Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Things He Packed

Image apropos of nothing in particular: it’s just that every once in a while I get the urge to dabble in the visual arts, & this is the latest product. I call it “Patti Smith Icon,” perhaps the first of a series (Adorno Icon, Johnny Cash Icon…).
In the middle of Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren, a pretty intense reading experience. More than anything else, it enforces an admiration for the sf reading community, a bunch of folks who don’t get a lot of respect in the “literary” community at large. The typical sf fan, that is, is caricatured as either a 15-year-old boy or a guy emotionally arrested at 15, fascinated by snazzy imaginary technologies & deathly afraid of adult relationships.

Dhalgren, an 800-page high modernist tour-de-force, puts paid to all that. Like Finnegans Wake, it’s a recursive novel, whose end fits into its beginning like the snake swallowing its own tail. Its narrative voice shifts from the third to the first person in jarring, not at all normalizable ways. Towards the end it dissolves into multivocal notebook entries. In short, it’s more formally challenging than any best-selling American novel of the last 40 years, Gravity’s Rainbow excepted.

Not, one would think, the sort of thing those Spock-eared carbuncular young men would go in for. Wrong. Dhalgren was kept in print, in pocket-sized mass market paperbacks, for twenty years before Wesleyan put it out in a big trade edition in 1996. And it sold over a million copies.
I’m off to Bellona – er, New York City – at the crack of dawn tomorrow. I’ll be checking email and maybe even blogging from there a bit. If anybody wants to get together – or better yet, wants to arrange a family-friendly lunch or a preschooler play-date – do drop me a line. See you at the Strand!

I’m not overly fond of travelling (which doesn’t mean that if you wanted to invite me to your institution to read or talk about poetry, I wouldn’t be delighted to take you up on it); perhaps the worst part for me is deciding what to pack. Other than the necessities (clothes, toiletries, the portable environments the girls seem to need), the big question right now is books. What I’ve decided on:
Ronald Johnson, ARK
---, To Do As Adam Did: Selected Poems
John Wilkinson, Contrivances
---, Proud Flesh
---, Lake Shore Drive (his latest, and I think best yet)
Something by Christopher Middleton – maybe Tankard Cat, maybe The Word Pavilion
Since Dhalgren is too much of a brick to haul around, I’ve decided on Heimito von Doderer, Every Man a Murderer. All this will almost certainly be vastly augmented by purchases before I get on the plane home; we’ll see if I get around to reading any of it.

The iPod’s staying home for a much-needed rest.