27 June 2006

Vargas Llosa on Faulkner

Mario Vargas Llosa on the creation of context:
"I consider writing a kind of adventure," he says. "I don't want to repeat myself, doing things that I have already done. No, because that would impoverish something for me that is very fresh, very new always. And that's why my books are very different, one from the other ... Even the writing is different because it depends very much on what you want to tell ... You have to find the way it is with each story." [...]

When asked how he discovers how each story must be told, he invokes another writer he invariably cites (along with Sartre and Flaubert) as a seminal influence.

"There was the way in which [William] Faulkner transformed stories that otherwise would have been unacceptable, no?" he says, going on to describe a scene from "The Hamlet," a novel Faulkner published in 1940.

"If I tell you, 'well, I know a man who became in love with a cow.' So you smile. That's a stupid story! But when you read Faulkner, this story becomes something so tragic, so tragic. It's not the story. It's the way in which the story's presented, the way in which he creates a context that can transform this stupid thing into something very tragic in which the human condition is expressed.

"That is something that I learned reading Faulkner, that anything can become the most important, the most deep human experience, if you have the ability to reach this story or this situation, linking it with the human condition in general."
(via The Literary Saloon)

26 June 2006


I've had a vague sense of panic for the past few days now, and it's only increasing. Vacation time is severely limited and I have yet to finish reading one book since I've been north. Bookstores to visit, books to buy, and the growing stack of library volumes by my bed are all clamoring for my attention, distracting me from settling down long enough to finish anything.

Then there's the personal writing I'm doing, long talks with family, the chipmunks in the backyard, and an impending trip to Boston. I'm in the process of realistically judging which books I should read first--the ones I will kick myself for not getting to. I've been scouring used bookstores for things to take back down, and even bought my first full-price book in a very long time: David Markson's Reader's Block. Granted, it's a nice sort of problem to have, but I'm finding that going from scarcity to overabundance and back again is severely nerve-racking.

So back to the books! Specifically, this one:
Carson listened in fascination to Wystan's pronouncement that detective stories were virtually the only type of novel that he cared to read. Most other kinds, particularly American novels, lacked interest in his opinion. He disliked Steinbeck's work, for example, since he did not believe that novels could successfully deal "with inarticulates or with failures." Moreover, he was struck by the utter loneliness of American literature. Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville, James--American literature was "one extraordinary literature of lonely people." That was not necessarily a criticism. It was the destiny of all Western nations, as the machine age developed, to lose their traditions, their connections, their allegiances. America was just ahead of the rest of the world in highlighting man's aloneness, his real condition. [...] Carson, far from being offended by his lack of interest in novels, drank in his remarks about American literature and thought a great deal about them, both at the dinner table and later in her room. [...] Contrary to Auden's opinion, Carson felt that, in a sense, inarticulates and failures may be the only people worth writing novels about. But she also knew that their inability to formulate feelings made it difficult to portray them.

McCullers' meals

Finally getting to read Sherill Tippins' February House and am loving every page...
Most alarming to Auden, meals turned out to be equally casual. Carson enjoyed playing chef, but her menus were limited to such dishes as meat patties, canned green pea soup with wienies, and a concoction she called "Spuds Carson"--mashed potatoes mixed with onions, cheese, or whatever she found in the larder. Even these were often burnt to the consistency of charcoal, since Carson tended to wander off and forget that she was cooking.

16 June 2006

Hearing color, tasting music

Dan Green notes this wonderful article on Kandinsky's synesthesia:
Kandinsky undoubtedly led the European revival in synaesthesia but there are many other examples of sonic influence in modern art, from Munch's The Scream and Whistler's Nocturnes and Harmonies to Ezra Pound's cantos and T S Eliot's quartets. Yet Kandinsky's curious gift of colour-hearing, which he successfully translated onto canvas as "visual music", to use the term coined by the art critic Roger Fry in 1912, gave the world another way of appreciating art that would be inherited by many more poets, abstract artists and psychedelic rockers throughout the rest of the disharmonic 20th century. Here then are Kandinsky's guidelines so that you can. . .experience synaesthesia for yourself: "Lend your ears to music, open your eyes to painting, and… stop thinking! Just ask yourself whether the work has enabled you to 'walk about' into a hitherto unknown world. If the answer is yes, what more do you want?"
This reminds of me of Stephen Mitchelmore's comments on Wallace Stevens, Vladimir Nabokov, and Jeffrey Ford. I had never read "Signs and Symbols" before last month (thank God for such blogs as This Space!). It altered my mood for the rest of the day. Nabokov knows exactly how to "catch the heart off guard and blow it open" (as Seamus Heaney writes). Ford's story, "The Empire of Ice Cream," was also very interesting--less poignant and elliptical, but a really nice piece of work.

All composers should write music with crayons.

14 June 2006


Leave it to Ed to give us Twenty-One More Reasons Why Litbloggers Are Evil & Unethical. I nearly fell out of my chair with laughter. Beats rolling my eyes at alarmist mainstream types. (And for anyone remotely curious, the Amazon links are for informational purposes only. For all you know, people--such as my shameless self--are using the info to check books out of the library.)


Happiness is putting 15 books on hold in a library in another country, and having them ready for you by the time you arrive in said country.

Thus the madness begins...

"is" and "was"

Just some simple last thoughts on As I Lay Dying that I've dusted off for this little lit corner...

Darl seems to be closer to his mother in ideology than any of the others, although he is the one she has rejected. In his mind, because she does not live, she does not exist, and so her body should not exist either (thus his attempts to destroy her corpse). Darl follows his mother’s example in his use of anti-language and the questioning of being:
In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are emptied for sleep, what are you. And when you are emptied for sleep, you are not. And when you are filled with sleep, you never were. I dont know what I am. I dont know if I am or not. Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he does not know whether he is or not. He cannot empty himself for sleep because he is not what he is and he is what he is not. [...] And since sleep is is-not and rain and wind are was, it is not. Yet the wagon is, because when the wagon is was, Addie Bundren will not be. And Jewel is, so Addie Bundren must be.
This bears a sharp contrast to Jewel, who has transferred his fierce love for his mother to his horse, maintaining being (and the existence of his love) at any cost. But as Darl plainly states, "I cannot love my mother because I have no mother." This idea also causes Vardaman to observe:
“Jewel’s mother is a horse,” Darl said.

“Then mine can be a fish, cant it, Darl?” I said.

Jewel is my brother.

“Then mine will have to be a horse, too,” I said.

“Why?” Darl said. “If pa is your pa, why does your ma have to be a horse just because Jewel’s is?”

“Why does it?” I said. “Why does it, Darl?”

Darl is my brother.

“Then what is your ma, Darl?” I said.

“I haven’t got ere one,” Darl said. “Because if I had one, it is was. And if it is was, it cant be is. Can it?”
Vardaman then says, “But you are, Darl,” and Darl responds, “I know it [...] That’s why I am not is. Are is too many for one woman to foal.” Interestingly, he accepts his brother's idea of her being a horse, but cannot accept being her son or the validity of his own existence (the negation they share).

I also just have to say how much I love Vardaman.

13 June 2006

A Shrug of the Shoulders

A slip from The Book of Disquiet, courtesy ArtSEENsoHo:
We generally give to our ideas about the unknown the color of our notions about what we do know: If we call death a sleep it's because it has the appearance of sleep; if we call death a new life, it's because it seems different from life. We build our beliefs and hopes out of these small misunderstandings with reality and live off husks of bread we call cakes, the way poor children play at being happy.

But that's how all life is; at least that's how the particular way of life generally known as civilization is. Civilization consists in giving an innapropriate [sic] name to something and then dreaming what results from that. And in fact the false name and the true dream do create a new reality. The object really does become other, because we have made it so. We manufacture realities. We use the raw materials we always used but the form lent it by art effectively prevents it from remaining the same. A table made out of pinewood is a pinetree but it is also a table. We sit down at the table not at the pinetree. ...
~ Fernando Pessoa, born on this day in 1888

12 June 2006

Faulkner's games play games

As Dan Green notes, "Faulkner at his best is full of game-playing." But the linguistic games get nasty sometimes, too.

Looking back at some old writing I did on As I Lay Dying, I see Faulkner up to his old tricks in the character of Addie, who bends words back on themselves. In her solitary section, she proclaims the futility of language: "[W]ords are no good [...] words dont ever fit even what they are trying to say at." She goes on to discuss her husband Anse:
He had a word, too. Love, he called it. But I had been used to words for a long time. I knew that that word was like the others: just a shape to fill a lack; that when the right time came, you wouldn’t need a word for that anymore than pride or fear.
Taking this even further, she coins words of negation, denying the inherent being of language. She confesses that the one thing her husband could have given her was "not-Anse." By surrendering to the fact that this would not happen, she fulfills her "duty" to him:
I would be I; I would let him be the shape and echo of his word. That was more than he asked, because he could not have asked for that and been Anse, using himself so with a word.
This negation of language extends into her rejection of conventional spirituality, according to Cleanth Brooks (in William Faulkner: First Encounters):
One might call her basic philosophy a kind of transcendental materialism, for she has simply inverted the Christian doctrine. Since the soul is nothing, the body itself must be everything, and so, transcendentally important, for only the tangible is truly real.
With this perspective, she channels her remaining affection into her illegitimate son, Jewel. By placing sole importance on physical reality, Addie sees her salvation (or vindication) as a corporeal thing: "Addie tells Cora that 'he' will save her from the fire and the flood. The conventionally pious Cora thinks at first that Addie is referring to Christ," yet she soon "realizes that Addie is referring to her son Jewel, who in the course of the journey actually does save her decomposing body from both perils" (Brooks 83). Addie’s identity and selfhood impinge upon those of her entire family, particularly Darl and Jewel, directly affecting their individual fates. By effectually giving being to Jewel (through her love), and denying it to Darl (through unreasonable withdrawal), Addie dictates the being and non-being of each son...with words.

Not only does Faulkner play games with words, his own characters do as well, creating a fascinating tension between the words that comprise (or create) each character and the words they themselves use to undo (unmake) each other. I think this is one reason why Dan Green can emphasize how Faulkner's "fiction always forces awareness of the way these images are produced, and it's hard to believe he didn't know this. Such self-awareness makes him a quintesstial modernist."

(Still more on this soon.)

Incompatible with modernism?

Dan Green spots yet another example of the type of misunderstanding that unwittingly maligns the modernists:
That Faulkner conveys a worldview incorporating "classical" qualities must certainly be true, but I don't see why this feature of his work makes it incompatible with modernism. Does this mean T.S. Eliot, a self-confessed classicist, was also no modernist? Has our definition of "modernist" evolved to the stage where it simply means "chaotic"? No work that moves through apparent disorder to achieve a different kind of order need apply to the "timeless" club? With modernists, nothing matters?
I'll have more on this later (when I have a bit more time). Suffice it to say that it's good to see muddied ideas sorted out. In discussions concerning modernism and postmodernism, there is a tendency towards sloppy generalizations that blur essential issues of how a work functions in the first place, leaving us with nothing more than rote stereotypes that lead to facile judgments. This robs us of literary understanding rather than adding to it. Better to confess ignorance than to make unwarranted assumptions.

11 June 2006

Impossible gift

We careen towards the end of the semester; exhaustion is palpable. Again, I find my unspoken thoughts in the words of another. Spurious:
You have fallen; the world knows you as blessed. You are a saint of chance.

The face of God is worn out. You do not pray. Or prayer is thought, the whole of thought, as it is present in you. Come with me. Follow me there, to where we will fall together. There where thought needs our weakness to come to itself. Where thought desires only to hold itself, to touch itself as I would touch you. But thought will not be kept. Thought keeps us. It would keep us, the exhausted ones, who have fallen from everything but thinking.

'I would like to learn how to fall.' - 'But you cannot learn.' - 'I would like to fall.' - 'But falling must be what you do not want.'

We are exhausted, the sacred ones. Thought crowns us. Thought is joined to itself in our exhaustion, and there it unjoins the world. For that is what thought demands, impossible gift: you will think as no one; nothing will think in your place.
(And it continues....)

08 June 2006

World Cup reading

Courtesy of Bogotá's Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango (and their marvelous e-newsletter), here's a list of "What to Read During the World Cup":


1. El fútbol a sol y sombra, 1995. Eduardo Galeano [Soccer in Sun and Shadow]
En este libro, considerado un clásico dentro de las publicaciones futbolísticas, el escritor uruguayo Eduardo Galeano le hace un homenaje a este deporte y cuenta su historia a partir de anécdotas, datos y análisis llenos de humor e ironía. Para la muestra un botón: ¿En qué se parece el fútbol a Dios? En la devoción que le tienen muchos creyentes y en la desconfianza que le tienen muchos intelectuales.


2. El área 18, 1982. Roberto Fontanarrosa
El escritor y caricaturista argentino, famoso por Boogie el aceitoso, recrea el mundo del fútbol a través de una novela que cuenta la historia de Congodia, un pequeño país africano, que logra su independencia y desarrollo gracias a su equipo nacional de fútbol hasta el momento invicto. Dada la estratégica localización del país y las poderosas apuestas que genera el equipo una poderosa corporación multinacional decide armar un conjunto capaz de derrotarlos.

3. Fútbol, goles y girasoles, 1998. Jairo Aníbal Niño

4. Cuentos de fútbol, 1999. Mempo Giardinelli, selección de Federico Díaz Granados.

5. Historias de fútbol, 2004. Andrés Wood
Esta película hace una mirada a la historia social de Chile a través de tres historias que giran alrededor del fútbol.


6. Cuentos de fútbol, 1995. Selección y prólogo de Jorge Valdano
24 historias de fútbol realizadas por destacados escritores, entre los que se encuentran Fontanarrosa, Alfredo Bryce Echenique, Julio Ramón Ribeyro y Benedetti.

7. El libro del mundial, 1994. Eduardo Arias

8. Once cuentos de fútbol, 1972. Camilo José Cela
Estampas sobre futbolistas sacados de contexto, desarraigados de geografía o época y satirizados en sus máximas figuras son las que presenta en este libro el Nobel español.


9. Dios es redondo, 2006. Juan Villoro
El escritor mexicano, enviado especial a los mundiales de fútbol de Italia 90 y Francia 98, profundiza en los ritos y mitos del fútbol e indaga en la pasión que despierta este deporte. Así mismo le rinde un homenaje al que según él es el más grande jugador de todos los tiempos: Maradona.

10. El gran laberinto, 2005. Fernando Savater
Esta novela dirigida a jóvenes lectores se desarrolla en un estadio donde la gente lleva varias semanas sin poder salir y a merced de gigantescos monstruos. Unos niños serán los encargados de solucionar este problema.

11. El grito silencioso, 1995. Kenzaburo Oé [The Silent Cry]
El Nobel japonés narra la historia de cuatro hermanos que viajan de regreso a su tierra natal en la isla de Shikoku. El segundo tratará de emular la revolución del primer año de Mannen (1861), animando a los aldeanos a levantarse contra el "Emperador de los Supermercados", empresario coreano de gran poder e influencia en la región, bajo el pretexto de "entrenar un equipo de fútbol".


Revista El gráfico
Esta revista argentina de circulación semanal creada en 1919 se ha consolidado como una de las más importantes de su género en el mundo.

Big surprise, huh?

Classic Female Literary Character?

(via BookLust)

02 June 2006

Álvarez on poetry

From Robert Birnbaum's chat with Julia Álvarez:
JA: When I go to Breadloaf, I like to go to the poetry lectures. I am much more interested in what the poets have to say. They are the ones at the cutting edge where language meets the ineffable, the silence. Seamus Heaney gave a reading a few years back at Middlebury and he said poetry is about [she opens her mouth as if to say something]. He just stood there, his mouth hanging open, as if dumbfounded, like he couldn't find the words.

RB: [laughs]

JA: His point, I think, was that poetry tries to put into words what can't be put into words! That is what poets do. I think of them as the hot lava pushing out. They are the scouts, traveling out into the unknown where language has not gone before. They are doing interesting things with language, thinking about ways of using syntax. They talk about line breaks, about the breath as opposed to the visual cutting off of language. Storytellers, we're the settlers, we come in later, we need schools and a post office and homes and day care centers—but I am more interested in poets. I learn more from them. I don't know why.

01 June 2006

My long-standing grudge

Realizing anew that it isn't time that's the problem, but our manner of measuring it...
¿Qué más quiere, qué más quiere? Átelo pronto a su muñeca, déjelo latir en libertad, imítelo anhelante. El miedo herrumbra las áncoras, cada cosa que pudo alcanzarse y fue olvidada va corroyendo las venas del reloj, gangrenando la fría sangre de sus pequeños rubíes. Y allá en el fonda está la muerte si no corremos y llegamos antes y comprendemos que ya no importa.
~ Julio Cortázar, "Instrucciones para dar cuerda al reloj,"
Historias de cronopios y de famas

On the verge of summer

Day before yesterday I nailed down my flights north. After the flurry of exams...grading over the weekend...report card deadlines...and the last couple weeks of school...I will migrate back to that other native land. Because my last vacation was filled with planning and work and responsibility, I'm particularly looking forward to this one. I plan to go barefoot every day and...

  • pack light
  • drive long, open roads
  • gaze at summer fields and evening fireflies
  • spend hours in bookstores and coffee shops
  • write dozens of letters to a certain someone
  • laugh with my brothers
  • collect books and bookends to bring back
  • get caught up on my neglected reading
  • laugh with my sisters
  • explore long-lost places
  • wander this waking dream
...and enjoy every bit of this new-found mental freedom. Only last weekend I was able to enjoy an old favorite passtime: being read to. And Cortázar no less! (How did I live so long without it?) I lie on my hammock under the sliver of moon, and gaze up at the enormous proximity of the Big Dipper (so much closer here than up north!). Such plans afoot... A glory of long days and still nights... And stacks and stacks of books!!

It is truly a luxury to love such simple things: books, ink, paper, coffee, ideas. I feel like the wealthiest girl in the world...learning how to dream all over again.