Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The gravedigger's daughter

"In the old stone cottage in the cemetery there had been many words but these had been the words of Death. Now, Rebecca did not trust words. Certainly there were no adequate words to speak of what had passed between her and Tignor, in Beardstown" (251).

"In her loneliness on the Poor Farm Road she would come to think that there must be a logic to it, her behavior. In the way, as a girl, she'd stayed away from the old stone house in the cemetery and so had saved herself from what might have been done to her on that last day. Couldn't have known what she was doing and yet--a part of her, with the cunning of a trapped creature gnawing at its own leg to save itself, had known" (293).

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


From 'The Gravedigger's daughter'

"Hazel's face was a brittle doll-face, covered in cracks. She was desperate to hide it, that no one would see. Tears gushing from her eyes. She managed to cover part of her face, with one hand. Seeing the neglected and overgrown cemetery. Always the cemetery was close behind her eyelids, she had only to shut her eyes to see it. There, grave markers were toppled over in the grass, cracked and broken. Some of the graves had been vandalized. The names of the dead had been worn away. No matter how carefully engraved into the stone the names of the dead had vanished. Hazel smiled to see it: the earth was a place of anonymous graves, every grave was unknown" (550).

Sunday, October 28, 2007

elena poniatowska

This is an incredible novel. Dare I call it that after all the debate...

De Hasta no verte Jesús Mío, primera novela (testimonial) de Poniatowska, que toma como protagonistga a Jesusa Palancares:

"Yo creo que fue una guerra mal entendida porque eso de que se mataran unos contra otros, padres contra hijos, hermanos contra hermanos; carrancistas, villistas, zapatistas, pues eran puras tarugadas porque éramos los mismos pelados y muertos de hambre. Pero ésas son cosas que, como dicen, por sabidas se callan".

Elena Poniatowska: "De la mano de Jesusa entré en contacto con la pobreza, la de a de veras, la del agua que se recoge en cubetas y se lleva cuidando de no tirarla ... la de las gallinas que ponen huevos sin cascarón, “nomás la pura tecata,” porque la falta de sol no permite que se calcifiquen. Jesusa pertenece a los millones de hombres y de mujeres que no viven, sobreviven".

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

daniel lee

Thanks to detective Claire Hirsch for tracking this!

"I want to try to predict the future of us as a people. Five hundred years from now, anything can happen, with technology moving as fast as it has been. Today, we can clone animals, we can freeze heads, we can use animal organs to save lives. What's going to happen if all these experiments become reality? I want to come up with something I have not experienced yet."

Not exactly literary?

Q: If you were an animal, what would you be?

I was born in the beginning part of the year of the Rooster. In Chinese Astrology, it means that my mother was pregnant during the year of the Monkey. In that context, I find that the sign of Monkey suits me more.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

w.g. sebald

Excerpts from the last two pages of The Rings of Saturn

"Today, as I bring these notes to a conclusion, is the 13th of April 1995. It is Maundy Thursday, the feast day on which Christ's washing of the disciples' feet is remembered, and also the feast day of Saint Agathon, Carpus, Papylus and Hermengild. On this very day three hundred and ninety-seven years ago, Henry IV promulgated the Edier of Nantes; Handel's Messiah was first performed two hundred and fifty-three years ago, in Dublin; Warren Hastings was appointed Governor-General of Bengal two hundred and twenty-three years ago; the Anti-Semitic League was founded in Prussia one hundred and thirteen years ago; and, seventy-four years ago, the Amritsar massacre occurred, when General Dyer ordered his troops to fire on a rebellious crowd of fifteen thousand that had gathered in Jallianwala Bagh square, to set an example".

"Now, as I write, and think once more of our history, which is but a long account of calamities, it occurs to me that at one time the only acceptable expression of profound grief, for ladies of the upper classes, was to wear heavy robes of black silk taffeta or black crepe de chine."

Saturday, October 13, 2007

who owns Thomas Bernhard?

This echoes Cynthia Ozick's essay on Anne Frank, 'Who owns Anne Frank' because I think certain authors provoke needs for posession, cravings and raging reactions. Why is that? What (narcissistic or even genuine identification) makes one claim a writer to be on one's side, to defend him/her, to protect and keep in a private and secure haven?

This is from 'A kid', part of Bernhard's (autobiographical) pentalogy. I like how he describes his grandfather, a figure that, he says, was crucial to his life and development as a writer:

"He didn't always allow me to accompany him in his promenades, most of the time he wanted to be alone and not be bothered. Specially when he was in the middle of an important work. I can't afford any distraction, he would say then. But when he allowed me to accompany him, I was the happiest of men. During those walks it weighted over me in principle a prohibition of talking that only rarely lifted me. When he needed to make a question or I to him. He was the person who illuminated me the most, the first, the most important, finally the only one."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

tillie olsen

thanks to Antonia for this recommendation, a great well of literary quotes and references.

"... we are in a time of more and more hidden and foreground silences, women and men. Denied full writing life, more may try to 'nurse through night' (that part-time, part-self night) 'the ethereal spark', but it seems to me there would almost have had to be 'flame on flame' first; and time as needed, afterwards; and enough of the self, the capacities, undamaged for the rebeginnings on the frigthful task. But it cannot reconcile for what is lost by unnatural silences", In Silences.

Friday, October 5, 2007

elfriede jelinek

“Print is dead”. That’s the motto Elfriede Jelinek’s last literary gesture seems to be saying. What an incredible writer Jelinek is! With books such as ‘The piano teacher’, ‘Lust’, ‘Greed’, and ‘Wonderful, wonderful times’, it seems an amazing gift that a writer of such stature goes online to offer her last work, ‘Envy’. Unfortunately, non german readers will have to wait for a translation.

Jelinek, Nobel Laureate 2004, says, “Anyone who wants to can download it or print it out.” She describes the process of “publishing a text on the Internet” as being “wonderfully democratic.” About the Internet itself, Jelinek says, “I find the Internet to be the most wonderful thing there is. It connects people. Everyone can have input.”

Jelinek’s experiment shows how the Web can be used to generate interest and create an audience. But what is Jelinek’s gesture saying about publishers?

Monday, October 1, 2007


"Hills Like White Elephants" is an amazing story, almost pure dialogue. It is an impressive and subtle account of the conflict between 'the American' and a 'girl', a couple waiting for a train in Spain. The conflict is the inevitable abortion the girl will have, and the subltlely lays in the disguised way the resolution is conceived in terms of narrative:

"Doesn't it mean anything to you? We could get along".
"Of course it does. But I don't want anybody but you. I don't want any one else. And I know it's perfectly simple".
"Yes, you know it's perfectly simple".
"It's all right for you to say that, but I do know it".
"Would you do something for me now?".
"I'd do anything for you".
"Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?".

ernest hemingway

"With the maid holding the umbrella over her, she walked along the gravel path until she was under their window. The table was there, washed bright green in the rain, but the cat was gone. She was suddenly disappointed. The maid looked up at her".

"'Anyway, I want a cat', she said, 'I want a cat. I want a cat now. If I can't have long hair or any fun, I can have a cat'". (In "Cat in the Rain").

miklós radnóti

In 1944, Hungarian jew Miklós Radnóti was deported to a labor camp in Yugoslavia. Too weak to walk he was shot to death with other prisoners. The mass grave in which they were buried was exhumed after the war and Radnóti's last poems, describing incidents of the march, were found in his trench coat pocket by his wife.

From "Foamy sky "

The moon sways on a foamy sky,
I am amazed that I live.
An overzealous death searches this age
and those it discovers are all so very pale.
The forest bled and in the spinning time
blood flowed from every hour...
...I lived to see that and this,
the air feels heavy to me.
A war sound-filled silence hugs me as before my nativity.
...I stop here at the foot of a tree,
its crown swaying angrily.
A branch reaches down -- to grab my neck?
I'm not a coward, nor am I weak,
just tired. I listen.
And the frightened branch explores my hair.
To forget would be best,
but I have never forgotten anything yet.
Foam pours over the moon
and the poison draws a dark green line on the horizon.
I roll myself a cigarette
slowly, carefully. I live.

--Tajtékos ég, translated by Gina Gönczi

grace paley

Grace Paley (1922-2007)

"People talk of alienation and so forth… I don't feel that. I feel angry at certain things, but I don't feel alienated from it. I feel disgusted with it, or mad, but I don't feel I'm not in it." (Grace Paley).

Grace Paley died a month ago. I’ve been going through her short stories. There’s one that I especially like: ‘Samuel’, about a boy who stupidly dies while loitering around on the subways. After Samuel’s death, his parents have another child. And these are the chilling lines in which the short story ends, taking the mother’s point of view:

“But immediately she saw that this baby wasn’t Samuel. She and her husband together have had other children, but never again will a boy exactly like Samuel be known”.

maria luisa bombal

Going through Bombal's bibliography I was made to remember...

María Luisa Bombal, who died without receiving the National Award for Literature, contemplated suicide. That was in Santiago in 1941. Instead, she ran into an old fiancé in the Hotel Crillón, impulsively drew from her handbag a Mauser pistol, fired four shots into him. He recovered, forgave, filed no charges.

"We have organized a logical existence over a well of mysteries".

"It may be that true happiness lies in the conviction that one has irremediably lost happiness. Then we can begin to move through life without hope or fear, capable of finally enjoying all the small pleasures, which are the most lasting."
Maria Luisa Bombal

ian mcewan

"Ever since I lost mine in a road accident when I was eight, I have had my eye on other people's parents", Preface to 'Black Dogs'