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Posts from the ‘Damion Searls’ Category

Robert Walser’s Schoolboys

Walser Schoolboys Diary

Time seemed to stand still because it had to stop and eavesdrop on all the beauty and all the evening magic.  Everything dreamed because it was alive, and everything lived because it was permitted to dream.  [“The City,” 1915]

Is there any writer who seems more clinically optimistic than Robert Walser?  His deliciously confounding narrators – many of which are children or servants – instinctively grasp that ignorance is a precondition to certain types of happiness and wisdom, just as they understand that it is often the so-called unimportant things that really matter.

[Hanswurst] is and always will be a child, a blockhead unable to tell the important from the unimportant, the valuable from the worthless.  Or maybe, in the end, he is smarter than he himself realizes, and has more wit than he himself is capable of acknowledging?  Remain, dear question, nice and unanswered, I beg of you.  In any case, Hanswurst is happy in his own skin.  He has no future, but he also doesn’t want any such thing.  Say a little prayer for him!  He’s too dumb to. [“Hanswurst,” 1914]

(I love that tiny prayer to stay innocent: “Remain, dear question, nice and unanswered.”)

“Hanswurst”  is one of the many gems encountered in  the new volume A Schoolboy’s Diary (New York Review of Books, 2013), translated by Damion Searls.    Spanning the years 1899-1925, these fifty-plus stories (depending on how you count) are nearly all narrated by Walser’s impish, cock-sure, wise-beyond-their-years, but somehow still innocent schoolboys as they survey the world from the cusp of their school desks.  With a nice touch of grandiosity, the opening line from the title story (1914) proclaims the collective purpose of these stories, “As a secondary school student it is truly time to think about life a little more seriously.”

For me, the story sequence “Fritz Kocher’s Essays” (1904) steals the show.  “FKE” purports to be a series of twenty-one brief essays written by a young lad for his school assignments.    An unnamed person introduces Kocher, a student who “passed away not long after he left school,” by telling us that “a boy can speak words of great wisdom and words of great stupidity at practically the same moment: that is how these essays are too.”  Kocher’s essays, on subjects assigned by his teacher, are filled with boundless enthusiasm and youthful self-confidence.  “I want to and I will get stronger, freer, nobler, richer, more famous, braver, and more reckless every day,” Kocher writes, sounding like a boy who wants to grow up to be a comic book hero.  But, since freedom, for Walser, is always fraught with consequences, Kocher adds: “I’m sure I’ll get an F for saying this.”  After sampling the various temptations of freedom, Walser’s schoolboys almost always return to the safe and desirable confines of school and discipline.  School prevents the mind from “degenerating into slovenliness” and serves to reduce temptation by being “the unavoidable choker around the neck of youth, and I confess that it is a valuable piece of jewelry indeed.”  Instead of freedom, Kocher declares, “a firm command and silent obedience – that would really be much better.”  In fact, the one time that the teacher offers to let the students decide the topics of their essays, Kocher draws a blank.  “To be honest, nothing comes to mind.  I don’t like this land of freedom.  I am happy to be tied to a set subject.”  Kocher’s originality is a condition of always being the foil, of playing Rosencrantz rather than Hamlet.   Nevertheless, hovering around the edges of “Fritz Kocher’s Essays” is the looming inevitability of adulthood, with its burdens of cynicism and greed and other perceived adult maladies, like taking one’s self too seriously.  “Even a foolish schoolboy can see people acting like irrational animals every day.”  And so it seems almost inevitable that Fritz Kocher “had to die young,” before he loses his innocence.

Nature, on the other hand, is that part of the world where cynicism and other adult ills are banished, and a good number of the stories in A Schoolboy’s Diary involve restorative trips to parks or the countryside..  “It is hard to write about Nature,” Kocher says, “Writing about people is easy: they have fixed characteristics.  Nature is so blurry, so delicate, so intangible, so infinite.”

Oh, how beautiful it was on the cliffs above the lake, which was like a gentle smile in its color and outline – a smile containing the best will in the world and the most graceful goodness, a smile that can only be smiled by lovers, who almost always have a certain similarity to children.  I always walked along the same path, and every time it seemed entirely new.  I never tired of delighting in the same things and glorying in the same things.  Is the sky not always the same, are love and goodness not always the same?  The beauty met me with such silence.  Conspicuous things and inconspicuous things held hands with each other like children of the same mother.  What was important melted away and I devoted undivided attention to the most unimportant things and was very happy doing so.  [“Spring,” 1915]

Nevertheless, even nature’s influence must be limited in the end: “We went home when the time came when you have to go home, as it always does.”

Some of Walser’s schoolboys do get to an age where they think of other things than gossiping about their teachers or hiking in the woods.  Several stories written around the time of the World War I address military life as if it were little more than a continuation of school life, merely governed by an stricter hierarchy and and a more obligatory code of obedience (Walser served in the Swiss military about then).  But, unlike the uncertain virtues attributed to school attendance, military service has the clear, overriding benefit of serving the country, and joining the military seems like an idealistic undertaking, albeit still with comic book hero overtones.  “The soldier is meant to defend the fatherland…What true soldier would be capable, in the hour of universal need, in the wonderful hour of bitter earnestness, in the hour of danger, of being disloyal and forgetting what he owes to his fatherland?”  [“The Soldier,” 1914]  In later soldierly stories like “Something About Soldiers” and “In the Military” (both 1915), military realities set in, like monotony and the lack of cleanliness (“Have I even once in my service, or more than two or three times, used soap?  Not that I know of.”).  But while Walser’s young soldiers have nothing but praise for the enforced simplicity of their lives, it is impossible for the reader not to notice that military service in neutral Switzerland often amounted to marching “in formation and in time down spic-and-span streets, through a beautiful, rich country…”   Notice, in the following quote, the dialectic that Walser’s narrator poses is between peace and military life, not between peace and war.

Yes, goodness gracious, I am certainly a proponent of the slackard’s life, laziness, happiness, and peace; but alas I am also for the military.  I think peace is nice and I think the military is nice.  How can I make heads or tails of this strange contradiction?  I cannot deny the peaceloving part of myself, but nor can I deny that I am a true friend of the soldier’s life. [“In the Military,” 1915]

In her short 1982 essay “Walser’s Voice,” Susan Sontag searches for ways to characterize the distinctiveness of Walser’s unique narrative tone. She invokes the art of Paul Klee, the poetry of Stevie Smith, Japanese pillow books, Kleist, Beckett, Musil, and Leopardi.  But in the end, she suggests that “any true lover of Walser will want to disregard the net of comparisons that one can throw over his work.”  So what is it that makes him such a “wonderful, heartbreaking writer,” to invoke her words?  Thanks to the thoughtful and focused selection of stories in A Schoolboy’s Diary, we can see how Walser carefully develops a textual strategy to show the awkwardness of characters on the verge of emerging from their youth, characters who are long on emotions and short on things like detail and analysis.

Gently and softly the distant sounds of busy daily life rise up from the depths of the populated plains to your listening ear, while your eyes drink in the blindingly beautiful dear white of a cloud floating in the blue sky like a fairy-tale ship.  Sweet cooing and roaring, sweet humming and whispering airs, and there you stand under all that light, in all that light, among all those colors, and you look across to the nearby mountains reaching up into the air silently, big and shrouded in mist, like figures in a dream, and you greet them like friends – you are their friend, they are your friends.  You are the whole world’s friend; you want to fall into its arms, the arms of this wonderful friend.  She holds you in her arms and you hold her.  You understand her, you love her, and she you.

Let’s look at what is really going on in this paragraph.  As the  narrator listens to the distant sounds of a city, he first observes a white cloud against a blue sky, then he has the pleasant awareness of a vague blend of sounds, lights, and more colors.  Next we see a series of transformations: the nearby mountains become anthropomorphic friends and the world itself becomes a female lover (or at least a maternalistic figure), with a subliminal hint of sexuality.  Throughout A Schoolboy’s Diary Walser’s youthful narrators provide neither overt psychological depth nor significant descriptive detail.  Life, for them, isn’t much more complex than the rudimentary shapes and outlines found in a coloring book.  In fact, some elements are so vague (one is tempted to say “so wistful”) that it is difficult to pin down their source, such as the phrase Sweet cooing and roaring, sweet humming and whispering airs, which sounds like a youthful mash-up of poorly remembered lines of poetry.  The suggestion that this is a dream and a fairy tale implies that the narrator at least marginally grasps the fragile, untethered nature of his own perceptions, while Walser’s use of the first person and his habit of intimately addressing the reader as “you” tries to draw the reader into the narrator’s charmed vision.  By asking us, in essence, “Don’t you see this, too?”, the narrator seems to be hoping against hope that the chimerical vision of youth will last forever.

Translator Damion Searls (who also seems to have selected the stories for this volume) makes the case in his Translator’s Note that Walser is “by no means a naive or accidental writer…much less the quasi-outsider artist he is sometimes presented as.”  On the contrary, Searls describes him as a consummate professional who was diligent as a writer and who tended to every aspect of seeing his works into print.  In a story called “School Visit” (1921), Walser writes admiringly of a teacher, but I wonder if the characterization might not also apply to himself as a writer. “The teacher called forth the childish eagerness, intelligence, and abilities of her charges almost like a sorceress.  Her work seemed easy, but the observer remarked to himself that there must be a lot of effort, a lot of prior organizing and leading, great patience, and much self-sacrificing consideration and insight lying behind this smoothly functioning, well-rounded perfection.”

The official book launch for A Schoolboy’s Diary is September 10, 2013 at 192 Books, 192 Tenth Avenue (@21st)), New York.  Searls will discuss the book, along with poet Mina Pam Dick.  According to 192’s website, “currently, Dick is doing work that makes out and off with Buchner, Lenz, Holderlin, Wedekind, and Walser.”


Jelinek Plays with Walser

Cahiers 18 cover

Sylph Editions and The Center for Writers & Translators at the American University of Paris continue their outstanding collaboration with their Cahiers Series 18, Her Not All Her: on/with Robert Walser, a play by Elfriede Jelinek. The only stage direction in the play is this: “A number of people to each other, all very friendly and well-behaved (perhaps lying in bathtubs, as was once the custom in mental hospitals),” which obviously provides wide latitude for producing the piece on the stage.

There are no characters or voices identified; instead, the play is written in paragraphs, just like a short story or essay. Without the clue provided by the stage direction, it would be eminently reasonable to read straight through Her Not All Her as if there was but a single voice that probably emanates from Walser. “Would you like to hear the novel of my life?”  But on closer inspection, it becomes less and less clear who might be speaking at times.  In some paragraphs the first-person narrator seems as if it could be no one but Walser. At other times it appears that someone else might be addressing Walser; or, it could well be that Walser is addressing himself in the third person – a not unreasonable possibility. But even when it seems like it might be Walser speaking, it isn’t always discernible which Walser is speaking – the young Walser-as-successful-writer or the elderly Walser who spent the final three decades of his life in a mental institution, where he wrote but meagerly.

Memory is a hardware store where writers try to help themselves to something for free until all of the suffering falls on their heads because they pulled the bottommost plank out of the pile first. So now I garb myself in delicate absentmindedness and no one can ask anything of me now, I’m dreaming, or temporarily dead at the moment.

“Who speaks?” asks Reto Sorg in an afterword to the play. “This question returns insistently in modernity… What Jelinek’s play highlights is that the act of literary confession, striving for self-determination, is always also an attempt to free oneself from just this obligation to have any identity at all.”

To be sure, an overriding attribute of this play is uncertainty. Her Not All Her forces the determined reader – and even more so, the stage director – to invent distinctions in and contexts for the text.  As Jelinek says in a statement about the play:

Robert Walser is one of those people who do not mean themselves when they say “I.” It is true he never stops saying “I”, but it’s not him.

The title Her Not All Her is an English adaptation of the German original (Er nicht als er), which itself is a wordplay built out of the German syllables of Walser’s name, as if Walser was himself was a literary construction. 

Cahiers 18 inside

This is the first time the play, which premiered in 1998, has appeared in English. The 40-page pamphlet also includes a brief statement by Jelinek, an essay on Jelinke and Walser by Reto Sorg, Director of the Robert Walser Centre, and reproductions of thickly impastoed paintings of faces by British artist Thomas Newbolt. The translations are by Damion Searls. 

The View from Midstream

The whole brook seems as busy as a loom: it is a woof and a warp of ripples; fairy fingers are throwing the shuttle at every step, and the long, waving brook is the fine product.  The water is wonderfully clear.  Sept. 4, 1851

I’ve waded into The Journal of Henry David Thoreau and I don’t really want to leave soon.  Thoreau’s polymath curiosity is infectious and best taken in small doses.  I’ve been using a newly published abridgment of The Journal to float on Thoreau’s stream for two months now and, at 667 pages, I made be reading Thoreau for a very long time.

But there is something unsettling about The Journal.  The product that ultimately emerges as The Journal dramatically shapes our sense of Thoreau.  As Damion Searls, who abridged this volume down from the original 7,000 pages, writes in his fascinating Introduction, “The Journal is not literally what Thoreau wrote each day: he often wrote up entries days later, from notes,  and … he would also go back years later and make further additions and connections.”  So when we read in consecutive paragraphs  (as we do on February 3, 1852) about Thoreau’s visit to libraries in Cambridge and Boston, musings on the nature of sunsets, an evening walk, a quick investigation into the origins of the word “selenite” (a stone), questions about the color of the night sky, and a final paragraph about the nature of a “forcible writer,” it’s easy to see this not as the flow of a single personality but the facets of a many-dimensional puzzle.  Moreover, Thoreau’s aphoristic tendencies can be maddening.  He crafts  fabulous, pithy sentences (is any writer more quotable than Thoreau?) that are blunt, self-assured, disconcertingly without context or nuance, and ultimately ambiguous.  Truth with a capital T.

Thoreau had a mind ideally suited to an era (the tail end of an era, really) when it was still possible to pursue real science through observation, questioning, and a broad knowledge that could be largely self-taught.  If he had been more sociable – and British – he would have fit well in with the people who populate two recent and highly engrossing books: Richard Holmes’ The Age of Wonder (2008) and Jenny Uglow’s Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World (2002).  (Brief aside: the original British subtitle was The Friends Who Made the Future, 1730-1810.  Must US publishers always tweak book titles?)

But the truth is, it’s hard to conceive of Thoreau blending in with a circle of like-minded colleagues.  The dislike of nearly all mankind is one of the constant themes of The Journal and Thoreau would make us believe that he prefers his own company to that of any other person. When it suits his purposes, he can idealize the hard-working common man: “I like better the surliness with which the woodchopper speaks of his woods, handling them as indifferently as his axe, than the mealy-mouthed enthusiasm of the lover of nature.”  But most of the time Thoreau simply dismisses “the rabble” just as he dismisses cities (“so strange and repulsive”).

One final thought.  If Thoreau appears to like anything less than the rabble, it is government.  While The Journal (so far) only gives hints of the philosophy contained within his Civil Disobedience, it’s not hard to see him being adopted as a mascot by the current Tea Party movement in America.  “It is only when we forget all our learning that we begin to know,” he writes.  In an earlier post I briefly touched on some relationships I saw between Thoreau and W.G. Sebald.  But the differences are equally compelling.  Unlike Thoreau, Sebald is not interested in pithy aphorisms or general truisms of any sort.  His long, often convoluted sentences are filled with context, history, nuance, complication.   For Sebald, there are few Truths and an infinite number of truths.

Six and a Half Cents

EBay has morphed into a place to buy and sell just about anything, but I have to admit I like the idea of using eBay to distribute new writing and raise a few (very few) dollars for the author or for a charity.  Tp be honest, the project, run by, is not really about money; it’s an experiment in significance (to quote from their fun website) :

  1. The experiment’s curators purchase objects — for no more than a few dollars — from thrift stores and garage sales.
  2. A participating writer is paired with an object. He or she then writes a fictional story, in any style or voice, about the object. Voila! An unremarkable, castoff thingamajig has suddenly become a “significant” object!
  3. Each significant object is listed for sale on eBay. The s.o. is pictured, but instead of a factual description the s.o.’s newly written fictional story is used. However, care is taken to avoid the impression that the story is a true one; the intent of the project is not to hoax eBay customers. (Doing so would void our test.) The author’s byline will appear with his or her story.
  4. The winning bidder is mailed the significant object, along with a printout of the object’s fictional story. Net proceeds from the sale are given to the respective author. Authors retain all rights to their stories.

This has been going on since last July, but I just learned about it from Damion Searls, (more about Damion here).  He has a great story and a nice red teapot up for sale on eBay through April 25 (13:18:01 Pacific Daylight Time, to be precise).  To judge from the bidding so far, Damion has added $33.00 worth of significance to this teapot with his story, or a little more than six and a half cents a word.

Just for the sake of comparison, here’s what seven and a half cents would buy in the 1954 Broadway musical Pajama Game:

I figured it out
I figured it out
With a pencil and a pad I figured it out!
Seven and a half cents doesn’t buy a hell of a lot,
Seven and a half cents doesn’t mean a thing!
But give it to me every hour,
Forty hours every week,
And that’s enough for me to be living like a king!
I figured it out

With a pencil and a pad I figured it out!
Only five years from today!
Only five years from today!
I can see it all before me!
Only five years from today!
Five years! Let’s see..thats 260 weeks, times forty hours every week, and roughly two and a quarter hours overtime.. at time
and a half for overtime! Comes to exactly.. $852.74!
That’s enough for me to get
An automatic washing machine,
A years supply of gasoline,
Carpeting for the living room,
A vacuum instead of a blasted broom,
Not to mention a forty inch television set!

A Traveller

July 2, 1851.  A traveller!  I love his title.  A traveller is to be reverenced as such.  His profession is the best symbol of our life.  Going from  _____  toward  _____  ; it is the history of every one of us.

It takes but little distance to make the hills and even the meadows look blue to-day.  That principle which gives the air an azure color is more abundant.

To-day the milkweed is blossoming.  Some of the raspberries are ripe, the most innocent and simple of fruits, the purest and most ethereal.  Cherries are ripe.  Strawberries in the gardens have passed their prime.

I am savoring Henry David Thoreau’s The Journal 1837-1861, as recently edited by Damion Searls for NRYB.  (Savoring is code for reading slowly during the interstices between other books, hoping the book will never come to an end – and, at 667 pages, it seems like it may never end.)  Thoreau is a writer to linger over.  His wide-ranging curiosity and persistent, clear powers of observation come as a real tonic to a 21st century reader.  Thoreau represents one of the paths America set out on more than two centuries ago – scientific minded, rational, passionate, ethical.  A person who brought very few preconceptions to the table.  Thoreau’s quiet direction is still part of the American ensemble, but it’s a voice easily and sadly drowned out.

W.G. Sebald, who, in so many ways, seemed like a man of the 19th century, and Henry David Thoreau both grapple with questions of scale.  Within the scope of the infinite universe and an earthly history far longer than any one person’s existence, what is the proper scale of a single individual in a single lifetime.  And for both, I think, this topic was essentially a struggle toward a proper ethics.

Mind the Gap – Reading Literary Condensations

At my grandparent’s house there were hundreds of books that ranged from rose gardening to Scottish poetry to three-decker novels by Bulwer-Lytton, all nestled in the arts and crafts bookcases that adorned nearly every room.  Every year I spent entire days at their house reading and absorbing new subjects and consuming 19th century novels.  By contrast, my parents had only several shelves of unread Reader’s Digest Condensed Books and an encyclopedia set that I refused to consult.  Even as a young child with a library card and a voracious appetite for books I remember thinking it was somehow wrong to reduce a book’s wordage, although I couldn’t articulate what my rationale was at the time.  So perhaps it was inevitable that I would become a literature major as an undergraduate as a way of sorting all this out for myself.

I hadn’t given condensed books much thought for, well, let’s just say several decades, until Penguin announced in 2005 the posthumous inclusion of something called Young Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald in its series of seventy titles celebrating the 70th anniversary of their Pocket Penguins series.  I was horrified at the mere idea of Austerlitz reduced to 68 pages.   Young Austerlitz, it turned out, much to my relief, was not an really an abridgement, but a word-for-word – and illustration-for-illustration – excerpt from Austerlitz.  In 2005, as part of the celebrations of its 70th anniversary, Penguin (which owns Sebald’s British imprint Hamish Hamilton) issued excerpts from 70 titles spanning its publishing history. Austerlitz was chosen to represent the year 2001 and so a 58-page excerpt from Austerlitz was published in a slim paperback under the title Young Austerlitz.  The excerpt covers pages 44 to 96 in the American edition, in which Austerlitz describes part of his childhood in Wales.

Rachel Whiteread, Untitled (Stacks), 1999, plaster, polystyrene and steel. (Image: Anthony d’Offay Gallery)

I was reminded of this episode with Young Austerlitz sometime last year when the Summer 2009 issue of The Review of Contemporary Fiction landed in my mailbox and much to my delight and puzzlement the cover announced a “Special Fiction Issue” devoted to “Herman Melville’s ; or The Whale“, edited by Damion Searls.  In his playful Introduction, Searls explains that “; or the Whale is a lost work from Herman Melville’s major period (1851), never before published … until 2007.”  In truth, ; or the Whale is a reverse abridgement of a 2005 publication called Moby-Dick in Half the Time, which is part of a series from Orion Books called Compact Editions – “Small(er) is beautiful”.  Like a Rachel Whiteread sculpture, ; or the Whale is an exploration of the negative space that occurs when a novel is condensed.  What Searls had done was to painstakingly construct yet another condensed version of Melville’s novel by including only the bits cut out by Orion Books, using as his title the deleted half of Melville’s original title Moby Dick; or The Whale.

Reading Searls’ loving reconstitution of Moby-Dick was surprisingly fun.  But rather than writing up my own response, it seems only fitting to simply steal the press release issued by the publisher of The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Dalkey Archive:

Moby-Dick in Half the Time, an abridgment by Orion Books which Adam Gopnik notoriously described in The New Yorker as “all Dick and no Moby,” has now called forth an spirited rebuttal. In an act of arguably Ahabian obsessiveness, writer Damion Searls has pulled together every chapter, word, and punctuation mark that Orion’s abridger cut from Melville’s original Moby Dick; or The Whale. The result—inevitably called ; or The Whale—has been published as a book-length special issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction, making it the first contemporary fiction by Herman Melville to appear in almost 150 years.

“I have nothing against abridgments, I make them myself,” says Searls, who holds a Ph.D. in early American literature.  His one-volume abridgment of Henry David Thoreau’s 7,000-page Journal, produced with traditional methods, will be published by NYRB Classics later in 2009. “After all, the original is still there for anyone who wants it. I just think we should ask what we value, what we want to abridge for. Orion went for a straight-ahead story with a clear plot arc, but what makes Melville Melville is digression, texture, and weirdness. If you only have time to read half the book, which half the time is more worth spending?”

In a cover story for The Believer magazine (“Carving the Whale,” September 2009), Searls describes Melville’s new novel as a good read, filled with humor and  unexpected poetry. Chapter 62 consists of a single word, “hapless”—the only word Orion’s abridger cut from the chapter, trimming a 105-word sentence to 104; the book’s first sentence is “methodically”; the final hunt for the white whale dissolves into pure punctuation. And the emotional arc of the book is the same as in Melville’s original, because Melville’s excess comes at moments of emotional intensity, and that excess, trimmed from Half the Time, is what makes up ; or The Whale. Searls describes it as like watching a DVD on fast forward, and it may get you closer to what Moby Dick is really like than the other abridgment does.

Bringing readers closer to others’ works is the goal of many of Searls’s efforts. He translates from German, Norwegian, French, and Dutch, bringing classic writers like Proust and Rilke and less known writers like Ingeborg Bachmann and Jon Fosse to American readers. His new book of short stories, What We Were Doing and Where We Were Going, is a collection of “cover versions”: present-day stories inspired by Nabokov, Hawthorne, and other writers from around the world. For the Review of Contemporary Fiction, though, ; or The Whale is not just a version of Moby Dick but a work of literature in its own right: “Otherwise we wouldn’t be publishing it,” insists editor Martin Riker. The quick cutting and narrative elisions are very 21st Century, irrespective of whether the author wrote 19th Century classics too.

Author Herman Melville could not be reached for comment.

For example, here is Searls’ version of Chapters 10 and 11 in their entirety:

    1. CHAPTER 10

A Bosom Friend

    1. long-drawn
    1. It may seem ridiculous, but
    1. He made no advances whatever; appeared to have no desire to enlarge the circle of his acquaintances.
    If there yet lurked any ice of indifference towards me in the Pagan’s breast, soon thawed it out, and
    1. CHAPTER 11


    1. what little nappishness remained in us altogether departed, and
    imposed                                   and I no more felt unduly concerned for the landlord’s policy of insurance.

Damion Searls, by the way, is the translator of Melancholy by Jon Fosse, which I have written about earlier.

If it seems like the posts on Vertigo have been few and far between lately, it is because a pair of monster-sized books are really slowing me down.  I’m making my way through Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, which alternates between fabulous moments and long dry spells.  And I’m reading yet another abridged title for which Damion Searls is responsible: a newly  edited version of The Journal by Henry David Thoreau, which nevertheless comes in at 667 pages.  More on Thoreau later.