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Carolyn Kellogg at the LA Times blogs about the 61 essential reads of postmodern literature. I’ve read some of the list and here’s my take.
Margaret Atwood’s “The Blind Assassin” is a wonderful book, probably her best. Calvino’s “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler” is romantic and Calvino is one of the unique sensibilities in all of literature. I liked Umberto Eco’s “The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana” but found it a little too densely allusive; I prefer “Name of the Rose”. Dave Egger’s “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” is always recommended. Faulkner’s “Absalom! Absalom!” is difficult to read but Faulkner is always worth the effort; it is worth noting that Faulkner is one of the few authors who is truly inventive with language. “Hamlet” and “Metamorphosis” are of course two centerpieces of all literature. Nabokov’s “Pale Fire” is Nabokov at his wittiest, and of course Nabokov is unbelievably lyrical, a master the language dance. Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow” is difficult but beautiful. And “Slaughterhouse Five” is a must read from Vonnegut.
I might add a few, like Stephenson’s “Cryptonomicon”, or more Faulkner, or Nabokov, or Atwood, or Joyce, but the list is an excellent one as is. Here is Bookslut, one of my favorite literary blogs.
I was writing about Harold Bloom’s “Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds“, specifically first about Virginia Woolf, and then about Octavio Paz. There is a really good excerpt from Paz’s Conjunctions and Disjunctions on page 538, and wonderfully enough, it is Paz the poet-prophet speaking about time…and then I thought that I should drop everything and post possibly my favorite lines from Nabokov on the same topic. I’m posting them because I have grown to be terribly appreciative of Nabokov; I don’t think that there’s another English-language author who quite captures the scope of his vision or has the gift of his language, which is at times is exuberant, inquisitive, self-absorbed in a universal sort of way, and intimidatingly diverse. There is this subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) lyric eroticism that tinges almost every sentence.
To give you my measurement of the scope of his language and the breadth of his knowledge, my family is very literary. My parents both have multiple graduate degrees, and the family reads what I can only describe as an insane, breakneck pace. My brother dissected Webster’s 3rd New International Dictionary to win the National Spelling Bee; my vocabulary, while not as extensive as his, is formidable. It is rare in reading that I require recourse to a dictionary (and that holds true even for most of my academic reading. But when I read Nabokov, alone amongst all authors I read, I need to have ready access to a dictionary, and sometimes for more than one language, for he is a master of language, reckless and improbably fluid with words.
Painting is an eye, a blinded eye that continues to see, and sees what blinds it.
All the paintings I have made, I was compelled to make. You must never force yourself. They make you and you have no say in it.
Yes, I abandoned everything. Painting required it. It was all or nothing.
Painting is being alive. Through my painting. I beat back this world that stops us living and where we are in constant danger of being destroyed.
I paint the impossibility of painting.
In this world that destroys me, the only thing I can do is to live my weakness. That weakness is my only strength.
No country, no family, no ties. I didn’t exist anymore. I just had to press on.
All these exhibitions…. People put out their hands to you, and when you try to take them, there’s nobody there.
I do not see this world. But my hands are tied, and that’s why it frightens me.
Dead days are more numerous than live ones.
An artist’s life is all very fine and moving. But only in retrospect. In books.
I am on the side of weakness.
The artist has no role. He is absent.
Most people’s lives are governed by will-power. An artist is someone who has no will.
Painting doesn’t interest me.
What I paint is beyond painting.
I am powerless, helpless. Each time, it’s a leap in the dark. A deliberate encounter with the unknown.
When I look to try and see where seeing is no longer possible, where visibility is gone.
When I look back at a recent painting, I can hardly bear the suffering in it.
I never try to know.
Everything I’ve painted is the revelation of a truth. And therefore inexhaustible.
I never know where I’m going.
The hardest thing is to work blind.
In the normal way, nothing is possible. But the artist creates possibilities where almost none exist.
It’s because artists are defenceless that they have such power.
Yes, he agrees, he is tending to lose all individuality.
Painting lives only through the slide towards the unknown in oneself.
My pictures are also an annihilation.
I am a watered down being.
I am a walker. When I’m not working, I have to walk. I walk so I can go on working.
Van Gogh? … He was a beacon. Not like me. I just feel my way in the dark. But I am good at feeling my way.
What is so wonderful is that all that [painting, an oeuvre, the role of the artist …] is so pointless and yet so necessary.
[On Picasso] Admittedly he was exceptionally creative and inventive. But he was a stranger to doubt [….]
Painting has to struggle to beat back this world, which cannot but assassinate the invisible.
The painter is also blind, but he needs to see.
Discouragement is an integral part of the adventure.
I am a man without a tongue.
The amazing thing is that, by keeping low, I have been able to go my own way.
Always this poverty… But I never rebelled against it. I have always known that that was my place. And anyway, I had my work.
Even failure isn’t something you can seek.
[…] I never really liked French painting. It’s often too disciplined, too elegant. It is not genuine enough. It’s as of art has got the upper hand.
I did what I did in order to be able to breathe. There is no merit in that.
When life appears, it is the unknown. But to be able to welcome the unknown, you have to be unencumbered.
So many painters and writers never stop producing, because they are afraid of not-doing.
You have to let non-working do its work.
I am held prisoner by my eyes.
HT: Spurious. From Juliet, Conversations with Samuel Beckett and Bram Van Velde.
I only wish I could do something deserving of a compliment like this:
Mr. Liebrandt’s food at Corton is mysteriously flavorful, shimmering with new variations on perfume and texture and temperature, but restrained from pushing cuisine beyond recognition. His asparagus velouté has notes of vanilla, garlic, yuzu and fresh bay leaf, but it’s familiar; a soup is still a soup. And yet. Within its traditional framework, Mr. Liebrandt’s food is so full of allusions and hints and references that it’s like Nabokov on a plate: delicious, demanding and just the slightest bit disturbing.
Gorgeous. Link to the NYT story here.