ hospital in Edison New Jersey, mourned probably only by myself and his publisher Jon Rabinowitz.
c- Bennett’s short memoir available only in one of the those Dictionary of Literary Biography collections devoted to autobiography uniquely details as never before done, the great chain of beating that lead from the whip of the white owner to the whip held in the hand of the Black mother or father or other figure in authority: that peculiar American experience still nearly impossible to even mention as it is seen to be too controversial, too disturbing as it might let the beaters off the hook---as being simply unknowing participants--- so that the silence continues to be seared by the crying, the crying, the whimpering…
BOOKS TO BE REVIEWED THIS WEEK.
ONE. 1941 THE YEAR THAT KEEP RETURNING by Slavko Goldstein. New York Review Books. The book is in: “I think I can pinpoint exactly the hour and the day when my childhood ended, Easter Sunday April 13 1941. On the promenade in front of Zorin Dom nor far from our house German tanks, armored vehicles and military kitchens on large wheels with fat tires were neatly lined up…. My father stopped me at the door. “Where are you going?” “Out to play.” “To play?’ My father looked at me with surprise. “Well, okay. Go, but don’t be late for lunch.” When I got back my father was no longer at home. And he was never to return.”
Not just a holocaust book--- and in no way is that to denigrate or argue against their proliferation but in so many ways we have come to the point of now re-reading and sorting--- however the Croatian writer Slavko Goldstein while describing the murder of the Jews of Yugoslavia also goes on to explain the incredibly murderous assault upon the Serbian population by the Croatian fascist forces. In patient detail and careful thought one is lead to see how forty years later during the breakup of Yugoslavia, precipitated by the pre-mature German recognition of Slovenia and then Croatia would in turn would be unleash a violent war of ethnic violence that defied explanation until one was reminded of the past Goldstein delineates, something people like Susan Sontag and Bill Clinton were willfully ignorant of since it did not fit into their preconceived ideas of who was victim and who was perpetrator even when the evidence was not reducible to the good guys and the bad guys, unless you wanted to stage Beckett in Sarajevo and claim heroine status for such an endeavor.
TWO. AGAINST AUTOBIOGRAPHY: ALBERT MEMMI AND THE PRODUCTION OF THEORY by Lia Nicole Brozgal. (University of Nebraska Press) While the book is a perverse exercise in “theory” and wants us to over-look the autobiographical nature of Memmi’s great book THE SCORPION (which came out in English in 1971 from Orion Press then a part of Grossman Publishers and which first great autobiography to come out North Africa after Augustine’s CONFESSIONS, if truth be told. Brozgal’s book is interesting only if it gets readers to read Memmi’s THE SCORPION. They should not be distracted by his so-called serious books of theory about who and what is a colonizer… all of that is mere sociology and was dated before it is read.
THE SCORPION creates what it meant to be a Jewish individual in Tunisia and Memmi by adapting the very best of the Alain Robbe-Grillet and Claude Simon produced a book equal to their own… but this aspect of his career was lost in the dreary usual politics and while Brozgal is more enamored of Memmi as a thinker it is as a novelist, memoir writer that THE SCORPION makes its claim upon a statue in the garden of the essential.
THREE. Some years ago I had admired and recommended HOLY BONES HOLY DUST by Charles Freeman which takes up the question of how relics shaped Medieval history… so I had wished to see WHY CAN THE DEAD DO SUCH GREAT THINGS by Robert Bartlett (Princeton University Press) which focuses his discussion on the actual bodies of the saints and in great detail brings the same years to life in a more detailed and obsessive manner—marred only by a sadly too small of a type face. Bartlett is a TV presenter and knows a good tale if one can ignore the rather condescending attitude towards what was as opposed to a possibly more rewarding approach which is to delight in, to respect and to wonder what has really been lost when instead of invoking a saint to do battle we program a drone in Maryland for a killing in say Yemen. Of course Robert Calasso might suggest that the gods and I would include the saints in all of this—are maybe still about as in his LITERATURE AND THE GODS
FOUR I refuse to forget GLENWAY WESCOTT. Joining from the University of Wisconsin’s edition of Wescott’s HEAVEN OF WORDS Last Journals of 1956-1984 is a selection of the uncollected fiction of Wescott that adds to the absolute necessity at least for me of his two earlier books THE GRANDMOTHERS and GOODYBE, WISCONSIN. One should start with A Visit to Priapus and realize the sadness of what was not to be as Wescott found it impossible to discover books within himself beyond the two I have mentioned and the short novel THE PILGRIM HAWK which while widely praised and a great delight is still to my mind in the shadow of THE GRANDMOTHERS and the title story of GOODBYE, WISCONSIN. The editor Jerry Rosco has done a very good deed for literature with these two books and his earlier book of Wescott’s journals and writings CONTINUAL LESSONS and his own biography of Wescott GLENWAY WESCOTT PERSONALLY. I do wish that Rosco had included the much longer version of The Smell of Rosemary that had appeared in Prose but that is another tale and a much lamented journal…
AN ASIDE. Wescott like Julian Green is lost to America since our attention span for the 20th century seems stretched between Faulkner, Hemingway, Dos Passos, Fitzgerald, Ellison and Kerouac… every other writer is part of a supporting cast: so be it…
Each of us should have a few of the others: in my case: Wescott, Julian Green, Edward Dahlberg, Ronald Johnson, Lorine Niedecker, Hannah Green, Eudora Welty and that might just be enough…
FIVE. George Steiner mentions that one of the great failings of modern literary education is the absence of any discussion of the great modern theologians and the resulting impoverishment that can be seen in any English department today. That the names of Josef Pieper, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac and Romano Guardini are mostly unknown while … I will not contaminate this sentence with the likely suspects: open the pages of The New York Review of Books or the New York Times Book review for my evidence
So! THE WAY Religious Thinkers of the Russian Emigration in Paris and their Journal 1925-1940 by Antonine Arjakovsky (University of Notre Dame Press) Beautifully written and detailed with inviting descriptions of the fate of thought in Paris which provides the necessary correction to over-told story of Paris between the wars… haven’t we all had enough of the Americans in Paris?...
Am I the only person who has read Nikolai Berdyaev and Lev Shestov? I first heard of Berdyaev from Chad Walsh at Beloit as being a modern thinker who dealt with the problem of belief in such a way that it did not ignore Beckett who I had just discovered and who had a very good understand of just how awful the Russian Revolution had been from a spiritual point of view and not from a kneejerk rightest understanding. Shestov, I had read of from Dahlberg: IN JOB’S BALANCES PENULTIMATE WORDS and I added ATHENS AND JERUSALEM. And in the index a novel by Nina Berberova--- who I knew late in her life--- is mentioned Astachev in Paris and in how fruitful a way the writers discussed in THE WAY, “ insisted on the necessity of preserving the reality of history from the seduction of myths that explained everything, They sought to propose an alternative to a purely ethical existential and finally to affirm that the union of Athens and Jerusalem is not necessarily synonymous with a betrayal of reason.”
SIX. Even Dalkey Archive Press has a book that will be over-looked and shouldn’t be: AN UNWRITTEN NOVEL Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet by Thomas J. Cousineau. This is the first actual book I know of about the great central work of Pessoa. Cousineau tries to make a case for the unity within disunity of this collection of fragments which has been translated into English in a number of versions based on which edition the translator used: Spanish, French, Italian edition that had been translated from the Portuguese original and of course there is at least for this writer, only Richard Zenith’s version from Penguin…
SEVEN. Again another over-looked critical book is a collection of essays on Herta Muller. POLITICS AND AESTHETICS edited by Betiina Brandt and Vaentina Glajar. Of course it is always good to know that receiving a Nobel prize is no guarantee that your work will be widely read in the US or in the English speaking world unless it is trivial work by someone like an Alice Munro or Toni Morrison mere writers of local interest as hardly do they re-arrange any of the statues in the great garden unlike Herta Muller’s whose THE LAND OF GREEN PLUMS provides the central imaginative text as to the ordinary life in what was then called the communist countries or socialist countries as they styled themselves to be more precise… but boy that’s a long time ago 23 years ago and we were done with it, right…no hardly… Muller’s Nobel lecture: EVERY WORD KNOWS SOMETHING OF A VICIOUS CIRCLE is essential reading and is included in a collection of essays that add to our understanding of Muller unlike too many of such collections.
EIGHT. I don’t usually mysteries or so-called genre books after having read two Ross Macdonad books when younger and getting what it is all about…which is what is to happen next as opposed to what is happening right now on the page (stolen from Nicholas Mosley but a note from New DIrections got me to read THE MONGOLIAN CONSPIRACY by Rafael Bernal.. a nasty novel set in Mexico city centered by a hired killer who happens to be working for the police.. well I do admit to having read the first 3 novels of Mickey Spillane and this is like them but nastier and with more verbal nastiness and slimy behavior… but good editors of book sections have to have prejudices otherwise…
So to end…. the last words of Muller’s Nobel address: the acute solitude of a human being.