October 26th, 2010 / 5:44 pm
I Like __ A Lot


[Another not-mean post for mean-week. Sorry. I had part of this done before I realized it was mean week (duh) & wanna write about these books while they’re fresh in my head. Also, I might do this regularly because I am a major proponent of out of print books, who knows.]

I end up reading a lot of books that are out of print. Part of me feels like I do this to compensate for the fact that I no longer dedicate an excessive amount of energy to digging up & talking about lost films. Another part of me just always insists that the best shit is found by digging as deep as possible. I like looking for things, reading about lost things, and finding things that there’s not an abundance of discussion about. It makes me feel like I’m solving a mystery, and I get a major rush out of it.

I spend a lot of time combing through World Cat listings & requesting books & articles from inter-library loan networks. I also obsess over used-book meta-search engines. I also feel like, perhaps, that a lot of marginalized Other’s books end up out of print, so I sometimes tell myself that I can feel slightly empowered. This may or may not be ridiculous. Regardless, I’d like to talk about three out of print books that I recently read and enjoyed.

Theory of Tables by Emmanuel Hocquard
Hocquard is a French poet very much in line with the √©criture stuff that I’ve been obsessing over since June. He was one of the editors of Orange Export Press in France, which released a whole bunch of awesome shit including a 600 page anthology that I really wish somebody would translate into English. He also translated, with Claude Royet-Journoud (another favorite of mine), several collections of contemporary (at the time) American poetry into French, which helped to strengthen the connection/exchanges between American and French poetry in the 1980s (this connection is, it seems, something that academics love to talk about). He’s basically an all around important dude.

He has more work available in English than many of the neglected French poets to date, but like most of this stuff, it’s mostly out of print or only available from small presses like Red Dust & Burning Deck. He’s always got work in contemporary French poetry anthologies, but this book length work is the first time that he’s blown me away. In the afterward to the book, Hocquard notes

In the summer of ’89, I began picking up pebbles and bits of glass from the beaches of Paros and Delos. Later, from the streets of Moscow and Leningrad, colored fragments of facades, and lumps of tar. In the summer of ’90, lapilli, and violet earth from under the volcanoes of Madeira. I saved these objects in white envelopes on which I scrupulously noted the exact place, day and time of collection.
     At home, I emptied separately the contents of the envelopes onto tables, and immersed myself in the contemplation (theory) of pebbles. For months I observed them and committed my observations to writing. I had become, in sum, the translator of pebbles.

Hocquard’s style doesn’t, necessarily, rely on images or even metaphors to carry the weight of the poem. Rather, there is almost a dialog with space, a phenomenological approach to objects. Here’s my favorite fragment, #15:

You say a crater is completely red

Goat, eat my tables
this morning a man fell down in the bus

A man wrote a book on the tables
what more
does he know of me?

You were at the center of the poem
but you are no longer the center of the poem

A spiral incised with arrows

After the rooms open to sky
your voice says a space is empty
among the stones

Also, CA Conrad gushes about its greatness in a goodreads review, so if you don’t want to take my word for it, take his.

Alexandra by Jon Leon
Jon Leon, by now, is mostly known for his prose-poetry, his blocks of text reveling in baseness and decadence as a pure subjective bliss. As Dan Hoy says, “What Leon understands, better than anybody else alive, is that poetry is pure forever; and a poem is whatever it takes, even if, like Rimbaud, it takes abandoning poetry forever to pull it off. ”

Alexandra is, I would say, Leon’s last chapbook he published before he “abandon[ed] poetry forever.” More than the paragraphs, Alexandra actually looks like poetry from the consideration of separating poetry from prose. But there is no classicism here, no sonnet or articulated form. The text moves through various shapes, and there is a true sense of the heterogeneous here. Left aligned enjambed sentences are contrasted with paragraphs (foreshadowing what was to come), only to be met by text that jumps back and forth across the page. The ideas–the plot, so to speak–here is purely what you would expect from Leon, but it’s less base. There’s a level of artifice that Leon is aware he is using to hold these ideas, and ultimately it works out fantastically.

there was a landscape

the woman’s neck

With its disappearance a whole dimension of human activity and passivity has been de-eroticized. The environment from which the individual could obtain pleasure–which he could cathect as gratifying almost as an extended zone of the body–has been rigidly reduced. Consequently, the “universe” of libidinous cathexis is likewise reduced. The effect is a localization and contraction of libido, the reduction of erotic to sexual experience and satisfaction.

in a meadow
for example

without risk

the unofficial
only poses as an alternative
its compliance
by its very name

but you know
that is
the first kind of enchantment


primitive tape

The Night of Lead by Hans Henny Jahnn
For my money Jahnn is one of the most criminally under-recognized writers of the 20th century. Perhaps this is because Jahnn was homosexual, or perhaps this is because Jahnn’s work is so incredibly terrifying and filled with despair. Of course, the fact that he is criminally under-recognized in the US means in the last couple of decades he’s achieved some sort of notoriety in France, where most of his books have been translated, but in English he is almost entirely absent (the only entire book of his, which is actually part of a larger trilogy, to be translated into English is the fucking-amazing work The Ship). Until recently this novella length work (which I have been informed is actually just a segment of a larger novel) was still in print from the inimitable Atlas Press, but it appears that its run of 300 copies has finally sold out. Which is ultimately unfortunate, because it was the only remaining translation of Jahnn in print for years.

The story is terrifying and filled with despair, two things that populate all of the limited amount of Jahnn’s work that I’ve read. The story follows Matthieu as he travels through a city he is a stranger to in the depth of night. He encounters several characters who all end up being terrifying and sad, yet still approach a level of abject eroticism that is tormented by the night that our protagonist comes to realize is endless.

It can be said that one can see early hints of, say, Thomas Ligotti in Jahnn’s work, but while Ligotti revels in the darkness, Jahnn seems earnestly trapped by it (which, fittingly enough, is almost literally what happens in the narrative here). For my money, Jahnn’s writing is the closest equivalent to the cinematic techniques of filmmaker Philippe Grandrieux: both use non-diegetic images and signifiers that serve no narrative purpose other than to heighten the tension, the tone, permeating the work. And this is done in incredible ways.

Here’s a short excerpt that almost strikes me as being in the vein of Dennis Cooper, though, of course 50 years earlier:

“Don’t you have any parents?”
“No,” answered the youth.
“No one who finds you pleasing — who would be ready to help you?”
“Just one, who likes me when he sees my blood flow. He injures me daily — and worse by the day.”
“You’re lying . . .”
“He wishes to dismember me, take me apart like a clock. Until now I thought he had the right — that there was no protesting. I remained silent. Merely whimpered. I had no will. Today he looked deep inside me — through a yawning gash . . .”
“It is your right to lie,” said Matthieu, “the lie is your protection, your handmaiden who praises you or makes you pitiable. Till now I, too, have sought refuse in the truth and sincerity I could attain . . . They are no protection, as we discover — but place us at their mercy.”

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