Grades are in.
So I'm fairly well launched on one of the summer's big reading projects, Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, taking as guides a small stack of (randomly-happened-upon) secondary works & the syllabus for Steve Evans's Hegel seminar this past semester. I have to admit that one of the things that intrigued me most about Steve's little encomium to Robert Pippin, his former teacher (here; scroll down a bit), was the shot of (what I take to be) Steve's own Hegel shelf, with its disintegrating copy of the Phenomenology. It reminded me a book that I'm again in the middle of reading – Zukofsky's "A".
I don't know how many times I've read "A". The very condition of my working copy of the book testifies to that. I can still recall unpacking it out of a big box from the University of California Press in my dorm room in Barringer Hall at Virginia Tech, a box containing a hardcover of The Maximus Poems, George Butterick's Guide to same, Prepositions, & Barry Ahearn's Zukofsky's "A". (U of C was having a really big sale...) That was 20 years ago, almost half my life, & I had no idea that I'd be devoting so much of it to LZ.
I've picked up several copies of "A" since then: a hardcover of the U of C edition, similar to the powder-blue paperback except for the fact that its cover is in pink & includes the quotation marks around A that LZ insisted upon; library discards of the Doubleday/Paris Review "A" 1-12 and "A" 13-21; the Grossman "A"-24; both American (Viking/Compass) & English (Trigram) editions of "A" 22 & 23; and a jacketless copy of the signed, limited edition Turret "A"-14. Not to mention a second printing of the Johns Hopkins republication of the complete "A", in a slightly larger format but with identical contents to the U of California edition.
I have a deep fondness for my paperback California "A", despite – or probably in part because of – its dilapidated condition. The notch at the bottom comes from the time in Ithaca I grew so frustrated with the book that I threw it across the room. There are of course my own marginalia – pencil marks so worn that they've become illegible, fountain pen underlinings that have bled thru to the next page, three or four different colors of ballpoint. It's not that I find much wisdom or insight in those markings: indeed, many of them are the conventionally puzzled, dopey scribblings of an ignorant 25-year-old (or an ignorant 30-year-old, or...): in short, pretty embarassing.
But I suppose I find this ratty book comforting in that it's evidence that there's at least one book in the world that I've read almost to pieces, even if I make no great claims as to how well I understand it or how much of it I can quote off the top of my head. Somewhere in Ways of Seeing, Berger comments on how frequently 19th-century boardrooms were decorated with lavish paintings of nude women, so that when a man of state or business was outwitted, he might look up "for consolation. What he saw reminded him that he was a man." When I've met defeat on my third attempt to make sense of a paragraph of Hegel's, I can cast my eye on my bookcase and think, "at least I've read 'A'."