In what’s become a week of wrapping up less than inspiring reading, I made use of insomnia last night to persevere to the end of The Bridge on the Drina. Unfortunately, I found the thing so bland that I really don’t have all that much to say about it, other than the fact that I started rolling my eyes about halfway in, when I began to realize that most chapters would end with a variation on “but the bridge remained the same [in spite of all the changes going on around it].”
This is the only work I’ve read by Ivo Andric, (1) so I’m really not qualified to make any real pronouncements on his output in general– but if everything he wrote was more or less like The Bridge, my puzzlement at his being awarded the Nobel Prize is, I think, justifiable. Unfortunately, based on my reading of said novel, I’m not motivated enough to go out and investigate any of his other pieces.
But! As I reported in the last post, literary/poetic enjoyment is again part of my milieu; as I told an advisor many years ago about Walter Benjamin, I think I’m developing a crush on a dead man.(2) In this case, the departed individual is Louis MacNeice. Autumn Journal is so damn good that, instead of wanting to devour it all at once, as I originally wanted to do, I’m drawing it out, to make it last longer. And so, I’ve been limiting myself, for the last couple of nights, to about three poems, letting all their details sink in. This is a collection I know I’ll read more than once, and will probably go over and over, maybe even memorizing a poem or two.
Plus, it seems that good poetry has been in the air the last couple of days; yesterday, I somehow landed on an article featuring Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo.” I read it again, this poem I’d gone through more times than I could count over the years, and suddenly, that last line– “You must change your life”– hit me with an intensity it never had before. It wasn’t due to what a good Southern Baptist would call being convicted by the poem’s message; rather, given the rest of the piece, it just seems to come out of nowhere. (A fact which was, of course, always obvious, but somehow not in such an intelligent/insightful way.) I’m still puzzling it over; the line fits, somehow– but how in particular, I just don’t know. Brilliant.
(1) No matter what I do, I can’t figure out how to get the proper accent over the “c”, which I’m apparently only allowed to do with vowels. This bugs me inordinately.
(2) a) Of course, just as would probably be the case with any word-and-thought genius, even as I make my confession of being sweet on brilliant writers, I know very well that any sort of boy-girl pairing with the likes of Benjamin or MacNeice or Derrida or Kafka or Sebald (etc., etc.) would probably be a big messy disaster filled with feelings on my part of intimidation, inadequacy, and general envy of my beau’s confident output. For a great investigation of the final item in that sad list, see Kathryn Chetkovich’s examination of being a lesser-known writer in a relationship with a literary rock star (i.e., Jonathan Franzen).
a1) I used to include Kierkegaard in my list, my heart breaking for his conviction that he wasn’t worthy of Regine. But then I decided he’d really done the poor girl a bad turn, this gal who’d expended a lot of personal energy and time on a relationship, only to be ditched (at a time and in a culture where such a thing would’ve raised more than a few eyebrows) because of her tortured significant other’s excessive existential self-flagellations. I ended up deciding (and maybe she did, too) that she was better off without a situation that probably involved a lot of puppy-dog eyes and maybe more than one fleeting imagined command on her part to just buck up. N.b.: I still felt stupidly moved when visiting Kierkegaard’s grave.
b) Said advisor’s unimpressed reaction to my sincere confession, now that I look back on it, may have been an early signal to me that the way in which I approach philosophers and theorists is not of the same genre as that employed by most academics. Although a good logical exposition can sometimes be entertaining, the way in which I understand and truly know things isn’t satisfied by the aspiration to objectivity (if scholarship can even be accurately described as such). Trying to fit my literary bent and partiality to said world was entertaining, and a good challenge- but also resulted in a lot of looks from Smart People that ranged from flummoxed to frightened.