Tag: writer

Harold Brodkey: endless kvetch

Saturday, 26 January, 2019

On this day in 1996, the short-story writer and novelist Harold Brodkey died. His greatest claim to fame was the 32 years he took to write his first novel, during which time a legend grew about the much-awaited book. When it was finally published in 1991 as The Runaway Soul, it was not well received and caused bewilderment as to whether it was really the same masterpiece he had been promising for decades.

Harold Brodkey’s career began auspiciously with the short-story collection First Love and Other Sorrows, which received widespread critical praise at the time of its 1958 publication. Six years later he signed a book contract with Random House for his first novel, provisionally titled “A Party of Animals” and sometimes referred to as “The Animal Corner”. The unfinished novel was subsequently resold to Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 1970, then to Knopf in 1979. As the Paris Review interview linked to above noted, “The work became something of an object of desire for editors; it was moved among publishing houses for what were rumored to be ever-increasing advances, advertised as a forthcoming title (Party of Animals) in book catalogs, expanded and ceaselessly revised, until its publication seemed an event longer awaited than anything without theological implications.” In 1983, The Saturday Review referred to “A Party of Animals” as “now reportedly comprising 4,000 pages and announced as forthcoming ‘next year’ every year since 1973.”

In 1993, Brodkey announced that he was suffering from AIDS, and this prompted the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Richard Howard to write in The New Republic that the disclosure was “a matter of manipulative hucksterism, of mendacious self-propaganda and cruel assertion of artistic privilege, whereby death is made a matter of public relations.” In posthumously reviewing Brodkey’s essay collection Sea Battles on Dry Land for The New York Observer, Susie Linfield wrote, “When Brodkey is bad, he is very, very bad, and he is very, very bad quite often. Sea Battles is filled with whoppers: misstatements, overstatements, nonstatements and statements that are silly, false or incomprehensible.” This is classic Brodkey:

“I distrust summaries, any kind of gliding through time, any too great a claim that one is in control of what one recounts; I think someone who claims to understand but who is obviously calm, someone who claims to write with emotion recollected in tranquility, is a fool and a liar. To understand is to tremble. To recollect is to reenter and be riven. An acrobat after spinning through the air in a mockery of flight stands erect on his perch and mockingly takes his bow as if what he is being applauded for was easy for him and cost him nothing, although meanwhile he is covered with sweat and his smile is edged with a relief chilling to think about; he is indulging in a show-business style; he is pretending to be superhuman. I am bored with that and with where it has brought us. I admire the authority of being on one’s knees in front of the event.” — Harold Brodkey (1930 – 1996)


Allingham: The fullness and emptiness of writing

Friday, 18 November, 2016 0 Comments

Many an eerie Hallowe’en night is still graced with a reading of The Fairies by William Allingham, which begins:

“Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting
For fear of little men.”

William Allingham, who died on this day in 1889, was an Irish poet and chronicler best known for his Diary, in which he recorded his encounters with Tennyson, Carlyle and other 19th-century writers. For Allingham, the act of writing was double edged.

Writing

“A man who keeps a diary, pays
Due toll to many tedious days;
But life becomes eventful — then
His busy hand forgets the pen.
Most books, indeed, are records less
Of fullness than of emptiness.”

William Allingham (1824 – 1889)


Huxley forgets

Sunday, 26 July, 2015 1 Comment

On this day in 1894, the English writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley was born. He is best known for his novel, Brave New World, set in a dystopian, futuristic London, and for The Doors of Perception, a non-fiction book that recalls his experiences when taking the drug mescaline. In his poem, Social Amenities, Huxley confronts forgetfulness, a condition associated with, but not limited to, ageing.

Social Amenities

I am getting on well with this anecdote,
When suddenly I recall
The many times I have told it of old,
And all the worked-up phrases, and the dying fall
Of voice, well timed in the crisis, the note
Of mock-heroic ingeniously struck —
The whole thing sticks in my throat,
And my face all tingles and pricks with shame
For myself and my hearers.
These are the social pleasures, my God!
But I finish the story triumphantly all the same.

Aldous Huxley (26 July 1894 — 22 November 1963)

Aldous Huxley


Fiction writers outside the pale

Sunday, 24 May, 2015 0 Comments

Quote: “As a writer one doesn’t belong anywhere. Fiction writers, I think, are even more outside the pale, necessarily on the edge of society. Because society and people are our meat, one really doesn’t belong in the midst of society. The great challenge in writing is always to find the universal in the local, the parochial. And to do that, one needs distance.” William Trevor, who was born on this day in 1928 in Mitchelstown, County Cork, the Republic of Ireland.

William Trevor was born in this house in Mitchelstown, County Cork, the Republic of Ireland on 24 May 1928.

Language: The “pale” William Trevor refers to comes from the Latin palus, a stake driven into the ground and, by extension, a fence made of such stakes. The word “pole” comes from the same source, as do impale, paling and palisade. The Pale in Ireland was the area around and about Dublin which England controlled directly in the 15th century, and the English Pale in France was the territory of Calais, the last Crown possession in that country. The Russian Pale consisted of specified districts within which Jews were required to live between 1791 and 1917.


Camus discovers the sweet side of social networking

Friday, 8 November, 2013 0 Comments

The great Algerian-French writer Albert Camus, whose 100th birthday was celebrated yesterday, wasn’t a typical diarist, but he jotted down enough daily impressions to produce three published collections. Camus, by the way, never felt comfortable with the Parisian intelligentsia. He once called La Nouvelle Revue Française, a “curious milieu” whose function “is to create writers” but where, however, “they lose the joy of writing and creating.”

8 November 1937: “In the local cinema, you can buy mint flavoured lozenges with the words: ‘Will you marry me one day?’, ‘Do you love me?’, written on them, together with the replies: ‘This evening’, ‘A lot,’ etc. You pass them to the girl next to you, who replies in the same way. Lives become linked together by an exchange of mint lozenges.” Albert Camus

Hearts


Sailing towards home

Tuesday, 2 July, 2013 0 Comments

“Summer afternoon — summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” Henry James


Shaving puts you behind 1-0

Tuesday, 18 September, 2012

From The Dinner, by the Dutch writer Herman Koch, here is a meditation on the torments of shaving: “I didn’t feel like going to the restaurant. I never do. A fixed appointment for the immediate future is the gates of hell, the actual evening is hell itself. It starts in front of the mirror in […]

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