Friday, December 29, 2017

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Re-read my tattered, literally falling to pieces copy of this 1962 long essay by James Baldwin, a remarkably prescient screed against white complacency and black bewilderment.

Black people, mainly, look down or look up but do not look at each other, not at you, and white people, mainly, look away.

This is why the most dangerous creation of any society is that man who has nothing to lose.

Privately, we cannot stand our lives and dare not examine them; domestically, we take no responsibility for (and no pride in) what goes on in our country; and, internationally, for many millions of people, we are an unmitigated disaster.

But at the bottom of my heart  I do not believe this, I think that people can be better than that, and I know that people can be better than they are.  We are capable of bearing a great burden, once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is.  Anyway, the point here is that we are living in an age of revolution, whether we will or no, and that America is the only Western nation with both the power and, as I hope to suggest, the experience that may help to make these revolutions real and minimize the human damage.

Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time.

The American Negro has the great advantage of having never believed the collection of myths to which white Americans cling: that their ancestors were all freedom-loving heroes, that they were born in the greatest country the world has ever seen, or that Americans are invincible in battle and wise in peace, that Americans have always dealt honorably with Mexicans and Indians and all other neighbors or inferiors, that American men are the world's most direct and virile, that American women are pure. Negroes know far more about white Americans than that; it can almost be said, in fact, that they know about white Americans what parents—or, anyway, mothers—know about their children, and that they very often regard white Americans that way. And perhaps this attitude, held in spite of what they know and have endured, helps to explain why Negroes, on the whole, and until lately, have allowed themselves to feel so little hatred. The tendency has really been, insofar as this was possible, to dismiss white people as the slightly mad victims of their own brainwashing.

Smile by Roddy Doyle

Curious, quick and eerie. It's a grower.  What starts inauspiciously as a first-person about a recently-divorced writer putting his life back in order becomes a much larger psychological drama about displacement, denial and despair.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Was he dreaming some sort of abnormal and nonexistent visions at that moment, as from hashish, opium, or wine, which humiliate the reason and distort the soul?

Aglaya turned seriously angry and became twice as pretty.

 There’s no one here who is worth such words!” Aglaya burst out. “No one, no one here is worth your little finger, or your intelligence, or your heart! You’re more honest than all of them, nobler than all of them, better than all of them, kinder than all of them, more intelligent than all of them! There are people here who aren’t worthy of bending down to pick up the handkerchief you’ve just dropped…Why do you humiliate yourself and place yourself lower than everyone else? Why have you twisted everything in yourself, why is there no pride in you? 

Isn't it possible simply to eat me, without demanding that I praise that which has eaten me?

“And meanwhile, even in spite of all my desire, I could never imagine to myself that there is no future life and no providence. Most likely there is all that, but we don't understand anything about the future life and its laws. But if it is so difficult and even completely impossible to understand it, can it be that I will have to answer for being unable to comprehend the unknowable? True, they say, and the prince, of course, along with them, that it is here that obedience is necessary, that one must obey without reasoning, out of sheer good behavior, and that I am bound to be rewarded for my meekness in the other world. We abase providence too much by ascribing our own notions to it, being vexed that we can't understand it. But, again, if it's impossible to understand it, then, I repeat, it is hard to have to answer for something it is not given to man to understand. And if so, how are they going to judge me for being unable to understand the true will and laws of providence? No, we'd better leave religion alone.”

All his life he is unable to be at peace! For him, the thought that he has fulfilled his human obligations so well brings neither peace nor comfort; on the contrary, that is even what irritates him: “This,” he says, “is what I’ve blown my whole life for, this is what has bound me hand and foot, this is what has kept me from discovering gunpowder! If it hadn’t been for that, I’d certainly have discovered either gunpowder or America- I don’t know what for sure, but I’d certainly have discovered it!” What is most characteristic in these gentlemen is that all their lives they are indeed unable to find out for sure what precisely they need so much to discover and what precisely they have been preparing all their lives to discover: gunpowder or America? But of suffering, of longing for discovery, they truly have enough of a share in them for a Columbus or a Galileo.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Nobody Move by Denis Johnson

Awesome genre exercise.  Little Raymond Chandler, little Larry McMurtry, little Elmore Leonard.  Loved it.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

A Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman

Fiskadoro by Denis Johnson

I wrote on the flyleaf that I read this book in December of 1986, and I remember Robert "Harpo" Gordon recommended it to me, and since then I've recommended it to many people-- but I didn't really remember any of it.  Re-reading it, I found it to be astonishing and mystifying, someplace between a long wild surreal poem, a dystopian narrative set in the Florida Keys, and a memoir of the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War.

“It [fire] catches, then burns, then blazes; it rages and sings, it wanes, it shifts and flares, it burns a little longer and then weakens, whatever it is, and goes out.  But if you lay the small wood across it in the morning, it all begins again”  (125)

"The Sovereign Lord," Zeid say, shiny and orange across the fire, blasted by Fiskadoro's glass vision into a dozen of himself, "the Holy One, the Giver of Peace, the Keeper of Faith; the Guardian, the Mighty One, the All-powerful, the Most High; the Creator, the Originator, the Modeler; the Unbecome, the Unborn, the Unmade; the Dissolver of Space and of time, the Weaver of the Web of Appearances, the Inbreather and Outbreaker of Infinite Universes; the Formless, Non-existent, Imperishable, and Transcendent Fullness of the Emptiness; the Voidness; the Eternal God. (183)

"On that day we shall ask Hell: "'Are you full?'"
Fiskadoro said, "And Hell will answer: 'Are there any more?'" (183)

Sunday, September 24, 2017

My Darling Detective by Howard Norman

Strange little book.  Pleasurable to read -- there are at least two noir paeans embedded in the book, one in the foreground (the narrator's pregnant detective wife on the case of his alleged real father's murder of twenty years earlier) and the radio serial they love about time-travelling tough guys and molls and detectives.  Not at all essential -- but pleasurable.  And I have a confession to make: I LIKE pleasure.

The Best Minds of My Generation: A Literary History of the Beats by Allen Ginsberg

A great primer on the core Beat poets provided by the core of the core himself, Allen Ginsberg.  Oral transcripts of his freewheeling lectures over a 20 year period, the chapters are miniature paraphrases and riffs and memories of the poet and the poem/volume in question.  It's a great way to read the Beats.  Ginsberg's jazzy conversational tone is effective in explicating jazzy conversational poetry and prose.  The chapters on Kerouac (taking up much of the first half of the book) are good, even though at times he just quotes pages of Kerouac at length and lets Kerouac speak.  Kerouac is a fascinating figure -- and clearly enthralling to Ginsberg, who's more than half in love with him, this giant personality who in retrospect seems a sort of doper/speed freak Whitman: are all of his novels and poems really one long piece, like Leaves of Grass?  He certainly revisited and revised and reimagined and renamed and fiddled with his own autobiography again and again.

King Pleasure was interesting because he was one of the few people who took Charlie Parker music and simply took syllables and by following each note he made actual sentences, poetic sentences. (p. 32)

In a sense, what's happening with Burroughs and with Kerouac, the person has become a shaman, the body of the life has turned prophetic, and the message is coming through that body. (p. 191)

"O foot tired in climes so mysterious,
Don't go down the outside for nothing."
Kerouac, from Scattered Poems

"A lemon lot, and how's a man going to make a living with a gang like that?"

He [Kerouac]'s considered a naive or a primitive, but Kerouac had a better grasp on American manners and political manners than most writers..." p. 214

This [from On the Road] is quite smart about 42nd Street, because when you look deep into 42nd Street you realize there's water at both ends of the street, but when you're in the middle of 42nd Street you think you're in the middle of the continent with all the neon blinking and the tall buildings.  (p. 235)

In terms of the popular culture, Kerouac was preternaturally brilliant and penetrant.  I think that's why the whole Beat Generation, beginning in the mid-fifties, had so much power.  Not that Kerouac was that smart, or Burroughs, but that what they were looking at was very basic and common sense.  American cultural mentality, media consciousness, Hollywood, radio, TV, the news magazines that intellectuals nourished themselves on were so shallow in their spiritual ambition that any basic statement, even if couched in bohemian terms, was a revelation.  p. 239

"In the Morgue" poem by Gregory Corso

That [Dean Moriarty's description of a saxophone player in On The Road]'s a pretty accurate description of inspiration, which is to say breath.  I would now define it by hindsight as unobstructed breath, as a physiciological state of unobstructed breathing, which is known as inspiration, spiritus, breath.

Friday, September 08, 2017

On The Road by Jack Kerouac

As I grew older I became a drunk. Why? Because I like ecstasy of the mind. I'm a wretch. But I love, love.

"men with cop-souls"

“I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till i drop. This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion."

"The parties were enormous; there were at least one hundred people at a basement apartment in the West Nineties. People overflowed into the cellar compartments near the furnace. Something was going on in every corner, on every bed and couch-not an orgy but just a New Year's party with frantic screaming and wild radio music. There was even a Chinese girl. Dean ran like Groucho Marx from group to group, digging everybody. Periodically we rushed out to the car to pick up more people. Damion came. Damion is the hero of my New York gang, as Dean is the chief hero of the Western. They immediately took a dislike to each other. Damion's girl suddenly socked Damion on the jaw with a roundhouse right. He stood reeling. She carried him home. Some of our mad newspaper friends came in from the office with bottles. There was a tremendous and wonderful snow- storm going on outside. Ed Dunkel met Lucille's sister and disappeared with her; I forgot to say that Ed Dunkel is a very smooth man with the women. He's six foot four, mild, affable, agreeable, bland, and delightful. He helps women on with their coats. That's the way to do things. At five o'clock in the morning we were all rushing through the backyard of a tenement and climbing in through a window of an apartment where a huge party was going on. At dawn we were back at Tom Saybrook's. People were drawing pictures and drinking stale beer. I slept on a couch with a girl called Mona in my arms. Great groups filed in from the old Columbia Campus bar. Everything in life, all the faces of life, were piling into the same dank room. At Ian MacArthur's the party went on. Ian MacArthur is a wonderful sweet fellow who wears glasses and peers out of them with delight. He began to learn "Yes!" to everything, just like Dean at this time, and hasn't stopped since. Toilie wild sounds of Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray blowing "The Hunt," Dean and I played catch with Marylou over the couch; she was no small doll either. Dean went around with no under- shirt, just his pants, barefoot, till it was time to hit the car and fetch more people. Everything happened. We found the wild, ecstatic Rollo Greb and spent a night at his house on Long Island. Rollo lives in a nice house with his aunt; when she dies the house is all his. Meanwhile she refuses to comply with any of his wishes and hates his friends. He brought this ragged gang of Dean, Marylou, Ed, and me, and began a roaring party. The woman prowled upstairs; she threatened to call the police. "Oh, shut up, you old bag!" yelled Greb. I wondered how he could live with her like this. He had more books than I've ever seen in all my life-two libraries, two rooms loaded from floor to ceiling around all four walls, and such books as the Apocryphal Something- or-Other in ten volumes. He played Verdi operas and pantomimed them in his pajamas with a great rip down the back. He didn't give a damn about anything. He is a great scholar who goes reeling down the New York waterfront with original seventeenth-century musical manuscripts under his arm, shouting. He crawls like a big spider through the streets. His excitement blew out of his eyes in stabs of fiendish light. He rolled his neck in spastic ecstasy. He lisped, he writhed, he flopped, he moaned, he howled, he fell back in despair. He could hardly get a word out, he was so excited with life. Dean stood before him with head bowed, repeating over and over again, "Yes. ..Yes. .. Yes." He took me into a comer. "That Rollo Greb is the greatest, most wonderful of all. That's what I was trying to tell you-that's what I ~ant to be. I want to be like him. He's never hung-up, he goes every direction, he lets it all out, he knows time, he has nothing to do but rock back and forth. Man, he's the end! You see, if you go like him all the time you'll finally get it."

"The days of wrath are yet to come. The balloon won't sustain you much longer. And not only that, but it's an abstract balloon. You'll all go flying to the West Coast and come staggering back in search of your stone."

"You pin a dragon to your hats," he warned us; "you're up in the attic with your bats."

“What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? - it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”

"Port Allen -- Poor Allen -- where the river's all rain and roses in a misty pinpoint darkness and where we swung around a circular drive in yellow foglight and suddenly saw the great black body below a bridge and crossed eternity again. What is the Mississippi River -- a washed clod in the rainy night, a soft plopping from drooping Missouri banks, a dissolving, a riding of the tide down the eternal waterbed, a contribution to brown foams, a voyaging past endless vales and trees and levees down, down along, down along, by Memphis, Greenville, Eudora, Vicksburg, Natchez, Port Allen, and Port Orleans and Point of the Deltas, by Venice and the Night's Great Gulf out. So the stars shine warm in the Gulf of Mexico at night. From the soft and thunderous Carib comes electricity, and from the continental Divide where rain and rivers are decided come swirls, and the little raindrop that in Dakota fell and gathered mud and roses rises resurrected from the sea and flies on back to go and bloom again in waving mells of the Mississippi's bed, and lives again."

"In 1942 I was the star in one of the filthiest dramas of all time. I was a seaman, and went to the Imperial Café on Scollay Square in Boston to drink; I drank sixty glasses of beer and retired to the toilet, where I wrapped myself around the toilet bowl and went to sleep. During the night at least a hundred seamen and assorted civilians came in and cast their sentient debouchements on me till I was unrecognizably caked. What difference does it make after all? anonymity in the world of men is better than fame in heaven for what's heaven? What's earth? All in the mind."

"I was getting ready to go to Mexico when suddenly Denver Doll called me one night and said, "Well, Sal, guess who’s coming to Denver?" I had no idea. "He’s on his way already, I got this news from my grapevine. Dean bought a car and is coming out to join you." Suddenly I had a vision of Dean, a burning shuddering frightful Angel, palpitating toward me across the road, approaching like a cloud, with enormous speed, pursuing me like the Shrouded Traveler on the plain, bearing down on me. I saw his huge face over the plains with the mad, bony purpose and the gleaming eyes; I saw his wings; I saw his old jalopy chariot with thousands of sparking flames shooting out from it; I saw the path it burned over the road; it even made its own road and went over the corn, through cities, destroying bridges, drying rivers. It came like wrath to the West. I knew Dean had gone mad again. There was no chance to send money to either wife if he took all his savings out of the bank and bought a car. Everything was up, the jig and all. Behind him charred ruins smoked. He rushed westward over the groaning and awful continent again, and soon he would arrive. We made hasty preparations for Dean. News was that he was going to drive me to Mexico.
"Do you think he’ll let me come along?" asked Stan in awe.  "I’ll talk to him," I said grimly. We didn’t know what to expect. "Where will he sleep? What’s he going to eat? Are there any girls for him?" It was like the imminent arrival of Gargantuan preparations had to be made to widen the gutters of Denver and foreshorten certain laws to fit his suffering bulk and bursting ecstasies."

"Why not, man? Of course we will if we want to, and all that. There’s no harm ending that way. You spend a whole life of non-interference with the wishes of others, including politicians and the rich, and nobody bothers you and you cut along and make it your own way." I agreed with him. He was reaching his Tao decisions in the simplest direct way. "What’s your road, man? - holyboy road, madman road, rainbow road, guppy road, any road. It’s an anywhere road for anybody anyhow. Where body how?" We nodded in the rain. "Sheeit, and you’ve got to look out for your boy. He ain’t a man ‘less he’s a jumpin man - do what the doctor say. I’ll tell you. Sal, straight, no matter where I live, my trunk’s always sticking out from under the bed, I’m ready to leave or get thrown out. I’ve decided to leave everything out of my hands. You’ve seen me try and break my ass to make it and you know that it doesn’t matter and we know time - how to slow it up and walk and dig and just old-fashioned spade kicks, what other kicks are there? We know."

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

The "Impossible Beatles Albums"

Genius idea this guy had -- create "Beatles" albums for each of the first five years after the band broke up, using selections from their solo releases to build a full 12-15-track album.

It's fascinating, and entertaining, for me, because although I'm a fan of many of those tracks individually, almost none of the solo albums from that period are compelling.  Why?  No one wanted them to be solo.  All the music they released was judged against the Beatles' recordings, an impossible standard to live up to.

On the impossible albums, though, hearing the band members next to each other song after song, is reassuring and creates a more favorable listening experience. Their four voices (or three and a half) in any order were a sublime chorus -- the whole was in fact more than the parts.

He even writes alt-histories of the band for the years covered, where they toured, how the band continued on, the conflicts and successes.

Their last couple of Beatles albums, they were already separating, but continued to play on each other's tracks.  Like a member of the legendary 1985 Chicago Bears football team once said, "We were a dysfunctional family, but as long as we stayed together, we were fine."

Monday, August 28, 2017

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

...but it wasn't a good living, it was begging with paint on its face...

What is it this young man reminds me of? A piece of music composed for one instrument and played on another.

Have you ever stared stark failure in the face, young man? The trick is, to outstare it.

Another brilliant effort from Angela Carter from 1984.  A plot summary hardly helps:  in 1899 or thereabouts, a young American journalist journeys to London to interview the extraordinary Fevvers, a woman of prodigious physicality who sports two huge wings coming out of her back.  She is the star of an international circus, and the two continue on to Russia for a cosmopolitan tour, and then into Siberia. If that sounds good, it's about 2% of the story.  The depth at which Carter constructs her character, her effortless sparkling prose, her odd theme of feminist empowerment, the sheer Dickensian storytelling-within-storytelling:  she's amazing.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks

Trouble with reading Charlotte Gray was that I expected it to be an extension of Birdsong, Faulk's exceptional First World War novel. It's not, clearly -- it's about the Second World War and there's almost no battlefield action (while large portions of Birdson are literally in the trenches).  It's about a love affair between a young Scottish woman and an RAF pilot who goes missing in France.  The young woman resolves to find him.  And it's hard to put down.  But didn't destroy me like Birdsong did.

Note to self:  what's a "sprung floor?" Faulks uses the phrase at least a half-dozen times. ANSWER: a floor with some shock absorption, used primarily for dance floors or sporting facilities.

Just looked up the 2001 movie which got mostly negative reviews:  they significantly changed the end of the book, which is annoying.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Victory by Joseph Conrad

The Zangiacomo band was not making music; it was simply murdering silence, with a vulgar, ferocious energy.

The young man learned to reflect, which is a destructive process, a reckoning of the cost. It is not the clear-sighted who lead the world.  Great achievements are accomplished in a blessed, warm mental fog, which the pitiless cold blasts of the father's analysis had blown away from the son.

Here I am on a Shadow inhabited by Shades.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

House of Names by Colm Toibin

In the Clytementra final chapter in House of Names, she is dead and can't remember any names but moves through the palace corridors looking for someone.  only at the end does she remember her son Orestes' name.  It's very beautifully put, her speechlessness, because we see her thinking and only at the end does she blurt something out.  Reminds me of my mother, whom I'm sure is having all kinds of revlations and conversations and memories in her head that she can no longer find the words for.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Rick Foucheux as King Lear at Avant Bard Theatre, Arlington VA

I am sure my love's more richer than my tongue.  Cordelia

Come not between the dragon and his wrath.  Lear

The bow is bent and drawn. Make from the shaft.  Lear

Kill thy physician, and thy fee bestow upon the foul disease.  Kent

The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography by Edmund Gordon

Terrific book. After WISE CHILDREN, her fantastic final novel, a deep plunge in the life and times of an extraordinary human being and writer.

Wise Children by Angela Carter

Friday, June 16, 2017

American War by Omar El Akkad

Set in the near post-apocalyptic future, America has divided due to climate change flooding and drought, bioterrorist plague, and civil war between south, north and west.  Interesting "racial" novel I think.  Heroine/protagonist/terrorist is black but only glancingly so. Novel is about political and class divisions, not race.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The North Water by Ian McGuire

A little bit Moby Dick Lite, a little Heart of Darkness.

Compulsively readable!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Rick's Bag of Tricks, a poem by Rick Cannon

Rick's Bag of Tricks

The days shuttle endlessly
undoing the neat weave
of your suit.  You hardly
notice, until one day
the cuff is gone and part
of the sleeve.  You laugh,
buy another.  The trick is
not to trust metaphor.

Of some people you say
"these are mine and these
own me."  Their several glows
seem warm jewels or sloops
to haul yourself up on.
One day you are bereft.  You
might laugh.  The trick is
not to trust friendship.

You shout "Metaphysics!"
Someone replies "Metabolism!"
Moving closer you say "That's
what I meant." The other
answers "Of course." You slow
down.  You move together.  It
is a dance.  The trick is
to trust nothing else.

Rick Cannon

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Tuesday, May 09, 2017

The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead

Nicotine by Nell Zink

Clever, odd, arresting and funny novel.  Lots of ideas.

"She was saying that Marxism isn't any better than capitalism, because they're both based on a world without friendship and love, where everything's for sale! A male world, basically. Money instead of nature.  Welcome to New York."

"Medicaid's an instrument of oppression. We'd have had a revolution a long time ago if the poor were dying in the streets like they're supposed to."

"That's something your dad used to say, about how it's the stories we tell ourselves that cause all the problems. If you look reality straight in the eye, you end up a lot less confused.  It's a matter of signal-to-noise ratio. Any story you tell has to be all signal. Any distraction is noise. Anything extraneous is noise. Now try to define extraneous. In life, nothing's extraneous. There's no noise. It's all signal. That's Freud. The early Freud."

"You're not too tired to go to work!"
"It's not like I'm a waitress, or operating a jackhammer or something. All I have to do is get to Manhattan and sit down."

Friday, April 14, 2017

Moonglow by Michael Chabon

Pretty good.  A little long-winded, but maybe that's because I went for the large-type edition, to avoid the long queue for the regular version.  He has an annoying last name, hard to remember how to pronounce.  Shay-bun.  The internet says that this has been verified by his publisher.  I guess Moonglow is a fictional memoir, or an autobiographical novel.  There was a time when I would have cared to find out.  Now, I'll just wait around until I hear it second-hand.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

1984 by George Orwell

Longer, and more tedious, than I remember when I read it in high school.  The love affair is the most interesting writing -- and it's all being set-up for the (much shorter) interrogation/torture scene.

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

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