Autumn 2020: Is Everything Getting Dimmer or Is It Just Me?

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The seasons change and so do we. What are you reading now?

the unappreciated charisma of cows (Aimless), Tuesday, 22 September 2020 04:51 (seven months ago) link

A successor thread to Summer 2020: What Are You Reading as the Sun Bakes the Arctic Ocean?

the unappreciated charisma of cows (Aimless), Tuesday, 22 September 2020 04:52 (seven months ago) link

C.L.R. James - The Black Jacobins

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 22 September 2020 09:39 (seven months ago) link

Wycherley Woman - Ross Macdonald. Loved The Chill & The Galton Case, gonna start reading them in sequence from here.

Thanks for the Fitzgerald biography recommendation Dow! – I’ve got a copy at home, gonna scan through to help myself decipher the last two novels a bit better

Chuck_Tatum, Tuesday, 22 September 2020 12:19 (seven months ago) link

The Macdonald novels before The Galton Case are good too. The one right before that, The Doomsters, marks the point at which he started moving into his late psychodrama style, focusing on Archer's protection of vulnerable young people. The first half-dozen in the series are more straightforward hardboiled novels in the Chandler mode. They're all memorable.

There's a well-known letter in which Chandler rips up the first Archer novel, The Moving Target, sneering at some stylistic weaknesses; between the lines one can see his frustration with a younger author threatening to do his schtick better.

Brad C., Tuesday, 22 September 2020 13:26 (seven months ago) link

Love The Black Jacobins. One of the most inspiring moments in human history.

Daniel_Rf, Tuesday, 22 September 2020 15:21 (seven months ago) link

Speaking of Chandler and Macdonald, I am reading Red Harvest, Dashiell Hammett. Technically I'm re-reading it, but the first time was during the last century and not one detail of it remains in my memory.

I addressed my previous book, I'm Still Here, Austin Channing Brown, in the prior thread, but will state that it is just the kind of book designed to be read by many millions of Americans, bearing witness to what whiteness feels like when you are a Black woman on the receiving end of it. It is simple, clear, direct and very short, so that even reluctant readers can encompass it easily. It also speaks most directly to professed Christians, which is a plus.

the unappreciated charisma of cows (Aimless), Tuesday, 22 September 2020 17:06 (seven months ago) link

It's funny, Aimless, because the Christian address aspect of that particular book is what turned me off from reading it.

healthy cocaine off perfect butts (the table is the table), Tuesday, 22 September 2020 18:01 (seven months ago) link

I've been a long time reading, and now at last I am a mere 100 pages from the end of Edward Baptist's The Half Has Never Been Told. As I draw closer to the Civil War, I find myself slowing down and consulting other works, to try to synthesize a bigger picture -- most recently, I started The Field of Blood by Joanne Freeman, on congressional violence and the 'affective history' of debate over slavery and the union. But I also want to go back and study the period of Indian removal in greater detail, as it was largely passed over in Baptist's New Orleans-centered account of the 1820s and '30s.

handsome boy modelling software (bernard snowy), Tuesday, 22 September 2020 19:14 (seven months ago) link

xp -You were far from her ideal audience, table. I am closer to it. For me the value of the book being cast in a framework of Christianity is that it has a much greater chance of reaching the audience that has most need of the information it contains. It is a primer, well-designed to spread itself through the Christian grapevine of churches and Xtian bookstores. I applaud that approach and hope it permeates that audience. And it was good reinforcement for me, too.

the unappreciated charisma of cows (Aimless), Tuesday, 22 September 2020 19:21 (seven months ago) link

A little over 100 pages left of Ulysses. Supplemented by the Great Courses and Edna O'Brien's short Joyce bio.

Chris L, Tuesday, 22 September 2020 23:47 (seven months ago) link

You're certainly right, Aimless, particularly around yr hopes for how the book will circulate. Might be useful for a class in the future, though, so it is still in the pile!

healthy cocaine off perfect butts (the table is the table), Wednesday, 23 September 2020 01:33 (seven months ago) link

the rings of saturn. it's good but sheesh lighten up a little would ya bill

Give me a Chad Smith-type feel (map), Wednesday, 23 September 2020 19:23 (seven months ago) link

the best parts are the more straightforward stories imo. it strengthens my opinion that lengthy descriptions of dreams always make for tedious reading.

Give me a Chad Smith-type feel (map), Wednesday, 23 September 2020 19:25 (seven months ago) link

winfried not bill, sorry winfried

Give me a Chad Smith-type feel (map), Wednesday, 23 September 2020 19:41 (seven months ago) link

Red Harvest certainly earned its title. I can see why no one yet has made a film of the original novel, as written, but also why Kurosawa thought the novel's general premise was worth adapting to film.

the unappreciated charisma of cows (Aimless), Friday, 25 September 2020 03:19 (six months ago) link

How does it seem not suited for film? Been a long time since I read, but thought it was good, and seems to be gen. regarded as his best novel, although The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man are good in lighter ways. Premise-wise the or a precedent is Goldoni's The or A Servant of Two Masters (thanx and a tip of the Hatlo hat to James Blech for pointing this out to me).

dow, Friday, 25 September 2020 15:31 (six months ago) link

Just a few ideas that strike me about the obstacles to filming Red Harvest:

  • The intricacies of the action and characters would need to be considerably streamlined from what the book presents you with, so that audiences could concentrate on the story, which is the main interest, instead of constantly running to keep up with the plot.
  • Since the novel is a first person narration, the screenwriter, director and actors would need to find filmic ways to handle a ton of exposition or the film would be voice-over narration constantly.
  • The Continental Op (main character) is somewhat underdeveloped in the book. He is an avenger with nothing to avenge.
None of these obstacles are impossible to overcome, but they make it a tricky property to adapt. It's probably easier to take the basic storyline and build it out using different elements that are easier to put across on film, which is pretty much what Kurosawa did.

the unappreciated charisma of cows (Aimless), Friday, 25 September 2020 18:01 (six months ago) link

I'm reading The Devil Finds Work, a group of 1970s essays by James Baldwin that center around various films, novels and plays; he uses them to shed light on the topic of most of his essays: being Black or white in the USA. This collection is a bit more obscure, but it is included in the Library of America compendium of his essays and that's where I'm reading it.

the unappreciated charisma of cows (Aimless), Friday, 25 September 2020 20:30 (six months ago) link

xpost I thought of the Op as being offended by local leaders expecting him to do their dirty work beyond his standards of professional amorality---they want him to get positively immoral, too close to moral, euuuwww. So he does, but in his own way, getting pulled in beyond his usual experience of course, winging it more than advisable. But overall I see what you mean.

dow, Friday, 25 September 2020 22:19 (six months ago) link

Mainly I am still rereading James Joyce, STEPHEN HERO. It's much more enjoyable / readable than I remembered - in a way Joyce's most direct fiction ever, and his most politically explicit.

I am also perhaps still reading Ferriter's A NATION AND NOT A RABBLE but I've been somewhat disappointed with that.

And a third Irish book: Terry Eagleton, CRAZY JOHN AND THE BISHOP: the very long essay on 'The Good-Natured Gael' is my bedtime reading. Currently on a section about Oliver Goldsmith. The scholarship in this book, from one (TE) who isn't really a specialist in the field, is staggering.

the pinefox, Saturday, 26 September 2020 13:01 (six months ago) link

'm reading The Devil Finds Work, a group of 1970s essays by James Baldwin that center around various films, novels and plays; he uses them to shed light on the topic of most of his essays: being Black or white in the USA. This collection is a bit more obscure, but it is included in the Library of America compendium of his essays and that's where I'm reading it.

― the unappreciated charisma of cows (Aimless)

one of my essential film studies texts

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 26 September 2020 13:06 (six months ago) link

How does it seem not suited for film? Been a long time since I read, but thought it was good, and seems to be gen. regarded as his best novel, although The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man are good in lighter ways. Premise-wise the or a precedent is Goldoni's The or A Servant of Two Masters (thanx and a tip of the Hatlo hat to James Blech for pointing this out to me).

Thanks, although I just happened to look this up yesterday and apparently some people say that the Goldoni precedent was just a slim reed brought up by Sergio Leone or his legal team when Kurosawa came after him about A Fistful of Dollars. Think they settled by giving Kurosawa & Co. distribution rights in Japan.

ABBA O RLY? (James Redd and the Blecchs), Saturday, 26 September 2020 13:54 (six months ago) link

Terry Eagleton's long, erudite section on Goldsmith (on whom he'd never previously written) moves on to a more predictable section on Sterne. An even more predictable section on Burke will probably follow.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 29 September 2020 09:49 (six months ago) link

Halfway through Perfect Sound Whatever. Really enjoy the concept - Acaster is convinced 2016 was the best year for music ever and just keeps investigating records from that time - because it's neither an antiquarian task like doing the same for, say, 1971, nor the usual drudgery of trying to keep up with new releases for the year and forgetting about them all come January. Sadly he's no music critic - the book awakwardly tries to tie albums into his personal travails of that year in a very artificial manner. When he's talking about his life he's funny and touching; when he's talking about the music it all just feels like regurgitated press releases.

It also strikes me that a book about music written by a stand-up comedian is probably a true vision of hell for a lot of ILX ppl.

Daniel_Rf, Tuesday, 29 September 2020 14:25 (six months ago) link

Yes.

Is he generally convinced of this, or just pretending to be?

the pinefox, Tuesday, 29 September 2020 14:57 (six months ago) link

Bit of both? I think he's generally convinced that there's an astonishing wealth of good music from that year that he wants to share. He probably realises this is also true of every year.

Daniel_Rf, Tuesday, 29 September 2020 15:03 (six months ago) link

there's a podcast on a bbc sounds about it all. i like him, but when he was on Later... talking about it his music taste struck me as bad, so i haven't listened.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/brand/p089rfmk

koogs, Tuesday, 29 September 2020 19:38 (six months ago) link

i finished rings of saturn and am about halfway through austerlitz. i'm enjoying its relative straightforwardness.

Give me a Chad Smith-type feel (map), Tuesday, 29 September 2020 19:46 (six months ago) link

The podcast's better than the book I think, earnest enthusiasm does more on an audio medium.

Daniel_Rf, Wednesday, 30 September 2020 10:00 (six months ago) link

Jorge Luis Borges - The Total Library Non-Fiction 1922-1986

500 pages worth of essays and (later in life, due to what seems like a mixture of further fame and blindness) transcried talks. The essays up to 1955 or so (pre-blindness) are a series of optical illusions. He has an incredible ability to convey the essence of a whatever he is reading or seeing (about a dozen film reviews here) in about 3/4 highly satisfying pages that also manage to display the sense that he has read about half a dozen books on that book or author (this could be another optical illusion but maybe if you spend all your life reading or writing that might be true, either that or he has good skim-reading ability). That's whether he is writing for a journal, the desk, or a woman's magazine. Throughout, we have a series of slightly longer essays that seem like 3/4 pages stitched together, as he talks about the translators of The Arabian Nights (v interesting discussion of Orientalism as a thing before Said?) Benjamin's essay on it gets far more hits than Borges and while there isn't a take on it per se that isn't fused with the books he discusses it feels a little unfair. I love his 20 pages on Dante, just different aspects of the book, on Icelandic Sagas, on Fitzgerald's Rubáiyát (this was a marvel, his account of Fitzgerald felt like a short story!), Flaubert, Gibbon, Coleridge, and first reads of Joyce, Woolf and Faulkner as being published for the first time - his reckoning with modernism and sharp judgment (the way he is so open to what Joyce does on Ulysses while at the same time struggling through Finnegans Wake, compare this to Woolf's dismissal based on snobbery and jealousy in her diaries), plus his Refutation of Time (which has won out in discussion of literature) over space is something to go back to. The range of reading on a level I have not seen since Auerbach's Mimesis (Auerbach ofc also published his own separate account of Dante) that feels like reading has taken place (unlike George Steiner lol, no name dropping). Both are as light and exhausting as they try to give as open a read as their faculties will allow them (at the edge!), and for the Borges there is no better demonstration of how a writer of fiction worth reading is always a reader first and foremost.

In the end its clear how I took Borges for granted too. I reckon Labyrinths is a possibly flawed collection. The power of the stories doesn't put the essays in perspective. Also brings to mind how people like Eco and Manguel really feel like bad copies of him. It can't be empahsized how much of a one-off Borges was.

xyzzzz__, Wednesday, 30 September 2020 10:31 (six months ago) link

I read Borges' essays and the fictions as essays, as banal as it sounds. The Whole of Harmonium, as it were.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 30 September 2020 10:32 (six months ago) link

*Borges' essays as fictions

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 30 September 2020 10:32 (six months ago) link

Yes, for sure there is a relationship here between the stories and criticism. Nothing else like it.

xyzzzz__, Wednesday, 30 September 2020 10:37 (six months ago) link

Great post, xyzzzz

Ward Fowler, Wednesday, 30 September 2020 11:38 (six months ago) link

I am still ploughing my way through a big anthology of horror short stories called The Dark Descent, edited by David G Hartwell. As well as the expected big hitters (Lovecraft, Poe, King etc) the pick of the bunch so far would include 'The Swords' by Robert Aickman and 'Good Country People' by Flannery O'Connor (both dark comedies about sexual innocence yet utterly different in style and milieu), 'The Summer People' by Shirley Jackson, 'The Autopsy' by Michael Shea (a tremendously gory variant on The Thing), 'Sticks' by Karl Edward Wagner (which anticipates certain aspects of The Blair Witch Project before going full-on Lovecraft), 'My Dear Emily' by Joanna Russ and 'The Yellow Wallpaper' by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which put me in mind a little of 'The White People' by Arthur Machen (who is strangely absent from this selection).

It also includes 'The Jolly Corner' by Henry James, which put me in mind of this comment from Borges - “I have visited some literatures of the East and West; I have compiled an encyclopedic anthology of fantastic literature; I have translated Kafka, Melville, and Bloy; I know of no stranger work than that of Henry James.”

Ward Fowler, Wednesday, 30 September 2020 11:50 (six months ago) link

I've never read Borges, but a lot of authors I like have been influenced by him. Where should I start?

Quiet Storm Thorgerson (PBKR), Wednesday, 30 September 2020 12:47 (six months ago) link

Any of the famous stories. "The Library of Babel," "The Lottery in Babylon," "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," "The Aleph," many others. Most of his writings you can easily finish in half an hour or less.

jmm, Wednesday, 30 September 2020 13:48 (six months ago) link

Thanks!

Quiet Storm Thorgerson (PBKR), Wednesday, 30 September 2020 15:17 (six months ago) link

I think the key to Borges is time. Each of those stories jmm mentions (or indeed the essays xyzzz mentions) took maybe 10 or 15 minutes to read but they've taken up huge spaces in my imagination - to the point where one reaches for Borgesian metaphors to explain the phenomenon.

There's an element of Kafka inventing his precursors here, but I do wonder if Borges is an inevitable literary archetype: just distant enough in time and place; the blandness of his biography that, alongside the impossible nature of his writing, that seems to invite mystery; adrift in the bowels of the national library, dreaming of gauchos, becoming that rare thing, the man who has read everything; the blindness in later life that he embraces, enabling the shift into the sightless sage.

His 'creation myth' is intriguing. Short version (as I remember it) is that he received a nasty concussion and was briefly hospitalised and during convalescence decided to start writing fiction, resulting in his most productive period. It'd make an interesting book alongside Dylan's crash, Eno getting run over by a taxi. I'm sure there's a bunch more.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Wednesday, 30 September 2020 16:05 (six months ago) link

Hi PBKR, you might dig these threads:
Borges translation?

Labyrinhts (1962) - Jorge Luis Borges POLL

My gateway/first love object: The Aleph and Other Stories 1933-1969 (Dutton, 1978. ISBN 0-525-47539-7), translated by Norman Thomas Di Giovanni, who is still my favorite for that, though Hurley and others I've read in comparison seem okay too.

dow, Wednesday, 30 September 2020 16:43 (six months ago) link

I tried to get a start in Jean Stafford's The Mountain Lion last night, but I couldn't get any traction with it. After watching that horrifying Trump/Biden 'debate' its tone of childlike innocence was a million miles from where my feelings were. I'll try again tonight.

the unappreciated charisma of cows (Aimless), Wednesday, 30 September 2020 17:42 (six months ago) link

So glad you liked the Rubáiyát essay. One of the most lovely little gems I've ever read.

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Thursday, 1 October 2020 01:12 (six months ago) link

I finished the collection of 2 Natalia Ginzburg novellas Valentino and Sagittarius. I thought they were pretty great. I will definitely be seeking out more of her books. It's hard to think of who to compare her to. For some reason, I thought of Collodi's Pinocchio. There is something like Collodi's fairy tale in the unity of effect, the excision of anything extraneous, in the way the comic and tragic run closely together, the treatment of her characters that borders on the malicious, though with an underlying sympathy -though nothing happens in these stories that couldn't happen in real life.

Now I'm reading True Grit by Charles Portis, which is a rollicking good time so far.

o. nate, Thursday, 1 October 2020 01:37 (six months ago) link

Great to hear all this Borges talk.

My gateway/first love object: The Aleph and Other Stories 1933-1969

Portuguese bookstore employee blogger I used to follow had a story abt someone coming in the store requesting "the ALF".

Daniel_Rf, Thursday, 1 October 2020 09:36 (six months ago) link

I finish Terry Eagleton's 'The Good-Natured Gael' at last. He praises Edmund Burke a bit more than I expected.

Then his essay on 'The Masochism of Thomas Moore'. Superb analysis: incredible that TE worked his way through the complete writings (and loads of criticism and scholarship) of this writer who he says at the end of the essay doesn't even stand up very well. TE's judgment of writers and their place in history is so consistently sound. But the attention to detail in these essays would be uncharacteristic of his later work.

the pinefox, Thursday, 1 October 2020 10:12 (six months ago) link

Really enjoyed the Borges discussion, will track down 'The Aleph and Other Stories' (and I love the Labyrinths poll thread, ILB at its best)

Ward - that looks like an excellent comp. One aspect (of many) I neglected to emphasize is his love of fantastical literature (brings to mind his love of James, who seemed to be at ease with both fantasy and something more 'psychological'), something that I just don't read that much of these days. It might explain why he never won the Nobel prize too, its not their bag. Might be interesting to contrast his essay on The Detective Story with Auden's in The Dyer's Hand. For Auden iirc it seems to be something to relax with. For Borges, aspects of it appear every now and again in how he perceives the world of the page.

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 1 October 2020 10:43 (six months ago) link

"I finished the collection of 2 Natalia Ginzburg novellas Valentino and Sagittarius. I thought they were pretty great. I will definitely be seeking out more of her books. It's hard to think of who to compare her to. For some reason, I thought of Collodi's Pinocchio."

Lol I love those Ginzburg novellas (read them in a past edition, one of NYRB's best reissues in the last year imo) but never thought of it along Pinocchio (which I have always meant to read ever since NYRB put out an edition of it).

NYRB are also putting out a couple more Ginzburg novellas next year.

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 1 October 2020 10:45 (six months ago) link

Working through Norma Cole's "Mars" today. One of her books that isn't featured as heavily in her selected poems, I can understand why— it is strange and hermetic, in a sense, mixing prose and poetry and without standard reference points. I still find myself enjoying it, though, but as we've been discussing on the poetry thread, my tastes run pretty weird.

healthy cocaine off perfect butts (the table is the table), Thursday, 1 October 2020 16:02 (six months ago) link

Pinefox, I am really intrigued by this book, but could you flesh out a bit what you mean by Heaney trailing off? I’ve always thought it is the way he writes, but if you have any specific examples, it’s a cold morning in tier 4 and I’d love to talk about them.

scampish inquisition (gyac), Monday, 28 December 2020 11:50 (three months ago) link

I find Heaney nigh-unreadable, but I think for totally different reasons than either of you!

"Bi" Dong A Ban He Try (the table is the table), Monday, 28 December 2020 13:13 (three months ago) link

I love Heaney up through 1987; what a coincidence I was rereading him on Christmas Eve morn.

Patriotic Goiter (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 28 December 2020 13:27 (three months ago) link

xp I don’t find him unreadable at all, the opposite in fact.

scampish inquisition (gyac), Monday, 28 December 2020 13:38 (three months ago) link

table, maybe I'm asking the question because you also disagree on the merits of Merrill, but are there any 20th century so-called formalists you read with pleasure?

Patriotic Goiter (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 28 December 2020 13:44 (three months ago) link

I think I'll make a run at reading Froissart's Chronicles next. Not sure if I can stick to it, but it's an interesting period.

Year's end is always tricky for figuring out when to start a new WAYR thread. Winter solstice was a week ago, but 2021 is still five days away. Dear me! Decisions, decisions, decisions.

(procrastinates)

Respectfully Yours, (Aimless), Monday, 28 December 2020 18:59 (three months ago) link

Alfred— no, not really. I love some poets who use formal techniques, and I've often found such techniques quite invigorating— my last book was written entirely in haiku, as I think I've mentioned before, and I've written a crown of sonnets. I should say that I find a few poems by Merrill and Heaney rather lovely, but don't really understand the immense praise heaped upon their work.

"Bi" Dong A Ban He Try (the table is the table), Monday, 28 December 2020 21:39 (three months ago) link

thanks!

Patriotic Goiter (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 28 December 2020 21:40 (three months ago) link

It is interesting, though, because I revere Hopkins and Donne and Keats, for example, and think that some of the poets who are currently utilizing or repurposing older formal strategies are making brilliant work. Wendy Trevino and Nikki Wallschlaeger are doing immense work with the sonnet, for example.

"Bi" Dong A Ban He Try (the table is the table), Monday, 28 December 2020 21:44 (three months ago) link

With Heaney in particular, I admire his command of form, but find the actual poetry leaves me feeling rather bored.

Whereas I'd consider Donne's Holy Sonnets or Hopkins' collected poems to be desert island books, no joke.

"Bi" Dong A Ban He Try (the table is the table), Monday, 28 December 2020 21:46 (three months ago) link

Thankfully we’ll never end up sharing the same desert island, I hope.

scampish inquisition (gyac), Monday, 28 December 2020 21:47 (three months ago) link

impulse bought the kindle edition of the only good indians by stephen graham jones to kill time at work today and i'm glad i did - it's real good so far.

ffolkes (map), Monday, 28 December 2020 21:53 (three months ago) link

One of the most useful things my teenage self did was memorize a whole bunch of Hopkins, so I'll have him with me on my desert island no matter what.

Lily Dale, Monday, 28 December 2020 22:28 (three months ago) link

I know it's not an arms race but while I like Heaney a good deal, and accept his project didn't necessarily require it (if that's the right verb?), he doesn't come close to Hopkins' heights (cliffs of fall, frightful). Xp

He's also a deal easier to remember than Heaney!

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Monday, 28 December 2020 22:32 (three months ago) link

Totally with you on the Holy Sonnets and Hopkins.

I like the way his rhythms and absolute command over assonance still produce these verses that murmur like brooks. Like many poets in old age, he relied on technique to get him past an empty larder, but I'll always love Field Work.

When I taught poetry 18 (!) years ago, "The Otter" often made my syllabus:

When you plunged
The light of Tuscany wavered
And swung through the pool
From top to bottom.

I loved your wet head and smashing crawl,
Your fine swimmer's back and shoulders
Surfacing and surfacing again
This year and every year since.

I sat dry-throated on the warm stones.
You were beyond me.
The mellowed clarities, the grape-deep air
Thinned and disappointed.

Thank God for the slow loadening,
When I hold you now
We are close and deep
As the atmosphere on water.

My two hands are plumbed water.
You are my palpable, lithe
Otter of memory
In the pool of the moment,

Turning to swim on your back,
Each silent, thigh-shaking kick
Re-tilting the light,
Heaving the cool at your neck

Patriotic Goiter (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 28 December 2020 22:36 (three months ago) link

and I've been reading Hardy's poetry since "The Voice" speared this lovelorn teen two decades ago. The rhythmic experimentation and occasional clumsiness adds to their charm.

Patriotic Goiter (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 28 December 2020 22:37 (three months ago) link

More Hardy is in my 2021 list. Maybe I'll try some of his poems too.

koogs, Monday, 28 December 2020 23:11 (three months ago) link

reread The Mayor of Castorbridge a month ago this weekend

Patriotic Goiter (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 28 December 2020 23:12 (three months ago) link

Alfred, don't want to pick on you for your spelling but...

Dog Heavy Manners (James Redd and the Blecchs), Monday, 28 December 2020 23:47 (three months ago) link

...it's too much fun to resist!

Respectfully Yours, (Aimless), Monday, 28 December 2020 23:50 (three months ago) link

In keeping with Hardy's approach to prose and poetry.

Patriotic Goiter (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 28 December 2020 23:58 (three months ago) link

I suppose that Heaney covers a lot of ground (sometimes literally lol) that is more mundane and is very connected to the landscape, which is not much different from the landscapes of my childhood. When he speaks of the scent of the air, the colour of the earth, he is putting the feelings of very ordinary people about their habitat into something almost divine. It helped me see the ordinary world in an almost magical and transformed way.

I have great regard for the matter-of-fact language he uses, it is simple, but not stupid, personal, but not parochial and these things by themselves make his work accessible and easy to read for people who may be far removed from the kind of places he writes about - so much so that it is easy to slag him off as boring, I guess. I think there is work of his that is discordant and that goes against this simplistic analysis of mine too. Act of Union has always been deeply disturbing to me precisely because it is written by him in his calm way, the imagery is visceral even in the present tense and allegorical as it is, and it is probably one of his most political works. I have never found it very easy to read, it’s shocking to me even now.

I will never forget learning Mid-Term Break in school at ten or so, as most Irish children do, and finding the poem terribly upsetting for very similar reasons - the mundane setting, the horror of the event, the bare bones simplicity that leaves you with all the murmurs in the house and the ticking clock in the waiting room. The sounds between the unsaid. I would be very surprised if there was much that still stuck to people’s minds a quarter of a century later, as that poem did to me.

When I think of Heaney I think first of the physical - the land, the air, the sea - and then the deep undercurrent of emotion running through his work, and what a pure pleasure it is to read his work, even when it is disturbing. I cannot read The Harvest Bow, in particular this:

And if I spy into its golden loops
I see us walk between the railway slopes
Into an evening of long grass and midges,
Blue smoke straight up, old beds and ploughs in hedges,
An auction notice on an outhouse wall—
You with a harvest bow in your lapel


Without first picturing the scene, feeling my heart at peace, without feeling the deep love that Heaney conveyed to his father in this poem and that I feel for my own family in turn. It is especially meaningful during this time, when I have been robbed of even my most routine times to spend with them, and so I find myself more and more thinking of quotidian memories like the one in this poem, and the understanding I take is that his particular memory of his father here must have meant a great deal to him to reflect on it and write it so beautifully so many years later. He is so good at depicting the spaces between silence, the sense of just being, and it comes through the lines in this poem to tell you loud and clear that here is a place of comfort and love, where the ordinary can be transformed.

Then I think of lightenings viii, which remains one of the most wonderful pieces I think I have ever read, and my heart lifts and isn’t that what it’s all about, sometimes?

scampish inquisition (gyac), Tuesday, 29 December 2020 01:44 (three months ago) link

Booming post.

He gives life to topography.

Patriotic Goiter (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 29 December 2020 01:49 (three months ago) link

An auction notice on an outhouse wall— startling slip-in, and makes me wonder how it relates to the next line, as they keep walking.

dow, Tuesday, 29 December 2020 02:04 (three months ago) link

That is a lovely post, gyac. I think that perhaps my experiences simply render much of what you speak of as mere observation and narrative candor, which is more than fine, but not what I look for in poetry. I should also say that Heaney often does the 'dilatory epiphanic' move toward the end of his poems, which I find just intolerable, more and more so as I age.

All that said, I'm glad he brings you peace and enjoyment.

"Bi" Dong A Ban He Try (the table is the table), Tuesday, 29 December 2020 03:08 (three months ago) link

_An auction notice on an outhouse wall—_ startling slip-in, and makes me wonder how it relates to the next line, as they keep walking.


It’s memory, isn’t it? Love in the most ordinary of places, the profound in the everyday. It makes sense in the context of the rest.

scampish inquisition (gyac), Tuesday, 29 December 2020 07:12 (three months ago) link

I respect very much what poster Gyac has said here.

Yet it doesn't quite square with my own sense of Heaney. I think because my own sense, as I said, is of greater obscurity. Either I am not always sure what Heaney is saying, or I am not sure why he is saying it. A line often feels inconsequential. And quite often a line just doesn't quite add up to me at all.

There are other issues with Heaney eg: that after a certain point, he is often not writing so much directly about these matter of fact, immediate things, but making overt reference to classical sources. A non-classicist, I never find this compelling. My hunch is that, as Larkin begrudgingly said, classical and mythic references don't make reality more impressive, and the poet should work to do that without them. (As Joyce did in Ulysses, which almost never advertises its classical aspect.)

I'm not certain what 'dilatory epiphanic' means, but my hunch is that what it means is precisely what you find, to a quite formulaic (but well-executed!) degree, in Larkin - and *not* in Heaney. If Heaney actually often did that then his endings would be less obscure to me than they are.

Poster Gyac mentions that his or her own childhood was in a landscape like Heaney's. Mine wasn't - perhaps that makes a difference.

As for 'Lightenings viii': having read Foster praise it in his own uncritical way, I'm inclined to say, with impolite contrariness, that that's now about as rusted a cliché as 'when hope and history rhyme'. What's actually good about it?

the pinefox, Tuesday, 29 December 2020 14:05 (three months ago) link

I see more myth than Classical allusions in Heaney -- Irish myth, but rooted in peat, loam, mud, and the smell of farm animals. It's what I like about him.

Patriotic Goiter (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 29 December 2020 14:08 (three months ago) link

I recall now that there is a massive Heaney thread here:

Seamus Heaney-Classic or Dud (RIP)

In which several of us turned over the same ground only last year. ILX poster Gyac posted exactly the same quotation! And I, for instance, after a period of reading him quite intensively, wrote:

I come back - when I actually read him - to the fact that Heaney, much more especially late Heaney, has certain obsessions that he unabashedly indulges, primarily:

1: his rural childhood (I don't especially see the father as central to this; more place, objects, etc) -- and various named local characters, who are by definition unknown to almost all readers

2: the classics, ie: poetry, mythology or whatever from ancient Greece, maybe with Rome and old Norse also thrown in. There must be a fair number of people who see this stuff and think: YES - HEANEY'S REWRITING VIRGIL'S LAST WORK! But then a majority must be like me and have no idea of any of these works, and no identification, unfortunately, with the passion that presumably draws Heaney to them. He must LOVE this stuff, love engaging in depth with it, to go on about it SO MUCH.

You can say that 2) shows the limits of the audience, it's our fault, and Heaney is prompting us to learn. That's reasonable and optimistic. Most of us won't learn that much.

1) meanwhile can't be blamed on the reader, ie: you could only know who those people were if you read an in-depth biography of him.

What would be an equivalent? Maybe ... a contemporary person writing about their childhood friends from 20 or 30 years ago, and going on and on about things like ice lollies, Space Hoppers, Bros, Pokemon, etc -- and then, the rest of the time, going in for endless rewrites of a certain body of culture -- like, say ... STAR TREK. So every poem that wasn't about lollies or seeing Bros on TotP in 1988 would be eg: 'The Search For Spock, Scene III', in verse form.

This is a way for me to perceive and to say that despite my great affection for Heaney, I find his actual poetic choices, of subject etc, often dead ends, private obsessions. Suppose someone did write lots of poems about Bros (I can imagine it) - they would have some fans but might they not be seen as narrow unless they worked to show its importance and invite a broader readership to understand it?

It's funny, then, that he is also seen as such a public poet - for good reason, to be sure.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 29 December 2020 14:09 (three months ago) link

But there simply isn't much Irish myth in Heaney.

There is tons of classical myth - especially in the last 20 years or so of his career, when he spent half his time producing translations of it.

If he had wanted to write about Cuchulain, Deirdre, Finn MacCool or the Sidhe, he could have. But he didn't, as far as I recall -- for one thing, he will have known how much it had been done, almost a century before.

The exception is Mad King Sweeney, which / who he did write about a lot -- seemingly in part because he liked the rhyme with his own name.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 29 December 2020 14:12 (three months ago) link

Station Island?

Patriotic Goiter (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 29 December 2020 14:15 (three months ago) link

I'm actually relieved he didn't write about Cuchulain, etc.

I much prefer a long poem about Bros, though.

Patriotic Goiter (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 29 December 2020 14:16 (three months ago) link

When Yeats wrote a key position-taking play for the Abbey and the Revival, it was (among others) Cathleen ni Houlihan.

When Heaney wrote one for Field Day, about 90 years later, it was The Cure at Troy.

I suspect (as my post from the other thread indicates) that you will never fully get the measure and pleasure of Heaney unless you are somewhat steeped in classical learning, tales and poems of ancient Greek, at least in translation, so that what he does with them and alters means something to you, as it generally doesn't to me.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 29 December 2020 14:16 (three months ago) link

The long poem 'Station Island' is based on an Irish Catholic pilgrimage. I'm happy to call Catholicism myth, if anyone else is, but it's not 'Irish mythology' in the way that phrase is usually understood.

The literary inspiration for the whole thing is, above all, Dante - whom I don't pretend to know well at all. Again, if you did, you might get much more out of Heaney. Catholic, mythic maybe, but not Irish.

The poem is full of Irish elements but they're not mythic: actual victims of recent violence; Carleton, Kavanagh and Joyce; other people Heaney knew, like a late priest.

Part III of the book STATION ISLAND, though, is the Sweeney section - I grant that that is properly an engagement with medieval Irish mythology.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 29 December 2020 14:20 (three months ago) link

I think the Bros poem idea is not even fanciful now -- there seem to be a ton of younger type poets who would do such a thing (or maybe more likely NKOTB, or even Spears / Timberlake, or something), and be reposted all over Instagram for it. I can definitely picture this being celebrated in some circles, and getting a Short Cuts feature in the LRB.

In a certain way, though, it wouldn't be viewed as equally serious as what Heaney did. Its defiant unseriousness would be part of the point [etc etc]. Which they wouldn't say about Heaney writing about the 1950s.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 29 December 2020 14:22 (three months ago) link

I'm also wary and weary of classical myths. A generation of formalist American poets (Hecht, Moss, Howard, etc) wrote in the '60s and '70s as if I still cared about Eurydice or whatever. Louise Gluck also has a weakness for it.

Patriotic Goiter (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 29 December 2020 14:25 (three months ago) link

and, yeah, I meant the Sweeney section of SI. Also the title poem itself. Depends on how you regard the speaker bumping into the ghost of Joyce.

Patriotic Goiter (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 29 December 2020 14:26 (three months ago) link

Larkin's statement was here:
https://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/3153/the-art-of-poetry-no-30-philip-larkin

He says something like 'I'm not going to fall on my face just because you use the word "Faust" or "Judas"'.

I broadly agree with him.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 29 December 2020 14:32 (three months ago) link

Jesus Christ, I really regret replying here. Thanks so much, guys.

scampish inquisition (gyac), Tuesday, 29 December 2020 14:33 (three months ago) link

gyac, I really meant what I said about your post-- it was really lovely, and I'm glad to have read it. It did make me go back and re-read some Heaney, and while I don't gather the same enjoyment from it that you do, that's okay!

"Bi" Dong A Ban He Try (the table is the table), Tuesday, 29 December 2020 15:23 (three months ago) link

Talking of Dante: I only just learned that ALASDAIR GRAY has produced a version!

This might finally be the time for me to attempt to read a version of it properly.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 29 December 2020 16:33 (three months ago) link

t’s memory, isn’t it? Love in the most ordinary of places, the profound in the everyday. It makes sense in the context of the rest. Yeah, but seems deliberately to exclude some of what it might have more specifically meant to the narrator and/or his father on that day, which is a good reminder of the slipperiness of significance, especially as recalled, recast, across the years, in the midst of what could otherwise seem like a lovely set piece: overall, with this line, it reminds me of the way Turner could balance things in his paintings, with just the one daub.
Great post, yes, and thanx to Alfred as well for those lines and all yall for the rest of this conversation--will have to go back to that Heaney thread, and was already thinking of checking out my Mom's copy of the SH Beowulf, A New Verse Translation.

dow, Tuesday, 29 December 2020 17:12 (three months ago) link

xps to table: didn’t mean you at all, your reply was very kind and it didn’t matter that we don’t agree on this

scampish inquisition (gyac), Tuesday, 29 December 2020 17:49 (three months ago) link

I kind of feel like poets are like bands, so I would never think of being confounded that a poet I like is not generally admired or that one who is generally admired is not liked by me. Also, like bands, I think most poets have a hot streak of a few great albums/books, when they're hitting on all cylinders, the drummer and bass player both are in the pocket and the singer had temporarily given up or taken up smoking; or in the case of the poet, has found the perfect subject matter or diction or is in the right emotional headspace for his current style, or has a hot hand which always seems to fall on the apropos word or phrase. I can enjoy a band without understanding or even listening to the words, and though I wouldn't take it that far with poetry, there is an element of it just sounding good that can transcend the occasional inscrutable or hermetic allusion.

o. nate, Tuesday, 29 December 2020 22:48 (three months ago) link

I agree with that. I think I'd probably love a Heaney or Merrill book or two, if I revisited.

Along those lines, though, and perhaps to prove that I am able to be convinced, I will note that this year, I read a number of Barbara Guest books, and simply couldn't understand why she was so popular. Then someone recommended 'The Türler Losses,' and it is a masterpiece, just an incredible book.

For Merrill, I've not read 'Changing Light at Sandover' since an undergrad, but I found it masterful then. It's the rest of his work that I find lacking.

For Heaney, the bog poems will always reverberate in my memory. Everything else seems quite dull to me.

"Bi" Dong A Ban He Try (the table is the table), Tuesday, 29 December 2020 23:07 (three months ago) link

G K Chesterton - Robert Browning

I finished this short biography/critical appraisal by Chesterton and I very much enjoyed following his logic as he not only deal with Browning's life and work, but also his critics. At times it was a counterpart (of sorts) to what Janet Malcolm was doing to Sylvia Plath's many biographers.

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 31 December 2020 15:32 (three months ago) link

I broke down and started a new WAYR thread:

Winter 2021: ...and you're reading WHAT?!

Respectfully Yours, (Aimless), Thursday, 31 December 2020 19:45 (three months ago) link

only post to it if it's 2021 in ur time zone please folks

Cheese flavoured Momus (wins), Thursday, 31 December 2020 19:47 (three months ago) link

I finished Lethem's THE ARREST.

It ends with quite a large climax, which rearranges key items and characters of the novel in a quite a vividly schematic and spatial way.

It may leave some loose ends and unexplained story elements.

the pinefox, Thursday, 31 December 2020 19:50 (three months ago) link

I finished Dissipatio H.G.. It belongs to that special pantheon of books that were finished shortly before the author committed suicide (cf. Stefan Zweig's The World of Yesterday). It's hard to read a book like that without looking for clues to the author's pathology. This books offers plenty of suggestive clues if that's what you're looking for. I don't want to completely conflate the author with the narrator, there are some obvious differences, such as their age, but also plenty of overlap. Both seem to be very well read, moderately-antisocial autodidacts, who live by choice in a remote mountain village, dislike cities, and distrust the bien pensant intellectual currents of their day. The book is short but chock full of obscure allusions. I was halfway through before I realized there were end notes, which helped quite a bit. The title is illustrative, in that it is putatively drawn from a Latin letter written by an obscure Neoplatonist philosopher. The philosopher is real, although the letter itself may have been a little joke of the author's. It seems that many of these little jokes were intended for a very select audience, possibly including only the author himself. I guess that fits with the book's imagined scenario, but can make for frustrating reading, if that's not your sort of thing. Now, I'm reading The A26 by Pascal Garnier.

o. nate, Thursday, 31 December 2020 21:48 (three months ago) link


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