A Post for July

July 7, 2012 § 1 Comment

Varamo, by Cesar Aira, was the last book I thought I’d like to read again right after I’d finished, but that’s often what I think when I finish reading something by Aira, because the books of his New Directions has published (most of what’s available in English) have been short, and because there’s something about reading Aira in general (his inventiveness) that always feels fresh.

“See, that’s what I like about you, man, you’re always so positive.”

“Hey, you’re making me feel good about myself. I always try to be positive, even when I’m down. Thanks man.”

It’s weird overhearing a conversation like that.

Certain of Nabokov’s work I could read again and again, or I feel as if I could. Not Lolita, although it’s possible that dipping back into it (the first few pages, or a random selection) might be sufficient impetus to begin again. I could definitely return to The Gift, Glory, Pnin, Despair, I think, Invitation to a Beheading, maybe, most of the short stories that I’ve read, now Pale Fire, which I’m reading now.

The person grinding coffee wonders if she’s bothering me. But, to be honest, I preferred it when she was grinding, because then I couldn’t overhear anyone’s conversation.

There’s something about re-reading which strips something from the text, unless it’s been a long time between readings. An expectation of the text, an adherence to the impressions formed in the first reading, impressions which might not exist because of anything you’ve read (but because of something that occurs either in you or your environment). Some work, I’ve discovered, doesn’t stand up too well to second readings, or at least not to second readings too quickly, with the impression of the first reading too firmly in mind. Raymond Carver, it seems, will never again be as forceful or transmutative. Gary Lutz won’t ring unexpected words in quite the same way (nor will he impart the same feelings of doom, instead a kind of wallowing—leaking, diapery, plateauing—despair).

Moby Dick, and Tristram Shandy I think I could read more than once again. Borges, too, of course.

The work that stands up well to multiple readings is more varied, contains multiple registers, is both more and less than itself, or something. Or is complex in a way that can’t be immediately ascertained (or can never be ascertained, or only vaguely—maybe only vaguely is best, if it remains interesting, but always just out of the reader’s purview).

Would I squirm so much during The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz knowing not only the end of the book but Duddy’s fate, from other of Richler’s books? (Barney’s Version, Solomon Gursky Was Here, Richler’s short stories, etc.) (And another question: is it necessary to squirm to enjoy Duddy Kravitz?) But Barney’s Version I don’t think would suffer with knowledge of the trick ending, because it both is and isn’t enough to vindicate Barney (Barney alone, his character, or cathedral, is the reason we read).

June 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

I how ye ever you little bastard, get your bloody good fo not a damn thing my hunny he says its all math can’t you ever believe me I do it all for you nautilus, worm writing a forever home I mean can’t even stand up straight useless pernicious use of equivocation whenever triumphant ducks in da pond friend we got a million of them it’s not nearly as infinite as a picture but we use about a quarter ton of unshelled forgetting for one minute how we even goin get down there when isn’t a volkswagen for at least eighteen continuing once the gauge has reached a crosshatching stroke the nib will have to be supercilious but I have mine for nineteen year we toked togetha me and him I always took care of him then a river blasphemed the settlement and I could never feel right again not even in my own helicopter guns blazing villagers in cement walls with a livelihood pinned to them juice in me I am not thirsty, killed him one day or at least forever a lion.

June 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

I never get any mail. When I go out in the afternoon to check the box it is always empty, cavernous, whistling like the cave we found out by the creek, when my father, to steady himself, thrust his walking stick into the ground and the entrance collapsed and revealed itself. Day after day I am greeted by a single insolent leaf (I refuse to remove it) printed for a local exterminator (“groundhogs, midges, nut-hatches, robins, termites, deer, ants, moles, voles, hawks, owls, swifts, caterpillars, mice, crows, baby rats, intrusive spiders, and skunks / ALL DESTROYED HUMANELY”). The field is barren and I don’t need his services. Concrete and shards of plaster dot the enclosure. A raccoon was found dead underneath an old tire, its body flattened to the depth of an old washrag, a few indifferent crickets hopping round its corpse. The locals used to throw their garbage here, before I put a stop to that, and there’s nothing now but sand and a few thistly weeds. I get all my electricity from electro-magnet (needing just a small boost from a car battery to get the whole operation started). In the morning I turn the contraption off and wipe down the coils with a damp cloth. A concerned letter, sent in the days before I moved here and mail service gradually ceased (to all appearances) once explained this complicated process, complete with simple illustrations, as well as a small check (the last, or next-to-last, of a series) from my father. His body, when I went to see it, was white and homely, his suit arranged so nattily that one understood immediately (before even glancing at his face) that he was dead. In the morning, as I go to check the box, a waft of the neighbour’s lilies assaults my nostrils and I’m reminded of the funeral parlour and of that time, which I would rather forget. Which is why, you understand, it’s so vexing when I open the cover and find nothing waiting for me there.


June 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

What’s the light doing? The light is getting in my eyes and I must ask what it is doing. No one seems to know. She, least of all. In fact she has not said one word, not even when I politely—very politely!—inquired after her hat (so striking I assumed she’d worn it to provoke conversation). Its make. The material. Where one could find another like it. The hat, I said, in summa, is extremely charming. The professor, to my right, is speaking of a trip he took in a balloon. Over the jungles of Madagascar. Did you see the whole of the jungles or just a part? I believe I saw the greater part of the jungles. In fact, Sindbad, on one of his many— What do you or anyone else know about Sindbad?! I’m very excited, leaping up from my seat. The professor raises his hands, I believe protecting himself from the light. Sindbad! Of all people! She turns to the professor and intones, in a low voice: But the jungle? The professor nods his head vigorously. Now that I am standing the light is stronger than ever. I must cover my eyes. The professor gets under a blanket.

May 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

Jorge Luis Borges’s story “The Aleph” famously depicts a sphere, “two or three centimetres in diameter,” which simultaneously contains every point in space in the world. In the short story “The Tower”, by Christopher Laxer, which appears to be inspired by Borges’s “The Secret Miracle” (in which the condemned author Jaromir Hladik is granted a year by God to finish his masterpiece), Isaac Babel dreams, the night before his execution, words that are “incomprehensible, circular, perfect.” Babel’s “words” (to imagine two such words seems inconceivable) call to mind the Aleph of Borges’s story, as well as devices favoured by the Argentine, such as the sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere. But if “The Tower” is really influenced by Borges, then the words that Babel dreams hinge on a misinterpretation: Laxer’s belief that “perfection” is the desirable opposite of silence.

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May 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

god i feel lonely when i don’t have any money
i mean not even enough to pay for flint
to scratch out a little flame in the stove
my cats are hungry, the birds are hungry, and the mice go about without shoes

oh it is a terror this being poor
i yell until the walls can’t take it any longer
they shout ‘will you give it a rest?’ or ‘stop it’
and i hide underneath the covers until a mouse comes and stands on my shoulders

oh but i have hopes, i have hopes
one day god will address me on the mount
and Jacob with him, and Moses with him, and Peter too
I’ll shout ‘eureka!’ and run around until my legs give, and a mouse will whisper and wrap me in straw

May 8, 2012 § 9 Comments

I’ve finally matriculated, and I expect to feel nothing? she asked while I stared at the daffodils at her feet, daffodils you’d think someone might have cleaned up by now, at least if there was any dignity in this place. Or any justice in the world. When your father greeted me just a moment ago he referred to me as “Toyota Camry” and explained that I have a fine engine in me and began wistfully repeating “if only… if only… some of the upholstery out of the back, strip the air-conditioning…” while gently caressing my single headlight. She explained nudging one of the daffodils with her foot that she’d worked hard for years and had she thought certain ideas borrowed from Jewish, Christian and Marxist thought (not being she said too well-read on Islam) that matriculation meant the end of history and that her time of suffering was over. And so this feeling of nothing coming when she had reached the end disturbed her. For my part I slipped the chain back on the axle and ever-so-slightly agitated my back wheel in order to dislodge a daffodil caught underneath the fender. Standing up from her seat she turned to the glare of the door as it opened and shielding her eyes asked Hello? Have you come about the flowers?