Thursday, December 29, 2016


NO CURIOSITY: the present as the future after a visit to the University of Notre Dame

ST. PATRICK’S DAY another day in Dublin is the 2016 Notre Dame Review Book Prize winner and as such was published by the University of Notre Dame Press.  Additionally, I received $1000.00 and there was to be a reading at the university for which I would receive $500.00, a round trip airplane ticket and, at first, only one night in a motel that was extended to two nights. 
Originally, I had been scheduled to fly out Wednesday (the day after Election Day in November) have a meal with some people from the university, do the reading and then fly back to New York on the 6AM flight Thursday.
Looking back, I guess, I should have stuck with the original plan.  But I suggested it might be nice to meet with students and I had wanted to hear Nuala Ni Dhomnaill read on the Friday as she was a very old friend and been kind enough to be a very early supporter of my book, so my host William O’Rourke offered to put me up in his own house for the third night.
Flight from Newark to South Bend is fine.  The room where I am to stay is in an extended stay motel, the perfect setting for slow suicides by solitary drinking or just a quick slash of the wrists in the bathtub: you know the sort of place, re-modeling going on, low ceilings and desk clerks always on the phone…  the place is definitely off-campus…there is a very nice hotel on campus but that is only for big contributing alumni and IMPORTANT PEOPLE (something I was told in a sort of consoling tone of voice)
So quickly to dinner.  A fancy restaurant on campus: French, I guess, expensive… okay, Nuala and her daughter were there, which was nice, the former chair of the creative writing program was there and a recent hire, a war veteran from Princeton… the former chair, Steve Tomasula, was under treatment because of Donald Trump’s victory and has asked to be excused and it is possible other people were asked but…
We had to eat quickly as the reading is coming on…  The veteran bails out before dessert.  I had bought his book WAR PORN [Roy Scranton] and thought it would be interesting to talk about Ernst Junger... but he ate and ran.  The former chair had gone to Columbia a few years after I had gone there.  We probably have at least 50 friends in common as she came from the South and with so many other overlapping interests but she couldn’t come to the reading and no coffee or anything was suggested.  The busy provincial lives, I was thinking.

 [on a break from re-writing this piece I stopped into Mercer Street Books and found a copy of Valery Sayers’ most recent novel THE POWERS. Published by Northwestern in 2012, from the pages inserted: Northwestern University Press got it reviewed by Publishers Weekly and Booklist and it was not done as a print-on-demand book so it at least had the chance of finding an audience, something my own book was denied.  This book buying is an act of curiosity I cannot believe would ever happen with any current student or faculty at Notre Dame]

My host who had given my book the prize took me, Nuala and her daughter to the reading in the bookstore, which is part of a Chicago based chain of college bookstores and Notre Dame stuff was obvious the biggest seller.  We were behind a series of folding screens which separated the reading from at least 25 cash registers just waiting for a footfall weekend… 
Maybe 15 people showed up.  The event was recorded for You Tube //  //     with a stationary camera…the noise from the bookstore was constant.  
My host made a good introduction and I read and tried to present the book.  
Two people bought books and woman from the press—the only person at the press to have read it as she did the proofreading came and asked me to sign a copy of the book. 
There were no questions.
No one lingered, no one hesitated.
It was over with. 
No one from the creative writing program, no one from the English department as far as I could  tell.
William drove Nuala and her daughter home (a squalid looking Cape Cod house on a dark street that Notre Dame must have gotten in a mortgage default sale) and me to the extended stay motel. 
Later, I ventured out across these wide empty dark streets to the gas station to get some Coke…  the broad deserted roads with only the bright lights of a gas-station.., the eyes of the clerk showed he was glad just an old white man and not a guy with a gun in hand… as was more likely.
So to come this distance to read in a chain-store bookstore and not in a proper academic hall. 
Such is… places like Notre Dame are run by people always alert to the reality of dollars and cents and to nothing that can be claimed as some higher purpose, I guess…
The next day I wasn’t invited to the university press to meet the book acquisition editor or the publicity director or anyone. 
I was not invited to any classes and I was not asked to stop by to visit with faculty or the new editor of the Review. 
But a lunch had been arranged so I could meet any interested students who had been told of my reading, told of the lunch and had even been provided with a selection of my writings that I had been asked to supply.
A large not too noisy sports bar on campus.  My host, Nuala, her daughter were there and two students showed up.  I guess free food and drink is no longer a sufficient lure for today’s students.
Two students: the guy sat on my right and the woman on my left. They had not been to the reading, they asked no questions… so I asked what they did… the young man said he was writing a novel about killing a father…I asked really, yes, I kill him 56 times—I might have the number wrong…but that was that… he already had a graduate degree from a university in Kansas and was getting another one from Notre Dame as it was more prestigious, it seems.
           AS can happen after I wrote the post the following was brought to my attention so I take the liberty of here including it

Today, I had the opportunity to have lunch with visiting author Thomas McGonigle; poet and Patrick B. O'Donnell Distinguished Visitor, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill; MFA candidate, Bailey Pittenger; and ND's MFA founding director, William O'Rourke. Over the course of the ranging conversations we had, I came to the realization that I don't think a true creative writing education comes from workshops, but from an accumulation of intimate moments between writers.
And I am including the little biographical statement he has on the page of the Creative Writing Program at Notre Dame:
After graduating high school in northern Michigan, Daniel Tharp attended Kirtland Community College for a year before moving half way across the country and graduating from Pittsburg State University with a Bachelors of Arts degree. A Teaching Assistantship, over a hundred students, and two years later, Daniel Tharp graduated from Pittsburg State University with a Masters of Arts degree with emphasis in fiction. His thesis entitled “Home,” which is currently under review for the Distinguish Thesis Award at his Alma Mater, depicts a complex and brutal world where characters struggle not with outside forces but with themselves and what it means to be human. Tharp attends the University of Notre Dame’s MFA program on a Prose Fellowship.

A life story of an atomization so terribly typical of the age we live in...        (back to the original version)
The woman to my left, the same questions… she asked did I know the writer Clarice Lispector?  I said  of course doesn’t everyone?.Did I know of the biography of this woman which had come out?  I did.  It was by a man, she said, so I have decided to write the real stories of this woman, aspects of her  no man could write…  I did not ask if this woman had read Lispector in Portugese, maybe I should have.
I asked if she knew Nelida Pinon? No.  I say, Nelida was Clarice’s last protégé… and then I probably made the mistake of saying I had heard about Clarice from Nelida back in 1971 and knew actually of her work from before then thanks to a book translated by Gregory Rabassa…
I  even went on to mention THE REPUBLIC OF DREAMS by Nelida  as having both a wonderful story and a perfect title for everything we try to do but I guess I was being intimidating as both the woman and the man got away from the lunch as fast as humanly possible.
Am I wrong to think all the students at Notre Dame are so busy, so lacking in even being curious about a book that has at least the minor qualification of getting the designation of the Notre Dame Review Book  Prize… but maybe… who knows? 
All students in the graduate writing program are fully funded as they say so they do not have to work at some disagreeable job in order to eat.
I did run into the distinguished critic and professor, Declan Kiberd in the bookstore of Notre Dame… he has one of the big chairs at the university and I know his books and I mentioned after being introduced that I too had gone to UCD where he had taught--- but I then made what I was told later was a fatal mistake thus triggering BEGRUDGERY--- that I had studied with Denis Donoghue and still visit with Denis who lives in North Carolina…  a provocation that can not go unanswered even though Declan has a very big and lucrative chair at Notre Dame he did not become the Henry James Professor at NYU…
Later that day Bill took me to the Studebaker museum, the art museum at the university and sand dunes up on Lake Michigan… we went to a nice Italian restaurant and talked of the years gone by and how few to come. The last time I had been to the shore of Lake Michigan was in 1968 when I had gone to visit my parents in exile in Menasha, Wisconsin and Lilia and I had to go to see the Lake… but there were no dunes along that shore.
I went to Nuala’s reading in a beautiful hall and while not packed, a decent size crowd…  A polite introduction---a recital of her real fame and a listing of the translators (a roll call of all the well known names) as she writes only in Irish and then Nuala read both in Irish and English.  She read from THE FIFTY MINUTE MERMAID.  It is probably the most provocative and emotionally demanding  books in modern Irish poetry, equaled only and then in English by the Peppercanister Poems of Thomas Kinsella.  She was well received.  Questions were asked for and I asked both Nuala and the person introducing her—I think he is the director of the Irish Center---////  It has to be always understood such centers while usually extravagantly funded by Irish Americans have institutionally zero interest in that group known as Irish American or as American Irish--- whose only purpose to is to supply the cash to be spent on THE IRISH(this is not unusual as the same goes for Polish and even in a much more smaller way Estonian centers///    why in the litany--- which it seems like--- of the famous Irish poets who have translated her work into English the name of Michael Hartnett had not been mentioned as he was her first translator… Nuala answered and very  kindly profiled Michael and revealed the reason why but only I knew this is why he was not mentioned:  Michael Hartnett, Nuala said, sadly drank himself to death.
You must understand that such reality is never allowed in any established Irish center—one is never to talk of the consequences of the drink.  The only things more taboo are the high unacknowledged suicide rate and a pervasive criminal underworld in Ireland (north and south) funded by the drug trade in which all the now dormant underground para-military organizations have always been involved.
There was a reception with very good food and drink. 
Declan Kiberd did not talk with me…
I did ask a graduate student what he did?  I am working on Post-colonial Irish and Libyan literature to give it a broader than usual dimension… I felt like bringing up Gaddafi and the IRA but thought better of it…
 No one else approached me or I them---who can blame them—just another old guy--- and since none of them probably knew of my book…who could blame them…everything is so compartmentalized…  why would an English language journal do a book with a title like ST. PATRICK’S… that’s not their territory… 
So, I sat on the sofa and was joined by a woman in the uniform of a domestic worker…. To make longer a story… Nuala a few years before had given this woman  a copy of her book and they had become friends as both were widows…  this woman had been the cleaning lady for the apartment where Nuala has stayed two years ago…  she had seen the signs and came to the reading directly from work… she asked why I was there and she asked after my book so I could say it grew out of the using of the little money from the death of my father to go back to Ireland and we walked about how she and Nuala both being widows knew something and she said it was hard and we both know it.  I am proud Italian woman and my husband was a proud Black man and we had two proud MIXED children… the vehemence of her  voice was so filled with a delicious defiance of a refusal to choose.
         Later, I thought only one person was curious about me and my book and that was a house servant.  Little did she know I was the grandson of two people pushed out of Ireland at age 12 to be servants in New York, and I was still there comfortable really only with this woman…
Up at four A.M. to think and then to get the 6 A.M. flight back to Newark.  It would be useless to remember that more than 50 years before even at a small college like Beloit,  writers like Dickey, Kinnell, Rexroth, Spender, Auden came and had lunch with students and we read their books, sought them out… they seemed to have time… of course people can say: those people are famous but not back then: Dickey and Kinnell were just starting … but the past as L.P. Hartley has it, is foreign country…
My host was very kind but he is retired from Notre Dame so none of this now matters… he has his own books, the memory of his friendship with Edward Dahlberg and I guess the lesson comes from Dahlberg: it takes a long time to understand nothing. And I must, as they say, remember  I was lucky to have 15 students to the reading and those two students were two more than after another reading 20 years before at U of Illinois at Carbondale where no one came to meet me for lunch… after I had read from GOING TO PATCHOGUE.

And the woman on the couch had a more glowing reality within her life than all the…  she is probably one of the very very few at Notre Dame who can say she is pretty happy with her life… as she knows the sure brevity of all human happiness.

Friday, December 9, 2016


            Discovered in a book as I was moving other books.  A relic.

I was asked by Cornelius Anthony Murphy (Assoc Prof)--- as it is listed on his e-mail---to write about Aidan Higgins as I had contributed to the Review of Contemporary Fiction a piece entitled "51 Pauses After Reading Aidan Higgins" now many years ago.
         Cornelius Anthony Murphy (Assoc Prof) decided it was not for his book of essays on Aidan Higgins.

         Aidan Higgins wrote two great books LANGRISHE, GO DOWN and BALCONY OF EUROPE.  He also wrote some very good short descriptive travel pieces and short pungent notices in Hibernia, a newspaper in Dublin… and then he made the mistake of writing and writing and writing and writing.
         NOW: Actually READING a book (LIONS OF THE GRUNEWALD by Aidan Higgins.

         Got to find some therapy./This treatment is taking too long.  "Twenty four Hours"  ---Ian Curtis.  JOY DIVISION
         Letters from Cornelius Anthony Murphy (Assoc Prof):  Any word on the Higgins article?  Sorry to be a pest but the publisher is on my trail. I am hoping…
         I really hope you can pull something together, about LIONS, or something else even (Balcony?) as I really…
         Just checking to see if you've been able to muster any enthusiasm for the Higgins piece.  I too re-read LIONS recently and am less taken with it than previously--- bad time in the game for me to shift my point of view!  I hope you've found some way through the thickets that appear to have sprouted around you…
Letter in reply:       You will have an essay… but since you asked for something I will write and have I think a way into Higgins.

         I must have bought LIONS OF THE GRUNEWALD by Aidan Higgins in January of 1994 because in those years I was going to London in that month for a few weeks every year.  As I open the paperback, as I have been opening the paperback during the summer of 2008 and now it is the autumn and I am still opening the book:  it is falling apart and the pages long ago began to brown and I am sure it will not survive for many more years.
         The edition I have was published by Martin Secker and Warburg Ltd--- then part of Reed Consumer Books --- as paper original with what they fall French flaps.  The name of the author is printed in a golden box.  That year Secker books had a distinct look and that ended rather quickly.
         Currently LIONS OF THE GRUNEWALD seems out of print both in the UK and in the US.  It is available for 99p in the UK and for eight dollars in the US.
         As many know Dalkey Archive has taken to reprinting many of Higgins' books and it is a noble endeavor.  From the very start of that press the publication of Higgins' work was a priority. 
         I do not know if Dalkey will be publishing for the first time LIONS OF THE GRUNEWALD in the US… but I am pretty sure all the people who want a copy of this Higgins title already have it and it is unlikely that many people would be seeking it out. 
          Of course I could be wrong and hope I am wrong as everything that Higgins writes is of interest as he and Desmond Hogan and Dorothy Nelson are pretty much it when it comes to prose writing in Ireland after James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Flann O'Brien, Francis Stuart.  Of course there are many many prose writers in Ireland: almost as many as the standing army of Irish poets but but but…
Berlin is a fascinating place, maybe less so now that it has been reunited and become a sort of entertainment zone for the privileged subsidized international artistic middle class.  During the time of a divided Berlin Uwe Johnson--- as readers may actually remember--- wonderfully perceptive hard earned and authentic books were set in Berlin and in that moment of  two Germanys… but now as the years have gone by  writers as good as Julian Rios and Ceese Nooteboom have fallen under the sway of Berlin and come to a certain defeat… and part of the reason is that they are not prepared to admit their ignorance of the complexity of Berlin--- they have to use it as background, mere background painted on…
         Higgins's book is based on his own residence in Berlin--- just before the actual fall of the Berlin Wall as a guest of one of those international sinecures that the German government uses to get people to come to Berlin for a period of time…
         Higgins gives into the mostly deadly of all traps: the academic literary satire… and crosses it with a sentimental entanglement of the central character Dallan Weaver who is a guest of DILDO (Deutsche-Internationale Literatur-Diesnt Organisation   and it is probably right there in that footnote attached to a listing of characters, just after the CONTENTS that the book falls apart.
         ---It is understood that LIONS OF THE GRUNEWALD is Higgins's favorite book

The trouble continues right in the prologue with a slice of jazzed up or down -potted history:  "Zukov's men, the advanced spearheads, entered Berlin through the northern suburbs, screeching as they ran. The infantry went in first over the mine fields and tank traps to be blown to glory; others came on screeching wave after wave. Then the tanks went in."(P.1-2)
         This is immediately followed by, "The sneery sculptor who had fluent Spanish asked Weaver what was his astrological sign." (p.2)
         The word sneery, astrology and the previous ham fisted allusion to the Battle for Berlin got me to close the novel right there the first time I tried to read the novel though I had noted that Rudolf Hess is helpfully listed with the others characters in the book as "the last Nazi in Spandau Prison." (P. x)

So, one tries again in the summer, so many years later, having remembered having defending Balcony of Europe for an early issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction-- when it was neither profitable or even useful for a resume to echo Flann O'Brien.
Well, the Weavers ( should we really read Higgins, wife and child?) house hunt for a place during their Berlin stay.  There is party going.  Mention of Rudolf Hess comes before two mentions of the "bullet riddled Amerika Haus" (p33) and "Amerika Haus was bullet riddled." (p46).
"And where had the brainy Prof read that all whales have syphilis?" (p.33) It is that word brainy coupled with Prof that makes the sentence read like a bad translation…
Early on and sadly dominating the book THE AFFAIR complete with the wife Nancy, "the dispossessed and disgruntled spouse." (p.97)  There will be the other woman, Lore, who will having been made pregnant:  "Their child's life  had been terminated in The Hague by the sinister lady abortionist…"(p.267).
Another un-necessary word: "The right-hand window of Margot Schoeller's famous bookstore…" (P.71)  How could  Higgins allow his man Weaver to think that or he to write it?  But it sets up a moment of letting us know that Higgins, Weaver knows Samuel Beckett who has just received the Nobel Prize.  AS good anecdote is recorded, "Watt (dismissed by its author into Weaver's ear as not so much shit as dysentery." (P.73).

But the book is not all heterosexual.  After all this is Berlin: "Two sad sodomites  frantic with grief and betrayal  were copulating in the snow, lit by the headlights of a parked car… Weaver averted his eyes as he would have looked away from a bloody  traffic accident. (p.56).

12 pages are given over to Weaver's child's writing.  Enough said.  A sort of filler, I guess.  Allows for a ink drawing by the "brilliant son" (P.87) of the author.
         3 pages of dreams.  No check attached for listening.  At the going rate today of 150$ per fifty minutes…how many sessions would they require?
But followed up by more Dublin gossip:  well that old warhorse Brendan Behan hungover demanding that his wife, "Come up here with you now, Bethrice, an' thrim me  toenails." (p.135)  and there is mention of "wild Ralph Cusack" (P.134) and I would have liked to have had him about for more than a name drop.
And then the reader is off to drunken Spain but we have been there and in far better verbal company in BALCONY OF EUROPE but we are quickly--- since these pages are read quickly out of embarrassment--- though it takes ages as is said but we are back in Berlin right smartly: "The British Council always gave good parties."(p202);  "Lore(the mistress, girlfriend whatever as the kids might say) had discovered a good Japanese restaurant near Fat George's flat…" (P.211); "In the summertime (when the living is easy) it was a very different story."(p.216)  The parenthetical phrase is Higgins and he bears full responsibility for it, sadly.

But off to Munich during Olympic season.  Israelis will be murdered ( it is THAT Olympics) and now it gets cloudy.  Is the following the author, Weaver or who? "When a pure negroid (small n) American could run faster, jump faster and fly first over hurdles faster than any white man, that only  confirmed his own conviction abut racial degeneracy: those fellows had just come down out of the trees. (p241)   
         I missed listing some more "famous" people who appear or are mentioned: Per Olaf Enquist, Leni Riefenstahl, Volker Schlondorff, Margarethe von Trotta who you might like to know, "spent some time under the table retrieving poor shots, sulking 'shitshitshit!"(p243)

And not to let a name go: "Hess was still serving pit his life sentence in Spandau Prison, the Russians would not him go. (P.252).
Now that we are nearly at the end of the book a selection of letters from Berlin to Weaver and one letter from Lore that prepare us for the disappearance of the wife and how true something lives… some years after the body of the book.
And an epilog he (whether it is Higgins or Weaver?) conflates a meeting between Gunter Grass and Max Frisch and manages to drag in Uwe Johnson and an allusion to Ingeborg Bachmann which is supposed to?... beats me, I have to point out that one of the he's or the proofreader overlooks the misspelled Frishe (p299) while making some point about the Gauloises smoked by Grass and the pipe tobacco stained fingers of Frisch…
I found a book marker reminder (though I can't explain the dates because as we know LIONS OF THE GRUNEWALD was published in 1993) of an earlier reading of LIONS OF THE GRUNEWALD in the form of a newspaper clipping, now a darker brown than the pages of the book:  from the December 25, 1978 THE VILLAGER ( a local paper in Greenwich Village, NY:

DEATH ON 12TH STREET: At 6 pm on December 12, a resident of 343 West 13th Street was found by two friends hanging by the neck in his apartment.  The 31 year-old resident, wearing a leather-studded collar, a gas mask with the air vents closed and other assorted sexual equipment, apparently choked to death.  The case while is may be an accidental death, is being investigated by the First Homicide squad.

But this scrap can serve as a telling commentary for we know that much of LIONS OF THE GRUNEWALD appeared in previous books and while movie directors are endlessly providing new versions (think of Oliver Stone's various Final cuts of ALEXANDER) I would have had no problem---as is said--- with a book solely of observation and quotation but the sheer dreariness of the love/sexual triangle: why not just publish the divorce degree and parts of the hearing transcript if such exists?
         I would like to read a NEW book by Higgins of his life in Ireland.
Aidan Higgins is still the best English-language prose stylist in the country.
                                    ---Nuala Ni. Dhomhnaill.

New York

1 October  2008