kazuo ishiguro, “never let me go”

Kazuo Ishiguro
Never Let Me Go
(Vintage International, 2005)


The last time I read Kazuo Ishiguro was in high school, when something possessed me to read not only The Remains of the Day (probably found at some relative’s house) but also An Artist of the Floating World (presumably found at the local library). I don’t remember what I thought of them; by the time The Unconsoled came out, I was in college and interested in other things. When Never Let Me Go came out, I mentally classified it as one of those books that doesn’t need to be bought because you’re bound to find a copy in other people’s houses where it will be the only thing worth reading over a long boring weekend#160;– to this day I have not read Middlesex because of exactly the same reasoning – and six years later I find myself in just such a situation. I did see, I should admit, a decent chunk of the movie version of this on the back of a neighbor’s seat on a long flight to somewhere recently; it seemed pretty, but I can’t say that I remember anything from it.

The first thing that is strange about this book is the type, which is Bembo Schoolbook. This is a standard Bembo with a couple of weird variations: there’s a single-story lowercase “a”, for example, and the descenders of the “g” and “y” are similar, simple curves. The effect is oddly dizzying: you look at a page of the book and it’s clear that something is wrong, though it’s not immediately clear what. The strangeness goes away when reading, of course. It’s hard to tell what the desired effect is supposed to be: the name of the type suggests its intended function, to be easy for children to read, though it’s entirely unclear that the standard Roman “g” is more difficult to read that a “g” without the bottom loop. Perhaps this is a simple joke: this is a book about a school, so the type should look like it’s from a school. This isn’t what ends up happening: Bembo Schoolbook doesn’t look handwritten at all. Mostly it looks exactly like Bembo, a face most familiar for its common use in books. If the context of a school was intended, more direct ways could be imagined. Rather than child-like, the modified characters come across as strange, almost jolting; as previously noted, something seems wrong. There’s maybe something to be said for this. (The book designer, it should be noted, was Iris Weinstein; I haven’t seen anything she might have said about the design of this book, but I haven’t looked as deeply as I might.)

The second thing that’s odd about this book is the genre. It’s rather straightforwardly science fiction in content: young people who are raised as clones in a Britain that is parallel to ours, but that differs in having evidently developed cloning technology in the 1950s; there’s a rather rigidly worked-out system of how some clones are donors, who seem to donate organs four times, and others are carers, who care for the donors in some way. The economic superstructure that undergirds such a system is left untouched (there’s very little money in this book); nor is any moral debate that might have taken place. The back of the book doesn’t indicate that the book is science fiction, but this is clear to the reader from the first paragraph, which wields the words “carer” and “donor” in such a way to make it clear that this world functions differently than our own. After the dedication of the book, a blank page contains the inscription “England, late 1990s” which should make it clear that while this may be England, it’s not the 1990s that we lived through. The copyright page, however, thoughtfully includes Library of Congress classifications for the book, supplied by the publisher: there we learn that this book is about “1. Women—Fiction. 2. England—Fiction. 3. Cloning—Fiction. 4. Organ donors—Fiction. 5. Donation of organs, tissues, etc.—Fiction.” It’s strange how emphatically this book is set up not to be science fiction.

Formally, this is a straightforward book. The first chapter, set in the novel’s present, sets up something of a mystery (what do these terms mean? how do these characters relate?); the second flips back to the beginning of the story (the childhood of the characters) and things progress chronologically from there; by the end of the novel, we’re caught up to the first chapter, which can now be read and understood. The story is told in the first person; there’s an interlocutor who appears occasionally as a “you” to whom the book is addressed (“I don’t know how it was where you were,” p. 13), and who we can assume is a fellow clone to whom the narrator, Kathy B., is narrating the story. Kathy B. is a carer, and presumably she is telling this story to a nameless donor. There’s a gesture at emotion here: we can presume then that this is a story told to someone who is suffering to alleviate pain. But this isn’t really followed up on: references to “you” drop off sharply after the beginning of the book, and it feels almost like a convenient excuse for a first-person narrative; the story told is about the narrator, not the person listening to it. The form of the narrative, it goes almost without saying, is purely literary: we’re under no illusions that we’re actually listening to someone telling a story.

The question of whether this book is a work of science fiction matters because the overwhelming idea of this book is fatalism. No one has any real control over what happens to them: though the clones are born into a life that will be full of suffering, there’s never any real attempt to look outside that system. Suicide, weirdly, is never an option: instead, everyone seems to imagine it best that they might go to their deaths with their sufferings ameliorated in different fashions. (Much of the book has to do with a school in which the main characters are brought up, which is revealed to be a progressive attempt at providing a humane setting for people bred to be slaughtered: a good deal could be written, and maybe has been written, about this book and the politics of food.) For a period, the characters are reading Joyce and Kafka and Tolstoy: the ideas of those writers never really come into play – though this book might be seen as an extended riff on “In the Penal Colony” – perhaps this is to suggest that the characters in this book have no more autonomy than fictional creations.

“lives of the later caesars”

Lives of the Later Caesars: The First Part of the Augustan History, with Newly Compiled Lives of Nerva and Trajan
(edited & translated by Anthony Birley)
(Penguin Classics, 1976)


I originally picked up Suetonius because I wanted to read about Septimius Severus; but of course Septimius Severus wasn’t one of the Twelve Caesars. This book is an odd continuation of Suetonius, another series of lives of the Caesars: editorially, this consists of the first half of the Augustan History along with two newly written lives of Nerva and Trajan, whose lives seem to have fallen out of the manuscripts of the Augustan History. Only the first half, alas, of the Augustan Manuscript is presented here: Anthony Birley’s introduction explains that “after the Heligabalus, which itself descends into fiction at a point about half-way through, the remainder of the Augustan History is of very dubious quality.” This is, of course, exactly the sort of thing that I find myself interested in in preference to real history; but half of the Augustan History is here, and the rest is easily read online. My knowledge of the classics is unapologetically slanted toward the fictional; some day I’ll rectify this, but not yet. Herodotus waits in the to-be-read pile; I still haven’t given the Iliad a proper reading, though I’ve read more Greek romances than anyone should. Books like this one appeal more: maybe because they’re clearly minor literature.

This is a strange book. The lives of Nerva and Trajan are the concoctions of Anthony Birley, written as a pastiche of Suetonius and the Augustan History, heavily footnoted with sources. It’s hard to know how to take these: they’re not necessarily history – a flaw which the Augustan History as a whole might be said to suffer from – but neither are they historical documents, a category which could include such fabulations as the Augustan History. These lives are primarily fact-based, but one runs into passages like this one in the life of Trajan:

It was a fault in him that he was a heavy drinker and also a pederast. But he did not incur censure, for he never committed any wicked deed because of this. He drank all the wine that he wanted and yet remained sober, and in his relations with boys he harmed no one. It is reported that he tempered his wine-bibbing by ordering that his requests for drink should be ignored after long banquets. (p. 47)

Footnotes after the third and fourth sentences point to Cassius Dio and Aurelius Victor: we can assume that “it is reported” refers to a passage in Aurelius Victor. But it’s hard to tell about the judgment in the first sentence: did Cassius Dio think that those were Trajan’s faults? The factuality of the second sentence can be judged by the historical record; the third is probably relying on Cassius Dio’s reporting of the facts, though it seems entirely possible that this is Birley’s interpretation. The effect is something like a Renaissance fair, but also somewhat like attempting to understand history by reading Wikipedia; maybe the argument could be made that it’s a good preparation for the rest of the Augustan History.

The Augustan History is ostensibly a compilation of works written by six different authors, which were compiled at around the age of Constantine. This is apparently a fiction, propagated to make it seem like the histories of the emperors were written more or less contemporaneously with their rule; Birley argues in his introduction, following Hermann Dessau, that the work was composed by a single author writing at the end of the fourth century, who cribbed much of his material from other sources, some of which still survive and some of which have passed away. There’s also a fictional overlay, with the various fake narrators explaining themselves, their purposes, and to whom they were ostensibly writing. Birley takes a hard line with this, and peppers the text with footnotes explaining, over and over again, that “this is fiction” and “this is inaccurate,” with the idea that if the fictional layer is peeled away some truth might be revealed. My interest in truth about the Roman empire is rather low; read as fiction, the book is entertaining.

“Married women” are often referred to as a class: Marcus Aurelius, for example, is credited with “reforming the morals of married women and of young noblemen, which were growing lax” (p. 131). Perhaps he had a personal motive: after his wife dies, we are told that Marcus Aurelius requested honors for his wife from the Senate “even though she had a reputation for lack of chastity.” Marcus Aurelius is probably the most familiar character who appears in this book; but here he isn’t entirely the buttoned-down Stoic he might appear to be in the Meditations and his letters to Fronto: here, he’s credited with praying for a thunderbolt that wins him a battle (shades of Constantine) and also successfully praying for rain for his thirsty soldiers. Marcus also had his no-good brother Lucius Vero; the story is presented, with the caveat that it couldn’t possibly be true, that Marcus Aurelius split a sow’s womb (the people in this book are constantly eating sow’s wombs, the reason for which I would love to know) with his brother using a knife poisoned on one side. It’s nice to imagine this scene, which appears in the lives of both; one can imagine the biographer’s motivation.

Occasionally there are nice asides. Caracalla appears here, for reasons that are unclear, under the name “Caracallus”; he dies on his way to do honor to the god Lunus, where he was done in by the imperial guard, as does seem to happen again and again. Then we get this:

Since we have made mention of the god Lunus, it should be known that it is held by the most learned and has been committed to record – and is still generally believed, especially by the people of Carrhae – that whoever thinks the moon ought to be called by the feminine name and sex will be controlled by women, and always subservient to them; but whoever thinks that the deity is masculine shall dominate his wife and never put up with any womanish wiles. Hence although the Greeks and Egyptians, in the same way that they say a woman is ‘man’, likewise call Luna a ‘god’, yet in mystic rites they use the name Lunus. (p. 256)

This passage has nothing at all to do with the life of Caracalla, save that he was ostensibly murdered trying to honor the god Lunus on his birthday (which Birley notes is wrong). But I like this narrative swerve, coming right after the climactic moment in his life: the sense that the narrator is distracted, but feels like he has something important to impart, however nonsensical it might be.

rebecca west, “survivors in mexico”

Rebecca West
Survivors in Mexico
(ed. Bernard Schweizer)
(Yale University Press, 2002)


This is the first Rebecca West I’ve read; it probably does her a disservice in my mind. Survivors in Mexico is a posthumous book, pulled together from notes by the editor, Bernard Schweizer; it’s not quite fair to judge the writer by it. Obviously, I should have read Black Lamb and Grey Falcon first; I’ll get around to that eventually. But I found a used copy of this in the bookstore on Mercer Street; I’m always interested in how Mexico, and particularly Mexico City, were written about in the twentieth century. Also I hadn’t read Rebecca West.

As displayed in the book, West’s understanding of Mexico is odd, which isn’t particularly surprising when one finds out that she was fairly old by the time she got there and didn’t speak any Spanish. West never finished this book, based on her trips to Mexico in the 1960s and 1970s; the present arrangement of it is very much Schweizer’s, who seems to have acted in the interest of constructing a readable version of the book. The published Survivors in Mexico still contains the sort of repetitions and inconsistencies that one might expect from a draft. The endnotes suggest that some have been edited out and that some of West’s words have been corrected, which gives the reader some reason to distrust the text. Octavio Paz, whose Labyrinth of Solitude had appeared in English in 1961, is mentioned in the text, though his influence is unfelt; looking in the notes, one finds that “Octavio Paz” is a correction for West’s original “Mario Praz”. Her account of the assassination of Trotsky is confusing, not least because she refers to his assassin as Jacson Mornard rather than Ramón Mercader; the assassination also seems to start in Frida Kahlo’s house and end in Trotsky’s. She decides that it is impossible that Kahlo and Trotsky could have been lovers; she is, predictably, astonished to discover that Diego Rivera’s wife could paint.

Reading this book, one thinks sometimes of Alberto Moravia’s Which Tribe Do You Belong To?, a poorly-titled narrative of his travels in Africa which took place at roughly the same time West was in Mexico. Moravia’s book is surprising in that he’s almost able to see past colonialist attitudes: colonialism was coming to an end while he was traveling, and he began to come to an understanding of the horrors that the continent had undergone. West isn’t able to escape the colonialist lens: Mexico, for her, is to be viewed through a European lens. What emerges as her central thesis is especially weird and staggering: that Spanish colonialism was bloody and destructive, but it was on the whole a good thing, because if they hadn’t done it, the Ottoman Empire would have, creating a Muslim South America. As mentioned before, my understanding of West is limited because I haven’t read Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: perhaps West’s vision of the Ottomans would be useful for understanding how she could come up with this bizarre, and seemingly racist, argument. Occasionally reading this book one remembers the ignominious end of Orianna Fallaci.

This is elaborated in her account of the conquest of Mexico by Hern´n Cortés. West problematically chooses Cortés as her hero, fashioning from the nebulous historical accounts a man thoughtful and moral, though at the same time an impecunious lady’s man. It’s difficult to understand her sympathy for Cortés, who by any reasonable standard was at the least the author of a genocide. West finds moments in Cortés’s narratives that are more human: he regrets, for example, having to kill six thousand Aztecs to take the city of Cholula. This, in her telling, this was a trap set by the Aztecs that he would have liked to have avoided. The destruction of the Aztecs, in her telling, was historical inevitability:

It would have availed the Aztecs nothing to massacre Cortés and his men, for had he failed to return there were many other adventurers to persuade the Council of the Indies to sanction a larger expedition, which would certainly have been more cruel. (p. 157)

This is tangled reasoning. West’s reasoning does eventually become clear:

If Cortés had his uneasy nights, it was because he was under the strain of finding that a country he wished to annex for Spain by peaceful penetration meant to resist him, and that this country was so beautiful and strange that he did not want to make war on it and was also so horrible that, over an issue in which Spain played only a minor part, but which was vital to his own soul, he must break it and remake it. (p. 150)

The “issue” referred to in this bizarre sentence (“peaceful penetration”!) is the Aztec practice of human sacrifice and cannibalism. Cortés is a humanist because he stops the Aztecs from sacrificing the members of the other groups they ruled: all Spanish savagery can ultimately be justified because of this one moral advance. (La Malinche functions as a hero here: by serving Cortés, she freed her people.) Cortés, it should be noted, was the first to import African slaves to Mexico; this is mentioned, but blame is placed on Bartolomé de las Casas for suggesting it as a means of ameliorating Mexican suffering. Las Casas was, of course, one of the first to point out the excessive cruelty of Cortés; he comes up nowhere else, as West seems to be relying most heavily on Bernal Díaz.

It’s here that one feels unjust in reading this book. West’s narrative of the conquest of Spain comes to an abrupt end after she introduces the theme of human sacrifice in the last paragraph. There’s the sense that she wasn’t sure where she could go; perhaps she’d run into a dead end, and there’s a reason this book was left unfinished. There are easily missed opportunities: the Spanish, looking at Tenochtitlán, compare the marvelous city to the romance of Amadís de Gaula; this is used to demonstrate that the Spanish were “not insensitive, not brutish” (p. 154). Amadís de Gaula was also the inspiration of Don Quixote; there the results were far less bloody.

march 16–march 23

Books

Films

  • Alice in Wonderland, directed by Cecil Hepworth & Percy Stow
  • On connaît la chanson (Same Old Song), dir. Alain Resnais
  • Providence, dir. Alain Resnais
  • Stavisky . . . , dir. Alain Resnais
  • Faustrecht der Freiheit (Fox and His Friends), dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder
  • La chute de la maison Usher (The Fall of the House of Usher), dir. Jean Epstein

Exhibits

  • “Spirituality: Works by David Wojnarowicz from 1979–1990,” PPOW
  • “Hermann Nitsch: 60. Painting Action // 60. Malaktion,” Mike Weiss Gallery
  • “Proofs and Refutations,” David Zwirner
  • “Donald Judd: Works in Granite, Cor-ten, Plywood, and Enamel on Aluminum,” Pace Gallery
  • “Tara Donovan: Drawings (Pins),” Pace Gallery
  • “Gerhard Richter: Sinbad,” Flag Art Foundation
  • “The Parallax View,” Lehmann Maupin“Duke Riley: Two Riparian Tales of Undoing,” Magnan Metz
  • “Michael Waugh: Decline and Fall,” Schroeder Romero & Shredder
  • “Joseph Cornell, Witold Gordon, Estate of Leon Kelly, Louis Marcoussis, Man Ray: Les Devins,” Schroeder Romero & Shredder

william e. young, “shark! shark!”

Captain William E. Young
(as told to Horace S. Mazet, F.R.G.S.
Shark! Shark! The Thirty-Year Odyssey of a Pioneer Shark Hunter
(Gotham House, 1934)


I acquired this book somewhat mistakenly: there was a Paul Collins piece somewhere about strange books, and there was a mention of the first edition of this book, bound in sharkskin. I ordered a copy online, thinking such a book would be an interesting thing to have; but the copy that arrived turned out to the be second edition, which is a rather undistinguished hardcover. Still, it is a book about shark-hunting; books like this aren’t really written any more. It’s not especially well written: Horace S. Mazet is attentive to the problems involved in describing sharks, as he seems to have soldiered in the shark-writing business for years, but the narrative is not all that might be hoped for, despite the occasionally gripping content. Most of the attraction of this book comes from the character of Captain Young, who comes across as a decidedly unphilosophical Ahab, interested only in killing sharks, who explains his life in a matter-of-fact way. There is a formative experience in William Young’s youth, but it’s not especially revelatory: he ditches his Boy Cadets drill to go fishing with the old fishermen; one of them invites him to go fishing, and the boy sees his first shark. After that, of course, he wants to kill as many sharks as he can; he leaves California for Hawaii, where he proceeds to do just this.

Young’s story is unrelentingly bloody. He starts killing sharks before there’s any commercial reason to do so; he is interested in finding commercial uses for sharks not to get rich, but that he might continue killing them. Perhaps the sport of this is taken for granted; maybe this hasn’t aged well. At times, he seems to want to wipe sharks off the face of the earth as a problem for fishermen; he is continually having to explain to people that sharks eat people, which the people of the 1920s and 1930s seem loathe to believe. It’s confusing, and Captain Young comes off as a maniac, which might be what makes this book compelling. From time to time there are digressions like this one, when Captain Young is harvesting sharks in North Carolina for a New York sharkskin concern in 1921 or 1922:

Another fisherman, who evidently had more than one fish in his frying pan, approached me one evening with a most curious proposition. He beat about the bush for so long that finally I asked him in desperation what under the sun he was driving at.
     “Waal, it’s this way,” he said. “You’re bringing in lots of sharks every day from out to sea. Now why” – here he dropped his voice to a whisper – “why not try a little bootlegging in the shark bellies? No one ever bothers you, and no one will ever suspect.”
     It was an ingenious idea, and I suppose it would have been possible to stow away a good many bottles of liquor inside each shark. At the time, however, my mind was entirely concentrated on catching sharks. (p. 127)

Captain Young is cheerfully insane and guileless, which makes him good company, despite his murderous tendencies. Almost certainly he should not have killed all of those sharks, but it’s too late for regrets now. A few pages later, he is visited at his shark processing plant by a “diffident visitor” who shows him a fossil shark’s tooth, and tells him about the Age of Fishes when sharks ruled the earth. Then the visitor gives Captain Young the fossil tooth and wanders out; Captain Young has no idea who the man was, nor does he ever turn up again. Such things happen when you’re a shark hunter. Later, Haile Selassie turns up: he wants to go lion hunting, but Captain Young has sharks in Somali that he has to deal with, so that doesn’t happen. Felix von Luckner, who provides a forward that was surely scrawled on a cocktail napkin on his yacht, makes an appearance near the end of the book, with the suggestion that fishing for sharks might be made more sporting if bungee cords were used as lines. I’d not known of Count von Luckner; his Wikipedia entry points out his ability to tear up telephone books with his bare hands, among other exploits.

This is a book that has its longueurs; but the end of this book has the advantage of taking the reader completely unaware. Thirty pages before the end of the book, Captain Young is still talking about his foiled plans to start an aquarium in Cuba where sharks could be kept; this aquarium would also feature a café “allowing visitors to select a fish and see it captured by a fisherman for their meal”. Then there’s an excursus about the question of whether it’s possible for a diver with a knife to kill a shark (possible, yes, but dangerous). Then some men from Harvard show up to make a film about him and sharks, to be titled Tigers of the Sea. Then a paragraph about how old men like to tell stories, and the book’s suddenly over. There are thirty more pages of an Appendix, which explains via diagram how to go about skinning a shark, among other things; but the book is over.

jacques sternberg, “future without future”

Jacques Sternberg
Future Without Future
(trans. Frank Zero)
(Seabury, 1974)


The Museum of the Moving Image has been having an Alain Resnais retrospective, where I finally saw Je t’aime, je t’aime; the program notes for that film pointed out that it had been written by Jacques Sternberg, “the French Philip K. Dick.” I didn’t remember ever having heard of Sternberg; this book, a 1974 translation of 1971’s Futurs sans avenir seems to be one of two by him available in English (the other being 1967’s Sexualis ’95). Future Without Future appeared as part of Seabury’s Continuum series of foreign science fiction; also listed in the series are works by Stanislaw Lem, the Strugatsky brothers, and Stefan Wul, all of whom, like Sternberg, seem to have had their books turned into arty movies. An English Wikipedia page gives some background on Sternberg’s life and work in entertaining prose:

Sternberg, a very apt helmsman, owned a diminutive 12 Ft dinghy (Zef class, excellent for day cruising but slow and utterly unfit for racing) and often undertook arduous coastal treks, even in comparatively bad weather. An anarchist at heart, he rejected organized regatta and racing – Not unlike Bernard Moitessier, the famous ocean vagabond – and wrote a biting satire of yachtsmen, sponsors and yacht clubs, in his erotic-nautical novel Le navigateur published at the peak of Eric Tabarly’s success. Dinghy sailing means living a very close relationship with the sea and it is one of the keys to understand the important place of the sea in Sternberg’s work, specially in what may arguably be his best novel Sophie, la mer et la nuit.

This is not helpful for this book, which contains only passing mention of the sea. The French Wikipedia is a bit more helpful; there we learn that:

Avec 1 089 textes répertoriés à ce jour, J. Sternberg peut se targuer d’être le nouvelliste le plus prolifique du xxe siècle !

Perhaps he will go on being one of the most prolific novelists of the twentieth century; however, he did die in 2006. One learns there that he was part of the Panique group with Fernando Arrabal, Roland Topor, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Olivier O. Olivier; a fair number of his works still seem to be in print in France despite his general disappearance in English.

Future Without Future collects a novella (“Fin de Siecle”) and four stories. The novella presents a man’s diary for 1999: he lives in a dystopian Paris clogged with cars and soot run by an all-powerful state. Everything is regulated; there are fines and impositions for any misstep (he is sentenced to play tennis two hours a day for a few months), even down to private life (he has a state-mandated mistress and child; the state gives out adultery cards). He spends his day counting punctuation at a state publisher; his job is futile, as all jobs are futile, but there is no escape. Love turns up, predictably enough; but as the story progresses, it becomes clear that the government’s manipulations of time (declaring the Sunday will be skipped) are not in name only, as might be expected, but real; the government’s mismanagement of time causes the universe to collapse.

The stories show Sternberg to be preoccupied with the world of the bureaucrat: the drudgery of work is very real in these stories. In “Vacation,” a man is forced to go on vacation (which also happens in “Fin de Siecle”); he takes a jaunt by rocketship to the boring world of his childhood, but on his return he is informed that their rocket will need to be parked in orbit for the next year; no worry, because his work will be sent to him. “Very Sincerely Yours” starts out as a report of an absurdist joke (a bored functionary decides to write letters about his own anomie to the people he is supposed to be corresponding with on official business) which turns into a weird fantasia (his correspondent turns out to be an alien living in a parallel world; the alien infects the world with a virus that will eventually cause humanity to shrink to the height of twenty-eight inches, the height of the alien race, so that they might be more easily conquered in a few hundred years). It’s presented in epistolary form; as it begins it might be the response of a latter-day Bartleby so utterly alienated by capitalism that he has no real name (he signs with the name “JR, Director,” though his boss, of course, can’t be bothered with anything as quotidian as answering letters).

Bartlebys take over the world in “Future Without Future,” the last story in the book: in that, the societal revolutions are telescoped forward to a world where the young (“the Fatigued Generation”) refuse to do anything, which stops the Vietnam War and brings about a peaceable planet. Sternberg puts himself in the vanguard of their cultural revolution:

But it is literature, still, which evinces the most spectacular reversals. For two or three years now, the books of Sagan, Druon, Kessel, Troyat, Dutourd, Mallet-Joris, Daninos, or any of the best sellers of the 70’s have not sold a single copy. On the other hand, a vast public of indolent and disgusted readers have flocked to the work of heartsick professionals such as Céline, Beckett, Michaux, Sternberg, Bierce, Kafka, Cavanna, Benchly, and above all Cioran, whose Précis of Decomposition sold five hundred copies between 1949 and 1975, but enjoyed sales of ten million in 1980, and has established itself as the new Bible of modern times. By the same token, no publisher has managed to market a book on management or marketing, those moth-eaten themes of 1970, or any book of poetry, history, politics, sociology, or metaphysics. Those thought-provoking bugbears have finally bored, disgusted, and fatigued the public which still reads. That is to say, the new generation alone. (pp. 193–4)

To Sternberg’s list of familiars, one might add Anna Kavan, whose tone is sometimes very close to this book; I suspect that the argument could probably be made by one more familiar than I that Sternberg presages Houellebecq. Sternberg is not, on the evidence of this book, the French Philip K. Dick: there is no secret meaning to be found in his world, only drudgery, entertainingly presented.

march 1–march 15

Books

Films

  • The Jazz Singer, dir. Alan Crosland
  • Loin du Vietnam (Far from Vietnam), dir. Joris Ivens, William Klein, Claude Lelouch, Agnès Varda, Jean-Luc Godard, Chris Marker & Alain Resnais
  • I Want to Go Home, dir. Alain Resnais
  • Je t’aime, je t’aime, dir. Alain Resnais
  • Le chant du Styrène, dir. Alain Resnais
  • The Naked City, dir. Jules Dassin
  • Night and the City, dir. Jules Dassin
  • Mon oncle d’Amérique, dir. Alain Resnais
  • Mélo, dir. Alain Resnais
  • La Glace à trois faces, dir. Jean Epstein
  • The Kids Are All Right, dir. Lisa Cholodenko
  • Brainscan, dir. John Flynn
  • Little Odessa, dir. James Gray
  • Querelle, dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder
  • Liebe – kälter als der Tod (Love Is Colder Than Death), dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Exhibits

  • “Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand,” Met
  • “Our Future Is In The Air: Photographs from the 1910s,” Met
  • “Pierre Huyghe: The Host and the Cloud,” Marian Goodman
  • “Tibor de Nagy Gallery Painters & Poets: Celebrating 60 Years,” Tibor de Nagy
  • “David Hammons,” L & M Arts
  • “Stanley Casselman: Evolution-Water,” Chashama Donnell Windows
  • “Hong Seon Jang: Zip City,” Chashama Donnell Windows
  • “Liliana Dirks-Goodman: Color Series #3,” Chashama Donnell Windows
  • “Jose Landoni: The Great Wave,” Chashama Donnell Windows

noted

  • A stage reading of Raymond Roussel’s The Dust of Suns (in the translation of Harry Mathews, under the direction of John Beer) is happening in March at the Charnel House in Chicago.
  • I have a piece in the Review of Contemporary Fiction‘s upcoming “Failure” issue. There’s going to be a reading at PS1 on April 2.
  • Probably the best piece in that issue, Sam Frank’s “The Document” is up at Triple Canopy; new Sergio de la Pava & Joshua Cohen to appear soon in the current issue.