A Personal Library

How did the plumber’s son, whose father never read a book in his life, come to have about 3,000 books in his collection? I’m not a hoarder. A book must have some sort of meaning for me, an affinity established, which usually can only come from reading the book, before I keep it. Though of course there’s the stack I have not read. Then again there’s the stack read and loaned out and never returned. And a few, held since high school days, open so crisp and dry the pages break. And most of the books are paperback. And the collection taken as a whole is probably not worth much. Though I do have a few books that might be worth something to collectors of that bent. A first edition of Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, for example, which a lady once offered $100 for at a garage sale back in the early 80’s. I said no, deciding to keep it. That $100 would have been spent on pizza and beer long ago, but I still have the book, somewhere.

With a bit of extra time on my hands these days, those close to me increasingly independent, and the pandemic still on (and off but on again), and with the easy availability and use of the Libib application, which I mentioned yesterday, I’ve decided to catalog the books, which are spread throughout the house in every room on shelves and bookcases and tables. The 3,000 is pretty much a guestimate, arrived at by counting the books on a couple of average looking shelves, measuring the length of those shelves, and then measuring the total length of shelves. Something like that.

Anyway, today I’ve added but one book to my Libib, spending most of my time reading through it rather than simply cataloging it and going on to the next book, and then distracted by writing up this post.

Here is the catalog info. for that book as I manually input into Libib:

Poetry

Book

Paroles

Jacques Prevert

1958 71 pages (City Lights Books, San Francisco)

Added: 

2022-04-21

Copies: 1

First published 1946, copyright by Les Editions du Point du Jour, Paris, 1947. First published in this edition: July 1958, by arrangement with the Librarie Gallimard. My copy is sixth printing February 1968. Number Nine in The Pocket Poets Series published by City Lights Books, 261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, California, U.S.A. 94133. Translated with Intro. Note by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (San Francisco, 1964). From the Intro: “I first came upon the poetry of Jacques Prevert written on a paper tablecloth in St. Brieuc in 1944” (3).

No status.

Libib has no category or input for how a plumber’s son came to possess the book. So that I will answer here, maybe tomorrow. I think for now I might enter another book, but first, for those who’ve read this far:

From the Prevert poem titled “Inventory,” page 54.

“One stone
two houses
three ruins
four grave-diggers
one garden
some flowers

one raccoon

a dozen oysters a lemon a loaf of bread
a ray of sunlight
one groundswell
six musicians
one door with doormat
one Mister decorated with the Legion of Honor

one more raccoon…”

Why We Read

“In the tenth book of the Republic, when Plato has completed his final burning denunciation of Poetry, the false Siren, the imitator of things which themselves are shadows, the ally of all that is low and weak in the soul against that which is high and strong, who makes us feed the things we ought to starve and serve the things we ought to rule, he ends with a touch of compunction: ‘We will give her champions, not poets themselves but poet-lovers, an opportunity to make her defence in plain prose and show that she is not only sweet – as we well know – but also helpful to society and the life of man, and we will listen in a kindly spirit. For we shall be gainers, I take it, if this can be proved.’ Aristotle certainly knew the passage, and it looks as if his treatise on poetry was an answer to Plato’s challenge.”

Aristotle: On The Art of Poetry (Translated by Ingram Bywater with a Preface by Gilbert Murray), Oxford, At the Clarendon Press. First Published 1920. My copy reprinted 1967 in Great Britain at the University Press, Oxford, by Vivian Ridler, Printer to the University. Oxford University Press, Ely House, London W . 1. 95 Pages. Light pencil marks by your student reader throughout, this little chapbook size paperback was used as a text at CSUDH, early 1970’s, Prof. Marvin Laser instructor. “Personal Library of…” emboss stamp on first page. The passage quoted above is from Murray’s Preface, page 1.

I’ve been experimenting with a book library app I recently found: Libib, a library management tool, used apparently by professionals and amateurs. (Any comments I make here on the app’s functionality refer to the Libib Basic, i.e. free, version). The app can be downloaded on mobile, tablet, and computer devices and they all sync. I first played around with such an app as volunteer assistant librarian at The Attic back around 2012. There we used Library Thing. Libib is cleaner, efficient, and quick. Books can be scanned via mobile device and barcode. Most of the books in my collection however predate barcodes and current ISBN formats, so must be manually input. If the book has been reprinted in some new edition, you can use that, but it won’t be the same book (edition, print, etc.) as the one in your library. Case in point, the Bywater translation of Aristotle’s “Poetry.” That problem could be workarounded by importing the newer version and then editing the information; alas, the app disallows editing of imported info. Nevertheless, I’m moving forward using the app, even though it means yet another project I’ll never complete.

No matter, what I’ve found is the app provides another purpose, that of perusing, browsing, not to mention dusting off, books that have not been touched let alone read in awhile. The app information can be downloaded into sortable files, should one have a need for such a tool. In any case, I’m currently happily stuck in Aristotle’s examination of poetics. Every page is like opening an oyster and finding a pearl. At random, this:

“The objections, then, of critics start with faults of five kinds: the allegation is always that something is either (1) impossible, (2) improbable, (3) corrupting, (4) contradictory, or (5) against technical correctness.”

92

Yes, I’ll take all five. It’s why we read.

Memoir

One might approach the memoir form, one’s own memoir, with a casual indifference, for no doubt everyone else will, while it takes a bit of faith to trust as total fact any stranger’s avowed remembrances. There’s also the problem of what’s to be left unsaid, for any deletion – deliberate, determinate, accidental – turns down the path of fiction, yet all of experience, the universe of one’s life from its big bang forward or the unexpurgated version of the time one visited (fill in your personal fave), will take way too long. Even Proust must have left some stuff out, and Knausgard, if for no other reason that they had not eyes in the back of their heads. It’s not what we remember, but how that fills dreams and notebooks. And most folks are quickly bored hearing one’s dreams recast in words over morning coffee. While the day-book or journal is not quite yet a memoir, often neither the what nor how of memory but the immediate reaction to a still unfolding event.

I’m looking into again Edmund Wilson’s “The Thirties: From Notebooks and Diaries of the Period, Edited with an Introduction by Leon Edel” (First printing, 1980). From the Editor’s Foreword:

“Wilson intended his journals to be edited as ‘trade’ books, not as scholarly editions; he wanted no scholarly apparatus and in particular no treatment of his text as if it were sacrosanct. Journals are written in the rough; and he knew journal keepers repeat themselves. He wanted his slips of the pen silently corrected without the inevitable sic and explanatory notes.”

xi

Fortunately for this reader, L. E. ignored Wilson’s want and provided copious explanatory notes as to who’s being talked about, why important to the era, and what’s going on around them at the time. Though Wilson also logs enough everyday observation to make notes unnecessary:

July 18 [Journey to the Soviet Union, 1935]. Rowing on the river at Marmontovka, Free Day – little curling river with grass-green banks, with people, largely naked, on the banks: they look better without their clothes because the clothes are no good – very nice to see them – blond girls with white skin, thick round legs, and big round breasts, boys burned brown except around the hips, where they had been wearing trunks, where it was comparatively white – bathing suits seemed to be becoming more and more perfunctory, they seemed more and more to be leaving them off – the factory, where a very rudimentary little swimming dock of planks had been built; at the end a dam and falls, beyond which you couldn’t go any farther, a flock of white goats; two men in a pup tent, a man in a shack; an elderly man and woman sitting on something, turned away from each other reading the papers.

574-575

I pulled Wilson’s “The Thirties” off the “now reading” shelf (aka books with bookmarks still somewhere in them), looking for parallels to today’s “The Twenties,” though we are of course only just into them. In a long note, Edel says “He [Wilson] could not see why the American leftists should not be as critical of this [the Stalinist regime] as they were of other tyrannies – Hitler’s, Mussolini’s, Franco’s” (714).

Of closer if not exact parallel is Irene Nemirovsky’s “Suite Francaise,” which begins with:

“It was night, they were at war and there was an air raid. But dawn was near and the war very far away. The first to hear the hum of the siren were those who couldn’t sleep – the ill and bedridden, mothers with sons at the front, women crying for the men they loved.”

3. First Vintage International Edition, May 2007.

“Appendix I,” which includes Nemirovsky’s notes taken from her notebooks, begins:

“My God! what is this country doing to me? Since it is rejecting me, let us consider it coldly, let us watch as it loses its honour and its life. And the other countries? What are they to me? Empires are dying. Nothing matters. Whether you look at it from a mystical or a personal point of view, it’s just the same. Let us keep a cool head. Let us harden our heart. Let us wait.

21 June [1941]. Conversation with Pied-de-Marmite. France is going to join hands with Germany. Soon they will be calling up people here but ‘only the young ones.’ This was no doubt out of consideration towards Michel. One army is crossing Russia, the other is coming from Africa. Suez has been taken. Japan with its formidable fleet is fighting America. England is begging for mercy.

25 June. Unbelievable heat. The garden is decked out with the colours of June – azure, pale-green and pink. I lost my pen. There are still many other worries such as the threat of a concentration camp, the status of Jews etc. Sunday was unforgettable. The thunderbolt about Russia* hit our friends after their ‘mad night’ down by the lake. And in order to [?] with them, everyone got drunk. Will I write about it one day?”

373, *Footnote 2: “Germany invaded the USSR on 22 June 1941.”

Graham Cracker

Graham Greene’s “Orient Express” (1932) is a mean-spirited book about human experience and condition, closer to Theodore Dreiser than to Evelyn Waugh, and not to be confused with Agatha Christie’s trip on the same train a couple of years later. In Greene’s book, the murders take place off the train. The writing technique shows the early influence of the cinema. A New York Times contemporary review from 1932 explains:

“Something of motion picture technique is used, with brief glimpses of the actions and thoughts now of one character, now of another, interspersed with the longer stretches of narrative.”

NYT, March 12, 1933

The characters are drawn from stock and the plot from Naturalism. Film endings coming as they do only an hour or two into the story, are unexpected and stir the emotions of the audience. Yet the threads are there from the beginning, and the wall could have fallen only one way as brick by brick is pulled out.

I read the “Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition” (2004), with an introduction by Christopher Hitchens (“Hitch” to his friends), which I would not read because I don’t like reading introductions, at least not until I’ve finished the book, because, like movie trailers, they give too much away, and because I never cared much for Hitch. I almost did not buy the book when I saw that Hitch did the intro, but I did, rationalizing I didn’t need to read the intro. But I did, buy the book and read the intro – after finishing the book. All of which is nonsense, of course. And browsing through the reader reviews on Amazon, before deciding to click “buy now,” I found a curious and funny one from a guy who didn’t like the book’s physical format – the uncut pages and the folded end flaps of the cover – folded flaps that are like the book covers used on hardbacks. But I like these features, and the book has a nice heft and feel to its pages, which feel and look printed instead of photographed.

Hitch spends most of his intro worrying about Greene’s use of stereotypes and trying to arrive at some sort of apologia for Green’s alleged anti-semitism. But Greene was probably following his bent. “Orient Express” is really about Greene’s own human predicament: his place and fit in time and class and mood. The narrator is also on the train, trying to avoid its preordained lineal descent or ascent. Like Hitchcock’s brief appearance at the beginning of his films, Greene is the purser in his first paragraph:

“The purser took the last landing-card in his hand and watched the passengers cross the grey wet quay, over a wilderness of rails and points, round the corners of abandoned trucks.”

3.

It’s a cracker of a book, crisp and salty, melts in your mouth, and leaves you wanting something with a bit of sugar in it.

F/Z 2: Doubt & Surety

In part 3 of his encounter with Zizek’s “A European Manifesto,” Jeremy Fernando returns to the question of the picture we have of another’s picture of us that is not the same picture we have of us. In other words, the question of art, tinged with doubt, the opposite of faith (62). We all have a particular picture of ourselves, more than one, perhaps, but, in any case, seldom the same picture others have of us. This is of primary concern to the artist who realizes his lack of vision inhibits the transparency that informs nature (i. e. the primordial picture). The painter of the still life bowl of peaches fails to see the molecules drifting off the rotting fruit, but captures the glossy black fly attending to the rusting red peaches with verisimilitude the critic who likes this sort of thing calls ultra-realism. Of course it’s hardly real at all. It’s a painting, oils that never completely dry.

To have put down yesterday a few of my thoughts on Fernando’s recent book (S/Z Jeremy Fernando: A European Manifesto Slavoj Zizek, 2022, Delere Press), this morning, upon reflection, causes me to pick up the book again and open to:

“…one cannot be sure not only if one has mis-read, over-read, or under-read, one cannot be certain if one has even read.”

63.

An “illegitimate” (63) reading, then. Well, after all, this is a blog:

Thus we can only impress upon our readers (all dozen or so of them, if we are a best-teller) our impression of what we’ve read. My impression is that we’ve no need to fear the monster. And to keep in mind always that the monster is precisely not Frankenstein. All art is science fiction. In fact, all science is science fiction. What do we think we are seeing when we look at these new photographs of scenes taking place in far far away space?

“Where what << Europe >> is, might be, could be, might well already be, is both from yonder, perhaps even beyond the pale, but at the same time – since it is named such – within its possibilities. Where, in response to ‘Was heibt Europa?’ [What is Europe?] one might posit, un pas au-dela [a step beyond].”

39.

The artist (the surety, the guarantor) assumes the responsibility for the debt of the reader who brings suit (calling upon his solicitor – i. e. the critic), as he surely must, for he can never get to the bottom of it on his own, yonder his own limits, beyond the pale, outside any jurisdiction. For the artist, who stands alone, is both surety and principal, the one who performs the obligation and the one who guarantees the performance, and the one who defaults, all three parties to the contract. What became of the reader? Lost in space.

To be clear: Frankenstein is the artist; the book is the monster.

Thus, while Fernando starts part three with questions about the artist, he quickly moves to a discussion of Adam and Eve and the question of the tree of knowledge, of good and evil, and wonders how either (Adam or Eve) could have possibly made an informed decision to eat of the forbidden fruit, since before that act they had no knowledge – they didn’t know what they were doing; as innocents, they could not make an informed decision – they had not reached the age of reason: thus their plea of nolo contendere. And they plea guilty to a lesser charge, that of being human.

F/Z

The book is a little monster, the text its mask. It will fit into your pocket, the deeper the bigger, where economy is a hole in one’s pocket. The tiny book is in. The small venue. Intimate. Indeterminate intimacy. Fernando’s imperative.

“…one has to jump straight into the story; even if doing so seems like we are merely leaping from one tale into another, feels like we are doing less than nothing. After all, we should recall Slavoj’s lesson that the classic scene in horror movies is the moment when the monster takes off its mask, only to reveal that under the mask lies exactly the same face.”

54, S/Z Jeremy Fernando: A European Manifesto Slavoj Zizek, 2022, Delere Press.

To unmask the text is the work of Theory, influenced by algorithms developed in the Social Sciences, which replaced Freud. “What is to be done?”

One might begin, could certainly do worse, by reading Jeremy Fernando’s latest little monster, S/Z, a McLuhanesque mosaic that follows (explicates, explores, examines, includes) Slavoj Zizek’s A European Manifesto (first published in an abridged version in French as Mon manifeste europeen in Le Monde on 13 May 2021):

“My thesis is that precisely now, when Europe is in decline and the attacks on its legacy are at their strongest, one should decide FOR Europe. The predominant target of these attacks is not Europe’s racist etc. legacy but the emancipatory potential that is unique to Europe: secular modernity, Enlightenment, human rights and freedoms, social solidarity and justice, feminism … The reason we should stick to the name “Europe” is not only because good features prevail over bad; the main reason is that European legacy provides the best critical instruments to analyze what went wrong in Europe. Are those who oppose ‘Eurocentrism’ aware that the very terms they use in their critique are part of European legacy?”

11.

We are at the intersection of Zizek and Fernando, which is to say, there are no streets and no intersection. There is a path that runs (meanders, zigzags, convolutes) like a clear stream over profound stones through a part of the woods we may have never been before. We pass the huts of Badiou, Barthes, Derrida, Dufourmantelle, Kierkegaard, Cixous, Baudrillard, and others

“And by doing so, calls for a reading (lit) that is aware of itself as reading, that – by foregrounding its form, its making – quite possibly undoes itself as one is reading, is potentially under erasure (sous rature) while being read” (strikeouts added).

31.

This is what we do: Reading (23 to 42); Writing (43 to 55); Fainting in Coils (57 to 73).

“Which is not the standard call for multiculturalism – for that still maintains the notion of a single Europe, of a Europe in which many different kinds and types of peoples have to fit themselves into – but a more radical one that attends to Europe itself, that reads what it might be to be European. Bringing with it echoes of wideness, broadness (eurys), certainly encompassing many, but also a matter of seeing, of the eye (ops): of one that sees in the light of the setting sun.”

67.

Thus we arrive back to McLuhan, who explains the effects of technology on the sensorium, who might prefer going back to a time when, before the printing press, men were men and boats were boats (appropriated from another Mc in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”).

We take what we need, when and where we find it. We are building a map not out of the woods, but further in,

“Where, a true disruption comes through reading the notion that we are dealing with – responding to it, conversing with it, turning-with (versare) it, quite possibly occasionally turning it against (versus) itself, but never severing it, tearing it completely from its boundaries, its form. Thus, transforming it in a manner in which it is both recognisable, not-beyond, but also pushing it a step-beyond at exactly the same time.”

66.

Any number of syllabi might be created from this short Delere Press text (81 pages). Such is the depth of the footnotes. As an example, possibly my favorite:

“This line was uttered in a conversation about literature and reading – probably at a bar – with my old friend, Neil Murphy, in June 2006. During the course of the evening, Neil also reminded me that, << reading literature with your head is always a mistake >>.

32.

To find out (discover, uncover, read, listen, study, research, join the conversation), what Neil Murphy “uttered,” Dear Reader, please, you won’t regret it, get the Delere Press book: ISBN 978-981-18-1987-2
S/Ž | A EUROPEAN MANIFESTO .

The Myth of Syllabus, Cartoon by Joe Linker

An Avocado Grows in Paris

Another book influencing its predecessors is Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado, originally published in 1958 and reissued in 2007 by NYRB, which includes an afterword written by Dundy in 2006. The Dud Avocado follows the period young Sally Gorce chooses an expat existence in Paris over college, expenses not exactly all paid for by a concerned uncle, so Sally’s survival, such as it is, depends also on chance, her wit, new acquaintances, and part time gigs, including as an actress in a small theatre. The precursors include the Hemingway of The Sun Also Rises, Scott Fitzgerald and Lost Generation company, and other coming of age in Paris tall or short tales.

The characteristics of Dundy’s book include wit, sarcasm and satire, humor. As an example, consider this section which follows the thoughts of a wealthier (than Sally) English woman:

“We sat at the cafe until lunch time. A couple, two English people, sat down at the table next to ours just in time to see the Bullfighter and all his pals get into a shiny lavender Cadillac and drive off in a blaze of flashing chrome. The woman, a large Junoesque creature with a sensationally unhappy expression on her face, had slapped on an enormous pair of sunglasses as he came out and had been studying him intently. Suddenly she turned to her companion. ‘Well, there’s another dream gone down the drain – he must be every bit as high as my waist,’ she announced sullenly. ‘He really looks such a boring little man, doesn’t he, so utterly clueless in these revolting American clothes, I can’t think why we’re going to do this picture. Basil wants us all to go down to San Sebastian to watch him on Sunday but I don’t think I’ll bother.'”

p. 178-179 NRYB 2007 edition

The above excerpt could have been a short story written by Hemingway had Ernest stayed in Paris and become a French theorist in the 1950’s instead of continuing to take himself seriously and move his feast to, I don’t know, Idaho. Anyway, Sally continues listening to the remarkably disenchanted woman as she complains about the noise on her morning plane ride into Paris:

“‘I suppose it simply doesn’t occur to some people that one might be trying to recover from the night before.’ She took a large gulp of her drink. ‘I’d quite like to see the bullfight though, wouldn’t you? I do adore cruelty. Everybody back home’s too dreary, going on and on about the horses. Papa’s forbidden me across the threshold if I go to one. Can you believe it? That’s an added incentive.'”

179

During her stay, Sally loses, or has stolen, or both, her passport, and the plot thickens as a result, and one might recall Casablanca and the difficulty of obtaining transit papers, which, today, might include letters from one’s doctor certifying Covid free status before boarding, and again, one presumes, after landing?

Ah, the vicarious joys of reading, where one need not wear a mask or worry about the breath of one’s travel mates or show documents prior to entry. Speaking of the joys of reading, enclosed please find a pic from my recent Fall reading stack. I continue to be drawn to women writers of the mid 20th Century, most recently having discovered Elizabeth Bowen and Elizabeth Taylor. Natalia Ginzburg’s writing in style and substance remains untouchable, essays and fiction and her mix of the two. The Muriel Barbery I came across in a briefly mentioned review in The New Yorker and having enjoyed The Elegance of the Hedgehog bought it and liked it enough to send a copy to one of my sisters, the one who had recommended Hedgehog to me. What goes around comes around. Friedrich Reck’s Diary of a Man in Despair, in the stack, remains unread. I bought it some time ago, before the general despair now enveloping us all. The Cello Suites I’ve already mentioned – a gift from one of my other sisters. I was going to write up a post briefly mentioning each of the books finished this Fall. Maybe I just did. Anyway, if you find yourself on the way to Paris one of these days, you might consider taking along a copy of Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado. And keep an eye on your passport.

Fall Reading 2021

The Reading Crisis Revisited: Amazon and the Gatekeepers Against the Wall

Mark McGurl has a new book out. I enjoyed and reviewed his previous book “The Program Era,” here, and his new work, “Everything and Less: The Novel in the Age of Amazon,” which appears to revive the Reading Crisis theme I first started following over at Caleb Crain’s site, is reviewed by Benjamin Kunkel in a recent Bookforum post: Sense and Saleability: How Amazon changed the way we read. After reading the Kunkel review, I don’t feel I need to read the new McGurl take.

First, it’s still too early to say what’s really going on or how dramatically it’s affected our reading, particularly the reading of the common reader (who seems to persist, in spite of the odds). Second, Mcluhan, who explains the effects of the printing press, and predicts a long time ago now the current reading crisis (not to mention a plethora of other ideas), I still find more convincing. And while McLuhan did not personally look forward to the changes in literacy his theories explained or predicted, he didn’t necessarily feel the world would be a worse place as a “global village.”

In any case, if I’m reading Kunkel correctly, what today’s gatekeepers seem to want protecting turns out to have been cut off only in its infancy:

Between the Great Recession and 2019, the number of undergrads majoring in English shrank by more than a quarter, and it’s difficult to imagine the pandemic has reversed the trend. Meanwhile, over approximately the same dozen years, professors in English and other literature departments have more and more bent their attention away from the real or alleged masterpieces that formed the staple of literature courses ever since the consolidation of English as a field of study in the 1930s, and toward more popular or ordinary fare. Sometimes the new objects of study are popular books in that they belong to previously overlooked or scorned genres of “popular fiction,” such as crime novels, sci-fi, or horror: this is popularity from the standpoint of consumption. And sometimes they are popular books in the different sense that they are written, in huge quantities, by authors with few if any readers, whatever the genre of their work: this is popularity from the standpoint of production.

Bookforum, Dec/Jan/Feb 2022

Theory and the Social Sciences, not to mention Reagan as governor of California ruining a good thing for the children of laborers who might have somehow discovered literature in the 50’s and 60’s and where McGurl now sits as public intellectual gatekeeper at Stanford, presumably with small cohorts of readers filling sandbags, had already altered how we read and precipitated the slide of the English Major, still a baby if born as recently as 1930. Amazon has not changed anything, at least not having to do with literature.

Meantime, James Lardner posts a recent Gatekeeper entry on the New Yorker online site, lamenting and lambasting the so called for profits (as if schools like the factory at UCLA pumping out Phds in the 60’s and 70’s is not de facto a for profit).

But not all English majors are created equal, and this one wishes he would have become a plumber like his father (having never read a book, good or bad) wanted him to become. And then he wouldn’t be sitting here writing a post no one will read on a subject few care about when he should be down in the basement checking that the plumbing didn’t freeze last night.

“pond”

(Pond, by Claire-Louise Bennett, Riverside Books, 2016, originally published in Ireland by Stinging Fly Press, 2015, 195 pages)

There are thirty snippets of “Praise for Pond,” cutlets from big and small zines and papers (and authors selected or solicited for blurbs) on and offline, from reviews, presumably, four full pages of front matter, mostly adjectives and adverbs describing the author’s (Claire-Louise Bennett, Riverside Books, 2016, originally published in Ireland by Stinging Fly Press, 2015, 195 pages) “prose… mind…debut…sensibility”:

  1. sharp, funny, and eccentric;
  2. dazzling…and daring;
  3. unnerving…sensitive…porous…lucid, practical…cognizant;
  4. ardent, obsessive-compulsive, a little feral…kookily romantic;
  5. innovative, beguiling…meditative…fresh;
  6. witty;
  7. dreamlike…startling;
  8. attentive…baroque and beautiful;
  9. stunning;
  10. cool, curious…intense;
  11. elegant and intoxicating;
  12. fascinating…immersive…readable;
  13. exhilarating…comfortable…confident;
  14. deceptively simple…unsettled…formidably gifted;
  15. strange;
  16. muddiness…deliberate and crisp;
  17. sharp…discursive;
  18. weird;
  19. impressive;
  20. compelling;
  21. quirky…opinionated;
  22. inventive;
  23. believable…dazzling;
  24. captivating…wonderful;
  25. quiet and luxurious;
  26. ablaze;
  27. absorbing, compassionate;
  28. distinct;
  29. provocative;
  30. wry.

But I will add that what Bennett requires of her reader is patience, the kind of indulgence one might assume will not make for a popular reading, yet here it is, an “eccentric debut…of real talent.”

The common reader might already suspect we are in for deep waters in “pond” when we see the page that comes after the list of twenty titles in the table of contents, quotes from Nietzsche (The Birth of Tragedy), Natalia Ginzburg (“A Place to Live”), and Gaston Bachelard (The Poetics of Space). I can’t explain why the titles of the Nietzsche and Bachelard books are placed in italics (in the Riverside paperback copy under review – i.e. the one I read, the first American edition, and have posted a pic of above, sitting in the kitchen nook window looking out on the wet yard as I type) while the title of the Ginzburg book is placed within quote marks. But, as it happens, the book I finished just prior to opening “pond,” coincidentally, (and I don’t really know if it should be typed as “pond,” “Pond,” or “POND”; or pond, Pond, or POND) was a Natalia Ginzburg book: “Family and Borghesia” (nyrb reissue, 2021), a very different kind of book from “Pond,” though similar in its wanton flow of words and focus on detail (how’s that for blurbing?). Moreover, as I looked up “patience,” wondering if it was the right word, appropriate and all that, for where I wanted to put it, adding my own descriptive, albeit with a noun, to the thirty clips, knowing full well it will never nor would have made the cut, I came across this sample sentence to illustrate the use of “indulgence”:

“Claire collects shoes—it is her indulgence” (Google dictionary, Oxford languages).

I don’t collect shoes, nor, I suspect, does Claire-Louise Bennett, who apparently lives or lived during the making of POND on the Atlantic Coast of Ireland in a small stone hut of some kind, again, apparently, as I put together a few clues from the book as well as from rummaging around. I live on the Pacific Coast of the US, not within a stone’s throw of the water, anymore, but close enough to enjoy the waterlogged winters of the Pacific Northwest, about ninety miles away from the big pond as the roads go, about seventy miles for the birds, assuming they take a direct route over or through the passes of the Coast Range. The coordinates for Galway are 53.2707° N, 9.0568° W; while for Cannon Beach, Oregon are 45.8918° N, 123.9615° W. It’s currently (as I type) 44 degrees in Galway and wet at 8pm, a bit of wind maybe a bit of sun tomorrow to close a rainy week and start a new one; while at the Oregon coast it’s wet and 47 degrees finishing the morning with a high wind warning in place for this evening to close a wet week and start a new one. That’s not to say living on the Pacific coast of the US is anything like living on the Atlantic coast of Ireland. Except that, we both get our weather for the most part from our close proximity to what some call wild oceans.

In any case, I very much enjoyed reading “pond,” and thought I might put up a post from another West Coast of rivers and streams dampness and moss and ponds and puddles galore:

“aplenty
in abundance
in profusion
in great quantity
in large numbers
by the dozen
to spare
everywhere
all over (the place)
a gogo
by the truckload
by the shedload”
(Google dictionary)

I think galore is the descriptive word I’ll end this review (if, indeed, it can be called that, and, if not, I don’t know what) of “Pond” with.

Claire-Louise Bennett’s “Pond” presents writing galore.

Notes on Earliest Parietal Art

A Science Bulletin article, available online 10 September 2021, titled “Earliest parietal art: Hominin hand and foot traces from the middle Pleistocene of Tibet,” provides an opportunity to consider definitions and purposes of art. The article discloses and describes what appears to be the discovery of the oldest known evidence of human art, from over a million years ago, much further back than any previous find, and probably made by children.

To ask the question what is art and attempt an answer is to engage in an argument of definition. The scientists involved in the recent discovery outline a kind of argument of stipulation; that is, in the example being discussed, for something to be considered art, it must include mimesis. It must be “a copy of something else.” And that copy is taken out of its natural context and given a new birth:

The Tibetan art-panel meets this basic criterion, but with its own flourishes. The placement of the prints is not as they would naturally occur, with tracks spaced by movement, or hands placed to stabilize [4]; rather, the artist has taken a form that was already known through lived experience (i.e., the artist presumably having seen their own footprints), and took that form (the footprint) and reproduced it in a context and pattern in which it would not normally appear. This is made even clearer by the addition of the handprints, which are not commonly seen in lived experience.

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scib.2021.09.001

According to the definition of art built into the article, the object of art need not be something an audience bows to in reverence. The skill required to make the artwork is not as important as the intention of the maker that the work be “received as art.” The purpose of the work might be “enjoyment, fun or decoration.” The article uses the example of contemporary parents displaying a child’s work as art, even if “tentative artistic endeavours as art.” The authors argue the prehistoric art panel satisfies all of those conditions.

There are other important implications and conclusions of the discovery and analysis of the hand and foot prints (a human presence not expected on the Tibetan Plateau so long ago, for example). But the insistence of calling the panel art seems to distinguish this discovery from that of some other remote relic or fossil find.

What is art that does not free us from the existential cages into which we are born – distraction, deceit, knickknack; advertisement, marketing, sales? In short, propaganda. The artist deviates, moves on, leaves, wanders, wonders, is born again, an outsider, without a comfort zone. Even to just want to be an artist might suggest a kind of alienation, isolation, irrelevance – playing an instrument out of time and pocket. To turn art into a practice is craft, which is fidelity. Art is what is born again, a reassembling of experience, a repurposing of predicament. A pastime, when we had time on our hands.

The word primitive does not appear in the “art panel” article of foot and hand prints. This may be read as a sidestepping or a deliberate absence from the definition. Seen as art, the prints develop their own place of permanence and value without reference to a hierarchy of skill level, training or education, or complexity of instrument. The body parts are at once the form and content and implement of the art work. And it is the arrangement of those parts, the rearrangement in an unexpected pattern or rhythm or placement, that fulfills the necessary characteristics of a work of art.

I’ve been making art with my granddaughters since they were toddlers. I’ve put together a collage here of pieces, adding a few other pics on topic:

Out of Key

Badinage

“Out of key with his time,” Pound wrote, recognizing what might be said, regardless of form, is relegated in time, if not immediately, to the dustheap of the wasteland of the “botched civilization.” What was he trying to save? He had fallen out, had a falling out, and now has fallen even further. “Wrong from the start,” he said. Not to mention the end, the end of ages.

Only as commodity does art (music, poetry, sculpture) find its audience which values what the gatekeeper says. While art that is profane, outside the edifice, plays in the pocket, in key with its time.

We thought that had all been resolved by the Beats, where jazz and oral poetry, improvisation and play, not in big halls or while wearing wigs of beauty, but in the dive bars and rundown cafes in the skidrow of literature.

“…brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back…” (Joyce, FW).