Monday, May 21, 2007

Done, seen, read in New York

From The Zurau Aphorisms, by Franz Kafka (translated by Michael Hofmann, published in English in 2006)
It isn't necessary that you leave home. Sit at your desk and listen. Don't even listen, just wait. The whole world will offer itself to you to be unmasked, it can do no other, it will writhe before you in ecstasy.
Ah, but only by disregarding Kafka's Thomas-a-Kempis-ean advice can you even think about going New York for a week on business.

And if you go to New York, you just might, on the first morning you're there, walk past a man on the street who looks, at a glance, like John Crowley--or at least like John Crowley looked twenty years ago when the photo was taken that decorates his novel Love and Sleep, which is tucked under your arm so you can read it at breakfast. Knowing that John Crowley is going to be in town a few days later for a reading, you might even think of saying to the man's receding back, quizzically, "John Crowley?" How often, after all, is he recognized on the street?

But the moment, most likely, would pass too quickly, the question remain unasked. Off to breakfast you'd go.

That, it turns out, is for the best, because at the reading you might realize that the man you saw was not John Crowley. He was too tall, and too young; his hair and beard were dark rather than gray. In fact, you might realize, he resembled not so much Crowley as the protagonist of Crowley's Aegypt tetralogy, Pierce Moffett, whom all these years you've associated, rightly or wrongly, with his creator. As a character, Pierce does give off a bit of the sense of idealization, of both his virtues and his faults, that often accompanies authorial stand-ins; but Crowley probably deserves more credit for his invention than that, and as you imagine the two together in this bar, the distance between them--and thus the value of Crowley's creation--seems to grow.

Which, in its way, only seems to make it more likely that the man you saw was the imaginary Pierce, wandering in search of the long-gone streets of late-70s New York, of old lovers and old buildings and old impressions long ago effaced by moneyed progress. He wouldn't have turned had you hailed him by the wrong name, but perhaps it would nonetheless have registered as a quiet ripple, a flash of inexplicable familiarity--even a shivery moment of deja vu.

From The Book of Disquiet, by Fernando Pessoa (translated by Richard Zenith, published in English in 2002)
Another life, of the city at nightfall. Another soul, of one who watches the night. I walk uncertainly and allegorically, unreally sentient. I'm like a story that someone told, and so well was it told that I took on just a hint of flesh at the beginning of one of the chapters of this novel that's the world: "At that moment a man could be seen walking slowly down So-and-so Street."

What do I have to do with life?

That's how your trip might have gone, had you been willing to ignore Kafka and Thomas a Kempis and set out in the first place. Some journeys are like that, after all: for example, having written earlier in the week about surprises left in library books, you unexpectedly get a chance to convince John Crowley to sign your Chicago Public Library copy of Love and Sleep. Now the title page will address the next patron to open it:
To all readers of Chicago Public--John Crowley.

Then one night you spend talking with a pair of friends who are thinking about going to Portugal in part because of Jose Saramago's book The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis. The novel tells the story of Ricardo Reis, one of Fernando Pessoa's many obsessively maintained authorial identities, somehow surviving his creator's death and returning, confused, to 1936 Lisbon--which is all a bit odd because Pessoa happens to be the only author you chose to carry in your suitcase on this trip to leaven the 1,500 pages of John Crowley you're reading. Maybe that was Pierce Moffett you saw on the street after all.

Later, meeting another friend in a bookstore during a thunderstorm, not only do you discover that a new volume of Pessoa's poetry has just been published, but you talk her into leaving the shop with a copy of The Book of Disquiet under her arm--and at the counter you discover The Zurau Aphorisms, which you happen to open to this:
All human errors stem from impatience, a premature breaking off of a methodical approach, an ostensible pinning down of an ostensible object.
Which, to be honest, sounds like as close to a method as you've got for your blog. Thus coincidence and doubling, despite your not being on the lookout for them, pervade the trip--probably because you're secretly, perpetually on the lookout for them. After all, WWBD? What would Borges do?

I'm sure there are blogs out there that would benefit from a methodical approach, but this one, I think, will continue to attempt to make a virtue of ostensible pinnings down, of falling into error.

It really was a splendid trip.

No comments:

Post a Comment