Sunday, November 30, 2008

Roberto Bolano, 2666, p. 722

What was Ivanov afraid of? Ansky wondered in his notebooks. Not of harm to his person, since as a longtime Bolshevik he'd had many brushes with arrest, prison and deportation, and although he couldn't be called a brave man, neither could it fairly be said that he was cowardly or spineless. Ivanov's fear was of a literary nature. That is, it was the fear that afflicts most citizens who, one fine (or dark) day, choose to make the practice of writing, and especially the practice of fiction writing, an integral part of their lives. Fear of being no good. Also, fear of being over-looked. But above all, fear of being no good. Fear that one's efforts and strivings will come to nothing. Fear of the step that leaves no trace. Fear of the forces of chance and nature that wipe away shallow prints. Fear of dining alone and unnoticed. Fear of going unrecognized. Fear of failure and making a spectacle of oneself. But above all, fear of being no good. Fear of forever dwelling in the hell of bad writers. Irrational fears, thought Ansky, especially when the fearful soothed their fears with semblances. As if the paradise of good writers, according to bad writers, were inhabited by semblances. As if the worth (or excellence) of a work were based on semblances. Semblances that varied, of course, from one era and country to another, but that always remained just that, semblances, things that only seem and never are, things all surface and no depth, pure gesture, and even the gesture muddled by an effort of will, the hair and eyes and lips of Tolstoy and the versts traveled on horseback by Tolstoy and the women deflowered by Tolstoy in a tapestry burned by the fire of seeming.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Why? What for? For whom?

Jose Saramago, avid blogger, asked about why he blogs rather than writes in the newspaper: "Perhaps it's the feeling of being able to start over again: writing without limits. The papers would pay, of course. But look, Obama won and I'm happy about it so I sit myself down and write an article in my blog, and I demand outright that he shut Guantanamo and lift the trade embargo against Cuba. And I can do this sort of thing whenever I want. Of course you will be eventually integrated into the system. Basically you are just a morello cherry on a cake. They tolerate you, laugh at you – that Saramago again... But I refuse to give up. I wake up feeling like a libertarian communist every morning. There are three questions which we should never stop asking: Why? What for? For whom?"

Friday, November 21, 2008

november 21

1694: Voltaire is born in Paris. At 65 he will spend three days writing Candide.

1910: Leo Tolstoy, 82, dies of pneumonia contracted when he flees from his wife of 48 years and heads for the Caucasus.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Robert Frost, contribution to Esquire symposium on "What Worries You Most About America Today," 1958

Worries is a hard word for me. I am interested in strengthening the high schools of America, bringing them up. A little thing I want is named chairs in the high schools. Once you got it, you would be in it for life. This would enrich the position of the high school teacher. Their position is not dignified enough. The first chair, I'd have for mathematics. The other chair would be of the school's choosing. Instead of spraying money all over the colleges, I'd like to see something done for high-school teachers.

Passage from A.E. Housman's More Poems cited by Alan Bennett at dedication of Housman memorial, London, 17 Sept 1996

Shake hands, we shall never be friends, all's over;
I only vex you the more I try.
All's wrong that ever I've done or said,
And nought to help it in this dull head:
Shake hands. here's luck, good-bye.

But if you come to a road where danger
Or guilt or anger or shame's to share,
Be good to the lad that loves you true
And the soul that was born to die for you,
And whistle and I'll be there.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Kenneth Fearing, American Rhapsody (1938)

Tomorrow, yes tomorrow
there will suddenly be new success, like Easter
clothes, and a strange and different fate
and bona fide life will arrive at last, stepping
from a nonstop monoplane with chromium
doors and a silver wing and straight, white
staring lights

Tomorrow, yes tomorrow, surely we begin at last to live
with lots and lots of laughter
solid silver laughter
laughter, with a few simple instructions
and a bona fide guarantee

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Walt Whitman, Mediums

They shall arise in the States,
They shall report Nature, laws, physiology, and happiness,
They shall illustrate democracy and the kosmos,
They shall be alimentive, amative, perceptive,
They shall be complete women and men, their pose brawny
and supple, their drink water, their blood clean and clear,
They shall fully enjoy materialism and the sight of products,
they shall enjoy the sight of the beef, lumber, breadstuffs,
of Chicago, the great city,
They shall train themselves to go in public to become
orators and oratresses,
Strong and sweet shall their tongues be, poems and
materials of poems shall come from their lives, they
shall be makers and finders,
Of them and of their works shall emerge divine conveyers,
to convey gospels,
Characters, events, retrospections, shall be convey'd in
gospels, trees, animals, waters, shall be convey'd,
Death, the future, the invisible faith, shall all be