Some Well-Intentioned Reading Ideas for 2016

On the last winter solstice I posted some well-intentioned reading ideas for 2015. I always intend to read fewer new (to me) writers to concentrate on my old chestnuts and I closed gaps in my reading of Mann, Coetzee, Handke, Virginia Woolf and Sebald. Even the minor works of great writers display brilliance and this intention to read deeply and not broadly continues. I’m looking forward to new books from Anne Carson, Geoff Dyer and Jan Wilm’s Coetzee study.

In my year in reading post I wrote of the thrill of discovering Brophy, Welch and Espedal; each writer will undoubtedly make up some of what I read next year. I’m also looking forward to reading more Han Kang, Wolfgang Hilbig, Giorgio Agamben, Pascal Quignard and Ivan Vladislavic, all who produced books that moved me in some way this year.

Writers I don’t yet know but expect to sample in 2016 include Janice Lee, Jean Rhys, Werner Jaeger, Ivan Goncharov, Philippe Jaccottet, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Ingeborg Bachmann, Claude Cahun, Robert Gál, Yves Bonnefoy and Peter Weiss. There’ll be others but these are in my sights at the moment.

At the moment my mind is anchored in ancient Greece and Rome. My reading year is coming to an end with Giorgio Agamben’s and Monica Ferrando’s The Unspeakable Girl, a work of some power published by the brilliant Seagull Books, and Pascal Quignard’s Sex and Terror, which feels like the only book one could read after The Unspeakable Girl.

My inclination at the moment is to dwell in antiquity for some time, perhaps read Chapman’s Homer, which shaped Troilus and Cressida. I’ve acquired some Loebs and assorted ancient Greek plays that I may make time for over the Christmas break. Being overwhelmed by Troilus and Cressida convinces me that I must fill in some of my reading gaps in Shakespeare’s oeuvre.

The fault and glimpse of newness often leads me astray so expect distractions. If the year ahead holds surprises as great as Brigid Brophy, Denton Welch and Tomas Espedal I’ll be a fortunate reader.

Thanks for reading along in 2015 and for taking time to discuss books with me here, in person and on Twitter. I love little more than to discuss books so more conversation please!

The Unspeakable Girl by Giorgio Agamben and Monica Ferrando

To be sure, it is never language itself, language as such at work, but always am I speaking from a particular angle of inclination of its own self, concerned with outline and orientation. There is no reality, reality must be sought and won.

The statement above, written by Paul Celan in 1958, preceded his recognition that he wrote poems ‘to orient myself, to find out where I was and where I was meant to go, to create a reality for myself’. Such an undertaking is also typical of Beckett’s Malone, who writes daily ‘in order to know where I have got to’. This probing spirit seems to me at the heart of Seagull Books’ publishing project.

How else to provide rationale for publishing The Unspeakable Girl, this exquisitely beautiful book filled with dozens of images by Monica Ferrando?

Kore alla luce, pastello su carta nepalese

The essay at the heart of the book is by Giorgio Agamben, a thinker who fascinates me for reasons I haven’t fully understood, perhaps for his ability to produce work that endlessly opens the door for further exploration. In this book Agamben explores a story that has intrigued humanity since ancient times, that of Persephone or, in this case, the ‘unspeakable girl’ whose name was considered ill-omened because of its association with her position as Queen of the Dead.

The myth of the abduction and rape of Demeter’s beautiful daughter as she picked a narcissus (in the Orphic version of the tale) played a central role in the Eleusinian cult and Mysteries, a series of rituals that included fasting and drinking of Kykeon, a hallucinogenic  at the heart of these initiatory rites. The early Christian church expended much energy attempting to suppress the existence of the Mysteries. In the second part of this book Monica Ferrando presents her translations of Greek and Latin source materials.

The audience for this wonderful book, I suspect, is not huge, hence my love and respect for Seagull Books’ inquisitive and curious nature. Agamben, as always, but aided by Ferrando’s images and translations, opens up new pathways for thought into image philosophy, mythology and literary criticism, an encounter that compels wandering in further exploration. The exploration is interminable.