Friday, June 30, 2006

"You see, I am bad, aren't I?"

Lots of good things this week at the Guardian Review. I was especially transfixed by Lucasta Miller's piece about John Bridcutt's new book Britten's Children:

In the archive at the Britten-Pears Library is a small exercise book inscribed on the front 'EB Britten, Form V, Rough Work'. Inside, the owner has repeated his name in different formats - Edward Benjamin Britten, B Britten and so on - and has added his address, that of his parents' home, '21 Kirkley Cliff Road, Lowestoft, Suffolk, England, Europe, The Western Hemisphere, The World, The Universe'. This apparently simple relic of childhood offers a conundrum: the notebook itself, of American origin, could not have been available to Britten as a prep-school boy. Bizarrely, it turns out that the author of these Molesworthian scribblings was at least 25 at the time of writing and already feted as the leading composer of his generation.

Other good things: Tom McCarthy on Tintin; James Fenton on Gibbon's autobiography; and Gordon Burn on Francis Bacon.

(I do wish I could see the exhibit at the Gagosian Gallery in London, I am lazy about seeing art but I've got a thing about Francis Bacon, in fact one of my favorite recent discoveries--the quotation from Georges Perec I wrote about a few months ago and will give again below--is a favorite partly because it makes me think of Bacon:

It is not that you hate men, why would you hate them? Why would you hate yourself? If only membership of the human race were not accompanied by this insufferable din, if only these few pathetic steps taken into the animal kingdom did not have to be bought at the cost of this perpetual, nauseous dyspepsia of words, projects, great departures! But it is too high a price to pay for opposable thumbs, an erect stature, the incomplete rotation of the head on the shoulders. . . .

Opposable thumbs, an erect stature, the incomplete rotation of the head on the shoulders: only in Bacon the stature is crumpled, the flesh dragging off the bones Beckett-like.)


  1. You mentioned reading Perec's two early novels. Have you read W: Or The Memory of Childhood? I think it's one of his very best.

  2. I read it this spring around the same time as those others--when I was managing editor at the Yale Journal of Criticism, we published an essay about it (special issue on Holocaust-related stuff), & I made a mental note then about getting and reading it but there was a time lag. I still find my favorite things of his are the short funny things like "Some things I really must do before I die" and the catalog of the food ingested in the year 1974; I have bought about five copies over the years of that "Species of Spaces" collection because of giving it away and having to get a new one. I have never really seriously delved into the other vaguely Oulipo-categorized writers but I've been meaning to; Harry Mathews in particular.

  3. Mathews is very underrated, though I find his work a little chilly for my tastes. But I do think that he, Disch, and Sladek are the most interesting Oulipo-influenced writers that America has produced. I'd recommend starting with Cigarettes (his most straightforward book) or the totally bonkers Tlooth, depending on your inclination.

    I gave Species of Spaces to my wife many years ago back in college as an anniversary gift!

  4. Nice present!

    I think I am going to go and get a lot of Mathews books out of the library today; thanks for the recommendations.