Wednesday, July 23, 2014

One of the great small passages in Roché’s novel that could never make it into the movie, any movie:  

“Jim had a private emotional life of his own which was entirely French and which didn’t intersect the field of their friendship; Jules didn’t want to be concerned in it in any way.”  73  Jules et Jim by Henri-Pierre Roché

Monday, July 21, 2014

Valeria Luiselli brings St John of the Cross into her rich mix early in the “novel.”  Good for her.  Awesome in fact.  Brilliant.  The book seems to grow steadily, slowly, even slyly, more and more astonishing.  

“That’s the way literary recognition works, at least to a certain degree.  It’s all a matter of rumor, a rumor that multiplies like a virus until it becomes a collective affinity.”  Luiselli 35
More on Salter.

The early novel, A Sport and Pastime, seems flawless.  And like much afterwards in Salter's work.  I came into Salter through the letters with Robert Phelps and as I finished reading his memoir, Burning the Days, I wished Salter had had Phelps help him edit the book.  I will admit that it did give me me one thing I was looking for---a personal view on the whole of mid-century (20th) of our lives.  He is about twenty years older than me.  He can write passages of great beauty.  A romantic sensibility at work.  And yet a narrowness of vision and focus.  Maybe also a lack of depth and humor.  A day or so after finishing the book, I heard Leonard Cohen singing one of his classics on the Live in London album.  His spoken introduction is wonderful and funny.  He jokes about taking the full gamut of anti-depressants and says he has studied deeply in all the world's great religions.  "But cheerfulness kept breaking through."  Yeah, I thought.  Come on, James Salter, you say you want us to envy your life but you are never as funny or as charming or as deep, really, as Leonard Cohen.  "We are each of us an eventual tragedy." Salter says two pages from the end of his autobiography.  Well, ok, I see what you mean but, geez, put a bit more of a spin on it.  Shakespeare, Leonard Cohen, Beckett, even Bernhard, manage to do so.  

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Perhaps enough Salter for a while.  Finished Part I of his memoir, Burning the Days.  Reminds me somehow of Conrad, why not sure.  Probably never thought I would read so much about flying jets during the Korean war.  Someone will have to write a thesis about the military esthetic in Salter's work.  Conrad, Melville, maybe it is the all-male world portrayed.  Jet pilots, sea captains, crews, military hierarchies, alpha anxieties and performances.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

july 2014


I was pleased to read this “It was the voice of the writer, he insisted, that was the first and definitive thing. I had, around this time, seen a van-Gogh exhibition, paintings of his and his contemporaries discussed in his own words, and was struck by his saying, in a letter to his brother, What is alive in art, and eternally alive, is in the first place the painter and in the second place the picture.  Phelps would agree.”  344   Phelps-Salter letters Memorable Days

I came to this conviction.  It might be in fact why I came to like travel lit books over thirty years ago---without knowing why.  I liked the voice of the writer, if I did, no matter what events he described, or where she was, or what meaning the trip had for him or for me.  It is the voice we read for.  

so hot and humid not worth trying to do anything but breathe.  Va swam with Kathie this morning.  Barbara Thierry and her son-in-law to be (perhaps) Sam stopped by to look at the garden work Va would like to have done.  Kirsten Land has not been around that we know but I found one of her big tools in the grass.  Wonder what’s going on with her?  

No arrest yet in the Rumney murder.  Strange.  

Weds  night  super hot day.  Put in the air conditioner all by myself.  Don’t seem to have busted a gut.  Eye doctors in the morning for both of us.  

Can I return to Knausgaard after so much Phelps and Salter?  Have they changed my taste forever?  Ordered a bunch of Salter and Phelps and their favorites.  

I read S & P slowly because they pack in so much.  Here is S on Redford and envy:  very rare to hear someone admit to and discuss Envy.  

“One thing I admire very much about you, {Redford} I said, is how dangerously close you stay to the line between what you might have been and what you are.  That interests me, what do you mean by that? he demanded.  That’s all I can say, I told him.  Something there is in me that hates famous men.  Envy is what it is.”  (161-162)  

Hmm, still Salter was on his own way to becoming such, so what would he think some years later on ?  

Thurs late afternoon.  Guess where Sport and Pastime is set?  Atun!   And Paris, of course.  Perfect passage about Atun being nowhere and therefore of the essence.  Le Chezet looks over to Autun.  Cécile’s grandparents said they had never been there.  At least they had not been in forty or so years.  Ten miles away.  

Wonder if I read it years and years ago?  Or does it just seem so perfect and beautiful as to take your breath away?   Almost every page I want to copy out whole paragraphs.  Read most of today’s chunk at the bottom of the stairs in air conditioned comfort in the village bookstore building, between the crafts shop and the quilt shop.  Toy store now in half of the old bookstore which clerks said went through foreclosure this winter.  Other half being remodeled.  Littleton, proclaim the decorative lamp post flags in pale yellow, is Glad Town.  Be Glad!  

Also set in Nancy.  Have to look that location up.  No, by the end of 11 I know I have not read it before.  Sumptuous.  

4th  Mid-way into Salter’s novel and finished reading his Paris Review interview.  He has mentioned envy more often than any one I’ve ever noticed mentioning it before.  Interesting.  Given him enough time for now.  As much as I like the novel, do I like it as much as I want to like it?  Or as I really like it?  

The interview wasn’t as fascinating as I would have wanted.  Might have been Edward Hirsch’s fault.  Or Salter on deep guard.  Or high guard.  No interest in reading his first two novels about the war and the military.  Fighter pilot.  

well, here and we find another Hooray for Salter.  Last summer in the Aspen Sojourner he says 

“When I was young, I was influenced by the American writers of the time, especially Thomas Wolfe. I’ve gone back and read him, even though he hasn’t remained popular. He also influenced Jack Kerouac [who went to Horace Mann ahead of Salter]. The world really was enlarged for me in my forties when I met Robert Phelps, who was a writer and critic with a particular level of taste. He introduced me to Colette and Isaac Babel. He brought to maturity my interest in reading.”
Wonder what they would both think of Knausgaard?  He might serve as a polar opposite to Salter in so many ways.  One or two generations apart too.  But Wolfe was for a while our Knausgaard.  Like much how Salter dismisses Hemingway in the Paris Review interview.  
Here’s another piece, this one from The Guardian---where he says he’s not at all envious of the usual material goods of fame and fortune.  Turns out the New Yorker gave him a snitty profile last year.  This is from last year, 2013

“Luckily, he is not one for envy, at least not when it comes to material things. "I was talking to my son the other day about yachts and money," he says. "We were discussing some stupendously rich man, with a crew of 10 for his boat. My son was telling me how much it cost just to fill its tank. Well, I couldn't possibly write a line on a boat like that. I'm not equipped to live in such a way. My requirements seem to be much smaller." The New Yorker accused him of nostalgia for a way of life now passed (an accusation based on the fact he once asked guests coming to a New Year's Eve dinner to wear black tie). But this is not the case at all. How could it be? "I'm not nostalgic for it because I have it," he says, waving an arm at the books on the shelf, the pictures on the wall (I meet him in Bridgehampton). His view of American culture? "It's got louder, but it's probably not any worse.”  Guardian

Reading now the New Yorker piece by the same Nick Paumgarten who’s piece on techno music in Berlin I did read a few weeks ago and got irritated by because it seemed to veer way away from the scene in Berlin and not really describe what we all wanted to read about it in the first place.  
Anyway---note:  Salter’s parents named George and Mildred !  
And in 1951 $60,000 would be about 500k today (says Paumgarten).  
Paumgarten really does condescend in the piece---about the novel he says “It’s and odd little book.”  And  “The novel is an Alhambra of narcissism and self-erasure.” [For how long did Paumgarten long to use that image, turn of phrase, and where did he invent it? borrow it?  Is it vaguely anti-Arabic?  It sounds so derived, from somewhere/someone.]  

Having had a wee bit of experience with Saul Bellow myself, though of a much different sort, yet, still, at the same time in Bellow’s life and Salter’s, (1970-72ish) I love this detail:  
“For a while, he and Saul Bellow were close, until Salter felt that the deficit in their relative literary stature gave rise to condescension on Bellow’s part, whereupon he let the friendship die.  ‘I don’t like being a wing man,’ Salter said.” page 9 April 15 2013
Now the closing passage of the piece plays right into my observations about Salter and envy.  In fact I was going to say earlier and I wish I had, that even though he downplays the structure of Sport as just a narrative device, it is clear that
the role of the narrator is to envy Philip Dean his affair with Ann and he says explicitly at the outset that he envies the sort of guy he is long before the affair starts.  So envy for Salter is what he desires others to feel for him and here it comes---the final passage
of Paumgarten’s piece:
“ Salter once told his close friend the poet and novelist William Benton that one of the functions of a writer is to create envy in the reader---envy of the life that the writer is living.  His life and his books have been full of fine hotels and meals, entrancing women and singular men, sophisticated friendships, idle moments in marvelous weather.  He records it coolly, like a star forward who does not celebrate scoring goals:  he acts like he’s been there before.  He also conveys the knowledge that it will add up to nothing.  Everyone and everything will be forgotten.  You come away from his work wondering if you should have lived more, even if living more, in his work, often leads to ruin.”   --Paumgarten  page 10
This could well have been about Bellow by the way.  Probably the whole generation of WWII children and survivors?  

“Snitty” is the complaint I think that Salter used to complain about this profile of his life and career.  
maybe the author of the guardian piece uses that word---I can’t quite locate it in the piece

May 11, 2013 - The New Yorker, for instance, chose to call its long and rather snitty profile of him "The Last Book", which was kind of bald. "I suppose it's a fair ...    May 11, 2013 Rachel Cooke 

Paumgarten makes clear he will refuse to envy Salter and lets show that he does resent him and resents having to write this profile about him.  He does this by emphasizing the way Salter “stole” the marriage of his neighbors, the Rosenthals, and stole details of their own lives.  

Now it is Saturday the 5th.  Just read one next paragraph in Pastime.
Wow.  Talk about the killer placement of one sentence, right in another tender description of anal intercourse:  

“. . . The orchestras of the world beat softly.  The muscle in her behind is tight.  It feels like a string around the shaft.  He pushes in slowly and then, at last, plunges, like the bottom dropping out.  Anne-Marie moans, her head buried in her arms.  After he was dead I thought often of these moments, of this one.  Perhaps it is her moan, her face pressing against the sheet.  He can feel her tight around him, like a noose.  He closes her legs and lies there contented, looking out the window, feeling the tender spasms. “

Yes, she is content, happy.  

‘I thought of this often after he was dead’ ----  ok first mention of Philip Dean being dead.  

Now I can imagine directing some grad student who is doing a dissertation on Envy in the Novels of James Salter.  Or maybe the Seven Sins, and this particular paragraph makes me say “This is straight out of Genet.  Check it out.”

The other source would be the Irwin Shaw story Salter used to write the movie “Three.”  The three-way structure also suggests the movie Jules and Jim, 1962 movie.  [based on Henri-Pierre Roché's 1953 semi-autobiographical novel about his relationship when young with writer Franz Hessel and Helen Grund, whom Hessel married.  Truffaut came across the book in the mid-1950s whilst browsing through some secondhand books at a bookseller along the Seine in Paris. Later he befriended the elderly Roché, who published his first novel at the age of 74. ]
More importantly, perhaps, it reminds me of Bernhard’s The Loser.  Salter might be good but he’s no Thomas Bernhard.  Maybe.  Have to finish reading the novel.