Friday, April 24, 2015

Madame Bovary, c'est moi.

"What word would you use," the psychoanalyst asks while my eyes seek the canyon of Manhattan towers visible from her window, "to characterize the feeling in all these things you've been describing?" Me: "Elegiac."

     Since I respect you, let me tell you a secret.
     As a cow devours grass, so literary themes are devoured; devices fray and crumble.
     A writer cannot be a ploughman: he is a nomad, constantly moving with his wife and herd to greener pastures.

After ripping through the first section, Juan García Madero's journal from November 2 to December 31, 1975, it took me months to fall back into the The Savage Detectives. Then, momentum: I take the last third or so of the novel in great gulps, mostly on the 1, nearly missing my stop every time, accompanied by a rising, heaving disillusionment at not having lived like a visceral realist or an infrarealist — hard-boiled. Bolaño didn't believe in exile, "especially when the word exile is set beside the word literature."

The momentum carried me headlong into Cole's Open City, which I had begun in Berlin and abandoned in a kind of panic, like catching a glimpse of yourself reflected at an unexpected angle in the bus window against which you've been resting your head; and for a moment you forget where you were going in the first place. This time I finish. The two, The Savage Detectives and Open City, pass through each other in Liberia, as though a minor character in Arturo Belano's travels there has wound up in a Queens detention center: Saidu telling his story though plexiglass to Julius. Now I fret that there is something equally despicable in my past that I have secreted away, even from myself, and that the therapist will uncover soon.

Directly on the heels of Open City, Zoo, or Letters Not about Love completed what now feels like a coincidental symphony — through Shklovsky's compressed exile in Berlin, a mental or spiritual breakdown between the lines of an epistolary novel that, like The Savage Detectives, ranges freely and idiosyncratically over a literary tradition and its recent politics. For both RBA and VBS, detection and the detective novel were special keys, but for opening what door? while Julius wanders to know himself, like the lunatic quoted by Benjamin: "I travel to know my geography."

...Moving diagonally like a knight, I have intersected your life, Alya, and you know how that was and how it is; but you turn up in my book like Isaac at the fire built by Abraham.

If ever a lady doth-protested too much, it was me writing dustily on the board clack tsssh click that the characters in the novels we will be reading this semester are not people; do not (for you cannot) identify. Drops the chalk into the tray.

I need money / I need love / I need a Cadillac / t'give me a shove / get me out of this uptight / midnight / into some limelight / again, yeah, cuz I know / my ego / ain't my amigo anymore / I need whiskey / I need style / I need a job / to make it worth while / and get me out of this uptight / midnight / into some limelight / again, yeah, cuz I know / my ego / ain't my amigo anymore / yeah, cuz I know / my ego / ain't my amigo anymore

61 comments:

  1. Which is apparently the central contradiction producing “my” “identity”: a certain distance, coolness, and indifference together with a sort of sappy, silly lust for fictions and fictional desires.

    Now I'm reading Sebald's The Emigrants.

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  2. I'm on to Ghosh's The Shadow Lines.

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  3. I didn't really like The Shadow Lines, which is not the same thing as thinking that it's not "good." It is. And devastating.

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  4. I also didn't really like Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. On the other hand, I did finish it, and quickly.

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  5. But Richard Prince's Lush Life hit me like a life sentence. I could read it all again. Tonight.

    And after that I finally cracked N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which I liked, but MK had so pumped my expectations that I wasn't totally blown away. I'll finish the trilogy soon.

    Meantime, I'm on A Wild Sheep Chase.

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  6. A Wild Sheep Chase was like sliding into a warm bath for me, like being back in the womb. More Murakami please!

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  7. I hope The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle never ends.

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  8. As a plate cleanser, VN's The Eye, which I've read a gazillion times without tiring of it. And now on to Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, which I read in the late 90s but have no available memory of...

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  9. Pages from the copy of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World that I bought are spontaneously falling out, like autumn leaves or bleached hair.

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  10. Whoah. Just whoah. OK, so, now, another palate cleanser – this time it's VN's Mashenka – before I dive into another Murakami novel, which will be...I don't know yet; I have to see what the local bookstore has in stock.

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  11. And then it was VN's The Enchanter as a palate cleanser and then, whoosh, Murakami's South of the Border, West of the Sun, which, uh, jesus. So my fingers have done the shelf walking, and this time Turgenev's First Love will be the familiar, short fiction to clear my soul before I let the next Murakami novel flatten me all over again.

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  12. Mmm, First Love. And now I'm rereading VALIS, returning to first principles as it were. More Murakami after that...

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  13. ...and it was Norwegian Wood, which, mmm, I don't know, I don't know. So I read an issue of the New Yorker, and now I'm starting Djuna Barnes' Nightwood, which was recommended to me by someone sometime...Z? in the last five years? maybe? I'm overdue in any case.

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  14. Dr. Matthew O'Connor: "Youth is cause, effect is age; so with the thickening of the neck we get data." Yeah, so I'm going to need to reread Nightwood.

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  15. Really enjoyed Murakami's first two novels (Wind / Pinball) despite or because of their first-novel-ness. The pinball sections of Pinball are incredibly good. Now I'm on to Sputnik Sweetheart...

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  16. Sputnik Sweetheart might be my favorite HM so far, of the shorter novels away. Might. Mostly I'm responding to the economy and force of the central moment in the text, which I don't think I will ever forget. Palate cleansed by one of Oppenheimer's lectures from 1953, I'm on to Kafka on the Shore.

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  17. Ooooookaythen. Kafka on the Shore is "rewarding," as They say, but somehow didn't – not quite – blow me away. Just blew me down. So the very next day, no more than ten hours after finishing it, I dive into After Dark, which feels like a needed change of pace from Sputnik and Kafka.

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  18. "'You know what I think?' she says. 'That people's memories are maybe the fuel they burn to stay alive. Whether those memories have any actual importance or not, it doesn't matter as far as the maintenance of life is concerned. They're all just fuel. Advertising fillers in the newspaper, philosophy books, dirty pictures in a magazine, a bundle of ten-thousand-yen bills: when you feed 'em to the fire, they're all just paper. The fire isn't thinking, "Oh, this is Kant," or "Oh, this is the Yomiuri evening edition," or "Nice tits," while it burns. To the fire, they're nothing but scraps of paper. It's the exact same thing. Important memories, not-so-important memories, totally useless memories: there's no distinction—they're all just fuel'" (After Dark).

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  19. Now I'm reading DeLillo's Cosmopolis (and regret, maybe? having seen the film version first), as a way to make the leap from After Dark to 1Q84. Having worked my way through all of Murakami's novels up to 1Q84, I need a break before slipping into his longest work...and, as is well known, I love the long ones (Man Without Qualities, The Recognitions, 2666, etc.

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  20. I finish IQ84 in the Dallas airport. The impersonality and consumerism of the setting seems right somehow. I had broken up the first two volumes by finishing Scott Westerfeld's Uglies (which was fun) in between...the tremendous, cumulative effect of IQ84 makes it impossible for me to remember whether I read something else between volumes two and three. It's a magnificent novel.

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  21. I'm almost done with Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (after having reread Snow Crash for fun with friends). I'm almost done, that is, with all of Murakami's novels to date. What am I going to do with myself?

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  22. Kind of blown away by Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki... Go read it. Now I'm halfway through one of my periodic rereadings of A Scanner Darkly.

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  23. I love A Scanner Darkly. Gets me every time. Now I’m reading Murakami’s The Strange Library to R; it’s fun and weird and, for a 6 y.o., novel and engrossing, like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But I made no post-ASD plans for myself – so I read some interviews with data scientists, a work-related thing, and now I’m rereading Olesha’s Envy for the first time in probably 15 years. And it’s fucking grand.

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  24. Babichev (Ivan Petrovich) to Kavalerov: "I tell you: my dream was the machine of machines, the universal machine. I thought about the perfect instrument, I hoped to concentrate hundreds of different functions in one small apparatus. Yes, my friend. A beautiful, noble task. For the sake of this it was worth becoming a fanatic. I had the thought of subduing the mastodon of technology, to make him tame, domestic... To give man such a little lever, simple, familiar, which wouldn't frighten him, would be ordinary, like a doorknob..."

    So now I'm well into one of my periodic rereadings of Bill Reading's The University in Ruins.

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  25. After finishing The University in Ruins, I scrounged around among some work-related articles, but I'm now back on track, ha! rereading Dickens' Hard Times (and humming the PiL song constantly as a result).

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  26. This time around Hard Times was hard for me to read, especially Stephen Blackpool's dialect. So I reread Said's "Opponents, Audiences, Constituencies, and Community" as a way to keep thinking in the key of Bill Readings, then sank, warm-bath-like, into VN's Transparent Things, which just keeps getting better the older I get. Now I'm well into my seventh or eighth go-around with Werther, which I've always loved. Help! I need to read something new.

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  27. Gawd I love to hate Werther. Maybe it's the paradoxical so-close-so-far. "And isn't it possible, my dear friend, that my longing for a change in my circumstances is an innate impatience that will pursue me wherever I go?"

    And now...Miss Lord suggested Thomas Bernhard's Concrete, but I bought Wittgenstein's Nephew instead. I'm excited. This will be first encounter with Bernhard.

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  28. Thomas Bernhard is my new crush, but I swallowed Wittgenstein's Nephew so quickly that I didn't have another of his books queued and so am wending my way through the funhouse mirrors of VN's Despair — had forgotten how dense it is, or instead, how deceptively simple.

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  29. "Oh, wie schön ist Panama"

    And now I'm almost done with David Shafer's pop paranoia bonbon Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

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  30. And then I placed my head on an anvil, and Thomas Bernhard pounded it with the hammer of Walking. And the taste of the blood was such that, when finished, I immediately took myself to the store to buy The Loser. Halfway through The Loser, I think I might like Wittgenstein's Nephew the best of the three. But! The Loser is the one that’s made me laugh out loud in more than one place. Not dramatic-irony-giggle-in-the-mind but full belly laughs while alone in my apartment.

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  31. OK, maybe The Loser is my favorite after all. And now, Jean-Luc Nancy's The Muses, in order to re-set before my next Bernhard.

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  32. Abandoned The Muses. My Laocoön is too rusty. Picked up Murakami's Underground instead. Whoah. Now what.

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  33. "'Memory is a sickness. [...] What connects me to myself is the thing that is furthest away from me,' and 'time is no means with which to engage with time,' and 'I am a victim of my theories, and at the same time their controller.'"

    Unterwegs mit Frost.

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  34. I didn't "enjoy" Frost. The effect that the painter Strauch has on the nameless intern/narrator is the effect of the book on the reader. I am commanded, and increasingly deranged, by it. By the time I'm a few pages from the end, I cannot wait to leave. Bicycling home I stop in front of a branch of the library in order to finish the book and rid myself of it without delay, dump it in the return bin, finish my ride home, end my internship.

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  35. Maybe now I will finally finish Radio Benjamin, a collection of his radio plays for children...and think very carefully about whether I can maintain my masochistic plan to read all of Bernhard's novels.

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  36. Love this in "A Crazy Mixed-Up Day":

    "I opened the door and there was my friend Anton's deaf housekeeper. She handed me a letter from Anton. 'Dear Heinz,' writes Anton, 'yesterday, while I was at your house, I left my hat hanging by the door. Please give it to my housekeeper. Best regards, Anton.' But the letter continues. Below he writes: 'I just now found the hat. Forgive the disturbance. Many thanks for your trouble.'"

    Here Benjamin reworks, for a younger audience, a bit ("that legendary example of epistolary art") which he had used in his earlier "On the Image of Proust":

    "My dear Madam, I just noticed that I forgot my cane at your house yesterday; please be good enough to give it to the bearer of this letter. P.S. Kindly pardon me for disturbing you; I just found my cane."

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  37. I plundered Radio Benjamin for all of its treats for Kinder but for now decided against reading the other radio-related texts it collects. But then...back to Bernhard? No, I'm succumbing to the magic of my first re-reading (a twenty year syncope) of VN's Glory.

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  38. Glory was luminous, the mood, the color of the novel vibrating at an exquisite frequency. It was my least favorite VN novel when I read them all the first time 20+ years ago – also the only one that I haven't re-read since...but this time, something went click. The effect was so compelling that I had to write a ten-page letter to a friend recommending the novel.

    And now, on the strength of multiple recommendations, instead of picking up with misogynist Thomas Bernhard while I'm in Berlin for the summer, I will try to track down Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels...

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  39. ...ended up being too busy to acquire Ferrante. But I did buy Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore in an airport bookstore (is that ironic?) in a paperback edition that includes a prequel novella, Ajax Penumbra 1969. After many small bites on the plane, on the train, in the bathroom, waiting for a rendezvous, I am done with the volume. It was fun, but I think I must have overlooked what made people so excited about the book when it was first published. Yes, it's "slyly arch," and I don't think it's going to stick to me. I preferred – forgive the work connection – "The Counselor."

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  40. I have never read any of James Baldwin's fiction, only some of his nonfiction, so it is a revelation to pick up, quite randomly, Giovanni's Room, which, because it is organized around (self-)exile and alienation, suits me to a T...reading it here, on the U-Bahn or on the toilet in the small bathroom of the apartment where I am living near to the Schlesisches Tor. I find myself identifying with David's confusion, not in its specifics (gay, straight, bi?) but in its general economy (there, here, here and there?). And the novel is one of the most beautifully composed that I have ever read. Now I have ten days remaining in Berlin for which I need to find a new novel. But first I will let this one sink into me for a spell or, rather, I will let myself fall into its wake...

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    1. "Giovanni’s Room is, finally, a book about an American stripped of the myths of America, most of all the story we love to tell ourselves about the possibility of new beginnings and clean starts – that is to say, the impossibility of anything irrevocable ever happening to us" (Garth Greenwell in The Guardian).

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  41. A.S. Young is not sure whether he likes A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book, but he keeps reading it so, for now, I guess so.

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  42. So, after finishing the first part, "Beginnings," I had to abandon The Children's Book. The copy I was reading rests with its owner in Berlin. And now I am barreling through Volker Kutscher's first Gereon Rath mystery, Babylon Berlin, which I purchased in the Pocket Shop at Tegel.

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  43. Babylon Berlin sinks into the past. Its sequels have not been translated. An acute tang of shame – my lack of German – melts into my second, I think, rereading of Pnin since that enchanted summer between the pen- and the ultimate undergraduate years. Pnin, astoundingly economical, hilarious, devastating Pnin.

    The ache.

    I don't think I've cried like this while reading a book in a very long time.

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  44. LATH, encore. Now what? At the moment I don't think I have the concentration for Ada or Lolita. Perhaps The Defense then, or something else altogether...

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  45. I read the last few pages of The Defense aloud to Rassa. She was just as bewitched as I was. The finale never gets old, even, apparently, if you don't really understand it.

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  46. RLSK! With a jolt, quite apart from the writing therein, the color and design and texture and smell of my copy transports me to 1995.

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  47. God, I love all of the VN novels. The scene leading up to the finale of RLSK, in which V. struggles against time to reach the dying SK, particularly the description of the train ride from Marseilles to Paris: fucking incredible.

    New plan: I will return to the scene of the crime, that first hit of VN that hooked me for life. Invitation to a Beheading. Then I will turn – and it's been a long, long time – to Lolita.

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  48. Wandering aimlessly in a post-rereading-Lolita world. ::rereads first couple of chapters of Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften:: Now what?

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  49. ::answers the question:: Now, submerging myself, bit by bit, chapter by chapter, into The Man without Qualities which, this time through, feels somehow even more exquisitely acute in its vision.

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  50. (While in the thick of "Pseudoreality prevails," I take a moment – a subdued, solo dinner – to reread Bataille's "The Psychological Structure of Fascism.")

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  51. (Does this mean I have to go back to Carl Schmitt's Political Theology? Ugh.)

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  52. empire

    And now, I am nearing the end of "Pseudoreality prevails." Next up: John Williams' Stoner.

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  53. Stoner was incredible, the language simple and limpid. The characters (and it is, in the first instance, a novel of characters) are developed, mined, presented unsparingly but without (this is important) cruelty.

    Because the physical book was the right size and weight – grabbed in haste on the way to the train on a non-biking day – Primo Levi's The Drowned and the Saved...I thought I might read a chapter and then move on. But no, I cannot put it down. As with Stoner, incidentally, it's the language: simple, limpid, piercing. While reading his polemic with Jean Améry, I can't stop thinking about Levi's death.

    But I'm looking forward...O** brought me a gift: Murakami's conversations with Seiji Ozawa.

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  54. (By the by, Tibor Fischer's Under the Frog is what I really wanted to be rereading right now...but I seem to have given my copy away, or solid it, or something.)

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  55. Murakami's conversations with Seiji Ozawa, Absolutely On Music, required a little patience, but once you've made it through the first conversation, it gets better and better...and makes you want to sit around listening to classical music, too. And now I am reading The Gift – no, not that one – the Englished Essai sur le don of Mauss, which I've never read before and which was given to me as a gift...

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  56. ...now I find myself struggling through The Writing of the Disaster. I slipped right into it the first time around, fifteen years ago. This time, though: struggle; so I'm stalled. And rereading Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage at the same time...

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  57. I will not finish rereading The Writing of the Disaster or feel guilty for returning it the shelf. And I didn't enjoy CTTaHYoP as much this time through, I don't think. Perhaps I will pick up some more Murakami. Perhaps I will finally dive into the fiction of James Baldwin or read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie...but for now, gentle reader, beloved Emma B., so long. </end>

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