Archive for ‘Literature’

April 20, 2014

Easter in Shakespeare

by Biblioklept

From Thomas Firminger Thiselton-Dyer’s indispensable volume Folk-lore in Shakespeare:

Easter. According to a popular superstition, it is considered unlucky to omit wearing new clothes on Easter Day, to which Shakespeare no doubt alludes in “Romeo and Juliet” (iii. 1), when he makes Mercutio ask Benvolio whether he did “not fall out with a tailor for wearing his new doublet before Easter.” In East Yorkshire, on Easter Eve, young folks go to the nearest market-town to buy some new article of dress or personal adornment to wear for the first time on Easter Day, as otherwise they believe that birds—notably rooks or “crakes”—will spoil their clothes. In “Poor Robin’s Almanac” we are told: “At Easter let your clothes be new, Or else be sure you will it rue.” Some think that the custom of “clacking” at Easter—which is not quite obsolete in some counties—is incidentally alluded to in “Measure for Measure” (iii. 2) by Lucio: “his use was, to put a ducat in her clack-dish.” [649] The clack or clap dish was a wooden dish with a movable cover, formerly carried by beggars, which they clacked and clattered to show that it was empty. In this they received the alms. Lepers and other paupers deemed infectious originally used it, that the sound might give warning not to approach too near, and alms be given without touching the person. A popular name for Easter Monday was Black Monday, so called, says Stow, because “in the 34th of Edward III. (1360), the 14th of April, and the morrow after Easter Day, King Edward, with his host, lay before the city of Paris; which day was full dark of mist and hail, and so bitter cold, that many men died on their horses’ backs with the cold. Wherefore unto this day it hath been call’d the Blacke Monday.” Thus, in the “Merchant of Venice” (ii. 5), Launcelot says, “it was not for nothing that my nose fell a-bleeding on Black Monday last at six o’clock i’ the morning.”

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April 19, 2014

Ben Jonson’s Egg Wine

by Biblioklept

From Books and my food: with literary quotations and original recipes for every day of the year by Elisabeth Luther Cary and Annie Maria Jones

April 19, 2014

Käthe Kollwitz kept painting poor people (Kollwitz/Vollmann)

by Biblioklept

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She worked without reference to the fiery proto-Cubism of those years, the representational, classical past as dead as the Second Reich itself, dead, dead!—as dead as the Tsarist officers who’d now sunk beneath their own weedy mucky parade grounds so that the Party of Lenin and Stalin could march across their moldering faces. Since 1912 she had kept a room on Siegmund-shof for her plastic arts. That was where she would create the mourning woman out of stone. Mostly she carved, etched, and painted in that flat on Weissenbürgerstrasse. Those were the years when the figures in other people’s paintings began to go ever flatter, more garish, more distorted, the colors hurtful to her although she liked some of the galloping calligraphic riders in Kandinsky. Grosz’s desperately angry caricatures, the X-ray bitterness of Otto Dix, not to mention abstract constructivism; she didn’t swim with that tide. Käthe Kollwitz kept painting poor people, starving people (white figures in dark fields, dark chalk on brown Ingres paper), raped women, mothers with dying children, mothers with dead children. In the end she depicted mainly herself, her stricken, simian face thinking and grieving. She too was a mother with a dead child.

From William Vollmann’s Europe Central.

April 18, 2014

Eggs à la Nabocoque

by Biblioklept

Vladimir Nabokov’s recipe for eggs (à la Nabocoque, natch)–

Boil water in a saucepan (bubbles mean it is boiling!). Take two eggs (for one person) out of the refrigerator. Hold them under the hot tap water to make them ready for what awaits them.

Place each in a pan, one after the other, and let them slip soundlessly into the (boiling) water. Consult your wristwatch. Stand over them with a spoon preventing them (they are apt to roll) from knocking against the damned side of the pan.

If, however, an egg cracks in the water (now bubbling like mad) and starts to disgorge a cloud of white stuff like a medium in an oldfashioned seance, fish it out and throw it away. Take another and be more careful.

After 200 seconds have passed, or, say, 240 (taking interruptions into account), start scooping the eggs out. Place them, round end up, in two egg cups. With a small spoon tap-tap in a circle and hen pry open the lid of the shell. Have some salt and buttered bread (white) ready. Eat.

V.N.
November 18, 1972

April 18, 2014

Fiction cannot be reduced to mere falsehood (William T. Vollmann)

by Biblioklept

Most literary critics agree that fiction cannot be reduced to mere falsehood. Well-crafted protagonists come to life, pornography causes orgasms, and the pretense that life is what we want it to be may conceivably bring about the desired condition. Hence religious parables, socialist realism, Nazi propaganda. And if this story likewise crawls with reactionary supernaturalism, that might be because its author longs to see letters scuttling across ceilings, cautiously beginning to reify themselves into angels. For if they could only do that, then why not us?

From William T. Vollmann’s novel Europe Central.

April 17, 2014

RIP Gabriel García Márquez

by Biblioklept

RIP Gabriel García Márquez, 1927-2014

Gabo the Giant is dead.

Long live the Giant.

April 17, 2014

“It’s not just a stream of gibberish” |On Illustrating Finnegans Wake

by Biblioklept

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At The Honest Ulsterman, Darran Anderson talks with Stephen Crowe about illustrating James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake in his project Wake in Progress. From the interview:

DA: Do you approach the book as a puzzle or a palette? Do you try to make your artwork close to what Joyce might have meant or do you embrace the possibilities of your own interpretations? Is it possible or even desirable to try to work out what Joyce meant?

SC: Clearly Joyce meant to say something – it’s not just a stream of gibberish. So as an illustrator I think I owe it to the text to try to understand as much of it as I can. I try to figure out at least a couple of different ways to interpret every passage, but I certainly don’t exhaust every avenue. There’s a limit to how much information I can cram into the illustrations anyway. On the other hand, I do think that there are portions of the book where it’s not really important to understand it on a semantic level. Joyce was deeply influenced by music in his writing, and I think it’s fine to appreciate some of the book quite passively, as if it were music. I would agree that there’s no such thing as “understanding” the book entirely. Partial incomprehensibility is part of its design.

April 17, 2014

“Holy Thursday” — William Blake

by Biblioklept

April 16, 2014

Jorge Luis Borges, Forgeries, and Book Theft

by Biblioklept

jlb

Fascinating story today at The Paris Review about a first edition of Jorge Luis Borges’s early poems stolen—and then returned (perhaps?)—to the National Library of Argentina. Forgeries, facsimiles, and book thefts! The following paragraph points out that Borges himself was once director of the library:

The National Library is as old as Argentina: it was created in 1810, together with the first national government, and its first director was Mariano Moreno, one of the greatest national heroes and the founder of the country’s first newspaper. The library was, at one point, something to be proud of, and Borges’s name is inextricably linked to its history; he was its director for eighteen years, between 1955 and 1973. By then, books were already disappearing from its shelves. When asked whether this was true, he replied, in typical fashion, “I can’t tell whether books are being stolen, because I’m blind.”

Read the essay.

April 16, 2014

Every animal, after coition, is sad.

by Biblioklept

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From Joseph T. Shipley’s The Origin of English Words: A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots. I’ve found the book indispensable for years now—its discursiveness is a lunatic joy to get lost in. Anyway, the above passages extend/unwind from the root ap/apo; I found it while looking up the eytmology of poseur.

April 15, 2014

“Endicott and the Red Cross” — Nathaniel Hawthorne

by Biblioklept

“Endicott and the Red Cross”

by

Nathaniel Hawthorne

At noon of an autumnal day, more than two centuries ago, the English colors were displayed by the standard-bearer of the Salem trainband, which had mustered for martial exercise under the orders of John Endicott. It was a period, when the religious exiles were accustomed often to buckle on their armour, and practice the handling of their weapons of war. Since the first settlement of New England, its prospects had never been so dismal. The dissensions between Charles the First and his subjects were then, and for several years afterwards, confined to the floor of Parliament. The measures of the King and ministry were rendered more tyrannically violent by an opposition, which had not yet acquired sufficient confidence in its own strength, to resist royal injustice with the sword. The bigoted and haughty primate, Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, controlled the religious affairs of the realm, and was consequently invested with powers which might have wrought the utter ruin of the two Puritan colonies, Plymouth and Massachusetts. There is evidence on record, that our forefathers perceived their danger, but were resolved that their infant country should not fall without a struggle, even beneath the giant strength of the King’s right arm.

Such was the aspect of the times, when the folds of the English banner, with the Red Cross in its field, were flung out over a company of Puritans. Their leader, the famous Endicott, was a man of stern and resolute countenance, the effect of which was heightened by a grizzled beard that swept the upper portion of his breastplate. This piece of armour was so highly polished, that the whole surrounding scene had its image in the glittering steel. The central object, in the mirrored picture, was an edifice of humble architecture, with neither steeple nor bell to proclaim it,–what nevertheless it was,–the house of prayer. A token of the perils of the wilderness was seen in the grim head of a wolf, which had just been slain within the precincts of the town, and, according to the regular mode of claiming the bounty, was nailed on the porch of the meetinghouse. The blood was still plashing on the door-step. There happened to be visible, at the same noontide hour, so many other characteristics of the times and manners of the Puritans, that we must endeavour to represent them in a sketch, though far less vividly than they were reflected in the polished breastplate of John Endicott.

April 14, 2014

“Finally, feverishly, I read this book that I would love to have written” (Vollmann’s Europe Central in Binet’s HHhH)

by Biblioklept

I, too, am transfixed—because I’m reading Europe Central by William T. Vollmann, which has just appeared in French. Finally, feverishly, I read this book that I would love to have written, and I wonder, reading the endless first chapter, how long he’ll keep it up, this style, this incredible tone. In fact, it lasts only eight pages, but those eight pages are magical, with phrases streaming past as in a dream, and I understand nothing, and understand everything. This is perhaps the first time that the voice of history has resounded so perfectly, and I am struck by this revelation: history is a prophet who says “We.” The first chapter is entitled “Steel in Motion,” and I read: “In a moment steel will begin to move, slowly at first, like troop trains pulling out of their stations, then more quickly and ubiquitously, the square crowds of steel-helmed men moving forward, flanked by rows of shiny planes; then tanks, planes and other projectiles will accelerate beyond recall.” And, further on: “Serving the sleepwalker’s rapture, Göring promises that five hundred more rocket-powered planes will be ready within a lightning-flash. Then he runs out for a tryst with the film star Lida Baarova.” The Czech. When I quote an author, I must be careful to cut my quotations every seven lines. No longer than seven lines. Like spies on the telephone: no more than thirty seconds, so they can’t track you down. “In Moscow, Marshal Tukhachevsky announces that operations in a future war will unfold as broad maneuver undertakings on a massive scale. He’ll be shot right away. And Europe Central’s ministers, who will also be shot, appear on balconies supported by nude marble girls, where they utter dreamy speeches, all the while listening for the ring of the telephone.” In the newspaper, somebody explains to me that this is an account of “slow-burning intensity,” a novel that is “more fantastical than historical,” the reading of which “requires a psychoanalytic listening.” I understand. I will remember. So … where was I?

From Laurent Binet’s novel HHhH.

I need to slam out a review of HHhH, which I loved.

April 13, 2014

Don Quixote — Gustave Doré

by Biblioklept

April 13, 2014

The Kindly Ones is simply “Houellebecq does Nazism” (From Laurent Binet’s HHhH)

by Biblioklept

A poster on an Internet forum expresses the opinion that Max Aue, Jonathan Littell’s protagonist in The Kindly Ones, “rings true because he is the mirror of his age.” What? No! He rings true (for certain, easily duped readers) because he is the mirror of our age: a postmodern nihilist, essentially. At no moment in the novel is it suggested that this character believes in Nazism. On the contrary, he displays an often critical detachment toward National Socialist doctrine—and in that sense, he can hardly be said to reflect the delirious fanaticism prevalent in his time. On the other hand, this detachment, this blasé attitude toward everything, this permanent malaise, this taste for philosophizing, this unspoken amorality, this morose sadism, and this terrible sexual frustration that constantly twists his guts … but of course! How did I not see it before? Suddenly, everything is clear. The Kindly Ones is simply “Houellebecq does Nazism.”

From Laurent Binet’s novel HHhH; English Translation by Sam Taylor.

Enjoyed the novel tremendously.

I’m not sure if Binet’s remarks (or, Binet’s narrator, who is Binet-performing-author-as-narrator) are exactly a literary dis or not (I’m pretty sure he’s dissing Littell, but unsure how Houellebecq fits in there, or what).

(My thoughts on The Kindly Ones; my thoughts on Houellebecq’s The Elementary Particles).

April 13, 2014

Eudora Welty on Austen, Chekhov, and Woolf

by Biblioklept

INTERVIEWER

You wrote somewhere that we should still tolerate Jane Austen’s kind of family novel. Is Austen a kindred spirit?

EUDORA WELTY

Tolerate? I should just think so! I love and admire all she does, and profoundly, but I don’t read her or anyone else for “kindredness.” The piece you’re referring to was written on assignment for Brief Lives, an anthology Louis Kronenberger was editing. He did offer me either Jane Austen or Chekhov, and Chekhov I do dare to think is more “kindred.” I feel closer to him in spirit, but I couldn’t read Russian, which I felt whoever wrote about him should be able to do. Chekhov is one of us—so close to today’s world, to my mind, and very close to the South—which Stark Young pointed out a long time ago.

INTERVIEWER

Why is Chekhov close to today’s South?

WELTY

He loved the singularity in people, the individuality. He took for granted the sense of family. He had the sense of fate overtaking a way of life, and his Russian humor seems to me kin to the humor of a Southerner. It’s the kind that lies mostly in character. You know, inUncle Vanya and The Cherry Orchard, how people are always gathered together and talking and talking, no one’s really listening. Yet there’s a great love and understanding that prevails through it, and a knowledge and acceptance of each other’s idiosyncrasies, a tolerance of them, and also an acute enjoyment of the dramatic. Like in The Three Sisters, when the fire is going on, how they talk right on through their exhaustion, and Vershinin says, “I feel a strange excitement in the air,” and laughs and sings and talks about the future. That kind of responsiveness to the world, to whatever happens, out of their own deeps of character seems very southern to me. Anyway, I took a temperamental delight in Chekhov, and gradually the connection was borne in upon me.

INTERVIEWER

Do you ever return to Virginia Woolf?

WELTY

Yes. She was the one who opened the door. When I read To the Lighthouse, I felt, Heavens, what is this? I was so excited by the experience I couldn’t sleep or eat. I’ve read it many times since, though more often these days I go back to her diary. Any day you open it to will be tragic, and yet all the marvelous things she says about her work, about working, leave you filled with joy that’s stronger than your misery for her. Remember—“I’m not very far along, but I think I have my statues against the sky”? Isn’t that beautiful?

From Eudora Welty’s interview with The Paris Review.

April 13, 2014

Eudora Welty — Barry Moser

by Biblioklept

moser-welty

April 12, 2014

“Five common methods by which sex gains an entrance into literature” (William H. Gass)

by Biblioklept

So I shall, keeping one in each of my four pockets while one is in my mouth, describe five common methods by which sex gains an entrance into literature . . . as through French doors and jimmied windows thieves break in upon our dreams to rape our women, steal our power tools, and vandalize our dreams. The commonest, of course, is the most brazen: the direct depiction of sexual material— thoughts, acts, wishes; the second involves the use of sexual words of various sorts, and I shall pour one of each vile kind into the appropriate porches of your ears , for pronounc-ing and praising print to the ear is what the decently encouraged eye does happily. The third can be considered, in a sense, the very heart of indirection, and thus the essence of the artist’s art— displacement: the passage of the mind with all its blue elastic ditty bags and airline luggage f r o m steamy sexual scenes and sweaty bodies to bedrooms with their bedsteads, nightstands, water-glasses, manuals of instruction, thence to sheets and pillowcases, hence to dents in these, and creases, stains and other cries of passion which have left their prints , and finally to the painted chalk-white oriental face of amorously handled air and mountains,, lewdly entered lakes. The fourth I shall simply refer to now as the skyblue eye (somewhere, it seems to me, there should be a brief pinch of suspense), and the fifth, well, it’s really what I’m running into all my inks about, so I had better mention it: the use of language like a lover . . . not the language of love, but the love of language, not matter, but meaning, not what the tongue touches, but what it forms, not lips and nipples, but nouns and verbs.

From William H. Gass’s essay-novel On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry.

April 11, 2014

“Lily Daw and the Three Ladies” — Eudora Welty

by Biblioklept

“Lily Daw and the Three Ladies”

by Eudora Welty

Mrs Watts and Mrs Carson were both in the post office in Victory when the letter came from the Ellisville Institute for the Feeble Minded of Mississippi. Aimee Slocum, with her hand still full of mail, ran out in front and handed it straight to Mrs Watts, and they all three read it together. Mrs Watts held it taut between her pink hands, and Mrs Carson underscored each line slowly with her thimbled finger. Everybody else in the post office wondered what was up now.

“What will Lily say,” beamed Mrs Carson at last, “when we tell her we’re sending her to Ellisville!”

“She’ll be tickled to death,” said Mrs Watts, and added in a guttural voice to a deaf lady, “Lily Daw’s getting in at Ellisville!”

“Don’t you all dare go off and tell Lily without me!” called Aimee Slocum, trotting back to finish putting up the mail.

“Do you suppose they’ll look after her down there?” Mrs Carson began to carry on a conversation with a group of Baptist ladies waiting in the post office. She was the Baptist preacher’s wife.

“I’ve always heard it was lovely down there, but crowded,” said one.

“Lily lets people walk over her so,” said another.

“Last night at the tent show—-” said another, and then popped her hand over her mouth.

“Don’t mind me, I know there are such things in the world,” said Mrs Carson, looking down and fingering the tape measure which hung over her bosom.

“Oh, Mrs Carson. Well, anyway, last night at the tent show, why, the man was just before making Lily buy a ticket to get in.”

“A ticket!”

“Till my husband went up and explained she wasn’t bright, and so did everybody else.”

The ladies all clucked their tongues.

“Oh, it was a very nice show,” said the lady who had gone. “And Lily acted so nice. She was a perfect lady–just set in her seat and stared.”

“Oh, she can be a lady–she can be,” said Mrs Carson, shaking her head and turning her eyes up. “That’s just what breaks your heart.”

“Yes’m, she kept her eyes on–what’s that thing makes all the commotion?–the xylophone,” said the lady. “Didn’t turn her head to the right or to the left the whole time. Set in front of me.”

“The point is, what did she do after the show?” asked Mrs Watts practically. “Lily has gotten so she is very mature for her age.”

“Oh, Etta!” protested Mrs Carson, looking at her wildly for a moment.

“And that’s how come we are sending her to Ellisville,” finished Mrs Watts.

“I’m ready, you all,” said Aimee Slocum, running out with white powder all over her face. “Mail’s up. I don’t know how good it’s up.”

“Well, of course, I do hope it’s for the best,” said several of the other ladies. They did not go at once to take their mail out of their boxes; they felt a little left out.

The three women stood at the foot of the water tank.

“To find Lily is a different thing,” said Aimee Slocum.

“Where in the wide world do you suppose she’d be?” It was Mrs Watts who was carrying the letter.

“I don’t see a sign of her either on this side of the street or on the other side,” Mrs Carson declared as they walked along.

Ed Newton was stringing Redbird school tablets on the wire across the store.

April 10, 2014

Language becomes a compromised ideology

by Biblioklept

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April 10, 2014

“Beside Schopenhauer’s Corpse” — Guy De Maupassant

by Biblioklept

“Beside Schopenhauer’s Corpse”

by

Guy de Maupassant

He was slowly dying, as consumptives die. I saw him each day, about two o’clock, sitting beneath the hotel windows on a bench in the promenade, looking out on the calm sea. He remained for some time without moving, in the heat of the sun, gazing mournfully at the Mediterranean. Every now and then, he cast a glance at the lofty mountains with beclouded summits that shut in Mentone; then, with a very slow movement, he would cross his long legs, so thin that they seemed like two bones, around which fluttered the cloth of his trousers, and he would open a book, always the same book. And then he did not stir any more, but read on, read on with his eye and his mind; all his wasting body seemed to read, all his soul plunged, lost, disappeared, in this book, up to the hour when the cool air made him cough a little. Then, he got up and reentered the hotel.

He was a tall German, with fair beard, who breakfasted and dined in his own room, and spoke to nobody.

A vague, curiosity attracted me to him. One day, I sat down by his side, having taken up a book, too, to keep up appearances, a volume of Musset’s poems.

And I began to look through “Rolla.”

Suddenly, my neighbor said to me, in good French:

“Do you know German, monsieur?”

“Not at all, monsieur.”

“I am sorry for that. Since chance has thrown us side by side, I could have lent you, I could have shown you, an inestimable thing—this book which I hold in my hand.”

“What is it, pray?”

“It is a copy of my master, Schopenhauer, annotated with his own hand. All the margins, as you may see, are covered with his handwriting.”

I took the book from him reverently, and I gazed at these forms incomprehensible to me, but which revealed the immortal thoughts of the greatest shatterer of dreams who had ever dwelt on earth.

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