Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Loss Library

I just had a chance to read The Loss Library, which is interesting, mostly for the meditations on why authors may drop certain ideas that seemed promising.  Most of these sections are often little more than an idea left in a notebook, though "The Loss Library" is basically a full-blown (though short) story and Vladislavić discusses how he had an actual story go missing when boxes of his papers were lost between Germany and South Africa.  (I can't imagine anything more horrible, though I have had a few electronic files get corrupted without a back-up.  Nonetheless, all my current creative writing is backed up in a few places.)

"The Loss Library" is basically a dream about a library that could have been invented by Borges, which is filled with all the books that authors didn't write either because they got distracted (the conclusion of Coleridge's Kubla Khan) or they went down a different path and wrote a different (and perhaps better) book, or they died early of natural or perhaps more often of unnatural causes (Némirovsky's Suite Française among countless other works) or because they frittered away their time in bars talking about the great work they were going to do (shades of Joe Gould's Secret, with the extra twist that Joseph Mitchell ended up suffering from crippling writer's block himself).  Unfortunately, I can't remember who said it, but a wise writer said not to share the titles of short stories or poems with friends, since revealing titles was more than half the pleasure of the creative process and if done prematurely, one would never get down to the hard work.  While there is a bit of an inversion, this seems very much along the lines of Audrey Niffenegger's The Night Bookmobile, which contains all the books a person actually read during their lifetime.  (Of the two, I'd rather be stuck in the Loss Library, since it would all be new to me.)

It's kind of interesting to track the literary name-dropping that Vladislavić does, mostly in "The Loss Library," but in some of the other pieces.  Most of them are authors that I recommend, and it is not too surprising to see Vladislavić placing himself in that line of experimental literature.  The ones that I noted down are: Rabelais, Lawrence Sterne, Jules Verne, Andre Breton, Robert Walser, Bruno Schulz, James Joyce, Borges, Italo Calvino, Donald Barthleme, Don DeLillo, Georges Perec, J.M. Coetzee, W.G. Sebald and Elias Canetti.  It's a good list.  I'm reasonably familiar with these writers, except for Canetti, whom I had not heard of.  I actually have been meaning to post on Bruno Schulz, and perhaps this will nudge me into doing so.

Given that it was only published in English translation in 2011, I assume that Vladislavić was not familiar with Krzhizhanovsky's The Letter Killers Club while he was writing these pieces. The general theme of The Letter Killers Club reminds me just a bit of "The Cold Storage Club," which is the second most interesting piece in The Loss Library.  Essentially, Vladislavić conceived of a club where the members valued books so much that they locked them away and hardly ever read them.  Obviously, this makes sense to a certain subset of collector, but for most of us that live and breath books, it is an absurd stance.

It's worth reading this book once, but this is not likely to be as enduring as The Restless Supermarket or Portrait with Keys or even Propaganda by Monuments.  On the other hand, it does have some cool collages created by Sunandini Banerjee, which are definitely worth checking out.

Collage for "The Loss Library"

One last thought before I move onto something else is that, while "Mouse Drawing" seems to be completely lost, at some point after sending The Loss Library off to the publisher, Vladislavić made an attempt to write the story of "Dr. T" and his papers.  This attempt became "The Trunks -- A Complete History," which appears in 101 Detectives.  I have to report that it is not one of the more successful pieces in the collection.  Nonetheless, Vladislavić has now gotten this off his chest and can cross it off the list and move onto something else.

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