AWP i: Ray Carver-ing the U. Eco-logy of books in Back Bay
After two days back from New Olreans, now we're on the train to Boston, reading Umberto Eco's On Literature. Lugging a bunch of books .. 177 to be exact) to monger at AWP .. dove sono Cal A. Mari. We, Cal A. Mari & i, dread this shit (this book business), but suppose U. Eco provides some consolation .. in general it helps to take a step back & think big picture .. there's lots of trade shows & meetings, etc. dedicated to specific specialized topics, but here we have a sub-culture dedicated to propagating meaningless information .. literature for the sake of literature, or literature for the sake of language (.... in theory .. after 15 minutes at AWP we're sure we'll be disgusted by it all). Per Eco:
In fact, sometimes we wonder why we not only read literature for fun, but that we'd read such a book by Umberto Eco (& not say play video games, flip through magazines or watch movies .. like most people do on the train (though the free wifi is enticing)). No one is making us read Eco. No one is making us echo Eco & no one is making you read this, this echoing Eco-travelogue. We do this for the love of language & for its continued propagation.
On Literature is a collection of essays about writing & writers, from Dante to Little Red Riding Hood .. some stories/books we've read, others we haven't (like Sylvie by Gérard de Nerval, but now we're intrigued).
Eco talks about Dante & his quest to create a post-Babelian language (of course Italian .. being as Eco is Italian) & how the «arrogant» Joyce came along & copied Dante .. implying that Joyce's great ideas came from his time spent in Italy (& also the Book of Kells) .. where he became a «young man». But whereas Dante was trying to alleviate the post-Babel confusion & create a concise & clear universal language, Jim (as Eco presumptuously calls him) was purposely trying to confuse the general public. Rather than live to one side or the other of the tower of Babel, Joyce wanted to live in it. Seems like a good place to be to us too.
In another essay he compares Joyce & Borges .. Joyce being a word guy, Borges an idea guy, the extreme poles of signifieR & signifieD artists. And this is how he describes Finnegans Wake,
( .. where etym/ethym presumably has something to do with etymology, though we can't find it in any dictionarys). We haven't read that much fiction by Eco, but certainly the world needs more readers like Eco. And while Eco values the importance of readers & their interpretations, he retains a lot of respect for the «intention of the text».
Reading Umberto Eco can get dry & academic, so every few pages we space out at the landscape or we lube ourselves with Raymond Carver. Back in the 80s we thought we'd read everything there was to read by Carver, but it seems he published a final collection in 1988 (the same year he died), containing the final 7 stories he wrote before checking out: Elephant and Other Stories.
Carver was probably the first contemporary writer that made us interested in writing as an art form .. that we felt was doing more than just telling a story. Something in the way he economized words .. in the subtle details. It's hard to quote Carver, because the power of the sentences are framed within the context & the build-up.
Geographically speaking, we can relate to Carver (both of us being born in Oregon & living also in northern California .. in the same towns Carver haunted .. Palo Alto, Santa Cruz, Sunnyvale, Chico, etc. .... places that now feel a far cry from New England). Carver feels like he could be our father .. if things turned out differently for our own & he took on a similar love of language. Both were of the same age, from the same place & alcoholics (though our father wasn't able to quit like Carver).
Elephant doesn't seem nearly as good as his others. Either that or his spell has worn thin .. or it just doesn't fit the time & place, like reading Carver did in the 80s, in California. And almost all his stories are about failing relationships, which is fine once or twice, but gets old .. unless you put different spins on it, like Gary Lutz does. Same gripe we have with Hemingway .. pussy-whipped alcoholics, but fine writers. The title story Elephant, & Errand are the only stories not about unhealthy relationships. Elephant is about a sucker who keeps doling out money to his family of leeches (it seems the wiki entry for Elephant is asking for a description of this story .. perhaps we should put this as the summary). The last story, Errand, is about Chekov .. not an essay about Chekov, but a story about his death .. that perhaps Carver wrote on his own deathbed, in similar circumstances .... knowing he was going to die.
Pulled into Back Bay station. Lugged the books over to the Sheraton & set them up on our assigned table (L18 if you read this before the bookfair ends on Saturday). Rather then network or seek people out, we went to the fitness center & worked out. Then tried to find something decent to eat, but it seems we are trapped in a sprawling mall complex (how we feel most places in America) .. which is just as well as the weather sucks outside. It's weird to be away from j as usually she is the one doing the leaving or we are going with her.
And now we are in the first day of the bookfair trying to have a good attitude about it all .. sort of live blogging AWP, guess you could say, from the Cal A. Mari perspective. Using the free wifi to post this amidst the accumulating snow outside that we are bunkered deep beneath.
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