foto via tgw, 2009
Finding Books on Your Floor (2nd Chapter)
Yes, I'll admit it, I sometimes in my Russian revelries confuse Dostoevsky and Tolstoy--though how is this possible, you are asking me, aren't they as different as night and day?
Dostoevsky and Tolstoy are my Russian connections in reading; they are as inside Russia as I have ever traveled in terms of Russian narrative. I have read Chekhov--I lived with an actress for a brief spell and I got to the point where I hated "The Sea Gull"--because every actress did studies of it in those days--and this actress had studied with Sandy Meisner at the Neighborhood--and I would sit and read with her through the parts of "The Sea Gull" she was trying to master--then she would stand in front of a mirror and perform her parts--then she would trot off to an audition where she'd do her "Sea Gull" lines and get rejected and come home crying like a baby, throwing her 8x10 glossies with her bio/fact/face sheet on their backs all over the livingroom. Going into her poutingest Camille role. I did not pity her; instead, like Sandy Meisner would have done, I charged her with my best directorial wrath, "Get up, woman, god-dammit, are you an actress or a whining bitch? In rejection is strength, in rejection is a chance to do it over, this time correcting the faults you made in it the first time. Do it over, come on, baby, off the crying pad and onto the launching pad. Off your tragic ass and let's start going over your 'Sea Gull' parts again. By the bye, have you thought of maybe trying some other lines from say another play?" OK, I wimped out at the end of that sentence (Sandy would have said, "Get that 'Sea Gull' shit down pat, dammit"). "Oh no," she declaimed, "These directors all know 'Sea Gull'--they expect you to know it, too." "Do the other auditioners do 'Sea Gull.'" "No, only those of us who've studied with Sandy." [According to my actress friend that was Dusty Hoffman, Rip Torn, Harvey Kleitel, Marlon Brando!] "Maybe the directors hate you people; maybe that's the reason you never get a call back!" And that would set her to crying like a distraught actress again. The actress and I clashed constantly over "what Sandy would have wanted."
I confess I've only pecked at Gogol. Turgenev? Only excerpts maybe. I did read The Gadfly in college, though I can't remember who wrote it now. But Dostoevsky and Tolstoy! They are a different matter. I live in these two dudes's books when I start reading them. And I haven't near read all their books. I read on Possessed the first time I tackled it for over a year; the second time I read it, I slammed it shut after about a week; now, I am itching to read it again. I'm still reading Crime and Punishment. It may be a perpetual reading for me--it stays in my brain's attic simmering all the time--like an inactive volcano. I never know when I'm gonna wanna go back to old Rodya's adventures--though I get stuck rereading the murder of the old pawnbroker and her sister and how Roddy reacts after he's done the deeds--I could just read that forever. And Semyon the drunk--he can't stop drinking--then Dostoevsky has a carriage run over him and doesn't tell us whether Semyon was drunk and accidentally fell under the carriage or whether he did it on purpose--suicide--always a way out for Dostoevsky characters--though they find it more interesting to face the worst of life than to die. Life is all these poor slobs have. Then on the other side of the coin, there's Tolstoy. His characters all have it made financially and socially; their lives are mostly fantasy and they are constantly searching for love and peace through whatever symbolic gods they put their faith in--tiring of war, though war is the only way the men have of proving themselves plus it brings out the many loves of the women who fall for the chivalrous, devil-may-care, highly romantic warriors--the reality of war is thrilling to a prince--and it is thrilling to a woman in love with the excitement of loving a man who may be dead the next time you see him--following him through the ice and snows...I mean, Tolstoy's battlefield is lined with spectators.
I've never completely read War and Peace. I pick it up and look at it and read a tat in it and think back to how easy Tolstoy's books are to read once you get into them, but here I stall and after reading a paragraph or too, I put it down. It's probably I fear getting caught up in another bunch of Tolstoy's characters, especially his women. I read them over and over until I want to live with them for huge long periods of time. Tolstoy's characters are far from the destitution of Dostoevsky's darkly humorous band of scheming pranksters; in fact, it was probably one of Tolstoy's character's carriages that would have run down poor old drunken Semyon. But they are the same, too; true Russian writers with ink flowing through their veins.
I learned to read the Rooshuns from old Ezra Pound--and in Hemingway's A Moveable Feast Papa mentions Ezra always telling him, "Read the Rooshuns, Hemingway, read the Rooshuns...." Does Papa prefer Stendahl to Tolstoy? I can't remember. I do know he loved Stendahl on war. Surely most war books in Hemingway's day were based on either War and Peace or The Red and the Black. In researching Stephen Crane's Red Badge of Courage, the great Civil War novel written by a man who'd never been in a war--and a splendidly written little novel it is, too, I find his critics at the time compared it to Zola's Debacle and Tolstoy's War and Peace. I've been a Crane fan a long time so I was curious as to whether there was any truth to such comparisons. And then, in Google-galloping around Crane on the Internet, I came across an old piece on Crane where Crane said he had read Zola in English because he couldn't read French and therefore he didn't think he got that much out of him. War and Peace? Crane said he had tried to read it but had found it too "intolerably long."
Lovely ironies. Writers all writing the same words over and over for centuries now, writing their lives out, writing their observations out, compelled to write, driven to write down every word, sentence, idea, meaning, plot, narrative, etc., that comes to mind either immediately or over a period of years when observing on a past matter of experience or the contemplation of a would-be utopian future! ("Writing as though I am writing from the grave" as Mark Twain said how he wanted his autobiography to read.) And writers hoe a lonely row--and that's why I find books like Possessed, Anna Karenina, Resurrection, Crime and Punishment so "of me," if you know what I'm driving at.
I Love Nabokov, Though I Also Love Disagreeing With Him
Nabokov on people who think Dostoevski is a great writer:
"A good third [of readers] do not know the difference between real literature and pseudo-literature, and to such readers Dostoevsky may seem more important and more artistic than such trash as our American historical novels or things called From Here to Eternity and such like balderdash."
Nabokov on Tolstoy (of course the son of a bitch likes Leo):
"Tolstoy is the greatest Russian writer of prose fiction. Leaving aside his precursors Pushkin and Lermontov, we might list the greatest artists in Russian prose thus: first, Tolstoy; second, Gogol; third, Chekhov; fourth, Turgenev." [Realizing the, really, silliness of such rankings, he adds:] "This is rather like grading students' papers and no doubt Dostoevsky and Saltykov are waiting at the door of my office to discuss their low marks."
My thanks to Chaplin on online-literature.com/forums [you have to register to read it all]; those are his editorial comments inside the brackets during Nabokov's quotes.
How 'bout a Little Lolita?
Thus, neither of us is alive when the reader opens this book. But while the blood still throbs through my writing hand, you are still as much part of blessed matter as I am, and I can still talk to you from here to Alaska. Be true to your Dick. Do not let other fellows touch you. Do not talk to strangers. I hope you will love your baby. I hope it will be a boy. That husband of yours, I hope, will always treat you well, because otherwise my specter shall come at him, like black smoke, like a demented giant, and pull him apart nerve by nerve. And do not pity C. Q. One had to choose between him and H. H., and one wanted H. H. to exist at least a couple months longer, so as to have him make you live in the minds of later generations. I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita.- Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
Henry Miller on Books
"My encounters with books I regard very much as my encounters with other phenomena of life or thought. All encounters are configurate, not isolate. In this sense, and in this sense only, books are as much a part of life as trees, stars or dung....
"To see myself as the reader I once was is like watching a man fighting his way through a jungle. To be sure, living in the heart of the jungle I learned a few things about the jungle. But my aim was never to live in the jungle--it was to get clear of it! It is my firm conviction that it is not necessary to first inhabit this jungle of books. Life itself is enough of a jungle--a very real and a very instructive one, to say the least. But, you may ask, may not books be a help, a guide, in fighting our way through the wilderness? 'N'ira pas loin,' said Napoleon, 'celui qui sait d'avance ou il veut aller.'" ["This one will not go far who knows beforehand where he wants to go"--pardon my French.] [Books in My Life, p. 12, New Directions, 1969.]
In Hollywood With Eisenstein
I have read way over 100 pages in this book since a couple of days ago when I found it in a state of neglect on the floor behind a plastic bag of minor league baseballs under a table in my apartment.
Reading it, I came across crazy sentences. I mean Ivor Montagu was a bloody Englishman, a graduate of Cambridge, the son of a peer, his family in the banking business, so I know he could write better than the way this book was printing his writing--something was astray.
For instance: on p. 28 I read: "Eisenstein could look after them with the languages. Perhaps they might even find they had an earning capacity in the Capitalist jungle. If so, they would not need valuta." Doesn't that strike you as oddly written?--and by an Englishman? And that word "valuta," I had never seen that word before in my life. So I looked it up on Google and feel a little bit like a fool since I found out what it means:
|(in Europe) the value of a currency expressed in terms of its rate of exchange with another currency.|
1915–20; < class="ital-inline">*valūta, for L valīta, fem. ptp. of L valēre to be worth
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2009.
So, Montagu being from a banking family surely could have used the word "valuta"--though why? Isn't "worth" what he would have probably used? Still it was a wacky sentence. Curious, I looked in the front of the book, to the copyright page. I usually check this page out but somehow I'd missed this one, and right there on that page was my answer: "Printed in East Germany." Wow. Then I saw, c1967 International Press and the Seven Seas Press of Berlin. Wow. An East German-printed book, printed in East Berlin.
(I'm writing whipped; I'll continue this pursuit on the 'morrow.)
for The Daily Growler
A Daily Growler Sports Extra With marvelousmarvbackbiter
The Above Baseball Is From the 1942 Flint (Michigan) Axes of the Central League
I have been silent most of this baseball season. But now I have to say something and that something has to do with the New York Yankees. In spite of my put down of Joe Girardi, I have always said the Yankees have the greatest hitting lineup in baseball history if they'd all hit at the same time. Here recently they are all hitting at the same time. The Yanks have just beaten the Red Sox 2 in a row--and before losing two to the White Sox, they had won 5 in row--all on hitting. Ferocious hitting. And last night's 15-inning duel was won by A-Rod hitting a two-run walk off home run in the bottom of the 15th. I mean, these Yankee hitters are hitting all the big-time pitchers in the American League, no matter their status, Cy Young Awarders or what not. Night before last, the Yankees sent poor old worn-out John Smoltz to the minors--as they pounded him and the Red Sox, hitting like those big Apes hit poor old Bugs Bunny and his All-Stars in a Looney Toons WWII baseball cartoon that I loved as a kid, ending winning 13-6.
Right now, Saturday morning, Aug. 8th, the New York Yankees under Joe Girardi are the best team in baseball, pulling 8 percentage points ahead of the second best team, the LA Dodgers under Joe Torre.
Now I'm fantasizing like mad. Oh how I would love to see a Yankees-Dodgers World Series. The greatest manager in baseball against his protege, Joe Gerardi (he learned his managing from Joe Torre as the Yanks second-string catcher during the wonder years), and the greatest hitting team in baseball.
And most of these great hitters aren't even hitting .300--A-Rod's in the .260s; Posada's hitting .247; but A-Rod has 22 home runs and Posada has 20 and Melky Cabrera has 20 and Johnny Damon is hitting home runs and this bum Swisher and Mark Texiera has hit over 20. It's amazing to see.
Here's the problem. This is the same scenario Joe Torre faced in his last year with the Yanks. In August, Joe's Yankees swept the Red Sox five in a row to take over first place for the first time that year--Boston had led the whole year--ending up a game and a 1/2 up on them. What happened? The Yankees went to Baltimore and lost 3 out of 4 games--everybody stopped hitting and that's when Cashman stuck Joe with that whole gaggle of Double A-ball, minor-league pitchers including the wacky-minded Jabo Chamberlain--(the minor-league amateur who cost the Yanks a trip to the World Series and got Joe fired (Joe wasn't fired, I know, he quit) when a bunch of gnats sent him into total panick). And then the Yanks went down to Tampa Bay and lost 5 straight to the Righteous Rays! They ended up the Wild Card--just beaten out of first by the Red Sox--and then humiliated by the Cleveland "Wahoo" Indians (just barely) in the AL Playoffs.
The Yanks are ridin' high right now. They've got no competition this year in terms of the rest of their division--if they can sweep the Red Sox, they're not going to have any trouble from Baltimore, Toronto (what a disappointment), or Tampa Bay (what a disappointment). The Red Sox have several of their pitching whizzes injured--that's why they were using John Smoltz--so they are still contenders--and there's a lot of baseball left to play.
I'm conceding a bit to Joe Gerardi, not to Brian Cashman and Hank Steinbrenner--I'm still pissed at the Steinbrenners for ripping the city off so brutally in building that House that George Built out there in the Bronx where they still haven't fulfilled their promises of building baseball parks where the old stadium was and in some other area of land conceded by the city to the Steinbrenners. Still the true-blue Yankee fans are showing up at the games, packing the joint--it doesn't hold as many people as the now-gone old stadium--and they're paying whatever they pay for their overpriced seats with plenty of relish it seems. The other night I sadly saw the cameras dwelling on the fact Bruce Willis, the overpaid, grade-B, Hollywood actor (he couldn't hold on to Demi Moore, folks, so you know he's on Viagra now), was sitting in one of the high-price sideline boxes cheering on "his" Yankees. Also, I find the Lexus commercial that runs during Yankees's games funny. It says the Lexus is the official luxury car of the New York Yankees! Hot damn, how 'bout them apples, sports fans? Who was that, Mel Allen I'm impersonating?
The Mets. There's nothing to say about the Mets that can't be said in Spanish--mucho malo. Jerry Manuel is a loser in the National League--he's an American League manager used to power hitting to win ball games for him--he doesn't know Billy Ball or National League ball--the hit-and-run game--he's trying to make sluggers out of some very good "place" hitters. And pitchers! The Mets always blow big bucks on an American League pitcher (I cite their buying Bret Saberhagen one year after he'd been a star for the KC Royals and him turning out to be a loser with the Mets), like Santana, pitchers who are used to having long-ball hitters (DHes) saving their games for them don't seem to make it in the National League--what good is a Santana if nobody gets runs behind him? He's still the best pitcher the Mets have.
I give up on the Mets. They're 11 games back of the Phillies--no way they're gonna make up that this year. Manuel's already jawin' about "wait 'til next year," but, Senor Manuel, I'll bet you my bottom peso you ain't the Mets manager next year.
So, my great hope for now is a Yankees-Dodgers World Series--which is very possible given the power of both of these teams this year. The Yankees are 4 1/2 up on the Bosox right now and L.A. is 6 1/2 games up on Colorado, though the Rockies are coming on strong, as is San Francisco. Neither the Yankees or the Dodgers get a given--but oh what a glorious series that would be for me!
for The Daily Growler Sports Extra!