Friday, May 31, 2024

39 Books: 2022

"Hölderlin...asked only that we accept silence as the one meaningful syllable in the universe."

This line from Paul Stubbs' remarkable essay collection The Return to Silence is not an epigram to Marjorie Perloff's Infrathin: An Experiment in Micropoetics, but it might have been.

After being invited to talk about Eliot's Four Quartets, about which she is not overly keen except for parts of 'Little Gidding', Perloff wonders what accounts for their continuing popularity. She rejects their 'musical' structure as the reason because other modernist poets wrote fugues and quartets without such acclaim, and she rejects the Christian symbolism as not being especially original or memorable. Instead:

It is, I would submit, at the microlevel that the brilliance of ‘Little Gidding’ manifests itself. As an examination of the revisions bears out, every phoneme, every morpheme, word, phrase, rhythm, and syntactic contour has been chosen with an eye to creating a brilliant verbal, visual, and sound structure.

She asks us to consider the famous opening line "April is the cruellest month":

Suppose it were ‘April is the darkest month’ or the ‘harshest month’ or the ‘worst month of the year’? Would the effect be the same? And if not, why not?
The questions are disconcerting because while we can answer the second with ease, the third is impossible, and impossibility of definition leads to the title of the book. It comes from Marcel Duchamp's neologism he said can be defined only by example. Here is a handful:
  • The warmth of a seat (which has just been left) is infrathin.
  • Sliding doors of the Metro—the people who pass through at the very last moment/infrathin.

Others, Perloff says, "raise larger issues about time, space, and especially language": 

  • In time the same object is not the same after a one-second interval.
  • The difference (dimensional) between two objects in a series (made from the same mould) is an infrathin one when the maximum (?) of precision is attained. [sic]

In each case Perloff says "the case is made for difference, however minute". So the difference of 'cruellest' is another example of infrathin. This may sound like a variation of New Criticism's close reading, but Perloff distinguishes micropoetics from that practice because for the most part New Criticism concentrates on a larger meaning conveyed by "metaphor, irony, and paradox" and ignores "rhythm, sound structure, visual patterning, etymology". Eliot is relevant here again as he criticised Matthew Arnold "for being insufficiently sensitive to the 'auditory imagination,' namely,"

the feeling for syllable and rhythm, penetrating far below the conscious levels of thought and feeling, invigorating every word; sinking to the most primitive and forgotten, returning to the origin and bringing something back.

In the same passage Perloff quotes Eliot in a letter to Stephen Spender: "My theory of writing verse is that one gets a rhythm, and a movement first, and fills it in with some approximation to sense later."

Rather than go any further and address more of the content, which in addition to Eliot includes exceptional studies of Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, Beckett, and John Ashbery, I wonder if infrathin goes some way to help me understand the uncertainty in my experience not of poetry, which as mentioned in the entry for 1992 I tend not to read anyway, but prose works. Why is there a profound distinction between my experience of some works that are nominally the same, in the same genre, as others that leave me indifferent, wondering whether I should give up reading novels? Is it the rhythm and movement of a long prose work that connects those writers I return to despite differences in overt form and content, because they penetrate "far below the conscious levels of thought and feeling", that is if rhythm and movement of micropoetics can be applied to the macro level, a level that Perloff says cannot explain what makes Four Quartets so "intensely memorable", in which repetition and echoes invigorate a constrained and relentless attention across hundreds of pages, and which demand to be reread, as Perloff says of poetry that "can’t just be read and deleted like the most recent Instagram"? 

In my personal canon, Proust, Beckett and Bernhard, obviously, but also Gabriel Josipovici, in Migrations among many others, Rosalind Belben already cited in this series, and in Aharon Appelfeld's novels, which survives translation. A micropoetics then of sentence and paragraph, and more;* works that sink below the surface of habit, of genre, enabling us to hear one meaningful syllable.

 

*If so, this would also explain why those works described as poetic, promising a narrative seasoned with meticulous nuance, are invariably unreadable, clogged with arcane and fussy word choices.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

39 Books: 2021

I lived in Brighton for 30 years. One of the many painful aspects of leaving in 2021 was losing the many second-hand bookshops, all within walking distance. Many have closed over the years, such as Sandpiper, a remaindered bookshop in Kensington Gardens. It had a backroom in which every book was £1 and was where I found as-new hardbacks of Yaakov Shabtai's Past Continuous and SY Agnon's Only Yesterday, as well as the slim paperback of Sarah Kofman's Rue Orderner, Rue Labat. There was even a volume from Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics, but it was only the index. There are also cheerless memories of books seen but not bought that would cheer me up now to see: Jean Améry's On Suicide in Tall Storeys on St James' Street, and, back in Sandpiper, a four-volume selection of Luther's writings. Sometimes the price was prohibitive: in one of my last visits to Snooper's Paradise, there were the four small hardbacks comprising Heidegger's Nietzsche priced at £25 each.

For nostalgic Brightonians, here's a 2015 article* on closed Brighton bookshops, including Colin Page's, a shop I wrote about in my End of Literature series.


The nearest second-hand bookshop to me now is several miles away across a stretch of water and with a turnover of stock that can be measured by geological epoch. This situation is what makes reading Nicholas Royle's White Spines: Confessions of a Book Collector both a great pleasure and bitterly sad.

Royle travels the country in search of white-spined Picador paperbacks to add to his collection, which his Instagram account confirms is a long-standing and serious affliction. Like me, his eye must be trained like a bird of prey's to pick out particular spines among the mass-market paperbacks, coffee-table cookbooks and celebrity biographies. The vicarious thrill of anticipation is aroused on every page. On page two, he finds the Picador edition of Nomad by Mary Anne Fitzgerald that he thinks he doesn't have but says the pleasure he gets from finding it has no direct link to the book's contents, as he's unlikely to read it. For me there is always a direct link. In Bow Windows in Lewes, I found Charles Singleton's commentary on Dante's Purgatorio in the Bollingen Series only to discover that, like Royle with Nomad, I had one already. But I bought it to read. I don't search for various editions and have no urge to complete sets.

My pleasure and envy in reading White Spines may indicate the difference is an illusion. Mine is a collecting urge for the mind, perhaps even the soul, and concealed there, whereas Royle's is on display, described in nerdy detail according to cover design and industry formats as I might fuss over the singularity of one book or another. Both seek to shore against the incoming tide. A single book is on its own an example of collecting, of containing within defined limits a totality to which we have no access otherwise. To fill a white bookshelf with white spines facing out is only an extension of this, as is my folder of book lists. Walter Benjamin diagnosed the condition in 1938:

Since the days of Louis Philippe, the bourgeoisie has endeavored to compensate itself for the fact that private life leaves no traces in the big city. It seeks such compensation within its four walls – as if it were striving, as a matter of honor, to prevent the traces, if not of its days on earth then at least of its possessions and requisites of daily life, from disappearing forever.
            From 'The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire', Selected Writings, volume 4

For reasons Benjamin describes in The Storyteller, the novel appears as a cultural force as the presence of death retreats:

In the course of modern times dying has been pushed further and further out of the perceptual world of the living. Today people live in rooms that have never been touched by death, dry dwellers of eternity, and when their end approaches they are stowed away in sanatoria or hospitals by their heirs. It is, however, characteristic that not only a man’s knowledge or wisdom, but above all his real life – and this is the stuff that stories are made of – first assumes transmissible form at the moment of his death. Just as a sequence of images is set in motion inside a man as his life comes to an end – unfolding the views of himself under which he has encountered himself without being aware of it — suddenly in his expressions and looks the unforgettable emerges and imparts to everything that concerned him that authority which even the poorest wretch in dying possesses for the living around him. This authority is at the very source of the story.

In one of the charity shops now the only source of book-browsing, I found the Picador edition of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, and bought it because I thought it might be good to be immersed in medieval Europe and its theology. Instead, it was a bore. Nicholas happened to see a photo I posted of the four Picadors I own (five, actually, as I forgot Beckett's Mercier and Camier) and said he didn't have that particular edition. If you don't have it Nicholas, I'll be happy to send it on.

You can listen to Nicholas Royle discuss White Spines on the Rippling Pages podcast.

 

* It lives my head rent-free that this columnist also wrote that the BBC was "anti-Israel" and "pro-Palestinian". A closed shop of the mind.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

39 Books: 2020

It may be a sign of something that I read Louis-René des Forêts's Poems of Samuel Wood several years after reading A Voice from Elsewhere in which Maurice Blanchot dedicates three unusually personal (and often bewildering) essays to them. The book's title is adapted from a line on the final page:

If making a voice heard from somewhere
Inaccessible to time and erosion
Proves no less illusory than a dream
There is nonetheless something in it that endures
Even after it has lost its meaning
Its timbre still resonates in the distance like a storm
No one can tell is approaching or passing.
                        [Translated by Anthony Barnett]




The daytime sign displays the vagaries of publishing in that the essays where published in translation by a university press in 2007, four years before the poems were published by Allardyce, Barnett, a small press based in Lewes, just a few miles from where I sat reading them. It was only in 2020 that I discovered the translation existed.

The poems form a sequence similar to Four Quartets if one reads them as Gabriel Josipovici suggests one reads that sequence "not as a philosophical examination ... but as the narrative of a person talking to himself at four o‘clock in the morning". If Eliot's poem is about time then des Forêts's is about the outside of time, the other sides of life, dream and death. The narrator is haunted by a child figure seen in a dream, a mysterious presence Blanchot compares to the effect L'Inconnue de la Seine had on Giacometti.

There she is again standing smiling
Amid the asters and the roses
In the full light of her gracefulness
As proud as she always was
She is never seen except in dreams
Too beautiful to lull to sleep the pain
With such false changes of heart
Attesting to her absence.

No, she is here, really here
No matter that sleep deceives us
We must sear our eyes
Endure such sweet suffering,
Unhinge, even lose our minds
Destroy what would destroy
This marvellous apparition
Received as one would tremble
At the sight of a face seized by death
In the final glow of flowering.

"Thus the dream and the rational day pursue an unceasing battle", writes Blanchot.

Blanchot says that while he wrote his commentary "I closed my eyes to my fault, which lies in transforming the poem (the poems) into a prose approximation. There is no alteration graver than that".

These poems by Samuel Wood have their voice, which one must hear before thinking one understands them. [...] How I would like to be able to express the rhythm that…gives it a somber, sometimes solar glory–the sublime within simplicity–yet here, by these epithets, I stifle the voices that summon us and draw us toward the ultimate point.
                            [Translated by Charlotte Mandell]
This is the nighttime sign: the dream's revelation of purity becomes the impossibility of poetry, of which the poem is the account.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

39 Books: 2019

So much for this blog being labelled "the best resource in English on European modernist literature": this year's choice is a collection of lectures delivered in the early 1960s at the University of Zürich, published in English translation in 1970, with this edition being reissued in 1975 in the Fontana Library of Theology and Philosophy, at the time costing 65p, around £6 in today's money. What has this to do with modernist literature?

An answer may come but, in the meantime, it's notable that inexpensive mass-market paperbacks written by leading scholars in their field aimed at the general reader have since been replaced by expensive coffee-table hardbacks about science and history (and only science and history) written by TV personalities. The scholarly works that may be appreciated by today's general reader tend to be published with limited distribution by university presses, such as Cornell UP's Heidegger: An Introduction by Richard Polt, or by desperado publishers like Urbanomic with its superb compact edition of Quentin Meillassoux's The Number and the Siren, which I wrote about in the entry for 2012.

Why has this happened? Strangely, it may be explained in Luther by Gerhard Ebeling.


Before getting to the reason, it has to be admitted that series such as Fontana's have not always been welcomed. While allowing that George Holmes' Dante in OUP's Past Masters series is a "serious and sensible piece of work", Gabriel Josipovici added "in another sense it is a scandal":

No one reading it would ever imagine that Dante might be for him what he was for Eliot, what Virgil was for Donne. [T]his new series has never really asked itself what a past master might be.

Holme’s method is to try and trace the changes in Dante’s ‘ideas’ in the course of his writing the Comedy, showing how different the three cantiche are in their assumptions and interests, and how closely the changes coincide with the changing political situation. This is quite interesting to the person who already knows and loves the poem, but what it does is break it up and destroy the complex set of relations Dante has established within it, to reduce it, in the end, to little more than an ill-organised encyclopedia. [...] What it does is to ensure that hardly anyone will ever go from the essay to the poem, though quite a few will no doubt feel, having read it, that they now know what Dante is ‘about’.

As the subject here is not poetry, this should less of a danger, except the existential pressure of the subject for Luther was the same for Dante, so the stakes are still high. Ebeling aims to avoid releasing the pressure by drawing the reader "into a process in which we ourselves must share if we intend not merely to repeat his words, but to respond to them". It helps, he says, to recognise that Luther's thought always contains an antithesis, a "tension between strongly opposed but related polarities", for example between:

  • theology and philosophy
  • the letter and the Spirit
  • the law and the gospel
  • person and works
  • faith and love
  • God hidden and God revealed

Each polarity is given a separate chapter, but the idea of polarity itself is the one to which I respond, as these appear to be absent today, or rather unimportant, ignored, repressed, perhaps hidden under other labels. Ebeling wants us to encounter Luther as a linguistic innovator and says the polarised phrases he coined – theologia crucis and theologia gloriae (theology of the cross and theology of glory) – accurately express his understanding of theology. These are discussed in more detail in the chapter on the final polarity. Theologia gloriae is the "attempt to perceive the invisible nature of God from his works of creation" by which we can know only that belonging to the purely spiritual sphere. The God perceived by reason is a glorification of the world, but this knowledge is ultimately as atheism as it establishes "a harmony between God and the world...placing them on the same level and establishing a correspondence between them". Scholasticism and Neoplatonism are the main culprits for Luther, but for us we may see it as the coffee-table science writers, having taken reason to its ultimate destination, have no other recourse than to celebrate the natural world while alluding to the old polarities with titles containing Biblical metaphors. But polarity disappears, the words disappear. 

In contrast, the principle of knowlege of God in the cross is based on contradiction, the paradoxical revelation of God in its opposite form: "the infinite cloaks itself in finitude" with the "eternal, immaterial God dying as man of flesh and bone and oozing blood, in time, on a Roman cross" as Samuel Loncar puts it. For Luther, as the revelation takes place in darkness rather than in the light of knowledge, "everything depends upon the word and upon faith". If theologia gloriae equates in our time to the dominance of a humanistic, technical mindset (Holly Langstaff's recent book is a profound investigation of this in relation to the work of Maurice Blanchot), then theologia crucis may explain why contemporary literary criticism is trapped in a frantic oscillation between the purely technical and the purely cultural, both of which ignore the potential for a revelation otherwise. Ebeling says Luther was a linguistic innovator because "he had no other concern than to give proper utterance to the word". This should be the working definition for writers in our time.

Monday, May 27, 2024

39 Books: 2018

In spite of what I said yesterday about the decline in the number of novels I read each year, this year was packed with a variety: Australian, Korean, Austrian, Egyptian, German, Argentinian and, today's choice, Norwegian; that is, if variety depends on the country of origin. But they are all one thing, novels; diversity funnelling into an abyss of prose. No doubt we maintain such distinctions to avoid funnelling ourselves. 

And yet what I said yesterday remains true, as I don't recall anything, or at least very little, about these novels, as if I'd never read them, or that they were read without memory. Neither remembering nor forgetting, this may be the pleasure of reading novels.

Translated by Tiina Nunnally

T Singer is this pleasure entirely. His first name is never given, so the reader remains at a formal distance, his inner life and daily routine reported carefully, without judgement or apparent purpose. His life is without apparent purpose. He daydreams of being an author but cannot get beyond the first sentence. Elaborating on its simplicity, turning it into a story, opens too many questions of truth and necessity. Aged 34, with the story stalled, he becomes a librarian in a town called Notodden, hoping to remove himself from this life: "the feeling of being present in purely routine operations fascinated him". This is our fascination with the novel: disappearance, routine, another life. Even the town's name embodies the novel we're reading, and so all novels, conflating the English No and the German Tod, Notodden, the negative of death. And without death, no life either. This is why T Singer is a peculiar pleasure and curiously similar in effect to the first volume of Knausgaard's My Struggle in that nothing happens, or at least not what we assume must happen, so in effect nothing happens, but in that nothing happening what impends demands the turning of the page. It is both boring and exhilarating, unfunny and hilarious, horrifying and uplifting. Perhaps Norwegian novels are set apart.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

39 Books: 2017

The list of books piles up, thirty-three now, and I'm reading fewer and fewer novels. Not through choice, but so little of what's new appeals. Instead, this year I read and reread books like Peter Handke's To Duration and Once Again for Thucydides, both of which escape helpful generic labels, which could be why I read and reread them.

Another book I reread was The Poetics of Singularity by Timothy Clark, published in 2005. I'd read three of his books before this – Derrida, Heidegger, Blanchot; The Theory of Inspiration; and Martin Heidegger in the Routledge Critical Thinkers series, and knew for this reason it would be more valuable than the run of the academic mill. Clark gives clarity to improbable ideas without diminishing their intractability. 

This title appealed especially to a wish to understand why books such as Handke's stand alone. However, the reason may run counter to the motives suggested by compiling book lists, the progression of a patient accumulation of knowledge and cultural capital to be recorded, stored and deployed for social advantage.

Singularity names the specific being of a text or work, inflected so as to underline its resistance to being described in general categories or concepts. Its resistance may also be understood as upsetting the distinction between the realm of the conceptualisable, that which is masterable by thought.

Clark says among the best accounts of literary singularities is made in J. Hillis Miller's Black Holes from 1999, "black holes being known in physics as 'singularities', i.e. places where the natural sciences break down". In literary studies, this ties in with an essay cited by Clark that places singularity in relation to "a non-discursive, non-rational potential in language and signification". I wish I'd known about this when I wrote about black holes and writing a few years ago.

The idea of a singular work lurks in my antagonism towards genre fiction, especially that which plays with genre, though this demoralising commonplace reveals the common concern, the repressed concern, the generic concern, for singularity, the anxiety to distinguish by association, to appear by vanishing, by waving not drowning. But if there is something singular in a work, as a work, how does one approach it? My antagonism has passed through genre fiction and is closing in on review culture, if not also literary criticism in general, my own included, as it seeks to give breath to a singular work in a drowning discourse.

How can the unimpeachable critic aware of something singular in the experience of reading, the unique non-experience of reading, justify writing about it? When Thomas Bernhard was asked "to write something about Wittgenstein", whom he called "a thoroughally poetic brain", he said the difficulty of doing so was extreme:

The question is not: am I to write about Wittgenstein? The question is: can I be Wittgenstein for a single instant without destroying him (W.) or me (B.)? This question cannot be answered and therefore I cannot write about Wittgenstein.    [Translated by Douglas Robertson]

Bernhard even extends this to writing about himself, all the while effectively doing both. Perhaps from now on reviews can deny the possibility of saying anything about the book, or pursue what is non-generic, to establish the impossible genre, the genre of no-genre.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

39 Books: 2016

I love it when people announce that "if Shakespeare was alive today, he'd be writing Eastenders", or Game of Thrones or crime fiction, according to one and another variation. The innocence of the claim is charming, giving voice to the desperation to give weight to ephemera. But I doubt that I've missed the Hamlet of primetime. As Half Man Half Biscuit sang, "In kingdom of the blind, they say the one-eyed man is king. And in the kingdom of the bland, it's nine o'clock on ITV."

Gabriel Josipovici begins his book by outlining how strange Shakespeare's play is, easily ignored given the familiarity of certain scenes and the compression of the plot in memory. "[In] no other play of Shakespeare’s – probably no other major literary work – are so many key episodes shrouded in mist":

Has Claudius been legally elected according to Danish custom or has he usurped the throne? Is his marriage to his brother’s wife seen as perfectly natural by everyone but Hamlet, or do others share his feeling that it should not have happened at all and was in any case over-hasty? Did Claudius commit adultery with his brother’s wife or merely woo his widow? Why does Claudius not react to the mime, which is meant to reflect his murder back at him? Does Ophelia drown by accident or is it suicide? What exactly is the nature of the wager that Claudius enters into with Laertes over the duel?
But rather than apply answers from disciplines outside of the play, as is inevitable in our positivist age, Josipovici wonders if the "puzzles and confusions be seen as part of the fabric of the play, part of what the play is about, rather than as so many problems to be explained away". The fabric is compared to the folds of a fan, hence the title, drawn from Mallarmé's poem about Bruges cathedral.

For a fan is not simply vertical when shut and horizontal when open, it allows us to imagine…an absolute verticality and an absolute horizontality united in one object so small and light it almost does not exist – the very model of Mallarmé’s ideal poem.

When the fan is open, the plot is revealed in its entirety with all the puzzles open before us, as light as the object cooling our face, and when compressed we recall only inconclusive elements, such as Hamlet's angst, so small that the play no longer exists. The book therefore is a patient close reading of the unfolding. This is a helpful metaphor for those writing reviews of modern novels, invariably read horizontally.

Those who wish to identify contemporary Shakespeares may point out that one can see Hamlet's existential anxiety in any number of modern dramas, but in popular culture these tend to be contingent rather than representative. To appreciate Hamlet's condition, Josipovici compares it to the curse of perception endured by Kierkegaard's indecisive young man and Thomas Mann's Adrian Leverkühn: "the coldness that comes from seeing too clearly into the nature of things." Like Hamlet, they find themselves in a limbo between one age and another, which in Hamlet's case is when an age of superstition is coming to an end. To appreciate him and the play:

we need is to understand what it feels like to live in a world that, for all its brutality, made sense, and, in one’s lifetime, see it transformed into one in which nothing seemed any longer to make any sense and where all attempts to impose meaning were immediately subject to suspicion.

This world is familiar to us only in the consistency of its unfamiliarity. It's like each of us stands in the still centre of a centrifgue as contingent factors spin before us. It's curious that when I wondered about modern correspondents of Hamlet that the movie Synecdoche, New York came to mind and checking up on Roger Ebert's review I found that he uses Josipovici's term to describe its effect on the viewer: "The surface may daunt you. The depths enfold you. The whole reveals itself, and then you may return to it like a talisman." In fact, there are metafictional parallels with the play itself when Caden Cotard stages a play to make sense of his life and then he and we struggle to distinguish between act and acted upon. If Shakespeare was alive today, he'd be Charlie Kaufman.

Friday, May 24, 2024

39 Books: 2015

In the Spring of 1997, I visited a friend in Kassel, a city in the middle of Germany, home of the Brothers Grimm and Franz Rosenzweig, and not very far from Weimar, hence the visit to the Goethehaus mentioned in the entry for 1989. I hadn't heard of it before and nor had my friend until she got a job there. By coincidence, the tenth edition of the Documenta festival of contemporary art, which I had also not heard of before, was taking place, with Gerhard Richter's large-scale Atlas exhibtion showing at the Fridericianum and Joseph Beuys' das Rudel at the Neue Galerie, so we could add arts tourism as we rekindled our louche student lifestyle.

Unfortunately, bar the Museum für Sepulkrakultur, I don't remember visiting any other exhibitions and now regret not spending more time looking around. But the visual arts are a blindspot for me, as my 2006 entry explains. On the plus side, I did enjoy living there for a few weeks and treasure my souvenir Documenta X tee-shirt with its huge logo, although this wasn't ideal wearing in public later that year when Princess Diana died. 

I'm not sure when I discovered that Beckett had stayed in Kassel many times, but it was before I got there, as I studied the map looking for Landgrafenstraße 5, which is the address on the first entry in volume one of the Beckett correspondence, and sent to none other than James Joyce. Many years later, I discovered that the street name had been snappily renamed to Bodelschwinghstraße and I had stayed a two-minute walk away in Pestalozzistraße.

For many years after, Kassel felt like a secret between me and Beckett, so when I found out one of Europe's best living novelists was publishing a novel about the city and the Documenta, I was taken aback. The first-person narration follows a writer invited to speak at Documenta 13 fifteen years after my visit and comprises the comical convolutions of the circumstances of the visit and the "atmosphere of fatality" in Europe at the time that led him "to see the world as something now tragically lost" and, in unnecessarily long digressions, how this atmosphere relates to the avant-garde works on display.

That said, the lack of necessity characterises avant-garde art: "Everybody knows that most so-called avant-garde art these days requires one part that is visual and another that is discursive to back it up and try to explain what we are seeing".

Study for Strings was a somber installation, a simple piece that went directly to the heart of the great tragedy, the end of the utopia of a humanizing world. Philipsz had situated loudspeakers in an enclosed area of Kassel’s Hauptbahnhof that were audible to people walking to the end of that stretch of platform—exactly the same stretch on which a great number of Jewish families waited for the train that would transport them to concentration camps; from these loudspeakers came beautiful but devastatingly sad music.
           [Trans. Anne McLean and Anna Milsom]

If an arts festival held "in the center of Germany, in the center of Europe...where it was more obvious than anywhere else that everything had been cold and dead and buried for decades" demands anything it is to forget "the triumph of reason and the idea of progress in the age of Enlightenment", and to not-forget while forgetting: "Nothing could be ruled out in a place like Kassel, which, opening its doors to the ideas of the avant-garde, was implicitly rejecting any invitation to logic." 

While The Illogic of Kassel is exhausting to read, its length challenges my preference for short, aesthetically constrained novels. "Without cruelty, no festival" wrote Nietzsche.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

39 Books: 2014

One could say that Mallarmé, through an extraordinary effort of asceticism, opened an abyss in himself where his awareness, instead of losing itself, survives and grasps its solitude in a desperate clarity.

This is from The Silence of Mallarmé, an essay in Blanchot's first collection Faux Pas published in occupied France in 1943, translated here by Charlotte Mandell, the final two words of which provide the title to this year's book. The abyss is characterised by Blanchot as one that opens between Mallarmé's dream of a poetry of formal perfection so "prodigiously impossible that its realization would be the equivalent of the creation of the universe".

The essay is one of 170 Blanchot published in the Journal des débats between April 1941 and August 1944, a selection of which comprises Faux Pas, but those remaining were not collected in French until 2007 and not translated into English until these four editions were published between 2014 and 2019 (during which Fordham UP tweaked the design so that the title on the spines of the final two make for an inconsistent set, not to mention the logo).

The disaster of the first title follows the defeat of France, a defeat that for Blanchot opened an abyss of equivalent proportions, as Michael Holland explains in his introductions. Blanchot saw literature as "the purest expression of French civilization" and, while fiercely critical of Hitlerism and its racist ideology, he continued to review writers who associated with collaborators and anti-semites, "something extremely difficult to confront, and a source of profound unease" to modern readers, as the introduction also comments. 

Instead of dismissing Blanchot as a collaborationist, Holland argues that we need to approach Blanchot's writings at this time "as the site of a huge and fundamental change in Western values" in which "a new relationship is established...between literature and thought". If the idealised France of Blanchot's aristocratic characterisation placed literature apart from the demand of contemporary events, its defeat also defeated his concomitant ideal of literary perfection, turning "the silent retreat of the writer into a site of endless divergence and effectively suspend[ing] individual subjectivity":

Because in [Blanchot's] own mind the issue of collaboration and that of anti-Semitism had been clearly decided once and for all, it was of no interest to him whether a given writer subscribed to either or both, provided that in his writing, he recognized and responded to the disastrous ordeal onto which writing opened, and which for Blanchot constituted the sole reality henceforth. However, our consternation at this seeming absence of judgment is, I would argue, something that we, his readers can ultimately acknowledge and accept, in the knowledge that in 1942, the writer we expect better of is on the way to discovering an entirely new and original order of value. 

Anyway, Holland continues, there are examples of Blanchot's integrity regarding the occupation and offers some more himself with some detective work in the archives of the Journal des débats

In 2014, I did not write about this, nor any of the other three volumes, and do so now because the dates have taken on more significance. In 2015, Jeremy Corbyn became the first Labour Party leader with a meaningful record of resistance to racism and regime-change wars of aggression and, but for the machinations of the party bureaucracy run by his enemies in the party, would have won the 2017 election, "receiving the largest increase in the share of the vote by a Labour leader since Clement Attlee in 1945". It was clear the establishment had underestimated the effect having a real choice has on an electorate, even after the vote for Brexit. It would not make the same mistake again and a campaign of vilification whose cynicism and dishonesty infected the entire political and media class, including novelists, and shocked even lifelong Conservatives. Asa Winstanley's Weaponising Anti-Semitism describes it in chilling detail. I've written about this and literature recently concerning John Pilger's lament for the silence of writers, but rereading Michael Holland's introductions has helped bring clarity on the reasons for the desultory nature of my reading and, by extension, of contemporary literary culture. We are missing the abyss.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

39 Books: 2013

I reread books like Aharon Appelfeld's A Table for One and Anne Atik's How It Was as if returning to a particular bench with a view of the sea. On first glance A Table for One promises only banal, coffee-table memories and reflections, and that would be almost right:

Real cafés are inviting, they tempt you with fresh coffee and a cake straight out of the oven, and offer the chance to spend a precious hour or two alone with yourself. 

But this promise is deceptive. Each chapter is accompanied by large reproductions of figureless cityscapes, rather like Frank Auerbach’s of London, painted by the author’s son, Meir. Overall they complement the text only by effacing themselves – "what he paints, I write", says the father. They confirm the subtitle’s claim to come from "under the light of Jerusalem". 

The text, on the other hand, comes from under the dim light in the corner of a café. It is here that Appelfeld prefers to write. 

In cafés you can sometimes hear words cold as ice, or words full of longing and a fierce loyalty. Usually there’s silence in a café, but sometimes a wave of speech will surge up, flooding the listener with painful things that have been mostly kept down, things buried deep in the soul for many years that have at last found an opening and emerged in words. 

What’s buried deep, and how it moves beneath the surface of the present, is Appelfeld’s subject. Curiously this is also Proust’s, and it was Proust, I think, who said that the best places to write are hotel rooms and railway waiting rooms. Appelfeld sketches how his writing developed over the years in various cafés. Whenever he could spare time, he would visit them, seeking a way forward. He tells of those who helped him: Kafka and SY Agnon in particular. Then a refugee from old Europe, met playing chess in Café Rehavia, introduced him to Kleist’s stories. 

As soon as I started to read them I understood: this was a writer from whom I could learn. Throughout the 1950s, I had written short stories, but wasn’t happy with them. It was clear to me that I knew neither the secret of plot development nor the power of simply stated facts. Instead of searching for a correct fact, I reach for metaphors. An excess of metaphors produces an unpleasant mist and a false sense of the poetic. The right facts, one following the next, are the driving force, the engine that moves a story along. A story, like a river, cannot stand still in one place. 

One thing that can be said of Appelfeld’s novels is that they never stand still. They move forward with what David Auerbach called "a styleless immediacy"; hence Kafka and Kleist. Sometimes, it seems indulgent, daydreamy, free of relevance to the empire. Appelfeld recalls people who criticised his work for this reason, such as Rachel Yanait:

[She] had been quarried out of touch material: the Russian revolution and the Zionist revolution. Low-key literature, writing that did not bite into the meat of life, was not to her liking. She made no effort to hide her view that … literature should have a definitive message. I listened to what she said, but in my heart I was far away. 

What comes through more than anything in A Table for One is Appelfeld’s relentless loyalty to what his heart tells him about his art. Sometimes it borders on self-absorption, sometimes self-sacrifice. Despite offers and requests, he declines to write daily columns in the newspapers, or to write explicitly about the state of Israel – though he willingly serves in its army, taking delight in using an automatic gun. But when he briefly recalls the siege of Jerusalem, Appelfeld’s true relevance is suggested: "Since then some fifty years have passed. Sometimes it seems to me that I’m still standing there, stirred by the immense light."

Appelfeld’s novels exist in such an uncertain light: a weird tranquillity with a constant threat of violence. By discussing where and how he works, we learn how he brings this to the fore in fiction. It depends on the atmosphere of the café. In his best work we’re able to appreciate Appelfeld’s claim that his work reflects "a religious attitude to life", an attitude that is really only a "seriousness and sense of obligation to art". 

On the radio and in the press people talked of miracles, of Redemption and the coming of the Messiah. These terms were beyond me. I love the mysticism of daily life, the colors and the shadows that surround me, particular spots in Jerusalem toward evening, the light that glints out from parched earth. 

I have to report that one "particular spot" is not brought to light. Appelfeld mentions the Palestinians not once. He does refer to a "huge incited mob" during the siege and a nightmare of a "horde of Arabs" when he served in the army. Otherwise, nothing. What lies unsaid between the words is, he insists, central to his artistic expression. Appelfeld does not call Israel his "homeland", as that was a word used by the Nazis. He prefers "home" alone. Perhaps there’s a Palestinian sitting in a café somewhere right now, also writing, not at home and, like Appelfeld, lucky to have survived the unsaid.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

39 Books: 2012

Of all the books in this series, this was the one I most wanted to write about and also the one I knew would be impossible to write about, at least in a couple of distracted hours. Imagine this: through mathematical calculation, close reading and literary detective work, a philosopher regarded as a radical atheist uncovers a code in a canonical poem to claim against critical orthodoxy that it is the fulfilment of the poet's quest to create a civil religion to succeed Christianity as a relation to the infinite.

A sample: Quentin Meillassoux says Stéphane Mallarmé gives a central role to the number seven in Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard / A throw of the dice will never abolish chance because it is the number of rhymes in what he believed is the perfect poetical form, the sonnet, and also the number of stars in the constellation containing the North Star by which navigators where sure to find their way but which is now "detached in all its resplendence on the ground of eternal Chance". The stars reminds us that:

the absence of God, his proven Nothingness, is the condition of the Beautiful, just as Night and the annihilation of solar light is the condition of stellar splendor – which is, from now on, our compass.    [translated by Robin Mackay]

I wanted to write about the book because it probably represents the turn in my interests away from the restless demands of the literature industry and towards something less easily served; "backing up to the monastery", as Saul Bellow answered when asked why he taught university classes. While contemporary literature is thriving, its shallow roots are obscured by its wealth and energy, something on which this blog fed for many years, albeit often antagonistically. However, following a head injury and losing my job because of its side effects, I slowed down and became more sensitive to the stars' reminder. What after all is the point of this manic logging of literary experience in lists, essays and reviews, and why this concern for evaluating the generic qualities of a novel and one's reaction to them? Asking the question may be why I remained silent about The Number and the Siren, as it meant turning against the tide of wealth and energy with pitiful levels of both. Instead, here are two excellent reviews of The Number and the Siren by Adam Kotsko and Anthony Paul Smith.

I wonder if the surprise of The Number and the Siren as an event in itself can be instructive. Published by small presses Urbanomic in the UK and Sequence Press in the US, it was ignored by newspapers book pages. Perhaps this reveals that literature has become exhausted and yet cannot exhaust itself, as a bright-burning supernova cannot yet become a black hole. Meillassoux's book reminds us that the task of literature is to return to silence. While Meillassoux claims to go in the opposite direction to Maurice Blanchot's reading of Mallarmé as a writer "gripped by the impossible and sterile dreams of a Work doomed to failure", he has perhaps written the history of Mallarmé's silence Blanchot said in 1943 might be written in the future, a history that would have "the interest of a gaze directed at an absence, at a very profound reality that would only yield to awareness the fact that it cannot be known". That absence may be literature itself.

Monday, May 20, 2024

39 Books: 2011

How does one respond to Nietzsche's revelation at Sils Maria?

I read Pierre Klossowski's Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle because the thought of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same occurred to me as a literary concept, perhaps the ultimate experience of the literary, but needed someone else's words to express it. However, this book draws one inexorably into a mode of intellectual habilitation apparently irreconcilable with the "hohe Stimmung" of Nietzsche's experience. This meant my perennial negotiation between a wish to understand an idea and its implications and the wish for a work subject to the experience of which it speaks rather than one safely distant from it. This may explain the haphazard procedure of my reading over the course of these 39 years.

The literary quality of Nietzsche's work could be why Klossowski claims that the thought of Eternal Recurrence preserves "the character of ... a sudden unveiling" even as it becomes a literary experience. Walter Kaufmann dilutes the suddenness, however, by noting Nietzsche had previously encountered the idea in a book by Heinrich Heine.

What does it mean when the violent ecstacy of thought becomes the peace of the book?

Tense, unnerved, and close to madness before writing – and when I read what I've written it looks so calm.

This is from Peter Handke's notebook. His best novel, Repetition, takes its English title from the nature of storytelling, a synonym of Nietzsche's key word. Could we then read a novel as the eternal recurrence of the same in microcosmic, human form, and we turn to novels to induce in the forgetting necessary to enable the sudden unveiling that, while we exist in time, there is another time? The temporality of narration becomes the temporality of God, that is to say eternity in which there is nothing new under the sun? This is why the peace of the book disturbs us and generates the anxieties over its relevance.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

39 Books: 2010

This series has sailed into the doldrum years. Reading has become less of a headlong existential adventure than something one does, a pastime, a hobby, something you tell a quiz show presenter how you relax: "I like to read, Brad."

By this time I had given up reviewing elsewhere. After reading had got me to university, a job, my own place, a new life, I assumed that writing for print venues was the natural progression. Instead, it made me ill. The head injury had side effects nobody had warned me to expect and the tide returned me to the remote island of blogging. Anyway, what can be worse than a literary professional?

This is not a photograph of a book I own. I bought a copy as a gift, no doubt wishing to spark in another what reading had sparked in me, and leafed through carefully to read each page without soiling the paper, and then sent it on its way, something I've regretted ever since. I doubt it was ever read. Not regret for losing the book as something to read and reread – Schalansky's story of the moai of Easter Island is inaccurate – as losing its presence as a token of regret, of what the book itself regrets, the regret that enables it, the success of regret, the deepest pleasure of reading.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

39 Books: 2009

The further I get into this series, the fewer books there are on my yearly lists that I haven't already written about and among those few that I feel able to write about. For 2009 there is one outstanding exception: another book about a writer exiled in Paris. Already I've written about Anne Atik's memoir of her family's friendship with Samuel Beckett. This time it's Jean Daive's friendship with Paul Celan, published in this year by Burning Deck in Rosemarie Waldrop's translation. City Lights reissued Under the Dome in 2020.

Not that it has many other similarities to How It Was: the subjects' prodigous recall of poetry is one, their persistent enigma another. Where the latter has episodes in a clear chronology, concluding with Beckett's funeral, the former is fragmentary, oblique and non-linear: Celan burial is mentioned on page twelve and ten pages later Daive hears his name for the first time. Celan's disappearance and appearance recur. Anecdotes recur: the assertion that he will translate Daive's poetry, the lightbulb hanging low in a net shopping bag, hilarity at the words on the side of a passing van, God appearing as a ray of light under the door of a London hotel. The true picture of the past flits by, more than once.

Why do we live more forcefully in the hearts and minds of those who are close to us when we are dead rather than when we were alive?

Gabriel Josipovici's question in The Singer on the Shore is straightforward, at first, and then you notice that "we" are dead. How is this possible? You pick up a book like Under the Dome and the answer becomes clear.

Friday, May 17, 2024

39 Books: 2008

On January 19 of this year, I received a traumatic brain injury that for 16 years has limited my capacity to read. It was also the year I read two novels in which the legacy of violence presses on the form they take. Horacio Castellanos Moya's Senselessness spirals in Bernhardian sentences as the narrator responds in distress to having read testimonies of survivors of massacres in an unnamed central American country, while S. Yizhar's Khirbet Khizeh published in 1949, is a headlong account by an Israeli soldier taking part in the forced expulsion of Palestinians from their village. It helped me that both were short.

"True, it all happened a long time ago," it opens, "but it has haunted me ever since." The trouble with ghosts is that time has little meaning, so the narrator is unsure where to begin. He goes through the options only then to sweep doubts aside with Biblical expedience: "And so it happened...". David Shulman's Afterword provides examples of the original Hebrew's allusions to Biblical language and also reports that the novel was part of the Israeli high school curriculum from 1964, and was still an option in 2007. It was also dramatised for Israeli television and created a stir. Both make one wonder what the political value there is in a work that while, as Shulman says, "cuts right through the nationalist myth that ... blames everything unpalatable on the ever-available enemy" nevertheless has no effect on succeeding generations pursuing with remorseless violence the same policies of repression and ethnic cleansing.

The apparent futility of novels no matter how powerful or popular to alter the course of history reminds me of the successful Jewish writer in one of Aharon Appelfeld's novels set in 1930s Austria who, horrified at the racist mania of the culture, abandons his family and races off to Vienna to seek support for a new literary journal to engage with and counter the prevailing discourse. The futility is seen in retrospect of course, and we hear nothing of him again. Appelfeld is acute in his depiction of the delusions that take hold of people in the face of larger historical forces. The value of Appelfeld's depiction might then be counted in awareness of such delusions, which will no doubt share the same fate.

Not knowing where to begin a story offers evidence of the dissipation of time experienced in writing and reading novels, and thereby its remove from the ongoing world. That is, if we understand the novel as a by-product of the Enlightenment, of its disenchantment of the world, that nevertheless retains in its presence the residue of a relation to the eternal, to the outside of time, maybe even to the divine, and in doing so maintains an apocalyptic interruption of the everyday even and perhaps especially as the novel seeks to present it.

In When now? I discussed the issue of narrative temporality.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

39 Books: 2007

When I chose the book for 2007, the constraint of the 39 Books series presented a problem: how can I write about a 350-page novel last read 17 years ago without taking several days to reread it? Answer: not at all, so I started reading. What good fortune! How well Hugo Wilcken tells the story and how pleasurably we are bound to it!

Colony opens a century ago in the bowels of a boat transporting newly convicted prisoners to a penal colony in French Guiana. It follows Sabir as dread of arrival and flashbacks from his past life merge. His crime is not given and, curiously, we don't care because of the anticipation of what's ahead.

Sabir wants to forget his previous life in France, but dreams won't let him. He plans to make a little money writing letters home for illiterate prisoners, but they gradually lose interest because "the colony absorbs you until there is no other world". Still, the fantasy of escape remains. One convict manages it by punching a jailer and stabbing a guard. Sabir imagines himself in his place but his reverie cannot extend beyond the thrust of the knife.

Meanwhile, we read Colony to escape from the world by reading a novel set in an exotic land and by becoming another. We read also because the world escapes us and we turn to novels to bring it closer. Colony is the constraint of a novel offering glimpses of escape, which is also itself. Sabir's experience is therefore the experience of reading a novel.

*

When Colony was published, my enthusiasm was picked up by fellow book blogger John Self who then promoted alongside Mark Thwaite of the now-defunct ReadySteadyBook to see how well blogs could improve the sales of "scandalously overlooked" novels such as this. According to Private Eye magazine, it didn't work very well and there were smug and bitchy comments about John and Mark by an anonymous figure. This confirmed to me that blogs had to challenge this country's relentlessly small-minded book culture rewarding corporate drones. Eventually I gave up responding to its cretinous discourse. However, John Self has long since abandoned his blog to become one of the better professional book reviewers and has unfollowed me on Twitter.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

39 Books: 2006

My choice for 2003 began with indecision, as I couldn't imagine writing about Robert Antelme's The Human Race. Instead I wondered if I could say something about Timothy Hyman's Sienese Painting. While I have little or no feeling for art, I am drawn to reading about it. The book's focus is on the school of painters based in the city-republic between 1278 and 1477 who created what one critic called "an art born amidst city streets". And yet the book reports that in these two hundred years at least half of all commissioned paintings were images of the Madonna and "the development of Sienese painting could be told through her image alone". So while there was a cult of the city, which we can imagine happening in our own time, the sacred image remains alien. As art does not have any meaningful presence in civic life now despite earnest attempts at public art, the Sienese example is more evidence that the fate of art follows that of theology.

This may be why I have little or no feeling, as art with or without devotion is equally distant. That said, very occasionally such distance has come to life. The reason for the earliest instance is easily explained: in 1994 Don Van Vliet's exhibition Stand Up To Be Discontinued was shown at Brighton Art Gallery, just half a mile from where I lived, so it's memorable because the paintings were by Captain Beefheart. His titles were wonderful: Cross Poked Shadow of a Crow

Less easily explained is Andrzej Jackowski's Reveries of Dispossession shown in the same gallery later that year. I was moved without knowing why, or even knowing I was moved in the first place, by the size of each painting in comparison to the relatively sparse figurative content. There was something in particular about the wall of green in Hide and Seek.

Hide and Seek is 5ft x 5ft

Many years later I recognised similarities with when I turned around in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery and nearly bumped into the plinth containing the Wilton Diptych, a devotional laptop with its walls of gold.

There are two others, both the size of dinner trays: Der Friedhofstor in the Bremen Kunsthalle and Winter Landscape in the Towner art gallery in Eastbourne, both by Caspar David Friedrich and both seen by chance and without expectation. Both also present apparent barriers to a church building, a gate and a mist; walls of a kind. 

Postcard of Der Friedhofstor

In 2006, I borrowed the large-format edition of Joseph Leo Koerner's Caspar David Friedrich and the Subject of Landscape and in 2009 bought the compact second edition. Despite rational protest, looking at book reproductions provokes the same reaction as looking at paintings in galleries. The first image in the book is Trees and Bushes in the Snow from 1828: 

An unremarkable scene, as Koerner acknowledges:

Neither is it itself a superior specimen of a thicket, nor does it shape a space before itself which could be a setting for other, more remarkable, presences. The alders stand lifeless, their dull brown branches composed in random, broken configurations. The snow that highlights and surrounds the thicket is itself sullied variously by withered crab grass, clods of grey soil and dry leaves trapped since autumn among the alder stems. You do not stand before a ‘landscape’, since the thicket blocks any wider prospect of its setting; nor do the snow and alders, pushed up against the picture plane, quite constitute the monumentality of a ‘scene’, for they provide no habitat for an event.

The thicket is "pure foreground, like a net woven over an abyss", and yet the "tiny patch of pale blue sky at the upper right ... offers a vision of transcendence, hence the formal caesura between the detailed and mundane foreground (the finite) and the boundless, horizonless distance (the infinite)". 

 


About Winter Landscape, he writes:

Friedrich raises a spired building, a church, baseless and in pure silhouette, above the lost horizon. Rhyming visually with the grove that encloses the crucifix, and rising to precisely the height of the tallest fir, the structure of the church clarifies the symmetry and order of the natural world, both in this canvas and in all of Friedrich’s works where the holy is indicated as potentiality.

If the holy was for Friedrich lost in the horizon, today, never mind the holy, the horizon is lost. I sensed its loss in the final example. 

In the same exhibition at the Towner, I saw a painting by George Shaw, but one that was not from his series Scenes from the Passion, which I'd seen only online. They are small, acrylic depictions of the council estate in which he grew up, and have the same effect on me as Caspar David Friedrich's paintings. I am from the same generation and background as Shaw, and not Friedrich's, obviously, so perhaps that element can be played down if not discarded. But anyone who grew up in those times and from that background will recognise the brutalist school enclosures and hollow thud of footballs bouncing off garage doors.

The sash of sunlight in Ash Wednesday: 7am, 2004-5 is in the tradition of Trees and Bushes in the Snow and Winter Landscape, lacking only Friedrich's Rückenfigur, which in our case is perhaps the painting itself.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

39 Books: 2005

Four years later, browsing in Waterstones, I picked a book from a table and read "What will we do to disappear?" – the epigram to Enrique Vila-Matas's novel Montano's Malady. It's a line taken from Maurice Blanchot's Infinite Conversation, so I had to buy it. Later that year, when as part of the Warwick Prize for Writing jury I championed the novel, another member complained that it was "writing about writing". Instead of correcting this to writing about not writing, I responded rather weakly by saying that writing is as much a part of life as anything else. I should have pointed out it was also part of the title for the prize.

Placing writing in the foreground is the reason why Vila-Matas has not won a literary prize in this country while winning almost every one on the European mainland, because literary prizes in this country are routinely awarded to happy recyclers, genre jugglers, barkers for bookshops, and handed to them by prize juries invariably loaded with centrist dullards who display their literary perspicacity to the world (well, The Guardian) by pointing to an author's genitals. British literature cannot and will not open the wound of the negative.

Anyway, this year's choice is not about writing but giving up writing. The narrator, Marcelo, says he wrote one book and then stopped writing until he began keeping a notebook of writers who stopped writing; "writers of the No", those who who, like Bartleby the Scrivener, develop "the negative impulse or attraction towards nothingness".

The incongruity of Enrique Vila-Matas writing about not writing is, of course, that he himself has never stopped writing. He has followed Marguerite Duras' advice given to him as a young man: "You must write, don’t do anything but write", advice she received from Raymond Queneau. However, the incongruity may be deceptive. In following the advice, Vila-Matas becomes a Bartleby himself, a copyist, but he is unusual in that he seeks a way out by witnessing himself acting within the history of the novel. He is aware that each generation has to find for itself the possibility of literature, hence the complaints from budding prize jury members, such as this reviewer who thinks the book should not be called a novel and "more like literary criticism". By writing about the condition of the copyist, he opens onto that empty space, that silence on the other side of writing into which Bartlebys disappear. One becomes a real writer by not writing, by not being "like" in Alice Oswald's sense

"It is well known that God keeps quiet, is a master of silence, hears all the pianos in the world, is a consummate writer of the No, and for that reason He is transcendent."

Vila-Matas' unofficial trilogy of Bartleby & Co, Montano's Malady, and Dublinesque may constitute a negative theology of literature, something of which I knew nothing in 2005 and only a little more now, though of course knowledge in this field is of questionable value.

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