The Brilliance of Ingeborg

Her brilliance; we are sitting in front of a Roman estate agent, who is renting the apartment of a baronessa and gives us to understand, the baronessa may prefer an American diplomat as a tenant, DOTTORE, she says aghast, like a king’s daughter gone unrecognised, and she hesitates, SENTA, she says, SIAMO SCRITTORI, and the apartment is ours; terrace with a view over Rome. Often she is away for weeks; I wait in her Rome. Once, when I knew she had already set out for Rome, I could not wait another hour, so drive out before the city and keep watch at a bend in the road; I wait for her blue Volkswagen. To welcome her. Just in case, the driver does not see me on the road, my car is ready to start facing ROMA/CENTRO. Volkswagens pass again and again, blue ones too, so I wave. Perhaps she is still dining in Siena, RISTORANTE DI SPERANZA, I have time. Now she has not recognised me, but it does not take me long to catch up with her; I can see her round head from behind, her hair. She clearly does not understand my hooting, and it takes a while until I can drive up the way the police drive up to another car to stop it, and then she is frightened. I am a fool and I know it. Her freedom is part of her brilliance.

— Max Frisch, Montauk

Remembering Ingeborg Bachmann in Frisch’s Montauk, as I start a novel I’ve always been ashamed to say I haven’t read: Bachmann’s only novel, Malina, published in German in 1971, two years before her awful death.

And two writers who should be more widely available in English.

Reading on Coincidence: Robert Walser

It’s one thing or the other. Robert Walser is either fashionable in Brazil right now or I am an intersection of coincidences. Two friends, who I’m almost certain don’t know each other, have been reading him recently. One emailed me of one of his, Walser’s, prose pieces just before the new year; another was seen last week in a square with a newly published prose collection in his bag. Two friends, at least, are reading Walser.

The newly published part may be the key, but chance and coincidence have always influenced my reading habits (maybe more on that and William Gerhardie some other time), especially when the coincident writer is one who has been in the known-but-unread, admired-by-the-admired orbit for more than ten years. I studied German at university, but Walser—Robert, there is another, unrelated Martin—barely came up. Perhaps because he’s Swiss and German departments inevitably (?) concentrate on literature from Germany, rather than literature in German; but I may be being unfair and he may have been on a reading list that I ignored to read as much of Kafka as I could. But Kafka—like Susan Sontag, like Hermann Hesse, like W. G. Sebald, like J. M. Coetzee in this essay, perhaps like even more writers I was reading at the time—was an admirer of Walser, so perhaps the coincidence was there already and could or should have been seen sooner. But coincidence cannot be ignored forever. So I did pick up a slim volume from the Rio’s Goethe Institut library. So I did read it. Read more of this post

Preview, Rear View

Best of 2014

Well yes, the tradition is to do this before the year is out, but I do a fair bit of reading between Christmas and New Year and it would be, of course, disingenuous to exclude what could have been included as one of the best books I read in 2014—and indeed, the book in question almost was.

It was the year of finally catching the Dante bug (after studying and just not really getting it at university), spending months reading the Purgatorio and Paradiso (Inferno was last year), reading around in Boethius, Augustine, the Vita Nuova, Cavalcanti, and wondering if the modern equivalent of Dante looking down on the world from Paradise would be the Pale Blue Dot photo that the Voyager mission took of Earth as it left the Solar System.

But it was also a year of reading wider and wider in Brazilian poetry from the colonial inconfidents, to modernists, concretists and marginal down to contemporary writers.

For 2015


Sneak Preview

Well, more Brazilians, more Central Europeans (after a fantastic online course by the UK Poetry School in final months of 2014), more British and Americans, re-readings and plenty of writers I’m sure I barely know exist right now. Right now, the pile by the bed includes Ingeborg Bachmann, William Gerhardie, Joan Margarit, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Toby Martínez de las Rivas, Tomasz Różycki, Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Dycki and Louis Zukofsky.

And the best

So here is my list of what I read and re-read and loved in 2014: Read more of this post

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