Thursday 19 January
Snow perfect outside. Warmer. Yesterday it fell from the night before. We are coughing again, that seems to have returned once we got back from San Jose about a week ago yesterday. Keep the Heat on last night. Glitterati of the town.
Posted an email to these pages from Pasadena---might as well copy that in for the record.
Jan 6 (13 days ago) Down time at the Donatello
5:50 after short nap. Dinner in an hour. First quiet time in about a week. How much I miss it no matter what a good time we had in Pasadena. Arrived at Bob & Nancy's yesterday in time for lunch. Dinner then with Mike and Cindy. Drive to the city today, day at the enormous new Moma. Super spacious and pleasant, opened this past fall. Nice mid-century painting collections and some really fine Agnes Martins from a range of dates. Great room of C Still's and lots of super Gustons both early and late. Marden, big collection of E Kelly, Richter, Lichtenstein, Warhol, nice Joan Mitchell pieces, Twombly, Chuck Close.
Good lunch at the cafe. Came back here to the Club for tea. Night city scape out the window. Uber was a Tesla about three years old.
How long ago, how short a time ago.
Greetings Ken and Carole
Le tout de Plymouth asked about you last night at the Keep the Heat on gala. Everyone who is anyone asked over and over how you are, what news there is from the Siesta Key Colony
this year? So . . . give us the top 3-5 headlines, special report from the HuffPoQuai.
We actually sat at table with Wide and Dave, Pat Hage, Martha Aguiar and a couple named Hall who we didn't (and still don't) know. Was loud and hard to hear. Everyone up and having a good time. Prospect hall a thousand times better location, still crowded but much more pleasant and doable. Food was good.
We talked mostly too the Kents both at table and standing around (me). Gave them our update on Bob and Nancy. They will be a week with them in Albuquerque in a month or so I think, after they return from PV.
We had a very fun visit with them but Bob's deterioration is difficult to watch. Right off I told Nancy to get rid of the white shag carpet she has in their bedroom. He's going to fall again if they are not careful. Mentally he seems fine, same fun quips and commentary, especially on movies. Rides the stationery bike in the garage. But walking is just a mystery. Seems to have less control of just what he can do. More to say but that's enough. Too much of our detail is not really helpful. We wish they would be getting more professional help (PT) even if it would cost something and even if "it might do no good," but really can't have much influence.
A good night in San Francisco, dinner, nice visit to the big new museum. Movie "Silence" which we all thought was terrible. Back in SJ we went to a small new Stanford museum which is terrific---contemporary paintings I loved seeing. Mid-century collection. The family made money creating a food service like sodexho in the last 50s, amateur collestanfordctors with the stanford art faculty to help them choose and they had the money by then to buy the very very best. Teen-age daughter grew up with a Pollock on her pink french provincial bedroom wall. This was all in the short film.
Nancy had Mike and Cindy to dinner one night. They are helping them a lot and thank goodness. Also another couple, old friends we had met years before but didn't quite remember until dinner got underway.
We saw "La La Land" and loved it. Go see it if you have not yet.
Pasadena was a whole chapter yet to tell. Marilyn showed up with her hoped-for beau from Dedham, also the young couple. Rose parade nice and quiet in its way.
Ermelina and Joaquin drove us around LA for a long day, showed us their studio in Long Beach. I was glad he was driving. Later I drove our rental around Pasadena but often I put google on "no freeways" and did fine. Beautiful old neighborhoods.
Watching The Crown and went back to start season one of The Man in the High Castle.
Don't get burned in the sun and enjoy all the extra vitamin D.
Va going to the doctor tomorrow. Not feeling well today and both our coughs persist. I am welcoming this domestic catch-up day. Laundry and rearranging stuff.
Main event otherwise is Caiman 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---technology! wow
Hi - I'm reading "Enigma Variations: A Novel" by André Caiman 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 Caiman 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, Caiman 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. Hometown never felt like a Catholic town to me. Doubt that Phil ever felt it to be so either, have to ask.
Going to the doctor for Va’s cough. Last night was another up and down night, coughing all night. Loss of sleep night. Hairdresser later today. Gray skies. This has been a gray sky winter so far, even in California and New Mexico.
Aciman’s writing reminds me of reading Brideshead Revisited, listening to Leonard Cohen, or, even, reading Pessoa? No, Pessoa feels different even if akin.
Va had a chest x-ray after seeing the nurse. New antibiotic.
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
Saturday noon 21st
Short walk. Overcast, warm. Va watching Girl on a Train. Think we both feel better but slowly. Like how the new campus building is all wrapped in white plastic, almost like a local Christo project.
I joked with K on email about the effect of the Portland day trip on his great new PSA score of 0. He quipped something surprising, given that he is so cautious on every seeming count: “How many TPE's until I become Dorian Gray?” Would never have made that quip but maybe I read too much old-style literati into it? Gray’s symbolic aura not as fixed as anyone else’s. We watched more of The Crown last night. Liz chose crown over sister. Don’t want to watch that much more of it.
We both seem to be a bit better, behaving as though we are. Last night’s sleep not so great until way in the morning when I finally got a good, deep spell and had dreams that entertained. A couple came to visit us, the guy was small and skinny and locked himself into an armoire to change his clothes. Also had two big dogs with him. So rare that I recall dream details. We were in the house all day today. Heavy wet air and dark gray skies. Watched the 2011 movie “Crazy, Stupid Love” because Gosling and Stone were on the Graham Norton show. May go to see La La Land again tomorrow or later. Snow storm for Tuesday. Washing machine in the basement is leaking. Hoses or worn out machine? I’m guessing worn-out, given problems with the dryer earlier in the year. But maybe I just want the excitement of buying a big shiny new consumer product.
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
Are we really getting over this cough/cold? We hope. Gray day, storm tonight.
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.
Barry from Bristol showed and says the washing machine is ok, maybe just spill from over the top. Probably the heavy towels and flannel sheets rock it too much. Midwinter worrying and houseboundedness. 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.”
what about Javier Marías, Thus Bad Begins ? not feeling as compelled now that Aciman has taken over. He will have me back to reading Proust I suppose. Eventually. I do hope he has an essay on Pessoa. Now I can dive into his books and “do a dissertation” on him. A lifelong dream realized before it was too late. The hope for a truly INFP writer, even a great writer, become reality, discovered.
Today the romance of winter ice and freezing rain. The heavy quicksilver grays of the sky. The total immersion of the water, snow, ice, sleet during the night tapping on the roof. Pure Heraclitean water flowing through us. Winds too now, scattering drops on the panes, shaking showers out of the pines.
Aciman in Harvard Advocate interview, 2013
If you refashion the order of events, then your story begins to make sense. It resonates with meaning. Ultimately, that’s what counts: the meaning of the story. So yes, sometimes something happens in January as opposed to March and you shift them around and suddenly everything makes sense, because all that needed to change was not the events, but the weather. So, in essence, for me, memoir is a novel.
I consider myself a bookish person, i.e. withdrawn, dysfunctional: whatever you want to call it. I’m not on planet Earth; I’m somewhere else. I’m constantly faking being on planet Earth in order to survive on planet Earth. That’s all it is.
I’m not like that. But I think the contrast is important because it is a contrast between literature and what I consider the opposite of literature: life. I don’t think one has anything to do with the other. Many people will disagree with me. I think art and life are two separate departments, and one imitates the other; that’s about it. But life could care less about literature. Literature is envious of life. People who can’t read don’t care about reading. They’re not losing anything, as far as they’re concerned.
Cécile has great news. Columbia is hiring her to teach in its program in Paris. So she’s reducing her preschool job, not sure how much, to be able to teach now both for Columbia and for Vassar-Wesleyan. A former student on her own went to the directors of Columbia and raved about what a great teacher she is.
Have to paste in her message.
Wed, Jan 25, 2017 at 9:51 AM, Cécile Dessertenne wrote:
I just heard back from Columbia: they are still very interested. They would like me to start mid-february (after our vacation break: perfect!) teaching a couple of hours per week. I am thrilled!!!!! Plus, there is another amazing news: in their master program this year, there is a student who was a former student of the Vassar Wesleyan program in Paris (in 2009) and when she heard that I will be joining the columbia master degree Staff, she went to see the head of the program and said: "Cécile is the best French teacher I ‘ve ever had! I am so excited she will be teaching for colombia next semester” so when the Head of the program contacted me again today to confirm they wanted me to work for them, she was even more convinced it was a great idea to hire me!!!! I am sooooo happy! : ) All the hard work is finally paying!!!!
Don’t I deserve, more than ever, a new package of poll’ys pancake oatmeal buttermilk mix???
Scott Esposito interviewed Aciman in his Quarterly C in 2010. Printing that out now. So how did I miss Aciman? weddings and babies I guess. Parisian travels. Oh dear.
We plan to see La La Land again today. Skies lighter gray, temps warmer.
decided not to. Not there yet with energy. Not even sure I want to try to walk around the block. Why should I?
Aciman in the Esposito interview: “An author’s voice itself alters reality.”
He knows what he wants and does, Aciman. “Eight White Nights is a psychological novel, a roman d’analyse, as the French call such novels. It lays bare the heart. It’s not for everyone.”
He has his confidence, his arrogance. He’s made it, found it, has great success as a writer in America. It is fine that he dismisses Bernhard and Bolaño. No doubt he would dismiss Marías and Josopivici and any other contemporaries we would try to get him to talk about with approval. Or even interest. It’s a great position for a writer to take---I don’t read anything but the best, the classics, from the 18th century on backwards into antiquity.
Nice note from Jeff. He just got back from the Jaipur literary conference.
Good guess about Jaipur. I just got back from there today. Next year I hope to introduce my new book there. I met the director to talk about that. The CDs are actually to support the book. I'm glad if you enjoy them. McGann, however, said he found them even more demanding than my poems on the page. That took me aback. I worked with Bill and Darren because they are old friends, both with big ears, as they say in the jazz world. The cover designs are my own.
The place in Madrid is still available, and I'm still trying to find a way to finance it. On the other hand, my niece has got me interested in a 7-acre lot in the mountains in Utah. But it's hard to imagine being in Trumped America.
I hope I'll have a chance to meet you and Virginia again this year. America, India, Japan, Spain?
Does David have a new CD?
from Aciman’s Esposito interview:
AA: The narrator is obviously an insecure and timid person who never assumes that bliss is waiting around the corner. He has had many affairs but he knows that the things that matter most in life seldom yield to our wishes, perhaps because we don’t know how to court them. Most of literature, in fact, may be about one thing: Why can’t I get what I want? Why are things difficult for me? Why are others luckier than I am? Even Achilles, the most masculine of alpha males, is afflicted. The answer may be that the narrator doesn’t know how to want. He has found a way of automatically turning wanting into resignation. And he’s found a way of making resignation comforting, of finding beauty in it.
As he also says in the “Second Night,” “the things we want most in life are so rarely given that when they are finally granted we seldom believe, don’t dare touch, and, without knowing, turn them down and ask them to reconsider whether it’s really us they’re truly being offered to.”
The narrator is resigned to this and knows how to live with it. He assumes he’ll never see Clara again and thinks ahead to those times in the future when he’ll want to cuddle the flame that had once warmed his heart at a Christmas Eve party. He doesn’t take Clara home with him that night; instead he takes the memory of having met her. Making memories is how we live with loss. Loss, which is an absence, a minus—and therefore a nothing—can thus be turned into a plus, into something. Poetry does this best. Which may explain why poetry is so important to the narrator—and why he is so baffled to discover its importance in someone as willful and prickly as Clara.
What also does not hold up is Aciman’s distinction between journalism and literature. Not as securely as he wants it to. Hence my quip about authors who write only on twitter. Or the kids in Japan who write emoji tales on their cell phones.
Instead of saying “an author’s voice” alters reality, all of our recent philosophers and thinkers are in agreement, really, that voice alters reality, makes reality. That is the essence of our having been cut-off from nature by virtue of having become who we are: conscious animals or symbol-using animals or animals who get Phds or however we want to cast ourselves.
6:12 pm Finished Dancing in the Dark which I had thought was volume 5 of My Struggle but turns out it is volume 4. Now I can read Michelmore on it and agree with him and be grateful he says so well what I probably would say.
Ha! can’t find any comments on his blog. And he’s read vol 5 too.
I’m far behind I guess.
Big lunch at Polly’s yesterday. Snow flurries in the Notch.
me and Phil on “othering”
Yesterday, I had lunch with a Tunisian who worked for years at the US embassy in Tunis as a "cultural officer." He is now retired from the embassy and collecting a pension, but is in the US looking for some org to finance him as a kind of cultural go-between facilitating exchanges between the US and Tunisia. I told him I would send out to my Friends-of-Tunisia list serve a notice about him and his search for funding and that maybe someone might know of some agency that would hire him or finance him. Yet frankly I think there is less than a snowball's chance in hell that any American university or org would send students or other groups of people to Tunisia or any other Arab country these days. Islamist killers have done a pretty good job of isolating Moslem countries from the rest of the world. I know that I wouldn't go to Tunisia today even though it's pretty safe for a single individual if one stays in certain areas.
Anyway, this guy speaks pretty fluent English and is completely fluent in French and Arabic. Yet he sometimes spoke in what I call "the third world way." As he talked about about a subject, he sometimes meandered all over the place, including the oddest things, and concluded in a way that left me scratching my head and wondering what the hell he was trying to say. I've encountered this before and always wonder if this kind of talk shows that people in the third world have no real logic in their minds, that all their thoughts are just a big, crazy jumble, or if a third world speaker has followed some cultural norm, dealing with a subject the way anyone from his culture would, that he is touching cultural bases of which I am completely unaware. Since it would probably be insulting to explain my confusion to such people I never ask about this. Instead, I just take what I can from what they say and try to go on from there. I should add that while I have mainly found this among people from the third world, I've occasionally encountered it from French people. "What the hell are these people trying to say?" I know we Americans sound rudely blunt to a lot of folks, so it might be a cultural difference, but especially among third world people I worry that it shows minds that are completely disorganized.
Question for you and possibly also Virginia: have you ever encountered this kind of puzzling, oddly wandering, seemingly illogical speech from people from the third world? Or even Europeans?
Yes I've had such experiences and wondered exactly the same things. Years ago when we started going to Spain Va
had to instruct me a number of times to not speak my mind so directly about things for fear of offending our good
friends there. they would take us to something like the Valley of the Fallen for a day outing---Franco's god-awful
underground church-tomb-memorial built by the defeated republican army-slave labor to glorify the Fascist
victory and I would say wow this is really ugly and dreadful before I learned to hold my tongue. In Spain at least
back then, stating opinions on anything in forthright fashion was not welcomed. Va said it was part of Spanish
culture, you talk about topics in such a way that in between the lines of the politeness your listener can catch the
drift of what you may mean. Circumlocution vs directness.
probably goes to the heart of Anglo vs Euro, Brit vs India, actually the whole history of formal and informal diplomacy
from every micro level (marriages!) to every macro level (wars). Henry James uses it to fill huge novels.
But as you say when a person talks to you like this Tunisian fellow it does bring up immediate reactions and confusions
that we, you and me, just don't know what to do with.
The Netflix series on the British Crown shows the Brit royals making big gaffes just like this. Elizabeth sent Philip to
Egypt early in their reign and he and Nasser felt mutually offended and hurt in the silliest ways neither could have
comprehended. Background the script writers seem to be saying for what became the Suez Crisis.
Meanwhile in my extraordinarily powerful twitter account I am tweeting once a day -- impeach now remove now --
Aciman’s answer ---email to Phil
Just reading another interview with him. French was his mother tongue, his mother's tongue yet he never felt comfortable trying to write in it. English was the language of his schooling and reading (in Egypt & later Italy).
He arrives in NYC aged 17, family living on 96th St, West Side of NY.
He says " One day it was snowing, and suddenly someone came out of the building and said, "The fucking snow!" Here I am loving the snow. And I hear this guy say ‘The fucking snow!' What I loved was their compunction--no inhibition about saying ‘the fucking snow.' I thought "I love these people. I love the way they think. They are not afraid of using direct language." which I would never do, and still don't."
So, as we wondered, it is again---America vs the rest of the world. We are fundamentally unlike any other culture.
Of course our academics would say, still, I guess, "oh there you go Othering everyone who does not think like you. Well, yeah, no one else does. !
Sort of why Dump debases us more than any of our public figures ever has done. Takes our style of direct language and turns it wholly into lying.
“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 Jan 30
note to Phil
read Harvard Square the novel I sent first---it goes directly
into the heart of your lunch with the Tunisian the other day
in most amazing ways. Also an amazing background briefing
on what the white house is doing "to the world." in its way.
I remember the Cafe Algiers in Cambridge featured in the novel
quite clearly. I think we are seven years older than Aciman.
And, biggest "and," we are rooted in Cumberland in ways
no immigrant can comprehend and they are not rooted---as
Aciman describes himself---in ways we can't comprehend.
I probably know first hand about 10 or 15 first generation
immigrants, or 2nd generation---most of them British, Irish,
European, a tiny number from places like India or Malaysia.
I'm sure it goes the other direction too---I would assume that
Dave's French in-laws can feel the differences between his
embrace of France and them differs from how they feel about
themselves. None of us can consciously articulate this stuff
very well. Which is why the writers like Aciman do help.
Long line from Joseph Conrad onward.
told Phil to start with Harvard Square so of course his email today says he started with the other book.
“Very nice editions, and I've already started to underline good quotes in the book about Egypt. To paraphrase: "in the Levant, sneezing while making a statement is proof that the statement is true while a failure to remember a word is a sure-fire sign that one is lying."
As we were saying: The Mediterranean world isn't heavy on Cartesian logic.....P”
first day off tomorrow in about two months? A few afternoon snow showers for Hanover scheduled, so nix traveling west unless it changes by morning. Snow tomorrow night for Concord. So snow in the west might be slight? Where to go, what to do?
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 segueing 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.
Turkish salad, soup, black tea, rice pudding and coffee at the Tuckerbox, newly expanded. Pastries brought home from the new bakery next door, Piecemeal Pies?
Sweet visit with the kids. Eliot going whole week in big boy pants and no diapers with only tiny slip-up today. Emma ready for the opera on Saturday but does not yet know she may have a cape to wear, her daddy’s cape from when he was Zorro for Halloween. $100 to get it there overnight. They have their two week break starting next week. Cécile saw La La Land with Agnes. Told David he had to go see it quick.
Phil liked it---
Just saw the film and enjoyed it. I think it deserves its many nominations. Very clever, very 21st Century, nice poignant ending, and I liked nearly all of the music, dancing, lyrics. Emma Stone has a very expressive face that registers emotions with without the mugging of lesser actors. Gosling is more of a stone face, but it seems he really can play the piano. Neither are great dancers or singers, but they do well enough, and, in fact, their level of performing seems perfect for the film.
It's been a long time since a film affected my emotions, but the ending of this one did - to my surprise. I thought I was a dried up old curmudgeon, but apparently there is still some juice left.
Finished Harvard Square last night. So beautiful.
Finished Out of Egypt last night. Not so much beautiful as haunting, moving, fascinating, complex. Can’t remember if it was made clear very early exactly why the family, the families, had moved to Egypt. Persecution or near-persecution in Turkey and the other countries as well as survival after WWII and business opportunity. Get as far away from Nazi Europe and its collapse as possible but stay within the Mediterranean-European spheres.
Sunday evening Just called Feeny to get him to promise to go see La La Land before Tues midnight. We went to church this morning to see him preach and run the service in tandem with the minister. He did a great job. Christians as maladjusted people who disrupt the dominant order of things to salt the earth with love.
memoir stuff in response to Phil’s comments on Aciman
J. P. Jones
Feb 4 (1 day ago)
i don't know how much of his works you have read by now, but I've read about half of "Out of Egypt" and the prologue of "Harvard Square." But I also have read most of Aciman's essays in a volume called "Alibis," which I got out of the local library. I don't like his essays as much as the other two books, but the essays do make clear the kind of sensibility that is behind the writing in the other two books. These essays make clear this is a de-racinated Jew, originally from Egypt, now a prof in NY, who has become a lit professor who spends waaaaaay too much time with Marcel Proust. He makes these points over and over again in these essays, how we don't experience reality but, rather, the images of reality composed in our heads, and it's even more true of those who write about their past. You reach the point where you're silently telling him "Alright, already, move on, willya!" However, I will admit that reading those essays makes one very conscious of the true source of thoughts that are expressed by characters in both Harvard Square and "Out of Egypt."
think it's because I've just seen "La La Land" that I'm very conscious of how much attention he gives to thoughts of alternate lives that people might have lived had chance not worked out the way it did. Certainly we all have such thoughts - not just Egyptian Jews and Hollywood people - and that's why such stories affect us so. "Might I have done something else with my life, lived a different way in a different place, with different people?" is a something that recurs fairly often, I think, for all people with the possible exception of the Donald Trump types. And it is a poignant, affecting thought, isn't it. I think the film touches on this subject affectingly, and Aciman looks at it more intellectually, from different angles - in other words, more objectively and completely.
So I am enjoying both books as far as I have read. How about you?
I've only read a few of his essays but like you I find his voice and manner in those much a good deal less interesting and compelling than in the novels. I finished
Harvard Square and Out of Egypt and found both very moving in very different ways. The Egypt book gives me a better picture of Jewishness outside of the usual
American parameters of late than anything I've read in a good while. Note that he barely mentions that Israel provoked the Suez crisis and I had to go to Wiki
to get more background on that. Then I realized was a price was paid for the creation of Israel by hundreds of thousands of Jews around the Middle East and
beyond by people like A's families. With the breakup of the Ottoman and British empires, Jewish haute bourgeois had resettled in other places and were assimilated
in many ways after two or three generations (and yet not, also) and secularized. l Note that neither Neither A nor his father knew how to read hebrew. etc Very fascinating portrait of that kind of upper bourgeois world of late 19th--mid 20thC lives. And how they all hate one another in varying layers of imagined and remembered slights and offenses and cultural distinctions---just as the euorpeans do once you scratch the surfaces. And I guess we Americans also do---Cumberlanders against texans or yankees.
Had not thought to link his books to La La Land but of course it is perfect. Also realized that A probably has not read or heard of Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again. Exile and what if only I had chosen this and not that as American as apple pie---all the way back to the Iliad and Odyssey.
Also made me think of our own lives transposed onto the big movements described by A: not just WWII but the creation of Israel perhaps even more so, has shaped the global swirl of events more than we had ever understood. Again, why do we not figure much out until we're too old for it to matter whether we understand any of it or not? Your chuckle about Spinal Tap actually fits well here!
I think I've done enough with Aciman for a while. Maybe some of the essays, maybe not. Once he found his voice on his memories he broke through and then in the essays he fills in lots of blanks in a lazier journalistic mode, sometimes helpful, sometimes long-winded.
The portrait of Kalaj in Harvard Square is excellent. Probably I enjoyed more the self-portrait of the wandering grad student because one of the chief features of grad school life is that for 80% of the population the whole experience drags on and on as you doubt yourself over and over about whether you are ready for
the next hurdle--exams--or whether you can come up with a chapter and then a next chapter, whether your heart is really in it, whether it is worth it at all.
But the Kalajs of the world I think anyone who travels a bit has met. I met such types in cafes in Spain, in South America, in Chicago, in Cambridge. First year in Chicago I lived in International House, a univ dormitory mostly full of international students, so that was my first exposure to all sorts of temporarily “exiled" grad students from all over. The Kalajs I probably never met a taxi driver like that--at that level--but just the ways cafe regulars can spout and expatiate on how the world is going and not going for them is a familiar mode of rant and pontification.
Transposing---I pictured A's parents and grandparents as that layer of Jewish merchant class in Cumberland that we were seeing the tale end of in our high school days. By the time my sister went off to college I would think that the merchants on Baltimore street could see that it was "all over" for therm as the highway
system replaced the railroads. And only fifty years later did someone point out to me that one of the oldest synagogue buildings in the US stands in Cumberland. Who knew?
I think I thought of De De Roberts today because dating her was my feeble attempt to cross many invisible boundaries that rule Cumberland life (at least in the mind of my mother, who always lived as though she was an exile and expat from the north side who wanted to find entree into the West side but never would
make it, and who felt exiled into the South End from her true home in the North side. South side was Italian (St Mary's) and her true parish was SS P&P. etc etc.
All of this I was trying to use to reimagine Aciman's Alexandria. But of course we didn't have dirty Arab servants. Although one cleaning lady came every week from Ridgely and that was a quiet and mild equivalent in its way. Her son became a famous ballet dancer in NYC. Dad mentioned one time at the club that his favorite waiter, a very old black man named Bromley, was the grandson (or son?) of a former slave. His son became chancellor of UMass. And then ten years younger than us without us being aware of it, Henry Louis Gates was growing up in Piedmont. When we were fourteen, he was four. Etc.
I've asked you before most likely---but what happened in your dad's family that he didn't live in the Wash street house while you were young? Did you say he just didn't like it and wanted to move away from there?
When I dated De De briefly was when I was shocked to find out that the beautiful house they lived in on Wash street had been cut up into two or three living units, maybe the upstairs and the main floor---i.e. was no long still one grand house. Also I still didn't realize that I lived in The South.
walked in Target. We took communion in both species. I went up and then after the service was over Bev Hart came over and asked Va if she wanted to partake and then brought over the bread loaf and chalice so she could. Very sweet. We chatted with five or six people, good to see them all. Feeny was so calm and confident and his homily excellent written and spoken. So pleased and impressed. Humbled too I should add. Noted that for his generation “in the beginning was the story and the story was with us and got told and re-told among us.”
Monday 6 Feb
Tom Brady stunned the world last night. Pretty sweet.
Phil gave me the paragraph I needed about Dede Roberts
“Dede Roberts: I never knew her, but I saw her every now and then and thought she was quite pretty and glamorous, also, a little mysterious. My father's brother married a woman who was part of the Roberts clan. I remember the Roberts house was right next to the Rosenbaum (?) house and they were both very big.”
Yes, Dede was older than us - three or so years, I think. I guess she might have lived in the Roberts house which was about a block down Washington Street, across from 415 Washington St, where we lived just after wwII. I'm guessing the address would have been 416 or 418 Washington St. Big house.
In thinking it over, the area around the old Sacred Heart hospital on Decatur Street might have been considered "East Cumberland" but nobody, but nobody, ever used that term.
Other stuff: When I left Liveright to go to Europe in 72, the woman who replaced me was named Jean Naggar. She was from a very rich Jewish family that was deported from Egypt in '57 or 58. Had to leave a huge house that soon became the Russian embassy. Her maiden name was Jean Smouha. In Aciman's book, part of his family lived in a district called Smouha. So I googled that and found something interesting. Google: Joseph Smouha. Jean Naggar later started her own lit agency in NYC. Very oriented toward women writers.
I agree that Aciman seems to think that Jews are the only people who are "really alienated." I think it's a common Jewish attitude: "We are the only truly good people. No goy can be truly trusted. etc. etc."
Perry Smith is the only Perry I remember. Holly Smith was his daughter. They lived more or less across the street from my grandfather's place, and the house was, indeed, cut up into apartments. They also had a farm up on the shore of Deep Creek Lake. Are you perhaps confusing Holly and Dede?
Bingo I think you are totally right here. It is
Holly I had a few dates with. Perry Smith her
dad. How on earth the name dede roberts
ever popped into mind I don't know. Asked
my brother if he recalled her.
so where would dede roberts have lived? next
to rosenbaums? has to be my brothers group, four years older than us
did find Joseph Smouha on google
No, no one ever spoke of East side in C'land. Now I wonder if this is some kind of "thing"in Geography studies----towns and cities where the residents fail/refuse to name or refer to a whole point of the compass.
East was basically leaving town to go to DC and Baltimore. Maybe developed much later and name Johnson Heights became it but even that is South in the mental maps of most
town residents. East was farmlands? Stegmaier's farm. And hills, Rose Hill Cemetery, and the country club, Wills Creek.
Clarifying to get straight on Holly Smith vs Dede Roberts. The latter I fell in love with one day at the library and she told me to read Thomas Wolfe"s Look Homeward, Angel. I did a few weeks later and after I finished I read it all over again immediately. I probably hoped to see her again and talk about the book and convince her how much I was in love with her but that never happened. Sophomore or junior year in high school. Or maybe
even fresh-soph. Holly I did take out a few times, dance once at the ccc and maybe a junior prom? Got my only flat top haircut either for her or for Dede! Looked pretty foolish.
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 “apophasis 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.
Thursday Feb 9
Snowing now, almost 11. Snow day. Silent snow, secret snow. Always something childlike, magical about the whiteness and the hush. Worst of the storm hitting NYC. Here it just feels gentle.
Very fine flakes. Cold.
Have started about five or six new books. Why not stay with Aciman’s, Eight White Nights? Especially on the day of a great snow storm? I like him too much. I don’t want to see the end coming of all of his books. Today’s mail brings the hardback copy of his edited collection, The Proust Project. It is a who’s who of the age, or at least of NY taste at the turn of the 21st Century. I read his essay on visiting the Proust town of Illier-Combray last night and another on visiting Bethlehem. Published in 2004. Nights published in 2010. Even before looking up these dates I had decided that in Nights Aciman had decided to allow himself to write in as Proustean a manner as he was able to muster. That makes it sound too much like an effort. More that he opened every channel and allowed his love of Proust to write his novel as fully as possible. Should I try to re-read Proust and to love him as much as Aciman does? As all the contributors claim they do?
“. . . and, if I could, would have signaled to the I approaching the building a few hours earlier and warmed him to keep putting off coming here--take a half step first, then half of that half step, and half of the half, of that half step, as superstitious people do when they half reach out and push away the very thing they crave but fear they’ll never have unless they’ve pushed it far enough first--to walk and want asymptotically.” 36
“I suddenly stopped myself, knowing, by an inverse logic familiar to superstitious people, that the very foretaste of sorrows to come presumed a degree of joy beforehand and would no doubt stand in the way of the very joy I was reluctant to consider for fear of forfeiting it.” 15
Friday 10 February
First swim in ages. Nice. Perfect. Yesterday in house for the big snow. More tomorrow or Sunday, and Sunday?
Ready to Survive Mud Season
On the desk, bookmarks in each, at least ten pages in.
Mystical Languages of Unsaying
The Varieties of Religious Experience
Eight White Nights
The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism
The Proust Project
The Voyager and the Messenger
The Garden of Truth
The Black Notebook
Saturday Feb 11
Unusual night, a real nightmare. Fellow broke into our house, came upstairs, into our room. I woke moaning, trying to speak, trying to get him to leave, to get help. Virginia had to wake me, asked if I were ok. Real sense of being scared in that liminal space between sleeping, knowing it was just a dream having felt it was real just seconds before, and finally escaping through finally waking.
Never happens that I dream like this. Or has not happened like this for quite a long time. And yesterday because of the delightful swim, the stroll in wally’s and the deep nap while Colin and Willow played the piano, I thought I was relaxed. Maybe in such deep relaxation a different sort of dream work emerges? Or gets remembered?
Today more snow all morning, very fine. Lots of snow.
Aciman on Eight White Nights: “Calling feels wrong, not calling feels wrong. Call it the middle mist. . . . . We don’t want to admit it, but if you took a magnifying class and placed it on our hesitations and our inexorable ambivalences about everything, even ourselves, you have Eight White Nights. [It] is a psychological novel, a roman d’analyse, as the French call such novels. It lays bare the heart. It’s not for everyone.” In the Esposito interview.
As I Walk with Beauty
As I walk, as I walk
The universe is walking with me
In beauty it walks before me
In beauty it walks behind me
In beauty it walks below me
In beauty it walks above me
Beauty is on every side
As I walk, I walk with Beauty.
Traditional Navajo Prayer
Dick Hunnewell told us about this prayer in an email the other day announcing happily that his health problems seem much better, doctors reports upbeat and all clear. No heart disease even though afib meds still necessary.
day off yesterday, over to White River Jct again. Lunch at Piecemeal and chat with Justin Barrett the owner-chef. He grew up in Baltimore suburbs, grandmother in Owings Mills area. Never heard of Cumberland, no idea where it was. Clearly had “gotten out.”
I’ve been composing my heartfelt reply to Aciman’s reply to my note. Phil has dashed some necessary Cumberland, generational, cynicism on me and I think maybe I will indeed heed it, at least for now. I can reply by asking about the Homo Irrealis project and leave it at that. Name drop and play some taste games and see if any further correspondence follows. I doubt that it will. Phil says, hey, be careful, he’s just flattering you because when writers get praise they like they really can’t help but flatter you back. Part of fame, part of the dynamic of stardom at whatever level. “As soon as you can fake sincerity, . . . “
my reply to Phil last night and his reply after --
Agree that Harvard Square goes soft and wheezy in the middle onward.
Reminds me of Bill Bryson's book on walking the appalachian trail. Did you read that? A Walk in the Woods. Bryson presents it as a travel memoir of his walk of most of the trail with a fat friend of his.
Half way into the book even my students began to say, hey, something fishy here, something's off in the feel of the tale---and we all agreed without much of a fight, that the fat friend was surely an invention by Bryson, necessary for developing the book, keeping the momentum going in a human interest sort of way.
Don't doubt at all that Aciman's friend must be a composite of people he knew in Cambridge. I could collage such a figure from my year of living in international house in Chicago. And I'm sure it is my grad school experience that makes me read the book more for the portrait of the grad student or as much as for the portrait of Kalej. Aciman doesn’t pay any attention to "realism" so he must have mixed details without much care and/or maybe he was protecting the identities of some of the people
he was borrowing details from?
I'm struck again by the great good fortune of Aciman so far as having a career as a writer. He begins at the top---i.e. the tales of his family in Alexandria poured out and the publisher loved it and bang he's got a good new book and has become a writer with a major house. and in nyc. after that I'm guessing that he then had the luxury of teaching himself, learning how, to write decent fiction. Probably the memoir has fictional material buried within it, learning how to do it as he moved along. And editors help him make it all work better in the later books for American audiences. of course he has the rich background and the chops to become a good writer. And he was this sensitive only child growing up in this arcane world and soaking it all up for the first fourteen years of his life. Then the traumas of exile seal the deal so far as the boy's translation into adulthood.
Now he's got a movie treatment coming out at Sundance of a "gay novel.” Quotation marks because I think for him, Call Me By Your Name, is a coming of age story that is rather traditional in Mediterranean terms, but the new york editors showed him how to tweak it precisely for an american, ny, gay, audience. I may be totally wrong here too. His most recent book, enigma variations, seems to have gotten the weakest reviews, cursory scan here on my part.
My young novelist friend, Scibona, says he has shaken hands with A on two occasions. Same editor at FSG, Galassi, and Scibona got a young literary lion award at the ny public library for his first novel.
Dumpty handling the korean missile news around the pool on cell phones at Mar El Lago. The Godfather. Dumpty has no experience with good journalism, with politicians, with DC culture, with government in general and in particular. Hang on guys, riding one of those mechanical bulls in a sleazy texas/miami bar. While drinking vodka by the gallon?
J. P. Jones
9:04 PM (12 hours ago)
Yes, I figured what you focused on the "Square" was the life and trials of a grad student in lit. I figured much of that would be very familiar and worth seeing from some other perspective.
Yup, Khalaj is put together to be the perfect foil for the narrator in a story that needs a character like that because the story itself really goes nowhere.
And now I'll show what a cranky old cynical curmudgeon I am. Remember my comment about "Arab culture": kiss up and kick down. A might have genuinely believed your discussion of his work as the best he has have encountered. But I couldn't help thinking: "This old Egyptian Jew is flattering Bob because he thinks Bob may help his career or book sales somewhere down the road." I can assure you that if Aciman was a Tunisian Arab or Jew that would be exactly what was going on.
They're all con men. They can't help themselves. Which is probably why Aciman can so easily let editors turn his other story into a "gay" story. What the story is probably about is a relationship that is more physical than Americans are comfortable with, but which isn't really gay. But that Middle Eastern sensibility would not be understood in this country so...voila...a few changes to get an audience and the story becomes "gay."
Galassi, incidentally, is an old Exeter kid. As I recall, both Galassi brothers went to Exeter.
A might have genuinely believed your discussion of his work as the best he has have encountered. But I couldn't help thinking: "This old Egyptian Jew is flattering Bob because he thinks Bob may help his career or book sales somewhere down the road." I can assure you that if Aciman was a Tunisian Arab or Jew that would be exactly what was going on.
Well, but in A’s defense I have to add back, to myself at least, that A is precisely not that traditional mediterranean he might have become. He got to the states by 18 and from then on had to survive in American ways.
All of that did occur to me---especially the idea that the flattery may pay off somehow, you never know, sort of thing. which I think of as yes probably "jewish" in our book
but/and also add-in "new york city" along with "publishing" and advertising in general. Still remember being amazed that book selling actually involves contracts that specify x book will be at this precise latitude-longitude in your stores on these table corners for y number of weeks and stacked next to that book
etc etc con artists indeed who can't help themselves ---
but then why not? what do we know about retail, marketing, conning?
you asked about the influence of my mother on Anne and Rich? I guess each of us felt her neuroses in our specific ways. I do remember my sister saying just a few years ago that I had no idea what she had had to go through after I left to go to college. Meaning then she was the only teenager in the house until
she finished high school and mother gave her the full treatment of worries and restrictions about everything she could imagine to worry about.
One time one of the cousins in the Stitcher family, mother's, called for a big family renunion. we all showed up for a picnic day at Rocky Gap, the cousins in their mid-forties by then. Awkward with capitals letters. There was no family there to be together, we didn't know each other much, never had had any "family fun" together while growing up, etc etc. Quite sad in a real Edward Hopper americana way. We gamely made the best of it, tried to enjoy the smaller children who were there, politely tried to converse while eating the picnics, and then floated off into the hot cumberland afternoon. About 25 years ago.
Weds today the 15th We booked the trip for the end of March on Monday. Took all day. Probably did not look hard enough on Guadaloupe and it was too easy to imagine going back to Melia.
This time we splurged and are going to the adult only sector called The Level.
But look. Don’t let Phil’s comments ruin your fun. He doesn’t get Aciman the way you do. He is the realist, rationalist, skeptic, with no feel for feeling. And you are in morning-mode right now, early daytime, cautious, careful, susceptible. By twilight you will be ready to relax into the true moods of your own moods and responses and ready again to pen a reply to Aciman. By the same token, note that Scibona has not replied with further query. Etc.
Aciman taught Wuthering Heights for years. Plus. Remembers it most from his first reading at twelve. Exactly right. He lived on Craigie street in Cambridge. Looking that up right now.
Want to read A’s essay at the start of the Proust project to see how he talks about Proust and whether he talks about how his own work differs from Proust. His contribution piece is about Marcel’s line about his grandmother being a direct echo of Montaigne’s line about his friend. parce que c’etoit moi. He uses that in other places too, A touchstone about the nature of feeling and writing and everything.
Still I can put the Proust question to him: how does he see, feel, (as he writes?) that his writing differs from Proust’s? Is he trying to “write like Proust” or continue in the vein Proust created? Veins. The roman d’analyse. How does one do that? Actually he answers the question at the end of his Preface to the collection.
This still doesn’t answer my real question which is why has Aciman’s work struck me so deeply when Proust did not have a similar effect? Might be that Proust is too great an artist, hze is more unselfish than we are. “We would be plenty happy to know that others see what we see, not more, perhaps less, or that others are really like us, but not better, and that each of us, in the end, shares the same basic Proust.” PP xix
Have I not yet pasted his email here yet? I will now.
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, your have inspired me to get Pessoa and see what he
writes. Thank you so much for ... well, thinking of me, thinking
I am a good reader of texts. His sincerity not in question here. I’ve written to enough writers, know enough writers.
Thanks for your reply. I have to confess that one part of me blushed a few seconds in pleased embarrassment in front of other parts of me, to feel that you found my comments resonant.
Thank you, for your books, for all of it.
I read Enigma first followed fast on by Call and during both I kept muttering to myself, my God I’ve been waiting over fifty years to find a writer like this, what an answer to my prayers. The adulation cliches. But what can one do, there they are, as true as ever. Now I am reading Eight, the last (except for the essay collections), as slowly as possible, to draw it out. So beautiful, so intense and perfect (so far!).
Why didn’t reading Proust twenty years ago hit me quite this way? Maybe the English translation problem. Maybe time and aging itself. (I’m 72). Who knows? I love your line that for as often as you’ve read and taught Wuthering Heights it is still those parts that struck you at twelve, when you first read it, that still move you most, that you remember most clearly. My sophomore year in high school I fell in love with a beautiful girl two years older, met her in the library one afternoon, she told me to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel. I did, over the immediate few weeks, cried bloody tears at the end, and read it at once all over again during the rest of that year. And then You Can’t Go Home Again of course.
Homo Irrealis sound good. I am immediately curious as to which artists are “in,” on your list. And I assume visual artists as well as writers? I would nominate the architect, David Chipperfield, who did the work on the Neues Museum in Berlin. Not Calatrava. Ghery? (can’t decide) Renzo Piano--for the Gardner and the Fogg? The whole of the Gardner as a work of art?
Velazquez? Vermeer? Rembrandt? Matisse (not Picasso)? Berthe Morisot? (not Cassat) Vuillard? Gaugin? (not Van Gogh?) Clifford Still? (not Rothko) Diebenkorn, Joan Mitchell, Agnes Martin? Ad Reinhardt (not Pollock)? Franz Kline? Motherwell?
Private lists of taste have to remain idiosyncratic. Still, who are you writing about, planning to write about?
End on the small world card. My oldest friend from high school (only friend I email almost every day) was in the peace corps in Tunisia in ’68. Now in Washington they have had for years a small group that follows Tunisia and meets for lunch. I’ve been urging him to read your books. (even though he is too much of a rationalist). He was in Tunisia with Eileen Davis, Robbie Prince and Bob Stam, who is married to Ella Shohat, who teaches at NYU. Figures you must know her? They met there Raouf Ben Zakour and his friends. Or Eileen did, not quite clear on all of these intersections at this distance.
And, very young writer friend, Salvatore Scibona, has shaken your hand twice. He’s also with J Galassi, won a NY Public Library Lion award for his first novel, The End. He gave me a two page cameo in it, as an unnamed priest who poses some questions. Strict catholic childhood but never a priest.
Did my Chicago work on and knew Kenneth Burke. Howard Nemerov gave an essay on him the superb (mystical) title: “Everything, Preferably All At Once.”
Ok, there it is. Feels good and right. signed Bob
Eileen Davis to Phil
“Thanks Phil --- I’ll read him with pleasure. You sold me on “apophatic.”
“Here’s what I’ve noticed over the years in evenings spent with Raouf Ben Zakour and his friends. They’re a mix, Tunisians, Americans, French, German or since it’s now New York, the affable Italian, Jewish or Irish type --- Raouf’s nothing if not eclectic, another Tunisian trait --- usually artists, teachers, writers, business people who live here now, or are visiting. A conversation around a dinner table or in his living room is an interesting mix of ideas, impressions, stories, with languages intertwined. Tunisians move easily from Tunisian to French to English to Italian to German, sometimes all in the same sentence, remember? They’re raised this way, so they think this way --- it can seem impressionistic. I find it enjoyable, an art form. Each person on his own will go into some topic more deeply, quite seriously, usually in French, later in the evening; social conversations are kept relatively diplomatic and fun, with interest for everyone at the table, no exhibition of individual ego, no ransoming of attention. No one pontificates. All of this seems to come naturally to him and the Tunisian friends.
“Another friend is now in Saudi Arabia working on education policy, experiencing the culture first-hand for the first time. She finds that Saudis work insanely hard but are absolutely charming. She says women are making enormous progress. Well, of course.
“Aciman teaches literature at NYU --- history of literary theory --- which would be a fascinating study with someone like him. The course will end up being “a history of all human thought”, from his perspective, as these courses do with a great professor. An apophatic one at that. You can’t take notes fast enough, I’m guessing!
I like Eileen Davis’s description of conversational evenings at Raouf’s in Tunis. Gives us a glimpse of how high bourgeois families all around the Med, the world even, tried to replicate the imagined idea of conversation in Paris from 1860? to 1960.
But now I realize she is also talking about now in NY.
12:01 a fine morning’s work.
another 8-12 inches thank goodness we got out into the sunshine all day yesterday
I like Eileen Davis’s description of conversational evenings at Raouf’s in Tunis. Gives us a glimpse of how high bourgeois families all around the Med, the world even, tried to replicate the imagined idea of conversation in Paris from 1860? to 1960.
J. P. Jones
3:36 PM (1 hour ago)
Yes, exactly. And it was so ironic in former French colonies. People fought and died to throw the French out and as soon as they were gone...."mon dieu, qu'on aime Paris!" When I taught in a Tunisian lycee the first year I was in Tunis, I was in one of only two lycees in the entire country where the language of instruction was Arabic. At all the other lycees profs taught in French. That later changed, but I'm not sure what year the switch was made. Yet I'm sure it coincided with the demise of that desire to identify as French, even if that desire has not totally left former colonies.
BTW: Poor Anne. I can imagine your mother coming down hard on her because, among other possible reasons, she was a girl. Mothers, I think, go somewhat soft on their boys, but come down like hammers on daughters. Fathers, I think, like their daughters much more than their sons. I'm willing to bet that your dad liked Anne more than you and Rich, although I'll be he was fair to you two. Luckily I never had to contend with a sister.
Snow: You can keep it up there. We don't want any of it.
PS. Eileen was absolutely enthralled by the concept of apophatic novels.
I finally got around to reading a bit about Pessoa. I think he was the real deal. I think Aciman is not quite. Therefore, I think A would stumble and fumble quite a bit when attempting to write about Pessoa......P
well, we’ll see. Is Aciman at Pessoa’s level. No. Proust and Pessoa. But if he writes about Pessoa, Aciman will do a superb job with it even if P thinks he won’t.
Will we go to the book group tonight. Am sure hoping not. Snow and Rumney and the front steps at Eatons. Fingers crossed.
In my missive to A I forgot to soufflé in the lines “if I could ever have been a novelist, I would have wanted to write only novels like yours, essays like yours.” Also did not put in the thing about meeting for lunch. If we were to meet for lunch, I wouldn’t be surprised if it would not work and think of the confession Donald Hall wrote years ago in one of his essays. Why is it that I long to see my friend, but when he finally comes to visit, after twenty minutes of loving his presence, welcoming him all over again, I want most to leave the room, go back upstairs to my writing desk and pen a letter to him rather than stay and keep talking to him?
Aciman says he still prefers a kind of literary ambling, rather than a straight beeline toward his target. “The last thing I want to do is to write about real things,” he said. “I am not interested in reality and in real human beings and their real day-to-day problems—I just want to say to them, hold still, and I’m just going to unpack, see what’s inside.”
wesleyn argus 2009
Forgot to talk about Envy and how much I like the fact that he talks about it a lot. How it is part of admiration-worship-continuum. Also how I would have liked to write these novels had I become a writer. And novels like them. In the “apophatic” style as we’re now calling it. Or the “soufflé effect” style.
Good thing I called Punta Cana back after the earlier phone call because the young woman gave me misinformation about the walk-in showers. Michael Navarro just handled everything on the phone in that very Spanish/Dominican managerial commandante style of executive phone calling style. So we don’t have to upgrade to a junior suite at an extra $70 a night.
now I feel foolish for having said Proust just didn’t work for me the way Aciman does. How stupid does that sound. Time to re-read Proust. Last night’s book group in Rumney convinced me to look at Proust again. Along with Aciman. If he can read Pessoa for me then I can re-visit Proust. Probably I was at the wrong period of life--mid-life crisis 50s. Now I can enjoy a whole new Proust at 72-73. As I learn a bit more French.
The book group last night also gave me nothing that would make me interested in reading Cheney’s stories. Today while driving Willow admitted that she found them cruel and awful, full of punishing terrors and deathly scenes. Why did no one say any of that last night. Didn’t want to embarass the author and his mother. Talk about a mothering circle of readers. Polite. Only Pat Hage was trying in her way to say “jeez, this is twisted stuff.” And you can say it is all about trying writing experiments in this way and that way but who needs to enjoy reading these things? Even if Poe is our model here. Are they as good as Poe or even in a similar mode in spite of surface similarities? Should I just try one? Nah. Time is short.
Managing to get Binet to chime a wee bit with Aciman:
“Prague, the city my whole being yearns for. . . . For Paris, I feel neither the heartbreaking nostalgia nor the melancholy disenchantment of the great exiles. That is why I am free to dream of Prague.” H 214
Now P says he sees A as a worldly-wise hustler and P as a dreamer of non-worldy things who can be easily hustled.
Wonder what P’s pleasure in reading is like? Or anyone’s.
Friday night 17th
“How serene and silent the snow--candid snow, . . . the Indo-European root of the word: *kand--to shine, to kindle, to glow, to flare, from which we get incense and incandescent. There was more candor in snow than in me.” E 89 André Aciman
“I miss the future when I’ll be able to look back and miss all of this, however absurdly.” Pessoa Disquiet 180
1 March 2017
Finally Va got to the weight watchers meeting. Up at 6. Phone with PT about the house and mortgage.
“The dreamer’s superiority is due to the fact that dreaming is much more practical than living, and the dreamer gets far greater and more varied pleasure out of life than the man of action. In other and plainer words, the dreamer is the true man of action.” 91
pleased that this came up in a random search in Pessoa right after getting T’s email about the great plan to flood the white house with millions of postcards
2 March Thursday
Finished Eight White Nights a few minutes ago, around 2:37. Exquisite. Looked up reviews and found the one in the Times
from Feb 16, 2010 by Jennifer Eagan. She says it is his second novel, Call Me, the first. Here is her passage on Proust---just what I wanted to know.
“And while their halting and awkward exchanges about their own romantic histories and prospects are overtly Rohmeresque, “Eight White Nights” is fundamentally a homage to another Frenchman, Marcel Proust, who is so present in its pages that he goes unmentioned. Not only is the novel awash in Proust’s roomy sentences, extended metaphors and elegiac tone (not to mention his 100-page-long descriptions of dinner parties), but its preoccupations are also deeply Proustian: the unknowability of others; the distillation of experience into memory; the chasm between fantasy and reality; and, above all, the compulsive power of longing and its more optimistic cousin, anticipation.”
but she finds it wanting and inadequate---
“But the world of this novel is detached from reality, creating a vacuum around Oskar and Clara that gradually saps their story of life. In the vaguely aristocratic, Europe-inflected New York of “Eight White Nights,” there is no mention of war, of financial trouble, of a world in crisis; there are just Oskar and Clara and their friends, all apparently without real-life worries to speak of, all riveted to the question of whether these two will have sex. Here, unfortunately, Aciman parts company with Proust; for all the interiority of “In Search of Lost Time,” it is also a novel of war and politics and anti-Semitism, of economics and social class. By sealing off these portals to the real world, Aciman does more than deprive young Oskar and Clara of a meaningful context — he deprives himself of a perspective from which to cast their shallowness and self-important gravitas as features of youth in a particular culture at a particular time.
We’re left with no choice but to take them at face value. “We laugh,” Oskar reports. “We know why we laugh. We pretend not to know. Realize we’re both pretending. Standard fare. I love it. Aren’t we so very, very clever.” For all the erudition and sensuous writing Aciman brings to his project, even he cannot master the impossible task of making us think so.”
Ahh, well, it is almost just like our new movie, La La Land, where all the social conflictings of identities is bracketed away, far away from even as close as off-screen. We really don’t expect or even want any more the sort of “meaningful context” of earlier kinds of art. We’ve had our fill of all that. Besides, right at the end, Aciman has Oskar remind us of the essential context that gives meaning to all stories, our parents, the family against which we move outward to find new love. Even to find that both parents had secret loves outside of their marriage we never knew about.
Philip Womack in the Telegraph was also disappointed.
“Clara argues that art shouldn’t have to have anything to do with real life. And so does Aciman. He has created an artificial world to explore the nature of art and fiction itself, in which people can talk to doormen in practically Homeric similes, and yet at the same time he has attempted to represent faithfully every oscillation in emotion, and motive in love, focusing on the ‘realistic’ details of the lover’s discourse, such as muffins they share in a car, or a ship called the Prince Oscar which becomes totemic. At times this can be intriguing, even hypnotic; at (most) others, entirely absurd: more Dawson’s Creek than Pauline à la Plage.
One major failing is quite why the narrator finds Clara so attractive – we hardly ever see her physicality, except for the narrator’s liking for her neck and, oddly enough, her teeth; her personality is abrasive, and her ‘word-play’ – supposedly scintillating to the narrator’s ears – seems to my mind almost nonsensical. (Other people, in her lingo, become ‘otherpeoples’; ‘telephone’ becomes ‘télyfön’, and so on – not so much word play as accent play). The ‘cut-and-thrust’ of their conversation is oblique and self-indulgent. Clara spends much of the time talking about her ex-boyfriends; the only real moment that we might understand love for her is when she sings at a party. Nor, too, does New York ‘live’, as Italy did in Call Me By Your Name.
The greatest strength of this novel is the narrator’s relationship with his dead father: his memories of this erudite, witty and kind man are moving and beautifully rendered. But they are few and far between. Each day dawns with the narrator wondering whether he’ll see Clara again that day; each day they retrace their steps; each day ends with more inconclusive soul-searching, ‘two steps forward, one step back’, as Clara says at one point. And, alas, it’s the same for the reader. “
In the Post Marie Arana almost directly answers Eagan and says, what? of course there is hugely meaningful context---Manhattan itself. Love that she says it so well.
“ The comparison to Dostoyevsky is not a casual one. The Russian master's short story "White Nights" lingers over Aciman's novel as firmly as fog over a St. Petersburg winter. From the lovers' chance meeting to their immediate, mutual fascination to the revelation of a troubling former liaison, Dostoyevsky's four surreal nights are embedded here like a literary genetic helix. But beyond that, the similarities stop.
"Eight White Nights" is so quintessentially a Manhattan story that it is hard to imagine it unfolding in St. Petersburg or anywhere else. Strung tightly between Christmas and New Year, as well as between two apartments on the Upper West Side, it involves two protagonists who are equally educated, equally well-off, equally aware of a defining Jewishness and equally ardent aficionados of Rohmer films, Handel sarabandes and unorthodox cocktail conversations. They are also equally hamstrung by their own minds.
Their love story begins at a flamboyant Christmas Eve party in a swank, 106th Street penthouse. "Halfway through dinner," the narrator writes, "I knew I'd replay the whole evening in reverse -- the bus, the snow, the walk up the tiny incline, the cathedral looming straight before me, the stranger in the elevator, the crowded large living room where candlelit faces beamed with laughter and premonition, the piano music, the singer with the throaty voice, the scent of pinewood everywhere. . . ." And then, "someone suddenly put out a hand and said, 'I am Clara.' "
From anyone else, that overture might seem flat-footed. But the woman is a striking brunette with a lithe figure, an arrogant chin, a diaphanous red blouse unbuttoned to her breastbone. I am Clara, "spoken with the practiced, wry smile of someone who had said it too many times to care how it broke the silence. . . . With the hasty familiarity of people who, when it comes to other people, couldn't care less and haven't a thing to lose." Our narrator is instantly smitten.
Before long, the two are understanding one another completely, speaking in code, coining vocabulary that will follow them through the next eight days of a dizzyingly obsessive courtship: "pandangst" is their word for depression, "Mankiewicz" for appetizer, "Vishnukrishnu Vindalu" for sexually breathtaking, "otherpeoples" for the vacant faces about them, "Mr. and Mrs. Shukoff" for the bores they wish they could shake off but can't.
The next few days unfold in an uptown bar, an artsy movie theater, an old man's house on the shore of the Hudson River. There are a few irksome matters to resolve: She has a past life to shuck; he has a numbing penchant for perfection. But by the third night, she has him completely in her thrall, calling him Printz, after a cargo ship they see anchored in the river. By the seventh, he is stalking her apartment building, losing his hold on reality, wondering how many men she has enchanted in this way.
She is baffling, impulsive and surpassingly strange. But, then again, so is he. What follows is a mating dance that will either entrance or repel you -- a collision of two eccentric souls that grows with mesmerizing intensity. This is a richly intellectual novel that will resemble nothing you've ever encountered. Despite its nods to Dostoyevsky and Rohmer, and for all the references to well-worn landmarks of a familiar city, it is an original to the core.
Then again, Aciman has never failed to be original. Nor is he a stranger to questions of love and alienation. His first book, "Out of Egypt," was a beautifully wrought memoir of his childhood in Alexandria, Egypt. His novel "Call Me by Your Name" was a delicately nuanced, erotic coming-of-age story about a boy's homosexual affair in Italy. With "Eight White Nights," he moves into new territory, probing a rarefied urban culture that seldom has been explored in quite the same way.
The question he finally asks is one Dostoyevsky would surely have appreciated: How can a human being measure a fleeting moment of happiness? Or is it enough for us simply to hold it, cherish it and feed on the warmth of its memory for the rest of our wintry lives?”
Arana, a writer-at-large for The Post, is the author of "Lima Nights," "Cellophane" and "American Chica."
so far, then, I like her review best--she gets what Aciman is doing. As she makes clear---it will entrance or repel.
Sam Sacks gives a superb review on a site called Open Letters. He takes too long to open the piece, the old throat-clearing fault of a young writer, but then he gets to it and I like all that he says.
“Which makes the leftover task of reviewing the book something of a challenge, but I can start by saying that Eight White Nights is about falling in love – or, better to say that the novel is more interested in recreating the feeling of falling in love than in examining it. It begins on Christmas Eve, when a 28-year-old man known to us only by the affectionate nicknames he comes to acquire goes to a swanky Upper West Side party and meets Clara. He falls for her instantly; even her first words to him – I am Clara – have an incantatory charm that seem to offer a key to her personality. In a matter of paragraphs, before you’ve had a chance to situate yourself, the besotted narrator is infusing that introduction with a lifetime of unspoken meaning:
It meant, I’m the Clara you’ll be seeing all year long here, so let’s just make the best of it. I am the Clara you never thought would be sitting right next to you, and yet here I am. I’m the Clara you’ll wish to find here every one day of every month for the remainder of this and every other year of your life.
It seems a bit much. And in truth, in the cold light of day about 95 percent of Eight White Nights seems a bit much. But Aciman’s refusal to allow in any of the emotional ambivalence that is the modern-day hallmark of realism is crucial to the spell he’s trying to cast. You quickly perceive, and more importantly, associate with, the fairy tale of flirting with the most beautiful person at the party – and having that person return your advances.
If this spell works on you as it did on me, the hundred pages that make up this first night will be one of the most pleasurable stretches of prose that you have read in a long time. When the dreamt-of encounter occurs, the narrator can’t quite treat it as anything other than a dream, so even as he frenetically calibrates his conversation to hold Clara’s attention he is protected by the assumption that she will eventually wander away and the fantasy will end. So long as it continues, though, he is free to construe an almost mythic glory in her every slightest gesture. Just as he adduces dozens of different meanings from the little greeting “I am Clara,” he discovers in her a spectacular range of traits, each exaggerated like the attributes of a goddess – she is cruel and condescending when she mocks the less suave members of the party but boundlessly compassionate after the narrator chokes on a spicy hors d’oeuvre; she is the femme fatale who sensually kisses another woman but also the guarded homebody nursing the wounds of a bad breakup. The narrator, a lonesome, poetic fellow, receives each of these intimacies – even those that cause him to suffer – with expanding joy because each adds to the tapestry of the fantasy. The tiny but pregnant interactions move in an exquisite and exhilarating slow motion. Aciman is a Proust scholar, and although I’d rather leave so obvious an influence unmentioned, his prose is like Proust’s in that it takes an unconscionably involuted, Möbius strip route to get back to its original point. Its effect is achieved by getting you lost in those minute involutions, and I have to quote Aciman at length to convey even a sense of this book:
Downstairs, she navigated the crowd and led me to a quieter spot by one of the bay windows, where three tiny cushions seemed waiting for us in an alcove. She was about to place the dish between us, but then sat right next to me, holding the plate on her lap. It was meant to be noticed, I though, and therefore open to interpretation.
I didn’t know what she meant.
All I could think of was her collarbone and its gleaming suntan. The lady with the collarbone. The shirt and the collarbone. To a collarbone. This collarbone in two hundred years would, if it was cold in the icy silence of the tomb, so haunt my days and chill my dreaming nights that I would wish my own heart dry of blood. To touch and run a finger the length of her collarbone. Who was this collarbone, what person, what strange will came out to stop me when I wished my mouth on this collarbone? Collarbone, collarbone, are you not weary, will I be grieving over collarbones unyielding? I stared at her eyes and was suddenly speechless, my mind in disarray. The words weren’t coming. My thoughts were all tousled and scattered. I couldn’t even put two thoughts together and felt like a parent trying to teach an unsteady toddler how to walk by holding both his hands and asking him to put one foot before the other, one word before the other, but the child wasn’t moving. I stumbled from one thing to the other, then stood frozen and speechless, couldn’t think of anything.
Still seems a bit much, doesn’t it? This ode to Clara’s collarbone provides about as much as we know of her appearance. She is beautiful, but in a shimmeringly indistinct way, and if Aciman’s spell is working on you, you will be superimposing on that form a face and body flowing directly from your memories. And if that is happening, you won’t roll your eyes at the clichés and superfluities of the prose and you won’t falter over the simile – you won’t even notice any of this. You’ll simply respond in line with the narrator to the lavishly emphasized prompts to agony or exaltation.
A similar sense of identification may be needed to fully enjoy Aciman’s first novel Call Me by Your Name, about a teenage boy’s affair with a visiting male scholar in a seaside paradise in Italy. This is a summery fairy tale – a kind of raspberry aimed at the mortuary romanticism of Death in Venice. The love between Elio and Oliver is almost completely uninfected by guilt or loss. It is also consummated by extraordinarily graphic sex. These scenes are simultaneously rhapsodic and anatomical, and I have spoken to a few people who cringe at their earnest, stylized eroticism. Indeed, the scenes are coated with a certain stickiness – both sentimental and, alas, seminal – that makes them sound merely puerile when summarized. Yet once again, reading them accessed memories in me so deeply-vaulted that I rarely have cause to relive them over the course of a year. The lovers in Call Me by Your Name make their spoken vows, but they also forge a kind of physical covenant by exposing their bodies – even by abasing themselves – to their beloved in acts so intensely private that most people will go their whole lives without describing such moments to another living soul. These are precisely the moments that Aciman does describe, with unnerving candor and detail. Nor does he fail to capture the wretchedness and mortification that can follow such absolute vulnerability, as well as the unmatched bliss that comes from finding that your offering has been requited.
I may reveal something of my own character when I say that my favorite part of Eight White Nights comes when the narrator leaves the Christmas Eve party in the small hours and sits in a nearby park experiencing a euphoria so strong it could melt the snow around him. The novel’s title and premise is evidently borrowed from an early Dostoyevsky story called “White Nights”; but here I thought of Tolstoy. After Levin learns in Anna Karenina that Kitty loves him, he wanders Moscow in dizzy ecstasy, transfiguring all the mundane, even grubby, sights with supernatural radiance: “Two children going to school, some pigeons that flew down from the roof, and a few loaves put outside a baker’s window by an invisible hand touched him particularly. These loaves, the pigeons, and the two boys seemed creatures not of this earth.”
There is a similar sanctification of commonplaces in Call Me by Your Name: the hammering of a workman during afternoon siestas and the sight of twisted olive trees and old scarecrows leave Elio feeling “restful and at peace with the world.” In Eight White Nights the narrator has a brief run-in with a beggar and a police officer, and he knows as well that he is going to immortalize every minor detail of the encounters, and that the park itself will exist as a monument to that night, and will “echo with Clara’s presence.” I think Aciman hits on something very true in this scene – we are often most in love when we are alone, and free to perfect our feelings with our imaginations. But for the reader there is a doubly narcotic effect: the idealized memory of an idealized memory. This is how the chapter ends, and as the reader remembers his own memorials to love the narrator returns home with a hundred touchstones – the spicy hors d’eouvre, Clara’s puns and inside jokes, a certain way to tie a scarf, the frozen twigs in the park – that he can use to transport himself back to that night.
There are, of course, seven more of these nights to go, and that fact is a little bit dismaying, through no fault of Aciman’s. If you haven’t liked what you’ve read so far, you can give up the book with a clean conscience. But if you have been entranced by the spell of reminiscence, then you know – and have instinctively known from the start – that bad things are on the way. When you breach the ramparts to memories like this, everything rushes out, and though the narrator experiences further joys with Clara, and jubilant reconciliations, mostly he is bound up in a cycle of longing, fearful hesitation, mopey self-pity, panic attacks, and jabbering, insensible jealousy. Aciman dilates upon each of these phases with remorseless hypersensitivity, revealing two people terrified of giving away anything of themselves that might be rejected – terrified that what has happened between them will transform into signifiers of heartbreak. A baroque emotional gamesmanship strongly resembling psychological torture underlies their every email or phone call:
I knew there was no point in checking my e-mail or even expecting a call from her. She wouldn’t call, because she knew I wouldn’t have called either, and I didn’t call because I knew she wouldn’t. But I knew she had thought of calling, because I myself had thought of it. She’d want me to make the gesture first, if only to hold it against me, which is why I wouldn’t call, which is also why she wouldn’t call either. It was this twined and tortured shadow-thinking that both paralyzed us and drew us together.
It is all difficult to read, but only because it is done so well. The hardest part of Eight White Nights for me comes when the narrator, in the grip of grieving mania, walks back and forth past Clara’s apartment – he calls it his passacaglia, invoking another joke between them – hoping that she’ll see him, hoping that she won’t see him and he won’t care, angry that she doesn’t see him, indignant that she might see him and think he’s been thinking of her, and on and on, the street-pacing mirroring, and made more tormentingly potent, by the endlessly recursive prose:
I could not stay on the sidewalk too long. She might look out of her kitchen and catch my eyes glued to her windows. For all I knew, she might have been looking out of her window and staring straight at me. Or perhaps the two of them were [Clara and her ex-boyfriend]. So I walked by in a rush. But having reached the end of her block too soon, I realized that there was nowhere to go, and rather than go the long way around to Broadway and back, I started walking back on Riverside, slowly, then once back to 105th, went up again to 107th, back-and-forth, again and again, always affecting a busy air, not realizing that there wasn’t a reason in the world why anyone should walk by eight times on Riverside Drive and look so busy at such an ungodly hour of night.
Virtually every facet of a long relationship is compressed into Eight White Nights, and I found that the eight or so hours it took to read the book matched the amount of time it took to relive the important memories such relationships have left. Aciman has a unique understanding of how sinfully pleasurable it is to reenact your past like this. Even the terrible memories, while still painful, afford a sublime sort of indulgence because our imaginations have invariably gone to work on them and invested them with tragic splendor.
Eight White Nights is itself fuzzed and distorted by its narrator’s romanticized projections. This makes it, like the swain declaring his love, more than a little vulnerable to mockery. Clara and the narrator are not likable if you look at them as an outside observer; their sweet nothings are cloying and their inside jokes mean-spirited; they strike you as the kind of couple you’d hate to be around, the kind in which each person enables the other’s worst, most egotistical qualities. And they’re spoiled! Surely the most absurd thing about this book is the lack of any mention of gainful employment, despite the fact that Clara and the narrator live in the most expensive neighborhood in America and spend approximately one thousand dollars on wine and coffee alone during their week together.
But even as I noticed these things, I cared about none of them, and I’m left to conclude that Aciman knows what he’s doing. Day jobs have no part in daydreams. I loved reading this book, and yet I am paradoxically hesitant to recommend it to anyone. I would typically set my judgments on a book against anybody’s: they are based on learned, earned, and reasoned standards. But I put so much of myself into Eight White Nights, I’m afraid that if someone doesn’t like it, I’m going to take it personally.
Sam Sacks is an editor for Open Letters. His book reviews have also appeared in Commentary, The Wall Street Journal, The Barnes and Noble Review, The Quarterly Conversation, and The New York Press, among other places. He lives in New York.”
------ hope he is still online somewhere and I can tell him how well he nails both books.
Egan’s review seems so ham-handed even if it was in the NYT.
re-reading last section of the novel because I was dizzy yesterday while reading it and today I am bereft because it is over and I have no more to read. Maugham’s Razor’s arrived today so I can begin that. Plus Dora Bruder here in both languages.
Good swim this morning. Chose carpeting after.
Yes. It is such a delightful and gorgeous ending. More exquisite, excruciating pleasure in this book than seems possible.
Should I attempt to gloss it in detail? Wait and see on that. Is it the book I should have written, could have written? Maybe. Probably not. And yet is Aciman a man after my own heart. You bet.
Complete Proust arrived today, six fat Penguin volumes from UK. Fantasy now is to perfect reading Proust in French & English over the next five years. Starting today with the French version of Roald Dahl’s Charlie et la chocolaterie that Brendan gave me.
Swimming this morning I finalized my design for the Jewish memorial in Berlin. Or got closer to it. This as a result of asking
Andrei what people think of the memorial now there are Eisenman’s deconstructionist design.
You know that memorial to the murder of european jews in the city. The big black area full of black box towers of varying heights, sort of a labyrinth.
How often do you pass by or near it on average? If at all?
Main question is how is it now generally regarded by everyone, by locals, by friends in your circles, etc? As architectural design, as memorial design? What sorts of things are said about it? How has it become part of the cityscape?
The architect is an American, Peter Eisenmann. I had not ever given him much attention, vaguely heard of him perhaps, but then we were in Spain about five years ago and he designed a huge complex in northwest Spainnext to the city of Santiago de Compostela and it is there and then I looked up info about him. Fortunately only part of the proposed complex there got built and now I think it is a ruins or near-ruins, abandoned to the considerable elements that last Galicia off the Atlantic. Eisenmann considers himself, or used to consider himself, the chief devotee of Derrida's deconstructionism in the states.
Maybe the Berlin piece is successful? Might be his best and lasting work. But maybe not. have not looked up any discussion of it and yet have my private pet (peeve) speculations about it.
No vested interest in the question so don't worry about pleasing or displeasing Moi! Just curious to know your thoughts and those of all you encounter.
Mar 3 (2 days ago)
I have been to Peter Eisenmann's monument in Berlin numerous times and it never fails to impress me. I have given it quite a lot of thought actually. Not only because it is related to my research interests in general (Memory Studies), but also because I have recently written an essay about it for Colta.ru, a Russian magazine of culture: http://www.colta.ru/articles/specials/13809 (the text is in Russian, unfortunately). The text was dedicated to the scandalous project Yolocaust (https://yolocaust.de/) created by an Israeli writer and artist. He had searched social networks for photographs taken at the monument and then changed the photos' background substituting it with images taken in Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps. The result is horrifying and scandalous, of course - and, I argue in my text, it is also an ethical distortion. Basically, I agree with Eisenmann's own position on it: "People have been jumping around on those pillars forever. They've been sunbathing, they've been having lunch there and I think that's fine. It's like a catholic church, it's a meeting place, children run around, they sell trinkets. A memorial is an everyday occurrence, it is not sacred ground." (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-38675835)
Of course, having your photo taken with the monument in the background and then posting the pic onto Tinder or Grindr is not something I approve of. It is bad taste. But it does not mean that the monument is a failure. On the contrary, the monument is alive, it is an "everyday occurrence" - and it is wonderful. Of course, any public space and any artifact placed in a public space can be subjected to people's ignorance and stupidity. But all in all, I believe that Eisenmann's monument is doing a great job.
In general, the attitude of Germans to the monument was ambiguous from its very conception. There were long debates about whether it was a good idea to build such a huge monument in the centre of a city. Opinions about it are still divided, although most people now like that it is there.
I personally love the monument. As I said above, it always impresses and touches me. I love Eisenmann's deconstructivist approach, I love that the Berlin monument does not have a fixed narrative, I love that it can be perceived both conceptually/intellectually and purely emotionally.
Sorry for a rather long and chaotic response. As Chekhov used to say, I did not have time to make it more laconic :) But I hope I've answered your question.
I’m not convinced by the photos of it I looked at on google street view. Somehow we did not see it in person or if we did only very briefly and at a distance. Now I wish Ghery had designed it. Something like the new Vuitoon center in Paris. I looked up info on the memorial in Boston. I think it is rather good and ages well, will age very well. In thirty years I can see the Berlin piece shrinking in area, sell off a piece here, an edge there, to permit a building, to expand a bike path---whatever. It looks like a graveyard but it also looks like a demolished neighborhood, like those in Detroit or Baltimore. i.e. it looks like real estate with those funny things on it, aging foundations from earlier ruins. Did the Romans have a temple there? did there used to be a ghetto there, a set of churches? a playground that got neglected? a park never finished? an art school project?
Eisenman born in ’32 so I can’t blame him for being a boomer. Stanley Saitowitz born in ’49, so he is.
Monday night 6 March
Just tweeted two tweets will make me famous---Trump and Bannon are Yippies, yanking around the DC elite and media dummies as well as Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman ever did.
Ordered the carpet today. Finished the Binet novel HHhH. Will I read it again in French? Brilliant and moving. Even as sad as it is, a monument to history. Is it a literary “version” of Eisenman’s memorial installation of “pillars.” I would never have called them pillars, but then I have not walked around in the structure.
Tuesday Day off. Stayed home. Watched Rohmer movie Full Moon in Paris --- Les nuits de la Pleine Lune Comedies et Proverbes set in 1984 released in 1984 He died in 2010.
Simple French yet idiomatic enough in pronunciation that I doubt I could follow it without subtitles.
went to the dump, then to Chase for sandwiches. Freezing rain then so I came home.
was it three weeks ago I decided to ask Brendan to give me a French tutorial once a week? Somehow I remembered the times in Madrid when I was the tutor and I thouht, well, now I am just like Sr Andres and especially like Emilce and Hugo, with their grandchildren in Newton, so I have very good reason to turn the tables and hire a tutor. It must have been part of the envy I felt for Naomi buying her house in the village north of Autun. Why should I not learn French and learn it well. Am I deserving of such an experience? Perhaps I always thought I was not. Refugee from Apalachia, lucky to have what we have, don’t expect more, nothing above your station. Such silly notions we invent to carry and recirculate around ourselves. So now I am enjoying the feeling that of course I should learn French and learn to speak it well. Or well enough. Pourquoi pas? It feels good to feel this. It feels somehow like a breakthrough or new avenue. Maybe connected too with reading Aciman and with getting him to acknowledge that I read him so well. That he has written the books I might have written. Not should have written as I might have put it a few years back. In the resentment of envy rather than the admiration of envy.
Brendan was on the phone to Rosie for three hours last night from 3 to 6. She was having a panic attack--about everything. Her mother starts cancer treatment this week, she worries about maintaining a long distance relationship and worries what Brendan’s visit in two weeks will be like. He drove to Montreal the next day to take the exam he needs to pass to be able to study in France next year. He does stand-up comedy. At a club in Montreal last year called Teatre St Catherine and in a few weeks on campus.
Now 9 March. PEO meeting yesterday. UTI and kidney stone scare this morning. Got an appointment with Kate Hedberg. Short dose of antibiotic now in hand. Va fell while in the inner waiting room. Felt her head hurt and skinned a knee. Scare the nurses. Over two hours there. They called me in at the end of her visit. More upset than actually bumped, it seems. Now about 4:30 and all seems well. Snow squall this morning, super windy all day. Sunny now, beautiful. Yesterday was a good day off. Overate at Giorgio’s in Manchester. Opened last August. Two other places previously developed in Milford and another town.
Walked on the bridge over the highway and the river. Bought some silly learning French books at Gibsons. Now thanks to Benny the Polygot Irishman I will Hack French rather than study it in boring old textbooks. 20% of the work, 80% of the results. Yeah, baby.
Read Aciman’s essays some more. So wonderful. Also an old NYRB’s essay he did on Sebald’s Rings of Saturn way back in ’98,
“Out of Novemberland.” He liked The Emmigrants but found that for all of its twisting and weaving Rings didn’t work, had not found the form it needed. Probably right on target. Aciman’s essays in Alibis are so good. The one on Monet, and especially the one on Temporizing. Somehow that one explains to me more about a key thread in Jewish culture and identity that allows me to understand more “how the Holocaust could have happened.” But Aciman does not make that presentation of it at all. Just my
extrapolation. The theme that runs through his memoir and explains more clearly how and why the family, his father, waited for so long before leaving Egypt even though they knew they would have to do so eventually, He links the motif of temporizing back to the Jews in Spain under the Inquisition and in that way suggests it is a major theme in Jewish identity. Echoes in his other essay with the title The Reluctant Jew. And one could use his whole piece to see and argue that given this feature of waiting, Eisenmann’s memorial fits Jewish experience rather well. The disconcerting, disturbing and yet unclear cloud of vague expectations which do not yet have a defined trajectory, or plot or, especially, foreseen ending.
Video interview of Lars Iyer with Gabriel Josipovici on Vimeo, but I don’t have the interest in them that I still have in Aciman. He is the man after my own heart. For now at least. Or maybe forever!
Will be interested to see if he ever replies once he’s read Pessoa.
Found a link that showed him doing a fund raiser for the American Academy in Rome. For only 15,000 dollars you and your friends could enjoy a private dinner party with André A. Wow. For the target audience I guess 15k is the new version of a thousand twenty years ago.
In “Temporizing” which I just finished a few minutes ago, A’s concern of course is aesthetic and personal, the search for meaning in looking from the past back to the future---but I don’t think I’ve got it that easily. Proust of course. But I’ll have to use a quote from Aciman because I’ve not yet got it nailed down. Memory and lost anticipation. It is one of his most important motifs, the most important, and rooted in his departure from Egypt. And then Rome, and having to find a way to live in New York.
That’s why I didn’t become a writer. Didn’t become the writer I would have been had I written Aciman’s books. I had some sense of loss and even exile, sort of, but nothing as severe as Aciman experienced. Nothing as rich as Alexandria in remembered imagination. In part because it is such an ancient and famous city, no matter how much it may have felt to him on a hot summer afternoon when he actually lived there like South Cumberland felt to me.
I’ll make a verb of “Pierre Menard.” I want to pierremenard some of Aciman’s essays to write some of my own. He prompts me to try to write about Ronale Manor again. The piece of Monet’s French village. Just double-checked---Phil wrote about Alibis on Feb 4---“I've read about half of "Out of Egypt" and the prologue of "Harvard Square." But I also have read most of Aciman's essays in a volume called "Alibis," “ Not taken with them as much as I now am.” --Phil
Halfway through Maugham’s Razor’s Edge. Makes a fine contrast with Aciman. Curious to see how they tried to make a Bill Murray move out of it. Brendan put me on to reading it. Such a great period work. Maybe, maybe I read it a long time ago? Or it just feels so familiar in that distant way that all time-capsule novels do. I would say Aciman is the much better writer but I know I’m in my enthusiasm and who knows if I might be wrong.
Sunday March 12
Full moon craziness in the street last night, crew at Buckland house. High winds continue. Nor’easter expected Tuesday. Week before we leave for SDomingo. Pat canceled out tea party today so now we are loaded with sweets from the Coop and no one to have visit. Dave mentioned they are going to Sitges in May and we confessed to each other this morning we’re trying not to feel hurt that we are not invited this time. Daylight savings time started today. Spring. Finishing turbotax as fast as possible.
My Pessoa flip today 270 To possess is to lose. To feel without possessing is to preserve and keep, for it is to extract from things their essence.
I think of picking out of Aciman all the phrases and idioms that are mine, not his. Rewriting one of his pieces by substituting Cumberland or Madrid for his Alexandria and Rome. A way to essentialize the nature of our interior lives by the phrases that twin us. Twine us. Twins in feeling structure, form-feeling.
Here is what Pierre Menard had in mind, even Borges might not have quite understood that. Menard Syndrome. Best therapy is to give in. Resistance is Futile. Actually Aciman’s essay on Temporizing good here.
great swim this morning. Took the lemon cupcake rose to Pat. Colin here for piano. we travel a week from today, fly next day.
Typing up the simple itinerary. Got over our Sitges bummer when I re-read D’s email and sure enough they are going just for the weekend, Ascension, as a birthday gift for C.
Thursday March 16
Emma’s 6th birthday. She showed us her gifts, principle a new Rapunzel doll who looks a bit like Elsa from Frozen. And some other things. Beautiful new dress from Desigual. Delicious chocolate macaron cake on the table. Eliot happy to see Latte but wanted to see Solo too. Both parties are this weekend. Seven guests for Emma on Saturday and four or five on Sunday. And Emma now has an amoreuse named Gabiel.
Nice long swim this morning. Walking at Wally’s I saw Ethan P and hailed him. Nice chat. He’s off to West Texas to climb a place he has visited before. Now 42 today, as facebook informed me later. He’s on faculty part-time at Holderness, also at Knower, and one course on campus.
Saturday April 1st
Snow all night. Silent, fine, wet. Just to demonstrate we are not in Punta Cana any longer. Whole trip went well, in spite of some rain. Swam this morning, no one about. Walked in nearly empty Wally’s. Cleared all books off the den shelf in preparation for the carpet installation this week.
Great piece on Rupert on Anthony Wilson’s poetry blog.
In the pool the fantasy took over of near-total immersion in French, in Proust/Modiano to which I could add if the translations are available even Aciman and Pessoa. Checking Amazon France now although I think I found before that kindle there won’t sell to us here. ? hmm Also fantasizing about the next trips. Jim in Cooperstown in May? Portland for the opera in July. Nicholas in September?
Pleiade edition Format Kindle
Ce titre n'est pas disponible pour votre pays.
Kindle edition apparently not complete and has no breaks in the text not even book divisions, readers say, and yet the availability of the kindle dictionary could be a great help to get started and “immersed.” Later on if this works, focus on the Pleiade edition.
Sunday late afternoon April 2 Finally found out today in Concord that one of Va’s braces is broken. That is what has been causing her to have trouble walking. Relief. Both of us worried in Punta Cana about this. But never occured to us to examine the brace. Today after trying to walk in Lowe’s we finally did, in the Target parking lot.
Super bright day. Snow beautiful white and melting fast. Twelve years ago Aciman attacked the new Lydia Davis translation of Swann. Printed out the long pieces, two, plus the comments, just to see how it all went down. May not be my hero after all. Well, everyone has flaws. French is his native tongue. But Alexandrian French, . . . . And his ear for English, American, may not be perfect. And perhaps being a good writer still does not make one a good translator? Will enjoy perusing anyway.
Two kinds of novelists, he starts off: snails and swallows. Turns out Proust (and Aciman) are snails. Burrow in, world is unfathomable. Proceed by guesswork and paradox to explore the twisted and coiled unfathomable.
letter from Nicholas about dates for visiting
On 1 April 2017 at 09:04, Nicholas Colloff
I am at home in Zug - next week is London/Sussex for three days and the following week it is to the heart of Trumpery and a visit to Washington DC!
I have yet to fathom Bitcoin - I have a friend in Kenya much engaged but have yet to find the courage to ask him to explain what he thinks it is!
September and October - the first two weeks I am here until 17th when I am then away in Africa and Washington until 28th September then in Switzerland until 23rd October (as of writing)!
I have been to neither Prague (one of the last remaining capitals of Europe that I have not been to) nor Munich so if you opt for either I may tag along)) Amsterdam (which I visit regularly) has yet to exercise its charms on me even though it is always possible that it become my next home (It is where the family's wider philanthropy is headquartered)! Berlin, for obvious reasons, is also a regular haunt whose charms have succeeded - much to my surprise - for on the surface it lacks anything proximate to beauty.
Let me know and for me the sooner the better since as can be guessed scheduling is one of my constant preoccupations! I can also leave you the key however!
Love and best wishes, and enjoy the last snow! Nicholas
Ok I have now read the whole Aciman file on Davis and the Penguin Proust. And it is to this piece on 3Quarks that I tip my hat----Monday, November 25, 2013 Lydia Davis's Proust: The Writer as Translator, the Translator as Writer by Helane Levine-Keating, a professor at Pace University---
my reading of Aciman’s attacks note that he is describing himself and his own pet notions about writing, his own obsessions: cadence and tonality,
the movement from present to past to future in parallel structures and
sentences and novels and everything, that inside every novelist is a failed poet, and the equation of style with vision. Not earthshaking ideas, but dear to Aciman’s heart, to his own sense of what he thinks he is doing in his work and looking for in others’ work. He comes off sounding like a real grouch about the whole new Penguin translating Proust project. As if he alone knows and feels Proust as Proust is meant to be comprehended and
how dare they, dare and They, as in that midlife grumpy old white man way, how dare they newly translated my beloved Proust. And why was I not invited to be one of the translators. Note too that in all of his critique of Davis, and Grieve, Aciman does not dare show us a passage he translates for us. Ok, André, why didn’t you show us how to do it?
Anyway, in the comments following his two articles (there is any earlier one in 2002, not sure I will look that one up), he gets caught in some mistakes and errors. Lydia Davis replies quite well, I think. Not too defensively, and not at too great a length. She knows her strengths and her own talent. And Proust. Grieve plays the “betrays a failure to understand the English language” card and defends the title that Aciman had, weakly, described as “gobbledygook,” in part because it nicely chimes with Nabakov’s story title “In the Shade of Blooming Young Girls”--“In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower.”
That was all back in 2005. In 2013 Helane Levine-Kearing publishes this brilliant essay in 3Quarks, following the whole affair accurately and sympathetically, defending Davis and then bringing us the news that Davis got her last word against Aciman in a short story she published a few years after the events. Levine-Keating closes
“Once again she quotes the translated passage from Proust; however, now she slyly uses her own translation, which, of course, happens also to be Davis’s translation, but the critic is too engaged in gazing at the great editor’s house and mailbox to even notice the similarity with “the book he knew so well.” Thus the “mischievous” writer of the story and the “mischievous” translator depicted in the story have wryly conspired to reply to the critic’s “malevolence” by portraying this self-proclaimed harsh judge of translators as someone so caught up with himself that he is incapable of humor, the trait so central to Proust’s own observations throughout In Search of Lost Time. With deft irony, she makes the critic who wears his knowledge of Proust on his sleeve ironically blind to recognizing when a Proustian experience dear to his own heart is actually happening to him in the moment.
In closing I turn to Marcel Proust himself, who was famous for being both a wry and mischievous—but, arguably, not malevolent—writer, translator, and critic. In his essay on “The Creed of Art,” Proust notes, “in cases of translation from one language to another (as well as from one art to another, witness all the times when the actual vehicle of a work of art baffles the critics, whether it be a foreign language or a technique he does not know about?) As it is beauty of statement that alone individualizes the idea and marks at what depth of the creative mind the idea was worked out, if this vehicle obscures the work of art instead of throwing light on it, we are reduced to guesswork, and often guess wrong.” In light of this, one may wonder, to which translation of Swann’s Way would Proust have answered the ultimately untranslatable oui ou non?
Levine-Keating’s piece is just elegant, complete, accurate, definitive and witty. Wonderful.
Wonder why Aciman decided to be the great defender of the old translations and attack the new Penguin project? Why did he care, really? He had done his own volume on the Proust Project between 2002 and 2005, that NY Public Library published collection of essays. So I suppose that was his way of positioning himself as the premier Proustean on the NY scene. And he is prof at CUNY and not at NYU, etc etc. Too bad he had to wrap himself in the whole project, create a big stink about it, and ultimately fail to make his case and fail to prove much at all.
Davis got her revenge well enough without stooping to his level. His insecurities did him in. Even though he has triumphed in his own right as a writer. But the Proust chapter came after his memoir success and before his novels, so it was indeed his midlife crisis. Call Me comes out in 2007, two years after his reviews of Davis. His Proust collection appeared the year before, 2004.
Monday April 3
Sun. Swam in the morning, I was still sick from something in the gut.
Light looks so spring-like! Travel plans for September sketched. Prague or Milan?
Marga sent her itinerary. She’ll be with us for four days, over the 4th of July.
My French immersion plans geared up. Modiano on the new bluetooth BeatsX. Aciman showed me he and I are snails not swallows in his stinky articles on Proust for the NYRB. Now I can jump all around in Proust as the spirit moves me. Reading Stephen Fall’s summary of the novel. He adds info that thickens the sticky plot “between” Aciman and Davis. She got a genius grant in 2003. He’s gotten a Guggenheim and a Whiting but never so far as I can tell the MacArthur. Poor baby.
Fall’s book (from his blog) is a pleasant, generous account of the novel and of the new translations against the backdrop of the old classic versions. Fall who is Daniel Ford (who lives in Durham, NH) on the 14-Minute Proust website, has his marked up copy from having read the book forty years ago and makes nice use of going back and forth. He gives the new translations a generous approval, finding nits here and there but not being a showy professor-mr-so-erudite stylist about it.
Fall’s book is so relaxed and chatty and personal that it does a great job of making us more interested in diving into the novel and enjoying it for ourselves. Little to no fussiness, beyond the delightful “Gotcha”s where he plays the games of finding typos or discrepancies or other oddities between book and life. His way of “handling” the whole question of Proust’s sexuality is also refreshingly offhand. I wonder if the last part draws lots from Edmund’s White book, or if they both just draw from the standard biography. I like most Fall’s preferences for the new translations.
Finished the chapter of Willie Wonka in French that Brendan loaned me. He is coming tomorrow. Elizabeth also.
Rainy Tuesday Off to the dump and beyond. Bag full of books. Immersion reading proceeding by fits and starts. Trip to Prague and Zug seems on. Research weather patterns first.
Rainy Thursday April 6 Rain for few more days. Basement flooded. Feels like a personal attack on my householderly incompetence.
New carpet installed. Looks fine. Coming back to tweak a bit. Chose the perfect color and tone, we did.
Hey, NH now #1, Numero Uno, for place to retire too according to Time Inc = Money Magazine. Look upon us with Envy and weep, underlings, earthlings. Resistance is Futile.
Unsettled for some reason by everything. What’s with that?
Va and Colin barreling through the ode to joy on the piano. Rain heavier.
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.
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 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.”
Spring Sunday April 9
Walked on the Manchester pedestrian bridge and trail. Found parking right on Second Street and found that the trail goes right behind the Canada Club and parking lot. Will now be easy to find every time.
Monday April 10
We “invested” in 2-for-1 pricing on Viking Cruises last night. Bought the River of Gold cruise for next October and half-price. Yikes.
Basement flooded as of this morning. Three feet of water everywhere. Called Rowells, $400. per overtime hour to start with. Called Village water and sewer. They came. Nothing to offer. Called Ben. He’s fixing it, got the broken sump pump to work, it’s been lowering the water level for over an hour. He and his partner-helper working on it again now. 2;25pm Va called the Level and spoke to Radames Felix and now I’ll post a glowing review on Trip Advisor to help him out and Jorge Hernandez too.
Ben and Amanda our life savers today. Working in the basement to dry it out and put in two new sump pumps.
Returning books to the den shelves came across one of my poems
Two Paintings of Beggars’ Bowls
lights a candle in my chest.
Who am I then?
His empty begging bowl!
One bowl in each painting rests on a museum
pedestal. Others are around in the painted space.
Rooms empty, rough white paint on brown walls,
blank museum walls.
Cartoons, sketches, but clearly bowls -- drawn
fast, heavy loose lines. Bowls not difficult.
The painter asks in each painting: Having never
begged for food, never walked the streets, May he
please anyway paint two pictures of beggars’
bowls? Never? ask the paintings, skeptical and sure.
Is Need the Right from whence he begs? Then Need
authorizes his paint, his hunger for a museum
in imagined space, within and behind painted membranes.
Beggar? Painter? What differences could matter
from the view of these blues & browns, these golds
& whites, over, within, dull red-browns?
Who would ever take bowls from beggars to place
them on display in a museum? Or do the curators
wait until the beggars have passed? And then, who would
collect them, who would curate them? Clean them? but
not too much?
Who but a painter, famished for just these and these
alone, these smoothed shapes, curves greased by hands,
sweat, and the futile work of waiting for hope & charity?
The need shows itself in the doubling: a diptych, two
paintings. One not enough for beggars. Two make
a book on the wall, a pair of open palms, cupped.
Not matched, not pairs or mirrors but all of these too.
Two pictures, seven bowls, no beggars, no artists,
no donors or givers, just Need silent and at rest at last.
But not Desire. The brushstrokes breathe in the paint, hold
Desire together, cupped into these portrayed bowls.
in The Lucid Stone Winter 1999 Issue No. 20 A Quarterly of Poetry
Arizona State University, Scottsdale ISSN: 1079-896X
I can see the painting. Have a photo of it somewhere. Not sure of the poem. Sounds awfully prosey.
MYSTERY solved---the water in the basement is basically from the sump pump hose the neighbors put out their basement window and aim directly at our house. Ben says Ruth always put the hose out the front of the house so the water flowed onto Rogers Street.
Duh. Why didn’t we look into that somehow? Sort of like Va’s brace and leg. Our heads in the clouds, oblivious to the obvious. Ben and Amanda working hard. Grateful Pabob trying to relax with new modem and Spectrum coverage. Bought a little box of “Good Day Chocolate Drops” at the Peppercorn. Chocolate with Calm to help you relax. Chocolate (milk) with magnesium, chamomile, and oat straw powder.
8:46 pm Rendevous at Foster’s, 9 attendees including moi. Basement has dry spots but furnace/drain end still lots of water. Big fan going. I would swear there must be a leak in a pipe and I think now I can hear water rushing when I stand near the drain. But where is it?
Trouble too with the new Spectrum internet modem all day. Surely both of
these are connected. Wi-fi and running water.
Weds night 12 April
Workman’s Day: FedEx delivery, Spectrum technician, Jorge and two older workers to fix the carpet, Ben, Barry from Alpine Appliances (had I just not
noticed that the machine had been unplugged? maybe so, oh well), and ?
Productive day. Of sorts.
13th Chat with George at end of a short walk around Hyde Hall. He scraped the side of his leased green car and now has to get it repaired.
Short video with Dave and Emma at their ski slope. She can now go to the top of the mountain/hill and ski the whole area. Dave says in email that Cécile has decided to take the position at the Université de Creteil and so will have slightly less vacation. Will brief me on what we could do in our October visit. Hope that is a good idea.
How to collect one’s wits? House stuff triplicate yesterday. Cleaning here today. Diggin up back yard to bury pvc pipe for the sump pump. Sleeping but not sleeping. Seems a fond notion to sit and read for a long, long stretch of time. Or to take a long, long walk. Temporary sense of dislocation. Permanent sense of dislocation. Outbreaks of stability. Pockets of zen
17th April Four days later. Lost days. Water in the basement finally quieted down. Easter dinner yesterday at Newfound with Helen and Ted and a bottle of St Francis Cabernet. Most delightful. Almost sunny all day and warmer. Glimpse of beautiful old car being loaded onto a trailer---a
1958 Chrysler Crown Imperial Town Car.
Cathleen Shine in her review for NYRB misses the ending of Aciman’s latest book, the ending pointed out so well by
Shine emphasizes the loss love brings and misses thereby the in-between poise of Aciman’s faith in longing for longing’s sake. Home is the memory of the first love counterbalanced perfectly by the certainty of future longing that will be just as beautiful, just as profound, just as mysterious. Delusion, yes, perhaps, perfected by Illusion in equal measure and weight, to that the hover-point, the still-point, of pure Irrealis centers within us, like the ecstasy of the whirling dervish caught up within the widening gyre of love.
It is New Yorker Hooman Majd published in the LAreview of books who
sees the ending of the novel more clearly: “The end of the story, and the end of the novel, is a surprise that brings a sort of sadness to the end, to the life and loves of Paul. I won’t give it away here.”
But, again, we must ask, is it a sadness? Paul will tell his wife about the fascinating story of Maria Malibran, the mezzo-soprano and they will enjoy the telling and the listening, brought together by the story of a beautiful artist. The name of the wife surprises us, perhaps, and so does the joy implicit in the surprise and its purpose in helping us remember that “heartache . . . is easy enough to live down.” And will come again, and again. Aciman seems to write to repeat his definition of being human---living in the mess of longing and love and loss, living with it, living it out in all of its permutations howsoever they repeat themselves in us. We are creatures who long. Long for an intimacy we glimpse and never fully enjoy. Never enough, never fully. Exile re-enacts this on the grand stage, self-hatred, self-love, re-enact it micorcosmically with the divisions inherent in our molecules of feeling.
Nathan Smith uses strange terms---“carving” and “excavation” to describe Aciman’s work in Enigma Variations---Smith is trying to talk about the inner life vs the larger (and therby more important) political and social concerns that shape lives.
Nathan Smith on Lamda Literary website
“We see here Paul’s sexual identity as amorphous, as Aciman beautifully articulates the “in-betweeness” felt by Paul navigating these two worlds. He is “neither to be on this side of the river nor on the other but on the space and transit in between,” Aciman writes.
Aciman is an expert in Marcel Proust and Engima Variations is a trove of Proustian energies: the influence of memory, the anxiety around mothers, the sensual pleasure of smell and sight, themes which all enrich Aciman’s already masterful and probing exegesis on love and longing.
But this deeply felt and inward-looking Proustian world carved by Aciman is also paradoxically an isolating experience for readers. As Aciman attempts to demonstrate the “variations” of love felt by Paul across his lifetime, he inadvertently creates a solipsistic and affluent reality that seem immune to the influences or indeed presence of the outside world (for example, we never learn what Paul does for work or how he makes a living). The most apparent moments are those set in New York where Aciman seems to intentional avoid interrelating Paul’s world with the city’s recent history (such as the AIDS crisis, 9/11, the economic recession).
With its emphasis on Paul’s interior world and amorphous sexual identity—“My body had two agendas … I was like an ellipse, with two competing foci but no center”—the novel resists tying its themes to larger social or political concerns, which limits its broader political currency in connecting Paul’s experiences with the wider culture.
Still, Enigma Variations is a rewarding excavation about one man’s inner life, mapping out the way our emotional and romantic ties can shape our self-knowledge for the rest of our lives.”
Kirsten emailed today that Aciman is speaking at Dartmouth this Wednesday. 26th
Nicholas suggested a fourth day in Prague and I liked that. Will do.
If we shake hands, should I say “I have now shaken the hand of Borges, Messiaen and Aciman.” ? !
Willow listening to Chu’s recording of Claire de lune. She and Colin will play that in the recital.
Sunday evening April 23
Sunshine at last. New pump worked well overnight. Other two pumps worked some yesterday evening. Fan on all day while we were out, walking the bridge up in Littleton. Also a bit in Bethlehem.
Came home and Bam! bought airplane tickets on AirFrance and Got Half-Price on at least half of the tickets because of dates flexibility. Going to be longer in Paris at the end, overlapping into the kids’ vacation week but if the Airbnb is as ok as it seems that should work fine. If the kids go off on their own then we can use their place for the final few days. Wowza.
Took my mind off worrying about meeting Aciman on Wednesday. My day off I’ll go over and scope out the Wren Room for entrances and exits.
Sunshine so marvelous today. Such a long wait it seems and the two weeks of big waters in the basement made it all the more fretful. Now to double-check the calendars for the trip. Realized last night or the night before after a clear school anxiety dream that making up the trip is psychic copy of making up the syllabus, choosing books, etc etc Aaaaarrrrggghhh
April 26 Rain but Margaret called and may take Va to lunch. Figured out why Aciman talks about envy so easily. It is from his French, of course. Envy in French related to desire erotic but perhaps it is as well in English and it is that which I never quite realized. ! ?
Talking with Brendan last night in French, haltingly of course, was still the weekly reminder that does spur one on ever so slightly, so I can see how weekly tutoring does work. Reminded me of two things--the fellow who created Summerhill and the idea of education he wanted to practice there, and the story that captured my interest twenty years ago about the fellow who decided in early retirement to master conducting Mahler’s Fifth symphony. Should look up his name. Why not immerse yourself in French, reading French, reading Modiano and Proust and make it a life-project for the time being? Lots of reasons to enjoy doing so.
Brendan has decided to not attend his psu commencement but instead to hike to Block Cliff and get a photo there of himself in the cap and gown, with a friend. Same thing he did to mark high school at an end. He was homeschooled for five years so he could snowboard and his sense of his own singularity is deep and rich. Hence his liking for the Maugham novel. And his comment about how skateboarding helped amplify what it means to be masculine in our culture. Three weeks left in the semester and then Rosie arrives.
Colin playing Claire du lune this morning. Willow and he will play it in the June recital and she is already nervous about it.
Dartmouth today. Glad I will meet Kirsten in the bookstore first. What will Aciman be like?
Am I still wanting approval from the teacher? The writer elevated to ultimate authority in our culture, above priest and pope and confessor and bishop. Or as the tv producers have them, the enslaved drones who can produce the speeches necessary for the characters and plots but who otherwise are fairly low creatures, like all mere rhetoricians, lawyers, politicians, illusionists. We allow them to think they are shaping the worlds we need to live in, but they are simply doing some of the work necessary but not all of it and not the key elements of it. Those remain within each of us as our essential spring of action. We live our lives each in our own way which no one else can ever comprehend. Moment by moment. Writers cannot help doing what they do, like drone bees, like dancers, like internet hackers, like anyone we can think to select as a temporary example. So Aciman has done me great favors by writing the books I might have written, by showing me what my books might have looked like had I written them. His work speaks to me as no other writer’s work does. I have been looking for a writer like this for fifty years. Nice lines. Now that I have him on the desk, his words between paper covers, on the pages, where are we now? I begin to think of how one might perfect what he’s given us. Blend him with Modiano. Aciman is too focused, too nervous, too insecure about what he can express. Keep his gifts and add to them some or all of Modiano’s so that the telling becomes more vague, more blurred by time and memory, less sharp, even more suffused with feeling by allowing feeling to flood more widely, more intricately, edges of maps where it is almost impossible to keep clearly lined the edges beween shore and water.
Add Pessoa as well. In a year or so I can add Pessoa translated into French. French will become my interior language, the language I have been longing for my whole life without having realized it. Like conducting Mahler’s Fifth.
Easily found online. Gilbert Kaplan. He died just last January. “Gilbert Edmund Kaplan (March 3, 1941 – January 1, 2016) was an American businessman and financial publisher. He was also an aficionado of the music of Gustav Mahler, and an amateur conductor of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2. Two amazing notes of discord, however. Trombonist David Finlayson thought he was an affront to professional conductors and musicians. “Considering his Everest-sized ego, . . . . .Much has been written about Mr. Kaplan's passion for Mahler's great symphony as if this emotion is unique to him. This assertion is an insult to all professional musicians who have dedicated their entire lives and have sacrificed much toward the preservation of all the great works of history's finest composers. His continued appearances are also an affront to all “real” conductors who have toiled relentlessly for the recognition they duly deserve.”
Issue number two is the hint of family drama permitted in the Wiki article:
“Kaplan was the younger brother of the late Joseph Brooks, an Academy Award-winning composer who was found dead at his New York City apartment on May 22, 2011 in an apparent suicide while under criminal indictment on multiple sexual-assault and rape counts.” Comitted suicide by asphyxia by helium. Good gravy.
Well, onward. Margaret will take Va to lunch. I can wander around Hanover.
27 April Thursday night Concord all day for car maintenance work. On the way home Va wanted to stop at Tanger and get a pedicure. I went to Starbucks. Chatted with Brett, the barista I saw yesterday in Hanover. He is two or three years younger than Zach Lunt, who was a barista in Tilton until Lynn Chong’s husband, Ron Pearlman, hired him to be his right-hand guy. Earlier in Concord at the Starbucks there, we had had a long chat with Zach and his wife of two years, Kara. She works with an autistic child. Zach’s dad now has a farm in Wilmot next to Don Hall. They tap sugar trees on their farms.
So I’m sitting in Starbucks and have no book and decide to look at Aciman’s Enigma on the iphone Kindle app. I choose a location in it at random. No, first I re-read the last few pages of the first story set in Italy. Then I slip on the location bar to a random spot. It gives me this passage, with the stunning information that yesteday, when I chatted with Aciman at Dartmouth, is the anniversary date of his father’s death, April 26.
"BUT NO ONE can prepare for the worst. The worst doesn’t only dash hopes; it tears through everything in ways that are almost meant to hurt, to punish, to shame. Despite my most sobering forecasts, life can still play the cruelest card and scuttle everything—and just when I thought we were sailing past the shoals. This happened on April 26. I can’t forget the date. It was the anniversary of the death of my father.”
This next passage I paste in as defense of Modiano. In my brief chat with Aciman after his talk, I mentioned Modiano, and Aciman quickly urged me to forget him, to not bother reading him because “he’s no good, he’s not worth anything. Don’t waste your time reading him.” I alluded to the new hot writer who incidentally is coming to Dartmouth or already did as part of the same series of talks, Louis something. I downloaded his book on Audible the other day without knowing anything much about him. Again, Aciman assurred me he is a terrible writer, not worth it.
“I’m absolutely delighted”, says the French-born British writer Gabriel Josipovici, who names Dora Bruder (1998), a documentary account of a fifteen-year-old Holocaust victim published in English under the title Search Warrant, as a book he found “especially moving”. John Flower, a former professor of French at Kent, also welcomes the news and argues that “out of the present crop of major novelists Modiano is one who will continue to be valued.” Flower, like many Modiano admirers, calls his prose “subtle” – detractors tend to go for “portentous” – while Gerald Prince, a well-known scholar of French theory and literature, calls him “the most graceful writer of French of the past fifty years and the finest explorer of the labyrinths and the tremors of memory”.
This was part of a New Statesman article a year or two ago after Modiano got the Nobel.
True to form, I invested way too much energy into going to see Aciman. Had lunch at the Japanese place on main street across from the gas station. Greg called just as my beef bone broth ramen noodle bowl was put before me and we had a good long catch-up talk. They both have that long-lingering respiratory cold that we had back in December when we were in Albuquerque.
notes to Phil about Aciman
My chat with Aciman covered probably two minutes after his talk. He was standing behind the desk and I went up and joked about whether he had finished the homework on Pessoa I had given him. We chuckled and he said are you the guy who made me buy that book? I bought it in Italy. You told me you bought it in Berlin. Oh, yes, yes. Well I'm reading it and he is indeed a classic, isn't he. I look forward to your essay on it. Well, it will take a while because I'm too busy. I read it on the treadmill at the gymn, and people ask me what are you reading, who are you reading now? A few other pleasantries. I mentioned Patrick Modiano, the recent French Nobelist. "Oh, don't read him. He's not any good. Don't waste you're time. There are no good writers in France these days." A few more pleasantries and that was it.
My younger friend Kirsten, who married an older pol sci prof at Dartmouth a few years ago, met me at the bookstore beforehand and catching up with her was the best thing about the visit.
Aciman sat at the desk and read an essay. Maybe thirty people in the walnut-paneled room off the main library. He seemed true to type. Couldn't help compare him with Saul Bellow. Looks as small and Jewish as Bellow, of course. Not American, however. Decidely europhile, with touches of refinement and delicacy in his manners and voice which I take to be the Egyptian, Alexandrine, understructure to his personality. At the same time New York contemporary slang and knowingness. Other slight curlicues of languages in his speech not yet fully erased.
He read one of those essays from the book Alibis. "Parallax" which I felt was too long when I read it and felt too long in person even as he said he left out a few passages. After the reading some questions. He loosened up a bit during this time. But it's clear that the topics he likes to repeat and repeat about memory and identity and exile and dividedness have become his shtick, and I think a kind of defense behind which he can joke and entertain with big thoughts and favorite anecdotes. Hanover has a big expat German Jewish population for such a small new hampshire college town and six or eight of these worthies were there, most in their eighties I'd guess. One woman asked a question in which I detected or imagined a point of criticism. As I heard it she was implying, well, young charmer and talented star expat, clever, brilliant, talented and all, your exile was pretty soft and comfortable compared to those who were scarred by the holocaust. You can enjoy tossing around these big themes in too light a manner. Our suffering was so very different, our exile much more harsh. You’ve taken out the string of that mediterranean worry-bead thing and just roll them around at your pleasure and leisure for the fun of it to make your books seem more important than they really are." Saul Bellow light, I'd say, to second her. Charming, delightful, and at other times full of himself, insufferable, as in the stink he raised about the Proust translations, and lacking the gravitas Bellow had as a person when he walks into the room at the same age, the same point of high success in their careers.
Aciman's best work is in some places in the novels and I wish he had read a passage of fiction. His best discussion moments were when he talked about how a writer uses everything he can find to cobble together with imagination scenes, characters, lines, what comes next, who he imagines people to be, how they would think and act. But that was too short a moment. Generally a disappointing event, too generic an appearance by a writer-professor used to running through his routines.
Bellow and Leonard Cohen were Jewish North Americans and they knew something very different about the meaning of being Jewish in the New World. Aciman comes late to these shores and has been very fortunate and successful and different ways. A generation or two after those very serious men. Aciman is serious about the feelings he writes so well about, about the longing and love and lust and temporary intimacies they lead us through. But seeing him in his public modes has given me pause a bit and put me on the defensive. I want to keep liking Modiano and I didn’t appreciate his dismissiveness. The sort of thing I have done myself many times as part of the teasing seductiveness engaging people in playful talk. Exagerating for effect, challenging and provoking in hopes of having some good give and take. He said he would get back to me on Pessoa in a while and I said jokingly, no, no you won’t.
We’ll see. I doubt very much that he will and I will try very hard not to expect anything further. “The expense of spirit . . . .”
But still, it was fun to have the day, to anticipate and be overly nervous about it, to re-visit planet English department, to chat with Kirsten, to see Aciman perform.
Read the ending of the first Enigma story where Paul learns that his father had been lovers with Nanni, the carpenter whom Paul had his first massive crush on. I marvel at that. What does Aciman have in mind there and how almost embarassingly bold and private that is to have written about so well. It brings out something key about the adolescent who first falls in love with an older man and who also knows he is loved by his father as well and has in effect his blessing for feeling as he does. Is Aciman risking something here that is amazing, or is he underlining a fact of Mediterranean consciousness that is as ancient and honored as possible? Not a point for psychoanalysis at all but a point felt by everyone who has a feeling for classical beauty, literature and art.
comment by TheraP on Amazon Like the comment about age and Zen
In my retirement I'm going to enjoy the luxury of good literature. Whether in excellent translation or in the original. I'm thinking of reading Proust in English (using a real book), while referring to the Kindle e-book in the original French - whenever I feel like it.
I love words. I love when they are strung together beautifully by someone who really knows the language. I love being retired and having "time" - time to read and ponder, whether it's a book or events of my own life.
By the way, one person defined "psychotherapy" (my former profession) as "a necessary waste of time". That could describe Proust's "oeuvre" and his life. It could describe retirement - if you really allow yourself to relish the time you have left to waste.
I begin to wonder if Zen or Enlightenment is simply a fruit of old age: I've pondered that lately.
Fare forward, fellow traveler! Whether with Proust or on your own.
Interesting comments, Bob. I like your assessments, but I don't quite know what to think of the old Jewish woman's comments. On one hand, I agree with her (and you) that there is a slippery, glib, let-me-entertain-you phoniness about Aciman that isn't very palatable. But implicit in her comment is a Jewish shtick that "because of our history, especially the holocaust, only we Jews really understand life in all its complexity and tragedy." I have a very hard time swallowing that. I guess I feel that Jews are always using that history to get a leg up on the rest of the world. That's the problem: they are using their history. Blacks do the same thing, but Jews do it so much more effectively. And I don't buy into either argument.
Coincidentally, I also went to a talk today. Mine was at the Library of Congress. It was about Tunisia, given by an African American poli sci prof at Georgetown U. His major theme was criticism of what is called "the Washington consensus" in foreign policy and economic circles. In this view, the US has led the World Bank and IMF and even much of the UN into pushing policies that advocate fiscal discipline, private enterprise, free markets, ending subsidies, and globalization. This prof maintains Tunisia (and a lot of Third World countries) made a big mistake in accepting this viewpoint and adopting those policies in the 1980s as they abandoned earlier socialist policies (heavy subsidies, free education, closed markets). He maintains this shift resulted not in economic improvement but, rather, nothing more than crony capitalism. The rich got richer, and the poor got poorer. In part he is right. But because he isn't an economist I don't think he really has a deep understanding of the issues. Moreover, I think he reached his conclusions long before he started his research in large part because he is African American and knows blacks in the US haven't done well in a competitive, western-style economy. At any rate, he's relatively young and did all his research for his thesis on Tunisia in the early '90s, and it was pretty evident that he hasn't done much since then, even though the whole Middle East and North Africa has changed immensely in many ways. To me he seemed just another prof doing little beyond regurgitating his PhD thesis over and over again. Undergrad at U of Florida, PhD at Princeton. Name: Stephen King.
I knew it when I wrote about it--the woman's question---that there is no way to even "report" on it because the moebius strip of jewish complaints about themselves trap you, trap them, in endless kvetching (is that the word) no matter how you try to cut it like a gordian knot. My best Jewish friend here has talked about this and written about it. So what are you gonna do. etc Can't help but recall again, though, that in the course on Joyce with Bellow he would permit no discussion of his own work. That was even well known enough on campus that I heard about it before I was in the course. No discussion of his work with anyone seemed his byword. Ahh, if only he had lived to see the Selfie revolution. I guess the Jews leave themselves two ways out---comedy, or tragic self-pity. Isn't that how Roth's last few novels read? I had no interest in following his career, especially not during the last ten years. Aciman is trapping himself because his major themes of love and loss don't give him enough room to breathe in some really good comedy about it all, even though in person that is the persona he takes on.
Not surprised by your response either to the prof. Academics indeed do spin their wheels a lot once they've got tenure and a book published. I have to ask my friend what she thought of Cornell West's appearance at Dartmouth. The campus by the way is an easy hour west--under 60 miles away, rolling hills on a two-lane road, so always a pleasant drive because no one can go very fast, especially not until the winter frost heaves settled the asphalt back down into a semblance of a flat surface. No taxes, no roads. I think the Money magazine algorithims didn't catch that detail. And the heroin problem has gotten super-worse if possible in past two weeks. New super-deadly mixes of horse tranquilizer type shit. Headlines in the papers but not much political action--although what can politicians do but throw money.
“Clara would become like one of those diseases . . . and you’ll call it a blessing all the same because it opened the way to God.” p 302 kindle edition of Eight White Nights.
The one place in the novel where the term God is used without being an epithet of emphasis like “God forbid,” “God knows,” or “God-given.” Those phrases appear throughout.
Part of my argument about Aciman’s essentially mystical personality.
So, yes, Aciman portrays the feeling life better than anyone other than Pessoa. But Aciman allows himself too narrow a focus. Not that I want him to describe or deal with political or ecological or such topics. No. What we need is more breathing room, more solitude. He describes well how terrorizing falling in love is, how forceful lust, how overwhelming all sorts of longing can become. But by keeping his laser on intimate relationships, especially in the latest work, Enigma V, he “miniaturizes” the feeling life. He “goes back to” Freud in some way without saying so or maybe, I doubt it, recognizing it. In Eight White Nights he expanded everything to make it a novel about New York at Christmas time.
Sunday about noon
note to Phil after reading the New Yorker piece---
Hi Finished looking at the New Yorker piece on the Christian community in Hyattsville. Key to the deep interpretation I'm about to offer is the big image of the red Japanese kimono placed within the article on page 52. Now turn to page 7 to see the ad for the new HBO series The Handmaid's Tale. Author of the Hyattsville piece is a Jewish guy on New Yorker staff. Or at least he has a Jewish sounding name.
Subtext---it is Christianity not Judaism that becomes crazy misogynist against women as in Handmaid's Tale. The red cloaks the key link.
There was some other brilliant point I had five minutes ago, but it's now gone, for the moment. Of course. We hope.
anyhoo, my dark web reading of the piece for the moment! Crazy how circular the patterns of this stuff continue to be. Swirling pools of belief and new/old interpretations.
Oh---I remembered. Did I tell you about the young woman from Kansas we met in the Instanbul airport while a long wait between flights when we got sent home from India? Beautiful young woman, going to Italy to meet her new husband as he takes up a new position there. She was obviously--to us---newly pregnant, that "bloom" in her body and we both said the same to each other after she left from joining us for lunch. But young enough that she might not have realized it yet?
Anyway---she and her husband were part of a small and growing young Christian church and full of the wonderfulness of it all and dying to tell us about it without being too preachy. Finally we asked what this new group was calling itself? "Belligerent." Our jaws dropped. Why on earth call a christian church this? For the founder and their little group it signifies they are up front about their devotion and dedication to their belief. We tried to cautiously ask if she understood the ordinary meaning of the word itself. To her it meant they were standing up for their faith.
I file the anecdote with a local/regional chain of beauty-massage parlors, one at the big mall, named Massage Envy. HP also has an inkjet printer named Envy.
review on Goodreads by Casey, April 18. Aciman attended their book group meeting in ? Brooklyn or New York city?
“Knowing my experience with Call Me By Your Name, I shouldn't have read this one last minute. Aciman's writing has a way of irritating me that requires distance before I have a complete opinion. Because his speciality is detailing the infinite vacillations of thought and desire. And it digs in so close to the damn truth! It's unsettlingly sharp, transparent yet opaque, annoying and illuminating.
Structurally, I like the choice of separate stories in Enigma Variations. I was initially unsure if each was a cohesive part of a larger whole - though, spoiler, they are. So the small novellas are like different selves we inhabit in life, the changed versions of us through time. What we desire at 22 is vastly different than at 42.
Aciman turns in a great work centered on a bisexual man experiencing relationships not by gender but by pure connection and desire. I wish we'd chatted more last night about the bisexual representation; there's plenty to be mined regarding a bisexual character "unable to choose" what he wants. I would argue Aciman instead treats his character like he does so many others of differing sexualities. In fact, last night he offhandedly suggested we each experience varying sexualities throughout our lifetime. Which I quite like.
Ultimately, Enigma Variations is about want. How we want things we can't have, and how desire evolves when we actually "get" those things. It's another winner for Aciman.”
Like his offhand comment about varying sexualities in our lifetime. Goes with what he says in one interview, where he just says “we’re a mess,” meaning nothing is as stable and defined as so many want us to think. On Goodreads the number of reviews for “Call Me” is up to 10,000. Well, people who read it, actual written comments lower number but still. OK, so we could use the skeptical angle and say after his success with the memoir, Aciman was out to really make it in NYC and he sensed, his agent suggested, his publisher argued, that what had been a passing anecdote, event, in the memoir should be developed as a memoir unto itself. Or a novel. Or all of that developed further once the success of “Out of” became so certain. Other details--Aciman has how many brother? Are there not some twins? In other words, the memoir itself was sharply cut and shaped, and the germ of “Call Me” was pulled out to become a book unto itself. And “perfected” with the help of re-writes and agents and friends. A deeper and cannier sense of the big audience in NYC for such a tale. In the world. Not that it is not flawlessly executed and realized.
Lunch with Barb and Ed yesterday at the Cafe Noche in Conway. Not a great place to eat any more but fun to catch up with them. We wondered if we talked too much and didn’t let them talk. Barbara has to be grieving for her mother still, even if she would say she’s not. Gretchen was 103? when she died. A long and inscriptive life. Inspriptive meaning a life that inscribes itself deeply on those who knew her for so long and knew her as deeply as her children. We etch ourselves into each other, onto one another.
Interview in Bomb about Enigma V is very good. with Gary M Kramer, this year some time earlier.
One early passage about sexual fluidity--“GMK You write, "We lead many lives, nurse more identities than we care to admit, and are given all manner of names, when in fact, one and only one is good enough." How do names and identities shift over time?
AA I do think it would be wonderful if we had one name and one identity. But we don't. The ultimate dream of every human is to belong to one city, one country, one family, one home, one profession, one religion, etc. If you take away our name, profession, country, mother tongue, we won't know who we are. We are a chaos of ideas. We may have one identity but it's always chaotic, nomadic. It goes from one person to another, and from one sexual desire to another. I don't believe in straight, bi, gay—I don't believe in any of that. We're just a mess.”
The closing passages excellent about how he writes: “GMK I find your portrayals of desire so palpable. I ache reading your books. How can that be?
AA One automatically aches for the shy character. The most difficult thing in life is to walk up to someone you desire and begin a conversation. I clam up, I am intimidated, fearful, ashamed of my own desires; part of me hopes the other person desires me as well so that we could help each other; but another part of me hopes the person I desire will have absolutely no idea that, though we speak about nothing special when we finally do speak, all I wanted is to stick my tongue in their mouth.
The first assumption I make when I write anything that many consider bold—and one has to write about bold stuff, otherwise it's just benign pap—is that what I have to say is shared by every living soul. The dirty, shameful twists in each of us, the spiral of desire, attraction, and remorse that follow desire is not unique to me; everyone feels these tensions that few of us admit to.
The writing that I love and that emboldens me is when I stray from the conventional "clean," acceptable route and enter a zone that I know has been mine since childhood; I slip into it and then decide not to leave until I have found what I know is mine and only mine. The skill—if it's skill—is to enter that dark chamber with a voice and a pair of eyes that everyone can borrow and recognize as theirs. The skill is to speak these bold and shameless thoughts in a style that allows everyone else to believe that this is exactly how they would have spoken those thoughts.”
Such comments help to clarify even further that if Aciman as written my novels for me, in some way (all of his fans would feel this way of course), this shows me why I could never have written his works. Yes, the emotional parts, the way emotion works, the way feeling works. But the compulsion as he describes it there in the quotation above, that I’ve never felt, not as “a writer” and if I did I could never actually write them out. That is the mystery of this writer. How can he do that? Cynically we could say, well, he knows what sells and he wants to sell. He got the making it big in New York he wanted, we guess. But non-cynically we could go back to another read on writers----he can’t help it, this is the writing he must do, has to do, to keep being who he wants to be/become.
Monday May 1
KG’s note the other day. I like how she says we were drifty and alert. Aciman’s middle-of-the-bridge aura being infectious?
You must be Robear in French, don't you think? Yes, that was such fun the other day. I somehow felt afterward as though I'd been a little drunk. Maybe it was that room, and the mention at the start of how we *weren't* to drink wine in there. I felt simultaneously drifty and alert. And the sense of being comrades added to the adventure (though of course the reading was something else to you, since you'd read and admired him).
Brother West was fabulous. What style! That black suit (because you have to die to be reborn)! Those white cuffs and glinting cufflinks. It took him about fifteen minutes at the start to call out all his friends in the audience, including Brother Pease, whom he referred to again later. "When Brother Pease and I were coming up," he said, there were more leaders with "integrity." (this was his word for the day) I thoroughly enjoyed his performance/sermon/spoken word poetry/standup routine. And the students were snapping away, as they seem to do now (ever since Occupy?) rather than clapping. He called Trump a gangster, took cracks at Obama (too many bombs) and Hillary, applauded Bernie, quoted DuBois, Melville (a "vanilla blues man"), Kierkegaard, Neihbur, Emerson, Muriel Rukeyser, William Hazlett, William James, and I forget who else, referenced Martin, Malcolm, Jane Addams. I don't know, I was with the kids, I ate it up. I'm for some charm now and then. I'm for the love quest for truth and beauty and goodness, etc. I didn't stay for questions, though.
Yeah--good for Lydia Davis. Except it makes me feel a little sorry for Aciman.
a bientot camarade-- “
How could I not have noted before this that of course Aciman looks totally Spanish. Jewish, yes, but Spanish moreso. Sepphardic heritage even more profound than the Jewish. He loves Italy, after his brief stay there in adolescence. No mention of Spain and getting him to look at a Portuguese writer took some doing. Pessoa. But his face and manner could be straight out of an El Greco portrait, especially the angle in the photo he uses, Aciman, in all his publicity photos. Book cover.
“But I loved the fear--if fear it really was--and this they didn’t know, my ancestors. It was the underside of fear I loved, like the smoothest wool found on the underbelly of the coarsest sheep. I loved the boldness that was pushing me forward, it aroused me, because it was born of arousal itself.” Call Me 127
There is the kind of sentence in Aciman that if cited by itself can loose its power and seem precious and too much, but which in context works like magic. Hypnosis. Daring. Anchises is the name of the gardner who grows the peaches. Father of Aeneas and lover of Aphrodite. Bit too much to give him this name but that’s how Aciman “expands” his work, dares to do so by talking about the ancestors behind the key moments. The underbelly of the sheep is a classical reference. Who hides, escapes, by riding under a sheep? Biblical or classical? Probably even both. Of course. In Aciman’s world everything is both. His loss that he didn’t reply to my reference to Nemerov’s line about Burke--everything, preferably all at once. Which, alas, is not quite the same as “both.” But the ways Aciman uses the ancestors and the classical references suggests he would like the line as the perfection of “both.” From both to everything, all at once.
Found the email I sent. Too long. Embarassing to even paste it in here. But documentarians will demand it.
Thanks for your reply. I have to confess that one part of me blushed a few seconds in pleased embarrassment in front of some other parts of me, to feel that you found my comments resonant.
Thank you, for your books, for all of it.
I read Enigma first followed fast on by Call and during both I kept muttering to myself, my God I’ve been waiting over fifty years to find a writer like this, what an answer to my prayers. The adulation cliches. But what can one do, there they are, as true as ever. Now I am reading Eight, the last (except for the essay collections), as slowly as possible, to draw it out. So beautiful, so intense and perfect (so far!).
Why didn’t reading Proust twenty years ago hit me quite this way? Maybe the English translation problem. Maybe time and aging itself. (I’m 72). Who knows? I love your line that for as often as you’ve read and taught Wuthering Heights it is still those parts that struck you at twelve, when you first read it, that still move you most, that you remember most clearly. My sophomore year in high school I fell in love with a beautiful girl two years older, met her in the library one afternoon, she told me to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel. I did, over the immediate few weeks, cried bloody tears at the end, and read it at once all over again during the rest of that year. And then You Can’t Go Home Again of course.
Homo Irrealis sound good. I am immediately curious as to which artists are “in,” on your list. And I assume visual artists as well as writers? I would nominate the architect, David Chipperfield, who did the work on the Neues Museum in Berlin. Not Calatrava. Ghery? (can’t decide) Renzo Piano--for the Gardner and the Fogg? The whole of the Gardner as a work of art?
Velazquez? Vermeer? Rembrandt? Matisse (not Picasso)? Berthe Morisot? (not Cassat) Vuillard? Gaugin? (not Van Gogh?) Clifford Still? (not Rothko) Diebenkorn, Joan Mitchell, Agnes Martin? Ad Reinhardt (not Pollock)? Franz Kline? Motherwell?
Private lists of taste have to remain idiosyncratic. Still, who are you writing about, planning to write about?
End on the small world card. My oldest friend from high school (only friend I email almost every day) was in the peace corps in Tunisia in ’68. Now in Washington they have had for years a small group that follows Tunisia and meets for lunch. I’ve been urging him to read your books. (even though he is too much of a rationalist). He was in Tunisia with Eileen Davis, Robbie Prince and Bob Stam, who is married to Ella Shohat, who teaches at NYU. Figures you must know her? They met there Raouf Ben Zakour and his friends. Or Eileen did, not quite clear on all of these intersections at this distance.
And, very young writer friend, Salvatore Scibona, has shaken your hand twice. He’s also with J Galassi, won a NY Public Library Lion award for his first novel, The End. He gave me a two page cameo in it, as an unnamed priest who poses some questions. Strict catholic childhood but never a priest.
Did my Chicago work on and knew Kenneth Burke. Howard Nemerov gave an essay on him the superb (mystical) title: “Everything, Preferably All At Once.”
heavy silver cloud day, moisture heavy all day. Lunched at B.Good. Young delivery guy looked like John Legend or Pharell, from Cape Verde. Said
Cesaría Evora died a few years ago. Rick called from Mexico wanting help to pay his taxes in Abq and get Quicken the finalize the new loan.
Tuesday night May 2
Tom Osborne pulled up in a big truck about 10:40 this morning. On the back one of those big-tire, tricycle fork-lift vehicle. He used that to edge the swing out of the truck and down. I couldn’t believe at first that he came by himself, but he managed everything quite well. I helped a wee bit and now in my neck and back muscles I can feel a little bit of remembrance.
After lunch we drove to Gilford to walk. Bought pillows for the new swing. Bought bigger dehumidifier for the basement, scouted out the right sort of gravel to put under the swing. Have Ben do that next week some time. Arnold Arboretum tomorrow if all goes according to plan.
Interesting that even after only an hour of trying to speak French, think in French, it takes a while to come back, to get back to who I am supposed to be back in “real” time. Va on the piano now. Brendan went over the Conditional and the Future and back to the pronouns just for more fun.
On s’amusait. Nous allons avoir du plaisir. On pouvait du plaisir.
Weds morning Of course the ram’s belly is Odysseus escaping from the Cyclops. Must be hundreds of classical allusions in Aciman’s work---the bawdiest tales of Greek eroticism, and Roman. Myths, personal obsessions of a devout classicist. Snobbery of the highest order---disdain for anything contemporary, new world. I offered to pay him a billion to read Pessoa but for a trillion he would never read Thomas Wolfe. The structure we all build within ourselves, each of us a private snob in his or her own way. The inner fortress of tastes and crochets. Our Interior Castle(s).
May 4 Thursday
End of an Era: Paula called to say she could not continue. She sounded as depressed as she seemed two weeks ago. Must be that the custody battle over Aidan has taken him away from her and grown more complicated. My guess. She just said she was sorry about not being able to come this week and maybe for the future and that things were complicated. I told her to call us when she felt like talking, to come for a visit. Maybe in a month or so I will call her to see how she is doing. We’ve never seen her so down.
Nice lunch with Janice and Jeff. Great to hear tales from longish travels.
Very brief hello from the kids just as we left the house. Eliot is playing “Rock You” on the guitar and Emma was disguised as her Papa.
Still sunny. Amazing. Paid up the investment in River of Gold.
Rain all this coming week. Macron won.
Tuesday night Rendevous was fun this evening. Seven of us. Margaret, Brendan, Lance, Stephen, Catherine, me and Willow. I understood most everything and enjoyed it. Day off today.
Weds 10 half-day off, PEO plant sale. Two walks, or three? one longer but not too long. Did not read for three hours and now I want to do that next just to show that I can do that and used to do that all the time. Otherwise things felt better under the sunshine although it went in and out. Diddled around too much looking up fares on Expedia and Kayak. And other sites. Not enough difference to pay attention to between the sites. As addictive as any gambling table at Vegas, you have to suspect. And designed by the web designers to look and feel just that way.
Here is a beautiful passage by Modiano to show to Aciman. It comes on page 63 in Dora Bruder and all that has gone before had prepared perfectly for it. And Modiano is spare with such passages, they are not common in his work. His sense of touch with them is perfect.
“I remember the intensity of my feelings while I was on the run in January 1960---an intensity such as I have seldom known. It was the intoxication of cutting all ties at a stroke: the clean break, deliberately made, from enforced rules, boarding school, teachers, classmates; you have nothing to do with these people from now on; the break from your parents, who have never understood you, and from whom, you tell yourself, it’s useless to expect any help; feelings of rebellion and solitude carried to flash point, taking your breath away and leaving you in a state of weightlessness. It was probably one of the few times in my life which I was truly myself and following my own bent.
“This ecstasy cannot last. It has no future. You are swiftly brought down to earth.
“Running away---it seems---is a call for help and occasionally a form of suicide. At least you experience a moment of eternity. You have broken your ties not only with the world but also with time. And one fine morning you find that the sky is a pale blue and that nothing now weighs you down. In the Tuileries garden, the hands on the clock have stopped for good. And ant is transfixed in its journey across a patch of sunlight.
-----But of course Aciman could not see this, feel it, because his experience was as opposite as possible. He grew up in a secure family, cosseted by both parents and two grandmothers and aunts and uncles. Perhaps the strangest detail in Call Me is that both the young adolescent and his father were in love with the carpenter and later discussed that love. In Enigma is this not repeated? The father’s blessing for the love lived through with Manfred? Or am I merging details of the two books. This theme somehow makes it all seem, to my ears, as deeply mediterrranean and ancient as possible. Would Freud see it that way as well? Or Jung?
Anyway, Modiano has this marvelous passage and I feel it deeply within my experience of similar moments. Not as harsh as Modiano’s but running away to join the monastery was surely a form of running away, of breaking with the previous life as deeply as possible with organized social structures. We took new names to mark our new religious lives. We closed all the doors backwards to family, friends, lovers, teachers, institutions. It is as the essence of the whole romance of monastic vocation. The call to experience the ecstasy of the total break, the totally new life. Suicide, spiritual suicide, assisted and approved, and the ultimate, religiously perfect, call for help.
Not how I saw it at the time. There was that moment in the second year at Anselm Hall when I sat on the window sill up on the highest floor--was it the fourth or fifth of the house and would it have been equal to ? the fifth or more of an ordinary dorm, or do I exaggerate. Anyway, luckily I realized at once that if I fell instead of letting go or jumping, no one would really know, including myself, whether I had wanted to fall or had just fallen by accident or confusion. Laughter at this sick joke twist saved me, thank God. It was one bright afternoon when Kevin was down on the lawn, was he cutting the grass or just doing something else or just walking or reading. No clear memory on that.
Sunday evening May 14
Concord to see the movie on American Impressionists. Slow and dull. British production. Felt like lots of old style film footage being recycled. We both dozed off and on through it & I suspect over half the audience, packed house of boomers, did too. Dinner after at B.Good. Gouter at Panera. Rain steady all day. In the process of realizing a dream and a promise of long-standing---to have nothing more to eat for the rest of the evening. Last ate something, cookie and coffee cake at Panera around 4:30, with a latte. See how sleep goes. See if itchy skin is helped. See what happens to all other indications. If anything.
While making the bed this thought: the whole experience a year ago, or two?, of helping Scott Merrill get his doctorate finished and approved gave me a kind of PTSD flashback shock. Mild. And yet. Think so. Part of a larger sense of wanting to return to more privacy of some sort. Less “keeping up” with trivial networks of association via the so-called social media nonsense. Jessica gave me the set of pens and I like that vague sense of “going back” to handwriting. Fantasy as silly perhaps as staying “in touich” via twitter and facebook.
Could be tied to the last few pages of Modiano’s Dora Bruder. Modiano finds a fifty-year old letter in one of the bookstalls along the Seine. The writer treasures his pen and paper while talking about his preparations for being taken to a camp. “My main regret is to be parted from my pen, not to be allowed paper . . . .” Robert Tartakovsky before being moved to the camp at Drancy in 1942 Saturday June 20. In Modiano’s Dora Bruder.
Va’s Birthday May 18
“The fact is, there are flukes, encounters, coincidences, and we shall never take advantage of them . . . . “ 112 Dora Bruder
“When I was overcome by panic--a flower that opened its petals slowly, just above my navel--I would stare out across the lake.” 10 Villa Triste
On May 20, 2017, at 7:02 PM,
From: Bob Garlitz Subject: overlaps?
Dear Rob: Chance notice of your new novel in the UChicago magazine, page 81. I was trying to figure out why the magazine published the photo of Wayne Booth and his family. I've not heard of your work before this but when I saw your website I found the photos look exactly like photos of my hometown, south of Pittsburgh, Cumberland, MD. Ordered your new book. Also told my oldest friend from high school, J P Jones to buy a copy. 55th reunion this fall. He has a novel about our town in the same era on Amazon, "A Sense of Loss.")
Were you and I possibly in a class at Chicago? I was there 67-68 and then 69-72. No class with Booth but an independent study and later the diss. Courses with . . . McLean, Olson, Bellow (Joyce), Heiserman, Sacks, Sheehan, can't remember few others. Other fellow student names--Donald Pease (at Dartmouth) and Jeffrey Herrick. Jack Barbera, Richard White, Have lived since '72 in central NH, taught English at Plymouth State. Have been to Porter Square and now have your reading there penciled in to the calendar. Looking forward to looking into your work. All best wishes, Bob G
May 21 (1 day ago)
Thank you for your letter. We did overlap at UC. I was a graduate student from '69 through '70, getting an MA. I was not a great student at that point in my life, to be honest. I took classes with Sacks (a wonderful teacher, I modeled some of my teaching after his socratic method), with Richard Stern, creative writing, and another with an older professor, a very gentle and intelligent soul, whose name I confess I have forgotten, a class in Romantic poetry I very much enjoyed. I edited the Chicago Review and stayed on in Hyde Park for three years, substitute-teaching in Chicago’s desolate Southside schools. Spent one summer in Rodgers Park, left Chicago in 1972.
I envy you your classes with Bellow and Olson.
The reading in Porter Square is a group event. I am one of four writers, and so will not have a lot of time to read. I look forward to meeting (or re-meeting) you.
76 Otis Street
Newton, MA 02460
Good to hear from you. I never did take a course with Stern. I wouldn't say I was a great student either, somehow got a B- from a prof for a course in medieval lit that I didn't understand at all--oh, yes, it was on the Fairie Queene. That grade got me through to the MA. Pure gift.
The other older prof---was it by chance George Williamson? ("Martin A Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Literature"--on the back of the paperback.) I liked class with him for his gentleness too. Loved the title of his book and have hung onto it--The Senecan Amble. Had not idea who Seneca was but I knew I wanted to amble somehow. Whole place scared me to death my first year there. My BA from Univ of Md. Did they take us all in to help keep larger numbers out of the draft? Also had James Miller. He was as warm and helpful as Sacks. McClean taught Wordsworth. Robert Marsh another older prof, rival of sorts with Elder Olson but in 18thC studies. Always tried to read his one great book but could never comprehend it. Working out ideas of RS Crane.
What saved me after that first year was going down south to Decatur, IL and having my first teaching job at Millikin University where good fortune put me in the path of my wife. I had vague ideas of going on to Stanford but she feared I would go back to Chicago so before we even got engaged she applied there, in Spanish, and got a full scholarship so that took us back to Hyde Park. I taught then at Purdue Calumet for a few years before we moved here in 72. She got the job here. Took us both ten years to finish the doctorates.
I should be able to say the course with Bellow was wonderful but alas it was not. He took in too many students so we sat around a big seminar table in social science. He was very shy/nervous in a way, would take no questions about his own work in any way. Gossip had it that he was in the midst of yet another terrible divorce, not sure if that was the case. I lived in I house and would see him walking on 59th street. I had never seen a man so well dressed, tailored silk sport coats, jaunty hat. We were all in silent awe and managed if anyone managed to ask any questions about Ulysses to ask really dumb ones. Best classes were when David Greene the classicist would drop in and then he and Bellow would talk with each other about everything and we would listen. Those sessions were marvelous and Greene could spiel in all the ways Belllow could or would not. All I really remember very clearly was we had to have an interview with him in his office over in Social Thought to get into the course. I went. His desk was piled high and I was so astonished to find that a novelist would be reading current issues of Scientific American among other things. He said "well, you know, this course is only for very serious students. Have you read any of Joyce, have you read Ulysses? I've read Portrait of the Artist more than once and the short stories. Ulysses I've read the first 80 or 90 pages more than once. Hmm, well, we want students who are ready for a seminar at a high level. Have you read any of Eric Auerbach's book, Mimesis. Yes, I said, too brightly for sure, I've read the first 80 or 90 pages of that book. So pleased that I knew which book he was referring to. I had read that much of both books, so I hoped my truthfulness and Appalachian mountain backwardness would carry me through. He loved Joyce's book and that came through clearly. He had had a purloined copy of it when he was in high school, still had it, brought it to class to read passages. '68 was a Spring of much upheaval and various strikes against the war were held. That summer I was in Grant park for the convention and I could smell the hunger for violence in the air that day, protestors and police lined up all day. As twilight fell I took the train back to Hyde Park and watched Gore Vidal and William Buckley on tv.
reading your story in Kenyon R.
oh---p s. It was satisfying to see Bellow years later, just a few years before he died. There was a homage to W G Sebald at the Goethe Institute in Boston and I was in love with Sebald with everyone else at the time so I went down for this event. Surprised to see Bellow there, with his wife, very frail but still a great presence in the small audience. I decided not to say try to say hello since I figured he would be surrounded after the talks. I had an index card in the book I had with me and wrote on it "thanks for the Joyce course---Chicago spring of 1968." Handed it to him through the elbows, he looked at it, smiled, looked up to see I had passed it to him, we nodded.
wait again---my memory is kicking back in---the older prof taught a course in Romantic poetry and we read Shelley and Shelley's closet dramas---and, yes, that gentle prof I can see and recall without remember his name. So perhaps we were in that class together. I had never heard of the idea of a drama written not to be performed, only for reading, Twenty-five years ago I would have been able to turn back into the book alcove here and pull off the turquoise blue Oxford press paperback of collected Shelley that we used for the course. Not here any longer though, so google helps--Cenci and Prometheus Unbound. What was that prof's name---I can see his face clearly, silver-white hair, balding. Very quiet and warm. It wasn't Gwen Kolb, he was another 18th C scholar. It wasn't Jerome McGann either.
I'll write to Jeff Herrick because he had McGann as his advisor and has kept in touch with him. McGann will know. Jeff could not find a job in 19'72 and so took a job in Japan and has stayed since then. Published lots of poetry, now retired from univ teaching there. Over 6'4" with long blonde hair, from Utah. We saw in on a trip to Japan a few years ago, dinner in Kyoto. Will let you know when I get this professor's name from him.
8:06 AM (3 hours ago)
You have set me to thinking of those UC days. Up until last year I might have been able to identify the professor whose name we can’t think of because I still had a lot of my college notes. But I have been throwing things out recently, and I pitched out notes that I hadn’t looked at since I day I took them. And yes, I still have my blue-covered Shelly and red-covered Keats from his class. My memory says his first name was David, but I don’t think he was David Bevington. He had the class over to his apartment one evening, a beautiful sprawling Hyde Park flat filled with antiques. He and his wife were gracious hosts.
I had someone for Milton I liked, another shy fellow, but someone who knew his Milton. Another fellow for Shakespeare, younger man I did not like much who failed to gain tenure and was reportedly crushed. I came from Penn State, having started college as an engineering student, switching to humanities in my third year. My engineering grades were decent, but I wasn’t happy. But as good an English major as I became at Penn State, I was totally unprepared for Chicago, knew nothing of the proper protocols and ways of succeeding in that world. I felt like a truck driver who had wandered into the wrong conference room. I arrived in 69, so the convention was history, but the trial was underway and I went to rallies and marched and went out on strike that winter with the UC undergrads, Someone told me later that that was not a wise thing for a grad student to do. Perhaps they way over-populated the class that fall for good reasons, but what I was told was that they deliberately inflated the numbers to float the department financially and that they had no intention of accepting a sizable portion of the class into the dissertation program. It didn’t matter to me, my life was going in another direction by then, but one fellow I knew well (also from Penn State), Paul ?, was devastated when he wasn’t asked to continue.
Fellow students I was close to, in addition to Paul and his girlfriend (also in the program): Lee Gatewood (Lee and I are still friends), Olga Pelinsky (kept up with her through the early 80s, she lived then in Cambridge), and Jane Mueller, beautiful, soft-spoken young woman. Ed Gerson assisted me on the Chicago Review and spent his life, I think, working at the UC bookstore.
Old memories . . .
McCann answered that the prof we have in mind for that Shelley course was Stuart Tave but I don’t think so. See if Jeff has a different reply.
23 May Has Jeff bought his place in Madrid??
Sunny. Day to amble. This evening my tutor told me to get back to working with CoffeeBreak French on a more regular basis!
These writers. So many seem to start life as economists, engineers, linguists. Can they be trusted? Just gave MR’s novel a four-page-in test. Too tight and precise, as I feared. Back to Modiano.
Apophatic Fiction or, if I were to be writing a dissertation these days, The Apophasis of Narrative, or The Apophatic Turn in Fiction, Apophatic Storytelling. All tales have apophasis lurking within their labyrinths. The Apophatic Thread with the Labyrinth.
Thurs David Colburn at Vintage Fret does have the serial number of Dave’s stolen Gibson guitar, so we’ll see what happens with the merchant in Pigalle when he goes to talk to him again. No police report probably the main question here. But perhaps honor among thieves may hold some slight sway?
from Modiano’s Nobel address in 2014
“When you are about to finish a book, you feel as if it is starting to break away and is already breathing the air of freedom, like schoolchildren in class the day before the summer break. They are distracted and boisterous and no longer pay attention to their teacher. I would go so far as to say that as you write the last paragraphs, the book displays a certain hostility in its haste to free itself from you. And it leaves you, barely giving you time to write out the last word. It is over – the book no longer needs you and has already forgotten you. From now on, it will discover itself through the readers. When this happens you have a feeling of great emptiness and a sense of having been abandoned. There is a kind of disappointment, too, because of this bond between you and the book which was severed too quickly. The dissatisfaction and the feeling of something unfinished drives you to write the next book in order to restore balance, something which never happens. As the years pass, the books follow one after the other and readers talk about a 'body of work'. But for you, there is a feeling that it was all just a headlong rush forward.”
. . . . .
“ From this point of view, my own generation is a transitional one, and I would be curious to know how the next generations, born with the Internet, mobile phones, emails and tweets, will express through literature this world in which everyone is permanently 'connected' and where 'social networks' are eating into that part of intimacy and secrecy that was still our own domain until quite recently – the secrecy that gave depth to individuals and could become a major theme in a novel. But I will remain optimistic about the future of literature and I am convinced that the writers of the future will safeguard the succession just as every generation has done since Homer ...
“ I have always thought that poets and novelists are able to impart mystery to individuals who are seemingly overwhelmed by day-to-day life, and to things which are ostensibly banal – and the reason they can do this that they have observed them time and again with sustained attention, almost hypnotically. Under their gaze, everyday life ends up being enshrouded in mystery and taking on a kind of glow-in-the-dark quality which it did not have at first sight but which was hidden deep down. It is the role of the poet and the novelist, and also the painter, to reveal the mystery and the glow-in-the-dark quality which exist in the depths of every individual.”
“His imagination, far from distorting reality, must get to the bottom of it, revealing this reality to itself, using the power of infrared and ultraviolet to detect what is hidden behind appearances. I could almost believe that the novelist, at his best, is a kind of clairvoyant or even visionary. He is also a seismograph, standing by to pick up barely perceptible movements.”
“Often the same street is tied up with successive memories, to the extent that the topography of a city becomes your whole life, called to mind in successive layers as if you could decipher the writings superimposed on a palimpsest. And also the lives of the thousands upon thousands of other, unknown, people passing by on the street or in the Métro passageways at rush hour.”
And this, too, is bound up with my year of birth: 1945. Being born in 1945, after the cities had been destroyed and entire populations had disappeared, must have made me, like others of my age, more sensitive to the themes of memory and oblivion.
“Today, I get the sense that memory is much less sure of itself, engaged as it is in a constant struggle against amnesia and oblivion. This layer, this mass of oblivion that obscures everything, means we can only pick up fragments of the past, disconnected traces, fleeting and almost ungraspable human destinies.
Yet it has to be the vocation of the novelist, when faced with this large blank page of oblivion, to make a few faded words visible again, like lost icebergs adrift on the surface of the ocean.
Translation: James Hardiker, Semantix
Today, 5:14 PMtvflusa@juno.com;email@example.com
Thank you for letting us know a little more about Han's passing. He was very very lucky to have had you by his side for those 34 years. We will all miss him very much. He was a very dear person.
On Thu, May 25, 2017 at 3:40 PM, firstname.lastname@example.org
Virginia and Bob, I would have written sooner about Hans but I could not easily find your e mail address. Yes, my Hans died at 4:20 a.m. on May 19th. He stayed with me at the house until 8 hours before he died. I had him moved to a care center at the hospital in St Petersburg so he would get the care he needed at the end. He died from Leukemia. I cannot discuss this at this time, it is simply too much for me. After 34 years of nothing but happiness I am at a loss right now. Phil
Date: Thu, 25 May 2017 14:07:57 -0400
Dearest Philip,Roger wrote to tell me that our dear Hans has died. Please accept our most sincere condolences and tell us as much as you are able.
Thank you. Please know that you are very much in our thoughts and prayers.
much love to you,
post on facebk by my most influential high school teacher, GM
Yesterday after forty-three years, the era of the Roncalli Community ended not with a bang or a whimper, just with kind a a sigh of nostalgia. Jack Dondero orchestrated the formation of the community with three of us rounded up from different grad programs to pioneer with him in the start of the community. Hurray for them and the ten brothers who comprised the community at different times; they set quite a pace and standard. Five of them were published authors; four of them were department chairs. Five of them won the Lindbach Award for Distinguished Teaching, Two served as presidents of the faculty senate. Three became university presidents: Joe Burke moved from provost to president at La Salle and later took on interim term as president at Manor College. Mike McGinniss followed his time as President of Christian Brothers University (TN) with a fifteen year stint at La Salle. Craig Franz presided at St, Mary's College (CA). Outside of academia, Dennis Malloy was elected as the first provincial of the then newly formed District off Eastern North America. While at Roncalli, almost all of the brothers were contributing the something extra at La Salle with committee work,and with service for students . Four of them were moderators of Greek organizations and seven of them served on the boards of other schools or non-profits groups, sometimes both. In the proud tradition of the Christian Brothers, the community knew how to party. Surprise birthday bashes were a house specialty, and annual gatherings brought outfamilies, friends, and neighbors around Christmas and of the Brothers at Thanksgiving and New Year's. Students also enjoyed an annual celebration as well as impromtu visits and dinners where the wizardry of Chef Joe Burke dazzled them and anyone else who sat at our table. As the door closes, the memory of living with good and happy men lingers, So to all of Roncalli brothers, living and dead, who shared those times, thanks for the fraternal memories. I know that your "having the back" spirit will bless me along the path ahead. Slainte .
So, in case I had not figured it out, I can see why I exited Anselm Hall as a “basket case.” I.E. through the _______ Memorial Mental Hospital. Name will come to me later. Very short, very mild “breakdown” events, and yet not so much at the time. Sophomore year, after forty years of teaching showed me, is the big divide developmentally for young people. On that basis alone an organization like the brothers should never have accepted me into their ranks. And yet of course the military does. So, rather than take me, the brothers should have said to me first, well, ok, but you do realize joining us is equivalent to joining the military? Had they said that I would have been forewarned with much more clarity. Maybe I would have hesitated. What would have been much better is what they eventually did for everyone about ten years later, only take young men who had already completed college. Or at least two or three years of it.
Oh well, lots of great surprises awaited me down the journey. Virginia. et al. Futile to remorse around all that now. Yet memory does not release us readily, not as easily as we try to release it. We can think we’ve disposed of something quite well but years later it returns to say, hey, not so fast. Unresolved resonances here still. “Resolved” not quite right. Such resonances are not subject to resolution. A pebble breaking the surface of a pond might create circles of energy that eventually dissipate, the pond re-silences its surface. We don’t work that way even as we might think we want to, or try to, do. Hence what deaths do to us. Hans died last week and news of his death reached us this week. All the memories, all the resonance of his friendship and love are all still within us.
“An elite club of wonderful gentlemen for sure.” One of G’s friends posted. He more country club than the community, one supposes. Still. The “elite” part could trouble. Trouble St LaSalle. Until we think of the lines of “corporate culture” stretching back into ethnic and national character. Brothers of the Christian Schools carrying on the noble gentility of French men, founded by an 18thC (or 17th?) aristocrat. Jesuits founded by much more lower class Spanish-Basque soldier. Georgetown Law and ETA sprung from the same genealogy, from this twisted way of looking at it. Still. French masculinity vs Spanish masculinity. What would Google yield on that query?
But in a study of corporate cultures, studying the character of each major order in the church would yield lots of interesting data. As Nicholas posted the other day, the Dominicans were in charge of converting the Cathars. They failed but they still had to learn enough about the Cathars to attempt to persuade them to return.
“Narrative” by the way, I figured out yesterday, is the current key term that stands in for “persuasion.” After WWII in this country the heritage of Rhetoric as a study got deconstructed into communications and from there via creative writing into narrative. So questions of power and persuasion, argument and emotional and rhetorical power, have been tabled, shoved under the table and survive only in tv shows about lawyers. Oh, I forgot science. Forensics. etc.
Moving VHS to computer and disc, we hope. Roxio program. Rainy again today, Monday 29
Two lines from Villa Triste
“The night was warm and I felt a kind of intoxication at the thought that the summer had hardly begun and that we still had days and days ahead to spend together, and evenings when we could go out for walks or stay in the room and listen to the muffled, idiotic plunking of the tennis balls.” 86-87
“There are evenings when I ask myself what I’m doing here . . .’ Why hadn’t I stayed where I was, at the Lindens, reading my phone directories and my movie magazines?” 79
“And besides, that sort of behavior wasn’t suited to my mild temperament or my natural pessimism or a certain cowardice I couldn’t deny.” 78
This last is the most important one for me. I don’t think it could ever appear in one of Aciman’s novels.
Why do I not, for instance, want to see these videos of all of us at Christmas time in 1989? Just not used to seeing myself on home movies.
“She swam and sunbathed. I preferred the shade, like my Eastern ancestors.” 97 He was then “Count Victor Chmara”
Just about to write about Modiano as another writer of Unknowing and here comes the line I had hoped for: or one that will help:
“I preferred not to know.” There were some serious goings-on in Algeria, but also in France and elsewhere in the world. I preferred not to know. 97
No. No. Avoid important topics. Panic would take hold of me again. To calm myself, I’d down an Alexandra at the bar and go back upstairs with my pile of magazines. “ 97
The second video is the more interesting. We are showing slides of our trip, must be the 88-89 trip, year or half a year in Madrid? Thirty years ago, almost. 30 ! 28 this year, 30 in two. David was ten-eleven on that trip.
Villa Triste makes me wish I had written it or that I had known that I could have written my own version of something like it. My ambling, lay-about years, months, in Madrid and South America. We were not rich with recent cash the way Victor and Yvonne were, but we were young and idle with a purpose. Not idle but rambling. Willow had her project each day and that gave the days their shape. I filled in the crevices, wandered around the interstices, taped together the loose ends. How many Modiano-like short novels might I have cut-and-pasted out of my various ways to pass time, fill time, figure out how to not know. The obvious question now is why not now? Is it “too late” to cobble out such stuff now? Memories and imagined versions of what did or did not really happen? Triste especially seems a good model because so far at least so little has happened, beyond the interweaving of the characters, and that is very loose so far. Modiano manages to allow things to hover and barely hint. Whether there will be a wrapping up in some way by the end may be the question, the impulse, but we’re never really quite sure of that either. Maybe it is this uncertainty that drives him and us forward. Maybe it is not.
Made discs of Milner Xmas Reunion ’89.
Watching a video of yourself when you were 46 years old. Just not accustomed to doing it. Was it a good idea?
Great visit with PT Melinda Jackson this morning. Sunny enough for Ben to cut the grass for the first time this spring.
“Of Jewish Alexandrine origin” Olivier Berggruen says of Modiano’s father.
So---conceivably--Aciman’s extended family in Alexandria might have known something about the father’s family in Alexandria. How large was the Jewish community in the city in the past one hundred years. It is one of those coincidences, if it is even that, that Patrick M is a writer in Paris, ten years older than André Aciman, a writer in New York. And both are memoirist-novelists of many, very similar, themes. Wonder, though, if Modiano has ever heard of Aciman? Maybe the memoir out of Egypt would have caught his eye. Modiano mentions his family links somehow to the painter, Amedeo Modigliani, born into a Sephardic Jewish family in Italy.
“I could have written a book like this. I should have written, after all. I might have written if I had realized that one could write a novel in this way. I didn’t write a book like this, but I thought about it many times.” All the comments of nonwriters who don’t accept their identity as readers and not writers. As reader-developers of the photographic negatives produced by writers---to use Modiano’s figure in his nobel address.
Almost finished Villa Triste. Earlier today I hit pages 137ff, the “Henri Kustiker” scenes in which Victor and Yvonne crawl around the villa, playing games of fear and imaginary terror and wallowing around in their transcendental relaxation. I want to copy out each page, each sentence. “Because if we spent days and nights in delicious prostration, . . . “154
Instead of being a writer or even wishing to be a writer, an architect, a painter, a diplomat, a city planner, a journalist, a monk, a hermit, a yoga master, etc, I’ve always wanted to be a practitioner of comparative aesthetics.
Birthday month once again. Thrilled by the way Villa Triste is ending. Well, “thrilled” is not right. Intrigued or gratified in the sense that, yes, I do like this writer, and, no, I could not have written anything like it. But he speaks to me, I like how he does everything he does, every move he makes, as he weaves and cobbles and ambles, remembers and forgets. Like him now more than Sebald. As much as, more than, Aciman? Perhaps I will hold that in abeyance for a while longer.
Dear Phil, Bob thought you would enjoy knowing that my mother hated politics. When my father sat down to watch election returns in the living room, she would go into the family room and play Handel's Messiah full blast!
She loved music; played piano and organ and any other instrument she wanted to -by ear. My father was tone deaf, so it all worked out.
On Mon, May 29, 2017 at 2:05 PM, J. P. Jones
Another good reason - in addition to all her work described in her book - to like your mom. Tell Bob he was right: I'm glad you told me this.......Cheers, Phil
J. P. Jones
I finally got in touch with my cousin whose mother was a Roberts. I asked my cousin where the Roberts money came from. Railroads, she replied, and added that she also had an uncle who owned the street car company in Cumberland. I asked her if railroad meant B&O or Western Maryland. She didn't know, but I assume that it was the Western Maryland line up into West Virginia. Always very profitable because it didn't lose money on a lot of passenger trains, although I think it ran one. Instead, WM carried a lot of coal...........Phil
Pulli, the waiter, sees Chmara to the train station and talks about Cairo and Alexandria. Book published in 1975. So Aciman could have read it, in French, and said to himself, harrummphh, I should write my memoir about Alexandria and show this hack how to do it.
Today’s New Yorker has a piece by the great James Wood on the great W G Sebald. Yet I am not rushing to read it. Even after a good nap. Up next I have La Petite Bijou | Litte Jewel and am anxious to start it. How fickle we reader-enthusiasts be!
2 June Recital Day
documents from the Milner siblings:
9:05 AM (1 hour ago)
to Richard, bcc: me
I am sorry for all the problems you are having with the loan. As far as I know I signed all the documents with a notary who came here to the house. So, as far as I am concerned, it has all been taken care of. I really hope so.
I am not able to concentrate on it more today, because I am to play in a piano recital today at 5:00 pm and I am very nervous. I will get back in touch tomorrow.
On Thu, Jun 1, 2017 at 12:12 PM, Richard P. Milner
I was surprised yesterday when the Closing Department at Quicken called to tell me I need to go back to the Embassy in Mexico City to notarize more documents!
They told me that they had forgotten to include Quick Claim Deed docs they have to have because of part of the property being held in trust. It costs me about $900 to go up and back. I have to spend the night. The trip is long and wears me out. I don't want to go. I told the lady this. She said she would check further with her supervisors.
Today I will write to ask why I would need to sign a Quick Claim since my part of the house is not in a trust and never has been. They don't all seem to be very bright at Quicken so perhaps they are wrong, and I won't have to go again. Like you, I thought I would be paying $50 to notarize the documents, but instead I had to pay fees for six pages for a total of $300. They sent me what they said was a complete set of documents. The set included Quick Claims for you and Puss that I was to ignore and send back, which I did.
They told me several days ago that they'd spoken with you and expected the docs by May 30th when they were supposed to close the loan and disburse the funds.
So I have these questions for you:
Did they send you the complete set of documents? Did the set include your Quick Claim? Did you notarize at the Embassy in Frankfurt? Did you send them in from there?
What are the documents you are going to send ASAP? The complete set or part?
Marci uses Whats App. I prefer to run everything through AOL so I have everything in one place, and don't have to learn more software. Occasionally I have to use a Gmail account, but I often forget to check it. WiFi here has been spotty. I have an iPhone with a fairly big tablet, but can't get used to it. It runs out of power almost immediately if I don't charge it all the time. Marci would like me to carry it with me, but it's big and I don't like being so exposed to EMFs. It's bad enough that I have a router sitting here on my desk.
Marci has an iPad we took with us on the first and second trips to the Embassy in Mexico City and to her daughters in Huejotzingo and Cholula. I used it to communicate with Quicken. It was very difficult. I had to constantly re-enter the codes for Quicken, and learn to type via hunt and peck. With my dyslexia, I have additional problems with that. Also since the Quicken program is not designed for iPad, each time I tried to access a page I would have to scroll down 20 or 30 times to get to the content. Each scroll down would move the cursor about a quarter of an inch on its way to the bottom of the pad.
Still Cholula is quite pleasant. I stayed away from Huejo this time. I can't take the ash from Popo. Too much sneezing!
We took Marci to her diabetes specialist in Puebla because she was having very bad deep pain in her leg. He told us she probably needed back surgery. It seemed to me that she needed back-specific exercises instead. I had been reading Pain Free: A Revolutionary Approach to Ending Chronic Pain, which shows the exercises. Abi, Marci's daughter took her to see the surgeon in Mexico City the next day. He said she doesn't need surgery, and prescribed the same exercises as are in the book. That was very good news! This morning she's at the swimming pool.
Marci's daughter Ceci flew her to Cancun to watch her swim the channel between there and Isla Mujeres. It is 10 Kilometers, and the whole family went along in boats and a kayak. When Marci asked me if it was all right for her to go, she told me that the guru at Bereshit, her religious community, refused her permission to attend Ceci's wedding or any other family event. So going to Cancun would be the first one she'd attended in more than 30 years. Ceci was very happy. She asked Marci, "Please be kind to Richard."
To: Virginia Garlitz
Sent: Thu, Jun 1, 2017 2:10 am
Subject: What's app
There is a great app you can download called Whats App. You can send free messages and even free phone calls when connected to wifi.
Where I'm staying in Berlin there isn't WiFi but I will be able to be connected off and on.
Once you download the app just look up my name:)
I was able to get the documents through hostel by shrinking a few pages. The embassy charged $50 per page of notarization=$250!
I'm stranded today in Berlin with a cold..but will try to get documents to UPS asap.
I checked my baggage from Frankfurt to Berlin very early...perhaps they just set it aside because it didn't make it...still waiting for it!!
Hallelujah...just another opportunity to turn to the Lord and take grace...and rejoice evermore.
We have a wonderful hymn:
Rejoice evermore, rejoice evermore
It is better to sing than be sighing
It is better to live than be dying
So let us rejoice evermore!
Much love to both of you, my dearest siblings!!!
Merlin and Petie:)
Willow has a massage with Suzanne S shortly
Saturday around noon 3 June
After the Recital. Ted Wolf just left, driving back to Keene today.
Monday 5 June
Waiting for Spectrum technician to arrive, restore sound to the tv. Good quotation on the blog Times Flow Stemmed---He spends his time reading wildly. Something like that.
Ten days in hospital sounds like such a long time. You must be living in Japan or France where there is something called good health care.
I do trust that you are on the good and quick mend from this. I've long heard the phrase "detached retina" but had no idea what it meant or what all could be involved in terms of (scarey) danger and difficulty. A friend here has been having eye surgery for something, not exactly that, I don't think, but something equally as potentially compromising to good vision. As dedicated Readers, this is especially a problem we don't want and I'm send you cosmic and all other rays and waves in hopes that healing and recovery will be fully effective.
Yes, you did send both CDs and grateful I am for them. Your friends did a great job of recording your voice and providing musical ambience in perfect accord/a-chord.
I have been wanting to guess that the Eng Prof who had us all to his apartment for snacks and a group reading of Shelley's "The Cenci" was David Williams, or Merlyn Williams, or even Joseph Williams (I think there were two with the same name there for a while). But as soon as I say all of this and as I try to recover more, we see how loose and imaginative memory is, becomes, uncertain, vague, unhelpful. It is disappointing that university departments would not keep some basic historical timelines. But I can hear a few committee meetings saying "we are here to teach current students" not to be vehicles of historical record. Etc.
Ah, well. Our kids are visiting soon in late July and August. I've decided to try to really improve my French, basic as it now is. If I hurry now perhaps I can catch up with and keep up with my 6 and 3 year old grandchildren. I've hired a student to come speak French with me once a week and we go to a conversation group with five or six others once a month.
I'm also reading more in French with the goal of reading Proust in French. The short novels of Patrick Modiano keep me interested and busy right now. He won the Nobel in 2014 and I had not heard of him until then. He was unknown here and in UK except for the few who kept him as a special pleasure. He grew up in the Paris right after the war and I place him as an echo of another favorite writer, Thomas Bernhard, the Austrian. Both are our age. Bernhard expresses the rage of post-ww2 life. Modiano captures the fear and anxiety and fluidity of identity. And W G Sebald, the German who lived in England from the age of 22, ponders the guilt.
Another writer I've discovered this spring is André Aciman. Saw him read a few weeks ago at Dartmouth. Had hoped to see Don Pease but he was off somewhere and hob nobbing with Cornel West. Aciman came to this country from Alexandria, Egypt, when he was 14. He's about 62 now. Magnificent memoir of growing up in Alexandria was his first book---"out of Egypt." After that some wonderful novels. He's a fairly happy ex-pat and he explores the ways of love, affection and friendship, obsessively at times and in exquisite language and style.
I do hope you're doing better and are able to read poetry by now, soon. We are planning an October trip so if you feel like heading to Europe by then, let's meet up.
Virginia sends her best. She just had a piano recital with seven other students of her young piano teacher. Ages 8 to 73. Her teacher plays the left hand with her on the right hand and they sound wonderful together.
take care & love from both of us,
June 10 Saturday 5:41 pm
Gloria called this morning around 8:30 to tell us Ted died last evening. Pat spent the night with them. She had fed him and given him some medecine and then gone out for a short errand. Called Gloria saying she thought he looked different when she came back and that he was dead. She called the hospice woman, who came over to verify and help call the funeral home. This was about 7 pm last night, June 9.
Noon we were all at the Hebron church for the memorial for Bill Neikam. A bit heavily religious because of Diane, the oldest child, who found her born-again community down in Texas, El Paso, years ago. She took care of Bill for the five or so years after Annla’s death, during which he had Alzheimer’s. I shook hands with tall son and told him he was a fine example of the middle child and represented the club quite well. He laughed and said something like “we’re the best.”
We didn’t go to the reception at the Stone Gates community hall. Been hanging out all afternoon. I took Zyrtec and just now a nap, theory now that I have chronic hives, have had them all spring. Since Dominican? Could also be an infection? Allergy? Going to call the doctor Monday. My legs were killing me all day today. Red wine two nights in a row? Chocolate? etc?
Heuser’s invited us all to meet at the Bistro at 7:30. Good idea.
Each death takes a bit out of you. On Facebook, George Leonnig said hello “after all these years” and I’m afraid I don’t recall his name. Friend of Gerry M’s, was he one of my teachers at LaSalle High School? or classmate at Elkins Park?
There’s this that’s a problem in asking a Parkie to recall something. Chances are high that they can’t. Witness the present case.
That name rings as slightly familiar, which makes it less likely that it was a Cumberland teacher than someone you or I knew from Ammendale or Elkins Park.
Wait! A lucid moment! I just checked a 1993 directory of ex-monks and found old George! He’s listed in there (aka Brother Faber Francis), just two entries below BROTHER ANDREW JEFFERY! If this booklet is accurate, and Chuck Shanabruck was your classmate, as were Bill Phillips and Tom Dawson, then at the illusive George Leonig WAS LIKELY YOUR CLASSMATE.
Uh, who is it who has the Parkinsons?
Ever your bro,
Jim (aka Denis Andrew)
9:43 AM (9 hours ago)
Slow but got it today. Must be that if you live
too far out in the boonies the great algorhythms decide in their wisdom you can wait a while!
Yes, thanks for below. Morning after I queried
you I saw George's face in my memory screen clear as day. Forgot the names though. Threw out that directory but good to remember that '93 was when we trusted the web would save the world since the damned hippies had sold out!
ever back at you, bro---
nice how the wisdom of the ages has
decided "bromance" is an ok term----
"terministic screens" what k burke pondered
his whole career
good article online about reading Proust. After Proust. The let-down. Made me realize I’ve been saying “after all of Modiano, in French, then I will move on to Proust. Why wait? The kindle makes it so easy to crib with instant translations, instant dictionary searches. And the back and forth reeading process is a delight anyway. Stereophonic reading at its finest.
Tomorrow or even tonight, begin, yes, I did read the opening page or two a few weeks ago. Begin again. Le temps retrouvé.
14 june 48th anniversary Lunch at Uno’s in Tilton!
Last night Va had book group and I went to Rendevous. Bumper crowd of eleven. So many topics, total immersion. Met Rosie with Brendan. Steven, Catherine, Debra (Singer), Lauren, friend of Brendan’s from Meredith, on her way to Paris after Parsons School and NYU, Erica, Eric (WhtRvrJct), married to woman from Normandy, Nate (from Provo, lives in Thornton, married to Honduran woman), and Martin, from Quebec, now lives in Alexandria. Night out in such a crowd gave me dreams packed with event and people, very pleasant, sorting through all the voices and inputs.
Gorgeous day, cool, sweet. PEO meeting at Heather Baldwin’s.
16 June Friday
Took the chocolate truffle cake to Pat and Kirsten. Rainy. Handed the cake in the door to Pat, kissed her on the cheek and said we would visit next week. She said Kirsten wasn’t feeling well. Kirsten was holding the dog, the spaniel, who had tried to get out into the sunroom. Pat did look thin and tired. Stopped at the Cafe and bought us a cookie, a scone and a brownie. We had a great swim in the morning.
My life began in Joyce, Portrait of the Artist, moved through Woolf, Joyce, Burke, Proust, Bernhard and is now in the Proust2-Modiano-Aciman era. I should look up RANAM and see if my article is archived online. Now if I wrote on Burke, would I change “sacrifical word” to “apophatic” word? Same difference, same effect? Be interesting to re-write the article for today. I am re-learning French after thirty years. Could write to the blogger on Modiano. Why has it taken me so long to decide to learn more French? That question can now replace “why did I not ‘become a writer?’”
Post article on Quantum Entanglement got me a “like” on Twitter today from a famous follower too---Ioannis Pappos
Stephen Elliott tweeted “Every story is a love story or a story about loneliness.”
Nicholas on his blog site concludes a book review
“To quote another Russian, from a different but not unrelated tradition, St Silouan of Athos, when asked whether there would be anybody in hell at the end, he simply replied, "Love could not bear it" and for bearing the beams of love, to quote Blake, is the reason that we came. The Lord's hands are our hands, to interpose St Theresa of Avila, so that work of love is 'ours' too. This book is an invitation, if a somewhat esoteric one, to one of its many works.”
Master of Lucid Dreams by Olga Karitidi
Here is a discussion of Modiano vs Le Clézio that I’ve been looking for:
by John Taylor, Summer 2009, “Two Hesitations . . .”
“As for Modiano, he continued in the 1990s, and still continues, to produce variations on what can be called his one story, more or less, which usually involves the Occupation, vague crimes, a search for personal identity, and amorous or familial relationships that often are based on, or end in, a disappearance. (Le Clézio and Modiano share the missing-father theme.) However, it had become clear even by the mid-1980s that he had not only a single enigmatic, anxiety-ridden story to tell, but also a unique style in which to tell it: a style marked by highly crafted syntactic limpidity as well as by subtle semantic mysteries—once again, a constantly suspenseful ambiguity surrounding key events and feelings—and by an unmistakable personal “music,” as French readers and reviewers frequently point out. Most importantly, the author of Honeymoon (one of his few novels that have been translated into English, and relatively little of Le Clézio’s fiction has been rendered as well) evokes in uncannily haunting yet often indirect ways how the Shoah has indelibly marked us all, even if we were born after the Second World War and even, in fact, if the plot of the novel ignores this specific topic. Interestingly enough, when I paid a visit to Nathalie Sarraute at her apartment one afternoon in the spring of 1997, she spontaneously asked if I had ever read Modiano, adding that he was one of the young writers—she was ninety-seven years old at the time—whom she most admired. And on another afternoon, in 2004, this same question was raised by a ninety-four-year-old Julien Gracq, about whom more forthwith.
I am not at all sure that Le Clézio wields a highly personal style. His writing is smooth, but it is not distinctive. One of the obstacles is that French is not a heavily accented language, and a poet or writer needs to discover ways to craft this inherent, standardizing, sometimes almost soporific or smothering smoothness into something particular, unique. By declaring this, I would like to recall, in contrast, Maurice Blanchot’s famous quip about Gracq’s boldly mellifluous, syntactically elaborate, highly adjectival and adverbial style: Gracq “writes well,” according to Blanchot (who was replying to an attack on Gracq’s style, made by the academic critic René Etiemble), because he “writes badly,” that is, departs from school-instilled stylistic norms, the most salient of which are succinctness and syntactic clarity. (Modiano writes with exceptional clarity; the personal qualities of his style derive from other departures from mainstream stylistic or rhetorical habits, such as his particular use of transitions; and, above all, from an indefinable, delicate, personal touch that probably can be analyzed only on the phonetic level.)
In contrast, Modiano’s novels about the same period emphasize human behavior as ambiguous and ungraspable: no ideas with easily definable contours emerge; a powerful sentiment of existential unease prevails.”
Block party today, 17th Stephen Greenblatt piece in New Yorker a good review of Augustine’s book and his success at inventing sex, original sin and guilt. What if Pelagius had won?
And yet Greenblatt’s tone is too arrogant, too assured. Has he studied Kenneth Burke’s analysis? I doubt it. Could I use my analysis to raise questions he would not be able to answer? Perhaps. Back in the day.
Even if not, he has not considered his analysis to be as flawed as all other analyses before him. To say Augustine did x and then did y and his thought changed Western history is as limited as all other such readings and insights as have gone before. To think he has pinpointed the turn in Augustine’s thought, in his understanding of his own body, his own consciousness, is ridiculous. Yes, Greenblatt has undertaken another explication of the text, the words we have, both in original Latin and in the spicy new translation.
Block party today. We arrived around 3. Whole new event. Micah’s young family friends with little kids. Short visit with Margaret, shorter with Sue McLane. We came home for late lunch, sat on the swing in the garden later. I just gave myself a haircut, shaved, buzzed down. For Father’s day?
Sunday almost noon
Sweet short video greeting from Dave and Eliot. They are at Chézet.
Brief “Hi” on Facebook from “Parkie” as Jim calls them has led to further email exchange. George Leonnig, Brother Francis Faber. Have not thought of him for forty years. 55 to be precise. Strangely upsetting now to have him talk about those days and those people. And to use the metaphor of having been in a war together. Different and yet apt.
“Remember Greg very well as well as Jim Atwell who was choir director at Elkins Park, I think.
I keep in touch with Joe Braceland's older brother Paul who I worked with at O'Connell High for several years and he keeps me current on Brother news. Also John Patzwall keeps me current. He's still a Brother. There was something about that group or class we were in that I feel very connected to. I guess it's like having been in a war together, but obviously different. Well, Happy Father's Day and let’s keep in touch. George
We both had Gerry as high school teachers, somehow? Did Gerry leave Cumberland my senior year and go to St John’s in DC? Or had he been there a year before he came to Cumberland my sophomore year through senior year?
Do I really want to explore all of this with George? Strangely, yes. More so than high school and it is easy to know why. Discharge from the Brothers much more traumatic. The whole experience much more intense as well.
Plus the tensions of the whole period. If he wants to keep in touch, who wants to say what, more?
delightful text from Pty
So you all are curious???
Well his name is . I've known of him since the early 70s but had never met him or spoken to him before.
His wife died about 5 1/2 years ago. He is 75.
About 3 years ago someone tried to talk to me about X...not interested...then later another person tried...not interested.
Then I went to the middle aged training...and met his sister and 2 others who know him very well. All these 3 at different times thought I'd be the right match for X.
At this time I really thought there was something between Paul and I but now I'm so glad that we both agreed that we felt relieved to stop any considerations of marrying each other.
So last Thanksgiving at a conference in San Jose his sister tried to arrange a meeting between us. When I ment Paul she pointed out it was just dinner and "I might always wonder".
We set up a meeting and then I backed out. X thought it was all over but found he couldn't get me off his mind and the interest instead of fading away began to grow.
Then I made plans to come to Europe...I discovered I had some frequent flier miles on American which would take me through their hub in X. I scheduled a flight with a comfortable departure time. It wasn't until several days later I noticed that there was a long layover in Irving, where Ray lives. I would arrive at 7:35 pm and not leave til Sunday afternoon at 3:30.
So I had the happy thought to try to finally met X. We met for dinner with one of his daughters and a couple who were wanting me to meet him
Dinner went well...then he suggested we meet for breakfast...turns out that was just the two of us.
I thought after I met him I could check him off the "List". However it made me think of him more. He introduced me to all his 3 kids in the church meeting that morning.
Then followed a lot of correspondence via email!! I think it was all arranged by the Lord. We have gotten to know each other in a very short time.
He is so funny...so sincere...so dedicated...
He is one of the behind the scene people that makes practical arrangements...he has been in charge of many church building projects.
One was the building where we currently have conferences in which the largest room can hold 5000.
One friend of mine that knows him well...said I'd have a wonderful life with him, always on the go,
He is a man of prayer. He has stirred up a fresh love for the Lord, I haven't felt for a long time.
He is not one tk let any grass grow under his feet!!
He asked me to come to X after Europe...so I changed my ticket to come back to US earlier, June 27. I will spend time in Texas with no further commitments at this time...
We both believe this is the Lord's arrangement...
More when I know more...
“un poisson qui est un enchantement de nacreuse couleur par l’argentement azuré de son ventre.”
Heavy rain storms this afternoon. Nice visit with the kids. Emma in her earrings and bracelets. They have two more weeks. Heat spell there now.
email to George Leonnig---
Memories getting stirred up. "like having been in a war together, but obviously different." Strong, but I'd agree apt. Not recalling the last name Braceland. Who are Joe and Paul?
You had Gerry M your freshman year at St John's high school? I had him then my sophomore year and senior year. Brother George Paul? also. Coggins?
55 years since our class met at Ammendale. My high school in Cumberland having a reunion this fall but I did not go to the 50th nor will I to this one. But perhaps an A'dale class gathering might interest. At least in memory. Are you able to give snap bios on most everyone? I threw away the computer listing of all of us. Suppose I should not have. Any idea about Louis DeHayes, Joe Brobowski, Tim Crimmins? I did know John Patwall had stayed in.
What did you major in at LaSalle? What did you teach? You departed when you were about 27? Easy, mixed, traumatic? or something else? Where did you do law school?
Intense years. 1971 or 72 in Chicago I walked into the campus library and noticed a fellow going down the stairs before me. Said to myself, "I recognize that neck, that head of hair, I gave that guy a few hair cuts at Elkins Park." Said hello. Chuck Shanabruch. Just looked him up. He's become a real scholar-historian at St Xavier in Chicago. Same startled look.
What were we all running from, running toward, moving through? Memory, it turns out, seems to active and reactivate in all the weird ways the writers have tried to tell us about. I've been reading lately the novels by recent Nobel winner, Frenchman, Patrick Modiano, and I like the ways he talks about his growing up right after WWII in ways that capture the stunned vagueness of trying to figure things out. And never succeeding.
I did hate leaving in the manner it was then done: no good-byes, more or less the shame of night whether in daylight or no. Why did you (all) think I had left? No explanations ever publicly given. Was it any different for you five or more years later?
Anthony posted this on his blog Times Flow Stemmed
"I will say, posthumously, that Europe is the world's sore affliction, that you in America who have taken the best that Europe has to offer while hoping to avoid the worst are, in your indigenously American phrase, 'whistling Dixie.' All your God-drenched thinking replicates the religious structures built out of the hallucinatory life of the ancient Near East by European clericalists, all your social frictions are the inheritance of colonialist slave-making economies of European businessmen, all your metaphysical conundrums were concocted for you by European intellectuals, and you have now come across the ocean in two world wars conceived by European politicians and so have installed in your republic just the militarist mind-state that has kept our cities burning during since the days of Hadrian."
Christa Wolf, quoting Wittgenstein, from a preface in Doctorow's City of God. I'm unable to find the source of this quotation. If you know, please let me know. I shall clearly have to read the Doctorow, which the NYT reviewed concluding, "The ideas are certainly there -- the idea of New York, the idea of God, the idea of literature. But where is the novel?" If anything, that only increases its allure.
[Postscript: I'm reasonably sure that this is a fictional Wittgenstein quote.]
This is pretty cool. BTW did you read the article in the NYer on St. Augustine by some prof at Harvard. Nice secular view of Augie and his neurotic mother, Monica. I remember reading "Confessions" years ago and thinking, "This woman has so fucked up her son that he will never see daylight." Poor guy was completely wrapped around the axle on the issue of sexual chastity and the only way out for him was a Jewish god and his crucified son??? Good luck with that.
J. P. Jones (hotmail.com)
Yes, was going to ask if you had read it too. It is good, isn't it. Your summation is even better, however. In fact it puts its finger on something about Greenblatt's piece that bothered me---that the high rational scholarly mind is not really sufficient for interpreting such things precisely because the codes of good taste, manners, right thinking, other scholars, etc, limit the writer---mainly his own self-assurance that he has figured this guy out. over a 2500 year span too!
20 June evening perfect weather all day. Breezy, high 70s. Basement sump hole around the drain pipe dry yesterday for the first time in ? six months. Four at least.
Pembroke for Jacques Pastries, after false stope in Penacook. Wedding cakes only but bought a few items and ate them later at Starbucks in Concord. Pretty good. Robin B there, we chatted for a good long while, caught up. Joan at an Episcopal meeting. Her younger sister in Nebraska is dying. Two grandsons, 9 and 14. Both children now divorced, one peacefully so, the other not.
Otherwise read some of this and that.
response from George L warns me not to lower my guard much more. Not going to be someone ready to hear true confessions or intimate musings about life in and out of the religious life. Guess I won’t tell anyone that GM’s first year at our school all he could talk about was John Foley and what a tremendously gifted writer he was. So the mutual admiration recognition was alive and well in both directions. I was so jealous. I wanted GM to love me as much as he loved John Foley---or as I thought and assumed he did, from the way he talked so much about him. I wanted him to think that I, too, could really write almost as well as Hemingway. I wanted to be admired and encouraged in all those ways that the great John Foley at St John’s was. Nope, won’t say any of this to anyone. Who on earth would get it? JA probably. Maybe André Aciman, but in a generic and distant way. Except that he wrote the tremendous novel about it all.
Yesterday, 11:01 PM You
Well, I'm writing this late at night, so I can't get too emotional or go into the whole nine yards or I won't sleep tonite. I forget Joe Braceland's religious name but he was in Greg Byar's class ahead of us. Yes, had Brother Richard (Gerry M) as a freshman and he left a deep impression on me as a role model. He talked about Hemingway all the time and Jack Foley and I idolized him. I assume he went to Cumberland after our freshman year. didn't enjoy St. John's in the main but some of the Brothers were outstanding role models. Now , I enjoy going to reunions although some of the guys have not progressed much. I'll be going to the 55th in September.
A reunion of our class in the Brothers might be a good idea. I'll mention it to John Patzwall. He probably knows where everyone is.
I know that Paul Yuzuk is retired at Ammendale. and Victor D. Brother Joseph Woods died in the last few years; also Bill Phillips died in the past year and Brother Richard Grescevitz (sic) also died right after Joe Woods. There may not be a whole lot of us left but it's now or never. Well, I've got to go for now. Can't think very clearly right now. As far as leaving, for both of us , let's leave that for another time.
Phil in response to my comment that neither of us experienced grandfathers.
Right. My mother was an orphan. Her mother died when mom was two, and her father just walked off and disappeared about a year later. He may been killed in WWI. Mom was raised by her grandmother's best friend. My father's dad died in 1941 after years of practicing medicine in Cumberland. So I never knew him directly, but it was his house on Washington Street that was, more or less, the center of my father's and his siblings' lives. Ergo, that grandfather was present in my life in Cumberland in a way. My brother who was 14 years older than me actually knew him so I once asked my brother what my grandfather was like. "Just like Dad" was the answer, which didn't tell me much and I said as much to my brother who then said, "What do you want? I was 11 when he died." I thought that was a pretty lame excuse. P
so happy, over and over, more and more, that Davey’s life is so full.
Weds 21 around 11 am So bright, breezy, cool, beautiful, don’t know what to do! Willow going off to lunch with PEO lunch group. Looking at Lacombe Lucien instead of reading. Little laundry, folding, straightening.
Now I’m sorry and worried that I “spilled” so much to George L. Why did I? Can see how I nurse my ancient wounds without a cleansing Christian forgiveness after all. Same as with our “dismissal” from the trip to India.
Running to Robin yesterday was good. Had I called him and said let’s have lunch, it would have been impossibly stiff. Chance meeting gives you the Stranger on the Train effect that works so much better.
What to do with Mimi’s Graduation Speech? I could type it up and send it around to all of my classmates. To what purpose? Historical Perspective? Tweeterhood?
23 June Friday Mt Washington dinner date with the core tonight.
Successfully scared off GL. Greg called yesterday, though, and we’re set for lunch on Tuesday. That’s great. Two housecleaners coming next week, two days apart.
AND We’re going to NYC in mid-July. Two nights. First trip there in Ages. To see the Rosy Cross--Peladan exhibit at the Guggenheim. Artice in the New Yorker yesterday catalyzed this. We’ll take the Concord Coach that we’ve heard about. Crazy. Big year for spending money---let’s spend more!
Only 73 once in your life.
Mt Washington soiree fine again this year. Beautiful weather. Another beautiful evening tonight here. 24 June Sat night. Where did June go?
Uncle Steve Stephenson died a few days ago. 102 perhaps, or 103. Brief message from Roy, on the bus to Denver to get his kids. What could I write on a blank sympathy card? “Long awaited and yet in the reality of the event and the aftermath, still a massive event.” Hmm. No future as a card writer.
Gorgeous air and light, pure calm of a summer Sunday afternoon. Perfect. In spite of two painful mosquito bites on each hand. Bringing Va in from her goutêr on the swing.
Reading Little Jewel in English. Each book as familiar and more strange than the other. “You had to kill the Kraut to avenge the dog.” The narrator in Little Jewel says she heard this line in a dream. “IL FALLAIT TUER LA BOCHE POUR VENGER LE CHIEN.”
This strikes me as something utterly true in Modiano’s experience. Would not surprise me if he heard this line in his dream/memory and figured out how to write a novel around it, or grow it from this seed.
Tuesday night June 27
Met Greg at Phat Boys. MOST amazing small/big item & surprise was when he mentioned almost in passing that he has been reading a book on spirituality by Philip Sherrard. Should have asked and noted which book. Sherrard I most associate with Don Sheehan and his conversion to Orthodoxy and then Russian Orthodoxy. Nicholas also read lots of Sherrard years ago, in the ten or so years after the Temenos conferences.
Could have blown we over with a feather. First time Greg has mentioned God, either at all or in so direct a way. He’s come back around to acknowledging that we must speak about sprituality and our souls, even as we reject the stylish humanism that now is used in the churches, the hugging and ritual exchanges of greeting and so on. Also he talked about the disappointment of life in the Brothers once you got out of college and began community life. There was no community and no spirituality, just a house full of guys. Most he’s ever said about that either.
Driving back I did not go to the swimming pool as I had fantasized. Maybe another day. Feeling weird all yesterday and this morning. Not sure why. Stopped in Holderness and walked, walked before that in Cornish, all the way out of town on the sidewalk to the Dollar General store and back. Coffee in Holderness and then Peppercorn for Pau D’Arco.
Told Greg about having seen D John crying by the lower pond at Elkins Park, same day or weekend as his fiftieth anniversary. General theme was how lonely the life in the order seemed or promised to seem. He said he asked Ed Sheehy one time about why he stayed. Driving home I thought I should have said it may seem to the likes of us that those who stay have no spirituality. I brought up Merton and all of his troubles and his desire to move on to a hermitage. But for those who are happy in the orders it must be that being on the right team, in the group that means the most to one as group, that in itself is the spirituality that is necessary. Like writers getting published, giving readings at the right cafes, finding readers, etc. Spirituality is loving one’s life as one lives it. Warren Buffett being interviewed by Judy Woodruff on PBS tonight. Buffett a genuinely happy man who may be proud of his billions but does not need what they can buy to keep being happy. That was his excellent answer to how he lives so long--now 86--and how he stays fit. By loving what he does and being happy. That’s spirituality.
Still---what an amazing full circle to have Greg bring up Sherrard like that. And I had mentioned Don Sheehan too briefly but without making explicit the link to Sherrard. Or did I? Maybe so.
Thursday 29 Saw “My Cousin, Rachel” at Red River today. Quite good. review in the Guardian by Mark Kermode, 11 June, agrees with me and makes all the points I would have wanted to make. Reminds us the original movie starred Olivia de Havilland, made a star of the young Richard Burton, and that DuMaurier was disappointed in that version.
Finished Little Jewel. A late work. 2001. Very dream-like and weird in a haunting way. Maybe a mental hospital at the end. One of two times Modiano has a female narrator.
Friday morning Started La jeunesse in the English translation, Young Once. Va wants to see the new Bewildered so we’ll walk at the docks first.
Celeilla coming later this morning.
two emails to Phil
Trump has pulled the curtain back and revealed all the ugliness in our whole system, how it works. I'm hoping this is somehow a successful use of a figure of thought that comes from the Wizard of Oz. Is it?
I've never seen that movie all the way through. Can you believe that? At this point I'm not sure I would have the patience to do so. Another sign of early dementia?
Cultural impatience. Surely that is by now a tag on the list of aging signs and symptoms. Crankiness of every kind. Even as the sun finally melts the morning fog around here.
10:05 PM (11 hours ago)
Recently I've been thinking about Trump's background and qualifications for the US presidency. For most of his life he borrowed tons of money for big "ambitious projects" in which he promised the moon to all his investors and future customers. However, most of his projects went bust sooner or later. Then he simply walked away, never repaid the borrowed money or his debts, and left behind a lot of ruined communities and damaged people. He, however, "moved on" to another "ambitious project" where the crazy process was repeated. Again and again. Incredibly, people kept lending him money and supporting his projects until they went bust. Wow! In so many ways that's what the US gov't has been doing. It tackles "ambitious projects" promises everyone the moon, then runs up more and more debt that it can't repay. So it just drops projects ( such as wars in third world countries or health programs) borrows more money and "moves on" to other projects until maybe, at some point in the future, some kind of "bankruptcy" will have to be declared. (Huge currency devaluation?? Refusal to repay debts??) Of course, when that happens, the gov't, just like Trump, will leave behind wrecked communities and a whole lot of seriously damaged people (not to mention dead people in the third world). So in a bizarre way, Donald Trump may be the most qualified American to ever become president and lead this gov't. He knows the process better than anyone else. Another way to say this is: "The US has become a bigger, fatter, more destructive Donald Trump."9:23 AM (19 minutes ago)
Have been having many similar thoughts. And of course he is the most perfect emblem of who we've become in so many ways. Gary Truedeau in his Doonesbury cartoon has been "documenting" and railing against Trump for thirty years---so "we"ve known all about him for that long. And think of all the times millions of interviewed voters have repeated the shibboleth "we need a business man as a president" "we need to run the country like a business." So, yeah, this is pretty much how we run all of our businesses and guess we're stuck with this bozo because, hey, he just took those Russians for a ride, didn't he. They'll never see their money either.
Depressing. From every angle. Short-term pleasure, at least, in seeing Mitch McConnell get his due. Guess any kind of vengeance feeling is a pretty poor pleasure.
Even more depressing is how lame Democrats are talking and behaving at every turn. They know full well they got nuttin' to offer either. Even Sanders is now asking for money for his "Foundation."
Talking with service workers at restaurants and delivery guys--people in their 40s--for how long can they keep going on the income economy they've been stuck with? How could any "unionizing" idea grab hold and begin to work for them?
One wag on Twitter has thrown up a # -- #guillotinewatch. Witty historical allusion which speaks to this chasm dividing the economic layers of the whole West. These chasms I guess because there are subtle layers even within the top 2%. When I go to the Hanover-Dartmouth Food Coop I fancy I can start to tell who is happy with their 401ks and who is stretching the older budget to "pass" for the lifestyle level they used to enjoy. And fear that we may find ourselves slipping downward faster than we had thought---given inflation and aging. Already an entree at our usual restaurants that was 23$ a year or two ago is now $33.
Right. My mother was an orphan. Her mother died when mom was two, and her father just walked off and disappeared about a year later. He may been killed in WWI. Mom was raised by her grandmother's best friend. My father's dad died in 1941 after years of practicing medicine in Cumberland. So I never knew him directly, but it was his house on Washington Street that was, more or less, the center of my father's and his siblings' lives. Ergo, that grandfather was present in my life in Cumberland in a way. My brother who was 14 years older than me actually knew him so I once asked my brother what my grandfather was like. "Just like Dad" was the answer, which didn't tell me much and I said as much to my brother who then said, "What do you want? I was 11 when he died." I thought that was a pretty lame excuse. P
via LinkedIn Ben DiZoglio just indirectly showed me how outdated my “unionizing” ideas are. He and one of his friends are “Agorists” ---libertarian style anarchy to dry up the evils of the massive state. Founded in the ‘60s. As I just wrote to Phil, “oh, dear God. Politics, I give up.”
Saturday evening, monsoon day July 1
Afternoon visit with Fran Lewis. Husband was a Presbyterian minister. Close to the McLane’s. Four sons. Goes to Thailand in August, one son there. Two sons are nurses. Brought chocolate cookies and ginger tea.
Liked Phil’s explanation of economics
The Austrians have been hyping this free market crap since before Frederick Hayek first uttered "creative destruction." (Yes, I did major in Economics and, every now and then, that has proved somewhat useful.) The question is: why did Austrians have gone so hog-wild over an unregulated economy and world? I think the answer is that they are next door to the Germans who regulate everything, and, even more maddening, make it all work extremely well. That breeds resentment, and Austrians are big on resenting things. Just ask Jews about Hitler.
This is one of the finest paragraphs I've ever read about economics, economic theory. Va's father was big into Hayek. I think all or lots of the neo-cons use him too. And of course resentment is what we could say Thomas Bernhard's works are all about. He's an Austrian who showed his fellow countrymen how to resent Austria as well as everyone else. Economics driven by character more than money.
Rain. Back last night from NYC. Dave & fam arrived in Newark yesterday around 7pm, staying with Wendy in Wilmington. Maybe facetime today.
Realized this morning, finally, the tax document is for year 2015, not 2016. Close Readers of the World Unite. Taking measures to cover it. Market at a high yesterday. Our pilgrimmage to Peladon at the Guggenheim a factor. Esoteric factor.
July 12 from PT
Ray is lots of fun and spontaneous:)
He is a country boy that grew up very poor...without running water!!
At first..I thought no way this would work...but we have the church life in common. More than 50 years in the same fellowship. We know lots of the same people which makes it amazing that we never met before last May!
He loves history. He likes to travel but prefers scenery to cities. He has a medical condition that makes it difficult to fly...but not impossible.
He is involved with a building project for the church outside of London. So we could quite possibly spend some time there.
He has been one of the main persons involved in some big building projects for the church. One was the training center and conference center where I was last year. The conference room holds 5000. So it's very big:)
I'm trying to get him interested in the Alaskan cruise...today we ate lunch with some of his close friends who just got back from a carribean cruise and were all excited about it. Then tonight we ate with another couple who were wanting to take the Alaskan cruise:)
He was always dedicated to the Lord. Both he and his first wife were very poor. After they began serving the Lord...they decovered oil on their land where they had looked previously and not found anything!
Lots of that money went to finance the Lord's work. A few years ago he passed on the oil to his 3 children along with some farms and a lake in Oklahoma. So he's no longer a poor man...but neither is he a rich man. He assures me that he will take care of me:)
He had been more depressed than he realized and everyone is super excited and super happy for him. In Conway everyone is happy for me.
I like china and silver...he likes paper plates...
We'll find a happy way to work it all out.
Phil, our tour guide for Mystical Symbolism, used an Agnes Martin quote I had not heard before. “I paint with my back to the world.” I liked that he brought her in as being in the mystical tradition.
discovery in a Dr Mirkin piece on meat and diabetes---he gives the impression that it is almost certain that high meat comsumption is significant factor---but recommends moderate veggie diet--
All mammals except humans have Neu5Gc on the surface of their cells. Humans develop Neu5Gc on their cells only when they get it from eating meat or dairy products from mammals.
16 July Brunch this morning at Glory Jean’s/Plain Jane’s Diner in west Plymouth with Richard and Kathy, Mazurs, Hungden’s. Mazurs brought bag of fresh arugula to munch on before their french toast, pancakes and fried haddock. Sarah H was appalled and tried to give them ettiquette lessons about not bringing food into a restaurant. Everyone in high spirits, happy to see one another. Fun. Missed having Joe and Zita there. Kathy organized the whole thing on short notice yesterday.
Strong sense last night that I wanted to really and finally “write” a whole novel by imitating, copying, Modiano’s Honeymoon and merge it with Aciman’s Enigma Variations somehow, or in some partial ways. How would that work? How could it work? And why? I have started such projects in the past and given up early on. Why? Why not take a year or two to actually do it, just because. ? Why not? To experience the sheer doing of it? Honeymoon Variations or Nuptial Enigmas. To realize a failed travesty of both authors, both books. Homage carried over into savage. Savage Homage. I hear it in French.
Monday morning 17 July
Maybe it is not a serious idea. More a classic mid-summer fantasy, relaxed comfort envy---oh, I can do that. Why waste time copying someone else’s novel? Why pretend even to be a translator, doing a translation revision? changing “bathe” to “swim” and think that is something? And the more grandiose notion of merging Aciman and Modiano? Grandiose. Not serious. Unworthy. Poor thinking. Maybe it would just be fun. ? What if that were to be so? Need something to worry about, give the idiot brain a bone to chew on, leave the rest of us alone and at peace. Could be the total solution. Why not just do it and get it over with---exactly like the joy of renting the studio space and turning out a stack of great paintings. Legacy project for Emma and Eliot.
Tues 18th almost 3 pm.
VERY good day off and broke the mold. Went nowhere. Stayed home, took two naps and finished reading Honeymoon. VERY satisfying. Went out once to take Latte to have her nails trimmed. Gave her a canned food treat to help her survive the trauma. Honeymoon full of notable ringing hits and bells. (the old pinball machines gave us such excellent metaphors and images for these things). Was Jean in love with both Rigaud and Ingrid? They had protected him and then he was haunted by their lives and memories of them. So much so that his effort to disappear from his own life brings him back in touch with theirs. Hard to believe in some ways and yet wholly right and true in the uncanny ways does do such things to us. And/or rather true in the ways the artist finds to bring these things into telling and haunting presence.
Will I really re-write the book? Or is that not just the peak of my excitement for a book when it is wholly captivating and pleasing?
“The evening when I had tried one last time to phone Rigaud was a summer evening like this one: the same heat, and a sense of strangeness and solitude, but so diluted in comparison with the feeling I now have . . . It was no more than the impression of time standing still that a traveller has between two planes.” page 11
“I went down the hotel stairs and felt as if a weight had been lifted from me.” 73
Recall my attempt, was it last summer, to write my novel about living in more than one hotel at a time, in Copenhagen. Here Modiano works a very similar sort of action and theme. Jean does that thing that so many people dream of doing---disappearing from their lives, and he does so by staying in a rotation of hotels in the suburbs around Paris, until he is led to find the small apartment where Rigaud and Ingrid had lived. Jean rents it and decides to live there. And the book ends but does not end. Will he go back to Annette? Or bring her there to continue their lives together? These things we don’t know.
The sense of a weight being lifted from me is a major theme, by now, in Modiano. Mentioned twice in this book I think.
Here is an Aciman moment in the novel--“The sun had disappeared but the sky was still blue. Before the street lights went on, I would take advantage of the moment, the time of day I like best. Not quite daylight. Not yet dark. A feeling of respite and calm comes over you, and that’s the moment to lend an ear to echoes that come from afar.” 74
On the next page Jean seems to refer directly to Wilfred Thesiger’s Arabian Sands. “On the jacket there was a photo of him dressed as a Bedouin, surrounded by a group of oasis children. And I felt like laughing. Why go so far, when you can have the same experience in Paris, sitting on a bench in the Boulevard Soult? Wasn’t that lighted window, behind which I was persuading myself of Rigaud’s presence, just as great a mirage as the one that dazzles you in the middle of the desert?” 75
“Annette was spending a few days in Copenhagen with her parents.” 83
“That’s the way we are always wandering in the same places at different times and, in spite of the gap between the years, finally we meet.” 86
At this point Jean is wandering around “our” neighborhood, Ecole Militaire, Suffren, even a “restaurant was open in the Avenue Lowendal, “ 86
“There is no frontier between the seasons any more, or between the past and the present.” 93
Would it be too heavy a reading to see Jean as having been in love with both Ingrid and Rigaud? In that way that a younger person has when he adopts an older couple and they adopt him, for a while, when they are all in transit through strange, difficult, times, keeping each other company, protecting each other. “In love” probably is too definite, strong, or is only visible years later, after the fact. That is what the novel is about. The Honeymoon was one they all three experienced, at different but linked times.
Now what can I read? I am to be immersing in Proust and both in French. But I am curious now to know how Le Clezio writes and I am picking up Eliade’s Youth Without Youth. We tried to watch Coppola’s movie “about” it but didn’t get very far. Maybe try again after reading the book.
to Phil who just went to SC to see cousins. Drove 8 hours down with only one stop!
yep, I think it was a "welcome to the world now" trip for you. No one asks one anything about themselves any more. It used to be we did so
as a measure of common courtesy, politeness, if not of genuine interest or even empathy. Now we are in the selfie world where each of
us runs a full-time advertising agency about ourselves or perish. If not broadcasting our uniqueness then keeping out anything and anyone that does not center on our bubble.
NYC trip went smoothly enough. Each person who helped us in some way--staff for everything from hotel to restaurants, uber drivers, etc, each one is from a different country. Thought later, well of course each country in the world has an embassy in nyc and they bring over cousins of cousins to get jobs. Didn't seem as crowded on the sidewalks as we had feared. Hotel on the edge of the theater district, hilton, but pretty basic at that. Not sure why I chose that location, not the best. Bus ride from Concord was good---5 hrs and 15 minutes on the button and I was amazed at how easily it got right into the city at 11:30 am, by going out east into the bronx rather than approaching from the west side. Big new towers immediately hit you, building boom for the trillionaires. Using Uber was ok, easy. Seems about $10 cheaper than a cab, took only one cab. Good weather, terrible rain storms on the drive back on Wednesday and was glad I was not driving. The bus ride not as smooth as a train so didn't get much reading done. Highways need rebuilding and/or the bus suspension is too truck-like. Fewer seats and ample room, small galley with drinks and snacks. We had to get up at 3am to get to the bus but that was ok because we slept going down.
Va enjoyed her show at the Guggenheim. Post photos on facebook. The whole museum looks good, very busy. Short visit to MOMA which has another big expansion plan in the works and sorely needs it. Very unimpressed with moma. Had not been there for years and not after the most recent remodel which must have been now 15 years ago. Signage is aggressively, new yorkerly, not helpful. Whole place feels like a Macys. Toney and expensive restaurant like an over decorated (minimalist) university dining hall. Big lifetime exhibit of Rauschenburg, never knew much about him, looks like an old 60s yard sale of once hip "statements and tricks", paintings and sculptures. Big exhibit of FL Wright drawings. They are beautiful but too pale and too old to be a satisfying museum show. Suspected they were mounting something "big" (for his centenary) because they had the stuff in archive and it was cheap to put it all out there. No stunning photos to complement or educate exactly what the built works looked like. Did make you wonder at how hand-made (tedious and time-consuming) the whole world used to be, even drawing plans for massive buildings. His work still does look like the work of a master-genius builder.
We found some good restaurants around the hotel. Nothing fancy but different from NH (and Paris). Two nights felt just right. Now I can see again how easily I could drive us down and forget the bus or train. But we had no interest in any broadway shows and so whatever the next such trip might be it is going to have to be pretty special. Not dying to go back soon.
Still amazed at your driving capacities. You should makes some pocket money driving for Uber!
Felt so nice to stay home, not drive, and read. Now I know what the best days off really are. Miss the studio I guess and the office.
23 July Sunday
9 am Cooler and drier. Willow sleeping in late. Poor sleep past two nights worrying about Latte. We’ve decided to put her to sleep tomorrow. Took her to the vet on Thursday. She spent the night, Friday we talked with the doctor, Bertrandt. Latte is now blind, detached retinas, kidney disease, dehydration, no energy, weak. Brought her upstairs and she’s resting on the bed next to Willow as they have been accustomed to doze in the mornings.
Started reading VanderWolk’s book on Modiano from 1997. Excellent study. Modiano needs to write in order to put memory in the past and move into, create the possibility of, the future. Uses both Heidegger and Ricoeur. He doesn’t mention or list the interview book on Emmanuel Berl. So I’ll take that as a hint for now to leave that book for another time. Modiano, I’m going to hazard, was looking for a father-figure, a grandfather-figure, from whom to certify his own calling as a writer.
Meanwhile I will re-read Honeymoon in French, Voyage de Noces and without translation, Livret de famille. Which interests me because I recall clearly the moment after Dave and Cécile’s Paris wedding when the officiant handed David the little red livret de famille.
Monday 24 July
Rain. Appointment at 1:15 to say good-bye to Latte. Quiet morning. Portland tomorrow. Kids next week or sooner?
If I were to consciously copy Modiano’s three-part time structure (via Vanderwolk) what would be the father’s time? or is that essential? Is it essential that the narrator be trying to figure out a time before his birth? If I were to use the travels in latin america, for instance, it could be Valle’s lecture tour, or my father’s peregrination of s america, imagining that he did that, or the tour of some other character. Or if we used all the travels as searches for what happened to people we had known in their earlier visits to all or some of the places that figure. After Elkins Park was torn down, the Dixons traveled. What did they do? How could we find them again? Or at least figure out who they traveled with? etc
One would construct one’s life by re-c0nstructing it through imagined encounters. Nadia’s parents had met the daughter of Valle’s actress wife on their trip to Mexico in 1947. That sort of thing.
Or could I create a vague “Philadelphia” past for my imaginary father. The Rapplier Club (Agnes Repplier is there in fact!) was that a social club or did it involve some blackmarket activities stateside, triangled through Cumberland on the railroads, linking Pittsburgh, Philly, and Washington. Meat packing as a scene of criminal activity. Chicago. Ice cream, I N Hagan, the old philadelphia money of Mr Reinhardt and Grandma Drake.
To imagine such vague notions, would that be a desecration of the lives of the real people, or a kind of honorable memory because they are providing me with an armature on which I might build and de-build, the writing left for me to do? The Wideners had made their money in meat packing and transport a century before but only a half century before my father’s appearance as a minor figure in the great drama. Everyone is at best a minor figure in the greater dramas, hence everyone’s anxiety and everyone’s investment in maintainging the ambiguity of events that shape our lives. Vanderwolk’s description of Modiano’s whole approach in his Chapter One could describe how everyone lives, except for the few journalists and detectives among us. None of us ever asks questions. None of us can ever plumb the taboos and secrets we sense cover over the lives of those who precede us. Vanderwolk’s book has the saving graces of the dissertation---the early in life attempt to capture and sum up what another writer has achieved. A certain sort of naive willingness to overstate both the obvious and the subtle because who knows quite yet the differences as one is sifting through the written remains of other lives.
Does my little tale about Lax follow a bit the Modiano pattern? I go to the archives to figure out more about Lax, as a father-figure for myself. I find and record, I pin down a few things, I then write to the living author and have a reply. Meanwhile in the few details of my current life I adjust a few things as a result of my research travels. Did I not do both in dealing with Lax and before him, Burke? Since both writers were still alive, I was searching for a father figure but probably moreso a grandfather figure. In Burke, for sure. In Lax, an uncle? a brother, older brother? As Modiano’s characters do.
On google how easy it will be to find a paragraph or two about blackmarket meat packing during wwII. let’s see. That’s another element so easy to place into a novel now. The internet search.
WWII food rationing
First sugar, coffee second, meat third.
"Meat was the third, and perhaps most notorious, raw food product to be rationed nationwide. In early September 1942, the OPA took the first step toward total regulation of rationing meat supplies to civilians. Officials placed the entire meat industry, from slaughterhouses to wholesalers, under a single unified licensing control.17 There was an unequivocal public awareness in Nevada of the shortage of meat. In 1941, 20 billion pounds of beef, veal, pork, lamb, and mutton were produced nationally. Of that amount, only 11⁄2 billion pounds were designated to US armed forces. Approximately 22 billion pounds of meat were projected to be produced in 1942; however, over 4 billion pounds were to be utilized by a much larger army at war. Nevertheless, upon applying those numbers to the population as a whole, the actual sacrifice required of each individual citizen was nominal. An editorial writer in the Las Vegas Review Journal commented, ―We ought to welcome rationing—not dread it. Rationing simply means spreading what supplies we do have EQUALLY among all of us. Lack of rationing means some get more, some get less, others get none. The sooner we ration, the sooner that kind of maldistribution ends.‖18
The federal government introduced the ―Share the Meat‖ campaign in the late summer of 1942. Government officials urged Americans to limit their weekly meat intake to 21⁄2 pounds per week for each adult, 11⁄2 pounds per week for each child six to twelve years old, and 3⁄4 pound per week for each child under six years old. Officials hoped the campaign would persuade consumers to cut down on their meat consumption voluntarily, in hopes to prepare them for impending federally regulated meat rationing. Though it was a sacrifice for families in the prosperous economic period of the 1940s, the rationed allowances were actually about the same amount of meat the average US citizen consumed in the Depression Era of the 1930s.19 Across Nevada, civilian organizations embraced the new ―Share the Meat‖ campaign. For example, in November of 1942, twenty civilian defense block and neighborhood leaders in the town of Pioche organized a house-to-house campaign to show homemakers how to comply with the government program. Under the request of the Office of Civilian Defense, local block and neighborhood leaders undertook the responsibility to reach every family to ―call to attention the necessity for voluntary rationing of meat, and to provide information concerning alternative foods for well- balanced diets.‖20
3pm Back from taking Latte. Dylan Spitzer the doctor on duty. Asked him what signs to look for in Solo later on. We drove out to Rumney to see the Allen’s great stone wall. Then to Shanware to ask Richard to make the wedding plate. Bought a small tea cup in the turquoise we hope to get in the plate.
On the other hand, one can easily envy someone else their neuroses but can one happily imitate them in trying to construct a novel similar in pattern or structure to theirs? To copy Modiano in some satisfying way, would I not have to copy him pretty much as his work is and not how my work might be? Am I trying to imagine his neuroses as being ones I would enjoy having, or enjoy imagining even? With one’s own neuroses it just doesn’t work that easily, does it?
Seems so pleasant and quaint to hear someone like Vanderwolk talk about neuroses. Out of sync with the French theorists of his generation, isn’t he?
Thursday 27 July afternoon
muggy and cloudy. again
great trip to Portland. Gorgeous air and sun wednesday, pretty good on Tuesday too. Barb and Ed, Greg and Gerri at their house, nice Uber drivers, Ray and Ellen at the Olive Cafe. Best “La Traviata” we’ve seen. Wonderful young soprano. Jean Harlow look and costuming. Harlow/Monroe. Lovely, perfect voice. We think her son and parents sat in the row in front of us, he a perfect nine-year old gentleman.
This is great. I was trying to imagine a noir secret life for our parents (generation) and Cumberland seems perfect for all the elements. Murder rate, railroads, mining, catholic church, masons, jews, logical conduit center for everything moving up and down the east coast,
prohibition liquor on the roads and railroads. Rationing and price-fixing during the war was sugar, coffee and meat, so dad could have gotten involved in or fallen into meat delivery black marketeering. Even ice cream (Hagans in Pittsburgh). Black market money flowing through the town. Money laundering. And Winchell's shout out about the murder rate. Mid-50s.
Watching too many british murder-detective shows but really Cumberland had it all and could have been site for one of those endless series of cases and characters like Midsomer Murders. Your dad could have fallen into of course illegal drug running. Neither of our dads served in
the military during the war, so there must have been inklings everywhere of stuff going on underground. Hence again, with our troubled
youths in happy valley, a great deal of secrecy and secret keeping in the mid-50s about the murders and such, trying to insure we would
all grow up unscathed by the dark past, underestimating how much kids pick-up of what keeping stuff secret does to everyone.
Not much most everyone would say. Only someone with warped imaginations and neuroses! Such a quaint old fashioned word already
"neuroses" sounds like.
We had a nice short trip to Portland, Gorgeous air and sun wednesday, pretty good on Tuesday too. Long walk along the water Weds morning. interesting Uber drivers, Good opera. Wonderful young soprano. Jean Harlow look and costuming. Harlow/Monroe. Lovely, perfect voice. We think her son and parents sat in the row in front of us, he a perfect nine-year old gentleman. Best "La Traviata" we've seen. Have we seen two or three or four now? We differ on this point, but no matter.
You bet I do. In fact, that's why I included an old, unsolved murder in "A Sense of Loss." When I was in grade school, a young woman's nude body was found under some newspapers just off the dirt path that led uphill from the Western Maryland RR tracks toward Allegany HS. I forget the young woman's name, but as I recall she was in her early 20s. The path was taken by most kids who lived on the North End and attended Allegany. Years later, when I was researching "Loss" I called the Cumberland PD and asked the chief at that time several questions about law enforcement in Cumberland, and if that case had ever been solved. Nope. He said it was still open. The year it happened (mid-50s) Walter Winchell told America on his radio program that if anyone wanted to murder someone, it should be done in Cumberland because the town's rate of unsolved murders was the highest in the country - 100%. I'm surprised you don't remember this. Then again, John Miller doesn't remember much from his boyhood in Cumberland, either. If I mention some kid who attended St. Pat's with us, he often has no memory of that kid, although sometimes I think that he just doesn't want to remember. He would prefer to blot Cumberland totally out of his mind. There is no way he would go to the reunion in October.
Harry Diehl or Deal, not sure of the spelling. He, according to what I heard in the 1950s, was supposedly a big war profiteer in C'land during WWII. Owned perhaps the best location for a beautiful cottage on Deep Creek Lake in the 1950s. Had a nice wife. Eventually bought another property on the lake and built a new, much bigger and more modern house. Reason for the relocation: He now owned a property with a landing strip and could build his house right next to it for his airplane. Harry wanted Dad to build a house next to Harry's new one, but Dad wanted no part of Harry Diehl's deals. I forget what he was war profiting in. I think it was tires. Kelly tires maybe.
Dad, by the way, signed up for the Army Airforce right after Pearl Harbor.(The AirForce was then known as the Army Air Force, before AF split off after WWII to become a separate, independent service.) Dad served at several AAF hospitals in the midwest throughout the war, and mom accompanied him, which is why I was born in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Finally, you're right that Cumberland had it all, which is why its current situation is so sad. Bring back the Queen City Hotel and train station! Bring back spiffy passenger trains, for god's sake! The Capitol Limited! Bring back Allegheny Airlines and the Cumberland airport! Bring back the Celanese Corporation..............................Oh well........P
wow Diehl sounds almost like Gatsby. Why did I never hear such neat stories, murders, war profits, shady backgrounds. You West Side guys got all the action and the news. Maybe because your parents were a bit older? or lake gossip? when did you hear all of this? mid-50s you
would have been 14 at best? Or did you hear it all later and piece together the timeline later.
we saw homeless guys all over Portland the other day and had that discussion again that we have every few months. when we were kids we never saw anyone homeless, on the streets. Abq or Cland. At best I knew there were hobos along the railroad tracks. Never quite clear who they were or why. They rode on empty boxcars and built small fires. Also heard about queers delivering newspapers for the Times, somewhere around the downtown post office. Or it must have been queers involved in hiring the delivery boys. None of it very clear and no idea of what queers were. No racial questions. Never overheard any talk about shady business dealings. Some uncles had much less successful jobs than dad and the store.
Never registered on me that you were born in Lincoln. My youngest uncle, only one to go to college and then become a doctor, moved from Philly to Lincoln and lived there until he died a few years ago.
Cumberland noir. Forgot to throw in the monastery and the three breweries. No gypsies or Irish tinker-travelers, that I know about.
You watch Grantchester every Sunday? Even they resorted for plot and "color" interest to bringing in a tale involving gypsies.
Kids arrive tomorrow with four other friends. Pandemonium. Well, fun too.
9:46 pm I feel how addicted I now am to reading Modiano. I have no other books in English translation, all only now in French. So perhaps I will resort to reading some again. Some in French that are new to me and some of the others I’ve already read in English. Make a conscious pastiche of imitative tales.
gin & tonic, thanks to Scott and Gwin McDonald, here with 18 mo Khali, and lobsters and corn from Maine. They were camping up in Lincolnville, near Camden. Box of legos out, now, kids take over the house. Scott cooking the lobsters. No nut crackers left from the old kitchen. Real pliers.
Monday morning July 31
Scott wasn’t feeling well. Gave him a pepto bismo, which he had never heard of. Dave ate most of the lobsters. I cracked two claws for us. Pretty tasty. Fresh corn even better. Terrific chardonay, California, which I discovered in a brown bag at the back of the refrig, bought for Marga’s visit.
2 August Wednesday morning
About to go to Refresh. 10:23 am Agnes arrived last night at 8:45 from Boston. What is her last name? We dined at Hart’s Turkey Farm. Brendan waited on us. Rosie had worked a morning shift. They want to come to the Thursday gig. None of us were very hungry, late lunches around 3 pm. We were home but kids were all by themselves at the McLane beach. Doug and Andy have made peace, Doug bought out the other half of the beach, so now all their friends can enjoy it without worrying about Andy’s property, with the splendid new ultra cabin (that no one uses?).
Eliade’s novel seems wooden in its way and yet it delivered an epiphany that I had been wanting in some way, ways, and so it has worked some magic. Will finish it and get back to copying Modiano. “this is a copy and not a copy. My hope has been that as I copy the novel in translation elements will become added into it or otherwise show up as I type/write. My goal is not to copy the translation perfectly, but to copy it and allow things to happen to it as I copy. Thus I will be able to be both and copier and a writer, much as singers and musicians “cover” other songwriters’ songs. The idea has been in my mind for years, ever since I read Borges’s great story, “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote.” Menardism, copying a writer, could be considered as well a form of literary criticism, especially of what used to be called “reader-response” criticism in the schools. For in the act of writing verbatim, as everyone knows, there are always slippages and errors of every sort that occur. Perfect copying, in the first draft, could only happen after we invented copying machines, photographic copying.
6:35 pm kids sleeping, ladies shopping. We drove from Concord and at times were in the middle of a terrific rain-hail storm, lightning. Meanwhile Dave says here after the kids went to sleep they looked out the back window and saw two young bears moving through the back yard.
Read the New Yorker piece on poetry. Menand is so good. How many times have we said that just this year? His final sentence echoes the advice Jacques Barzun gave in a book on how to write back in the 60s. “Do you have something to say, or do you want to have written a book?” Guess wording it the other way around would be better. “Do you want to have published a book, or do y0u have something to say?” Somehow I let that stop me from thinking I could be a writer because I could not come up with anything I had to say. What you didn’t tell me is that the essay begins with Kenneth Burke, of all people and his famous phrase Literature as Equipment for Living. Essay by that name that he also used as a book title for a late career collection of all sorts of essays. Can’t recall when Burke has been seen in such high level pages as the New Yorker. Will look that up later. Never heard of Michael Robbins but am glad he studied at Chicago and is published by Chicago. Woo hoo. He teaches at Montclair State, so he’s not yet got that position at Princeton or NYU he must want most. The other fellow of note mentioned is Matthew Zapruder. I knew him once for a little over two months. “Knew” stretches it a bit. He got stuck teaching at Plymouth State for a semester as a replacement for someone on sabbatical and as a favor to his poet friend who taught here then (for a few years). He must have been about 26, I was probably 50. Our offices were in the same small white frame house and he said hi a few times. Ben Lerner’s short novels I have liked but have never been interested in reading his poetry nor am I curious to read his defense/attack on poetry in general. Menand gives perfect summations and estimations. And again I admire the liveliness of how he does all of it. Now to read the piece on Wright.
3 August 1pm
Dave, Brendan and Jared were on Littleton radio but the sound was poor. Agnes reading the kids a story. We go to Silver for the theater at 2, Moretomo, a Japanese ogre-killer. Gig at Common Cafe tonight.
Rushed through the second half of Elaide’s novel. Didn’t like it at all. Regeneration through electricity after a nuclear holocaust. Sounds like stuff Bannon would latch on to. Coppola, that old thug-loving mafioso dramaurgist. Also traveling of souls, metempsychosis as in Joyce and Celtic lore. Pretty standard stuff and not at all interestingly presented. The passage about living in the joy of time in old age is good-ok. Meditation practice teaches all of that.
Cécile just took her first spin in the rental car after I showed her the basic start-up process. Until we could see the foot-brake gadget in clear daylight I could not make that clear. Otherwise she is now all set to drive the kids to the theater in a little while. Maybe farmer’s market for us afterwards. But the refrigerator is stuffed. She and Agnes made a huge velouté of veggies last night. Pourquoi pas? Fifteen boxes of leftovers from restaurants. At least we ate here last night. Marilyn brought the two PEO raspberry pies too. In pizza boxes so at first I was quite puzzled as she first appeared at the door.
Looking into the first few pages of Bernhard’s Walking. Strange indeed after Modiano immersion. They are opposites. Now we are sure of that. Evenson in his Intro says Bernhard’s voice, the voices of his characters, invade our own thinking and take us over. Modiano’s narrators invite us into his spaces so that we share his investigations, feel his anxieties and ambiguities.
Home from the first gig, in Rumney. Nice turnout. Brendan and Rosie, Jeff and Janice, Richard and Kathy, Sarah and Don, Dane and Leif and Jeff Emery and his girl in a red sheath jersey, Va’s peo friend, Elly and her husband, Jessica and Sky and Wyeth, Kirsten and Mindy Beach, Jay Moscowitz and a few other locals and peeps I didn’t know. Rodney Ekstrom and his family, someone I’ve known about sort of at the college but never really known! so he’s been the director of alumni relations since ’09.
Friday morning Aug 4
The Frenchies were up late talking after the gig. Robo: “Ils étaient en retrd à parler des obligations.” Revved from adrenalin and crowd success.
Pasting my Copenhagen false start onto the opening of Honeymoon now seems perfect in so many ways. My impulse was the narrator to escapes his life by living in three hotels in Copenhagen. That will be the Prelude to the tale. Announces “my invention” and then shows how well it lego-fits into Modiano’s version.
And the Apophatic Turn will be my major dissertation on the subject. A thesis I will re-write for publication with The University of Chicago Press, no doubt. Tweet “The Apophatic Turn in Western Literature: 1968-2008. From Bernhard through Sebald to Aciman and Modiano.”
5 August Saturday
In fact now we can see how Knausgaard marks the end of the post-war phase in literature and culture. The Apophatic Post-War Period.
Rain this morning. Now a bit drier. Talk of Thai Smile. Agnes out jogging. Fam already planning for Hermit Island. Rolling out bedrolls. Cécile described her job for us and it sounds like she will enjoy it and be great. Big change, however. No teaching per se. Keeping her hand in Vassar-Wesleyan and has option to return to her school position.
Now I think the fluid text copied with the journal of this year or part of this year would make a fine volume. And “illuminated text” or an illuminated reading of these two authors.
So I submit after all to my new medievalist destiny---copying texts.
PS to the Menand piece on the poets---
"yep, once again, big bang theory nails 'em."
group behavior wasn't really described by Friends nor Seinfeld
BBT takes the prize
off to thai smile for 3pm lunch/dinner
Monday 7 August
Got to the bank. Not so simple. Lunch at Docks. Perfect day. Clouding over now about 6pm. Kids had a play date at Else’s, still there. Nap. Finished first episode of new USA detective show with Bill Pullman. Two-thirds way through we said, eeckkh, but by the end, we’re hooked. Ha. Such easy targets.
Yesterday? We walked at docks, busy with Sunday people. Where was lunch? where was dinner? Can’t remember.
Started reading again Aciman’s Enigma and as soon as I did I realized I could not hope to blend the two writers, even though in my own consciousness I might want to do so. So I cut this passage “and blend in some elements from another novel, Enigma Variations, by André Aciman. I have waited a lifetime to live in their worlds; I have lived all my life in their worlds. It seems so natural to want them to merge into one.”
Aciman’s whole energy and tone is so different. He does not have that melancholy that Modiano savors. Found a great piece in LARB by G D Dess that nicely says this by linking Modiano to Beckett’s three novels. Yes--perfect. Would Aciman even “get” Beckett? Not sure he would.
Dess LARB Oct 30, 2015
“In fact, his narrators, who are frequently carrying out some sort of investigation, have more in common with Samuel Beckett’s deracinated, self-reflecting characters (especially in the trilogy Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable) than they do with Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade or Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe — who always get their man. For in Modiano, no villain will be captured, no vengeance wreaked, no one brought to justice.
Also as in Beckett, characters in Modiano’s novels share their mental states, memories (or lack thereof), and describe their physical locations (or lack thereof) with great gusto and enthralling detail. What happened to them, where they are, where they are going, why they are going where they are going, what they have lost, what they have left, are questions with which they struggle. Coincidentally, perhaps, both Modiano’s and Beckett’s protagonists/narrators are writers, or want to be writers, or tell people they are writers. And, they struggle with memory issues. In Malone Dies, Malone writes: “At first I did not write, I just said the thing. Then I forgot what I had said. A minimum of memory is indispensable, if one is to live really.”
“In his search to discover who he is, Guy works by intuition, premonition, supposition, and dream-like imaginings. He constantly hypothesizes about people’s motives and behavior. The disparate details he uncovers serve as his Ariadne’s thread — one he hopes will lead him to himself. But even when he feels he is making some progress, he acknowledges when he feels stymied and baffled: “Scraps, shreds have come to light as a result of my searches…But then that is perhaps what a life amounts to…Is it really my life I’m tracking down? Or someone else’s into which I have somehow infiltrated myself?”
Dess is so much better than the academics gathered into the slim volume on Modiano I bought. Vanderwolk helped edit it.
“Abandonment, people disappearing, with or without cause, is something that Modiano recognizes but doesn’t want to believe in: “I refused to accept that people and things could disappear without a trace,” he has the narrator say in Afterimage, a sentiment echoed by many of his other protagonists. But in novel after novel, people do simply disappear, and not only do they disappear, but, as the concierge in Honeymoon tells the narrator, they “don’t come back any more. Haven’t you noticed that, Monsieur?” In other words, they vanish.
“Other writers have devoted their art to capturing memories, notably Proust, to whom Modiano is often compared. In Proust, however, memories arise from sensations or sensorial impressions, and in Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel, the narrator of the novel, does not question the verisimilitude or reality of his memories. His concern is whether a memory will “ultimately reach the clear surface of my consciousness, this memory, this old dead moment.” 
Modiano is not concerned with bringing what he calls a “dead moment” to consciousness, nor with the structure of memory or how it functions, as Proust was. A narrator in a Modiano novel either has a memory of an event: “I remember a car ride, five years later, from Pigalle to the Champs-Elysées”; or, he has no memory of an event. Or, like a character in Beckett’s trilogy, he has no memory even of himself, as the narrator in search of himself in Missing Person, thinks: “I no longer remember if, that evening, my name was Jimmy or Pedro, Stern or McEvory.” Characters in Modiano stories often find themselves in a state in which reality, memory, and dream are becoming conflated, as with the narrator in Out of the Dark: “I was in a dream, and I had to wake up. The ties connecting me to the present were stretching.”
 Proust’s investigation into the nature of memory and time brings him to this conclusion which is I think, worth quoting at length for it sheds light on his technique, and the differences between him and Modiano — as well as for its sheer beauty:
But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection […] Undoubtedly what is thus palpitating in the depths of my being must be the image, the visual memory which, being linked to that taste, has tried to follow it into my conscious mind.
Dess is so good I now wish I were typing up Out of the Dark, Du plus loin de l’oubli, 1995) But no translation seems available and I’m not sure I have a copy. I could try to do my own translation and that perhaps could be interesting in itself. Wait, yes, I do have a copy. I could try to do a translation and the “creative writing” exercise would then be to cobble up my own variant drawn from a vague sense of what is happening rather than from a fully realized translation. I would be “translating” and “writing.”
That might perhaps be more interesting. And even more enjoyable and “helpful” in some way. Not quite sure what that would mean. Certainly the result would be much more “fluid” and the 50 pages I’ve done of Honeymoon would go into the journal hopper as more context for “the novel” proper. Hmm, liking this notion.
Monday 8 August
Wally shopping for the Hermit Isle trippers. Lunch here, take-out from Burrito and Smile. Foot still a problem in the new brace. Cleared up confusion about Rick and Petie. They had also booked him a room, different one and gave him $400 to split airfare but he had declined that in favor the of the drive. He says he now plans to take two days both ways to do the drive. I created a joint bank account. See if it works to swap the bond later on. Off to Rendevous soon.
Monday August 14
Back late last night from Conway, Arkansas. Marilyn and Ray’s wedding. Stayed up until 3 talking with D & C, they were just back from Hermit Island and Portland and Dover gigs. In Portland they ran into cousin Todd Garlitz, with Tina, on his arm. Rick and Marci in the motel with us. She is very nice. Rick and Petie now have their mama and papa figures to see them into older age.
Today Emma had her first morning of theater camp at New Hampton. She was beaming and excited afterwards. We went to Docks. Crowded. Slow and poor service. Food as good. Willow and I came home for the brace and drove to Concord. I had a short but much needed deep nap in the waiting room. Gerard put a different ankle spring on and that seems to have solved the problem. Fingers crossed. Super tired but guess we will watch some tv. Next our Sept-Oct trip. Rest up for that!
17 Aug Thursday
Yesterday we were on our own, home day, laundry, nesting. Kids went to the Science Center. Spent all afternoon until closing at 5. Jeff Emmerick then took them for a Little Squam boat ride in his grandfather’s boat. With his wife, don’t know her name. No nap for the kids, amazing Cécile. Everyone slept well.
Saturday night. Dave out on an ice cream run. About to watch Younger. They went to Jeff Emery’s wedding celebration today in Rumney. His wife, Maya, has an mba from Harvard. From Oregon they think. Too West Coast for Cécile, she can’t get her vibe. Two more gigs over next two nights and then they depart on Tuesday. Or is it Wednesday? Strange sense of discombobulation. Arkansas wedding added to it all. Also a great time and in a wee bit more than a month we will be flying over the pond to capture more lost time. Was it a post on Twitter that said Knausgaard himself has urged everyone to read Proust this summer.
20 August Sunday
Kids off to the beach. Last beach day. Coolish and breezy, fallish. Nice. Sunny. They have a drunch date with Lester and Susanna at five. We plan to go up to Littleton to have early dinner and walk there before the gig at 8. Late night last night, kids stayed up watching Friends. We watched one episode and I remembered it too clearly. About the economic inequality between the two sets of friends. Same reaction to the show that I had when I first watched it---I was 50 then, most of those actors are now 50 and over. Just not as charmed by the show as “everyone else” was. Maybe that is always the case, my case. Most likely.
Great short essay on Prous by Aciman (with others) posted on Lithub--not sure of the date. Downloading tons of stuff to the KindleFire in anticipation of the trip and winter.
Feel much more rested and glad to be going to the gig tonight after all.
Monday evening almost 5:30 Aug 21 Everyone thrilled with the eclipse today. Kids went to the science center thanks to Lorrie. Neighbors went out into the street around 2:30 and looked up with the proper glasses and one homemade box covered with foil. ? We watched tv coverage and I noted only that our air and light felt strange and had a faint golden glowness.
22 August Tuesday Packing Day Almost 2:45. No luck finding the soft valise bag they want to replace. At Wally’s we looked. Super muggy day. Run to the dump. Workshop on the Diana & Emperor project a total success this morning. Kids love their outfits. Bella showed Emma some of the photo scrapbook. Last night’s gig at the Covered Bridge a big family event for dinner at first and then the crowd thinned out and the music rocked. Chat with Tom Untersee. Dick and Anne H came. Bob and Susan Miller. Young families. Shaw, McLane, Emery, Dane.
It was a fine evening and yet the insomnia showed me that I was much more tired by two nights of concerts in a row than I realized. Also the alpha performances of the workshop---three cooks directing the kitchen but still the kids had a great time and the costumes look neat.
Grumpy email exchange just now with Phil, who wrote,
These days, I'm having a harder and harder time explaining to myself why I am reading stories or watching dramas on television or in a film. I just don't get the point anymore. Of course, one reason I don't see the point is that so much that is written today has no point other than entertainment. "Who shot the sheriff?" "Will Bob and Mary get married?" "Can aliens take over earth?" Maybe the basic reason for all stories is just a way of passing time for bored people. Anyway, there is a new wrinkle and perhaps an inevitable development in the issue of story-telling. An article/book review in the current issue of Harper's Magazine points out a growing antipathy against not just novels about minorities and third world countries and cultures written by western authors, but against all novels - the actual idea of a novel. The novel form itself, including "show, don't tell," is now said to be an "appropriation" (favorite buzzword in this crowd) and "domination" of other cultures by whites, particularly white males although the novel that is reviewed in this article was written by a German woman. This strikes me as just one more step toward a reverse-racist world. I don't buy this novels-are-just-white-male-culture. So I'm not ready to write off the novel as such, but I'm growing increasingly willing to write off a lot of novels/films/tv programs that seem pretty worthless to me. Maybe I'm just getting old, but it seems that people just don't have much worthwhile things to say these days. And often it's the novels that critics say are good that strike me as worse than the trash that those critics condemn. Maybe I should volunteer to go to Mars.
Kids leave tomorrow. I hope some remnant of my former mind will return. House full of four extra people for nearly four weeks is
tiring in the strangest of ways.
Anyhoo. If I find enough time in a day to read one sentence in Proust and then re-read it to try to get it, it seems almost like a miracle.
But Proust did say a page or two back that most people are silly. Yes, I roared silently to myself. So he saw this too. He says something worthwhile or at least confirmatorily relevant every so many paragraphs. So, take a look at Proust. Long bout of insomnia last night in
which I realized that dementia might actually be, be found to be, a healthy, self-preservative strategy for coping with a worthless world.
Or a world so dominated by the loud chatterers that human life is demeaned so much as to be diminished beyond the reasonable parameters people took for granted for centuries before "modern life." I'm not saying I want to have dementia. One friend died a month or so ago and had it. Just found myself wondering if it is as terrible for the person as we think it is or must be. Maybe it is a slow relief and a slow preparation for the end that is not actually that bad. ?
Apart from all that, I think your response is healthy. We no longer need to "take an interest" in what the 30-50 year olds think they have to offer. Our short trip to Arkansas had a bit of that effect on me, strangely enough. These people are crazy in their born-again isolation from the wider world. They mostly only do business with those they can trust and they assume they can trust those in their church. Tribalism tried and true. They maintain their enthusiasm or loyalty (or resignation) in a calm and dogged way and why shouldn't they so long as discomfort and pain and tragedy etc do not invade their Zones. Dinner last night with a bunch of Dave's friends, couples mostly now, kids between newbies to 10 year olds. I thought, you know I don't need to try to make conversation with these people. They know nothing. They don't interest me too much. Why should I bother? Guy next to me asked me some questions and I was happy to answer and enjoyed his look of amazement that I said things he had never considered.
It's where we are, it seems. I haven't had the nerve to ask any of our friends if the math prof who just died may have sort of drunk himself to death or into dementia over the last fifteen years. Maybe. Not for me, again, like being born-again, but from this long view, what if he did? Not much difference, really. Va saw on Facebook that the granddaughter of a philosophy prof from the college had just joined some Catholic order of Dominican nuns, at the age of 22 or so! So, I joked, at least she stepped up into High Church. Her grandfather, our colleague, was one of those linguistic philosophy profs and he did predict laptop computers and we all laughed way back when. So he was smart enough, but, again, the firewalls of the compartmentalized mind, he was also born-again christian. He and his wife had about four daughters and then the prof falls in love with one of his students, divorces, married her and they had three or four, born-again, daughters. So this new nun is one of their children or grandchildren.
If I were Modiano or Proust I might make this more interesting. My sense of reading both of these guy is to have the books around and pick them up at random and read a bit without worrying about reading the whole book or reading in proper sequence. I mean these books---we've already read way too many.
Didn't get any special glasses to see the eclipse. Looked outside and noticed the air and light had a strange tenor, sort of evening light, pale golden, muted, but the sky didn't get dark in any noticeable way. The kids did go to a local science center and looked through special lenses and scopes.
They drive to Newark tomorrow and stay at a motel at the airport and then fly out the next morning. Va had a final play project for them, to make costumes of the goddess Diana and an emperor. Big hit.
Insomnia session has me changing the book title to “Engima Honeymoon” and collaging in Aciman and Pessoa just as I would do if Rupert and I were doing those things he had us doing fifteen years ago. Burroughs’ “cut-ups.”
Wonder now if text on the Kindle can be copied and pasted in large chunks?
that would eliminate the typing the book project. Would it ruin the “fun?”
25 August Thursday
Only Tuesday did the fam leave! Got away just before noon. Forgot to give Bela hugs! gasp. Messages from Newark that they had made the Hojo, and
then again yesterday that they were in the Boston airport for five hours.
Neat sync: we got up around 2 for a bathroom run and “Ping” a message from C saying they had just landed in Paris. 2:21 am our time.
Piano tuner at work the past hour. Gorgeous day, sunny, but cooler! Ben came and said he couldn’t fix the basement light switch. Now it is even wobblier than it was. Just put in a plea on Bert’s phone. Piano tuner is Randy Monroe from Intunepianos. He does all the college pianos.
We tried to go to Last Chair last evening but they were crowded and we could work out no suitable seating. Came home and made a fritata. Did some more housework and straightening this morning. Lunch time but I guess now we will wait until after the tuner has finished. First capsule summary just got fired off to Ted Wolf. copy here
So sorry i didn't reply to your message a while back. The kids were arriving and Pandemonium traveled hot on their heels and we all had a fine time of a visit. Emma at 6 seems much older and Eliot at 3 is now advanced enough to give a resounding No to everything we ask or demand of him, so he's a fine live wire in the whole family mix. David played six gigs in the region with two musicians who live here. We went to three of them, two on subsequent nights, which I found harder on me than I would have thought. His music has gone more toward rock (alas) and takes more energy to keep up with. He's have a good time and it all sounds fine but Frank Zappa-esque songs I had thought were history but I guess not.
In the middle of all of this, we hopped on a plane in Manchester and went to Conway, AR for four days. North of Little Rock. Virginia's younger sister married a man she had known for only six weeks. Nice wedding. Nice born-again church community that both have been members in for years. Both widowers, he's 75 and she's 67. They had heard about each other over the years and various mutual friends in the past few years had urged them to consider each other. Now they are on a two-week cruise in Alaska. We were saddened in the midst of this busy time to have to say good-bye to our kitty of 14 years, Miss Latte. He illnesses gathered fast force on her in a short time. Our lazier, big, black guy, Solo, now rules the roost and is filling in for Latte's absence as best he can.
Let's get together for a lunch or dinner. Any location so long as the weather is as beautiful as it is these days. We leave Sept 24 for almost a month trip, 21 days, in France and Spain.
Hope you all have been enjoying the summer. I'm figuring it will take me three weeks to restore the house to some semblance of order, just in time to pack us up.
so it does feel important to tell the tale
27 August Sunday Drove out to far Rumney to deliver things to Jeff Emery’s porch. Hope it was the right one! 399 Buffalo Road, Wentworth.
Monday 28 Aug
Song title from Davey “Jet-lagged and Overdrawn”
Fixing details with Marga on Barça trip. Another gorgeous day. Terrible night of sleep. Willow got cramping in her hip, tossed all night.
night Email from C saying they are all back on Cambronne for the first night back home. Not at A&R-P’s. Dave asked for overdraft help. C asking for 1000 to pay for dance lessons for both kids for the year!
Quiet relaxation in the dentist chair today. Welcome. Quick chat with Marilyn Wixson about everything.
Proust has just said the loss of Rheims would be terrible but not as terrible as the loss of a whole charming small village. (102)
30 Aug Weds
F day. Finances. or T-Cref day. New advisor coming at 10. From Columbus, OH via ? Anxious for what reason? Bury head in sand seems the better approach, always.
Made first insertions into my novel. Kindle makes it so easy. Look up resonant word, found a passage in Pessoa. Not as easy to find one in Aciman. He is too confident --- and young? Ten years is not that much. But it could be enough. Talking about generational mindsets.
Doing my plagiaristic novel, a collaborative cut-up, gives that part of my mind something to deal with. Relaxing in its way. Conspiracy theorists--find thyselves a collage to wrangle.
Long, three hour, talk with Rick Evans this morning. Not the fellow who showed up via google and linkedin. Very enjoyable, interesting and a bit sobering. He worries a collapse in markets is coming. He was badly scarred by the last recession when he was just out of college, UVA, and working in Philadelphia for Merrill Lynch. He saw that collapse. Two of his elder colleagues were badly hit, one had a breakdown. Lots of clients in the oil and gas industries lost their whole pensions. We also got into personality theory, so I expounded too much on my pet topics in that area. TIAA does use a company personality test and theory to help create teams that will work together. Color coded using the four primary colors. I asked him to send me a copy. He majored in Philosophy and Anthro at UVA. Hume dominated the department. He is married to a woman from Guatemala. They live now in Grantham but are building a house near Sunapee, using the technological advances of late for insulation and heating and eco smartness. He used to mountain climb but now just trail runs and hikes. Dog, not cat. 35. Looks and behaves older and more seriously. Average age of his clients is 75. Dawn is now dealing mainly with 90 year old clients in Hanover region.
Friday night Sept 1
Sunday morning now 1:30pm Sept 3
great essay in new yorker on Pessoa
by Adam Kirsch
At the same time, however, Pessoa is convinced that thinking is the greatest of adventures, far superior to any possible action. Indeed, since we never have access to the world except through our private perceptions and ideas, action in the world is, strictly speaking, unnecessary. Why do things when you can imagine them? In this way, Soares the clerk turns out to be the ultimate aristocrat, who has no need of things like accomplishment and status, because he considers himself infinitely superior to them. “The higher a man rises up the scale, the more things he must relinquish. On the mountain peak there is only room for that man alone,” Soares says, sounding rather like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. Writing is both the reason for and the proof of this superiority: “Literature . . . seems to me the goal towards which all human effort should be directed.”
In its alternations between self-loathing and self-exaltation, “The Book of Disquiet” can seem like a quintessentially manic-depressive epic. Pessoa’s achievement, deliberate or inadvertent, is to show how the roots of a certain kind of misery lie in solipsism—the belief that nothing outside the self really matters, so that the mind can never be truly affected by what it experiences. “Freedom is the possibility of isolation,” he writes in the final entry. “If you cannot live alone, then you were born a slave.”
Kirsch is so much better than Gopnik. But it’s too bad he directs a master’s program in Jewish Studies at Columbia. Just what we need. Well, why not & pretty logical. Afro-American Studies, Islamic Studies, etc etc etc. Oh well. West Virginia riverbanks studies. We can endow a chair in Allegany Mountain Studies.
Email to our host in Paris after I made a hotel res yesterday and cancelled it today. Just imagining the coming trip gives promise to these cold days at the end of summer. Unusually cold is has been feeling like. Rainy today.
Really liked Kirsch’s piece and emailed him. Foolishly. Once more.
Good piece, Ted talk, by Pico Iyer yesterday on the radio. On solitude and silence.
Found another piece by Lachman on Pessoa and it is really much much better than Kirsch’s because it brings out more about the esotericism in Pessoa and how important that was for him. Much more so than anything else. Kirsch mentions sexuality, “I was never one who in love or friendship/Preferred one sex over the other,” he writes in one poem---“ But Lachman does not mention this at all.
A blog by Adi Schwartz links Pessoa and Jewishness through sadness---
“But da Costa Reis does identify a line of resemblance between him and Pessoa: the ongoing sadness of every Portuguese.
“We have a very widespread sense of sadness in Portugal,” he notes. “After the sea route to India was discovered we remained jobless in history. We are a marginal nation, albeit with a culture that is not marginal in the least. We are well aware of the disparity between the advantages of the literary level of Portugal and our poor economic situation, and we have shed quite a few illusions along the way. We in Portugal are very pessimistic about our future and about our economic situation. In the end, we never left the rubbish heap of Europe.”
“I belong to those in Portugal who after India’s discovery were left without a role. Only death was and is and will go on taking its toll.” In Portuguese, da Costa Reis says, it sounds better.
well, as usual, I stand corrected. Lachman does talk about Pessoa’s solosexuality. But the encounter with Alastair Crowley gets much more time and discussion. And given the esoteric and existential emphases on nullity, wouldn’t copying someone else’s novel be even more Disquieting than just throwing random slips into a large trunk? After both Dickinson and Pessoa, the trunk approach has been so overdone.
Good piece on Thompson typing Gatsby---by Josh Jones on Open Culture
this year even!
The word quixotic derives, of course, from Miguel Cervantes’ irreverent early 17th century satire, Don Quixote. From the novel’s eponymous character it carries connotations of antiquated, extravagant chivalry. But in modern usage, quixotic usually means “foolishly impractical, marked by rash lofty romantic ideas.” Such designations apply in the case of Jorge Luis Borges’ story, “Pierre Menard,” in which the titular academic writes his own Quixote by recreating Cervantes’ novel word-for-word.
Why does this fictional minor critic do such a thing? Borges’ explanations are as circuitously mysterious as you might expect. But we can get a much more straightforward answer from a modern-day Quixote—an individual who has undertaken many a “foolishly impractical” quest: Hunter S. Thompson. Though he would never be mistaken for a knight-errant, Thompson did tilt at more than a few windmills, including Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, from which he typed whole pages, word-for-word “just to get the feeling,” writes Louis Menand at The New Yorker, “of what it was like to write that way.”
Glad to see Jones reference Menard right off.
Phil on the Pessoa piece---
Read the NYer article on Pessoa yesterday. Odd dude. Takes diffidence to a whole new level, way beyond Dorothy Parker's "might as well live." "Living" in the fiction he read and wrote and in little else, according to the review. Creating three separate characters, complete with their own individual style, however, is quite interesting. And, of course, his withdrawal from most of life is not that different from, say, Emily Dickinson living her whole life in her house and declaring: "I'm nobody." Yet such characters are an interesting contrast to, say Hemingway. Or to Stendahl who was out and about in the world and, according to Barzun, used several means, including novel writing, as "devices of research." (In other words, Stendahl didn't start out "with something to say" but started writing to discover what he had to say. Which is also true of me. I had to write to find out what I had to say about something.)
4 Sept Monday Labor Day
5pm Gorgeous day, bit cloudy but nice breeze. We pigged out on ice cream after a walk at dox.
Neat note this morning from André.
You've poisoned my mind. I just finished reading a piece on Pessoa in the most recent issue of the New Yorker by my friend Adam Kirsch. I like Adam very much, but I think his piece on Pessoa is weak. So Mum! Indeed, everything I've read about him--I confess, not much--always veers toward heteronyms, which I find ultimately a rather facile way of handling a writer who is so impossibly oblique. I am planning to write about him--well, the trillion dollars plus beach view are difficult to resist--but my book of essays on various artists, writers, filmmakers is based on the notion that I misread authors, and the more I misinterpret them , the more I love them. We may not like ourselves, but we do love seeing ourselves in others, don't you think?
I love what you wrote (about me and) about Apophasis. By the way, no one ever finishes 8 White Nights. It's the best thing I've ever written, but then I wrote it for me.
It was a pleasure to shake hands at Dartmouth. Are you ever in NY? We should have lunch. I would invite you to the Century, but I turned down their offer to join.
I am leaving for Spain tomorrow. I'll be back on the 16th. Let's get together. I need to hear you say more about the one person I like least: moi!
We might have a better chance to meet in
Spain. We will be in France and Spain, 26 of Sept to 24 Oct. Were in NY three nights in
June only to see the Symbolist exhibit at
the Guggenheim. Wondered about you when
I read Kirsch's piece. Agree about the waste of
time with the heteronymns. Have a great trip.
Ouch. I'm in Rome from Oct 31 through Nov. 20th. Who knows, maybe
Dartmouth then where I offered to teach a summer course on Proust.
Have yet to hear. Enjoy France and Spain. I was in France this
spring for a few days, and for the first time in ages found Paris
Nice phrasing: “the one person I like least: moi!”
He is/must be as painfully shy as I suspected when I saw him (for the first time) and then shook hands with him. Shy under the warm and friendly veneer. If not shy, then terribly insecure cloaked in a veneer, many veneers, of the socially adapted paragon of whatever, this and that and many other things. Comme moi!
So thrilled am I with this note that I won’t tell either K or J about it. At least not for now. Va offered to have me go to NY for a lunch. Thinks Eliz could stay with her.
Meanwhile wonderful photos of the kids on their first day of school! And Cécile looking relaxed and excited about her first days too.
Printed out A’s letter and can re-read a number of times. Letter it is and not email dashed. Very carefully composed and re-worked to get all the counterbalancings just right.
And he loves telling people he turned down the Century Club--
from their website.
THE CENTURY IS AN ASSOCIATION of over two thousand authors, artists, and amateurs of letters and fine arts. For the club’s purposes, “amateurs” are defined as men and women “of any occupation provided their breadth of interest and qualities of mind and imagination make them sympathetic, stimulating, and congenial companions in a society of authors and artists.” The Century is a quintessentially New York place: Despite its debt to London clubs and the national and even international character of its membership, it could exist nowhere else. Its main activity is conversation.
Ha. This alone confirms me in my hunch that hopping down to NY for lunch with A would be a big mistake on my part no matter where or when. At least for now it would. If he taught at Dartmouth next summer that would be perfect.
Rainy and cooler today, clouds now. Last day of summer yesterday. First day of NE summer today. Va remembered thank goodness that we did give Tony a copy of Dave’s cd when we saw him at Republic. Would have been an embarassing waste to have sent him another copy. He’s not about to be praising and generous with David. They come from, live in, alien worlds.
5:10pm Super heavy rain storm for about forty minutes. Brighter skies now. Heavy air weighs the mood. Moving potential yard sale stuff around and doing laundry. Tore through the expectations around answering Aciman’s letter and having it activate anything more than the usual correspondence. If that. He’s pretty slow. The new yorker piece seems to have prompted him. As it did me also to wonder if he would ever write. Something tells me . . . .
“As on every evening at that particular hour, I was gripped by a vague anxiety.” Good Boys 57
Typing the honeymoon book is interesting because it makes it feel as if I have not read it already. A great way to really read a book super slowly.
Maybe that is what I want from the exercise and not a book I can publish!
Morning of 6 September
Virginia and Elizabeth are off for the day. Heavy sky, rain all day. Lunch with Dawson if he shows. Otherwise Dr Fagan at 3. Poor sleep after 4 am because of too much tea yesterday. Woke with a Mazur-like fear of the house, of the basement, of everything. Wanted to sell the house and move to a brand new manageable, mold-free super cottage. Or some such. And then in Modiano he gives us the scene of taking care of Little Jewel in the vast empty house near Parc Monceau. Watching French Village too late was another source of sleeplessness. Come to think of it what a great contrast it makes with Modiano and helps to show how magnificent his work is. He shows such restraint in keeping out so much. It would be difficult to write as he does because of this. Is it his genius? well, of course that. But also his trauma. Inseparable I suppose.
Now I am tired and will actually lay down on the black leather couch for a few moments to allow the morning to gather itself around me.
6 Sept night Day off. Lunch with Dawson in Woodstock. Dr Fagan says it is not fungus but eczema so we stop the nystatin and make an appointment with dermatology in Hanover. He took interest in my coming trip, maybe with some relief to shift from the problem of nothing much to do about eczema except try moisturizing creams twice a day and hope it goes away on its own accord. He mentioned that in mild passing.
Finally got 6000 steps today pour moi. Drove in to see the old house with the Indian shutters off of Dana Hill Road and on the way out chatted with
two people in a small white car, NY license, who were coming in and wanted to know what I was doing there. Wonder if it was Victor Huckins?
He had grown up somewhere around Rogers street and Buckland Flowers, or at least had some memory tales to mention about these locations. Older woman who was driving? his mother? sister? aunt? helper? He has long black hair. Even wondered if they both have native heritage blood. Have to ask Mr Hager if I ever talk with him again. Or Brendan next summer. Dowd. He’s the one who told me about the shutters & the couple today explained that they are pocket panels that slide into the wall. This couple might be related to the people who own the house.
Anyway, second beautiful day in a row now and very warm. Bert S came to fix the electrical outlet and lights and he discovered that the furnace guy had simply forgotten to switch back on the master switch. I coulda shoulda noticed that too.
Finished Sundays in August. Gripped me with a dreamy suspense not like many other, like no other of his books. He creates a suspense in the first half and then the disappearance of Sylvia. A Möebius loop of a book if ever there was one. Perfectly executed too.
Put Bert in touch with Dick Mertens. Bert’s second daughter, Abby, wants to go to Chicago. Maybe. Bert wants help in figuring out the financial aid tangle. Reply from Dick---“Bob,
Yes, by all means give him my name, though I'm not sure I can help. I'd be glad to talk or meet when he comes.
U of C is an excellent school as you know--a serious place--and one of the few still with a common core. Some hate it, of course. You're right that Joana is a junior this year. She had a hard time last year--she was diagnosed with some sort of hypersomnia which although not as bad as narcolepsy left her sleepy a lot of the time. Somehow she did OK. I'm amazed at everything she's been through. After a year the condition was finally diagnosed by a sleep doctor at the U of C. But they took their sweet time in helping her.
I've not been back to Middlebury since we dropped her off two years ago. Too far to drive.
Not Carleton? What's the big deal with Wash U?
15 September Friday
Quiet morning. Nothing pending, nothing happening, nothing looming, nothing bugging. Peace and calm. Rainy but maybe not much more.
Two wonderful Modiano books, Sundays and Boys. Can I enjoy Proust now as much as I’ve been enjoying Modiano?
that wired piece on the camper force is strange and depressing---
and yet, have you noticed how the whole retail structure has gone "nomadic" ?
i.e. our big supermarkets, the shelves are re-stocked by contract--part-time---independent
workers. they come in individually at strange times and re-stock only the products or
shelves they are contracted to keep supplied.
seems to be the case in other stores as well. so strange.
May not live to see this--but some day an economic historian will write a major book that
demonstrates that the US "outsourced" its whole infra-structure not because that was
necessary by any reasonable measure of need but because of trends and vectors
in the minds and thinking of the elites who were then in power in the corporations. It
was not what happened or had to happen it was what people imagined and believed
would happen and might have happened.
I am planning to not watch Burns' pbs series on Vietnam. Don't trust him, nor the whole
medium and venue and the assumptions---thinking--behind it. Trust not the right
word---have no interest in how they do these things.
Modiano's book "Such Fine Boys" --- all boys school in Paris right after the war, he was
born in '45. Not catholic, collection of tales of various fellow students, most of whom he
runs into twenty years later.
Ivanka look alikes---once you start noticing, as in the AD piece, you see more and more young women who look like her---weird---fake Vanity Fair or something ---
Any photos of the new kitchen? Any flaws in the final version? Great new meals?
super quiet friday morning----too warm too---no crises, no appointments, no loomings
just too much to take, all this peace and calm
16 Sept Saturday
back to nashua for the beauty costume &
Monday 18 September
Tuesday Sept 19
Day off looms. Heavy muggishness from hurricanes. Week until we fly. Away. Why did I not say fly away instead of fly? Anxious to have yet another book loaded onto the kindle “just in case.” In case five and a half volumes of Proust and some of Modiano are not enough? In case I miss something after all?
Proust gave us the tweet of the day--my find--“There is nothing more limited than pleasure and vice. . .[thus we are] always going around in the same vicious circle.”
pizza at whole foods, cookies, reading at starbucks, nap, more reading
Weds 20 Sept
Copying the Modiano novel seems yet again a foolish waste of time and energy. Give it up. Let go of the foolish notion of yet another “shoulda”, should have been a writer, a novelist. Not in the cards at all. Never was in the beginning, never would be ever after. Pessoa’s disquiet the model I was looking for all my life. No matter how seductive and entrancing some novels may seem. Aciman, Sebald, Modiano. I have the taste and sense to appreciate what they were called to do, but not the same calling.
Poppycock! Now return to the opposite line of thought. Forget the “calling” b.s. and go ahead with the project. Pourquoi pas? and what is there to lose? Time? ridiculous. Energy? Again, no argument there.
As already well noted, just to go against all real and imagined grains would be reason enough to proceed.
21 Sept Thursday
4:30 back from the dump. Charlene told us Jess & Leif gave birth today to Magnus Anderson! So glad Dave was not in this little town’s -us competition--i.e. Micah’s Moebius and Sheamus. Now Magnus. Ah, well, may they all be fine boys and happy ones.
High tea with Colin. Ben and Amanda progressing on the basement work. New tables to hold all the basement junk. Clean and dry-lock painted floor.
All ordered items getting delivered for the Parisians.
Last night dinner at Phat with Ken and Carole. Monkey said their movie equipment was on the blink so we didn’t see Coogan’s “Trip to Spain.” Went up to the Pasture and watched his earlier movie, “Trip to Italy.” Felt like a long slog after a while even though it was only 90 minutes. Not much fun. Actor-egos driving around beautiful Italy, formerly used in 50s and 60s movies. Guess that was the idea. Ice cream afterwards was a better way to end the evening.
A French Village still has us enthralled. Might take a break this evening.
The adrenalin of packing and prepping starting to make things weird. Loved the weather today. Crisp and windy. Extra warm in the sun for just a few hours. Walked at docks. Had cooks and ice cream with Colin and then an early dinner.
Up to page 23 in my novel typing. Do I really want to do this?? Just read Proust and be happy. “But M. de Charlus was no more than a dilettante in matters of art, never dreamed of writing and had no talent for it.” That pretty much settles it, then! (139)
I wrote a book once. A book on a writer, thinker, critic, philosopher. K Burke. Under duress I guess, I wrote that book. Yes, various vectors of duty and duress. And yet I did do it, got it done, lame as it was, especially the final chapter. If it had been in the least bit satisfying or pleasant, wouldn’t I have wanted to do it all again? Or variations of doing it, again?
What if I had written a book not under those duresses but under various caresses? What if the book I had written had been mostly a great joy to write? Or at least a mild pleasure? Not a miserable agony of anxiety, bitter desperation and blind numbness? Or was all of that trepidation after all what writers do enjoy every time? Is that what all writing is supposed to be like? Do writers engage it because it is all of those phases, obsessively repeated and often yielding better results than they can imagine when in the midst of the throes? Is it the throes of true discovery and invention that I have been avoiding and repressing all this time, running away from? What if the subject, the mode, the style, the purpose of the book had been much more of my own liking and imagined selection? What if I had been expected to write a story, a novel? The fashions changed and dissertations became replaced by linked narratives, whole narratives, autobiographical essay-tales. Just what Proust invented for himself. I need not have gone into all that detail. But had I gone into it on my own, would I have liked doing it so much more?
Is this not as much a waste as copying Modiano’s novel? Who can say, after all.
It is, they are, this is, that is, a meditative practice. Of one sort or another.
“In the people we love there is, immanent within them, a dream which we cannot always perceive but which haunts us.” (147)
22 nd Sept
Retyping a book makes you realize how fast you have forgotten details even though you read the book just a few weeks ago. What would it be like to read the same book over once a week for a while? A year? As we do the Gospels, say? Is that not one way, the key way, to turn any text into a gospel?
Friday. More packing later after Cileiia cleans. Ben has jury duty this morning. Knock on wood I’ve been spared that.
No problem. You were in the midst of the biggest shake-up of your life, well, among the top five. Yes we know Ed quite well. He's married to one of Va's oldest friends from Albuquerque. He is from Brooklyn, he and Barb met in Vista training. They did their service for it somewhere in Appalachia, western Va maybe. Barb is a prison therapist for sex offenders, now retired. Ed has always been a writer and done a little of this and that. Never published much. Last few years has been self-publishing like the rest of us. I sent it because I think it is good and to buy and send a book for him. We Createspace like to power network to boost our unbelievably great sales. By the way didn't amazon give that outlet a new name?
Anyway, Ed does have a great ear for speech. Has worked in theater and readers groups, done a bit of teaching. They lived for years in Abq and then for years in Seattle. Then they lived in Plymouth, MA maybe ten years and now they live in a suburb of Portland, ME for past seven years or so. We see them once or twice a year. First child, Betsy, is a very successful actor in Seattle, now must be 45? Son, Ben, works in Boston area. Communications, advertising, academic information offices.
As we've always heard the tales, Ed had a terrible childhood, Brooklyn, and then in the Catskills where his family ran one of those summer camps like in the movie Dirty Dancing. So there he heard stand-up comics on the circuit. He spent years and years getting away from all of that and in his writing he never wrote about being Jewish or New York. Embraced
buddhism, tantrism, etc etc world religions and literature. For years they were Quakers, before that Catholics (in new mexico). But in the past ten or so years he's rediscovered his roots and has written books like this one where all the tonalities of Jewish speech and humor finally come forward. Their experience with the Quaker community in Plymouth MA would make a great funny movie. There they learned that Quakers would literally do nothing in the face of oppression in the sense that one woman essentially took over the whole meeting for years and they protested and the elders told them all the stages of witnessing and advising and having committees suggest this and that but by the core values of Quakerism there was no way to get the woman to hold or tongue or leave or change her behavior. Tedious years of dealing with this, in all the best liberal good-will ways. Barb is very outgoing and aggressive, crippled from childhood
Anyway, I'll tell him you enjoyed the book. Any response at all to your Post letter? Probably not, I'm guessing. ??
Packing our bags for departure on Tuesday.
Elizabeth brought some turkey soup. I’m still going to make the tortilla with eggs and potatoes.
Sat night Seven more episodes of French Village in season 5. I bow out for a while each night now. More calming to read something. Double walk day--wally’s in morning and docks late afternoon. Super hot at that time. low 80s. hot again tomorrow. Some packing. And talk about packing. What do we talk about when we talk about packing?
super distracted this evening. reading not satisfactory. feels and sounds like a summer night outside---bands thumping on campus for a party, a dance. voices yelling, distant, having fun. Anxiety about what book to take on the trip. Only three weeks and won’t be much time for reading, really. Do I want to take Proust or rely on the kindle only?
Located a skinny book that could work. Pavese’s last and said in the blurb to be his best. And a NYRB reprint. Moon and Bonfires.
25 sept monday late afternoon Lunch at the Covered Bridge then a drive up on the ridge over Squam. Why did I never think to call it Squalm? Nap.
Clear yesterday I wasn’t up for Pavese on post-war. Maybe Letellier, maybe just the kindle books.
Seems we are signing out and off on another trip! Fourth for the year. Will I write in my paper journal? Holding our breath.
October 25 Wednesday
4:23 pm Back last night. Rain right now, rain during the night. Water on the basement floor, not too much, still, some seeping up through Ben’s new floor paint job. Oh well.
Trying to get our heads and minds back home as well as our bodies. Smooth flight home, easy pick-up, Bill Barclay talked all about his trip up the western coast this summer and much else. Tall guy, very friendly, has driven us before for the Lakes shuttle.
Trip went beautifully. Thanks to help from Nicholas and Marga and the kids. We each had sniffles, short colds, near the start, once we were on Blomet for the first week, but Advil with pseudophed helped us nip that in the bud or get through it quickly. I started to dislike the Blomet bnb from the start and finally decided to change our return visit to the Eiffel Blomet Hotel and I was sure glad we did. Beautiful little hotel, great staff, great breakfast, and confirmed for me that this is the way to go from here on out.
The Maximillian in Prague disappointed in that we didn’t try to make the shower work, but at least it was only four nights. The shower in Nicholas’s place was fine before Prague, and then the one in Barca was ok too.
Glimpsing Prague was fun and again it helped to be with Nicholas. We didn’t plan the last day very well, climbing up to the castle and cathedral, and we had a time of it getting around and getting back down. He went off on his own and later confirmed that the cathedral was to be missed, full of national memorials. He got in a good walk around town that day. Day before he had asked his colleague to drive us all out into the country to Korna Huta, or is it Huta Korna? Have to google to check. Kutná Hora.
Petr showed us around a bit, cathedral of St Barbara, Jesuit college next door, then a fine lunch at a beautiful 1930s art deco style mansion, now a hotel, complete with dome. Felt like a Brideshead sort of place.
Full moon tonight, Sat 4 November Isei has already sent a photo of it
Warm here again but sunny. Abdul movie yesterday at Red River.
New tax bill from the town. Up $800. not as terrible as Dom M’s email to George made me fear! Fear, gotta love it, eh.
we got flu shots yesterday. I always think there is a reaction. I feel flushed right now. Guess the shots were two days ago, in Tilton this time.
Just before we left for the trip I had a break-through on my project to copy-rewrite Modiano’s Honeymoon novel. Actually I think it was on the ride down to Logan. The whole August syndrome to copy a novel, to write a novel, to somehow write a book, my book or copy someone else’s---it is all a dreamlike mechanism attached to the school year and the occupational psychosis. To get ready for classes, to shake off the summer doldrums, to prepare for the work year, to find the right books, to get back into bookishness in a wholly professional way. To be a writer, which, God knows, is superior to all other jobs related to books and bookishness. Ok, be a lowly scribe and just copy another book, but at least you will fulfill your monkish calling to be a book-involved person. Otherwise you are just . . . .
So that did lift that cloud. Now, back from our wanders, the green and black book sits there on the desk, mocking me to complete the so-called project. I only made it to page 24-25. I should give that over, paste in here what I typed, and try something else. The ostensible goal was to improve reading French. Return to that. There was also the project to write longhand once more in the notebook I started. One final time? The notebook requires even a total clearing of the desk top, or almost such.
Guess it is the utimate romantic fantasy: to be in bookworld, write a book, publish a book, be assumed bodily into bookheaven. The religions of the book. Writing is the primordial revelation, the very promise of resurrection fulfilled. To tweet means you are already in textual heaven. All is recorded, all is forgiven, all is redeemed. No wonder the great late 19th C imagined rejection of writing tried to recapture the savage, the wild, the indigenously unfallen.
Meanwhile, if you are not a true writer as the world sees it, why keep scribbling? Low-level survival techniques. Same as taking a walk. Grasping for air. Not waving but writing. Writing is drowning. As long as I see my borrowed words appear before me from my hand, I am conscious of being conscious. Virginia is playing the piano right now. Same thing. But different. And different. Not “but.”
Letter to Petr Skvaril in Prague
November 1, 2017
Perhaps you will enjoy some of David's music. He has more on Youtube and his own website. When you go to Paris, you can see his band in person. Or when you visit us, our region, some summertime. He and the family come over for six weeks in July and August and he pulls together a trio here to play at different cafes and bars.
Thank you for the wonderful day in the countryside. We enjoyed every moment of it with great delight. It was a very special highlight of our trip, of the whole trip and of the section in company with Nicholas.
He is, as you know, an extremely gifted person. I value his friendship beyond measure. And he has great spiritual powers. On this basis
I have to say that I find it impossible to imagine that our paths will not find some way to cross sometime in the future. That is the hope, at least. Come to visit us in New Hampshire if you ever have a chance. Or
perhaps we can meet in Paris or Spain and Switzerland, We might even visit your wonderful country again. We never know.
The second mystical indicator for future possibility, after Nicholas himself, is, of course, the uncanny, coincidental “brotherhood” we share(d) in the footwear. I place much more importance on Vivobarefoot shoes than you can guess. Personal neurosis, no doubt, and ten or so years when I was your age, of running all the roads around here almost everyday. Five miles a day, sometimes less, sometimes more, and every so often much longer runs. Endorphins and fitness and being alive in extreme states of energy. The whole movement in shoes to no-heels, near barefootedness, came in the running world and industry many years later, after I had traded running for strolling avenues in Madrid. Then David’s marriage forced us to add Paris too.
Thank your wife, Greta,? for the uncanniness here!
Anyway, all best wishes to you.
Monday Nov 6
“Back to work” Monday Overcast. Water in the basement in the drain area. First time it has been there in a while. Seems to have reached a high level and is now receding but no pumps working on it. Mean to open that pipe again as soon as Ben or I figure how to do it.
Yesterday we went to Nashua to walk in the mall. Jammed with people. Panera felt the same way. Highways felt the same way. Wandering the biways in place of going to sea to hunt Moby Dick. Ishmael’s month.
Recent eczema returning too. Butter and cheese. Going to try to go Asian for a month or so. No dairy, esp the high fat kind but best none at all. Asia has been doing it for centuries, surely it is possible.
Finished Neil Gunn’s The Shadow. Nicholas recommended it on facebook and his blog. Perhaps, probably, I read it years before, or perhaps I started it and didn’t get far into it. Nicholas likes it because it portrays indirectly a mental breakdown and it reaffirms the sacred as the answer. From the blurb on the back of the book (on kindle): Nan takes “an optimistic, emotional and human approach to life against the theories and bleak logic of the two men” she encounters. (Is it Nan or her aunt Phemie? or both, in different ways. Phemie is rooted in the country life, Nan has suffered the breakdown during the war and in the city. Seems the blurb means it is Phemie who counters the two men to protect Nan and help her to recover.
The other quotation about Gunn reads “ “his novels, reflecting his constant philosophical quests, invariably depict two worlds---the world of here and now and the world in which the meaning of life and the essence of living are explored.”
All for all of that. And yet the novel itself left me at first confused as to just what was going on and what was being depicted. And then later, once the basic lines of action are repeated more clearly, fairly unconnected and not that engaged.
Most likely I did not manage to give it full attention. Starting it and finishing it spanned our recent trip. Read it on the iphone kindle app.
The basic division of world vs sacred seems unfortunate. In Gunn’s novel the sacred is protected or found in simple country life, being connected to the earth (is this also what Wendell Berry does?) whereas the world and its meaningless theories and rigid or desiccated ideas is found in the city, and with it, wars. Isn’t this reverting to the oldest sort of Manicheanism?
Tim Parks on the woman who wrote a novel about Beckett------
"It’s all admirably earnest, but never convincing"
“What a happy formula: goodness, personal growth through hardship, artistic fame. It is the reductio ad absurdum of this strange form of fiction that would have us consume our literary heroes in a conveniently palatable sauce.”
This is the reason so many people say “I’ve always wanted to write a novel, to try my hand at writing, etc” Yes, even moi. It is the contemporary desire to become a saint. The ultimate realm of value for our culture.
now I see that you sent 2 pieces Duh
Yes now I see that Parks does a fine job of dashing the novel about Beckett to bits! what a dumb idea by
a dumb broad. sorry, that just came out! "It’s all admirably earnest, but never convincing"
But why is it admirably anything? Is earnestness to be praised just for being earnest? pace Wilde
the way he uses the passage from Watt is right on target. Parks is good.
"What a happy formula: goodness, personal growth through hardship, artistic fame. It is the reductio ad absurdum of this strange form of fiction that would have us consume our literary heroes in a conveniently palatable sauce."
In the other piece on Pessoa there was one welcome surprise-reminder for me. That Poe had written the story about following a man through the streets of the city.
That sounded so contemporary to my ears. I haven't looked at Poe for decades. But you can see in that tale what the French found in him way back when.
7 November Tuesday
10:25 Just read the key passage in Proust, page 179. And now I see. Is this the key of keys? Close to it. The happiness available outside of time. Surely I should be typing it up here. But/and it is so famous and so key it might be a waste of time to do so. Still. Also clearly one of those passages which demands to be compared in all of the available translations. If not now, some time.
Now it is time to head off into the first day off in ages. Well, six weeks? or more?
“Paris never entered my imagination when I was young. I had no interest in it. I was all bent toward London, being an English major. Or Rome, being a Catholic. Never did I pine to be in Paris. I even think I had almost no notion of it outside of images from a few movies like Singing in the Rain and Gigi and ? can’t even think of any. Was Singing in the Rain even in Paris? Anyway, given the absence of Paris as a place to have wanted to be or to have visited, I look back now, this morning, and think of how Paris has been handed to me on a silver platter three times. First on our honeymoon. I asked Willow this morning if she remembers the hotel we stayed in? It must have been around Boul Mich is my guess. She remembers that we went to our room, a tiny one but large enough to have a sort of settee as well as a bed. “We baptized that right away,” she said. And then the clerk came to tell us he had mistakenly put us into the wrong room and we had to go to another room. The second time was when my friend insisted on paying my way on the then brand-new chunnel so that I could get over from London and visit him in his borrowed apartment for free. It was about two or three days before the fourteenth of July because the city was all set up for the celebratory parades. And yet that weekend, I think it was a weekend, the night or two I spent there at the dark, dank place in the 9th with him, the city felt emptied and bare. No one was there. It seemed to me a sort of desolate mausoleum, a lavish but empty and hollow city with no vitality evident at all. We listened to BBC world service late in the afternoon, a ritual my friend had practiced for years, maybe since we had first met in Chicago twenty or more years earlier. I had never heard of the program. We took a siesta after a day of touring around the city, taking the metro and walking for miles because he was trying to show me all of the key places in the short two days we had. Because it was hot, the weather and the small apartment, closed up and dusty, not really cleaned in years, it all felt claustrophobic. The city had its grand expanses and yet the two of us alone made it feel all the more empty. Not at all the warm place of the first honeymoon visit, where Willow had told me about having studied in the area a few years earlier when she was a student there and then in Madrid.
The third serving Paris set before me to, invited me to, was, then, the most surprising and splendid. It came much later in life and I had expected it even less than ever.
“ the truth was that the being within me who was enjoying this impression was enjoying it because of something shared between a day in the past and the present moment, something extratemporal, and this being appeared only when, through one of these moments of identity between the present and the past, it was able to find itself in the only milieu in which it could live and enjoy the essence of things, that is to say outside of time.”
when I tasted the madeleine I was a being outside of time, “an extra-temporal being, and consequently unconcerned with the vicissitudes of the future.” (179)
Ahh, but do we not have a re-invention of the same world-spirit divide that we had in Gunn’s Scottish divination? The inner life of meaning which we can find again most readily in the country, puts us into the extra-temporal between-ness unconcerned about the past or the future?
Or am I clouding it all back up?
“this spirit draws its nourishment only from the essence of things”
“Books are the work of solitude and the children of silence.” Proust “The Return to the Present”
Big day as it turns. over 10k steps, 8 flights of stairs. Lunch with Cosma at Thai Smile, his choice. He’s just bought himself a motorcycle. Sister died a few months ago, chronic smoker, 68. Now he has no family at all. Maybe cousins he never contacts. Hinted that had he to do it all again he would not do IT, told him he is too much of a humanist. Looking for a house to buy and the one he showed me on Realtor is Dawson’s house! 89,500. Texted Dawson and he says he just put 20k into it to get it up to market. Hope he can sell it. His gamble on Barcelona may go sour in the long run but most likely not.
Sunny day not as cold as yesterday. Enjoyed walking all around. Took pictures of leaves. Fast visit to the art gallery/museum. Cosma says the campus is now hiring people to do the jobs that people were fired from two years ago. Now my guess is the system was cutting costs by getting rid of people who had older style contracts for retirement benefits. New hires will have very different retirement packages, now my suspicion.
Markets still up. Dems getting elected.
Oh, yes, and second big achievement---getting on top of all the laundry! hoorah. Let’s see, we returned Oct 24. So today is exactly 15 days since the 25th. Takes 15 days for that to happen, almost everything packed back away and laundry caught up. Plus other indicators of “return” and “back.”
Only fifteen days ago we were in Paris for the last lunch with the kids at Alfaria. But wait, that lunch was not on a Monday, was it? Well maybe it was. Chase would have the record. Alfaria was on the 20th. Friday.
That Monday was the dance concert at the theater and then late dinner after at 3 Galopins across the street. Teatre du Gymnase, something like that.
9 Nov Thurs night Judith Taccino came over this afternoon, will come to clean on every other Monday. Worked with various people we know--got her name from Arlene Bownes, Last year or so of Ruth Millar’s life. Others.
Lives on Dame Hill Road next to Dan Moore and his wife.
Still thinking of Honeymoon Variations. Why not continue with it but in slightly different form. Could still play around with it for possibilities.
Proust Wow This long, wonderful passage keeps going on and on. Makes you want to read it over and over, memorize it. 179ff Now on 188
“The only things that come from ourselves are those we draw out of the obscurity within us, which can never be known by other people.” 188
Oh---Dave and the kids called at just before noon and we had a little visit. They were all tired from the big week of re-entry. Having gouter.
Late Friday Nov 10
Va did 45 min swim. Pool was cold. They had lost one circulation pump overnight. Still a good time. Wally walk, return to Speare for mammo doublecheck, Radiologist there, said all is well, just two cysts that show up.
Am positive we had the same scenario a year or so ago. Return for doublecheck, sonogram after mammo, doctor there in person giving us the reading at once.
Still, glad all is well once again. Va fell at the PEO meeting the other day, outside Susan’s house. Two women were bringing her home. This morning I saw the bruise on her bottom. Small and focused. Seems it was another good landing.
Blustery, really windy now, superchill temps. Feels too soon. As always.
Ben and Amanda finishing up the basement floor job. Whole basement looks so much better, worth it just for that. Study, smaller tables holding all the stuff. Floor painted. Space to work and move around.
Should I send my irritated letter to OdysseysUnlimited? What if we do want to take one of their trips sometime in the future? Might be better to forgive and forget rather than be a sore loser.
Two new books in the mail. I love starting books. Started Compass again last night and this morning and like it much already. Big book but a long winter ahead. That’s the way we like it.
Also like the noition of creeping ahead, snail’s pace, with my re-do of Honeymoon. Why not? See what happens. Especially now that I have a sense of what I might do rather than just re-type.
Phillippe Delerm in Figaro “But this certainty infinitely draws in him a quest for doubt, a route of wandering.” “Mais cette certitude dessine infiniment chez lui une quête du doute, un itinéraire de l’errance.”
“Everyone would have written, “I do not know.” But Modiano writes, “I do not know anymore, as if he were not the master of the riddle/enigma he installs, as if he were below the universe that only his gaze imposed.”
That is the Text I will cite (to Aciman?) to prove the Apophatic reading of Modiano.
Using Google translating on Chrome. Must be very careful---I changed “that his only gaze imposed” to “that only his gaze imposed.” Hope that is correct. !
Sent this to Willow and Dave---
Ce qui est incroyable, c'est que cette légèreté demeure intacte dans la deuxième partie du livre, quand le mystère est censé devenir plus glauque et oppressant.Tous les personnages croisés, toutes ces femmes inquiètes et porteuses d'ombres partagent avec le narrateur une déambulation inassouvie, même si la première attendue, «la fille de Stoppia», semble détenir à la fois l'origine d'un problème et sa solution. «Je t'expliquerai tout!» dit-elle.
Only esoteric books quoted in this new book. By esoteric does he mean obscure and unknown or does he mean esotericism like Valle-Inclán and company? I am getting a thrill out of reading Le Figaro! Snob that I have always longed to be.
google translates the whole passage thus
“The names of the characters mentioned, Geneviève Dalame, Madeleine Péraud, resonate with a dull evidence, as also in some novels by Marguerite Duras. These may be real names. But we only lend to the rich and, with Modiano, the truth can become a subterfuge. The names evoked give in any case more mystery still to the one that the narrator does not dare to quote, for prudence, or to authenticate the other senses.
The essential is not there, of course. He is in the music of the sentence, in the note which is almost always that which one expects, and never quite. At the risk of offending the structuralist academics of the seventies, who vomited what they called the stylistics of the gap, I must quote this short passage: "Do I really have to talk right away about Martine Hayward and the few disparate people around him those nights? Or follow the chronological order. I do not know anymore. "Everyone would have written," I do not know. "But Modiano writes," I do not know anymore, "as if he were not the master of the enigma he is if he was below the universe that his only gaze imposed.” Where it puts “He” surely it should be “It.”
But note the word “mystery.” There it is.
Eduard Baer says in his piece on Figaro--“Naming things, places, people. Precisely. Mapping. As if to abolish the mystery. But in fact, no. To strengthen it. To bring out new ones.”
and -- again one wonders about the google trans “This pinch to the heart, those memories that go back without having been summoned, this unspeakable state, neither utterly melancholy nor exactly nostalgic, this tremor, is still Modiano; an emotion that our heart receives more than it feels, a feeling that makes its place and that we must accept, as the heroine of the novel of Françoise Sagan welcomed his sadness. And then we leave for new adventures.”
unspeakable state---between melancholy and nostalgia
on shirtysleeves.blogspot Doublas Robertson gives us an essay on how to read Proust---by Jean Améry published in 1971 centenary of Proust’s birth
“A Window on Marcel Proust”
early on this wonderful passage
“ In other words: Proust peremptorily demands that we surrender and sacrifice all our reading-time to him. The ideal reader of Proust is a man who has retired for weeks into a none too well-lighted room, who never goes outside, who receives no visitors, talks to nobody on the telephone. This kind of thing is difficult to pull off, I know: that’s why I called the reader who can do it an ideal one. But the prohibition against interleaving one’s reading of Proust with other books is absolute: there is no primrose path leading from this cosmos into any other, and anyone who abandons Proust to concentrate on reading other things, be it only for a few days, will find his way back to him none too easily.
Read him in the original is the first and primary suggestion. The vocabulary is not large even if the sentences are long.
“Materially speaking these sorts of books are of no assistance. What one needs in order to acclimatize oneself to Marcel Proust’s world is not a scholarly background in literary history but rather mental composure, calmness, determination, and courage in the face of those difficult passages that may initially seem “tedious.” One needs more than a bit of what Sartre recently called “empathy” in connection with Flaubert—and as I said before, one also needs time, time, time.”
“the prohibition against interleaving one’s reading of Proust with other books is absolute”
11 November Saturday We ate at Consuelo’s and look into the Currier. A show from Moma of Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters and drawings.
So here is Améry’s point: “The greatness of the Recherche does not consist in a typically literary compression of reality, but rather in a dissolution thereof. The dreamlike character of existence—which is a dream in virtue of its fugacity and not of being either some condensed Kafkaesque nightmare, or the structured visionary dream of a Joyce—is Marcel Proust’s discovery. “ “But the dream is not Proust’s dream; rather, it is the reflection of our self-dreaming reality in all its misery.” . . . . “I said that the greatness of the Recherche consists not in its compression but in its utter dissolution of reality. One can also ring changes on this formulation. This author’s achievement consists in the visualization of unrecognizability. Nobody before him and hardly anybody after him expended as much effort not to suggest but to discern reality by literary means. And in no other writer’s work were the ultimate failures of the intended undertaking transformed into a comparable artistic triumph. Proust believed that in memory he could successfully constitute and stabilize a reality that as a presence had invariably eluded him. But in the concluding volume, Time Regained, memory itself—and in particular immediately, spontaneously experienced memory, le souvenir—turns out to be an intellectual error and aberration.” . . . . “ Proust’s greatness becomes discernable in his vanquishment by the work he undertook to produce. He himself, an I that was nothing more than the Machian “bundle of sensations,” had progressed too far into the cognizance of the uncognizable to be able to find his way back to the naivety of the “here and now,” of the “This is how it was”; he had penetrated too deeply into reality to retain the ability to sculpt reality.”
. . . .
“Thus Proust’s helplessness in the face of reality was not a method but rather a lived mode of existence. This helplessness had certain purely individual psychological roots, for this storyteller who was so zealously preoccupied with reality confronted the world skinlessly, so to speak; a superlatively vulnerable mental apparatus of unprecedented sensitivity, an apparatus incapable of taking shelter in a compact, perfectly self-assured ego, was defenselessly addicted to all the stimuli with which the world attacked it. The clinical allergic asthmatic that he actually was, if the professional medical testimonials are to be credited, was at the same time psychically allergic to reality: the mere existence of the external world caused him intellectual breathlessness just as the scent of a flower, the dust in his room, caused him physical asthma attacks. He was not merely “at the mercy of the elements in the mountains of the heart,” as Rilke had put it once upon a time, but at the mercy of a highly sensitive nervous system. This was—and here again individual psychological dispositions are intertwined with the objective social one—the nervous constitution of the bourgeois who transcends his condition, who forfeits the traditional, achievement and financial accumulation-based norms of bourgeois existence. This loss of norms was simultaneously a loss of ego—whence the narrator’s hypersensitivity, which is perfectly captured in the French metaphor avoir les nerfs á fleur de peau, to have one’s nerves on the flower, on the surface, of one’s skin.”
. . . .
“Our hands are likewise empty once we have turned over the last pages of the Recherche, for by then we have learned nothing less than that the world always eludes us, both as a presence and as a memory. But in this emptiness we possess something precious. Anybody who is unacquainted with it knows nothing of a world that is Will and Representation, a world that pieces together our ego, which we can no more lay claim to than Proust’s narrator can lay claim to the Martinville church tower or Vinteuil’s little melody.”
. . . .
Now that I have this new French phrase I have to wonder if eczema is having one’s nerves on the flower of one’s skin! avoir les nerfs á fleur de peau, to have one’s nerves on the flower, on the surface, of one’s skin.”
thanks for the link to those photos of Ghery's work. Good reminder.
Some of them I had never seen nor heard of. The one in Barcelona
with the big golden fish we saw when we were there, ate at a cafe
right under it. Took a photo but it didn't turn out. Had no idea it
was a work by Ghery.
The building at MIT I wandered around in a few years ago, a bit dismayed and under/overhwelmed by the strangeness of it. The Description and background
really helped here---had no idea he was replacing a famous building at MIT
that had been known as the place for collaborative, cross-discipline creativity.
Ahh, with that history behind it, the building seems an accurate expression
of what the university wanted. I said to myself after visiting it, damn academics,
this building looks like it was designed by a fucking faculty committee.
great plot summary of Proust “ A little boy can’t get to sleep because his mother won’t come to his bed to give him his goodnight kiss. A little boy falls in love with a little girl and waits in vain for a letter from her. A youth strolls the streets of Paris with the aim of crossing paths with a duchess whose attention he wishes to attract, perhaps because he desires her as a woman, and undoubtedly just because she is a duchess. A man sequesters his sweetheart to keep tabs on her, and after her death he suffers every imaginable torment of jealousy because he learns that she was cheating on him with a lesbian girlfriend. Another man—Swann—spends night after night standing in front of the darkened window of his mistress’s house, behind whose façade she is being unfaithful to him. He doesn’t barge in; things never come to a boil; he will never know the truth because he doesn’t want to know it. An old woman in the provinces performs for her family the meticulously scripted and rehearsed comedy of her illness, which nevertheless happens to be a real one, and which eventually kills her off. Someone fails to receive an invitation to someplace and feels miserable as a result. Someplace someone refuses to send an invitation to somebody in order to make him feel miserable. A masochistic, homosexual nobleman has himself whipped by some poor devil of a male hustler. A duke with one foot in the grave persecutes his aging sweetheart, whose fading feminine charms have ceased to interest any rivals, with the perfervid jealousy of a youth. A diplomat delivers interminable subtle and inane speeches. In an art gallery a famous writer dies of uremia. “
““What good can all this stuff and these games do us?” we ask, echoing Hofmannsthal. Well, what is the point of it? It is as much and as little as life itself, which only occasionally stitches the episodes of its plot seamlessly together, which hardly ever supplies us with “personalities” (in Mynheer Peeperkorn’s sense of “personalities”), which is vanishing before our eyes, disintegrating in an inarticulate babble, in a welter of cinematic dissolve-cuts, life itself in its dazzling glory and in its wretchedness, its terrifying disorder, against which the counterpoising of a “higher order” is nothing other than a game, with its coming, going, passing away; so that at the end, in the concluding volume, Time Regained, contrary to the author’s own intention and hope, the past as an actuality, which memory believes it is managing to get hold of, might as well never have been at all.”
Phoned Donald about 5:30. He got back yesterday. Said he had a great time. Told him to recover, collect his memories, and give us a call later in the week. He was grateful.
Thursday night Nov 16
Eye doctor for both of us. New guy. Dr O ? Born in North Dakota, moved around (military?) moved here in September. Boy, 11, in Thornton school. Wife, Mexican, back in Virginia, Waynesburg, Norfolk area.
Cough continues. Reading Modiano back and forth, Out of the Dark.
Sunday 19 Nov
Master Chorale concert today. Norwegian composer. Didn’t warm to it as much as I had thought I might at the outset. The chorus sounded fantastic, as always. Beautiful voices, trained, blended, clear, brilliant.
Good talk with Donald. He had a fine trip to China and Tibet. A bit strenuous at times. Fifteen in the group. Road Scholar. Like almost everything about it. Still tired.
I think my cold is over and I’m withdrawing from the meds I took and yet I still feel strange. We both had a touch of nausea right after dinner. What got us? Tummies quiet now.
Proust: “true books must be the product of not of daylight and chitchat but of darkness and silence. And as art exactly reconstructs life, an atmosphere of poetry will always hover around the truths that one has reached in oneself, a gentle sense of mystery which is merely the remains of the semi-darkness we have had to pass through, the indication, as precisely marked as on an altimeter, of the depth of a work.” 206 vol 6
21 Nov Tuesday
Enjoyed most finding this passage in Modiano:
"I wondered if I hadn't dreamt the hours I had spent with her, that feeling
of emptiness, of coolness and lightness, the two of us in a narrow bed lurching as if a whirlwind had come over us, the echo of her voice resounding more clearly that the ticking of the alarm clock. There had been no distance between us then. Now she was as aloof as before." Out of the Dark 22. He and Jaqueline are sniffing ether and making love. I assume. Is this the first time Modiano has made such love-making as explicit as possible? Seems maybe so.
Day off. Fooled around Concord without much purpose. Turns out V & E did too. They ate at Olive Garden, I at the Coop. Paths did not cross. Sunny and warm, nice for walking. 8,022 steps for moi!
See via Twitter that Aciman’s movie is opening in NY tonight. He gave a talk about it. Public library I think. Getting raves, 98% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
22 Nov Weds Lunch just now with Brendan and Rosie at Burners.
Annual physical with Dr Fagan. Beautiful late afternoon sky when I came out. Big curving edge of the cloud front against silver setting sun.
And day the Castańedas find out about the divorce settlement. WaPo article on how Philip Roth suddenly super popular with the French and is getting himself enshrined in Pléiade. Bully. His favorite writer is Celine.
Along with four others. Genet of course. whole list demonstrates his generationalist preoccupations and views. He is 84.
hesitate even to copy it out---except as a reminder of what “they” esteemed and how I look toward a younger view--e.g. Aciman’s, ten years junior rather than ten years senior.
“Perhaps the only thing that links him to those francophile expatriates is his professed admiration for French literary culture.
As he wrote to The Post: “Colette the great sensualist, [Albert] Camus the great conscience, [François] Mauriac the great moralist, [Jean] Genet the great transgressor, and [Louis-Ferdinand] Céline, to my mind, the greatest novelist of all — brutal, fierce, the driven witness of an elemental world who takes us deeper and deeper into the night. Death, dying, crime, guilt, grievance, lunacy, sex — all of that and more is his daily business.”
Describing Céline he must be describing his ideal sense of how he would like his work to be seen.
“I've never cared much for Roth's stuff, although I read a fair amount of it because that's what Americans readers were expected to do by the important powers that be - mainly NYC critics. Frankly, Roth's work always struck me as essentially Jewish, rather than American, although Roth wants to be thought of as an American, not a Jewish, writer. At no point did I find myself or anyone I knew in any of his stories, although some Jewish guys I know like his stuff and seem to identify with it.
Yes, I did read "Journey to the Edge of Night" many, many years ago - in my late 20s or early 30s. I enjoyed the novel quite a lot, then got scared off reading more of his stuff when I found out that he was regarded as an anti-Semite and crypto-fascist for some of the stuff he wrote in the 1930s. That surprised me, but, like a good little boy who does what he is told, I ceased to read anything by him. Nevertheless, I've never forgotten one scene in "Night": a doctor who has spent his entire life helping others, trying to relieve their pain, is suddenly struck by a severe heart attack and flops around on the floor of his office (or home, I can't remember which) in agony until, after long minutes of hell, he dies under a table. I thought that was a terrific comment on "life."
These days, I suspect that Celine's anti-Semitic writing in the 1930s was simply criticism of Jews and that, after WWII, became the biggest, most unforgivable sin of all in the US. One can criticize blacks a little, but not Jews.
Finished reading Modiano’s Out of the Dark---Du plus loin de l’oubli--
“sadly hilarious” says the translator, Jordan Stump, in his introduction, actually on the back cover blurb. The whole last third of the book I pictured as taking place in our 49 Blvd Pasteur apartment, when we were there in the month of August. Paris is hot and empty of vitality.
Would I have thought of “hilarious” had Stump not reminded me of this via the blurb? Maybe not. Sad for sure. And only after someone points it out do you then agree, yes, points of funny weirdnesses, hilarious disjointures.
I remember the other book that is also about the same Jaqueline and the almost stalkerish behavior of the narrator as he tries to decide if the woman he sees is really her and then whether to contact her or not.
I need to keep handy and ready a clear list of our addresses and construct a running narrative that uses them. The way this young couple wanders around Paris and then London could well be re-done to describe our lives as we wander around in our retiree comfortableness. Not cool and dazed as young people are but older and wiser, no of course not wiser, just older and dazed in old-new ways. Talking to Brendan and Rosie the other day gave me the reminder and the image of how the young behave just as Modiano describes and remembers. Floating and open to arrangements that shift fluidly. If I could catch the tone and mood in which Modiano writes his stories I could re-cast our travels as variants on the same, or very similar, themes. Some of Modiano’s best phrases come toward the end of the book when he talks about whole fifteen year chunks of his life dropping away instantly once he realizes something or feels the shift of chapters taking place.
This book also captured the way life felt “back then” when we were young in the late ‘60s and ‘70s. People had parties, people let you stay in their houses, their apartments. You could meet people and then drift away only to meet them again. It was all both important and not. My dating of the slightly older woman who worked for the Catholic youth councils, Michelle, was that her name? She took me for a weekend down to a friend’s place in the countryside, that friend made artifacts used by decorators. We stayed in the Palmer house or Conrad Hilton in adjoining rooms, for a night or two? She went on to a business meeting later. I went over to the howard johnson on the lakefront. Was there a misunderstanding? A failure to connect in any meaningful way. A failure to seduce or be seduced. A general cluelessness on my part. Modiano captures that so well---that aimless driftingness. He starts to write because he has no other choice.
Why did that not happen for me? To me? Exactly the same, or nearly the same, as asking why I didn’t lose my virginity then or for a while longer.
Saturday night 25 Nov
No word from Marga and I suppose we won’t here for quite a while.
Another walk at the docks today. Very warm and mild. Lelo toys not so successful at first go. Maybe Lego toys are still better!
Quiet day, shorter days.
Sunday Nov 26
Now I think the eczema is nerves. Worries about travels and budgets all this past year. More meditation, more calming walks. Resolution for the coming new year. December 1st could be the new year. Or Nov 1st.
Sunny and blustery outside. Beautiful sky. We walked at docks yesterday, stayed up late watching half a movie with Cotillard and Mattias S. I now think I saw it five or six years ago. Or part of it. Not sure I want to finish it. We’ll see. Internet super slow and busy. Trying to place Orvis order and not going through. No doubt for the best.
Already thinking about Tuesday’s day off. Should I flee to Portland since the weather might be warmish and sunny? Too long a drive and yet a delightful drive if I’m in the mood for it.
-----Phil’s DNA results--I also got my 23&Me report. I'm 52% English-and-Irish, and about 34% German-and-French. The French was a bit of a surprise, but apparently the French and Germans are genetically pretty close. The real surprise was that I have some ancestor "who joined the family" around 1700 who had Scandinavian and Yakut blood. This is less than 1% of me, but whoda thunk it. Yakuts are a Turkic people who live mainly in Siberia.
I also have a tiny amount of Neanderthal blood apparently, which may explain my relatively long arms and short legs. My knuckles don't drag the ground but I've never liked saber-toothed tigers.... Nov 17
note to Nicholas
Sent you the Blavatsky book, trust it will arrive safely.
Here is a short slide show of our trip. You are featured of course. Fame
once more. It was a delightful trip and we loved visiting with you and
traveling again with you. Thank you for all that you did to make it all work
Now we are stuffed with Thanksgiving and seasonal laziness. Shorter days for
a while longer. Beautiful darker nights.
I hope the images of Gaudi's basilica will help prompt you and Andrei to visit
Barcelona fairly soon. (Before the new republic falls off the edge of Europe
into the murky depths of the Mediterranean. Bizarre politics the keynote
everywhere it seems.)
Could be that a new political party will come to the rescue in the West--one
that promises that only leaders in Ngmo's and Foundations should lead the
nations. Then you would become Minister of Common Sense and Radical Insights.
Oh, I tried to hint that when you lunch with Gary Lachman I hope you will include
in your discussions how this new hobby-obsession in the US (and Europe?) with
using DNA to trace our ancestral links to common history will be read correctly
as another path of spiritual search disguised yet again as "pure science." My friend in DC just did the process and while he was not surprised to know that he's about 77 % English-Irish-German-French, there are trace indicators of Iberia (the Armada) and Neanderthal, and something called Yakut, a Turkic people in Siberia. He was most delighted by that. Devout atheist, but I thought to myself, "surprise" is what a Carmelite monk once told me was the best definition of God.
Hope this season of lights keeps surprising you, oh and have a great holiday
in Southwold. Is that the name? Keep meaning to look it up on Google earth.
love and all best holiday wishes,
29 Nov Weds night At Willow’s behest I went to see Carol at Mid-State. Her records show that I went through all of this about a year ago. Fagan and then acid reflux med and then Carol and then . . . . Only new thing in a year has been the eczema outbreak of the summer. Medical people all say, oh, not related to each other. No connection. But short search reminds me of all the sites that suggest food allergies and leaky gut and especially candida overgrowth could be main factors, causes, of all of this. I like it. Go for the Ayurvedic-Macrobiotic--fringe theories approach. Of course all of it is interrelated. I’ve been checking all of that out all my life. Histamines and sugars and inflammation and yeast and allergies. It’s all so common sense. I had not realized that oats have gluten. Not going to try the gluten-free, but I will go back to more rice because depending on bread so much clearly brings in yeast. Or dead yeast.
“The most common food triggers are cow’s milk and eggs, but many other foods including Soya, wheat, fish and nuts are common.” ---eczema.org
30 November Thurs
1 Dec Friday Nashua for Indian restaurant and Pheasant Lane Made 7000 steps on Va’s counter.
Sat Dec 2
Red letter day. Got the plug off the drain in the basement. Turns out it is hard rubber. Now open to spring flooding if and when that happens. Just a relief to know it. Cut mh index finger on the basement floor but minor wound. Willow and Marilyn at the memorial for Peggy in Lincoln.
Read for about twenty minutes. !
“perhaps handwritten cursive will become a form of nudity, an intimate, hidden manifestation, concealed from everyone except lovers, lawyers, and bankers.” Mathias Énard
Sunday 3 December
Va unusually melancholy this morning because we are not going on a big trip west for the holiday as we did last year. I feel the opposite---relieved and relaxed, glad for the sense of calm. Her plan for a dinner on the 20th
is being approved so that helps her feel better. Holiday music later today at the college.
Opened Aciman’s Variations at random, the passage in story one where Paolo uses Nanni’s rag at the empty Norman chapel. Very different event from anything in Modiano and yet are the underlying anxieties and longings not so very different? Aciman goes where Modiano never does, and yet the feeling I misread and project into the narrator’s voice and presence feels as comfortable and essential as in either one. After so many years of reading, do we become adept not so much at reading closely as at project our inner selves, our preferred inner selves, into what we are reading? Are these “implied” authors and readers or imposed and introjected? That term sounds too old-style freudian. “Injected” could work. We interpose our misreadings into the text. Talking about misreading in preparation for reading and talking to Aciman about his new batch of essays on this theme. I am not interested in the idea so much as having it as a talking bridge, a touchstone, a flag stone, for walking over the landscape.
Jim has a great post this morning on facebook
Thank God for us,
so unlike except for steadfast love!
We're the very gift we needed!
Phil asked if I saw the review of Aciman’s film in the NYkr.
Yes, read the review and I did read the novel. It is his first novel after he published the memoir. The explicit
approval by the father in the story was the point at which I also said, whoa, this is not an American tale. And indeed
I take it to be a timeless/classic Mediterranean sort of story---not gay so much as ancient, the crush by a young
boy on an older young man. Aciman has said in interviews that he doesn't buy at all the American gay identity
politics party lines. By ancient I guess I mean mythological, straight out of Ovid and such, tales about longing,
desire, awakening and loss. Years ago I would have been able to toss off four or five names of the key characters
in Greek and Roman mythology but I can't now. You know those people who encounter a god or goddess and
then are turned into trees or ivy or constellations. So I'm assuming it is distilled from the air one breathes
growing up in Egypt and Italy. The movie does seem to be sold to, playing to, the gay audiences mainly here. But
the director is an Italian.
Maybe like, roughly, growing up here and inhaling without realizing it all the intoxication in the air about the myths
of the wild west. I mention that because I just saw a blurb to that effect telling me to watch a new show on
Netflix called "Godless." Have noticed it but have not yet watched it.
Did watch again an episode of David Simon's series called The Deuce. New York sleaze around Times Square in the
70s. Reminds me of Proust! in that there is not much grip to the story, not much story, yet. What dazzles me
is the money spent on the production values. Recreating the look and feel of the period. The visuals are so well
done, seems like wide-angle lenses all the time, or something, and the show is so good to look at. Acting is
fine and all that. Just not really sure it is going anywhere worth bothering with. Not at all as intense as The Wire.
Have you watched any of it? HBO
Choral concert on campus today. Great singing. Not quite a holiday program. Saying hello to various. Proust’s long meditation on his friends
aging and aging more heavy on my mind. Intense.
Monday 4 December
Quote in Esposito I could have used in September: “Copying, invention, and discovery are extremely complex processes which are not necessarily easy to tell apart.” Raul Ruiz who is he? film maker?
Copying Modiano now seems like my urge to build a model airplane or battleship when I was twelve. Buy the kit, spectacular image on the cover of the box. Hundreds of little pieces, long instructions, glue that would always get messy. I lost interest one-third of the way through. Guess my parents would say to each other, he never finishes these projects. Why not? Easily distracted, no discipline, too many irons in the fire, jack-of-all trades, master of none.
Warm Monday. Off to walk in Concord. Academia says 8 people have found my name, count ‘em. Tempted to pay the trial fee, cancel before a month, just to see how bogus this stuff is. But then what if it is interesting in some way?
night of the 4th
resolution formed during the day today---tomorrow for the day off the challenge will be to read. Only. Nothing else. Except for lunch and a walk.
downloading Fleurs de ruine in preparation on Audible. I can listen along and read along---will take two hours. Length of a movie.
Will it feel really relaxing and chill, nothing but reading? Will I enjoy it?
Strange to ask such things, really. Will it help quiet the eczema?
Tuesday Nov 5
The big day. Found Suspended Sentences. Had forgotten it. Three novellas. Fleurs de ruine the final one. About a murder and suicide of a young couple in 1933. Patrick and Jaqueline have sold her fur coat and are living off that money for as long as they can in the neighborhood which a few years later will be in the midst of the ’68 uprising. Stopped to change the image on the computer desktop. Going to be a very gray and rainy day. Already planning to go shopping at 4. Yes or no? That is the question. The day looms, the day stretches out like a big, black cat ready to relax under the table and rest his whole long body against the Ria rug from Scandinavia. Listen to the French version and read along. Pretend to be able to read, enjoy the music of the language, still so strange to my ears. Strange to be a real language that people live within.
Well, pretty successful. Plus I made it to the Moccasin Shop on Rt 104. After 45 years. Owner has been there 25 years and he said he hears often people stop in and say the same thing--I’ve driven past for years and have never stopped. Heard from three people this week. Dim and dusky place, full of moccasins made in Dominican Republic for the Minnetonka brand.
Passage in Proust from pages 295 to 300 absolutely key. To Everything, from my own inner processes to Aciman’s in his novels at least. And I
guess to millions as well, everyone is reading Proust these days. When will Nicholas cave in and join? He has a fine review up on his blog of a book on Imagination by Lachman. Not sure if the book is brand new or not.
note from Jim
I’d sent him Nicholas’s Golgonooza post on Lachman’s new book, out in January. & lo! Jim has a book coming out also. Sent the galleys. Printing them out now.
My dear brother Bob!
I’vej just twice read through what you sent, and I thank you! There will be more readings of it, I promise.
Meanwhile, a kind of pre-Christmas gift for Virginia and you. For, glad tidings, my third book will be out early in the new year.
Attached are the galleys, which make evident that A Fable of Grace, a novella, is quite different from my newspaper columns and essays.
I hope you both enjoy it and will let me know what you think of it.
And you, my fellow renegade monk, will find much in it to recognize, to make you laugh, to make your shake slowly.
With much love to you both,
Took a quick look and indeed it is a later version of the book I had seen a few years back. The one Don and Sarah and I were talking about at Thanksgiving. Looks like he dropped the drawings altogether. Dedicated to art history prof in Oeneanta who has become a kind of son to him and Anne. Douglas Zullo. Can’t find a photo of him. Remember looking about
a year or more ago. Checking in LinkedIn. This is the book Greg and I said we felt was a little bitter around the edges. Maybe I won’t see it that way when I read it again. But skipping to the final page I find there is this
remarkable quote from Emerson-----
“But in the darkest, meanest things
There alway, alway something sings.”
Weds morning Nov 6
By “meanest” Emerson means low, poor, common. And yet mean as in sharp and a bit grumpy, mean-spirited comes to mind. Hmm don’t dare say that. But read the whole piece before jumping to conclusions.
Catherine’s book on puppets and drones arrived. Read the opening three pages. Read two more chapters of Jim’s. Weird books. Go right along with Énard’s.
Friday morning Dec 8
Woke up manic in favor of taking the Greek cruise in April. Now noon, calmer, back to austerity central on all matters budgetary. Huge day yesterday with swim and Refresh and Jimador and even a haircut for me.
Kevin got married in November. Anne texted me that. On Facebook Andy Knight and I started worrying that the invasion of North Korea is being staged out of central New Hampshire.
Friday night Felt sleepy all day. Hyperbuzz from yesterday’s coffee finally smoothed down after we walked late afternoon in Lowes. Fear of invading North Korea calmed down. Sean Hurley didn’t respond. Back to Proust. Oh and we dropped the idea of the cruise to Greece in April. whew Eczema having a pretty bad day.
9 December 7:35 pm
Finished Finding Time Again in Ian Patterson’s British translation. Strange final imagery of people on stilts.
First real dusting of snow this evening. Earlier we walked in Gilford at Lowe’s and Wally’s. Late lunch around 3:30 and as I was fixing it Jim Atwell called about my query about his childhood schooling in response to his Fable. He went to a school next door to his house and then for five years a school taught by the Sisters of Notre Dame. Talked about this and that and he brought up Chuck Shanabruck, who is now practicing guitar in hopes of being able to sing a year from now for his grandchildren, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Chuck could not sing at all, Jim, said, at Ammendale.
So interesting for Jim to have mentioned him. I told him my anecdote about recognizing Chuck’s neck and hairline as we walked into Regenstein Library forty-eight or so years ago. All of this memory tagging so in keeping with Proust’s meditations.
Hearing Jim’s voice helps me hear his voice in his Fable. The playfulness and spiritedness of the tale. He talked about how he pulled items and details from so many different places. “Athanase Emile” was actually a Superior of the Christian Brothers, famous in the history of the order for having been a severe and rigid tyrant. He found fault with the American branch, this was around 1900?, and to punish it he brought a good number of American brothers over to France. Jim said he was a person from Alsace-Lorraine. His generation had to read a history of the order, especially volumes about the turn-of-the century period. Jim reminded me of his other recent work, a fictional lives of the saints, strange saints, in which he also delighted in telling weird lives in the manner of the old volumes of saints tales they used to read for fun and spiritual profit-pleasure.
Never had the Ursulines. Grades four through twelve, School Sisters of Notre Dame at St. Mary’s in Annapolis.
First to third grade, The Holiday School, located literally over our home's back fence. First and second grade, Miss Wilcox (a fierce crush on her), then Mrs. Turner, a tough farmwife who drove to work with empty milk cans clattering in the back her pickup. Good teacher, though,
On devine en lissant, on crée; tout part d'une erreur initiale
We guess smoothing, we create; all share an initial error
Peter Collier’s Intro to The Fugitive, reading is like the experience of a translator, “constantly anticipating, constantly supplying provisional meanings.”
Shouldn’t we say that here is Modiano’s whole aesthetic?
Lunch today in Hanover with Jessica at Pine. Canoe Club closed to our surprise. Maybe just a slow week off before the crush of next week. Waiter named Compline---no, of course not that, but some slightly unusual name. Grew up in Vermont, Tug---, raising pigs. His father named each pig to remind everyone not to get attached---Bacon, Belly, Roast, etc. Colin is studying at the community college in Montpelier to be a medical technician. Already works as an EMT. Terrible stories about addicts and Fetanyl and even worse street version Carbonyl?? if one grain gets into the air the attendant needs narcan, double dose. Narcan saves people but makes them violent right after. Hard to manage. What was his name? Combine?
11 Dec Monday
Long swim, lunch at Good, walking in Lowe’s.
Camden. I think that was it. Unusual seeming name for anyone let alone someone from central Vermont.
Read a piece online, scientific, on eczema in the elderly and somehow reading it for myself felt good, reassuring somehow. Why is that?
Bob McD’s diagnosis now is Parkinson’s spectrum according to Nancy’s latest letter.
Realized I should read the Fugitive next. The two volumes are bound in the same book.
Tuesday Dec 12
Also now thinking I might as well keep rewriting Honeymoon Variations. Snowing all day today. What the heck. Birthday party at the Bistro canceled because of the snow. Ken called. We’re going up to their place anyway at 12:30 to have chocolate cake and see the tree.
Monday December 18
Snow this morning. Where did the week go? Revels on Saturday, Va to the PEO party with the Indian families. Last night dinner at the Neilson’s with the Hedbergs there. Friday? Thursday? weds?
Yesterday Brendan stopped and had lunch with us. Gave us a card of his graphic design and sweet message. He’s off to France yesterday or today. Today I guess it is. If he gets his masters in two years at Renne then he can apply for and get French citzenship!
From sometime last night or even before I’ve been thinking that a drive to Portland could be good on this next day off if the weather invites. Looks like it does, so I am already moving ahead with that in my imaginarium.
Ha! the moment I typed that last line Va called from below to say Elizabeth can’t make tomorrow, so looks like it won’t be Portland. Thurs or Friday???
Weather says now Thursday will be sunny and cold. But somehow it feels unlikely that such a long day trip will work at the end of the week. We’ll see.
Strange to socialize with two friendly, yet unfamiliar younger couples last night. Jeff N must be our age but have never quite pinned down how much younger Janice is. She was much more direct about how much she disliked Tahiti! Va didn’t want to hear that. Jeff loved it but Janice says it is full of bugs of every sort all over you and in the air. And super hot and humid. She is a redhead and super sensitive skin---and emotions it seems. Made me recall that I too could be placed as a redhead based on my beard. Look at the photo of Dr Chicago and anyone can see how reddish the beard was.
Supersensitive skin too. Moi. !
Snow. Steady and fine all day. Earlier I called Road Scholar to cancel the Greece voyage we had booked a few days earlier. Relieved that we decided this this morning. We could not have walked the itinerary very easily. Va disappointed. She’s swimming this morning with Elizabeth. Now we have the $2400. deposit with Road Scholar to use for a future trip, so we “saved” that, didn’t we and we now the beginning of a Fund for Future Travels.
note to Phil
What will you think of this curious piece of work. Jim Atwell is an old friend from LaSalle College days. Has had Parkinsons (spectrum) for about five years but is still managing to write. This is his latest. He wrote lots of folksy columns for the Cooperstown newspaper over the years after he and his first wife retired up there after retiring from Anne Arundel Community College.
Snowy day and feels somehow like fun. I went out for a while to do some errands and shopping. Marvel here has always been how well the roads get cleared right away while the snow falls and are kept pretty clear throughout. Travel not that difficult when there is no blustery factor.
Three days ago we booked a cruise with Road Scholar for a 10-day trip to Greece in mid-April. Airfare free one of their tempting headlines. Upon closer look at the itinerary we realized we just wouldn't be able to do enough of it and would rather not be sent home this time as we were in India. So I called this morning and canceled. Depost of $2400. not
refunded exactly---we now have a voucher that size for a future Road Scholar trip. Va has been wanting to do one of their trips for years because they are run like a course--i.e. educational lectures for all of the excursions. Friend just took a trip with them to China and Tibet and he loved it. Professors and teachers mainly on the groups. We can look for another trip and keep within the "Easy Going" category.
Any snow down there today?
Found a great piece on eczema, essentially the spirituality of eczema.
Here is part of it
confirms thoughts I’ve had about all of it over the past few months
“After a while, I realized that this not only helped me sleep, it lessened my desire to scratch. I wasn't forcing myself not to scratch; I just didn't need to. I was overjoyed with this new feeling: for once, I would let go of my vigilance and still feel safe. I then observed that my slow, deep breathing during this little exercise was in itself enough to relax me; soon, whenever I sensed a wave of fitful scratching approach, I'd close my eyes and breathe deeply to break the chain reaction. I learned to defuse triggering situations. For example, if I exercised or got nervous to the point of sweating, I'd start scratching wildly. I believed I was allergic to my own sweat, and I convinced the doctors that I should be excused from gym class for this reason. Then I developed an alternative. When I started to sweat, I'd relax by deep breathing and tell myself: "You don't feel any itch. Your skin is fine. Sweating is okay. You don't have to scratch when you sweat. Just relax, sit quietly until you stop sweating, and you'll be fine." With my relaxing and soothing self-talk, not only didn't I itch, but the redness, welts, and hives that often accompanied sweating no longer appeared. I learned to ignore the itch and my ravaged skin, leaving it to heal in peace. After years of ripping scabs off partially healed gashes and clawing them open to bleed and deepen, I finally learned to enjoy watching wounds heal. I became able to limit my scratching to circumscribed areas. I'd allow myself to scratch my legs, for example, as long as I left the rest of my body alone. Then I gradually reduced the permissible area until there was no place left to scratch, or I'd first let myself scratch my arms, narrow that down to the hands, then to one finger. For some time, I had my scratching narrowed down to my lower legs, which I continued to use as a battleground. Since last year, however, I've been totally free of rashes, wounds, and itching. I've let the hair grow on my legs to seal that "tomb" forever. Before, my hands had been the enemy, inflicting rape and torture on my innocent body. I hated them. Once I learned to relax, I made peace with my hands, treating them with the same tenderness and respect I wanted them to show my body. I learned to use them for healing. Saying, "What do you really want, skin?" I'd stroke the damaged, itchy areas, kissing them and rocking as I hugged myself. I learned to communicate with myself, talking out loud. At first, I told myself stories to distract myself from scratching. Then I learned how to tell myself what I needed to hear. I would pretend I was my mother telling me that she loved me; then I'd speak in my own voice, saying how afraid I was that I'd never get better. And on and on, taking turns with voices until I'd said all I needed to say and hear. As I hugged and stroked myself, I'd cry and assure myself, "Don't worry, I'll take care of you," creating my own support system for changing my life. I began to tell myself?and believe?that I was doing my best at every moment: if I couldn't control myself this time, I'd do better next time. "Can I stop scratching now?" I'd say. "If I can, that would be good. If not, that's okay too?I'll give myself five more minutes to scratch and then stop, but next time I won't have to scratch at all." I gave myself high praise when I didn't scratch. The praise, I knew, had to come from myself since I no longer believed anyone else. I congratulated myself for keeping clear what areas of skin I could. When I decided that I, not my parents or my doctors, was my own savior, I stopped worrying about other people's infuriating questions, their warnings about scars, and their promises of miracles. I stopped worrying about looking ugly or causing a public scene by scratching when I needed to scratch. No longer ashamed of my uninhibited self, I started answering questions frankly and addressing people's fears of contagion matter-of-factly. I saw that I had a right to handle my disease in my own way, whether or not it was offensive to others. I claimed my right to be treated with respect, not like a leper or an uncontrollable child. I developed the confidence to go out in public, whether or not my skin was beautiful. I finally realized that no one was scrutinizing every pore of my skin, and that even if they were, it was none of their business and I was not obligated to look good for them. I learned not to fear my emotions, gradually understanding how to deal with them calmly instead of falling, in an overwhelmed panic, into a chain reaction of scratching. Listening to my deepest instincts, developing a relationship with myself based on love, respect, and communication, I experienced a rebirth. My strongest memories are of crying myself to sleep every night. My mother would come in and rock me and reassure me that she loved me and that maybe tomorrow there would be a miracle and I would be all better. I prayed for that miracle and waited for that miracle for a long time. Then I just stopped believing in God. Shelley went back to school and is now a licensed psychologist in private practice. She works with people who have skin problems in San Francisco.
By Dr. Shelley F. Diamond email@example.com
from the book referenced on the website grossbart.com “All itching is ultimately psychological. However intense, regardless of origin, itching is not a disease but an experience; it has no physical reality that even the most diligent of scientists can find. Using negative hypnosis techniques, researchers have produced itching in a healthy arm that had been fully anesthetized, that was unable to physically feel anything.
24 December Christmas eve around 4:30
Green chile stew (variant) on the stove. Enough for a soup kitchen. Did not get into the Kents last night---their drive way just too icy and the step up into the barn also icy. Did I panic or just use wisdom to urge us to go on home? We drove around a bit and then Va called Patsy and Doug and invited them for eggnog. I drove into their icy driveway and gave them a ride across the street into our garage. We had a nice time talking and sipping the great Hartland egg nog with strong spirits. Today I opened two bottles of wine and I’m trying to discern key differences between “burgogne” and “bordeaux.” Quotation marks because I don’t know if I purchased good samples of either but both are from France at our state store, and one fairly pricey. Which do I prefer? They’re both pretty darn good. We plan to go to the Congo church for carols at 5 or 5. Colin and Clare will be leading the choir and the public. Maybe I prefer the bourogne. The bordeaux seems, ? have no vintnery vocabulary.
Phil’s explication of Jim’s fable is really good ---
Unusual. I'm wondering "where is he going with this?”
Had to think about this overnight.
He writes well and creates a story that compelled me to keep reading. Part of that attraction was the strangeness, the question: "Where in god's name is this story going?" So he strings along the reader quite capably, blending the stories of several people until they finally come together. Along the way he shows how well acquainted he is with Catholic life and more particularly, the lives of nuns and clerics. But he obviously has a mystic streak in his soul, which he blends well with the rest of the story. And finally, the "message" seems to Christian: a need to suffer, to lose one's ego, to help others. In fact, to seek out the world's "monsters" and help them.
Now the oddity for me is that I read this while also reading "The House of Government" by Yuri Slezkhine, which is the story of the early "idealistic" Bolsheviks who fought for a revolution they thought would transform the world, took government and party jobs in the '20s, and were imprisoned or murdered by Stalin in the '30s. Slezkhine's thesis in this book is that Bolshevism was a "secular millennial movement" that was far more like previous millennial religious movements than a political movement. Communism would change mankind and the world virtually completely. So Christians believed - and still believe. And the similarity became stark to me when I read of the nun's sessions of self-criticism, exactly what all Bolsheviks were required to do pre- and post-1917 and in the '30s even to condemn themselves to an execution.
In other words, I read this story with two minds. 1. An appreciation of Atwell's very obvious art and admirable values. 2. A slight leeriness of its values. But it's not just Slezkhine's book that makes me skeptical of those somewhat other-wordly values. All my life I've been leery of extremists of any kind. For example, years ago, when I read that Christ said "but if thou art lukewarm I will spit thee out of my mouth," I knew that Joshua of Nazareth and I would not really get along very well. I'm pretty lukewarm about everything that comes along in life. I see positives and negatives to just about everything. In my opinion, very little in this world is simple, an attitude which I think shows up in my own writing: all five novels show two sides of things, at least I hope they do.
Finally, About those Bolsheviks that Stalin had murdered: This book reveals that they were just as murderous as Stalin and Lenin in the 1920s, so, in my opinion, they deserved what they got in the '30s, even if that's not why Stalin had them killed. Self-deluded, arrogant moral idiots, nearly every one of them. Which may be true of some Christians, especially millennial movements. But certainly not all, and definitely not anyone in this story, except maybe monstrous Soeur Violette. (And so saying I have to admire Mr. Atwell 's courage for portraying some nasty women in this year of "all women are victims of men who are basically evil.")
Stalin today on the BBC travel show they visited a Stalin Museum in Georgia where Stalin is revered still by many of his countrymen as a genius and great man. (of course--tribalism again).
Jim’s text is what the Burkean generation of psychological critics would have called “an overdetermined text.” from an encyclopedia “In the 1930s, I.A. Richards borrowed Sigmund Freud's term "overdetermination" to refer to the multiple meanings which he believed were always simultaneously present in language. To Richards, claiming that a work has "One And Only One True Meaning" was an act of superstition (The Philosophy of Rhetoric, 39).” New World Encyclopedia / Formalism
It would be an interesting classroom experience to have a group of 20 year old women read the text and respond. Another group of 40 year olds and another of 60 year olds. I assume generational differences would show up in flashing lights. The author of this work is a fucking misogynistic monster. The author understands women. The author sees how rigid gender distinctions ruined the lives of people. The author sees the gray areas in all identity and group membership questions. The author describes the full spectrum of human nastiness and kindness.
Christmas already 2:30 Kids called about noon, everyone at La Plagne for the rest of this week. Eliot had a mishap and may have a micro-break in a leg. He slid under a fence on the training area. Emma can now parallel ski and go fast in a tuck. They got stuffed animals, a lion and a bat! We love the mugs they gave us with a collection of photos on each.
Huge breakfast, feeling dozy all day.
Thanks for taking the time to read Jim's fable and give a superb summary of all the points I was muttering to myself about the piece. Looking at it
from the Bolshevik history seems an added value I hadn't expected. The leeriness Jim's piece creates in the reader is what I wanted confirmation
about. Finally recovered in my memory one of the old terms the old critics borrowed from Freud---"overdetermined." Jim's piece feels like
a work he as polished and polished at the stylistic level and the collection of tales level, but the overall meaning or trajectory seems strangely
blurred or out of focus. Not in ways we are used to from writers who want ambiguity and multiple interpretations but in ways that feel "overdetermined" in some psychological way. The fable is exorcising ancient demons from some kind of childhood, lifelong developmental process having to do with
church and churchiness and organized religious behaviors and good personalities versus really nasty personalities, which seem to have stronger edges concerning women than with the male figures.
It could be an interesting classroom experiments to have a group of 20 year old women read the text and respond. Another group of 40 year olds and another of 60 year olds. I assume generational differences would show up in flashing lights. The author of this work is a fucking misogynistic monster. The author understands women. The author sees how rigid gender distinctions ruined the lives of people. The author sees the gray areas in all identity and group membership questions. The author describes the full spectrum of human nastiness and kindness.
That Jesus saying about lukewarmness is one of those that always bothered me too. Of course we know that the gospels were written over a period of time by a string of committees and interests groups--sort of like the policy wonks who cobble and craft and recobble a congressional bill that gets voted on and turned into law, and yet who and why did someone insist that the final and revealed gospel text had to have that lukewarm item in it? No doubt scriptural historians could tell us to the micromiliter now.
Jim's piece also had me speculating on his own life story even though I don't know too much about it. I'm prone to conspiracy theories and the forbidden areas of biographical criticism. (that recent Conrad bio you sent the clipping about---that sounds excellent). I knew Jim had been with the Quakers for years, which satisfies the mystical strain in him I assume. But the energy he has put into this literary fable about the French catholics of old Bernanos/Annapolis makes me wonder about his childhood and adolescence there. Or maybe it is not childhood at all, maybe, as a retired dean at Anne Arundel community college for years he is venting his rages at all sorts of former colleagues under the guise of a sweet French religious fable. Academic life has similarly compressed and compacted many such lives.
The final kicker for me was that I couldn't imagine saying to myself, hey, I've just read this marvelous little literary gem and I think you would really enjoy it. It just doesn't have that pleasurable reward of a good read. Even my super catholic friend in St Louis, he might get lots of nods or recognition with it, but
the overall wariness I felt makes me think if I were much closer a friend of Jim's I might have been able to say, gee, Jim, wonderful in its way, but
maybe you really want to write a piece where Cadeau is a happy serial killer in a good old monster-gory-horror-detective novel.
Junior year at MD I signed up for a course on Milton. I was just barely beginning to catch on to the notion that literary courses had some real politics
behind them that I couldn't begin to fathom. First day of class the sort of burley prof announced right-off "In this course we will approach Milton only with the tools of New Criticism, close reading and interpretation of only the words on the page. We will not, therefore, take any interest in Milton's life in any way."
He was a militant soldier in the battle I A Richard and Wimsatt and Brooks et al had launched against the antiquated practices of the old belles lettrists and historians and biographers. I had no idea then what he was talking about. It just struck me as a dumb idea. Who doesn't want to know something about the life of the writer? l I dropped the course that day. Kenneth Burke waged his own battle against the New Critics by insisting not only do we need to study the life along with the work but we need to expand the bio into the study of the whole, wide social context the life and work mirror and express.
We haven't left the house all day. Eating too much and watching tv. More snow earlier in the day. Not even sure if my driveway guy came to plow
some of it out. Sunny tomorrow so we'll go out and explore somehow. I'm sooo glad we're not going out to the rose parade and new mexico and california again as we did last winter. We may sign up finally for a Road Scholar trip in May, a lazy cruise through the Panama Canal. I finally convinced Va she/we
had to look only at trips that are rated "easiest" so we don't get trapped into our mistake on the India trip---our disability being seen as a legal liability
and, we also suspect, a grounds for others in the group to murmur that we are slowing them down. Va harbors delusions still that these Road Scholar
trips will be better because we will be "learning" from the guide and teacher. Maybe, we'll see.
Thanks for your beautiful card. Have it standing on the hall table. I want to go back to writing on real paper next year.
Trip to Peterborough today went very well. Beautiful drive, snow on the trees, bright sunlight. Va and Elizabeth went off for their routine. I drove toward Concord and thought, hey, have not been to Peterborough for a good while, why not. Lunch and then walking around I saw a sign for massage and had the brilliant idea of getting a massage. Jt was ready and had an opening and we had a good session. Just what I wanted, amazingly so, and a little over an hour. Got back home exactly at 6.
Road Scholar now saying the Panama trip is not available. Bummer. Will they add more dates??
Finally got through to Christine and she is requesting a walk-in shower room for us, will let us know in a few days. Why did the website tell us differently? Who knows.
Weds night Dec 27
Holidays make it harder than ever to hold on to reality, plus the bitter cold, which now has blown in from the arctic. Worked on the photo album all day. 182 photos, 100 pages, $169.00. Gird our loins and pare it down tomorrow.
Bloom is off my enthusiasm for Grossbart’s Skin Deep blog and book on kindle. Paper copy arrived. Looks twenty years old even though it good shape. Physical state of the book, aged, heft, look, feel, cover design, colors, all conspire to announce the obvious---this is a pure product of the 1980s-
90s when all this self-discovery psychology was trying to save psychology from the tsunami of drugs pushing their ways into every crevice of medicine
and therapy. Thirty years later and we just can’t figure out this darned opioid epidemic. Yes, still most oriented to this approach to “what to do about this eczema, but not going to do all of the finding myself exercises and techniques suggested.” Don’t they all sound a bit silly now? Or is that my inner curmudgeon speaking out again?
Phil and I talking about how we are leery about things especially involving in others a variant of true belief, ultra devotion, full commitment. Is it apophasis as a personality trait? Phil asks if it is a Cumberland thing!? A social anthropologist/historian worth his salt could make a good case for a Cumberland attitude and approach
"That Jesus saying about lukewarmness is one of those that always bothered me too. Of course we know that the gospels were written over a period of time by a string of committees and interests groups--sort of like the policy wonks who cobble and craft and recobble a congressional bill that gets voted on and turned into law, and yet who and why did someone insist that the final and revealed gospel text had to have that lukewarm item in it? No doubt scriptural historians could tell us to the micromiliter now."
Slezkine would tell you that Christianity - as started by Joshua of Nazareth - was a millennial sect and, as such, it was imperative that a passage about "lukewarmness" be written. In fact, Joshua insisted that the end was imminent, so he required even more dedication than the Bolsheviks did. However, Christianity, like Islam and Mormonism, went on to become a church that could live in this world by accepting compromise and "lukewarm" followers. But that acceptance of ordinary humanity was out of the question in the early days. So the comment about lukewarmness probably got inserted while the apostles were still alive and only later became a bit of an oddity. And I think Slezkine would say that there's a better than 50-50 chance that Joshua himself said it. After all, if he's going to insist that one leave the family and become as a little child, he doesn't have much use for normal people.
And, speaking as a somewhat normal person, I have to say that I am fully aware that being lukewarm means that one sees the positive in Joshua's very severe message and, therefore, supports it to some degree. Lukewarm ain't cold and indifferent. But lukewarm sees limits, and that outrages the committed.
I like your classroom experiment with women. I mentioned it to Peg and she also liked it, but feels your category "50 and over" should be changed to "60 and older." She knows women in their 50s who are completely convinced that anything unpleasant that has happened to them is the result of abusive male sexism. Peg feels you have to find women over 60 to get an appreciation of gray areas, spectrums, and males.
As to whether this fable is Jim working out some past familial experiences, I defer completely to you. You know him; I don't. However, I'll say in his defense that I detected a very warm humanism in his views that partially balanced his desire for 'the transcendent" and ascetism etc. He didn't like those rich women, but seemed unwilling to condemn anyone else (whereas a truely committed millenial ascetic would have condemned a lot of those characters to hell or its equivalent.)
Overall, though, I really agree with you about the fuzziness of this work. "Fuzzy" being, among other things, a bad pun about Cadeau. What in hell was that singing/fuzzy guy/creature supposed to signify? More than a tad fuzzy message there.
Milton: I had a good laugh about your account of the course on Milton. In my junior year at Brown I signed up for a course on Milton because I told myself "If I don't take this course, I'll never read "Paradise Lost." So I took it and remember almost nothing from the course except that the woman who taught spent the entire time staring up at the ceiling to her left. It made some guys in the class turn and look up at that part of the ceiling to find out just that that woman - she had a Polish name - found so damn interesting. Answer: nothing. I can't remember if I got a B or C in the class. I know I didn't get an A because it bored the hell out of me, and skipped about a third of the classes. Which is something I did in many classes. My record in one course was attending the first class, the day of the midterm exam, and the final day in class. If the class was in the morning, I was sleeping. If in the afternoon, I was riding my motorcycle, most often to the shore at Newport or to the zoo in Providence. I liked watching sailboats and bears.
Glad you liked the card, but that was Peg's doing rather than bah humbug Jones's.
This week we finally got some really frigid weather. Temps in the 20s with some high winds. Nevertheless yours truly again proved that he has no common sense by going out on my morning jogs and damn near froze to death until he finally, after a mile of so, warmed up a bit.
Question: Is our skepticism about extremism just "the Cumberland attitude”?
----------skepticism about any strong opinion? For instance Grossbart’s book received lukewarm reviews in the Times when it came out. As I keep looking through it, I can easily see why. He strains too much to make his position really be seriously considered. And yet had he presented it less forcefully or rationally and more intuitively as a play of hints and leads, it would have been more helpful and would last longer as an approach worth adopting.
As much as I enjoyed Jt’s massage the other day and plan to experience again soon, I am also looking around for other practitioners to try over the next few months. Have not heard from Glenn Gurman yet about acupuncture.
28 Dec evening what day of the week is it? sleepy indoors day, high winds and cold outside. may not have been above zero. Spent all day refining our
photo book. 100 pages, $175. Biggest ever. Major year in every way, ol’ 2017. Seemed at times like a numbing project and yet once it got tweaked into final shape, it was very satisfying. A way to sift and re-sift the hyper-packed year to distill the essence in some way. If not the essence, then a variant, these days we must say “narrative,” with which to live by. To go forward. To find closure. To embrace the new year. To get ready to re-set the narrative.
Now, what will happen to the dream of cruising through the Panama Canal??
Friday 29 December
All is well. Winds abated sometime during the night. Only 2 or 3 degrees outside but we went out to walk at Wallys. I trudged through the waist-high snow to fill the birdfeeder. Well, thigh-high.
30 December Saturday 3:33 pm
Swim this morning in the icy waves of Cold Spring. Colin and Clair joined us. Clair looking swollen and having difficulty walking. The pool relieves the pressure she feels. We were glad we could have them go as our guests. They plan to buy into a blue week on Monday, Clair’s mother doing it.
Our big picture book arrived. Fast. Very pleased with it. One missed correction, on my part. The kitchen window shot into the maple tree came out sideways. Otherwise a beautiful production. Nice ending to a super busy year. And with the bullish market pushing things upward ever upward, all’s well once again. Fingers crossed.
Word from Pat, she feels too conflicted to come to the 3Kings party. Understand that.
Sunday night 31st Trip to Concord earlier. Walking and Willow bought gold placemats at Burlington Coat for the upcoming Three Kings Feast on Friday this week. Beaded gold mats, made in India. Gold and sparkle for the Kings.
-3 degrees now, 6pm Going down to -11 before the night’s over.