Thomas Bernhard’s Atzbacher on State-Sanctioned Corpses

Irrsigler has that irritating stare which museum attendants employ in order to intimidate the visitors who, as is well known, are endowed with all kinds of bad behaviour; his manner of abruptly and utterly soundlessly appearing round the corner of whatever room in order to inspect it is indeed repulsive to anyone who does not know him; in his grey uniform, badly cut and yet intended for eternity, held together by large black buttons and hanging on his meagre body as if from a coat rack, and with his peaked cap tailored from the same grey cloth, he is more reminiscent of a warder in one of our penal institutions than of a state-employed guardian of works of art. Ever since I have known him Irrsigler has always been as pale as he now is, even though he is not sick, and Reger has for decades described him as a state corpse on duty at the Kunsthistorisches Museum for over thirty-six years.

–Thomas Bernhard, Old Masters, trans. Ewald Osers. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.
 

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The Conium Review, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Book Acquired, 8,19.2013)

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This came in the mail a few weeks ago; I read a few of the poems and flash fictions, but haven’t had made time for the stories or the novella. From the The Conium Review’s website:

This issue of The Conium Review contains seventeen poems, five pieces of flash fiction, four short stories, and one novella. The contributing poets and writers are Elena Botts, Valentina Cano, Paola Capó-García, Patrick Cole, Darren C. Demaree, Thomas Dodson, Edward A. Dougherty, Ginger Graziano, Alamgir Hashmi, Kyle Hemmings, Nicholas Kriefall, Connie A. Lopez-Hood, Carlo Matos, Gretchen McGill, Robert McGuill, Thomas Mundt, Catherine Owen, Natalie Peeterse, Richard King Perkins II, Octavio Quintanilla, Charles Rafferty, Scott Ragland, Jonathan H. Roberts, M. A. Schaffner, Jacob Schepers, Claude Clayton Smith, and Emily Strauss. The cover art is courtesy of Loren Kantor.

 

RIP Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard 1983

RIP Elmore Leonard, 1925 – 2013

elmore-leonard-writing-advice

Read 45 Small Fates from Teju Cole

If you follow Teju Cole on Twitter, you’ve likely already read many of his small fates, tweets he composed over two years drawn from Nigerian newspapers. The project follows the spirit of Félix Fénéon’s faits divers, three-line tragedies collected from the news.

Cole has written about the project in detail at his site, as have a number of other sites, but I can’t recall seeing the small fates put together in one place before The New Inquiry published 45 today under the title I don’t normally do this sort of thing. Cole’s small fates operate on a wonderfully strange axis of comedy and horror; they are brief but rich, ironic but intensely real.

Sample:

tc

Read the rest of I don’t normally do this sort of thing.

I also highly recommend Cole’s novel Open City.

“On the Art of Fiction” — Willa Cather

“On the Art of Fiction” by Willa Cather

One is sometimes asked about the “obstacles” that confront young writers who are trying to do good work. I should say the greatest obstacles that writers today have to get over, are the dazzling journalistic successes of twenty years ago, stories that surprised and delighted by their sharp photographic detail and that were really nothing more than lively pieces of reporting. The whole aim of that school of writing was novelty—never a very important thing in art. They gave us, altogether, poor standards—taught us to multiply our ideas instead of to condense them. They tried to make a story out of every theme that occurred to them and to get returns on every situation that suggested itself. They got returns, of a kind. But their work, when one looks back on it, now that the novelty upon which they counted so much is gone, is journalistic and thin. The especial merit of a good reportorial story is that it shall be intensely interesting and pertinent today and shall have lost its point by tomorrow.

Art, it seems to me, should simplify. That, indeed, is very nearly the whole of the higher artistic process; finding what conventions of form and what detail one can do without and yet preserve the spirit of the whole—so that all that one has suppressed and cut away is there to the reader’s consciousness as much as if it were in type on the page. Millet had done hundreds of sketches of peasants sowing grain, some of them very complicated and interesting, but when he came to paint the spirit of them all into one picture, “The Sower,” the composition is so simple that it seems inevitable. All the discarded sketches that went before made the picture what it finally became, and the process was all the time one of simplifying, of sacrificing many conceptions good in themselves for one that was better and more universal.

Any first rate novel or story must have in it the strength of a dozen fairly good stories that have been sacrificed to it. A good workman can’t be a cheap workman; he can’t be stingy about wasting material, and he cannot compromise. Writing ought either to be the manufacture of stories for which there  is a market demand—a business as safe and commendable as making soap or breakfast foods—or it should be an art, which is always a search for something for which there is no market demand, something new and untried, where the values are intrinsic and have nothing to do with standardized values. The courage to go on without compromise does not come to a writer all at once—nor, for that matter, does the ability. Both are phases of natural development. In the beginning the artist, like his public, is wedded to old forms, old ideals, and his vision is blurred by the memory of old delights he would like to recapture.

The Borzoi, 1920

 

What Dies in Summer (Book Acquired, 5.02.2013)

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Tom Wright’s What Dies in Summer is new in trade paperback. Pub’s blurb:

A riveting Southern Gothic coming-of-age debut by major new talent.

“I did what I did, and that’s on me.” From that tantalizing first sentence, Tom Wright sweeps us up in a tale of lost innocence. Jim has a touch of the Sight. It’s nothing too spooky and generally useless, at least until the summer his cousin L.A. moves in with him and their grandmother. When Jim and L.A. discover the body of a girl, brutally raped and murdered in a field, an investigation begins that will put both their lives in danger. In the spirit of The Lovely Bones and The Little FriendWhat Dies in Summer is a novel that casts its spell on the very first page and leaves an indelible mark.

And the lede from Julie Myerson’s review last year in the NYT:

Why do teenagers make such ideal protagonists? Maybe it’s because they’re doing just what novels do: struggling to make sense of a troubling and imperfect world. And at first, Jim, called Biscuit, and L. A. (Lee Ann), the teenage cousins at the heart of Tom Wright’s feisty first novel, are ­exactly what you hope they’ll be: funny, frank, mouthy and more than a touch off kilter. Both are forced to live with their grandmother because their mothers aren’t up to the task of child rearing. Their homes are haunted by alcoholism and violence, but Gram takes a simple, affectionate, responsibility for them — though it’s almost inevitable that certain questions, if not the answers, will push their ugly way to the surface sooner or later.

Mortal Lock (Book Acquired, 5.02.2013)

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Mortal Lock by Andrew Vachss seems like a good choice for anyone who digs short, punchy crime noir stories. There’s also a screenplay in here. Random House’s blurb:

A hit man stalks his mark at a race track. A sociopath crosses every moral boundary to become a published author. An ex-mercenary obsessively defends his “perimeter” from a dangerous interloper. A man for hire grudgingly accepts help from a teenage girl to track an online predator. In a dystopian future, young people struggle for survival underground, forming themselves into vicious gangs with only the graffiti of the “last journalists” accepted as truth. Andrew Vachss collects twenty tight, powerful stories—all from the past decade of his career, including some now published for the first time—along with an original screenplay. Together, they form Mortal Lock, a searing portrait of the criminal underworld, with both its depravity and humanity on display.

 

“A Happy Wanderer” — Joseph Conrad

“A Happy Wanderer” by Joseph Conrad

Converts are interesting people.  Most of us, if you will pardon me for betraying the universal secret, have, at some time or other, discovered in ourselves a readiness to stray far, ever so far, on the wrong road.  And what did we do in our pride and our cowardice?  Casting fearful glances and waiting for a dark moment, we buried our discovery discreetly, and kept on in the old direction, on that old, beaten track we have not had courage enough to leave, and which we perceive now more clearly than before to be but the arid way of the grave.

The convert, the man capable of grace (I am speaking here in a secular sense), is not discreet.  His pride is of another kind; he jumps gladly off the track—the touch of grace is mostly sudden—and facing about in a new direction may even attain the illusion of having turned his back on Death itself.

Some converts have, indeed, earned immortality by their exquisite indiscretion.  The most illustrious example of a convert, that Flower of chivalry, Don Quixote de la Mancha, remains for all the world the only genuine immortal hidalgo.  The delectable Knight of Spain became converted, as you know, from the ways of a small country squire to an imperative faith in a tender and sublime mission.  Forthwith he was beaten with sticks and in due course shut up in a wooden cage by the Barber and the Priest, the fit ministers of a justly shocked social order.  I do not know if it has occurred to anybody yet to shut up Mr. Luffmann in a wooden cage.I do not raise the point because I wish him any harm.  Quite the contrary.  I am a humane person.  Let him take it as the highest praise—but I must say that he richly deserves that sort of attention. Read More

John Barth on Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges

The paralleli of the achievements of Borges and Calvino are mostly obvious, the relevant anti-parallelino doubt likewise. To begin with, both writers, for all their great sophistication of mind, wrote in a clear, straightforward, unmannered, nonbaroque, but rigorously scrupulous style. ”. . . crystalline, sober, and airy . . . without the least congestion” is how Calvino himself describes Borges’s style (in the second of his Six Memos for the Next Millennium, the Norton lectures that Calvino died before he could deliver), and of course those adjectives describe his own as well, as do the titles of all six of his Norton lectures: “Lightness” (Leggerezza) and deftness of touch; “Quickness” (Rapidita) in the senses both of economy of means and of velocity in narrative profluence; “Exactitude” (Esatezza) both of formal design and of verbal expression; “Visibility” (Visibilita) in the senses both of striking detail and of vivid imagery, even (perhaps especially) in the mode of fantasy; “Multiplicity” (Molteplicita) in the senses both of an ars combinatoria and of addressing the infinite interconnectedness of things, whether in expansive, incompletable works such as Gadda’s Via Merulana and Robert Musil’s Man Without Qualities or in vertiginous short stories like Borges’s “Garden of Forking Paths”—all cited in Calvino’s lecture on multiplicity; and “Consistency” in the sense that in their style, their formal concerns, and their other preoccupations we readily recognize the Borgesian and the Calvinoesque. So appealing a case does Calvino make for these particular half-dozen literary values, it’s important to remember that they aren’t the only ones; indeed, that their contraries have also something to be said for them. Calvino acknowledges as much in the “Quickness” lecture: ”. . . each value or virtue I chose as the subject for my lectures,” he writes, “does not exclude its opposite. Implicit in my tribute to lightness was my respect for weight, and so this apology for quickness does not presume to deny the pleasures of lingering,” etc. We literary lingerers—some might say malingerers—breathe a protracted sigh of relief.

Read the rest of John Barth’s essay The Parallels!”.

 

“1852″ — Ben Marcus

Capture

Twenty Ideas from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Note-Books

1. A hint of a story,–some incident which should bring on a general war; and the chief actor in the incident to have something corresponding to the mischief he had caused.

2. A sketch to be given of a modern reformer,–a type of the extreme doctrines on the subject of slaves, cold water, and other such topics. He goes about the streets haranguing most eloquently, and is on the point of making many converts, when his labors are suddenly interrupted by the appearance of the keeper of a mad-house, whence he has escaped. Much may be made of this idea.

3. A change from a gay young girl to an old woman; the melancholy events, the effects of which have clustered around her character, and gradually imbued it with their influence, till she becomes a lover of sick-chambers, taking pleasure in receiving dying breaths and in laying out the dead; also having her mind full of funeral reminiscences, and possessing more acquaintances beneath the burial turf than above it.

4. A well-concerted train of events to be thrown into confusion by some misplaced circumstance, unsuspected till the catastrophe, yet exerting its influence from beginning to end.

5. On the common, at dusk, after a salute from two field-pieces, the smoke lay long and heavily on the ground, without much spreading beyond the original space over which it had gushed from the guns. It was about the height of a man. The evening clear, but with an autumnal chill.

6. The world is so sad and solemn, that things meant in jest are liable, by an overpowering influence, to become dreadful earnest,–gayly dressed fantasies turning to ghostly and black-clad images of themselves.

7. A story, the hero of which is to be represented as naturally capable of deep and strong passion, and looking forward to the time when he shall feel passionate love, which is to be the great event of his existence. But it so chances that he never falls in love, and although he gives up the expectation of so doing, and marries calmly, yet it is somewhat sadly, with sentiments merely of esteem for his bride. The lady might be one who had loved him early in life, but whom then, in his expectation of passionate love, he had scorned.

8. The scene of a story or sketch to be laid within the light of a street-lantern; the time, when the lamp is near going out; and the catastrophe to be simultaneous with the last flickering gleam.

9. The peculiar weariness and depression of spirits which is felt after a day wasted in turning over a magazine or other light miscellany, different from the state of the mind after severe study; because there has been no excitement, no difficulties to be overcome, but the spirits have evaporated insensibly.

10. To represent the process by which sober truth gradually strips off all the beautiful draperies with which imagination has enveloped a beloved object, till from an angel she turns out to be a merely ordinary woman. This to be done without caricature, perhaps with a quiet humor interfused, but the prevailing impression to be a sad one. The story might consist of the various alterations in the feelings of the absent lover, caused by successive events that display the true character of his mistress; and the catastrophe should take place at their meeting, when he finds himself equally disappointed in her person; or the whole spirit of the thing may here be reproduced.

11. Two persons might be bitter enemies through life, and mutually cause the ruin of one another, and of all that were dear to them. Finally, meeting at the funeral of a grandchild, the offspring of a son and daughter married without their consent,–and who, as well as the child, had been the victims of their hatred,–they might discover that the supposed ground of the quarrel was altogether a mistake, and then be wofully reconciled.

12. Two persons, by mutual agreement, to make their wills in each other’s favor, then to wait impatiently for one another’s death, and both to be informed of the desired event at the same time. Both, in most joyous sorrow, hasten to be present at the funeral, meet, and find themselves both hoaxed.

13. The story of a man, cold and hard-hearted, and acknowledging no brotherhood with mankind. At his death they might try to dig him a grave, but, at a little space beneath the ground, strike upon a rock, as if the earth refused to receive the unnatural son into her bosom. Then they would put him into an old sepulchre, where the coffins and corpses were all turned to dust, and so he would be alone. Then the body would petrify; and he having died in some characteristic act and expression, he would seem, through endless ages of death, to repel society as in life, and no one would be buried in that tomb forever.

14. Canon transformed to church-bells.

15. A person, even before middle age, may become musty and faded among the people with whom he has grown up from childhood; but, by migrating to a new place, he appears fresh with the effect of youth, which may be communicated from the impressions of others to his own feelings.

16. In an old house, a mysterious knocking might be heard on the wall, where had formerly been a door-way, now bricked up.

17. It might be stated, as the closing circumstance of a tale, that the body of one of the characters had been petrified, and still existed in that state.

18. A young man to win the love of a girl, without any serious intentions, and to find that in that love, which might have been the greatest blessing of his life, he had conjured up a spirit of mischief which pursued him throughout his whole career,–and this without any revengeful purposes on the part of the deserted girl.

19. Two lovers, or other persons, on the most private business, to appoint a meeting in what they supposed to be a place of the utmost solitude, and to find it thronged with people.

20. Some treasure or other thing to be buried, and a tree planted directly over the spot, so as to embrace it with its roots.

From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Note-Books.

Lydia Davis/Denis Johnson/Curzio Malaparte (Books Acquired, 4.06.2013)

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Purged the books pictured in the lower right-hand corner and picked up a few: Curzio Malaparte’s Kaputt, which has intrigued me for awhile now, Denis Johnson’s Fiskadoroin the Vintage Contemporaries edition no less!—and Lydia Davis’s novel The End of the Story, which I somehow haven’t read yet. Hypothesis: Lydia Davis and Denis Johnson may be America’s greatest living novelists (?).

 

The Pink Hotel (Book Acquired, 4.02.2013)

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The Pink Hotel by Anna Stothard is new from Picador. Their blurb:

A raucous, drug-fueled party has taken over a boutique hotel on Venice Beach—it’s a memorial for Lily, the now-deceased, free-spirited proprietress of the place. Little do the attendees know that Lily’s estranged daughter—and the nameless narrator of this striking novel—is among them, and she has just walked off with a suitcase of Lily’s belongings.

Abandoned by Lily many years ago, she has come a long way to learn about her mother, and the stolen suitcase—stuffed with clothes, letters, and photographs—contains not only a history of her mother’s love life, but perhaps also the key to her own identity. As the tough, resourceful narrator tracks down her mother’s former husbands, boyfriends, and acquaintances, a risky reenactment of her life begins to unfold. Lily had a knack for falling in love with the wrong people, and one man, a fashion photographer turned paparazzo, has begun to work his sinuous charms on the young woman.

Told with high style and noirish flare, Anna Stothard’s The Pink Hotel is a powerfully evocative debut novel about wish fulfillment, reckless impulse, and how we discover ourselves.

Excerpt:

Her bedroom reeked of cigarette ash and stale perfume. Two ashtrays were packed with lipstick-stained filters as if she’d just popped out for another pack. A suspender belt hung from a chest of drawers, a mink scarf was curled like roadkill at the floor next to her bed. A mirror opposite the bed reflected an image of me lying fully clothed and out of place on the crinkled sheets. My haircut and body could have been that of a boy, but my oversized eyes made me look like a Gothic Virgin Mary from a museum postcard. I wore a sweat-stained T-shirt and a pair of navy-blue tracksuit bottoms. My skin still smelt faintly of grease and coffee from Dad’s café in London, but now the smell was mingled with dehydrated aeroplane air and smog from Los Angeles traffic.

Read the rest of the excerpt.

 

In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods (Book Acquired 3.08.2013)

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I was happy to get an advance copy of Matt Bell’s forthcoming novel In the House upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, because I like titles with lots of prepositions. No, actually, Bell’s novella-in-vignette’s Cataclysm Baby was one of my favorite new books of 2012. Here’s the pub blurb for House:

In this epic, mythical debut novel, a newly-wed couple escapes the busy confusion of their homeland for a distant and almost-uninhabited lakeshore. They plan to live there simply, to fish the lake, to trap the nearby woods, and build a house upon the dirt between where they can raise a family. But as their every pregnancy fails, the child-obsessed husband begins to rage at this new world: the song-spun objects somehow created by his wife’s beautiful singing voice, the giant and sentient bear that rules the beasts of the woods, the second moon weighing down the fabric of their starless sky, and the labyrinth of memory dug into the earth beneath their house.

This novel, from one of our most exciting young writers, is a powerful exploration of the limits of parenthood and marriage—and of what happens when a marriage’s success is measured solely by the children it produces, or else the sorrow that marks their absence.

You can read my interview with Matt here and excerpts from House at Matt’s site.