Jeffrey Rotter’s novel The Only Words That Are Worth Remembering is new in hardback from Henry Holt. Their blurb:
A darkly comic, wildly original novel of a family in flight from the law, set in a near-future America — a Clockwork Orange with a Huck Finn heart.
In a not-so-distant future, astronomy has become a fairy tale, Copernicus is forgotten, and the Earth has resumed its lonely spot in the center of the universe. But when an ancient bunker containing a preserved space vehicle is discovered beneath the ruins of Cape Canaveral, it has the power to turn this retrograde world inside out.Enter the Van Zandt clan, whose run-ins with the law leave them with a no-win choice: test-pilot the rocket together as a family or be sent separately to prison for life. Their decision sets off an antic and heartbreaking search for human solace in a world bent on isolation, as the Van Zandts embark on an unforgettable road trip across the ass-end of an America only slightly more dissolute than our own. Uniquely tying an absurdist future to gut-bucket wit, The Only Words That Are Worth Remembering hauls our dark humanity into the light and shows us the precious places where it gleams.
The Temptation of St. Antony, Leonora Carrington
Nice piece by Alice Sprawls on Leonora Carrington (whose work is now on display in the Tate) in The London Review of Books today. Excerpt:
Domesticity in Carrington’s paintings and stories is the scene of Ovidian and spiritual transformations; cooking was a sort of alchemy, like painting, and she began increasingly to use egg tempera – influenced by paintings she had seen in Siena but also by its almost culinary processes (separating the egg yolk, adding wine or vinegar then water and pigment). She refused to explain her personal symbolism, but called reading The White Goddess ‘the greatest revelation of my life’. The figure of the muse, Robert Graves’s ‘Mother of all Living, the ancient power of fright and lust’, became less burdensome as manifested in The Giantess (c.1950), whose colossal central figure towers over the scene like a Madonna della Misericordia. She cradles an egg; geese fly out from beneath her pallium; her golden hair is a field of wheat. Around her feet a hunt is taking place – Uccello’s Hunt in the Forest but with a sylph instead of a stag – while the sea behind is teeming with boats, whales, crabs and bizarre creatures like monsters on a medieval map.
From 1950 the paintings become even more fantastical. Many are dominated by bald, spectral white figures: the Sidhe of Irish legends her grandmother told her. In Darvault(1950), Carrington’s two sons by Weisz, Pablo and Gabriel, stand in a de Chirico-esque courtyard, pale and cloaked with small plants growing from their heads. Is Carrington the feline figure in the apron with the elaborate white headdress and whiskers? InDown Below Carrington had described the worldview of her madness – ‘the father was the planet Cosmos, represented by the planet Saturn: the son was the Sun and I the Moon, an essential element of the Trinity, with a microscopic knowledge of the earth’ – and in Mexico she incorporated more and more elements of myth and occultism into her works; not just the Catholicism and Celtic stories of her childhood but astrological and Egyptian imagery, cabbala, Tibetan Buddhism, tarot.
Every man has reminiscences which he would not tell to every one, but only to his friends. He has other matters in his mind which he would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret. But there are other things which a man is afraid to tell even to himself, and every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind. The more decent he is, the greater the number of such things in his mind. Anyway, I have only lately determined to remember some of my early adventures. Till now I have always avoided them, even with a certain uneasiness. Now, when I am not only recalling them, but have actually decided to write an account of them, I want to try the experiment whether one can, even with oneself, be perfectly open and not take fright at the whole truth. I will observe, in parenthesis, that Heine says that a true autobiography is almost an impossibility, and that man is bound to lie about himself. He considers that Rousseau certainly told lies about himself in his confessions, and even intentionally lied, out of vanity. I am convinced that Heine is right; I quite understand how sometimes one may, out of sheer vanity, attribute regular crimes to oneself, and indeed I can very well conceive that kind of vanity. But Heine judged of people who made their confessions to the public. I write only for myself, and I wish to declare once and for all that if I write as though I were addressing readers, that is simply because it is easier for me to write in that form. It is a form, an empty form—I shall never have readers. I have made this plain already….
From Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel Notes from Underground. English translation by Constance Garnett.
It was as though, in some odd quantum stroke, Hemingway died one day and Pynchon was born the next. One literature bends into another. Pynchon has made American writing a broader and stronger force. He found whispers and apparitions at the edge of modern awareness but did not lessen our sense of the physicality of American prose, the shotgun vigor, the street humor, the body fluids, the put-on.
I was writing ads for Sears truck tires when a friend gave me a copy of V. in paperback. I read it and thought, Where did this come from?
The scale of his work, large in geography and unafraid of major subjects, helped us locate our fiction not only in small anonymous corners, human and ever-essential, but out there as well, in the sprawl of high imagination and collective dreams.
Don DeLillo on Thomas Pynchon. From the Summer 2005 issue of Bookforum.
You do remember Chaucer, even if you have not read him you do remember not how it looks but how it sounds, how simply it sounds as it sounds. That is as I say because the words were there. They had not yet to be chosen, they had only has yet to be there just there.
That makes a sound that gently sings that gently sounds but sounds as sounds. It sounds as sounds of course as words but it sounds as sounds. It sounds as sounds that is to say as birds as well as words. And that is because the words are there, they are not chosen as words, they are already there. That is the way Chaucer sounds.
From Gertrude Stein’s lecture “What Is English Literature” (no question mark); collected in Look at Me Now and Here I Am.