Tuesday, September 9, 2014

sick, remember?

It was hard to think about the moment when the hammer would pound the nails into the green wood and the coffin would creak under its certain hope of becoming a tree once more. His body, drawn now with greater force by the imperative of the earth, would remain tilted in a damp, claylike, soft depth and up there, four cubic yards above, the gravediggers' last blows would grow faint. No. He wouldn't feel fear there either. That would be the prolongation of his death, the most natural prolongation of his new state.[...]

The biblical dust of death. Perhaps then he will feel a slight nostalgia, the nostalgia of not being a formal, anatomical corpse, but, rather, an imaginary, abstract corpse, assembled only in the hazy memory of his kin. He will know then that he will rise up the capillary vessels of an apple tree and awaken, bitten by the hunger of a child on some autumn day.
That's from "The Third Resignation," a story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, published in 1947 and translated from the original Spanish by Gregory Rabassa. I'm reading Collected Stories of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, twenty-six stories from 1947 to 1972. When I read Marquez' early works, like the one I quote above, I can see the hand of Felisberto Hernandez. When I read Marquez' later works, I can see how themes and technique have flowed from Marquez to younger writers like Cesar Aira. Perhaps I assume incorrectly that all Latin American authors are familiar with each other despite the different languages. Anyway, I realize that I haven't read enough Marquez, or Aira, and that some day I need to see about Roberto Bolano.

I like the Marquez passage quoted above because, among other things, of the play on Christian themes. "In sure and certain hope of the resurrection" transformed by Marquez into the rebirth of the tree rather than the human protagonist in the coffin, and then his transformation into the tree, and the innocent child eating the apple, the image of Original Sin, of mankind passing his original sin from generation to generation. All very tidily done in a couple of sentences, none of it forced on the reader and none of that material's being understood even strictly necessary to keep reading the story. He will know then that he will rise up the capillary vessels of an apple tree and awaken, bitten by the hunger of a child on some autumn day is a beautiful bit of poetry no matter the meaning. Nicely done, GGM.

I thought I had more to say about the Hernandez-Marquez-Aira literary influence, but I guess not. It did strike me, this morning as I sat in the garden reading Marquez and watching--out of the corner of my eye--an Anna's hummingbird whose feathers are oddly yellow rather than the usual bright green, that writers carry the works of other writers around in their heads, collecting them up, interleaving pages of various books, memorizing and cannibalizing them at some level, all without any effort on the part of the writer. Probably people who don't write do this, too. Someone said once--I don't remember who it was--that to be a reader is to confront the entirety of literature as if all of it's being written today; that Shakespeare is writing his plays now, alongside Juno Diaz's novels and Cervantes' Don Quixote; that when you read something for the first time, you read it as a modern reader, and it bangs up in your reader's mind against whatever else you're reading and have read, and that all of history is happening at once. Which I claim is a good thing. I've been carrying 100 Years of Solitude around in my head for at least 27 years, and I have no idea how it's mixed in with all the Chekhov and Shakespeare and Burroughs (Edgar and William both) and Woolf and whatever else I've read.

Alongside--or maybe in alternation with, I suppose--the Marquez collection, I'm reading Robert Browning's The Ring and the Book, which Tom at Wuthering Expectations read and wrote about last month, apparently against his will. Mighty Reader and I were on a long vacation last week (extending into today's post-vacation sick day, alas) in Oregon, which is a rural part of the North American continent for those of you not familiar with the geography. There's a nice used book store in Salem where I found an 1899 edition of The Ring and the Book in a single volume, the pages a bit brittle and easily torn but I'm trying to be gentle with the poor old thing. I also found a collection of bits from Ruskin's works, essays and articles about painting and aesthetics, with illustrations, very nice. I've poked around in it some, but mostly I was distracted by reading Heinrich Boll's midcentury modernist novel Billiards at Half-Past Nine, which was startling and brilliant until the final fifty pages, when it became rushed and a bit treacly. I'm not sure how quickly I'll seek out something else by Herr Boll. Forgive the lack of umlauts over those os. I can't be bothered today. Sick, remember?

Although I took along my notebook and pens, I made no progress at all on the draft of Antosha in Prague. I seem to be in a holding pattern regarding writing just now. A crisis of indifference, you might say. I'm not sure if that crisis will resolve itself. Likely it doesn't matter. I find myself with a huge pile of work to do on previous books, work that won't do itself, work that must be done before I shift myself and attempt to shill any of those previous books to agents or publishers. A crisis of indifference, as I say.


  1. I have not read Hernandez, though I at one time very long ago I read and reread that Garcia Marquez collection.

    Expect you are not writing and feeling indifferent because you are ill. Hope you are better soon, but in the meantime enjoy reading and fiddling with things already written. It's hard to make new work when you're busy squabbling with viruses and trying to re-build the body.

    1. Yes, I have to keep reminding myself that I become depressed when I'm ill. At least I have books to nurse me through it!

      Funny, maybe, that yesterday when I read some of GGM's later (I guess mid-period now) stories, about village life and the heat of summer, I thought of that scene in "White Camellia Orphanage" where the men come out to the farm to allegedly investigate the boy's murder, all of them standing around in the hot sun and Pip seeming on the verge of hallucinating.

  2. They made me do it, officer, honest!

    From interviews, Spanish-language writers make it quite clear that they all read each other quite intensely. There must be exceptions. You hvae to be right about the way they carry bits of other books around. There is a lovely scene in One Hundred Years involving an endless flight of butterflies. I later found those same butterflies in Alejo Carpentier's The Lost Steps (1953). García Márquez had just wafted them over from Venezuela to Colombia which, for all I know, is how they actually migrate.

    That's just by opinion of Billiards, too.

    1. I'm all in favor of that sort of endless influence in literature. Some days I have an optimistic vision of there being essentially a single work of literature, a grand cathedral of the written word if you will, with hundreds of thousands of inspired craftsmen beavering away at if for thousands of years, building higher and higher and wider and wider, uncountable doors and windows and spires and altars. I need to broaden my Latin American reading.