Her Not All Her by Elfriede Jelinek

For reasons I can’t really explain there’s a fusing of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Robert Walser in my mind. I’m unable to think of one without the other. I suppose they were contemporaries and both shared a passion, even obsession, with the way that language can be used to show, or obscure, the world. That aside, their paths could not be more different. Walser’s journey ended in a mental hospital, unable, or unwilling to write.

It is from this point that Her Not All Her loosely resuscitates Robert Walser. Elfriede Jelinek, in a beautiful Cahiers Series publication, uses Walser’s voice as the starting point for a prose-poem about language, memory and artistic creation. I’ve read it twice and am very taken with the beauty of Jelinek’s prose (as translated by Damon Searls). It is written to be performed on stage and not intended as a short story, a performance I’d love to see one day.

Alongside the prose are a series of reproductions of Thomas Newbolt’s ‘Head’ paintings. Newbolt’s work is new to me, but I am as stunned by his powerful paintings as by Jelinek’s prose.

This is a cryptic work that I am nowhere near the end of unpicking and contemplating. If you have read this edition, I’d love to have a conversation to see what you make of it.

Categories That Amuse

Voracious readers have regular dilemmas about what book to read next. At Of Books and Bicycles, the perplexity is of genre or category. Always the question of whether to read deeply to explore a category or individual writer thoroughly, or widely to embrace a wide selection of genres. The categories that provide amusement at the moment are:

  • Philosophy to deepen my reading of Nietzsche, Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard; also to explore Kant to whatever extent I am capable.
  • Literary criticism of the novel: contemporary texts like James Wood, Harold Bloom, Susan Sontag, Geoffrey Hill and Denis Donoghue; also earlier writing by Guy Davenport, Maurice Blanchot, Cyril Connolly and William Empson.
  • Fiction and non-fiction classics of all periods, with less emphasis on contemporary, and guided loosely by Bloom’s Western Canon.
  • Books about books, with the work of Alberto Manguel and Michael Dirda top of my list.
  • Natural history, inspired by my deep enjoyment of Roger Deakin.
  • A sprinkling of science, certainly all the output of cosmologist Paul Davies.
  • Psychology, working my way slowly through Freud’s essays and lectures.
  • Travel classics like Wilfred Thesiger, William Dalyrymple, Patrick Leigh Fermor.
  • Culinary-lit, particularly M. F. K. Fisher and Ruth Reichl

This is hardly comprehensive and is subject to whimsy.