Free Book! Free Quite Boring Book!

I finished my D.Phil 5 years ago. I passed, with minor corrections. Thanks to a gift for procrastination that could wipe the floor with yours – and would, but it’s busy playing Robotron on MacMame – I only resubmitted the corrected version this summer.

So, I’m a doctor of sorts, and hold the copyright of a thesis on John Dryden’s late poetry and the culture of the 1690s.

There’s a page here with more information and a PDF for download. It’s a work for specialists: if you know any, pass the word along, but don’t go reading it for kicks (I think there’s half a joke in it somewhere, but that’s about Sir Richard Blackmore).

I’ve (CC)ed it. I’m not sure it’s hugely appropriate, but I felt the need to make it clear that if Erol Alkan decides to produce a remix of my thesis for non-commercial ends, then he’s free to do so.

If anyone knows the score with places I should list this, let me know. I’ll google around a bit this evening, but most likely will miss something.

The theorists might like to note I say something about Deleuze and Guattari, war machines and rhizomes somewhere right at the back.

I’m probably proudest of the fact that Prof. AD Nuttall was the internal examiner. I’m just now reading his old collection of essays The Stoic in Love; he’s not widely heralded as critics go, but is one of living greats.

Now I’m officially web2.0! (If you believe that statement, plz be in touch. TMB is an investment opportunity not to miss)

I’d lost a chunk of Saturday pondering the imponderables (if you turned on a TV and saw Kirsty Wark and Mark Lawson talking to one another, would it be possible to know with certainty who was interviewing whom? Can I persuade one of Tobiases Hill and Jones to change their Christian name so that I can retain a distinct idea of which is which? I’m pretty sure they’re both okay, but I end up in total confusion whenever I try to think about them. I like the sound of the utopias book that the one who wrote the Italian book has coming out – but is that Hill or Jones? I’m pretty sure it’s the LRB one, and not the poet one. But do they in fact both write poems? And does the one who isn’t the LRB one appear in the LRB sometimes?), so I thought I’d better head to the site and do something constructive.

That was a roundabout way of saying there’s now a linkroll in the sidebar.

(I’m also at, so say hello if you are too)

Strange Attractor

Strange Attractor came in the post yesterday.

A pleasure already; especially looking forward to the Robert Irwin article.

I like Strange Attractor because it shows the way to a future I’m looking forward to. Even if it withers as a popular medium, print-on-paper will remain a joy. Creating a book as art-object is becoming easier now; the tools for design are readily available. Production’s still tricky, but you can get very far yourself. Authors can go further into autonomy or find interesting collaborators; so I’m hoping for a future of more and more desirable books.

Anyway, go visit Strange Attractor, and buy if you like the the look of it. It will at least make a great gift for the freak – or perhaps head – in your life.

look, if this turns into Helen Vendler vs. the Litblogs, count me out

A fast shout, which I meant to do days ago, to Mark‘s week guest blogging over at the Poetry Foundation. Eloquent, knowledgeable, enthused, intelligent. Rah!

Foundations which The Poetry Foundation are definitely better than: The Work Foundation.

An extra word too about the Monday piece on Elizabeth Bishop. One of the things I meant to post on while I was busy not posting over summer and autumn was that publication of Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke-Box, and ensuing fuss. In the end, though, I just couldn’t make up my mind, and I thought it best to keep my trap shut.

Mark lays out all the arguments for these things being available, and I think he’s right, largely.

The other part of my brain, though, thinks Bishop made it pretty clear that her Complete Poems is how she wanted her work to stand. A poet does have a right to present their art as a fait accompli; poetry that works is a species of magic (in at least a couple of senses) and performance. There’s an audience that would like to watch the astonishing trapeze show, and not think about the thousands of falls and dropped catches that go to make up a few moments of grace – arse celery and all that.

Also, I think Marianne Moore’s reputation has been harmed by the publication of the Grace Schulman Poems. It lacks the assuredness and the authority of the old Complete, and the unquestionable, astonishing brilliance of her pre-War work is watered down. I like there being a simple volume that one can point at and say ‘look – that’s the thing itself’.

One of these days a thin grey spectre is going to enter Grace Schulman’s room as she sleeps. She’ll wake, look up, and the spirit will utter these five words: “OMISSIONS – ARE – NOT – FUCKING – ACCIDENTS”.

But it’s not really that hard to settle this for myself. I wouldn’t be without The English Auden, or the other drafts of ‘Poetry’ by Moore (that, of course, would leave us without ‘real toads in imaginary gardens’). Does the existence of a sketchbook cheapen a masterpiece? I think not – not even if that sketchbook were to provide incontrovertible evidence that Delacroix persistently cheated on the problem of doing fingers.

In conclusion:

1) Bishop should have been a bit quicker about burning her drafts.

2) You don’t have to read the poems she didn’t like if you don’t want to, ie no need for fuss if the ‘Complete Poems’ stays in print as it is

3) If you don’t know her work, may I suggest you go and read some Bishop? She’s terribly good. It’s not fireworks fun, like ee cummings or someone similar, but for clarity of eye and composition, for the gift of getting weight and depth behind natural language in formal structures, there aren’t many to match her. Once that voice gets you, it’ll have you for good.

Casual thoughts about Against the Day

Bits and pieces as they come into my head; not even in any special order. This’ll be a rolling post, so I’ll add to it from time to time.

Big, overall point: it’s great fun.

1) Wish it didn’t say ‘a novel’ on the front. I’ve had a go at Zadie Smith about that.

2) Nice epigraph

3) Tetris jokes! This is why it takes him so long.

4) Makes me sad – vision of freedom, a possible America, enlightened anarchism; we live in world of the enemy.

5) Too big to lug around almost. In this case, a three-vol. set would be nice.

6) Is Pynchon unfashionable? There seems less fuss about this than M&D. I’m avoiding the reviews, so I’m not sure, but it feels less of an event. Has some of the mystery gone? He’s appeared on the Simpsons and a lot of information has circulated on the Internet, and his essays and introductions are freely available – has that done it? Or is it the stupidising ray that’s hit culture? People might no longer feel obliged to pay attn to a literary happening – in a fragmented world, major works cease to exist and can be left to the fan club. People don’t feel obliged to read a thousand pages when a Hornby will tell them it’s okay just to crack on with the latest Anne Tyler. I look at the prose, invention & energy of this work and still don’t feel there’s anyone to touch him: don’t deny yourselves pleasure!

7) Actually, this is probably still point 6. Does it have something to do with dominance of plot-and-character bourgeois fiction? That’s what Z. Smith and J. Franzen offer, while rhetorically occupying hi-literary territory; that sort of developing self-conscious middle-class ‘breathing’ (Forster’s ’rounded’) character isn’t quite where P’s at (though character is there at the centre – see the ‘Slow Learner’ preface; maybe it’s they don’t develop in the expected literary way) . I don’t really care. It’s probably the biggest point of criticism, but I really don’t think that mode is the most interesting thing to be reading – like looking in a mirror. Narcissistic gratification. Interiority, obsessiveness of Pynchon’s characters can also seem more real than the sketches of social actors & retreads of literary marriage tropes in most lit fiction.

8) Alchemy and outlaws. Jim Dodge territory.

9) Time travel, geometry, dimensions and √-1. Has Pynchon been reading Crowley’s ‘Great Work of Time’ – current champion of the ‘literary SF secret history grounded in a nineteenth century a cousin to our own’ genre, but finally meeting its match w/ ATD – or is there simply a common source?

10) Note on previous point. I am not going to use the word ‘Steampunk’. I just don’t think it’s helpful

11) What’s with characters (Lew, Hunter) slipping into the off-grid part of town? Same as geometry-arctic vs. africa-chaos? What about explosives vs. deep holes? And I guess this is one of the big questions: what is the light? It’s everywhere in the novel – transforming, polarised, the sun… Also dynamite/fire. GR territory.

12) The apocalyptic aspect: revelation or destruction? (yeah yeah, apocalypse lit = revelation, go smoke it somewhere else)

13) Is ‘the day’ of the title also the system, & the book a deliberate gesture against this, demonstrating the possibility of writing against the norms and rules of systematised capitalism? Against what seems necessary? I honestly don’t know yet.

14) Perhaps I shouldn’t just be letting random thoughts spill out in public as I read.

15) Attempt to redeem a radical possible past, like Vineland’s an attempt to redeem/know a lost moment of potential freedom.

16) Reviewers must have been racing to read this. Uncool. Deserves long attention.

17) There’s a fair bit of Warlock in here. Maybe it’s more general cowboy stuff, but you’d guess it’s his old favourite. How long has he been sitting on this? Also Cormac McCarthy Blood Meridian mystic Western slipping in there.

18) Artists who enjoy the world as list and like the multifarious – likely to be dismissed as shallow by the literature=philosophy + aspartame reader?

19) That pleasant stoner-surrealist humour in Pynchon – much more likeable than Robbins et al. Likely to piss off those who demand high seriousness (though it can evade attention for a long time)

20) The Western sections more like Vineland than other work: sympathetic leads, little real craziness, sens of good, evil, betrayal (terribly sad Vineland, I always thought)

I should pay more attention to this internet thing

Round table that excites me because it features John Crowley. Also, talk of Pynchon and hollow-earth nuts, separately. Did they know hollow-earth stuff was coming in ‘Against the Day’? Good instincts if they didn’t.

I’ve just found out that Crowley has a livejournal. He’s the first writer I wholly love that’s done this, and I’m pleased to see it’s a nice, chatty, interesting place. More importantly, super-happy to find out that there’s a new volume of Aegypt due, and that the first three might be coming back into print. It’s high time. Check out Abe or Amazon for prices on Aegypt or Love & Sleep: £20 for ropey paperbacks

The situation in Britain with his novels is especially flakey – I’ve only seen imports of The Evening Land, I don’t think either of the last two Aegypts were published over here, and my copy of Novelties & Souvenirs appears to be a US ed as well. Little, Big wasn’t even available for what seemed like forever (I’m not sure it’s ever even had that cult status over here that it has in the States – I’ve certainly met far fewer enthusiasts. I love it. Keep going back to it. I feel like there’s something right at the centre of it that I don’t get, but is right, or important. It’s Smoky, I think: being in but not of the story – sad. And of course bits of keep coming back to me. Sometimes I know why, sometimes not. Something I’m working on has brought the Holy Roman Empire to mind; the ars memoria too; but why have I been thinking about the changeling baby a lot? Anyway, it’s the one contemporary novel for which this deal could pique my i.)

I complain about this stuff a lot less now, since we can hop on Amazon and get an import, but it is still utterly screwy: he’s one of the most interesting writers around, and I feel like it’s disrespectful that we publish and purchase, say, let’s pick an example, top of my head…

While the good stuff doesn’t get an airing.

(If you’d like to email and tell me that Peter Kay is in fact ‘class’, then here are some hints: it’s ‘snobby’, not ‘snoby’, I think I’m ‘beter’ than you because your mother told me so, and ‘Aids’ usually still takes an initial cap. K? So fire away, but please bear in mind how small the shit I actually give is.)