Thursday, November 29, 2018


      The beginning of a celebration of the publication of MAURICE BLANCHOT A CRITICAL BIOGRAPHY By Christopher  Bident (Translated by John McKeane) Published by Fordham University Press, 2018.

Preface to the post:

Georges Bataille on Manet:

Manet deliberately rendered the condemned man’s death with the same indifference as if he had chosen a fish or a flower for his subject…

In it Manet paid scrupulous attention to detail, but even this is negative, and the picture as a whole is the negation of eloquence; it is the negative of that kind of painting which, like language , expresses sentiments and relates anecdote…

Our modern world can only experience an inner transfiguration, silent and in a sense negative. To speak of it, as I have done, is to speak of a definitive silence…

Radically cured painting of a centuries-old eloquence.


     This review of a novel by Maurice Blanchot ended my writing for the Washington Post. 21 July, 2002. It was cited by a reader in a reader's survey by the newspaper as exactly the sort of review they didn't wish to see in the newspaper.  
      Of course such a survey tells us more about the required stupidity of readers of the Washington Post than about the actual review.

Another Castle Reviewed Thomas McGonigle July 21, 2002 AMINADAB By Maurice Blanchot Translated from the French By Jeff Fort Univ. of Nebraska. 199 pp. Paperback, $22 

Aminadab is a startling provocation, a gauntlet thrown down to the fiction reader -- and yet there is no complicated theory or code to be cracked in order to participate in the originality of Maurice Blanchot's 1942 novel. 

Maurice Blanchot may hardly be a household name in America, but in some circles he is one of the essential writers of the 20th century. Blanchot, who still lives in Paris, was born in 1907 and has been writing for more than 60 years. Little about his personal life is known beyond the facts of his education. 

As far as I'm aware, only one photograph of the author has ever been published. By thus sealing off his private life, Blanchot forces the reader to face his thought and words alone, without any of the easy comforts of gossip or biography. 

The actual thrust of his entire literary career, as well as his philosophical view of the world, can be discerned in the very titles of some of his books: Awaiting Oblivion, Vicious Circles, The Space of Literature, The Madness of the Day, The Step Not Beyond, The Infinite Conversation, The Unavowable Community, Death Sentence, The Most High, The Gaze of Orpheus. 

If one needed two sentences to sum up, grossly and so unfairly, Blanchot's suggestive and reverberating thought, these might serve (from Friendship, 1971): "One would like to think, each time, in a single language, which would be the language of thought. But finally one speaks as one dreams, and often one dreams in a foreign tongue: it is the dream itself, this ruse that makes us speak in an unknown speech." 

While there is no mention of Kafka by Blanchot before he published Aminadab (his second novel, after Thomas the Obscure), most readers today will come to the book already having read, say, The Castle. Even now there is still a real oddness about Kafka -- about whom Blanchot has written many essays -- and Aminadab possesses a deliberately Kafkaesque mysteriousness. Here is its opening:

It was broad daylight. Thomas, who had been alone until now, was pleased to see a robust-looking man quietly sweeping his doorway. The shop's metal curtain was raised halfway. Thomas bent down a little and saw a woman inside lying on a bed that took up all the space in the room not occupied by the other furniture." 

Thomas does not go into that shop. He notices a building across the street and a couple looking at him from a high window, "The girl . . . made a quick sign with her hand, like an invitation; then she quickly closed the window, and the room was submerged again in darkness. Thomas was quite perplexed. Could he consider this gesture truly as a call to him? It was rather a sign of friendship than an invitation. It was also a sort of dismissal." 

What is so strange, and unforgettable, about this opening and the novel as a whole is what is not there. We will never "see" Thomas. We never find out where he has come from. We never resolve the contradiction between an invitation and a dismissal. We learn nothing "about" Thomas yet we become accomplices in his journey through this large house both looking and not looking for this girl and her gesture. We find ourselves participating in the oldest of all stories: the quest. 

As he moves haltingly, blindly and stubbornly through the house, Thomas will meet a variety of "characters" who have names attached to them: Lucie, Barbe, Jerome, Simon, Joseph and, not least, Aminadab, who guards a great door. Thomas will even be chained to Dom for much of the length of this novel -- and then not chained to him. Along with the complexities of this Kafkaesque fable, we accept all of this because the very language engulfs us. As Lucie tells Thomas, with that sure French knowledge of the complexity of the human heart, "Our intimacy will not be disturbed in any way. Not to think about me: that will mean thinking about me without there being anything to separate us. By refusing me the gift of a few particular thoughts, you will be offering me not only all your other thoughts and attention as a whole, but also your distraction, your absence, and your distance; you will absolve me of all that is yourself, and you will open up to me all that is not you. That, then, is what I ask of you, because I want to remain as close to you as possible. Neither silence nor night nor the deepest repose will stand in the way of our friendship, and this room will be for us a favorable place for sleep." 

Every sentence of Aminadab is an invitation to think, about language, about responsibility, about life. Blanchot's density requires us to slow down our reading; he makes us pause, grow uncomfortable. 

Yet we are taken by Blanchot's seerlike ability to penetrate to the core of some of the darker aspects of the 20th century. 

As one of the servants in the house replies to Thomas, who has refused for the moment to beat him: "You don't look at us; you look at what you have to do to us. You don't see our fault; you keep your eyes focused on your action. All executioners are like that. Some of them are deaf and mute. What would they have to say or to hear since the truth is in their battering hands and their lashing whip. You, you're a natural born executioner, the kind that says, 'It's still not too late,' even when your knife has cut the throat of the culprit."

Saturday, November 24, 2018


I have not been posting at the blog for some time.  The isolation of the writer has never been greater and now when there are no longer any book sections in American newspapers that even attempt to describe... the best books... when to look at The New York Times Book Review is to be insulted.  Mediocrity seems the only quality  they seek to praise.  The Wall Street Journal continues on Saturday to publish a book section but literature is by no means its focus... and while the pieces on history and art etc are of interest they usually lack authority.  I know no one who reads The New York Review of Books... but it should have died a long time ago... though the publisher New York Review Books is now one of the great world publishers as it is about the only publisher that has not been totally swamped by political correctness coupled with an adoration of identity politics... and earlier this month I was invited to Beloit College to read.

SELF-QUOTING from a page on Facebook

Invited by English Department at Beloit College. Gave craft talk in basement classroom to 20 students. One question. Read for 30 minutes with no questions to be asked by audience. Four faculty in audience plus the professor who invited me... mostly students from his class. No one talked to me. Two dinners with 3 faculty members. One serve-yourself-lunch with one faculty member. The college seemed in emotional lockdown with students incredibly atomized and solitary... public spaces sparsely populated and when not so mostly individuals looking at cellphone and laptops... reminded me of my experience when visiting universities in East Germany in 1965 and Bulgaria in 1967... a touchable dutiful silence. But at Beloit, people seemed in shock after two years of bruising nasty arguments about identity... the chair of the English department mentioned that the chair rotated and it was his turn to take out the garbage... while said with levity I found myself shocked at the  so evident self-contempt... and finally I was told the new head of library does not have a degree in library science and first order of business is to throw away 50,000 books... to be decided by an information expert which is the jargon for a non-expert in books.

             by  Thomas McGonigle
                  BACK FROM BELOIT
-he remembers saying to Anna as he was driving from Wisconsin for Chicago:  how easy it is to go full speed into an abutment of a highway overpass. 
-the sentence was spoken calmly and precisely and Anna did not respond.
-he was invited out to Beloit College to read from his books and to give a craft talk.
-he was a student at Beloit College and was given a BA degree in 1966.  He dropped out of the college for the academic year 1964-65 to be a student at University College, Dublin and made his first journey to the East by going in the spring of 65 to the German Democratic Republic, the DDR.
-Anna and he flew from Newark, New Jersey in the early morning of November 7, to Chicago, Illinois, rented a car at the airport and drove up to Beloit. 
-they flew back from Chicago on Sunday arriving at midnight in New Jersey.
-3 nights in the Beloit College guesthouse and one night in a motel in Appleton, Wisconsin. 
-Other than Beloit they were in the following places or cities: Madison, Verona, Fort Atkinson, Oshkosh, Neenah, Menasha, Appleton, Watertown. 
-According to the car rental receipt, 116 miles were driven which must have been a mistake as the mileage between all these cities and the going to and from Chicago is at least 444 miles, he was saying, though it might be possible to think it had only happened in his imagination or in his hope for it to have happened or he had it confused with another trip to the mid-west:
-He was to be saying and he did not say, My first attempt at…  allowed me to resort to the sayings:  that instead of history--- my last year at Beloit--- repeating as farce the three nights at Beloit seemed to be a dropping into a purgatory with no prospect at the end of being …. I need not fill out the traditional belief but I would wish to avoid the easy resorting to saying, it seemed like a dropping into an abyss.
--He writes and then said,  On November 6, 1918 my first literary creation died or should I say--- I ruthlessly and out of necessity killed him as sure as the imaginary German bullet--- and thus begun the writing that lead me to this moment of my reading talking to and with you.  The person to whom that writing had been directed to did not respond to it and I discovered here in the library of Beloit College that I had been not alone in writing with such a purpose as I shared that with Dante and Petrarch who each had begun out the same impulse but I didn’t learn until much later the reality I came to find myself in--- as Turgenev remarked: I write for my five unknown readers and find myself as lonely as a finger.  That war---World War One---ended as you might remember on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th day in November, 1918. When I finally did talk with the girl to whom that first writing was meant, she admitted she had read the story as I had kept her first name, Melinda and added an L to her Brady, but she never approached me and yet she wondered how I had known her birthday was November 6?  This of course was a long time ago before the current moment when a simple search on the internet reveals such information so easily… but I had wrote with her in the mind of my creation based on seeing her one morning on the second floor of Patchogue High School.  I was a senior and she was a sophomore… now, in the present which seems more fictional than that other fiction, the past, we are two people who have  been married three times and she lives in a great house on  large tract of land in rural northern Maine and I live on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and find myself spending long weekends at a near lakeside house with my wife, 30 miles from that apartment. In New Jersey, in a town with a Main Street that is crossed by Haig, Pershing, Joffre and Foch streets with a little side avenue named for Petain and there is an American Legion Hall named for Joyce Kilmer 
-BUT every writer should have at least one great prejudice that is beyond argument and I will name Julian Green as the great writer of the 20th Century and I hope to read and to  be read to on my death bed. 
-Julian Green American born not made as he liked to say was the only American in the French Academy and the first non-French person in that body.  He succeeded to the chair that had been occupied by Francois Mauriac…  but for the immediate purpose of this talk there is in his PERSONAL RECORD 1928-1939 a link to another writer who I always think of as being the great writer of Wisconsin GLENWAY WESCOTT.
Green kept a diary as did his friends Gide and Mauriac and all of it along with all his writings are published in the Pleiade edition and he might have the largest number of volumes in that series… but the quote : 19 December 1928.  Lunched yesterday with Wescott.  He told me that it seemed to him impossible for a journal to be written that should be absolutely sincere and bear the stamp of truth.  But sincerity is a gift--- one among others.  To wish to be sincere is not enough.”
-Knowing that was my introduction to Julian who I first visited in Paris.  I would see him for almost the next two decades and did a profile of him for The Guardian in London which was a little embarrassed to publish since that paper was aggressively liberal and skeptical of religion but with Green that allowed me to report that when I asked him what he looked forward to at 90, he simply said Purgatory. 


Tuesday, October 23, 2018


from JUST LIKE THAT a novel as a beginning of the Sixties of the last century...

The I of the novel has spent much of the night [in the spring of 1965] next to the monument to the Battle of the Nations on the outskirts of Leipzig in what was then called  the German  Democratic Republic (DDR).

 Martin who has been with this I all day and now in the late night begins to speak:  Don't sit there anymore.  The night is done with.  You are an American and you can't deny it. It is written on your face, in the book you carry next to your heart and how you would like to insert that book into your heart of you could.  That little greenish book, the colour of corpses in comic books which the frontier guards will look and had hand back to you as if you were diseased.  Did you feel that as your crossed our country on the way to Berlin?  Surely you did. You are so sensitive, if you say so, as you please.  I know that.  An American is a diseased scrap of humanity who does not what it is: just a creature who will die and before dying will grow old and not all the money, not all the wishes, not all the king's men will be able to step in and put a stop to the lines appearing at the corners of your eyes, at the corners of your mouth that has kissed my lips and which will spot the backs of your hands with those false stigmatas of saintliness: are they not saints for having endured this life--- but in your United States of American from what I have read, the old are put to the field and turned into manure, the young have not the experience of being around their old people and the aged are left to rot.  But even to  think of death--- what a heresy--- how the stakes must be kept in readiness all across America because death is what denies the ever bigger future and the happiness always around the corner if you work very hard and have the boss's dick you up your ass and you don't comment on how small his dick is.

Martin had walked a little way from the monument and I could see him pacing back and forth beyond the low hedge. I sat with the stone of the monument to my back, as I have said, the bullets stitching a death across my chest.  Was I not James Connolly tied to a chair because I was unable to stand to meet the English guns.

This novel is about a young American boy on holiday from University College Dublin in the Spring of 1965 goes to what was then called East Germany on holiday.  The opening and concluding sections were published by Barbara Probst Solomon in her journal THE READING ROOM.

A second book was written : THE END OF THE . BEGINNING, which takes place on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the early 1970s Anthiny Burgess, the shade of Charles Manson and others move through this book which marks the end of Sixties of the last century

Saturday, September 29, 2018



This is a sort of teaser for the very long essay that THE HOLLINS CRITIC  asked me to write on...

                          TRUTH AND FACTS
        An essay on ANNIVERSARIES by Uwe Johnson

ANNIVERSARIES is published by New York Review Books and will be available in October... look to Amazon...

Uwe J.[Johnson] last and solitary 10 years in England always fascinate me. Shortly after his death I met a bookseller in Richmond that knew him. And when Sebald invited me to a symposium in Norwich I met there the late Michael Hamburger that was his friend. Speculations [About Jakob]... a very innovative work. I keep a very good Spanish translation, Conjeturas..., from 1973, annotated, with a critical introduction and bibliography. No publisher will do this kind of work in Spain anymore. And his Spanish translations are out of print. But I believe Zamyatin was right: the future of Russian literature, and of literature, for short, is in its past. The rich past will erase the pastime. And the eyes of a new and real reader will follow the lines and the lives of St. Patrick's Day...

(from a letter from Julian Rios (author of LARVA) to the writer of this essay)

The tendency of every age is to bury as many classics as it revives.  If unable to discover our own urgent meanings in a creation of the past, we hope to find ample redress in its competitive neighbors.  A masterpiece cannot be produced once and for all; it must be constantly reproduced.  Its first author is a man. Its later one--- time, social time, history
                                              ----Philip Rahv


         ANNIVERSARIES by Uwe Johnson is a great American novel though written in German but now available in a complete, precise and very readable translation by Damion Searls.

I began writing this essay about Uwe Johnson’s ANNIVERSARIES on September 1, 2018, the 79th anniversary of the beginning of World War Two and I am writing the essay in a small town in New Jersey, home to a former Michelin tire factory that closed in 1930 though the main street is still crossed by Pershing, Haig, Foch and Joffre streets with a little side avenue named for Petain and an American Legion hall named for Joyce Kilmer as is the elementary school.  Everything remains and is forgotten.
I had thought more provocatively to have started my essay with:  ANNIVERSARIES  by Uwe Johnson is one of the greatest New York City novels  and of course it begins at a New Jersey beach town and will end at a Danish beach town.

Or, Uwe Johnson’s ANNIVERARIES From a Year in the Life of Gesine Cresspahl (giving its complete title) is the freshly translated, definitive and complete 1668 page novel constantly centered on the year of 1967-68 in the life of a German woman living at West 96th Street in Manhattan remembering or being placed in times that include both the Nazi past and the then present divided Germanys, while constantly mirroring those lives in a daily reading and quoting from The New York Times. 

I am unsure of including this note as there is already a PS to my essay... but it seems necessary... Johnson always acknowldged that William Faulkner was THE great American writer as indeed does much of the world. Faulkner is the only modern American writer who can be thought of a member of the World Republic of Letters as  Pascale Casanova mentions in her book with that title

--  From the essay by Evelyn Scott on William Faulkner’s THE SOUND AND THE FURY: “William Faulkner has that general perspective  in viewing particular events which lifts the specific incident to the dignity of catholic  significance, while all the vividness of an unduplicated personal drama is retained.  He senses the characteristic copmulsions to action that make a fate.”  [this is from a photo copy of the actual original booklet that the publisher issued for the publication of the novel]  

Of course Johnson’s name could be substituted for Faulkner.