Friday, March 03, 2017

Lincoln at the Bardo by George Saunders

almost too rich to quote:  I could cite the whole thing.  Stunning consisent beautfiul voice.

compare to Dante
compare the Spoon River
compare to our town

liminal sketching of Lincoln

three main narrators, Blevin and the Rev. and ??

the emotional climax at the end:  the black man's ghost enters Lincoln and decides to go with him, out of the cemetary and back to Wash DC, as Lincoln decide to pull for both black and white from then on.

Used loosely, the term "bardo" refers to the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth. According to Tibetan tradition, after death and before one's next birth, when one's consciousness is not connected with a physical body, one experiences a variety of phenomena. These usually follow a particular sequence of degeneration from, just after death, the clearest experiences of reality of which one is spiritually capable, and then proceeding to terrifying hallucinations that arise from the impulses of one's previous unskillful actions. For the prepared and appropriately trained individuals the bardo offers a state of great opportunity for liberation, since transcendental insight may arise with the direct experience of reality, while for others it can become a place of danger as the karmically created hallucinations can impel one into a less than desirable rebirth.

Wise Children by Angela Carter

Her date of birth, like that of so many actresses, a moveable feast.

Pierrot Mon Ami by Raymond Queneau

Wonderful entertainment.  An aimless young man meets and aimless world.

Pierrot had no particular opinion on public morals, or the future of civilization.  No one had ever told him that he was intelligent.  He had frequently been told, rather, that he behaved like an idiot or that he bore some resemblance to the moon.

When you have a past, Vovonne, you'll realize what an odd thing it is.  In the first place, there's whole chunks of it that have caved in: absolutely nothing left.  Elsewhere, there's weeds that've grown haphazard, and you can't recognize anything there either.  And then there's places that you think are are so beautiful that you give them a fresh coat of paint every year, sometimes in one color, sometimes in another, and they end up not looking in the least like what they were.  Not counting the things we thought very simple and unmysterious when they happened, but which years later we discover aren't so obvious, like sometimes you pass a thing every day and didn't notice it and then all of a suddent you see it.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Jakob von Gunten by Robert Walser

mad, genius book.  Kafka-esque, for sure, if that can be said of a book that pre-dates him. outsider artist, too, but again, he was ahead of his term.  many juicy quotes follow, before I can decide on anything else to say.  but an extraordinary book to me.  like finding something you should have known was there, after endless years of looking.

One learns very little here, there is a shortage of teachers, and none of us boys of the Benjamenta Institute will come to anything, that is to say, we shall all be something very small and insubordinate later in life. The instruction we enjoy consists mainly in impressing patience and obedience upon ourselves, two qualities that promise little success, or none at all.  Inward successes.  But what does one get from such as these? Do inward acquisitions give one food to eat?

We are small, small all the way down to the scale to utter worthlessness.

Perhaps there is a very very commonplace person inside me. But perhaps I have aristocratic blood in my veins.  But one thing I do know for certain:  in later life I shall be a charming, utterly spherical zero.

When I see candles burning, I always feel that I am wealthy.

To be of service to somebody whom one does not know, and who has nothing to do with one, that is charming, it gives one a glimpse into divine and misty paradises. Even then: all people, or almost all, have something to do with one.

He is the most honest and efficient of us pupils, and efficiency and honesty are inexhaustible and immeasurable domains.  Nothing can excite me so deeply as the sight and smell of what is good and just.  You soon reach the end of feeling about vulgar and evil things, but to get wise to something good and noble is so difficult, and yet also so alluring.

Nothing pleases me more than to give a completely false image of myself to people for whom I have a place in my heart.

Such a peculiar vice: to be secretly pleased to be allowed to observe that one is being slightly robbed.

There's a shattering constant disjunct in his writing, a sort of careless stringing out of a pedestrian narrative with just the right amount of little bits of action to barely keep it moving, but this thin chain is abruptly and constantly elongagated by an enormous link in the chain where the speaker is talking in his inner voice, describing a music in his head with words:  his syntax chops sentence structure into its parts and then crudely puts the body back together again: same words with a significant difference in meaning trucked in by a little difference in order, emphasis, crux, emotion heightened and shortened.

And in fact: what sort of scoundrel would go, without any feeling for love and beauty, to places where only delight forgives what depravity has undertaken?

Therefore I love so deeply every kind of compulsion, because it allows me to take joy in what is illicit.

The mumbling of a grumbler is lovelier to me than the murmuring of a woodland stream...

A person can be utterly foolish and unknowing: as he long as he knows the way to adapt, to be flexible, and how to move about, he is still not lost, but will come through life better perhaps than someone who is clever and stuffed with knowledge.  The way:  yes, yes.

I see his beautiful soul in his face, and it is the soul that most deserves to be caressed.

Our schoolboy noses have the greatest spiritual similarity, they all seem to strive more or less aloft, to where insight into the confusion of life floats and glows.

And it only's too true: an open mouth is a yawning fact, the fact that its owner is dwelling with his few thoughts in some other place than the domain and pleasure-garden of attentiveness.

Writers are just windbags who only want to study, make pictures and observations.  To live is what matters, then the observation happens of its own accord.

"Are you asleep, Parson? All right, sleep, then, there's no harm in your sleeping. You only waste time teaching Scripture. Religion, you see, means nothing today. Sleep is more religious than all your religion. When one is asleep, one is perhaps closest to God.  What do you think?"

To the knives and forks clung the tears of enemies I destroyed, and the glasses sang with the sighs of many poor people, but the tear-stains only made me want to laugh, while the hopeless sighs sounded to me like music.

And from another Walser novel, from Geschwister Tanner, next on my list:

I'm staying here.  It's nice, just to stay.  Does nature go abroad? Do trees travel, to acquire greener leaves elsewhere, and then come back and show themselves off?

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Great book.  First one of his I've gotten all the way through.  Thought there'd be more too the sci-fi opening conceit of there ACTUALLY being a constructed, mechanical underground railroad that ferried slaves to freedom, but Whitehead uses that sparingly, and instead concentrates on characters travelling as it becomes much more of a realistic, historical emotional narrative.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Foy was no Tree of Knowledge, at most he was a Bush of Opinions.

I'm finding this book astoundingly intelligent and funny.  Couldn't get through his THE WHITE-BOY SHUFFLE.  This one feels magnificent though. I laughed aloud at something on every page.  Delicious wounding painful satire.

Friday, January 13, 2017

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Jury still deliberating.  We are asking to review parts of the testimony.

Later:  didn't finish, didn't like the first half.  When I read reviews of it beforehand, I was abashed and felt like I'd somehow missed the cat's pajamas.  It's not even the kitten's dees.  And what acclaim, what reviews.  Why does she get a career out writing a little nothing like this.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick

When you travel your first discovery is that you do not exist.

Of course these things are not mine.  I think they are usually spoken of as ours, that tea bag of a word which steeps in the conditional.

...all the destinies linked by a likeness of forehead and nose...

While you are living, part of you has slipped away to the cemetery

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer

Mailer's splashdown as a novelist, a WWII novel he wrote when he was 24.   Awesomely precocious, covering about three dozen points of view and beautifully set down.  Gore Vidal prissily panned it, in his usual sharp words:  "...informed by a naïveté which was at its worst when Mailer went into his Time-Machine and wrote those passages which resemble nothing so much as smudged carbons of a Dos Passos work."

It is much, more better than that, although it is remniscient of Dos Passos.  For a 25 year old to have written it in 18 months, it's astonishing.

His gelid eyes were very blue... he was efficient and strong and usually empty and his main cast of mind was a superior contempt toward nearly all other mean.  He hated weakness and he loved practically nothing.  There was a crude unformed vision in his soul but he was rarely conscious of it.

Yeah.  And an anger would work in him.  They had torn at each other once, had felt sick when they close together and other people were with them.  Now, in sleep their bodies intruded; there was always a heavy limb in the way.  And the nights together working on them, this new change, this living together between them like a heavy dull weight, washing dishes and mouthing familiar kisses.

By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolano

Down Thunder Road: The Making of Bruce Springsteen by Marc Eliot with the participation of Mike Appel

"with the participation of Mike Appel" indeed.  Allegedly setting straight the issue of the monumental lawsuit between Bruce Springsteen and his manager-cum-producer Mike Appel, which prohibited Springsteen from recording for two years in 1976-1978,  Interesting, as are all things Springsteen to me, but the thought of Mike Appel claiming some part of Springsteen's mind-boggling career, even if it's just a fraction, is ridiculous.  Keep your money, Mike, and shut your hole.

Ninety-nine Stories of God by Joy Williams

 Meh.  What's the big deal?  The stories are short and inconsequential.  It's like she wishes she was South American or something-- pitched parables that lack magic. So what if she has death in her heart?  Joy Williams needs to cook with a little more gas than this.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Goethe: The Poet and the Age, Vol1, The Poetry of Desire by Nicholas Boyle

For a long time I looked for a wife; I looked,  and found only whores. In the end I picked you up, little whore, and discovered a wife.

Well, I might have loved boys too; but girls are what I prefer. If I tire of one as a girl, I can still use her as a girl.

Wanted:  a small dog that neither growls nor bites; can eat broken glass and can shit diamonds.

When I look at the words of the masters, I see what they did; when I look at my own bits and pieces, I see what I ought to have done.

A quiet scholar once left a large party and went home.  He was asked, 'How did you like it?' 'If they were books,' he said, 'I would not read them.'

The Lime Twig by John Hawkes

startling 1961 novel, more of an extended prose poem than a detective narrative, which is how it's framed.