Inching Along, but with Results

Back from a superb mini-vacation, during which I did only enough reading to finish the Musil collection. The final section consists of some short essays and stories, a few of which reveal the sparkle of a fantastic smartass. In “Oedipus Endangered,” for example, the author uses the etymological link between “womb” and “lap” (the word is the same for both in German) to speculate that Freud formed his theories on the Oedipus complex around the very historically determined mode of dress that constituted a woman’s lap: “In this sense the basic experiences of psychoanalysis definitely derive from the clothes of the 1870’s and 1880’s and not from ski togs. And if you look at people in bathing suits, where is the womb or lap today?” (325)

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Similarly, his thoughts on the either creepy or invisible nature of most monuments (“Monuments”), and what appears to be a sort of I’ve-had-it approach to talk of sports’ uplifting nature (“Art and the Morality of the Crawl”) won’t fail to elicit a sarcastic snigger of agreement here and there. Probably the best piece from this section, though, is “The Blackbird,” which I wouldn’t say is exactly Kafkaesque, but it does provide enough of that enjoyable and thought-inducing “Hnh?” reaction that it could probably be read alongside “A Report to an Academy” or “A Hunger Artist,” just to see what sorts of stylistic and narrative turns pan out.

And now, heading back to the daily grind– and all the reading that helps me face it– I’ll probably have much more of a literary nature to ponder over the coming days. Next up? Either some Anna Kavan or Per Petterson, maybe George Saunders’ latest. In the immediate future, though, dinner.

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2 comments

  1. lostgander

    I see on Goodreads that you've gone with Petterson. I hope you enjoy him. That one you're reading and In the Wake have been my two favorites of his so far.

    I am still mulling over your post on threads and obsessions. Wonderful post. There was a lot to think about there. The writer that came to my mind first was Thomas Bernhard, who some critics have described as writing the same basic story over and over: that of great artists and scientists struggling against society's apathy and jealousy, its anti-intellectualism and oppression of greatness, the negative force of which ultimately causes them to fail and/or destroys them. Recently I read some of Bernhard's poetry. He was a fervent and accomplished poet as a young man, but his third book of poetry was rejected by a publisher. At that point, he stopped publishing poetry and began writing novels. In the introduction, the translator mused over whether this slight had led to a lifelong obsession that he repeatedly plotted out in his novels.

    Then, the other day, I read this post and it made me think about your last paragraph in which you discuss how this type of speculation on writer motivation can affect story and our reading of 'how it moves and what it says.' I really like what the author of that post says about 'the horizon of narrative' and I think it is a great reminder of how many different ways there are of looking at literature, how personal these ways can be, and how because of this, the published critical responses that people often look to for guidance in their reading can seem short-sighted.

    Note, too, that he mentions Knausgaard. 🙂

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  2. Special K

    Yes, from the first chapter I was able to take in before I crashed last night, I got the impression that I'm going to relish this book in the same way that I eat up a good Bergman film. Thanks again for the recommendation.

    Ooh, Bernhard. Admittedly, I've only read Frost, but I couldn't decide whether I was fascinated or frozen by the way in which the author told the story. I wanted to find something W.G. Sebald-esque there, but the style/approach was too hard or glassy, if that makes any sense, to allow for such a presence. I'll need to check out Bernhard's poetry.

    And kudos for the link; I want to do some more thinking about whether “literature is entirely mediation,” as opposed to music, which the author claims “is its own mediated presence.” I'm going to require one more night of prolonged, near-comatose slumber, though, before I can climb fully out of vacation mode and get my thinking cap securely back on. But hopefully, I'll be able to read at least a few pages tonight before conking out!

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