Tuesday 23 February 2016

I must have had three tries at Don Delillo, each book read once and then shelved. Last week I read a story of his in The New Yorker called Sine Cosine Tangent, and liked it, and started to re-read Point Omega, the shortest of the three novels I have. The moment I knew I'd read it before came on page 21.
His life happened, he said, when he sat staring at a blank wall, thinking about dinner.
I like his name. Why do I find Don Delillo so uncomfortable?  Are these men talking to each other in order to display their thoughts?  One is a retired war adviser, the other a film-maker. They are functional rather than intimate in a house in a desert, they eat omelettes and time passes, the war adviser's daughter comes to stay. Not long after that she disappears, which may have been the only thing to do.

What does Don Delillo think about humans, I wonder? Would he rather do without? There is enough room between words to ride a bicycle through this book, enough room for a small dust storm.

Saturday 20 February 2016

Some reading is more like swimming. On the second page of the latest New York Review of Books, I found and immediately read a piece by Anne Carson:
I swam down the square text like a a salmon to the spawning ground. I swam up. Every time I read it I paused at different moments. It came and went. I hung around the punctuation. The information. I lay still on the questions.
Do we really need to make it worse? Do you think of yourself as a well-loved person?
There are few writers who make me stay with them as Anne Carson does. I don't want to leave. As with the mastermoments of Schubert or Mozart. They are there long after they stop.
Where to start? Start in the middle (and why?) so as not to end up there,
Weaving through the world and its meanings, offering advice, kindly meant, polite.
You have to know what you want, know what you think, know where to go.
The text is in a square box in the middle of the lower middle of the page. The satisfaction of this is enormous. I cut it out and put it on my desk where I'd see it often.

Sunday 14 February 2016

Since the nineteen seventies Adorno has occupied my life only as the voice of a young man, an acquaintance I met once in Patrick Street, Daunt Square, to be precise, with a serious, crepuscular voice dropping down with his glance in the middle syllable of Adorno's name. From that moment Adorno, along with Habermas and Althusser and Heidegger, lay in other people's seriousness. I read none of them, as later I read none, or, worse, a bit of, Derrida, Lacan and the lads. It was enough to know their surnames. Nietzsche is the only philosopher I ever read with pleasure.

Adorno's Dream Notes is the first of his writing I have read. I have been writing down my dreams since I was a teenager, more recently trying to find a form(lessness) that rattles rather than soothes their strangeness. Dreams make great re-reading. You do not read the same dream twice. I prefer to write a dream fasting rather than after breakfast; or at least, later in the day, to recover the fasting state into which dreams fall. Adorno reads more like an after-breakfast man.

What did Adorno dream about? He dreamed about brothels more than you'd think (as harlots figure in the dreams of his friend Walter Benjamin) and several different forms of death (plunged in boiling water like a pig, decapitation, drowning); he had conversations with characters in Proust; he dreamed about Trotsky and Hitler and an alter ego called Louische.
'Louische, would you like a glass of water?'—'No, thank you, I shall be drowned this evening anyway.' Woke up laughing. 
He sets out his dreams as a botanist would, qualifying, contextualising; and as a chronicler, conferring solidity via the reasonableness of grammar, as if this were a novel in waiting, or a Hollywood movie. It's a relief when he allows a dream its rapidity, its slipperiness. When he laughs.

Here he is in Los Angeles in 1944.
In an arena, under my command, a large number of Nazis were to be executed. They were to be beheaded. There was a hitch for some reason or other. To simplify matters it was decided to smash the skulls of each of the delinquents individually with a pickaxe. I was then informed that the victims had been overwhelmed by an indescribable terror at the prospect of this uncertain and excruciating form of execution. I was myself so disgusted by this atrocity that I awoke feeling physically sick.
What does a philosopher/sociologist/composer do with his dreams once he's written them down? Does he enjoy their resilience, their opacity, their insanity? Does he see himself and run like mad? We don't know, he doesn't say. I imagine he sees them as a climbing wall but not the real mountain.

Monday 8 February 2016

Joy Williams is new to me, so I start reading too quickly, to see what kind of thing this is. The first story in The Visiting Privilege is over before I've begun. The end is nowhere, I'm looking back and can't see it. There are many ways in which stories are like life and Joy Williams has cornered her own. Her stories end as they began, just a little further on. Though having gone this far with these people, the silence at the end is not a disappointment, it feels optimistic, in the manner of a fable. You find substance and then almost immediately it has gone and you're not sure what you have lost. The next story, like the next day, is the same except perhaps it's a German Shepherd not a collie. A phrase that stops you in your tracks. Another curious situation involving a car or a dinner party. A man with a different girlfriend every weekend.

In the middle of the night I continue my sojourn with P.G.Wodehouse. More likely a pig than a collie there. No divorce. No single parents. Hardly any mothers and fathers or children unless dreadful. A different girlfriend every weekend, perhaps. Except in the land of Wodehouse there are no weekends, only intricate manoeuvres in otherwise idle days. The story rolls along its own temporal zone and the sun is shining at the end. The next night I usually remember where I was in the story and if I don't it doesn't matter.

I read Joy Williams often in the afternoon, in front of the stove. I like to be unnerved by a book, to put it down after each story, go outside even and walk around, move a rose bush and come back in, ready to be unnerved again. Her plain American sentences are without temperature, without accent, like strong currents under water. Where do such sentences leave the lives they have evoked? Where do they leave the reader's life? Like the book, opened, for a time.