PATRICK MODIANO AND DEREK MAHON....
I had just read INVISIBLE INK, the newly translated novel by Patrick Modiano (Yale University Press, 2020) when news came of the death of the Irish poet Derek Mahon.
SUGGESTION: some have suggested the plague will last for another year so a wonderful time to read TWO Modiano novels a month and by the end of the year there will be a new one from Yale....
I have read now 25 of Patrick Modiano's short novels and the coincidence of these two readerly events seem to me to point to the genius of Modiano which could be too easily summed up in Gertrude Stein's famous remark: There is no such thing as repetition. Only Insistence.
INVISIBLE INK--- a man remembering a moment when he went looking for a person--- is in so many ways a sort of description of every one of Modiano's novels, novels that hint often overtly at autobiography or rather at the truthful necessary element that is in every so-called fiction, whether that fiction be by Joyce or Tolstoy or Proust of Celine or or or..
All of Modiano's novels are searches for something or someone who is lost to the narrator, or misplaced for poorly remembered... but then in the so-called real life are we not all accidents and our meetings with others, accidents.
All of the novels end in some sort of defeat, something found missing or just that phrase found missing and so the only next step is another book...
As to Mahon I met him on Dublin in 1965 and again in 66 and in other years but always in some way associated with a certain another: Eugene Lambe
(AN ASIDE)What a perfect gift to give to a loved one: a two year subscription and each month they would receive a Modiano novel... I know of only one other author like this: Cesar Aira who is also the author of many many short novels which instead of being searches for are rather concerned with the telling about something or other, a telling... my review from the LA Times of one of Aira's
novels will fill you in on this author: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2009-mar-01-ca-cesar-aira1-story.html.
novels will fill you in on this author: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2009-mar-01-ca-cesar-aira1-story.html.
Here are the last two lines:
A final reviewer’s sigh: the charm (if that word is still meaningful) of this scene -- so refreshing. And what a gift: to look forward to reading a new Aira novel from New Directions every year for the rest of one’s life.
Sadly, no one will pay me to write a review of Modiano's novel... so I write this post... but as with INVISIBLE INK: "There are blanks in this life, white spaces you can detect if you open the "case file": a single sheet in sky-blue folder that has faded with time. That ancient sky blue has itself turned almost white. And the words "case file" are written across the middle of the folder. In black ink. This is my only remnant of the Hutte Detective Agency, the only trace of my passage in that old..."
Modiano's words invited me to open pages found when I was into my apartment in Manhattan, pages still held together by a metal spindle minus the covers.... there are some pages of prose in ink and then a list of names some with addresses but others without addresses:
Michael J. Peters
11357 35th Ave NE
But I've already written about Michael J. Peters and copied out the three letters I had saved from him: which you can read if you goto July 28, 2015 abcofreading.blogspot.com.
I know why the names are there. Michael J. Peters was the last American I talked to Zagreb--we had met in Trieste--- before I took the train to Istanbul though I got off in Sofia (that began my Bulgarian life) and Michael was on his way to see the Cedars of Lebanon
Gary Seaman was met in Berlin, Spring 1965) and speaking German took me to East Berlin and then as guests of the FDJ we went to the DDR...he re-appeared in JUST LIKE THAT my novel of a beginning of the Sixties of the last century...
As to the other and even with these two names I wonder and will only wonder and not having won a Nobel prize and not having published now 25 novels in English translation...no one is lining up to get my whatever might result...and I know because of Modiano there is some value in looking back, though looking back is much frowned upon by the present moment unless one is engaged in some vulgar political polemic...
Finally I admire the novels of Modiano and I admire ever more to the point of jealousy of his having a reading public in France that has an appetite for such books. One must remember that in say 1920 just before the moments that will give the USA: Anderson, Hemingway, Faulkner, the population was 106 million and the average sale of a real literary book was a couple thousand copies while a century later with a population of 331 million a couple of thousand copies is still all that a very good literary author can hope for...
HERE ARE THE LETTERS FROM MICHAEL J. PETERS AND A REPLY:
The fault of not continuing our, at best, broken line of correspondences is entirely mine. Your letter written in Dublin arrived here some months back. I shall pledge myself to more discipline in the future and hopefully purge myself of my shortcomings. Please forgive this horrible red [the letter is written in red ink] but it’s all I have. Perhaps it’s symbolic of many things--- but that would really be too heavy to write about!!
I haven’t written anyone since last spring when I wrote a Syrian girl about her body and how much her armpit had meant to me while suffering the adversities of Oriental life. In that particular letter I overextended myself, totally exceeding my fondest expectations and proving what I’ve always suspected; that words are nearer to me than pubic stubble. So anyway my letters comes someplace between Theŕeśe’s smooth belly and just plain words
My family forwarded your letter (I spent the first two months of summer north of Seattle) but I didn’t receive it until after your proposed induction date of 1 June. However I can vaguely recall being terribly drunk at about that date so I must have communed with you somehow. I’m confident that you did avoid the messy business in some manner--- hopefully it will end soon and civilization can redeem her soul.
‘Merkan’ intelligence is beautifully characterized by Wallace, Nixon, and to a lesser extent H.H.H. The idea of a national political platform essentially based on beating Black-Americans into submission and giving young people haircuts is particularly appalling in the face the real issues: poverty, capitalist economy , etc. (Before I forget--- I’ve a stack of back issues to the ‘Helix’ Seattle’s underground. It’s established and heads above most such papers. Drop a card with your new address and I’ll forward them immediately!!)
A close friend wrote a few weeks ago from Big Sur about living and dying and he idea of somehow reaching a decision as to the validity of life. It was really quite abstract. Implicit was the suggestion that he might die soon by his own hand. I mention it only because I think about it at times and I’m sure you also do.
I’ve been reading a lot of late, mostly heavy academic books but some Gíde, Hesse and Greek tragedy too. In an attempt to make myself more comfortable I’ve change majors again--- transferring to the NEAR EASTERN LANGUAGES & LITERATURE DEPT. was easy. It seems to be more a challenge. I think my field may eventually be Islamic art
At any rate, Tom—write me of your condition and of your wife. As I proposed--- a simple card with your address would be adequate. In return I promise a stack of ‘underground’ sheets’ as well as long coherent “think letter.”
SEATTLE November 68
I must say how pleasant it was to receive your letter. My blatant procrastination had left me worried that Elbie J. and the boys had grabbed you in London and somehow thrust you into the War Machine. Like all Crusades, ours kills, rapes, pillages and sloganizes in the name Good. If it weren’t so sad we could chuckle until the piss runs down our legs. But alas it is most serious and profitable!! By the way—did you see Chicago (Pig City, USA)?? A totally beautiful and predictable exercise in ‘Merikan’ democracy. Ah, for the good old days when pigs were pigs and not cops.
I’m glad to see you have returned to the States if for no other reason than to fill your belly with unescapable crud of ‘Merikan” civilization and your nostrils with the stench of our hypocrisy. Beware!! The spirit of 76 corrupts.
Can your believe Nixon?? Absolutely disgusting!! The man is a Turkey!! The imagination can easily see a new era of Brown Shirts and Black Boots. By the way—did the good people of Wisconsin erect a monument to good old Joe Mc. They must have; it would be only proper to have done so.
University continues--- it drones on and on with the rhythm of a palpitating whore. It’s a game that I’ve to pay for a while. Still I look for the warm lady dressed in brown, cloaked in darkness, but that’s a game I play with myself and hardly as significant as the scholarly thing with books. A friend who sits on the fence and gets despondent over things like spring mornings at the [Big] Sur and Leningrad snows wrote that but I had to destroy his letter because it caused me to think about things and that’s somewhere near the end. I like the idea of making love on dirty sheets in your Venetian slum house. I beg to be your guest paying or otherwise. Venice is good to those who know her., Where else the ecstasy of days measured in the downy armpits and the dry rasps of rending spirits. Which reminds me--- did you see the latest issue of NOVA? (It’s an English (British) mag. Of doubtful quality). It has an etching of Twiggy with an arm extended to God doing her toilette with a trusty Gillette super blue blade. God was it laughable!!!! They must have invented that splendid cover for me--- an exclusive thing designed solely to evoke a licentious chuckle from those who care about such trivia.
The sky never seems to be more than pale green, an opaque continuum that leaves some doubt about the exact moment when heaven meets mother earth. The November sky is for those who think about communion and black flags and tortured genius of sensitive people—
I hope you find some value in the copies of Helix---it’s our ersatz journalism draped in the filigree of OP-POP culture.
Well at least they try.
About your letters and things--- a catholic school. Really, Thomas!! A bastion of radical, irrational dogma. Can you make it?? I had hoped you could find something in Europe away from all the hassle of concerned parents. I’m looking closely at teaching in Roberts College, Istanbul my next trip over. However with an M.A. in NEAR EASTERN LANGUAGES & LITERATURE it is will be a tight fit to meet their requirements. I understand they prefer English M.A.’s with teaching experience.
Of course I remain interested in your writing, anxiously awaiting an opportunity to read your work. What are the chances of publication?? If things get too slow, I could work for a printing at this end. If you’re truly satisfied with your novel, now in London, and assuming it is turned down, you might try Grove Press in NYC or Lighthouse Books in San Francisco.
I’ll shortly begin working for the Post Office in an attempt to work off my indebtedness--- I was forced to buy a car… V.W. and will in the next month rent a beach cottage on the Sound. I’ve to get away from my family they are stunting my personality. It will be limited freedom allowing me to be more eccentric in my existence. Somehow I’ll manage to keep up my studies at [University of] Washington while working. You should strongly consider visiting me or moving out here. We have the mountains and the sea and a radical political climate. (We were the only western state to tell Nixon to get screwed). Because of certain regrettable obligations I can’t truly consider Mexico this spring. But I’m sure you would find the Northwest rather enjoyable and my cottage would be yours and your wife’s We are provincial, but nevertheless very good people. The music is sweet as is the beer and the grass is abundant in the children’s pipes. I can confidently say there would be good times for all. Consider it, Tom. We could open a commune in the wastes of eastern Washington or in the nearby mountains.
I couldn’t find the issue of the Evergreen Review that you requested but I did meet an interesting cunt that led me to several café-au-lait in the district and a near fuck. I’ll keep looking!
When I gather my wits I’ll write you a long ‘think’ letter… Should be around the New Year. Let me know of your plans, Tom, I want to share conversation and beer with you before time passes and things are lost. As for God’s blessing--- I’m sure he would if he could.,
My bed has been empty for weeks and it’s cold. God it’s cold—the frost is fixed on the window till well past noon and my feet stay bare through it all like Ransom’s frozen parsnips in the snow. The hot bath at 2:00 brings me back; things focus much better with lemon scented suds soaking my crotch. Tom, I’m glad you have at least tenatively agreed to share the northern wilderness this summer—It’ll be good for both of us. My disordered mind needs company and you need inspiration before returning to ‘academia.’
Through the ordeal of autumn with the death and all I managed to rise above it all be placed on the “President’s List of Scholars” at the University. Janet said is showed how well adjusted and established I was--- I grabbed her tits in front of her mother, she cried, and now in their minds I’m not nearly as well adjusted as they had contemplated. An unfortunate outburst for all concerned but it was the easiest way to make my point. Anyway it’s all returned to the back of my foggy consciousness and it’ll not return until I rattle.
I read Donleavy’s Saddest Summer of Samuel S. last evening--- it was naturally impressive but not the same magnitude as The Ginger Man. Also have a short story copied ifn the bourgeois anti-sexuality monthly Playboy--- The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthasar B. but it is the same Dublin/Trinity thing and it will probably be bit as well received as the others. It seem better suited to those of us for whom the divine light of perversion has long since descended and dimmed. Anyway my shadow seems larger and my body-mind more lustful. Read this morning where a G-man (FBI) gunned down a hippie in Istanbul. Seems be less safe than before. It all sounds ultra-somthing.
They’ve taken all the plastic Christmas to the rubbish heap thank God. It becomes unbearable after a while. I’m always suspicious of prophets and apocalyptic visions anyway, it strikes me as a business man’s hoax. Can you imagine your wife telling you that your child was conceived in heaven let alone the Immaculate Conception---but I mustn’t offend the R.C.s and the lessers. Skepticism is my cross! To bear it on my slightly stopped shoulders for the sake…….?
I don’t feel like continuing , Tom. An inspiration is about to send me to the Conservatory to look at the tropical flora captive behind steamy windows. The idea of brightly blooming things behind and forced birth while even the worms are frozen in their slime is curious. I’ll post this then write within a few days, enclose any journals I’ve accumulated since the last and if you like talk about Phédra or send some of Doneavys that you’ve not read.
A prosperous new year full of goodies
[I have no further letters from Michael]
POST POST SOMETNING
In September, 1967 I was in Trieste staying at a youth hostel on the Adriatic with the Castle of Miramare to the right and the city to the left… I met Michael J. Peters there. I remember a drunken evening and being forced to stay during a heavy rainstorm in a seaside cabana with him and two South African girls as we were locked out of hostel which closed at 10PM. The next day Michael and I went to a hotel in the Via Diaz in Trieste, thinking of Joyce writing Ulysses in this city now hollowed out and no longer important… we took a ferry along to Pula in what was then Yugoslavia and then by train to Zagreb where I last saw Michael as he was leaving for Athens and on to look at the Cedars of Lebanon as he said while I was going to Belgrade and eventually to Sofia where my life changed when I walked up in the dark Hristo Botev Boulevard to eventually marry Lilia, the first girl I talked to, who was then minding her mother’s kiosk. We left Sofia just before Easter, 1968 for Dublin by way of Venice, Paris and London. In October we went to Menasha, Wisconsin where my parents were living in exile from Patchogue.
I have a carbon of a letter I must have sent to Michael during this time written on the back of a mimeo of a history quiz I had given in the 7th grade class I was teaching at St. John’s Polish Catholic School in Menasha, Wisconsin. I began teaching in November after Lilia and I came from Dublin at the end of October. The teacher had quit and they needed someone desperately. I was a lousy letter writer but…
Michael: Thank you ever so much for the Helixs they are a piece of food in this cold night that is lived through with little sign of the morn… could you send more if possible in fact any you don’t need?
The reverse is a test… it is all arbitrary and that but I had to find out if they knew any facts at all…these poor students already their minds are warped by the American death, they talk with glib fascination of the Vietnam death,, about the orgasm of killing (we have had deer hunting the last two weeks) have you this great festival? About the refined brutality of death that is American football American style…the previous teacher used to give them no homework if the Green Bay Packers won also no homework on days they might play.
About Joe McC his spirit was exorcised by Allen the G last year…the RCs have a mass over his grave each year hoping to bring back his body from the worms.
From the newspapers I could imagine that you should be able to find some nice pair of breasts to bury your nose in, I wouldn’t want the armpit of American civilization for the stubs might spear your tender,,,
The RCs quite good compared to other places and quite progressive very little control over what I do no outside exams in the 7th grade the religion is opening their eyes at least that is what it will be for me… I also teach American history. Monday they debate resolved THE AMERICAN WAR OF INDEPENDENCE WAS NOT JUSTIFIED perhaps we could go on IT WAS ALL A WASTE OF TIME
You must realize these kids have never seen a slum, they have never seen a Black. I was going to write negro but that is taboo and I only use the b in class.
Are you able to work and study full time. I am going to back for night courses at the u in languages as anything serious up here would be a waste of time I just want the basics and any idiot can teach that
Are you developing the Lowery bit?
I think we will come in June if it is at all possible. I will get paid for that month and but won’t have to work
Spring in Mexico is impossible anyway there is no holiday given for that
The near fucks (Evergreen search) deserve head split open
In fact as I write this letter I have made my mind definite to come up on the hill with the beautiful long haired women all mingling and gentle no news now on novel but sent it to Hollins College in Virginia in the hopes of a full fellowship to do an MA in creative writing a nice gentle way of spending a year
Hollins is a girls undergraduate school with an integrated sexually grad school of 30. The main thing I just do is over awe that them with talent suck’em down socially and then I can sit and type to my heart’s content for a year.
Washington state radical even with Boeing?
You have a nice hand writing the symbol of good breeding that is more important in this world gone to seed, now or a few seconds I shall turn my upper class properly aristocratic
I might mention in this context that Mr Donleavy has a new book out
Roberts should not be difficult if you could pick up a methods course in teaching eng. as a foreign language what about the place in Beirut also there is an American college for some religion in Alexandria also working for the oil companies also the British Council has good jobs in Saudi Arabia $7600 plus travel insurance cheap housing etc etc you would save 5 at least
If you ever want anything from this place I will try and comply I will send the Milwaukee rad sheet if I can get some copies a trip to Mil is more than 100 miles
Swimming through the vomit is bad enough
Let me end there
Christmas we realize is coming,,,
I hope you find nice things in stocking but remember it’s what between that counts
And god bless your undertaking to introduce a note of necrophilia into this…
Michael J. Peters is alive in your reading of his letters. Or have I lurched too far from the example of William's trusting in his red wheelbarrow? Am I supposed to tell you what I make of Michael J. Peters in these letters. One last detail we exchanged books in Zagreb. I do not remember which book I gave him but I still have the small Grove Press paperback version of Alain Robbe-Grillet's THE VOYEUR