I was after something intimate and I learned to spot it in the first alley, in the first verse of a poem, on the first glance of a strafrom Intimacy:
I was after something intimate and I learned to spot it in the first alley, in the first verse of a poem, on the first glance of a stranger. Great books, like great cities, always let us find things we think are only in us and couldn’t possibly belong elsewhere but that turn out to be broadcast everywhere we look. Great artists are those who give us what we think was already ours.
In the words of Emanuele Tesauro: “We enjoy seeing our own thoughts blossom in someone’s mind, while that someone is equally pleased to spy what our own mind furtively conceals.” I was a cipher. But, like me, everyone else was a cipher as well. Ultimately, I wanted to peer into books, places, and people because wherever I looked I was always looking for myself, or for traces of myself, or better yet, for a world out there filled with people and characters who could be made to be like me, because being like me and being me and liking the things I liked was nothing more than their roundabout way of being as close to, as open to, and as bound to me as I wished to be to them.
from My Monet Moment:
It would be just like me to travel all the way to Bordighera from the United States and never one look up the current name of the villa. Any art book could have told me that its name was Villa Garnier. Anyone a the station could have pointed immediately to it had I asked for it by name. I would have spared myself hours of meandering about town. But then, unlike Ulysses, I would have arrived straight to Ithaca and never once encountered Circe or Calypso, never met Nausica or heard the enchanting strains of the Sirens’ song, never gotten sufficiently lost to experience the sudden, disconcerting moment of arriving in, of all places, the right place.
She opens a door and we stop onto the roof terrace. Once again, I am struck by one of the most magnificent vistas I have ever seen. “Money used to come to paint here as a guest of Signor Moreno.” I instantly recognize the scene from art books and begin to snap pictures. Then the nun corrects herself. “Actually, he used to paint from up there,” she says, pointing to another floor I hadn’t noticed that is perched right above the roof. “Questo e l’oblo di Monet.” “This is Monet’s porthole.”
Proust’s novel is about a man who looks back to a time when all he did was look forward to better times. To rephrase this somewhat: he looks back to a time when what he looked forward to was perhaps nothing more than sitting down and writing… and therefore looking back.
It is not even Egypt or the things he remembers that he loves; what he loves is just remembering, because remembering ensures that the present won’t ever prevail. Remembering is merely a posture that turns its head away and, in the process, even when there is nothing to remember, is shrewd enough to make up memories – surrogate, standby memories – if only to justify not having to look straight at the present.
from New York, Luminous:
In that spellbound moment when we’re suddenly willing to call this the only home we’ll ever want on earth, New York lets us into a bigger secret yet: that it “gets” us, that we needn’t worry about those dark and twisted, spectral thoughts we are far too reluctant to tell others about – it shares the exact same ones itself, always has.
from Afterword: Parallax:
The German writer W.G. Sebald, who died in 2001, frequently wrote about people whose lives are shattered and who are trapped in a state of numbness, stagnation, and stunned sterility. Given a few displacements, which occurred either by mistake or through some whim of history, they end up living the wrong life. The past interferes and contaminates the present, while the present looks back and distorts the past.
Sebald’s characters see displacements everywhere, not just all around them but within themselves as well. Sebald himself cannot think, cannot see, cannot remember, and, I would wager, cannot write without positing displacement as a foundational metaphor.
In order to write you either retrieve displacement or you invent it.
things that were my favourites:
Lavender; a wonderful easing into the essays, into reflections on memory, on past, on how we look back on the past and frame it, on how it impacts us into adulthood. it reminded me of bosnia, of my grandfather (even though it was about aciman’s father).
New York, Luminous; a walk through a city through movies and literary references. movies i hadn’t seen were brought to live, then the essay was re-read and i saw how perfectly they shine and how fitting they are.
The Buildings Themselves Have Died; for being a perfectly named story. for making new york come alive in a different way than New York, Luminous. for reminding me of david foster wallace. though there are differences – dfw sees it through the older generations, aciman through the buildings themselves....more
reading dfw takes work. it takes focus and a dictionary, and not the pocket kind that has commonly used words, but the kind with SAT words that is tooreading dfw takes work. it takes focus and a dictionary, and not the pocket kind that has commonly used words, but the kind with SAT words that is too heavy to carry. you probably have to read dfw at home or with a smart-phone handy. and i still prefer reading him to any other writer. i’ll throw the warning out there that i have an inability to articulate why i like a favourite author’s work (but this doesn’t mean i won’t keep trying).
i remember when dfw was writing and speaking about what he went through in rehab and what drove him as an author, etc. he didn’t do it often, but the psychologist in me couldn’t stop looking for interviews and information about these kinds of questions. with his upbringing (strong successful mother’s influence, tennis champion, labeled genius from an early age: here
) he says that one of the things he got from rehab was that geniuses were allowed to have problems and were just like everyone else.
he learned that his genius didn’t necessarily make him special. he was no better or worse. when i read his work, what i see is a man who is deeply and genuinely interested in learning new things, on sharing these things and meeting people, ordinary people. sure, there’s an essay on mccain’s 2000 campaign, but there’s also an essay that, at least for me, humanizes the porn industry by covering the “porn oscars.” he talks about how funny kafka is and how few people see it because they’re so busy trying to intellectualize and “get” kafka. reading this book feels like shaking his hand and hearing him talk over coffee, or taking his class and going to lecture.
many of these essays would be better suited to being categorized as journalism. he’s asked to report on something, and he’s throwing himself into the narrative and helping to explore larger issues to help relate it to the reader. i can see him following mccain’s campaign with the worn leather coat that he borrowed from a friend, because he still thought that rolling stone magazine was that kind of place. i can see him with his bandana going to the world’s biggest lobster fair and being genuinely disgusted and compelled to share this story of suffering.
i know he gets a ton of flack for his style, but it hasn’t stopped me from reading and re-reading almost everything he’s written and i certainly know i’m not the ideal reader for his work. i know i miss a ton of references and probably fail to make some connections that may seem obvious to him. but i’m a student of dfw. i’m happy to re-read his work, to take notes and cringe at the notes i made in the margins the first time around.
i feel like people miss out on him because of his reputation and i’d hate for that to stop anyone. i think he deserves a chance and i know damn well he could teach you something....more