Sunday, January 30, 2005


It has been a lovely Sunday, capped by a a fair NBA game, lengthy walk, and my wife baking some excellent bread. That said, my reading hasn't really shifted forward until now. It was an interesting coincidence that my reading of Cloud Atlas was punctuated with the front page review of Collapse by Jared Diamond in the NYTBR. The review was somewhat hostile, finding fault with Diamond's pessimism about ongoing soil erosion, overpopulation and the serial extinction of species. At the time of Cloud Atlas' publication, Mitchell was interviewed in the Guardian and cited the effect that Guns, Germs, and Steel had upon him. The recurring themes in the text appear draped, not only with a measure of environmental determinism but with harrowing needs of self which plague us all.

Where Is It?

I awoke expecting an ice storm and out of the bandbox a relatively mild morning has appeared. Yesterday proved ot be a fine reading day, digesting over 150 pages in Cloud Atlas. Much of my response to the novel has been documented with my friends on the samizdat site, but i will note that understanding the parabola of activity beforehand, one is able to discern the breadcrumbs with greater verve.

I will glance the through the times and guzzle coffee before posting again.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

an update

Distractions continue to abound, especially to the hubris of my intentions. Such has again appeared in its typical manifestations: my equal thrists and capriciousness. The first remains self-evident but the latter was realized in the form of Conversations With Shelby Foote, a collection of interviews I checked out from the library and may wish to own one day. Such insight is unlikely to be more than series of pstures but, alas, i remain intrigued and have read a 100 pages or so in the past few days. I have also risen to the task per Cloud Atlas and remain as impressed as ever with Mr. Mitchell, making it to page 75.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Thus Spake Settembrini

"Analysis as an instrument of enlightenment and civillization is good, in so far as it shatters absurd convictions, acts as a solvent upon natural prejudices, and undermines authority; good, in other words, in that it sets free, refines, humanizes, makes slaves ripe for freedom. But it is bad, very bad, in so far as it stands in the way of action, cannot shape the vital forces, maims life at its roots. Analysis can be a very unappetizing affair, as much so as death, with which it may well belong -- allied to the grave and its unsavory anatomy." (222)

Such marks by point of departation per Magic Mountain. necessity cries out that I begin Cloud Atlas again this day, auspcisious perhaps with Paris Combo playing in the background.

More unsavory anatomy to follow.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Hans has been diagnosed and the day before he was to leave the mountain. This follows a rich section where Settembreni pontificates on his own grandfather, a revolutionary and how he, Settembrini, hopes to uphold his legacy, even if he pursues erudition, as did his father, to achieve such. Hans can only reflect upon his own grandfather and the differences between. It is an isolating moment, one that, despite its atomization, also situates all agency in an endless contituity.

I myself am feeling hale this a.m. My friends have begun Cloud Atlas and it appears I will have to return to such.

Monday, January 24, 2005


It has been quite a day, I am bushed but haven't actually accomplished anything today. I several of the articles int he OA while preparing the soup and I read for about 45 minutes after dinner, being too knackered for a stroll with N.

Hans goes for a walk, ruminates on the nature of time, how unfamilairty heightens awareness and thus alls time to appear more gradual as each instant is novel. He also ponders a strange curiosity he felt for a peer at school. This coincides with a nosebleed and then as returns to sanitorium he attends aweekly lecture on how love can defeat disease. Apparently the material has less to do with pathology than a thinly veiled psychoanalytical dichotomy beween Love and Chastity, how Progress needs the latter at the expense of the former. The recollection of the near crush he had on the schoolboy stays below the surface and thoughts shift to concern about Hans' health.

Saturday afternoon we ducked into Harold's as I wanted a copy of Nabokov's Pnin that I had seen the week before. While there Harold asked me if I had heard of a German novel named The School Of Atheists by Arvo Schmidt. I hadn't and he ajourned upstairs to return and gave me the copy. Harold has been quite generous over the years but this struck me as odd. Schmidt died in 1979 and is being steadily translated into English. The comparisons are obvious betwen he and Joyce (Schmidt actually translated Ulysses and FW into deutsch) and I hope to read the challenging text one day.


Whetehr it was the novel suggesting illness or simply the marauding winds of Nelson County I am sick, suffering from a day long fever which kept most matters intellectual less-than-pragmatic. I have read few pages and will continue to do such as I prepare some french onion soup for dinner. Also a delight arrived in the post as my first issue of Oxford American is here and I'm grateful to my friend Joel for the gift.

Hopefully i will post at length later as I feel myself presently unable to uphold the Proustian spirit per any labor.

Sunday, January 23, 2005


It is an Art Blakey morning, bitter cold but brilliant with the sun upon the snow. There have been no radical developments in the reading. Hans is adjusting to alpine life and is becoming rather philosophical about his own emotional response to the passing of time and such. Settembrini himself recognizes the intellectual potential in Hans and encourages such in their encounters. Mann continues to reveal his debt to the impact of Nietzsche. The mores of tradition and class are imperceptibly dissected on nearly every page.

It is off to Bardstown, not quite Perryville but still the sight of the most northern Confederate command in Kentucky. It is my niece's fourth birthday and i hope all goes well.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

An Iconography of Gravity

An audit of the Berghof is undertaken by Hans and Joachim after a gauntlet of nightmares; the waking reality doesn't appear to be an improvement to Herr Castorp. The insular rituals of the patients strike him as either bizarre or moribund. Meeting the chief physicians does little to mitigate these concerns, nor their analytical assertion that sometimes people become troublesome in their reluctance to die. An erotic twist to this palace of Reasoned Death is when a woman flirts with Hans through a clever use of her sealed lung (to allow it respite so that it might heal).

Thoroughly bewildered and unable to even enjoy a pleasures of a cigar (which I am afforded BTW at this very moment) Hans and his cousin encounter Settembrini, an Italian man of letters who is able and willing to lyricise the sanitorium in a most sardonic manner. Hans is quickly destablized by this slashing wit and takes offense.

"somebody must have some esprit,"
is Settembrini's retort with an exaggerated bow and then provides the flesh of his homespun ontology.

"Malice, my dear sir, is the animating spirit of criticism and criticism is the beginning of progress and enlightenment."

Though it is early in the tome, barely a tenth of its 700 page girth. What is being outlined is a struggle, one which will be echoed in such disparate sources as Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow and John Ralston Saul's Voltaire's Bastards: the perplexity of how reason, codified agency can provide Civillization but it also threatens our organic sense, our elan vital.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Nocturnal Addendum

Before succumbing to slumber I thought of another pair, most likely read in tandem with the Mrs.:

Look Homeward, Angel -- Wolfe
All The King's Men - Warren

The latter will be a reread, having thoroughly enjoyed the work just about a decade ago. The image of Jack Burden lying in bed, smoking, thinking about the wind, history, Gibbon and assorted other concepts and conjectures has haunted me for years.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

a resolution

Perhaps in tandem with miserable speeches about Unity by infamous segregationists, I will hope to steer my own actions. I have always recoiled from schedules per my reading, whether in terms of timetables or what I might wish to read in an upcoming period of time. that said, it is time to temper some of the madness, the egregious foam on the edges anyway. I want to read the following this year.
Wild Berries - Yevteshenko
Shiloh - Foote
The Rabbit Factory - Larry Brown
The Faculty of Useless Knowledge - Dombrovsky
The remaining two volumes of Waugh's WWII Trilogy
The remianing two volumes of Foote's Narrative

With a little bit of luck (cue Alfred P Doolittle)


Actually Hans' beatific state was descrivbed by himself as "doziness" as N corrected me after posting last night. It was quite blissful to share impressions of the lush text before drifiting off into winter slumber. Much like Hans, I have the greatest respect for work but i tire easily.

Joel sent me an article from the New Yorker by Seymour Hersch about the new wars of the second W Administration and while there was nothing surprising in this survey of Rumsefeld avoiding Legislative oversight, it was distressing.

Bakhtin That Thing Up

As Hans wakes after his first night of stay at the Sanitorium he is distressed by the coital banter of his neighbors, a russian couple (dirty slavs). He appears to be constantly repulsed by the suggestion of the organic, whether it was the scent of his Grandfather's decomposition or the hacking, inhuman cough of an Austrian consumptive, his Enlightenment senisbilities appear easily affected. This conjures thoughts of Bakhtin and his treatise on Rabelais and the carnival whewre all matters bodily and grotesque were celebrated in an inversion of the sacrament. Such appears germane to this locale - unworldly and devoted to the essentially incurable.

International Santiorium Berghof

Chapter Two was completed and I found my seduction becoming total, surrounding with me its philosophical weight. The sections devoured today concerned the life of young Hans, the passing of his parents and his subsequent life with his grandfather, who exists outside of history, in that his portait appears to Hans more real than the body organic. Continuity is a resonant theme throughout the section, life reduced to a seriel repetition or rutal is an idea broadside in this section, As Hans matures towards university, Mann attempts to categorize without resorting to definitions like "mediocre" which lack the elan and the verve of the situation.

Natasa noted that when Hans' grandfather promotes a morning glss of port for his peekish grandson and resulting drowsiness constitutes "pure bliss" for Hans, that I often appear most contented 4-5 pints into my cups.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

So It Is

While attending the MLK Program at Mt Tabor yesterday I broached the Mann again and to my surrpise I disocvered that on p. 280 there was a bookmark, an Ani Difranco postcard upon which I scribbled a line from Keats: glut thy sorrow on a morning rose.

Morose symbolism aside, I reached p. 24 last night and was greatly entertained by Hans' arrival to the alpine sanitorium. His uncertainty with emotions is a great prism for both his and our time. The meditations on time will be developed later in the book, if i recall correctly.

I shall repeat a hundred times; we really ought to free ourselves from the seduction of words. -- Nietzsche

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Paper Nostalgia

Inside the front cover was page of notebook paper covered with my imressions from my previous attempt at Magic Mountain. Evidently i made it to at least p.249 as I quote such about"moonshine and cobwebs people call the soul."

My attempt must date between 1997 and 1999 and remains only whisper to me at this point.

An Eye To The Mountain

Finished Cubano Be, Cubano Bop last night and while i appreciated the meticulous research of the author, as a stylist, he is no Gary Giddens. One hesitates in critiquing the writer, owing that the translator may be culpable. Somehow the grocery lists of musicians which flood each page can't be attributed to an overly-orthodox transcription.

It has been a few years since I attempted Magic Mountain. The prior time Roger peddalled slowly up its contours, smirking perhaps, as personal issues , at first distracted, and then, finally, threw me over the edge. It marked at the time, the first instance where Roger beat me in reading a text. There have been many such efforts between then and now.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Not To Be

Perhaps it was that Northern Wind, just as Jack Burden is tormented in All The King's Men, whatever the reason, my self was uphinged last evening and somehow reading never assumed a priority last night. I read another chapter from the Cubano Bop text this morning while the car defrosted, it is frustrating when the historical focus of something, in this case the origins of Cuban jazz, can't be substantiated except through tertiary sources. Hopefully N will use this frozen bank holiday to forge an advance into Magic Mountain.

Sunday, January 16, 2005


One of the aspects of Stone Reader that I remain enamored with is its casual broaching of hundreds of texts that remain outside of my immediate experience. I jotted down the name Raintree County on Friday night and found a copy at the library yesterday along with a tragic biography of its ill-fated author Ross Lockridge. Interestingly enough, the chap is from Bloomington, just a hour away from my desolate perch. The text is huge, over a 1000 pages, and the reviews on Amazon were uniformly ecstatic -- unfortunately too many people compared it to Gone with the Wind: no offense, Ms. Mitchell. I would say it is likely that one night I'll drink too much and order a used copy. There is something about those massive, messy tomes that I have always regarded as a challenge, a dare.

While out for a sunny stroll yesterday in the Highlans I popped into Harold's and bought a copy of Larry Brown's last novel Rabbit Factory. I look forward to reading that one but it will have to wait behind Cubano Bop, Magic Mountain and Shelby Foote volumes two and three. It would be a good evening to read but alas I am off to a wedding, though I suppose there will be time tonight.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

A Passing

Yesterday evening i went to the supermarket to buy some items for my weekly soup production. Anticipating a wait at the checkout I picked up a copy of No Depression, one of the few magazines I ever buy, more to read in line than to purchase. I opened to the last page for no apparent reason to discover that Larry Brown had passed away. This struck me dumb . My wife and I are planning to go to Memphis in March as she has become intrigued by the mythology of the city: Beale Street and the place where MLK and Elvis shoved off. It also helps that her favorite american band, Lucero, live in Memphis as well. I was planning a sidetrip from that base of operations down to Rowan Oak to see Faulkner's house and I was contemplating sending letters to both Barry Hannah and Larry Brown to say how much I appreciated their work, both of whom live Oxofrd, MS. Sufficient to say I was shaken by this news that Brown had passed away in his sleep in November. The obituary, in an alt-country magazine, tied his literature to his love of music (and indirectly to his passion for beer).

A wild mushroom and barley soup was crafted last evening while my thoughts lingered elsewhere. After my wife went to sleep I watched Stone Reader again and pondered the scene where the narrator laments the death of Joseph Heller, the one interview that the narrator wanted for the documentary. Somehow, despite the morning's bright sun, the abundence of espresso and cigars, the Art Tatum in the backround, i feel detatched.

My reading continues with the Cuban jazz text, one that I am enjoying depsite my technical shortcomings. The plan is to begin Magic Mountain with Natasa today or tomorrow. There is something within me at this moment, something like a scene from Bellow where it is both a joy and curse that THIS is all there is.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Did Montaigne like to walk?

Coming up short in recalling much biographical data per Michel the essayist. I do remember his being the mayor of his town but not much further aside from his resovoir of emotion particularly concenring his great affections towards his friend who passed. I do not understand my curiosity per his habits of exercise, perhaps I was attempting to draw comparisons with Nietzsche and Thoreau.

That quandry aside, I did finish the Waugh this a.m. in the throes of the langorous pleasure of an early a.m. espresso and cigar. The droll centrality of a thunderbox was tempered in the novel by somber references to the heroism of Finland and the processs described by Heidegger as "the mass production of corpses." Joel cited the torpor of the novel and i concur, finding the device of endless drilling to be on par with the efforts of Stephen Crane and Stanley Kubrick who also sought to illustrate the means by which citizen soliders are fuelled to the level of dispassionate killers. It is now on to the book on Cuban jazz as well as reading Magic Mountain with my wife.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Progress Past Pilgrims

The first day back at work in nearly a fortnight was welcome yet it left me rather knackered as the day faded into retreat. The last last hour before kip was devoted to reading and I enjoyed such. The rigidity of the class syteme and a cynics understanding of marriage and divorce (two familar theses of Wuagh's) are brought to the forefront even as the war drifts into some vague rallying point. Crouchback appears unconcerned about his relatibve advanced age amongst his compatriots, indeed the civility of being called Uncle provides him keel until his knee gives out.

This past weekend I heard a documentary on NPR about a military engineering unit from the Arkansas national guard. Most of its members were in their 40s and were also overmatched physically in their preliminary training.

Those setbacks aside, Guy appears to enjoy the group dynamics even as he is later to be shocked to consider that its lack of disciplince in deference of observing a gentleman's code is contrary to military precision. This concern is short-lived as, feeling emancipated by encountering his ex-wife after 8 years, he becomes preoccupied with genealogy and the Chruch Fathers' stance on divorce. The epiphany of recognizing his wife as a transitory object -- one who obviously devoted little if any thought to himself for the better part of a decade --this removes any culpability and instead encourgaes something unquestionably philiosophical. The fact that he is afforded such just as he is to possibly march to his death doesn't appear disconcerting to Crouchback.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Guy Crouchback

The hero of Waugh's saga is a most agreeable sort; as I noted he is my age and I feel akin to his temperment, even if he has been afforded a measure of leisure beyond my circumstances. His faith is what I find the most interesting. He appears drawn to the ritual of Catholicism, if only because of its structure not because he feels the pull and sway of anything metaphysical. His peculiar circumstances of being divorced, displaced, and of an esteemed family which has gracefully faded into near-oblivion: his responses to officers training strkes me as modest and I remain intrigued.

Cautious Overcrowding

Whereas I had been searching for portable texts to occupy for the remainder of my holiday it now appears as if i have slipped into a barge-heavy stream of commitment. I began reading Evelyn Waugh's Men at Arms yesterday just before the Cavs-Knicks tipped off and was thoroughly impressed with the opening scenes in Italy, the expatriated and the posh amidst the ruins. Given that I am practically Guy Crouchback's age, perhaps I will seek more than is at hand. My friend joel recently completed the Waugh Trilogy and I had been somewhat eager to begin. Perhaps my timing was imprecise, I don't know. My wife wants me to begin Magic Mountain with her soon and my friends were poised to begin Cloud Atlas, though that has lapsed into uncertainty as of this a.m. As I have already read the Mitchell, it wouldn't be a bother to have to play catch-up, but i will be occupied nonetheless. Even with that daunting scheme before me, it would an omission to not mention Shelby Foote and the remaining 2200 pages of his Narrative. My wife and I are going to Perryville next Sunday for a walkabout, hoping to read Mann on that field, much as i enjoyed reading The Sound and The Fury last January in London.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

A Riff of Rants on Roth

Finished Plot on Thursday and felt dejected, much akin to the hangover after Election day, what's wrong with me, I pondered? Plot Against America made the NYT Book Review Top 5 Novels and was on a Guardian crit's top 10. I shouldn't be rash, the segments dealing with the child protaganist's logic were achieved with aplomb but the corresponding counterfactual narrative. . . Perhaps it was every bit as absurd as the headlines i see thoughout the day on Yahoo News. Much like Snow by Pamuk, I felt the applause directed towards such was indicative of a current political climate, much more than the merit within. David Mitchell appears to be a lonely champion at this point in my survey in the last year in fiction. That said, I broached the latest by Cynthia Ozick alter that quiet night and while I enjoyed the first 30 pages, i decided it wasn't the proper time.

Friday required something hopefully essential and quick. I decided upon Banville's Newton Letter, the concluding element in his physics trilogy. The novella lacked the erudition and fire of the first two in the series: Kepler and Doktor Copernicus. It was also an apology, a book about not finishing the composition of a book on Newton, a recursive loop which apparently set the stage for Geoff Dryer's Out of Sheer Rage, which Joel bought me for xmas a few years back, a book about not writing a book on DH Lawrence. That was promptly digested and has been shelved.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Philip Roth

It has been a fecund day, the rain abated and allowed me a lengthy walk, and i have returned to read for a few hours, have read 200 pages of Plot Against America and have reflected on my protean relationship with the author. It was in 1997 that I first read Zuckerman Bound which included the first three Nathan Zuckerman novels. This followed a ripe summer of reading Pynchon (Mason and Dixon was purchased the day of its release and Gravity's Rainbow) and broaching the Roth felt a disappointment at the time. I appreciated the images of Ghost Writer, the first novel, but was unmoved by the charicature of Bellow and Anne Frank making mad adjustments of the collective pysche of American Judaism. The two remaining novels did little to stir this conception, the neurotic fixation on an unknown spinal pain, the recourse through Mann's Magic Mountain -- it all pissed me off at the time.

That said, I retruned to Roth later in the autumn, just as my personal life was about to go loop-de-loop. It was Operation Shylock and it may have been the library's copy, I'm not sure, but I devoured the 400 page novel in two days and was riveted this time by the collage of Israel, international finance and a war crimes trial in the late 1980s. It was likely joel who spurred my subsequent appreciation: a few years had elapsed and he and i were browsing at Harold's, he bought Sabbath's Theater and I some Jane Austin (to which he still chides me, fucker). He absolutely RAVED about the novel and sometime shortly there after i bought American Pastoral and despite its shortcomings (the true drama of the novel is only inferred) I enjoyed it and read Goodbye Columbus not long after which I found heroic and charming. It was few years later and joel bought Roger and I the Human Stain which we all enjoyed immensely, even if it was gutted for the silver screen. This nearly brings us up to date with Joel and I discussing the Dying Animal and my own mixed reaction to I Married A Communist - the title of which is a particular joke around my house.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

thousand-mile hegira

My latest holiday has been expansive and I feel that notation here has suffered, perhaps as I sat for seemingly ages and watched Ken Burns depict that great schism through sepia-tinged photographs and occasional ramblings from Uncle Shelby - that said it was a worthwhile endeavor. That finished, I have poised with some uncertainty after finishing the first volume of Foote's Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville. The text does not end in Kentucky but rather as in the epilogue to War and Peace, Foote interrogates the motives and deeds of Davis and Lincoln after 20 months of mutual bloodletting. It is unsettling to register the impact of Sherman's prognosis that the South will need to be re-conquered, essentially recivillized, in effort for the union to be preserved. A counterpoint to this remedy (or, perhaps, its acute symptomology) is an exchange betweenTheophilus Holmes, a lieutenant general from Arkansas speaking to an Indiana colonel under a flag of truce: "You may conquer us and parcel out our lands among your soliders, but you must remember that one incident in history: to wit, of all the Russians who settled in Poland not one died a natural death."

My uncertainty rings dear as I think I need a break before venturinginto the second volume, the Tolstoy was enjoyable (in a soem dar, removed, whisper) and raised a host of pertinent questions and I now turn to Philip Roth's Plot Against America. N read it 5-6 weeks ago and I returned it to the library without properly approaching it. Fortuna has smiled and i have it again form the stacks. By luck, N's sister Tihana mailed me a copy of Adam Thurwell's shocking novel Politics today for the holidays (Friday is the Orthodox Christmas) but alas it was reapproriated and I, as reading kulak, was shoved against the wall (alas without staring down the ppsh-41) while my bonny proletarian has cracked the novel's cover and is reading as type this. It was a good day despite the rain, which drenched me for the second stroll in two days. A mug of earl grey and shot of rum helped, along with Saint-Saen's 3rd Symphony and Ibrahim ferrer's second album.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Stitched with Groans

It appears that I have aptly survived the holiday impasse and have lapsed into a joyous forced march through various matters. Augmenting my reading of the Foote Narrative, the wife and I rented the entire Ken Burns Civil War on dvd from Wild and Wooly. It has proven to be an enagaging supplement and i am pleased to have spent the time with such, though I found the characterization of several figures, notably Jackson and Forrest, their reputations have been buffed for a broader appeal, in my opinion.

The Tolstoy was reread with its solitary grace. Mortality finds its form as a damp sack and found several of the passages quite sage. As I placed the book down, it was not a surpise that sleep was elusive. Twenty minutes melted away as the rain began an unexpected volley which, I admit, frightened me. I turned on the light and read more from the Foote. It is strange now , after having viewed the Ken Burns, that Foote's prose appears draped with the author's avuncular propriety.