The Acrobats — Xiao Guo Hui

The Acrobats, 2020 by Xiao Guo Hui (b. 1969)

Attributes of the Moon — Ithell Colquhoun

Attributes of the Moon, 1947 by Ithell Colquhoun (1906-1988)

“The Ten Best Issues of Comic Books,” a poem by Alice Notley

“The Ten Best Issues of Comic Books”

by

Alice Notley


  1. X-Men #141 & 142

  2. Defenders #125

  3. Phoenix: The Untold Story

  4. What if. . .? #31

  5. New Mutants #1

  6. New Mutants #2

  7. Micronauts #58

  8. Marvel Universe #5

  9. New Mutants #14

  10. Secret Wars #1

The Old Man Stays Behind — Eric Fischl

The Old Man Stays Behind, 2021 by Eric Fischl (b. 1948)

Antonio di Benedetto’s The Silentiary (Book acquired, 6 Jan. 2022)

This afternoon I finally jumped in to Esther Allen’s new translation of Antonio di Benedetto’s novel The Silentiary (the original title, El silenciero means something like “the silencer,” I think). We have an unnamed narrator living in an unnamed Latin America in a not-entirely unspecified time (“as of the late postwar era”). Our narrator is an office worker who lives with his mother. He dreams of being a writer and is in love with a neighbor. He despises noise, which is too bad because an autoshop has just opened up right next to his bedroom wall.

There’s a Kafkaesque vibe to The Silentiary—everything’s a bit uncanny, a wavelength off. The narrator is a wavelength off, I suppose. The prose is sometimes crisp and economic, and then zips out into wonderfully estranging images, like this odd sentence just a few pages in:

At dawn, the daylight a glaze of watery milk on the widowpanes, as my mind, jerked into a state of alertness, discerns a noise attached to the rear wall of my room, something like my heart grows agitated within me.

Or this little moment, longer than a haiku but still in the same spirit:

Last night the big gray cat of my childhood came to me.

I told him that noise stalks and harries me.

Slowly, intensely, he cast his animal, companionable gaze upon me.

It took me a few dozen pages to attune to the humor of The Silentiary. It’s just as odd and dry as the dark humor in Di Benedetto’s 1965 novel Zama,  but again, a wavelength off, a different flavor from the same palate. An episode of drinking that ends with our narrator carried home by his fellows is particularly entertaining. When I type out the description the bit seems hardly subtle. But it is.

More thoughts to come, but for now here’s NYRB’s blurb:

The Silentiary takes place in a nameless Latin American city during the early 1950s. A young man employed in middle management entertains an ambition to write a book of some sort. But first he must establish the necessary precondition, which the crowded and noisily industrialized city always denies him, however often he and his mother and wife move in search of it. He thinks of embarking on his writing career with something simple, a detective novel, and ponders the possibility of choosing a victim among the people he knows and planning a crime as if he himself were the killer. That way, he hopes, his book might finally begin to take shape.

The Silentiary, along with Zama and The Suicides, is one of the three thematically linked novels by Di Benedetto that have come to be known as the Trilogy of Expectation, after the dedication “To the victims of expectation” in Zama. Together they constitute, in Juan José Saer’s words, “one of the culminating moments of twentieth-century narrative fiction in Spanish.”

Spinner — Jacek Malczewski

Spinner, 1922 by Jacek Malczewski (1854-1929)

“The Preacher’s Daughter” — Victoria Kennefick

 

“The Preacher’s Daughter”

by

Victoria Kennefick


We drink too much pineapple rum, straight from the bottle,
bitch about the red-haired girl, the fetish model,
a preacher’s daughter with a thing for unreasonable shoes.

From her faded patchwork quilt, bleeding
hearts, we watched her mutate into a PVC Alice Liddell.
How did she manage in seven-inch patent heels?

She was tall as wheat — or the ceiling was low.
Cradling a mewing ginger-ball, she kissed the mirror
where their confederate-blue eyes

matched. Three scars began to scab on her arm,
deep big-cat scrawls she told us she cut herself
because it’s art and her clients like her

that way. We followed her clip-clop down
the rabbit hole; me, to hear tales of her running track
in those shoes; you, to see her white skin even paler

under lights. Back in your dorm room, I am static.
You pay to watch her pixelated Snow White online;
complain her constant chatter ruined it, or her, for you.

Ari Reading — Dorothy Thornhill

Ari Reading, 1973 by Dorothy Thornhill (1910–1987)

“Libraries Destroyed by Fire” | From William Blades’ The Enemies of Books

“Libraries Destroyed by Fire”

from

William Blades’

The Enemies of Books 


THERE are many of the forces of Nature which tend to injure Books; but among them all not one has been half so destructive as Fire. It would be tedious to write out a bare list only of the numerous libraries and bibliographical treasures which, in one way or another, have been seized by the Fire-king as his own. Chance conflagrations, fanatic incendiarism, judicial bonfires, and even household stoves have, time after time, thinned the treasures as well as the rubbish of past ages, until, probably, not one thousandth part of the books that have been are still extant. This destruction cannot, however, be reckoned as all loss; for had not the “cleansing fires” removed mountains of rubbish from our midst, strong destructive measures would have become a necessity from sheer want of space in which to store so many volumes.

Before the invention of Printing, books were comparatively scarce; and, knowing as we do, how very difficult it is, even after the steam-press has been working for half a century, to make a collection of half a million books, we are forced to receive with great incredulity the accounts in old writers of the wonderful extent of ancient libraries.

The historian Gibbon, very incredulous in many things, accepts without questioning the fables told upon this subject. No doubt the libraries of MSS. collected generation after generation by the Egyptian Ptolemies became, in the course of time, the most extensive ever then known; and were famous throughout the world for the costliness of their ornamentation, and importance of their untold contents. Two of these were at Alexandria, the larger of which was in the quarter called Bruchium. These volumes, like all manuscripts of those early ages, were written on sheets of parchment, having a wooden roller at each end so that the reader needed only to unroll a portion at a time. During Caesar’s Alexandrian War, B.C. 48, the larger collection was consumed by fire and again burnt by the Saracens in A.D. 640. An immense loss was inflicted upon mankind thereby; but when we are told of 700,000, or even 500,000 of such volumes being destroyed we instinctively feel that such numbers must be a great exaggeration. Equally incredulous must we be when we read of half a million volumes being burnt at Carthage some centuries later, and other similar accounts. Continue reading ““Libraries Destroyed by Fire” | From William Blades’ The Enemies of Books”

All hearts are strange

Secrets of the Constellations — Anton Evgenievich Frolov

Secrets of the Constellation, 2021 by Anton Evgenievich Frolov (b. 1982)

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.

Esther Allen’s 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 Allen’s 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.