Attention Span – Meredith Quartermain
Djuna Barnes | Nightwood | New Directions | 1937
Inspired by Nicole Brossard for whom Nightwood is a key text, I entered its marvellous transformative world of shifting subjectivities.
Robert Walser | The Assistant | New Directions | 2007
Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky, this early Walser novel is a study of servitude from the perspective of those required to serve–the perspective of servants who have minds and hearts and desires for things other than servitude. The reader cringes on the edge of hilarious sorrow.
Sharon Thesen | Good Bacteria | Anansi | 2006
Thesen adroitly connects daily affairs with the dreams and myths that surround them. Her deeply thoughtful irony rhymes the glossy and trivial with the resonantly spiritual, reminding us repeatedly of the comedy of human endeavour in the face of vast possibility.
Benedict de Spinoza | Ethics | Penguin | 1994
God is a thinking thing, Spinoza shows us. His unfolding of divinity is brilliant. He shows plainly how God is not concerned with the daily affairs of humans, but that nevertheless humans must be concerned with the divine.
Colin Browne | The Shovel | Talonbooks | 2007
Best to read in one sitting so you feel the full force of this powerful choir of voices gathered into Browne’s visionary weir. Browne reads the whole of western imperialism and the atrocities suffered at its hands against his own family’s participation in those atrocities. It’s a vision of a crumbling civilization undone by rapacious opportunism. He reads the destruction of N.A. aboriginal cultures against the pig-headed charge into Mesopotamia for oil in 1915. And in the string section of this marvelous symphony we find Twombly, Eliot, Chopin, Freud, Russell, Lewis and more. Needless to say, resonating heartily with the current Iraq war – its motives and perpetrators.
Denis Diderot | Jacques le fataliste | Oxford | 1999
A novel where narrative is a central character. Utterly postmodern. A page turner.
Norman Cohn | The Pursuit of the Millennium | Oxford | 1961
The story of Christian fanatics stirring up crowds of dispossessed poor around year 1000 with visions of the final days of the apocalypse. Millenarian uprisings, writes Cohn, typically involved a propheta: “sometimes they were petty nobles; sometimes they were simply imposters; but more usually they were intellectuals or half-intellectuals–the former priest turned freelance preacher…obsessed with eschatological phantasies…. Usually a propheta possessed a further qualification: a personal magnetism…. And what emerged then was a new group–a restlessly dynamic and utterly ruthless group which, obsessed by the apocalyptic phantasy and filled with the conviction of its own infallibility, set itself infinitely above the rest of humanity and recognized no claims save that of its own supposed mission.”
Hannah Arendt | The Origins of Totalitarianism | Harcourt | 1966
This was a highly relevant sequel to The Pursuit of the Millennium. Arendt: “The reason why the totalitarian regimes can get so far toward realizing a fictitious, topsy-turvy world is that the outside nontotalitarian world, which always comprises a great part of the population of the totalitarian country itself, indulges also in wishful thinking.”
Geraldine Monk | Escafeld Hangings | West House | 2005
Monk imagines here letters to Elizabeth I from the imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots. A woman speaking back to the power structure just as Monk’s northern English dialect vigorously challenges the southern English power structure represented by Queen Elizabeth II.
Friedrich Schlegel | Lucinde and the Fragments | Minnesota | 1971
A must read, along with Paul de Mann’s essay “The Concept of Irony” for anyone interested in the workings of irony.
Susan Howe | Souls of the Labadie Tract | New Directions | 2007
The labadists, Howe tells us, “believed in…the necessity of inner illumination, diligence and contemplative reflection. Marriage was renounced. They held all property in common (including children) and supported themselves by manual labor and commerce.” The title sequence in this book is a stunning series of short, intensely drawn pieces exploring the psychic landscape opened for Howe by the labadists.