Thursday, July 16, 2009


“L’Écume des jours”


Verandah, cheroot, dithyramb, toss—
particulars of the start-
up set, rolling defectives
savvy’d out of thousands
by a generality that
dithers and paws, incontinently
jawing. Davy, Davy, Davy,
oh. With untrammel’d consequence
and ‘handkerchief of prog,’
(Congreve) oughtn’t we sovereignly
make off to Thule’s
bluish weather, bang a
big gong against mere
formal commandeering? The sky
flings back its aught-
cloudy whiteness and repose.
The world is out
there beyond its own
magnificent discords, stretching out
across sun-stain’d verdants
of lawn, un bijou
trumpeting the pickle
it finds itself in.
The fickle spirit prevails
only in the furious
mutuality of its pitch:
a wily incremental acuteness
against rank soldiery bluster
and relentless dull possessives.
My word. My my.
The light takes aim
at a chemise. Its
tautly-deliver’d drapeau screens
off to provide: rotifers
cartwheeling through pond-scum,
a Sikh at six
a.m. raiding the mulberry
tree, a fourteen-year-
old’s vaunt’d dexterity stymied
by a gut-ache,
tin saucer of moon
shining out of sky-
lather, its stop’d down
radiance unmooring the breath.

Finish’d The Skating Rink. A mystery how Bolaño cleaves to such a slender line between the fictional and not, so that all seems imaginary. One reads of the present made of “the supreme skating book, Saint Lydwina or the Subtlety of Ice, by Henri Lefebvre, in French, published by Luna Park in Brussels” and tries to untangle what’s “real” there, and nearly all of it appears plausible, existent. One easily learns of Saint Lidwina of Schiedam, in Holland, a Dutch saint who fell and broke a rib whilst ice-skating as a teenager. Subsequently, paralyzed except for one hand, the left, she suffer’d pieces of her body falling off, and continual bleeding out of mouth, nose, and ears. Some say her parents collect’d (and kept in a vase) the parts of Lidwina, and that these exuded a sweet odor. (Wild to see how the various details get dispersed, contort’d, amalgamated. Bolaño’s character Caridad is report’d to bleed spontaneously out of the nose, and barely eats.) (Bolaño: “There’s a sweet, rotting smell on the beach, as if inside one of the shacks, closed to the public until next summer, the dead body of a man or a dog had been left among boxes smeared with melted ice cream.” A remark that is deposit’d right “next” to a scene wherein several “elderly Dutch tourists” find themselves “heartily amused” by witnessing the somewhat cartoonish restaurant-ejection of The Rookie, a beggar, “A waiter picked him up by his collar and belt and threw him out, just like in the movies. The Rookie offered no resistance; pathetically compliant, he fell in a heap.”) (I recall admiring stray copies of the Brussels-based art magazine Luna Park in the mid-’seventies in France; “Henri Lefebvre” might send one off on a manhunt in a thrilling number of directions, the most obvious one ending up with the French sociologist and philosopher, author of the 1947 Critique of Everyday Life. “The more needs a human being has, the more he exists,” says Lefebvre, in savage taunt of humankind’s full-tilt evolution into a seemingly purely consumerist beast. As such, Bolaño’s sly citation, amidst the have-nothings of the campground, is both funny and complicated. Part of Bolaño’s appeal is how he sides invariably with the dispossess’d. (When Remo Morán, after discovering the murder’d ex-opera-singer, finds Gasparín and Caridad asleep in the ruin’d Palacio Benvingut, “wrapped up in ragged tartan rugs,” he reports: “Behind them, on the wall, above the single, magnificent widow, was the following inscription : CORAJE, CANEJO (‘Courage, damn it’).”) (One is remind’d, by Bolaño’s Saint Lydwina or the Subtlety of Ice invention, of some of the references in the works of Javier Marías, particularly that of the King of Redonda in All Souls and the dazzling complications of Marías’s “false novel,” Dark Back of Time.

Out of the Goncourt Journal: “A book is never a masterpiece; it becomes one. Genius is the talent of a dead man.” And Adorno’s crabbing about Goethe (and the biographical) in Aesthetic Theory: “The concept of genius becomes the potential enemy of artworks; with a sidelong glance at Goethe, the person back of the work is purported to be more essential than the artworks themselves. In the concept of genius the idea of creation is transferred with idealistic hubris from the transcendental to the empirical subject, to the productive artist. This suits crude bourgeois consciousness as much because it implies a work ethic that glorifies pure human creativity regardless of its aim as because the viewer is relieved of taking any trouble with the object itself: The viewer is supposed to be satisfied with the personality—essentially a kitsch biography—of the artist. Those who produce important artworks are not demigods but fallible, often neurotic and damaged, individuals. An aesthetic mentality, however, that wholly swept away the idea of genius would degenerate into a desolate, pedantic arts-and-crafts mentality devoted to tracing out stencils. The element of truth in the concept of genius is to be sought in the object, in what is open, not in the repetition of the imprisoned.” (Rodney Livingstone, translating Detlev Claussen’s biography of Adorno, revises that final phrase to read: “not confined by repetition.”) Question: are we, forty years after Adorno’s death, stuck in that “pedantic arts-and-crafts mentality,” “tracing out stencils”?

Odd to see Ron Silliman’s completely ga-ga (“most exquisitely constructed prose I’ve ever read—more lush than Proust”) reading of Tony Lopez’s Darwin. Judging by the lines Silliman quotes (after the usual malarkey of counting this and that—“eight of the poems take up four pages, while two take up three”—statistical buncombe), what is easily and immediately evident about the work is how much it owes to Silliman’s own (repetitious, die cut, scrapbooking) work of the last thirty or so years. So it seems marvelously self-serving to hoopla a clearly derivative chapbook with breathless talk of “my admittedly self-indulgent process of reading & rereading every paragraph over many times before heading on to the next one” or to point “up” Darwin’s “only serious limitation: it’s far too short.” The imply’d solution to the dilemma (there, like most of Silliman’s “subtle” hints, like a hammer blow to the head): for a “long, maybe even longer, than In Search of Lost Time” experience (“Golly, Mr. Silliman, that is long”), for “a text of infinite richness, endless verbal & social wealth,” turn to The Alphabet.

Theodor Adorno, 1903-1969