25 August 2006

An absurd command

From "In Sickness and in Health":
Beloved, we are always in the wrong,
Handling so clumsily our stupid lives,
Suffering too little or too long,
Too careful even in our selfish loves:
The decorative manias we obey
Die in grimaces round us every day,
Yet through their tohu-bohu comes a voice
Which utters an absurd command--Rejoice.
~ W.H. Auden


Spurious again, with more vibrant words:
And isn't this the oldest definition of inspiration: breath, received from outside? Divine exhalation? Breathed into the nostrils of the creator, who always creates with, and not alone. Whence figures of inspiration: muses, gods, goddesses, intermediary beings like angels or daemons - a whole bestiary, a whole angelology, a pantheon.

Breathed - or whispered, or sang - or written. Written with, so that writing is active and passive, both at once. What perfomer does not know this? What writer? And that, further, it can never be a question of self-expression.

Easier to see with fiction. The line is crossed. Easier to see with singing. The performance begins. But understand performance everywhere, a priori, from the first. Not your performance, understand. Or that outperforms what you perform, that lets you become actor or dummy. And isn't there a writing that writes with you as you write? Writes with you, but sets itself back from you; it is not in your power.

It is the angel who writes. It is your forebears. It is your race that sings inside me; your people: all this a figuration of what sets itself into a past that cannot be lived and sets itself into a future, which is why a people is always to come, even as its prototype existed in the murky past.

It is why God is waiting for what you write even as he launched you on the path of writing. And isn't the devil waiting, too? A host of angels and a crowd of Muses? To see what you write? In a sense. To see what is written by you, and by way of you.

There is writing, there is blogging - but what does that mean? In the past you did not live and the future that is ever to come. Time displaced, time out of phase: write from what does not meet itself in your present. Write from the present disjoined. No narcissism where what is written will not return. No fort-da where what is lost will not come back to you. [...]

To write is to die, always. To be sacrificed - to live, now, only as figure, as silhouette. You are not preserved. No fame - nothing lasts. No one will speak of you. Or you are the object of rumour, of a gossip that dispenses with its object, passing the word along. Torn apart, now like Orpheus, it is not your song that sings from your disembodied head. Drowned like Narcissus, but it is not you who drowns.

24 August 2006


Anne's book on Virginia Woolf is now available!

According to Amazon,
"This study argues that Virginia Woolf taught herself how to be a feminist artist and public intellectual through her revisionary reading. Fernald gives a clear view of Woolf's tremendous body of knowledge and her constant references to past literary periods."
Congrats, Anne! What an amazing year this has been for you!

23 August 2006

Another one for the wish list

I love finding good reading recommendations. Here's ReadySteadyBlog again, citing an article listing the top five books written about the Bible. This one sounds fascinating:
The Book of God is an imaginative overview, sensitive to narrative detail and to stylistic nuance, of both Testaments. Josipovici sees how the Bible constitutes a unique kind of literature--a book, as he says, meant to change your sense of reality--which is nevertheless linked with certain later writers. He proposes surprising comparisons with Proust, Kafka and other modernists. Some biblical passages, he observes, "bring us face to face with characters who can be neither interpreted nor deconstructed. They are emblems of the limits of comprehension."
I have yet to read any Josipovici (through lack of availability in this part of the hemisphere), but have already added three of his books to my TBR list. Hm...must do something about this the next time I head north.

(Incidentally, I would've added René Girard to that "top five" list. I've only read The Scapegoat, but I find his literary analysis of the Bible to be deeply engaging.)


Mark Thwaite and Dan Green offer measured responses to the Günter Grass controversy--better responses than anything I've yet read from the mainstream media.

Thwaite also offers thoughts on the situation of Aharon Appelfeld, which I believe apply to that of Grass as well:
Condemning Appelfeld for his silence, which has been rendered into support for Israeli violence, seems as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. Perhaps it is useful to point out the partiality of his understanding of the "human condition", about which he has written so wonderfully well, and right to condemn his silence and the politics it suggests. But this only confirms that Appelfeld's novels are better than the man, a paradox one should remember as we read his best novels and ignore (what we imagine to be) his politics. Knowing that Appelfeld has perhaps failed to understand the full import of his own enigmatic writing makes me wish he was as good a reader as he is a writer. But good readers are as rare as good writers. And good men rarer still.

21 August 2006

Still glaring

Two weeks later and Salon has *still* neglected my continent--but for Chile. Perhaps in another month one more country might merit their notice?

Sheesh, guys. It's ok to have a work in progress, but have the decency to keep it under wraps until it's actually ready for public scrutiny. You really don't need to give people another reason to roll their eyes at the silly gringos.

20 August 2006

Advice for the forlorn

"There is no mystery in art. Do the things you can see, they will show you what you cannot see."
~ Isak Dinesen

(via Javier Marías)


Thanks to Pandora and my better half, I've added a slew of new names to the music in my head (the southwest corner of this little blog). Most of them I'm just getting to know, but after a long, silent drought, it all sounds good to me.

19 August 2006

Daily bread

In Written Lives, Javier Marías quotes from a letter James Joyce wrote to his brother Stanislaus:
Don't you think there is a certain resemblance between the mystery of the Mass and what I am trying to do? I mean that I am trying in my poems to give people some kind of intellectual pleasure or spiritual enjoyment by converting the bread of daily life into something that has a permanent artistic life of its own...for their mental, moral, and spiritual uplift.
I've read opinions on this view of Joyce's that range anywhere from "blasphemous" to "arrogant," but to me, these ideas are self-evident. It may be my background, it may be my love, it may be my curse, but I will never be able to believe otherwise of the vitality of words.

03 August 2006

Doing the Snoopy dance

Pitchfork spreads the joy:
On November 14, the Ys descend. Yes, that's the release date and title of harpist/pianist/woodland creature Joanna Newsom's much-anticipated new album, due out on Drag City. It features arrangements scored and conducted by legendary Beach Boys collaborator Van Dyke Parks, and from what we've been hearing, the record contains some looong songs.
Pure bliss.

(via Ed)

01 August 2006

Pet peeve

Okay. I know I've hashed this out before, but as I continue to see this crop up in many well-meaning litblogs, I'll climb up onto my soapbox for a little litblog public service announcement...

If Gabriel García Márquez had been born in the United States, everyone would be referring to him as "García" NOT "Márquez." His first last name is García, his mother's maiden name was Márquez. This is the common practice of Latin America and Spain--the mother's maiden name is retained as the second last name. Hence Vargas Llosa, García Lorca, Pardo Bazán, Cabrera Infante, Eustasio Rivera, Cervantes Saavedra, etc.

As the redoubtable Teaching Assistant has noted,
Another extremely perverse thing is that when I'm in a bookstore, I can never find authors like Gabriel García Márquez or Federico García Lorca or Emilia Pardo Bazán where they are should be located according to proper alphabetization by last name. I've always got to resort to looking under Márquez, Lorca, and Bazán, even in the foreign language section of my university's official bookstore. I never know where I'll end up finding Lope de Vega or Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, either... This doesn't change whether I look for the works of these authors in Spanish or in translation.
Let the bookstores learn from the litbloggers, as we continue to develop the excellence of this necessary medium.