Every year I run a race with June and I lose. Actually this seems to happen to most of the people I know. This year it wasn't creepy balance problems but employment, sickness, the scattering of my brain into its component spectrum of brain-rays.
J. said, “It sounds like you haven’t been writing a book latelythat you’ve been writing scenes. Maybe you need a retreat.”
How do you retreat when you’ve arranged your entire life as a retreat?
Occasionally the pedestrian crossing at University and MLK starts bellowing, “University and Martin Luther King! University and Martin Luther King!” It always sounds to me like it’s calling in an airstrike. I said so in front of J.’s parents and J. said I was sick.
I’m not the one who came up with Richard Scarry’s The Body in Pain.
So there's a blockheaded article in today’s NYTimes on the new English translation of Beim Hauten der Zwiebel by Günter Grass. Aside from missing the point of Grass’s constant equivocations, the article notes:
The vivid precision of the air raid scene, which served as raw material for “The Tin Drum,” contrasts markedly with the tentative, gauzy rendering of critical life events. Mr. Grass despised his father, for example, but never explains why.
I would like to refer this reviewer to the most impressive paragraph from the recently published New Yorker excerpt, as follows:
Time passed. Things at home ran their wartime course. I managed to keep the animosity that I felt toward my father within bounds for the length of my weekend leaves. I presumably enjoyed disdaining him: first, because he existed; next, because he would stand or sit in the living room in a suit and tie and felt slippers; next, because he was forever mixing pastry dough in the same stoneware bowl while wearing the same apron; next, because he was always the one who carefully tore the newspapers into toilet paper; and, finally, because, having been declared “exempt from military service,” he would never go to the front and therefore never get out of my hair. But my father did give me a Kienzle wristwatch for my birthday.
It isn’t just that this evocation is amazingly compressed and rings absolutely true. It’s that, as the review reminds us, literary talk in America just now isn’t receptive to any sort of psychological realism that doesn’t map directly onto one of our reigning pop-psychology myths; so apart from the inherent difficulty of pulling off a miniature masterstroke like Grass’s, the apprentice American writer won’t even feel licensed to attempt it. Instead she feels obliged to pencil in a bunch of tedious backstory with all the appropriate melodramatic cruxesbecause everyone knows that’s how you make your characters come alive.
i totally agree; though i have never been a young man, i imagine it would be something like that.
The Paper and the Content of the Paper
It's a little over a month since the reins of my world seemed to slip out of my hands, and since then all my movements have been buffets and jounces. In the trunk of a car on a long gravel road. Made a lot of money, entertained and was entertained, went to see the redwoods. Now the cold I've had coming since April is finally arrived and I can't tell if I'm hungry or thirsty or tired; it's all the same headache, the same nasty scratched-out feeling in the body.
The reins are around here somewhere. I’m trying to pick them up.
Exhaustion is banal. So banal I can't get outside of it to see its banality, and get deluded into thinking there's something important going on.
It seems like all I want is rest, a blank world, where nothing will happen. Which must mean that a lot of things are going all right.
Là ci traemmo; e ivi eran persone
che si stavano a l’ombra dietro al sasso
come l’uom per negghienza a star si pone.
E un di lor, che mi sembiava lasso,
sedeva e abbracciava le ginocchia,
tenendo ‘l viso giù tra esse basso.
“O dolce segnor mio,” diss’ io, “adocchia
colui che mostra sé più negligente
che se pigrizia fosse sua serocchia.”
Allor si volse a noi e puose mente,
movendo ‘l viso pur su per la coscia,
e disse: “Or va tu sù, che se’ valente!”
Conobbi allor chi era, e quella angoscia
che m’avacciava un poco ancor la lena,
non m’impedì l’andare a lui; e poscia
ch’a lui fu’ giunto, alzò la testa a pena,
dicendo: “Hai ben veduto come ‘l sole
da l’omero sinistro il carro mena?”
Li atti suoi pigri e le corte parole
mosser le labbra mie un poco a riso;
poi cominciai: “Belacqua, a me non dole
di te omai; ma dimmi: perché assiso
uiritto se’? attendi tu iscorta,
o pur lo modo usato t’ha’ ripriso?”
Ed elli: “O frate, andar in sù che porta?
ché non mi lascerebbe ire a’ martìri
l’angel di Dio che siede in su la porta.
Prima convien che tanto il ciel m’aggiri
di fuor da essa, quanto fece in vita,
perch’io ‘ndugiai al fine i buon sospiri,
se orazïone in prima non m’aita
che surga sù di cuor che in grazia viva;
l’altra che val, che ‘n ciel non è udita?”
When we approached, we saw some people
resting in the shade behind the boulder
as men will settle down in indolence to rest,
and one of them, who seemed so very weary,
was sitting with his arms around his knees,
his face pressed down between them.
‘O my dear lord,’ I said, ‘just look at him.
He shows himself more indolent
than if sloth had been his very sister.’
Then he turned and fixed his eyes on us,
barely lifting his face above his haunch,
and said: ‘Go on up then, you who are so spry.’
At that I realized who he was,
and the exertion that still kept me short of breath
now did not keep me from his side.
When I reached him he barely raised his head
to say: ‘Have you marked how the sun
drives his car past your left shoulder?’
His lazy movements and curt speech
slowly shaped my lips into a smile, and I began:
‘Belacqua, no longer need I grieve for you.
But tell me, what keeps you sitting here?
Are you waiting for an escort,
or have you gone back to your old lazy ways?’
And he: ‘Brother, what’s the good of going up?
The angel of God who sits in the gateway
would not let me pass into the torments.
I must wait outside as long as in my lifetime
the heavens wheeled around me
while I put off my sighs of penance to the end,
unless I’m helped by prayers that rise
from a heart that lives in grace.
What good are those that go unheard in Heaven?’