My eleventh graders are reading “Self-Reliance” this week:

Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half possession. That which each man can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. No man yet knows what it is, nor can, till that person has exhibited it.

This is part of what is so exciting about reading Knausgaard.  Nobody taught Shakespeare to be Shakespeare, says Emerson. Nobody taught Knausgaard to be Knausgaard.  He is in conversation with what the novel is, but he is not writing the novel as defined by anyone else.

There is so much I want to say about My Struggle.  

And one of the first things I want to do is to share some of the passages I have copied out.

But this is wrong since it’s not a book of aphorisms and many of the passages that have most moved me are impossible to detach from the novel.  It would be like scooping up a cupful of water from the Colorado River–yes, it’s water, but it’s not the Colorado.

And yet I’ve tried.  Since 2011 I’ve kept an electronic commonplace book–a Gmail thread to myself, now 91 messages long.  I started a new thread just for Knausgaard.  The passages are massive even though the sentence or two that shimmered out at me might be quite short.  I keep going back and back, looking for where the thought begins.

Often it begins at the start of the book.

I had read quite a lot about the novels before I began them, but I didn’t read or didn’t retain that they have no chapters.  After reading them, chapters in other books seem a bit artificial.  Stagy, like a curtain being rung down or a curtain going up.  Anyway, an effect while reading them is that it all seems at times like one long utterance.  A thought on page 142 may have started on page 89.  Or, indeed, on the first page.

For volume 2, the one I was able to renew at the library and therefore was able to keep longer to finish copying out passages, I still ran out of time and wound up photocopying and scanning pages.

Why not just buy the book and mark it up?  I will–although I want the hardcover Archipelago editions and not the paperback FSG ones with Knausgaard’s face.  It’s a fine face but I like the reserved Nordic look of the hardcovers.

Well, here’s a fragment anyway.  It is part of a much longer passage with more shades to it, but I do like it fairly well as a fragment.  God knows it feels true.  It’s from volume 2, A Man in Love:

You could also, if you were willing to put in the hard work, write poems yourself if you were one of those for whom poems did not open themselves; after all, only a poet would see the difference between poetry and poetry that resembles poetry. (142)

More about this and other things soon.

Like the people on the TV show Parks and Recreation–or so I gather–we sometimes stumble across odd phrases we think would make good band names.  Two that came up recently: the Poison Lollipops and Automatic Slurpee.  (The former from a bowl of lollipops at the Boneyard Bistro, a Sherman Oaks barbecue joint whose graphic identity is all bones, skeletons, and meat cleavers; the latter at our nephew’s baseball game today, when one of the dads yelled the phrase as encouragement to his six-year-old player.)

What good band names have you run across recently?

Mr Wicker smSo it really was a broken air conditioner, or rather a blown fuse in the air conditioner.  It’s fixed now.  We survived. We spent one night at my mother’s because our house, after being closed up all day while we were at work and school, was well and truly uninhabitable–96 degrees indoors and stifling, with outdoor temperatures up to 105.

Today–which was balmy by comparison–our friend Maria was signing copies of her first novel, Mr. Wicker, at Dark Delicacies  in Burbank.  Sundown tonight: 6:52.  That gives me a little time to read the first chapter or so while there’s still daylight. (I have a strong sense this isn’t a book to read in the dark.)

It’s 104 degrees outside right now, and the air conditioning is not able to keep up–this afternoon the interior temperature has risen from 78 to 85 over the last few hours.  Our fingers are crossed for the system to hold up and to regain the upper hand as the outside cools off.

With an hour and a half to go until sunset, I’m sitting at my desk, a cold towel from the freezer on my neck, rereading Shakespeare’s sonnets 1-17 for class tomorrow.  The students only have to read the four that are in the Norton Anthology of Poetry (5th shorter ed.)–1, 3, 12, and 15–plus 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”), so those are the ones I’m focused on.

Something different jumps out at you every time, and today it’s these lines from 3 (“Look in the glass and tell the face thou viewest”):

Thou art thy mother’s glass, and she in thee

Calls back the lovely April of her prime;

So thou through windows of thine age shalt see,

Despite of wrinkles, this thy golden time.

What’s tugging at me emotionally is the phrase “through windows of thine age”–the way it implicitly compares aging eyes to panes of wavy old window glass.  (At 46, I’m just starting to need reading glasses, and to notice how the softening of vision parallels the softening of memory.)  And intellectually, what gets me is the way Shakespeare doesn’t speak the obvious promise–that the young man will see his golden time through the “glass” of a young replica of himself–although that’s the logical idea, that the child will be the young man’s mirror image the way the young man is for his own mother.  Instead, the child himself can be tactfully overlooked in favor of the promise that “this thy golden time” will be preserved, wrinkle-free.  A moment of delicacy.  We quickly return to threats of annihilation and the grave, of course…

Matt is working on a film project with a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), so I have Agreed to Not Disclose anything about it here.  But later on he’s planning to go down to San Diego to play Fluellen and the Archbishop of Canterbury in a production of Henry V for the New Fortune Theatre Company, and they’ve just posted this lovely interview with Matt on their website:

It’s both a blessing and a curse that, over the course of a lifetime in the American theatre, an actor can do so many different jobs.  And if your head’s on straight, you can find some kind of career highlight in most, if not quite all, of them.

It was fun to read–kind of a tour through Matt’s twenty-odd years in one of the oddest and oldest professions.

brighde square

Photo by Ben Pack for USC Dornsife magazine (poorly cropped by me).

My friend and former boss, playwright and poet Brighde Mullins, has a new blog about literature, plays, Los Angeles, and who knows what else.  Anything she writes about will be interesting.

Here’s a recent post by Brighde on endings, “How Things End.”

I love this photo–if you go to Brighde’s site, you will see the whole thing.  I cropped it to include her face, some of the books on her desk, a bit of an orchid, and some of the alphabet blocks (I have a matching set in my classroom, but I do have to watch to make sure the students don’t use them to spell naughty words).

One of the things I most miss about working at USC’s MPW program is working with Brighde Mullins, Howard Ho, and the rest of the crowd there–including Dinah Lenney (whose new book The Object Parade has just come out from Counterpoint). And of course I miss the students.  It’s always about the people, isn’t it?

(Edited to correct the photo credit.)

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