Leopardi’s Pessimism

Gilbert Highet’s elegant account of Count Giacomo Leopardi urges me to make time for those notebooks awaiting my time and attention. Beckett also found Leopardi simpatico, describing himself in a letter to MacGreevy as “one who is interested in Leopardi and Proust rather than in Carducci and Barrès”, adding many years later that Leopardi “was a strong influence when I was young (his pessimism not his patriotism)”. Highet’s sentence rests on his phrase: “if properly understood and managed”.

“His closest links in classical literature are with Lucretius the Epicurean, who believed that creation and the life of man were a pure accident, having no significance beyond itself; that nature was neither kindly nor hostile to us, but indifferent; and that the only sensible purpose of living was to attain, through well-spaced and well-chosen pleasures and an intelligent understanding of the universe, a calm and reassured happiness. Like Lucretius, Leopardi is a materialist; like him he admires the charm of the Greek deities, although he knows that they have really no effective connexion with our world; like him he looks at human excitements and efforts with astonished pity, as we do at an ant-hill struck by a falling apple. But–here is the fundamental difference not only between Leopardi and Lucretius, but many modern poets and nearly all Greco-Roman poets–the conclusion that Leopardi draws is that life, because of its futility, is a cruel agent where death is welcome; and the conclusion of Lucretius is that life, if properly understood and managed, is still liveable. Even Greek tragedy does not mean that life is hopeless; but that, at its most terrible, it still contains nobility and beauty. Perhaps because of the sickness which afflicted both Leopardi’s body and his soul, he was never able to fight through to this truth. At least, not consciously. Yet, as an artist, he grasped it. His chief debt to classical poetry and his truest claim to equal the great lyric poets is that he sees his tragic subjects with sculptural clarity, and describes them with that combination of deep passion and perfect aesthetic control which e recognise as Greek.”

Mathias Enard’s Compass

James Joyce wrote of “an ideal reader suffering from an ideal insomnia”, exhibiting characteristic Joycean contempt for a reader of limited duration of attention. In this sense, Mathias Enard’s Compass, while eminently accessible, is likely to be best appreciated by those with insomniac intensities, and an equivalent propensity to pursue homologous trains of thought. Franz Ritter, the insomniac musicologist whose consciousness is our sole companion in Compass, as all insomniacs is accustomed to wholly phenomenal interpretation which, as Terry Eagleton wrote, “refuses to be duped by the habitual experience of things, searching instead for the invisible mechanisms which gives birth to them”.

While Compass is greater than its themes, it is essentially a novel of digressions, during which Franz learns that the pursuit of love may demand acts of abnegation. Schubert, Magris, Balzac, Beethoven, Proust, and Mendelssohn are only the lighter cavalry. Enard writes, “Sarah had mentioned the Great Name, the wolf had appeared in the midst of the flock, in the freezing desert: Edward Said. It was like invoking the Devil in a Carmelite convent.” Without becoming moralistic, Compass is a political novel that gently analyses Said’s characterisation of Orientalism, not just as a secondary expression of the wonders and apparent evils of the East, but as a form of imperialistic domination that concerns itself with the control of real people and real geographical territories. Enard, like Said, writes to oppose power structures, but unlike, say, Foucault, is at heart hopeful that through discourse such structures can be confronted and dismantled.

In a world that has become afraid of intelligence, Compass – slowly, I imagine, and carefully translated by Charlotte Mandell – is a deeply intelligent novel, a book that I could vanish into forever. In Barcelona, Robert Hughes quotes the Catalan writer Josep Ferrater Mora, “The man with seny [an untranslatable term meaning something like common sense, perhaps also wisdom and intelligence] renounces neither salvation nor experience, and is always trying to set up a fruitful integration between both opposed, warring extremes.” Mathias Enard, on the strength of Compass, but also Zone and Street of Thieves is indisputably a man with seny.

A Parisian Memory

In the last days of enjoying long childhood-afternoons, in that transitory place between child and adult, I went to live in Paris. While at boarding school, I was profoundly affected by Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. He cast a portentous shadow over Paris and its beauty was insufficient compensation for the confusion of its streets. In time I’d find Paris the most thrilling city I’d ever lived, but not until I’d found my cold, dark room in a garret above a century-old bookstore with shelves full of books by left-wing philosophers.

The decision to go to Paris was whimsical, partly for a dark, brooding woman who looked like Zelda Fitzgerald –or perhaps Lou Andreas-Salomé, I can no longer recall–but also borne of a vision of roaming the endless hallways of the Louvre and other art galleries, confronting the secrets of the masterpieces. By day and night, Paris unfolded as I walked its streets, returning to my room with gifts of young artichokes, Mont d’Or cheese and village Burgundies, which were stored on the small balcony that served as our refrigerator.

Over a wet autumn, I read Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, craving solitude so I could read beginning to end, surrounded by his confidantes, patronesses and lovers. I visited Proust’s grave at Père-Lachaise Cemetery and afterwards ate cold, salty oysters in his honour. To reread passages of Proust today is to be swept back to chestnut trees shedding dark reds and golds in the Luxembourg Gardens, flower beds lapsing to winter, and the taste of duck pâté, spread roughly on a baguette with a wood-handled pocket knife.

On my last day in Paris I ate sweetbreads for the first time at Les Deux Magots, where Beauvoir and Sartre argued philosophy with their entourage, and made un petit express last an hour so I could eavesdrop a conversation at the next table about the limits of knowledge. I copied a line into my notebook from the seventh Duino Elegy, “Nowhere, Beloved, will world be but within us. Our life passes in transformation. And the external wanes ever smaller.”

Denton Welch’s Maiden Voyage

I resolved to read Denton Welch this year, enthused by Des’s advocacy, though the timing was determined by catching sight of a rather distinctive edition of Maiden Voyage, his first novel, in one of the Cecil Court bookshops: an American first with dust wrappers and end papers drawn by Welch.

With measured and precise description, Welch applies a loupe to people and objects. Although my copy is an American edition, I wonder whether an American reader would get the same pleasure from Welch’s empathetic observation of the nuances of that colossal curse of the English, its class system. Welch’s way of noticing the small things of life ends up creating a fictional (lightly autobiographical) world of epic proportion, one that is singularly alluring.

An extraordinary tension is set up in Maiden Voyage. As Michael Schmidt writes in his study, The Novel: “Welch’s prose is full of paradoxes, his stories of themes that are more telling for being undeclared.” The novel’s narrator often appears reserved, almost priggish, though there is a homoeroticism that almost but never quite breaks surface. It is similar to the sexual tension that suffuses Patricia Highsmith’s writing.

Maiden Voyage tells the story of a boy brought up in east Asia, after his mother’s death he is sent off to an absurd English public school, which he loathes, and from which he briefly absconds. As this storyline so exactly matches my own, I’m the ideal reader for Welch’s story. But beyond that, I am utterly compelled by his attention for small things. Elemental truths lie behind the sights, smells and sounds of apparently banal objects. Writers like Woolf, Proust and Welch sharpen our sights for things that would otherwise remain invisible to us.

Notes on Stendhal, via Sebald, Beckett et al.

Sebald chooses soldier, lover and would-be writer Marie-Henri Beyle to open the first section of Vertigo. He never mentions him by his better known pen-name Stendhal, nor does he reveal that his ‘essay’ and photographs are drawn from Stendhal’s fictionalised autobiography La Vie de Henri Brulard.

This first section of Vertigo contrasts the tragedy and comedy of Beyle’s life, using prose and photographs as a form of parallel narrative. Although presented as a historical essay, Sebald uses the text to ask questions of the nature and recording of memory. Aside from drawing me further into his story, Sebald reminds me to continue, at some point, my exploration of Stendhal’s work. A few passages below from notes taken on other writer’s thoughts on Stendhal, and indirectly, comparable writers:

  • “Beckett’s lectures indicate he found paradigms of indeterminacy and incoherence early in the history of the French novel, specifically in the school of the ‘Pre-Naturalists’. Flaubert and Stendhal were his models in this regards, and were given the compliment of being the ‘real ancestors of the modern novel’. What is most important about these writers is that through engaging with the multiple facets of reality through a numbers of modes and perspectives, their work leaves ‘some material indeterminate’. In contrast to Prousts’s vision of aesthetic consolation and transcendence, there is ‘No such solution on Stendhal’.” (Beckett and the Modern Novel. 2012)
  • “[…] reservations regarding linearity and continuity may have directed Beckett’s thoughts toward the tradition of doubting a uniquely rationalist view of the world. In the notes on Stendhal in Beckett’s Dream Notebook from the early 1930s the word imprévu is found three times. In his letter dated 16 September 1934 to Thomas McGreevy, Beckett also quotes from Stendhal: ‘Maintenant la civilisation a chassé le hasard, plus d’imprévu. [Nowadays civilisation has eliminated chance, and the unexpected never happens.] Beckett is interested in Stendhal’s complaint about a world that is ruled by linear sequences of cause and effect.” (Beckett and Musicality. 2014)
  • Contrasting with his aversion to Balzac, Beckett thought Flaubert and Stendhal the ‘real ancestors of the modern novel’; “the former for his ‘impersonality’ of style and the ‘absence of purpose’ in his texts, and the latter for ‘his deliberately incoherent duality’ – his presentation of contrasting components without resolution, and the convenient ‘implication that [the] psychological real can’t be stated, [that is] imperceptible from every point of view.'” (Rachel Burrow’s lecture notes, via Briggite Le Juez)
  • “The secret of Stendhal may be that he conceived of life as a novel, but did not confuse the novel with life. He improvises because he knows that he is not Shakespeare; he cannot write as life does. Who, besides Shakespeare, could? Dante, Chaucer, Cervantes, Homer, the Bible, and post-Stendhal-Tolstoy, Proust, Joyce. Stendhal would not prevent to be of that visionary company, but he did not need to be.” (Harold Bloom, 2002)
  • In 1914 Ezra Pound wrote of Joyce, about the prose style of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, “[…] His style has the hard clarity of a Stendhal or of a Flaubert.” Also, “I think the book is permanent like Flaubert and Stendhal. Not so squarish as Stendhal, certainly not so varnished as Flaubert. I think [Joyce] joins on to Hardy and Henry James.” (Ellman, Letters, II)
  • “‘I admire him, not as a model, but as a better self, one that I shall never really be, not fro a moment,’ said Elias Canetti. Inspired by the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, he used to turn to Stendhal, reading a few pages of Le rouge et le noir each day to keep his language fit and the detail precise and sufficient. For his part Stendhal dod not go to fiction, but getting himself in voice to dictate La Chartreuse he told Balzac in 1840 that he read two or three pages of the Code Napoléon to establish the objective tome, to be always natural, and never to use factitious means to intrigue the reader. No wonder Ford described him as ‘a cold Nietzsche.'” (Michael Schmidt. The Novel. 2014)

Maturing into Childhood

I’ve been thinking about maturity as a process of returning to childhood. Picasso famously said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” For many of us, childhood is a time before anxiety, when we have yet to learn about cruelty and indifference, when we are fearless.

Bruno Schulz considered childhood an ‘”age of genius,” a time when no barrier existed between an inner psyche and the outer world, between dreams and reality, between desire and fulfilment, between the intellectual and the sensual – the time of the origins of poetry.”‘ In 1936 Schulz wrote to a friend:

What you say about our artificially prolonged childhood – about immaturity – bewilders me somewhat. Rather, it seems to me that this kind of art, the kind which is so dear to my heart, is precisely a regression, a return to childhood. Were it possible to turn back development, achieve a second childhood by some circuitous road, once again to have its fullness and immensity – that would be the incarnation of an “age of genius,” “messianic times” which are promised and pledged to us by all mythologies. My goal is to “mature” into a childhood. This really would be a true maturity.

The idea that in childhood we find the key to self-knowledge is not just a Freudian conceit that exorcised writers like Joyce and Proust. Heraclitus echoed the idea, but instead thought that humans are only children during the entire period of their lifetime, that even into adulthood we are nothing more than children playing games. Heraclitus frees us to consider childhood as not just a stage (the first of Solon’s ten stages of a human lifetime, each of seven years duration) but as a potentiality of human experience, an essential force.

The Banality of Brilliance

To speculate about whether Proust was a snob is as superfluous as debating the degree of Joyce’s egotism, though we could construct an argument that Proust would have been unfitted to dissect the society of Recherche without a social climber’s desire. And Joyce writing in A Portrait  that the “artist, like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails” feels more like his defence of a narcissistic narrator than a personal attitude. Neither quality detracts from the brilliance of either writer, and arguably both characteristics are disproportionally present among writers of the time (or perhaps any time).

Both qualities are in the foreground of the story Joyce told Frank Budgen (Further Recollections of James Joyce, 1955) of being introduced to Proust at a supper party for Stravinsky and Diaghilev. “Our talk consisted solely of the word ‘No.’ Proust asked me if I knew the duc de so-and-so. I said, ‘No.’ Our hostess [although observers claim this question came from Joyce] asked Proust if he had read such and such a piece of Ulysses. Proust said, ‘No,’ And so on.”

Though the two men apparently sat beside each other and later shared a cab home, no written record exists of their encounter, though there is no shortage of biographical speculation about conversations about health and truffles.

Forster and the Literary Forebears

When EM Forster lectured at Trinity College in 1927, he opened his series of lectures on the novel (collected in Aspects of the Novel) provocatively:

No English novelist is as great as Tolstoy-that is to say, has given so complete a picture of man’s life, both on its domestic and heroic side. No English novelist has explored man’s soul as deeply as Dostoyevsky. And no novelist anywhere has analysed the modern consciousness as successfully as Marcel Proust.

Any thoughtful reader will instinctively see the idolatry in Forster’s remarks, and wish to argue for the English novelist, but ninety years later his charges stand, certainly in respect of English novels. The major figures that come to mind, Conrad, Graham Greene, Woolf, perhaps Doris Lessing, certainly not Forster himself, don’t adequately counter his specific charges.

What of the third more sweeping remark? Can we now favourably compare Proust’s insight into  modern consciousness with Beckett, Kafka or Mann?

Brian Dillon’s “I Am Sitting in a Room”

Brian Dillon’s I Am Sitting in a Room is the first in Cabinet’s 24-Hour  Book series.

Dillon’s book explores the scenography and architecture of writing itself. Inspired in part by Georges Perec’s short fragment in Species of Spaces on Antonello da Messina’s painting of St. Jerome in his study, Dillon’s text is both a personal reflection on the theatrics of the study, the library, and the office, and a historical consideration of such writerly paraphernalia as Proust’s bed, Nabokov’s index cards, and Philip Roth’s moustache.

Cabinet is now my only magazine subscription. Apart from Cabinet my media consumption is entirely online, in one form or another. You never know what you will be reading about when Cabinet shows up. (With a subscription you also get access to the archives.) I’m not on commission here, just pushing you toward the good stuff. I used to have a dozen subscriptions to publications, not only literary journals, but found that they were sitting unread while I caught up with Twitter and my RSS feed. I get more reliable literary criticism from Stephen Mitchelmore, David Winters and Michelle Bailat Jones than I got once from more mainstream publications.

Striking red cover and bold title apart, the production quality of I Am Sitting in a Room is crap. I’m not easy on my books; I scribble on them and bend their spines. In this case, the pages started to fall out before I got ten pages in.

That aside, the book is short, seventy-odd pages, and comprises Brian Dillon, who I’ve intended to read for ages, writing about writer’s routines and the places where writers go to write. Autobiographical in part, also a study of writers including  Ernest Hemingway, Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes and Joan Didion, accompanied with photographs of writer’s studies. That’s my summary, though you may prefer Cabinet’s version above.

Dillon’s keeps a blog, mostly used to cross-post pieces that have appeared in other places, and is on Twitter. I also came across this absorbing piece, drawing from Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction, that Dillon wrote for Frieze, as much about the state of criticism as about taste. I’m very interested at the moment in Bourdieu for his ideas on taste, the nature of patriarchy and, intrigued by a conversation with Rim, his views on the origin and death and decadence of philosophy. Here’s a taster of Dillon’s article:

Could there be a critical trope less tolerated, now, than the unadorned litany of tastes and distastes? The dumb list smacks too easily of the ins and outs of style-mag trend-scouring, or recalls too readily the fine distinctions conjured by Nancy Mitford’s essay ‘The English Aristocracy’ (1954), with its anatomizing of social discourse into ‘U’ and ‘non-U’. The list may be a reminder of a certain critical responsibility: the duty to judge that I feel I ought to live up to, and can never quite fulfil. But it is at the same time so banal, so unsophisticated a form (an obtuse sort of syntax: one damn thing after another) that I resist it with every sinew of what I suppose I must call, begging the question, my sensibility.

Book List

In no particular order, this is a list of my favourite writers/books. Of course, it is incomplete.

Vladimir Nabokov’s Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle, Pale Fire and Speak, Memory and literary lectures
Franz Kafka
Geoff Dyer
JG Ballard
Simone de Beauvoir
Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook
Hélène Cixous
Judith Butler
Peter Handke’s The Weight of the World
Søren Kierkegaard
Marguerite Duras
JM Coetzee
Robert Walser
Roland Barthes
Nadine Gordimer’s The Pickup
Rilke’s Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge
Pascal Quignard’s The Roving Shadows
John William’s Stoner
Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea
AM Homes
Patrick Leigh Fermor
Jay Griffith’s Wild: An Elemental Journey
Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s War and War
Mahmoud Darwish’s Memory for Forgetfulness
Samuel Beckett
Simon Critchley
Noam Chomsky
Roger Deakin
Carlos Fuentes’s Diana: The Goddess Who Hunts Alone
Ruth Reichl’s Endless Feast
Teju Cole’s Open City
Jenny Erpenbeck’s The Visitation
Gabriel Josipovici’s What Ever Happened to Modernism? and The Lessons of Modernism
Virginia Woolf’s later novels and diaries
Jospeh Heller’s Something Happened
WG Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn
Don DeLillo’s Underworld
Theodor Adorno’s Minima Moralia
Kate Chopin’s The Awakening
Marcel Proust
Clarice Lispector’s Água Viva
Dante’s Divine Comedy
Kate Zambreno’s Heroines
Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych
James Joyce’s Ulysses
Richard Power’s The Time of our Singing
Will Ferguson’s Hokkaido Highway Blues

Helen DeWitt’s Lightning Rods

Habit is a compromise effected between the individual and his environment, or between the individual and his own organic eccentricities, the guarantee of a dull inviolability, the lightning-conductor of his existence.

This quotation is lifted from Beckett’s discursive essay on Proust. I could argue a profound apposition for its use (I reserve the right), but it came irresistibly to mind for the juxtaposition of Proust and a lightning-conducter. Forgive the strained allusion but Helen DeWitt’s creation of a future Supreme Court Justice investing her time wisely in reading Proust whilst offering PVC-clad, anonymous sex to high-flying sales and marketing men may be the funniest set-piece ever created. (If a Google search based on the last sentence directed you here I apologise for your anti-climax).

Proust allusion explained, lightning rod is Helen DeWitt’s epithet, in Lightning Rods to the sexual service provided anonymously to corporate high flyers. Providing instant sexual gratification to high-testosterone types obviates the (legal) hazard of sexual harassment in the workplace, at least that’s the hypothesis of DeWitt’s narrator Joe.

Using free indirect style gives DeWitt full access to the language of Joe, and corporate sales and marketing departments, whilst retaining the necessary distance for satire. The calibre of writing stops the style from becoming heavy-handed. Swiftian in brilliance, lack of sentiment and acidity of humour, Lightning Rods takes on numerous deserving targets with freshness and wit.

Though I finished the book last night, I was awake at four thirty the next morning, chuckling at DeWitt’s ideas for adjustable lavatories for dwarfs and the obese, and as lightning rods as a preserver of religious values.

You were spot on, Frances, about how much I’d enjoy Lightning Rods.

Influential Books

List time: books that influenced me. Influence is defined as either life-changing or transformative in reading patterns (which equates to the same thing). These are roughly in time order. Later I may explain what changed as a consequence. Here’s the list:

  • Wyss’s Swiss Family Robinson
  • Dicken’s Great Expectations
  • Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice
  • Kem Nunn’s Tapping the Source
  • Winston Graham’s Angell, Pearl and Little God
  • Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London
  • Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment
  • Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums
  • J. P. Donleavy’s The Destinies of Darcy Dancer, Gentleman
  • Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land
  • Bruce Sterling’s Artificial Kid
  • Sartre’s Nausea and Being and Nothingness
  • Kierkegaard’s Either/Or
  • Proust’s Rememberance of Things Past
  • Roger Deakin’s Wildwood
  • Alberto Manguel’s The Library at Night
  • Mann’s The Magic Mountain
  • Woolf’s The Lighthouse
  • Joyce’s Ulysses
  • Josipovici’s Whatever Happened to Modernism?

Thoughts a Third of the Way into The Prime of Life

After twelve days I am a third of the way through the second volume of Simone de Beauvoir’s autobiography The Prime of Life. This 1973 Penguin edition is over 600 pages of small, closely set type, but I am reading slowly, fountain pen in hand scribbling page after page of notes. I have no urge to rush.

Once again, de Beauvoir applies her considerable intellect to observing herself as a young adult. The view is microscopic and unswerving. I love the way de Beauvoir tackles self as a perpetual project.

If the bad habits which I attributed to Chantal irked me so much, that was not so much through having observed them in Simone Labourdin as because I had slipped into them myself: during the past two or three years I had more than once yielded to the temptation of embellishing my life history with false items of information. Alone in Marseille, I had more or less purged myself of this weakness, though I still reproached myself for it.

There’s gossip: Sartre and de Beauvoir enjoyed dissecting the personalities of friends and acquaintances. There’s much discussion about literature: her love of Stendhal, of Proust and Conrad, and the excited discovery of the translated works of Faulkner, Kafka and Dos Passos. de Beauvoir also explains why she chose literature over philosophical writing:

[…] I did not regard myself as a philosopher: I was well aware that the ease with which I penetrated to the heart of a [philosophical] text stemmed, precisely, from my lack of originality. In this field a genuinely creative talent is so rare that queries as to why I did not attempt to join the élite are surely otiose: it would be more useful to explain how certain individuals are capable of getting results from that conscious venture into lunacy known as a ‘philosophical system’ . . . I wanted to communicate the element of originality in my own experience. In order to do this successfully I knew it was literature towards which I must orientate myself.

As an aside I came across this wonderful blog that explores “the mind, method and masterpieces of David Markson through the marginalia found on the pages of the books in his personal library.” This snippet made me hoot with laughter:

On which Markson placed a checkmark next to a paragraph discussing the sex life of Nelson Algren:

“My introduction stops here. I knew very little about Algren’s sex life (or about my own, for that matter). I subsequently learned from Deirdre Bair’s Simone de Beauvoir (Summit, 1990) that he helped Miss de Beauvoir achieve her first orgasm. (The only person I ever helped achieve a first orgasm was good old me.) In Iowa City, Algren would refer to her as ‘Madame Yak Yak’ because she had given their relationship so much publicity.”

—-

“Nelson Algren, not Sartre, gave Simone de Beauvoir her first orgasm.”

Wrote Markson on pg. 30 of Reader’s Block, utilizing the above information.

Not only did Simone de Beauvoir not achieve her first orgasm with Sartre, but she was also taller than him, as Markson explained in Vanishing Point:

“Simone de Beauvoir was one inch taller than Sartre.” (Pg. 133).

Though there is absolutely no evidence to conclude that these facts are at all related—and how or why would they be?—am I the only one tempted to draw some sort of ridiculous conclusion?

Gerald Murnane’s Barley Patch

What do I recall of reading Remembrance of Things Past? Many years later, I remember characters, scenes, moods, but I am unable to quote a sentence. I recall that, in Combray, and in the salon of Duchesse de Guermantes, a non-Proustian observer silently stood. He was a “ghostly fictional character” insinuated into Proust’s fiction by this reader.

In the Barley Patch, Gerald Murnane uniquely explores memory and fiction, the images that endure during and after reading fiction, and the existence of fictional characters when they are not being described. His work itself is a fiction. I suspect Barley Patch is impossible to completely comprehend without a grounding in his previous fiction, perhaps not even with that history. I did not use the term ‘uniquely’ lightly. I’ve read nothing quite like Barley Patch, possibly it is brilliant.

Acquiring Barley Patch in Europe takes a little effort. This post at Being in Lieu induced me to read Murnane’s latest book. Jen writes, “There is a kind of music, or at least very recognisable rhythm, in the writing of Gerald Murnane,” and finds echoes of Proust. His meticulous scrutiny into the nature of memory, what it is to remember and what we mean when we ‘remember’ fiction impels me to question whether I remembered fiction in this way before reading Murnane.

The writing is precise to the point of pedantry. Though occasionally irksome, Murnane’s precision has the benefit of slowing one’s reading. It is that sort of book that you place on your lap from time to time, stare into the middle distance, and ponder.

The most precise statement (in comments) that I have encountered about Gerald Murnane’s writing is, “All books by Gerald Murnane, if you can find them, are fascinating. Obscure and fascinating. One feels as though the grit in one’s reading eye has been thoroughly cleaned out with…something.” It is a description that sums up my reading of Barley Patch very well.

Gabriel Josipovici’s Fiction

Stephen Mitchelmore’s definitive review of What Ever Happened to Modernism?

Always he has championed fiction which breaks through layers of self-protection – the self of the work and the self of the reader – to reveal loss without indulgence and potential without self-deceit. Proust’s In Search of Lost Time is Josipovici’s keenest example and so it is appropriate that the first essay of his first essay collection The World and the Book is an essay on Proust’s novel: “the most subtle, tenacious and profound exploration … ever undertaken” of the relation between the writer and what is written. Still, I feel this is aspect of fiction requires more attention than What Ever Happened to Modernism? is prepared or able to give it, to become the overt subject of a book rather than left to the margins. But perhaps this is why Josipovici writes fiction and why we should turn to his novels and short stories for more. The new collection Heart’s Wings and Other Stories is an ideal place to start.