Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Page 16

Who of us knows the theory and practice best suited to the life we are destined to believe we choose while destined to disbelieve the destiny that chooses, wheels within wheels, frantic little rings whirring as the great planet slowly swings through its track that the slow swing alone makes.

the most complete descriptions imaginable

She had given to him the most complete descriptions imaginable of the furnishings and of the ancient upholstery, the silk pillows, faded yellow and rose and gold with long gold tassels, the tapestry chairs, the wall measurements, the fountains and the shadows of the fountains, the Gothic arches, the illusive distance between one object and another, the number of feet between a divan and a chair, between a dynasty and a dynasty, the immobility of the furniture, the floors wavering like water, and she had told him of the absolute stratagem that would be necessary if he should find himself, that it was the morning tower, that he should not make the mistake of trying to walk through the thin partition of glass that separated him from eternal space, the morning sea like the twilight sea, the circling far white sands at the water's milky edge, a grey, twisted tree licked by the surf's tongue, its branches gleaming with red lichen, a white bird with a white comb roosting at the top, some bird of passage pausing for a moment here, everything arranged for convenience.

Purple lace, ctd.; Dreams, ctd.; Recursion, ctd.

From the same sentence as the purple lace Brooklyn Bridge (p. 24): "tenements crowded with discrowned kings, rabbit warrens and the rabbits dreaming of the rabbit god, his nostrils twinkling in the polar sky..." Aren't we all? That's what I now aspire for my writing to do, twinkle in the polar sky.

The shortest sentence

"Oblivion was his brother." (p. 20 -- very moving in context, I thought)

Any other contenders? Comments...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

World's Least Active Book Club?

Fellow members! How far are you all? I am on p. 38, first page of ch. 3, feeling a sense of (I suspect intended and well-planned) relief at the re-emergence of solid, stolid Miss MacIntosh from the haze of opium dreams. Anyway, leave comments where you're up to?

Also, do we perhaps need a tidge more structure -- rotating group-leader question-asker, monthly "meetings," that sort of thing? Or just Keep Calm and Carry On as the Brits say?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dream of the bed chamber

the rooms too many for mortal use, chambers within chambers...

Did anyone get flashes of Huguette Clark?

From Wikipedia:

In February 2010, Clark became the subject of a series of reports on, which said caretakers at her three residences had not seen her in decades, and that her palatial estates in Santa Barbara, California, and New Canaan, Connecticut, had lain empty throughout that time, although the houses and their extensive grounds were meticulously maintained by their staff.

Monday, July 18, 2011

marcelled hair

Miss MacIntosh's "marcelled hair" (gleaming like the sand streaked with sunset when the sandpipers wade in the glassy surf as the last light fades, in case you were wondering, p. 11): what is it?

A style, a.k.a. "the marcel wave," named after Francois Marcel, the French hairdresser who invented the process in 1872.

Chambers within chambers

I had thought my page 2 sentence would be a description of a house trying to be as wild as the pregnant woman's clothes, but she beat me to it (to that too):
The great, sea-blackened house with golden spires and cornices and towers peeled by the salt air, dark allees, hidden interiors, the empty drawing rooms where the hostess had not set foot for many years, as many drawing rooms as tideless years, the rooms too many for mortal use, chambers within chambers, the gilded, mirroring ballrooms where no one danced, the hangings of scaly gold and rain-stained velvet, the heathen monsters everywhere, the painted, clouded ceilings illuminated by partial apparitions of the gods, the silken, padded walls, the ropes of rusted bells, the angels and the cherubim and the immortal rose, the dream of heaven, the lily-breasted virgins sporting in fields of asphodel, the water-gurgling gargoyles or those coated by dust, the interior and exterior fountains, the broken marble statues in ruined gardens sloping towards the sea, the disc throwers, the fat cupids, the thin psyches with flowing curls, the mute Apollo Belvedere, the king's horsemen, the life-sized chessmen seeming to move against the moving clouds that moved above the moving waters, the sea light lighting their wooden eyes, the seagulls perched like drifts of snow upon their heads.

scaly gold and rain-stained velvet
water-gurgling gargoyles
seeming to move against the moving clouds that moved above the moving waters


If you're writing an 1,198-page book that's all fustian and monument, explain the title by the top of page 6. (I love her appearance there!)

Blake's foot

On my page 18 (do we all have the same pagination?) there is Mr. Spitzer covering the mother's foot when he arrived each evening.

Mr. Spitzer . . . would lean forward to cover my mother's dimpled foot with a purple drapery . . .

In Blake's Milton, Milton enters the poet through his foot.

With thunders loud and terrible: so Milton's shadow fell
Precipitant loud thund'ring into the Sea of Time & Space.
Then first I saw him in the Zenith as a falling star,
Descending perpendicular, swift as the swallow or swift :
And on my left foot falling on the tarsus, enter'd there,

I'm not all that familiar with Blake, but he loved his angels as much as the mother here and there could be something going on.

I like the idea that Mr. Spitzer has to cover the foot to prevent Milton from entering while he's in the room.

Actually, the more I think about it, there's probably a lot more Blake going on here than Bob Dylan!

Also, does she only have one foot?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Found! The only good MMMD cover!

I did an image search and landed on this Goodreads page.* It's a 1966 edition, pub. Peter Owen.

*I see that one of the reviewers is Dustin Long (who gave it five stars). He's the author of the novel Icelander and the co-perpetrator of this very funny video series, American Fictioneer, about James Tuktu Jones.

Some notes on Chapter 2

To bounce off SeƱor Sparks's questions in his last post: "Any thoughts on this? Are we left to drown on our own? Will we need to wipe an oily residue from our skin upon completion?"

I think our page-a-day (or chapter-a-week) pace helps us not drown. Reading only as much as I want each evening, closing the book when I feel "full" (or sense my brain's getting overloaded), I've reached the end of chapter 2, and I can say that I've thoroughly relished every page of the book so far—yup, all 37 of 1198 of 'em!

The "I" of chapter 1 recedes in chapter 2, and what we get is a wonderfully focused account of the narrator's invalided, opium-befogged mother and her loyal visitor, Mr. Spitzer. The prose is like a dream, and it describes a life that is largely indistinguishable from dreams.

Dreams are dangerous, of course; any fiction is like a dream already, and to have a dream contain a dream is to compound your challenges as a writer. Yet chapter 2 proves tremendously exciting. Its labyrinthine sentences packed with invention; every reiteration of the life-is-a-dream motif ("My mother pretended that the real was the dream, that the dream was the real," "My mother slept for years, her eyes protected from the vulgar sunlight because already her visions were too many, the mirages, the maelstroms...") had the strange (and good) effect of keeping me focused. And—best of all—the whole thing comes to a very satisfying conclusion. I felt like I'd read an entire novella within the novel. Will every chapter be such an exquisite adventure?
I borrowed a copy of Marguerite Young, Our Darling, the festschrift Dalkey published to coincide with the reprinting of MM, MD. In it Miriam Fuchs, in an essay entitled "Marguerite Young's MM, MD: Liquescence as Form," writes of a reviewer (Bernard Bergonzi, Nov. 1965) in the NYRB who apparently made the following conversion:
Miss Macintosh... weighs somewhat less than half a gallon of water and a little less than somewhat less than a half a gallon of oil--identical volumes of different liquids of varying weights.
Fuchs goes on to claim that
The conversion of text to page numbers, page numbers to pounds, pounds to gallons, and gallons to corresponding volumes of water and oil is an appropriate start for examining the structure and stylistics of MM, a novel in which things appear in equivalent or corresponding forms.
Because, to complete the chain of thought:
Oil mixed in water will diffuse, divide into smaller parts, and the particles will suspend in the liquid before they rise to the surface.
Any thoughts on this? Are we left to drown on our own? Will we need to wipe an oily residue from our skin upon completion?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

An aviary

I picked up a copy of Moderate Fable, Marguerite Young's second book of poetry, published in 1944. It's short – 50 pages – and comes across as a more rococo version of Wallace Stevens. There isn't quite the full-on exuberance of language that seeps through Young's prose, but it's clearly in development here. The word "lorn" comes up twice in fifty pages, as do "moose," which I'd somehow imagined lived outside the world of poetry until Elizabeth Bishop came along. The word "mental" recurs, and there's a preponderance of the color red. There are a strange number of parachutes as well as angels, although Young makes it clear that she lives in a secular universe. Although there's only one poem specifically about them ("Death by Rarity"), there are also enough birds to convert Jonathan Franzen to her poetry. Leaving aside angels and insects and edge cases, here's a list of all of them, which might give a good idea of the flavor of this book:

  • the lean crow

  • Wayfarer loon

  • humming birds lost

  • the wild cockatoo

  • partridge eyes

  • seraphim blue heron

  • the nest abandoned by orioles

  • nighthawk, swift, ruby throat

  • roseate spoonbill

  • snowy egret slain

  • the flamingo

  • the heath hen

  • wild / Trumpeter swan

  • the perfect bird

  • Names of birds whose names are poems

  • ashen swallows

  • starlings

  • white sea birds

  • long-legged plover

  • white cockatoo

  • the robin redbreast

  • a sparrow lost

  • burrowing birds

  • burrowing bird

  • the snow goose

  • the albino crow

  • oily sea gulls woefully emergent

  • orioles in a purely mental snow

  • long-tailed birds with soft bills

  • The scarlet ibis

  • the whooping crane

  • The propaganda of a bird

  • the crested auklets

  • the rose-breasted / Grosbeak

  • the migratory redwing

  • the golden plover

  • The beautiful birds

  • the rare / Loon

  • the lone shearwater

  • the laughing gull

  • no grebe and gold-eye

  • no bird remember

  • the ravens

  • the three pacific doves

  • The meek sparrows

  • the ostriches light-eyed

  • the rain crow's crying

  • a grey-cheeked thrush's being

  • Ibis was ibis intangible

  • snow-colored ibis

  • the transparent bird

  • Leda's swans

  • peacock thousand-eyed

  • The mournful cry of ass-birds

  • the hemisphereless bird

  • burrowing owls

  • the grey horned geese

  • the fickle birds

  • wild rock goose

  • hoary owls

  • white swan

  • black swan

  • glassy sparrows

  • the daylight owl

  • the white heron

  • the red-veined birds

  • the mute swans

  • a bird in the storm

  • the bird in the rain

  • every snow-greaved swan

  • the whirling geese

  • both man and his swan

  • the lorn hawk

  • sparrows homeless in the air

  • the white swan

  • pigeons decoy the steeple and bells

  • extra-terrestrial raven

  • any cynic bird

  • the raven's nest

  • the dog-faced owl

  • the white ptarmigan

Are there so many birds in Miss MacIntosh?

Monday, July 11, 2011


...Brooklyn Bridge like a purple lace glove reaching through the darkness...

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Having just read the first chapter, I am struck by the similarity of the rhythm, word-choice, sentence structure, etc. to many of the songs on Bob Dylan's 1965 album, Bringing It All Back Home; 1965 was a poetic year.

From page six: "had stopped at all the corners where street preachers preached of the golden tides of the future world and harvests of dragons' teeth and reaping the whirlwind, had gone to baseball games in those packed stadiums, watching pitchers pitch the moons, the suns, the stars"

From "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding" : "While preachers preach of evil fates / Teachers teach that knowledge waits"

Mr. Tambourine Man and Gates of Eden are also on that album, and have similar hallucinatory imagery.

In my "rigorous dream" (p. 2) where there is "no landscape but the soul's" (p. 4), Bob Dylan sat at Marguerite Young's feet in Greenwich Village and honed his craft.

P.S. Thanks for inviting me to the book club, I hope this kind of post is fine by y'all.

An Alternate Marguerite Young

I went to Bookfinder to see what was available for Marguerite Young, and came up with this book, entitled Pacific Transport:

Here's the back cover, which makes it clear that this is not our Marguerite Young:

It was published by Vantage Press in 1976; I assume that then as now Vantage was a vanity publisher. I do wonder why no one there pointed out that there was already a Marguerite Young, though maybe ours had already fallen into neglect by then? Here's the jacket copy:

At once a detailed map of the mind and heart of a sensitive, intelligent, loving woman, and a dazzling meditation on the inexorable forces of history and destiny, Pacific Transport is a novel that sends one into literature's Hall of Fame in search of comparable experiences with the printed word. In its focus on woman's sensibility and its portrayal of human thought processes, it is reminiscent of Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway; in the breadth and depth of its observations on the tide of human affairs and and its comprehensiveness, it is the fictional equal of Edmund Wilson's magnificent exercise in the philosophy of history, To the Finland Station. It is possible to go on and on with a list of giants whose work is in some degree echoed by Pacific Transport, but only at the cost of minimizing author Marguerite Young's prodigious originality and ingenuity.

Her protagonist, a woman of middle years named Aimee, is portrayed from within and without at various stops along a journey with her husband Henry, a brilliant physician. In the manner of a picaresque novel, the places and people encountered, and the ideas, memories, hopes, and fears they inspire in Aimee are portrayed with great insight and virtuosity. Aimee looks back – into her own past as a newspaper reporter, and into the American nation's historical and artistic past – and ahead – up to the Moon, across the Pacific to China – to her own, and our, destiny.

Brilliant in both conception and execution, Marguerite Young's Pacific Transport is a Bicentennial book that will be pertinent at the time of the Tricentennial.

I have not read this book yet, though with jacket copy like that I wonder if I can afford not to.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A close call

From the dustjacket:

At one time in the Gare Lazare in Paris, seven suitcases of the manuscript were lost—but were retrieved by seven men from Cook's with seven wheelbarrows.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Although MM, MD has been peripherally in my consciousness the past several years, I never went any further than flipping through a copy of the first volume one winter afternoon while I was working at Dalkey. The emphatic and discouraging thud it made when I put it back on the shelf in the stock room dissuaded me entirely from any reckless attempts at taming the thing.

The only thing I know for certain is that while going through the archives in the office there, I was astounded by her completely haphazard style of correspondence. Her notes to Steven Moore (whose brief reminiscence of MY is worth reading: it's the topmost post in the Message Board Archive--no direct link) were illegibly scrawled on torn and stained sheets of paper and the photographs in her folders spoke of a certain touching vanity.

Beyond that small bit of firsthand knowledge, I've only grown more intrigued the past few days, as much by MY as by MM, MD.

My only other experience with a book club was an ill-fated attempt a friend and I started, under the auspices of Green Apple Books (my employer), of reading Anti-Oedipus. To the first meeting a man who, as far as I could tell, looked uncomfortably like Vincent Schiavelli showed up wearing a gas mask. So, the online forum really suits me.

More beginnings

And here's Dan's post on Young from April with my comment:

The truth about the opium lady!

I need to figure out when exactly I first tried to read MMMD and why. I think it had something to do with William Goyen (The House of Breath is a favorite book). Post TK.


I tracked down the comment thread which explains how this started.


Blogger dan visel said...

I really feel like a good use of my summer would be reading that - kind of embarrassing how long it's sat on my shelf.
11:30 PM

Blogger Ed Park said...

Agreed...Let's organize a MMMD book club. (It will be the least popular club ever devised.)
1:44 PM

Blogger Will said...

I still have a hideous 2-volume 80s paperback in a slipcase (now that I say that I bet it's by someone famous). Can a book club have just three people?
1:25 PM

Blogger Ed Park said...

Yes! Three. This would actually be the best book club in the history of book clubs. I'm going to nominate Levi Stahl (though he doesn't know it yet), and Damion Searls expressed interest...

Anyone else?

Let's take it one page at a time (I'm kind of serious)...
3:00 PM

Blogger Will said...

Poor Levi.

Ok, I'm in. I love the one-page-at-a-time method. What do you think, group blog or group tumblr for discussion?
1:49 PM

Blogger Levi Stahl said...

I'm in. I have pretty much no idea what I'm in for, but it's not like Ed's ever led me astray (for 1100 pages) before, right?

Marguerite Young Speaks!

A post on The Anais Nin Blog offers an 11-minute MP3 of Marguerite Young talking with Nin's husband Hugh Guiler in 1964.

There's also evidently an audio cassette of Young reading; copies seem to be available, but they're pricey and I don't have a tape player. I wonder if this is floating around the Internet already?

Page 1

It is not always easy to tell the difference between the woman you plan to marry and the woman you have married.

Page 4

The melody of this birdcall was one he had never heard before, or once, in his childhood, or his childhood's childhood, mistily unseen even then.

What was the organization of memory?

"Yet he would remain forever engraved on memory's whirling disc" (p. 4)

What do we think this image is? Were there floppy disks by 1965? Is it a circular saw, or a long-playing record; does 33 1/3 or even 78 rpm qualify as "whirling"? How "engraved"?

If there are no answers to these questions, then this is a very interesting kind of image, made up of image-particles as it were that are concrete but never solidify.

intensifying repetitions

Her phrases take you to another territory, then, instead of leaving you there, lurch you one step deeper:

"the train as small as a toy train crossing a toy bridge" (p. 4): it's a small train, in fact a toy train, and then you just can see it in its miniscularity crossing the toy bridge

"red polo riders riding red horses" (p. 2)

Miss MacIntosh, My Nightmare

I've been reading MMMD before bed, and last night I dreamt someone (an outsider) had posted a concise and devastating critique of my latest post. (I also dreamt that my building super's name meant "The One Who Sees.")

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Vast excitement

The sentences! The sentences! I'm ascending Chapter 2 and the view is great. What a writer, lads! I love how the rhythm of the list here creates the atmosphere of that room and the weather inside the mother's head (the same thing).

Heavily laden with jewels as a Greek corpse, my mother, she who had retired from the brutal world, whose eyes were shielded against the vulgar sunlight, slept for tideless years which were her vast excitement, surrounding herself with a world of dreams, visions, phantoms, her bedroom as filled with visitors as the Grand Central Station, some from the shores of Hades, voices of the dead, faded movie stars of the silent flicker films, imaginary telephone operators plugging in at imaginary switchboards, spirits like long-nosed bird dogs, drowned pearl-divers, old kings, old queens, figures older than Oedipus or Troy, New England spinsters with faces checkered like chessboards, jockeys riding the skeletons of dead horses, angelic birds.
Can MY possibly sustain this pitch for the whole book?

What if she does?

What then?


I don't think the beginning of any long book has excited me this much. Can I say such things? I think I'm telling the truth.

At the Apartment of Marguerite Young

The red floor and the many angels, seen and unseen, do not stick in my memory as vividly as the two penguins, stuffed and preserved under a glass bell, which she told me she had had for years. She had never owned a television set; when Nixon and Kennedy were running for the presidency, a friend gave her money to buy a television set so that she could watch their debates. Instead, she bought the penguins and named them for the candidates, who had debated without her attentions.

(from a remembrance by Michael Segers.)

Page 3

How much simpler, by contrast, men seemed to her than women.

An Astonishing Dress

Her dress of sleazy silk was bright burned orange painted with black sail-boats sailing over purple trees and red football players playing over steeples and white skiers skiing over sail-boats cascading to the hem and locked acrobats, the entire field of outdoor sports, it seemed, being on her body, for her scarf was painted with spidery tennis players and tennis nets and ice-skaters skating on silver ponds and red polo riders riding red horses, and there were little footballs hanging from her charm bracelets, tennis rackets and ice-skates and gold clubs and numerous other trophies, some of field and stream, satin fishes running around the hem of her chiffon petticoat edged with yellow lace, butterflies embroidered upon the knees of her thin silk stockings, and her skirts came up high above her knees, higher when she moved, showing her yellow satin garters and pairs of stuffed red valentine hearts dangling from ribbons and faces which were painted powder puffs, and the coat seemed shrunken or a size too small like something she might have worn in a remote youth. (pp. 2–3)

I'm trying to think of a description of any ensemble in literature as remarkable at this one worn by the girl on the bus (limiting it to this sentence neglects her equally involved jewelry) and I'm coming up short. I'm also having a hard time visualizing exactly how this would work. A Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Marguerite Young's Novel Miss MacIntosh, My Darling would be a fantastic thing. Anyone?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Who wrote this?

In the beam of our anarchic head lights which barely cut through mist and darkness, there stood, by the side of the road, a tall man with a child perched on his lean shoulders, a double-headed man, staring at nothingness or beyond it. We were the intruders upon this plain of silence., and he shook his fist, listlessly, perhaps figuring the danger of walking on this road which now, suddenly turning, seemed to go back the way it had gone before. There was now no landscape.

Cormac McCarthy?

No—Marguerite Young! (From MMMD, Chapter 1)

Our hero(ine)

Grey Goose

The drunk driver's "Grey Goose bus" (p. 1): Not just a vodka but a Canadian subsidiary of Greyhound bus line. The vodka started in 1997 so it is an unintentional double entendre in the book.

The Beautiful Conditional

Nice first sentence!
The bus-driver was whistling, perhaps in anticipation of his wife, who would be a woman with ample breasts, those of a realized maturity.
I read (past tense) that sentence as a future -- his wife whom he would someday find and marry. But the next sentence recasts it into a subjunctive (or conditional? grammar mavens?) in the present: the narrator imagines him as currently having a wife, who must perforce be bodacious. I go back to re-read and find again that word "anticipation," which threw me so to speak into the future, but the driver may merely be looking forward to getting home to his extant wife. In English, "would be" seems to allow for both. It's a beautiful oscillation of future and fictional present with which to start a novel.

(Third paragraph, confirming that the first sentence is about fictionality: "Was he, after all, a bachelor, perhaps even some mad Don Quixote... and his family life, an emanation of my over-active imagination...?")

Potential Literature Project

San Francisco experimental poet Taylor Brady published a chapbook in 2000 called 33549 (the zip code of his Florida home town), in which every sentence was based on that page of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past: first sentence based on first page of Proust, second sentence on second page, etc. At least that's how I remember it. It was to be the first subpart of a multivolume novel called Research (as in A la recherche, get it?).

I liked 33549 a lot, although I didn't keep reading Brady's later work. I loved the idea. I might steal it for the WLP Book Club. Do any other members have Oulipo constraint-projects to propose?

Before and After (I): Before

To record for posterity: What do I want from this book before starting it?

I joined the World's Least Popular Book Club knowing pretty much nothing about MM,MD. I had seen it in bookstores and always thought it was by Marguerite Yourcenar -- the existence of another Marguerite You-x never quite registered.

By now, having bought v.1 today (but resisted opening it until writing this post!), I have gathered that it's a "stream-of-consciousness" possibly-masterpiece; Norman Mailer admired it and called Young a "Hercules in high heels"; and it apparently has no beginning, middle, or end. 1,198 pages of small-print middle might beg to differ.

Which, for the quantitatively minded, puts it right in the first of the two big gaps in the bar chart below, along with Infinite Jest (1,079 pages) and The Tale of Genji (1,090):

Launching into this book, while also deciding tomorrow whether to run the Center for Fiction's Proust reading group for a year (3,000 pages), I'm looking forward less to the consciousness than to the streaming. That term always means so many different things -- Woolf and Bernhard have almost nothing in common. What will MM,MD mean by it?