TBR anxieties

It is not a bad problem to have to have a big ole stack of big boys stacked up, waiting to read, but I nevertheless continue to feel anxiety as the stack grows and I head into a new semester, knowing that my reading for work—student papers of course, but also all the other stuff, the rereads of ringers I can’t give up, the new reads I continue to dedicate myself to incorporating into a syllabus, cursing myself when I’m not sure how to do what I think I want to do with them, etc.—but yeah, it’s the knowing that work-based reading will dominate my eyes and brain, both of which have grown duller, slower, and more easily-wearied over the last two years (and I have, after forty-one years of perfect eyesight, taken up glasses to my face to read finer print), and that I will find myself without the reserves to jump into the big books like I used to (I fall asleep sooner too these days–but also wake up sooner too, and do dedicated some of those early morning minutes to reading).

Heimito von Doderer’s The Strudlhof Steps is (translation by Vincent Kling) is one of a few NYRB titles on my list. I’ve jumped into it a few times and I can tell it’s a big deal—maybe something revelatory to me, a big mash of consciousness like Alfred Döblin’s 1929 novel Berlin Alexanderplatz. But other books keep showing up.

Or, really, I keep picking up other books, like Zak Smith’s Gravity’s Rainbow Illustrated, almost eight hundred pictures to go with Thomas Pynchon’s novel. I’ve paged through it, but the anxiety here is the realization that I want to read Gravity’s Rainbow again, which will make me go insane.

The two by Pessoa cause me anxiety for other reasons. I’m pretty sure I will never finish The Book of Disquiet (in translation by Margaret Jull Costa). It’s smart at times, but it’s not really a novel—the catch is the protagonist’s consciousness. And the protagonist often needs a big kick in the ass. Disquiet will riff out some lovely little missives, and then whine a bit. Not my favorite flavor. And yet I feel like I can’t tangle with Writings on Art and Poetical Theory without engaging Pessoa’s aesthetic firsthand (or, really, mediated through translators and editors).

Pessoa’s Writings is published by Contra Mundum, as is Pierre Senges’ Ahab (Sequels) (translation by Jacob Siefring and Tegan Raleigh). I made a bit of dent of the book, but then took a slimmer volume with me on a vacation to some Smoky Mountains. I read Alan Garner’s novel Red Shift there in two or three days and loved it and failed to write about it here. (I am sometimes astounded that for a few years in very early thirties I somehow wrote about every book I read on this blog.) Maybe spring for Ahab.

I’m really excited about Vladmir Sorokin’s postapocalyptic novel Telluria (translation by Max Lawton). I’m so excited that I’ve decided not to have anxiety and commit to a proper review by the time it comes out this summer.

Eshter Williams’ translation of Antonio di Benedetto’s 1965 novel Zama is one of the best books I’ve read in the past five years, so I was very happy to get Williams’ translation of El silenciero — The Silentiary–a week or two ago. I was so happy that I added the book to a stack of books I was intending to read, rubbed my eyes really hard, let anxiety pulse through me, and read a little more of the Pessoa (which added a different layer of anxiety).

Writing about these anxieties has not purged them, but maybe I have a plan, or an outline here, a promise to myself (but not you, if you’re reading this, I promise you nothing, to be clear). Maybe I’ll dig in, set an early AM alarm to read an extra hour or so. Maybe I’ll even quit acquiring new books for awhile.

(Or not, no, I’ll just lie to myself some more.)

The Cave of Sleep — Pavel Tchelitchew

The Cave of Sleep, 1941 by Pavel Tchelitchew (1898-1957)

The Enchantress — Remedios Varo

The Enchantress, 1950 by Remedios Varo (1908-1963)

“wishes for sons” — Lucille Clifton

“wishes for sons”

by

Lucille Clifton


i wish them cramps.
i wish them a strange town
and the last tampon.
i wish them no 7-11.

i wish them one week early
and wearing a white skirt.
i wish them one week late.

later i wish them hot flashes
and clots like you
wouldn’t believe. let the
flashes come when they
meet someone special.
let the clots come
when they want to.

let them think they have accepted
arrogance in the universe,
then bring them to gynecologists
not unlike themselves.

Reading by the Moon — Tsukioka Yoshitoshi

Reading by the Moon, 1888 by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839 – 1892)

Approaching spiritual death

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.

From “A Time to Break the Silence,” Martin Luther King Jr., April, 1967. 

Vladimir Sorokin’s Telluria (Book acquired, 13 Jan. 2022)

I read the first few bits of Vladmir Sorokin’s postapocalyptic novel Telluria today. The book is forthcoming from NYRB in translation by Max Lawton. The fantastic blurb captured my interest right away:

Telluria is set in the future, when a devastating holy war between Europe and Islam has succeeded in returning the world to the torpor and disorganization of the Middle Ages. Europe, China, and Russia have all broken up. The people of the world now live in an array of little nations that are like puzzle pieces, each cultivating its own ideology or identity, a neo-feudal world of fads and feuds, in which no one power dominates. What does, however, travel everywhere is the appetite for the special substance tellurium. A spike of tellurium, driven into the brain by an expert hand, offers a transforming experience of bliss; incorrectly administered, it means death.

The fifty chapters of Telluria map out this brave new world from fifty different angles, as Vladimir Sorokin, always a virtuoso of the word, introduces us to, among many other figures, partisans and princes, peasants and party leaders, a new Knights Templar, a harem of phalluses, and a dog-headed poet and philosopher who feasts on carrion from the battlefield. The book is an immense and sumptuous tapestry of the word, carnivalesque and cruel, and Max Lawton, Sorokin’s gifted translator, has captured it in an English that carries the charge of Cormac McCarthy and William Gibson.

Telluria is forthcoming this summer; NYRB plans to publish three more by Sorokin, including Blue Lard, “which included a sex scene between clones of Stalin and Khrushchev [and] led to public demonstrations against the book and to demands that Sorokin be prosecuted as a pornographer.”

“Two Guys Get out of a Car” — Richard Brautigan

Still Life with Fruit, Lobster and Silver Vessels — Willem van Aelst

Still Life with Fruit, Lobster and Silver Vessels, c. 1660-1670 by Willem van Aelst (1627–1683)

“Power” — Tom Clark

Moon in Alabama — Lynn Chadwick

Moon in Alabama, 1963 by Lynn Chadwick (1914-2003)

Two by Pessoa and Zak Smith’s Gravity’s Rainbow Illustrated (Books acquired last week and late last year)

Last week I finally got into a collection of Fernando Pessoa’s writing called Writings on Art and Poetical Theory. The books contains pieces that Pessoa composed in English, and is out next year from Contra Mundum Press. Their blurb:

Writings on Art and Poetical Theory contains a selection of Fernando Pessoa’s writings (or those of his heteronyms) on art and poetical theory, originally written in English. In Pessoa’s oeuvre one finds not only literary and fictional works but also a multiplicity of theoretical texts on the most diverse subjects concerning artistic movements, literature, and writers.

In this book, we witness Pessoa explore, through various heteronyms, general theories on poetics, the poetries of other heteronyms, the uses and abuses of criticism, and more. Also included are essays on sensationism (an aesthetic movement Pessoa dubs a new species of Weltanschauung), translation, and a brief history of English literature, which is comprised of fragments on Shakespeare, Milton, the British Romantics, Dickens, Wilde, and others, as well as additional material, such as Pessoa’s own poem Antinous.

This edition, prepared by Nuno Ribeiro and Cláudia Souza, allows us to have an overview of Pessoa’s writings on art and poetic theory — most of which are presented here for the first time to English readers —, thus opening the way for future studies on one of the most significant authors of Portuguese modernism.

Dabbling about in Writings reminded me that I’ve never made a stab at Pessoa’s monumental work, The Book of Disquiet. I picked up New Directions’ recent Complete Edition in translation by Margaret Jull Costa. I ended up reading a big chunk of it that night and have dipped into it all week and I’m not sure if I love it or hate it. It’s like the anti-Leaves of Grass, if that makes sense. It also seems like the kind of book to just pick up and read and random, which I’ve been doing since my initial fifty-page jog into it. In a short doses the fragments are lovely, poetic, aphoristic, but in longer dives the language becomes oppressive, the spirit draining and even venomous.

While I was at the bookstore I also spied a copy of Zak Smith’s Gravity’s Rainbow Illustrated. I’d found a used copy at this same story maybe ten years ago and thought twenty bucks was too much for it, and have regretted that decision for years now. Here’s the first page:

“Seven Stages of Man” — Diane Kruchkow

Police cannot suppress | Emily Dickinson

“The Mob within the Heart”

by

Emily Dickinson


The mob within the heart
Police cannot suppress
The riot given at the first
Is authorized as peace

Uncertified of scene
Or signified of sound
But growing like a hurricane
In a congenial ground.

Herman Melville’s calling card

RIP Peter Bogdanovich

RIP Peter Bogdanovich, 1939-2022

Peter Bogdanovich died today at the age of 82.

Bogdanovich was an actor, writer, producer, and film critic, but will most likely be remembered as a film director.

The first Bogdanovich film I saw was Mask (1985) starring Eric Stoltz and Cher. I was probably eight or nine, and I did not know it was a “Peter Bogdanovich film.” Mask was one of the many films my grandfather taped from HBO, Disney, or Cinemax, and mailed to my family on VHS cassettes, little bundles of cinema my brother and I consumed repeatedly and indiscriminately in our remote village in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. Mask is one of the first films I ever saw that genuinely hurt my feelings.

Years later I’d see Bogdanovich’s most celebrated film, The Last Picture Show (1971), and it would also hurt my feelings. I was maybe eighteen or nineteen and the film just shattered my stupid heart (Cybill Shepherd as Jacy Farrow did something very particular to me, forever). This was the first time I knew I was watching a “Peter Bogdanovich film”—I’d learned about the New Hollywood guys and even seen some of the film stuff he’d written. (It would be years later until I realized that he was behind Noises Off (1992), which I’d watched as a VHS rental with my grandmother one Saturday night.)

Paper Moon (1973), starring real-life father and daughter Ryan and Tatum O’Neal is the sweetest (yet still a little heart-breaking) film I’ve seen by Bogdanovich, and maybe the best starting place for anyone interested in his work. There’s a touch of De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief in it–a kind of gritty neorealism that hums alongside the film’s tender core.

I found some of Bogdanovich’s films less successful. His adaptation of Henry James’s novel Daisy Miller (1974) doesn’t work and the screwball farce What’s Up Doc? (1972) is never as good as the films it pays homage to. (Avoid Texasville (1990), the sequel to The Last Picture Show, at all costs. It’s like The Two Jakes, by which I mean, a bad sequel to a great film, and it should never have happened.) But even his failures are far more interesting than most basic Hollywood fare.

Bogdanovich was also great in bit parts in film and TV. His perhaps most notable performance was playing Dr. Melfi’s therapist Dr. Kupferberg on The Sopranos. He was also the voice of the DJ in Tarantino’s Kill Bill films, perhaps a nod to his voiceover work in The Last Picture Show, where he also played a DJ.

For me though, Bogdanovich’s most significant acting role is that of director Brooks Otterlake in Orson Welles’ film The Other Side of the Wind (2018). I wrote “Orson Welles’ film” in the previous sentence, but that’s not quite true–The Other Side of the Wind is a bizarre beautiful mess of cinema spanning four decades. It’s a film about film (about film about film…), and Bogdanovich was instrumental in getting it finally released a few years ago.

Bogdanovich’s work in finally bringing Welles’ lost classic to screens is emblematic of his filmmaking career—a filmmaker in love with film, an artist enamored of film as art who came to prominence during the New Hollywood movement that rejected film as commerce. While so much of what makes it to theaters (and streaming platforms) today is simply “content,” or established “intellectual property” that execs know will do numbers, Bogdanovich’s spirit (and the New Hollywood DNA) inheres in current filmmakers who bear his influence, like the Safdie brothers, Sofia Coppola, Noah Baumbach, Wes Anderson, and Quentin Tarantino. That influence will continue to ripple forward, and I hope that we get more films that will disturb us, hurt our feelings, and break our hearts.

 

Italian biblioklept arrested by the FBI for stealing unpublished manuscripts

The New York Times and other sources have reported that “Filippo Bernardini, an Italian citizen who worked in publishing,” has been arrested by the FBI for fraud and identity theft. Bernandini stole numerous unpublished manuscripts over five years, mainly through email phishing scams. Bernandini’s motives have yet to surface. From the Times:

For years, the scheme has baffled people in the book world. Works by high-profile writers and celebrities like Margaret Atwood and Ethan Hawke have been targeted, but so have story collections and works by first-time authors. When manuscripts were successfully stolen, none of them seemed to show up on the black market or the dark web. Ransom demands never materialized. Indeed, the indictment details how Mr. Bernardini went about the scheme, but not why.

The New York Times first reported on the as-then-unknown biblioklept in late 2020.

I’m guessing Bernandini may have his own book deal pretty soon.