The most private of men writes a diary, keeping it current on each day he actually sits down to work on a novel which would become The Grapes of Wrath. Keeping a journal was something John Steinbeck had attempted in the past to no avail. But it is our great fortune that he succeeded at the most important time of his life to practice the discipline that not only earned him great literary rewards but also secured his memory in our American consciousness.
This journal is one of the best literary works I have ever read as Steinbeck’s truth rings loud and clear, his desperation both real and imminent, and the personal frustrations of being a writer not only presented in fact but written upon us with his blood. What initiated two summers ago for me in my first reading of Travels with Charley was a new interest in the person John Steinbeck, more so than even his fictions. Though extremely controversial and outspoken, Steinbeck valued his privacy and solitude. He kept few friends, but those he did have were close and of like mind. The emotional pain he suffered in his amorous relationships is made all too clear in this journal written at a time of both great literary achievement and the impending failure of a marriage between two people seemingly highly suited to one another’s goals in life. It is unfortunate that the physical and passionate side of this relationship could not be redeemed and saved. But Steinbeck left this wife for another ill-fated lover who became his second wife and ultimately the mother of his children.
The journal takes place at a time in the world of beating war drums, fascism, and Hitler’s rise for world dominance and destruction. Meanwhile Steinbeck was struggling with fame and the pressure coming from the needy of every stripe. And as he was attempting to write what would become his greatest novel, his new neighbors were irritating the life out of him with their hammering and radios being played so loudly he could not think. But as disagreeable as this was to him it all helped to shape his diary into a fascinating window for peering into the life of a most interesting man of letters. I truly hated for this book to end. But it did, and what was finally and forcefully gleaned from this exercise was his firm belief in the importance discipline plays to any writer of note. ...more
I had believed for the last several months that perhaps my 2014 reading year was not nearly as spectacular as it was in 2013, but still, all in all, aI had believed for the last several months that perhaps my 2014 reading year was not nearly as spectacular as it was in 2013, but still, all in all, a very rewarding experience. But when I began to assemble this list and I returned to take another look at what I had actually read I discovered how wrong I really was. There were plenty of star-studded gems for me. And again, for this year, I will list only the books I rated as 5-star wonders and termed “amazing”. There are so many books to read out there it is too daunting a task to also list books I simply “really liked”, but I do note that there were plenty of them and well worth my time.
I decided to re-read a novel I had loved years ago and discovered again how precious Thomas Bernhard is to those of us who demand a serious read. The novel was Yes and it certainly did hold up to my second reading.
I tend to read in fits and stages and get stuck within a geographical area or style of writing sometimes. It seems I both read and loved in a clump Jorge Luis Borges and his Ficciones, Cees Nooteboom and his Rituals, and Antonio Tabucchi whose Requiem: A Hallucination and Pereira Declares: A Testimony both delivered beyond my expectations. Other titles by these same authors have not held up as well for me.
At my cabin in Michigan this past summer I had a few welcome surprises. I bent my reading more toward Scandinavians and was blessed with a feeling of gratitude as I was introduced to the work of Per Petterson. His novel Out Stealing Horses was pure joy. I liked his other novels as well but they did not reach the 5-star mark again until his latest which just recently came out titled I Refuse: A Novel. I read a few titles by Tomas Espedal and he provided me with another 5-star wonder titled Against Art:. I had read some glowing reviews regarding the trilogy of Jan Kjærstad. I have gotten through the first two books and so far only the first one titled The Seducer qualified as amazing. It is possible when I have finished reading the last book of the three that I will change my mind about the second one, but without a doubt The Seducer was one of the very best books I read in 2014.
To cap off my summer I was moved to read Letters to a Young Contrarian by Christopher Hitchens. I think this book should be required reading for any adult child. Another “thinking book” a reader I respect suggested I would like was written by William Barrett and the title was Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy. I did read it, and I thought it was amazing, interesting, and written in an accessible language.
At the end of summer I took a chance on a dead Englishman by the name of J.L. Carr who I find quite fascinating. I have since purchased all of his books based on my successful reading of A Month in the Country. Carr is a clever man who has a charming personality that comes through on the page.
This fall I began a study of Elfriede Jelinek and the tour has taken me to documentary films as well as her books. Two of the printed works I read were 5-star wonders and I am thinking there will be more to come. Lust and Her Not All Her: On/With Robert Walser were both amazing.
Late in the year I discovered a documentary film titled Shepard and Dark which led me to read the selected letters between these two one-time relatives and very old friends. Their book of correspondence was titled Two Prospectors: The Letters of Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark and was nothing short of amazing and even life-changing for me even though I gave it only 4 stars because it was all correspondence. But that book made me want to read everything written by Sam Shepard (which I did) and I even forked over a hundred bucks for a limited print edition of Johnny Dark’s book of photographs, stories, jottings, and memoir titled Johnny Dark: People I May Know. That gem was a five-star wonder if there ever was one. Sam Shepard gave me endless satisfaction in all four of his collected short fictions and more letters between he and another actor/playwright Joseph Chaikin. Sam Shepard is a wonder in spurts, but he cannot sustain the level of “amazing” throughout. He would be better served by having a more tyrannical editor at his publishing house Knopf.
Rolling Thunder Logbook written by Sam Shepard was also a great find. I had no idea it was this good. The photographs and text so rich in description. It was almost like being back in time. This is a must-read book for fans of Bob Dylan, artists, creativity, great music, and a time lost now forever except by the traces left by books like these that somehow show the way it was and could have been.
Due to my Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark extravaganza the last writer I discovered in 2014 was Paul Williams. He has published three volumes concerning the body of work and performances of Bob Dylan. Because of the Shepard and Dark boys above I was revisiting all my dvd’s I had collected through the years regarding Bob Dylan, and also re-watched some of the films he has starred in including his own. So I began my reading of Paul Williams in the middle and purchased Bob Dylan Performing Artist 1974-1986 The Middle Years. This book has been so informative and thought-provoking that I went on and purchased the other two (he died before completing his fourth) and I will read those in 2015. But to say this master-work is anything but amazing would be a travesty because of all the hard work, thought, and feeling that obviously went into the labor it took to produce these books on the greatest performer of all-time. (Not to mention his skill at singing and songwriting too.) It is mind boggling to me how much raw material is available if a person wanted to do a complete study of Bob Dylan. It is impossible to imagine any other performer/writer/composer equalling this man’s output and quality when taken as a whole. Paul Williams attempted the insurmountable task, and what he did accomplish in his own write is certainly notable....more
This book has been so informative and thought-provoking that I went on and purchased the other two (Paul Williams died before completing his fourth) aThis book has been so informative and thought-provoking that I went on and purchased the other two (Paul Williams died before completing his fourth) and I will read those in 2015. But to say this master-work is anything but amazing would be a travesty because of all the hard work, thought, and feeling that obviously went into the labor it took to produce these books on the greatest performer of all-time. Not to mention Bob Dylan being a pretty good singer/songwriter as well....more
This is the sort of writing that demands more of me than I am. It is obvious to me that Elfriede Jelinek is one of the most gifted and intelligent wriThis is the sort of writing that demands more of me than I am. It is obvious to me that Elfriede Jelinek is one of the most gifted and intelligent writers working today. She is a treasure and should be read if not listened to. Stop all the feminist connections as she is much more than that. There is not a suitable box to fit her in. So there. And Robert Walser fans, pseudo or otherwise, might want to prepare themselves some time for a reading of this fine little book....more
Not sure if I will ever get back to this fine work for a second reading, but it sure was enjoyable. There may be a review forthcoming, but perhaps notNot sure if I will ever get back to this fine work for a second reading, but it sure was enjoyable. There may be a review forthcoming, but perhaps not. Time is at a premium these days....more
Through the years reading Christopher Hitchens has been hit or miss for me. Mortality was amazing, but many other works basically unaccessible to me pThrough the years reading Christopher Hitchens has been hit or miss for me. Mortality was amazing, but many other works basically unaccessible to me perhaps because they are all too cerebral and the subjects fail to interest me. I remember Hitchens on a Bill Maher show on HBO where he was a guest and argued with the audience for almost the entire program. I did not appreciate that behavior then, but do so now after reading this book. I cannot more highly recommend this book to any person who wants to think for themselves and stand apart from the crowd. Hitchens was courageous in both life and death. He is sorely missed. ...more
This is a very long book and it is quite amazing to me that any one writer can have this much life experience and still be capable of telling about it. And keep it interesting. Even if research offered the many historical facts adjusted as fiction and presented as anecdotes I would still find it remarkable that Jan Kjærstad could actually pull it off as well as he did. It is a long life story of Norwegian TV celebrity Jonas Wergeland told in circles and repeats, ending at a certain point when the weary traveler and star of his show discovers the love of his life flat-out on a polar bear rug dead-red in their home after being murdered with a Luger. For an enormous number of pages the narrator relates the many stories connected to the life of Jonas Wergeland and how these events all contributed to the dreadful result we are faced with in the very early pages of the novel. The mystery the book blurbs promise it to to be never quite measures up, though the revealing and tantalizing anecdotes all add to a quite suspenseful and fulfilling climax.
There is no possible way in which I might explain this novel. I can say however that as I perhaps too eagerly updated my wife these last few days about each extremely wonderful experience I had while reading this novel she finally replied, “It sounds like a Wes Anderson movie.” So the very best I can do now would be to inform anyone already enamored with the work of screenwriter/filmmaker Wes Anderson that this book is completely up their alley. Throughout the revolving myriad of countless stories related page after page regarding this fascinating life of Jonas Wergeland one is immediately struck by the eccentricities, curiosities, dangers, and clever results in all his affairs. Jonas is quite an amazing individual as are the unlikely heroes in every Wes Anderson film. Over-the-top is an understatement but it makes the reading experience absurdly fun.
A continuing theme for me throughout this first book of a trilogy is how everything is always connected. Each chapter in one way or another returns to visit a previously told story or adds something or other to an unfinished business. I failed to count the many chapters but there are numerous anecdotes involved in getting to know this man Jonas and the principle influences that made up his life. There are several memorable and important characters we meet along the way. By the end of the book almost every question of fate is answered except for the initial mystery of his good wife’s death. I suppose that being the paramount reason for the author making this work a trilogy.
It is quite unfair to focus on the almost undo importance given to Jonas’s “magic penis” or the phallic symbol his aunt employed as a life-long artistic obsession. The truth is that most young men are a bit too interested in that thing between their legs, as are some women perhaps, but there is really nothing to be done about it. Denying, ridiculing, or shaming only makes it worse. But the interesting development in this book for me regarding this phallic obsession is that Jonas himself never seems overly impressed or even brazenly brags about his manly gift. Jonas always is the wanted one in a sexual relationship, which to some of us just might be a mutual fantasy not often shared. He was never the initiator of any of the sexual behaviors in the first place, and for the most part always during the act itself remained on his back on the bottom. And what seemed both beautiful and amazing to the narrator of this tale was the unlikely fact that this magic organ could fairly accommodate and satisfy any wanting vessel, be it large or small. But the book was far beyond such a seemingly shallow thing as this magic penis. It was achingly more about a real tingling up his spine that would climb up and into his shoulders. It was about owning and using his imagination, exploring and revealing human nature, and understanding the world we live in a bit outside of the box rather than remaining stubbornly stuck in our given notions of things as they are.
Given that Jan Kjærstad, like me, was also born in 1953 added more of a connection to his writing. Having the novel placed in the same time period I grew up in offered opportunities galore for me to remember and reflect upon too. I smiled often and always felt satisfied. This is rare in a book for me. In absence of any good explanation of what actually occurred between the covers for me, the bottom line for what I took away from reading this novel was a poignant reminder that life can be comprehended only as a collection of stories. In good time I look forward to my continued reading of the remaining two books in this trilogy....more
As I was reading these stories, these ficciones, I was wondering where I might have heard this Borges voice before. And as I read it seemed to me that each story was important in its own rank as if derived from a serious study of an ancient text or the pouring over of history books detailing in no small measure the accounts that made up the results of whatever was being set forth. Of course, because the original Ficciones were written in Spanish and then translated to English, the stories additionally allowed me to consider that some of the numerous facts and details presented were possibly “made-up” and mingled together with others which obviously were not. The entire practice of a Borges composition was basically lost to a reader like me who is not “up” on his ancient history and could no more in these given instances discern a truth from a bald-faced lie. Nonetheless, the stories were written and translated with such abundant grace and were so well-crafted their meaning mattered little to me as I was obviously in the presence of genius, which is such a joy to behold when it actually occurs to me. Still, it bothered me incessantly as each story ended with the same result of my not understanding what I had just read but enjoying it nonetheless. I am apt to want to quit on something I do not understand, but the words were too powerful and crafted for me to end our affair.
Throughout my reading there wasn’t one story that made more of an impact on me than another, but taken as whole it reminded me by the end that another writer, a contemporary, whose voice I realized sounds just like Borges, or at least sounds like the translation of Ficciones that I am reviewing here. It felt a bit uncanny for me to think of my writer-friend Jason in light of reading a book written so long ago. I know Borges died blind in 1986 and was born in 1899. I know he originally published the first edition of this book in 1944 or thereabouts. Besides this unique voice I heard on every page, what made me think of my contemporary as I read Borges was that confident, loving tone of a very good teacher, a scholar relating something he found so interesting that he wants to excite us with his discovery too. The tone comes from a very nice man, a gentle soul who is humble and totally unpretentious even though his gifted presentation flies way over my head and is so far out of my league of understanding. Perhaps, for some readers of this text, understanding is not so hard to come by. But for me it was nearly impossible. In order to not frustrate myself I began to read these stories much as I read Gilles Deleuze say, and of course Jason Schwartz, and attempt to glean what I might from their words and simply enjoy the rest. I doubt there will ever come a time when I know enough history to connect more to these short stories, but I do know I expect I will not derive more pleasure in my newfound understanding than was my first exposure and initiation into this world.
But lo and behold miracles do occur and the last story filled my void. The understanding that had been missing over the last days spent with all these Borges pages came headlong to me, and not delivered as I was present in my trance as I had been in while reading the stories prior to this last one titled The South. No, for this one, the last one, I was fully alive and awake for his scrumptious ending of the way life goes sometimes. But instead of topping my already generous day I was directed by a Borges order to press on, that silly, my time had not come, as neither the hero’s had nor his aggressor’s, and that a knife fight must and will ensue, and the results are not a given though perhaps it could be perceived as somewhat predictable. ...more
The silence referred to, it is important to note, is the calm before the storm. For example, the eery quiet just before a hurricane. And this silence exists it seems for the somber hope present in the moments before a revolution.
Because there is no story to begin with, and the text at first appears boringly political in its talk of revolution, and the words go on and on in such a way that offers doubt for any hope of entertainment, still a reader such as myself buckles down and presses on. And before the reader knows it he, or she, is sucked in again to the marrow and excessively violent world of Jens Bjørneboe. It is nothing short of a miracle to me how his books fascinate, and The Silence is no exception.
Historical figures make their many appearances throughout the novel and their stories are told through the voice of a steady narrator at times unhinged by his life experience and given to bouts of heavy drinking and his own self-inflicted physical abuse. But the narrator manages still to prevail and the reader is rewarded with rich historical accounts of characters such as Columbus, Pizarro, and Cortez, ending with one of the best known and influential figures of the French Revolution Maximilien de Robespierre, the Incorruptible. The accounts of genocide are numerous and graphic in the Bjørneboe telling.
Esther Greenleaf Murer is the brilliant translator of this work and she offers an introduction to The Silence that is sufficient and superior to anything I might write about this book. Bjørneboe’s very last chapter is one of the best endings to a book I have ever read. I could not recommend this book more to all of humanity, both good and evil, the righteous and unrighteous among us, and the penetrating gaze made available for all of us to peer unflinchingly into the abyss where suffering has no end and pain has no meaning....more
Almost immediately I entered a world not of my making and willingly allowed myself to engage the characters within the covers and become somewhat a friend to them. My personal allowances were not wasted, as good fortune greeted me at every turn the novel made. Cees Nooteboom begins this work with a bit of a disparaging look upon his main character, Inni Wintrop. Though Inni failed at his own suicide, his only marriage, and avoided a working career sufficiently respectable and typical of the times, he was instead vastly superior at dabbling. Because of a small but suitable allowance provided by his aunt in which to live quite modestly, Inni was free to enjoy his daily chance encounters with all sorts of eccentric and passionate individuals, and allow life to challenge and confuse others in order that Inni himself might be entertained and educated in countless ways.
Surprises happen almost on every other page and Nooteboom writes in a manner relaxed and conversational in tone. The novel was a joy to read and nothing in our realm of human nature was deemed off-limits to discussion and further inquiry. To list these delightful turns would take away some of the excitement in discovering them for yourselves as the novel progresses to its fateful end. Every character is easily imagined by the reader, and the enrichment in meeting new and enlightening people enriched my periods with them so much so that it was certainly painful to lose them in time to a sort of death that one cannot escape portending for oneself in the frame of a life hoped to be unanimously agreeable and worth living. I cannot encourage enough the reading of this fine little book for all who take life seriously, and for certain others of us who always seem to wish for more no matter the size of our serving....more
Not enough praise has been accorded regarding the story-telling talents of Thomas Bernhard. There have been more than enough remarks referring to his long tirades and vitriol as well as his use of the long-sentenced paragraph and repetitive phrase. In this novel Yes not only does the reader come to a clear understanding of story, there is also a distinct and memorable feeling for this extreme setting and its inhabitants. By book's end it is obvious this novel has a quite wonderful and clever plot.
The narrator of Yes remains nameless. He is a depressive sort, a scientist who for almost every reason has found it impossible to work and has thus locked himself up inside his musty old home for the better part of the last three months. It is only upon meeting this Persian woman, the female half of a Swiss couple planning to build a drab concrete structure on an equally dismal plot of low-lying land far enough out of town in which they would certainly have to stock up on survival provisions when the wet season begins. Meanwhile the Swiss couple are holed up in the only inn the village can boast of. It so happens the same inn is also in need of repair and vigorous cleaning. So despair, unsurprisingly it seems, is the norm in this part of the Austrian countryside.
The narrator, as scientist, claims his main conflict has been caused by his lung disease. Previously he lived and worked in the city and seemed to have no trouble thinking and getting on with his study. But his doctor insisted the narrator move to the country where he could breathe clean air and his lung disease could perhaps be held in check enough so he could live. But his living without pursuing the activities so detrimental to his mind makes him question why he would want to stay alive anyway. He says he struggles mentally over ending it all through suicide, but for reasons I am sure the narrator will eventually explain he could not bring himself to do it.
Typically, to ward off his yearly complaint of depression, which in general begins each October of every year, the narrator indulges himself with either the works of philosopher Schopenhauer or composer Schuman, or both, in order to save himself. But this particular year neither genius helps him to keep his darkness at bay and he finds himself engaged in the most unreceptive and unresponsive state of "not-being-able-to-bear-it-any-longer". With this terrible discovery he rushes out of his dismal prison and runs through the wood to Moritz's to "pounce on him" with his insanity and "wounding him" in the most "shameless manner." This regrettable scene is almost immediately interrupted by the arrival of the afore-mentioned Swiss couple knocking at the door of the realtor Moritz. In this scene it is almost as if the narrator no longer exists as the conversation centers around the new home the Swiss couple is planning to build on the pitiful lot Moritz has sold them.
There is no comprehension at all for the narrator over how this intelligent, successful, and well-traveled Swiss couple who after spending four decades together could actually decide to settle into retirement to this small village on a piece of ground that Moritz has had listed for sale for as many years as the couple spent together roaming the world as the Swiss engineer built power stations. It was also remarkable to the narrator how his best friend Moritz had never once mentioned the Swiss couple even after working with them over the last several months. But the narrator is immediately taken by the seemingly intelligent Persian woman who remains silent and indifferent throughout the entire meeting as the Swiss does all the talking and deciding over the design and construction to take place on this water-logged property.
Suffice to say, the narrator pursues a friendly non-sexual relationship with the Persian woman who is staying at the local inn while the Swiss finishes the last power station he is constructing in Venezuela and as he also travels to Switzerland to procure for their new home the desired quality of building materials that are impossible for him to find in Austria. The Persian woman is available for the narrator to visit with over a cup of tea at the inn or a pleasant walk in the forest glade. It is of great relief for the narrator to have found this woman in his life and to have someone who is intelligent to talk to and who is also familiar with the work of his most-loved composer and philosopher, Schuman and Schopenhauer.
It has been stated more than once in critical reviews by others that Bernhard fails to develop his characters. I find this not to be true. Of all the characters in this novel brought to our attention by the halfway mark I am most impressed with the innkeeper's wife who the narrator masterfully illustrates for us her incessant need to spy and eavesdrop, spread gossip and judgments throughout her awful little town.
What has occurred during the past few weeks is suddenly becoming clear, and it becomes bearable because I am trying, by putting these notes on paper, to make it bearable, and these notes have no other purpose than to record in writing my encounter with the Swiss couple and more particularly with the Persian woman and thereby to find relief and thereby possibly to open up once more an approach to my studies.
Upon my recent discovery and further involvement in the works of another great writer, Hungarian-born Ágota Kristof, I not only learned but also came to believe in her talent as a writer. She was as well an interesting, hard-working person of note. Kristof spent most of her life living in French-speaking Switzerland and it was there she herself discovered the work of the great Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard. Yes just so happened to be her very first and favorite title of all his entire body of work. She mentioned in her short memoir The Illiterate how while reading Yes the first time she had never laughed so much or so hard in her life, so much so that she lent this book to several friends who upon returning it admitted their failing at reading it all the way to the end. They all claimed the book was too 'demoralizing' and 'unbearable'. All of them to a fault failed to see any of the 'comic' side to Thomas Bernhard that Ágota Kristof was so taken with. For me, this was my second time around with Thomas Bernhard's Yes. I loved it even more this visit and it passed the test of my further review and more intense gaze. There is nobody like Bernhard no matter how hard others try, and sometimes succeed, in crafting a suitable read that might even be possibly compared to his work at times. Yes, the ending is quite unforgiving but the journey getting there is worth the ultimately lessened, or lessoned, discomfort and pain.
This novel begins as a mystery, but plenty of clues are left scattered along the way and the trail remains certainly well-marked throughout relieving the little fear one might have for getting lost. Yes is also definitely a story about relationships. How significant it is to have and maintain at least one friend in which to talk to. The novel is more importantly, I think, a history of one's usefulness and what can happen when you find you are no longer needed and sadly begin to feel used-up. ...more
Start with a mind-altering trip on LSD and then morph into a sermon on the ills of Christianity regarding witchcraft, Jews, negroes, and the persecution and torture of them all, the affects of evil in the world and how it is justly depicted in our modern art whereas the angelic can only be guessed at artistically and you have yourself one hell of a lot to think about here. And all of it coming from a madhouse by either a very sane person or one who is also mad. Better than any recent movie I can think of.
The fact that this book was written in 1969 and could have been written yesterday is astounding to me. There was a point last night I had to stop reading as the blood-letting (historical in fact) was overwhelming to me. We just do not know the trouble we humans have caused in the world, and the narrator says it is only going to get worse as we move out in our exploration and colonizing of space.
It was the beginning of the winter of 2014 when my wife and I began watching the brilliant Showtime series titled The Tudors. Among the many talented actors in the made-for-television event were Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Henry Cavill, not to mention the recently deceased Peter O'Toole. The show followed the reign of England's King Henry the Eighth. There were numerous changes in his kingdom throughout his many years in power but, not counting his six wives, the many gruesome public executions struck the loudest chord for me. The torture chambers extracting confessions leading to wrongful judgments in complicity, and the many ways to carry out these punishments, left little to the imagination. It was awful subjecting ourselves to this violence on our television, but it still felt as if it were a fiction, a movie, and not really true. Upon reading this second book in the trilogy of The History of Bestiality I came across many of these same exact instances and historical facts I learned from the TV. One of the executions on TV was of the King's cook who poisoned the Bishop (who, if memory serves, was actually an enemy). The cook was slowly lowered alive, spread-eagled and face up, into a large vat of boiling oil. So preposterous was this execution that I really did not believe they actually did this sort of thing. But then I read the same accounting in this very book! The actions of the king and others I was reading about throughout our gruesomely violent history of crimes against humanity became all too real for me and I had to put the book down for a spell. It was just too much to bear. Prior to this horrid feeling I was perfectly comfortable in my chair watching, I thought, an interesting, though gruesome, fiction. But to learn of all these terrible injustices brought down upon innocent peoples throughout the world and the history of humanity I was aghast at my own delusions and denials I had safely hidden my better self in. As charming as Jonathan Rhys Meyers was in his portrayal of King Henry the Eighth, my wife and I were both still horrified by his dozen or more tortures and public executions which included even one with a severely drunken headsman mutilating the neck, shoulders, and head of one of his sorry victims (actually the ill-favored King's right-hand man at the time) before an attendant took over for the oft-aimed inebriated axman to finish and successfully complete the awful deed. To make matters even worse I read this very morning in the novel that King Henry the Eighth actually ordered from the throne more than 70,000 executions during his reign on this bit of green crust called England.
I truly think this novel would make a great film. With the right actors it would be one of the richest, most rewarding films ever. Even the grounds and gardens of the bughouse are wonderful. The narrator's home. All the abundant nature. Including a hedgehog that made countless appearances. I even did a little bit of research today and learned that in 2006, McDonald's changed the design of their McFlurry containers to be more hedgehog-friendly. Previously, hedgehogs would get their heads stuck in the container as they tried to lick the remaining food from inside the cup. Then, being unable to get out, they would starve to death. And then what about all the other maladjusted, but brilliant and extremely bent personalities in this book? Wonderful wonderful. And that is how I am reading it. As a film. I think the Coen brothers would do it justice. Even Quentin Tarantino might make something out of it worth watching. And either one of these film-making teams could do the screenwriting as well.
Jens Bjørneboe produces numerous questions throughout his fictions. There are never any answers. He reports historical truth. His characters drink the wine and find pleasure where and when they can. There is little hope in the world of Jens Bjørneboe, and all our wishing in one hand produces nothing but shit in the other. He continually presents in his work a position of dissent, and a stance he demonstrates as historically heretical and generally punished by torture and execution. The violence and injustices can be tiresome at times, and in fact might wear a person down. These are novels most readers would not delve into and probably explains their commercial scarcity. These same careful and casual readers would rather sing carols and hear praises made to some holy name. Sort of helps me to understand better now the popularity of the world's current Catholic Pope. Very little of this reading was easy, but most of it was good. And if given enough time I would do it again, just like we humans do over and over in a world that hasn't really changed. ...more
Gabriel Josipovici wrote an exquisite introduction to this slim volume. In his introduction Josipovici states that upon first reading Kristof’s most famous work titled The Notebook he understood immediately he was in the presence of greatness. I could not agree more with that statement as I can attest to it happening to me as well. It isn’t often enough that this phenomenon happens. Though I am amazed at how many talented writers there are, and have been, among us. Seems each week I am introduced to a writer I had not been aware of previously. But the label of greatness is kept for only the very few. Ágota Kristof is most definitely one of these specific icons we certainly must treasure and be so grateful for their willingness to write in the first place and work so diligently to perfect their craft.
I think it is also remarkable to discover later in this memoir that Kristof considers Thomas Bernhard the greatest of all examples for what it means to be a writer, especially for those persons claiming to be one. She also affirms that Bernhard never seized to criticize and denounce his country with both hate and love, but his humor in doing so remains to this day unequaled by any other, though I have to believe most of us who read Kristof are aware she can be quite funny at times herself. But it isn’t the humor that draws me so much to the writing of Ágota Kristof. Rather it is this adorableness, if you will excuse the pert term, that she maintains in the face of her story’s extremes. Though I cannot actually see her, she just feels so damn cute to me. And her personality is so to-the-point, piercingly direct in a manner that is very hard to explain. The violence in some of her scenes is so exact as to cause a shocking affect, and as I have mentioned in previous remarks I made due to Kristof, she writes a damn titillating sex scene, no less extreme in its provocation on the page.
Reading this slim, but still voluminous work was a treat just to get an inside look at the life of Ágota Kristof, in her own words, and to learn firsthand how she became a writer. Obviously, it is not enough to wish to be something or other. One must persevere, at times, and often, against great odds. But the important object to note here is that Kristof would have written no matter her success at finding, or not finding, a commercial publisher for her work. Writing was something she just had to do, of course, after she became literate enough to be coherent composing within a foreign language in a country so unlike her one of origin.
Ágota Kristof is a treasure just as Thomas Bernhard is a treasure, and it is with great gratitude and satisfaction that we have both their work to share among us and to have exampled a good bit of writing from. There are still a few books written by Ágota Kristof left to be translated from French into English. It is my hope that this occurs sooner rather than later as I am unfortunately running out of time. And I am confident in my solemn sadness that I am not alone, but rather inclusively stirring, in my sinking ship....more
After completing this quick read I was reminded of my very first sighting of the Chrysler Building in New York City just after coming out of the hole in exiting the subway. I immediately remarked to my companion that day that this building is the one that should really be the Empire State Building. My guide that day long ago got quite a kick out of my country bumpkin statement. But it was true at that time. The magnificence of first lighting eyes on this wildly extravagant building gave me pause to wonder what other structure in this humongous city could possibly be any more remarkable than this one I was faced with? And was not the Empire State Building the one attraction all the tourists flock to? I have since given up that feeling for the Chrysler Building and have grown rather fond of regularly seeing the Empire State Building breaking into view while heading uptown on Broadway. But Requiem: A Hallucination had the same affect on me as that first morning did in New York.
Suffice to say that this book is exactly what I have been looking for between the covers of the two Italo Calvino books I have thus far engaged in. And as dead as Calvino's writing is to me the opposite is true of Antonio Tabucchi. Now, smarter people than I could most likely explain why this is true. But I, for the life of me, cannot begin to try, other than to say I have felt my way through every page of this small gem of a book and nary felt a thing while reading Calvino. So perhaps this a quasi review of both short books, this Requiem: A Hallucination and Calvino's Mr. Palomar.
But how is it that one respected writer can make a reader feel something and another does not, when both use language in which to proceed from? Of course, in a way this is not fair, as Calvino is writing in Italian and Tabucchi in Portuguese, and both works have been translated into English by completely different translators. But even if a foul has been made how is it that the words of one may ring so hollow and the other come to break so deeply in my soul? I am wont to always return to my theory of a writer's personality (or translator's) having been present in the work and that personality being of a person I am attracted to or find extremely interesting. Antonio Tabucchi is one very cool dude. I love the way his mind works, and the people he visits with, whether true or made-up characters in a fictional world made so very real to me. And if this world is not at all of material substance it matters little to me as the dream is one I am attracted to anyway.
This was a short and lovely piece that I wish had not ended so soon for me. But as other readers and admirers of this little book have said, it is one that must be revisited and enjoyed again. In addition I also learned some interesting recipes and was also introduced to the writer Fernando Pessoa, and for that I am grateful again. And again. ...more
First it is a fantasy, brutal but fun, about a couple of lies and a boy named Tobias Horvath who changes his name to Sandor Lestor because of something terrible he thinks he has done back in his country of origin. A couple noteworthy events for me early on were that Sandor does not much like babies period, and he is tired of sex for fun. He wants only the woman he loves named Line, who just so happens to also be his half sister. But unsurprisingly she is not available and hasn't anyway any idea of their familial relationship. Line simply remembers their time together as young students in the same class. Sandor also almost desperately wants to be a famous writer and upon his certain success return to his original name of Tobias Horvath. But, no doubt, this is a sad story about resorting to an un-resortful life. It is a fantasy about love and failure, of whether being rich or poor is remarkable enough, or even if acquiring an education really matters. So almost anything I might have to say about this book would spoil the already too-short read which I have to say I really loved. But allow me a different tack.
It is hard to know how near to death, or what scrapes the common lad has had with the grim reaper, but what I do know is the awful dread and sick feeling that comes with being in the face of it. Of course, my brush with darkness can easily be discounted by those having had a real consequence. But let me tell you, it was the very first time in sixty plus years of living that in a fitful dream I died, and I didn't like it. Not one bit. All the countless times I have come near to dying in my dreams I have awakened with a start, relieved that I escaped that finality, an ending for me that felt so real and certain one day to come. For years I have held to my theory that when that moment came in the dream, when I saw or experienced my own dying, the actual end would come for me as well. But here I am, still kicking, and none the worse perhaps for the wear. But all day this frightful dream has stuck with me, gnawing at me, needling me in dreadful ways. Not one moment has passed today that I am feeling both grateful to still be alive and somehow aghast at how quickly my end might actually arrive. But because my dream-death was due to an accident, a mistake on my part, of me not following my gut when I knew damn-well better, something that has become a sort of trend for me it seems these days, it is that I also feel guilty and ashamed. It has been the strangest experience for me living every minute today with the feeling of my own death as if it really happened. And it weighs heavily on me as well for all the many times throughout my life as a carpenter, traveler, drug and alcohol abuser, promiscuous adventurer, outdoorsman, and general sinner that I have escaped serious injury because of my carelessness or ignorance in my denying a dangerous situation. I imagine it must be that immature feeling for thinking one is immortal.
The dream began as a simple hike through the woods accompanied by my youngest adult son. If others were with us I do not recall. I remember hiking on what might resemble a wooded ski trail, sort of like the trails cut out of the woods for cross-country skiing, but it wasn't winter, and there was no snow this time of year, but I could see the approaching hill being such that we would be attempting a climb of stunning proportions. I also knew we were hiking backwards on the trail, as nobody would ever climb this particular hill on snow skis. It was definitely meant to ski down on and not climb. I even found it a bit unbelievable that anyone could actually successfully ski down it and not be killed. But here I was climbing this enormously steep hill with my almost thirty year-old son. The entire trail was loose, grainy sand and it was very difficult to get a proper footing and make any headway considered plausible. In this dream I was physically crippled a bit just as I am in real life due to a fall from my cabin roof three years ago. My knee was not surgically repaired for such athletic activity as this particular hike and climb, and it has not the strength other knees have, and in addition, no lateral movement at all. It is insane to think I would even have attempted a climb like this outside of a dream. And I remember thinking these thoughts in the course of events throughout my dream. Ultimately it became impossible for me to continue trudging uphill and I remember thinking, and perhaps saying aloud, that there would absolutely be no way to climb this hill in winter when ice or snow was covering it. We returned home, wherever that was, and consulted an acquaintance or friend there who suggested we take what amounted to a sled ride down the same steep hill for the reason I suppose to familiarize ourselves over what we may have missed from not conquering it from climbing up from the bottom.
Now it was winter, or the surface at least had been prepared to slide belly first along the track of ice. At first the downhill ride was enjoyable, slowly gaining speed and feeling the snow scraping against my clothes just as I did in the old days as a small child. But then the speed increased to such degrees that I began to get nervous and feel I was losing control of my sled. My son was also belly-first sliding ahead of me and seemed to be holding his own. I panicked a bit and for a moment froze in my thinking over what I might do to get myself back on track. Rounding another curve hell-bent for speed and preparing to head down what I thought to be the worst part, my body, almost spontaneously, left the track and flew off the side of a steep cliff. Next thing I knew I was preparing for another ride, realizing my previous mistake, more than confounded by how I did not die from the previous great fall, knowing this time that to successfully maneuver my way down I would have to wrap my arms around what now appeared in my dream as a track raised slightly above the surface of the snow. I held on for dear life as it reminded me of a roller coaster ride, which I hate, and successfully, almost naturally, I made my way to the bottom of the hill without incident. It was then, at the bottom of the hill, that I knew something was not right. All of our gathered crowd was looking at each other in a very strange way and my stomach knew something critical was missing and it felt like it might be me. Intuitively I was impelled to ask them if it were I who was really dead? They all nodded solemnly in agreement. My wife was present, standing there and looking at me lovingly. It was obvious my son could still see me clearly, but soon I noticed that for him my form was beginning to fade. My wife could still see me clearly but we both knew I would never be physically in our lives again. I had become a mere spectator of life. I remember having this dire sense of extreme responsibility to watch over and protect both my wife and son but I did not know how I would be able to do so without a body, with no hands, and a now-fading voice.
It seemed we all were gathered together in a room for some time. The group was conversing pretty much as nothing had happened, at least it was obvious to me that life had gone on without me. What struck me the most in my feeling of shock at being a dead man surrounded by the living was how much my wife actually did seem to love me. She wasn't sobbing or sad I was gone, but still she was treating me as if I was much a part of her life as I always had been, but with the knowledge that though she could still see me she would never know me again physically. Of course I began to wonder about the other men in the world who would find her attractive and begin flirting or courting her and offering her attentions that I no longer could provide. Almost immediately in my dream a certain man I cannot recall the name or what he looked like did indeed hit on her and she promptly refused his advances. But I knew in my heart while considering my dilemma as a harmless spirit that one day she would be vulnerable to an advance. At some point in her life she would need someone, and the right man might speak to her in the proper setting and win her heart that I knew would be lonely and aching for something besides her constant aloneness. I reasoned that at that point my spirit life would most likely end.
Within minutes of my realization that I was dead, and the acknowledgment of all present that indeed I was, I felt my son, unlike his mother, quickly losing his connection to me. He could not see me as clearly as I knew my wife still did. At the instant the stranger was hitting on my wife my son was beginning to leave with another group of men that I remember as having a very strong personality for a leader. The new gang leader reminded me of the actor Gary Oldman still playing the scary and dangerous character he has portrayed often in films such as True Romance. I wanted to warn my son that he was beginning to go down a very dangerous and slippery path by following this sick man and whatever scheme he had talked my son into participating in. This group was heading away on this mission when I left my wife and her persistent suitor to follow behind my son and somehow devise a way in which to protect him. Every step for me seemed to portend a bad ending for the adult child I had loved so much and cared so deeply for.
The attitude prevailed within this group of criminals that they were on a job that was supposedly a sure thing. A piece of cake. I watched them as they approached a very nice home and were preparing to enter it illegally. A break-in to steal valuables was all I could think of. I just knew this was a murderous setup, that something terrible was about to happen concerning guns and other violent weapons. Here my son, in his own way, was going to make a mistake similar to what his father had done and his life could very well end or certainly be altered in ways unimaginable to me. The dread of this portending danger was killing me again. It was then I awoke from the nightmare of my life.
There was much for me to consider in my dream. I cannot say I enjoyed myself. I am certain I would rather read about it happening to someone other than myself. ...more
He says to me, "We're all dying of one thing or another. That's what all the experts say, anyway." "What else do they say, the experts?" "That the world is fucked. And that there's nothing to do about it. It's too late."
My wife and I have an English Golden Retriever, a cream-colored animal, a thoroughbred of the dog genus, handsome, smart, dignified, with nary a mean bone in his body. Still a pup, he loves to play and wrestle hard, but at two-and-a-half years old now he is gradually maturing. But he isn't the typical humanized domestic pet. He moseys around the house to whatever room we might be in in order to check-in once and a while, but rarely does he hang out with the two of us, that is, my wife and I, we being leftovers and the extent of our family at home these days. We believe we are witnessing again, in doggy world lingo, an only-child syndrome. A situation in which there is perhaps too much togetherness within our present family of three, and the dog-child ends up needing more space and sense of its own separateness, as in protecting his precious autonomy. My wife, at times, thinks perhaps Bob doesn't like us, or is pouting, or even as our own human son for a time exhibited, an awful, erratic teenage attitude. But I think Bob the dog is simply letting us know he is an animal, that he likes being an animal, and though he appreciates being fed and looked after by us two-legged people he has no desire to be moulded into some anthropomorphic version of a lap dog we see other dog owners seemingly so proud of and comfortable with. Golden Retrievers are known to be people-dogs, loving and tender, a true friend for their entire life span. Bob is one cool character, though a bit aloof, and his adoptive parents are too, in the sense we are friendly enough to acquaintances but have no great desire to be best friends and hang out together. Our dog, as they say, has taken on the personality of his owners. And that anecdote related above is basically how I felt while reading this wonderful trilogy written by Ágota Kristof.
To be more forthcoming I would describe the novel as being brief sentences erupting from a fragmented mind. It is a trilogy that easily takes one in, seamlessly connects the reader emotionally, and generates a momentum and desire to read through to the end. Great story lines, but still none you can really count on. There are lies aplenty here, with fictions enough to get us everywhere we need to go. But it isn't always where we want to be. I much rather preferred the first book, The Notebook, to the last two. However, I did enjoy very much the second book titled The Proof. By the time I got to book three it was both understandable and disconcerting to me for it to be called The Third Lie. But what is a serious and addictive reader to do?
There is really nothing for me to say to expound on anything gifted others have already said about this trilogy. For me, there was something very enjoyable in reading it and also it was discomfiting in a perverted sort of way. I absolutely loved the sex scenes, and they seemed to be little enough, though they were placed just where they needed to be. I also think it helped that this particular woman wrote them. I loved that, and she made me wish for more indiscretions involving her characters. But that is not at all what the books were about. If a reader is looking for an aggressive war novel there is plenty of that going on, but the story comes at you as collateral damages instead of gallant, patriotic victories we seem to be so inundated with today.
There is a distance to cross in this master work. But there is also a gap in it that cannot be bridged. The book is most certainly a tender love story that remains for me aloof. Just as Bob the dog is the most loving animal on the planet he steadfastly protects his sacred space. I have to believe The Notebook Trilogy does so too.
I go to bed and before falling asleep I talk to Lucas in my head the way I have for many years. What I tell him is just about what I usually do. I tell him if he's dead he's lucky and I'd very much like to be in his place. I tell him he got the better deal, that it is I who is pulling his greater weight. I tell him that life is totally useless, that it's nonsense, an aberration, infinite suffering, the invention of a non-God whose evil surpasses understanding....more
First, this title came highly recommended. And the novel for me began with a bang but then quickly fizzled into something unexpected, like a personal fact-filled and chronological childhood memoir of sorts. Because of this unthinkable development my doubts rose and my spirits waned. I engaged again my reading friends and expressed to them my troubled mind. They assured me to continue on, that soon enough this author Jens would woo me in again with his hateful vitriol. The fact the author was Scandinavian did much to already insure my allegiance as I myself am perfectly a half-Finn. In addition, I knew already that Jens himself had committed suicide by hanging so for that event alone he most certainly had hops with me. All my favorite authors commit suicide, or will eventually, that is if an auto accident or some disease fails to get them first. But the novel seemed to have morphed into something more conventional and it just didn't feel right to me. The strong and vicious opening pages were comparable to the graphically violent work of one Josef Winkler whom I had been reading prolifically for the last few months and who was quickly, and violently, doing me in.
But almost as soon as I expressed to my friends the morbid concerns I had over the novel it turned course, and in its way, anecdotally investigated a neighbor's suicide which again got me consulting my own research texts that I am wont to do in such cases in which the writing moves me in ways that are hard otherwise to explain. It was his words a la fenestra that got my attention. The phrase means going to the seventh or eighth floor window for a resolute leap. And from the eighth floor a leap to one's death results in …remains gathered up with a putty knife and a sponge… People splash dreadfully.
From the subject of suicide the text then moved swiftly into all matter of concerns regarding the futility of life on earth. Bjørneboe hastened to demonstrate on the page how chaos abounds and our crust is certainly unstable, as is our fiery universe.
…at bottom all matter is explosive. We eat our sandwiches, pursue our love lives, are born and die on the lid of a powder keg journeying in the cosmos…Furthermore the cosmos itself is located in the middle of a gigantic explosion, with the galaxies fleeing from each other at a speed considerably greater than that of light… Without laughter you sit fast in the pool of excrement, and you will slowly go into decomposition, into autolysis, you will fall apart, and yourself turn into living excrement.
But in the meantime I suppose it to be Bjørneboe who also goes on to show how the great art works in the history of the world are certainly remarkable, and well worth preserving for as many generations as possible. And we all should know that great art is unexampled in its feeling.
The deeper the feeling, said Leonardo, the greater the pain.
The connection Jens Bjørneboe made to public executions and art is notable as well. The subject of public hangings directed me to another study of sorts in the course through the centuries that public hangings evolved to. The length of rope being the most important development due to mathematical calculations based on performing the most humane of executions possible. A shortened rope being the preferred method for the most extreme torture possible through suffocation and slow death of fifteen to twenty minutes. Whereas a rope too long, combined with a sudden drop, made for likely decapitation and a public outcry. Precise math was used to calculate the safe distance to fall based on the victim's weight and height, and an execution which would assure a quick death with little to no mess.
All the great great masters from Tuscany's ateliers took their sketchbooks along when they went to watch the public executions.
It is likely the period covered in this novel coincides to the author's own lifetime. World War II was the deadliest military conflict in history. Over 60 million people were killed, which was over 2.5% of the world population. 26.6 million Soviets alone died during the period of 1939 through 1945. For me, both World War II and the holocaust weigh heavy on me, myself being born in 1953, the son of a U.S. Navy sailor who just happened to go to shore with his commanding officer in order to procure trophy memorabilia it seems for the commander after the atomic bomb named "Fat-Man" destroyed the Japanese city of Nagasaki. I know of nothing my father gained in his walking tour of the destruction except for a story to tell and the kudos he garnered for accompanying his boss on shore.
…The truth is also that we were tired, tired as people get after wars — we were so tired of it that we quite simply performed the necessary on what happened in Japan.
I've noticed the narrator performs the necessary on quite a few events throughout this book. It sounds a bit harsh, or extremely indifferent, but history had been hard on many who suffered through the periods covering both world wars. It has been reported that the author himself in 1943 escaped the Nazi Germans occupying Norway for neutral Sweden in order to not be sent to a forced labor camp. The narrator speaks of the time he spent in Stockholm often in this text. He is a hard drinker and composes much of his writing while under the influence just as the author did. Bjørneboe has been reported to have begun drinking at the age of twelve, suffering extreme bouts of depression and sickness. At thirteen he attempted suicide by hanging himself. Finally, in 1976, after finding no relief from his continued alcoholism and depression, Bjørneboe committed suicide at the end of a rope.
Many years ago, back in a time when I was an adolescent, there was a program on sixties television about the life and death of Abraham Lincoln. I remember being completely enamored with the man and upon viewing on TV his assassination in the Ford Theater I was devastated. My grief was unequaled at that time and rarely has it surfaced to that same degree as the subsequent years have gone by. After the program was over I remember going to my bedroom and sobbing in my bed for the longest time. The emotional pain involved in the dread of my own impending death was remarkable enough to me to have never forgotten that night in the course, at this writing, of over sixty years of them. There have been moments in the reading of this book similar to those same feelings that occurred for me so many years ago.
I was dying because I lived in unfreedom without knowing it, and because unfreedom is naturally more comfortable than freedom: it disperses, or even frees one from, the responsibility of having an existence. Only through the courage of despair can you grasp a handful of freedom. Freedom is not a thing you receive, it's something you take for yourself without asking anybody whether what you're doing is right or moral or harmful or good.
I am still not exactly sure why the narrator mentions the word lemurs so often. It is quite possible he was creatively labeling Teutons due to the cataclysmic shift in the world after WWII. Mythical accounts of the supposed ancient continent of Lemuria differ. It is also believed that man himself evolved somewhere in southern Asia, or possibly, still further south than the present boundary of Asia, in lands now drowned by the Indian Ocean due to some geological change. This supposed land was called Lemuria. He also uses the phrase little bears as well for a handle for all peoples of the world. The author Jens Bjørneboe himself was a center of unrest. He always ruthlessly followed his innermost intentions and knew no other guide than his personal conviction and his own impulses. His passion and concerns ultimately did him in.
For me, Jens Bjørneboe's personality certainly comes through while reading this novel, which now that I am over it I might deem a masterpiece, but not first without admitting to shedding some blood and sweat of my own before arriving at this assessment. The last six pages of the book are completely startling and upsetting given recent mass murders and shooting rampages in my own country today. I certainly subscribe now to the theory that it just might be best to beware the hard cider drinker or a seemingly rare foehn wind....more
Any of my friends here on goodreads who wish to have a copy of this book to read in pdf form please message me with your email address and I will be hAny of my friends here on goodreads who wish to have a copy of this book to read in pdf form please message me with your email address and I will be happy to send you a pdf file. The book is also available in both softcover and hardcover additions now at the url address in the listing. And sometimes the book is available on amazon.com
Stamped Against the Night was first conceived in northern Michigan one early morning in June of 2013. My wife and I have a cabin in which we spend the entire summer communing with nature and recharging our cells. Our cabin is what I call "glorified camping" as it is only six hundred square feet and has a toilet most women would certainly abhor. There is nothing fancy or convenient about our summer digs. We have no television and the internet is suspect at best in that part of the country. Wireless phone service is purported to be updated to the highest quality but I have yet to have enjoyed or made solid proof of that same experience. Each of our days are reserved for morning walks in the Huron National Forest, and on the very warmest afternoons we drive into the beaches of Lake Huron where my wife can swim in friendly fresh water that resembles an ocean to anyone who has ever visited this Great Lakes region. But every morning before taking off on one of our daily outdoor activities I sit in a chair I have had for the last eight years and read to my heart's content. I have to myself at least two hours each morning, quite early, and before anyone but the dog might bother me. It is after this morning's reading is complete that I prepare to compose whatever it is that I am inspired as a writer to produce that day on the page. I decided on this particular morning in June to attempt consecutively everyday to write one legal page of whatever impelled me to put my pen to paper. The text would be poetry, but narrative in scope if I could actually accomplish composing an entire page lyrically. I had no plan for subject, but would let whatever should come to me freely as something I felt no part in only as conduit. This method reminded me of the recently resurrected poet Jack Spicer who claimed the gods instructed him what to write. He even confessed he let the words on the page be exactly as they were received, and he never revised. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that Jack Spicer was delusional as well as a mediocre poet.
In the process I was previously describing there were times I rejected a word or two that entered my consciousness as I felt I was projecting a bit of myself and getting in my own way. It was rather amazing how well the words came to me when I removed myself from the creative activity and just became its secretary. I operated like this for as many days as we were at the cabin which amounted to sixty-eight total due to two trips away involving about a week of not writing anything at all. But I never really knew what I was doing, only that it was a daily routine I trusted and never wavered from. The only changes in my day were in the books I was reading, completing, and newly beginning throughout the entire process. I am sure what I did read influenced what I wrote, but I was nonetheless open to whatever might come of it.
Upon my return to our home base in Louisville in September of 2013 I began the long and somewhat arduous task of transcribing the legal pages onto my computer while revising each poem in the process of my entering them. The most I could ever hope to file in a day would be three or four pieces, and most times I only got one or two poems entered into my machine. It was painfully boring work and something I did not want to do. I still had no idea what the body meant or what I was accomplishing except for the vow I had made to myself that I would complete the burdensome affair only when it became clear to me just what it was. I trusted in my process. I had complete faith and remained, in fact, this totally ignorant for months. On three consecutive occasions during the fall of 2013 as I was editing and revising I would report to my wife that I had made another complete pass through the entire work and surprisingly still had no idea what it was. I felt it might be a novel more than a book of poems, but I remained disconnected to anything that could clarify my uncanny position of willful servant to the work.
In the process of my first beginning the book and on to the present point, I now found myself having read already twice the brilliant new novel John the Posthumous by Jason Schwartz as well as another disturbing affair by Josef Winkler titled When the Time Comes. Among all the books I had recently been reading these two made the greatest impact on me. Subsequently it was again Josef Winkler in his Flowers for Jean Genet in which I finally had my breakthrough regarding my own laborious activity. Josef Winkler seems to always incorporate outsider's quotes he deems necessary to his text, and I found these quotes added much to my understanding of his work. These quotes also got me interested in more writers I had previously been unaware of and compelled me to purchase additional books by these unfamiliar authors. I decided then to go back through all of my own notes I had made since 1995 when I first began studying under Gordon Lish. Because of Lish I learned of specific philosophers and their work and was feverishly devouring everything I could of these great thinkers and taking notes throughout my fevered reading. My now independent study naturally progressed to countless others in the arts and I began to grow both as a reader and a writer. Throughout these many years I filled four spiral notebooks with heart-felt mind-exploding quotes I had lifted from their work.
But it had always troubled me over what I was to eventually do with all these notebooks and the knowledge and secrets they held. I thus began going through them all and painstakingly transcribing certain quotes applicable to the feeling involved within the body of narrative poems I had composed throughout the entire summer in Michigan. After compiling a good number of them I decided to begin choosing which quotes might go with which poems, and then realized early in the process that this was where these quotes truly belonged. It was at this point in the composition of Stamped Against the Night that I learned I had amassed a total of sixty-eight chapters that summer and needed that same number of quotes to complete my new-found mission. They were not at all hard to find as each quote chosen by feel fit in exactly as if I had planned the entire exhibition. It is my hope that you enjoy the book as much as I did in writing it.
Just last week I was first introduced to the work of Josef Winkler in his brilliant title When the Time Comes. Until finishing this title today I had not ever had any exposure to Jean Genet. Flowers For Jean Genet provided a vehicle for my introduction to him and a further study of the work of Josef Winkler. What I was not aware of when first diving into this book was the construction behind it being a bit of a travelogue in the spirit of W.G. Sebald as well as a biographical piece on Jean Genet made up of consulted texts written by Genet himself and other of his biographers and critics. Interspersed throughout all this was Winkler's anecdotes of similar personal experiences or parallel lives having a proximity of sorts with Genet. There were times Winkler retold an anecdote regarding Genet who Winkler never met in the flesh but certainly has some spiritual connection to him. If this sounds confusing, it was, but only in the beginning as I left these pages from time to time to do some research on my own regarding both of these characters.
The basic premise behind Flowers For Jean Genet was Winkler's quest to find his grave in a Spanish cemetery in Larache about an hour-and-a-half from Tangiers. He took a trip from Austria in which to do this, and had a special notebook he kept and referred to from time to time in his travels. There was never any text within this book actually footnoted for its source, and it is highly doubtful the publishing editor "fact-checked" this information. As biographical and autobiographical as this entire book was in regards to both Jean Genet and Josef Winkler this reader must assume this work would be designated a fiction, much as Sebald and that Australian rapscallion Gerald Murnane enjoy marking their own quite personal work with the same brand as well. It is a classification I am noticing of late as getting more and more legs, and it encourages me to do more of the same in my own published pieces. All of the source books used in Flowers For Jean Genet were noted in the back of the book, but it is up to the reader to do her own footnoting and fact-checking if she deems it necessary and useful. I do not. But this fine piece of literature has gotten my interest curled for reading all of Winkler's work now and even delving a bit more into the already dead Jean Genet.
Each of the fifteen chapters in this book has a roman numeral and a significant title. I love great titles to poems and take exhaustive cumbrance in providing them in my own work. This great fiction is riddled with long and fascinating titles to each chapter and I am not particularly sure they actually have anything to do with the text that follows them. But my titles don't generally either, and I consider these types of titles separate artworks of their own and an added benefit to reading these books. It is again quite possible that Winkler did not "make up" his own titles but instead lifted each title from a text of Genet's, but I would be hard-pressed to prove it and really not willing to go the distance to do so. But then, what sort of lout would even care? Some sort of book police or Nazi-type I guess. Or somebody who might consider Winkler a bit to "rebarbative" as I have seen him described as such. But I see no such thing, but wouldn't mind at all if he was. If the titles actually are valued loot lifted from the bountiful Genet then take it as reverence for the man and the artist made. As for me, I cannot wait to receive the next paginated issuance of Winkler's in the mail and I look forward to reading it and learning more about this interesting man my age from Austria. ...more
It has been widely enough reported that Josef Winkler is scornful to a degree I think I can be enamored with. He despises the Catholic church, and I would think most religions because of it. He feels contempt toward the Germans, specifically Nazis, and any authority meant to restrain and contain its populace. He is definitely not a lover of hard labor, and farming he despises. He did not like his dad, and in one article written by translator Adrian West it was reported Winkler was only hugged once by him and that was for helping to exterminate all the rats in the cellar of their farmhouse. I have yet to discover if Winkler has had any children of his own in which to alter the family history into something a bit more palatable for those yet to come. Josef Winkler is well-versed in tragedy and his family and acquaintances are riddled with it. What he believes and remembers he feels important enough to keep repeating. And history, he shows, is his great reminder.
It is true that in this book When the Time Comes there is no clean plot and no readily identifiable characters in which to relate to. But I took notes. Three legal pages full of my scribbling. I began to construct a pattern and soon was amazed at the number of names Josef Winkler used to produce his gargantuan ossuary. Pleasantries within these lives escaped my reading of this vast collection of family, friends, and acquaintances who all would find their place among the other many dead with none no longer left near dying. In approaching the end of my reading it supposed on me the awful truth that none of us escape this final act, and the categorical reporting here was supersaturated to the extent that the reader should come to accept the same fate would happen, and specifically in my case, to me. And it did, and does for my time being on the page and for the remaining moments left for me to ponder this fate before getting back to the object for my living on this earth and developing in my own mind its meaning.
Josef Winkler regularly employs in his writing the use of repetition. He is not the first to do so and it is an effective way to make ones point clear even in the face of ambiguity of which there is none too little of in this book. Instead of naming names outright Winkler instead writes the person out by signifying them with phrases such as, "Lazarus with the fat earlobes" or "my fat and toothless grandmother". So these became my notes, and at some point along the text a name would occur to him and be applied mysteriously to one or another of his secret characters. There would be no possible result of my remembering or keeping these people straight without my taking thorough notes. And in the process of my taking them I wondered why and the reason for this seeming nonsensical behavior. It felt early on I had come too far to stop, and it wasn't until I neared the end of the book that I knew I no longer needed to take them. Which was my hope in the first place, and now the proof of my lost time and possibly useless labor.
The title When the Time Comes reveals the essence of the book as it applies to all of us the same. There will come a time and we, or others in our stead, should come prepared for it. I shan't bore you with all of the details, but I do believe the following information will be of use to you, the next reader, of this tale. In no way does what follow ruin anything for you, the reader, or act as a spoiler of sorts as there really is no rhyme nor reason for any plot or accounting except an almost complete listing of the dead and how they got that way. I am still not even sure of what I read.
The bone collector, Maxmilian Kirchheimer, is the main character. His youngest brother is Reinhard Kirchheimer. These boys are both still living, getting on in age, and almost everybody else isn't except for their dad whose name the best I can figure, given the abundant labyrinth of information, is Oswald Kirchheimer. The most seriously important details you need to know about Maxmilian is that he was an acolyte who took iron pills and read Karl May books. He also spit in his cousin Egon's face but also enjoyed playing football with him. There is nothing of note about his little brother Reinhard other than he is one of five children born to father Oswald and a mother who for some reason remained nameless and for the most part unmentioned throughout the text. Her parents were Paula and August Rosenfelder. August was an alcoholic and mean enough that his daughter-in-law bleached his throat. At some point old August discovered his wife Paula strangled by a calf halter up in the attic. Some time after this grave event August hung himself as well.
It wasn't clear to me in which order the children born to Florian and Elisabeth Kirchheimer came other than the first being a son Lazarus and the last also a son named Friedham. There were only two girls, those being Hildegard and Helene. Somewhere stuck in the middle of the lot were Maxmilian's father Oswald and another brother Eduard. Aunt Waltrid owned a pastry shop and was married to Eduard. She died two days before Christmas and Eduard was too drunk to attend her funeral. Friedham grew up to be a war correspondent and also at some point threatened to cut off Maximilian's genitals with a knife. Oswald's hunchback sister Hildegard was childless and married to Willibald Zitterer who smoked a pipe and died of lung cancer. Hildegard had arthritis and in her old age urine would constantly stream down her legs. Sister Helene was married to a carpenter who revered Hitler. The couple had a daughter named Karin who would run to her Aunt Hildegard and Uncle Willibald to escape her violent and fascist father. As a child, Oswald had a finger cut off while working in the hay fields and he also almost died in a nasty fall from high up in a hayloft. Oswald's uncle Ingo took a bullet in WWII and ended up in an insane asylum. Oswald's father Florian, brother to Ingo, commissioned the first power plant in Pulsnitz. He had cancer of the gallbladder and enjoyed dressing Maxmilian before school until the young boy complained of improprieties enough that his mother told her father-in-law to stop.
Maxmilian's father Oswald had many relationships that were southerly at best especially when he was chosen to take over the farm ahead of his older brother Lazarus who was described as having fat earlobes and who also drove a Mercedes. George Fuhrman pissed in some sausage meat and pushed Oswald's face in it. Otmar Hafner was Oswald's best friend who didn't walk until he was six years old. Otmar had a brother named Klaus who had a son Roman who hung himself in a hayloft with a calf halter which set off the rash of suicides in the first place. Klaus went on to try killing his own self twice before finally succeeding by being poisoned, trapped within his car's exhaust.
I am not sure what it was about the Hasslacher family but after young Leopold hung himself along with his friend Jonathan Stinehart by using the same rope, two of his other brothers decided to do likewise albeit separately it is assumed. Adam the Third Philippitsch was unlucky and found Leopold and Jonathan hanging from the rafters and was good enough to cut them down and notify their families. The mother of Jonathan, Katharina Stinehart, had her breasts removed as did Anita Felfernig who was the village's first television owner despite having seven hungry children and who also died of breast cancer despite her own actions taken to control the disease. It just dawned on me that Anita was most likely the mother of Ludmilla Felfernig who at fifteen years old started her first menstrual period and not knowing what it was began to run when the other schoolchildren teased her. She smeared the blood that was drifting down her legs on Calvary which was erected in the center of town by the pastor and painter Balthasar Kranabeter. Ludmilla then proceeded in her frantic despair to hurl herself off the Drava Bridge. She drowned caught in the grating far below. In addition, a friend of Katharina Stinehart's was struck by a truck while riding her bicycle to the Stineharts. Her name was Ms. Lakonig who was married to Mr. Lakonig who went by the name of Wilfried.
And there are just so many others to list and profile such as Miss Dorflinger who was a sorceress who refused to die, standing outside, being pelted by hail, and I would be remiss if I did not mention at least Leopoldine Felsberger, daughter of Paula and August Rosenfelder, married to Matthias Felsberger and mother to Maximilian's mother as well as brothers Kajetan and Michael who died in WWII as did so many others also worth mentioning but out of time to do so now.
One thing all of these fine people had in common was that religion did not save them. In fact, much was done in the name of religion to harm them. And keeping the family farms profitable and working was not always the best of ideas given the number of fingers and lives lost in the process. But my reading of this history was great fun, but hardly a laugh a minute. It was instead a piling up of bones. "In the clay vessel in which, from the bones of slaughtered animals, the putrid-smelling bone stock was distilled, to be painted on the horses with a crow's feather in the summer heat, around the eyes and nostrils, and on the belly, to protect them from the pricking and bloodsucking horseflies and mosquitoes...."
Perhaps not wrapped as tight as the text I read, it still feels as if the effort was justified, though not so convinced enough to bet another life on it. But I would certainly be interested in hearing what any others not willing to hide behind their mother's skirts might have to say about their reading of this too. The closest reading of late that I can compare this fine work to would be John the Posthumous by Jason Schwartz. Both writers seem to lyrically compile major lists and study their history in words that make it an awful lot for a body to consume. Even in light of several balanced servings....more
Though I skipped the last two sections for now, as I am not familiar with either artist nor am I interested at this time in learning about them, the bThough I skipped the last two sections for now, as I am not familiar with either artist nor am I interested at this time in learning about them, the bulk of the magazine, precisely all of it chronologically leading up to and ending at the music section, I still rate this work as five stars and a wonder. Anybody interested in Gerald Murnane would benefit from reading this issue and I cannot compliment or praise the editors of this periodical enough for the care in which their focus remains steadfast on the artists they are profiling for us. There does not seem at all to be an agenda such is found in most other litmags, especially those that vie for our attentions online.
In this issue the fan of Gerald Murnane may discover an interview of same, letters to and from, several critical reviews of most all of his oeuvre published thus far, a new work of Murnane's, and an old work never before published, as well as the announcement of two additional books of Murnane's forthcoming. I was enthralled throughout my entire reading and cannot recommend this issue strongly enough.
There is much to be said about this great Australian writer and I eagerly anticipate the oncoming traffic sure to be heading this way. ...more
Thank goodness for me I am courageous enough to break the rules. Even in the face of a serious suggestion to read the works of Gerald Murnane in the order in which they were written, still I refused and read them as the books came to me in the U.S. mail. First I read The Plains and that pleased me to no small degree and enough so that I could not wait to get my hands on another one. The next one available to me for reading was Barley Patch and that one was different, and a review of previous works, a sequel so to speak, but still I got the feel for Murnane and what he was up to in his so-called true fiction. This title Landscape with Landscape is so unlike either of the first two novels I read that initially I was spooked over what I had gotten myself into. But Murnane doesn't change too much in between the times it takes to write his books. He may, or may not, get better. This collection is a group of loosely connected short fictions which in some cases are basically novellas and rich as can be with all the themes of a full-length Murnane offering. I am flat-out amazed at this Aussie's talent.
It is one thing to write a review about a novel and quite another to remark on a collection of loosely connected stories. Given they are all fictions, this is the one thread they all have in common with each other. That and their impressive genius in their composition. Not to mention the complete engagement, even going into them highly doubtful of this development, but exceedingly pleased with the fabulous results. Of course, Gerald Murnane is not for everybody. And I am not here to shame anyone for not liking nor respecting him for being the great writer that he certainly is. His work is no different than songs by certain bands we like, or symphonies composed by artists the like we shall never see or ever hear from again. It is a matter of taste, and mine goes to something as my friend Gordon Lish describes as being "unexampled in its feeling".
The first story in this collection is titled Landscape with Freckled Woman. Stating from the very beginning that the speaker is the only man in a neighborhood committee that numbers nine women and himself, I was a bit skeptical that there would be much of interest for me here as I generally like to hide from these types of organizations, as does Murnane obviously as well. But almost immediately Murnane had me interested in his secret memory and how it affected his relationship with all these women at the table. His evolving ideas of who he once was and now is vastly alters the changing landscape that Murnane is always focused on. The one woman the speaker chooses to reveal to us besides a brief countenance regarding the president, is flawed in her appearance and has freckles, or marks on her skin, that makes her more real to him and worthy of conversation with as he is a writer and interested in these types of landscapes. But of course, he cannot reveal too much of himself to her as he is not gifted in the gab necessary to converse with members of the opposite sex so instead he tells us, the reader, everything he wishes he could intimately disclose to the freckled woman. It is an amazing story and I felt it to be a great beginning to this collection, but doubtful he could continue this thread of excellence in the remaining five entrees to come.
The second story in this collection is titled Sipping the Essence. In this story Murnane actually has names for his characters which is unusual based on the previous two books I have read thus far. But these characters are delicious and so are their names. Kelvin Durkin plays the lead character's best friend and really isn't much of a friend but somebody it seems the lead needs to talk to and bounce his ideas off or perhaps compare himself to. They are unlike each other in numerous ways except for their inexperience with women and that is the driving force in the story as they both are interested in the same girl. This story is so rich in its telling and one of the very best stories I have ever read. Kelvin Durkin ends up being a richly formed character of the first rank. The lead an awkward drunk who makes his own concoctions of liquors and juice or whatever he gets into his head as worth drinking. But his thinking is superb. He digresses enough to challenge the best of Sebald's adventures on the page. And Murnane is supremely clever and sadly funny about the true facts of life and we need to hear them coming from him and in the way in which he informs us. Unrequited love is the basis for the unfinished business between the three main characters. And the tale is rich and full of dreams and woe.
The third story is titled The Battle of Acosta Nu. Before reading this I did a bit of research as Murnane has admitted to only leaving his hometown of Melbourne once in all his life and this story takes place in Paraguay. His main character is a descendant of a small settlement of Australians. Though his story is fiction it is based on truth, as is all his fiction. In 1893 two thousand men and women led by William Lane left Australia for Paraguay where they established a utopian socialist colony called "New Australia". Paraguay offered the Australian settlers free land in order to help restore the population as just a few years earlier many of their youngest population was lost in a war on their country by serious invaders. The Battle of Acosta Ñu (or Campo Grande) was a battle where on August 16, 1869, 20,000 men of the Triple Alliance fought Paraguayan forces made up of 6,000 soldiers, many of them nine and ten year-old children. There is a national holiday to commemorate the memory of the children who lost their lives in the battle. In October 1957 the town changed its name to Nueva Londres, Spanish for New London. The colony was not a success, but over 2000 descendants can still be found today somewhat scattered into the surrounding area. Of these descendants, the main character in the Murnane story lives with his wife and two children. The manner in which Murnane weaves his tale is remarkable and is believable in very sense of the word. I cannot help but be reminded of Thomas Bernhard or W.G. Sebald in his writing although there isn't the blatant hatred and disgust present in the Murnane text that the above two gents so adroitly use to their advantage. But make no mistake, Murnane is definitely an Australian and proud of it, and wanting always to know more about his continent, country, and its land. Here, in Paraguay, he is again focused on the landscapes he lives in, the land that in his dreams he most loves, and his family which produces the tension needed for his truth to be told. A critically sick son provides the grist for thoughts on religion and spirituality, heaven and hell, nationality and a sense of home, racism, love, bravery, and honorable behavior among other digressions Murnane is so skilled at delivering. Murnane connects the story of The Battle of Acosta Ñu to the war his son is fighting in his hospital room. This, a poignant piece of literature, and of a quality I had no idea I was once again devouring. Will the Murnane brilliance never cease?
The fourth story is titled A Quieter Place than Clun. When I first started reading this after already being quite impressed with the first three works found inside this book, my mind was loosely wandering on its own instead of focusing on the words I was reading. It was immediately obvious to me that Murnane had always felt himself a bit different from others, as definitely not measuring up to the typical norms of the day regarding sports, and girls, and other activities such as the attendance of movies, games, and dancing. The Catholic religion was troubling to him but he was not yet ready to reject its teachings, just as most kids who never question, who are also afraid of rebelling too much against the powers that be. He was always more interested in his own mind, his learning and dreaming of wide expanses that the typical kid was not interested in. His idea of a girlfriend was somebody like himself who was more interested in talking than doing anything in a group or being socially vibrant and engaged. His fantasy held that this girl would find him one day, or he her, but his chances seemed to be slipping away as he observed the other happy couples busily moving through this life in Melbourne. I found it rather interesting how he then wove Thomas Merton and Kentucky into his dream expanse and a fantasy-girl at a North Carolina summer camp reading a book much as he did on an Outer Banks hillside surrounded by Spanish moss. I think in all his subtleties that Gerald Murnane is so very incredible, if you can please excuse me for repeating myself.
"…I decided that falling in love was nothing else than wanting urgently to see a woman's landscape."
The digressions run rampant in this tale of poetry he finds in books on the shelves of bookshops and exterior landscapes. Women, and the homosexuality of A.E. Housman, divide the latter half of this text and add a bit of confusion to the ensuing adventure. A character in the story by the great name of Warwick Whitbread, his wife and his friends, their women's breasts, thighs, and group picnics digressing into a Dylan Thomas idea of writing drunken poetry enough that a potentially-mounting sexual drive should save him from his own writing of it. After seeing enough of breast feedings and bare thighs he moseys down to an overgrown river bank to take care of his two-minute business in order to see if the women's breasts and thighs on his return to the group would still interest him enough to indeed possibly save him from this life of writing and make him be more inclined then to make his own children and raise a family. The problem, in a sense, was solved by his friend Warwick Whitbread by his not inviting our chief character to any more picnic excursions involving the Whitbread family and friends.
The continuing thread of the piece centers on his career as a teacher and his ongoing flight from the women in his building even though he was obviously obsessed with all of them. He moves into a spare room of another friend named the Danziger so he can write his novel that is to take the place of his writing poetry, which was not going much of anywhere of count. But still, our character spends a great deal of time alone holed up in his room or drinking heavily with the Danziger and his wife.
"Every Saturday night the Danziger and his wife went to a party somewhere in the suburbs. They urged me to go with them and bring back a woman to their house. Sometimes I did go, and sat drinking in a corner, hoping some preceptive young woman would notice about me the faint aureole from my fiery pattern of nerves. But always, in the early hours of Sunday, I would go home in a taxi with just the Danziger and his wife."
The story comes full circle to end up back in a solitary room with his book on A.E. Housman, looking onto another landscape in a place more quiet than any he had known. Though revisiting some of his themes of previous sentences I have read by him, he elaborates in ways not yet achieved and offers a different perspective of the same landscapes and self-imposed barriers he has already constructed. I believe this is what he sets out to do. Less dramatic than the previous three in this collection, this story nonetheless is completely satisfying and urges me on to the next installment.
In the beginning I was a bit concerned that I might be subjecting myself, and learning more about Murnane's sexual foibles, than I needed to. Charlie Alcock's Cock is the fifth story and it deals right from the beginning with his own young age, his older female cousins, his curiosity for secrets and sexuality, and all issues he has examined in prior fictions I have previously read. But there is nothing that feels old and worn or repetitive in an irritating manner. There is little doubt while reading the first few pages of this story that Murnane will be taking the reader again on another journey though he never leaves his writing table or his house. Murnane's perpetual dreams of landscapes are his only interest, and the intense focus of his gaze is his great drive resulting from his incessantly strong desire to be always somewhere else it seems. Perhaps it has been the unseasonably cool summer in northern Michigan this year and my own set of lifelong issues that has me a bit frustrated in the reading of this particular story. But I find myself equally ajar with the viewpoints of the world-at-large of the other young men in the story who are too worldly for their own good and the narrator's male cousin who is so comfortable in his skin and vocation for the priesthood. Meanwhile, our narrator struggles with finding a way into the heart and mind of a woman like himself as well as his constant need for sexual gratification which is handled exclusively by his own deft right hand. Nothing earth-shattering in this repetitive revealing of his ongoing neurosis for coming-to-age albeit his retarded time-table for doing so. But the title is making more sense the further on I go. And I am confident in the mastery of Murnane to get me where I need to be before he drops me off into another hidden suburb of the only town he knows. And he does, and it is a sadness that somehow comforts me. His honesty is refreshing, and though he has good reasons for his distaste for things Catholic, he loves their presbyteries and the solace they provide, their hidden arbors and vast lawns, private, and very good places to hide. Murnane is definitely an introspective and he almost kills me in this story of its proof. But he didn't and I am glad I forged on through the most difficult story so far in this collection.
Landscape with Artist completes this book. Australia's version of The Beats are called scrags and the narrator is interested in being one of them as he finally, after twenty years, leaves everything in the city and moves to Harp Gully. He will give up his job as a teacher, his wife and young family, and live the life of a writer living in a shack on a hill. But he believes all artists are pretentious and remembers thinking years ago he was Jack Kerouac ready for his own trip across the Great Divide. But all he can seem to muster most days is another drunken stupor, the entire day's drink spewing from his mouth as he regularly vomits behind another back veranda away from the house, staggering in misery before collapsing again as perhaps did Sal Paradise before him.
"I began one draft after another of the same story because I was too timid to leave Melbourne and to look for the place I belonged or the woman who would listen to the story of my travels."
Most everything in this story is imagined, as is his life, and even what he thinks of it as he looks back. Each memory another fiction he may have developed in his search for this elusive dream for the right woman and the place he might do his work. This, a constant theme in all Murnane's writing and one I never tire of as strange as it might seem. Gerald Murnane is a writer's author, somebody who is willing to go the distance to find what it is that makes himself tick. But in the process he is self-destructive to degrees apparently unhealthy and perhaps even unnecessary. The words keep coming and finding their place in sentences so well-developed they seem to fool. For as honest as they seem there is a lack of credulity in them. The frustrations are certainly real and believable, and in their process of becoming his writing flourishes under the weight of them. For some, I imagine there is no way out and their reading of this becomes unbearable. For me it is a supersaturation of all things good and true, and the journey through them not only inebriated, but invigorating, as if a shot glass could make the bigger difference in my shuddering.
"I have reached the degree of drunkenness at which things even a little odd or unfamiliar can seem strange and remarkable."
Lord knows the man drinks too much. And for somebody like me who hasn't had a drop of alcohol in over twenty-seven years it could begin to get a bit boring to continually read about his almost constant intoxication. But that is what my own reading and writing has become; a replacement for my addictions that caused my own undue suffering. It is important I think for Murnane to keep the pressure on and he does it with his drink. What strikes me most about his almost-constant inebriation is his mounting frustration in which the abuse of hard drink does nothing to curb it except for temporarily putting him out of his misery. And that is what the writing does as well. It is only good for in the doing, and the results matter little to abate the frustration a true artist must embrace. The brilliance in this story is in its obvious rancor for what is at stake. ...more
A remarkable "first book" written by an eighteen year-old kid. I have trouble believing he did not have help either with the original publisher or traA remarkable "first book" written by an eighteen year-old kid. I have trouble believing he did not have help either with the original publisher or translator of the time. The distinguished and mature sophistication exhibited was unbelievable for a kid that age and my bull-shit radar was smoking from being over-worked. Nonetheless, credit is due this beautiful work. Reading like a long prose poem the images were dreamlike and lyrical, however there was no character or event I ever connected with. There was plenty of place (setting) in the poem and its raw beauty was stupendous.
Hannah Alpert-Abrams has written a review of the novel which can be found here:
The "annual revelations" that our narrator describes near the end of this fine book gives credence to what came before. The evidence contained decanteThe "annual revelations" that our narrator describes near the end of this fine book gives credence to what came before. The evidence contained decanters of hard liquor, stiff-backed uncomfortable chairs, tents staked in tall grasses on vistas of windowless walls, and little said or exampled but more of the same in a serious study never concluded in which libraries remain for all students and scholars to be seen and read of the vast and mounting compilations of a history regarding these interior plains. An exhausting review by me of this book so unnecessary, and even to seem, if exhibited, redundant in its praises. A Murnane language pure and sophisticated, transcribed in flowing terms, its manner appealing and appreciated by a person such as I who wishes he could have been instead the one to have written this book first.
The narrator wanting, it seems, to be seen as a film maker whose work truly matters, for years out of sight and hidden away in some corner behind drawn blinds of a silent library, who after all this time still remains dedicated to his project and long efforts to discover a fitting landscape in which to film, necessarily recognizing the meaning of what he saw, and would one day perhaps actually film the dark chamber beyond its visible darkness. The only comparison I have to Murnane's writing is the many scribblings of philosopher Gilles Deleuze who spoke almost endlessly of being and becoming, of rhizomes and their meanderings, and the difficulties of finally getting anywhere. This is a book I will definitely read again and it is likely to have led me on to a further study of the complete work of Gerald Murnane, which in my opinion, is the highest compliment to ones efforts of a lifetime. ...more
I have little enough time for writing this review. So I won't. But what I can tell you is that this book is a fine and perfect example of great writinI have little enough time for writing this review. So I won't. But what I can tell you is that this book is a fine and perfect example of great writing. Zweig is a master at teaching and expressing his thoughts clearly and he is so very interesting in his approach to this (and any) subject. Though he was profiling three great artists of their own particular time in Holderlin, Kleist, and Nietzsche, Zweig was primarily instructing us on the daemon, which is a word I had heard prior to this reading but never had it explained to me in such clear and precise language. Now, at least, I know what is wrong with me, or what is right, depending on your own personal perception of the artist's drive. How frustration and unhappiness continue to press us on to better work and more serious incisions into our consciousness. This book is amazing on so many levels. To say I loved it would be an inadequate expression of my feelings for it. It is a precious and important work written by a man who was such a great writer and thinker. Zweig certainly did justice to the good and lasting memory of these three subjects, misunderstood and rejected in their own time, but who now live on in immortality as the great writers they really were. The fact that all three were social outcasts was basically by their own design, and it offered them the opportunity to perfect their work privately in a most violent and disruptive way that is scary and a threat to those of us who are delusional in the comforts of our daily living. Truth is, the world is always in chaos and we better not ever forget it. ...more
The "annual revelations" that our narrator describes near the end of this fine book gives credence to what came before. The evidence contained decanters of hard liquor, stiff-backed uncomfortable chairs, tents staked in tall grasses on vistas of windowless walls, and little said or exampled but more of the same in a serious study never concluded in which libraries remain for all students and scholars to be seen and read of the vast and mounting compilations of a history regarding these interior plains. An exhausting review by me of this book so unnecessary, and even to seem, if exhibited, redundant in its praises. A Murnane language pure and sophisticated, transcribed in flowing terms, its manner appealing and appreciated by a person such as I who wishes he could have been instead the one to have written this book first.
The narrator wanting, it seems, to be seen as a film maker whose work truly matters, for years out of sight and hidden away in some corner behind drawn blinds of a silent library, who after all this time still remains dedicated to his project and long efforts to discover a fitting landscape in which to film, necessarily recognizing the meaning of what he saw, and would one day perhaps actually film the dark chamber beyond its visible darkness. The only comparison I have to Murnane's writing is the many scribblings of philosopher Gilles Deleuze who spoke almost endlessly of being and becoming, of rhizomes and their meanderings, and the difficulties of finally getting anywhere. This is a book I will definitely read again and it is likely to have led me on to a further study of the complete work of Gerald Murnane, which in my opinion, is the highest compliment to one's efforts of a lifetime. ...more
The importance of being Jason Schwartz is the lone fact that we need him. There is no one writing in the English language today that is on the level aThe importance of being Jason Schwartz is the lone fact that we need him. There is no one writing in the English language today that is on the level and measure of Jason Schwartz, and that even includes that McCarthy fellow. Yes, Cormac writes a strain more manageable than the virus that exists in John the Posthumous, but the works are both biblical. A clever writer on the periphery might think that a mere reference book laid out beside you could produce something of the sort these pages have listed, in order, between the covers of this OR book. But I don’t think so. Merely compiling lists fail to manage their dance on the page (in this case a waltz) as the words of Jason Schwartz do. I have always likened him to a poet of the first rank and that is probably the reason I enjoy reading his work.
To be fair I suppose I will have to give credit where credit is due. Gordon Lish found Schwartz first. But that doesn’t mean that I too can’t champion him. If you happen to read the full page praise at the very front of the book you can see the Lish that I am talking about. For only the right reason he might just explain.
Schwartz never, in any story I have ever read by him, explains anything. He is long-suffering in that regard and he makes it very hard on the lesser readers among us. It helps to have an open mind. And reading Schwartz is no guarantee you will come out of the experience feeling any smarter than when you first went in. But you won’t be numb. You will have what for some of us is called an abundance of feeling. “Unexampled” is how Lish likes to term it.
John the Posthumous by Jason Schwartz is a series of connections in digression. Historical fact, academic and theological reference books, all seem to be sitting at the side of his desk or writing table in case, and he does, wish to consult them and enter his findings and tabulations into his text. Of course, there are also the fictions which when connected appear to also be of some fact and enter also into his reporting. But Schwartz is not The Nightly News and he rarely resembles any news anchor we have ever gotten comfortable with on TV. I am not sure that Jason Schwartz can even be trusted. At least he doesn’t appear to be anyone who…and it feels I have already gone too far in my own assessments and have become what I refer in my house as a haglund in my posture now with my too judgmental nature. The writer and professor Schwartz is a completely other matter in that he most certainly is a stand-up guy. But it is because of the narrator of this book that one can be made to feel not quite so sure about him as a person. In other words, the fiction behind the words is sometimes scary. But still we go on, and it is as if we must.
What is remarkable, at least to me, is the seriousness in which the narrator takes himself in these studies, or stories if you wish me to be precise, and the pleasant conversational tone he employs, I suppose, to put us at ease. But that is anything but what I feel when I am reading him. My head is spinning much as Beelzebub in a horror film, but still I am comfortable that Schwartz, the man, will protect me from some fateful fall from a height in which I could not survive. My words here are not meant to scare you, or even suggest you not read him for fear of any danger to your person too often, or too much, in the presence of. Not at all. I love this guy and you will too if you just hang on as if on some scary ride. His rails and machine are both in good working order. One must always keep an eye on the prize.
One problem you are sure to encounter while reading Jason Schwartz is you will not be privy to what his master plan is. It becomes obvious immediately that he has researched his subject well though he rarely gives us hints for what his greater subject is that dictates the hours of long research and the scribbling that come after them. His motive from the very beginning has to be clear even to the most stubborn ones among us. Schwartz means to entertain. He has no other agenda than to impress upon those of us reading that language makes our lives and history most certainly worthwhile though the outcomes might not establish themselves as beneficial or as gratifying as we may have initially hoped for.
From page 24: “August arrives in due course, the color of a statue or a hatchet.” He continues on to say in the next paragraph of one line, “But this does overstate it somewhat.” Lines such as these please me and draw a laugh out from me or at least gets from me a smile.
I have heard no few complaints regarding the tendencies of Schwartz to categorize, to countlessly enter items in such a way as to suggest an extensive laundry list. But these no few have failed to get the gist of this somewhat scientific aptitude. Make no mistake about his creative use of hard nouns, things I might say, that add credence to what he is talking about in his setting down of place. It is what we must want ourselves to occupy, but instead he does it for us. As Lish has often taught as strategy, Schwartz himself does supersaturate. There is often a bit much etymology, but not enough even for my personal taste. I love knowing where words originated from even if they have been made up. I have no proof of this as I never cross-reference the work I read in front of me especially if it is deemed already fiction.
It could be argued that for as much as Schwartz elaborates his fiction there is still too much left out and unknown to us. Sort of like entering through a locked door into an unknown house of some repute, though no one has lived to tell about it. Every page a new discovery into a further unknown, though we are getting to know each other more intimately. It is his life we share in, though it is made up and of another time.
The book is separated into three sections. The first being titled, Hornbook.
From page 38: “Thief ants occur inside decaying trees.” That sentence alone is a poem in my world of verse. And then on page 39, “See the bees atop the cinders.” A world of its own in which we might also inhabit, carefully.
And just when the going gets a bit too dangerous the narrator stops abruptly and says, “But now I have managed to trample the annuals again.” In context it is similar to taking a walk in the garden with an older, more tired and nervous version of our beloved Marlon Brando.
I am not sure how it happened that it seemed a kind and thoughtful father figure was talking to me and then all of a sudden the voice changed to a grandmotherly type. Perhaps a Mrs. Doubtfire, but that seems impossible and makes no sense to me at all. I must have been reading too much into the thing about that canopy over the bed ruining the children’s room and the way he finished with, “my dear.”
In the second section titled Housepost, Male Figure the narrator’s voice is proper and speaks kindly but with authority. He certainly doesn’t know-it-all. He is trying hard to get things straight, or right, or fixed into some sort of order for us. He is not afraid to fail though he most likely knows he must. We all do as well. But I think the serious and exactness of these facts and observations presented are meant as a way for all of us to connect, much as things in the stories also tend to do, and in their own sweet time. There is gratitude enough for all and also a bit of too much sadness. Sort of like a Neil Young song that is going to end badly no matter how much we wish it to be otherwise. But this may be prematurely unfair as I am just getting into this second section, though I doubt it as I have had numerous previous encounters with this same character. “Character is our fate” remember, and it doesn’t take a poet the caliber of Jack Gilbert to remind us anymore as I for one got it perfectly the first time back when so and so said it. But we are working on a story here and I am getting way ahead of myself.
From page 65: “The cord wound around a brass cleat.” It feels as if I am reading at times a found journal, trying to make heads and tails in an evidence room down at the local precinct. Or perhaps a diary or even some sort of confession. But more is always unknown and the rest is our imagination. It is frustrating and never clear, though the found objects insist on our understanding of them. Even less on the awful truth of what might have really happened. The house still stands as well as some of the proof of its prior existence. What was used in this crime may, or may not, still be leaning or wedged into a corner of the dusty room.
The knowledge presented in this book would take more than a lifetime or two to acquire. The research needed to inform ones self of the many trades and manners found here on the page proves that Schwartz works harder than both you and I. All we’ve had to do is read what he has written, enjoy the poetry of his verse, and attempt to add two plus two and somehow make it five. The problem seems to keep changing before our eyes, but the tone of jeopardy always remains insanely the same. It is a labor that for some would make crazy. And that is why this type of work is rarely read and too eagerly discounted. Lish has already gone on record as saying Schwartz is clearly taxing. And let that be a warning to you. But you are never better off dead when a guy like Schwartz can amaze you.
The third and final section is titled Adulterium, of which the meaning of the word is unknown to me but may be construed as having taken part in some illicit or unbecoming behavior with someone’s wife, or husband. The thread of cuckold continues here as do the objects contained as prior evidence.
How frightening when he says on page 93, “The ashpit attracts finches rather than bats, but the housecoat catches fire anyway.” What poetry is expressed from within our fear.
There is a way in which to read him. It is troubling not to begin, and more so when Schwartz appears so busy labeling. Our planet has never seen another writer like him, and I find it remarkable, and a stroke of luck, that we here do.
The narrator seems to think the reader sees the same things as he does. Or it is a ploy in which to irritate or make us look even harder. Perhaps a question for our selves to consider, and in ways a failure to get what is clearly right before our eyes. For example, from page 104, “A winding-sheet would imply contagion, despite the burlap sacks at the chapel wall.”
It is quite possible, and I expect it is regardless of what I think, that the longer one spends with sentences of John the Posthumous the more understanding through feeling is derived. The words are never pretentious, however a dictionary or etymological study could prove useful or else, in contrast, complications may also arise which were never initially intended by the author to begin with. In other words, too much study could prove harmful and our obsession should fare better by just letting go and having some fun along the way. And for me this idea does not seem at all preposterous. It is likely this work was meant for us to enjoy in whatever way we might have come across it.
The clues are scattered more than bread crumbs are wont to be and they lead our investigation into a more elaborate labyrinth of sorts if one is enough interested in which to pursue them. I prefer the easier and more casual walk among the daisies of his literature and prefer my senses to do the hard lifting instead of this more predictable cerebral pull toward definite answers and complete understanding. My method of reading should result in much less confusion and a more reliable accounting of my complete experience. It helps to know how to read him, but I have already stated that previously and in fact am sounding now a bit redundant. And as quickly as we have entered this rich world we are gone. ...more