I know of two kinds of writers: those whose central preoccupation is a verbal technique, and those for whom it is human acts and passions. The former tend to be dismissed as “Byzantine” or praised as “pure artists.” The latter, more fortunately, receive the laudatory epithets “profound,” “human,” or “profoundly human,” and the flattering vituperative “savage.” The former is Swinburne or Mallarme; the latter, Celine or Theodore Dreiser. Certain exceptional cases display the virtues and joys of both categories. Victor Hugo remarked that Shakespeare contained Gongora; we might also observe that he contained Dostoevsky…Among the great novelists, Joseph Conrad was perhaps the last who was interested both in the techniques of the novel and in the fates and personalities of his characters. The last that is until the tremendous appearance of Faulkner.
From Borges’ 1937 review of William Faulkner’s Absalom! Absalom!. Originally published in the Argentine magazine El Hogar, part of Borges’ “The Literary Life” column. Republished in Selected Non-Fictions.
I could no longer hold out on reading Roberto Bolaño’s collection The Return. I’ve been saving the book for two years now, but reading Chris Andrews’s new study Roberto Bolaño’s Fiction: An Expanding Universe prompted me to dive in the other night. (I also maybe abandoned Michel Houellebecq’s The Possibility of an Island, which nags at me like a duty, a chore, and not a joy).
I had, of course, read a few of the stories collected in The Return over the years (and shared them on this site); they were published by The New Yorker, including one of my favorites, “William Burns,” (translated, like all the stories in The Return, by Andrews.
“William Burns” is one of Bolaño’s rare stories set in the U.S. It’s about a “laid-back guy who never lost his cool,” a private investigator hired to protect two women who believe they are being stalked by a killer. The story is suffused with sinister malice that burns into fated violence, made all the more ominous by the Bolaño’s typically atypical moments of banality. (The story reads almost as Bolaño’s riff on Raymond Carver).
Anyway, a favorite passage; read the whole thing here:
If I were a dog, I thought resentfully, these women would show me a bit more consideration. Later, after I realized that none of us were feeling sleepy, they started talking about children, and their voices made my heart recoil. I have seen terrible, evil things, sights to make a hard man flinch, but, listening to the women that night, my heart recoiled so violently it almost disappeared. I tried to butt in, I tried to find out if they were recalling scenes from childhood or talking about real children in the present, but I couldn’t. My throat felt as if it were packed with bandages and cotton swabs.
Unusual death—man pierced by his own belt buckle.
Boobs Bones Mistaken for John The Baptist
Story: A man who wanted an elephant, or some such one of the wisest of beasts who could not talk. Then began to try to teach him to talk.
The Dancer Who Found She Could Fly
A famous writer fakes his own death but things make him come back.
Or else he can’t.
G. men as Samurai class.
Piggy Back Voyage
Girl whose ear is so sensitive she can hear radio. Man gets her out of insane asylum to use her.
Book: It might have been me. My old idea of half truth half lie, including all notes and everything. Shoot the works.
From F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Notebooks.
Keyes is best known for Flowers for Algernon, which you may have (like me) read in middle school.
RIP Maya Angelou, 1928-2014
In my time as a teacher, I’ve seen Maya Angelou’s stories and poems—and in particular her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings—command the attention of students who had previously complained that they hated reading. I’ve seen my classroom library looted of her works; I’ve seen tattered copies of her books passed from hand to hand; I’ve had students ask for More please, more of this, more like this. Angelou’s writing has served as a bridge to life-long reading habits for many young people, and I imagine it will into the future. RIP.
The recent publication of Bruno Jasieński’s The Legs of Izolda Morgan offers another strong argument that Twisted Spoon Press is publishing some of the most fascinating—and most beautiful—books available today. Clothbound and handsomely printed, Izolda Morgan collects several of Jasieński’s futurist manifestos, an essay, stories, and satires.
Considered the enfant terrible of the Polish avant-garde, lauded by critics and scorned by the public, Bruno Jasieński suddenly declared the end of Futurism in Poland soon after his short “novel” The Legs of Izolda Morgan appeared in 1923. An extraordinary example of Futurist prose, this fantastic tale cautions against the machine supplanting the human while the human body is disaggregated into fetishized constituent parts. As central to Jasieński’s oeuvre, the text is situated here between two seminal manifestoes and the important essay “Polish Futurism,” which signaled the movement’s end in the context of its confused reception in Poland, the towering influence of Mayakovsky, and what set it apart from the futurisms of Italy and Russia. The condensed story “Keys” displays Jasieński’s turn toward satire to lambaste the hypocrisies pervasive in powerful institutions, and this is further developed in the two longer grotesques from his time in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Translated into English from the Russian for the first time, these two late stories expose the nefarious absurdity of racial persecution and warmongering and the lengths social and political structures will go to underpin them.
RIP Gabriel García Márquez, 1927-2014
Gabo the Giant is dead.
Long live the Giant.
“The Anarchist: His Dog”
by Susan Glaspell
Stubby had a route, and that was how he happened to get a dog. For the benefit of those who have never carried papers it should be thrown in that having a route means getting up just when there is really some fun in sleeping, lining up at the Leader office—maybe having a scrap with the fellow who says you took his place in the line—getting your papers all damp from the press and starting for the outskirts of the city. Then you double up the paper in the way that will cause all possible difficulty in undoubling and hurl it with what force you have against the front door. It is good to have a route, for you at least earn your salt, so your father can’t say that any more. If he does, you know it isn’t so.
When you have a route, you whistle. All the fellows whistle. They may not feel like it, but it is the custom—as could be sworn to by many sleepy citizens. And as time goes on you succeed in acquiring the easy manner of a brigand.
Stubby was little and everything about him seemed sawed off just a second too soon,—his nose, his fingers, and most of all, his hair. His head was a faithful replica of a chestnut burr. His hair did not lie down and take things easy. It stood up—and out!—gentle ladies couldn’t possibly have let their hands sink into it—as we are told they do—for the hands just wouldn’t sink. They’d have to float.
And alas, gentle ladies didn’t particularly want their hands to sink into it. There was not that about Stubby’s short person to cause the hands of gentle ladies to move instinctively to his head. Stubby bristled. That is, he appeared to bristle. Inwardly, Stubby yearned, though he would have swung into his very best brigand manner on the spot were you to suggest so offensive a thing. Just to look at Stubby you’d never in a thousand years guess what a funny feeling he had sometimes when he got to the top of the hill where his route began and could see a long way down the river and the town curled in on the other side. Sometimes when the morning sun was shining through a mist—making things awful queer—some of the mist got into Stubby’s squinty little eyes. After the mist behaved that way he always whistled so rakishly and threw his papers with such abandonment that people turned over in their beds and muttered things about having that little heathen of a paper boy shot. Read More
by Flannery O’Connor
Rosa found him rolled over in the mud down by the gully. She started. The wash basket fell off her head and six white shirts-washed, pressed, and folded-flapped face-down in the mud. One of them was in reach of his hand, a rigid, immobile hand, strangely white against the soft red clay it lay in. She felt like sinking into the clay herself. It had taken her all afternoon to iron them shirts. She picked them up except the one that almost touched him. She fished that up with a stick and drop ped it into the basket. Then she looked at him again. He seemed almost to have been pressed down in the clay, his thin body and outstretched arms forming a weird white cross in relief on the red. Light-colored trousers clung to his wet body and Rosa notic ed that a thin coating of ice had begun to form around his arms and back.
He had on no coat.
“Whoever killed him ain’t lef’ nothin’ for nobody else,” she muttered. “Done took the coat offen his back. These niggers ’round here ain’t got no sense.” Allus got caught in some devilment an’ got theysevs in the ‘lectric chair. ‘Thout gittin’ nothin’ out it neither. Niggers was funny that way, she mused. Wonder howcome she was different? Allus had been. Even when she was little, she was brightern Lizzie an’ Boon. She was scrawny but she was bright. And scrawny as she was, she had got Abram. Strongest nigger in Bell’s Quarters was hers. He was devilish like the rest of ‘em, but, Lord, that nigger was strong! He could er strangled that man there wit one er his hans. She looked down at the cross apprehensively. Might er done it too ‘cepin’ he had gone in to wn for keresene an’ that had carried him t’other way. This would be one time Abram wouldn’t be mess up in nothin’. He warn’t a bad nigger, couldn’t help stealin’ now an’ then, er gittin’ hissef drunk, er fightin’. It was in his blood like sense was in her s. Abram had sense too-almost as much as she had- when he warn’t drunk; but git that nigger drunk and he’d forget he a king an’ gonna git him a throne someday. Him an’ her-they gonna have ‘em a throne, Abram say. He gonna git ‘em a throne. Would too. Long ‘s he won’t drunk an’ didn’t git hissef in trouble. But he warn’t mess up in this killin’ here. This was some other nigger’s doin’, er maybe a white man’s. Maybe.
Vaguely she wondered if they might think she had killed the man.
They sho would if they seen her tracks leadin’ up to him. Now how they gonna know them her tracks? They warn’t God Amighty. Rosa put the basket on her head again and went back home.
She was sorting the Grocery-Store-Wilkinson’s wash from the Sheriff-Thomases when Abram came in. She heard three, slow, deliberate footsteps and thought it was someone else. Then the door creaked and he peered in. She knew he was drunk by the way he opene d the door. If it had weighed a hundred, he couldn’t have done it more slowly. Cheap wine-allus got him. Abram closed the door behind him with infinite care and tiptoed to the bed where she had the wash laid out.
“You ain’t gonna lie down on that wash, nigger!” she screamed as he lowered himself to the Sheriff’s stiff, green-striped shirt. Abram rolled over on the floor. Read More
Writers may be classified as meteors, planets and fixed stars. A meteor makes a striking effect for a moment. You look up and cry There! and it is gone for ever. Planets and wandering stars last a much longer time. They often outshine the fixed stars and are confounded with them by the inexperienced; but this only because they are near. It is not long before they must yield their place; nay, the light they give is reflected only, and the sphere of their influence is confined to their own orbit—their contemporaries. Their path is one of change and movement, and with the circuit of a few years their tale is told. Fixed stars are the only ones that are constant; their position in the firmament is secure; they shine with a light of their own; their effect to-day is the same as it was yesterday, because, having no parallax, their appearance does not alter with a difference in our standpoint. They belong not to one system, one nation only, but to the universe. And just because they are so very far away, it is usually many years before their light is visible to the inhabitants of this earth.
From The Art of Literature by Arthur Schopenhauer.
by Leonora Carrington
THE TIME has come that I must tell the events which began in 40 Pest St. The houses which were reddish-black looked as if they had survived mysteriously from the fire of London. The house in front of my window, covered with an occasional wisp of creeper, was as blank and empty looking as any plague-ridden residence subsequently licked by flames and saliv’d with smoke. This is not the way that I had imagined New York.
It was so hot that I got palpitations when I ventured out into the streets—so I sat and considered the house opposite and occasionally bathed my sweating face.
The light was never very strong in Pest Street. There was always a reminiscence of smoke which made visibility troubled and hazy—still it was possible to study the house opposite carefully, even precisely; besides my eyes have always been excellent.
I spent several days watching for some sort of movement opposite but there was none and I finally took to undressing quite freely before my open window and doing breathing exercises optimistically in the thick Pest Street air. This must have blackened my lungs as dark as the houses. One afternoon I washed my hair and sat out on the diminuitive stone crescent which served as a balcony to dry it. I hung my head between my knees ¡and watched a blue-bottle suck the dry corpse of a spider between my feet. I looked up through my lank hair and saw something black in the sky, ominously quiet for an airplane. Parting my hair I was in time to see a large raven alight on the balcony of the house opposite. It sat on the balustrade and seemed to peer into the empty window, then poked its head under its wing apparently searching for lice. A few minutes later I was not unduly surprised to see the double windows open and and admit a woman onto the balcony—she carried a large dish full of bones which she emptied onto the floor. With a short appreciative squawk, the raven hopped down and picked about amongst its unpleasant repast.
The woman, who had hemp-long black hair, wiped out the dish, using her hair for this purpose.
Then she looked straight at me and smiled in a friendly fashion. I smiled back and waved a towel. This seemed to encourage her for she tossed her head coquettishly and gave me a very elegant salute after the fashion of a queen.
“Do you happen to have any bad meat over there that you don’t need?” she called.
“Any what?” I called back, wondering if my ears had deceived me.
“Any stinking meat? Decomposed flesh … meat?”
“Not at the moment,” I replied, wondering if she was trying to be funny.
“Won’t you have any towards the end of the week? If so, I would be very grateful if you would bring it over.”
Then she stepped back into the empty window and disappeared. The raven flew away. Read More