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.

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