Notebooks

A beautiful new book of Peter Handke’s drawings arrived in the mail this week.

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The drawings are from his notebooks, most of them small, all of them of things he sees while walking or traveling. They are visual notes, like the literal notes that also crowd the notebook pages.

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He draws on what he reads, as on these pages from the Greek New Testament:

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The drawings, like this one of a night-time facade in Versailles, are products of solitary observation, of suspended time:

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They explore space as well as time:

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Travel, for me, has always been a time of introspection, of observation, of gathering ideas. My own notebooks are products of travel:

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Twice I have left a notebook behind, once after seeing a new film by Wim Wenders in London (when I went back, it was in the theater box office), once after a bus ride from Belgrade to Sabac (miraculously returned several days later while traveling up the Drina River with Zarko Radakovic and Peter Handke — by a man connected with the bus company who fed us a sumptuous dinner of Drina fish). The first notebook contained notes that make up a chapter on standing stones in my book on the standing metaphor, the second with observations that appear in my half of Zarko’s and my book Vampires & A Reasonable Dictionary. The loss of either would have been devastating. Zarko once had a backpack stolen in the Cologne train station at the end of a long trip. He sent me a description of the event by email (reproduced in my contribution to our book We: A Friendship, currently under review by punctum books):

We are back in Cologne. A remarkable trip. Corsica is fascinating. When our hikes were a little precarious I thought about you and Sam and your book [Wild Rides & Wildflowers: Philosophy and Botany with Bikes]. Never in my life have I seen so many wildflowers. We were there at the perfect time, right after the rains. And the weather was fantastic. Not too warm, but beautiful.

            So, having survived all the hikes, I was liquidated in the Cologne train station. I was robbed. My backpack was stolen while I was grabbing a bite to eat. Along with other valuables, my notebook disappeared, about 100 pages of my book about passion. Gone forever. It destroyed me. I couldn’t speak for days. I am slowly beginning to contemplate the future, how to continue. A catastrophe. Reason to give up, even living.

Žarko

And a final image, pages from a notebook used in Vienna, notes about bicycles that entered Sam Rushforth’s and my book Zarko referred to, and notes about Bruegel’s Peasant Wedding, the beginning of an essay titled “A Radical Peasant Wedding” I have just submitted to the journal Art History:

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[more about notebooks, Alex Caldiero, Zarko Radakovic, and Peter Handke HEREHERE and HERE]

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Homage to Toni Morrison

 

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Toni Morrison is gone. Her work remains to provoke and inspire us. As part of my book on the metaphor of standing, one essay looks at the metaphor she contrasts with Faulkner’s. Here the abstract:

As I Stood Fighting

Toni Morrison’s Home as Response to William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying

The metaphor of standing permeates William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Toni Morrison’s Home. A series of parallels between the novels suggests that Morrison has created an antithesis to As I Lay Dying.

Faulkner’s novel is superb in its evocation of the static, stagnant, helplessly standing lives of poor white Mississippians. Morrison dreams a house of action for her African-American characters. Instead of a coffin, instead of a coffin-of-a-novel that depicts a nearly interminable attempt to get Addie Bundren to where she will be buried, instead of a novel in which standing is most often a gesture of stasis, Morrison writes a novel that features the standing metaphor in its active sense: anastasis—resurrection / standing up. Her novel might well bear the title “As I Stood Fighting.”

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Amy Irvine Loves Ed Abbey

This my response to Tonya Audyn Stiles’ July 30, 2019 “Response to Amy Irvine’s “Desert Cabal” in “The Canyon Country Zephyr,” of which she is the co-publisher: “Edward Abbey Needs No Defense” — https://www.canyoncountryzephyr.com/2019/07/30/the-august-september-issue-of-the-zephyr-2/

I couldn’t agree more; Ed Abbey’s work needs no defense. It stands for itself. Amy Irvine likewise needs no defense. Her work stands for itself.

Despite her assertion, Tonya Stiles has mounted a vigorous defense. I will mount a vigorous defense as well . . . although isn’t the word defense beside the point? Abbey’s work lives on and in us because it moves us deeply. We think about it and respond to it and wrestle with it because we’re not quite sure that cutting all barbed wire fences west of the 100thMeridian is really the best solution, but we’re not quite sure that it isn’t either. Stiles prefers Abbey over Irvine. I adore them both. So let’s get started.

Stiles doesn’t like the poetic quality of Irvine’s work. She prefers Abbey’s more straightforward prose. She claims to make no sense of Irvine’s poetry. Abbey’s prose makes me jealous. Irvine’s poetic prose lifts my spirits. I think I could teach Stiles to understand poetry – there are still seats available in my fall class.

Stiles writes that Irvine is writing about herself and not about Abbey, that she pays little attention to the natural surroundings. I just reread Desert Cabalwith those two questions in mind. Like all inspiring writing about nature, the book repeatedly reminds me that I’ll live more fully if I follow Irvine’s and Abbey’s passion for what Abbey called the “rainbow-colored corona of blazing light, pure spirit, pure being, pure disembodied intelligence, about to speak my name” (this quoted by Irvine) and Irvine’s lament that “when I was tucked under that overhand of stone as porous as a sun-bleached skeleton, spiders waving on air like prayer flags and the meat on my tongue like an offering, I failed to hear the roar of the river as the chanting monks in the temple, brothers and sisters in the tabernacle. It was the calling to enter into communion with . . . every being in the whole wide web of the world, each of us, a sacred and vital strand.” Abbey. Irvine. Nature. If you can separate the three while you read this book you’ve got something else on your mind than the text before you.

Stiles ignores context when she points out that Irvine “goes so far as to defend the Bundy family of anti-BLM activists. ‘Most of today’s environmental groups won’t agree,’ she writes, ‘but you might, when I say that sometimes I vote Libertarian to help break up the country’s 2-party gridlock, but also because I love the idea of what those guys [the Bundy’s] did; I love the active resistance, the sticking it to institutions too large and lethargic to be effective.’” For some reason Stiles doesn’t complete Irvine’s thought, that, for the Bundy’s and their ilk, “the land’s not the thing either. It’s another kind of buzz that has to with big guns, big hats, and big boots.” So very different from her rancher grandfather, Irvine concludes.

Stiles response takes an odd turn when she writes that

“we’ve published countless articles on the topic [of Bears Ears National Monument] over the last few years in The Canyon Country Zephyr, trying to inject nuance and complexity into an issue that frequently devolves into angry black-and-white emotionalism. And multiple times in Cabal Irvine acknowledges how the impacts of industrial-level tourism are threatening Southeast Utah. She even seems to recognize how Monument designation and those subsequent impacts go hand in hand. She writes, ‘the minute there is a line drawn around these lands, a sign staked on their behalf, the masses come running,’ and ‘with every new human added to our population, every new guidebook written, and every new place protected and promoted, it’s getting harder to have a wild and reckless reckoning that has nothing to do with recreation.’

But these lines stand in complete contradiction to the rest of her book. First Irvine condemns Trump for shrinking Bears Ears National Monument, then she seemingly concedes that Obama’s massive monument, whose much larger ‘lines drawn around these lands,’ did far more damage. And then she goes back to condemning Trump for shrinking it.

Yes, Ms. Styles, Walt Whitman answers in his “Song of Myself,”

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Yes, Ms. Styles, I answer, it is a more complex and nuanced issue than the one that routinely devolves into black-and-white emotionalism.

Irvine questions Abbey’s multiple and various encounters with women and confesses that she has had a similar fraught history with men. For reasons I don’t understand, Stiles finds this off-putting, this confession of troubled similarity. It is a moment of truth for me, a confession that validates the criticism. Yes, me too.

Finally, Stiles writes that

“as a feminist, I found a number of things offensive about the publishing of Desert Cabal. . . . [T]hey’ve chosen . . . to adopt the philosophy that women need separate books from men, and that women are somehow innately opposed to solitude, which is indicative of a dangerously unfeminist mindset for an otherwise “progressive” group. . . . They exhibit [an] eerie sort of benevolent sexism that is only a short hop away from the men who argued all women should be stay-at-home mothers because they are naturally best suited to nurturing and caregiving.

Somehow I had been laboring under the impression that it was bigoted to reduce people into categories and to state that one group was “nurturing” and the other “warlike;” one “lazy” and another “logical.” Generalizing people like that is the definition of prejudicial thinking, and in complete opposition to Feminism as I know it, which is to say a movement for women to be treated as individuals with their own individual characteristics and desires.

Maybe I’m out of touch with today’s Feminism, or at least the sort of Feminism that dovetails into this earth-mother style Environmentalism. But to claim, as Irvine does, that individualism is masculine and collectivism is feminine—that women “seek not so much solitude as solidarity, intimacy more than privacy”–is far more offensive to my feminist principles than any Abbey-styled men out in the wild who might be musing on the importance of “the silk of a girl’s thigh.”

Essentialisms like Stiles presents are troublesome indeed. But perhaps Irvine is up to something else entirely. I’ve just read Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouseand recognize something of Irvine’s argument in Woolf’s marvelous feminist exploration.

Mr. Ramsey, a philosopher, and Mrs. Ramsey, mother of their eight children, represent two poles in how we see the world and respond to its inhabitants. When Mr. Ramsey deflates their youngest son’s hope to visit the lighthouse the next day with the flat statement that the barometer is falling and the wind due west, Mrs. Ramsey is dumbfounded: “To pursue truth with such astonishing lack of consideration for other people’s feelings, to rend the thin veils of civilization so wantonly, so brutally, was to her [a] horrible outrage of human decency. . . .” In the novel, Mrs. Ramsey is both gender-bound and able to transcend those limitations, more able than her husband to stand erect when needed and to incline when necessary. In my reading of Desert Cabal, the woman’s vision that is offered in place of Abbey’s male perspective is less gender-bound and more an alternate perspective. We need a different way of looking at our world. Men’s philosophical erections have dominated our thinking – although not all men think this way. Women’s considerations for others — although not all women exhibit them — might lead us in a better direction.

And a final observation: Amy Irvine is in love with Edward Abbey, Ms. Stiles. Every sentence and every following sentence testifies to that fact. She loves him so deeply that she honors his work with compassionate and contested conversation. Her work deserves the same.

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Once Again For The United States of America

My friend and co-author Zarko Radakovic has just finished a new translation into Serbo-Croatian of Peter Handke’s book of short essays written while traveling in the former Yugoslavia, France, and Japan. The book, Once again for Thukydides, was published in 1990 by Residenz Verlag, republished with five new essay, and then published again by dtv with an additional essay.

ThukydidesIn 1990 Yugoslavia was still a republic comprised of Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Macedonia. Because of economic collapse and viciously divisive nationalist leaders (Izetbegovic, Milosevic, Tudjman), Yugoslav unity symbolized by the “Highway of Unity and Brotherhood” between Zagreb and Belgrade was under attack. Handke wrote the Thucydides essays as part of his work to preserve the multicultural land of the southern Slavs (Yugoslavia). The ensuing decade saw brutal civil wars that produced the independent states existing today.

Zarko and I traveled together in Yugoslavia before the wars and then in Serbia and Bosnia with Peter Handke between the wars. Our books Repetitions and Vampires & A Reasonable Dictionary are records of those travels.

I translated five of the essays, one of which seems especially topical today in a United States falling into disunion. What power there is in difference, Handke’s discourse on hats proclaims.

 

Head Coverings in Skopje

by Peter Handke

A possible minor epic: of the various head coverings of the passersby in large cities, as, for example, in Skopje in Macedonia/Yugoslavia on December 10, 1987. There were even, right in the metropolis, those “Passe-Montagne”or mountain-climbing caps, covering the nose below and the forehead above and leaving only the eyes uncovered, and among them the bicycle-cart drivers with black little Moslem caps glued to their skulls, while next to them at the edge of the street an old man said goodby to his daughter or niece from Titograd/Montenegro or Vipava/Slovenia, multiple steep gables in his hood, an Islamic window and capital ornament (his daughter or niece cried). It was snowing in southernmost Yugoslavia and thawing at the same time. And then a man passed by with a white, crocheted forage cap shot through with oriental patterns under the dripping snow, followed by a blond girl with a thick bright stocking cap (topped by a tassel), followed immediately by a bespectacled man with a beret, a dark blue stem on top, followed by the beret of a long-legged soldier and by a pair of peaked police caps with concave surfaces. A man walked past then with a fur cap, earlaps turned up, in the midst of swarms of women wearing black cloths over their heads. After that a man with a checked fez — slung over his ear, in magpie black and white, Parzival’s half-brother, piebald Feirefiz. His companion carried a leather-and-fur cap, and after them came a child with a black-and-white ear band. The child was followed by a man with a salt-and-pepper hat, a black-market magnate suavely making his way along the Macedonian bazaar street in the slushy snow. The troop of soldiers then, with the Tito-star on the prows of their caps. After them a man with a brown-wool Tyrolean hat, front brim turned down, the back brim turned straight up, a silver badge on the side. A little girl hopping by with a bright deerskin hood, lined. A man with a whitish-gray shepherd’s hat wound by a red band. A fat woman with a linen-white cook’s scarf, fringed in the back. A young man with a multi-layered leather cap, each layer a different color. A man pushed a cart and had a plastic cap over his ears, his chin wrapped in a Palestinian scarf. One man walked along then with a rose-patterned cap, and gradually even the bareheaded passersby seemed to be equipped with head coverings — hair itself a covering. Child, carried, with a night cap, intersected by woman with slanted, broadly sweeping movie hat: there was no keeping up with the variety. A beauty in glasses walked past with a pale violet Borsalino hat and sauntered around the corner, followed by a very small woman with a towering cable-knit hat she had knitted herself, followed by an infant with a sombrero on its still open fontanel, carried by a girl with an oversized beret made in Hongkong. A boy with a shawl around his neck and ears. An older boy with skier’s earmuffs, logo TRICOT. And so on.  That beautiful And so on. That beautiful And so on.

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A Walk with Frank

A couple of weeks ago Sam Rushforth handed me his red hat. For you, he said.

That’s your favorite hat, I said.

Part of my ongoing attempt to keep you from looking like a total dork, he said.

Thank you, I said. Thank you, my friend.

A couple of days ago Sam sent this email:

Hey, Abbott. There is one person in the world I would give my red hat to — you! Do you love it? Do you wear it? If so, I am thrilled. If it is mediocre to you, I want the sumbich back! I am giving away some of my best things to just a few people — you included with a true gem. So love it or give it back!!!

I replied:

I already have a new band of dried sweat on it…it’s a gem. There’s only one person in the world from whom I would accept a red hat. And you’re it.

Sam answered:

Ok. You can keep the sumbich. I have moved on to the torn Cal Arts hat. Nan is gonna patch the hole with white cross-stitch so it will look swell! Sooo happy you like the red hat!

That Cal Arts hat was the one Sam was wearing when he had his great crash. If you’re interested in the whole story, read Sam’s and my book, Wild Rides & Wildflowers: Philosophy and Botany with Bikes. For more than a decade we rode our mountain bikes up and down the Great Western Trail, a section of the trail we called “Frank,” noting the changing flora and fauna and celebrating the ways our bikes got us into Nature day after day. There were plenty of falls and abundant, related profanity. We had a ball.

Today, I thought I would take Sam’s red hat that accompanied us on our bike rides on a walk. In honor of past events, I decided to call the hat Frank. Here some pictures from our walk:

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Frank and I as we walked down the hill from our house in Woodland Hills, a barbed wire fence in the background. If you’re interested in barbed wire, read Lyn’s and my book The Perfect Fence: Untangling the Meanings of Barbed Wire.

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We looked down from the canal road to the Salem Cemetery. Memento mori, Frank said.

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How the crops get irrigated, I explained to Frank.

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Bet this is where hamburgers are born, Frank said. Aren’t you a vegetarian? I asked Frank. Yes, he answered, and this is why.

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This for my book on the metaphor of standing, I explained to Frank. Homo erectus in the Culture of Homo sapiens.

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Frank, I said — ever the professor — this is a prime example of Veblen’s idea of conspicuous consumption.

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Maybe we should start a church, Frank said, and only require 5% of people’s income. We could build better buildings, I bet.

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Off road and halfway up a steep slope marked only by deer and elk trails, I apologized to Frank for the gathering sweat and asked him to pose on the remnants of a fallen fence. He’s an accommodating fellow.

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We made it to the top of that stretch and I asked Frank if we could take a little break. I’m not used to breaks, walking with Sam, he said, but I can tell you’re a little winded, so okay.

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Frank didn’t believe me when I told him I rode my bike to the top of that pointed peak with the microwave tower on the top. Twice. You and Sam are blood brothers, he said, when it comes to hyperbole. You know words like hyperbole? I exclaimed.

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Santaquin Peak, I told Frank. Big wildfire there last September. That’s when Lyn and I and Bella were evacuated and came to stay with you and Cedar and Nancy and Sam.

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Home again, Frank asked to dry on my old bike, claimed he remembered it from earlier rides on the Great Western.

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After the Fire

Last September’s fire changed the face of our mountain (Santaquin Peak).

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Walking on the mountainside this morning, I could still smell smoke at times and ashes were so thick in some places that nothing had yet grown through. For Nature, however, nothing is final. After the white woodland stars and blue larkspurs and yellow arrowleaf balsamroot flowers I saw up there last month, there were new wildflowers aplenty today.

 

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some sort of composite (that’s what my friend Sam, a botanist, taught me to say when asked about similar flowers)

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sego lily

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salmon gilia and (I think) fireweed

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fireweed for sure!

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goat’s beard

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not sure about these little beauties

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another composite and flax

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not sure about these plants, flourishing in a hollow the fire jumped over

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thistle and shadow photographer

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this section of the mountain devastated . . . or why not say radically altered? this too is a state of nature

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new life in the ashes. my finger for relative size. a tiny fawn walked through these ashes last night or this morning. life goes on

What I know about wildflowers I learned while riding mountain bikes with Sam Rushforth. One summer we watched a section of Mt. Timpanogos just inside Provo Canyon recover from a wildfire. New sprouts from scrub oak roots within days. (This and much more revealed in our book, Wild Rides and Wildflowers: Philosophy and Botany with Bikes)

About ten years ago, our scrub oaks and maples in Woodland Hills leafed out nicely. Weeks later there wasn’t a leaf to be seen. Canker worms ate them all. What did the trees do? They simply grew second sets of leaves. Life goes on.

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Reviews of The Perfect Fence

What a pleasure to have thoughtful readers. These two reviews have just been published in the June numbers of The Journal of American History and the American Historical Review. Many thanks to Michael L. Johnson and John Bezis-Selfa.

Bezis-Selfa writes that the first half of the book was written by historian Lyn Bennett and the second by literary critic Scott Abbott, an understandable assumption but in reality we worked together on each chapter of the book. History involves interpreting texts and images and a literary critic can help with that. Literary criticism requires history that an historian can help with.

 

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Alex Caldiero on Fame, Anonymity, Oblivion

poem_BOB & ME @ CBGB

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Memento mori

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Last week I got a reminder from my dermatologist that I was overdue for an examination. Because of sun damage over the years to the skin on my face and arms, these are important visits, saving me more times than I can count from the ravages of basal-cell carcinomas.

The form of the card had an especially forceful message for me because it looked exactly like a German death notice.

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Any chance this was done on purpose? I’ll ask Dr. Eyre and he’ll feign surprise. But you can be sure I called an appointment today.

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ULTIMATE ADIEU. I AM DYING OF COPD. DOMMAGE. APOLOGIES FOR ANY OBNOXIOUS. AU REVOIR. XXX M.R

[The title of this blog, The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, is Michael Roloff’s translation of the title of Peter Handke’s novel Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter. Our correspondence over two decades consisted in large part of responses to Peter’s work, some of which I translated as well.]

 

Publisher and translator Michael Roloff sent an email with the message quoted in the title of this post to 118 friends and acquaintances on Monday, April 29 of this year. As usual, his email ended with a list of his various online sites. The home page of the first one includes a biography that begins

BORN: December 19, 1937, Berlin, Germany/ Emigrated to the U.S. in 1950; U.S. Citizen since 1952 / Father: Wilhelm T. Roloff (1900); Mother: Alexandra von Alvensleben (1910)

and continues with his education in the United States and his subsequent work with various German-speaking authors, American publishing houses, theaters, and so on. Each link takes a reader to a substantial corpus of writing, much of it highlighted in Michael’s typical manner.

http://www.roloff.mysite.com

http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsR/roloff-michael.html

http://www.facebook.com/mike.roloff1?ref=name 

https://twitter.com/mikerol69  

http://handke-magazin.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-hub-navel-to-todos-handke.html/ 

http://summapolitico.blogspot.com/

http://artscritic.blogspot.com/

https://translation-plus.blogspot.com/

http://analytic-comments.blogspot.com/ 

https://crosscut.com/2011/07/a-private-bower-wildness-in-seattle

*Member SPIS a.d

http://www.workliterarymagazine.com/submission/michael-roloff-6302014/

“Degustibus disputandum est” {Theodor Wiesenthal Adorno}

. . . Michael’s emails from another of his accounts quoted Joyce rather than Adorno:

“May the foggy dew bediamondize your hoosprings + the fireplug of filiality reinsure your bunghole! {James  Joyce}

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A photo Michael often used with his websites

In the days before his death, Michael sent me several emails to make sure his manuscripts and accounts would be preserved.

Scott,

A.J., Abdullah Jafar,  my Malay friend who used to work at Fedex, will send you my backpack, most important for two pieces, the successful formalist piece PALOMBE BLEU [ even Peter liked it] my one truly successful screenplay, GRADUATION BOOGIE. Spent a year on both working as meticulously as I was then able to. 

 . . . the doctors at the hospital wanted to explore why I was coughing so strongly and other breathing problems while I had pneumonia in my lower right lung lobe and decided to do a C.A.T. scan, which revealed a lump, which required a P.E.T. scan which revealed the great likelihood of cancer which, moreover, had spread – I am waiting for the result of the biopsy to ascertain what possibly curable cancer it might be – too old for chemo especially with the C.O.P.D. Results will give me some idea time  left and what might still get done. Meanwhile I am back at the Park Ridge Skilled Nursing Home in the room of my 2012 hip fracture and its inedible food after great food at the hospital while my appetite returned as the pneumonia waned.

best,  Michael

. . . here a photo of Michael and A.J. when they met to make sure the backpack would come to me:

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The pack arrived, sent by A.J. from the FedEx office where it had been stored.  I emailed Michael that it had arrived, stuffed with various manuscripts. 

Scott,

once you have the time taka peek @ PALOMB & GRADUATION BOOGIE.  The computer too, with instructions as to what is on it, as well in the cloud, i expect will reach you within the year. Great friend Keke came to give me my mail & great researcher that he is also knows one hell of a lot about cancer, and was far less pessimistic than I am. Keke is proof of the ctd. existence of human goodness. a deeply religious believer, some of these believers turn miraculously good, and this pantheist tries to make sure never to injure their faith if i can help it.

 

proudest of puttting together the nelly sachs volume O THE CHIMNEYS and my 65 translations there and of Handke WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGES which Handke felt was the best translation he had ever seen then and introducing  german writers here, nosack, enzensbrger, kroetz, innerhofer, etc  worst decision not to go to a lawyer at once when i realized  partner schulz was using urizen books to wash mob money xxx  michael r.

Then came the ultimate email:

7:21 AM

ULTIMATE ADIEU.. IAM DYING OF COPD. DOMMAGE. APOLOGIES FOR ANY OBNOXIOUS. AU REVOIR. XXX M.R

Responses followed quickly:

I know you want to bid us farewell with a kind of gallantry, but all we’re left with is sadness.
George Malko

Dearest Mike,

Sending you so much love and my immense admiration and gratitude.  I know my father will be waiting for you on the other side.

You are a brilliant, gutsy, irreverent, fascinating man and I’ve so enjoyed getting to know you over these past few years.

with blessings and love,

Priscilla Gilman

wish there were an after life and your father could go on talking. meanwhile why don’t you great reviewer do Handke’s THHE GREAT FALL.  XXX MICHAEL

Just before noon on May 2, Michael’s friend and long-time benefactor, botanist and author Linda Chalker-Scott, sent the following messages to Michael’s email list:

I am saddened to report that Michael passed away a few minutes ago. I will keep this thread updated as I learn more.

Linda Chalker-Scott

Replies to Linda’s announcement:

Thank you Linda, for the news. A brilliant man with whom I often argued and whom I will now mourn.

Scott

…..

Sad to hear it! Michael was one of the very first people to recognize my art I am attaching the cover I made for Michael Brodsky’s first published novel Detour also a discovery of Roloff’s. When he was editor of Urizen Books in 1977. Rest In Peace!

Michael Hafftka

…..

Oh alas!  I got a personal email from him on Monday- I wrote him as soon as he sent the email that he was dying, and he said he wished there was an afterlife so he could meet my father in it for spirited conversation.  He became friendly with my father, the late Richard Gilman, many years ago via their shared love of Handke, and I connected with him a few years ago when I began working on a book about my father.  Though we never met, we emailed often, and I so enjoyed his wit, passion, irreverence, and dedication to literature.  Also, he had a sweet soul.  He wrote me the loveliest letter in response to my first book, which I sent him after realizing he would like to read about my family.  Please keep me posted.

condolences to all,

Priscilla Gillman

…..

We met over 60 years ago, at Haverford, and stayed in touch over the years, sometimes close, sometimes closer. In all of his passions, he was unique, and loyal, but also only his own way. George Malko

…..

Thank you, Michael. You will remind in our memory!

Vicente Huici Urmeneta PhD, Former Professor of Sociology

…..

I had many arguments with MR …some went on for a long time but ..he called me McGoo… but but he published at Urizen books that are forever in my mind and I often take them down to read… I found the great interview he did with Uwe Johnson … of course Handke Handke … his translations added to my world… he even knew of my involvement with Bulgaria and send me wonderful reports he had of his contacts back then… he was of the old radical left that understood the centrality of reading and while you might strongly disagree it was fundamentally wrong to try to stop another from speaking… argument is essential for any sort of going on… I think he knew that the silent or the silenced are finally… finally I guess I think he was a little dumb not to take the Pascalian wager… but that is something… I guess I can look forward to that place: hey MR, I was right and he would ask, are you sure?

Thomas McGonigle

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Author of several books about Peter Handke, Lothar Struck, wrote an extended piece on his blog:

https://www.begleitschreiben.net/michael-roloff/

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Sad indeed.  I probably don’t know any of you, but I guess this is a sort of cyber memorial service — so my remembrance:

Michael and I were odd couple roommates in a loft on West Broadway in the early 1980s.  I was a middle American kid just starting law school in the big city and found Michael’s posting of the room taped to a Citibank ATM.   Michael was “old” – probably early 40 – and seemed the most exotic person I had ever met.  We shared a massive two story loft with storage racks holding 10,000 books (not exaggerating); the kitchen was built on four shipping pallets in the middle of one room and was made of plywood.  The bathroom was . . .  well hardly a bathroom . . . a tin shower box that just poured water on the floor to run down an existing drain.  We also had the whole rooftop – an amazing place with cheap lawn chairs and a giant papier-mache spider sculpture gifted him by one of his many arty friends.  We were literally in the shadow of the World Trade Center and would sit up passing the warm nights in the light of the twin towers – Michael smoking of course.

People could not believe I lived there.  But Michael and I became fast friends.  At least several night per week we would go prowling TriBeCa and SoHo, stopping at a string of haunts from Le Zinc and the Odeon to La Gamelle and  Raoul’s where the walls were adorned with nude black and white photos of one of his past girlfriend named Charna.  There was always something a bit wistful to him when we made that stop.

More times than not I was amaze at how random girls we would meet would be fascinated by him – they loved his steel blue eyes, white hair and German intellectual demeanor.   He would talk about being a writer and publisher and they ate it up.  I wished I had such female-attracting superpowers, but mostly I sat there an awkward, unsophisticated wingman.  Sometimes I felt like Holden Caulfield had accidently been trapped in a Fellini movie.  But we had a great time and I learned much of the world and life from Michael those nights.

We surely had our disagreements (mostly about the state of and finances for the loft), but we spent hundreds, probably thousands of hours in wide ranging intellectual conversation over the 4 years we lived together.   When I decided to move into a more healthy actual apartment with my then girlfriend (now wife) – mostly because she refused to use the bathroom in the loft which understandably limited her visits – Michael and I parted much as we had met, casually as if it was just another day.  Michael did, however, give me a leather fedora that he said Sam Sheppard had left in the loft.  I thought it was so cool.

After he moved west we mostly lost touch but now and then would email and I would get his bizarrely highlighted rants.

My last interaction with Michael was about a year ago, when I send him and picture of rubble where our loft once stood at 65 West Broadway.  Gone to make room for a high rise luxury condo.  I guess I should have seen it as a sign.

Goodbye Michael.

James T. Sandnes

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Thank you very much for this, James. I remember that loft well, and the roof gatherings.
George Malko

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Christine Clarridge, Seattle Times

Thanks for letting us know

RIP Mike

…..

For ten — or has it been fifteen — years I have had an almost daily email conversation with Michael, stimulated in the beginning by our interest in the work of Peter Handke. Michael was the gifted early translator of Peter’s plays and poetry and the novel The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick and I have translated some of his later work. Although Michael and Peter had an acrimonious falling out over money and over a woman, Michael worshiped the work itself. He and I read and commented on the novel The Great Fall soon after it was published in German and over the course of several weeks posted our thoughts here: http://goaliesanxiety.blogspot.com/2011/07/peter-handkes-great-fall-walking.html

We tried this kind of conversation again while reading Peter’s The Moravian Night, although the exercise turned sour when Michael insisted on reading the novel from a psychoanalytic and personal perspective and I kept insisting that we ought to read the book as a work of literature and not as a window into Peter’s soul. Michael helped me with a few details as I translated Peter’s To Duration and I helped him with his translation of The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez.

Michael had a wealth of experience and wrote about it incessantly, unfortunately without much of an audience. I became, for him, a reader who would respond to his brilliant, if sometimes uneven, work.

When Elaine Kaufmann died and her New York bar and restaurant closed, Michael wrote extensively about his memories of the place and its people.

When there were wildfires, he wrote about his stint as a firefighter in Alaska (including a spicy encounter with Kim Novak in Fairbanks).

His adventures with European authors, coupled with the productive publishing venture with Urizen Books, appeared in multiple versions.

He returned often to his early years in America as a high-school student and Haverford student.

He revisited his early days in northern Germany, a childhood with prominent parents and grandparents in the midst of a devastating war.

Sometimes his mind turned to his Baja adventures and he wrote passionately about that place and the people he knew there.

He wrote about married life in New Mexico mountains.

There was a voyage by ship to and from India.

California memories.

Dozens of explicit erotic encounters found their way from his computer to mine.

I’ll miss that cantankerous man and will, at some point write about him and perhaps find a place for some of his work.

Finally:

Michael had a host of connections through email, but several friends in Seattle ought to singled out here.

Linda Chalker-Scott, a fine scholar and writer about gardening, came to Michael’s rescue several times when his laptop was stolen and was deeply important for his well being.

Abdullah Jaafar, whom Michael knew through a FedEx office where Michael worked daily because of the free WiFi, kindly sent me, last week, a backpack Michael had stored there with some notebooks and six or eight manuscripts Michael wanted preserved.

Kayode K. Ojo, a scientist at the University of Washington, was a generous friend who is sending me Michael’s laptop and who was often with Michael during his last days.

A Seattle artist, John Patterson, drew Michael at a Tully’s coffee shop in Seattle.

rolloffPORTRAIT

Scott Abbott

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Thank you so much for this beautiful and eloquent remembrance.  I don’t know if you saw my note, but my father was Richard Gilman, and I know he would be very pleased to hear of fellow Handke lovers carrying on the good work in support of that brilliant writer.

warmest,

Priscilla Gilman

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Thank you very much for this, Scott.

George Malko

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Thank you letting me know of Michael’s passing.  I had no

idea he was that far gone with copd.  My last contact with

Michael was just a week or more ago when I sent him an email

saying I was rereading Gert Jonke’s ‘Geometric Regional

novel’ and (typical of our friendship)  saying I thought it

was as impressive as any fictions of Handke.  I’m certainly

saddened and only wish I would have known of the severity

of his sickness.  We first met when Michael (Urizen Books)

committed to publish my brother, Robert Kalich’s novel, ‘The

Handicapper.  For business reasons we left Urizen for Crown.

But… and it’s a Big But… we remained friends and had a

multitude of literary, worldly, and far more “personal” con-

versations over the many,many years. It always Amazed  Michael that

a middle-class Jewish New Yorker such as myself (and my brother)

could have such a pure and committed relationship

to literature as we did.  And he never failed to remind me

that I was one of the great and most pleasant surprises of

his life.  To that end, in that context, I will say:  despite

profound disapointments in publishing and his Writing life,

as well as living virtually hand to mouth, Michael lived a

very rich life.  He loved literature, books, beauty of prose,

and especially Peter Handke’s prose.  He also never stopped

writing or thinking and his life was full.

As I said, I’m saddened and will profoundly miss him.

Richard Kalich

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I agree with your thought that he lived a rich life, despite the setbacks you mention. He mentioned you often as a friend and as a fine writer. On his suggestion I bought and read and thoroughly enjoyed your Penthouse F.

Scott

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Scott Abbott:

My eyes are tearing as I read and reread your email.  As I said,

I wish I  would have known Michael was that sick; I certainly

would have made more effort to be in contact with him and

much KINDER to his requests to read his literary efforts.  I

agree with Michael Brodsky;  Michael was wholly dedicated to

literature and all that is good about the literary culture.  I’ve

written a new novel, an autobiographical fiction whose main’

character, “Kalich,” embodies just those torments, struggles

and qualities.  This book, too, prior to its publication I would

have sent to Michael to read…if I had known.

With empathy to a kindred soul, yourself,

Dick Kalich

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Dick,
Michael had struggled, as I think you know, with copd for some time. Just
two weeks ago he saw a doctor for some unusual flareup and after some
imaging was told he had two “avid” masses in his lungs. Michael wrote that he would now end his life. Less than a week later he was dead. I’m guessing he didn’t have to take any action.

A report from a kind-hearted African friend (Michael said he would never
question the man’s Christian faith, given his kindness) said Michael had
contracted pneumonia. Other than the arrangements he
made to have his backpack and computer shipped to me (with detailed
instructions I hope will be adequate) and a message to his niece in
England, he had only time for the adieu message he sent to us all.
As for being kinder, for reading Michael’s torrent of writing, I’m guessing
you had experiences like my own. He would send a draft, often highlighted
in yellow, of whatever he was working on. If I had time, I would write a
sentence or two in response. Another draft of the same thing would soon
arrive and then another. Then something else. Always something else. Always
brilliant. Always chaotic. Always needy. You responded at times to his
writing, a fact I’m aware of because when you did he forwarded your emails
to me, proud and thankful.
Michael’s last translation was of Peter Handke’s The Beautiful Days of
Aranjuez, for which he tried to get me to be his co-translator. The
translation was full of errors, sloppy, and shot through with Michael’s own
fanciful and arrogant additions to the play. I twice edited the entire
translation for him, suggestions he often ignored. Although I refused to be
listed as a co-translator — unwilling to be a go-between between him and
Peter (what a complicated and finally brutal split that was between the
two) — he insisted on sending the final work out under both our names,
only removing my name after several strong emails telling him not to do
that under any circumstance. A Serbian/American director of a theater in
Chicago, Zeljko Djukic, TUTA Theatre, paid Michael $500 for the rights to
put on the play and did a very interesting production, which pleased
Michael to no end.
Like you, I’ll miss that complicated, troubling, and wonderful man.
Scott

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Scott:

Thank you for this last letter.  The letter makes (coherent)

sense to me and reaffirms what I already know of Michael;

his writing; and now, thanks to you, his fatal illness.  You

say Michael was ‘complicated’ and of course that was true.

But I’d rather use the words tormented and conflicted; I

might be projecting because those words depict my own

inner workings; but of one word there’s no doubt.  Michael

was “Wonderful”.  A true heir to the best of European Culture

and in many ways smart or sharp and wise like an American.

I learned a lot from him;  Met Max Frisch thanks to him.  Read

all of Frisch and many others  because of him.  And only because

I’m so damn neurotic; busy busy; and JUDGEMENTAL… I didn’t

make as much time as I might have for his unstoppable writing.

Thanks again and greatly  for these emails and for being who

you are.  I understand and appreciate.  And certainly if the

need or occasion arises…keep in touch.  My new novel for

which I have a contract with Dalkey Archive might not make

publication because of publishing difficulties.  If not Dalkey,

Green Integer, despite being quasi inactive, (retired) will

be my second choice.

Last thought at this time about Michael.  My Life (as many others)

will be significantly less without his chronic barrage of emails.

I still wish I had known of his health situation…

All Good things for you,

With RESPECT,

Dick Kalich

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Excruciatingly painful to hear about Michael’s death. Thank you for letting me know. 

I will miss him tremendously. He was a unique human being, totally–totally–dedicated to literature and everything else that really matters in this wretched world.

And a vital force for good.

He changed my life, and a very big part of me goes with him. 

Thank you again.

Michael Brodsky

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A friend of decades, since Stanford. I saw him last in Seattle a few years ago. I don’t think I believed his last message. May he Rest In Peace and May we remember the good times.

Sandra

Sandra Levinson

Center for Cuban Studies

Cuban Art Space 

 

roloffgoat

another photo Michael often included with his work

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