About Anthony

Time's Flow Stemmed is a notebook of my wild readings.

Small Landmarks

Quote

I now feel that this interval, which I describe to others as a holiday, is peculiarly suited to one of my temperament, which is stolid, and my history, which is not. I accept the solitude, the routines, as old people do, and although not old—fifty-five is not old these days—I being to anticipate a time when small landmarks, such as my mid-morning coffee at the Grand Café de la Place, and my walk to the station to pick up the English papers, will be appreciated, My old age will come as no surprise to me, and something tells me that I might spend it here, in this little town of Vif—a misnomer, for no place could be more somnolent—on the Franco-Swiss border.

—Anita Brookner,  Altered States, p. 8

Small Complete World of ‘The Vicar of Wakefield’

What compelled me to pick The Vicar of Wakefield from the shelves of the Perfect Bookshop last week I no longer recall, perhaps Virginia Woolf’s regard for Oliver Goldsmith’s only novel: ‘once we begin to read we read on, not to reach the end but to enjoy the present moment. We cannot dismember this small complete world. It hems us in, it surrounds us.’

It’s a silly story with little to commend it beyond the excellence of its sentences and what Woolf describes as its ‘tart eighteenth century humour’. I read with satisfaction—much against the grain—and the better for it.

‘However, when any one of our relations was found to be a person of very bad character, a troublesome guest, or one we desired to get rid of, upon his leaving my house, I ever took care to lend him a riding coat, or a pair of boots, or sometimes a horse of small value, and I always had the satisfaction of finding he never came back to return them.’

Reflections on Reviewing, Reading and Turgenev

Around fourteen years ago, I began writing in this space about what I’ve come to think of as my experience of reading. The books written about here reflect less of a personal canon than those that offered sufficient satisfaction that I read the book from cover to cover. I make this statement without being certain of who  I am, the “I” that is writing, or what I mean by satisfaction. Both are shortcuts offered to me by my language,

Writing reviews interests me because however much I attempt to avoid the personal, every review becomes, however impersonal, a reflection on what matters to the reviewer. Writing what I am calling a review, while not seeing myself as a reviewer, often helps me discover something of what matters to me. I don’t particularly like to read literary criticism, but some critics I do read with interest, for instance: Steve Mitchelmore, Merve Emre, Ryan Ruby and Dustin Illingworth. I read their reviews less for their subject matter, as intriguing as it always is,  and more for what they lay bare about themselves, however masked, in their concerns for the internal worlds of fiction. What their writing has in common with the books in which I find what I am calling satisfaction is voice. To offer a further example, one of my favourite blogs about books, an eudaemonist – the single-line reviews add up, however wrong my impression, to a particular barometer reading of the writer’s internal weather that compels me to keep reading.

Believe it or not, when I decided to use a window opened up by early morning insomnia, it was to offer a few thoughts on Ivan Turgenev’s Father and Sons and why for a while at least I intend to return to my practice of reading books with ten years or more of age, For every Septology, there are at least fifty contemporary novels I  have not read cover to cover and rather abandoned to the pile to go to the local bookshop. I feel like reading against the grain and those books that have weathered time interest me.

The satisfaction of Fathers and Sons (I read Richard Freeborn’s Oxford translation, aware that all later translators revert to Fathers and Children), is how Turgenev uses his characters to reflect on the supposed wisdom that comes with age. Maturity is more frequently a learned caution not to repeat past mistakes that have opened one up to revelation and embarrassment. The freshness of youth expressed in the younger members of Turgenev’s cast of characters comes from their willingness to expose their vulnerabilities. Staying young, if such a state is desired, is less a question of vitamins than a continual opening up to opportunities to be vulnerable.

The True Fool

These Yale editions bring a simple joy. Glad to start the year off with Twelfth Night. I am squarely in the category of those who prefer to read Shakespeare in the book. The roars of laughter that spill over from those in an audience eager to signal that they understand the jokes are as irritating at a Shakespeare performance as they are at Beckett’s plays. As Virginia Woolf writes in her essay on Twelfth Night, there will be little in common between a performance of Malvolio and the fantastic, complex creature we have conjured ourselves.

From the Yale notes we get the following: ‘198 Like aqua-vite with a midwife There is no certain explanation of the phrase. Either midwives used distilled liquor to induce labour, or midwives by tradition drank excessively.’

My Year in Reading: 2022

The voice remains. It somehow survives that cataclysmic leap from oral epic to self-consciousness fiction. The inimical voice of writers like Beckett, Woolf and Bernhard. This isn’t the first year I read Jon Fosse’s writing, but it is the first in which his voice became a tremendous presence.

I’ve read most of Fosse’s books available in English translation, saving Trilogy, and his writing seems to have that rare transcending quality called literature. In his essay, Anagoge Fosse writes, “Why do we never read with our attention turned towards the thing in literature which makes it so obvious that it both belongs to the world and does not belong to the world? That makes it incomprehensibly comprehensible? Which gives it meaning without meaning? Why don’t we read to see how the paradox of literature is a strange fusion of the extremely heavy and the extremely light, of the material and the spiritual?”

My most cherished literary discoveries encapsulate literature in precisely those terms: writers like Mayröcker, Llansol, Lispector and Murnane. This year, Fosse’s Septology, translated by Damion Searls and Melancholia II, translated by Eric Dickens, left the most significant impression, together with Thomas Bernhard’s Yes, translated by Ewald Osers and Friederike Mayröcker’s brutt, or The Sighing Gardens, translated by Roslyn Theobald.

Much of the summer was spent with Geoffrey Hill’s Broken Hierarchies: Poems 1952-2012. A planned chronological reading ended up with the repeated rereading of Tenebrae and For the Unfallen: Poems 1952-1958 before getting entangled, against my usual practice, with explicatory secondary texts. Hill is a highly lucid poet, particularly in his early days. These are poems to get to know throughout a lifetime, but the scholars help to build light.

For a few months, I carefully followed Iain McGilchrist’s prose in The Matter With Things, a book I shall undoubtedly reread, enhanced by my later reading of Geoffrey Hill and Jon Fosse. Perhaps these coincidents only seem so; the future’s roots are buried in the past.

Also notable this year was one of Steve Mitchelmore’s favourites of last year: Ellis Sharp’s mesmerising Twenty-Twenty, which records daily for a year his struggle against the compulsion to write and a return to Beckett’s Company, a reminder to slow down and look back more often.