Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Scott Carrier has a new book.

I'll review it as soon as I get an electronic reader, since Scott has published it through Amazon and Barnes and Noble as an electronic book.

Wonder how an electronic format would work for Sam's and my "Wild Rides, Wild Flowers"?

$6.99 is what Scott's book costs. That's not much. A new way to do things.

Radio West program with Scott today. How the hell can he sound so smart in a live conversation?

Check here for the rebroadcast:

Zarko Radakovic

Biography of Zarko Radakovic from the Leibzig Book Fair

Žarko Radaković

Žarko Radaković (1947) ist Schriftsteller und Übersetzer, der in Novi Sad in der Vojvodina geboren ist und seit 1978 in Köln lebt. Er studierte Weltliteratur in Belgrad und Germanistik, Kunstgeschichte und Philosophie in Tübingen. David Albahari nennt ihn den radikalsten zeitgenössischen serbischen Schriftsteller – „in dem Sinne, wie er unsere Sprache benutzt, aber auch im Hinblick auf die Spuren der neuen Formen.“ In den 70er Jahren beschäftigt er sich mit Performance, Ende der 80er Jahre arbeitet er als Redakteur der deutschen Zeitschrift für Literatur und Kunst Das Nachtcafé und seit 1990 ist er Redakteur beim Radio Deutsche Welle. Mehr als zwei Jahrzehnte übersetzt er Peter Handke auf Serbisch: bis jetzt wurden über 20 Übersetzungen veröffentlicht.
Eines seiner bekanntesten Bücher ist Pogled (Die Aussicht), 2002, ein sehr experimenteller Roman in dem darüber erzählt wird, was sich durch das Fenster eines Büros im 20. Stock eines europäischen Medienhauses sehen lässt, aber auch über die Art und Weise, wie sich in den zeitgenössischen Medien ein Bild über große Ereignissen formt. Er arbeitete mit den Künstlerinnen Nina Pops, Julije Knifer und Era Milivojević zusammen, über die er die einfach benannten Romane Knifer (1994) und Era (2010) schrieb. Nina Pops, allerdings, widmete Žarko Radaković zwei Bildzyklen: die Visulaisierung des Romans Pogled und die Visualisierung seines Lebens in den letzten sechs Dekaden. Noch eine interessante und lang anhaltende Mitarbeit schaffte er mit dem amerikanischen Schriftsteller Scott Abbott, mit dem er vierhändig die Romane Ponavljanja (Wiederholungen), 1994 und Vampiri (Vampire), 2008, schrieb. Sein neo-avantgardistisches Verhältnis zur Kunst erklärt Radaković folgendermaßen: „Mir lagen Genre-Richtlinien noch nie am Herzen. In der klassischen, linearen Erzählung habe ich eine Enge verspürt. Das Schreiben von Romanen, Erzählungen oder Gedichten in der gewöhnlichen Form schien mir immer „zu wenig“, als ob es nicht zu meinen Erlebnissen passen würde.“ In der deutschen Zeitschrift Schreibheft gab der Autor unter Mitwirkung von Peter Handke den Artikel „Die tragische Intensität Europas“ heraus. Außerdem schreibt Žarko Radaković Musikkritiken für den Bereich Jazz und beschäftigt sich auch mit Fotografie.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


The blogger at Flowerville (see link to the right) wrote, in passing, about people who seek to bolster their reputation by quoting Goethe.

That has me thinking about my own relation to him and his works. To his works, of course, to his books. No real chance to have a relationship with the man himself (died 1832, if I remember correctly).

Here are his works, most of them. It's the Jubilaeumsausgabe, 40 volumes of leatherbound splendor, ranged along one of my shelves. It would make a good set for a lawyer's office, or anyone who wanted to appear to be highly literate. 

Although I think the edition is handsome, it is valuable to me because volume 40 is an index. I used it to find the essay on cloud formation I quoted from in the earlier post about clouds (and thus the empty space in the last photo where I took out one of the volumes of natural science).

There's a more comprehensive set called the Weimarer Ausgabe, which I wish I owned, but which I can use in the library.

So far so good.

But when I'm writing about a Goethe text (and I've published essays on "The Semiotics of Young Werther" (Goethe Yearbook) and "The Freemasonic Ritual Route in Wilhelm Meister's Wanderjahre" (Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift), I use editions I can work with, that I can write on, that I can mark up with notes and questions.

My working library, then, looks more like this:

And for the record, I've never (I hope I've never) taken Goethe's name in vain for prestige. He's too good a writer to be used that way.


The flowerville blogger has responded to this post (see the comment and see this site:

with a personal and photographic essay. Her thoughts made me reflect on my own history with Goethe. 

Needless to say, the poems we memorized in grade school and Jr. High were by Robert Frost and Carl Sandberg and Emily Dickinson and Shakespeare. Not Goethe or Schiller.

I first encountered Goethe as the poet who seduced me from my undergraduate pre-med studies into a major in German literature. Later I travelled through East Germany to Weimar, anxious to see "Goethes Wohnhaus am Frauenplan" and all the other sites presented by a restrictive but culture-proud communist government. Although I had requested a cheap room in my application to travel in East Germany, I was assigned the very expensive Hotel Elephant (which I knew from Thomas Mann's novel "Lotte in Weimar"). Here a snippet of memory from that visit -- a surprising mashup of my Goethe/Handke interests three decades later):

The formality intimidates me.  In my traveling clothes I'm out of place, I know.  So does the head waitress, but when I show my hotel pass she has to seat me.  Begrudgingly she leads me to a small table already occupied by a man of 30 or so, half through with his meal.  The menu gives me something to do, and when the waitress finally returns I order some sort of soup.  The man across from me eats slowly while he looks through a small stack of brochures and a travel book he has taken out of a leather bag at his feet.  I look around at the groups of eating people, stare into the garden, listen to the civilized sounds of muted conversation and the clatter of silverware on china.  My dinner arrives and I begin to eat.  Then something occurs -- the accidental meeting of eyes, a dropped brochure, a comment on the carrots in the soup, something -- and suddenly we are talking with each other.

He says he is a psychiatrist, just at the end of his training at the University of Heidelberg.  He shows me his guide book and recommends it highly.  He is handsome, self-assured.  He talks expansively of the wonderful afternoon he has just had in Goethe's old pub Zum Weissen Schwan.  It was full of working people, he says, and intimates that he heard some wonderful stories.  I am appropriately jealous of his experience.

Our conversation continues while he drinks coffee and eats Kirschtorte.  I mention that I have just read Peter Handke's "Wunschloses Unglueck," hoping, I suppose, to impress him with my knowledge of contemporary literature.  With a condescending smile he says he once spent ten days with Handke:

It was a small group of students together for a seminar.  We lived with him in a hotel outside of Vienna.  Every night we drank together in the hotel bar.  The first night an old woman joined us, very short, stout, already well under the influence. She didn't belong there, her dress was a mess, her feet in slippers.  When she sat down with us the bartender came over to escort her out.  Handke stood up and asked her to stay.  She was as surprised as the bartender.  Her name was Wanda, she said, and after Handke bought her a few drinks, she explained that she was going to Paris the next day.

Night after night she returned, always in the same dress and slippers, and every night she claimed she would leave for Paris the following morning.  If she was late Handke would go out front to wait for her.  One night she didn't arrive at all and he drank heavily and refused to speak with anyone.  Just before midnight, when a waiter suggested that he might have had enough to drink, Handke jumped up, shook the table violently, and screamed at the waiter: "You fascist!  You bloody fascist!"

Again I admire his experience.  I try to counter it by telling him I know Handke's Serbo-Croation translator.  He doesn't seem impressed.

The dinner was in the Hotel Elephant and the mental images I gathered during those few days remain with me.

But the real encounters with Goethe remain the books.

I'm no photographer like the flowerville blogger, but here are a few additions to the ones above, inspired by her photos of Goethe books.

A beautiful little Insel edition from 1923 with illustrations by Chodowiecki

Original three-volume edition of Carlyle's translation with beautiful endpapers
 My friends Steven and Diana Epperson gave me the beautiful little copy of "The Sorrows of Young Werther." It had belonged to Diana's grandmother. I found the damaged but beautiful Carlyle translation at a book sale.
Early translation of Lavater's essays

In my phantasy, Goethe used this 1801 book

A growing work of good scholarship -- some of it mine

all 5 volumes with covers

two volumes undressed
to Korff;s students from Frankfurt to Columbia

I've had this set of the "Geist der Goethezeit" for years, bought at a library sale for $1 each. I've read parts of it, in awe at the synthetic genius of the author.

I undressed these 5 volumes and found a surprising difference in the volumes as they were reprinted over several years.

Even more interesting is the dedication by Korff to students in Germany and then (I suppose because of the Nazi takeover of Germany) in America.

Late-Summer Skies: Woodland Hills, Utah

Monday, August 22, 2011

Faith-Based Satire: Steven Peck's "The Scholar of Moab"

I just read an advance copy of Steven Peck’s novel “The Scholar of Moab,” due out this October with Torrey House Press (

It’s satire of the best sort: biting what it loves, snuggling up to what it hates.

Reading about the man whose monument celebrates “Hyrum LeRoy Thayne, Scholar and Scientist, The Lord’s Chosen Servant and Defender of Moab, 1950-1977,” I thought a good title for a review might be “Faith-Based Satire.” Peck clearly loves the crazy Mormon Moabites he depicts, for he is one himself. He knows these characters – their beliefs and miscreant deeds and rural malapropisms – so well that they may well be mirrors of his own witty and drolly insecure self. (I know I found so many of my own propensities and perversions and prevarications in the persons and events that I suffered an intermittent blush as I read.)

Another title might be “Satire of the Faith-Based.” When Mormon and especially BYU scientists are urged by their leaders to do faith-based science, they run the risk of projects like Hyrum Thayne’s pseudo-scientific article on bumblebee faith published as a joke in the Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America. Neither Hyrum nor his fellow Moabites recognize that the article was published as humor, so the publication establishes him as the scholar of Moab.

What is there to say about a book that includes a mad poetess who claims aliens abducted her newly-born baby, a two-headed cowboy who ends up in art-saturated Vienna speculating about forms of consciousness, a dictionary thief whose diversionary tactics (spraypainting the library wall with Communist symbols and a possible reference to the Gadianton Robbers) infect the minds of his fellow Moabites with Pentecostal conspiratorial flames, a backslider whose worldview nonetheless is distinctly Mormon?

A couple of examples:

Hyrum begins his hand-written manuscript in typical fashion:
“How do I begin? How indeed. The rise from my beknighted state to one of mighty & true erudition will stand credibility on your hoary head. You will see me ascend from a miserly laborer with the USGS to a flagship Scholar invited to stroll among the high & mighty & publish landmark Science in the prestigious periodical the Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America. Why did I underline that? Because titles are underlined in works of Scholarship. Verily, you will learn much more than this. Much more indeed. For I. Even I of my own Labors have engaged with the profoundest heights of Science & Literature. It is from the peaks of these high Heights that I first found entanglements both Wide & Deep.”

Perhaps the most comic character in all of Mormon fiction, Hyrum is a thinker, a cogitator as my father used to say, a philosopher who didn’t graduate from high school and thus has no basis other than his small-town experience and his unexamined Mormon theology against which to judge the new and confusing things that come his way as he molds himself into a scholar with the help of books from the Moab Public Library. Confronted with a problem, he figures it out on his own terms, as in this paragraph:

“So I sat there in the dark on the stage in the cultural hall feeling plenty sorry for myself. Such was the cost of being erudite & Scholarly I figure. Did Leonardo Di Vinci have these kinds of problems? One book at the library says he was a homo. I do'nt believe it. I suppose they think that because he liked to draw naked men standing in circles with arms stretched out. But I think that he drew naked men because he was too embarrassed to draw naked women. Like I would feel mighty strange drawing a naked lady but I never had a moment of trouble standing around in the locker room in high school with a bunch of naked guys. So I figure people that say he was a homo just do'nt know what its like to be a guy playing sports. But all the same he had trouble. He had to dig up bodies so he could peer inside their skins to get the muscles right in his drawings. And so he snuck around at night with his shovel over his shoulder no doubt causing the neighbor ladies of his times Child Protection Society or whatever they called it then to wag their tongues in undulations of cacophony.”

Peck’s novel is rich with dangling placentas and mechanical pencils and Cleon Skousen books and bolo ties worn with platform shoes and contrasting stories from the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News and best of all, language, lots of earnest, rurally fractured Mormon language.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Wispy Summer Clouds: Fishy Backbones

Inspired by the flowerville blogger (see link to the right), I've gone looking for Goethe's thoughts on cloud formation and forms of clouds.

He wrote an essay in 1820 about Luke Howard's attempt to classify clouds under four rubrics:  


The ones I watched and photographed this morning are, under this system, cirrus.

Goethe's essay is personal, beginning with a description of his childhood experiences with clouds.

And he's not afraid to be personal when discussing Howard either:

 ". . . when these light little clouds that we always called lambs stand alone or move individually across the sky, they are called Cirrus. . . . We all know them when they look like a herd of lambs following one another or like combed cotton. . . . Sometimes, however, the sky looks like it has been swept by brooms and the airy shreds of clouds have no distinct relation to one another."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Friday, August 19, 2011

Still Storm

looking toward Nevada last night: before the storm

A quiet evening. Gathering clouds.

During the night, well after midnight, lightning flashes. Long seconds later, thunder more magnificent than the lightning, long rolling deep sonorous bass grumblings.

Toward morning rain, precious desert rain.

Lightning flashes and quickly now, thunder again, glorious Wagnerian booming (made me, to quote Woody Allen, want to invade Poland).

looking toward Nevada this morning: still storm
And this morning, still storm.

The discussion of Peter Handke's play Still Storm / Immer noch Sturm is ongoing here:

Join us!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

All the World's a Stage: Prelude to a Discussion

Tomorrow the discussion of Peter Handke's "Immer noch Sturm" (Still Storm), for which Michael Roloff has set a lavish and thoughtful stage

will begin.

The blog address, beyond that first post, is

It promises to be an innovative form of literary analysis, a back-and-forth dialogue that may produce sparks. That the play is working in me as I prepare for the discussion is evident in the captions below:

Lyn's dill drying reminds me of the apples and goats' milk in Still Storm

young buck on stage but thinking he won't be seen when he browses on the penstemons

the curtain falls, gloriously

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Peter Handke's "Immer noch Sturm"

This morning I finished reading Peter Handke's "Immer noch Sturm" (Still Storm), a play that premiered last night in Salzburg.

Three young bucks browsed through the yard as I read, feeling like players in the play that left me shaking my head:

What is this about? I can scarcely think the words I read in the same context as this photo from the performance. Long paragraphs and long sentences that never evoked this scene in my unimaginative brain.

How could what I read possibly be played on stage? I'm too much a reader of prose and too little of plays.

I need to reread and think this through. And that's exactly what I'm planning, with Handke translator Michael Roloff. The discussion will take place here:

Wish us luck. Join in the discussion.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Edward Hoagland

". . . inconsolable old folks don't last long. A seesaw of fret and equanimity serves them better. Old age is like being posted to a foreign country where you drop and lost things, misplace names and insights, can't read signage others are guided by. . . . Live with a smile even if you can't spot birds other people are talking about -- you've seen them countless times in the past -- or are remembering generosities you didn't appreciate sufficiently when your benefactor was alive."

from Sex and the River Styx

Monday, August 8, 2011

New Book by Peter Handke

There is a story to be told here. But I don't know to whom.

Es ist hier eine Geschichte zu erzählen. Nur weiß ich nicht, wem.

These are the first two sentences of Die Geschichte von Dragoljub Milanovi (The Story of Dragoljub Milanovi). They remind me of the carefully uncertain first sentence of Immer noch Sturm, the play Michael Roloff and I will be reading and discussing after the middle of August: 

Eine Heide, eine Steppe, eine Heidesteppe, oder wo.

A heath, a steppe, a heathensteppe, or where.

. . . a heathsteppe

A moor, a steppe, a moorsteppe. . .

In American English we don't have heaths or moors unless they are in England. And this book is supposed to have an Austrian flavor, not English.

Trouble from the getgo.

Sweet trouble.

To appear at the end of August, the new 40-page story is said to be about the Director of Radio-Television Serbia who is in prison for not having the building evacuated during a NATO attack on Belgrade. 16 people died when the tower was hit with guided bombs. A Serbian court condemned Milanovi to 10 years in prison.

The text describing the book says further that Handke is writing because obvious injustice empties him of language.

Dies ist die Geschichte eines Vergessenen, der auf Grund eines absurden Urteils eines serbischen Gerichts nahe Belgrad in einem Gefängnis sitzt. Ein Fall, der jeden Gerechtigkeitssinn herausfordert.Es geschah am 23. April 1999 gegen zwei Uhr nachts, als Kampfflugzeuge der NATO das Gebäude des RTS, des Radio-Televizija Srbije, des serbischen Radio und Fernsehens, mit gezielten Bomben zerstörten und 16 Mitarbeiter den Tod fanden. Nicht unter den Toten war der Direktor des RTS, Dragoljub Milanovic. Er hatte das Haus nach einem arbeitsreichen Tag eine halbe Stunde vorher verlassen, um sich schlafen zu legen. Er wäre nicht auf den Gedanken gekommen, dass der Sender mitten in Belgrad ein Angriffsziel sein könnte; blauäugig oder nicht, aber so war es. Die spätere serbische Regierung sah das unter veränderten politischen Zielsetzungen anders und verurteilte Milanovic mit der Begründung, er hätte das gesamte Personal rechtzeitig evakuieren müssen, zu einer zehnjährigen Haft-strafe, die er seither in dem Gefängnis von Pozarevac absitzt. Peter Handke erzählt diese Geschichte aus der Sicht eines Beobachters, der sich dagegen zur Wehr setzt, dass offenkundiges Unrecht ihm die Sprache verschlägt. So erzählt er, was war und was ist, zur Kenntnisnahme und mit Anteilnahme, vielstimmig und geradlinig zugleich.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Wild Turkeys, Meleagris gallopavo

foraging this afternoon

about where the fawns were the other night

Barbed Wire

photo by amy

 Reading flowerville's blog yesterday (see link under "sites to see"), I came across a striking photo of barbed wire (click on her interview about photography and then on her flickr site) that she had titled Johnny Hoogerland.

posted by spencer

The reference to the Tour de France disaster caused by the driver of a radio/tv car, a reference that gave context to a bucolic photo of a tangled splice of barbed wire against the long thin and sometimes twisted and thorny forms of natural plants, reminded me of some other photos of barbed wire posted by students in my interdisciplinary class on barbed wire. [see more of them here:]

Amy's photo of a horse's leg up against a fence highlights the dangerous nature of this steel fence, as does the Aerosmith album. Steel and thorny wire vs. animal flesh. No contest, as Johnny Hoogerland experienced.

Hoogerland crash in 2011 Tour de France (and he kept riding)

Additionally, barbed wire is used as a sign, a marker of meaning. The contrast between the meanings of the tattoo on Pamela Anderson's arm (she's tough, dangerous, desirable) and the tattoo on the Russian prisoner's forehead (he's confined for life) makes this point starkly.

spencer found this photo of Pam Anderson
russian prison tattoo: life sentence; diego found this

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

twins tonight, after the feathers last night


two of four fawns following two does

Book Reviews

Michael's heroic summary of a wide variety of reviews of Peter's "The Great Fall" has me thinking about book reviews in general.

I read book reviews in The New York Review of Books, in the New York Times, in The New Yorker, in The Bloomsbury Review, in new Los Angeles Book Review, in literary blogs like Begleitschreiben, and so on.

And I write book reviews, reviews of jazz performances, and reviews of exhibitions of art.

It is a demanding art form, reviewing.

As a literary critic, I'm also a practitioner of a scholarly form of the art.

And as a writer of personal essay, I engage in a third kind of writing that often involves books and music and art.

It's difficult for me to keep the genres apart. The kind of writing about books and art I most enjoy is personal, is critical (in the sense of making sense of the work the way a good scholar would), and is respectful of the writer's work, even when not liking a work, because it pays good, close, informed attention.

Paying informed attention is arduous. A review I've written over the last six months involved rereading 10 of the author's books and then trying to weave something meaningful out of the strands of the work I found most interesting. Here's the beginning of the essay that will appear in the fall 2011 issue of the Bloomsbury Review:

Brian Evenson’s Dark Property

. . . we see through a glass, darkly . . .    First Corinthians 13:12

I watch eagerly for new books and stories by Brian Evenson. He’s got a wicked sense of humor, on display recently in the stories “Bon Scott: The Choir Years” and “Niue.” Imagine the awkwardness that ensues after AC/DC singer Bon Scott is found singing surreptitiously with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, or the comic possibilities in a story named after a tiny Pacific island nation that opens with this question: “And how is it that the brooding Johnny Hellspider, long having restricted his posts to two-word comments such as “You rock!” or “Satan lives!”, has suddenly become so loquacious?”

Evenson’s quickly expanding body of work has a darker side as well. When “The Brotherhood of Mutilation” arrived in the mail, for instance, the chapbook lay on my shelf unread. It requires a certain resolve and a reasonably stable state of mind to read Evenson’s more unsettling texts; and something about the title and the cover illustration destabilized my resolve.

The essay continues through horror and delight, investigating language and truth in work that surprises at every turn, surprises and disquiets, tortures and heals, excoriates and, somehow, is deeply satisfying.

So, is what I've written, is what I write, about the work itself or about my responses to the work? Perhaps I bring the same eye to each reading. Consider this final sentence of my review of Bowden's and Briggs' and Kelly's book "Dreamland" (published in the Bloomsbury Review and republished in an earlier post here):

 As a final note, as a resigned yet resolute response to a book that questions many of my certainties and unsettles my very being, I’ll add my translation of another stanza by Rilke, this time from the eighth of the Duino Elegies: “We order it. It falls apart. We order it again. And fall apart ourselves.”

This could well have been part of the Evenson essay. And another review of a Charles Bowden book, Inferno, published in Catalyst, considers the same questions of truth and language I considered in the Evenson piece:

“Supposing truth to be a woman – ” Nietzsche wrote at the beginning of  Beyond Good and Evil; “what did philosophers, at least the dogmatic ones, know about women? Weren’t the ghastly seriousness and the awkward thrusting with which they have always approached truth unimaginative and unseemly tools to win, of all things, a woman?”

            inferno, Charles Bowden’s new book (with striking black-and-white photos by Michael Berman, and with an exquisite design that values print as it does image) knows all about truth being a woman. The book’s sometimes hallucinatory, often contradictory, and always white-hot prose is a supple and sensuous organ of seduction.

            The woman in question is a patch of Arizona desert, and this woman too has had relations with William Jefferson Clinton, who, as one of his last acts as President, in response to lobbying by Bowden and others, established the Sonoran Desert National Monument. 

In Tongues, Alex Caldiero
Perhaps it's not only that I have a limited set of tools with which to examine a book, but that I am drawn to books and art that explore a set of themes I'm especially interested in. The long series of posts about Peter's new book are investigations of those same themes of language and truth. As is a review I wrote for Catalyst about a set of paintings by Alex Caldiero called "In Tongues."

[Except for the "Dark Property" essay, which hasn't yet been published, all these reviews and others can be found here:]