Monday, November 30, 2009

Ghosts in the Book Shelves

There is a kind of bi-polarity connected with writing, playing out to provide you with a stream of new ideas and receptors while you have already chosen a project and moved along its orbit.  These new ideas and receptors that bring you distracting sensations are energizing; you fill notebooks, index cards, the backs of credit card receipts, even, to the amusement of one clerk at the 1-hour Martinizing Dry cleaners, the back of receipts for shirts and pants sent forth to be laundered and such.  

The down side seems to come when you have poured your last bit of enthusiasm into a project, brought it to a close, set it in cold storage for a time before revision and copyediting.  You had better, you think, retrieving the project from cold storage and removed the wrappings, edit with care, fine-tune the copyediting because--here it comes--this is the last thing you will ever write.  All those other scribblings while you were finishing this?  Ah well, they were mere flashes in the night sky, lights from distant stars.  This piece you hold before you is surely the last.  You can feel it's valedictory call, ave atque vale.  You may now take up building models or taking photographs or reading.

While you were finishing a project a month or so back, you came upon an overlooked volume in your shelves, something you had not looked at for some years.  This was the approaching week for you to review what you call a Golden Oldie.  Thus you picked up, as though for the first time, D.H. Lawrence's Studies in Classic American Literature, which you fell upon with a whoop and a holler because this reminded you of the part of Lawrence you'd forgotten.  Having spent so much time reading and thinking about his short stories, you forgot what freshness he brought to the cannon of American voices.  Simply put, you were moved by Studies to presume to write volume 2, in which you would pick a dozen or so voices which "came after" the Lawrence panoply.

Digging into your Moleskine, you find at least two tentative lists of authors who illustrate the American Literature you are talking about.  Of Course there is Twain, Erdrich, Harrison, Le Guinn, Didion, Urrea.  You are back and forth about Roth.  Ah, but here is a name you interestingly enough  picked from the same shelf on which you previously kept the Lawrence.  Leslie A. Fiedler.  You'd been up until nearly twelve, finishing your review on the new Ha Jin collection and thought not to get much beyond a page or two, but it came to you in one of the manic bolts:  Fiedler begins where Lawrence leaves off.  Not only does Fiedler work through Twain, he knocks American criticism on its end.  In the bargain, he may very well allow you to leave Roth out of the calculus.

Your reading materials for the nonce will be Love and Death in the American Novel, Fiedler's magnum opus, although there are quite a few others of his that must be digested as well.  Amazon has already shipped Empson's Seven Kinds of Ambiguity, which can help you refine your reading approach.  Amazon has also shipped another work you'd thought to read for fun since you have a long history with it, but oh, my, the manic sparks are flying and there may another line drawn through a writer you admire but perhaps not enough for volume two of Studies.  In her (Patricia Highsmith) stead, you are beginning to think about an audacious ad, Smith.  The Smith being Thorne Smith, the book underway from Amazon being Rain in the Doorway.

Interesting way to begin a week, thinking on the manic side of the coin.

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