Dickinson’s ‘Enigmatic Presence’ (Maria Gabriela Llansol)

Quote

‘I can only sense that Emily Dickinson has just arrived, without being an intruder (. . .). I turned to Emily Dickinson, then — to speak is not inevitable; she worked without talking, and, by the end of the day, they had almost forgotten she existed; there could only be seen, rootless, the result of her work.’

Maria Gabriela Llansol, from Um Falcão no Punho, (1985)

‘Llansol also links Emily Dickinson to the Brontë sisters: the American poet appears in her room after Anne, Emily and Charlotte have sent her an invitation letter to confirm their common interest in menageries.’

From The International Reception of Emily Dickinson, (2009)

‘It is no wonder that you are there, half-naked, leaning over what I write. You make a triangle with your legs, you stand on your foot, but not as a ballerina. (. . .) But if you lay down a foot on my breast and raise your arms, letting your hair fall down, I think it is a writing foot split into fingers, searching for my emotion. Provoking me. In the end, I bit it. This is my retribution as a living writer.’

Maria Gabriela Llansol, from Onde Vais, Drama-Poesia, (2000)

‘We have no models, we have only precursors’

It would be easy for this blog to become a whirlpool, rotating obsessively around a small handful of writers that, to my mind at least, carve out a highly individual niche; perhaps a series of whirlpools that interconnect only at the periphery, and in doing so twirl off creating other eddies and vortexes. That sounds like a description of my reading mind. Two writers I keep returning to over the last few weeks, at night particularly, trying to understand why these two have captured so much of my waking and dreaming attention.

What is it that draws close the writing of Mircea Cărtărescu and Maria Gabriela Llansol? They are both European writers in the broad sense that they call upon a common pool of themes, myths and visions. Their writing appears, from what is translated heroically into English, to be marked by a transgression of genre, seeking instead to dance in the spaces between realism, magical realism, poetry, essay and analysis. Both writers summon strange figures to an oneiric imaginary geography, slipping in and out of the dramatis personae that is above all a way of constructing a form of hermitic autobiography. One could argue that their novels’ narrative fabric exists primarily as a device for reflection. There is also the space in which their stories function, bound not by a common conception of time but spatially, an amazing world where time sags and slows, dissolving into seemingly bottomless holes.

Both write in dialogue with ancient sources (the Bible and Ovid came quickest to mind) and also a strange world of literature that explores metafiction and intertextuality, inevitably hearkening back to old touchstones like Borges, Kafka, the Woolf of Orlando, even Nietzsche, and to writers I tasted and disregarded like Pynchon and García Márquez.

[The title of this post is from Roberto Bazlen’s Notes Without a Text.]

2019 in Review at Time’s Flow Stemmed by Numbers

There was a spike in blog readership a few days ago. Michael Orthofer included my blog in a post about personal-website/blog year-in-review/reading overviews. I don’t pay a lot of attention to my reading numbers and statistics these days, but prompted by Michael’s post, insomnia, and while trying to decide how to follow up Hans Blumenberg’s brilliant The Laughter of the Thracian Woman, I decided to run some numbers.

In 2019, I read 68 books, precisely my ten-year average. I don’t set reading targets nor particularly care how many books I read, beyond feeling decidedly mortal with a reading window that inevitably gets smaller each year.

There were writers I read more than once in 2019. Those listed 1-7 will continue to be part of my future reading plans.

  1. Karl Ole Knausgaard (6)
  2. Enrique Vila-Matas (3)
  3. Clarice Lispector (2)
  4. Maria Gabriela Llansol (2)
  5. Mircea Eliade (2)
  6. S. D. Chrostowska (2)
  7. Jon Fosse (2)
  8. Claudia Rankine (2)
  9. Virginie Despentes (2)
  10. Tomas Espedal (2)

The publishers that featured more than twice were (I don’t solicit or accept review copies):

  1. Dalkey Archive Press (5)
  2. Fitzcarraldo Editions (4)
  3. Harvill Secker (6)
  4. New Directions (3)

This year I am continuing to subscribe to Fitzcarraldo and have also subscribed to Archipelago Books.

Books read were originally written in the following languages:

  1. English (30) – 44%
  2. Norwegian (12)
  3. Spanish (8)
  4. Portuguese (4)
  5. Italian (4)
  6. French (3)
  7. Romanian (3)
  8. German (3)
  9. Polish (1)

Fiction was dominant at 38 books, although these boundaries are wonderfully porous these days, twenty-seven non-fiction (diaries, memoirs, philosophy and literacy criticism) and only three poetry collections.

Publication dates ranged from 1947 to 2019, with all but ten books published after the year 2000. This wasn’t a year for the nineteenth century or earlier.

Fifty-eight percent of the books I read were written by men. My ratio of male-to-female writers has changed markedly over the ten years of this blog, not by any particular design, just exposure to a wider range of writing.

Fifty-two percent of my reading was of writers I read for the first time. There is every year an intention to read more deeply of my literary touchstones, but inevitably I get diverted. I don’t expect that to change. Notably, this year marked my first reading of Mircea Cărtărescu, Hermann Broch, Mircea Eliade, Jon Fosse, Renee Gladman and Ricardo Piglia, each writers whose work I would like to explore further.

If I was compelled to narrow down the year to a single brilliant book, it would be Mircea Cărtărescu’s Nostalgia. I abandon books without guilt, so couldn’t name the year’s worst book.

Visitors to Time’s Flow Stemmed declined by 9% year on year, and down 27% from this blog’s peak in 2013. Comments (335 in total) declined by 28% from 2018 and 48% from a peak in 2017. Of the twenty-two thousand visitors to this blog, most came from America, UK and Canada, followed by India, Australia and Germany. That pattern is consistent over the years. In total visitors came from 156 countries.

Seventy percent of the visitors here came via search, mostly Google, with Twitter referring 18% of visitors. The latter is always a conundrum to me; while I’ve made some enduring friendships on Twitter, its addictive quality represents a serious distraction from reading and reflection. I don’t expect to find resolution anytime soon. My number one external referrer in 2019 was Seraillon (thanks, Scott).

Nietzsche – A Chasm

‘Because Nietzsche’s thought meditated on a lived experience to the point where it became inverted into a systematic premeditation, prey to an interpretative delirium that seemed to diminish the ‘responsibility of the thinker’, there is a tendency to grant it, as it were, ‘extenuating circumstances’ . . . For what do we want to extenuate? The fact that his thought revolved around delirium as its axis. Now early on, Nietzsche was apprehensive about this propensity in himself, and his every effort was directed toward fighting the irresistible attraction that Chaos (or, more precisely, the ‘chasm’) exerted on him —a hiatus which, starting in his childhood, he strive to fill in and cross over through his autobiography. The more he probed the phenomenon of thought and the different behaviours that result from it, and the more he studied the individual reactions provoked by the structures of the modern world (and always in relation to his conception of the ancient world) the closer he drew to this chasm.’

Pierre Klossowski, Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle. (Translated by Daniel W. Smith)

“I also think I have an affinity with [Pierre] Klossowski. Yes, no doubt, a great affinity of soul . . . I’d like to speak to Klossowski. But no, not speak. With a soul perhaps so similar to mine, it would be better to sit side by side in silence.”

Maria Gabriela Llansol’s journal (1979). (My translation). Her friend, Vanda, lent her one of Klossowski’s books, which provoked this response.

I spent much of this afternoon with Klossowski’s Nietzsche (Monoskop PDF), which may be the book Llansol found so compelling. His argument, captured in the fragment above, is sufficiently absorbing (and contrarian) that I must pick up a hard copy of the book.

A Taste for Extravagant Writing

Moi, elle – Man Ray (1934)

In Nostalgia, Mircea Cărtărescu writes of ‘fear, the attraction of the unusual, chance, the taste for things extravagant’. It is this oneiric quality that I am drawn to in his and Maria Gabriela Llansol’s writing. Both engage in ambitious renewals of form that obliterate genre boundaries and build totalising stories that are monstrously beautiful.

Stories that operate at the threshold of reality and dreams are rooted in Dante, Kafka, Borges, surrealism and oddities like Woolf’s Orlando. Myths, dreams and memories are interwoven to lay a collective path between the brains of writer and reader. Proust employs a similar image in Swann’s Way: ‘All these memories . . . I could not discern between them—between my oldest, my instinctive memories, and those others, inspired more recently by a taste or “perfume,” and finally those which were actually the memories of another person from whom I had acquired them at second hand.’

I am reading Robert Alter’s beautiful translation of Job while awaiting a copy of Cărtărescu’s Blinding. There is also the distant prospect of Solenoid, currently being translated. Perhaps my appetite for cryptogrammic writing that affords a way to interrogate my subconscious is a sort of trapdoor from the despair of our political reality, and if that is so I will have great need of it in the years ahead.