Saturday, April 08, 2017


I could easily go back through all of Aciman’s published work and underline passages and write in the margins of the pages, same for me, this is me, this was me, he states perfectly what I’ve always felt about these things, he writes about this as I would have written about such things, such perfect synch between what he says or describes and what I’ve long experienced and felt.  But is this not what we do with so many writers?  We find ways to believe they write for us, express what we want to have expressed.  We identify, after all, with the tales they tell, the characters they describe, the ways they express thought, storylines, the narrative voices they use.  This is the whole of literary art and how readers have always enjoyed it.  But, no, with Aciman there is a distinct difference for me.  He describes feeling, longing, anxiety, ambivalence, being in the middle of situations, places, people, moods, thoughts, in all the ways familiar to my own inner life.  Much more so than any other writer I’ve ever read.  I have been waiting for over fifty years to find a writer like Aciman.  I had given up hope of every finding one like him.  The closest most recently has been Pessoa.  When I read The Book of Disquiet only a few years ago, I said oh if only I had had this book forty years or so ago.  Why had I never read this book before now?

Pessoa as companion and guide would have helped me so much at so many moments in life.  With Aciman, this same sort of recognition and relief but even closer to the bone.  Uncanny it felt.  Instant sense of deep inner accord.  No matter how much he talks about the externals of his story, and they are as dramatic and noteworthy for a major writer as possible---Alexandria, Jewish, Ladino, France, Rome, New York, memoir, novels, essays, awards, fellowships, the whole success of the writer in our time--no matter all of this.  The essential wonder is how much, how perfectly, my
own experiences in their felt rhythems and patterns align with all that he feels about his outer life. 

Long passage below from his essay called “Intimacy.”  to which I say Yes, Yes, Yes and Yes, that’s how it was for me too.  Me too Alypius, Augustine’s friend in The Confessions.  I have always often times been that person, but this is different.  Aciman is just uncanny in saying my notions about all of these things. 

“It never occurred to me then that insight and intuition, which are the essence, the genius of all criticism, are born from this intimate fusion of self with something or someone else. To everything—books, places, people—I brought a desire to steal into and intuit something undisclosed, perhaps because I mistrusted all appearances, or because I was so withdrawn that I needed to believe others were as dissembled and withdrawn as I feared I was. Perhaps I loved prying. Perhaps insight was like touching—but without asking, without risk. Perhaps spying was my way of reaching out to the Roman life that was all around me. In the words of Emanuele Tesauro: “We enjoy seeing our own thoughts blossom in someone’s mind, while that someone is equally pleased to spy what our own mind furtively conceals.” I was a cipher. But, like me, everyone was a cipher as well. Ultimately, I wanted to peer into books, places, and people because wherever I looked I was always looking for myself, or for traces of myself, or better yet, for a world out there filled with people and characters who could be made to be like me, because being like me and being me and liking the things I liked was nothing more than their roundabout way of being as close to, as open to, and as bound to me as I wished to be to them. The world in my image. All I cared for were streets that bore my name and the trace of my passage there; and all I cared for were novels in which everyone’s soul was laid bare and anatomized, because nothing interested me more than the nether, undisclosed aspects of people and things that were identical to mine. Exposed, everyone would turn out to be just like me. They understood me, I understood them, we were no longer strangers. I dissembled, they dissembled. The more they were like me, the more I’d learn to accept and perhaps grow to like who I was. My hunches, my insights were nothing more than furtive ways of bridging the insuperable distance between me and the world.

"In the end, my solitude, my disaffection, my shame on Via Clelia, and my wish to withdraw into an imaginary 19th-century bubble were not incidental to the books I was reading. My disaffection was part of what I saw in these books and was essential to my reading of them, just as what I read in Ovid was not unrelated to my tremulous yearnings for the swarthy knees of the gypsy girl. But they were essential in an altogether strange and undisclosed manner. I wasn’t identifying with Dostoyevsky’s characters because I too was poor or withdrawn, anymore than I was identifying with the lust of Byblis and Salmacis because I would have given anything to undress the gypsy girl in my bedroom. What my favorite authors were asking of me was that I read them intimately—not an invitation to read my own pulse on someone else’s work, but to read an author’s pulse as though it were my own, the height of presumption, because it presupposed that by trusting my deepest, most intimate thoughts about a book, I was in fact tapping on, or rather divining, the author’s own.”

Aciman's Irrealis--notes

great passage from Spurious by Josipivici---makes me like him much more, have to give him a read, and continue on with Proust

[Reading In Search of Lost Time] gave me the powerful sense that it didn't matter if one could not see one's way forward, it didn't matter if one was silly and slow and confused, it didn't matter if one had got hold of the wrong end of the stick - what mattered was to keep going. I began to see that the doubts I had were in a sense the temptations of the Devil, the attempt to make me give up at the very start by presenting things in absolute terms (I can do it/ no, I can't do it); and that what Proust (like Dante before him, I later discovered) was offering was a way of fighting that by saying: All right, I am confused, then let me start with my confusion, let me incorporate my confusion into the book or story I am writing, and see if that helps. If I can't start, then let me write about not being able to start. Perhaps, after all, confusion and failure are not things one has to overcome before one can start, but deep human experiences which deserve themselves to be explored in art. Perhaps, indeed, the stick has no right end and therefore no wrong end.
Gabriel Josipovici, The Teller and the Tale

Letter from Dave today to Dear Angel Investor requesting funds to carry family of four across the atlantic this summer. 

Aciman in form again too---on the wishfilms we throw over everything, every place, in our craving for romance.  Longing for intimacy and love, the remanence of our presence.  154-155 in Alibis, the essay on luminous New York.  The next essay, on “Self Storage,” also right on the money.  Those few moments, seconds, hours, when he/I find some solitude and recoup, recharge, find who I am again, for a while, find some core, imagined or real or illusory, some longed-for center, and from there “for a few imagined seconds . . . was finally able to run away from those I couldn’t be more grateful to love.” 

Why am I feeling so fragile today?  What has spooked me?  Upset?  10 days of Caribbean sun and warmth destabilized?  Re-entry? new carpet, day at pheasant lane in mid-week?  Trying to hear French?  Turn of seasons into spring, out of the burrows of winter?  April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead earth.  Flooding the basements built on granite ledge. Now we wait two or three days, turn our faces to the wall and ignore the waters.  Wait for the earth to dry and open and carry away the excess efluvia. 

For a little over fifteen years I tried to get away from books.  I took up painting to use up lots of time I otherwise would have spent reading books.  I had read enough.  Too many.  They had piled up.  Shelves crammed.  Too many trips to used bookstores to sell some, even more trips to other bookstores to buy more.  I rented a studio space in a small office building on Main Street.  Lawyers at one end of the hall.  A masseur in the corner at the other end.  A mail-order business in worms for pets in one office and about the two others I was never quite sure.  Maybe the woman I would see off and on, rarely, entering and leaving the unmarked door to the left of my space was a therapist.  Maybe not.  And in the office to my right, I never saw anyone leave or enter.  Was it even an office?  From outside, the windows added up properly and said, yes, that room must have been a duplicate of the one I used three or four afternoons a week.  I would teach my classes in the mornings, as I had been doing for more than twenty-five years.  After scrupulously being available for students to seek help in my office I would walk down the hill to my painting studio as I began to call it and I would paint.  Or sit.  I allowed myself one chair on which to look back a the works I was painting.  No books.  It was hard at first not to carry a book with me, but pretty soon I got the hang of it.  I didn’t think of it at the time as a flight from books.  In fact it was probably not really that at all.  That is just a way of looking back at it now.  It was more like a way of filling out the act of reading by expanding it to the whole of seeing.  The page became the canvas, words merged into paint, consciousness wanted to embrace thought and image, all attempts to express and contain, pour forth and hold onto, colors, forms, lines, shaped letters, words, in voice, cadence in movement held in paint and ink. 

Aciman “You don’t know whether what you feel is what you you feel or what you say you feel, just as you don’t know whether saying you feel something is actually a way of saying anything at all aboout it.”  Alibis 199  You wing it.  You hope others believe you.  If they believe you, then you might as well copy them and believe the person they believe.”

Perfect license for practicing Pierre Menardism. 

“I’ve built my home not even with words and what they mean but with cadence, just cadence, because cadence is like feeling, and cadence is like breathing, and cadence is heartbeat and desire, and if cadence doesn’t reinvent everything we would like our life to have been or to become, then just the act of searching and probing in that particularly cadenced way becomes a way of feeling and of being in the world.”

Aciman uses irrealis at the end of the final essay on Parallax--page 189
“Parallax is not just a disturbance in vision. It’s a derealizing and paralyzing disturbance in the soul—cognitive, metaphysical, intellectual, and ultimately aesthetic. It is not just about displacement, or of feeling adrift both in time and space, it is a fundamental misalignment between who we are, might have been, could still be, can’t accept we’ve become, or may never be. You assume you are not quite like others and that to understand others, to be with others, to love others, and to be loved by them, you need to think other thoughts than the ones that come naturally. To be with others you must be the opposite of who you are; to read others, you must read the opposite of what you see; to be somewhere, you must suspect you are or could be elsewhere. This is the irrealis-mood. You feel, you imagine, you think, and ultimately write counterfactually, because writing speaks this disturbance, investigates it, because writing also perpetuates and consolidates it and hopes to make sense of it by giving it a form.”

Most recently in the essay on Sebald in American Scholar this past December.  Part of the forthcoming collection of essays on the idea, which will be entitled Homo Irrealis.