One (women’s of course) magasine which considered publishing one chapter finally demurred (in frightened awe) but wanted my ‘picture’ and what of my life I cd spare: if you are a writer, they don’t want to buy and print yr writing, but rather a picture and what you eat for breakfast, &c. But then good God! that’s what the book’s about—It’s difficult not to strike a pose, for being ‘eccentric’ enough to try to get across that: What do they want of the man that they didn’t find in the work?
“I think for my 2012 ‘Year in Reading’ I’m going to try and be topical, since I’m guessing this series will feature enough laundry lists of great books as it is. So, since my book The End of Oulipo? is publishing in January from Zero Books, I’ll make my topic Oulipo literature. I’ve certainly been reading enough of it lately.”
for Hans Arp
Awkward grammar appals a craftsman. A Dada bard
as daft as Tzara damns stagnant art and scwrawls an
alpha (a slapdash arc and a backward zag) that mars
all stanzas and jams all ballads (what a scandal). A
madcap vandal crafts a small black ankh — a hand-
stamp that can stamp a wax pad and at last plant a
mark that sparks an ars magna (an abstract art that
charts a phrasal anagram). A pagan skald chants a dark
saga (a Mahabharata), as a papal cabal blackballs all
annals and tracts, all dramas and psalms: Kant and
Kafka, Marx and Marat. A law as harsh as a fatwa bans
all paragraphs that lack an A as a standard hallmark.
You wanted to treat foreign lands as though they were friends with whom you could have a tête-à-tête in a café, as equals. When you traveled with company, the country would shrink away; your companion would become the subject of your voyage as much as the country itself. As for group travel, the country would end up being the silent host whose presence one forgets like one does an overly timid guest, the principal subject becoming the backdrop. At the end of an amusing trip to England with a very talkative group, you decided that that was the end of adult vacation trips for you. You had gone in the company of the blind. Henceforth you would travel in order to see. And you would travel alone, so as to dissolve into the spectacle of the unknown. The facts belied these decisions: you no longer traveled abroad.
Sitting in a café, a few seconds looking at passersby would be enough for you to label them with a few incisive words. You would create an entire cruel category out of a person or detail. Fifty-year-old virgin, very tall dwarf, ogre in a smock, right-wing swinger, salesman with a flashy bracelet, little man on heels, pedophile accountant, hetero fag: your company would be struck by the appropriateness of these labels, eliciting from them a hilarity far more malevolent than your own. You were neither malicious nor cynical, just pitiless. After a session of panoramic crowd-gazing through the windows of a brasserie in the city center on a Saturday afternoon, after leaving you, one wondered how you would have described your own friends if they had passed in front of you a few seconds earlier. And shivered at the idea that your piercing eye might detect in each of them the incarnation of a type.
You used to read dictionaries like other people read novels. Each entry a character, you’d say, who might be encountered on some other page. Plots, many of them, would form during any random reading. The story changes according to the order in which the entries are read. A dictionary resembles the world more than a novel does, because the world is not a coherent sequence of actions but a constellation of things perceived. It is looked at, unrelated things congregate, and geographic proximity gives them meaning. If events follow each other, they are believed to be a story. But in a dictionary, time doesn’t exist: ABC is neither more nor less chronological than BCA. To portray your life in order would be absurd: I remember you at random. My brain resurrects you through stochastic details, like picking marbles out of a bag.
In this series of self-contained journal entries, Rilke creates a portrait of something powerful and mysterious (something that would later come to inhabit the fiction of Kafka and Beckett), bound together by a poetic logic. I would like to some day take apart some of these sections just to figure out how they worked, but I think to do that I might have to destroy them, as sometimes happens with paintings when scientists peel them apart to see what is underneath the final layers of paint.