Some interesting observations here.
Then there’s the hoary old Great American Novel question: Might this be it? It seems to me the question is a red herring, since the Great American Novel (like democracy for Derrida) is something that is always and inherently to-come. But I would have no qualms about staking this book’s claim to be the Great German Novel; not in the sense, obviously, of being the best novel written by a German, but rather as a work in which the historical trajectory of German literary culture — the progression through Idealism and Romanticism to Nazi-fringed techno-mysticism and beyond — attains both its apex and its most spectacular cloudburst. I kept thinking, as I listened to Guidall, of a line in Heidegger’s “Building, Dwelling, Thinking” where he describes homelessness as the “summons that calls mortals into their dwelling.” Virtually every one of Pynchon’s characters is homeless or displaced, wandering the earth’s great bombed-out Zone in search of some abode: a homeland, house or simply bed to spend the night in (if you like, a coefficient). Even the novel’s insects crave this: We see cockroaches trying to establish temporary dwellings in the “mysterious sheaf of vectors” of a straw bed even as their nibbling causes their small “tenement-world” to crumble. The scene is reprised later beneath a “lambent, all seeing” electric bulb — but first time round it plays out in the Christ-child’s crib in Bethlehem, under that other annunciating star. The prevalence of cockroaches points, of course, to the writer (also Germanophone) to whom Pynchon perhaps owes most of all: Kafka. The prisoners of “In the Penal Colony” are strapped into a giant killing-machine that writes in code on their own skin; as they die, angelic children stationed by their side, they’re meant to get a final burst of revelation — but the only subject whom we actually watch undergo the ritual is granted no such grace on his demise. The same holds true in “Gravity’s Rainbow.” As one “melanocyte” (or pigment-producing skin cell) tells another in one of the novel’s most surreal scenes, to which Guidall’s soothing, reasoning and yet not hysteria-precluding tone seems uncannily suited: “There is no such message, no such home — only the millions of last moments . . . no more. Our history is an aggregate of last moments.”
And people say print is dead.
The Basses have also tapped into New York’s great subsidizing resource: the global rich. If you’ve bought $15 million worth of living space on Park Avenue, it probably has a library, so what’s another $80,000 to fill those shelves? Make a call to the Strand with a few suggestions — “sports, business, art” — and a truckful of well-chosen, excellent-condition books will arrive. (Fred recalls that when Ron Perelman bought his estate on the East End from the late artist Alfonso Ossorio, the Strand had just cleared out Ossorio’s library; Perelman ordered a new selection of books, refilling the shelves.) In more than a few cases, the buyers request not subject matter but color. In the Hamptons, a wall of white books is a popular order, cheerfully fulfilled.
The past couple of weeks I have been plowing through Literchoor Is My Beat, Ian S. MacNiven’s excellent biography of New Directions founder James Laughlin. Although Laughlin is the clear subject of this book, it also doubles of a sort of history of a certain era/school of publishing. This is a hugely inspiring, educational read, and it should be required for anyone who is involved with literary publishing.
A couple of the things I love about this book: first, all of the crazy facts that one discovers, or is reminded of, while reading it. Like, for instance, the fact the Laughlin—one of the most important readers in 20th century America—could only read out of one eye. Or, that Laughlin, and thus New Directions, has first crack at Lolita, but ultimately turned it down for fear of the legal reprisals that would have almost certainly appeared upon publication.
The second thing I love about this book is simply the opportunity to watch a generation of authors come together as part of the nexus that formed around James Laughlin. What one sees in this book are the very long and deep relationships he formed with his two principle modernists—William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound—as well as relationships with a number of authors who would appear in the following years: Tennessee Williams, Vladimir Nabokov, Henry Miller, Nicanor Parra, Thomas Merton, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Reading all of this, one gets a very strong sense of how literature is made—how the personalities coalesce into a movement, the lives of the individuals behind the iconic figures on the covers of the books, the very nuts and bolts of publishing.
This is an excellent read for anyone who cares about how our concepts of literature and literary modernism developed in the 20th century.
At Full-Stop, Ryu Spaeth has a pretty good essay on William H. Gass, jumping off from NYRB Classics’s reissue of In the Heart of the Heart of the Country. The essay is a pretty good discussion of the fact that Gass inspired a lot of very passionate opinion, both good and bad, oftentimes in the same reader.
I’m decidedly one of the mixed Gassians. There’s no doubt that he’s been a sensitive reader and critic, and a person who has popularized a number of writers who might not still be read but for his critical energies. And . . . continue reading, and add your comments
Excerpt from Peter Turchi’s new book, A Muse and a Maze, at Tin House.
My wife has a fantasy, a desire she often expresses, which I feel certain she would be delighted to have me share with you.
“Let’s just float in the pool and drink gin and tonics,” she’ll say. “Let’s bake like lizards.”
We live in Arizona, where we have a pool, and where gin is sold in every grocery store, and where it is no challenge at all to bake like a lizard.
From this you might understandably presume that my wife . . . continue reading, and add your comments
The thing that jumps to mind when I read things like this is to wonder exactly how much more unprofitable Amazon would be if it didn’t manage to avoid paying so many taxes.
Mathias Enard’s mega-one-sentence-novel Zone is finally published in the UK, from Fitzcarraldo Editions.
While full stops are conscientiously omitted, there is no end of conventional punctuation: commas, colons, semi-colons, parentheses, hyphens, and so on. Whether this is a more authentic way of rendering thought than the use of conventionally punctuated sentences, or an unpunctuated Joycean stream of consciousness, or some other modernist method involving page layout or font or coloured ink, is arguable. Punctuation marks, according to Theodor Adorno, are guides to oral delivery, there to represent a lack of sound. One wonders what the audiobook . . . continue reading, and add your comments
David Bellos in The Guardian.
Georges Perec never made a secret of having written an unpublished early novel about Antonello da Messina’s Portrait of a Man, but after his death in 1982, the manuscript of Le Condottière couldn’t be found. On leaving his perch in Paris’s Latin Quarter for a larger apartment in 1966, Perec had stuffed old paperwork into a suitcase for the dump, and put his manuscripts in a similar case. The wrong one got junked, and all Perec’s early writings disappeared. Or so he thought.
When I was tracking down everyone who had . . . continue reading, and add your comments
Ed Park, exit Amazon, enter Penguin. Incidentally, pretty much everything about this article puts the lie to Matt Yglesias’s insipid Vox blog post about how useless publishers are.
But now, in the latest setback for Amazon’s publishing aspirations, Mr. Park is leaving the imprint to join Penguin Press as an executive editor. His departure reflects the challenges that Amazon faces in a publishing ecosystem that largely views the online retailer as a rapacious competitor. Most bookstores — having been undercut by the giant retailer — refuse to carry books published by Amazon, a major hurdle as . . . continue reading, and add your comments
BEE on the novel John Williams wrote before Stoner, also a very good book.
Butcher’s Crossing is resolutely a western. However, when his publisher expressed a desire to state as much on the cover due to the popularity of the genre at the time, Williams said no. It may be one of the more literary westerns I’ve read, but it is a western – and a precursor to what Cormac McCarthy would do with the genre, especially in his blood-soaked and hallucinatory Blood Meridian, or what Robert Altman achieved in his frontier masterpiece McCabe & Mrs Miller. . . . continue reading, and add your comments