RIP Tom Verlaine, 1949-2023
Martin Riker’s The Guest Lecture is out now from Grove Atlantic. Their blurb–
In a hotel room in the middle of the night, Abby, a young feminist economist, lies awake next to her sleeping husband and daughter. Anxious that she is grossly underprepared for a talk she is presenting tomorrow on optimism and John Maynard Keynes, she has resolved to practice by using an ancient rhetorical method of assigning parts of her speech to different rooms in her house and has brought along a comforting albeit imaginary companion to keep her on track—Keynes himself.
Yet as she wanders with increasing alarm through the rooms of her own consciousness, Abby finds herself straying from her prepared remarks on economic history, utopia, and Keynes’s pragmatic optimism. A lapsed optimist herself, she has been struggling under the burden of supporting a family in an increasingly hostile America after being denied tenure at the university where she teaches. Confronting her own future at a time of global darkness, Abby undertakes a quest through her memories to ideas hidden in the corners of her mind—a piecemeal intellectual history from Cicero to Lewis Carroll to Queen Latifah—as she asks what a better world would look like if we told our stories with more honest and more hopeful imaginations.
With warm intellect, playful curiosity, and an infectious voice, Martin Riker acutely animates the novel of ideas with a beating heart and turns one woman’s midnight crisis into the performance of a lifetime.
—The Crossing is one of McCarthy’s best novels, up there with Suttree and Blood Meridian, and possibly The Passenger. It might seem baggy, but its fatty prose is generous. I’m amazed that it did not have as much of an impact on me a decade and a half ago as it did in the first month of 2023, but I’m glad I went back to it and met its myriad messages when I needed them.
Very highly recommended. If you’re interested in McCarthy but don’t know where to start, The Crossing might be a great place.
The black eyes all shifted to the leader of their small clan. He sat for a long time. It was very quiet. Out on the road one of the oxen began to piss loudly. Finally he shaped his mouth and said that he believed that fate had intervened in the matter for its own good reasons. He said that fate might enter into the affairs of men in order to contravene them or set them at naught but to say that fate could deny the true and uphold the false would seem to be a contradictory view of things. To speak of a will in the world that ran counter to one’s own was one thing. To speak of such a will that ran counter to the truth was quite another, for then all was rendered senseless. Billy then asked him if it was his notion that the false plane had been swept away by God in order to single out the true and the gypsy said that it was not. When Billy said that he had understood him to say that it was God who had ultimately made the decision concerning the two planes the gypsy said that he believed that to be so but he did not believe that by this act God had spoken to anyone. He said that he was not a superstitious man. The gypsies heard this out and then turned to Billy to see how he would respond. Billy said that it seemed to him that the freighters did not hold the identity of the airplane to be of any great consequence but the gitano only turned and studied him with those dark and troubled eyes. He said that it was indeed of consequence and that it was in fact the whole burden of their inquiry. From a certain perspective one might even hazard to say that the great trouble with the world was that that which survived was held in hard evidence as to past events. A false authority clung to what persisted, as if those artifacts of the past which had endured had done so by some act of their own will. Yet the witness could not survive the witnessing. In the world that came to be that which prevailed could never speak for that which perished but could only parade its own arrogance. It pretended symbol and summation of the vanished world but was neither. He said that in any case the past was little more than a dream and its force in the world greatly exaggerated. For the world was made new each day and it was only men’s clinging to its vanished husks that could make of that world one husk more.
La cascara no es la cosa, he said. It looked the same. But it was not.
Y la tercera historia? said Billy.
La tercera historia, said the gypsy, es esta. El existe en la historia de las historias. Es que ultimadamente la verdad no puede quedar en ningun otro lugar sino en el habla. He held his hands before him and looked at his palms. As if they may have been at some work not of his own doing. The past, he said, is always this argument between counterclaimants. Memories dim with age. There is no repository for our images. The loved ones who visit us in dreams are strangers. To even see aright is effort. We seek some witness but the world will not provide one. This is the third history. It is the history that each man makes alone out of what is left to him. Bits of wreckage. Some bones. The words of the dead. How make a world of this? How live in that world once made?
From Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Crossing.
The Inheritors, 2022 by Salman Toor (b. 1983)
BOCKRIS: William, have you ever written anything out of admiration?
BURROUGHS: I don’t know what this term means. It does seem to me an anemic emotion.
SONTAG: Bill, suppose you agreed, which maybe you couldn’t even conceive of doing, to write about Beckett. Somebody offered you a situation at which you said, yes, I’d like to say what I want to say about Beckett, and my feeling about Beckett is mainly positive. I think that’s harder to get down in a way that’s satisfactory than when you’re attacking something.
BURROUGHS: I don’t see what’s being said here at all.
From With William Burroughs: A Report from the Bunker by Victor Bockris. The selection is from Bockris’s recording of a 1980 dinner with Susan Sontag, Stewart Meyer, and Gerard Malanga.
William S. Burroughs
In the noon streets three men sitting on ash cans. One of the men looked up and saw Agent 23. Electric hate crackled between them. In a panic 23 tried to pull his eyes back. He could not do so. He held one point and felt the pilot land. Something cracked in his head like a red egg and the ground swayed beneath him then he could feel it pouring out his eyes. A crowd was gathering quick and silent eyes blazing hate. 23 ran toward them up the narrow street moving his head from side to side burning a path through charred flesh and shredded brains running very light on his feet up the steep stone street toward the skies of Marrakech the whole film tilted now the stones moving in waves under his feet a blaze of blue and he was stabbing two black holes in the blue sky smoking with a sound like falling mountains the sky ripped open and he was through the film barrier. Standing naked in front of a washstand copper luster basin the film jumped and shifted music across the golf course he was a caddy it seems looking for lost balls by the pond flickering silver buttocks in the dark room fading flickering all from an old movie that will give at his touch.
Hare, 1967 by Elisabeth Frink (1930-1993)
Suma, 1982 by Cy Twombly (1928-2011)
“Buried in Colorado All Alone”
from 99 Stories of God
The girl from the pharmacy who delivered Darvon to Philip K. Dick, the science fiction writer, wore a golden fish necklace.
“What does that mean?” asked Dick.
She touched it and said, “This is a sign worn by the early Christians so that they would recognize one another.”
“In that instant,” Dick writes, “I suddenly experienced anamnesis, a Greek word meaning, literally, loss of forgetfulness.”
Anamnesis is brought on by the action of the Holy Spirit. The person remembers his true identity throughout all his lives. The person recognizes the world for what it is—his own prior thought formations—and this generates the flash. He now knows where he is.
BURIED IN COLORADO ALL ALONE
Helen at the Scaean Gate, c. 1880s by Gustave Moreau (1826–1898)
The Expulsion from Paradise, 2017 by Paco Pomet (b. 1970)
You can read the full text of Vladimir Sorokin’s beautiful, abject, horrifying very long short story “Nastya” at The Baffler.
The novella-length piece swirls between fairy tale magic and Sadean cruelty. It is probably best if you consume “Nastya” on an empty stomach—like his novel Their Four Hearts, “Nastya” is reminiscent of Pasolini’s horrifying masterpiece Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom. And like Their Four Hearts, this story is translated by Max Lawton, who vividly conveys the dream-nightmare-reality energy of Sorokin’s prose.
“Nastya” is from the collection Red Pyramid, which will publish in Lawton’s English-language translation early next year. (You can read the title story here.)
Here are the opening paragraphs of “Nastya”—
A GRAYISH-BLUE LULL BEFORE DAWN, a slow boat on the heavy mirror of Denezh Lake, emerald caverns in the juniper bushes creeping menacingly toward the white wash of the alpine waters.
Nastya turned the brass knob of the door to the balcony and pushed it open. The thick, reeded glass swam to the right, splintering the landscape with its parallel flutes and mercilessly dividing the little boat into twelve pieces. A damp avalanche of morning air flowed through the open door, embraced her, and shamelessly flew up into her nightgown.
Nastya inhaled greedily through her nose and walked out onto the balcony.
Her warm feet recognized the cool wood, and its boards creaked gratefully. Nastya lay her hands upon the peeling paint of the railing, tears came to her eyes as she took in the motionless world: the left and right wings of the manor, the garden’s milky green, the severity of the linden grove, the sugar-cube church on the hill, the willow branches lying on the ground, the stacks of mown grass.
Nastya rolled her wide, thin shoulders, let down her hair, and stretched out with a moan, listening to her vertebrae crack as her body woke up.
And here is a sentence from later in the story that made me laugh out loud:
“Don’t dare overcook my daughter!”
Great fucked up stuff.
Beppe Fenoglio’s A Private Affair is forthcoming this spring in translation by Howard Curtis from NYRB. Their blurb:
Milton—the name is a nom de guerre—is a member of a partisan band battling Italian Fascists and German forces in the chaotic last years of World War II. Before the war Milton was a student of English literature and a lover of poetry. He was in love with a girl, too, Fulvia, and from time to time she’d invite him over to her rich family’s fine house and have him read to her. Now, in the thick of war, he discovers that handsome Giorgio, his friend and fellow partisan, was sleeping with Fulvia at the time. Furious with jealousy, Milton hastens to have it out with Giorgio, but Giorgio has been captured by the Germans. A Private Affair tells the story of Milton’s mad quest—through mud and fog, rain and terror, while barely evading enemy patrols—to rescue his friend, the better to settle a grudge from a lost world of peace. Beppe Fenoglio’s masterpiece is a peerless story of the violent heart and world.