Monday, August 19, 2019

BEING IN SOFIA AND WHAT I BROUGHT BACK TO EAST FIRST STREET IN MANHATTAN Part One


For 42 days I was in Bulgaria.
Not for a moment did I miss being in the United States of America. Of course I missed individual people.  
What an awful debilitation to be labeled an American writer.
Would it be ever possible to simply say: I was  born in Brooklyn, New York, 
lived in Patchogue a small village 60 miles from New York City on Long Island,
am in the world.
This has nothing to do with politics.  Every country in the world is as pleasurable, as inviting, as repulsive as the next.  



a hotel in Pula

but I live in Manhattan on East First Street and go on weekends mostly to the house my wife owns in New Jersey.  In many ways I have the best of all possible worlds if one is to be living in Manhattan.  

So the matter is not a dreary disquisition about money or how an individual finds himself.  Rather it is question of how to define myself when I now say I have written three published novels and one of them was recently translated from its original English into Bulgarian.  Do I think of myself as an American writer?  The convention seems to be that either a passport, or a birth certificate determines the adjective that precedes the noun writer.


The Happy Kebabchita, Sofia


THE PAST
I could recite the list of American writers I have read and usually all of their books: Melville, Faulkner, Kerouac, Thomas Wolfe and on and on... but now save for a few novels nothing much remains... but what I am trying to understand how to continue with the writing 

But the pictures are urging another approach.  
The hotel in Pula, now in Croatia but in 1967 it was in Yugoslavia.  I had stayed there on a journey from Dublin  to Milan, to Venice, to Trieste as I was on my way to Turkey to visit friends but when I got off the train at Sofia in September of that year my life changed as I walked up Hristo Botev Boulevard and stopped to ask a question to a girl in a kiosk...

In June of this year that hotel in Pula and the town itself was the subject of a conversation with a writer translator from what is now Croatia who was also a guest of the Literature House in Sofia, Dinko Telecan.  Dinko had translated THE WHITE GODDESS, THE GOLDEN BOUGH of many books and was himself a novelist, traveler and poet. He knew the work of Nicolas Bouvier who is truly great and known only to a few---but that seems always the case in these United States... and after telling me Pula was a dump as was the hotel--- I persisted in the conversation and found a safe island in the work of Laszlo Krasznahorkai... now of course another name...and he knew --as he said--- of course and even I could echo that of course we knew the novels of Miroslav Krleza--didn't everyone--- of course I know I have just lost people thinking what a snob, what a name dropper--but so what::: I found THE RETURN OF PHILIP LATINOWICZ and ON THE EDGE OF REASON in my years in Patchogue... as at one time in even in the United States books by so-called foreign writers got translated and published... and of course he knew that James Joyce had begun his teaching career in Pula before going to Trieste and we both paused for Italo Svevo who in certain worlds is as well known as the name,  James Joyce... 

78-
What I am trying to suggest is  that once one is  beyond the cold censorious academic and journalistic walls of today's United States of America there is a far brighter world of the literary imagination... that sees  and feels and knows a world that is far more interesting than what passes for a literary culture in the United States... there is not a single contemporary American writer---beyond James McCourt, Madison Smart Bell, Stanley Crawford, Tom Whalen whose new books I am waiting for  and of the dead I find it appalling that Hannah Green's THE DEAD OF THE HOUSE is not seen as essential reading as is Hal Bennett's LORD OF DARK PLACES and his very short autobiography THE VISIBLE MAN which was published in Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series Volume 15.  I was one a tiny select few who convinced Jon Rabinowitz to republish both of these books at his Turtle Point Press.  

[][][] That Hal Bennett's novels and stories are not better known than Toni Morrison's tells me too much about what so-called American literature is all about and while not written with the linguistic inventiveness of say a Celine, all of Bennett's  work shares an essential attitude as once said by Celine---"you have to be a little bit dead to be really comic" while Hannah Green's novel and her Little Saint a non-fiction book about her long visits with the painter John Wesley to the small French town on Conques and an essay "Mr. Nabokov" create a small perfect oeuvre sharing the sophisticated enthralling stylistic verve of Nabokov's Speak, Memory.
                                  




5 comments:

Anonymous said...

You state that you didn't miss being in the US, but what you don't state is that you were in Bulgaria on Fulbright Award. Apparently your well-known antagonism to the US publishing didn't effect your outstretched hand to the government. I've read one Hal Bennett book (not the pseudonym books). He's a fine writer, but your denigration of Toni Morrison smacks of someone who (a) resents her success or (b)hasn't read widely in her published works. I'm familiar with the stories that she had great assistance from an editor and that he is responsible for her books. There will be a special place in literary history for those stories (add Gordon Lish to that listing). I don't believe your antagonism toward Morrison is because she is a woman (you are constantly reminding us that the small output of Hannah Green is worth visiting). I think you need to get over your personal resentments. I wish you had written more about the kinds of readers you found in Bulgaria. What themes are current writers engaging with? How do they deal with their communist past?

Thomas McGonigle said...

CARPING IS ALWAYS TO BE EXPECTED
...AS PEOPLE MAKE INVESTMENTS IN THE POPULAR
AND I DO WISH I HAD THE AUTHORITY OF AN EDWARD DAHLBERG WHO USED TO DISMISS WRITERS LIKE MORRISON WITH PHRASES SUCH AS: ANOTHER ONE OF OUR WELL KNOWN BAD WRITERS or I HAVE HEARD OF HER AND THAT IS SUFFICIENT...BUT ALSO EDWARD IS LONG GONE

I AM PLANNING TO COME BACK TO WHAT I BROUGHT BACK FROM BULGARIA... PART OF THAT IS LISTENING TO EMIL TABAKOV'S SYMPHONY NO. 5.
I WAS ASKED TO APPLY FOR A FULBRIGHT SPECIALIST GRANT AS I WAS WANTED IN BULGARIA...
NO AMERICAN PUBLISHER HAS EVER ASKED ME FOR ANYTHING...
ONE OF THE CONSTANTS OF MY CONVERSATIONS IN BULGARIA REVOLVED AROUND THE QUESTION :WHY DID AN AMERICAN WRITE THIS BOOK, THE CORPSE DREAM OF N. PETKOV?.. I WILL TAKE THAT UP IN A FUTURE POST...

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, Edward Dahlberg, "Because I Was Flesh." A wonderful book, does anyone read him any more? A cute remark used to dismiss a popular writer--but sorry Mr. McGonigle, you can't dismiss Morrison with a snide comment from Dahlberg. He has basically disappeared from view, but she, whether you are willing to admit it or not, will have a lasting readership. It is always easy to dismiss popular writers, as Dahlberg does; but remember that some of our greatest writers were immensely popular during their writing lives. Dickens, Tolstoy, and after he was rescued by Malcolm Lowry, Faulkner. Hemingway was always popular. Popularity, of course, isn't the yardstick by which we judge writers. Years after Melville's death an English writer came to New York and wanted to follow the trail of Melville's life in NY. No one knew anything about where he was buried or what his life was like in New York. It was only in the 1920s, with the Melville revival that he was considered to be in the pantheon of great American writers. Dahlberg will always be returned to for the brilliance of "Because I Was Flesh" (less so, I think for "The Confessions of Edward Dahlberg", a sad attempt at recapturing what he had so brilliantly caught in his 1964 memoir (BIWF). Of his essays I can't think of one that is "essential". All good writing in books like "The Leafless American." But, nothing stands out to my mind. I am not asking that you write a sentence in praise of Morrison, you're entitled to not like a writer's production, but your dismissal smacks of resentment that she became so popular--and is it that her popularity tapped into the African-American experience and was taken up by academics? I rather suspect that that is at the heart of your resentment. Glad to know that you will share your Bulgarian experiences.

Thomas McGonigle said...

Hal Bennett is a far better writer than the woman you mention. Malcolm Cowley and his Faulkner’s French translator rescued Faulkner. I knew Cowley at Hollins College 69-70 and afterwards...

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