the agent by russell edson

. . . Assigned to you when your flesh was separating from your
mother’s, this shadow, who seeing the opportunity at hand, joined your
presence in such a way as some say the soul is given.

You have always caricatured me in my travels. I have seen you on
mountains, and in dim cafes. I have seen you hold your head, your elbows
on your knees, and while I was sad you were serene!

I seek a mastery over fate, of which you are, in objective witness, the
agent of . . . I run away one night as you sleep, the trusting wife, whose
borders have opened in the universal dark.

She feels in the morning among the sheets for the easy habit of her
husband’s shape – Now arc the earth, sweet dark, the law of umbra give
you panic to search me out with your cunning speed of light!

~from The Clam Theater (1973)

a brief interview with gabriel josipovici

Reposting this link from Jeff Bursey on Goodreads to a brief but excellent interview with Gabriel Josipovici, not so much for its questions, which are fairly pedestrian, but for his responses, which are as always gracefully eloquent in their pithiness and demonstrative of a far-ranging reading mind. A writer who is woefully underappreciated, in my opinion.

Gabriel Josipovici: “I abhor art of any kind that follows agendas”

My favorite responses:

Would it be fair to say that one of the central distinctions for you between works of modernism and books you consider less interesting is not only a sensibility but also the kind of things it can do without, such as description?

Duchamp once said that it was demeaning to expect an artist to fill in the background – and it’s easy to see that once he understood that it was, for him, he was on his way to becoming the artist he was destined to be.

The Goldsmiths Prize was set up to reward fiction that “breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form”– what can an “innovative” approach offer the reader (and writer) that a more conventional novel might not? Do you think that books in this broad category are, for example, better-equipped to address questions of transcendence, mortality, and despair?

These are such difficult issues to pin down, aren’t they? My dear friend John Mepham, a biochemist turned philosopher turned literary critic, who died tragically young, put it as well as I’ve ever seen it put in a beautiful essay he wrote in 1976 on To The Lighthouse. “The orderliness of fiction,” he says, “involves not only an internal orderliness but also an orderliness of its telling. For a story to be told there must be, implicitly or explicitly, a teller of it, a narrator or a narrative voice, the voice of one who knows… But what if we lack this sense of epistemological security? What if our experience seems fragmented, partial, incomplete, disordered? Then writing might be a way not of representing but of creating order.” That, he sees, was always Virginia Woolf’s dilemma and the way of her art. And what he says about her I can identify with totally.

‘something not yet unwound but waiting’

One evening they were upon the township road winding around the meadowy hill above the Sobieskis’. Below lay their hollow, the thick trees surging over their red roofs. They were now higher than the Strassers’ ridge and the sun was setting over it. There was trouble somewhere, a warning. Something not yet unwound but waiting lay complete under the green stuff in the valley bottom. On this upland the air was easy to breathe; there was still golden light. They started back again, almost with regret. A dead swallow, which had been for weeks dangling in the telephone wires, had now turned to skeleton and hung still. The descending road turned south and caught the Dilleys’ track which turned west. The sky was sapphire. Looking at it before they went down to their burrow, they saw one cloud forming, one cloud only in the whole sky, in the west directly over the sun going down. It came out in flecks and wisps, became suddenly one curled gold feather, and so stayed, as if beaten out of metal; marvellous, and the only thing in the sky and like an eyebrow right over the sun in the green sky.

Christina Stead, The Rightangled Creek

the excavation of gil orlovitz

Recently I received the good news that a new volume of buried writer Gil Orlovitz’s poetry and prose is soon to be published. I’ve previously bemoaned Orlovitz’s fate on this site, as well as posting, at the time, the only known review of his experimental novel Ice Never F to be found on the internet. Now, champion of forgotten poets Rick Schober will be publishing a collection of Orlovitz’s early stories, poems, and essays through his one-man operation, Tough Poets Press. Rick needs our help, though! He’s started a Kickstarter campaign to cover the initial costs associated with getting this important anthology out into the world. Rick has done these campaigns before and he knows what he’s doing. All donations go straight into production. Take a look, read Rick’s biography of Orlovitz, and if you feel so inclined please give what you can! The book will be published June 7, 2018, the 100th anniversary of Orlovitz’s birth.

‘the traces of our dreams’

If we cannot see the traces of our dreams it is because we tend to look for them by day or with a lamp. At night, when we glide through black absence, their phosphorescence betrays them.

Edmond Jabès, The Book of Questions: Volume I

2017 in books and music

Snow Bunting at North Point State Park, Maryland, USA. © 2016 S. D. Stewart

Snow Bunting at North Point State Park, Maryland, USA. © 2016 S. D. Stewart

Following surgery to repair a pelvic fracture in January I was unable to put weight on my left leg for three months. One might think this would have resulted in a higher read count than usual for the year, but in fact my total fell short of my average over the past few years. Part of this was actually due to a concerted effort to slow down and read more leisurely. However, another reason was that once I was fully mobile I simply did not want to sit around reading, so I ended up reading much less in the second half of the year, though toward the end as bird migration tapered off and the weather grew colder my pace did pick up again.

Below is the list of books I assigned 5-star ratings on Goodreads in 2017. A number of books I rated 4 stars probably deserve a place here, too, but I had to draw the line somewhere. In the 4-star category I will mention the two Julien Gracq novels I read as being particularly noteworthy (The Castle of Argol and The Opposing Shore). Regrettably I believe both of these are out of print in English translation. However, I’m happy to report that NYRB has just reissued Gracq’s moodily atmospheric novel A Balcony in the Forest, so there’s hope now for future republication of his singular work in English.

In general this year was a good one for reissues of some of my favorite buried writers. Mid-20th century British avant-garde women writers fared especially well in 2017. Much of Leonora Carrington’s writing finally came back into print as part of the centennial celebration of her birth year, including short fiction collections in both U.S. and British editions, as well as her harrowing memoir Down Below and her children’s book The Milk of Dreams. A biography by Joanna Moorhead also appeared in the spring.

A 50th anniversary edition of Anna Kavan’s novel Ice came out from Penguin in the U.S. this fall. As the 50th anniverary of Kavan’s death approaches there has been a small surge of interest around her work. For example, the journal Women: A Cultural Review devotes its entire current issue to exploring various themes in Kavan’s work. Hopefully this new scholarship will help prompt Peter Owen to finally reprint Kavan’s mysterious novel Eagles’ Nest and the kaleidoscopic short fiction collection  A Bright Green Field, both of which have inexplicably been languishing out of print for years. (For more on Anna Kavan visit the House of Sleep).

Finally, the brief but bright shooting star of Ann Quin’s literary career received a much-deserved coda when the subscription-based UK publisher And Other Stories released a collection of her unpublished stories and fragments, which includes the powerful (though incomplete) manuscript The Unmapped Country. This fragment had previously appeared in shorter form in the long out-of-print Beyond the Words anthology. (Note that non-subscribers will need to wait until mid-January 2018 for the official publication of this volume). While the publication of this book is a boon for Quin fans, it’s probably not the best place to start with her writing. In fact, her four published novels are all quite different, so it’s tough to suggest a starting point with Quin. On an initial recommendation, I began with Tripticks and actually did not care for it but still sensed there was something drawing me to Quin. I found that in Passages, which I consider to be her masterwork. Three comes in second place, followed by her debut, Berg. Thankfully, all of Quin’s novels remain in print courtesy of Dalkey Archive Press, bless their dedicated hearts.

I will just mention one other reissue of note, tangential to Ann Quin. In April, the micro press Verbivoracious Press (VP) published the first volume of an omnibus edition of Alan Burns’ novels. Burns was part of a loosely connected band of British avant-garde writers in the 1960s that included Ann Quin, as well as B.S. Johnson, Eva Figes, Rayner Heppenstall, and others. His novel Europe After the Rain draws interesting parallels to Kavan’s Ice and the relationship between the two novels is investigated in an article by Leigh Wilson in the previously mentioned issue of Women: A Cultural Review. In the past, VP, which specializes in reprinting ‘exploratory literature from Europe and beyond,’ also reissued a volume collecting two of Heppenstall’s novels (review), and many other experimental gems, including much of Christine Brooke-Rose‘s output.

2017 5-star books (in order read):

Being Upright: Zen Meditation and the Bodhisattva Precepts / Reb Anderson
The Passion of New Eve / Angela Carter (Review)
The Poor Mouth / Flann O’Brien (Review)
The Plains / Gerald Murnane (Review)
The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington (Review)
When the Time Comes / Maurice Blanchot (Review)
Snow Part / Paul Celan (Review)
S.S. Proleterka / Fleur Jaeggy (Review)
The Way of Chuang Tzu / Thomas Merton (Review)
The Rings of Saturn / W. G. Sebald (Review)
Alejandra Pizarnik: A Profile / Alejandra Pizarnik (Review)
Old Rendering Plant / Wolfgang Hilbig (Review)

Full list of books read in 2017 can be found here.

2017 soundtrack:

Barn Owl (and solo work by Jon Porras and Evan Caminiti)
Belgrado
Drab Majesty
Emma Ruth Rundle
Gate
Goat
Grails
Grouper
ISIS
Keluar
Kodiak
Marriages
Nadja
Neurosis
Portion Control
Scorn
Tim Hecker
Yellow Swans
…and too much post-punk to list (mostly by way of this finding aid)

old rendering plant by wolfgang hilbig

New review of this brilliant, tangled web of words posted on the Book Reviews tab. For more information on the book, visit Two Lines Press.

small poems in prose [alejandra pizarnik]

The sun closed, the sense of the sun closed, the sense of the closing was illuminated.

*

A day arrives in which poetry is made without language, day in which the great and small desires scattered in the verses are called together, suddenly gathered in two eyes, the same ones I praised so much in the frantic absence of the blank page.

*

In love with the words that create small nights in the uncreated part of day and its fierce emptiness.

 

[Alejandra Pizarnik, Texts of Shadow and Last Poems (1982)]

(The Unstoppable Myth of Alejandra Pizarnik by Enrique Vila-Matas)

field report: bridges

For once the speakers outside Hard Rock Cafe are playing a song I want to hear so I stand leaning against the bricks and listen to the lengthy bridge from ‘How Soon Is Now?’ It’s the part of the song I have always particularly loved. Just as Morrissey starts to sing for the last time ‘I am human and I need to be loved’ a generic man in fancy slacks and blazer walks by mouthing the words. The song fades out and I walk to the suspension bridge that always buckles in the wind. As I reach the bridge a man visibly down on his luck addresses me. He asks me if there is a mission where he and his wife can get a hot meal and I tell him there is one on the Fallsway. He replies that it’s closed. So I say there’s also one on Gay Street. He responds that it too is closed. I have no money with me so I tell him I can’t help him and wish him luck. He says nothing and turns away. I continue across the bridge and then I walk across the map of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, sometimes cordoned off and sometimes not, that is etched into stone in front of the fish prison. I make a halfhearted attempt to look for birds in the habitat islands but I feel like I have experienced way too much in the past few minutes so I return to the office and read a few more pages of Konwicki.

at the border of writing

It was almost easy for him, there where he lived, to live almost without a sign, almost without a self, as if at the border of writing; close to this word, barely a word, rather a word too many, and in that nothing but a word from which, one day in the past, gently welcomed, he had received the salute that did not save, the summons that had awakened him. That could be told, even if, and especially if, nobody were there to hear it.

Maurice Blanchot, The Step Not Beyond [translated by Lycette Nelson]

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