Job 21:23, Robert Alter translation
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.
‘God’s thundering challenge to Job is not bullying. Rather, it rousingly introduces a comprehensive overview of the nature of reality that exposes the limits of Job’s human perspective, anchored as it is in the restricted compass of human knowledge and the inevitable egoism of suffering.’
Robert Alter, The Wisdom Books
It started, this new year and decade, my reading that is, with the felicitious serendipity that always characterises my Sunday-amateurish reading. Dipping into Steven Moore’s The Novel: An Alternative History 1600-1800, which I haven’t read, but tasting its acerbic opinion thought it may be a good place to begin the year.
Sampling Primo Levi’s favourite texts in The Search for Roots, led swiftly to Robert Alter’s commentary and translation of Job, which holds the right of primogeniture in Levi’s anthology. It’s been my intention to read the Bible, as literature, more deeply, so I start the year with Job.
Characteristically though there are other texts clamouring for attention: Papini’s Dante (translated by Eleanor Hammond Broadus and Anna Benedetti), J. B. Leishman’s translation of the Duino Elegies.
As always I am curious to see where the year leads and determined, as Levi puts it, ‘to undermine’ my reading patterns and tastes: ‘a woodworm can find new timbers, or new sap in old wood’. Suggestions and ideas always welcome!
Happy new year to all who read my blog.