Wednesday, September 02, 2009

lit ephem

What I didn't warn you about, is that apart from the lack of hyperlinks and italics, some of my facts might be pretty dodgy, too. I said that Mina Loy or whatever it's called, that youthful story by Charlotte Bronte, was written as an unserious game with her sisters. Gross untruth, it was Branwell with whom she wrote the Angria booklets, and anyway this was a comparatively late one, when Charlotte's head must have been already bursting with the big new forms that were swimming around restlessly in there. Anyway...

Well, I'm writing elsewhere about Leevi Lehto, so I leave his book on one side for the moment.

I read Allen Fisher's Birds again - I need more of this. I read a strange poetry book in Bath, 300 pages of walking round London, remarkably like Goldsmith's Fidget - I didn't take in the poet's name, but it must have been in the 90s. I wish I'd bought this now. There was also a big Thomas Merton, that Trappist west-coaster who died in 1968 - who can bear any book of poetry that big? I read about XenApp 5.0, (Syngress), written by a host of bods. Sometimes lucid (like, a real human being is talking) and sometimes shoddy - whole paragraphs that don't make any sense - obviously thrown together against the clock (like, we WILL be the first on our block to write a CCA guide for Xenapp 5) one grows to almost like this after a time. I'm reading A.S Byatt's Possession - see remarks on XenApp 5 - no, I'm kidding. "Hugely enjoyable." But you know what I mean - one page you're lost in admiration and the next page you're gasping in a different way, you know, at "broad" characterization (on the analogy with broad comedy). - But I'd better finish it.

A new Proust first vol, seen in Waterstones. They've managed to mangle the title into "The Way by Swann's". Written by a tag-team of translators. The second one apparently thought that "A rose-garden of young girls" was a good idea, but was over-ridden by the series editor, who nevertheless published this embarrassment . Not reassuring. All this is me showing my age. I was never going to feel anything other than a kneejerk spasm of contempt at any new translation (like - you REALLY think you could do it better than Moncrieff/Kilmartin?). But when I opened it up and read some, it just seemed like good old Anglo-Proust again. I fancy that Anglo-Proust seems a bit different from Franco-Proust, because class prejudice runs along slightly different fault-lines. But whichever language you read it in, Proust vies with Jane Austen as the apex of classist literature. Upper-middle-class, naturally. So why is there a stack of "The Way by Swann's" in a thoroughly working town like Trowbridge? (Not that it will sell very well, though doubtless ten times better than any of the later volumes.) Why is Radio 4 so invested in preserving the genteel classes? And hey, Radio 1 listeners, don't you get all morally superior: Why do people who listen to Chris Moyles only ever have names like Kev and Mark and Karen and Lindsay and why is so much of the comedy on this show about foreign words and accents? And actually, why am I writing about Proust? Literature is a paltry thing, isn't it?

I read about kopparslageriet (Gammal Koppar), but I haven't had time to translate it for you.

I ordered Johan Jönson's Restakitivitet. The title means something like surplus-activity or leftover-aktivity. I have no idea if this is in any way representative of Jönson's other writings. It is 274 pages long and consists of three bits: "O", which looks like a sequence of lyric poems, "RESTAKTVTT", which consists of 1031 numbered paragraphs of which about 200 appear twice - I mean the numbering, but the paragraphs are completely different. And "MOLOK ORALIAAPPENDIX", which is all in capital letters and uses "|" as its only punctuation. That's it really, until I get the dictionary out and start to read. The point of the purchase was really to try out Bokus.se, which will deliver to the UK (and lots of other countries too, including Australia and NZ, though not Canada or the US). This will get very expensive if I start collecting the x-hundred volumes of "Nationalnyckeln till Sveriges flora och fauna" as they come out, an extraordinary enterprise - unique, I suppose - I guess they owe it to Linnaeus. Well anyway it won't get expensive, because unless I am unexpectedly made a millionaire this just isn't going to happen. But I can dream.

But wouldn't it be better still to have an INTERnational key to the flora and fauna of planet Earth? An impossible book, but you might do it electronically. The text could be automatically translateable into any other language - after all, the vocabulary of botany/zoology is extremely translateable. I suppose someone's grand plan is that the Swedish work should be the start-off point (since there's no point in redescribing the species). Cultural world domination has always appealed to some Swedes - velvet colonialism. I'm not immune to that compulsion. Oh, I was reading the Wikipedia entry on Swedish literature - which is a rubbish article, btw, but what an idiot you'd have to be to read Wikipedia on a wide general topic like that! -
anyway, I was that idiot, and there you can read Sweden's catalogue of shame, literature-wise - not Henning Mankell, but those absurd Nobel Prizewinners, Karlfeldt, Eyvind Johnson, Heidenstam, - decent-ish local writers disfigured by gross over-decoration. But then, the Nobel Prize for Literature is absurd whatever. Yet it still has to be conducted, there's a bequest.

What else? Cobbett's Rural Rides. Sometimes these are great, but sometimes they aren't. Cobbett bangs on for ever about the black locust (tree), which he thinks is a massively superior timber tree. He thought for himself, with all that that implies, i.e. originality, force, freedom, quackery and crankery. And as UK readers may have noticed, our woods are conspicuously not full of Robinia pseudoacacia, though Cobbett made plenty of money selling the seeds. His seeds were unselected, and the trees didn't grow straight. Besides, it's not that great with wet soil. The timber does have fantastic properties, as Cobbett claims, but especially if it's grown on poor soil (and therefore, slowly). Grown on good soil, timber-production is superfast but the wood is nothing like so close-grained. Finally plantations are difficult to thin because any sapling that is cut down immediately springs a thicket of vigorous root suckers which the thin canopy of the selected trees does not suppress (this is from Alan Mitchell's Trees of Britain). In the US, its own native land, it's been even less successful as a forestry tree because of the depredations of a locust borer that ruins the timber. But Cobbett wasn't all wrong. The locust is widely grown for timber in E. Europe, e.g. Hungary. And it is a recommended species for agroforestry, i.e. the intercultivation of crops or pasture with lines of trees, said to be a highly productive use of land in the long term.

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