Summer Reading

 

Savoring the freedom of the summer, finishing my half of the book with Zarko Radakovic (We: A Friendship) and writing an introduction to a collection of my essays to be published as Dwelling in the Promised Land as a Stranger: Personal Encounters with Mormon Institutions, I read some of the books I had looked forward to for the summer and some books that surprised me as they surfaced.

The Goethe/Schiller correspondence, for instance, turned out to be a good source for the friendship book as I featured correspondence between Zarko and Alex Caldiero and myself.

Bryan Waterman’s and Brian Kagel’s The Lord’s University was indispensable as I returned to the BYU of the 1990s for my introduction. Ziolkowski and Richards provided good background for my thinking about German Romantic texts in preparation for my fall seminar. There were fewer crime novels or mysteries than I would have expected over a summer. And, of course, I didn’t get around to lots of books I planned to (and still plan to) read.

Books read on the left, books unread but still anticipated on the right.

 

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German Romanticism

Preparing for my fall seminar on German Romanticism, I pulled this volume from my shelf and marveled again to have a physical connection to German writers and their thought. Like my own skin, the paper is spotting and wrinkling. Early 18th-century molecules rise from the pages and enter my nose.

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In his comments about part two of his Phantasus, Ludwig Tieck invites me, his reader, into the close-knit world of the writers he knew and the work he was doing.

I was in the process of republishing the old German novel Simplicismus, he writes, and sent out the poem from it as a sample. No plagiarism meant, I just wanted people to know about the amazing book.

Goethe challenged me, Tieck continues, to develop part of the poem for the Weimar stage, but I couldn’t bring myself to separate one part of the poem from the other. . . .

The little piece “The Final Judgment,” was written in 1799 in Jena, Tieck notes. Schelling had just transformed the pitiful local literary organ into an incisive and insightful journal. Jean Paul, with whom I had always enjoyed friendly relations, never begrudged me the little joke. He recognized my respect for his genial humor and sensed my love. . . .

And the short caricature (Charakteristik) by Friedrich Schlegel (in the fragments of the Athenaeum) . . .

Intimate relationships (sometimes too intimate for the comfort of some involved) and a brilliant movement.

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memento mori

late-summer image-thoughts while walking this morning

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a turkey skull?

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perched on the street as I passed by and as a truck barreled down the hill. i watched the destruction from the side

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A beautiful, tall, vigorous douglas fir — until accidentally poisoned by weed killer applied on the slope above it

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Zarko and Nina / Photo and Drawing

When Zarko posted these images side by side on his Facebook page, I thought he was responding to Nina’s work with photos of scenes she reminded him of—first his photo of the Gobi desert, then his photo of an Umbrian valley.

 

 

No, he said,

“Meine Fotos da am FaceBook sind keine ‘Begleitung’ der Arbeiten Ninas. Ich stelle die Fotos nicht neben Ninas Bilder. Die Fotos sind Basis, Vorlage für die Arbeit Ninas. Foto und Bild stellen unsere gemeinsame Arbeit dar. Und so läuft es bei uns seit längerer Zeit. Ich schicke ihr die Fotos, und sie malt darüber. Ich stelle ihr Aufgaben, und sie arbeitet daran. So entstehen die Arbeiten-Paare: Foto + Bild. So machen wir weiter… Früher hat Nina auf meine Texte visuell “reagiert”, jetzt auf die Fotos.”

Joint work, he writes, I send her the photos and she paints over them. . . . Earlier Nina “reacted” visually on my texts, now on the photos.

With that explanation I see the paired works differently; and now, walking along a Utah mountainside, I see the contours and colors of Utah Valley with new eyes.

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Thank you, my friends.

I have copies of some of Nina’s visual responses on Zarko’s texts hanging in my my study.

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And here is an essay I wrote about Nina’s work, including her painting in response to a novel by Zarko:

http://goaliesanxiety.blogspot.com/2012/10/buchstablich-literally-new-work-by-nina.html

Finally in this celebration of joint work, a link to a website featuring Zarko’s and my two books and a reminder that our third book, WE: A FRIENDSHIP, is well underway.

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Caroline Michaelis Böhmer Schlegel Schelling

 

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Portrait by Tischbein

Reading Robert Richards’ The Romantic Conception of Life for my fall seminar on German Romanticism, I come to a section about the personalities that made up the early Romantic circle in Jena. In a footnote, Richards confesses that he has fallen in love with a brilliant woman:

“Caroline’s magical, erotic power — the kind of power only a beautiful woman with a wonderfully creative intelligence can effect—has pulled writers into her embrace over the last two hundred years. . . . Biographer of Friedrich Schelling, Kuno Fischer, fell in love with her from a distance, and this historian, too, has succumbed.”

Caroline was the daughter of an Orientalist and was fluent in four languages before she was married to a medical doctor named Böhme at the age of 20. They moved to a small town where she languished socially and intellectually, had 2 children and was pregnant with a third when her husband died of an infected wound. Richards writes: “Caroline Böhmer’s life happily changed in 1788 when her husband died.”

Back in Göttingen she had several admirers, including August Wilhelm Schlegel. She and her one living child (2 had died in infancy) moved to revolutionary Mainz where she joined the circle of Georg Forster (whose book on his voyage with Captain Cook inspired Alexander von Humboldt — whose books about his own explorations inspired Darwin) and was arrested by the German forces who chased out the French. Pregnant by a young French officer, she was pardoned by the Prussian monarch on the advice of Wilhelm von Humboldt and then followed an invitation from Wilhelm Schlegel to join him and his brother Friedrich. She gave birth, left the child in the care of friends, and married Wilhelm, promising in a letter to a friend to teach him passion. She helped him with his Shakespeare translations and was active in the social circle of Romantics in Jena that included Novalis, Goethe, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. Young Schelling soon supplanted Wilhelm Schlegel in her affection (Richards notes that perhaps Wilhelm didn’t learn her lessons). Schlegel left for Berlin and Caroline and Schelling ultimately married.

Philosophically and physically (the two were, Richards writes, intricately interwoven for the German Romantics) these were fascinating people whose ideas continue to shape our identities to this day.

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Island Soul — a new chapbook suite by Alex Caldiero

 

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A triptych in the colors of the Sicilian flag, Island Soul comprises 2008 Notebook 1 (2 January-3 April) and Notebooks 2a (May) and 2b (Feb, March, May).

For Utah’s Arts Magazine, 15 Bytes, I wrote about Alex’s chapbooks, about the idea of his chapbooks. See that essay HERE. I’m now the fortunate recipient of three more in the remarkable series.

The first page of the first notebook:

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The author looks out at the reader through glasses, surrounded by hair and enveloped by  words that read:

From today on there is a line hidden in every sentence that followed far enuf begins to describe an image which never enuf another way shown how it grows until face is no more than what you put out there for all to see and know otherwise an unknown image takes you into a realm of silence.

… and, reading from below and upside down:

How else could you know how to bleed if not for the liquids that inhabit your inner body of flesh so vital to life so much a part of Life.

Like much of Alex’s work (all of his work?), this image/text explores the border of what can be said and what cannot be said, what we can know and what we so fervently wish we could know. The first sentence promises hidden knowledge, perhaps the knowledge hidden in the intervening and inverted lines. The sentence begins to describe an image that is, perhaps, knowledge beyond words but that in the words that make up the lines falters syntactically (“which never enuf another way shown how it grows”). We end up back at the image put out there for all to see because “an unknown image takes you into a realm of silence.”

And if the inverted and inserted message is meant to be the hidden knowledge, what is the message? We know how to bleed because we have blood. Life is the message. The body is the message. Flesh is knowledge.

A couple of pages later Alex thinks again about images and knowledge:

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Thought forms — more than thoughts yet thoughts — forms of thought. And not “who” could understand them but “what.” What form of thought could understand thought forms? The drawing itself, I take it, is an attempt to hold the thought forms . . . and the image, only the image can understand them.

Mysticism is always, wonderfully circular. Truth is a mobile army of metaphors, a truth Alex will quickly deny.

Another poem — from the second volume with the cyclops on the cover — references the island the books called “Island Soul” speak of:

Dream of the cyclops & of

the boulders & sea — who

am I that I should be

re-telling this to you?

Certainly no Odysseus — no

one who is resourceful or

wise — just some soul,

like any other, trying to see

his way home.

Because I’ve been reading a lot about German Romanticism for a course I’ll teach this fall, it’s inevitable that I hear, in Alex’s non-heroic odyssey, echoes of Novalis:

Wo gehen wir denn hin? Immer nach Hause.

Where, then, are we going? We’re always going home.

Another poem from the volume returns to Heimweh / homesickness:

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Home is where names and images give way to taste and color.

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The truth, the root, the wound, the never ending waking moment. This mystic of the Romantic persuasion finds not his soul but “only me again.” Still, the search, the struggle, and the effort move and expand the soul.

Wohin geht der geheimnisvolle Weg? Immer nach innen.

Whither the secret path? Always inward.

Novalis again. And, continuing the Romantic quest, there is the fragment so critical in the thought of Friedrich Schlegel and Novalis and, it turns out, Caldiero:

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The fragment holds what the whole can never contain by virtue of its fragmentary nature to include by implication all that it is not.

The third volume of the triptych is a record of lost and found and in the process hidden records (the damage done by a washing machine). I love what it promises, what it veils, what it reveals through its fragmentary nature. Islands of thought.

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Scenes from a morning walk

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Meleagris gallopavo

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Building site. The cutaway is perfect for dozens of cliff swallow burrows. At least I identified them as cliff swallows. More common for cliff swallows are nests built of mud dabs under overhangs.

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Marks of conspiracy

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Santaquin Peak, over a field of barley, cut and baled green

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Loafer Canyon

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Helianthus annuus

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Odocoileus hemionus

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Shadows

Down the hill from our house, between Douglas fir trees, squat two tubs we fill with fresh water every evening. Birds, insects, and deer (and the occasional coyote) visit and drink, as is this doe. Her fawn watches me sitting on the lower deck while its mother drinks.

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Evenings, we often sit on our upper deck, watch the sunset and darkening valley, and as darkness falls watch and listen for the deer that slip in and out for a last drink.

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It is hard to see because of the low light, but there is a cat on the white rock above the tubs of water. The cat is looking to the left of the picture at a doe that has had her fill of water and then bedded down in the bunchgrass for the night. She is watching the cat watching her.

Last night, a little later than when the darker photo was taken, a doe and three bucks (a little spike buck, a two-point buck that is the brother of the doe, and a three-point buck came out of the oakbrush and maple grove above the house. They were aware of us sitting on the deck above them and stood watching for a while. Finally the doe made a cautious beeline for the water while the bucks circled around a lower grove. After drinking, the doe moved off in the direction of the bucks.

It grew darker, but we could still see the distinct shadow of a doe and her fawn when they came out of the oakbrush below the tubs. The fawn bounded around a bit while its mother drank and then they moved on.

Next to arrive was a doe with twin fawns. We watched their dark outlines as she went straight to the water and drank while her fawns circled her, ducking in one by one to nurse. The doe was having none of that any more and twisted out of the way each time a fawn butted her, kicking out to emphasize her unwillingness.

Once she had her fill of water, she led her fawns away and must have bedded down because they returned to our meadow, dark shadows against the slightly lighter ground. They were browsing in our flower garden when two much larger shadows drifted down the hill — good-sized bucks, we thought.

The bucks stopped and looked in the direction of the fawns and perhaps up at us (it was too dark to tell exactly). They moved back up the hill just a few steps, browsed a bit, and then, impatient to have the place to themselves, snorted, and snorted louder.

We took that as a sign and left the dark night to get ready for bed.

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Robert Walser: Walking

I’ve been reading a beautiful little book of Robert Walser’s occasional essays on paintings, translated for the most part by Susan Bernofsky and published by New Directions.

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A copy of the painting in question is pasted to the page preceding each essay.

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This short piece is about a reproduction of the Cranach painting Walser had on the wall of his room while working in a brewery. His landlady took it down from the wall and he wrote her a letter: “Do you consider it indecent? Then I most humbly request that you simply do not look at it.” From then on, he writes, his landlady was sweet to him, even asking him to give her his torn trousers to mend, “this landlady of mine, wife of the cantonal notary.”

Since Zarko Radakovic first introduced me to Walser’s “Der Spaziergang” / The Walk, Walser’s spirit has accompanied me on every walk I take. I see things differently because of his habits of observation and reflection.

On my walk this morning, the air refreshingly cool and still a little humid after last night’s gentle rain — the first in weeks — two things happened that will remain in my memory.

Stepping off the road onto a trail, I slipped past a purple-flowered thistle and brushed a prickly leaf with my arm. That quick pain, I thought, will be my most pointed, potent perception of the day.

An hour later, back on the street leading down to our house, I heard strains from what sounded like Italian opera . . . and someone was singing along with the recorded aria. The music was coming from a boombox at a building site. The tall, fit young man singing along in Italian was wearing a leather framer’s belt holding his hammer and other tools. He sang as he leaned over to measure a board, his voice strong and clear.

 

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The First Review of our THE PERFECT FENCE

Texas A&M University Press just sent us the following review. Thank you Wayne Franklin.

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