5.27.2011

JR by William Gaddis



{I inadvertently deleted this post a few weeks back, and am finally reposting it with some alterations.  It's originally from LT, circa Feb. 2009, back when the economy was truly inside the toilet, compared to today's economy being, say, perched precariously on the toilet seat}



If you thought David Foster Wallace wrote obscenely long convoluted sentences, try reading this two pound behemoth that has not one (not one I tell you!) chapter break in its entirety.  It's like reading The Neverending Paragraph.  If that sounds daunting enough already, factor in that the narrative is ninety per cent dialogue.  Factor in also that the dialogue of JR is atypical dialogue that doesn't increase reading speed because it's dialogue that William Gaddis has purposely not clearly delineated who's speaking what to whom ninety-nine per cent of the time (sound confusing?, try reading it!), for one must deduce who's speaking without any he said/she saids to help you sort it all out, similar to the unspecified-as-to-who's-speaking-dialogue featured in "A Clean, Well Lighted Place;" only JR, mind you, is not a ten page short story by Ernest Hemingway, but a 752 page menacing gargoyle of a novel comprising vast Himalayan-like exchanges of deep dialogue and it takes at times the concentration or meditation of a Tibetan monk to decipher what the dialogue means, let alone figuring out who's speaking to whom.  JR is scary to face, yes, and it's hard keeping track of who said what to who what where when why and how, true, and the postmodern tome mocks the comprehension of one accustomed to instant gratification in light easy reading (or just conventional reading for that matter), but other than that, JRs a real breeze.  A nice cool refreshing breeze that flows past the reader reading the equivalent of running a marathon.

And since JR is about money and capitalism gone so wild and satirically haywire that even a precocious elementary school kid working a payphone at recess as if he were a bookie; or working a payphone out on a school field trip, conversing with the local stock exchange and thereby becoming a zillionaire practically overnight on stocks and bonds, it's quite topical to boot given the present state of our abysmal and, some might argue, broken U.S.A. American economy run into the ground by children dressed up all nice and spiffy as if they were genuine businessmen and women not certainly seeking to go Ponzi on an all too gullible U.S.A. American public willing to buy anything, whether junk mortgages or junk truth.  JR is funny too, and not quite as depressing as our abysmal and, some might argue, broken economy run into the ground by children dressed up all nice and spiffy as if they were genuine businessmen and women not certainly seeking to go Ponzi on an all too gullible U.S.A. American public willing to buy anything, whether junk mortgages or junk truth.  So stop overlooking William Gaddis and his brilliant novel, JR, and then maybe I'll stop being redundant, wordy, and pontificating about it, too.  Just put down the Tommy Pynchon for one inconsequential second and give this neglected great master postmodernist whom Pynchon actually looked up to once upon a time and arguably emulated in his young'n days before V. had been conceived -- and the 1976 National Book Award Winner for crying out loud -- the larger audience he finally deserves.

Columbine by Dave Cullen




Very well written and especially researched book by a reporter, Dave Cullen, who was there at Columbine and followed the case long after the rest of the media moved on to the next horror show.

Columbine demythologizes so many of the absurd and, what have sort of become urban legends about the killers:  They were racists, skinheads, goths, trench coat mafiosos on a mission from Marilyn Manson, satanists, haters of jocks on the hunt for Christians .... Wrong.... They weren't any of those things, regardless of how the media and some local law enforcement officials erroneously depicted them at the time.

Turns out, those two lost teenage boys were even worse than those evils misapplied to them.  They hated everybody, including themselves.  Had they been as proficient in transforming propane tanks into homemade bombs as they were at shooting students and teachers on the run with chilling accuracy, they may not have had to shoot anybody, except perhaps the first two they killed walking out of the school as they were marching in, as those bombs (it was later determined) had they been wired correctly, could have levelled the entire school and killed at least 500 people, thus putting the incident at the level of a terrorist attack rather than a school shooting.  And such destruction would've placed those boys, where they explicitly dreamed of being, in the same league as Timothy McVeigh.

Even after reading the book, reading lengthy excerpts from the killers' diaries, there's still no definitive answers to the infinite arrays of WHYs?


While I recognize what a stellar job Dave Cullen did in researching and writing Columbine with its sensitive, non-linear structure that better explained the incident than writing a straight  A-Z timeline, I still don't recommend it, even though it's good, if not great.

Columbine is just too damn depressing, great read or not.

5.20.2011

On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry by William H. Gass




Blue's more than a color, mood, or groove of a jukebox tune.  The symbology of blue, along with its definitions, are as infinite as its nuanced hues.  Aqua, azure, turquoise, cerulean, indigo, cobalt, ad infinitum ...  There's endless shades of adjectives on the adjective, blue.  Or so posits William H. Gass (and I tend to believe him), in his idiosyncratic, intertextual synthesis, On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry (1976), of all that's ever been --or could be-- blue.  Besides blue ontologically and blue philosophically, Gass covers blue cross-culturally, literarily, aesthetically, psychologically, epistemologically, phenomenologically, erotically, metaphorically, and practically every other word ending, "-ically," that one might encounter in the O.E.D. too.

First printing, 1976
At the book's core, I believe Gass is asking: How do blue's meanings become blue's meanings and what do blue's meanings then mean to our very being?  Even an intrepid or sadomasochistic-type reader easily lured by books odd or arcane, incomprehensible, might be wondering "huh?" or even, regrettably, "WTF!?" at such an inquiry regarding "blue meaning and blue being," as I was, after having just asked it up above.  Keep in mind, if you're still with me, that if Gass confounds you to the point you'd like to hurl On Being Blue out the window into the great blue yonder, know you're not alone, but in some very good company, as William H. Gass is a certifiable Linguistic Mystic.  He gets off on the alchemy of language -- what he's coined, "a world of words," like he's a wizard with a wand --much more than making his language, particularly in On Being Blue-- always easily understandable to an understandably perplexed, though diehard, willing to work hard for those nuggets of comprehension, readership.

On Being Blue, while beholden to all of the momentarily forthcoming labels, is not necessarily in a monogamous relationship with only one, be it prose poetry, strict philosophy per se, literary or art criticism, soft core erotica, autobiography, or a confabulated hodgepodge of all the forms, including fiction.  Rather, On Being Blue, borrowing something from all styles of discourse, serves as William H. Gass's metaphysical manifesto built not out of the blue, but literally out of blue.  The Epicurean blue of knowledge.  The blue in gnosis and the gnosis in blue.  It's a highly stylized interdisciplinary hybrid of a master-wordsmiths exposition that doesn't offer any easily navigated routes (let alone clues) of interpreting every facet of the diamond, blue.  And Gass makes no apologies for failing to do so, too.

No real surprise there, as Gass has never cared about being contemporary or orthodox or popular for everyone's easy consumption, so in love with the crafting and fashioning of language he is; and, in reading On Being Blue, it certainly seems his animated language loves him back.  Self-indulgently so?  Onanistic?  Perhaps.  And that's probably the harshest criticism I could levy against it (and perhaps against Gass' oeuvre in general) that the point of it all (in his essays) or the plot of it all (in his postmodern stories and experimental novels) gets lost in his lush, elaborate language and esoterica.  Gass echoes Walter Benjamin in that recondite regard.  For it's akin to seeking out a rare genus of weed in the Amazon rainforest, hunting for the reclusive plot (if it even exists) in, say, Gass' dark magnum opus, The Tunnel (1995), for instance.  And even in his earlier fiction, like the typographical hijinks so common in Willie Masters' Lonesome Wife (1968), spliced with provocative black-and-white photography of the attractive lonesome wife's naked anatomy, posed as she is among so much sensually arranged textual formatting (discovering as she does that intercourse with words is sheer ecstasy!), the plot, nevertheless, is about as visible to the reader's naked eye as an atom.

If there is a point to On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry, however, the point is obvious: The point is blue.

5.18.2011

Alphabetical Africa by Walter Abish

(**Please go here for an improved version of this review**)


Alphabetical Africa is one of the wittiest, most cleverly constructed books I've ever read.  Here's why:   The first chapter, "A,"only contains words that begin with the letter "a"; the second chapter, "B," only contains words beginning with either the letters "a" or "b"; and so on and so forth goes the rest of the novel, chapters C, D, E, F, G and on to chapter "Z".  Then, the novel starts erasing itself, so to speak, as it contracts from having access to the full gamut of the English alphabet in chapter "Z" back to hyper-restrictive chapter "A", filled with alliterative paragraphs like this:

"After air attack author assumes Alva's asexuality affected African army's ack-ack accuracy, an arguable assumption, anyhow, army advances, annilihating antelopes, alligators and ants.  Admirable attrition admits Ashanti admiral as author all alone autographs Ashanti atlas, authenticating anthill actions.  Actually, asks Alva, are all Ashanti alike."


Alphabetical Africa's self-restricted artifice helps make it one of the funniest "experimental" novels or "avant-garde" novels or whatever you want to call these unconventionally structured novels that Walter Abish and other Oulipo-type writers tend to produce; novels whose narratives employ radically unorthodox devices in communicating their contents to the reader.  Maybe I'm strange, but I think it's hysterical that the first person narrator of Alphabetical Africa can't appear until chapter "I" and then disappears after the apex of chapter "Z" has been reached and the novel, having incrementally lost access to the complete English language, segues from chapter "I" to chapter "H".  Bye bye first person narrator, and welcome back "author".

I'm aware that many folks might automatically turn their noses up at the label "avant garde" or "experimental" as it does regrettably tend to signify that the book labeled such is just so precious ...  so cutting edge, conceived by the artsy-fartsy pretentious highbrowed elect as "pushing fiction beyond heretofore preconceived limits to lofty new literary heights of visionary grandeur and artful excellence blah blah blah," or some blurbish bullshit like that; when in fact all the book has "accomplished" is come up with some cute, minutely original contrivances or gimmicks to coverup the fact of its fated (and deserved) remainder-pile-mediocrity, the focus of its promoters being on its supposed "innovaton" because solid, compelling storytelling, it lacks.

Not so, Alphabetical Africa.  Though "avant-garde" and "experimental" it is, it's nevertheless a novel experiment worth reading.  Worth reading twice or three times even just to figure out what Abish had to excise with his self-imposed letter limitations.  Even with the letter restrictions early on in the novel and at its conclusion, Abish's poetic prose constantly rings true, no matter how many letters are available to him.  The writing never sounds forced to fit its artifice.  No faux prose.  Genuine narration.  Pure poetry.  True, it's mildly uncomfortable, at least to this reader, reading non-stop alliteration for two and three pages at a shot, but you get used to it like watching sub-titles of a foreign film after awhile; you forget they're even there on the screen, caught up as you are in the drama of the film.  In the same way, what you have to interpret in Alphabetical Africa -- with its self-restricted artifice -- does not detract either, remarkably, from following an increasingly engrossing and funny plot.

What's it about?

About Africa.  Alphabets.  Angolans.  Animals.  Alligators.  Ants.  Antelopes.  Archaeologists.  Alva.  Alva's abduction.  Alex and Allen's arguments about Alva's abduction.  Who done it?!

And about a ... a Tanzanian transvestite too!

5.15.2011

Smiles on Washington Square: A Love Story of Sorts by Raymond Federman


**{Unimportant note to the Possibly Nonexistent--but Nevertheless Prized--Reader Interested in the Writing of Raymond Federman:  Somehow, I missed copying this review over from LibraryThing.  I thought I'd caught them all; not so.  A few more to hunt down, I see, as well.  I'm particularly proud of this piece because it helped turn several people in my online circles on to Raymond Federman, an under read, under-appreciated, underground "surfictionist" or "critifictionist" (both Federman's own invented terms) or "experimentalist" or "avant-garde-ist"; all in all an innovative writer I've come to greatly admire over the past couple years.  Go here to learn more about this remarkable author, and man.  Rather than revise and update this piece, I've left it alone in order to preserve its neophyte-feel of a reader (yours truly) having just "discovered" an exciting writer brand new to him.  Originally posted in LT on April 13, 2009.}**

Finding any book by Raymond Federman either new or used at any bookseller in America is next to impossible.  Not so in Europe, and especially France, where Federman was born in 1928, and where also, like John Hawkes before him, he has become nearly as large a literary legend as Victor Hugo.  Well, almost.

I searched for anything by Federman for six years (I loathe the thought of ordering books online without seeing and feeling and even sniffing out what condition they're in -- a phobia, I realize), without success.  But then one lucky evening at the Bookman in Orange, CA, this slender volume, Smiles on Washington Square: A Love Story of Sorts materialized like a dream in mint condition (had it even been read? opened?) before me.

I think like most Americans (excluding fusty and fastidious English professors), I'd never heard of Raymond Federman until happening upon Larry McAfferey's "20th Century Greatest Hits," a fascinating Top 100 list focused on English language novels and dominated primarily by postmodern, experimental works.  Federman's 1976 novel, Take It Or Leave it, ranks 11th on the list, one spot behind Finnegan's Wake, while 1971s, Double or Nothing: A Real Fictitious Discourse, places 46th.

Smiles on Washington Square, from 1985, didn't make the list, though it was awarded The American Book Award by The Before Columbus Foundation.  Federman has also received a Guggenheim Fellowship (among many other professional awards) and published five books of essential, highly regarded criticism on Samuel Beckett (one of Federman's mentors) as well as producing five volumes of poetry and numerous plays.  And yet America, going on its fifth decade-in-a-row now, has all but essentially completely ignored this innovative writer.  Mystifying.  He's 80 now, one of the last living first wave of postmodernists, retired from teaching but not from writing, never from writing, living in San Diego, and has been kind enough to respond to my couple of wordy nerdy emails.  So how could I not, in just this dinky way here, repay him the kindness and promote his body of neglected books?

Smiles on Washington Square: A Love Story of Sorts centers on the characters, Moinous and Sucette, who both may be merely the product of one another's imaginations.  But which character is real and which imaginary?, one must read to the very end to find out for sure.  I was convinced three-quarters of the way through (and my initial impression may in fact still be correct, for the ending's gorgeously ambiguous) that Moinous was a character in a short story that Sucette was writing for school.  A love story of sorts, from Federman's title, about a young man and woman who meet -- or, rather, smile -- at one another in Washington Square.  But keeping in mind Moinous' cultural isolation (he's fresh from France, a stranger to New York) and his poverty (he becomes homeless and sleeps on a wood bench at the train station), and has extreme difficulty procuring and maintaining employment, even as a dishwasher, and that Sucette, in the least Sucette's involvement in the love story we read about, might be a mirage imagined by Moinous' lonely, isolated mind.  He's sees this beautiful woman, Sucette, smile at him in Washington Square, at an anti-McCarthy rally which turns violent, a rally where a politically clueless Moinous, in fact, gets "batonned" and beaten by the police, but thankfully, Sucette is there (or is she?) to help him to her apartment, bandage his wounds, and offer him tea and talk -- they talk for hours -- though a long (for Moinous) forty-two days will transpire before their simple tea and talk becomes passionate consummation; that is, if you believe Moinous' imagination, and his unending complaints of why oh why is she making me wait this long?

The novel circulates between Moinous' lonely longings for companionship and Sucette's writing of her short story, the two narratives intertwined but only intersecting at those smiles on Washington Square.  Does a relationship between the two exist beyond those ephemeral smiles?  Not to spoil the outcome, since only eight other LTers have this compassionate, convoluted but not confusing examination of people's loneliness and sad isolation in their collections, so I seriously doubt I'm spoiling anything for much of anybody, but to answer the previous question -- is there a relationship between Moinous and Sucette beyond their smiles in Washington Square -- I doubt it.  What happens during the narrative, you could say, never happens.  Being either Moinous' fantasies, or Sucette's fiction.

Are your daydreams (mine?) of finding that lovely person whom you'll love and whom will reciprocate your love, and in this mysterious exchange of mutual attraction, ease the heart's pangs of loneliness and longing for human connection, intimacy, and belonging -- are these daily daydreams one often experiences and yearns for anymore real -- real in an actualized sense (i.e., what you're daydreaming about is truly occurring -- than a love story in a work of fiction?  Of course, I think that's Federman's entire point:  our disconnectedness fashions fantasies which often further exacerbate our disconnectedness and loneliness and rob us of the potential friends or lovers staring us in the face.  Why didn't Moinous (assuming he didn't and that I've interpreted Federman's book of 148 pages correctly) do more than smile at Sucette?  Was he too shy just to walk over to her and say hi?  Why did he prefer his fantasy "relationship" with Sucette instead of making something actual happen between them -- and vice versa?  Sucette, apparently, lives in her own fiction world of story writing, but is she content in her loneliness and isolation, or does perhaps creating a "reality" on paper of a love story of sorts, somehow make her loneliness less real?  Is that why she writes -- to apply a cathartic balm of sweetest fantasy to her bitterly isolated reality?

Thought provoking work, Smiles on Washington Square: A Love Story of Sorts.  I'm pretty positive I won't be searching for another six years for another of Raymond Federman's evocative books.  In fact, after I finish this sentence, I'm ordering both Take It Or Leave It and Double or Nothing: A Real Fictitious Discourse online.  Good idea if others did the same.

5.13.2011

Looking Back at Ted Mooney's Author Chat in LibraryThing, Discussing The Same River Twice




Now that I'm about halfway into The Same River Twice (TSRT), I'd say Ted Mooney's work here belongs to that similar literary river, if you will, as what you describe going on with Conrad in Heart of Darkness. There's levels and layers and hidden passageways (if not TSRTs Paris sewers per se) leading to the themes and subtexts; and to a point, it's up to the reader to decide how much they can decipher when discovering that word or turn of phrase or descriptive which, when unlocked, opens that trapdoor descending into deeper corridors of meanings and motifs.

On the Seine River's surface, TSRT is a convoluted and complex mystery crime thriller involving the illegal smuggling of certain Soviet-era artifacts into Paris to be sold as art among Parisian wheeler-art-dealers (or so it seems). Beneath that, something else is going on. A lot of something else is going on! But what? Aren't you going to tell us, Ted!? Do I really have to read the whole book?

Meanwhile, the marriage between Max and Odile seems fine on that Seine River surface too, but to quote a song from yesteryear, "they're alone and yet together like two passing ships,"* they're not on the same page when unsettling, and then life threatening events, transpire. Odile has her complex of secrets under lock and key. While Max, the auteur, mostly maintains detached, though thoughtful, regard throughout.

The river is seen through fantasy and reality perspectives simultaneously; or, rather: twice, when Max films the possible Nachtvlinder catastrophe of its unmooring in swiftly rising Seine waters (his fantasy being caught on film), and while Groot, being filmed by Max, risks it all -- his hardcore life-and-death reality -- to save the boat. The same river, then, again, is being perceived twice -- completely different perspectives concurrently, one "artful," perhaps less real? -- and one excruciatingly realistic.

Ted, can you comment on how you conceived this dual narrative, and why it was important to you to do so (I mean, besides just keeping us hopefully very careful readers on our toes).

I really like too, Ted, what you're doing with that Chinatown reference. Chinatown, with its obsessions over water and who controls the water and hence has the power over a city's ultimate demise or destiny, could conceivably be subtitled, The Same River Twice, in my opinion, as both titles evince similar, dualistic preoccupations regarding opposite perceptions of that singularly important river central to their respective narratives.

How do these allusions you insert, Chinatown and such, or most obviously, Nachtvlinder, come to you in the course of crafting and drafting your novels?

~~~~~

Complete discussion with Ted Mooney on LibraryThing.
My review of The Same River Twice.

5.07.2011

E-Mail Correspondence with Raymond Federman



Just over a week from today, May 15th, is Raymond Federman's birthday.  He'd of turned 83.


Raymond Federman
I sent Raymond Federman an e-mail early in 2009, through his blog, the laugh that laughs at the laugh, about six months before he died, after having just read Smiles on Washington Square: A Love Story of Sorts, a slim, satiric novel I enjoyed so much that I just had to seek out its little known author ("little known" here in the States, anyway) and say ... well, I didn't know exactly what I had to say to Raymond at that time, but I knew if I found him, I'd say ... something.

Turns out, what I said, in hindsight, was an embarrassing, gushing piece of fan mail basically, but Federman didn't treat it as such and, to my surprise, actually responded ... to me ... and did so at great length!  He responded to what for all he knew could've been a crazed stalker-U.S.A.-fan of his sending him a note out of the blue.  We corresponded four or five times that year; sadly, his last, and I had absolutely no idea during this time that he was so terribly sick, since he was always encouraging, upbeat and funny, sharing anecdotes, including stories of his close friendship with Samuel Beckett.  I was floored.

Feeling bold, I sent him my review of Smiles on Washington Square, and while he was sincerely complimentary, he also let me know that "Smiles is a very deceptive little book, a satire of the romance novel," and went on to point out -- and did so humbly, not condescendingly at all -- each theme and parodic thread and novelistic device he employed to expound upon what I had missed of course; or, more precisely, had go straight over my amateur-reviewer's head!  What a kind, generous man he was, talking to me, a complete stranger!

Too bad North America largely ignored him: His groundbreaking criticism on Samuel Beckett; his exuberant, wildly playful, concrete-poetic novels recounting his emigration to the States, early days in the military, and the holocaust atrocities he personally faced and survived before leaving Europe.  Their loss, North America's.  Thankfully, he was beloved in Europe like he deserved; and particularly France.

Below are Raymond Federman's garrulous responses to my initial gush and follow-up correspondences.  Note that when he says "DON" he's referring to his funny and philosophical debut novel, Double or Nothing: A Real Fictitious Discourse (1971); and when he says, "TIOLI," he means what many critics consider his magnum opus, Take It Or Leave It (1976).


1.
"Hi Brent

Now I know more about you and how you got involved with Federman's books.

Smiles on Washington Square may not be as wild in terms of typography and
other gimmicks I used on DON and TIOLI as my friends call these two books
but it is deceptive. You are right - does Moinous really exist or has he been
invented by Sucette -- or is it the reverse has Moinous invented Sucette because
he wants so much to be loved and to love -- What is certain is that they really
never meet behond the smiles on W.S.

When were you at Chapman U. ? Since I moved to San Diego 10 years ago
after having retired from SUNY-Buffalo, my good friend Mark Axelrod invited
me to teach twice at Chapman - I did a course on experimental fiction one
semester and another semester a creative writing seminar. I really enjoyed
the students -- and some are still in touch with me.

My old friend Samuel Beckett said to me in 1966 when I told him that I had
started a novel -- Raymond, he said, if you write for money, do something
else. And after a moment of silence only Sam could make comfortable
he added, and never compromise your work.

I think I have respected his advice -- that is why I never became rich with
the books I wrote and I suppose why my work is somewhat ignored in
America. Oh well. What counts is to receive the kind of letter you wrote me
the other day. So I say to you -- stick with it.

I am not very good at promoting my books - and I really don't have time
right now to join any group. But thanks for suggesting it.

All the best

Raymond"


2.







"Hi Mr. Federman,

Sorry for the delay in responding, work's been a bit crazy last few days, which is a good thing.
I was at Chapman from 89-93, and I believe I was in one of the first classes Dr. Axelrod ever taught, which was I think '91. Funny story about Axelrod real quick: Most of us in his class had a hard time really getting "in" to Honore Balzac, which as I'm sure you know was (and perhaps still is) a specialty of his. He got so frustrated with our lack of interest and preparedness that one day a few minutes into the class session he just rose up from his desk with a sigh and exited the classroom w/out a word. Next session he brought in some Stephen King for us slackers to dissect to get us interested in approaching fiction. Sad commentary (not toward Dr. Axelrod) but toward us kids whose parents were shelling out boo-koo bucks that we might get taught genre appreciation rather than the real lit. we'd signed up for and yet refused to tackle. Some of us, thankfully, have grown up since then! I wish I'd of had the chance to take one of your seminars (especially now after finding your work).

Btw, I've ordered DON and TIOLI (new, not used) and they should be arriving at my door this week. I reviewed "Smiles..." and posted it on LibraryThing.com and goodreads.com, and it's getting some good response from my friends and acquaintances there. Yes, it was a glowingly positive review (5 stars out of 5 stars). I enjoy promoting neglected and underappreciated work. A recent acquaintance, in fact, the writer, John Domini (are you familiar w/him?) spoke very highly of (forgive me if I get the title wrong) "Twofold Vibration". So I'll probably order that one eventually too. Should've ordered your work a long time ago and long abandoned my search through used aisles.

And thanks for the encouragement! I will stick with it.

Warmly,
Brent

ps. hearing you mention Samuel Beckett's personal advice to you made me giddy. Samuel Beckett!? Whoa, I need to sit down now."


3.
Federman's first book
"Hi Brent

you can drop the Mister Federman -- makes me feel old and old-fashioned
great story about Axelrod -- Balzac may not be my favorite author but one
seriously interested in literature -- and especially the novel - cannot by-pass
Balzac -- especially Les contes philosophiques --"

-----Original Message-----
From: Brent
To: Moinous@
Sent: Mon, 6 Apr 2009 2:52 pm
Subject: RE: I've just "discovered" your work


4.
"don't spend all your money on federman but it pleases me that you do
one book however you must read immediately if you have not
is THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy -- incredible book

I couldn't find the reviews smiles you mention -- can you just
put them in the body of your next mail -- I like reading reviews --
or else give me the exact url

I don't know John Domini but among my novels The Twofold Vibration
stands near the top -- another book that was greatly ignored --
except in Europe --

About Beckett -- I wrote the first doctoral dissertation in English on Beckett at UCLA
after that I wrote 5 books on Beckett -- if you have a chance to find Journey to Chaos --
the first book on Beckett -- read it -- some critics considered that book as a kind of
early manifesto for my own fiction -- the latest one is called The Sam Book it was
published in England a kind of memoir of my friendship with Sam and his work.

I met him in 1963 and we remained friends until his death in 1989.

well good talking to you

more soon

Raymond"


5. 

"Hi Brent

yes read The Road first -- it's a sad but beautiful book -- very profound.

Then turn to Beckett

or perhaps DON first.

anyway you have a lot of good reading ahead of you.

I greatly appreciated your very incisive review of Smiles {my review of Smiles on Washington Square}-- you read the book as it should be read --

if I may add a couple of things. This little book is very deceptive. Besides keeping the reader
in a kind of suspense as to whether or not M and S will ever meet or have ever met -- the book also mocks
the love story genre -- thus all these comments about love story -- made by the omniscient narrator
who manipulates the text as well as the two characters -- loves stories are full of ah and oh -- in love stories the lovers drink a lot of coffee and smoke a lot of cigarettes -- etc.

another thing -- unlike most cheap love stories there is real sex scenes in this one -- every time M or S imagine they are going to make love -- S turns off the light --

You may not know this but the book was rejected by a more than a dozen publishers -- for two reasons
especially -- most of the publishers who rejected the book wanted the two lovers to meet at the end --
but of course that's would go against the book I wrote -- the other thing that bothers them was the fact
that the book was written in the present tense

but it had to be written in the present tense -- M and S would make a fine movie -- and movies are
always in the present tense even when they flashback -- M and S could be a good Woody Allen movie --
Do you know anyone in the movie business to whom this book should be sent?

One other thing -- S is the symbol of America -- her background which can be traced all the way back
to the Mayflower indicates that -- M is the typical foreigner who comes to America and wants to love
America -- just as America wants to be loved by those people she accepts -- but eventually America
prefers the real American The neat ivy league type that shows up at the end of the book -- Richard --
yes she prefers Dick rather than Moinous.

well just a few thoughts.

Anyway thanks for taking the time to write such a fine review. Maybe it will help get the book known
a bit better

all the best

Raymond"


6.

-----Original Message-----
From: Brent
To: moinous
Sent: Fri, 17 Apr 2009 8:27 am
Subject: The Road!!!

"Hi Raymond,

Just wanted to drop a note and say thank you for insisting that I read The Road. What a wonderful reading experience it was! I'd actually avoided it since I'm something of a snob and didn't like the Oprah Winfrey association with his work, but have since realized that she has excellent taste in literature.

Thanks again for the recommendation. Hope all is well.

Warmly,
Brent"


7. 

"Hi Brent

all is well here

but very busy getting ready to leave for France on Sunday.

Glad you liked The Road -- an important book.

All the best

Raymond"


And that, turned out, to be the end of the road in my dialogue with Mist-, er, Raymond Federman.    What an absolute honor it was to have corresponded with him.  All wasn't well with him, of course, as he was suffering from cancer at the time of our correspondence, but having survived the Holocaust, he wasn't one to complain about personal "trifles" like cancer, perhaps. What a privilege it was to hear him share those "Sam" anecdotes and remembrances.  I never met Raymond in person, but I think his abundant and buoyant personality shone through in his e-mails.  And if you know anything at all about how horrific Federman's boyhood began, when his entire family was murdered by the Nazis, and only he survived, his fortitude and optimism and lust for life, replete through all his novels, is all the more remarkable to contemplate.  Rather than be destroyed by evil, he overcame evil with good -- and did so with lots of laughter, lots of obvious love.

Happy Birthday, Raymond Federman!  I love your writing and always will.  I plan on promoting it every opportunity I get.

Walter Abish: An Amazingly Awesome and August and Artful Alphabetical Africa

The Next Writer Up in My Series Spotlighting the Writers from Contemporary Novelists

2. Walter Abish (1931 - )

Listen to how Jerome Klinkowitz describes Abish's first novel, Alphabetical Africa, a book I've decided I'm just going to have to break down and order online as people don't seem to part with it -- at least in the second hand shops I haunt in SoCal. The book sounds like it had to have been an excruciatingly tedious to construct:

Alphabetical Africa (New Directions Book)

"...a tour de force demonstration of how words can refer to their own artificiality at the same time they operate as linguistic signifiers.

"The first chapter is titled 'A,' and every word therein begins with that letter ('Ages ago, Alex, Allen and Alva arrived at Antibes, and Alva allowing all, allowing anyone, against Alex's admonition, against Allen's angry assertion: another African amusement,' etc.).

"The second chapter, 'B,' adds words beginning with the letter B, and so forth until the book expands to its full linguistic possibilities. Such a self-apparent structure makes the reader painfully aware of the words themselves, and of how an artificial discipline of language determines just what reality may transpire.

"For example, a character named Herman can't appear until chapter 'H'; the first person narrator must keep his comments to himself until chapter 'I'; and the characters cannot travel to Jedda until chapter 'J.' By chapter 'Z' the full exercise of language may have lulled the reader into complacency. But the book is only half done, for the 27th chapter is titled 'Z' once more, followed by 'Y,' 'X,' and so forth back through the now-contracting alphabet.



"Familiar persons, places, and things are lost at each receding chapter as the book's mimetic action literally effaces itself in one's hands, until at the end one is left with the solemn toiling at the minimally expressive letter A.

"Like breathing in and then breathing out, the reader has experienced the expansion and contraction, the life and death of a work of fiction. At no point can one suspend disbelief and sink into the pantomine of suspended disbelief, for at all times attention is riveted to the self-conscious making and unmaking of the physical book."

Has anybody read it? Might make a nice Oulipo read for 2012.

Walter Abish's published works up to 1981:

Alphabetical Africa (1974)
Minds Meet (1975, story collection)
In the Future Perfect (1977, story collection)
How German Is It (1980)

How German Is It = Wie Deutsch Ist Es: A Novel

5.04.2011

A Brief introduction to the Novels of Khwaja Ahmad Abbas

The majority of the material for this post is taken from Contemporary Novelists, 3rd Ed., Edited by James Vinson, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1982

Khwaja Ahmad Abbas (1914-1987)


There's only eight books of K.A. Abbas cataloged in LibraryThing (five or six different works).  He's virtually forgotten in the United States, though still revered in Indian literary circles.

On highbrow literary critics in India, Abbas said they "have sometimes sneeringly labelled my novels and short stories as 'mere journalese'. The fact that most of them are inspired by aspects of the contemporary historical reality, as sometimes chronicled in the press, is sufficient to put them beyond the pale of literary creation.

"I have no quarrel with the critics. Maybe I am an unredeemed journalist and reporter, masquerading as a writer of fiction. But I have always believed that while the inner life of man undoubtedly is, and should be, the primary concern of literature, this inner personal life impinges upon the life of the community -- and of humanity -- at every critical turning point of human experience.

"'No man is an island...' said John Donne, and one may add that even if he was, no island is free from the inroads of the sea, as no man is free from the impact of social forces and the life around him."

I decided I liked this Mr. Abbas, better known globally in his day as a screenwriter and film director, based on the above quote alone.

Here's his novels:

Tomorrow is Ours!: a Novel of India Today.  (1943)
Defeat for death,: A Story without Names (1947)
Not all lies! (Privately printed, 1949)
Inquilab (1955)
When Night Falls (1968)
Mera Naam Joker (1970)
Maria (1972)
Boy Meets Girl (1973)
Bobby (1973)
Distant Dream (1975)

More on Kwaja Ahmad Abbas, including some criticism of his novels by S.C. Harrex, author of The Fire and the Offering: The English Language Novel of India, coming soon ...