‘[…] ‘he could turn into John Vincent Moon, one of Borges’ heroes, for example, or into an accumulation of literary quotations; he could become a mental enclave where several personalities could shelter and coexist, and thus, perhaps without even any real effort, manage to shape a strictly individual voice, the ambitious base for a nomadic heteronymous profile . . .’

Enrique Vila-Matas, Dublinesque (trans. Rosalind Harvey and Anne McLean)

It’s a highly literary novel, which I like, excessively ironic but the voice, always the voice.

Like steps of passing ghosts

Tastes in critics and book reviewers, like cities and vegetables, are idiosyncratic. It probably has as much to do with voice as with the acuity of their exegesis, or exquisite taste. As much as we resist, fashion and peer pressure might play a part. Some, like Gabriel Josipovici, earn our trust and admiration for the rigour of his prose, even when our literary tastes differ markedly.

I’ve travelled a lot lately, but am in Hampshire for the autumn, with the low, dense English skies that always bring me home. Looking up some notes on Borges, I came across a poem I recorded in a notebook a few years back, by an American poet called Adelaide Crapsey:

‘Listen.
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
And fall.’

The other night I had a strange, striking dream. I rarely remember dreams and I remember little of the narrative context, but I was accompanied throughout the dream by Eileen Battersby, a book reviewer, American by birth, but who lived in Ireland, and died last year. I barely know her work, perhaps read one or two reviews when someone linked to them on Twitter. I still know little but watched on YouTube an interview with Battersby, John Banville and Enrique Vila-Matas. I can see little from her reviews to suggest we would share literary inclinations, but I liked her physical voice and passion for literature.

‘You feel that you bid farewell, and perhaps soon—and the evening blush of this feeling shines within your happiness. Pay heed to this testimony: it means that you love life, and yourself with it, indeed, that you love the life that you have lived until now, and that has shaped you [. . .] But know this!—that transience is always singing you its brief song, and that, hearing its first lines, one can die of longing, at the thought that all of this can pass way forever.’

This is, I think, Krzysztof Michalski’s own translation of Nietzsche, quoted in his The Flame of Eternity: An Interpretation of Nietzsche’s Thought from, I think, Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe.

Reading Recently (early November 2019)

My admiration for Fitzcarraldo Editions is sincere and unlimited. I finished reading Maria Tumarkin’s Axiomatic, read against the grain of more usual reading material. I must do this more often. I’ve been struggling to complete anything I begin to read recently, feeling a distaste for literature, without any discernible origin. I tore through the complex, fascinating essays in Axiomatic, drawn, as is so often the case with non-fiction, by the power of Tumarkin’s voice. She is evidently a responsive observer, vibrantly present in her writing, not introspective but a shrewd, melancholy sensibility.

In this expansive mood I turned to another recent Fitzcarraldo publication, translated by Frank Wynne. There isn’t much to The Fallen by Carlos Manuel Álvarez: an atmosphere, a displacement of consciousness across a family of characters, a suggestion that family life limits natural expression. It is a rendering of lived experience that offers social commentary without an explicit morality. The crisp writing style belies a depth that compels the reader to interpret each character’s feelings and motivations for their actions from limited information. I’ve been re-watching Michael Haneke’s films recently and kept thinking of how he would treat this book. The richness of the images would translate well into film.

‘So this is how it is. Stars fall from the sky like shot baby sparrows in Mao’s China. Books are imperishable only because burning them to ash takes so little (it’s not like blowing up buildings); they are imperishable only because they are so ready to survive, dispersed across the world, as trails of dust, kernels, memories, shreds. As to us, me and you, oh it’s simple. We are the broken vessels containing, spilling all over the place, those who came before us.’

Axiomatic, Maria Tumarkin

I should trust more, Fitzcarraldo Editions, to lead me to unexpected places, books that I wouldn’t have thought to read, but that end up moving me greatly, that insinuate themselves inside and linger on late into the night. Some books, even fine ones, end up passing through the cognitive system without harming the animal, others less so.

‘My consciousness is at certain times far too roomy, far too general. While usually it can contract convulsively (and feelingly) around each of my thoughts, just now it is so huge, hanging so loose about me that it would suffice for several of us.

30 August 39 II A 549′

Papers and Journals, Søren Kierkegaard