a view of new york

“They arrived in a region that sloped upward, and each time they halted and looked back, they could see the panorama of New York, with its harbor, stretching out ever farther. The bridge connecting New York to Boston hung delicately over the Hudson and trembled if one narrowed one’s eyes. It appeared to bear no traffic, and a long, smooth, lifeless strip of water stretched out underneath. In both of these giant cities everything appeared empty and erected to no avail. And there was scarcely any difference between large and small buildings. Down in the invisible depths of the streets life probably went on as usual, but all they could see above them was a light haze that was motionless yet seemed easy to chase away. Peace had even descended on the harbor, the largest in the world, and only here and there – perhaps influenced by the memory of vessels seen from close up – could one see a ship dragging itself forward a little. Yet one could not follow it for long; it escaped one’s gaze and disappeared.”

(Franz Kafka, Amerika: The Missing Person, trans. Mark Harman, p. 96.)

july 26–july 29

Books

  • Paul Metcalf, The Assassination
  • Paul Metcalf, U.S. Dept. of the Interior
  • Paul McDonough & Jane McGriff, editors, Glitch 1
  • Kenneth Gangemi, Corroboree

Films

  • ¡Que viva México!, directed by Grigori Aleksandrov & Sergei M. Eisenstein
  • Romance sentimentale, dir. Sergei M. Eisenstein
  • Frauennot – Frauenglück (Misery and Fortune of Women), dir. Sergei M. Eisenstein & Grigori Aleksandrov
  • Jungfrukällan (The Virgin Spring), dir. Ingmar Bergman
  • In the Loop, dir. Armando Iannucci

anthropophagy

“A famous general, at that time in the Muscovite service, having come to Paris for the recovery of his wounds, brought along with him a young Turk, whom he had taken prisoner. Some of the doctors of the Sorbonne (who are altogether as positive as the dervises of Constantinople) thinking it a pity, that the poor Turk should be damned for want of instruction, solicited Mustapha very hard to turn Christian, and promised him, for his encouragement, plenty of good wine in this world, and paradise in the next. These allurements were too powerful to be resisted; and therefore, having been well instructed and catechized, he at last agreed to receive the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper. The priest, however, to make every thing sure and solid, still continued his instructions; and began the next day with the usual question, ‘How many Gods are there?’ ‘None at all,’ replies Benedict; for that was his new name. ‘How! None at all!’ cries the priest. ‘To be sure,’ said the honest proselyte. ‘You have told me all along that there is but one God: And yesterday I eat him.’ ”

(David Hume, The Natural History of Religion, cited by Jenny Diski.)

everything passes & rereading

The first thing one notices about Gabriel Josipovici’s Everything Passes is how slight it appears: the economics of American publishing dictate that novels of less than two hundred pages are rarely found in bookstores. The spareness of Everything Passes goes beyond length: white space threatens to overpower the text from every side of every page. A book without many words is a book that can be read quickly: an average commute to work on the subway is long enough to read every word, sentence, paragraph in the book. The commute home lets you read it again. This is how I read Everything Passes for the first times: on my way to work, on my way back from work, over and over for a week or so. I came to the book in a moment of personal conflict; losing myself in the repetitions of the text was calming.

At the start of S/Z, Roland Barthes threatens that “those who fail to reread are obliged to read the same story everywhere” (p. 16). Well past the heyday of structuralism, this is a statement that still puts fear in the hearts of the would-be reader: very little reading is rereading, especially in the present era, when the volume of things that could be read seems to be approaching the infinite, despite continuing rumors of publishing’s imminent collapse. Of necessity more and more of my online reading is skimming. And even when a book is read entire in print, most don’t suggest – or aren’t worth – rereading. But Barthes can’t be brushed aside: the best reading is close reading, and close reading requires rereading. To read quickly is to admit that what you’re reading isn’t worth your time.

Everything Passes is a book that’s not shy in its demand for rereading. The book’s insistent repetition signals this from the first page, where four sentences are repeated; the word “again” figures prominently. A phrase encountered for the second time, a third or fourth time, resonates. Returning to the start of the book, the reader feels the first use of a phrase resonate, knowing what will happen. (One can’t help but think of how we listen to music: it’s rare to hear a piece of music only once.) It’s in this recognition of repetition and wondering at its meaning that the serious work of reading can be done.

On a basic level with Everything Passes, there’s the immediate problem of figuring out what’s going on: assigning names to the pronouns that represent the characters and sequencing scenes that reveal themselves as flashbacks. This isn’t hard to do, but it does require scrambling on the part of the reader; Everything Passes might be termed “difficult” because of this, but I think this is an important aspect of the book’s realism. Dialogue in the real world isn’t uttered in expository fashion; no omniscient narrator guides us when we make sense of the world.

On another level, the characters grapple with the problem of rereading. Felix points to the modernity of Rabelais, whom he identifies as the first writer of the age of print. Rabelais realized that a book was not a sermon or a play – something heard & observed once – but something else entirely and subject to its own rules: in other words, it’s something that could be reread. Prose fiction, unlike drama or the sermon, is outside of the passing of time inherent in the title: after three hours, the play is over and the audience goes home, but the book persists, waiting to be reopened.

We learn to read by reading the same things again and again. And with age, Sven Birkerts suggests in Reading Life, rereading gains personal resonance: a book first read ten years may physically be the same book, but more likely than not the reader is not the same reader. A book immediately reread is a different sort of experience: the structure of the book reveals itself more openly. Everything Passes shares a circular structure with Finnegans Wake: in both, the tense of the verb in the title suggests an ongoing present. Life must end, but a book goes on and on; caught between fiction and life, the place of the reader can only be to reread.

(This piece was written for Ready Steady Book’s Everything Passes symposium.)

glitch manifesto

“To the already turgid field of small press publications add:

GLITCH

Glitch—noun— a natural phenomenon
                         which cannot be explained
                              by current scientific theories.

A few comments.

We make the history, chorology, mythology of the continent. All of us. Whatever pretensions motivate this magazine, I hope they can be summed up in this quotation from Pound, Canto XCVI—

If we never write anything save what is already understood, the field of understanding will never be extended. One demands the right, now and again, to write for a few people with special interests and whose curiosity reaches into greater detail.

Detail. Spans of attention. The periodicity of insight measuring the continent, the culture, the conditions of life. And each work of art a klystron not a kludge.

The editorial perspective revolves, suggests a center. We respond to exemplary activity— Walt Whitman dressing wounds, Louis Agassiz observing the nature of a glacier, Ezra Pound incarcerated in St. Elizabeth’s asylum, or Lorine Niedecker in Wisconsin. Such activity suggests the editorial stance.

A little more. A magazine is a front. In two sense. Military. Meteorological. The small press can be more than an alternative to big publishing houses. It can serve as an orientation within confusion. Certain lines must be drawn, contours made discernible, tactical strategies followed with the aims high, aims to overcome the here-and-now of the markets. Force the big publishing houses to turn to us for direction, if they will not market our work. The stance can be political, cultural, even ephemeral. A certain group of people is periodically defined by a system of high or low pressure. And whether the result is a mild April shower or a raging hurricane, the point is that there is something happening which we can respond to—

A PRECIPITATION:”

(From Glitch 1, edited by Paul McDonough and Jane McGriff; undated, but probably 1978? There doesn’t seem to be much on the internet about this little magazine, which seems to have lasted until issue 4/5, published in 1981.)

when to keep something hidden

“No, he realized, it was not a conversation it would be wise to have with a bishop. He thought about going to another faith, Catholicism perhaps, and confessing, but at least with his own Church he knew when to keep something hidden. In another religion, there would be no context. He could get himself into serious trouble.”

(Brian Evenson, The Open Curtain, p. 75.)

noted