The Complete Angler
Donavan Hall

…a new kind of narrator is born: no longer a man who describes things he sees, but at the same time a man who invents the things around him and who sees the things he invents.

—Alain Robbe-Grillet, “Realism to Reality” in For a New Novel

Monday, 3 August 2015

Over the weekend I was exchanging “tweets” with Russ Kremer, a long-time writing buddy, and author of the long-lived blog, Crenellated Flotsam. Both of us started blogging in the early ‘00s but he’s been more consistent. I’ve had half a dozen blogs on a range of different topics. This natural fragmentation and multiplication of blogs comes from an imaginary picture of my presumed reader. When I wrote about craft beer, I thought I needed a blog dedicated to craft beer. Why would craft beer enthusiasts care what I thought about literature and the writing life? Russ told me that he could never keep up with my blogs. He was right. It was confusing.

My return to public writing (writing in this space) isn’t a resumption of blogging. Though I suppose this diary is something of a personal blog. I still think the form is useful and there are a few blogs I still read regularly. In addition to Russ’ Crenellated Flotsam, I read Vertigo by Terry Pitts which is (mostly) Sebald-focused though Pitts writes about a wide range of art-enhanced literature. The other day I wondered if anyone was writing an Enrique Vila-Matas blog and I found El factor V-M by Dora Rester. While the blog’s primary language is Spanish, there’s plenty in English and French. A recent post points to a piece by V-M on Roberto Bolaño in The White Review called “Writers from the Old Days.” Also, there’s a notice about the release on 3 September 2015 of André Gabastou’s translation of V-M’s Marienbad Electrique. The book appears to be on the subject of V-M’s relations with artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and their conversations about creativity and art. The text concerns the parallels and correspondence between the writer’s and the artist’s respective work methods. (That’s my very quick, possibly overly literal translation from the blurb.)

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Readers of talent. Since returning from my Barcelona excursion, I’ve been fishing for more reading matter by Enrique Vila-Matas. My searches have turned up a few items which are new to me. One is a blog post from 2009 by Andrew Seal wherein he translates a couple of paragraphs from an article by Vila-Matas which appeared in the Spanish newspaper El País, “El talento del lector.” In this article Vila-Matas, in terms which sound like they are culled from a manifesto, proclaims the dawning of a new age of active readers, readers who are “…open enough to permit into [their] mind the figure of a conscience radically different from [their] own.” The contrast is between the passive readers of the gothic novel (monsters) and active readers who read not to escape the world, but to engage it more fully (angels).

The “stupid myth of the passive reader” may be an invention of the capitalists who, for them, every human activity has to be monetized for their benefit. So books and reading are turned into consumer items. But Vila-Matas saw something in the financial crisis of 2009 (when “El talento del lector” appeared in El País) that suggested this image of the reader as a passive consumer of entertainment was “…giving way to the reappearance of the reader of talent,” and at the same time, “…the terms of the moral contract between author and the public are being reframed.” Precisely how is this contract being reframed? Vila-Matas, instead of elaborating on a theory of literature, gives us a couple of examples: one, the awarding of the 2008 Cervantes Prize to Juan Marsé and, the other, Laurence “the rightful heir of Cervantes” Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. A further hint comes when Vila-Matas declares that the talented reader must have the same skill set as the writer. How I understand this statement is that even if the reader doesn’t actually pick up the pen to engage with the author she’s reading, she should be prepared to labor over a text as deliberately and with as much care as the author does. (Active reading then might be an act of translation.)

Another item is an English translation of a story by Vila-Matas called “Hotel Attraction or Gaudi and My (Sacred) Family” (or “HOTEL ATTRACTION O GAUDÍ Y MI FAMILIA (SAGRADA)”). The short story was printed in The Australian and apparently accompanied by an interview with Vila-Matas. Earlier this week, the short story was available to read for free. Now, it’s behind The Australian’s pay-wall. (I have a copy I’d be willing to share with you privately if you are interested. Just send me a tweet.) The interview conducted by John William Wilkinson is archived on EV-M’s web site.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Diary. Today I read the last twenty pages of Valeria Luiselli’s Faces in the Crowd. When I came to the last couple of pages and encountered the images which opened the novel, naturally I felt that satisfaction of having taken a journey and then returned home. Not that everything neatly resolved. I like my novels messy, with gaps and unresolved plot lines. Luiselli too harbors a horror of the “horribly boring novel in which each line is there for an ultimate reason: everything links up, there are no loose ends.” [Faces in the Crowd, p. 124]

Sunday afternoon, sitting in my garden drinking a shandy. “It’s important to bear in mind that more than referring to the book by Laurence Sterne, the word shandy invokes alcohol. Shandy is commonly drunk in London—a mixture of beer and either fizzy lemonade or ginger beer—and a pint of shandy with ice is thirst quenching in the summertime.” [A Brief History of Portable Literature by Enrique Vila-Matas, p. 25]

The shandy is also popular in Barcelona where one is not challenged to find Damm Limon on tap. In several cafes on my recent trip to Barcelona I discovered that one could order a radler, the German equivalent of a shandy.

Footnotes. The latest issue of Howler (8) concludes with an essay by Carl Bromley remembering the life of Eduardo Galeano the author of Soccer in Sun and Shadow, one of my favorite books. If I ever write I book about soccer, I will call on Galeano as my muse. One bit of biographical information I learned from Bromley’s piece was that Galeano was a supporter of FC Barcelona during the time he lived in exile in Spain, 1978 to 1985. Galeano it seems had a profound appreciation of the play of Lionel Messi.

A few months ago on Dummy, the Howler magazine podcast, David Goldblatt said that his desire to write his massive global history of soccer, The Ball is Round, came from reading Galeano.

Yesterday, I watched the US lose to Panama (on penalties) in the third place match in the 2015 Gold Cup. Chris Wondolowski, a player who could of sealed his place in the US soccer pantheon if he’d finished an open goal chance against Belgium in the first elimination round of last year’s World Cup and who distinguished himself by grabbing a share in the golden boot in the previous Gold Cup with his five tournament goals which equalled the number scored by US legend Landon Donovan and Gabriel Torres of Panama, was called upon to start in that match. Panama’s disciplined play seemed to make Wondolowski’s presence on the field nearly unnoticeable for sixty minutes. Why wasn’t this capable goalscorer succeeding at the international level? Was it just the accident that the balls weren’t going in the net? I was reminded of something I read in Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid, that “the sniffer centre-forward had all but vanished.” Then quoting Zoran Filipovic, Wilson continues, “Those half-chances that poachers used to seize on don’t exist any more.” [Inverting the Pyramid, p. 348]

In two hours, Jamaica and Mexico will kick-off in the final match of this year’s Gold Cup. Mexico have made it thus far on their ability to cause the other team to foul in the box and thus draw penalty kicks. I’m curious to see if Mexico will win (yet again) on a controversial spot kick.

While I’m decidedly neutral and only hope to see an exciting matching, as much as I would like to see Jamaica beat Mexico, my preference would be to see Mexico prevail so that the US can face them in October for the Confederations Cup playoff match. A rematch against Jamaica just doesn’t have the same mystique as the possibility of another Dos a cero.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

On my recent trip to Barcelona I went to the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona to see a special exhibit, Sebald Variations, a collection of art and video art works inspired by the prose fiction writer W.G. Sebald. One of the artists who contributed work to the exhibit was Valeria Luiselli who, herself, is also a novelist. And I happened to have picked up a copy of Luiselli’s Faces in the Crowd back in June, so when I returned last week from Barcelona I decided to read the book.

The narrative consists of (mostly) short fragments by several different first person narrators. The fact that the novel had multiple narrator only registered after I’d read half the book and was starting to ask questions about the internal consistency of the perspective. If I’d only read the blurb on the back of the book first, I would have been clued in. Once I knew what the game was, things started making more sense. Admitting that I was slow to pick up on this might be also admitting that I’m not a very perceptive reader.

Questions, comments, or tips?
Send me a message on Twitter, or (if that's not your bag) then you may send me an email.