Sunday, June 8, 2008

Heated thoughts: Musil, weather historical ... whatever...

Being somewhat enervated by the heat (I have an intense dislike of air conditioning: after a winter of being sealed up I want my windows open to the sounds of the birds, the hiss of tires on the street, sirens, the tink-de-diddle ee dum dee-dee of the Mr. Softee truck, passing drunks... the works. It strikes me as a kind of crime against the season to pull the windows shut, draw the blinds to keep out the sun... and then there's the drone, which, unlike the soft hum of my box fan, doesn't mask my tinnitus but seems rather to amplify it) ... where was I going with this?

Ah yes..

... an excuse for not reporting on my reading of The Man Without Qualities. There's hardly a page I couldn't find something to quote. My copy has sprouted dozens of red and blue sticky markers. I'm impressed by how timely, or should I say, timeless, Musil's observations. Joyce's language in Ulysses breaks new ground, but the people and social conventions belong to an another era. Musil has found something in pre-WWI Austria so central, something so much at the generative core of the modern mindset that the particular features of the Austrio-Hungarian bureaucracy and class structures in this book feel anachronistic--as though this were really a book written in and about, not the early 20th, but the the early 21st Century, but--for some inexplicable reason written like one of those "historical novels" at some arbitrarily chosen date in the past.

I've only read 300 or so pages, so am far from being able to grasp the whole of this never-completed novel... but realizing, page by page--as it began to come to me in my attempt to "review" New Yorker short stories--that I am not, and never will be, a "reviewer." Those books and stories and poems my thoughts turn to, and turn... like a plow in fertile soil, over and over, and return to, over and over--are never the books or stories or poems I've most recently read, but those that come back to me on their own. Why I prefer to buy books, rather than borrow from the library.

There will be times, late at night, I'll remember--vaguely--a passage, an episode--in a book I read a year or two or three ago. I turn on the light. I take the volume from the shelf... and the whole book will come back to me. If I were to write reviews--it would have to be like that, books I'd read years before--long after the "market" had pulled up it's shutters.

This is not to say that I don't know what's good when I see it. Not ten pages into Svevo's Zeno's Consciousness, I knew this was a book that would alter my mind, change my sense of what I liked and what I wanted next to read--forever. But I couldn't have explained it then... couldn't have explained why.

A trivial quote--but to make a point: how timeless--not in the usual idealist mode--but timeless: in as, how little we have changed since then, and timeless, in how a relentlessly subversive attention (Simone Weil's sense of what that word implies (Attente de Dieu) to our surroundings can mean.
The thesis that the huge quantities of soap sold testify to our great cleanliness need not apply to the moral life, where the more recent principle seems more accureate, that a strong compulsion to wash suggests a dubious state of inner hygiene.

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