Wednesday, March 27, 2019



A GERMAN OFFICER IN OCCUPIED PARIS The War Journals, 1941-1945 by Ernst Junger has held me for the last two months because on every page or so they send me to what he is either reading or thinking about reading or remembering having read. 
Of late, because of reading Junger, I have gone back to: William Faulkner’s PYLON,
to Washington Irving’s THE SKETCHBOOK,
to the Book of Esther in the Old Testament,
 to Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians in the New Testament,
to Marcel Jouhandeau’s MARCEL AND ELISE, the only one of his many books in English but  more a small anthology that has been translated into English (of course more of his books should be in English but what stands in his way: he was  homosexual, long married to a woman, a strict Roman Catholic and for a time a very pro-German or at the very least indifferent to the German occupation,
-to Leon Bloy, the French writer Junger turns to frequently and of which I have dipped into his only book available in English PILGRIM OF THE ABSOLUTE—which in an essential book for understanding the appeal of Catholicism--- at the very end of Junger’s  life, when he was well beyond a hundred years old  he would become Catholic--- he was no fool, 
to looking at the art of Cocteau
to chatting with Picasso,
to visiting Braque (I SHOULD PROBABLY QUOTE THE WHOLE OF THIS VISIT but I will  not as it so clearly states  why while here are many good artists in the world--- that is all they are: good and ah, why not: (the few greats) They are like the Andes, whose absolute elevation is divided in half to our sights by the ocean’s surface.  Yet their domain spans the sphere of the condor’s wings down to the measureless reaches of the ocean’s depths

Junger also in the diaries details the on-going military situation both in France and his entries detailing a mission to the Russian front is so fierce and disturbing in the felt detailed observations--- equaled only by the work of  Curzio Malaparte--- they re-enforce my personal belief that Junger is the single best writer on what being in combat feels like and I have never really understood why people might think that he is in anyway a war monger when in fact he shows just how awful the experience is and why he wishes it on no one… unlike so much of what passes as anti-war memoirs which always stroke the sentimental for all its worth and thus become a useless form of preaching…
This morning as so many mornings I walk to The Strand Bookstore and often also to Alabaster Books around the corner from that. I always look at the bookstalls on the sidewalk and this morning I found a nice copy of Hannah Green’s LITTLE SAINT and of course the clerk in ALABASTER did not know who Hannah Green was… but no matter as I felt myself to be Leopold Bloom out for his walk  (IN ULYSSES--- please surely you know this) and standing at the bookstalls in the shop near O’Connell Bridge in Dublin looking at a book by Paul de Kock and later thinking about a novel SWEETS OF SIN…
AND JUNGER also goes looking through the bookstalls along the Seine and into many of the tiny bookshops that used to give Paris its special charm even for one like myself who does not speak or read French but who also liked to go grazing through the bookshops of Paris imagining to see one of my books which might have escaped English--- I will have this pleasure in June when in Bulgaria I will go into bookstores there and see my THE CORPSE DREAM OF N. PETKOV having escaped its English incarnation…
Of course Junger read French and while I do not know for sure I remember while in the trenches in WWI  he  was reading and how appropriate it seemed, TRISTRAM SHANDY by Laurence Sterne… and opposing him in those fields was David Jones whose IN PARENTHESIS is the literary equal of Junger’s STORM OF STEEL.. nothing else compares, really, save only Alan Seeger’s poem I HAVE A RENDEZVOUS WITH DEATH--- it is no accident that Seeger was in the same class at Harvard as T. S. Eliot.
A final quoted passage by Junger after one of the many visits with the very rich American who stayed in Paris all through the war, Florence Gould where here is a conversation with a Marie-Louise Heller of whom it is asked: “Marie-Louise, you are certain you can’t remember your husband’s birthday anymore?”
“Yes, but on the other hand I can never forget his death day.”
This retort is apt for in death that person is permanently linked to us—as I now feel about my father."

Tuesday, March 19, 2019


 FOR SOME TIME I have found it difficult to write about the books I am reading and my own writing as it seems one writes into an abyss by way of this blog yet of course all writing that hopes to last beyond a day--- is written into the abyss and this sunny March day walking on Second Avenue in Manhattan urged me to share the opening of an essay of mine that is in the current issue of THE HOLLINS CRITIC, a rare readable actual print journal yet one that is available electronically  via good libraries as I know it is from the New York Public Library

                          TRUTH AND FACTS
        An essay on ANNIVERSARIES by Uwe Johnson

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. 
And one will be happy to know that this woman has nothing to do with the so-called Upper West Side intellectuals who were memorably described as inhabiting a world of “Keeping up with Niebuhrs” by the writer James McCourt.  A world of Lionel Trilling, Meyer Shapiro, Norman Podhoretz, Irving Krystol, Susan Sontag and Reinhold Niebuhr.  And there will be nothing about the Democratic Convention in Chicago!
         The novel opens: 
“Long waves beat diagonally against the beach, bulge hunchbacked with cords of muscle, raise quivering ridges that tip over at their very greenest.  Crests stretched tight, already welted white, wrap round a cavity of air crushed by the clear mass like a secret made and then broken.  The crashing swells knock children off their feet, spin them round, drag them flat across the pebbly ground. Past the breakers the waves pull the swimmer across their backs by her out-stretched hands.  The wind is fluttery; in low-pressure wind like this, the Baltic Sea used to peter out into a burble. The word for the short waves on the Baltic was: choppity.  The town is on a narrow spit of the Jersey shore, two hours south of New York by train.” (3)

An opening wordier than: “Stately plump Buck Mulligan…” or “For a long time I used to go to bed early,” but closer “From a little after four o'clock until almost sundown of the long still hot weary dead September afternoon they sat in what Miss Coldfield still called the office because her father had called it that – a dim hot airless room with the blinds all closed and fastened for forty-three summers because when she was a girl someone had believed that sight and moving air carried heat and that dark was always cooler…”
SO TO  “There was a depression over the Atlantic.  It was travelling eastwards, toward an area of high pressure on Russia.”   The last quotation is the opening  of Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities. 
Of course the same ocean now joins these two novels forever, underlining what one can only hope to urge: Johnson has written the necessary masterpiece linking the United States and Europe--- and why not allow for Germany standing in for all of Europe in the way the United States can represent the New World  imaginatively since no other book I know of does this while  of course one is aware  that the central character of Celine’s Journey to the End of Night spends a long time in the United States and Michel Butor in his book Mobile creates a wonderful European recreation of the whole of the United States—while recalling the more fantastic version of the United Stakes created by Kafka, a writer who had the benefit of never coming to the  US---but the  essential point is that the experiences of both places are  given equal weight in Anniversaries thus avoiding the common and usual dichotomy of the visitor and the visited… whether long or short term it matters not at all.
ANNIVERSARIES closes 1668 pages later:
“As we walked by the sea we ended up in the water. Clattering gravel around our ankles. We held one another’s hand: a child, a man on his way to the place where the dead and she, the child that I was.” (1668)

New Jersey and the Baltic!