Friday, March 17, 2017

a pine smell

The curtness of Elfriede Czurda in Rosmarie Waldrop's 2012 translation, Almost 1 Book | Almost 1 Life (a combination of two books originally published in '78 and '81), is something like Beckett's mutter in How It Is, which is a tone of resistant exhaustion (if that's a reasonable interpretation) that seems to wear down the speaker after even the shortest utterance; then the strength or insensitivity is regained for a moment, the next few sentences uttered, then the gap again with an implied rebuilding below as the speaker hardens themselves or takes another breath towards perishing. Czurda is not – now that I think about it I am not considering very much of Czurda here, mainly pieces like Paranoia I: the rearrangement of words in that style, whereas elsewhere it is more Stein, not rationed.

But the speaker in Paranoia I has a constellation of fairytale things: a virgin, some wolves, and a monk's robe; appearing in different configurations. And all through the book there is a love of storytime adventure details: the journey through a jungle in all that matters is the road, the vision of the grandfather galloping across the steppe on a gelding, the desire for some sort of joy, fun, or figuration, the speaker not really despairing, or at least they are rescuing or distracting themselves.

claudius takes the rifle's pine smell and hands it to the virgin paranoia is contagious even a pine smell could have contacted it and rushed to the pater and borrowed his robe the robe would have hidden it since the hole had been mended

Meanwhile Vernon Watkins was not as much like Edward Thomas as I thought he'd be: more rapt in glory effects, more in love with heavenly endings, messages of hope, etc; softer, as if the lure of that romantic distraction or variety is too much for both of them, and it coaxes them off into metaphor, Czurda corkscrewing inwards with it, Watkins working to stream out (I like Czurda very much, I want to add --).

Friday, March 10, 2017

à conto

Seeing Arno Schmidt referred to as "the German Joyce" (a phrase everywhere) makes me think of the essential difference between Joyce's creation of Bloom or of anyone in Finnegans Wake, and Schmidt's attitude towards Kolderup, which is so detectably mindful and anxious as he places the importance of the character above that of the atmosphere – this character needing to have their completion as if they were a person who could deserve things. And the wordplay that Schmidt establishes refers back not so often to the deep history or myths that Joyce implicates in all human civilisation but to the desires of the characters, their bodies, or their behaviour, beholden to disgust, or lust, irritation, manners, itching, dripping, etc; Butt telling Kolderup that he is "smiling supersilliously" in Act Five, Scene Four, or a man getting "invulvd with all the duennas who run into=him, à conto his >well-larded doubull pouch" in Act Three, Scene Two. This is not to say that Joyce doesn't implicate bodies in his work, but Schmidt (and I may be wrong) seems to dwell more quick gratifications or itches than on settled habits of bodily preference such as kidneys for breakfast. The way he writes must be helping me with that impression: it's not relaxed. The bifurcating and reassembling of the words is being done to increase the amount of flesh in the book and make it superhumanly ridiculous. Joyce's bodies stay closer to the humanly ridiculous and don't go this far beyond it into the monstrous, smelly abundance of Atheists (Schmidt stresses smell a number of times …).

Friday, March 3, 2017

= Comedy

Trying to parse the difference, in my own mind, between the early (1949-64) short stories in Arno Schmidt's Collected Stories, 1996, and his longer School for Atheists: a Novella = Comedy in 6 Acts, 1972, I come back to the idea of sex: one-dimensionally randy in the Collected (the separate shorts tending to repeat the same Benny Hill barnyardery) but finding new permutations in the Atheists, this book much longer than anything in the Collected (three hundred pages in the 2001 Green Integer translation by John E. Woods), with a fair number of characters coming and going more or less rapidly so that a greater number of variations become possible even when the same act is being described.

This is accentuated by his new technique (practiced across the duration of Zettel's Traum, 1970) of dividing a page into columns with asides printed in one column and the ongoing story in the other (footnotes becoming sidenotes), which gives you the effect of a wider surface and more complications. The story seems more vivid simply because it is more changeable, the movement of the randiness and misogyny seem open to alterations (not shut down into pursuit, as it often is in the shorts) and there is a sense of pleasure that does not come from the sex itself (the descriptions are not pleasurable or erotic and the people in them are usually not having any fun that might be transmitted to you since the author frequently experiences body horror or Rabelaisian disgust) but from change.

There is also the Prospero figure of William Kolderup, towards whom the author feels a sentimental kindness that saves the character from the complete humiliation that the book hands out to other people. When I realised that the story was going to end with him then I anticipated the soothing descent (soft ramp into after-story oblivion) that would be there. I thought, "He doesn't have the heart to dump Kolderup."

Thursday, February 23, 2017

feel that

Butor's Letters from the Antipodes is a reaction to Australia but not a book about Australia; for though the material it draws on is factual documentation it is not a factual book. The complexity of the structure, its dependence on interruptions, somehow places the facts into the context of an impression, without the network of dependence that facts are supposed to have on one another.

Perhaps the sense of independence (of things happening on their own and being reported on) is essential to the impression that factual things are happening; that a piece of writing is factual. When, instead, you have the feelings of the author replacing the independence of natural logic, its networks being assumed into one central thing (that is somehow understood as if it were not natural, or it's natural but not nature …).

Pam Brown's article in the latest issue of Cordite ends by suggesting that Antipodes is a book for the internet age since "within the framework the reader is able to scroll or to browse fluidly and open the text up to a thematic encounter at any chosen point." I've been going back and forth over that idea ever since I read it, first disagreeing because the machinery you would have to learn before you could "browse fluidly" seems so perverse, and the author's presence, as I've said, is always with you, never invisible in the way that the intelligence of the internet seems invisible (Butor's invocation of Raymond Roussel is not appropriate only because they both visited the same continent).

But Butor's book is like the internet in that it does not mimic or complement any of its fragments: it is not sympathetic to Captain Cook's memoir, it does not mind that the Nude Girls ads in the Brisbane Courier-Mail were not written to be run together in one line; it does not care that the Jules Verne novel it borrows from, In Search of the Castaways, 1867-68, is supposed to be a tense adventure, it will arrest the action whenever it likes. Likewise the internet does not care if an article or story was written to reward sustained attention from the reader; it will exert a resistance to the structure of the individual objects; it will shatter and disturb them, it will subvert them with its sustained lack of care and attention, which is apparently eternal and bottomless, and will outlast whatever effort they can exert; it asserts itself as the dominant framework through which the world is anticipated.

You notice that though Butor described himself as an author who was addressing a subject (Australia) to French readers who were generally unfamiliar with it ("I feel that I'm a pioneer in French literature"), he does not try to make it clear and felt, whereas his Spirit of Mediterranean Places, 1986, describing countries they would already know, is clear and plainly written.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


If The Porthole is a mimicry of a collage, in that no source material has actually been cut apart, and Tristiano is a collage created out of (primarily) a single person's work in slightly different modes, then Michel Butor's Letters to the Antipodes, 1981, is closer to the process that creates the type of visual collage people are used to: multiple sources, disassembled, and placed back together in a new order; some things left out, others emphasised by their placement. There are strategies in Antipodes that don't have equivalents in the other Butor books that I've read, such as the word "red" inserted in the joins between segments, and the names of authors added to the ends of the excerpts sometimes ("VERNE," "COOK") and of course the entire text being printed in red ink; then the "ooo" at the bottoms of the pages; this constant reassertion of himself as a controlling force over a text that he has not, for the most part, written, (though letters from himself have been cut up for material too), these methods that resist his own disappearance or effacement.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

a poetic experiment made possible

Adriano Spatola was in Gruppo 63 with Nanni Balestrini, Umberto Eco, Amelia Rosselli - whose selected poetry in translation I read last year, Locomotrix, 2012 – and a list of other names. I wish I knew more about that movement.

Describing the Balstrini book at slightly greater length than I have so far:

In 1961 I created Tape Mark I, a poetic experiment made possible by using the combining processes of an IBM calculator (which was the name given to computers back then). A series of pieces of sentences were put together one after the other, until they formed a sequence of verses, following simple rules transformed into algorithms which guided the machine. The number of possible results was huge, and just a small number of variants were published in the Almanacco Bompiani 1962.

He was going to try the same process on a novel but the work of reshuffling the sentences for each copy would have been too onerous. "The printing technologies of the time did not permit the realisation of such a project." A single book was created in 1966 and named Tristiano, "An ironic homage to the archetype of the love story." That last line must have been the modern blurb-writer's inspiration for the sentence, "Inspired by the legend of Tristran and Isolde," which occurs close to the beginning of the first paragraph on the back cover of my 2014 translation as if Tristran and Isolde is a key selling point. The headline at the top of the paragraph reads, "A love story that tests the limits of literature". The love story element in Tristiano consists of two figures, both named C (most of the proper names in this book are C, including those of towns and cities, so that in some sentences C and C, who may be cheating on C with C, are travelling to C), but referred to generally as "he" and "she", hugging, arguing, driving together; and appearing in other sentences that indicate a partnering idea. "He massaged her shoulders and smiled at her," for example. But the constant insertion of further sentences that have nothing to do with them -

The right side looks like an undeveloped film or a specimen on a slide.
Creeping thyme Thymus serpyllum the horned poppy of the Alps Papaver alpinum var. achantopetela the bitter Nordic buttercup Ranunculus acer borealis there are still a few examples of Thalictrum alpinum the Atragene alpina var. sibirica in the Alps.

for instance, or

A very simple almost banal story that could be summarised in a few lines.

- which I understand as a sign that Balestrini collaged his own preparatory notes about the work into the work itself – these lines, appearing wherever the computer put them, kill the possibility of any forward momentum. This (did I say so before?) is something I find absolutely peaceful. No sentence can be understood or relied on as the consequence of any other sentence. Then there is a patch of calm around each one that seems unimpeachable - a sense of platonic equality - making Tristiano the most unnatural book that has ever been written.

Monday, January 30, 2017

human beings only take advantage

As I look at The Porthole again I believe that I could spend a long time going through the book page by page and listing all the variations that Spatola finds in this thwartation or resistance play. Why did Samuel Richardson write books that put him (not him but his written voice) in situations of apparent anxiety and why did he (his voice) exacerbate those situations instead of ending them? Asking, "Why did he create such a perfect character as Grandison?" might be something like the same question. You picture a man observing his voice as if he is watching a very exciting film. Spatola describes a war in which his character Guglielmo takes part on both sides at once (meaning that the name "Guglielmo" is partaking in contrary actions simultaneously in different places), torturing people, stealing horses, etc, baffling the normal expectation that an author who writes about conflict will ask you to sympathise more with one body of combatants than the other. This is a bit shocking: shouldn't he give you a position; shouldn't he find some noble rebels or reluctant army recruits or something to sympathise with? Removing a dead war-horse's shoes, the narrator 'I' also removes its "glasses, watch, ring, gold teeth, hair, and orthopedic limb." I think of Alice in Wonderland's argument for the dominance of algebraic principles in language. By insisting on the vigilant mediation of words, the Wonderland characters point towards a hypothesis of language that has been changed from a common property to a private one. As a Wonderland person you are not inevitably unhappy. You appear abrasive to others, but your privacy ensures your character. It is like having a house to live in. If Alice could handle language algebraically like the others then she would not have to worry so much about warping and stretching. She would be the manipulation of formula.

The inhabitants of Wonderland are living machines in costumes. (Is a living machine also a malfunctioning machine?) Reading the art historian T.J. Clark's 2006 book The Sight of Death I notice how often he refers to boundaries in his work; how he notes the overlapped straightnesses of the landscape in the two Poussin paintings and the outstretched arm of the fleeing individual in Landscape with Man Killed By a Snake, c. 1648. I am interested in his appreciation of the stillness this helps to create upon the canvas; and how his description of a real event, a trip to Michael Heizer's Double Negative earthwork, 1969-1970, is a lifeless sketch. The people in the car gave a "great shout" when the cutting finally comes into view, he says, a phrase so routine in British English that he can rely on it to represent nothing much. Returning to the boundaried world of the paintings he goes back into evocation again. Double Negative has not been an opportunity for thought. Eventually he comes to this idea about the intersection between the painter and the world: "The lake's level, or the balance of branches on a tree – human beings only take advantage of order already present. It is just that nature gives no such clear priority to such orders." It will be interesting to see if Heizer really goes through with the plan to shore up Double Negative with concrete.