Friday, June 30, 2006

Literary links round-up

In lieu of my being able to finish any post of substance in a timely manner, here are some recent lit-related blog posts and articles I've enjoyed and/or found interesting:

Waggish compiles a list of authors that seem to appeal to engineers--"left-brain literature". Interestingly, some of the writers listed are among my favorites, including Richard Powers, arguably my favorite living novelist.

Bud Parr on Hobson's Island, by Stefan Themerson, an author I've been drawn to since I first saw his novel Tom Harris, but have not yet read anything by. Speaking of Tom Harris, Bud points to a post about that book by Derik Badman from last year, which I somehow missed or forgot about. Both posts only increase my interest in reading this writer.

Steve Mitchelmore on notebooks and note-taking:
...the book to which all those notes relate would itself have to be written again. So much is left out after all. It too is only almost a book. Note-taking and review writing and essay writing would not be enough. Indeed, writing the entire book again would not be enough. One would need to write many more books in addition to that one. Each line of text evokes a cascade of ideas and associations, each one demanding a book in itself.
Posts like this remind me again why I like reading Steve's blog, This Space: is it too much to say that I find the experience of reading some of his posts not unlike that of reading Walter Benjamin? From another recent one, this from last Saturday (June 24):
However, after reading these novels and trying to recall the details, to sort out the facts, the characters, the digressions and the anecdotes, the sort of thing one imagines make each unique, I was left almost blank. It took a lot of work (notetaking, re-reading) to retrieve an account for an audience. All that's left in my memory after hours and hours of patient reading is the general movement of the story, the sense of its created world, the taste of its atmosphere: in fact, just the reading experience.

But isn't that just more or less everything? It is probably why I am attached to some short stories or novellas as much as I am to standard length novels. They are, in effect, all the same length; they take up the same amount of memory space.

Another of the more literary blogs I enjoy is Ellis Sharp's, The Sharp Side. Today, he discusses John Updike's "figurative language":
But often what seems impressive on a first reading is like [the movie] Big Fish. When you consider it, it seems empty; a box of tricks. As in

His sobs were tangled with loud sighs like the hissing of truck brakes and with the broken words of his attempt to keep talking.

I know exactly what Updike means by the sound that truck brakes make. As he says, they hiss – in a loud, squirty, abrupt, brief sort of way. But a hiss is not a sigh. A sigh is surely something low, closer to a moan or a groan than a hiss. A hiss is high pitched, a sigh is not. I think the simile is more of an attempt to impress the reader with Updike’s cleverness as a technician than something which clarifies or deepens the situation which is being dramatised – an adulterous husband in conversation with his bitter, anxious wife. Updike’s eye is on the reader, not his characters. To me the simile doesn’t ring true.
I mostly skimmed this New York Review of Books piece on Beckett by Tim Parks, largely because I have yet to read Beckett. I bought the fancy new Grove set, and I look forward to finally diving in, soon. I got the NYRB link via Jenny Davidson; not wanting to overly clutter my initial reading of his prose, like her I did read more closely the passages on Beckett's plays, such as this:
But most importantly of all, the theater allows both silence and physical movement to come to the fore in a way they cannot on the page. A blank space between paragraphs simply does not deliver the anxiety of a hiatus in a stage dialogue. Only in the theater, as the audience waits in collective apprehension for the conversational ball— between Didi and Gogo, Hamm and Clov—to start rolling again, could Beckett's sense that any deep truth must be located in something, or nothing, beyond speech come across with great immediacy. Likewise the actors' interminable and pointless movement back and forth across the stage is a more immediate statement than the words of a page-bound narrator telling us of his aimless daily wanderings. When we watch the plays, the impotence of language to explain the characters' experience is powerfully evident. Conversation serves above all to pass the time.
Speaking of Beckett and of Parks' essay, at the blog Anecdotal Evidence, Patrick Kurp has this to say:
Realism is a notoriously sticky Tar Baby of a concept. Most of the theorizing and maundering about what is realistic and what is not seems sterile and unproductive. According to Parks’ unconventional accounting, one I would endorse, Beckett, especially in his later fiction, is a realist, though not in the Flaubertian or Dreiserian modes. We might call it philosophical realism, to distinguish it from literal-minded physical realism:

“Yet [quoting Parks] for all these aggressive experiments one is struck on rereading Beckett that he did not dispense with traditional realism tout court. Throughout his work we come across passages of haunting descriptive power in which we cannot help feeling the author has a considerable emotional investment.”

Reading Beckett’s work, at least from the time he wrote Watt, during World War II, is an emotionally engaging act. We identify with his characters – Watt, Molly, Malone, the Unnamable, Didi and Gogo, Hamm and Clov, Krapp – in a way postmodernists would say is trivial and silly, even impossible. But if Beckett were merely creating clever but ultimately empty word games, only the professors would still be reading him. Even with his abhorrence of sentimentality, Beckett remains a storyteller (anti-storyteller, if you must), and stories are about you and me.

1 comment:

steve said...

Thanks for the comments! Maybe I should avoid Spanish holidays from now on ...