A Connoisseur of Non-Time

He saw a film a day, sometimes two. He became a connoisseur of the non-time that preceded the  films themselves, especially in small cinemas where there were no advertisements or previews, where the audience was made up of four or five people, all of them alone. It is easy to see why, in films, fugitives and wanted men went to the cinema: not just to hide in the dark but because these intervals between performances were out of time. To all intents and purposes you might as well not have existed – and yet, simultaneously, you were acutely conscious of your existence.

[Geoff Dyer – Paris Trance, 1998]

A Literary Renewal

The text below from This Space is a small excerpt of a terrific assessment of the work of Peter Handke. I urge you to read Steve’s quest to revive interest in this writer’s work.

When the novel was published by Methuen in 1989, with the paperback of the translation following two years later in the superb Minerva imprint, it completed a series of three consecutive clearing novels: it was preceded in 1986 by Across and by Repetition in 1988. All three are long out of print and a new work by Handke has not been issued by UK publisher since Absence in 1990. Perhaps this fact explains the reason for my sudden need to revive attention for these books and this particular moment twenty years on. The more likely reason is that I want to understand how a quiet, reticent book like The Afternoon of Writer can mean so much more than the overtly worldly and eventful novels that are published instead. How is literary renewal possible?

Whilst I await Across on its journey from a Canadian bookseller, I plan to read The Weight of the World, into which I have dipped but never completed.

Distant Cousins

Boring or beguiling, Berger’s writing invites reaction. Like his protege, Geoff Dyer, Berger is always discursive, roaming where inspiration takes him. Bento’s Sketchbook is a delightful indulgence (a folly in the original sense of the word), inspired by Spinoza’s sketchbook, an imaginary object, Berger uses it as a vehicle to meditate on art, people and politics.

I am struck with how succinctly the following excerpt captures the ‘why’ of book blogging (for me, at least), not that this is Berger’s intention. A little context: the narrator is unable to borrow The Brothers Karamazov from the municipal library as both copies are out.

I wonder who’s reading The Brothers Karamazov here today. Do the two of them know each other? Unlikely. Are they both reading the book for the first time? Or has one of them read it and, like myself, wants to reread it?

Then I find myself asking an odd question: if either of those readers and myself passed one another – in the suburban market on Sunday, coming out of the metro, on a pedestrian crossing, buying bread – might we perhaps exchange glances that we’d both find slightly puzzling? Might we, without recognising it, recognise one another?

When we are impressed and moved by a story, it engenders something that becomes, or may become, an essential part of us, and this part, whether it be small or extensive, is, as it were, the story’s descendant or offspring.

What I’m trying to define is more idiosyncratic and personal than a mere cultural inheritance; it is as if the bloodstream of the read story joins the bloodstream of one’s life story. It contributes to our becoming what we become and will continue to become.

Without any of the complications and conflicts of family ties, these stories that shape us are our coincidental, as distinct from biological, ancestors.

Somebody in this Paris suburb, perhaps sitting tonight in a chair and reading The Brothers Karamazov, may already, in this sense, be a distant cousin.

We Are Eternal

On this day of Rapture:

Jacques-André Boiffard – Bouche

We sense and experience that we are eternal. For the mind no less senses those things which it conceives in understanding than those which it has in the memory. For the eyes of the mind by which it sees things and observes them as proofs. So although we do not remember that we existed before the body, we sense nevertheless that our mind in so far as it involves the essence of the body under a species of eternity is eternal and its existence cannot be defined by time or explained by duration.

Spinoza, Ethics, Part V, proposition XXIII

The Tragedy of the Leaves by Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski’s poetry is new to me. ‘The empty bottles like bled corpses’ is stunning, but it is the closing lines that linger for hours: ‘and I walked into a dark hall where the landlady stood execrating and final, sending me to hell, waving her fat, sweaty arms and screaming screaming for rent because the world has failed us both’.

[Update 16/11/13: The concluding confrontation between Bukowski and his angry landlady in this early, gloomy poem, according to Howard Sounes’ biography of Bukowski, reflects the place Bukowski was living at the time.]

The Tragedy of the Leaves

I awakened to dryness and the ferns were dead,
the potted plants yellow as corn;
my woman was gone
and the empty bottles like bled corpses
surrounded me with their uselessness;
the sun was still good, though,
and my landlady’s note cracked in fine and
undemanding yellowness; what was needed now
was a good comedian, ancient style, a jester
with jokes upon absurd pain; pain is absurd
because it exists, nothing more;
I shaved carefully with an old razor
the man who had once been young and
said to have genius; but
that’s the tragedy of the leaves,
the dead ferns, the dead plants;
and I walked into a dark hall
where the landlady stood
execrating and final,
sending me to hell,
waving her fat, sweaty arms
and screaming
screaming for rent
because the world has failed us
both

Bukowski in correspondence with John William Corrington who published Bukowski as the American representative of a tradition of literary outsiders stretching back to Villon and Rimbaud:

‘Old Man, Dead in a Room is my future, ‘The Tragedy of the Leaves’ is my past, and the ‘Priest and the Matador’ is a dawdling in between.