Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lezama Lima's "Paradiso"

Well...finishing Jose Lezama Lima's "Paradiso" is, by far, the hardest read I have ever accomplished. Lezama Lima had to be the most educated man that I have ever come across. The references to ancient Greece, the Romans, French literature of every period, obscure music past but great contemporary composers (of his time) like Bartok and great works of art are mind-numbing. There are chapters that are like Plato's "Symposium." And when I thought I had surpassed all my inadequacies, he hits me w/ the last 3 chapters. I need somebody to explain them to me. But I did it and I'm very excited. What a work-out! Can't wait till the essay in "50 Books..." comes up in discussion.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Dishing Gertrude Stein

Below is an excerpt from a long article in this morning’s Washington Post, reviewing  the exhibition “Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five stories” at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery until January 22.  We discussed “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” at our 4/30/2002 meeting.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I have occasionally perused some of her other writings collected in The Library of America edition of her selected works, some of which are enjoyable to read  but often baffling.

As an author, she wrote reams of gibberish, either in a singsong style that one critic aptly described as “literary baby talk” or in a hermetically sealed private language that she absurdly considered an analog of cubism. As an art collector, she often showed remarkably bad taste, especially after the early years of her alliance with Picasso. Her theater work, either unintelligible or profoundly cliched, survives because other people set it to music or choreographed it. Even her moral reputation — courageously living with her female partner, Alice B. Toklas, championing a woman’s right to be eccentric — has been sullied by recent scholarship showing that she while she rode out World War II in a French country house, she was protected by a particularly unsavory and anti-Semitic official of the collaborationist Vichy government

Saturday, October 8, 2011

La Clef de "Caracole"

Robert and I have put our heads together and have, with an authoritative assist, come up with a who's who:

Gabriel Keith Fleming (White's nephew)
Angelica his girlfriend at the time
Mateo Edmund White / Richard Howard
Mathilde Susan Sontag
Edwige Keith McDermott (White's boyfriend at the time)
Constantine David Del Tredici
Daniel David Rieff
Walter Richard Sennett
Claude David's girlfriend at the time.

The Man Who Became A Woman

The Ex found a copy of Eight Great American Short Novels in the throw-away pile of books in the town dump while I was visiting him this summer. He picked it up for me because it included Sherwood Anderson's "The Man Who Became A Woman" (Exes—don't you just love them!). I'd never heard of it though I'd certainly heard of him (Winesburg, Ohio) and we've all, even we all in this book club, have read his short story "Hands". "TMWBAW" which I think of rather as a long short story than as a novella, was originally published in Anderson's short-story collection Horses and Men (1923), "originally" as in it first appeared in that book—it had never been published in any magazine before! I more than dutifully read it and had been wondering how to mention it to readers of this blog when I came across an interview of James Purdy in Conjunctions (Fall, 1982). I'll let him do the describing:

PURDY: … Anderson wrote a wonderful story called “The Man Who Became a Woman”: one of the most amazing stories ever written. I don’t know whether he knew how startling it is. It’s about a young boy who is a groom in the stables, he takes care of horses. The story is really a problem of crisis of sexual identification, to use a pretentious psychological phrase. Suddenly, working around these awful, rough men, and being just a young boy who simply loved to curry the horses, suddenly one night he wanders into a saloon and he looks into the mirror and instead of seeing himself he sees a young woman. Horrified, he runs back to the stables. There these Negro … [spoiler deleted] … but there is no real closing to the story: Anderson shows such deep insight into the terror of adolescence in this story.
INTERVIEWER: It sounds to me like a James Purdy story.
PURDY: Yes, it does! It’s the only story by Anderson where I think he really plumbed the depths.

Definitely a must-read! We could pair it with something else on a short night or even give the whole hour over to it alone. Unfortunately, it seems never to have been widely anthologized, and the only book I've been able to find it in (other than the two already mentioned) is the Sherwood Anderson short story collection Certain Things Last. All three are out-of-print. No copy of the story seems to be up on the internet. But there may be cause for hope. Anderson died in 1941 and if his copyright expires in 70 years, it may soon appear. I'll keep you posted (and please, vice versa)!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Les Rêves dangereuses

Some people from last night will undoubtedly enjoy this little tidbit from Edmund White's City Boy (p. 88):

After reading my novel Caracole he [James Merrill] voiced my worst fears, saying "That first chapter, my dear!" and rolling his eyes.

I wonder whether that was in manuscript or publication, and if the former, what changes White made, if any.

A much longer passage from My Lives (p. 212) is worth quoting in full but I'll restrict myself to:

I told someone the book was as if a student was studying world literature and modern European history and fell asleep on the night before the final and dreamed a long, nasty dream.

In Your DreamS

Thanks to David for pointing out the Library of Congress' wishful cataloging of Edmund White's Caracole:

         1. Teenage boys—Psychology—Fiction

Gabriel, arguably, is the main character, but who is the other boy? Perhaps the LOC cataloguer was beguiled—as who of us hasn't been—by Herbert List's wonderful cover photo: