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Archive for May 4th, 2010

on rereading

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There’s a nice set of quotations on the subject of rereading at the site for a very cool looking series of Bartleby-related events last month at Triple Canopy’s space in Brooklyn:

When we have read a book or poem so often that we can no longer find any amusement in reading it by ourselves, we can still take pleasure in reading it to a companion. To him it has all the graces of novelty; we enter into the surprise and admiration which it naturally excites in him, but which it is no longer capable of exciting in us; we consider all the ideas which it presents rather in the light in which they appear to him, than in that in which they appear to ourselves, and we are amused by sympathy with his amusement which thus enlivens our own.”

– Adam Smith, A Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759)

“These bands operated on [Chet] Baker’s premise: that the song plays the music and the music plays the player and that, consequently, the song, as played, is not a showcase for the player’s originality, but a momentary acoustic community in which the players breathe and think together in real time, adding to the song’s history, without detracting from its integrity, leaving it intact to be played again.”

— Dave Hickey, Air Guitar (1997)

“Rereading, an operation contrary to the commercial and ideological habits of our society, which would have us ‘throw away’ the story once it has been consumed (‘devoured’), so that we can then move on to another story, buy another book, and which is tolerated only in certain marginal categories of readers (children, old people, and professors), rereading is here suggested at the outset, for it alone saves the text from repetition (those who fail to reread are obliged to read the same story everywhere).”

– Roland Barthes, S/Z (1970)

“It is, of course, an indispensable part of a scrivener’s business to verify the accuracy of his copy, word by word. Where there are two or more scriveners in an office, they assist each other in this examination, one reading from the copy, the other holding the original. It is a very dull, wearisome, and lethargic affair.”

– Herman Melville, Bartleby, The Scrivener (1853)

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May 4, 2010 at 1:35 am

the prayer

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For years and years, from the beginning, the nightly prayer (even after God) finally to work properly tomorrow. The schedule, the set of texts. At one point, it was the Norton Anthology of World Literature and a teach-yourself guide to Spanish, then Latin, then Homeric Greek, Italian, and finally Chinese. Earlier than that it was all the books listed in the back of Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon. Of late, there isn’t even a set of books to read – the list has turned into a toppling and random stack. It was also always certain amount of writing, either in the morning or at night (my nights are unworkable now – I am too old). But in conflict with this, a steadily developing doubt in volition and will. We are waifs amid forces, we do what we will do. You can make a list but you cannot make yourself keep to the list. But still one says the prayer, even after God, for the work to come and for everything, finally, to be in its right place.

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May 4, 2010 at 12:47 am

van gogh on-line

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Wow. I’d been sort of coveting the new edition of Van Gogh’s letters – which costs only £395! – and was somewhat depressed at the thought of reading them in my old-fashioned Penguin edition instead. But I’ve just discovered that basically the entire new edition is available on-line, complete with facsimiles of the letters, translations and the original text, commentary and annotation, the works….

Really wish I’d made it to the exhibition. Big miss there. But by the time I got around to it there were no more tickets and, without tickets, a four or five hour wait….

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May 4, 2010 at 12:39 am

Posted in Art

dfw’s papers

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I’m sure most of you have seen this by now, but just in case you haven’t: the Harry Ransom Center has purchased David Foster Wallace’s papers and books and now a selection of them are on display on the website. Above are his notes on Don DeLillo’s Players. And here’s a handwritten draft of the first page of Infinite Jest:

Last week I finished – and really liked –  David Lipsky’s Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace. I didn’t have high expectations for the book, which is basically a long transcript of recordings that Lipsky made while accompanying Wallace on the last leg of his Infinite Jest book tour while interviewing him for Rolling Stone.

There’s a lot to say about the book, but let’s just start with this. Just as the new edition of Van Gogh’s letters reportedly (still looking for the link I want – sorry) demonstrate that the artist’s best work happened when he was living through moments of relative sanity – the harshes bi-polar episodes stopped the brushwork – Lipsky’s interview with DFW reveals not a romantically-depressed writer but rather one who struggled every day and in very material ways to hold off madness in order to get his eight hours a day of writing in and to keep those hours clear of anxiety.

For instance, one of the most interesting revelations for me was about DFW’s career as a teacher. We all know that “creative writers” earn their living by teaching in MFA programs and the like. But what’s interesting about Wallace is that, at least at the time of Lipsky’s interview, he was refusing to take an advance on his next book. Given the fact that he’d been profiled as America’s Best Young Novelist in just about every mainstream magazine, he was likely in a position to pull down a seven-figure advance for his next work, and even negotiate a long time frame in which to complete it, while if he waited till he actually produced the book, well after the celebratory hoopla had died down, there was a good chance that he’d take less. But the thought of working under deadline, of writing to fulfill a contract, filled him with terrible anxiety. Thus, despite the fact that he really didn’t need to, the teaching provided him with a financial buffer against one of the few preventable forms of anxiety that come of writing.

More on related matters from the Lipsky book soon….

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May 4, 2010 at 12:21 am