Monday, December 25, 2017


      Many years ago in Paris I was telling Julian Green of being an altar boy at St. Francis De Sales Church in Patchogue and having the feeling that I was sitting on the lap of Jesus. "O, how I envy you," Green said, "I converted too late."

      Last night at Midnight Mass at St Bartholomew Church here in Milltown/East Brunswick, New Jersey I finally really understood what Green meant.  Back then I thought how could this member of the French Academy (the only foreigner and an American), this prolific author of books that would survive his own mortality, this close friend of Gide and Mauriac envy me anything?  

       As I was attending Mass last night with my wife Anna--- with whom I had earlier that morning gone to the Estonian Lutheran Church Christmas service down in Lakewood--- I thought of serving Midnight Mass in Patchogue so many years ago and I thought of other Midnight Christmas Masses I attended: in 1968 in Menasha, Wisconsin with my parents when I had come back from Ireland and Bulgaria with Lilia, in 1972 in Saugerties three days after the death of my mother,  in the tiny Catholic church in Sofia, Bulgaria in 1973 after the death of my father the previous August... and more recently over the years with my children Elizabeth and Lorcan and their mother in St. Brigid's Church on Tompkins Square and more recently for many years with Anna at Presentation on East Third Street...  

       And of course finally I really knew now why Green was envious of me:  the belief that comes both before and after reason--- he had once written a short book attacking the rationality of the French church--- which of course is the great flaw of French civilization.  

     One hopes to never lose that belief though so often it can get lost in the clutter of argument for finally argument is always a celebration of a sort of unappetizing arrogance.  

    The true grandeur of the church lies in the fragility of that memory of serving Midnight Mass at St. Francis de Sales Church in Patchogue.  


Saturday, December 9, 2017

THE TYPING DEAD (on William Gass)

      Some years ago in reviewing a book by J. P. Donleavy for the Chicago Tribune I remarked that while prolific he like Vladimir Nabokov, equally prolific, would be remembered for one book: The Ginger Man, Lolita. 
       That is why I reject the phrase: de mortuis nil nisi bonum

      Finally a death certificate and obituary have been issued for one of the typing dead: William Gass… of course in the near future it is likely we will be seeing such announcements for others of the typing dead: Don DeLillo, Joyce Oates and Robert Coover while some of the pre-maturely typing dead: Jonathan Franzen, Ali Smith, Jonathan Safron Foer—will serve as typical of the younger typing dead.
     Gass is part of a long tradition of the typing dead… at one time in second hard bookstores you could always find examples from previous times: John Sanford,  Waldo Frank, John Hawkes,  Philip Wylie are typical  examples--- the mystery of whatever did people find in these writers that is now no longer apparent…
        William Gass, if he had fallen silent after publishing the long story In the Heart of the Heart of the Country,  would have assured his writing of a real place in the literary world, much as Tillie Olson did with her very short collection of stories Tell Me a Riddle or Hannah Green did with her one short novel The Dead of the House… but in the case of Gass with each book of fiction or non-fiction  after In the Heart of the Heart of the Country the hole he dug for himself became bigger and  deeper… in particular the books of criticism which were finally exercises in style lacking any content thus leaving a reader hard-pressed to say what the essay had been about other than to murmur, it sounded pretty good but what was he trying to say ?...  while the blobs of “fiction” were just that and you can see for yourself by  using the method suggested by Ezra Pound: choose at random say page 51 in Gass’s Middle C or in The Tunnel and compare them to the same page in say Celine’s Rigadoon or in Thomas Bernhard’s Correction.  My case is thus rested and to think both the Celine and the Bernhard are translations…

        Altogether a sad fate for a one time professor of philosophy who was promoted or demoted into  a professor of humanities while being  proclaimed a genius by his current publisher upon his death…