A New Year of Reading

It started, this new year and decade, my reading that is, with the felicitious serendipity that always characterises my Sunday-amateurish reading. Dipping into Steven Moore’s The Novel: An Alternative History 1600-1800, which I haven’t read, but tasting its acerbic opinion thought it may be a good place to begin the year.

Sampling Primo Levi’s favourite texts in The Search for Roots, led swiftly to Robert Alter’s commentary and translation of Job, which holds the right of primogeniture in Levi’s anthology. It’s been my intention to read the Bible, as literature, more deeply, so I start the year with Job.

Characteristically though there are other texts clamouring for attention: Papini’s Dante (translated by Eleanor Hammond Broadus and Anna Benedetti), J. B. Leishman’s translation of the Duino Elegies.

As always I am curious to see where the year leads and determined, as Levi puts it, ‘to undermine’ my reading patterns and tastes: ‘a woodworm can find new timbers, or new sap in old wood’. Suggestions and ideas always welcome!

Happy new year to all who read my blog.

Forthcoming Books of Interest

Titles are removed from this list as I acquire said books. Searching should lead you to these titles, but drop me an email if you cannot find any of them. I’m acquiring fewer books these days, but the following are mostly irresistible:

Yiyun Li, Must I Go
Karl Ole Knausgaard, In the Land of the Cyclops
J. M. Coetzee, The Death of Jesus
Roberto Calasso, The Celestial Hunter
Vivian Gornick, Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader
Kate Zambreno, Drifts
Alistair Ian Blythe, Card Catalogue
Peter Weiss, The Aesthetics of Resistance, Volume II
Luis Goytisolo, The Greens of May Down to the Sea: Antagony, Book II
Luis Goytisolo, The Wrath of Achilles: Antagony, Book III
Moyra Davey, Index Cards
Aby Warburg, Bilderatlas Mnemosyne
Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, The Inhabited Island
André Breton and Philippe Soupault, Magnetic Fields
Alexander Lernet-Holenia, Count Luna
Miklös Szenkuthy, Chapter on Love
Paul Celan, Microliths
Mircea Cărtărescu, Solenoid
Amanda Michalopoulou, God’s Wife
Hans Jürgen von der Wense, A Shelter for Bells
Magdalena Zurawski, Being Human is an Occult Practise
Yevgeny Zamyatin, We
Mercé Rodereda, Garden by the Sea
S. D. Chrostowska, The Eyelid
László F. Földényi, The Glance of the Medusa
László F. Földényi, Dostoyevsky Reads Hegel in Siberia and Bursts into Tears
Hans Blumenberg, History, Metaphors, Fables
Jirgl Reinhard, The Unfinished

[11.1.20 – For ease I have now made this is fixed page, available from the menu bar at the top of the blog]

All intertwined – Maria Gabriela Llansol’s Trilogy

It is reasonably rare, necessarily so, that a writer makes my senses quicken to a degree that I think about writing, reading, being, in ways that are interesting and useful. I’m reluctant to stop reading Maria Gabriela Llansol’s Geography of Rebels trilogy, but must at some point to follow threads back to Woolf, Spinoza, Bergson and so forth.

Llansol’s writing is peopled with figures, ‘living entities, constructs, nodes inside the text that are not necessarily people, but patterns, templates, shapes, forms, and apparitions. The Llansolian text does not progress thematically, but by an association of several scenes of fulgor in which the figures are revealed.’ To read her writing is to appreciate that we are this unceasing stream of sensory phenomena, aware at some level of bodily existence, but with an embodied memory of everything we have read and thought. Llansol’s figures are her expression of Spinoza’s intuition that ‘nevertheless we feel and know by experience that we are eternal.’

On my third pass through the first book of Llansol’s trilogy, The Book of Communities, it became clear that it is something of a roadmap for how to read her writing, that she is not just experimenting with form, but thinking differently about reality. Her narrative is formed temporally, a complex realm where past, present and future, are all arranged on a single plane. This is of course brings to mind Woolf’s treatment of interior time in Mrs. Dalloway: ‘There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable.’

Llansol extends Woolf’s notion that reality is powerfully shaped by our perceptions and associative memories. Her narrator and figures are an act of continual creation, mirroring the way her writing communes with the intellect of her readers during the act of reading. As Rilke put it in The Book of a Monk’s Life, ‘a hundred drinking roots, all intertwined.’

It is hard to believe that this trilogy represents Llansol’s literary debut, as well as her first work to be translated into English. I can hardly bear that the rest of her writing remains untranslated, so I’ve begun learning Portuguese.

The Poetry of Thought

Aristotle with a Bust of Homer (1653)

“When God sings to Himself, he sings algebra, opined Liebniz.” p.18

“Sentences, oral and written (the mute can be taught to read and write), are the enabling organ of our being, of that dialogue with the self and with others which assembles and stabilises our identity. Words, imprecise, time-bound as they are, construct remembrance and articulative futurity. Hope is the future tense.” p.21

This dialogue, Steiner’s The Poetry of Thought, a dialogic embrace of metaphysics and literature, thrilling as any novel, a book of life, a book for life, one I have no desire to leave. Pencil in hand, note-taking. Lashings of tea.

A reading list that is ever-swelling, transforming.

“To listen closely–Nietzsche defined philology as “reading slowly”– is to experience, always imperfectly, the possibility that the order of words, notably in metrics and the metrical nerve-structure within good prose, reflects, perhaps sustains the hidden yet manifest coherence of the cosmos.” p.34

One wants to read everything. To reread everything, better. Did one ever understand anything?

“Does difficulty in the Phenomenology and the Enzyklopadie prepare that in Mallarmé, Joyce or Paul Celan, the displacement of language from the axis of immediate or paraphrasable meaning as we find it in Lacan or Derrida (an annotator of Hegel.)” p.88

“Is it possible to reconcile the hermetic with the didactic?” p.88

“What was, lazily, deemed fixed, eternal in the conceptual–that Platonic legacy–is made actual and fluid by the breaking open of words.” p.89

“The muteness of animals remains vestigial in us.” p.90

Stricto sensu consciousness should revert to silence. Beckett is not far off. Yet only language can reveal being.” p.91

“Philosophy, however, outranks even great literature.” p.91

“Human labour both manual and spiritual defines the realisation of the conceptual. This insight translates into the fabric of a Hegelian treatise. The reader must work his way through it. Only the laborious in the root-sense can activate understanding. Passive reception is futile. Via the hard labour of concentrated intake “disquiet is made order” in our consciousness.” p.93

“Hegel produces ‘anti-texts’ aiming at collision with the inert matter of the commonplace. They are, says Adorno, ‘films of thought’ calling for experience rather than comprehension.” p.96

“There was darkness also in Bergson’s outlook, notably toward its close. But he did not wish to extend such darkness to his readers.” p.127

There’s a lifetime’s reading here just tracing the patterns of Steiner’s thought. More than one lifetime.

A Form of Attunement

Image from the series “The double and the half” – Slow Panic by Hanan Kazma

In Lyrical Philosophy, Jan Zwicky writes:

“Resonance is a function of the integration of various components in a whole. (Integration, not fusion. Resonance occurs in the spaces between.)

In pure, schematic argument, ‘content’ is of no interest. The form does not arise from it. The form itself is unidimensional. Only the most minimal resonance is possible, the most rudimentary of non-algebraic meanings. The spaces in analysis are necessarily discontinuities, not chambers.–Integrity is a form of attunement.”

Echoes and resonances are central to Zwicky’s writing on Wittgenstein, her suggestion that you might take a number of randomly selected propositions, say half a dozen, from the Tractatus and see them not only as self-sufficient utterances, but also appreciate their bell-like resonant interconnectedness.

As Zwicky remarks, “Imagine doing a similar thing with randomly selected sentences from one of the standard treatises of systematic philosophy.” To what extent I understand Zwicky on Wittgenstein I find her account insightful enough to tackle the Tractatus directly, aided from to time by Michael Morris’ elegant Routledge ‘guidebook’.

I am struck by this idea of resonance to the point of waking up at three o’clock in the morning buzzing with associations. Many of the utterances in Tractatus appear bland, even unoriginal, taken as single entities, but the cumulative effect and patterns start to appear, if only flickeringly.

The resonances work a little like memories, which, for me, arrive primarily in image form; the associations between memory images being deeply resonant. Resonance is spatial, occurring as Zwicky writes “in the spaces in-between”, not unidimensional, and these associations do not arrive in linear form.

To drag another analogy into this raggedy post, I could compare it with my library where, for me, it makes sense to shelve my newly acquired Zwicky and Wittgenstein beside Rilke, Walser and Akhmatova, my library organised by resonance and not by alphabetisation. Wittgenstein wrote that philosophy should only be written as poetry, so these shelf companions somehow seem more fitting.

With Wittgenstein, and in the same sense Zwicky, I read slowly, retracing my steps often to push against the resistance to comprehension. I recall Wittgenstein acting as the benefactor to the poet, Georg Trakl. When he first read Trakl’s poems, he confessed, “I don’t understand them. But their tone delights me. It is the tone of … genius.”