Powder and Dust


‘What are conflicts, what is the struggle for power compared to the meticulous, calm, even gentle victory of time against everyone?’

‘I can’t bear to live my life any longer, but the fact that today or tomorrow I will cross into endless death forces me to try to reflect. Because of this, because I must reflect, like someone who is thrown into a labyrinth is forced to seek an exit, even through walls smeared with dung, even through a rathole; this is the only reason I still write these lines.’

‘After I’m dead, my tomb, my cranny, will continue to float in the black fog, the solid fog, ferrying nowhere these pages which no one will read. But in them is finally . . . everything. I have written a few thousand pages of literature—powder and dust. Intrigues masterfully conducted, marionettes with electrifying grins, but how to say anything, even a little bit, in this immense convention of art? You would like to turn the reader’s heart inside out, but what does he do? At three he’s done with your book, at four he takes up another, no matter how great the book you placed in his hands. But these ten, fifteen pages, they are a different matter, a different game. My reader now is no one else but death. I even see his black eyes, humid, attentive like a young girl’s, reading as I fill up the page, line after line. These pages contain my scheme for immortality.’

‘For the following several weeks I sensed the terror of beginning to discern, albeit subconsciously, some vistas which disappeared toward a space other than the bourgeois world which, after all, we inhabited, even if softly hued by art’s posturing.’

‘Each one’s individual Death, the dark twin born at the time of birth.’

Mircea Cărtărescu, Nostalgia. (Trans. Julian Semilian)

A Year End Post of Sorts

Mircea Cărtărescu’s Nostalgia is a world in miniature, and also, a people. In fervent minds such as Maria Gabriela Llansol’s and his, ideas come together from will to achievement to produce an extraordinarily rich vision, a higher synthesis in which contrasting ideas come forth to forge an incomparable unity. Like every brilliant work, Nostalgia and Llansol’s Geography of Rebels trilogy need nothing. The tone and flavour of their work makes allusions to art that has gone before, but they are uniquely their own. Made of nothing but words they transmit  a vital atmosphere that seems freshly formed from nothing.

Of this year’s reading, a good year in which I’ve read several fine works that will stay with me for a long time, it is these two writers that give me both the passionate excitement and the contemplative rapture I find only from literature. Both stem the flow of time and leave me refreshed to perceive the world with altered lens.

I am reading Nostalgia again, so I shall begin the new years’s reading as I end this one. The list below summarises the books that stayed with me from this year’s solitary and mediative pursuit of reading literature. In Jon Fosse I think I may also have found another literary companion to accompany me through the dark forest of the next decade. I’ve long awaited a translation of Bazlen’s Notes and it was all I hoped it would be.

Fanny Howe, The Wedding Dress
Hermann Broch, The Sleepwalkers (t. Willa and Edwin Muir)
Reading and re-reading Maria Gabriela Llansol’s trilogy (t. Audrey Young)
Ricardo Piglia, The Diaries of Emilio Renzi: Formative Years (t. Robert Croll)
Reading Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle end to end (t. Don Bartlett)
Moyra Davey, Moyra Davey
Roberto Bazlen, Notes Without a Text (t. Alex Andriesse)
Thomas Bernhard, The Loser (t. Jack Dawson)
Jon Fosse, An Angel Walks Through the Stage and Other Essays (t. May-Brit Akerholt)
Mircea Cărtărescu, Nostalgia (t. Julian Semilian)

A special thanks to Andrei, keeper of The Untranslated blog. It is through him that I discovered both Llansol and Cărtărescu and, of course, to the bold translators and publishers that interpret these remarkable texts into the English language.

Literature is Teratology (Mircea Cărtărescu)

‘It’s true, up to a certain point I have been honest with myself, in the only manner possible for an artist; that is I wanted to say everything about myself, absolutely everything. But so much more bitter was the illusion, since literature is not the adequate means to say anything real about yourself. From the first lines with which you layer the page, the hand that holds the pen slips into a foreign, mocking hand, as though entering a glove, while your image in the page’s mirror scatters all over the place like quicksilver, so that out of its disordered blobs coagulates the Spider or the Worm or the Degenerate or the Unicorn or the God, when all you wanted to do was simply speak about yourself. Literature is teratology.’

Teratology, Merriam-Webster defines as ‘the study of malformations or serious deviations from the normal type in developing organisms’ from ‘ancient Greek word teratología ‘account of marvelous things, marvelous tales.’

It’s a promising opening to Mircea Cărtărescu‘s Nostalgia, translated into English by Julian Semilian. I’ll be slowly reading Cărtărescu’s work for a few weeks, following this with Blinding and the Why We Love Women collection. I came to know of his writing from Andrei’s review of Solenoid, from one of my favourite blogs of recent years. Deep Vellum are working on an English translation.

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]

Concentrated Exchanges

“The concentrated exchanges between Valéry “who does not forgive himself for not having been a philosopher” (Cioran) and Alain who may not have forgiven himself for not being a great novelist, like his beloved Balzac, are themselves components of a cardinal dialogue. Shorthand and the tape recorder have restored to modern philosophy some of the viva voce spontaneities and openness to questioning advocated by Plato. A considerable measure of Wittgenstein’s teaching survives in the guise of notes taken by auditors and conversations as recalled by pupils or intimates. On the banks of the Cam as on those of the Illissus. Even so mountainous a word processor as Heidegger propounds his considered views on language in dialogue with a Japanese visitor. The counter-authoritarian, anti-systematic tenor of twentieth-century philosophic instruction is restoring to orality something of its ancient role. Innovation, stimulus emanate from a Strauss or Kojève seminar. Disciples differ fruitfully over the master’s dicta and intentions. Already there is something dusty and self-defeating about vast magisterial tomes such as Jaspers on truth or Sartre on Imagination, treatises as monologue. “Dreams are knowledge” taught Valéry in his “Cimetière marin” and dreams tended to be brief.”

George Steiner, The Poetry of Thought

Steiner’s analytical reading of lyrical thought “from Hellenism to Celan” is illuminating to a similar degree as his Grammars of Creation, What I appreciate most of Steiner’s writing is not just his dissective interpretation of another writer’s thought but that he always responds with a rich meditation of his own in a way that often bears no relation to the original text, yet always comes with considerable creative force.