Beneath the Underdog, by Charles Mingus (Knopf, 1971; Canongate, 2005), pp. 232-3:
I wonder if I could hypnotize all the prostitutes of the world so they’d run into the streets nude to rape every man in sight! Their foulery will enter the homes of our leaders, the madmen plotting to conquer the world or destroy it and whose wives are also women forgotten about. I’ll spread it from country to country — Russia’s women, France’s, Germany’s, Japan’s — there won’t be enough cops to arrest them and even the policewomen will join in. Then when my entranced women pounce upon the leaders of government, the world will know where it is — that Hitler could only have an erection when elated crowds or his girl Eva yelled Heil, Hitler! and that Napoleon was a faggot and Mussolini an M6-plus junkie. Goering was an H16 stone junkie twenty-four hours a day. Kings and royalty practised perversion themselves ten-fold. It’s time to know what our leaders are that lead us to die for their way of escaping life. Whores, off with the clothes of our leaders! Today! All over the world! If they run cut off where their balls should be. Save this sick world, oh ye priceless whores!
Mulling this particular passage over just now and thinking Charles Mingus wrote a book that’s truly extraordinary. Has it been duly recognized as such? I’m not sure it has. Apparently the manuscript — which ran to 1,000 pages before it was cut down to ⅓ of its length for publication — is stored at the Library of Congress. I dream of reading it one day, however implausible.
You finish a long article, revise it, submit it, respond to the fact-checker, revise it further, and resubmit it. Then you wait a year. One day you will receive a fat tome in the mail, one that will be sold for $320 USD to a few dozen research libraries across the USA and maybe Canada. And this is your first “scholarly” publication, properly speaking. (Maybe.) At any rate, I find the situation absurd. Consider the price of the book: $320 USD. (That’s to pay me and the fact-checker and the editor, I suppose.) Then there are the size and the heft of the thing, which are almost too much. I can find no proper link to the table of contents or the list of contributors. Presumably university students and profs whose institutions have a subscription to the right consortium will be able to access my essay on Paul Metcalf in PDF form, though I can’t verify that right now.
Earlier this spring I was in the process of preparing an article on the work and life of Edward Dahlberg to feature in the same series, when I received notice that the series was definitively cancelled. What a pain in the ass. I was already at work on the article. I have racked my brains for an alternative publication outlet that would be interested.
Anyways, I touched a lock of Metcalf’s hair in New York City. To my surprise, it was more auburn than brown. I saw other things in the archive, including a photo of Metcalf in a wetsuit hamming it up in his New England kitchen with his wife Nancy. A picture of Charles Mingus, annotated by Nancy — “Paul’s favorite picture of Mingus.” A medical note about Paul’s dizziness in the months before his heartattack in 1999. A certificate of “excellence in safety” that he received one of the years that he was a schoolbus driver on the outskirts of Asheville, NC. Photos of him in a firefighter’s jumpsuit, also from the Asheville years. His elementary school composition notebook. Much else. The remnants of a lifetime.
Truth Is More Sacred: Exchanges on Modern Literature (1961) – Edward Dahlberg & Herbert Read
Reasons of the Heart: Maxims (1965) – Edward Dahlberg
The Edward Dahlberg Reader (1967)
The Confessions of Edward Dahlberg (1971)
The Wages of Expectation: The Biography of Edward Dahlberg (1979) – Charles Defanti
The Seventh Dragon: The Riddle of Equal Temperament (2nd ed, 2005) – Anita T. Sullivan
Electronic and Experimental Music: Technology, Music, and Culture (2008) – Thom Holmes
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (2016) – Cal Newport
too scattered to keep my vague resolutions to blog, but also I choose silence. Silence is a choice.
* * *
How to Sing (1880something) – Lilli Lehmann (trans. ?)
Truth Is More Sacred: Critical Exchanges on Modern Literature – Edward Dahlberg and Herbert Read
The Olive of Minerva or the Comedy of a Cuckold (1976) – Edward Dahlberg
The Confessions of Edward Dahlberg (1971)
Find You in the Dark (2018) – Nathan Ripley/Naben Ruthnum
thinking about Harry Mathews & Edward Dahlberg
what else? lots
By a long shot, Analog Days and Mad Skills were the most engrossing for me. I really enjoyed Gamelife as well. I continue to be more scattered than I would wish. I’m reading The Solitary Twin right now; over the years I have read most of Harry Mathews’s books with great pleasure. I’m obsessed with sound. And about five years after my first crash course in it, I’m enjoying thinking/reading about the history of (music, sound) technology and media studies. I play the piano, the synthesizer, a latecomer to them after having been a drummer/percussionist previously. I’m thinking also about Ed’s recent post at Biblioklept on how he wishes to be more prolific, less rigorous, and more casual in posting on his blog. Me too. I don’t think I would want to post here daily, as he vows to do, but this month I might try to write here a little more often in a less focused or prepared way. Might not always be about books. : )
* * *
some stories of Patricia Highsmith in Nothing That Meets the Eye
Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer (2002) – Trevor Pinch and Frank Trocco
An Ideal for Living (2006) – Eugene Thacker
Technological Slavery: The Collected Writings of Theodore “The Unabomber” Kaczynski (2010)
Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology, and Lost Futures (2013) – Mark Fisher
Gamelife: A Memoir (2015) – Michael J. Clune
The Unyielding (2017) – Gary J. Shipley
Le Plongeur (2017) – Stéphane Larue (in progress)
Calling a Wolf a Wolf (2017) – Kaveh Akbar
Mad Skills: MIDI and Music Technology in the Twentieth Century (2018) – Ryan Alexander Diduck
The Solitary Twin (2018) – Harry Mathews
Emilien Bernard: Aside from Antoine Volodine, whose work I know you appreciate, are there other contemporary French writers you’re passionate about?
Eric Chévillard: The list would be too long and I would have to cite some friends. But I was recently impressed by Fragments de Lichtenberg by Pierre Senges. A remarkable book, masterful from start to end and yet totally backwards, full of digressions and glissades. I’m afraid it didn’t receive the welcome it deserved, which says a lot about the state of criticism and the incuriosity of readers. Such a book illustrates, though, what literature can be when it is fully comprehended. It seems to me that such a high ambition would have sooner been recognized in former eras. But the enormous contemporary laziness before this ample and generous book will have once again only noted its weight and size.
— from a 2008 interview with Eric Chévillard (my translation)
I have no doubt also been remiss in failing to observe here the English-language publication of Fragments of Lichtenberg by Pierre Senges, translated by Gregory Flanders. Here is a book teeming with intellectual farce and madcap encyclopedism that, in the year since its English-language publication in January 2017, has eluded the notice of every traditional outlet for bookish criticism.
Part of my own hesitation to herald the book’s publication was due to my expectation that said heralding would occur elsewhere. I imagined that, once Senges had effectively made his English-language debut with such an ambitious work, six hundred pages of zany erudition and irreverent jokes (and this just one month after the publication of my translation of Senges’s The Major Refutation) — well, I imagined that some publication or publications with a considerable readership would herald, yes, herald Senges as the next brilliant French writer in a long line of brilliant French writers. (In 2009, François Monti had insinuated that Senges was French literature’s “best-kept secret,” for instance.) But this has not come to pass. Neglect has been the fate of many brilliant writers, no doubt.
Only a few independent bloggers and a handful of adventurous readers seem to have noticed the book’s publication, either at their blogs or at GoodReads. Reviewing the book from galleys, the Complete Review called the book “dizzyingly entertaining, very funny […] the best sort of literary fantasy, and an entertaining satire of (so-called) literary scholarship.” Likewise, The Modern Novel appreciated and recommended the book, as “a brilliant pastiche of both literary researchers and of Lichtenberg himself. It is is thoroughly original, incredibly inventive, very learned and very funny.”
I was tempted at times to don my reviewer’s cap and proselytize for the book myself, but I demurred, and I still demur: having translated many of Senges’s words, and two of his books, I know that I’m far from impartial. Nor do I think myself capable in this instance of impassioned advocacy, perhaps veering into rant territory. Anyways, the season of the book’s publication — as well as of that of The Major Refutation‘s first appearance — has long passed.
And so I will leave the reader with just the following eyebrow-lifting passage from the book, one of my favorites. Perhaps it will incite some of you to track down this nonpareil tome.
P.S. In no way would I wish to downplay the power of blogs and bloggers to register and influence literary reception; but I do make a distinction between one-person venues (writer, editor, and publisher being the same individual) and venues where the indulgence and efforts of at least two people are required to publish an article. But why do I? I suppose I cling to the belief, or the hope, that the literary ‘establishment’ will take note of good work. Perhaps a little more cynicism is called for.
The audio of Pierre Senges discussing The Major Refutation at Shakespeare and Company is at Soundcloud. The event was in November. A few readers of this blog may be interested in that discussion, with Shakespeare & Co’s astute commentator.
The Major Refutation is a nonpareil book that I came to translate. It was published in late 2016 by Contra Mundum Press. It’s a fake Renaissance treatise arguing that the newly discovered Americas don’t exist. Pierre Senges is brilliant.
Should’ve posted this link a while back; I really wish that I could embed the file to display here tidily, but no dice, it plays havoc with the CSS layout.
It’s an amazing coincidence I guess, but a member of the audience seems to accuse Senges of being complicit in the mythologization of America at the very end of this recording. It’s like he stepped right out of the book, Guevara’s shadow.
►/1404er/ (Fri) 23:34:11 No.10006857698
What kind of stupid fucking question is this. Of course nobody here has killed anyone. /1404er/ consists of three types of people: fat neckbearded virgins, thin neckbearded virgins and 12 year old edgelords, none of whom have ever been in a real fight, let alone killed someone.
And if you’re curious, i’m in the fat neckbearded virgin category, only i can’t grow a beard as it ends up patchy. (Amygdalatropolis p. 53)
Publishing today at 3AM Magazine is my interview with B.R. Yeager, author of the one-of-a-kind novel Amygdalatropolis (2017).
I don’t read a whole lot of contemporary literature, but this one did capture my attention and make its way into my home and my heart. In my introduction, I venture that it may be the great social media novel, perhaps the great internet novel for our time.
Those readers who have followed my writing may know that it’s been quite some time — 2 or 3 years? — since I donned my ‘book reviewer’s’ cap. And it’s been even longer since I did an interview with an author. (In fact, I have only done one interview previously, with Joseph McElroy.) Again, it was discovering this nonpareil book that spurred me to want to write about it, and, in fact, evangelize for it. (I had meant to write a review last year of Susan Howe’s Debths, but it never came to fruition: I choked on my mixed feelings for it. Maybe I will write something on it eventually and sort through those mixed feelings.)
To be more specific: it was the fact that Amygdalatropolis was published by a small press — you might even call it a micro-press — with no publicity campaign whatsoever, no pay-to-play review in Publisher’s Weekly, likely no official reviews at all, and in fact no social media presence as far as I can tell, etc. — that made me feel it deserved a fuller reckoning than just a single solitary reading. To some this might be obvious, but it can be very discouraging to see how stark the difference in awareness, publicity, and readership is between tiny independent presses and their larger, louder peers. I find this situation hugely depressing. The larger outlets tend to cover the same titles, usually from similar perspectives, and I start to find their voices and their online presence odious.
Hats off to small presses + the underdog.
February already. The New Year’s no longer so new. The two books in bold here blew me away. I’m preparing an interview with Yeager on Amygdalatropolis. All of these books are nonpareil and fantastic.
Beneath the Underdog (1971) – Charles Mingus
The Fifth Child (1988) – Doris Lessing
The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (2007) – Alex Ross (begun)
Deliverance: Writings on Postal Relations (2014) – Marc Fischer
The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World (2017) – Damon Krukowski
Amygdalatropolis (2017) – B.R. Yeager
Just a few titles coming out in 2018 that I’m looking forward to. Feel free to chime in in the comments or on Twitter if you want to contribute or bring my attention to another title. I trust that these are not the books that will be showing up on other people’s “most anticipated” lists. If they were, well, it wouldn’t even be worth my time to type this up, now would it?
The Sacred Conspiracy: Internal Correspondence of Acéphale and Lectures to the College of Sociology – Georges Bataille (January 2018, Atlas Press)
Georges Bataille long ago ceased to interest me, but I trust a few readers of this blog might have more than a modicum of curiosity about this book.
Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World (January 2018) – Paul Shapiro (Gallery Books)
Lab-grown meat, animal-free meat, should be a topic of much interest to us nowadays. Who can tell what the future holds.
The Solitary Twin – Harry Mathews (March 27, 2018, New Directions)
Harry Mathews died just a year ago. I’ve read the bulk of his work with much pleasure. This is his last novel, described as “helical” in structure. Here’s the publisher’s description: John and Paul were also visitors to the town. They were twins, as identical as can be. They wore the same clothes, chino trousers and open-neck sweaters, in John’s case adorned with a faded maroon neckerchief. Both were addicted to the shellfish harvested year-round from the rocks and sands of the coast: little clams, winkles, cockles, crabs, and above all sea urchins–their dessert, as both said. They drank only McEwan’s India pale ale and smoked the same thin black Brazilian cigars… So begins the great writer Harry Mathews’s final novel, The Solitary Twin, a rollicking yet incredibly moving story of two young men who come to a picturesque beach town. Seen prismatically through the viewpoints of the town’s residents, they offer a variety of worldviews. Yet are they really twins or a single person?
Find You in the Dark – Nathan Ripley (March 2018, Simon & Schuster)
I went to grad school roughly around the same time Naben Ruthnum was there, and that’s how his work eventually became known to me. I always find his short fiction amazingly elliptical. For his first novel he’s using a nom de plume. Here’s the publisher’s description: “In this chilling debut thriller, in the vein of Dexter and The Talented Mr. Ripley, a family man obsessed with digging up the undiscovered remains of serial killer victims catches the attention of a murderer prowling the streets of Seattle. For years, he has been illegally buying police files on serial killers and studying them in depth, using them as guides to find missing bodies. He doesn’t take any souvenirs, just photos that he stores in an old laptop, and then he turns in the results to the police anonymously. Martin sees his work as a public service, a righting of wrongs that cops have continuously failed to do. Detective Sandra Whittal sees it differently. On a meteoric rise in police ranks due to her case-closing efficiency, Whittal is suspicious of the mysterious caller—the Finder, she names him—leading the police to the bodies. Even if the Finder isn’t the one leaving bodies behind, who’s to say that he won’t start soon?”
Questioning Minds: Volumes I and II: The Letters of Guy Davenport and Hugh Kenner (edited by Edward Burns, July 2018, Counterpoint)
These two volumes are going to list at $125 USD. Not very encouraging to me, despite my immense enthusiasm for both Kenner & Davenport. Oh well. Here’s the publisher’s description: Hugh Kenner (1923-2003) and Guy Davenport (1927-2005) first met in September 1953 when each gave a paper on Ezra Pound at Columbia University. They met again in the fall of 1957, and their correspondence begins with Kenner’s letter of March 7, 1958. In the next forty-four years, they exchanged over one thousand letters. Their correspondence about shared enthusiasm is a quarry for those interested in unique perspectives on Pound, Eliot, Joyce, Beckett, Basil Bunting, Charles Tomlinson, R. Buckminster Fuller, Stan Brakhage, Jonathan Williams, and the American modernists, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, and Louis Zukofsky. The correspondence ends with Kenner’s letter of August 9, 2002 lamenting how they had drifted apart.
With his mentor, Marshall McLuhan, Kenner visited Pound at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, in June 1948. Later he visited Pound in Venice and Rapallo. Davenport also was a visitor to St. Elizabeths, and, like Kenner, visited Pound in Italy. These letters record their fascination with Pound’s intellectual journey and explore how he translated the “brutality of fact” into The Cantos.
The extensive notes and cross-referencing of archival sources in Questioning Minds are a major contribution to the study of literary modernism. The letters contained within explore how new works were conceived and developed by both writers. They record faithfully, and with candor, the urgency that each brought to his intellectual and creative pursuits. Here is singular opportunity to follow the development of their unique fictions and essays.
Women and Men – Joseph McElroy (March 20 2018, dZanc)
McElroy’s futuristic, pun-filled masterpiece (1200 pages?!) will at last see a third edition. Contact dZanc in advance for a preorder if you want in; it’s going to be a limited pressing they say. Beautiful cover by McElroy’s spouse, artist Barbara Ellmann.
The Children’s Crusade – Marcel Schwob (March 2018, trans. Kit Schluter, Wakefield Press)
Thanks to translators Chris Clarke and Kit Schluter, Schwob’s work is seeing all new editions. I’ve more interest in this one and Imaginary Lives than Schwob’s other books for some reason. Can’t wait.
Three weeks back I tried to type up an end-of-the-year post as usual, summarizing my year in reading. No sooner had I written the essential of it, or at least drawn up the list of 7 or so titles, than I thought, what’s the use. I didn’t read very many extraordinary books this year. I will only mention three: Pope Joan (1866) by Emmanuel Royidis (trans. Lawrence Durrell), Amygdalatropolis (2017) by B.R. Yeager, and Angel in the Forest (1945) by Marguerite Young. I’ve written a little about all of them in various places. I trust curious readers can inform themselves whether or not those titles might suit their taste.
In 2017, not very much activity here at bibliomanic, as far as I can tell. I published 40 posts, 11 of which were monthly reading logs, 6 of which were just photos, while the rest were just tiny squibs, little jottings — nothing much of substance, then. A post with some basic information on Réjean Ducharme. And apart from translations and the introductions I’ve written introducing them, nothing much published elsewhere.
Here is the translation work, some with introductions:
Apart from this translation work, in early 2018, I have a recently completed 10,000-word article on the life and work of Paul Metcalf being published in the annual Scribners American Writers supplement series. I’m very happy about that, though plagued in mind by the usual misgivings as to language, quality, coherence, and so on. I think it’s a very strong piece of writing but I can’t tell. It’s done at least. I’m not yet sure how widely available or easy to access it will be to interested parties, but that’s really none of my business.
I intended to review one book this year, Debths by Susan Howe, but I decided I don’t actually want to review it for a handful of reasons. Vexed maybe. And I remained this year a Twitter junky, despite my very ample misgivings. Could be part of my problem, though it also keeps me in touch with a few dozen like-minded aesthetes scattered across the globe, which I think is wondrous.
In terms of visitors, bibliomanic remained more or less the place it’s always been. Some of the top posts were as follows: the squib Jefferson’s Swivel Chair from years ago got 287 unique pageviews, Joseph McElroy’s bookshelf got 174 views, and Adopting Paul Metcalf got about 100 views. On the Major Refutation got 124 views, and A Pierre Senges miscellany got 94 views.
I’m grateful for the friendships and acquaintances I’ve made here and on Twitter. The world would be a lonelier place without you. May the New Year hold more of the same. Best wishes to you and yours, and hope to see you here more in 2018.
Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832) – Frances Trollope (Librivox free audiobook)
This is the great complement to de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, likewise a panoramic account of life in America as observed by a foreigner. Only the foreigner in this instance is an upper-class English lady, fully prejudiced against the back country life she observes.
The Plains (1982) – Gerald Murnane
Couldn’t dig it, though I tried. Inland left me with a similar feeling of frustration, but that book had more fascinating imagery and the hint of drama.
Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking (2010) – Tan Lin
Until now I honestly thought Tan Lin and Tao Lin were the same author. I stand corrected.
Metamericana (2015) – Seth Abramson
Little bit disappointed by this.
Whereas (2017) – Long Soldier
I appreciate this. By now it’s been lauded in many of the more mainstream venues for criticism (NYT) and in award nominations, etc. Sure enough, that’s how it came onto my radar. As I saw someone tweet just now, “it’s amazing what an enormous PR budget can do for a book of poetry.” Many books of poetry of similar quality are doomed to obscurity, due to lack of publicity.
So I discovered this glorious book probably through The Major Refutation, which includes a section praising Pope Joan for her imposture. What’s that, you’ve never heard of a female pope, let alone the Pope Joan? Well, have I got a treat for you…
This is a story written by none other than Emmanuel Rhoides (who gets a pretty short entry at Wikipedia), based on an old legend about a woman who assumed the papal throne as an impostor in the ninth or tenth century.
Of course this translation is out of print and hard to obtain. (That’s the way of the world, isn’t it, the law of scarcity increasing the value of the commodity?) Earlier this summer I read all of it, Lawrence Durrell’s “translation and adaptation” of the 1866 original. I found it to be utterly compelling, beautiful, and devilishly funny, too.
Here’s one of the many passages that left me in awe, almost incredulous.
a few tales by Ambrose Bierce (circa 1880) & a few pieces by Max Beerbohm (circa 1910)
Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection () – Julie Kristeva (trans. )
Girty (1977) – Richard Taylor
The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition (1979) – W.J. Rorabaugh
Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by Other Means in the New Century (2010) – Marjorie Perloff (begun)
Uncreative Writing (2010??) – Kenneth Goldsmith
The Guy Davenport Reader (2013) (begun)
Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America (2017) – Michael Eric Dydon
This Thursday, November 2, 7:00 pm, Pierre Senges will be at Shakespeare and Company (the famous Paris English-language bookshop) discussing and reading from The Major Refutation, English version of Refutatio major, attributed to Antonio de Guevara, 1480-1545.
Full details here. I believe the book’s publisher, Rainer Hanshe of Contra Mundum Press, will be attending & in conversation with Senges. Should be interesting. I, the book’s translator, would most certainly be going if not for the wee duck pond separating the New World from the Old.
A description of the book here, taken from the Shakespeare and Company website:
Written in the form of a long letter addressed to Antonio de Guevara on behalf of Charles V, under cover of anonymity, The Major Refutation refutes the existence of a new continent with arguments ranging from the most serious to the most extravagant. In a postface, the narrator raises doubts about the author of The Major Refutation. Is the letter from Amerigo Vespucci, Jeanne la Folle, or others? The text closes with a coda where various theses are evoked: for example, doubts about the sex of Homer, or about the true identity of the author of the plays signed Moliere. Infused with wit and irony, The Major Refutation reminds us of the passion of men for ignorance and the eternal opposition between dupes and non-dupes, or those who believe themselves such.
Pope Joan (1866) – Emmanuel Royilis (trans. Lawrence Durrell, 1954)
Cardinal Pölätüo (1961) – Stefan Themerson
Paul Metcalf again
Something Said: Essays (2001) – Gilbert Sorrentino
Neurotribes: Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity (2015) – Steve Silberman
Dated Emcees (2016) – Chinaka Hodge
It’s a paradoxical kind of longing, but I miss the days when I was able to plow through fat novels with nary a second thought about whether something else might sooner merit my attention. (I know, a very modern problem.) These days I read very few novels, let alone big fat ones. Pardon this lament; it’s not that I don’t have a score of tomes on my shelves that I want to get to.
With this in mind, since I am always making such calculations, I thought I’d jot down a list of my so-called TBR pile. I know my reading is so undisciplined that I’m not likely to read more than perhaps max three or four of these before the year is up. But we shall see.
Likewise, I would be curious what you have been meaning to get to but haven’t been able to, whether from distraction, lack of discipline, or want of time. Comments are open. And if you want to advocate for or against any of the books in the below list, I am all ears, and very susceptible to influence. I remain a most fickle reader.
Hadrian the Seventh (1900) – Fr. Rolfe (Baron Corvo)
Parents & Children (1941) – Ivy Compton-Burnett (not all that thick, I might get to this before the year is up!)
Independent People (1946) – Halldor Laxness (trans. J.A. Thompson)
A Meditation (1969) – Juan Benet (trans. Gregory Rabassa)
The Death of the Detective (1974) – Mark Smith
Lookout Cartridge (1974) – Joseph McElroy (I’ve read this once before circa 2010, but I’ve got to get back!)
The Great Fire of London (1989) – Jacques Roubaud (trans. Dominic di Bernardi)
Mason & Dixon (1997) – Thomas Pynchon
Annals of the Former World (1998) – John McPhee (not a novel, albeit, but hefty nonetheless)
On the one hand, it has been somewhat discouraging to see how little notice The Major Refutation by Pierre Senges has received from the anglophone press. A book this inventive, this daring, this original in its conception comes along but rarely, but rarely. I spent many months translating the book, and it was finally published last December, 2016. (The time of year when online outlets are vaunting their impeccable taste by amassing lists of the year’s most brilliant books – no coincidence there!) Being a naïve fool, I had high expectations for the book, the hope of securing a wide readership for it through some positive reviews. Well, in the ten months that have since elapsed, every outlet claiming to have its pulse on the world of translated literature, or of contemporary literature writ large – from World Literature Today to Words Without Borders to Asymptote to Lithub, or what have you – has failed to notice The Major Refutation. (Ditto for another extraordinary work by the same author, Fragments of Lichtenberg, translated by Gregory Flanders and published by Dalkey Archive a month after The Refutation‘s appearance. A conspiracy of silence? What has effectively happened is that a major contemporary author has made his debut in English while escaping the notice of every official outlet. This situation is more of a commonplace than I used to think.)
BUT…. on the other hand, the critical assessments for The Major Refutation have been astute and discerning. I am grateful to the book’s readers and reviewers, a few of whom I solicited. And so to allay my chagrin, and to incite my readers to seek this extraordinary book out, I would compile some of their praise and descriptions here.
* * * * *
“With a stirring echo of florid baroque language, The Major Refutation calls in the prominent personages of the day, and implicates the state, merchant bankers, and the Church in the creation and perpetuation of the myth of the new world.” – (roughghosts)
“… a glorious book about dupes & dupers.” – (Joseph McElroy, email correspondence)
“… a book of fictional invention masquerading as historical artifact, further masquerading as scholarly treatise. It never flinches, it has not one single tell that it is anything but what it appears to be: a 16th century work…'” – (Ronald Morton)
“… more ingenious and creative than most books being published these days […] It reads like something William H. Gass or Alexander Theroux may have written […] I enjoyed the outlandish erudition on display.” – (Steven Moore, correspondence + etc)
“I assume that everyone wishes literature were just vituperative rants saturated in scholastic detail, but devoid of characters, plot, and description. Voilà: The Major Refutation… The project itself, the skeptical assault on events we know to have been real, is genuinely discomforting. Readers of texts like this tend to pride ourselves on our skepticism and our doubting; here, the skepticism is gloriously productive of insults and scorn, and the insults and scorn are often well-deserved, but ultimately we, the readers, know that the skepticism was misplaced. Is ours, too, misplaced?” – (Justin Evans)
“… brilliant… very learned…” – (The Modern Novel)
“Don’t miss it; it is one of the Major Novels of ’17 […] seriously folks, any list of Novels of ’17 which don’t feature [Fragments of Lichtenberg or The Major Refutation], you can just tell that List to fuck off. Right here, this is what novels look like.” – (Nathan N.R. Gaddis)
* * * * *
Also, here is the publisher page (Contra Mundum Press), with a link to a substantial chunk of the text, readable now online.
A great month in reading, even if fairly scattershot. Here’s the rundown.
McGuffey’s Eclectic Progressive Speller (original edition, 1838; a glorious mock facsimile of the original presentation, published by Mott Media, 1980)
What a find! It was waiting for me at the Value Village on Cyrville Road, also with an edition of the Eclectic Second Reader. I had not an inkling that McGuffey was an Oxford, Ohio resident and professor at Miami University, at the time of his commission by a Cincinnati publisher. How Gertrude Stein would have loved this; she was probably raised on it out there in, what, Idaho?
Is There A Text in This Class?: The Authority of Interpretive Communities (1980) – Stanley Fish
I skimmed this one. I find Fish’s argument (being, as I understand it, 1) that literary texts can have no meaning apart from the assumptions which readers bring to them, 2) texts acquire their literary meanings only through the consensus-making process of a more or less authoritative interpretive community — i.e., scholars, academia, etc.) refreshing and important. To others it will be old hat, this being a so-called classic of literary criticism, much anthologized and much cited. But I had never read this before. It reminds me quite a lot of the work of Walter Benn Michaels, which I have read, if only a little.
Little Casino (2002) – Gilbert Sorrentino
Most memorable read of the month, and my first Sorrentino. Funny and poignant, though never laugh-out-loud funny — there is a somewhat cruel, cynical intelligence behind every paragraph. Recommended by Joseph Michaels. More Sorrentino books in my future.
Hearing and Writing Music: Professional Training for Today’s Musician (2002) – Ron Gorow
Improving my understanding of sound. The electromagnetic spectrum (including X-rays, gamma rays, visible light, radio waves, etc.) spans some eighty-one octaves?! (Same as the number of keys on a standard piano keyboard?–get outta here!)
Cahokia (2009) – Timothy R. Pauketat
Goddammit, why can’t I read any of these books about prehistoric America in a linear fashion, cover to fucking cover.
How to Listen to Jazz (2015) – Ted Goia
The title is embarrassing — so much for my old pretensions. Neveretheless, it serves as an excellent primer on the roots days and much else I didn’t already know.
Epistrophies: Jazz & the Literary Imagination (2017) – Brent Hayes Edwards
I read a review of this, and would not have known of it otherwise. Some of it I am finding very interesting, especially about Louis Armstrong. Elsewhere, I feel I’m wasting my time. I might finish it, though. (On a related note, if you haven’t ever read the historical novel Coming through Slaughter, about the jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden, it is highly recommended; it figures prominently in the introductory chapter here. I have been meaning to reread it for quite some time.)
Hopefully September will be just as strong — I’ve got an article on Paul Metcalf to finish & I might have time to sneak a few loose things in.
I have 7,000 words of translation in Hotel #3, just published. If that ain’t good, I don’t know what is. Now, if only I could sell a publisher another project…
Check out the introduction I wrote; I explain in what ways Pierre Senges is ‘Borgesian’ and offer up an elliptical view of his work. It’s pretty good.
And right here is where you can buy the issue, with the 7,000 word translation. (Other contributors include the small-town upstarts Gordon Lish & Nick Cave?!)
Harry Mathews, Leonard Cohen, Bernard Hoepffner, Nicholas Mosley, all gone in the short space of a year. Today I learned of the death of Réjean Ducharme.
Ducharme’s work never has meant as much to me as that of Mathews, Mosley, or Cohen, and I would not normally be inclined to post upon learning of his recent death, except that this short article on Ducharme — which I wrote as the scantiest kind of introduction for the reader who has never heard of or read him — was never published, despite being *more or less* finished. It was solicited from me by an editor of an online publication and I sent it to him, then: silencio. (At the time, this rankled me but, alas, sundry more indignities have since accrued to cover that old rancor over, virtually burying it.) No, it’s not a tombstone, it’s not a eulogy; it’s just some lonely impertinent debris, for curious passersby here to pore over.
* * *
The work of Québecois playwright, screenwriter, and novelist Réjean Ducharme (b. 1941) will continue to elude anglophone readers, even the more adventurous among them. Ducharme’s influence in his native Québec has been strongest of all, but his work has also found admirers in France and other French-speaking countries. From 1966 onwards, the French publisher Gallimard has made his books widely available in stores: eight of his novels and a play were published by Gallimard, with a handful of other texts picked up by other publishers. To date, his books have been translated and published in Spanish (3), Swedish (1), Danish (1), German (1), and English (6).
Ducharme’s career got off to a strong start when Gallimard accepted the manuscript of L’avalée des avalés in the mid-1960s when Ducharme was only twenty-five. The book’s selection as a finalist for the Goncourt aroused the usual journalistic curiosity. When the book didn’t win, Ducharme reportedly told his sister: “People won’t hear about me anymore, I’m going to be happy… If I had known there would be such a brouhaha about me, I never would have published in the first place.” And accordingly, in the years since, Ducharme has developed a reputation for belonging, like Pynchon and Salinger, to that breed of authors who decline the rituals of fame and publicity and value privacy over candor. (From the start, in the face of such non-cooperation, enterprising journalists have specialized in making the most of Ducharme’s family and collaborators to get them to talk about the author. There exist, in the archives of Radio Canada, handfuls of interviews with singer Robert Charlebois, Claude Gallimard, and Ducharme’s family members giving accounts of their interactions with the man.)
What of Ducharme’s work? In it, the reader finds a sense of vast possibility (often coincident with the sense of childhood), a child-like refusal to engage with the “real world” on its terms, inventing an idiosyncratic language of refusal, a love of irreverent humor and absurdity, and farcical and picaresque plotlines (absurd travels, hilarity ensue). All this sounds like so much light entertainment, but when Ducharme is at his best, underlying it all, there is a palpable, melancholic seriousness beneath the coy verbal play and contradictions of logic, a feeling that the books are being earnestly lived. Lived not as plausible lives, but as anomalous possibilities.
Many who sing Ducharme’s praises will tell you about his word-play. He is notorious for it. Of course, word-play is hard if not impossible to translate between languages. Yet the translators try. Even in the titles of several of his books, Le nez qui voque for instance — literally, The Nose that Vokes — we see it. You won’t find voquer in any French dictionary though its basis is the same the root of evoke and convoke. When spoken, the phrase sounds identical to l’inéquivoque — literally, the unequivocal. The English title, as it appeared in 2011, is Miss Take, which certainly seems impoverished by comparison, but I suspect it corresponds to the early passage where the phrase le nez qui voque is first employed. Or see Les enfantômes: enfantômes being a portmanteau that collapses enfant (child) into fantôme (ghost, phantom, haunting memory). Note also the untranslatable titles L’océantume and Dévadé — these titles have not yet appeared in English, but I suspect Will Browning is already slaving away.
Word-play and puerile machinations, maybe with a touch of sincerity: it doesn’t sound like much. From what I have read of Ducharme — which is in fact, to this moment, very little, not more than sixty pages — what I admire most is his ability to quickly switch registers and convey a sense of relativism and philosophical depth. A review of The Daughter of Christopher Columbus refers to “allusions that can range, in a single sentence, from the poetry of St. John Perse to the names of laundry detergents.” It’s that kind of simultaneity and equivalence that leave me reeling when I read Ducharme.
He still lives in Montreal. The journalists stopped hounding him years ago. On August 12, 2016, he will turn 75 years old.
Happy birthday, Réjean Ducharme.
In print, translated by Will Browning
The Daughter of Christopher Columbus (Guernica, 2000)
Go Figure (Talonbooks, 2003; original Va Savoir, 1994)
Miss Take (Talonbooks, 2011; original Le nez qui voque, 1967)
Out of print, hard to find:
Strait Winter (Anansi, 1977); Wild to Mild (Heritage, 1980) — both English editions of a translation of Hiver de force by Robert Guy Scully)
The Swallower Swallowed (trans. Barbara Bray, 1968)
Ha! Ha! (trans. David Homel, Exile Editions, 1986)
Criticism on Réjean Ducharme in English
“Swallowed Whole” (on The Swallower Swallowed) at Tablet Mag, by Benjamin Nugent
Marci Denesiuk on Go Figure at Montreal Review of Books
“Sharing the Genius of Ducharme” (on The Daughter of Christopher Columbus) at The Globe and Mail, by Ray Conlogue
And in French, here’s a good one: “Réjean Ducharme: L’analyse d’un paradoxe,” by Caroline Montpetit
– A Few Synopses –
The Swallower Swallowed (almost impossible to find; translation of L’avalée des avalés, Gallimard, 1966):
Ducharme’s first published novel. Bérénice Einberg, a young girl in a Jewish-Quebécois family, finds her place in the world between overbearing parents and a brother she loves. Disgusted by the logic of the world and the strictures of family, she goes to New York with her brother. Later, her father, alarmed by his inability to control her, sends her off to boarding school in Israel.
Miss Take (Talonbooks, 2011; translation of Gallimard, Le nez qui voque, 1967; ):
Ducharme’s second-published novel. Sixteen-year-old Mille Milles (a name that in French would mean literally “one thousand miles”) has run away from his home, a town on the St. Lawrence River. He has brought with him a young girl, Chateaugué, a native Eskimo. They live in a tiny rented room in Old Montreal. Enthralled by the works of Émile Nelligan, Mille begins a journal, determined to free language from the constraints of convention, but finds he cannot write anything without immediately conjuring up its opposite. He struggles with his sexual desire for Chateaugué.
Go Figure (original, Gallimard, Va Savoir, 1994; Talonbooks, 2003):
A tale of a Montreal couple alienated from each other after suffering the miscarriage of twin girls. Mammy, the wife, has left Rémi Vavasseur. Not because she no longer loves him, but because she no longer loves herself. She is criss-crossing Europe and Africa in the company of Rémi’s former mistress, the dangerous and blonde Raïa. Rémi meanwhile is remodeling a ramshackle house in rural Québec, designed for Mammy if she ever comes back. The novel is the journal that he keeps during their parallel journeys.
The Daughter of Christopher Columbus (original, Gallimard, 1969; Will Browning translation, Guernica, 2000)
A novel in verse, told in rhyming quatrains (232 pp. in French, 192 in English). Plot description: A beautiful and naive Columbia Columbus wanders through the world in search of friendship upon the death of her famous father. She makes friends with an ever-growing number of animals. Some of the animals serve as bodyguards during her dramatic return to Montreal, in the year 2492, to celebrate the millennium of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America.
I’m not sure exactly when or how, but my attitude towards Twitter & online culture more generally has gradually been shifting. Whereas I used to be very active on Twitter and read around on the web quite a lot, whether literary stuff or just news stories, I now can’t sift through my Twitter feed or the home page of (hardly any) websites without an overwhelming feeling of dejection. (Or take your pick: disengagement, disaffection, disgust, sadness, alienation, acedia, abulia… sloth.) So much the better, right? — this has been a long time in the making, now it will be so much easier to shuffle off those old habits, which have been destroying my focus & discipline for years now. The number of hours I wasted on the Internet, on Twitter… incalculable.
I don’t know what is happening with me, &, dear reader, I don’t know what kind of blog this is either. In the interest of consistency I’ve tried to refrain from posting much in the way of my personal life — I’m quite guarded about that – but why? is it to protect myself? my loved ones? — and I’ve tried to make this a blog almost exclusively about literature and reading. But this no longer feels tenable to me. It’s not necessarily that I have anything a priori to say, some kind of intimate confession to make, or any kind of deliberate message at all — I don’t. The truth is that I’m disgruntled, & tired of my long silence. And the great thing about blogs is that they make possible the communication, more or less direct, of individuals with other individuals, without the intermediary of publishers, bookstores, book distributors, mail carriers, etc.
I said that I was leaving Twitter. Good. It was a great place to share thoughts with several dozen like-minded aesthetes, scattered around the globe, and I’m a little sad to leave it for that reason. Oh well.
What’s next, I do not know. Only that I have to be a little less guarded — less renitent, less inclined to police my thoughts before I publish them, here or elsewhere. No longer worry so much about the way I might appear refracted through the medium. Here’s to what’s ahead.
first chapter (or introduction?) of Love and Death in the American Novel (1960) – Leslie Fiedler
Steps (1968) – Jerry Koszinski
“Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy and the Structure of Paradox” by Rosalie Cole and “Sir Thomas Browne: The Relation of Urn Burial and The Garden of Cyrus” by Frank L. Huntley in Seventeenth Century Prose (1971)
These were both incredibly illuminating as to the Anatomy and Browne.
From the Steeples to Mountains: Charles Ives (1974) – David Woolridge.
This book touched me more than just about anything I’ve read in a long while. I got it out of curiosity about Ives, somewhat casually, but found it totally engrossing, all but about 30 pp. towards the end that seemed a bit excess. But this was magnificent, written in the vein of Olson & even sometimes Paul Metcalf, what with the play of multiple indents, juxtaposition, & collage. I am exploring Ives’s music now with greater interest than I was able to do before. Ditto for the Perlis oral history, below, which contains many touching descriptions of Ives in his sedentary old age.
Charles Ives: An Oral History (1974) – Vivian Perlis
3 stories by Breece D’J Pancake
Four New Messages (2012) – Joshua Cohen
I chanced upon Ives’s name first in a Joseph McElroy interview — a reference to the “haunted montage” of the 4th symphony in “Mid-course Corrections” — and then I found further allusions in some of the writings/interviews of Paul Metcalf. More recently I read a review of a biography of the musician and composer in Guy Davenport’s The Geography of the Imagination: Forty Essays. Now I have acquired that biography, David Woolridge’s From the Steeples to Mountains (Knopf, 1974).
It is very good, written somewhat in the style of Charles Olson’s Call Me Ishmael, or even at times with the typographically-inflected quotation-and-collage techniques of Metcalf. I am basically devouring it, which is rarer and rarer for me; it usually takes me weeks to even finish a book of 200 pages. What a fascinating figure Ives was.
One anecdote is too sweet not to share. When Ives was living in NYC as a young bachelor, when he was at the piano writing new compositions and practicing, he would from time to time get a word of strong approval from a neighbor across the way, shouting distantly or unseen, a neighbor by the name of Dick Schweppe. Apparently Ives never learned Schweppe’s profession, and trusted his opinion all the more for that. In his notebooks from the time, Ives occasionally makes a note of Dick Schweppe’s approval.
Apart from the book on Walter Raleigh’s lost colony of Roanoke, this month was pretty poor for my reading. I think I advanced about ten pages further into Marguerite Young’s marvelous Angel in the Forest, a book that shocks me with its brilliance and leaves me reeling with every page, every sentence even. And I am not exaggerating.
I tell myself one day I will read one of the many novels on my shelves. It’s a different type of experience, surely, than reading criticism, history, or poetry, as has been my wont of late. But it seems I read fewer and fewer novels: Looking back at my reading logs, I count five novels I read so far this year: two early novels by Harry Mathews, one by Ishmael Reed, The Alteration by Kingsley Amis, and Fatale by Manchette. (I’m not counting Angel in the Forest, which retards me so, I fear I’ll never finish it.) Of these, the only one that really strikes me as outstanding is The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium by Mathews.
I am kicking myself to get back on track and only read things that give me pleasure. I don’t know why it has to be this way. What a convoluted path my reading has taken.
Style, Rhetoric, & Rhythm: Essays (1966) – Morris Croll (begun; reading this in part for its angle on Euphuism and the so-called Baroque style of the 17th century)
Apalache (1976) – Paul Metcalf (re-reading; this is outstanding, and a favorite book of mine, as I’ve said before)
Printing Poetry: A Workbook in Typographic Reification (1980) – Clifford Burke
A Kingdom Strange: The Lost Colony of Roanoke Island (2010) – James Horn
Making Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World: A New History (2011) – Nick Bunker (begun; probably will not finish)
some books on Ohio history
Canada is supposedly marking its 150th year this summer. Just 150 years, that’s all? What a drab view of such a storied history. Better to recall:
When Jacques Cartier and his crew visited Hochelaga in 1535, the Indians were eager to trade: “These people came towards our boats in as friendly and familiar a manner as if we had been natives of the country, bringing us great store of fish and of whatever else they possessed, in order to obtain our wares, stretching forth their hands towards heaven and making many gestures and signs of joy.”
– New Worlds for All: Indians, Europeans, and the Remaking of Early America, 2nd ed., by Colin G. Calloway, Johns Hokins U, 2013. P. 44.
The natives’ good faith was betrayed, in due time. But there’s something to be said for this incident. Canada is already there — the indigenes going to meet the new arrivals.
Angel in the Forest: An Epic of Two Utopias – A Chronicle of the Experiments by Father George Rapp & by Robert Owen in Nineteenth Century America (1945) – Marguerite Young
The Middle Passage: A Triptych of Commodities (1976), U.S. Dept. of the Interior (1980) – Paul Metcalf (reread)
Common Landscape of America, 1580-1845 (1982) – John R. Stilgoe
Achab (séquelles) (2015) – Pierre Senges
Winslow Homer at the Addison (1990) – Paul Metcalf
“There comes a delicate moment: the moment of suspicion when one starts to consider encyclopedism, the thirst for knowledge, no longer as the ideal antidote to stupidity, but as the insidious and inevitable vehicle of stupidity. As we know, libraries all around the world paradoxically abound with expressions of this suspicion toward books and reading: St. Augustine’s suspicion, Lucian’s satire pillorying an ignorant bibliomane, Nicholas of Cusa’s reservations about the limits of our knowledge, all that returns anew with each successive generation like the critique of scholasticism reborn from its own ashes, and, of course, Gustave Flaubert’s Sottisier too.
“Formerly knowledge appeared as self-evident, an incontestable antidote, but soon it assumes a different kind of self-evidence, rather like the pomposity described by Pierre Damien, like the malady of the Sorbonnites, like the stupor characteristic of overfull heads—between the two self-evidences, while passing from the first to the next, there comes a moment of instability when uncertainty has an important role to play, when it seems as if it might be able to compete with stupidity—stupidity, standing perfectly on its own two legs, comfortable everywhere, in contact with all that’s a given: the stupidity of illiterate peasants and the stupidity of doctors both. We find this moment of uncertainty in the pages of Bouvard and Pécuchet, and also in Flaubert’s letters when he was writing Bouvard and Pécuchet: the emotion is the same; familiarly, we go on from page to page; and ask ourselves, how can we resist stupidity when projects of universal erudition such as Auguste Comte’s Essay of Positive Philosophy, the exact opposite of ignorance, in fact contain entire Californias of grotesquery?”
Pierre Senges, “Undertaking and Renunciation,” trans. Jacob Siefring, in Prodigal Lit Mag
The Dust of Suns (c.1930/1990s) – Raymond Roussel (trans. Harry Mathews)
The Philosophers’ Madonna (1931/2008) – Carlo Emilio Gadda (trans. Antony Melville)
Exercises in Style (1947/2012) – Raymond Queneau (trans. Barbara Wright & Chris Clarke)
Trial Impressions (1977), The New Tourism (2008?) – Harry Mathews
The Attraction of Things (?) – Roger LeWinter (trans. Rachel Carreau)
The Nonconformist’s Memorial (1993) – Susan Howe
The Case of the Persevering Maltese (various) – Harry Mathews
The Emerald Light in the Air (2014) – Donald Antrim
I read only three of these stories, and was sufficiently terrified to leave off there. “Another Manhattan” in particular left me feeling I couldn’t go on. I read Antrim’s first novel about seven years ago and found it nothing to write home about, but this is hardly the same author. I think I would enjoy, and will seek out, Antrim’s The Hundred Brothers.
What Is Landscape? (2015) – John R. Stilgoe
plans sauvages (2016) – Hélène Fréderick
Debths (2017) – Susan Howe
The Transport… (2017) – John Trefry
My Back Pages (2017) – Steven Moore (Skipping around in this. Is Moore America’s best (living) critic? I would hazard to say so.)