Monday, February 2, 2015

Short takes (for 2015) #1

In addition to working my way through An Ermine in Czernopol (more on that shortly), I am reading a newish translation of the stories that Kafka actually published in his lifetime.  It is a considerably thinner volume than the Complete Stories, but certainly some of the key stories were in fact published, including "Metamorphosis" and "In the Penal Colony."  What did surprise me is that the earliest volume he published was full of very short stories, often under a page, and extremely reminiscent of Robert Walser (particularly the ones collected in A Schoolboy's Diary (NYRB)).  This was a very particular European form known as the feuilleton, though today most people would just call it micro-fiction or flash fiction.  Apparently magazines and even newspapers were just filled with these short pieces, and back then there were many competing magazines desperate for copy, and these feuilleton fit the bill.  It could also be applied to reportage.  This is generally what Joseph Roth wrote when he was writing non-fiction, as collected in What I Saw: Reports from Berlin, 1920-1933 and Report from a Parisian Paradise: Essays from France, 1925-1939.

The internet is of course ideal for these short pieces and less so the long-form writing I prefer.  Still, I will try to experiment with stringing shorter pieces together and not always feel obligated to write more and pad my posts.

First, I am enjoying An Ermine in Czernopol.  The key character is a Major Tildy who is absurdly protective of his wife's half-sister and attempts to get into a number of duels to defend her putative honor.  So it is one of those books that accumulates along the way.  I'm just under halfway through the book, and, so far, Tildy has not managed to complete a duel.  A few more thoughts on the duel in literature can be found here.

There are plenty of odd side-alleys that von Rezzori goes down to enliven what is a fairly simple story.  There is even a kind of creepy woman who was forced to watch her husband's suicide, which may be just a bit of a tie-in with Gunther Grass's The Tin Drum, which is another novel that (far less successfully) gets to its great length by piling up episode after episode.

I'm blanking out on the next thing I had planned to write, and the next thing on my mind (self-destructive authors) will be the subject of a longer post.

For now, I will close with a great line I overheard on the subway.  This is a bit of a return to the overheard conversation series, though as I said, it was just one line.  This is a case where I think hearing where the conversation went might have been interesting.  At any rate, this young woman said, "I'm feeling something that I can't articulate."  And then was silent for the next couple of stops, when I finally had to exit the train.  And now to keep from going on any longer I shall end the post.

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