Saturday, October 23, 2021

AN AMERICAN IS A DISEASED SCRAP OF HUMANITY

This novel was written now some time ago and remains unpublished: about a young American who goes from Dublin in the Spring of 1965 to the DDR, or as it was more commonly called: East Germany.  I have long thought of it as A Beginning of the Sixties of the last century...a premature understanding of "an American."  



AN AMERICAN IS A DISEASED SCRAP OF HUMANITY

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 if you could.  That little greenish book, the colour of corpses in comic books which the frontier guards will look at and hand back to you as if you were diseased.  Did you feel that as you 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 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.


(the opening and the ending of this novel were published long ago in THE READING ROOM edited by Barbara Probst Solomon...


Monday, September 6, 2021

MY INTERVIEW WITH ALAIN ROBBE-GRILLET

 Interview: Alain Robbe-Grillet

Author: McGonigle, Thomas


In an interview, novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet discusses his literary style and the publication of his new novel "Repetition." Among other things, he cites the reasons why his ideas are known but his works are forgotten.


Alain Robbe-Grillet occupies that paradoxical position not uncommon to avant-garde writers: He is both famous and obscure; his ideas are well known but his work much less so. Nevertheless, he remains a major figure in the landscape of postwar French letters and film. After publishing The Erasers fifty years ago, he became a fierce advocate for what came to be known as the nouveau roman. In a book of critical essays, Fora New Novel (1963), and by the example of his own now canonical novels The Voyeur (1955), Jealousy (1957), and In the Labyrinth (1959), Robbe-Grillet pointed the way toward a fiction that eschewed psychological motivation in favor of pure, almost analytical description of physical reality. His ideas were shared by writers such as Michel Butor, Marguerite Duras, Claude Simon, Robert Pinget, and Nathalie Sarraute. A strongly contentious figure, he garnered many enemies as well as advocates. (Vladimir Nabokov was one of his most prominent fans.) In 1984, Robbe-Grillet's autobiography, Ghosts in the Mirror, sparked renewed interest in his work because of its revelations about his life during World War II and his apparent rejection of some of the tenets of the nouveau roman. He has directed six films and is the author of Last Year at Marienbad, the 1961 art-house classic directed by Alain Resnais. A new work of fiction, Repetition, is now appearing in the United States after a twenty-year hiatus of English-language publication. Viewed as a sort of anthology of his previous fiction, Repetition was a great critical and popular success across Europe. Much less intimidating in person than you might expect-judging by photographs and the sometimes dogmatic tack of his critical articles-the eighty-year-old Robbe-Grillet was a little anxious when we met in his well-appointed apartment in the posh Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine. His wife of many years, Catherine, was under-going an eye operation that morning, yet he was gently concerned about my comfort as the conversation began.

THOMAS McGONIGLE: How has your reading of The Erasers changed from fifty years ago to now?

ALAIN ROBBE-GRILLET: There's a great continuity to the work, yet I do feel like there's a lot of change as well. The earlier books are clarified by the later books. So if you've read The Erasers, you will find it further illuminated by Jealousy. TM: Readers often first encounter your theories of the novel-particularly your ideas about the flatness of characterization. Does this discourage them from reading the fiction?

ARG: That's a big problem.

TM: You wrote For a New Novel, which condemns metaphor entirely, and at almost the same time, you were writing Jealousy, which is a festival of metaphor.

ARG: True. But it was my impression that the reader was reading both For a New Novel and Jealousy. Unfortunately, this was not the case. I just received a Vietnamese translation of For a New Novel, which is the only one of my works that's been translated into that language. So in Vietnam, I will be known as the person who theorizes a new kind of novel, but readers there will not have access to any of my actual novels. As I said, it's a big problem.

TM: As far as your reputation, you are in this strange position-you are both well known and yet, in many quarters, somewhat forgotten.

ARG: Since the publication of Repetition, I've gone to bookstores to sign books and o there's a crowd of only young people. No old people. Let's put it this way: I was once fashionable. And when I was in fashion, nobody read my books. For instance, the first year when I was really in vogue my novel Jealousy sold five hundred copies for the entire year. But Repetition has sold fifty thousand copies. When I started to gather readers, I was already out of fashion. But when I was in style, I couldn't live on my writing. Now I can live on my writing very nicely. Nice apartment here, a chateau in the country. You know, I come from very modest origins.

TM: Academics preserved your name and made possible your current revival.

ARG: I had a dialogue with William Styron at one point when he came here, in a lovely setting, to join a conference about what is literature. Styron picked up the subject of the difference between literature for professors and literature for readers. he said that literature for common readers rises out of your body, that it comes out of your guts. Yet he soon understood that he couldn't last the two-hour program on this subject of what comes out of your guts. So Styron then started to go on somewhat abstractly, sounding like a professor himself. The problem or advantage is that university people, the professors, they have the time to read. Does your average reader have that same kind of time? Time to read and to really think?

TM: I wasn't attacking your academic readers, but rather noting that during the years you weren't publishing novels, the academy, not the marketplace, maintained your reputation.

ARG: Well, it's rather populist to say nasty things about professors. Saying bad things about professors is like agreeing with Le Pen. But my books do sell. In China, I am the most translated French author. Repetition was a best-seller in France and Germany. I live very well. [Leaves the room and returns with a framed poster.] This is what my copyrights have bought me, the Chateau du Mesnil-au-Grain in Normandy. When I die it will go to the state and become a foundation to preserve my papers.

TM: In 1984, your memoir, Ghosts in the Mirror, appeared. You were quoted as saying, "I have never spoken of anything but myself." In light of such a statement, how should we read the novels and theory that made you famous? Are all of your novels disguised autobiography?

ARG: It's true for all writers. Faulkner is in all his novels. So is Flaubert. My novel Jealousy is absolutely autobiographical. I lived in that house. I have photographs of that house. I was one of the three characters in the novel. What's strange is that this was received by critics as a novel without an author, as the most abstract of all novels. The Voyeur is set in Brittany, where I was born. The chief difference is that I did not murder a young girl. Yet the idea of doing such a thing was in me. A very famous psychoanalyst told me, "It's a good thing that you wrote that novel, because it was your psychoanalyst couch. If you hadn't, you might have murdered a young woman."

TM: With the publication of your first novel in twenty years, Repetition, I am reminded of Gertrude Stein's quote, "There is no such thing as repetition, only insistence." What you are insisting upon in this novel?

ARG: The Ghost in the Mirror and Angelique were also...

TM: But Angelique has not been translated into English. We're talking about English.

ARG: I'm sorry; but just because they haven't been translated into English doesn't mean they don't exist. There was supposed to be a conference ten years ago in St. Louis, and the university there announced, "Mr. Robbe-Grillet will speak French." So a minister who is interested in literature calls the university and is told by a professor that I do not speak English. The minister replies, "He could have made an effort to learn English, because God wrote his Bible in English."

TM: Back to my question: Why write another novel? Why write Repetition?

ARG: I don't know. But I do insist on insisting. Literature has survived Hitler and Stalin. It will survive Chirac and Bush. It survives.

TM: Richard Howard, your translator, has said that he thought this new novel was an anthology of all your previous work, with an interlude for fucking a teenage girl.

ARG: Well, Howard is a homosexual. And to him there's nothing more disgusting than women. He even announced twenty years ago that he was going to refuse to translate any books in which there's any sexual activity with women. To dedicate himself entirely to homosexual literature. Even in his translation of Baudelaire, when it gets too sexual, he cuts off Baudelaire's balls. Anyway, the statement is stupid. Because since The Voyeurwas written, there have been thirteen-year-old girls getting fucked in my books.

TM: In publications like the New Yorker or the New York Times, there have been attacks on what is called "difficult" writing, literary writing. Some critics wonder why popular novels like those by James Patterson aren't embraced by literary tastemakers.

ARG: I can't even comment. If you're going to read Repetition, you have to have philosophical training, and it would help to know Kierkegaard. And I'm perfectly aware of the fact that readers without that education can also read it on another level, but my books are especially approachable by people who have some philosophical background.

TM: I ask because you have said that the reason you teach is to encourage young people to believe in high culture. Now they read that, perhaps, James Patterson's novels are the equal or better than, for instance, William Gaddis's.

ARG: What they say is abominable. My job is not to write best-sellers; I hope to write long sellers. Young writers, it seems, are no longer that interested in culture per se. They are interested, instead, in having a career in literature. If you're going to have a career, then you may well not have much else. There's a danger in this disappearance of culture, because it's not only the literary culture that's disappearing; it's also scientific culture. We're going to become a society where the people will know only how to push buttons. My grandfather was a teacher. In his time the idea was to raise someone to become a teacher, not a professor, but an elementary school teacher. The idea then was to raise people up toward the elite. Now, of course, the word "elite" is pejorative. When Pompidou became president, he founded a committee to defend the French language because he saw a threat of homogenization. he needed a general, a priest, and an avant-garde writer, so I ended up part of this committee. We were rather close at the time, and I told him that "Defense of the French Language" was not a good name for this committee. I told Pompidou that the name or idea should be "The Extension of the French Language and Defense of Its Purity." "You're right," he said. "But the purer it stays, the less we can extend it." I answered, "If you want to fight the battle with basic English, you have to have a basic French." I made the choice of French-of pure French and syntax. You'll notice mysteries are complicated, but the syntax is simple. To be a novelist is to see, to look with words, to find the exact words.

TM: In 1966, you said that the erotic photograph had more of a future than the erotic film.

ARG: That's possible. It's not idiotic; it's possible that I said that.

TM: Are you happy with the proliferation of eroticism on video or the Internet?

ARG: I can't say, because I don't use the Internet.

TM: So you've lost interest in the erotic.

ARG: No. I've lost interest in technology. If you have to be connected to the Internet to be interested in eroticism, then you're in trouble.

TM: You chose not to have children. Do you find any advantages to that choice now that you're in your eighties?

ARG: Yes, a lot. When I see all my friends that have children. Parenthood tends to make them sick. Their children take drugs, they don't work at school, all they have is problems.

TM: My daughter is at a Lycee in Nantes to learn French. In my old age, when I'm eating oatmeal, I hope she will read me her translation of Celine's Bagatelles pour un massacre.

ARG: If she agrees, but who knows with the young. I knew Celine, and, like Kafka, he had a great sense humor. He wrote two great books, but after that his stupidity got the best of him.

TM: When I interviewed Julian Greene when he was about ninety-four, I asked him what he had to look forward to, and he said he looked forward to purgatory.

ARG: He was a Christian, and that changes things. I'm not a tarot-card reader. I don't know what the future will bring. By nature, though, I'm optimistic.

TM: Even given the horrors of the last century?

ARG: I think it's a genetic-it's a question of genetics. Maybe they'll find the gene or the chromosome.

TM: But I find that being Celtic, as you are, that I'm constitutionally pessimistic.

ARG: The Celts have a sense of humor, which is more or less like Jewish humor. And you can say there's a sad side to the Jewish spirit too, but the Celts and the Jews are pre-despair.

TM: You mentioned your wife. You have been married for fifty years.

ARG: Well, I had my young mistresses, and she had her young mistresses, and she still does, because she's younger than I am. And when I had, well, rather spectacular young mistresses, because I was directing movies, she remained quite content because she considered them flighty. Still, she shared my pleasure, and now I share hers.

Sidebar

My novels are absolutely autobiographical. The Voyeur is set in Brittany, where I was born. The chief difference is that I did not murder a young girl. Yet the idea of doing such a thing was in me.


Monday, August 23, 2021

SCALPEL OF CHAOS or With Elizabeth

 

(Note: End of August thought of what has not been done, what is to be done or... this book was finished many years ago and I waited and waited, but could never think of who might read it or who might publish it... (the Elizabeth of this book is now happily married and they have their first child, Augustus)

        WITH ELIZABETH.  For want of a better title or maybe this is the best title or it could be called THE STORY OF A DEAD TIME a journey with my daughter.

Begin with what happened after Elizabeth and I came back from Europe during the winter.

      Beginning at the beginning. The best way to go about talking, no, writing, since that is what...

     Now, at this moment in the year 2---, no place where the story or our story could be told: no room, porch, campfire, ocean voyage, rail journey. No setting where such a story could be teased out and then the effort to see this conversation redundantly and artfully fixed to the page, arranged by the Scalpel of Chaos, though we hadn't gone to Zagreb where such an instrument is available in a cafe near the cathedral.

        Neither Elizabeth nor I could suspend our disbelief in order to hear me talking with a stranger on the flight back from London: to hear me retelling what appeared to us as we moved about the English countryside and then to Paris and in one of the near villages painted by Monet: no, not that famous garden, for this was in January, seemingly so long ago as I write in July and soon to be August then September and...

         Or, in Vienna in a taverna near the train station where the Balkans are said to begin, where we were to hear about what Nuala had taken us to see from the hill in Dalkey: the light to be made visible rising up out of the Irish Sea revealing the colour of the winding sheet for the corpse of our dreams as it was sent back into the earth.

          All through the Spring I would take notes of what had happened much as I did even on the flight back when I had been reading Front de 1'est, 1941-1945 from which I copied out what Leon Degrelle writes, "Shaking my hand firmly in his two hands at the moment of my departure. Hitler told me with stirring affection: "If I had a son I would want him to be like you."

          Aware to be sure of the folly of the taking for granted what had happened as being ordinary yet with the possibility it was of interest that a father and his daughter might travel to Europe looking for something that was not there in the still New World.

          But nothing could be as simple as that because life is never so easy as anyone knows who has ever tried to describe even the brief moment of a hand about to reach out to be shaken by... though if what had happened did not happen I would have been complaining in reply: no, nothing much had happened while we were away--- no building fell down as we walked by, no man held a gun to the head of a child demanding the President of the United States get on the line and talk to him, right now, motherfucker, hear me!

         No, nothing had happened to us, I guess, like any of that, but... though taken speechless and afraid of what had happened as I sat in the aisle seat while Elizabeth looked down to the mountains of Greenland, already that far along in the flight back to New York: the mountains of Greenland across which no one has ever walked, I think, or wanted to walk and of waking in the middle of the night trapped on the side of one of those mountains while the plane flies overhead with a girl leaning to see more clearly the figure waving helplessly up to the plane.


Friday, August 13, 2021

FORGET THE FUTURE

          for many years, since 1990 in Oxford, I have been trying to shape the life of James Thomson BV into ...  

               a piece of this prose was published a long time ago in BOMB and had been edited by David Rattray... I discovered James Thomson many year s before that in the title of John Rechy's CITY OF NIGHT.  

                Thomson had gone out to the west in the United States and now he is in Manhattan waiting to sail back to England.  

                It is known that Herman Melville, also adrift at this moment in Manhattan, had read and liked Thomson's work. (another piece appeared in the Crab Orchard Review)

                the shade of Thomson stalks Eliot's The Waste Land


                and upon a time, I had come to describe a moment in your life in London--- you, James Thomson--- in his death’s week you went to visit the poet, Philip Bourke Marston, whose poetry gagged you.  

     Once leaped my heart, then dumb, stood still again— that had been the  room to which she came that day and there came another moment: when you were staying in Manhattan, New York and while I did imagine those days long  after your time in New York City, Manhattan to be exact--- though  is there any difference between my experience and your experience--- though who is the self who is imaging the self who I am finding... if only I knew---   as you are again really in Manhattan if words can be said to be real though what else have I? and your adventures as one of the dead, really forever dead or not as in this moment, no longer three rows over in Highgate Cemetery from where we used to keep Karl Marx--- a borrowed grave: how you enjoyed the humor of that... the original owner of the grave had no use for it as he was still as is said, alive, unlike myself: if I am able to ventriloquize his agreeing to my residence... a residence as comfortable as I have ever been used to but then in the present moment here in a room in East First Street--- the most delicious of all fictions: the present moment which has disappeared as these words were typed.     

      A pause and already this sentence is not much different from Akkadian being looked at by a visitor from so long ago or it could be right now ...the past and the future are always dripping with blood, these moments always consumed by a need for revenge yet here shall we go walking in which country, in which museum... is there any difference between these seconds and 2500 years ago...

      The walls of the Merchant's Hotel will not leak. There is nothing hidden under the floorboards or lurking under the bed.  He does not hear voices and he will not see a face in the window glass even though it is smeared with grey winter grime.  He is waiting.  His mind is no longer in the city and certainly it is not in this room though he can vision the man’s arm as it raises the knife up and up to gain momentum so when, as it plunges down, the blade will be sure to strike home and end the torment of the life that insinuated itself, without invitation, into his biography.

Of course, it can be said, the newspaper has done a better job of inching itself into his mind and he will not argue with those words since they are carefully stated and show no expectation of a reply.

He is also uninterested in these men who rub up against him in public expecting some sort of reply to their fevered observations.  What is it that he is expected to know?  He has accomplished nothing.  His hands do not drip with idleness.  He has not allowed his ship to sail anywhere near the predictable shores of either success or flamboyant failure.

He has tried to get on as best he could.  He had allowed himself to be seized with the proper degrees of enthusiasm: carefully calibrated so as not to frighten off his future employer and he was sent out, in due course, to The West in America and it will happen again, he is sure of that: if he can distill the necessary words.

After all is said and done to death: he is a man of words at the beck and call of the masters with large sheets of paper needing to be full up every week, every day, every month.

At their command, he is by the pence, for the inches that sluggishly spread up and down the columns.  But has not the knack for the saleable anecdote.  He can get cloud, the trees, the stone down on to the paper.

Human beings!!!: that’s another bag of muck he can’t bring himself to turn inside out,

Yet, people want it and he is unable to supply it.  No good calling round next year, things will not have changed.  He has his plate in front of him and there are just some who…

A sort of sun in the sky.  He should get a move on and see some more of this Manhattan place.  He will be asked to... and he will have to fill up the hours with his impressions of foreign places.

As long as they don’t expect words to be knitted into columns of type, he can lie with the best of them or with shrug of shoulder: why must he get things right?  The stories will come out and as long as the cup is refilled:  the evening will not stare him down into silence.  He knows what he must do.  He is not that cut off from the companions who stand about the room, not having gone forth.

However, he must decide or not... whether to talk of his reading or just allow that he saw some interesting sites and was seen by exotic eyes.  People are interested in turns of phrase not too far removed from the effusions gracing greeting cards called up by the passing holidays.  Though, who will actually be interested in his reading or the names of streets he has walked in.

Well, pass the bottle and make sure the glasses are full and the interest will be as intense as any man can bear.

But Thomson is not held by this consideration.  He has been listing the years of his life.  He is making sure he has been alive and it is no mistake his now being in New York City.  He has walked up a staircase, depending on his mood, or he has walked down a staircase or as is more the case he is walking along a long corridor which might also serve to frame his thought or the only truth:  one year follows another until they don't.


Tuesday, May 18, 2021

THE DEATH OF DENIS DONOGHUE: GRATIFIED ATTENTION

 



    


Already now, May 16, 2021, it seems so long ago that Denis Donoghue died on April 6, 2021

I first heard Denis Donoghue in 1964 when I attended his lectures on silence in Shakespeare while a student at University College, Dublin.  He began with that reply of Cordelia to her father that I need not repeat as anyone reading this will know that sentence... years later we became friends through little notes exchanged and then meals shared: costs carefully split to the penny. He became a not infrequent guest for dinner as it seemed he had time to come to our tiny apartment in the East Village of Manhattan as there were very few people, he said, at NYU who had an actual interest in poems and stories… 

My wife and children always enjoyed his company which in some way is a commentary on then and continuing politically argumentative academic reality.

We remember vividly the time DD described his giving up classical singing--- his arm slashing through the air--- "I gave it up, I could not subject my wife and future children to the uncertain life of a singer; so now, not even singing in the shower."

And of course another time when my son and Denis agreed that Latin prose was quite boring when compared to Latin poetry…. I myself never really got beyond Caesar.

I am sure more distinguished people will write of his   many critical books and the arguments he pursued and was pursued by though nothing dates more than such. 

    Denis Donoghue's true legacy is contained in Warrenpoint.  It is his own story of growing up in a policeman's barracks in Northern Ireland and of how he came to be a very good reader.  The following I would suggest is always the center of that reading: "It did not grieve me that I lacked inventiveness , could not make up a story or imagine a sequence of thought requiring rhyme.  All I wanted to do was to observe a relation between myself and structures I had not invented... Mine was the intelligence that comes after."   

Denis reiterated this once upon a time when he was asked to lecture at the St. Marks Poetry Project in the East Village of Manhattan on the future of poetry.  Someone in the audience asked him what poets should be writing about and in what form?

He declined to prescribe what a poet should write, "All of my work depends on what the poet created or will create."   

On a very personal note: probably the last thing Denis Donoghue wrote was an essay on the Henry James novel “The Sacred Fount” which I had been unable to make sense of even after having been goaded to attempt to read it by the Spanish writer, Julian Rios.  

When Denis was able, last year we talked on the phone and I asked him if he could explain how to read the novel or at least provide an approach to how to read, "After all you are the Henry James Professor" and we both laughed.

He begins his essay by quoting from a letter by Hugh Kenner to Guy Davenport which is from the collected letters of Kenner and Davenport which were edited by a friend of mine Edward Burns whose name I had included with mine---to share the embarrassment, really--- in the asking DD to explain "The Sacred Fount" as Burns also found the James novel impossible...

[Aside Denis reviewed---possibly is last published essay---,  this magnificent annotated collection of letters and over-looked the rather nasty comment on Denis by Hugh Kenner, a mark of the respect DD had for Kenner, I choose to believe]

I will accept and choose to believe that possibly these are near the last lines DD wrote and even if I am corrected, they invite a reader to read: "Reading one of James's later novels is like walking slowly through a gallery of modern art, paying gratified attention if possible to each painting. Many of the paintings distain to be asked what does it mean while issuing a strong invitation to pay attention. When I come to Chapter 8, I am not ready to be ravished, as I am when I read "Among School Children" and "Ash Wednesday," but after a few sentences, I give in."

Sadly, I never got the chance to talk more about this novel with Denis as I received a text message on April 7th from his daughter Emma, "Really sorry to tell you that Denis died in his sleep yesterday (having been unable to keep down much food these last months)."

I so wanted to "tease out" my continued difficulty with the novel, "The Sacred Fount"  and to remind him I  had first read that expression "to tease out" in a note--- in which he had replied to me then in Patchogue, New York back from my year at University College, Dublin--- about that sentence of Cordelia's... 


I have left out all the personal information and/or gossip one acquires in the knowing of a person for a long period of time... of these days I must probably start by retelling when Alastair Reid, the poet and translator, and a woman friend came along with Denis to our small apartment and my wife poured the Irish whiskey for Alastair  as if it was wine: the consequences while not fatal are after all comic... or as my Whitney mother would being say, sounds like you're gonna become an Irish washer-woman... 


Tuesday, April 6, 2021

THE BULGARIAN PSYCHIATRIST (how it begins)

(of course I am aware that there is a rather famous story "The Bulgarian Poetess"  by John Updike but this short book is not a comment on it)


George said he came to America with only a suitcase stuffed with neckties.

Yes, stuffed with neckties, he said, but couldn’t begin to tell anyone how many ties were in the brown suitcase because both the number, three, seemed so insubstantial when it came to trying to see how three ties could fill up a suitcase and how could anyone who hadn’t come to America with only one suitcase stuffed with ties, begin to understand how a suitcase--- even a large brown fake leather suitcase from Bulgaria--- could be stuffed with three neckties, two of which  he never wore after he began to live in America, which is not to say he had ever worn those three neckties as he and his wife moved about the United States during the year and nine months before establishing themselves in Brooklyn, on the edge of Greenpoint, to be exact, a street over from McCarren Park--- though there was a moment before that when they lived at another address in Brooklyn, in a street given over to as a topical description might: light industry, in a building stuffed, George later said, with Bulgarians and you can imagine what that was like, I am sure, stuffed with Bulgarians but we are not talking of that time…

No, he wore only one of the three ties as it was hard to unpack a suitcase stuffed with three ties and he was not trying to be thought philosophical because he and his wife had flown TWA from Frankfurt, that most factual of German cities, where they had been in residence immediately before receiving the notification that their application for a visa to the United States of America had been approved after having lived--- for how many years had it been--- in Hamburg where George was an attending psychiatrist in a clinic where fresh-cut flowers were placed in each patient's room reminding visitors of the complex glimmer of a possible recovery or funeral.

And it was not that he had always ever worn those three neckties in Germany or even before in Bulgaria. He was sure of having worn one of the ties and it was that tie he was wearing as he arrived in the United States of America and which appears around his neck and under the collar of the white shirt in the photograph his wife took of him as he walked down the steps from the plane.

Later, he learned that both actions: the walking down the steps from the plane and the picture talking were very rare actions, events almost, it could be said.  Vera was standing on the runway, smelling the kerosene fuel he was sure, having paused, turning telling George STOP as he was about to continue his walking down the steps having been separated from Vera by a very large man and two women who had pushed their ways in front of George, who gave way as was his wont.

Never again in all the times they were to come back from journeys abroad did any of these now three actions re-occur:  the walking down the steps, the picture taking, the being separated by pushy large people.

There must have been some sort of renovation of the terminal going on and while they did not have to board a bus for a short ride to the ARRIVALS as they were familiar with in Sofia, George does not remember any obvious signs of construction but he was hardly looking out for it on this, his first arrival in The United States of America, wearing one of the three ties which he always said later filled up his suitcase.

Vera some time later must have had the snapshot enlarged into a framed 8x10 photograph.  It was installed on the wall just before the bathroom door next to a drawing by Christo of an aspect of his plan to wrap the Reichstag in Berlin.  One of the children had typed on faded slip of lined school notebook paper: DAD'S ARRIVAL and inserted it in front of the glass but behind the wood of the lower right corner of the frame,

The tie, at the moment of the picture being taken, was blown by the wind up to George's right in the form of an abstract representation of the letter J in the Latin alphabet.

Indeed, it was this same narrow woven wool black tie which he constantly wore all those months as they traveled about in the United States and to be scrupulous, something George did not advocate, as it only led to the dreariest of consequences, though he was not making any real argument for lying, if someone might jump on his claim.  There is however a difference between lying and being scrupulous and it might be supposed in some way he did not have three ties in his suitcase if he was wearing one of them both arriving and then while traveling in the country by train, plane, bus and rented, borrowed or private automobile.

George did not have an epiphany while traveling, as had Powys, in Houston.  George was not given to any sort of religious enthusiasm.  The very word epiphany frightened him because of its religious overtone and while he did not think very highly of the anti-religion campaigns by the communists in Bulgaria, there was still a residual materialist component to his life as a psychiatrist and now he did believe, if he could use that word, that there was really nothing much beyond the room in which he and his patient sat, right now, pretending of course all the while, there was something beyond the room, a dire necessity for many reasons:  his patients were so lacking in imagination!  If only they had imagination and the ability to forget!   His patients were too often gripped by memories as tenacious as a terminal cancer and held by fantasies occasionally nailing them to the floor as in the famous joke much repeated with curious variations in the cafes in Sofia when he had been a medical student and still repeated to this day, Ilov told him only recently even with the fall of the communism now more than ten years ago.

George did wonder, when he thought about it so many years later, why Powys could use a word like epiphany when describing his discovery of the absence of sewers in Houston.  Powys had ended up in that city while on his own journey around the United States, a journey which turned out to be both his first and final trip around the country.  It was there in Houston Powys knew why he was moving to France with his family.

At the very least in France, Powys believed then, the French would not refuse to build a sewer system when there was only a need for one every three or four years, if even then, because how could a person look forward to living in a country, living out the years remaining, in a country where there was a city with many millions of people that could be built without a sewer.

However, when you arrive in a country with only a suitcase stuffed with neckties, you have only your own intelligence, George would say.  You arrive with only what you have already put into your head.  They could take everything away from you and they did that as far as they were able when you left a country like Bulgaria, back then, and it is hard to explain this, now, after the fall of the communism but then:  you are suddenly in this country, in The United States of America, where you have to always remember you arrived with only a suitcase stuffed with neckties and you have to be always prepared to survive, once again, as you did then, as you stepped down from that plane--- it was a TWA plane, an airline long gone from the skies and how it seemed then that TWA, Trans World Airways, along with PANAM, Pan American World Airlines, were symbols of the country George was coming to and this observation, one of so many, came back to him when he came to think about his curiosity about this Powys  and his being able to decide on such a radical move as he had after his trip by railroad around the United States and from that moment in Houston as Powys tried to get across a main highway now under a foot of water because that was the year of the one flood every three years or was it four years and Powys wanted to get across the highway to have a drink which he needed and when he got back to St. Marks Place couldn't get it out of his mind that there were people in this country, in the United States of America, in a rich and powerful city of the United States of America who could make such a decision that prevented him on that day from getting across that highway to have a drink after a hard day... no, it was more like days which seemed like months of traveling on the so-called Amtrak where you didn't know what would break next, which part of the train would fall silent, dark, stop working and again Powys thought there had to be some better way to live and while he was prepared to think traveling by railroad was maybe not the best way to see America and he was prepared to make allowances for all the things that didn't work on the train                 

                                                        he had learned to be tolerant, though that wasn't exactly the word he wanted, but anyway, he learned, somehow, as a grave digger for the Archdiocese of Brooklyn, when he was in the last years of high school, to over¬look, to be prepared for nasty surprises, to the finding of things that they didn't expect to find when they went digging into these graves where surprisingly things move about which are not supposed to move about and  really most of the time no one knew what was just a shovelful of earth away and later after both of the decisions were done into the past:  when Powys had moved to France and when George and Vera had left Germany for The United States of America eventually finding themselves living in Brooklyn, Powys on a brief visit from Paris for the fortieth anniversary of his brother's ordination, asked George:  did you think you would end up here in  this bar on St. Marks Place--- or where you are living in Brooklyn?--- when you stepped down from that plane out there at Kennedy? and found yourself in a country where even the white people didn't have brains because by now I am sure you have discovered:  white people in America are prepared to put up with the most awful situations if they think they are bound to get better--- which of course they are not really---  but there is no way to ever convince anyone in this country of that and you learn to be an American within an hour of landing in the United States of America, if not earlier as the world is full up of people who are destined to be Americans and are saturated with the idea: life is going to get better and better no matter what either the life or experience teaches them: 

isn't it a wonderful country where people in their eighties are thinking about, as they put it, career changes, 

(Copyright @Thomas McGonigle 2021)

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

THE GLACIAL CARNIVAL

THE GLACIAL CARNIVAL 

Another piece of this book appeared in the on-line journal CAVEAT LECTOR (Caveat-lector.org). The only time something of mine has so appeared.  THE GLACIAL CARNIVAL  is composed of sentences rooted in rescued relics from that time of the late Seventies in NYC when living in Room 801 in the Earle Hotel over-looking Washington Square....


-Hugo was saying: too much concern for everybody if you ask me.

---And you didn’t even come from out of town so  you can take it in stride when you’re in the WHITE MARK DELI on Sixth Avenue… and have asked the guy for change after you got a quart of ale and this next customer comes  up to the counter with a can of dog food saying, hey, can you open this for me? The guy behind the counter asks, do you need a spoon?  Nah, I can get it out with my fingers.

-Hugo has been here before.  He is stunned to still be alive, I think.  All his best friends are dead or married and he only thought of the former.  What can you say to a guy who’s married?  

I go over to Hugo's apartment near the river.  Across the street from  from his window is a truck park.  Guys fuck each other between the trucks or suck each other off.  I could charge admission… a guy gives a guy a hand job and hands him a handful of cum… what does he tell the guy?

-Hugo gave up on girls and boys a long time ago.  It’s nice and boring here.  I want or I don’t want.  That’s about all there is.  People are always asking, how’s it going, how are you, how, how, how…

-I go back to the hotel.  The only thing I miss…

-Was there ever a time when I didn’t miss something or other?

-Pride is a bird’s meal.

-Hugo says he knew a woman who liked to get a guy from the Bowery when guys were sleeping on the street… don’t ask me how she did it.  

-Get a guy on the Bowery and brought him Uptown and does things to him and then tells him to get lost with a twenty dollar bill.

-Hugo says, he is much too busy.  He didn’t have the time to kill himself. To kill yourself you got to be able to find yourself.

-But Hugo was at one time not alone: he is remembering her tongue discovering his armpits, the place behind the knees, the spot behind his balls and she would comment on how his little toe is curled up into a miniature fist.

-But she left.  They always eventually do.

-Like him, I often sleep with my clothes on… saves time in the morning--- for what you ask?  It’s only habit.

-At least no refrigerator in the room…the waking and falling asleep to the sounds of a refrigerator… to be found dying and the last sounds you will be hearing: the refrigerator…

-The smallness of my room is appealing as there is no empty spaces to dream of…

-But room enough for a Pat and Mike joke… they had been great drinking buddies and then one of them goes and dies and it could be either one or the other and you throw in the cows, the wife, the house and the children and one of them is looking at the other boxed up and ready to go: looks good since he stopped drinking.

REMEMBER, here is a young man living in a hotel room, once upon a time, as the hotel where he lived once upon a time no longer has such tenants, they have guests who come because of its location, because they want a small hotel, they want a hotel that reminds them of small hotels they have stayed in Europe, once upon a time, and even Europeans come to the hotel as they want something that is familiar, though these people are surprised that the light bulbs actually allow you to read while resting in bed.

-He is listening,: I gotta find a lady to eat my grapes, being said in The 55--- a hole two steps down from Christopher Street--- with a bursting liver, once you’ve decided nothing matters that would be paradise, a version of it, I guess someone else is saying: broken glass, tears.

-My corpse should be viewed face to the pillow.

-Obsession versus observation.

-Is it tonight to The Ramrod or The Toilet?

-Jason Holliday was saying, fucking a girl in the ass is like milking a cow.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-ehssx01b0

-I’ve been fucking you for ten years and now you want to go down to get a license so we don’t have to keep on with the fucking: what do you call it?

-He had died of a heart attack on the operating table--- they thought it was a heart attack but it was his spleen that got him in the end. 

-Shut your mouth a little while I… what I’m saying…