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Modiano Twice on Youth

Modiano Youth

In Young Once, we meet Louis and Odile, married with children, living comfortably in Switzerland but feeling vaguely lost. They are only thirty-five years old, yet it feels like they have nothing more to expect from life. “Could anything new happen to them at thirty-five?” One day, while downtown, Louis hears the voice of a singer on a television program drifting out from open café windows. He can’t understand the words. A warm wind starts blowing. The first drops of rain appear. And just like that we are taken back to Louis at the age of nineteen, just demobilized from the French army. Louis immediately falls in with a man who promises to get him a job in Paris. The job turns out to be sitting at a desk at nights in a garage where men deliver cars, leaving them for someone else to drive them away later. Louis never does get an explanation of what is going on, but we suspect something illicit. Louis first meets Odile in a train station and before long they begin to live together, although they fail to display much that can be considered tender or loving. They are two aimless souls who seem to prefer letting other people make decisions for them. At nineteen, the can’t envision the future. “Lying down, looking at the ceiling, [Louis] would think about the future, or in other words about nothing.” Read more

Hardly War

Hardly WarI was narrowly narrator,

yet superbly so.

In an essay several years ago for the British magazine Source Photographic Review, I wrote: “if one were to look for the most innovative and challenging uses of photography in literature today, I would point to a handful of contemporary poets who are finding ways to turn visual images into poetic vocabulary, notably Anne Carson, Christian Hawkey, Susan Howe, and Leslie Scalapino.” Today, I would add a number of names to that list, one of which is Don Mee Choi, whose new book of poems and photographs Hardly War (Seattle & NY: Wave Books, 2016) I have been reading and rereading for a week now. Choi pulls off quote a feat by blending several languages, photographs, and drawings into a unified whole. She has a distinctive voice that is playful and confident, and Wave Books, as always, has produced a brilliant design that turns Hardly War into a bravura visual performance on paper. Choi was born in South Korea and her father was a photographer and cinematographer who mostly worked in Asian war zones – including the Korean War and the Vietnam War and she deploys photographs by her father and others in this book.

What I am attempting to do with my poems and my father’s photographs is what I used to do as a child when I stared at my father’s photographs and maps. I’m trying to imagine race=nation,its language, its wars. I am trying to fold race into geopolitics. It involves disobeying history, severing its ties to power. It strings together the faintly remembered, the faintly imagined, the faintly discarded, which is to say race=nation gets to speak its own faint history in its own faint language. Its mere umbilical cord is hardly attached to anything at all. Hence, hardly=war.

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Photography-embedded Literature – The 1990s: Bibliography

Here is my bibliography of works of fiction and poetry published in the years 1990-1999 containing embedded photographs.  You can see individual bibliographies for other years underneath the pull-down menu “Photo-Embedded Literature” at the top of Vertigo.  I also maintain a comprehensive bibliography that spans 1892 to the present at Library Thing (http://www.librarything.com/catalog/VertigoTwo). As of today, March 30, 2016, that bibliography contains 222 fiction titles and 64 poetry titles spanning the years 1892-2016. I am always updating these lists as I learn of new books.  If you know of a book not included on my list, please let me know in a comment. [Revised April 17, 2016.]

Abish 99Walter Abish. 99: The New Meaning. Providence: Burning Deck, 1990. Five unconventional stories by Abish with five photographs by his wife, the artist Cecile Abish. Read more

“There is so much pain in the world”: Carole Maso’s “The Art Lover”

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In 1990, when Carole Maso’s novel The Art Lover was first published (SF: North Point Press), there weren’t many recent and obvious precedents for including photographs and other types of reproductions with a novel. A few that come to mind that would have been more or less widely known were Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo (1972), Kobo Abe’s The Box Man (first published in the US in 1974), Theresa Hak Kyung’s experimental novel Dictee, and Andre Breton’s 1937 novel Amour Fou, which finally appeared in English in 1988 as Mad Love. So The Art Lover, which contained some sixty-five or so reproductions of astonishing variety, really broke new ground. The book includes snapshots; photographs of articles torn or cut from the New York Times and other newspapers and periodicals; reproductions of artworks by Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci, Vermeer, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, Charles Demuth, and others; images of lost animal posters found around New York City; illustrations from textbooks; and more. And because so many of the embedded photographs involve texts of one sort or another, they become additional narrative voices that expound on topics like artists, works of art, and the stars in the night sky. My favorite is a tiny clipping (apparently from the Times) which supplies a correction to a previously published recipe for braised chicken.

Art Lover 5

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“A blur of arrested speech”: Jack Cox’s Novel “Dodge Rose” – part 2

Dodge Rose Fire

As I wrote in my earlier post, Jack Cox’s debut novel Dodge Rose (Dalkey Archive Press) is a complex, elusive, multi-level narrative. There is so much going on in these 201 pages (too much, one might argue) that it begs to be unpacked word for word, phrase by phrase. (Not to mention the likelihood that many of the book’s Australian references a will undoubtedly go right over the heads of non-Aussie readers like me.) However, my intention here is simply to look at a couple of the things that most intrigued me as I read it.

Property law. In a way, the central character in the book is not Dodge Rose or the young women Eliza and Maxine; it is an apartment in the Potts Point district of Sydney, New South Wales. The novel gives us clues to the apartment’s location, but Cox actually mentions in his Acknowledgements that it is in the Kingsclere building. Located (and still extant) at 1 Greenknowe Avenue in Sydney, it was constructed in 1912 and was designed to hold “17 enormous residential apartments.” The need to settle Rose’s estate provides Cox with the opportunity to let a lawyer lecture Maxine and Eliza at great length on the subject of property law. It’s a cockeyed, often humorous rant that has echoes of William Gaddis’ classic novel about the legal system, A Frolic of His Own. Even though I have read Dodge Rose three times now, I don’t pretend to understand the full implications of the legalisms here, but I think I’ve got some of the points that Cox wants the reader to absorb. As the lawyer dives into the legal distinctions between real property and personal property, he several times suggests that the imposition of the English legal system upon the distant colony of Australia is deeply suspect. At one point he says in passing, “it strikes us… that there is no legal title to a foot of land in the colony” and later he adds that “real property is in New South Wales the most illusory of all possessions.” So when the lawyer refers to such things as the Waste Lands Occupation Act and “unoccupied” or “virgin” land, Cox seems to be prodding us to recall that Australia was occupied by as many as a million Aboriginal people when the English began imposing its citizens, its will, and its law upon the continent. Read more

Mind the Gaps: Jack Cox’s Novel “Dodge Rose” – part 1

Dodge_RoseDodge Rose (Dalkey Archive Press, 2016), the first novel by Australian writer Jack Cox, is a linguistic tour de force that kept me reading and Googling into the wee hours. It’s one of those rare books that will absorb and reward all the reader participation that you might want to put into it. As soon as I finished it, I started reading it again – partly to see just how much I had missed the first time and partly to admire Cox’s deft, Joycean handling of language. And what I discovered during my second reading is that there is a second, hinted-at narrative completely hidden within the novel of Dodge Rose and her family.  Dodge Rose turns reading into a contact sport.

The first half of the book takes place in Sydney, Australia in 1982, when a pair of twenty-one year olds – Maxine and Eliza – try to cope with the estate of the recently deceased Dodge Rose. Our narrator is Maxine and she might or might not be the adopted daughter of Rose. (She’s not sure.) Maxine had lived in Rose’s apartment, taking care of the ill, aging widow for a number of years, while Eliza is Rose’s niece who has traveled from the countryside to the city. Together, they try to come into their presumed inheritance, but instead run into one problem after another. The law firm Rose had always worked with has lost her file and her will. Maxine cannot locate papers to prove Rose ever adopted her. And Rose, they eventually learn, had effectively drained her once-rich bank account. The apartment turns out to have been rented, not owned, and the furniture is almost too worthless for the auction they plan. “Property is an elusive concept,” Rose’s attorney warns. Read more

Sebald Program on German Radio

SR2 Radio

Dr. Ralp Schock, literary editor of the Saarland Radio, will host a two and a half hour radio program about W.G. Sebald on Tuesday January 26 starting at 20:00 (German time). Titled “Ein Themenabend mit und über W. G. Sebald,” the program on station SR-2 will include readings, discussions, and recollections of Sebald from friends and colleagues. Here is the link to the program’s s web page. The program is designed to air on the seventy-first anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Some of the individuals rumored to be participating in the program include author and musicologist Wolfgang Schlüter, Sebald’s publisher at the German firm Carl Hanser Verlag Michael Krüger, artist Jan Peter Tripp, and Dr. Uwe Schütte, who is reader in German at Aston University.

Photo-Embedded Fiction & Poetry 2015

Here is my annual listing of works of fiction and poetry published during the previous year which contain embedded photographs as part of the textual matter. You can see all of my previous lists via the drop-down menu “Photo-Embedded Literature” at the top of this page.  I’ve updated a number of the annual lists recently, usually thanks to readers who point me in the direction of books I’ve overlooked.  If you know of a book from any year that I might not have mentioned, please let me know in a comment. (Revised February 7, March 5, 28, April 17, 2016.)

Almost Famous Women

Megan Mayhew Bergman. Almost Famous Women. NY: Scribner. Contains thirteen short stories about not-quite famous women, including Beryl Markham, Romaine Brooks, and Oscar Wilde’s niece, to name just three. Nine of the stories are preceded by a photograph of the subject, two use reproductions of paintings, and two stories have no illustration.

Boyd Sweet Caress Read more

Recently Read: Blackwell, Bailat-Jones…

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Every year I read many more books than I can find time to write about on Vertigo, and so I use the category Recently Read as a way of bringing attention to the occasional book that stands out but isn’t quite at the heart of what I tend to write about here. Two books have lingered in my imagination over the last couple of months – Elise Blackwell’s The Lower Quarter (Unbridled Books, 2015) and Michelle Bailat-Jones’ Fog Island Mountains (Tantor, 2014). Read more

Conversations with the Dead: Patti Smith’s M Train

Patti_Smith-2015-M_Train_book_cover-715x1024

I let my coffee run cold and thought about detectives. Partners depend on one another’s eyes. The one says, tell me what you see. His partner must speak assuredly, not leaving anything out. But a writer has no partner. He has to step back and ask himself – tell me what you see. But since he is telling himself he doesn’t have to be perfectly clear, because something inside holds any given missing part – the unclear or partially articulated.

Patti Smith’s M Train (I presume the M stands for memory) is essentially a series of conversations with the dead and pilgrimages to the haunts and grave sites of writers past: Rimbaud, Burroughs, Bowles, Genet, Wittgenstein, Camus, Sebald, Plath, Mishima, Akutagawa, Dasai. Comprised of a patchwork quilt of genres, it combines autobiography with a book of dreams, a touch of travel writing, a salute to coffee houses, an ode to memory. Smith, who is a latter-day Beat and an admitted Romantic, blends a deep, if non-denominational spirituality with an unshakable commitment to fate. She reads Tarot cards, believes in dreams, isn’t concerned if she loses a camera or a favorite overcoat or realizes she has forgetfully left all of her luggage in a hotel room as she boards a flight. Unlike the A train that Smith takes to her ramshackle bungalow on the boardwalk of Far Rockaway, her M train delightfully meanders through time and place without warning or direction. Read more

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