Saturday, June 25, 2011

What we have here...

As most of you know, I send reminders of upcoming Bookmen meetings and other news from work ( because it's usually easier to maintain and manage a large list of addresses.  However, ever since we upgraded our computer system earlier this month, a lot of messages have started bouncing back, particularly from AOL addresses.  (Not sure whether the problem is at our end, AOL's or the interface.)  Until that gets resolved, whenever I receive an error message I'll resend the e-mail from home.  Apologies in advance for any duplication, but I'd rather you get info twice than not at all.

If you ever go more than a couple of weeks without getting at least one e-mail from me (the longest I've ever gone without sending something), chances are it's because of this glitch.  But even then, you can always find info on upcoming meetings (what we're discussing, when and where) here on the Web site, and can also send me an e-mail by clicking on the link.

Thanks for your patience; hope to see many of you at a meeting soon!  Cheers, Steve

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Rimbaud's After the Flood, translated by John Ashbury

This is from the June 23 edition of NYRB.


No sooner had the notion of the Flood regained its composure,

Than a hare paused amid the gorse and trembling bellflowers and said its prayer to the rainbow through the spider’s web.

Oh the precious stones that were hiding,—the flowers that were already peeking out.

Stalls were erected in the dirty main street, and boats were towed toward the sea, which rose in layers above as in old engravings.

Blood flowed in Bluebeard’s house,—in the slaughterhouses,—in the amphitheaters, where God’s seal turned the windows livid. Blood and milk flowed.

The beavers built. Tumblers of coffee steamed in the public houses.

In the vast, still-streaming house of windows, children in mourning looked at marvelous pictures.

A door slammed, and on the village square, the child waved his arms, understood by vanes and weathercocks everywhere, in the dazzling shower.

Madame xxx established a piano in the Alps. Mass and first communions were celebrated at the cathedral’s hundred thousand altars.

The caravans left. And the Splendide Hotel was built amid the tangled heap of ice floes and the polar night.

Since then the Moon has heard jackals cheeping in thyme deserts,—and eclogues in wooden shoes grumbling in the orchard. Then, in the budding purple forest, Eucharis told me that spring had come.

—Well up, pond,—Foam, roll on the bridge and above the woods;—black cloths and organs,—lightning and thunder,—rise and roll;—Waters and sorrows, rise and revive the Floods.

For since they subsided,—oh the precious stones shoveled under, and the full-blown flowers!—so boring! and the Queen, the Witch who lights her coals in the clay pot, will never want to tell us what she knows, and which we do not know.


Sunday, June 12, 2011


Thanks to Terry for pointing out this article in the Observer about Alan Hollinghurst, occasioned by the publication of his fifth novel The Stranger's Child. The following paragraph is so pertinent to the three dicussions we've had about him that I quote it in full:

The other criticism expressed about Hollinghurst's writing is that it lacks warmth, that his characters are essentially unsympathetic, even unlikable. It's a judgment that serves to reduce the novel to a personality contest. What might be fairer to say is that Hollinghurst does not conceal the less appealing human qualities – vanity, selfishness, jealousy – and nor does he seek to delineate his characters according to their distribution. "I don't make moral judgments," he has said. "I prefer to let things reverberate with their own ironies and implications."

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Is there a good story with a worse ending …

than "Paul's Case"? There are three failings. First, moral. Cather presents a young man of very limited means (not only financial!) and opportunities who manages to live, however briefly, the life he wishes, and even to end it on his own terms. Though Cather is sympathetic enough to create this portrayal, she loses her nerve at the end and feels compelled to condemn:

When the right moment came, he jumped. As he fell, the folly of his haste occurred to him with merciless clearness, the vastness of what he had left undone.

Oh yes, the vastness of yellow wallpaper and decades of rearing narrow-eyed no-neck monsters (after the distasteful drudgery of each individual conception). Paul's experience in Manhattan has shown him that the life he wants to lead can be had only with money. What sudden epiphany has occurred to him, in mid-drop, to convince him otherwise!? Our narrator abandons her creature with less care than he buried his red carnation. It's not enough he die ... he must despair and die (R3, V, iii, 128).

The next two failings are aesthetic. Part of Cather's success in this story is presenting it as a case study, introducing the latest medicinal pathologizing of homosexuality in describing a person of Paul's "temperament". She shatters that picture-making mechanism when she jumps into his mind for the last seconds of his consciousness (she, who wasn't even sure—"perhaps"—that her subject had looked into the dark corner). This failure of course is more generally one of inconsistent authorial point-of-view, but more acute here because of her adopted "case study" narrative.

The third failing is also aesthetic and embarrassingly bald.

Then, because the picture-making mechanism was crushed, the disturbing visions flashed into black, and Paul dropped back into the immense design of things.

—"the immense design of things"? Oh Willa, give this ember burning in your tea-pot tempest a break! Where did she find that tail to pin on the donkey!? There's been no "design of things" in evidence, immense or minute, explicit or implicit, in this aborted case study. Cather has pulled out all stops and hoped to leave us on a swell.

“Paul’s Case” was originally published in Cather’s first short-story collection The Troll Garden, a few months before its appearance in McClure’s. For reasons of the merest editorial convenience a page-worth of material was omitted from the magazine. Out of respect for both her and for her character, I will read the story's end as

When the right moment came, he jumped. He felt something strike his chest, and that his body was being thrown swiftly through the air, immeasurably far and fast … and that his limbs were gently relaxed.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Is Paul Gay?

Philip gave very good arguments for why a historically informed reading would answer in the affirmative. More naively I wondered whether Paul's "shadowed corner, the dark place into which he dared not look" (sixth paragraph after his escape to New York) might not be his homosexuality. Some handwaving at the time, about Freud (whom Cather would have had to have been very au courant in 1904 to have even heard of) seemed to place that off the table. But looking over "Paul's Case" again—I find it endlessly re-readable, the details are so apt—I notice on the next-to-the-last page, when Paul is planning his suicide, this passage:

Yet somehow he was not afraid of anything, was absolutely calm; perhaps he had looked into the dark corner at last and knew. It was bad enough, what he saw there, but somehow not so bad as his long fear of it had been.

Now the thing in the dark corner might be anything I suppose, but I can only think of homosexuality. If no one can offer anything else, our answer to the opening question has to be, once again, in the affirmative.