His near stammering. With disconcerting promptness one word hid behind another. -- Maurice Blanchot, Le Dernier Homme Contact me: red3ad (at) yahoo (dot) com


Extremities and Moral Tales 

I had hoped to offer a link to Rain Taxi's interview with Rae Armantrout, a poet whose precision and keen manipulation of edges and slights of meaning not only makes me not want to put a .45 in my head, it actually makes writing -- poetry -- seem possible. Alas, as an incentive to buy their damn magazine, the interview isn't up. I'll try to transcribe a poem or two of hers later, in an attempt to make this weblog serve some useful function -- aside from linking to Steve and Ellis below, wch has pretty much been the highlight of my day. Also, a few thoughts on Rohmer's Six Moral Tales. I don't joke here. Not much, anyway. Armantrout's first book, Extremities, is up here. For the Rohmer, I'd start with Claire's Knee, or My Night at Maud's.


I'm not sure if it's even fair to mock the Seattle Poetry Festival's injunction to "practice safe poetry" -- isn't that the goddamn problem? -- or to take a jab at their logo: a balloon animal apparently made of condoms. Really. Of course, these are the types that wring their hands over the fact that "no one cares about poetry" anymore -- and they wonder why they are ignored, at best. Or scorned & derided. It's a cheap and easy target, I know, but "practice safe poetry"... Good lord; that's the best they can do? Hard not to quote Steve quoting Ellis: "These days I don’t need a bucket to throw up in – I need something at least the size of a horse trough." I mention this in light of that city / region's "poetry on the buses" program, and a poem about a cat's asshole that somehow slipped through. I know it's a little bit South Park-ish, but it's probably the most "subversive" -- certainly the most surprising -- poem I've encountered all year. So Happy "National Poetry Month." Speaking of "please bury me, already," Iggy Pop turns 60, Jack Nicholson 70.
Might I suggest a film by Eric Rohmer instead?


reading notes 

“You have a project,” said C. to me recently, regarding Proust. I hadn’t thought of it in such direct terms, but it is true. The occasional reader of this weblog (or reader of this occasional weblog) might think, “oh, the spring of 2007 -- when Red Threads turned to shit, nothing but long silences and unfocused notes on Proust.” It has not been my sole pursuit, this reading, this spring. I managed to eke out some writing in early March, and I was otherwise distracted from what had been a regular reading by a series of twelve films by Jacques Rivette; and what I can write of that for now is that if a project can be slowed or put off by such an experience once every several YEARS, the amount of surprise and delight in my life will be of a greater magnitude than I would ever have hoped for.

On the translations of Proust:
I made an attempt to read In Search of Lost Time close to two years ago; the Lydia Davis translation of Swann’s Way had come out, and already owning the three volume Scott-Moncrieff-Kilmartin edition (bought in hardcover two years before for future use; found used for an I can’t-pass-this-up price).... I debated wch version to read for awhile; the new Penguin / Viking translations were unappealing in their use of various translators. On the other hand, no translation being perfect, a set of volumes worked on by different hands might, on the average, provide a more general experience of the work. The subsequent three new volumes were rather quickly remaindered and were thus easy to pick up (because of some odd copyright rule, the remaining two books aren’t going to be released in the US until late this year or next). So owing basically to the greater portability of the Davis-translated volume, and a general liking for and trust in her work, I started with the new volumes, figuring that should I decide to go to the Scott-Moncrieff after Swann’s Way, I’d at least be halfway through a larger volume. Through The Guermantes Way, I’ve switched between the two editions, reading the Treharne translation at home and the Scott-Moncrieff at the library; after Sodom and Gomorrah I'll have to return to the the S-M.
It will all need to be re-read anyway, so in the end, both translations will be covered.

The Flaws of Proust 

[I make no claims to offer literary criticism, or much in the way of a cogent line of thought here; this post was begun 3 March, and the attempt to rework through shifting perceptions may render it incoherent in places; I offer it simply as a sort of progress report]. An earlier post on Proust contained a passing mention of Proust’s apparent flaws; this was written when I was at the beginning of In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower; now, toward the end of The Guermantes Way, I'd like to clarify -- with a correction. The most obvious problem is Proust's waywardness with sentences; there are at times seemingly random paragraph breaks, contradictions -- sometimes part of the artifice, but sometimes not. The changing aspects of characters -- for example, that of Charles Swann between Swann in Love and At Mme Swann’s --the end of one book and the beginning of the following -- (later, one realizes that almost every character presents contrary aspects throughout the book); this changeability of view destablizes a work that, with its continual digressions and sheer bulk, seems already unstable. The indeterminate age of the narrator offers Proust a way out, a way of having his cake and eating it too, playing ignorance against realization, a limited view versus omniscience. (There's the matter of his shifting voice between 1st and 3rd; never knowing when one might bleed off into the other). There are two distinct narrative voices (so far) of Marcel, the boy and the young man, but in Place Names: The Name, concluding the volume of Swann’s Way, yet another, far older voice seems to intrude.
The placement of this particular section, incongruous, a sort of “cap” or patch, is a visible concession to the larger form of In Search of Lost Time, and, though it doesn’t quite seem to fit, it’s a way of managing the larger structure. I thought of those ancient alabaster bowls from Egypt or Greece, broken at some point in antiquity and repaired by a Roman craftsman with a decorative metal band that fastens the two parts together; its function becomes a part of the overall form, and cannot be separated from the larger object as a whole. This “break” -- in spite of its somewhat discordant effect, works. It’s reassuring to a reader that the demand of reading and the demand of its writing might be on par. (Though a lazy commentator, I’m speaking as one who is trying not to be a lazy reader).
Ultimately, it is seeming to me, that -- paragraphing excepted -- many of these flaws or disunities actually work in aid of the work, even if (one assumes) such were not Proust’s intentions. A unique quality about reading In Search of Lost Time, as noted earlier, is the actual time it takes. The book has by now taken over a period of time, becoming a part of the fabric of my own life, and reading with no deadline in mind, I’m encountering memory play on three levels: the reading of the book is becoming memory, a series of eddies within a larger stream; meanwhile, my life continues and memories accrue, so that the “reading of” phase is covalent with the spring of 2007; and, of course, the memory-life of Marcel unwinds in a parallel movement. One steps into the same book, again and again, to find it is not the same book.

Having finished Swann’s Way, I wrote, “Nothing seems to happen...” Things DO happen, of course, and this becomes more evident throughout the procès of the book, but less than traditional narrative Events, the movement and shaping, the shading and coloring of the book happens mainly through small details, their recurrence, and their subsequent, or parallel, reveries. There seems to be a near-constant accretion of details, foreshadowings; hinting at the fabric of life rather than marking it out in a few bold lines. If little “happens,” it does only to be reflected or obsessed upon; the details blur into a life of the mind -- a mind always, it seems, clouded by the heart-- or an innate desire to aestheticize everything. The bourgeois and aristocratic milieus in wch our characters turn, I must admit, were extremely off-putting to me at the beginning, combined with Marcel’s need to aestheticize everything -- whether it’s pausing to relish the moment, not yet attained, but within breath’s reach, of kissing Albertine in Part Two of The Guermantes Way, or this passage from In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower: “On fine days, I continued to go to the Champs-Élysées, through streets of elegant pink houses which, because there were a great many exhibitions of watercolorists at the time, were washed by the subdued and variable light of pastel skies.” [p.62].
One succumbs to this aestheticizing principle in odd ways; while at the symphony the other night, I looked at the behavior of the crowd, the manner of dress, the behavior of the people in the boxes; this scene I know from experience and from movies, but in a moment I was struck with the memory of Marcel’s recognition by the Duchesse de Guermantes at the theater [In the Shadow, p. 52], and I thought not of how Proust changes one’s perceptions of life, but how life informs Proust.
There are skips, and jumps; awkward transitions. A long digression, having concluded, drops the reader right back into the temporal stream of the plot where the thread was begun. But, like the flaws in glass that make it beautiful to some eyes, the fascination is in the way these ripples gather the light for a moment, or -- though the material is seemingly transparent, manages to fold the light back into itself and create an opacity. And this, as any second-or fourth-rate commentator on Proust will tell you, is like life, and like Proust.

I suppose it’s taking longer than I anticipated, but I’m reading without plan or schedule; letting the book unfold at its own pace. I managed to go for a month or so without buying any books (that went to hell yesterday), knowing that it would be pointless; they’d merely sit at home, unread, losing a little of that sheen of invigorating newness we feel when we plunge into a book at first. I'll start Sodom and Gomorrah next week. By way of closure: Edmund White, in his introduction to the Selected Writings of Jean Genet, notes: “One day, probably in 1941, Genet was participating in a covert exchange of books with other prisoners during an exercise period. Being the last to arrive, Genet was forced to take a dull-looking volume no one else wanted -- The Guermantes Way, a volume in Proust’s saga. As soon a Genet read the first page he closed the book because he wanted to savor its treasures slowly over the days to come. He later admitted in an interview that his reading of Proust at age thirty-one or thirty-two was the decisive stimulus that made him begin writing.”


"things that quicken the heart" 

-- a surprise letter or phone call from a distant friend;
-- waking - for no discernible reason - at 3 a.m. to hear the sound of rain and a train whistle, and to slip back into sleep;
-- the first lilacs of the year;
-- the scenes of Nathalie Richard dancing toward the beginning of Jacques Rivette's Haut / Bas / Fragile;
-- Chris Marker's Sans Soleil, esp. the part where he references
-- the Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon

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