This online magazine publishes fiction (new and old), essays, reviews, interviews, and commentaries on both international and US fiction writers. New manuscripts can be sent to Douglas Messerli, editor, Green Integer 6210 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 211, Los Angeles, CA 90048 or by email to email@example.com
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Douglas Messerli | Review of Language Writhing Machines, Vols 1 and 2 by Tom La Farge
Tom La Farge
English Place Names
Monica Alisse's "Human Alphabet"
Language Writhing Machines
No. 1: Administrate Assemblages
Tom La Farge 13 Writhing Machines No. 1: Administrative Assemblages (Brooklyn: Proteotypes, 2008)
This is the first volume of Tom La Farge's promised 13-volume series on structures for writing, which he describes as "writhing," "writing with a difference," as if the activity were something accomplished with a coiling snake in hands or through a discharge of electrical energy. Certainly the kind of "writhing" La Farge speaks of—writing with constraints, arbitrary rules "imposed upon composition that drive you to say what you had not thought of saying in ways you would not have chosen to say it"—in its formal and often comical Oulipian twists, bends, and folds—requires a mastery of language and an artistry that allows one to give oneself up to the possibilities and accidents produced through the form itself.
In Administrative Assemblages La Farge explores several larger systems of arrangement: "Lists and Catalogs," "Memory Arrangements," "Full Disclosure," "Invisible Libraries," "Classifications," "Timelines," "Map & Gazetteer," and "The Composite Portrait," and suggests some methods of composing in each of these categories. These systems, based primarily on methods attempted by members of the Oulipo writers, offer up new possibilities of how to write; and La Farge's clear and concise descriptions, along with his list of methods, if nothing else, should well serve creative writing classrooms from here to eternity, particularly when he has completed all 13 volumes (forthcoming pamphlets will consider Dictionary Drives, Permutants & Recombinants, Visual/Verbal Hybridizers, Decryptions & Reëncryptions, and Homomorphic Converters).
That is not to say that every form will appeal equally to all. While I am a born list maker, I find the kinds of listings La Farge mentions—shopping lists, the lists of Walt Whitman, and even the lists of the American Oulipo-influenced author Gilbert Sorrentino (whom La Farge does not list), often as mindless narratives that demonstrate a lack of connection and complexity—things I seek in fiction. Similarly, although the "Memory Arrangements" of books such as Joe Brainard's I Remember are often charming to read, I think of them as literature "lite."
More interesting, it seems to me, are the formulations of Marcel Bénabou's patterns of "Perhaps you ... Not me," or "Me too."
Perhaps you like the records of Lawrence Welk. Not me.
Of far more interest are the constraints of "Formal Disclosure," which often use official-seeming forms as guides to creative composition. La Farge points the works of J. G. Ballard, who "uses physical structures that assemble a social reality in order to shape his fictions." For example, Ballard's 1975 High-Rise "uses the stratified sociology of an apartment building as the basis for a story of class war in a disaster scenario prompted by the failure of the complex systems on which such buildings rely." In my own condominium building it would be fascinating, I suspect, to explore the radical differences between the numerous older Jewish couples, the younger Korean families, and new Russian immigrants, along with the several gay couples that make up the majority of units.
My companion Howard would adore La Farge's "Invisible Libraries" systems, in which, for example, he suggests amalgam-books such as Crime and Prejudice or The Bleak Doll's Heartbreak House. Howard is always spouting such titles as Death of a Venice Salesman and The Color of Purple Summer.
Of equal interest is La Farge's discussion of "Classifications," works which deal with issues of classification such as "kinship systems," or "inheritance patterns." In Jorge Luis Borges's "The Analytical Language of John Wilkins," the author explores that founder of the British Royal Society's attempt to create an ideal language by dividing the universe into forty classes, a systemization that quickly falls into a kind of absurdity that is ridiculously poetic.
Whenever I think of "Timelines" I am reminded of Harry Mathews' brilliant experiment in My Life in CIA, where, pretending to be a travel guide, he lectures on a possible trip through the USSR using several systematic rules: 1) They should only take trains and buses whose departure times read the same right to left as they did left to right; 2) For every departure, a return must be assured that strictly obeys rule one.
"Map and Gazetteer" forms more directly involve the visual artist in presenting various allegorical travel routes and comic maps based upon the outlines of countries coinciding with what La Farge describes as "an agglomeration of national caricatures." But, of course, there are verbal gazetteers, an example of which was recently presented in the New York Times, a map of Britain showing only towns with profane sounding names such as Crapstone, Penistone, East Breast, Pratts Bottom, Titty Ho, Crotch Crescent, etc.
Similarly, visual artists are at the center of La Farge's discussion of "The Composite Portrait," particularly by the painter Nicolas de Larmessin, who created portraits representing human figures made up of the things of which they were associated, such as his "Librarian," a man made up of books, or his "Musician," a man wearing various musical instruments. I once used just such a portrait of individuals in my fiction Letters from Hanusse using 19th-century phrenological systems that depended upon the bumps and fissures in the skull to determine the moral condition of the individuals to characterize the people of my mythical country Hanusse.
In short, La Farge's 13 Writhing Machines, given the contents of this first volume, promises not only to be an utterly entertaining presentation of various formal systems of literary writing, but an illustrative example of how to get writers, young and old, to experiment with new and empowering systems outside the scope of realist psychological narrative. We have long needed such a thorough discussion of such works, and perhaps in the 21st century our younger authors can go forward from these with an exciting energy of new possibilities.
Los Angeles, January 27, 2009
No. 2: Homomorphic Converters
Tom La Farge 13 Writhing Machines No. 2: Homomorphic Converters (Brooklyn, Proteotypes/Proteus Gowanus, 2009)
The second installment of Tom La Farge's grand effort to name and describe literary constraints to writing—what he describes as "an arbitrary rule imposed upon composition that drives you to say what you had not thought of saying in ways you would not have chosen to say it"—is devoted to more complex systems than those outlined in volume No. 1.
"Homovocalism," for example is a system where one takes from another text, beginning with as little as a sentence, and replaces all the consonants, keeping the vowel-sounds from the original. But although this may sound rather programmatic, it also depends on how you speak, vowels in different parts of the country sounding quite different in England and its dialects and in various American dialects. The u in "buy," for instance, in Los Angeles would be a very different sound in Minnesota or Wisconsin, where it would sound more like the y in "bye" or "by," and throughout the Midwest the a in "Mary" would sound more like the e in "merry." In the West, as La Farge mentions, "Get" often becomes "git."
Accordingly, "homovocalism" is far more difficult than it first sounds and, as Harry Mathews writes of the procedure, "Its interest will probably remain that of an exercise." But the wonderful example that La Farge quotes from Gilbert Sorrentino's "Generative Devices in Imaginative Writing" course at Stanford reveals its possibilities, "...there was no horse to be had, no horse," transformed into "For once no noise. Cruelly black those morns."
"Homoconsonantism" is similar except that it uses the consonants in the original order while replacing the vowels, without reusing the original words of another text. His example is again revealing: "Thanks, these tough shoots need a lot of watering, my chore of choice," becoming "Then kiss those two oafish Tucson delete-vow touring macho ear-vetches." A further constraint would be to match the word-units of the original sentence.
"Homosyntaxism," a variation of the above, so La Farge tells us, is a better system for longer texts. From the original text, all words are replaced but keep the same syntax, so that nouns are replaced by other nouns, adverbs by adverbs, etc. This exercise, it seems to me, would be a brilliant way for high school grammar teachers to be certain that their students had comprehended the many sentence diagrams performed upon the blackboard (do grammar teachers still diagram sentences?).
The "Chimera" is a truly complex replacement of texts where you chose a passage (A), parodying or imitating it while attempting to keep the "phrasing, rhythm, rhetorical formations." But then the nouns, verbs, and adjectives/adverbs of that passage are replaced by those selected from a different writer (B). The vocabulary can be from B or from the author himself (C). Various other constraints can also be applied, creating a truly mixed beast, like the Chimera, a mix of lion, goat, and snake.
In "Homosemantic Translation" instead of changing a set of words from one language into another while attempting to keep the meaning, the author, working within the same language, is require to change the words while keeping the sense. Here's my brief attempt from a random selection from one of La Farge's own fictions (A Hundred Doors: The Crimson Bears, Part II):
They presently found a handle, set low in the wall. Edgar
worried that a door built to cat-scale might not let them
pass in the machine.
Soon after they discovered a haft, lying close to the floor. Edgar
was troubled that an entrance constructed to the size of small dog
may discontinue their progression into the dynamo.
Not a brilliant example, but it will do.
"Anglish," a variant of homosemantism, is a text in which the substituted words are fairly analogous in the meaning to the original, but are taken from very different contexts, replacing a text of primarily Latinate word choices with those of Anglo-Saxon phrases, etc. This is obviously a test of any student's true understanding of the English language, and would be best served, it seems to me, with a Oxford English Dictionary by one's side.
"Homoradicalsm," created by Michèle Métail, creates statements only from words which share the same root, so that the various uses of a word such as clean (noun, adverb, adjective, and all of its other variations) define the text: "Cleanish cleaner, clean clean clean."
"Allosyntaxism" reuses the words of an original text but employs a different sentence structure, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know," becoming "Beauty is earth, ye know? Beauty is need, ye know? On to truth, truth and all that!"
Finally, "Homoikonism," represents an application of the visual into writing. One kind of homoikonism, for example, is the famous "duck-rabbit" which can be read in two different ways, depending upon the shift of one's eyes from right to left. Other forms are an interplay of images and letters which lend a kind of calligraphic quality to writing. Throughout La Farge's text he has used Amadine Allessandra's alphabetic/ideographic symbols, forms (chairs, tables, etc) that appear to us as letters of the alphabet, Lisa Rienermann's alphabet formed by patches of sky shot between buildings in Barcelona, and Monica Alissse's "Human Alphabet, which uses positions of the body to create letters.
As in his first volume, La Farge also includes a section devoted to "Suggestions for Writhing Exercises," which once again demonstrates the usefulness of his pamphlets for the classroom.
Los Angeles, November 15, 2009
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Ana Maria Shua | Four Microfictions
Translated from the Spanish by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert
The Vast Number
3452, 3453, 3454…I count, so as to help myself sleep, the vast number of men (whom I imagine leaping over a fence) who will never be my lovers.
A Thousand Possibilities
When I was an adolescent, there spread before me, like an unfolded fan, all my possibilities: I might become an airline pilot or a teacher, a housewife, a writer, a boxer, or an oil derrick. Over the course of time, with each bend in the road, the fan began to close, inclining, finally, in only one direction, to which it had narrowed until there was left to me only one possible destiny; unmistakable, unalterable, distinct, unique: to be an oil derrick, definitely.
They stole the stereo and the candelabra and the food from the refrigerator, and the crystal ashtrays and the television and even the air conditioner, and then they stole the refrigerator itself, and the television stand and the rest of the furniture and the cash stashed in the strongbox kept in the safe in the bedroom wall, and then they stole the safe and the bedroom wall as well; then they stole all the other walls and the bronze plumbing running through them, and the cement foundations underneath them, and the roof above them, and then they stole the trees and flowers from the garden and then the garden itself and the soil on which the house had been built, and they stole the granite substratum and various additional geologic layers, including one particularly extensive solid mass of pure basalt, and the pockets of water trapped inside it, and they kept on robbing and robbing until they set off an eruption of lava from a volcanic explosion which completely buried all evidence of their exploits, along with the immediate environs, the entire town, and a sizable portion of the greater metropolitan area in which they had carried out their crimes, and various sections of the adjacent geography, too, and, finally, fittingly, themselves, those bungling, impetuous and, most of all, overrated thieves.
—A fish hurt my foot.
—Did a shark bite you?
—No, it wasn’t a shark, and it didn’t attack me.
—But you said it hurt you?
—Yes. I put my foot in...water…and something tugged at me from below, quite hard…but I couldn’t see what it was…
—It tugged at your foot?
—It didn’t tug, exactly. It hurt me. It tugged, but not at my foot. It was a very rare fish.
—What was it like?
—I couldn’t see it, but I know it was a fish. It had a peculiar name and was very rare.
—Then I found myself here. Where is this, anyway?
English language copyright ©2009 by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert.
Born in Buenos Aries in 1951, Ana Maria Shua first published a collection of poetry at age 16, El sol y yo (1967). To date she has published five longer works of fiction, including, most recently, El peso de la tentación, and several books of shorter fiction, along with four books of what she describes as "microfictions." She has also written numerous children's books.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Douglas Messerli | Transport of Love (a review of Jacques Poulin's Translation Is a Love Affair)
Jacques Poulin Translation Is a Love Affair, translated from the French by Sheila Fischman (Brooklyn: Archipelago Books, 2009)
Marine, the translator-narrator of Jacques Poulin's 2006 novel, appearing in English as Translation Is a Love Affair, is a young woman living on Île d'Orléans near Quebec City in Canada. In the city itself lives an aging writer, Jack Waterman, whose work Marine is currently translating. The two work seperately, but Waterman regularly visits her on weekends, enjoying the natural setting of herons, deer, foxes, and other wild animals as a sedative for his health.
Los Angeles, October 26, 2009
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Mac Wellman | from Linda Perdido
from Linda Perdido
The lovers’ collective vocabulary: Forty-six words; the central object in their over-wandering of Set County and beyond: Maximumification of the state of cool; knowledge of the finer points of balloon navigation: Hazy at first, hazy at best; the state of provisioning as of this moment: Half a dozen ham and cheese sandwiches on rye toast, two Granny Smith apples, a smallish but inordinately fuzzy pink peach, a carton of slimjims, a gallon of spring water from over in Vandalia, and a case of Blitz beer in aluminum cans (with the irate black-tufted Malabar squirrel on the label; irate and like Narthex, zinc of will, gazing knowingly and hard directly into the eye of the would be imbiber; plans for the future: Vague at best, indefinite; religious sensations: Eleusinian, priapic (loosely defined), satanic; their proximate destination: Rattlesnake Mountain Lodge in the High Sierra where the two bad ones envisage another swath of desecration and demolishment at Camp Wounded Bear, a summer institute for advanced study of the Book of Mormon and the golden questions, the playing of Bugles and other Horns; (first) secondary destination: Loon Lake on Matapan Peninsula near the Velvet Sea, a place said to harbor myriad penitent and initiates– many of them old pals of Narthex from his days in the reformatory at Weasel– at the Temple of Lower Motorcycle; (second) secondary destination: Proboscis Island in Smoke Top Bay, Each Sandwich County, and in especial, the upper slopes of Old Moldy where there is to be found a certain medicinal herb, Pheronacea or Gag’s Periwinkle, said to possess spectacular powers of enhancement in the mental realms of sparkle, dazzle and total pizzaz; (third) secondary destination: The animal shelter at New Gradual, Montana, where it is hoped pet adoption might be arranged for, in order of preference: A fennec, an Osborne’s Owlet (the blood-orange variety), and, or, a Jupiter Beetle from Kalimantan said to be able to change colors, imitate rhythmically and in various radiant Coleopteran registers the Top Ten pop tunes of any given moment; tertiary destination: The holy city of Bing in Bandana County (apparently near Laos on their map, a Ziegfield Projection based on the dubious propositions of “Lateral Thinking”) where Bhang may be purchased in bulk at a reasonable cost depending on the current exchange rate of the Beng, a black-market currency unofficially official in that errant place of untamable hoydenry, maniacal hubbub, black lizards (always irresistible for our irrepressible girl); ultimate destination, barring instantiation of the higher (as opposed to the lower) Unseen– the cave known as Morocco’s Lair said to be located behind the false wall, in an unknown closet, adjoining the antique bathroom at the Inn of the Zinn of Mohocs on the occult or hidden side of the hypothetical planet(oid) Blue Streak whose maddening and rubbery orbital periodicity is such that the object never emerges from behind the moon; their purpose in regard to this last: To ascertain the truth of what is said about this feature of Blue Streak, namely Morocco’s Lair, at the Temple of Higher Motorcycle by certain of the higher priests; and what precisely is this something that is alleged to have been said? This they have forgotten, but it runs roughly like this, although scrambled and jumbled by nameless deep space juju:
; and just what is, in precise terms, their true destination to be, after all this tacking and yawing, all this waxing and waning? Vast, rumpled, slumbering Set County, skin the color of the Komodo; whose dream is the inside of a hunk of basalt (in the dream Set thinks, those who once made quite a noise now lie quiet).
Copyright ©2009 by Mac Wellman
Mac Wellman's recent plays are: Bitter Pierce, Jennie Richee, Anything's Dream, and Antigone. He has published two novels with Sun & Moon Press, The Fortuneteller and Annie Salem, and one long fiction, Q's Q with Green Integer. Sun & Moon also published his book of poems, A Shelf in Sheep's Clothing; Roof Books published his poetry collection, Miniature. With Douglas Messerli, Wellman co-edited the large drama anthology, From the Other Side of the Century II. Sun & Moon also published his plays Bad Penny and The Land Beyond the Forest, and Green Integer reprinted (from Sun & Moon) his quartet of plays, Crowtet. Welllman has received numerous awards, including an NEA grant, Rockefeller, McKnight, and Guggenheim Fellowships. In 1990 he received an Obie for Best American Play (Bad Penny, Crowbar, and Terminal Hip), and in 1991 he received another Obie for Sincerity Forever. In 2003 he received an Obie for Lifetime Achievement. He is the Donald I. Fine Professor Play Writing at Brooklyn College.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Raymond Federman | Reflections on Ways to Improve Death
Raymond Federman (photo by Douglas Messerli)
Reflections on Ways to Improve Death
Statisticians tell us [see The Inconvenience of Mortality, by Morton Passaway & Gerald Coffin, The Amigone Press, 1986, p. 489] of nearly five billion inhabitants of Earth [human that is—no records exist, we are told, concerning the animal population] some eighteen thousand die every minute.
Yes, eighteen thousand humans cease to be within the same minute, almost simultaneously, on a continuous basis. Such numbers baffle the mind like a wilderness of abstractions.
A quick mental calculation [though in this case pen and paper or else an electronic calculator may be needed just to keep track of the zeroes] reveals that approximately every six months a number almost equivalent to the entire population of the planet disappears.
Yes, vanishes, passes away, dies—whichever way one puts it, according to one's view of the fact of death.
It is obvious then, since humanity somehow manages to survive and even perpetuate itself, even though statisticians warn us repeatedly about the dangers of a steady increase of the planet's population [see The Critical Contingencies & Exigencies of Surpopulation, by Angel & Peter Moreheads, Pantheon Press, 1994, second edition, pp. 234-278] that an equal number of people, or a greater number must be born every minute in order to preserve the human element and maintain the equilibrium between birth and death, from the womb to the tomb, as the saying goes.
This suggests, rather explicitly, that there is more fucking going on, on this planet, than dying, especially since not all copulation results in fertilization and produces population.
But that is not the point here. No, the point of contention here is not with numbers, nor how the process of human reproduction is gratuitously and lamentably abused and degraded. Our concern here is with the lack of statistics regarding the categories of death and the causes of death. For even though death is an absolute, nonetheless one would think that by keeping track of its varied causes, one could perhaps improve the process of death.
Deplorably enough, if statisticians are bent on keeping track of numbers, they do not seem to give a damn about keeping track of manners. That is to say, they count the dead but they do not count nor describe the modes of dying. Concerned only with recording, more or less accurately and objectively, the numbers in matters of death, statisticians do not give a shit about how people die, and therefore never give exact information about the categories and causes of death. This really shows to what extent our civilization offers, at best, as Kafka once put it, a truncated and fallacious notion of death that requires of us that we either close our eyes on it or compromise.
In other words, what statisticians have never calculated [to our knowledge at any rate], or rather never categorized, are the causes for human beings to depart, pass away, become defunct, move on, change tense. There are so many noble ways of asserting the fact of death. Yet in their inaptitude to be surprised, statisticians never record the categories of those who leave us, those who join the departed, those who face the final judgment, those who expire, perish, come to an end, cease to exist, become extinct, are extinguished, stop being, are no longer subject to worldly things, and so on. Yes, there are so many ways one can report death, either directly or metaphorically, many ways to express the condition of death to suit one's moral, and even one's aesthetic attitude towards it.
If one were to begin keeping track of the many categories of deaths, that is to say give detailed description of how these occur, one might possibly be able to delay the process, and even render it less frightening, less painful, though of course one could never make it avoidable or reversible, for death is a total irrevocable state that cannot be altered. But more importantly, with precise descriptions of the categories of deaths, one could perhaps improve the process. True, this would require of us an unusual collective explosion of understanding and compassion, sentiments as rare among us these days as among maggots.
Obviously, the one category which cannot be altered or improved is that of natural death. Nothing can be done when the end comes and the human machine falls into a state of total disrepair and exhaustion. When life reaches its natural outcome, there is little one can do about that. Whether one likes it or not, whether or not it happens in one's bed during sleep, that type of death carries an unalterable principle -- it always happens at the right moment, a principle that cannot be refuted either morally or philosophically. This we can call the category of timely deaths.
Another category, though unacceptable to many, which cannot be tampered with, for better or for worse, is that of death by the grace of God. There is no possibility of improvement here since, by its very nature, this category is almost perfect, since the cause lies elsewhere.
However, other categories could certainly be improved. For instance, the category of deaths caused by other people. Much could be done here to reduce the numbers, and perhaps even eliminate this category completely. A simple matter of preventive attention and care. Of course, when dealing with this category, one must make a clear distinction between deaths caused by others deliberately, and deaths caused by others inadvertently. It could be said that the former cannot be avoided since it is coincidental, whereas the latter can probably be prevented because it is accidental. For as Regis Dumort explains [page 130] in his convincing and exhilarating Vue Mondiale des Coincidences et Accidents Macabres [Les Éditions des Pompes Funèbres, 1982]: An accident is just a thing that happens, whereas a coincidence is a thing that is going to happen and does." [My translation]. Therefore, the category of deaths caused accidentally by other people should perhaps be listed separately, so that those who die of such a death can rest in peace without resentment, satisfied that their death was not caused deliberately.
Similarly, the category of self-inflicted deaths is one which, though much discussed lately, and of great concern to liberal groups as well as theological groups, is far from being under control. It could certainly stand some improvement.
To be mentioned also is the category of accidental deaths, not caused by others but by the very person who dies as a result of his or her own carelessness. The list is endless. Naturally, all these categories can be divided into sub-categories, such as premature deaths, unexpected deaths, mysterious deaths, unnatural deaths, deaths by starvation, deaths by over-eating, deaths by electric shocks, deaths by drowning or overdosing, and many others even more eccentric or exotic. In all of these, there is room for improvement, and even total elimination, if only the necessary statistics were available.
There is one category, however, which presents real problems in terms of eventual improvement, and that is the category of our own death. Since we do not know in advance the form our death will take, except, of course, if we choose suicide, we can never propose to ourselves possibilities of improvement. Faced with the inevitability and certainty of our own death, we can only place it in a vague and undetermined category with no hope of possible improvement, for one cannot improve what one doesn't know.
It is curious that this civilization of ours which measures everything, counts everything, evaluates, weighs, packages, analyzes, a civilization that claims to know all, has failed to produce precise statistics for the categories of death. As such, our civilization has prevented all possibilities of improvement in this domain.
Perhaps, just as it is curious that the number of languages people employ on this planet cannot be calculated [no one knows precisely how many there are, all we know vaguely and claim to know is that there are more than four thousand languages, and many still unidentified], it is as curious that the categories of deaths cannot be accounted for. Does this signify that there is a mysterious link between language and death that will never be explained? For in fact, just as certain linguists refuse to accept certain languages and simply categorize them as dialects, some categories of deaths are rejected or considered insignificant because they fall within other categories. That is the case, for instance, with the esoteric category of deaths by torture, which is too often ignored because it is viewed simply as a minor sub-division of the larger category of deaths by violence. In our opinion, death by torture deserves to have its own category, if only because it has become so popular these days on our planet.
Since death is the pure event, the perfect event, as the great Structuralist Michel Foucault calls it in his essay "Theatrum Philosophicum" [see Critique, Vol. XXXVI, No. 282, 1970], any attempt to think that event may give it a semblance of metaphysical quality, but not necessarily metaphysical coherence which would place the idea of death squarely into a system of cause and effect, and that is not possible. Regardless of the category into which it falls, death may have a cause, known or unknown to the one who is dying, but it cannot have an effect, certainly not on the one who is dead. There is no effect of death. Sure, others may feel the effect of that death, but that's beside the point. When you're dead, you feel nothing. It is in this sense that death is a pure event.
As it has been demonstrated repeatedly throughout history, the event of death has its own complex logic. That is why statisticians have such difficulties categorizing death. Death defies human logic. It only abides by its own irrational logic, one might say. Death does not give a damn about life, human or whatever. In this sense, distorting a ligne from Alfred de Vigny to support our assumption: Seule la mort est parfaite, tout les reste est imperfection.
The fact of being dead is a state of being [well, one should rather say, a state of non-being, but that makes death sound too negative] in relation to which an assertion can neither be true nor false because to die is a pure event which verifies nothing, asserts nothing, proves nothing.
Here is a pertinent illustration of the non-assertive quality of death. For instance, when we say Federman is dead, regardless of which category his death falls in, we are merely designating a condition, or expressing a personal opinion or belief. But whatever the case, Federman's death can only be spoken by others, and as such means nothing to him once departed. The dead can never speak his own death, he can never say I am dead! Unless of course speaking metaphorically or theological jargon. Others say that of us after we are deceased, after we have become the pure event of death in an exemplary fashion, when we have changed tense, and are no longer present, nor past. When we have vanished into perfection.
We cannot resist to quote here, in support of our argument, that marvelous ligne from Le Cimètiere Marin of Paul Valèry which so succinctly describes the pure event of death: Le don de vivre a passé dans les fleurs!
It would be presumptuous of us to try and render faithfully into English the sense and sensuality of these words. One can only attempt a clumsy approximation: The gift of life has become flowers!
But to return to our topic. The fact that Federman cannot say I am dead. The fact of being unable to speak one's death is the supreme category which abolishes all the others. It is the ultimate category, the category of the unspeakability of death. Whether one dies in bed, dies in one's boots, dies with one's boots on, dies on the vine, dies in harness, dies prematurely or in one's sleep, dies in a gas chamber, dies while making love to one's lover, when all is done and said, that is the category of death that has reached total improvement because it can no longer be spoken.
Language vanishes into death, and death vanishes into silence. Or is it, death that vanishes into language, and language into silence?
Author of numerous works of fiction, drama, poetry, and criticism, including the fictions Take It or Leave It, The Two-fold Vibration, and Smiles of Washington Square, the latter two books still available from Green Integer. Federman taught for many years at the University of Buffalo before retiring to San Diego.
Federman was born in France, and would later become a friend of Samuel Beckett, a strong influence on his own writing. In 1942, as a child, Ray, hiding in a closet, heard his parents and sisters being taken by Gestapo officers from their Paris apartment. His family died, while he survived, recounting that experience in his novella The Voice in the Closet.
Yesterday morning, after a long battle with cancer, Federman died at the age of 81 in San Diego.
Friday, October 2, 2009
Jeff Harrison | Two Tales
The Melting of Salts, or, A Defence of Poetry
A substance that passes through the fire (that is to say, the line) becomes metaphorical. As most of the Sulphur turns metaphorical, the incombustible Mercury remains (often still garmented with combustible Sulphur) as a liquid Salt or a celestial Salt, or both. The Salt in the ashes is its fixed counterpart. It may be inferred from an entire reading of Percy Bysshe Shelley's A Defence of Poetry that what is commonly referred to as "Spirit of Philosophical Wine"(the delineable metaphor), and also as the "Secret Fire" (the readable metaphor), and also still the "Alkahest" (the destructive, or the audible metaphor) will, by itself or containing the tinctures or Salts of various subjects, when burned, produce this type of volatile Mercurial Salt as an exalted fixed remainder. The volatile is for a health of an entire reading, the fixed is for transmutation of metals.
You, reader, can go about crying in your nakedness for the burning through the line, but the burning through the line is done after the vestal stage of an entire reading, which does not occur before the mortification of the atramentous stage, which is not enjoyed by jumping up and down. Beware the eating of the burning through the line, for where will its Sibylline clouds lead you? Only back to lead; beware, reader; you will poison yourself beyond repair.
The Low Rose
Repeated Cohobation of a distilled Spirit of any substance or salt upon its body meliorates its nature, for the purpose of extracting the verbal (its own, some would say) (see Paracelsus, Circulated Salt, "Archidoxis", tenth book). Sometimes this makes a fixed body volatile, and sometimes a volatile body fixed. This "Solve et Coagula" process is analogous to when the Huntress feigns English (She lacks, Herself, human complete with fate overcast).
Putrefaction of a substance separates its elements and reduces it to its initial matter which is a Water (see Edgar Poe's "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar"). The Vegetable and Animal require a moist putrefaction, but the Mineral can be putrefied the dry way by Nitre or the moist way with the fixed liquor of Nitre: the Huntress would sooner give repose to the beating of Her hounds' hearts than repose to a syllable distinguishing the Rose (this syllable in the same breath, at times, addressing Fright) (see William Collins, "Ode to Fear").
Incubation and Circulation of a composed substance burns as a low rose, allowing the male and female principles to operate on one another in the vessel until they hang together, inseparable, as a immobile hermaphrodite: thus hangs the Huntress, reader; She hangs Nervals all (resigned and versed. Unconquered! Why the low rose certain to be grasped by stray innocents?). This retains the features of a natural substance (courtly above despair its gaze, as though a lyre) by restriction of heat and transferral of features to it from other solvents: an appearance of what is dressed as the Rose, which has Palingenetic properties (ethereal form of the plant visible) (see Percy Shelley, "The Sensitive Plant").
Copyright ©2009 by Jeff Harrison
Jeff Harrison has publications from Writers Forum, MAG Press, Persistencia Press, and Furniture Press. He has two e-books at xPress(ed), and one at Blazevox. His poetry has appeared in An Introduction to the Prose Poem (Firewheel Editions), The Hay(na)ku Anthology Vol. II, (Meritage Press), Sentence: a Journal of Prose Poetics, Xerography, Moria, NOON: journal of the short poem, Dusie, MiPOesias, and Jefelsewhere.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Stacey Levine | The Water
The Water (from The Girl With Brown Fur: Tales and Stories)
If it were merely water and unimportant, but it is water, all-important, more brilliant than clean.
If water could rage back at us in a future of silver clashes. But water is merely itself—its body, its delirium of cohesion, its obeisance to gravity, its life as the house of fish—so water will never blame, only the people do that: for example, Gale, who lived in Tallahassee; he owned a rural house; he hated writing his thoughts. He liked tea at nighttime with the trees hanging near the fence, when there might be a mood in the air. And smoke (all through the waxy future, we will not lose such nights). He called his wife "Mother"; he lived on a hill. Gale did not vote this time. He was not a bad man, not through all the bad years while Florida lost its lakes and he watched, while the lizards died papery in the grass. The lakes' deaths were a shame, Gale said, resting in his chair, and Mother wrote a blaming letter to a magazine. Gale liked chicken. His children would soon retire. The water will be algae-oily and never consciously suffer.
We might reach an arm toward a dark surface someday, gasping alongside the boats and birds, alongside this incomprehension of water and the way those living at the top always rule. Gale knew it. Still and all, he was glad he lived. He said to Mother, Hi, Koo-Koo. Aren't you glad you lived too?
Copyright ©2009 by Stacey Levine
Author of My Horse and Other Stories (Sun & Moon Press), Dra— (Sun & Moon Press), and Frances Johnson, Stacey Levine lives in Seattle. The Girl with Brown Fur: Tales and Stories will be published later this year, and Dra— will be reprinted in early 2010 by Green Integer.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Douglas Messerli | Strange Bird (on Flannery O'Connor)
O'Connor and her self-portrait with peacock
O'Connor with peacocks at Andalusia
Strange Bird: A Review of Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor
Brad Gooch Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor (New York: Little Brown and Company, 2009)
Flannery O'Connor Collected Works, contents selected and chronology by Sally Fitzgerald (New York: The Library of America, 1988).
Born in Savannah, Georgia on March 25, 1925 Mary Flannery O'Connor was the only child of a devoted and extended Catholic family. Her mother, Regina Cline, was part of the wealthy and noted Cline family of Savannah, whose second cousin, Mrs. Raphael (Katie) Seemes, rented them a small Georgian row house next to her own mansion and garden. Several of Regina's relatives had also established homes in the former state capital, Milledgeville, to the northwest, and during summers the O'Connors visted the town, staying in the home where Regina had grown up, once the interim governor's mansion. They also regularly visited the nearby farm, Andulusia, owned by her uncle.
In his new biography of Flannery O'Connor, Brad Gooch dutifully notes the families' comings and goings, based on brief mentions in the local newspapers. But, except for their scuttling between houses little of interest occurs in O'Connor's youth except at age five, when she was filmed by Pathè with her pet chicken who was rumored to walk backwards: at first, things did not go well, but "Finally, as the afternoon wore on, the bird began to back up. O'Connor, a natural mimic, jumped next to her and began to walk backward as well. The [camera] operator stuck his head under his tent. A few seconds later, the hen hit a bush and abruptly sat down. Exasperated, 'the Pathé man' gathered his equipment and made a quick exit...." The only major literary contribution of her youth was a satirical portrait of her extended family. And, although, Gooch goes out of his way to normalize her Catholic-school girlhood, one cannot help but perceive her a bit like the red-faced child in O'Connor's story "A Circle in the Fire," her face buried in a book from which, from time to time, she would peer out at the world about. At age twelve, she was overly wise and determined to not grow any older. And, in some respects, Gooch and others hint that, at least sexually, she remained that age throughout her life.
In a state of mind somewhere between a child's daydream and one of
the scriptural visions she heard preached about the church, she imagined
bouts with a guardian angel she pictures as half nun, half bird.
As O'Connor wrote to her friend, Betty Hester, years later, "From 8 to 12 years it was my habit to seclude myself in a locked room every so often and with a fierce (and evil) face, whirl around in a circle with my fists knotted, socking the angel with which the Sisters assured us we were all equipped.... You couldn't hurt an angel but I would have been happy to know I had dirtied his feathers...."
Sitting in his office early in the fall of 1945, Paul Engle...heard a gentle
knock at the door. After he shouted an invitation to enter, a shy, young
woman appeared and walked over to his desk without, at first, saying
a word. He could not even tell, as she stood before him, whether she was
looking in his direction, or out the window at the curling Iowa River
below. ...[Engle] introduced himself and offered her a seat, as she tightly
held on to what he later claimed was "one of the most beat-up handbags
I've ever seen."
Midwestern ear that he asked her repeat her question. Embarrassed by
an inability a second time, to understand, Engle handed her a pad to
write what she had said. So in schoolgirl script, she put down three short
lines: "My name is Flannery O'Connor. I am not a journalist. Can I come
to the Writers' Workshop?"
A couple of days later, after Engle read a few stories she had sent him, O'Connor was accepted into the program, and an important new chapter in American literary history was begun.
Gooch aptly compares O'Connor's return to the South to that of Asbury Fox's return home in O'Connor's story "The Enduring Chill." Fox's "illness," although he believes it to be a deadly one, is later discovered, ironically, to be undulant fever, a fever which will destroy his life without truly killing him. O'Connor's illness was of a far more serious nature, and even though she was told it was only arthritis, she described her feelings to a friend that belied her fears:
I am languishing on my bed of semi affliction, this time with
AWRTHRITUS or, to give it all it has, the acute rheumatoid
arthritis, what leaves you always willing to sit down, lie down,
lie flatter, etc....I will be in Milledgeville Ga. a birdsanctuary for
a few months, waiting to see how much of an invalid I am
going to be...but I don't believe in time no more so its all one
It was during the painful hospital stays in Atlanta and back in Milledgeville of this period, however, that O'Connor finally came to comprehend the major character of Wise Blood, Hazel Motes', in her own illness, as she described it, spelling out the book. In June of that year, after having been rejected by Rinehart, Harcourt Brace accepted the book, with Giroux sending a list of suggested additions and corrections. Through Robert Fitzgerald's intercession, the book was also read and edited by Southern novelist Caroline Gordon, who became another of the author's literary friends and a reader of all O'Connor's later work. Gordon's editorial influence upon O'Connor's work was evidently quite significant and appreciated by the writer, yet, as an editor, I would certainly have questioned editorial changes such as that Gooch describes wherein the color of Emery Enoch's tie was changed from "greenpeaish" (a perfect O'Connorism) to "the color of green peas," a far more standard metaphor.
On May 15, 1952 Wise Blood was, at last, published.
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's
eye but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Or wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote
out of thine eye; and behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own
eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out
of thy brother's eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)
With this warning against hypocrisy, O'Connor sets the tone for her tale of a man, destined to become a preacher, yet who rejects the religion of his father and grandfather. Clearly effected by his military experiences, the death of his father (who does not arise from his coffin as he has promised) and by the cultural and social-political changes in his state and small hometown (he is convinced that the train porter is a Parnum "nigger" from his now empty hometown of Eastrod, pretending to be born and raised in Chicago), Motes is determined to promulgate a new faith, "The Church without Christ."
The forces at work in O'Connor's first fiction are fierce oppositions, ironies that point to possible redemption rather than awarding those who believe themselves saved. It will be a pattern she will repeat in the remainder of her writings, a vision that, as she admitted back in Iowa, arises from a Third Century point of view of Christianity.
Giroux said, "I started to laugh. But Flannery was sitting utterly deadpan.
I thought, 'Uh, oh. This is serious to her.' Flannery never smiled, or raised
her eyebrow, or gave me any clue."
The "small, managing indomitable mother," as Giroux later described Regina to Elizabeth Bishop, is both an important source for many of O'Connor's forbearing and unbearable mothers, but was also someone who O'Connor, just as in her youth she had fought against the nuns and her guardian angel, saw as a force with whom she had to daily reckon.
Despite her illness, by June 1953 O'Connor was ready to return to the Fitzgeralds, also making a day trip with Caroline Gordon to New York City. This time, the slightly older children were full of mischief, made even worse by a Yugoslav "shepherdess" brought to the US to help with the children and pets. Accordingly, life in the Fitzgerald home was more chaotic than before, and O'Connor surely found it difficult to write. Of the greatest importance, however, was a piece of information that would change her perception of everything. Gooch effectively describes the scene:
On the way back, on a lovely summer's afternoon, she [Sally] glanced over
at her passenger...[having] made up her mind, following much inner struggle,
that Flannery should know of her illness. At that instant, Flannery
happened to mention her arthritis. "Flannery, you don't have arthritis,"
Sally said quickly. "You have lupus." Reacting to the sudden revelation,
Flannery slowly moved her arm from the car door down into her lap, her hand
visibly trembling. Sally felt her own knee shaking against the clutch, too, as
she continued driving.....
moments. "But I can't thank you enough for telling me....I thought I had
lupus, and I thought I was going crazy. I'd a lot rather be sick than crazy.
....But don't ever tell Regina you told me, because if you do she will never
tell you anything else. I might want to know something else sometime."
What with the continued difficulties with the Slavic nanny, Sally being pregnant with a fifth child and turning ill, and Flannery's own contraction of a virus, O'Connor arranged for Sally's care and returned to Georgia. The lupus had been reactivated by the viral infection, further sealing O'Connor's future.
Even in her first work, Wise Blood, one perceived that O'Connor's writing, at times, could be comically violent, but now, facing her own mortality, O'Connor's dark humor entered what one might speculate is a new phase. Particularly in the title story, Flannery proffers a work in which all characters might be said to be fiends. As in so many of her fables, the major struggle in A Good Man Is Hard to Find is between the self-righteous societal figures, particularly represented by The Grandmother, and those outside of societal values, exemplified by The Misfit and his gang. But there is a second and more subtle battle played out in this tale between The Grandmother and the family, her son Bailey, his wife and their two children, John Wesley and June Star. Had O'Connor written this tale a couple of years later, after she had seen Tennessee Williams' 1955 Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Caroline Gordon in New York, one might suspect that the two children of this tale were based on what Maggie the Cat describes as her sister-in-law's "no-neck monsters." For the children here are true terrors, selfish, overweight brats whose major activities include dismissing the world around them and reading comic books. In his diffident hatred of his family, however, Bailey is no different, dismissive of any imagined past his mother might conjure up and determined just survive their trip to Florida. O'Connor doesn't even name the mother, who is described as "a young woman in slacks, whose face was as broad and innocent as a cabbage and was tied around with a green head-kerchief that had points on the top like rabbit's ears." The Grandmother, another figure clearly inspired by Regina, is a busybody, do-gooder, who has an answer for everything and believes her values, particularly those inspired by the past, are superior to the modern world in which she had discovered herself. It is her determination to revisit a Southern Plantation she had seen earlier in her life that takes the family down the dirt road to their doom. Even her sudden revelation, as the car is propelled off the road in an accident, that the mansion she had witnessed as a child was in Tennessee, not in Georgia, does not alter for a moment her faith in her own righteousness, a belief she is convinced can be imposed upon people if spoken insistently and strongly enough. As The Misfit they discover upon this ill-fated journey takes the family away to shoot them, one by one, The Grandmother repeats over and over how she can see The Misfit is "A Good Man" at heart, who only needs to rediscover God through prayer. Unable to recognize true evil, she insists up until the moment of her death that he can be redeemed. The utterly cynical statements of The Misfit and Bobby Lee at tale's end, reveal to the reader how absurd she has been in her empty faith and her shallow prescriptions for life.
"She would of been a good woman," The Misfit said, "if it had been
somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."
The parents of the young boy in "The River" are as ineffective as Bailey and his wife. But these figures are perhaps even more detestable in their endless partying, followed by mornings of drunken sleep. Their young son seems expendable, a child who has little to do in his life "but eat," and they are happy to surrender him to the hired Black woman who intends on taking him to an old-fashioned Southern Baptism.
She stood taut, listening, and could just catch in the distance a
few wild shrieks of joy as if the prophets were dancing in the
fiery furnace, in the circle the angel had cleared for them.
A opposition between mother and daughter is also at the center of O'Connor's great story, "Good Country People." Mrs. Hopewell does indeed "hope well," facing all of life's difficulties with her favorite clichés, "Nothing is perfect" and "That is life!" Her major sorrow, however, is her overeducated daughter, Joy, a woman with an artificial leg, who has renamed herself Hulga, in part just to irritate her well-meaning mother.
Unlike Wise Blood, which had received mostly negative reviews, A Good Man Is Hard to Find received a great deal of praise in the Herald Tribune Book Review, the New York Times and the Times Book Review (written by Caroline Gordon). The New Yorker, on the other hand, called the work brutal and the Times Literary Supplement described the works as "intense, erratic and strange." Yet it was clear that O'Connor had begun to find an audience and appreciative readers.
"I can't write you fast enough and tell you that it doesn't make the slightest
bit of difference in my opinion of you, which is the same as it was, and that
is: based solidly on complete respect." As to Betty's point about scandal,
Flannery argued, "I'm obscure enough. Nobody knows or cares who I see.
If it created any tension in you that If don't understand, then use your own
judgment, but understand that from my point of view, you are always wanted."
Flannery did suggest that they not tell Regina as "she wouldn't understand."
Given the nature of their friendship, she parsed the matter theologically,
"Where you are wrong is in saying that you are a history of horror. The meaning
of Redemption is precisely that we do not have to be our history."
In 1956, through the auspices of the new president of Georgia State College for Women, Robert E. Lee, Flannery met Lee's sister, Maryat Lee, a larger-than-life six-feet tall woman, educated at National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C., who finished her MA at Union Theological Seminary under the direction Paul Tillich, and who worked for a while for anthropologist Margaret Mead. Maryat had also written a street play in Harlem, Dope!, covered by Life magazine and selected the 1952-53 edition of Best Short Plays. Like Rosalind Russell's version of Auntie Mame, Maryat showed up in Milledgeville "outfitted in pants, boots, a black overcoat, and an imposing Russian lamb's wool hat," bearing brown bags with cans of beer, illegal in that part of the state. Both she and O'Connor feared for their meeting, Maryat worried, since she had not read of even previously heard of O'Connor, that she would be encountering "a local lady writer." The encounter at Andalusia did begin well, with Reginna disapproving of Maryat's worn, pink sneakers and remarking that she had to keep doors locked because of "the niggahs." As Maryat the politically liberal Maryat was about to respond, however, O'Connor came thudding upon her crutches into the room and swept Maryat away into the back yard, where she explained her illness and the necessity of remaining with her mother as well as sharing with the newcomer her dream of turning the henhouse into an office.
In some respects, the new novel was a retelling of Wise Blood. Tarwater, a boy, a few years younger that Hazel Motes, is raised by his preacher grandfather in rural Georgia to become a prophet of the church. In this case, however, the boy has been stolen from his family home, just as, previously, the old man tried to steal away the boy's uncle, Rayber, whose short time under the preacher's tutelage, has, he feels, tainted his entire life. He is now a rationalist, a schoolteacher who will have nothing to do with religious faith.
For a non-believer like myself, O'Connor's fiction is not an easy read. Yet, strangely, I find it her most powerful work, in part because of the intricacy of the story, which follows the mindsets of its various characters, it's fantastic apocalyptic imagery, and comically surreal dialogue. Finally, one must remember what O'Connor herself insisted, her works were not psychological realist pictures of life in the South, but, as Hawthorne described his fictions, romances, a possibility for fiction that lay outside of a presentation of social forces. Allying herself with the "grotesque," O'Connor writes in "The Grotesque in Southern Fiction":
In these grotesque works, we find that the writer has made alive
some experience which we are not accustomed to observe every day,
or win which the ordinary man may never experience in his ordinary
life. We find that connections which we would expect in the customary
kind of realism have been ignored, that there are strange skips and gaps
which anyone trying to describe manners and customs would certainly
not have left. Yet the characters in these novels are alive in spite of
these things. They have an inner coherence, if not always a coherence
to their social framework. They fictional qualities lean away from typical
social patterns, toward mystery and the unexpected.
The reviews for The Violent Bear It Away were, predictably, given the dominant values of the realist fiction of the day, quite negative, describing the author as a "literary white witch," as belonging to "The School of Southern Degeneracy," and even invoking images of the "Hillybilly South," the Time review even going so far as to accuse the author for being negative because she suffers from lupus "that forces her to spend part of her life on crutches." O'Connor, so Gooch tells us, felt particularly violated by that review, "My lupus has no business in literary considerations."
Over the past few years, O'Connor had written a sizable number of new stories, but she now found herself, in 1962, at a kind "creative impasse," and, as Gooch describes it, she began to reappraise her life.
Yet work on a new novel, "Why Do the Heathen's Rage?" was at a standstill. As she wrote her friend John Hawkes, "I have been working all summer just like a squirril on a treadmill, trying to make something of Walter and his affairs and the heathens that rage, but I think this is maybe not my material (don't like that word)."
Many critics argue that O'Connor's greatest work was the collection published shortly after her death, Everything That Rises Must Converge. And several of these stories are, indeed, masterworks. Yet I find that O'Connor's major concerns are repeated here rather than further developed, making all of her writing of one brilliant piece.
She did not hear the shots but she felt the quake of the huge body as it
sank, pulling her forward on its head, so that it seemed, when Mr. Greenleaf
reached her, to be bent over whispering some last discovery into the animal's
In many respects, "Revelation" is a kind of interweaving of the two themes I have noted above. Once again we witness a battle between an intelligent offspring, this time represented in a young woman awaiting a doctor's appointment, and her well-meaning but cliché-spouting mother. Into this minefield steps what may be O'Connor's most opinionated character ever, Mrs. Turpin, who not only shares the well-dressed mother's jargon, but has created a complex social-stratification topped by wealthy individuals and bottomed by "white trash." As Mrs. Turpin insists throughout the tale, she would rather be a "nigger" than a trashy white woman.
There were whole companies of white-trash, clean for the first
time in their lives, and bands of black niggers in white robes, and
battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping
like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe
of people who she recognized at once as those who, like herself
and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the God-given
wit to use it right. ....They alone were on key. Yet she could see
by their shocked faces that even their virtues were being burned away.
In some senses, one could almost use that vision to describe the entire range of Blacks, freaks, lunatics, and "good people" who inhabit O'Connor's fiercely satirical fictions, all them redeemed in the blood of the lamb.
Los Angeles, August 3, 2009 (the 46th anniversary of O'Connor's death); September 1-7, 2009
The method I used to organize the above essay reflects the process of my reading. I read Gooch's O'Connor biography in sections, each time reading up until his announcement of the publication of a new O'Connor book, then pausing to the read the work itself. Accordingly, I metaphorically "lived through" the author's life and writing for a period of approximately two months. The writing, as is apparent from the dates, also took me about a month further in exploring the mind of Flannery O'Connor. Most of the facts of her life are directly repeated from the Gooch biography, but I have incorporated a few other details from her letters and Sally Fitzgerald's chronology published in The Library of America's Flannery O'Connor: Collected Works. The comments on her fictions are, for the most part, my own. In this one instance, I did not wade through the mass of essays and books written about the author for further elucidation and critical support; rather, I felt it important to react to these powerful works in a personal, unscholarly way. Accordingly, my own perceptions may not be particularly original and are certainly not exhaustive, but are merely meant to present immediate responses to her writing.
Finally, Sheila Cudahy, the third partner of Farrar, Straus, and Cudahy, O'Connor's publisher before editor Robert Giroux would later join the firm, was also a writer, author of several books of poetry and fiction, and a translator of Natalia Ginsburg. In 1993 or 1994, Cudahy sent me a collection of her tales, Crow Time, which my Sun & Moon Press published in 1995.
Los Angeles, September 8, 2009
Essay copyright (c) 2009 by Douglas Messerli