Sunday, April 02, 2017

Škvorecký and Tatranka

She could be folkloric Tatranka -High Tatra Grrrl - Margo Hayes, 19, of Boulder, made history last week by becoming the first woman to climb a 5.15a—the 131-foot La Rambla line up El Pati wall in Siurana, Spain. … Photos of 19-Year-Old Margo Hayes’s Historic Climb 

“While everyone else is sleeping, Charlotte gets out of bed.
She gathers a few belongings, as if she were going on a trip.
The city seems at a standstill, frozen in this early winter.
Charlotte has just turned eighteen.
She walks quickly towards her destination.
A bridge.
A bridge she loves.
The secret locus of her darkness.
She has known for a long time that it will be the last bridge.
In the black of night, unseen, she jumps.”

“I know two Ferdinand’s. One is a messenger at Prusa’s, the chemist’s, and once by mistake he drank as bottle of hair oil there. And the other is Ferdinand Kokoska who collects dog manure. Neither of them is any loss.”

Did Vladimir Nabokov Write the Great Refugee Escape Novel?

… as the book progresses, the tone gradually shifts. During the first hundred pages, you might even assume that this is a comic novel. But as the tragedy of Pnin’s life unfolds, in flashbacks and reminiscences, the reader is shocked into a deeper awareness of the reality of the refugee’s life in exile. The more we understand Pnin, the better we grasp how the whole fabric of his existence has been torn apart by the whims of history. The novel ends with us watching a professor offer a caustic impersonation of Pnin that goes on and on and on. But, by this juncture, we are no longer laughing.

… How a Generation Lost Its Common Culture | Minding The Campus

Our students’ ignorance is not a failing of the educational system – it is its crowning achievement. Efforts by several generations of philosophers and reformers and public policy experts — whom our students (and most of us) know nothing about — have combined to produce a generation of know-nothings. The pervasive ignorance of our students is not a mere accident or unfortunate but correctible outcome, if only we hire better teachers or tweak the reading lists in high school. It is the consequence of a civilizational commitment to civilizational suicide. The end of history for our students signals the End of History for the West.

When Asger Jorn heard that he’d been awarded a Guggie, he told them to f*** off.

`A Forceful Vitality'

All poetry and most fiction devoted to jazz, once the quintessentially American art form, is disappointingly bad. Poems that purport to emulate the rhythms of the music usually qualify as nonsense verse, and those that aspire to honor its practitioners tend to be sloppy and sentimental. Eudora Welty’s story “Powerhouse” is an exception, as are brief passages in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, which describe less the music than its effect on listeners. Also worth reading is Julio Cortazar’s “The Purser,” about a Charlie Parker-like character and his would-be Boswell. Whitney Balliett dismissed most jazz fiction as “myth-making,” though he described Welty’s story, based on a performance by Fats Waller, as “an extraordinary mixture of surrealism and truth.”

Also good is Josef Škvorecký’s The Bass Saxophone, two novellas and an autobiographical preface translated from the Czech by Káča Poláčková-Henley and published in 1979. The title novella recounts the story of a young tenor saxophone player, based largely on the author, who must perform his forbidden music for an audience of Nazis in occupied Czechoslovakia. For Škvorecký and generations of us around the globe, jazz represents freedom and joy. He writes at the beginning of his preface, titled “Red Music”:

“In the days when everything in life was fresh -- because we were sixteen, seventeen -- I used to blow tenor sax. Very poorly. Our band was called Red Music which in fact was a misnomer, since the name had no political connotations: there was a band in Prague that called itself Blue Music and we, living in the Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, had no idea that in jazz blue is not a colour, so we called ours Red. But if the name itself had no political connotations, our sweet, wild music did; for jazz was a sharp thorn in the sides of the power-hungry men, from Hitler to Brezhnev, who successfully ruled in my native land.”

See Doug Ramsey at Rifftides for his tribute to Škvoreckýafter the author’s death in 2012. Ramsey transcribes the list of regulations imposed on Czech musicians by the Nazis and preserved by Škvorecký in his preface. Among them: “On no account will Negroid excesses in tempo (so-called hot jazz) or in solo performances (so-called breaks) be tolerated.”

The other day I caught my youngest son, a fourteen-year-old guitarist raised on a steady diet of blues and rock, listening to the Bill Evans Trio with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian. In his preface, Škvorecký writes:

“. . . the essence of this music, this `way of making music,’ is not simply protest. Its essence is something far more elemental: an élan vital, a forceful vitality, an explosive creative energy as breathtaking as that of any true art, that be felt even in the saddest of blues. Its effect is cathartic.”


February 15, 2017
My favourite book of 2015 was Ivan Repila’s The Boy Who Stole Attila’s Horse, a story of two brothers trapped in a well, which burns throughout with the fierce anger of a post-crash Europe – the same anger which has since led to Brexit (and Trump). David Clerson’s Brothers, written in the same year (2013) on the other side of the world (Canada) and now available to us thanks to translator Katia Grubisic and new publishing house QC Fiction, not only tells a similar tale of two brothers, but is illuminated with the same rage.
The two brothers live with their mother on an isolated salt march which is swiftly compared to hell (they are “children of the valley of Hennom”, another name for Gehenna or hell). One brother has a single arm; the other “two stumpy arms which are too short for his body.” Their mother tells the older brother:
“…that his brother had been shaped from his severed limb, and born with two stumpy arms, imperfect but attached to a body which was intact…”
We are entering a world where stories have a power beyond their truth, particularly the story of their father, “that dog of a father,” whom they have never met but who came from, and returned to, the sea. The younger brother communicates with the father in his dreams. When they find a wooden puppet washed ashore (the nod towards Pinocchio reminds us that, in many ways, this reads like a tale for children) they take it home, and soon a harness is created to attached one of its arms to the older brother:
“It wasn’t my idea. It was our dog of a father. It came from him. It came from the sea. He gave me the idea in a dream.”
Inevitably they decide to build a boat and set off to find their father.
In the novel’s second part, the older brother literally lives the life of a dog:
“He woke up on wet straw that smelled like animal, and realised he was hungry. On his hands and knees, he crawled out of the doghouse where he had slept, using his wooden arm for support. As he crawled, he felt a leather collar around his neck, and noticed that a chain was attached to it, restricting his movements.”
He is particularly badly treated by the children of the family whom he likens to pigs:
“He was their toy, at the mercy of their whims, a poorly trained beast held captive by a children’s circus.”
In a novel where anger has never been far beneath the surface, this life eventually unleashes his rage in a torrent of destruction:
“In rare moments of sleep, he saw himself as bloodthirsty god, marching over plains of burnt grass covered with cadavers, Puppet in his hand like a mace.”
Whereas The Boy Who Stole Attila’s Horse ends on the verge of this apocalyptic vision, Brothers goes beyond it. When offered the hope of redemption the older brother seems to reject it. He does not stay where he is safe, and when he leaves he is accompanied by the ravens that have haunted him since he set out on his path of revenge. We are told others are afraid of “the blackness of his eyes, a deep, abyssal blackness, come from the origins of the world.”
The older brother’s rage comes from his poverty and humiliation. Once freed it is indiscriminate. This dark fable tells the story of our times.