Tuesday 29 August 2017

The Domestic Godless

Reading a live manuscript is so much more flexible, open to the four winds, than reading a publication, hardback, with author photo. Live, you are let in by unusual permission, and can disport yourself among these not-yet-pages from The Domestic Godless: Brandes, O'Shea and Murphy with an entourage of the admired, the tolerated, the invented and the cheerfully despised.

Culinary dada meets local assurance and universal defiance. They may be godless but they're not turfless; they roam around their terroir, polluted, no bother, helping out the farmers, processing invaders, taking the tests and undermining them at the same time, converting their spoils into barely imaginable feasts.

This is way beyond cooking, or deep inside it. Mockery and jaggery hold hands. There's plenty of science, and latin, a séance in a hurricane, a burning caravan, some non-Irish yearning and nostalgia, a jag or two of revulsion, some dispiriting memories.

At the outer edge of your food awareness, the inner edge of your fears, your credulity, Domestic Godless lead you further into the kitchen than you've been in a while. Welcome, I say.

Tuesday 22 August 2017

Reading without reading

Lately I have been reading without reading. What's that in Finnish? The Finnish abessive case is for things that aren't there, for doing things without doing them. In generous, egalitarian, Scandinavian manner, reading without reading focusses on the book being without a reader despite the appearance of one, rather than on the reader's helpless inattention. Either way, I have been reading without reading in this uncertain August weather. I have chosen books and held them up and turned a few pages. I have noticed sentences and then lost them, in Henry Green and Karel Čapek, in The New Yorker and Hortus. Menus and tattoos. Quickies in the The Guardian Weekly. I have scooped remarks from long ago diaries and then dropped the book on the floor, unable to take a word more. Those metaphors; their reach ever more diaphanous.

Polichinelle cache à la foule curieuse le fil conducteur de son bras.

I have not, at the moment, the generosity that reading needs. Or the needs that reading generates. Or the generous reads I need. Or the reads I dreamed. The dreams generated. I lose my red jumper out of a car. My teeth fall out in quantity yet in my mouth there are none missing.

Monday 14 August 2017

Elizabeth Hardwick, Sleepless Nights

Day One
On a pale grey warm day at the reservoir, close to the end of Eliz. Hardwick's Sleepless Nights, her reading of her past the template now, extensive on the light ripple of the water, for mine.

Undifferentiated remembering is easier looking over water. Certain muscles relax, others tense.

Eliz. Hardwick is unified by New York, with a little Boston and Maine and an undertow of the South. I am not, in like manner, unified by Maldon Brighton Paris or Cork. Or if I am, I cannot see it. I am unified by wherever I am now.

Day Two
I'd like to be back in Eliz. Hardwick, watching the light change on the pond, the whirligig beetles idle in the hush. Instead I'm in last night's dream in which my sister, who died last week, came over here on a stretcher, from which she got up now and then, leapt, in fact. So she was alive. Outside I saw a van with its back doors open and got in and stayed in till the van reached the next town and everything had fallen away, including all names.

Undifferentiated sorrow is the most noble I can imagine. And a slow, flat spin, like the whirligig beetles.

A woman writer doesn't need a plot, sensibility is structure.

Day Three
So Elizabeth Hardwick—now The New York Stories—is guardian of sorrows and inadequacies this August. She too, in her youth, struggled with judgement and keeping her distance. In an early story, 'Yes and No', she is discomfited to find her family normal, she who had gone off wanting to be a New York Jew. I who do not find my family normal, went off (to Paris, to Cork) already a jew with the smallest j, an english french irish jew of no conviction other than the words to say it.

I read Sleepless Nights during the day, and now The New York Stories by night, one or two at a time. They are arranged chronologically. I move through her youth with the same impatience as I move through my own when I re-read my diary.

Day Four
In a story called 'The Classless Society', a woman called Dodo is wistful.
She was incorrigibly reminiscent. The disposition came upon her with the regularity of a stutter.
Me too. And usually welcome. Whereas now I no more want to reminisce than a woodlouse does. I want to get under a log and keep very warm, dry and stumm.

Friday 4 August 2017

Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave

It takes a chapter or two of Cyril Connolly's The Unquiet Grave for this reader to enter his angry, depressive, diary mode, to take on board his nostalgia, his obesity, his mother and his idealism. He uses the persona of Palinurus, helmsman to Aeneas, who falls overboard and dies, in order to pursue his own introspection. Connolly's reading list has been mine, too; I have a sizeable, half-submerged, Franco-European peninsula in my head. World War Two prevented him going to France. He wanted to proclaim his faith in the unity and continuity of Western culture. And now, when it's all robotics and economics and Brexit, how can I not lap up the back thoughts of Cyril Connolly, another diarist?
Working on the manuscript for another year, Palinurus began to see that there was a pattern to be brought out; in the diaries an art-form slumbered,—an initiation, a descent into hell, a purification and cure.
Palinurus, Cyril Connolly, and me.
While we re-live the horrors of the Dark Ages, of absolute States and ideological wars, the old platitudes of liberalism loom up in all their glory, familiar streets as we reel home furious in the dawn.
Among his recollections of France, one rang startlingly clear. In February 1929, Connolly went to the premiere of Un Chien Andalou at Studio 28 on the rue Tholozé, in Paris. There was a surrealist book stall in the foyer and a gramophone played Ombres Blanches.
The picture was received with shouts and boos and when a pale young man tried to make a speech, hats and sticks were flung at the screen. In one corner a woman was chanting 'Salopes, salopes, salopes!' and soon the audience began to join in. With the impression of having witnessed some infinitely ancient horror, Saturn swallowing his sons, we made our way out into the cold of February 1929, that unique and dazzling cold.
At the end of May 1968, I went to Studio 28, my neighbie art cinema to see Polanski's Dance of the Vampires. I lived on rue Durantin, round the corner, I was recovering from foot and mouth disease, Paris was at a standstill but I was awash and my diary with me, thanks to the Justabovit pills the doctor had given me: Paris on strike was running with cherries.
Slowly, from doubtful beginnings, the day turned into a holiday, so it was all dandy and shining to eat cherries and go to the little purple cinema down the road to see Polanski's Le Bal des Vampires the audience at one with catcalls and laughter, the boy in front of me chewing a cigar, then three of them as we came out, talking quite warm and young as if we were all staying on the same holiday island. I felt I should be suntanned, there should be grains of sand between my toes. On the corner of rue Tholozé and rue Durantin, some kids were singing loud and warm in an unknown language. How enormous, you can't help thinking, how deliriously enormous it all must be..
Justabovit, as I now learn, was an anabolic steroid; just what you need for the revolution.

What Cyril Connolly needed for World War Two:
May 1st: Today we begin a new pincer movement against Angst, Melancholia and Memory's ever-festering wound: a sleeping-pill to pass the night and a Benzedrine to get through the day. The sleeping-pill produces a thick sleep, rich in dreams that are not so much dreams as tangible experiences, the Benzedrine a kind of gluttonous mental anger through which the sadness persists —O how sad,— but very much farther off. Whether they can ever combine in the mind to produce a new energy remains to be proven. 
Sadness and War. The Sadness of War. The War of Sadness. Sadness during and after War. Read your way out of and into everything, over these years, over a lifetime, of darkness.
And what illness performs for the individual, war accomplishes for the mass, until total war succeeds in plunging the two thousand million inhabitants of the globe into a common nightmare.