JUDY KRAVIS

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Saturday, 25 April 2020

However many gloves socks shirts I took off there was always another layer; I was fully clothed for all time, however fast I divested, however acutely I needed to get down to skin. I particularly noticed the gloves. I would never get down to my hands. I was no longer sure I had hands. I was reading Robert Musil in the night and I had this dream, deep yet depthless, like Musil's sentences.
It seemed to him at this moment that those ardent verses were all he needed to know of his sister to realise she was never "completely inside" of anything, that she too was a person of "passionate incompleteness" like himself. That made him forget the other half of his nature, which required moderation and control.
Ulrich, the man without qualities, reacquaints with Agathe, the forgotten sister, following the death of their father, whom neither of them liked. They sit about and walk about in their strange new condition, they engage in holy conversation, they take off one by one the layers of their acquaintance and their new involvement. There are endless gloves in a holy conversation, unpeeled. Endless socks.

Agathe or the forgotten sister is a newly translated and arranged set of chapters from The Man Without Qualities, with some other, unpublished material. I can't imagine anyone making free with A la recherche du temps perdu — another unfinishable oeuvre of the early twentieth century— in this way: selecting chapters, reshaping the writer's bottomless uncertainty as to what can and can't be said about what matters most.
So now do tell me, for God's sake, tell me finally when, at what moments, does anything in life seem necessary? asks Agathe. When one turns over in bed, Ulrich gruffly declared. You're uncomfortable; you keep thinking of changing your position; you form one resolution after another; and suddenly you've turned over! It's really more accurate to say you've been turned over.


Sunday, 19 April 2020

For the first ten or twelve years I lived in Ireland I kept copies of all the personal letters I wrote. An artist friend gave me a cardboard concertina file she'd decorated with drawings, and I kept them in there.  A few years ago I consigned the file to the attic. (Things that go up into the attic and then come down again. That's a cantata in itself.)

One of my correspondents from the late seventies wrote (emailed) recently to say he was sending back to those who wanted them the letters he'd received and stored for the same ten years as I was copying and conserving. He was startled to find I had copies already. I was embarrassed, as if our friendship had been compromised, my generosity in doubt.

My friend's package included a couple of postcards I hadn't seen since I sent them. One had a picture of  a line-up of white Brahman cattle, which had begun to be popular in Texas.
Just to tell you that I went on your behalf to hear Jerry Jeff Walker at the Armadillo World H.Q. closing few nights. Austin seems just like Brighton in the late 60s. Full of pigtails, dope + karma. I've borrowed a house here for a week of so, as a break from my relentless travelling.
Another highlight of the bundle was a copy of a communal poem I did with first year students in 1980. I asked them to write down the most outrageous lies they could think of. 'I am a flower, my sister's a weed, we live in a sock at the end of a bumble bee's garden.'

People get upset these days at the thought of losing their emails, both sent and received; they take it as a mortal blow, a reason to reassess or mourn. Keeping copies of letters starts to seem sensible, almost tame: all this innocent paperwork, the very thin paper (bank, it was called) the blurry carbon copies. The handwritten letters I typed out before I sent them were the strangest: as the pen strokes were fluid and emphatic, the typing was all typos and blind need.

I noticed that the stamp corners had been taken off the envelopes of the letters. Impossible to imagine an email having that kind of shadow life.

' I live in a voice. My morning is speech.'

Saturday, 11 April 2020

First swim in the pond. Counting whirligig beetles, betimes, reading W.G. Sebald, A Place in the Country, his series of essays on writers he loves and the places that gave them reverie. Antidote to my previous read, Fontamara by Ignazio Silone, born Secondino Tranquilli, who, under his original  name and in easier times, would perhaps have liked the innerness of Sebald, or, to keep the chronology plausible, Sebald's much-loved Robert Walser.

The peasants of Fontamara, a barely fictional village in southern Italy in the 1930s, mostly cannot read at all. The literate, by the end of the book, after some surreal and helpless battles with unknowable powers, come up with a title for a local bulletin: What are we to do? Fontamara was distributed along Italian soldiers in World War Two to bolster a sense of purpose in the fight against fascism.

Fontamara is a 1938 Penguin book, serious orange cover, plenty of listings of new important Penguins and Pelicans and Specials at the back. I have had it since I was a teenager. It was a marker of leftist edginess, the politics I absorbed rather than understood when I was growing up.

I like to tango my reading at the best of times. Silone and Sebald do not exactly dance together. Silone has a purpose, even when dancing. Sebald, especially when he is writing about Robert Walser, finds joyful contemplative detour sentences and goes along with them as they scuttle away under our gaze like millipedes.
Walser must at the time have hoped, through writing, to be able to escape the shadows which lay over his life from the beginning, and whose lengthening he anticipates at an early age, transforming them on the page from something very dense to something almost weightless. His ideal was to overcome the force of gravity.
In these plague times we need to organise our reading, for variety, contradiction and sheer randomness. I have moved from Elizabeth Strout's small town Maine; to American Peace Corps in China, 1990, in a New Yorker articles; to the exploitation of peasants in southern Italy in the 1930s; to the calm and glorious sentences of W.G. Sebald.

Someone in the Irish Times suggested Montaigne's 'On Solitude', and I thought: good.

Friday, 3 April 2020


A pair of skylarks have come to the new field.
A far cry from everywhere.
The skylarks ready a fresh weave of reading.
A tune beyond us yet ourselves.

The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil.
V111 Stepping Poems by Fergal Gaynor.

A duet for splendid isolation.
Man w/out qualities as continuum.
Sinking into reveries instead of making up his mind.
Stepping poems stepping in and out.

We are on the same page, here.
Lying in a shape we have made.