Douceur

Quote

Douceur: from sweetness to delight to pleasure to slowness to softness to mildness to languor to tenderness to civility to smoothness. It is useless to try to circumscribe what, at different times, for different people, that word contained . . . History after the French Revolution is the history of progress devoid of the patina of douceur . . . After the Revolution, progress forgets sweetness . . . When the very memory of sweetness is eliminated, when all history becomes son et lumière and no longer cohabitation with protective shadows, then certain well-meaning expressions begin to appear (“leisure time,” “quality of life”), just as people began to talk about “landscape” after nature had already been disfigured . . . Douceur is the patina that is spread over life, that makes it liveable—the dust on the butterfly’s wings. Producing it requires slow, careful alchemy, long simmering, a gentle heat. But this is nonetheless a fire, which ultimately seeks to kill.’

The Ruin of Kasch, Roberto Calasso (trans. William Weaver and Stephen Sartarelli)

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]

Forthcoming Books I’m Looking Forward to Reading

  1. Roberto Calasso, The Unnamable Present
  2. Laura Nasrallah, Archaeology and the Letters of Paul
  3. Jan Zwicky, The Experience of Meaning
  4. Yiyun Li, Where Reasons End
  5. Olga Tokarczuk, The Books of Jacob
  6. Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Anarchy’s Brief Summer
  7. Simon Critchley. Tragedy, the Greeks and Us
  8. Dan Gretton, I You We Them
  9. Clarice Lispector, The Besieged City
  10. Simone de Beauvoir, Diary of a Philosophy Student: Volume 2, 1928-29
  11. Annie Ernaux, Happening
  12. Moyra Davey, Moyra Davey
  13. Claudio Magris, Snapshots
  14. Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness (Sarah Richmond’s translation)
  15. Kate Zambreno, Appendix Project
  16. Christina Hesselholdt, Vivian
  17. Enrique Vila-Matas, Mac and His Problem
  18. Theodor Adorno, Notes to Literature
  19. Geoffrey Hill, The Book of Baruch by the Gnostic Justin

Engaging with a Book

There are, I suppose, two ways to read a book. Perhaps many more. I tend to inhabit a book, giving rein to a flight of imagination that affords me the opportunity to see through the eyes of a character. Others, I imagine, spectate from afar like viewers at a puppet show.

I read Christa Wolf’s No Place on Earth twice recently, a kind of double reading on the first occasion, when I read it straight through and started again at the beginning and read it straight through again without a break. It is the sort of book that I’ll read five or six times, and still be ready to read again.

Observing a writer’s world through their eyes, or sometimes, just the eyes of a particular character, can be so ineffable, so very fertile, that I wish to prolong the encounter for as long as is possible. Another time, reading a book like Max Frisch’s Homo Faber, the view is unsettling, discordant even, which is fecund in a different way, but still worth drawing out, only to emerge after a double reading, anguished but purged

There are writers I wish to engage with to the greatest extent, seeking out all they write: stories, letters, diaries, everything. They offer a rare chance to disturb in some small but permanent way how I conceptualise the world. It is the very best form of escapism, a boundary crossing, a chance to step over a threshold from one self to the other, not just intellectually but on a deep, emotional level. These writers that I set out to read to completion disengage me from myself, silently and profoundly. Who would I be, I wonder, without the alchemical transformation caused by writers like Dante, Christa Wolf, Denton Welch, Virginia Woolf, Mathias Énard, Roberto Calasso, Doris Lessing, Samuel Beckett, Kate Zambreno, Homer.

It isn’t only fiction that provides voluptuous literary encounters. When reading nonfiction, without that distinction between a writer and a writer’s voice, it is possible to develop what feels uncannily like a friendship. Such friends are Gilbert Highet, Walter Kaufmann, Plato, Hélène Cixous, Marcus Aurelius, who have each influenced my life for the better. This intellectual endowment, this gift that is reading, is transformative. Sometimes enchanting, not always comfortable or easy, but that is the nature of friendship.

Mathias Enard: Zone

All morning spent absorbed in Mathias Enard’s Zone; the same wonder at Charlotte Mandell’s translation as Shelley Frisch’s rendering of Stach’s biography of Kafka. Zone is better read in long immersive binges, punctuated by dreamy Bordeaux or grassy Sencha Fukujyu tea.

Enard’s circumlocutory thoughts, precisely paced over the long Rome-ward train journey, never falter or lose their pace. Sometimes with a book, you get that fortunate feeling that this book has found its ideal reader, or as Enard writes, “sometimes you come across books that resemble you, they open up your chest from chin to navel, stun you . . .” I love that word resemble, so close to reassemble. Both accurate in this case. After Zone I feel in need of reassembly.

” . . . too many things there are too many things everything is too heavy even a train won’t manage to carry those memories to Rome they weigh so much, they weigh more than all the executioners and victims in the briefcase over my seat . . .” That’s what Zone is about, but like Calasso’s books, it is also about everything else.