Sunday, August 30, 2009

Blanchot at Harvard

In March of this year I reported a unique sale of Blanchot manuscripts from a bookseller in Ireland. Now Harvard's Modern Books and Manuscripts blog reveals the whereabouts of the most expensive item.
Houghton Library recently acquired page proofs of Blanchot's 1969 major work, L’Entretien Infini (The Infinite Conversation). Blanchot seemingly did not preserve the records of his literary work; these were (according to the dealer from whom they were purchased) salvaged from a rubbish bin by the husband of Blanchot's long-time housekeeper. [...]

An article providing an overview of the new material uncovered in the proofs, by Smith Professor of French Language and Literature Christie McDonald, along with a brief history of their journey to the Library by Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts Leslie Morris, will appear in the fall issue of Harvard Review.
The blog also includes four images of pages with Blanchot's annotations. (Found via Site Maurice Blanchot).

Monday, August 17, 2009

Lord of the Files

John Carey's revelation taken from William Golding private papers, preparing the way for his forthcoming biography, is not the first time he has been involved in divulging facts about the author. In 1986, Carey edited a volume of essays in which the late Stephen Medcalf describes how a dawn spent alone at Stonehenge prompted Golding to tell him a secret.
It seems a good way to have begun a Sunday the rest of which was spent drinking cans of beer with Mr Golding. I protested impotently that my upbringing constrains me to go to church on Sunday: he protested genially that we all have these difficulties with our upbringing but must learn to overcome them. It was that day that he said – swearing me, since 'the discovery should go to him who published it', to a secrecy which with his permission I now break – that he had seen the carving of a Mycenaean dagger on one of those stones before it was noticed and generally proclaimed. And didn't he remark that the moving thing about Stonehenge is that while its proportions, its entasis and geometry make it a piece of architecture, the rain has worn runnels in it and turned it back to nature? I think he did – and it matches another remark of his about the possible etymology of Arthur, artos a bear, something black, animal and inarticulate which seems to convey one dimension of the Arthurian stories, crossed at right angles by the white light of the Grail – 'that's what all my novels are about, only no one has seen it.'

I suppose it is what he is about too.
From Bill and Mr Golding's Daimon, in William Golding: The Man and His Books.

Of course, while I accept this hardly begins to satisfy the extra-literary demands of Carey's disclosure, it is perhaps more relevatory in regard of Golding's fiction in which we are moved by what (in a cursory manner) may be called the crossing of the white light of novelistic architecture with the something-black, animal and inarticulate of what lives within. And it's the fiction we're interested in, right?

"A great popular movement that's growing all over the world"

Friday, August 14, 2009

Two unwritten books

Like George Steiner in My Unwritten Books, I want to describe two (and a half) books that I would like to exist but that, for want of dedication, talent and a private income, I cannot write.

Book 1: Kafka's Animal
For a writer with such an extensive catalogue of secondary texts, there seems to be no full length study of the animals in Kafka's writings. Yet their centrality to his work needs no scholarly excavation; it's there for all to see. Dogs, horses, mice, jackals and apes populate his greatest stories, and there are many more elsewhere. Less obvious examples could include the creature Odradek in The Cares of a Family Man and even perhaps the flight of stairs in an aphorism. This latter non-animal will take me to the vermin in Metamorphosis as the ambiguity of Gregor Samsa's species provides the angle of my imaginary book: the ambiguous distance between human and animal, or, more accurately, between the human and non-human. It's something I saw in the songs and cover designs of Will Oldham ten years ago (when he was still worth listening to). In tracing the theme's intellectual lineage, I would shepherd Nietzsche into my book encampment with this Kafkaesque opening of his 1874 essay: On the Use and Abuse of History for Life:
Observe the herd which is grazing beside you. It does not know what yesterday or today is. It springs around, eats, rests, digests, jumps up again, and so from morning to night and from day to day, with its likes and dislikes closely tied to the peg of the moment, and thus neither melancholy nor weary. To witness this is hard for man, because he boasts to himself that his human race is better than the beast and yet looks with jealousy at its happiness. For he wishes only to live like the beast, neither weary nor amid pains, and he wants it in vain, because he does not will it as the animal does. One day the man demands of the beast: "Why do you not talk to me about your happiness and only gaze at me?" The beast wants to answer, too, and say: "That comes about because I always immediately forget what I wanted to say." But by then the beast has already forgotten this reply and remains silent, so that the man wonders on once more.
In fact, Kafka's Animal would be a detail of a larger study begun by my MA dissertation "The Stillness of Midnight: experience and literary distance", a title itself derived from Kafka.

Book 2: Sunday: a novel
Imagine a novel like Dante's Inferno in which a liberal novelist is guided through the hell enabled and at the same time obliterated by his "buttoned-up, over-wrought, mannered prose" (quote from Ellis Sharp). It would be a road-movie introducing the fêted writer to those who died off-camera, in the absence of "his dismayingly bad book" (quote from John Banville). Again then, the theme of distance.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Secret note

After my death no one will find even the least information in my papers (this is my consolation) about what has really filled my life; find the inscription in my innermost being which explains everything and what, more often than not, makes what the world would call trifles into, for me, events of immense importance, and which I too consider of no significance once I take away the secret note which explains it.
Kierkegaard Papers & Journals pages 154-55.

Beckett speaks again


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