Monday, February 20, 2017

Aciman Replies

Feb 12
Dear Robert Garlitz,

I am in Berlin for a few days because they are screening Call Me by Your Name.  It showed at Sundance, but I was too...lazy to go to Utah. Berlin I love.  But I am taking some time out because I wanted to write back.

Yes for the house in either Nantucket or the Vineyard.  But before I sign anything, let me just say this.  I have been in print  for 20 years now and received some adulation, but never--i.e. NEVER--have I felt that a reader understood me to the bone or so thoroughly as you did in your blog. You went straight to the soul of things--to use mystical language--because you got what I have elsewhere called the "soufflé" effect, the folding back and forth without necessarily arriving at any answer, a form of treading water, of floating but not swimming.  I can go on but it is the subject of what I hope will be a forthcoming collection of essays on various artists entitled Homo Irrealis, based on the irrealis mood, something that linguists call the indefinite mood in grammar.  Wikipedia has, I think, a damn good

In any event, you have inspired me to get Pessoa and see what he writes.  Thank you so much for ... well, thinking of me, thinking
about me.


“I miss the future when I’ll be able to look back and miss all of this, however absurdly.”  Pessoa Disquiet 180

"The orator,dizzy from speaking the unspeakable. The monster, drunk on the thought of the monstrosities he heralds Binet on The Blond Beast in his novel about Heydrich.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Mid-February weather report

Ready to Survive Mud Season

On the desk, bookmarks in each, at least ten pages in. 

Sudden Death
Missing Person
False Papers
Mystical Languages of Unsaying
Tantra Illuminated
The Varieties of Religious Experience
Eight White Nights
The Man of Light in Iranian Suifism
The Proust Project
Villa Triste
The Voyager and the Messenger
The Garden of Truth
The Black Notebook
Damaged Lives

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

André Aciman and Apophatic Theology

Aciman, Our Apophatic Mystic

Over the past few weeks I’ve been catching up on the work of André Aciman.  The great memoir and three of the novels.  Started a fourth, Eight White Nights, earlier this week. 

Felt like I should take a break, though, and cast about for what to read.  Could go back to Patrick Modiano, but even though I like his work as much, the most recent book I had stopped after one-third, Missing Person, has themes a bit too similar to those of Aciman.  A blurb from the back cover says the book “portrays a man in pursuit of the identity he lost in the murky days of the Paris Occupation, the black hole of French memory.”  Not too unlike Aciman’s searches for himself after his exile from Alexandria.

I googled Aciman some more, hoping to find he had written an essay on Pessoa.  Nothing promising but did read a few interviews that are online. 

After sleeping on it for a day or so and trying not to ponder too hard, I thought I would take a look at something on apophatic theology.  Real change of pace.  I found the new copy of Michael Sells book, Mystical Languages of Unsaying.  I had read some of the authors under discussion.  I had not realized that “The 150-year period from the mid-twelfth to the beginning of the fourteenth century constitutes the flowering of apophatic mysticism.  Almost simultaneously, the apophatic masterpieces of the Islamic, Jewish, and Christian traditions appeared . . . .” Such a short, intense cross cultural or intercultural period.  It made me wonder about apophatic forms of expression in our time.  I googled “apophatic novel” and up came, of course, the books by Charles Williams.  The Greater Trumps, Shadows of Ecstasy, War in Heaven, The Descent of the Dove.  I had read those years ago but had forgotten them.  I have long privately thought of Beckett’s works as explorations in negative theology.  I suppose there are many dissertations on the topic by now.  I would read Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet this way. 

Day or so later I picked up a book of Aciman’s prose pieces.  A different voice in these than in the novels and it is the voice in the fictions that I love best.  But in the first few essays in False Papers I began to see how clearly Aciman is an apophatic writer.  “Exile” and “Memory” are in the subtitle and these words Aciman repeats endlessly in marvelously woven intricacies.  But it is desire, longing, that everything he talks about serves.  And look at these passages: 

“It was my way of preempting tomorrow’s worries by making tomorrow seem yesterday, of warding off adversity by warding off happiness as well.  In the end, I learned not to enjoy going to Paris, or even to enjoy being there--because I enjoyed it too much.”

“The Paris I cultivated was a Paris one need not stay too long in.  It was a Paris made to be yearned for and remembered, a Paris of the mind, a Paris which stood for the true life, the life done over, the better life, the one flooded in limelight, with tinsel, soundtrack, and costume.”

“I had long ago learned to prefer the imagined encounter, or the memory of the imagined encounter, to the thing itself.”

This is the basic pattern of all of Aciman’s writing---a saying and then an unsaying.  In Sell’s words “apophsis cannot help but posit . . . a ‘thing’ or ‘being,’ a being it must then unsay, while positing yet more entities that must be unsaid in turn.”  Aciman’s characters love and then lose and learn to unlove, whether a place like Alexandria or Paris, or a person, like Oliver who his love, Elio, asks to call him by his name.  Eight White Nights would be a great title for a mystical work, like The Cloud of Unknowing.  “what I was feeling was not just admiration . . . .  The word worship---as in ‘I could worship people like her’--hadn’t crossed my mind yet, though later that evening which I stood with her watching a glowing moonlight barge moored across the white Hudson I did turn to worship.  Because placid winterscapes lift up the soul and bring down our guard.  Because part of me was already venturing into an amorphous terrain in which a word here, a word there--any word, really---is all we have to hold on to before surrendering to a will far mightier than our own.”  (my emphasis)

I suppose there are already many dissertations in a university libraries on the apophatic tradition in Modernist and Post-Modernist literature.   Aciman is certainly our principal practitioner at this moment.  Yearning oscillate between the poles of every bridge, every love, every utterance, every saying and unsaying.  Memory, exile, love and loss sustain this longing, as with every mystic. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Modiano, Knausgaard, Aciman and Marías

Aciman, Knausgaard, Modiano---at the turn of the 20th Century these writers mark the turn of the novel as a work of fiction into a blended work of remembered consciousness, autobiography seguing into fiction and fiction back into remembered past.  Much as the author of Historical Consciousness, John Lukacs, described and predicted.  Proust perhaps first at the start of the century.  What about Javier Marías?  His novels do not have quite the same attitude or voice as these other three writers.  If he draws on his own life stories, he plays these cards much closer to his chest than the three others.  Marias needs to use a fictive design as an armature.  See his most recent work, Thus Bad Begins.  Hamlet figures all through the work even though Marías describes clearly Madrid in the ‘80s as he remembers it and other features of the experience of living through the long, slow end of the Franco era.  A major tale of abusive behavior also provides a main element of the novel, a doctor who raped patients and wives of patients and who succeeded in keeping this behavior safe behind a public image of charity and honor.  And yet for all of that, the novel does not have that personal feel of intimate, remembered consciousness that the works of Knausgaard, Modiano and Aciman have.  They must tell their stories---there is a sense of their personal need to find who they were and are by exploring what happened to them, what all they happened to do over the years they look back upon.  Marías in contrast is a consummate borrower and cobbler of bits and pieces of stories he has heard, he knows or believes to be true in one way or another.  He loves to weave them into intricate tapestries of layered consciousness, imitated consciousness, for his pleasure and the pleasure of the reader. A silversmith in Toledo, inlaying threads of gold and silver into the metal of the sword.  Damascene work.  But for Modiano and Aciman and Knausgaard the appeal of damascene intricacy is hardly present at all.  They may scramble timeline and thematic links but they cannot help it, this is the way the moments came back to them, the ways they grabbed them as much as they could, from possible escape.  A slight tinge of the desperation of getting into the right words the imagined and remembered way things need to be caught if they are to be caught at all. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Aciman on Voice

“Voice is not just telling a story, it is the attitude in the story that has to exist in every single sentence, because it is the attitude that keeps the reader going.”   2012 interview on daysofyore

Monday, January 23, 2017

André Aciman

Main event otherwise is Aciman has arrived.  Reading his book Enigma Variations.  Had I vaguely heard of his Harvard Square or some other title?  How did I decide to look into his book?  He’s been famous for about ten years.  Has the 5ooo limit friends on facebook.  etc.  but I’m glad I am reading this book and will read all the others.  I think.  Love his writing and the way he focuses on interior flow of consciousness, thought and feeling. 

email from the kindle iphone to myself---

Hi - I'm reading "Enigma Variations: A Novel" by André Aciman and wanted to share this quote with you.

"You and I don’t love the way others do—we run on empty.” She touched my face, my forehead. “I could tell you to be happy that you have him, but it won’t help. I could tell you to be happy we’ve got two days, but that won’t help either. You’re alone, as I’m alone, and the cruelest thing is that finding each other and saying let us be alone together won’t solve a thing.””  no page number though  Loc 3201  so weird

8:40pm  Finished Enigma Variations.  Final section, Abingdon Square, felt like a let-down.  Felt forced and unnecessary. 

quotes  “I’d grown to love serving two masters.”  “and the unspoken tinge of indecency in every avowal--that thrilled and stirred me . . . .”  “I was like an ellipse, with two competing foci but no center.”  "We were neither friends, nor strangers, nor lovers, just wavering, as I wavered, as I wished to think she wavered, each grateful for the other’s silence as we watched the evening drift into night on this tiny park that was neither on Hudson, nor on Bleecker, nor on Eighth Avenue, but a tangent to all three, as we ourselves were, perhaps, nothing more than tangents in each other’s life. In a blizzard, we’d be the first to go, we’d have nowhere to go. Ours, I began to fear, was a script without parts.”

still I will keep reading in the other books.  do feel some duty to finish the others I’d started last fall. 

Thurs morning 20th  Aciman has me again after all.  Call Me By Your Name.  The narrator talks of envy and similitude and the hunger for acceptance, recognition.  The eternal teenager in us, Aciman seems to have a talent for recapturing that over and over.  Tempted to troll through Goodreads to see what others say about the books.  Later perhaps.  Enough still to have found them.  Being Jewish is a topic and for me it satisfies enough for curiosity and I can easily replace it for being Catholic, strangely enough. 

Aciman’s writing reminds me of reading Brideshead Revisited, listening to Leonard Cohen, or, even, reading Pessoa?  No, Pessoa feels different even if akin. 

Hadn’t realized until looking at Goodreads that Enigma Variations is listed as being published this year, 2017.  Call Me  ten years earlier, 2007. 

“They had always said I got too easily attached to people.” 60
“Here was someone who lacked for nothing.  I couldn’t understand this feeling.  I envied him.” 26

“How could anyone intuit the manner of someone’s thinking unless he himself was already familiar with this same mode of thinking?”  22

Being and having “in  the twisted skein of desire” are one and the same thing. 68

A minute of grace.  Between always and never.  Celan.  70

Finishing Aciman more slowly to make it last.  Plans to declare him on twitter the greatest INFP writer ever, Enneagram 4, and bisexuality realist. 

Monday  23 Jan 

Aciman’s novel incredibly beautiful.  And perfect.  Having the father give his knowing blessing to the relationship part of that rather amazing perfection.  Having it be situated perfectly on the Mediterranean also.  Is it in fact too perfect?  Could that be so?  No, it is a wonder.  Like a Keats ode.  Now it is a movie at Sundance, review posted just 8 hours ago.  ! 

Peter Debruge’s review for Variety is exceptionally well done and has this paragraph about the father: “No matter how intellectually progressive the Perlman family is, no father has ever said something so open-minded and eloquent to his son, and yet, the film offers this conversation as a gift to audiences who might have desperately needed to hear it in their own lives. Such liberties are permissible given the story’s 1983 setting, which suggests that this isn’t a literal rendering of Elio’s experience, but a bittersweet embellishment of his memory. These were the days that shaped him, marked by the intense tastes, textures, and odors which Guadagnino so effectively amplifies for our benefit.”

Sounds like the movie is successful. 

The reviewer of the book for the Times, D’Erasmo, quotes this passage from Aciman on nostalgia:  “In his essay “Pensione Eolo,” Aciman writes, “Ultimately, the real site of nostalgia is not the place that was lost or the place that was never quite had in the first place; it is the text that must record that loss.” In other words, Elio and Oliver might give each other up, but the book that conjures them doesn’t give up either one. In fact, it brings them back together, reunites them, for a glorious endless summer. In the book, the river can be revisited. The closing words echo the title: a phrase simultaneously of elegy and of invitation.”

I like the line from the Post---In The Washington Post, Charles Kaiser said, "If you have ever been the willing victim of obsessive love--a force greater than yourself that pulls you inextricably toward the object of your desire--you will recognize every nuance of André Aciman's superb new novel, 'Call Me by Your Name.’”  Obsessive is a better frame than “gay” and the wikipedia article where I found this uses “bisexual” somewhere in it.  At least it shows up on search under that term but of course the main press hails the movie and book as a gay story.  Aciman makes clear that it is not so easily boxed. 

Message from student gave me line from Beckett---“It is suicide to be abroad”, grumbles Mrs Rooney in Samuel Beckett’s All That Fall, “but what is it to be at home . . . what is it to be at home? A lingering dissolution.”

passages from “Call Me” to bring up the subtexts I focused on.

Marzia says this so am in doubt as to whether to post it:  “People who read are hiders.  They hide who they are.  People who hide don’t always like who they are.” 115  

Could be just an inside joke between writer and reader.  One of the oldest complaints about reading. 

“I envied him.”  the author of If Love.  113

I like how often envy is mentioned.  More than any other book in recent memory. 

“the inflections of desire . . . could only be conveyed in play.” 186

“I want you as intermezzo . . . as both, or as in between.”  196

Here is Aciman’s genius, and few reviewers see it clearly enough.  The obsessiveness of the experience serves this desire for the transit into the middle of the bridge.  The hovering in the middle, that is the experience beyond every other. 

“I had never envied him the past, nor felt threatened by it.  . . . I didn’t envy life before me, nor did I ache to travel back to the time when he had been my age.”   201

“Rehearse the pain to dull the pain.  Homeopathically.” 210

Because he was himself, he was myself.  Montaigne  “he’s more myself than I am.”  Bronte  223

“No reader of Montaigne can forget that stunning moment when, after probing why he loved his deceased friend Etienne de La Boétie so much, the author of the essays, this master-stylist of baroque prose, breaks down and scrawls out one of the most beautiful sentences penned in French: “You ask me why I loved him,” Montaigne says. “I don’t know. All I can say is parce que c’était lui, parce que c’était moi.” Because it was he, because it was I. Proust too knows how to “  PEN America 2007

Father says to Elio “You had a beautiful friendship.  Maybe more than a friendship.  And I envy you.” . . . . “But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything--what a waste!”  224

“‘The truth is I’m not sure I can feel nothing.  And if I am to meet your family, I would prefer not to feel anything.”  235

“God, the way they envied us from across the dinner table that first night in Rome,” 239

“And we’ll want to call it envy, because to call it regret would break our hearts.”  239

“it would finally dawn on us both that he was more me that I had ever been myself, because when he became me and I became him in bed so many years ago, he was and would forever remain, long after every forked road in life had done its work, my brother, my friend, my father, my son, my husband, my lover, myself.” 243

Jeff P Jones on The Millions gets everything right about Enigma Variations.  Especially the dominance of feeling.

“But this section also reveals something at the heart of Paul’s character: he’s happiest in the throes of yearning after new love because he knows that acquisition never leads to contentment. Obsessing over his feelings for Manfred, Paul thinks, “The circuit is always the same: from attraction to tenderness to obsessive longing, and then to surrender, desuetude, apathy, fatigue, and finally scorn.” Familiarity is the come-down; Paul’s drug is feeling itself, the more intense the better.”

Except feeling is not the “drug.”  It is the way of being, the primary process of living itself. 

Jones adds “Love, infatuation, desire — these most powerful of feelings, this novel says — reduce and enlarge us in ways that are wonderfully juvenescent, at once simplifying and magnifying the world.”

Jones also gets exactly the “P” nature of the way Aciman describes desire.  “P” as in INFP.  “Paul’s focus isn’t on the repercussions from leaving an old lover as much as it is on savoring the possibilities of new love.

“Intriguingly, as we witness Paul repeatedly rearrange his life around a new magnetic north, it becomes clear that his bisexuality abets his serial monogamy. “I’d grown to love serving two masters,” he thinks, “perhaps so as never truly to answer to either one.” Yet Paul’s state isn’t a dilemma in search of an answer. We go with him the way we go with Anton Chekhov’s characters, enmeshed in the humanness of the drama. When Chloe, an on-again, off-again lover since college, confronts Paul, asking about his new lover, “Did you tell her you’ll always want something else and something more?”, we see it for the tender inquiry it is.”

Sunday, November 06, 2016

November 2

Yesterday  Nov 2  Va went to Larson’s for the EEG test.  We did that about two years ago?  Same young woman who likes riding motorcycles.  Larson has a new haircut, beard even bigger and fuller, comb-over still there but much diminished and the rest almost shaved off completely.   Looks better, really, even sort of hip by today’s fashions.  He said he thought Va looks better than ever and that this last event was nothing even though it was good to go to the hospital and take the cautious route. 
On the way to Concord I stopped here to drop off a package for UPS and learned that poor Mark has died that morning.  Talked with Barbara T about it, she was in shock, her business next door. 

We’ve been drinking “golden milk” each evening to encourage good sleeping, a recipe Va found on Facebook.  Basically a sort of Indian coconut-tumeric chai, heated.  I made some last night that was too strong.   All day yesterday and this morning I’ve had the urge to fast so am doing so today.  Is it a seasonal thing?  In November do we want to eat less, hibernate more?  Brad Pilon had a tweet on twitter and that reminded me of what he urges. 

Phil explains his use of the Whitman quotation---I must say that phrase is famous and I had never thought of using it in the way Phil does---“contain” as a defensive stance, against, it seems exploding from within. 

“I included the quote from Whitman's Leaves of Grass at the start of "Damaged Lives."  "It's usually quoted as "I am large.  I contain multitudes."  I included just the latter because my story was going to be about people who weren't the childlike victims of events that today's psychology insists people are, but, rather, were adults who could contain many disturbing thoughts and experiences within themselves.   Tim and Libby weren't children.  If they occasionally suffered PTSD, it didn't overwhelm them.  They contained it.”

Whitman’s sense I thought was expansive.  He turns it into a contractive sense of meaning.  Containing the damage, limiting the effects.   Hmmm
No response to my Schaumann anecdote.  Maybe I had told it to him before?

Maybe also I read Edmund White’s novel before.  I suspect so but cannot recall for sure.  Bugs me.  Few more pages in and I think not. 
Sped through the letters between Porter and Schaumann.  She certainly led him on, or they both deluded themselves and each other, perhaps because the war had just ended and everyone was wounded and needy and confused.  Not many of his letters.  He was only thirty-five.  Affair with an older woman, a famous writer now out in Hollywood.  Starstruck and in denial.  She was sympathetic to a young soldier with ambitions to write.  The letter-writing itself was the vehicle of romance. 

Friday am  Phil explains what I didn’t know about K A Porter---that she was a tough, hard-drinking broad.  Guess it does make the tale all the more sad.
his reply this morning---
My big scabs are slowly healing yet  last week got VERY itchy.  I tried several kinds of lotion but found that aloe vera was the only one that really relieved the itch.

Professor Schaumann sounds like a very sad, lonely man even if he knew Hamilton and K. A. Porter.  The latter, according to what I know, was a tough, hard-drinking broad.   Not exactly the kind to render some lonely guy some emotional support.  I also think he considered you a smart, sensitive kid and was looking for some positive feedback from you.   Did you really just say "thank you" and walk out?  On the other hand, I admit it must have felt more than a little uncomfortable.  Was the guy gay?  Married or single?  

This story comes across as rather sad.  

The inner experience of that whole tale is, I guess, what I don’t want to try to explain to anyone, try to tell.  I experienced it as another sort of illumination, an immersion in a bright warm glow of comforting light and a dropping down into it, into its bottomless depths, much like the experience of the yoga lesson had been in Ammendale.  Linked to my time in the hospital, linked to my whole spiritual autobiography as I suppose we would have to phrase it were it to be spun out as a more full narrative. 

While swimming---Schaumann’s relationship with Porter fits perfectly as patterns go with our own Hans and Mary M.  He must have been about 45 when he had a flirtatious romance with her, even lived with her for a while, until, Va says, she asked him if he really preferred men.  She might have been 5-7 or more years older?  So younger gay man romances older, tougher woman, a complete Jungian archetype counter-transfer going on, I suppose.  The anima in the gay man responding to the animus in the tough, hard-drinking older woman.  Son-mother, but moreso, romancing knight to the unavailable queen.  Courtly love.  And as the letters show, the delusion and then disillusionment for each. 

Sunday  Nov 6  Nicaragua club ladies came and planted the bulbs.  Starting to clear up.  Maybe if I write non-stop for three days, Hillary will vanquish Lump.  Maybe if I fast.  Maybe if I praise the surge in Latino women voters. 
“It has often seemed to me in England that the purest enjoyment of architecture was to be had among the ruins of great buildings.”—H. James
from Levi Stahl on twitter 
“The mind makes something out of nothing or turns something into nothing.  It adds to and subtracts from the sum of things.  What it find harder is to refrain from doing so. “   Paul Valery, Analects

Over my crush on Van Dusen.  Like most his late book, Returning to the Source because in there he is relaxed, warm, embracing all and everything and urging us to enjoy the mystical or contemplative life without worry about special techniques or special devotions or this or that practice.  It’s all good, all natural, and all leads to the same One.  Yet you can see how he and Swedenborg fit perfectly as exemplars of Jung’s or Myers-Briggs’ INTJ.  Clear demarcatiions and strict hierarchical structures.  Feeling gets its place but as the origin of Thought and Thought is superior and dominant.  Amazing how clearly they demonstrate the theory. 
So we’re still looking for a VanDusen of the opposite type.  Blake, of course, for the P and perhaps for FP.  But I’d like to find a contemporary or 20th C FP version of Van Dusen.  His work was a great reminder to me and woke me back up a bit.  Gary Lachman’s work is still the most vibrant and interesting I’ve got in tow now.  Kripal has faded as well although I must still look at the closing pages of Impossible. 
Sent Gary Lachman my three dumb questions.  Wonder if he will reply at all and how. 

Something strange about Kripal’s conclusions after all of his investigations into the paranormal, the roads of excess, the experiences of religion reported by the various writers he studies.  He decides hermeneutics, interpretation of texts, of narrative, is the key figure for the nature of the cosmos and our place in it.  “writing can become a paranormal practice.”  “An author of the impossible is someone who knows that the Human is Two and One.” 270
Ok, yes.  But isn’t this making of writing and reading something akin to the oversimplifications of any thinker---and can’t any human activity become a paranormal practice?  Why privilege writing? 

    “I sat at a sidewalk table of one of the cafés facing the Charléty stadium.  I constructed all the hypotheses concerning Philippe de Pacheco, whose face I didn’t even know.  I took notes.  Without fully realizing it, I began writing my first book.  It was neither a vocation nor a particular gift that pushed me to write, but quite simply the enigma posed by a man I had no chance of finding again, and by all those questions that would never have an answer.  . . .  A girl was walking under the leaves of the treese along Boulevard Jourdan.  Her blond bangs, cheekbones, and green dress were the only note of freshness on that early August afternoon.  Why bother chasing ghosts and trying to solve insoluble mysteries, when life was there in all its simplicity, beneath the sun?”  --Patrick Modiano, Suspended Sentences 180