web counter VISITORS SINCE JUNE, 2006

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Paul Auster -- Winter Journal & THE NYT Review

It's hard to cover up my fanaticism when it comes to Paul Auster's work, so I am not even going to try.  There are, however, moments when my defense of Mr Auster's work has put me at odds with many people online.  I suspect this post is not at all different from all those other times when I've responded to The New York Times Book Review criticism of Auster's latest work, "Winter Journal."  In that spirit, I endeavor here to "problematize" some of the points Ms Meghan O'Rourke's review of "Winter Journal." 

The opening of the review refers to a time, she recalls, when living in Brooklyn meant running into writers like Auster all of the time (at the grocery story with her father, for instance).  Ms O'Rourke accurately points out that "[s]ince those days much has changed; you can't go out to the Fort Greene Greenmarket on Saturday without running into a spangle of fiction writers."  I suspect that by this she means Martin Amis (a grand article in the New York Times about Brooklyn writers featured him prominently, but made no mention of Auster), and the other grand group she neglects to mention. If I sound bitter, well, it is because I lack all objectivity when it comes to the almost complete blackout of Paul Auster from The New York Times.  Having said that, I have read Ms O'Rourke's work (poetry) and respect her output tremendously.  What I disagree with her on is the fact that "Winter Journal" is published 30 years after the publication of "The Invention of Solitude" and that it ["Winter Journal"] "can be read as a bookend to that text ["The Invention of Solitude"].  Strangely enough, Ms O'Rourke states later on in the review that "'Winter Journal' doesn't live up to its precedent--it lacks its kick."  I find this exquisitely paradoxical--30 years is a long time, and the stretch of time does wonderful (and terrible) things to a writer, in both terms of style and substance.  While I will always defend Paul Auster for the excellence of his genius, I take issue with the fact that the review sounds as if someone was writing a "Requiem to Lost Talent."

Compared to "The Invention of Solitude," states Ms O'Rourke, (or to any other biographical text by a fiction writer) "'Winter Journal' is not all that philosophical, and its meditative sections have a turgid quality, like a sauce that's overthickened."  I fail to see how "Winter Journal" is that disparate from "The Invention of Solitude," especially in the philosophical analysis of biographical material.  It is precisely its fullness of philosophy that what gives "Winter Journal" its most palpable greatness... it is a biography that spells an individual life spent looking for answers and not missing the details of one's own role among others.

I'll probably catch some hell for writing so off the objective center, but my life has been changed tremendously by each and every single sentence of Paul Auster's work.  There hasn't been one word missing, or one word too many for my taste.  Too bad all "perfect" things come to an end... whether it is love, friendship and writers, it all dies in the end.  I accept the criticism because it is only by the grace of Paul Auster's work that literature still has meaning for me.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Christopher Isherwood -- Lost Years, A Memoir 1945-1951

Before I get to the source of why Isherwood's diaries are so addictive to read, I must point out that the art of  writing daily entries on a journal is making a comeback.  Whether or not this has anything to do with Isherwood is irrelevant.  I've read Christopher Isherwood's diaries (Volume 1, 1939-1960 & Volume 2, 1960-1969) which together add up to 1,900 pages, and my fascination with his life and the lives of those around him became almost obsessive.  Actually, I should point out clearly that the diaries ARE addictive and there's no way to stop reading them once you begin.  Of course I know what drives this addiction, but I am quite ashamed to admit it here*.

Lost Years - A Memoir, 1945-1951 is written in narrative form because Isherwood did not keep a lengthy entry journal but rather just a "day-to-day-one-entry-at-a-time," and these entries only covered people, places visited and travels.  As a result, the narrative reads like a story and Isherwood treats himself as a separate--a strange third person point of view that comes and goes and takes a bit of time to get used to.  The other fascinating part of it is the lengthy footnotes that Isherwood includes as side notes (they are so long that they turn into their own little stories within story).  The explicitness of the sexual escapades Isherwood engaged in are clearly forewarned by Katherine Bucknell in her excellent introduction.  I wasn't so much turned off by these as I was curious as to why he had to include them.  Nevertheless, the intricate liaisons and relationships are simply amazing to follow.  Capote, Garbo, Agee, Angermayer, the Huxleys, Thomas & Klaus Mann, Tennessee Williams, and so many others that appear on both the first and second volumes are some of the characters that come in and out of Isherwood's life.  The travels alike are both numerous and laid down in amazing detail (for someone reconstructing from memory).

It's a great memoir, really, and even if you are not an Isherwood fan, you should really pick it up because it's also an instruction manual on how to keep (or reconstruct from memory) a great personal journal.  As Martin Rubin from the Washington Times observed: "[Isherwood] is quite simply a marvelous diarist, one of the very best in the long tradition of English diarist starting with Samuel Pepys."  I couldn't agree more.

* Every turn of the page is a delicious piece of gossip (Hollywood and other).

Labels: ,