Thursday, July 19, 2012

City Lights







After my morning meetings, I went to City Lights Books - the legendary home (and publisher) of the Beat writers. It is one of those independent bookstores that remind you of the joys of accidental discovery and (for me at least) the joy of feeling actual books: the smell, the texture, the weight in hand and (ironically) the judgment of covers!

I bought  Andrei Bely's 'Kotik Letaev'.  This is his novel of early child development, greatly influenced by his interest in the work of Rudolf Steiner. Bely's is hard to find in English apart from his masterpiece, 'Petersburg', that is one of my favourite books. Petersburg transgresses genre: a story of generational conflict and terrorism, it unfolds in a comedy of serious intent and has Christ as a palpable but unnamed witness! As a friend who read it, on my recommendation, remarked on finishing it: "What was that?" Well, amongst much else, one of the most penetrating explorations of Russia's ambiguous poise between being European and being Asian, and seen from the perspective of the structures of different patterns of consciousness rather than simply cultural history.

I bought the selected poems of H.D. because I came across her recently in a book on the 'occult' in literature and it sparked my interest; and, I am drawn like the proverbial moth to neglected voices in literature (especially from 'my' period - the 1890's - 1945).

Finally I bought 'Dancing at the Edge of the World' - an essay collection of Ursula K. Le Guin - because I have not read her non-fiction before (except the occasional review in The Guardian) and because she is my second favorite living writer. Since both one and two (and there is as yet in my mind no three) are both 'getting on', I better think of replacements - they will need discovery! I know you are supposed to surrender the notion of 'best friends' outside of primary school but there is something irredeemably comforting about having favorite writers!

At lunch I read Le Guin's review of C.S. Lewis' 'The Dark Tower' and makes a compelling comparison between Lewis and Tolkien in under a page. Lewis projects 'evil' outside and seeks to destroy it, Tolkien sees evil as the shadow of the good and it is necessary for redemption. It is Gollum, Frodo's mirror image, who finally brings the ring to destruction (in a way far more ambiguous than in the film). Lewis is continually betraying his better instincts out of a too conventional Christianity, Tolkien, possible because he is a Catholic, is freer to serve his imaginative instinct. Le Guin is neither but she gets the contrast between cerebral and visceral religion absolutely right. It is a wonder of intelligent compression.



Meanwhile, I am happy not to be staying in the Hotel Frank down the road. It is subject of a labour dispute and four pickets, two with megaphones, are circling outside with a repetitive chant that echoes through the air. In New York, construction workers had set up giant inflatable rats to make the point about their employers. I hope they both work.

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