8/30/19

Lev Ozerov offers fifty shrewd and moving glimpses into the lives of Soviet writers, composers, and artists caught between the demands of art and politics. Composed in free verse of deceptively artless simplicity, Ozerov’s portraits are like nothing else in Russian poetry

      Slikovni rezultat za Lev Ozerov, Portraits without Frames,
Lev Ozerov, Portraits without Frames, Trans. by Irina Mashinski, NYRB Classics, 2018.




Isaac Babel, Dmitry Shostakovich, and Anna Akhmatova star in this series of portraits of some of the greatest writers, artists, and composers of the twentieth century.
"We stopped and Shklovsky told me / quietly, but clearly, / 'Remember, we are on our way out. / On our way out.' And I recalled / ... the wall of books, / all written by a man / who lived / in times that were hard to bear."
Lev Ozerov’s Portraits Without Frames offers fifty shrewd and moving glimpses into the lives of Soviet writers, composers, and artists caught between the demands of art and politics. Some of the subjects—like Anna Akhmatova, Isaac Babel, Andrey Platonov, and Dmitry Shostakovich—are well-known, others less so. All are evoked with great subtlety and vividness, as is the fraught and dangerous time in which they lived. Composed in free verse of deceptively artless simplicity, Ozerov’s portraits are like nothing else in Russian poetry.       


A classic of Russian poetry, comprising fifty portraits of the great creative figures (some of them celebrated, many of them disappeared or suppressed) of Soviet culture.
Lev Ozerov's finest book, Portraits Without Frames comprises fifty intimate, skilfully crafted accounts of meetings with important figures, ranging from fellow poets Anna Akhmatova and Boris Pasternak, to prose writers Isaac Babel and Andrey Platonov, to artists and composers Vladimir Tatlin and Dmitry Shostakovich.
It is both a testament to an extraordinary life and a perceptive mini-encyclopedia of Soviet culture. Composed in delicate, rhythmic free verse, Ozerov's portraits are like nothing else in Russian poetry.


The west’s picture of Soviet culture is still deeply distorted. By and large, we know only those artists and writers brought to our attention through international controversy. Pasternak, Solzhenitsyn and Brodsky were known in the west long before Vasily Grossman or Andrey Platonov.Lev Ozerov remains underestimated even in Russia. He was a teacher, critic, editor and poet.He became a great poet with his last book, Portraits Without Frames (1994). It consists of 50 accounts, told with deceptive simplicity, of important figures, many — though not all — from the literary world.He writes with compassion not only about great writers like Varlam Shalamov but also about figures such as Alexander Fadeyev, a literary boss who shot himself when the criminality of the Stalin regime was exposed under Khrushchev.This poem is dedicated to Leyb Kvitko, one of four Yiddish poets executed in August 1952; Ozerov wrote “portraits” of all of them.Kvitko wrote mainly for children; his books had print runs of millions. His widow, Bella Kvitko (1899-1987), was a doctor.
read it here




“Ozerov’s [poems] provide a formula for reading life as art. Closing the book, I found myself viewing my own interactions with Ozerov’s empathetic eye. If literature cannot inspire this kind of empathy, what can?” —Amelia Glaser, Times Literary Supplement

“Attention. That word rings over and over through the poem-filled pages. This gentle attention is what makes the collection such a treasure.” — Alisa Goz, Russian Art & Culture

"Few traces of youthful sentimentality are evident in Portraits without Frames, Ozerov’s last poetic work and first to be made available in English. Originally published posthumously in Russia in 1998, Portraits is an anthology of fifty free verse tableaux based on encounters with Soviet writers, artists, and cultural figures ranging from the world-famous (Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak, Dmitry Shostakovich) to the lesser-known (Yiddish poets Leyb Kvitko and Dovid Hofshteyn, arrested and shot on Stalin’s orders in 1952)....By telling their stories, preserving their portraits, Ozerov has done what is hard: to speak about that which one cannot change. But harder still to change that about which one will not speak." —Alexander McConnell, Cleveland Review of Books

"The name Lev Ozerov may strike non-connoisseurs of 20th century Russian literature as an atypical choice on the part of the New York Review of Books Publishing House, which in this same “Classics” collection has published Tsvetaeva, Pasternak, and Mandelstam. It’s no wonder: leafing through, we realize at first glance that beyond his own capacity of poet, editor, and translator, this Ozerov is singular in his position of witness...There isn’t much to say about the translation beyond that it is excellent. Never does a poem lose its essential spirit. It’s difficult enough to co-translate a book, much less group-translate. This requires the sacrifice of complete invisibility—or, better, of transparency. It is notable that it is a very approachable translation, quite neutral and modern." —Andreea Scridon, Asymptote Journal

“Ozerov’s poems offer the reader poignant Soviet portraits-in-poetry, illuminated lives of the everyday and the literary Soviet saints. In these translations the finely wrought poems shine with their original wistfulness, love, and dedication: tramps, poets, and friends mingle in short deft snatches of stories.” —Sasha Dugdale

"In this long and profoundly moving cycle of poems, Ozerov recalls his meetings with the great and notable in Russian arts over the Twentieth Century, and the results are breathtaking....Ozerov certainly mixed with just about all the great and good in Soviet art, and the fifty accounts of his meetings with them reminded me just how many incredible artists the country and the era produced – even if they had to write for the drawer a lot of the time. Each poem is preceded by an introduction outlining the life and work of the subject; each translation is individually credited; notes are provided when necessary to illuminate the poems; so this really is an exemplary volume and a flawless reading experience." —Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings


The Jewish-Ukrainian poet Lev Ozerov (1914-1996) might at first seem an unlikely chronicler of the Soviet experience. Born Lev Adol’fovich Gol’dberg to a family of pharmacists in Kiev amidst the outbreak of World War I, he was a mere toddler when Lenin’s Bolshevik Party seized power in Petrograd in 1917. As a child, Ozerov loved music (he dreamt of becoming a composer) and drawing, a skill he would maintain into adulthood and employ in a distinctive combination signature/self-portrait (see Figure 1 at bottom). His first employment as a teenager was in Kiev’s Arsenal munitions plant, a site of major pro-Bolshevik uprisings in 1918. It was only after taking a job with a local newspaper in 1932 that Ozerov began to publish poetry, under his real name and the abbreviated “Lev Berg.” The romanticism and naturalistic imagery of these early verses apparently inspired the nom de plume “Ozerov” (from the Russian ozero, “lake”), suggested by a university classmate in reference to the “Lake School” of British poetry.
Few traces of youthful sentimentality are evident in Portraits without Frames, Ozerov’s last poetic work and first to be made available in English. Originally published posthumously in Russia in 1998, Portraits is an anthology of fifty free verse tableaux based on encounters with Soviet writers, artists, and cultural figures ranging from the world-famous (Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak, Dmitry Shostakovich) to the lesser-known (Yiddish poets Leyb Kvitko and Dovid Hofshteyn, arrested and shot on Stalin’s orders in 1952). Each “portrait” is preceded by a short biographical note from the translators—the missing “frame,” as it were—no fewer than four of whom collaborated on this volume. Roughly half the portraits have dates; many of those that do were composed in the final years of Ozerov’s life. Together, they comprise what translator Boris Dralyuk in the book’s introduction calls a “mini-encyclopedia of Soviet culture,” one bearing the scars of both that culture’s tortuous history and its ultimate unraveling.
There is nevertheless a romantic quality to many of the vignettes in Portraits, particularly those depicting individuals imprisoned or killed for their work. In his portrait of Peretz Markish, executed alongside Kvitko, Hofshteyn and eight other prominent Soviet Jews in the so-called “Night of the Murdered Poets,” Ozerov begins by invoking the image of Lord Byron:
Once you’d seen him,
you could say
you’d seen Byron:
honor, dignity, stature,
a melancholy beauty
He’d raise his head
and, with half-closed eyes,
recite his poems
as if he were singing.
 
Like any skilled portraitist, Ozerov’s attention is drawn to the visages of his subjects, and he is at his most Byronic when describing the contours and character of a face. We are introduced to the writer and editor Alexander Tvardovsky via his “Soft locks of fair hair / wind-blown / onto his forehead, onto eyes / of the palest blue.” Novelist and Gulag survivor Varlam Shalamov’s “wrinkled face” is compared to “a hieroglyph / of all he has lived through / and does not speak about,” while the filmmaker Alexander Dovzhenko’s deeply-tanned “forehead, nose, nostrils, eyes” suggest that “he could be a carving / on some local species of wood.” Such evocative passages transition almost imperceptibly into spartan accounts of political censure and violence. Summarizing the fate of the experimental stage director Vsevolod Meyerhold, executed by an NKVD firing squad in 1940 after years of persecution, Ozerov captures the simultaneously sudden and brutally drawn-out erasure of a person from public life:
Meyerhold has lost
his theater, lost
his home,
lost
his life.
The world
has lost
Meyerhold.
 
This half-stanza, beginning and ending with the director’s name, constitutes a kind of poetic hourglass centered on the single “lost” in line four, a vessel through which Meyerhold’s personal losses filter down and gather into a collective tragedy. Indeed, the entire passage hinges on the word “lost,” repeated four times in seven lines. Remove it, and the message is inverted: “Meyerhold has his theater, his home, his life. The world has Meyerhold.”
Loss—of life, but as often of livelihood—is the predominant mood throughout Portraits. Death, after all, is “just joining the majority” (a quip credited to Mikhail Svetlov), but “nothing in Russia lasts / like a damaged reputation.” Many of Ozerov’s sketches are based on meetings with disgraced or downtrodden former grandees of Soviet culture entering their twilight years. Of the stately poetess Akhmatova, now pale and overweight in a baggy housecoat, Ozerov writes, “It’s Akhmatova, they say, / But not Akhmatova.” When he calls on the blacklisted writer Yuri Olesha at home, Ozerov finds Olesha pacing the floor, tearing at his shirt collar and muttering distractedly. A documentary crew drives up to the nearby dacha of a more celebrated author, and suddenly Olesha’s personal turmoil is externalized. Television technicians, cameramen, and assistants pour out of the van, tripping over wires in their haste: “They visit two or three homes, / ignoring Olesha— / who has long ago fallen from favor. / Into disgrace.” Ozerov casts himself as the voice of Memory in these moments, speaking from the future to arbitrate aesthetic merit and soothe the pain of premature obsolescence. “Who will remember him, / this fool of an editor?” he tells Akhmatova. “But every line of yours, / whether early or late, / will be worth / its weight in gold— / no, that’s not right— / it will be beyond price.” Upon visiting the poet and children’s author Nikolay Zabolotsky, who spent more than five years in the Gulag, it is Ozerov’s turn to pace the floor in a frenzy, feverishly reciting Zabolotsky’s verses as the former prisoner looks on in astonishment. “I thought I’d been quite forgotten,” we hear Zabolotsky tell his daughter afterwards, “but it seems people still remember me.”
Failure to be recognized, or to any longer recognize oneself, also manifests as a defensive response to persecution. Ozerov relates an episode in which Pasternak, denounced and expelled from the Soviet Writers’ Union a few years before his death in 1960, is approached by a youth on the street:
“You’re Pasternak, aren’t you?
“No, no, I’m not Pasternak,”
he answered, horrified,
and took off in a hurry—
yes, almost at a run,
like Pushkin’s Eugene
from the Bronze Horseman.
“You Pasternak?”
someone was shouting after him.
Without looking round,
he replied, “No, no, you’re wrong.”
 
By likening Pasternak’s youthful interlocutor to Pushkin’s Bronze Horseman, the most famous symbol of oppressive state authority in Russian literature, Ozerov draws attention to both the diffuse nature of power in modern dictatorships and the reflexive, self-effacing paranoia those living at the margins of such systems tend to develop. Pasternak is pursued not so much by any one person as by his own name, for to be named is to be recognized, categorized, and processed. Dissociative behavior is a survival mechanism, but one that results in the very same obliteration of the individual it is meant to resist. For Ozerov, the only recourse is to surrender oneself completely to art, to acknowledge the fundamental truth expressed in the lines of the Georgian poet Titsian Tabidze, a close friend of Pasternak who was arrested and tortured to death 1937: “It’s not me who writes my poems; / It’s they who write me / as if writing a story, / while life carries on beside them.”
Fundamentally, however, Ozerov is concerned less with romantic introspection than with explaining his subjects and preserving their world for posterity. In this sense, Portraits without Frames can be best classified not as a mini-encyclopedia but as a variant on that most Russian of genres, the ‘history of my generation’ or ‘contemporaries’ memoir, a form of “non-confessional autobiography that tells the story of a milieu rather than a person.” As the historian Barbara Walker has shown, the roots of this genre can be traced to the Russian gentry culture of the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth centuries, in which kinship ties and patronage networks were of the utmost importance. Ambitious nobles hoping to pass on acquired knowledge or personal connections to their progeny began composing memoirs that recounted family history, highlighted the author’s proximity to persons of influence, and creatively intertwined private life with the life of the state. The gentry memoir style was adopted and reshaped over the course of the nineteenth century by intellectuals such as Alexander Herzen and Pavel Annenkov, who suffused the genre with the intelligentsia’s ethos, politics, and penchant for gossip.  
According to Walker, what most distinguishes a ‘contemporaries’ memoir from other types of self-narrative is the former’s reliance on the outward gaze, the privileging of exteriority rather than interiority as a means to self-understanding. Where a memoirist in the Romantic tradition might ruminate on formative moments in early childhood or unpack the subtext of past love affairs, the author of a ‘contemporaries’ memoir seeks to attain self-knowledge by capturing the mentalities and modus vivendi of their peers:   
Almost always evident in the work of such memoirists is a strong desire to give the taste of a milieu and an era; to describe the look and feel of place as well as of personalities; to catch hold of vanished times as a means of self-explanation, self-defense, and self-advertisement in a group experiencing rapid transition and generational change.
 
This overriding urge to self-defend and self-explain in the face of sudden change permeates the verses in Portraits without Frames, all of which appear to have been written in the midst of or immediately following the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. While certainly not nostalgic, Ozerov’s lamentations for those consumed by the Soviet experiment betray an ambivalence towards that experiment’s implosion and the evaporation of what Svetlana Boym calls “the unrealized dreams of the past and visions of the future that became obsolete.” If a communist utopia never materialized, neither did the open, enlightened society many dissidents and nonconformist intellectuals had hoped would emerge from the ashes of the USSR. Instead, as Masha Gessen writes in her study of the post-Soviet intelligentsia Dead Again, “the high of glasnost and perestroika was followed by a brief plateau of self-satisfaction” that degenerated during the ninties into “a nightmare of inflation, destruction, depression, bureaucratic battles aggressive alienation, a morbid festering national identity crisis and frightening, impenetrable apathy.” Liberal opposition figures who had persevered through decades of repression and imprisonment found themselves rudderless and alone, superfluous men and women in the cash-obsessed New Russia. They had outlasted the regime and, in a sense, themselves.
“As they grow older, people want to know / that their life / has not been lived in vain.” This coda to Akhmatova’s portrait might just as easily refer to Ozerov’s own search for meaning in the experiences of his contemporaries. They had struggled, sacrificed, risked and gone to prison, died—and for what? So that Muscovites could drive around in expensive German cars while Yeltsin bombed Chechnya? Didn’t anyone remember what it had taken to live and write “in times that were hard to bear?” Didn’t anyone care? In the end, both the author and protagonists of Portraits without Frames yearn for an existential comfort that words alone cannot provide. The book’s final poem, titled simply “Father,” finds Ozerov grappling on intensely personal terms with his own inability to amend history or rectify injustice:
It’s hard for me to speak
about my father. Hardest of all—
about how his life ended.
Father rushed to help
someone pleading for help
and was slain
by a bandit’s bullet.
He answered the call—
he was true to himself.
Year after year I’ve dreamt
of blocking his path,
but I can’t.
 
The devastating thud of this “but I can’t,” the last line of the English translation (though not the original Russian, which concludes with Tabidze’s portrait), can be read as both an admission of powerlessness and an assertion of principle. Ozerov is no more capable of taking a bullet for his father than he is for Markish, Kvitko, or Meyerhold—not only because it is impossible to alter the past, but because doing so would betray the ideals according to which these individuals lived. By telling their stories, preserving their portraits, Ozerov has done what is hard: to speak about that which one cannot change. But harder still to change that about which one will not speak. - Alexander McConnell
https://www.clereviewofbooks.com/home/portrait-without-frames-ozerov


Born in Kiev, Lev Ozerov studied in Moscow, then worked as a front-line journalist after the German invasion.
From 1943 he taught poetry and translation at the Gorky Literary Institute. Ozerov himself translated poems from Yiddish, Hebrew and Ukrainian (languages he knew well), Lithuanian (which he could read) and other languages of the Soviet Union with the help of a crib. He also wrote many books of literary criticism and did much to enable the publication of writers who had suffered or perished under Stalin. He was the first editor to publish Zabolotsky (his translation of The Lay of Igor’s Campaign) on his return from the Gulag in 1946. That same year saw the publication of Ozerov’s long poem about the massacre of Kievan Jews at Babi Yar, one of the first works to address the subject in Russian.
Ozerov has yet to win due recognition. His finest book, Portraits without Frames, published after his death, comprises fifty accounts, told in a variety of tones and with deceptive simplicity, of meetings with important figures, many – though not all – from the literary world. One poem tells how Yevgenia Taratuta, an editor of children’s literature, kept her sanity during brutal interrogations by reciting Pushkin and Mayakovsky to herself. A second describes Ozerov’s first meeting with Zabolotsky on his return from the Gulag. The poem ends with Zabolotsky’s daughter telling Ozerov, decades afterwards, how later that day her father had said to her: ‘I had thought I was forgotten, but people still seem to remember me.’  Ozerov writes with compassion not only about such great and courageous writers as Shalamov but also about such writers as Fadeyev, a Soviet literary boss who shot himself when Stalin’s crimes, and his own complicity, began to be exposed under Khrushchev.
Among the subjects of other ‘portraits’ are Babel, Platonov, Shostakovich, Tatlin, Kovpak (a Ukrainian partisan leader) and the ballet dancer Galina Ulanova. One poem tells of Slutsky’s generosity in making his room available to couples who had nowhere to sleep together; one evening he returns home to find a note: ‘Boris, / you are a great humanist, / and the heavenly powers / will reward you. The sins of others, / sins that are not yours, / will bring you blessings. - https://www.pushkinhouse.org/events/2018/9/7/lev-ozerovs-portraits-without-frame-readings





Lev Ozerov (1914–1996) was born Lev Goldberg in Kyiv, Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire. He began to publish poems in the early 1930s, and as his literary career took off, he adopted a Slavic-sounding pseudonym (from ozero, the Russian word for “lake”), though he never rejected his Jewish roots. Ozerov was a close friend of many prominent Yiddish poets, including Leyb Kvitko and Shmuel Halkin, whose work he translated into Russian. He was also one of the first to write, in both prose and verse, about the Babi Yar massacre in 1941. His commitment to giving voice to the voiceless also found expression in his work as a critic and editor. In 1946, while serving on the staff of the journal October, Ozerov helped the great poet Nikolay Zabolotsky return to print after eight years in the Gulag. Ozerov’s review of a 1958 collection of Anna Akhmatova’s verse broke the so-called “blockade” against her work, and the edition he published of Boris Pasternak’s poems in 1965 marked the beginning of that poet’s slow posthumous rehabilitation after the Zhivago affair of 1957–1958. But perhaps Ozerov’s greatest contribution—as both a poet and an advocate for the unjustly silenced—is his collection Portraits Without Frames, which was published in 1999, three years after his death.

8/27/19

Edoardo Albinati examines radical politics, religious poetry, and Hellenic philosophy, his country’s long dalliance with fascism, and even Alfred Hitchcock in an exhaustive manner that winds up bordering on extreme navel-gazing. Albinati’s centerpiece is the real-life murder and rape of two women by his near-peers at the all-boys school of San Leone Magno in 1975. The man as an incurable disease

Slikovni rezultat za Edoardo Albinati, The Catholic School
Edoardo Albinati, The Catholic School: A Novel, Antony Shugaar, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019.
excerpt
read it at Google Books


A semiautobiographical coming-of-age story, framed by the harrowing 1975 Circeo massacre
Edoardo Albinati’s The Catholic School, the winner of Italy’s most prestigious award, The Strega Prize, is a powerful investigation of the heart and soul of contemporary Italy.
Three well-off young men―former students at Rome’s prestigious all-boys Catholic high school San Leone Magno―brutally tortured, raped, and murdered two young women in 1975. The event, which came to be known as the Circeo massacre, shocked and captivated the country, exposing the violence and dark underbelly of the upper middle class at a moment when the traditional structures of family and religion were seen as under threat.
It is this environment, the halls of San Leone Magno in the late 1960s and the 1970s, that Edoardo Albinati takes as his subject. His experience at the school, reflections on his adolescence, and thoughts on the forces that produced contemporary Italy are painstakingly and thoughtfully rendered, producing a remarkable blend of memoir, coming-of-age novel, and true-crime story. Along with indelible portraits of his teachers and fellow classmates―the charming Arbus, the literature teacher Cosmos, and his only Fascist friend, Max―Albinati also gives us his nuanced reflections on the legacy of abuse, the Italian bourgeoisie, and the relationship between sex, violence, and masculinity.


Edoardo Albinati’s The Catholic School creates a world: a world of power, sex, violence and the threat of masculinity, of the power wielded and misused by men.
‘To be born male is an incurable disease’
In 1975, three young well-off men, former students at Rome’s prestigious all-boys Catholic high school San Leone Magno, brutally torture, rape, and murder two young women. The event, which comes to be known as the Circeo massacre, shocks and captivates all of Italy, exposing the violence and dark underbelly of the upper middle class at a moment when the traditional structures of family and religion are under threat.
Edoardo Albinati sets his novel in the halls and corridors of San Leone Magno in the late 1960s and the 1970s, exploring the intersection between the world of teenage boys and the structures of power in modern Italy. Along with indelible portraits of teachers and pupils – the charming Arbus, the literature teacher Cosmos, and his only Fascist friend, Max – Albinati’s novel also reflects on the legacy of abuse, the Italian bourgeoisie, and the relationship between sex, violence, and masculinity.




The Catholic School is one of the foundational works of the literature of the twenty-first century. It is a great book by a great writer. It is also a major sociological and theological meditation, which raises questions that we hope won’t be forgotten.” —Natale Benazzi




Edoardo Albinati’s The Catholic School is one of the most arresting and haunting works of European literature to have appeared in the twenty-first century. Widely acclaimed when it was first published in 2016 and the winner of Italy’s most prestigious literary award, the Strega Prize, Albinati’s hypnotic memoir/novel brings alive the conflicts and contradictions inherent in contemporary Italian society and explores the violence, fear, and love of death that exist at its core. In its courage, clear-sightedness, and narrative power, Albinati’s book bears comparison with Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle, the Neapolitan novels of Elena Ferrante, and the Outline Trilogy of Rachel Cusk—works that challenge the conventions of traditional fiction and open new avenues of cultural and psychological exploration that are altering the way we experience and understand the world. Albinati himself has written:
The Catholic School is based on events that actually happened, events to which in part I was a direct eyewitness. Working from those actual events, I’ve intertwined episodes and characters with varying percentages of fiction; I freely interbred memory and imagination. In reporting on the crimes in question, I made use of police reports, transcripts of depositions, wiretaps, interviews, and legal verdicts concerning the protagonists, cutting and stitching where I thought necessary. This book makes no claim to accurate historical reconstruction or to proposing an alternative version of events . . . The contents of human life and human lives is what literature shapes for its own specific purposes, and it tends not to be over-tender in its treatment.
The contents of human life and human lives is what literature shapes for its own specific purposes, and it tends not to be over-tender in its treatment.
The school of Albinati’s title is the Istituto San Leone Magno, named after the great fifth-century pope who turned Attila the Hun away from Rome. SLM, as Albinati calls it, is an elite private institution run by the Marist Brothers that is located in the comfortable, leafy Quartiere Trieste, or QT, a neighborhood that is home to Rome’s upper middle-class establishment. Albinati, who grew up in the QT, is himself an alumnus of SLM, and his book carefully recounts his own family story as a representative part of his investigation. By extension, though, “the Catholic school” stands for an entire system of education (or, one might say, miseducation) that has traditionally prepared its students to play a part in the long-standing compromised moral order of postwar Italian society.
Among the other graduates of SLM were three young neo-Fascists, Andrea Ghira, Angelo Izzo, and Gianni Guido, likewise children of privileged QT families, who committed one of the most infamous crimes of the seventies, during the notorious anni di piombo, or years of lead, when Italy was torn apart by left- and right-wing political violence. On the surface, the Circeo massacre had no political significance. It was perpetrated on September 29–30, 1975, at the Ghira family villa in a seaside resort on the Circeo Peninsula, sixty miles south of Rome. The three men charged were eventually sentenced to life in prison for raping and torturing two teenage girls, Rosaria Lopez and Donatella Santi. Lopez was killed and Santi only escaped by pretending to be dead.
These two subjects—the crime the killers committed and the institution that produced them—are the poles around which Albinati’s mesmerizing, meandering auto-fictional narrative, part memoir, part history, part philosophical meditation, oscillates.
As Albinati’s fellow novelist Francesco Pacifico has written, The Catholic School, which is delivered in “today’s most distinguished Italian narrative style, is a moving, though far from melancholy epitaph for the Roman bourgeoisie . . . Albinati’s language is a new Italian grammar; it’s always clear, but with no need to glitter . . . There are three ways to read it: all at once; as an encyclopedia (i.e., delving into it here and there); or dividing it into four different books.”
The first book, about the school of San Leone Magno, is “a study in the contradictions between privilege and evangelical poverty—educating the ruling class while trying to stay removed from an era in which the boundaries of the known and the licit” are being constantly tested.
The second is a story of “young fascists and virginity, of tormented intellectual friendships and the mystery of woman. In the seventies, boys and girls still grew up separately; women were the source of sexual initiation, but unfamiliar and inimical.”
Albinati’s profound explorations of male sexuality and rape culture, of ingrained masculinist attitudes and their political dimensions and the enduring Italian attraction to fascism, are brilliant and disturbing.
The third book is about the Circeo massacre, which took place in an election year, when a Communist victory seemed possible. The three SLM alumni bring two lower-class virgins to a villa by the sea, rape them, and leave them in the trunk of a car—one dead, the other still alive. For Albinati, writes Pacifico, the crime of the Circeo is a natural outgrowth of the culture in which its perpetrators were raised; it “belongs to the Quartiere Trieste the way Nazism belongs to Germany.”
The fourth book, finally, “is the book of the bourgeoisie. Here are pages on the quiet life, walks before dinner, the fear of disorder . . . where the families of state employees live, rich “in a sober and mysterious way,” and children, like Albinati himself, abandon their parents’ material success to become artists.
Pacifico compares The Catholic School to Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, to the philosophizing parts of War and Peace, and calls it “a book that’s neither traditional nor experimental. It moves forward, ticking like time . . . thrilling us here, boring us there, like a natural thing.” It’s no surprise that it took the author more than a decade “to record the life and times of the bourgeoisie before it died.”
Natale Benazzi, in his introduction to the Italian paperback edition, points out that “great narratives are always labyrinths,” and Albinati himself knows this perfectly. As Benazzi puts it:
Every novel always is the narration of an unhappiness. Even when the author joyfully lays claim to the fullness, the exuberance, of life, or proclaims its aridity, invariably and in every case he is narrating his unhappiness about something that went away after being there, or else something he waited for in vain, or that passed close by, very close, even too close . . . but he didn’t move fast enough to seize it. I, for example—I partly remember the time in which this story unfolds, I partly studied it or heard other people talk about it, I dream of it a great deal, to an even greater extent, I invent it depending on what the story requires: it’s a snake in the grass that you glimpse for a fleeting instant, and there is more of a sensation of having seen it, relived it in a shiver that runs down my spine, than a clear sighting of it before my eyes.
“In this labyrinth or mosaic,” Benazzi writes,
every image has its own precise reason and the reader will choose what convinces him best, as he becomes fascinated by the book and the question . . . around which everything revolves: How is it possible that Catholic education and bourgeois morality (religiously, socially, and economically the high points of Western consciousness in the last centuries) could lead, not to the brutal idiocy of the crime, but to a social awareness so focused on itself that it fails to comprehend the consequences of its own morality?
The Catholic School, Benazzi notes, is
a literary text of great value . . . moral without ever being moralistic. The author writes about sex, about men and women, about ersatz masculinity and dreamed-of femininity; about power and submission; about ignorance; about the roots of bullying; money; the propensity for crime; the distance between rich and poor and the resemblance between the two; about the universal schizophrenia in which everyone is both Cain and Abel at the same time and the evil in us tends to destroy the good. Before the violent insanity of attacking someone else there comes self-murder. Only when evil is allowed to prevail within us does everything become possible, plausible, realizable. When we’ve murdered the Abel inside ourselves, who can stop us from killing him “outside,” too?
Then there is the theme of forgiveness and memory, of the possibility of forgetting the evil that has been done to us, and, on the other hand, the need to remember . . .
- https://fsgworkinprogress.com/2019/01/31/the-catholic-school/

An important, at times magnificent book . . . An entirely original narrative . . . A pivotal moment in contemporary literature. - Corriere della Sera


In The Catholic School a thousand doors open on a thousand different themes . . . A powerful, multifaceted, acute, extreme book. - La Repubblica


The Catholic School is entirely unique: it meanders, it is merciless, it is very precise and yet lyrical, thoughtful and fiery, depressing and funny. In short, it is one of the best books I have read in recent years. - De Morgen


“Reading some books feels aspirational, the attainment of an ideal, rather than an immediately realistic undertaking. It’s with this in mind that we recommend The Catholic School . . . Painstakingly researched and semi-autobiographical, the novel is based on a brutal real-life crime: the rape, torture, and murder of two young women by three men in 1975. The novel is part true crime, part coming of age, and explores sex, violence, and masculinity in contemporary Italy.” ―The A.V. Club


“[Albinati’s] scrutiny of the infamous ‘Circeo massacre’ . . . yields an intense and intimate disquisition on masculinity, violence, and social class in 1970s Rome . . . The real focus of Albinati’s ‘obsessive inquest’ are the psychosexual impulses and socioeconomic forces behind the incidents, and the gnawing possibility that their root causes might be more than upper-class ennui and entitlement, something even uglier and essential to human nature . . . [The Catholic School] is a knot of interlocking philosophical concerns that the author has spent a lifetime trying to untangle. Dense, sprawling, brilliant, like Rome itself.” ―Brendan Driscoll, Booklist


“A vast, philosophically charged novel of education, faith, and crime . . . A little goes a long way, and there’s a lot of it.” Kirkus Reviews


Albinati examines radical politics, religious poetry, and Hellenic philosophy, his country’s long dalliance with fascism, and even Alfred Hitchcock in an exhaustive manner that winds up bordering on extreme navel-gazing. Albinati’s centerpiece is the real-life murder and rape of two women by his near-peers at the all-boys school of San Leone Magno in 1975. To make sense of the crimes, Albinati revisits every aspect of his education and its aftermath, often in digressive detail, and too often he arrives at bromides (“The real problem with truth is whether or not to speak it”) or, for instance, the etymology of the Italian word for rape, altogether doing little to elucidate the questions of privilege and power that lie at the novel’s heart. Readers meet schoolmates including the precocious athlete Arbus, the vicious Max, and mentor Cosmo, whose unusual knowledge of classical literature provides the young with Edoardo with a path toward a goal in writing and out of the stultifying world of San Leone Magno. Still, this massive work winds up as less a new take on the nonfiction novel than an exercise in indulgence and solipsism. - Publishers Weekly


A vast, philosophically charged novel of education, faith, and crime by Italian writer Albinati (Coming Back: Diary of a Mission to Afghanistan, 2004).
At the core of Albinati’s bildungsroman, its narrator a minor writer named Edoardo Albinati (“I’d like it if my reputation as a writer were sufficiently great that I could hope to have a street named after me in my city, just a little, out-of-the-way street”), is a terrible crime: Three alumni of his Catholic all-boys school kidnap, rape, and murder two teenage girls, a real-life 1975 event known in Italy as the Circeo massacre. Albinati mentions the crime early, then builds up to it over hundreds of pages in which he meditates on the ordinary violence of daily life in Rome and the specialized violence that comes from attending parochial school, with its cliques, beatings, and priestly oppression. Albinati’s hero is a pimply, unattractive nerd named Arbus, who, Albinati learns much later, was an intent student of “the different ways of killing people” even though he was mild-tempered and inoffensive in a setting that was "marked by a very particular enthusiasm for violent abuse." Albinati, as both writer and character, ponders the nature of this violence, especially as it is visited upon women (“The positive fact—positive, that is, in the sense of effective, documented—that women suffer violence becomes the very reason they suffer it”); among the other topics are the abuse of authority by authoritarians in the priesthood and in politics as well as the tangled politics of Italy, with some of his classmates communists, others fascists, and Arbus ever the individualist, a “Nazi-Maoist," which is to say, one of the people "who chose the worst…of right-wing and left-wing extremism." Albinati’s musings on the philosophical meanings of rape, murder, education, and other matters are the substance of this book, which, if boiled down to actual deeds, would scarcely add up to a novella. A little goes a long way, and there’s a lot of it.
Talky and pensive; for readers who like their fiction laden with more reflections than deeds. - Kirkus Reviews


Scrutiny of the infamous “Circeo massacre,” in which former students at a distinguished Catholic all-boys school raped and tortured two young women in a secluded luxury villa, yields an intense and intimate disquisition on masculinity, violence, and social class in 1970s Rome. From the moment the victims (one dead, the other nearly so) were pulled from the trunk of a Fiat in the leafy, affluent Trieste Quarter, the case captivated the Italian public. Recently uncovered details linking the perpetrators to other crimes have again aroused public interest. Prize-winning Albinati, a fellow alumnus, does not shy away from grisly sensationalism. Hints that characters in Albinati’s orbit might overlap with those of the perpetrators, or that the author possesses other insider information, induce the reader to keep pushing through this lengthy novel. But the real focus of Albinati’s “obsessive inquest” are the psychosexual impulses and socioeconomic forces behind the incidents, and the gnawing possibility that their root causes might be more than upper-class ennui and entitlement, something even uglier and essential to human nature. What initially seems to be context or digression—a hundred pages on bourgeois marriage; a hundred pages on rape—emerges as the book’s core, a knot of interlocking philosophical concerns that the author has spent a lifetime trying to untangle. Dense, sprawling, brilliant, like Rome itself. Brendan Driscoll
https://www.booklistonline.com/The-Catholic-School-Edoardo-Albinati/pid=9717973


Winner of the Strega prize, Italy’s equivalent of the Booker, The Catholic School turns on a notorious crime that took place in an Italian seaside town in 1975, when three well-to-do young men from Rome abducted, raped and tortured two teenage girls, killing one, in a case that provoked a wave of horrified soul-searching, not least among the middle classes.
Edoardo Albinati’s novel is a mammoth, roundabout attempt to conjure with the fact that he went to the same boarding school as the perpetrators, analysing – over more than 1,200 pages – the environment that formed them, from the political terrorism of Italy’s “years of lead” (the criminals were neo-fascists) to the post-60s upending of social and sexual norms that left bourgeois families like Albinati’s at sea.
The result resembles a true crime novel as told by Karl Ove Knausgaard. “What can explain the fact that yesterday I spent at least an hour online searching for photos of a skinny Belgian model with big tits? Why does sexual freedom so closely resemble slavery?” Albinati asks in lines typical of his candid self-portraiture and abstract musing. “Sex is a singular sort of prison whose bars keep you from getting in, rather than getting out,” he writes: “what you want, what you desire is inside”.
An endnote from Albinati’s translator, Antony Shugaar, suggests the specificity of his cultural references may deter non-Italians. Maybe, but fiction can thrive on detail and The Catholic School is full of gusty generalisation: its challenge might actually be its lack of specificity. While you can see why Albinati avoids lingering on the criminals at the narrative’s heart, his deliberately anti-novelistic style, lacking any characters or story to speak of, makes it hard to buy his idea that their actions represented some kind of “reprisal in the larger context of a global war” triggered by feminism – an idea that, undramatised, seems little more than a strenuous bid to intellectualise violent misogyny.
This isn’t a normal novel, and nor is the pact it makes with the reader; 900 pages in, Albinati tells “anyone who has had enough” to skip nearly half of what’s left. Ignore that advice and the reward is moot: late passages involve, among other things, a dream Albinati has about taking revenge on dog owners who let their pets foul the pavement and some needy emails from an ex-classmate failing to muster numbers for a school reunion.
Yet, weirdly, it’s in these drifting tides of consciousness, rather than the book’s quasi-anthropological grandstanding, that Albinati’s titanic enterprise ultimately feels most alive, even if what they tend to reveal – men think about sex; sometimes it’s ugly – isn’t exactly news. -
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/aug/25/catholic-school-edoardo-albinati-review


After having read “Doctor Faustus” by Thomas Mann, a real masterpiece, I wanted to approach some Italian literature, something shorter and different. “The Catholic School” was advised to me, and so I got the Kindle version of it. The dotted line told me promptly the approximate length… 1300 pages in the traditional format!
But this novel is based in a specific historical affair (“the Massacre of Circeo”, a true story of rape and murder), the troubled 70s in Italy and specifically in Rome, in a specific area I know quite well: Trieste Area. This novel is about what neo-fascism was in Italian Republic. It was presented to me by my friend Frescobaldo (a name of fantasy like many in this book) as a novel unveiling some mysteries of those times as the author really was schoolmate of some criminals in a famous denominational “Grammar School”: San Leone Magno (“Great Sacred Lion”).
The number of vignettes this novel made me re-emerge from my personal life are countless (I am 22 years younger by the way), but as a sociologist I’d like to cite three points I deem essential and a total novelty in how the 70s are exposed:
  • The real nature of the neo-fascism is here brutally and at the same time analytically dissected. This is a psychological and societal analysis of what neo-fascism was, and unfortunately has continued to be until mid 2000s. It tells the mistakes and why it was difficult to understand overwhelmingly the phenomenon (perhaps until the third point of this list was alive). In few words, neo-fascism has been a desperate trial to find protagonism. Neo-fascism was the acknowledgment that Italy was not coming back nor establishing what Spain, Portugal or Greece were (and were about to stop to be). Neo-fascism also was totally unable to stop the Communist Party, that failed to get political power for other reasons. Neo-fascism was also closer to Nazism than Fascism. The absurd gender education and values transmitted by a dramatically changing Catholic Church made the rest in “mistaking the doses in the pursuit of education”, as the Author affirms. This novel really gives explanations to facts that I was hardly able to give any, as the 70s never ended in the 80s, 90s and 2000s to expand their, although weaker and weaker, cultural waves (I am talking especially to students’ movements).
  • Consequentially, The Truth about many mysteries in 70s Italian history is gotten not from a deeper knowledge of conspiracy-like theories and evidence (I confess I like a lot the genre); to understand the truth is more likely to accept that some people – like Angelo Izzo, the most famous of the three monsters of Circeo – have been purposely false informers with the only aim to get attention on them. It was just selfish perverse narcissism. Deeper understating of history comes from deeper understanding of changes in the reproduction of values (what else education is?!). In one word, which I can’t translate with accuracy, a person like Izzo was just a delatore (a would say a kind of “fake informant”).
  • The liberal, pro-Enlightenment intellectuals of the 70s, usually from the Left spectrum of Italian politics (mostly Communist of variants of it), are definitively overcome and affectionately explained in their erudite contradictions. The figure of “professor Cosmo” is particularly sound and humane to this regard. I may add that if recently the former leader of the Left Party “Rifondazione Comunista” declared to have found his family in “Comunione e Liberazione” (a very strong Italian conservative Catholic lobby), Albinati was very mild depicting this end of “public Atheism” in Italy. (To this regard, and for the taste of complex plots too, I may say Albinati looks like Sorrentino)
The “Second Vatican Council” and its implementation is at the very root of this socialization dynamic via education, even though interestingly enough it is never mentioned across the book. For those who would define themselves liberal and/or Catholic, this point ought to be of some interest as in my personal experiences in that Area of Rome and in 8 years of Catholic denominational Schools in Florence, I may say that during the Polish Pope epoch those values and spirit have been abandoned and at the same time “adjusted & fixed”.
I found nevertheless a weak point: although I couldn’t get rid of my Kindle until I finished it all, I think the book is a little longer than necessary. It could have said all it tells in much less pages. I, on my behalf, strongly recommend this novel to whoever is interested to understand politics, gender issues and the first cohort of people in the Western world who experienced a structural crisis in Italy. To me, as part of a even greater crisis (the current one) who grew up in the shining 80s, this novel is particularly essential. - giuliomarini
giuliomarini.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/the-catholic-school-a-novel-by-edoardo-albinati-la-scuola-cattolica/


A very long novel—like Edoardo Albinati’s “The Catholic School” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)—complicates our sense of what a novel is. A thousand-plus pages, in the range of a million words: such a novel makes “Ulysses” and “The Golden Notebook” and “Gravity’s Rainbow” seem sleek. It resists our efforts to read it on the bus or in bed, to get lost in it, to finish it, as we were taught to do in school; even on an e-reader, it tries our twenty-first-century patience. Very long nonfiction books are typically justified by their subject matter. Not so the very long novel: impractical, gratuitous, it has to justify itself as it goes.
The very long novel is even more gratuitous in Italian than it is in English. Jhumpa Lahiri, introducing a new book of Italian short stories, observes that Italian literature has developed around the story, rather than the novel, which retains the feel of an import. In the shadow of Dante and Boccaccio, Italian literature has no domineering elder of the very long novel: no Cervantes, no Richardson or Fielding, no Dumas or Hugo. Primo Levi’s books are under three hundred pages, as are Italo Calvino’s, as is Giorgio Bassani’s “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis”; Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s grand novel “The Leopard” is only a little over.
A very long Italian novel can seem an act of defiance; it is certainly an act of imposition. Albinati’s “The Catholic School,” originally published in 2016, occupies almost thirteen hundred dense pages. It became a best-seller in its native land, and was awarded the Strega Prize (previously given to Bassani, Elsa Morante, Levi, Natalia Ginzburg, et al.). The English translation, done with unflagging vigor by Antony Shugaar, presents readers with a very long novel that feels even longer than it is. The effect is surely intended. Of the novel’s many forays into ideas, the richest is its exploration of “the gratuitous,” la gratuità. It’s a mode of experience in which power and the absence of purpose meet; and, in the reading, this gratuitously long novel about religion, manhood, sex, and violence becomes a test of its own unruly philosophy.
Albinati was born in 1956 and was educated at a Catholic boys’ school in the prosperous district of Rome known as the Quartiere Trieste before completing his studies at a state-run, coeducational high school. “That was my time, yes, and these were my spaces,” the narrator, also named Edoardo Albinati, remarks, and the novel is formulated as a work of personal history that will disclose the inner life of contemporary Italy. So the Quartiere Trieste is a “battlemented, turreted citadel” for the ruling class; the Catholic boys’ school an incubator for Italy’s future leaders; and the Catholicism on offer there a distillation of the opiate that has drugged Europe since time began—a mixture of wealth, power, status, and moral scrupulosity, tempered by “a catechism that, on paper at least, preached something like the exact opposite.” The years during which Albinati comes of age are years of epochal change for Italy, for Catholicism, for ideals of manhood. Albinati and his classmates are “a theatrical troupe” who “find themselves acting out the Meaning of Life without yet having lived,” and their school is “a miniature theater or a laboratory, a workshop.”
In Italy, as in the United States, the social convulsions of the sixties and early seventies have been dramatized countless times (as in the affecting 2003 miniseries “The Best of Youth”). This may be why Albinati, even as he gestures toward a generational saga, focusses tightly on adolescence. He opens with the story of his friend Arbus: pale, frail, skinny, and so bright that he is given “abstruse nicknames” such as the “unmoved mover.” And Albinati intimates that the main concern of the novel will be a crime committed by some classmates of his in September, 1975: a rape and murder that became headline news in Italy the way that the Central Park rape case did in New York in the next decade.
A time, a place, an upbringing, a friendship, all shot through with violence: these elements recall Elena Ferrante’s four Neapolitan novels. Similarly, the promise of an unpacking of the sacred and profane mysteries of postmodern manhood calls to mind Karl Ove Knausgaard’s “My Struggle” series (whose sixth volume runs to eleven hundred and sixty pages). You may find yourself anticipating a work that does for Rome in the seventies what Ferrante has done for postwar Naples, and for male friendship what Knausgaard did for fathers and sons. But the anticipation is premature, the comparisons misplaced. The brilliant friend Arbus soon drops out of the text. So do the devices that novelists as different as Ferrante and Knausgaard rely on: characters, dialogue, incident, chronology, and, especially, the rendering of everyday life through precise, detail-flecked paraphrase.
For a few hundred pages, nothing much happens. The most dramatic incident Albinati relates from his school days involves some bullies whipping a weaker boy, as in a rite of flagellation. The rape and murder is treated in a dozen unspectacular pages. Two young men who went to school with Albinati abduct two young women after a double date and take them to a vacation house on Monte Circeo, between Rome and Naples; joined by a third young man, they rape the women, kill one of them, wrap them both in plastic, and stuff them in the trunk of a car; then they drive to Rome and park the car overnight in the Quartiere Trieste, where the surviving woman, kicking and screaming in the trunk, is heard by a neighbor.
That crime is the novel’s link to the conceit of the gratuitous. In fiction, the gratuitous descends from André Gide’s 1914 novel, “Les Caves du Vatican,” in which the callow young Frenchman Lafcadio, on a train between Rome and Naples, spots a man he knows slightly and pushes him off the moving train. For Gide and his modernist disciples, the “unmotivated crime,” the gratuitous act, was a challenge to both the European civilization of the Enlightenment and the older Christian civilization, which in their different ways maintained that human behavior is shaped by reason, motive, and purpose. The term “the gratuitous” appropriated Christian claims about God’s grace, freedom, and inscrutability, applying them to human actions in a godless world.
A century later, Albinati has fictionalized the crime his classmates committed and elaborated on it in the language of broad-brush cultural criticism. He calls it “the kind of scandal that disfigures in an indelible fashion the space that it lays open to the glare of daylight,” and goes on to cycle through rhetorical effects in an effort to register its significance. The crime, he writes,
served at the same time as a warning against the evil detected, but also implicitly instigated others to commit the same crime by the force of a negative example, suggesting that by now the world was contaminated and there could be no respite from corruption and violence. Either you were victims or you were perpetrators (the slogan “We are all responsible,” which dates back to distant Catholic roots, has had an incredible popularity in our country, and caused the damages I’ve already discussed: by summoning us all to accept glaring or hidden guilt, at the same time it dilutes that guilt in a sort of generic collective sin, which can be condoned equally collectively), or else both things together, perpetrators and victims, which leads to a sort of general amnesty. Stigmatized in words, the horror became accessible, within reach of one and all. . . .
Innocence was ruined for good. If innocence had ever existed.
That reflection comes three hundred pages after the account of the crime. In the interim, Albinati the author-narrator holds forth on many topics. He ponders “the morality of sacrifice,” the nature of resentment, and the character of the bourgeoisie (such as their tendency “to minimize,” as when his parents would say, “It’s nothing. . . . Let’s drop it. Let’s just forget about it”). He sees the rape and murder on Monte Circeo as “gratuitous” because it was a crime that he feels any of his classmates could have committed—essentially date rape taken to a terrible extreme—and one in which they are, in a sense, collectively complicit. More broadly, he regards this notion of the gratuitous as a key that unlocks the mysteries of contemporary life. For him, as for Surrealists like André Breton, it is an action whose express purpose is to have no purpose. It is often characterized by excess, as in acts of cruelty and torture. Free of “necessity,” it represents “nonconformism” and “abandonment.” The terrorist violence of neo-Fascists in Italy in the nineteen-seventies, for example, was gratuitous, in that it did away with “any need to answer for its deeds” and kept them “uncontaminated by the leprosy of reason.”
As these notions are developed over many pages, it becomes clear that “The Catholic School” is not a social novel about well-born Roman Catholics, and not a work of true crime. It is a very late entry in the long European tradition of the novel as a quasi-philosophical essay in disguise. Here and there, Albinati presses the essayish impulse into different forms: a long sermon by a priest of the school; Arbus’s class notes on Machiavelli’s “The Prince”; a series of pensées supposedly found in a notebook left by a beloved teacher. Mostly, though, he writes as Edoardo Albinati, an author in middle age who is struggling to finish a book. Weary of fiction, he expounds on whatever is on his mind, and the very long novel becomes a succession of slantwise essays about gender, sex, and power. He paraphrases thinkers from Freud to Judith Butler; he flirts with autofiction, making a record of his reflections through several Easters, as the parish priest, following Italian custom, shows up to bless his apartment (divorced, Albinati is back in the old neighborhood) and engages with him on the question of whether and what he believes.
Why is the novel called “The Catholic School”? The title, like so much else in the book, seems arbitrary. Albinati was never a fervent believer, and he stopped going to Mass in his early teens. All the same, Catholicism is a subject he cherishes. For him, as for many fallen-away Catholics, the further he gets from his Catholic upbringing, the more he has to say about it. “To have studied at a school run by priests was an original sin that would have to be scrubbed out,” he reflects early on. In his own life, he sees the influence of his education in a double way. The priests schooled him and his classmates in the practices of “unmasking” bourgeois society: “reversing appearances, overturning fixed hierarchies, overturning the money changers’ tables.” At the same time, they taught the boys how to thrive in a bourgeois society. Thus Catholic school raised them to be inwardly divided, set against themselves—at once desiring and despising worldly things. It taught them, Albinati writes, “to be masochists . . . to redeem our pain and sorrow by discovering in the end that they are pleasurable, to love the wounds of Jesus as if they had been inflicted on our own bodies.”
That is nothing new. Thinkers from Nietzsche onward have found fault with Christianity for exalting submission. What is new is the twist Albinati gives to the legacy of his schooling. As a boy, he says, he had masochism forced on him through the catechism; as a man, he finds that his education lingers, leading him to view its reciprocal, sadism, as the dark heart of society.
Rape, in this schema, is not “something exceptional or pathological” but a symptom of the way things are. Albinati discusses rape philosophically, the way another writer might discuss the role of friendship or physical labor in society: “Rape is the simplified paradigm of relations between the sexes, its energy-saving mode, its substantial diagram, and it lies at the foundation of every relationship, of every act of intercourse, not necessarily brutal ones.” Rape is a quintessential case of the gratuitous, in that it separates the male sexual impulse from every kind of necessity. This may be why Albinati the Catholic-school alumnus is fascinated by it: because rape is a brutal rejection of the traditional Catholic teaching that sexual intercourse is meant for the purpose of procreation in marriage and that all other sex is immoral—gratuitous. Or it may be that he is fascinated because rape, in the terms of the novel, is an unmistakable way for a man to overcome the masochistic habit of self-subjugation he acquired at school by sadistically asserting himself. He declares that the effect of rape is different from that of intercourse per se, for it is connected “with the subjugation of someone else’s will to your own . . . when we are capable of obligating others to do, not what they want to do, but what we want them to do.” He observes, “I can’t be certain that my witticism will make a girl laugh, or that my gaze will fascinate her, but for sure, a slap or a punch will make her cry.” It’s enough to make you wonder whether you missed something—whether the author-narrator took part in the crime on Monte Circeo, and this book is meant to be the diary of a rapist.
Readers sometimes object to “gratuitous sex” or “gratuitous violence,” on the ground that the graphic depiction of these things can reduce complex relationships to carnal fundamentals. Often, that is the effect of the passages about sex in this novel, as Albinati forces the experience of a generation of men through the needle’s eye of his “sadomaso” interpretation. Some of Albinati’s accounts of his own sexual exploits seem so purely gratuitous, in this banal sense, that they undermine the more robust idea of the gratuitous on which his very long novel depends.
All that material is far from Catholic school, and that is the point of it. Henry James, writing, in 1879, about Nathaniel Hawthorne, spelled out some of the possibilities available to an American overshadowed by the “darkening cloud” of original sin that came with the Puritan heritage. Such a person could contrive to live comfortably beneath it, could suffer under it, could try to cast it off, or could “transmute” it into art, as James felt that Hawthorne had done. It may be that the best way to understand “The Catholic School” is as a middle-aged Italian man’s effort to cast off his Catholic upbringing at last. Fifty years after Albinati left Catholic school in Rome, the combination of countercultural religion and bourgeois morality impressed on him there still overshadows his life more than he likes. This novel is his effort to free himself from it—“to get rid of it, not to remember it,” he said after “The Catholic School” won the Strega Prize.
The novel’s unbounded intelligence, its cool take on sexual violence, and its disregard for conventions of character and plot are assertions of the author’s independence from Catholic and bourgeois expectations. So is its extreme length. At the same time, the length suggests how hard it can be for such a man to shed such an upbringing, even in supposedly secular contemporary Italy. He can’t just get rid of it once and for all; he has to assert his freedom from it again and again. - Paul Elie
https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/08/26/sex-and-power-in-the-catholic-school


Naked, white-skinned vertebrates with sticky legs, spotty backs, chicken breasts and arms that are too long - that's how the students of the Catholic boys' gymnasium San Leone Magno in Rome present themselves at the pool edge of their swimming pool. They are fourteen years old and fight with their bodies. Even the most arrogant daredevils will find it difficult to cuddle up and try convincingly not to lose the arrogant accustomed respect of their tadpole movements. The biggest fear: to be considered a girl. "To be born male is an incurable disease," admits the first-person narrator and main hero frankly. The Italian author Edoardo Albinati, born in 1956, focuses on man as a species in his colossal novel of almost 1300 pages and provides not only an autobiographical memory research, but also an anthropological, sociological, political, psychoanalytic, religious-philosophical and criminological interpretation of male education.
Albinati saves nothing. His novel offers entertaining portraits of teachers, real novels, genre pictures of the bourgeois family, listening protocols, lonely mothers' vignettes, architectural-historical explanations, bible studies, dream sequences, excerpts from diaries, love stories with luscious sex scenes, aphorisms, divorce dramas, lists of films and even short reviews of literary works , He lets his protagonist, who shares the name and some key data with the author, summon up everything that can be narrated. The result is a manic inner monologue and one of the most exciting novels of recent years.
His main venue is the eponymous "Catholic School" respectively the private high school SLM, which in retrospect becomes a kind of research laboratory. As with an experimental setup, Albinati operates with abbreviations: SLM is joined by QT, the Quartiere Trieste, where the school is located and where most of the characters live - a dignified Roman residential area with impressive buildings and functional tenements.
The third component and, at the same time, the engine of the whole venture is the VvC: the crime of Circeo, one of the most gruesome acts of violence in the post-war era, causing shock throughout the country. Three young offenders lured a seventeen-year-old and a nineteen-year-old into a holiday home on Monte Circeo in September 1975, an area where middle-class Romans like to spend the summer, torturing, raping and torturing the girls until one died others just barely survived. Two of the three perpetrators were former students of the Catholic Gymnasium, the third was the brother of a classmate of the victims.
Edoardo Albinati, an Italian teacher at Rebibbia Prison and author of several very good books, one of which is about the prison, explores in this epic novel the question of what it meant to be electrified in post-fascist Italy, purged of the economic miracle from 1968 to grow up. He tells how Catholicism and the ideology of the family with its patriarchal structure, for centuries the foundations of society, came into crisis and how the bourgeois milieu failed to domesticate its destructive components. -
Maike Albath  [ www.zeit.de/2018/48/die-katholische-schule-edoardo-albinati-roman-italien-maenner-gewalt ]
https://www.tellerreport.com/life/--%22the-catholic-school%22--the-man-as-an-incurable-disease-.Ske4AwhRX.html


There are few things the literary community relishes more than the appearance of a polarizing high-profile book. Sure, any author about to release their baby into the wild will be hoping for unqualified praise from all corners, but what the lovers of literary criticism and book twitter aficionados amongst us are generally more interested in is seeing a title (intelligently) savaged and exalted in equal measure. It’s just more fun, dammit, and, ahem, furthermore, it tends to generate a more wide-ranging and interesting discussion around the title in question. With that in mind, welcome to a new series we’re calling Point/Counterpoint, in which we pit two wildly different reviews of the same book—one positive, one negative—against one another and let you decide which makes the stronger case.
Winner of Italy’s prestigious Strega Prize, The Catholic School is a 1,294-page whopper of a novel based on an infamous real life crime. Edoardo Albinati was a classmate of the three boys convicted of brutalizing and murdering two young girls in 1970s Rome. He uses this horrendous act as a jumping off point to discuss misogyny, masculinity, and the Catholic church.
Despite its popularity across the pond, The Catholic School has been met with some mixed reviews over here. In Library Journal, Joshua Finnell compares it to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, praising it for its “precise language and philosophical diatribes” and Kirkus recommends the novel to “readers who like their fiction laden with more reflections than deeds.” The New York Journal of Books‘ John L. Murphy, however, comments that “much of this dense narrative reads like an academic treatise,” but also acknowledges that “the advantage Albinati may offer his perplexed or diligent critics may lie in his ability to explain and elaborate why and how his take on the sordid and sensationalized events of his teens transformed into a massive, garrulous analysis of Italian culture.”
Today we’re taking a look at Brendan Driscoll’s glowing review in Booklist, which commends The Catholic School for its “intense and intimate disquisition on masculinity, violence, and social class.” In the other corner, we’ve got The New York Times‘ Parul Sehgal condemning its misogyny: “A peculiar, disconcerting feature of the book is how frequently it reproduces the conditions it purports to criticize.”
Reader, what do you think?
Was this really life? That is, was this my life? Did I need to do something to make it mine, or was it being provided and guaranteed like this?
“…an intense and intimate disquisition on masculinity, violence, and social class in 1970s Rome … Prize-winning Albinati, a fellow alumnus, does not shy away from grisly sensationalism … What initially seems to be context or digression—a hundred pages on bourgeois marriage; a hundred pages on rape—emerges as the book’s core, a knot of interlocking philosophical concerns that the author has spent a lifetime trying to untangle. Dense, sprawling, brilliant, like Rome itself.”– Brendan Driscoll (Booklist starred review)
“…a 1,200-page slab of lament, accusation, exorcism …  a taxonomy of male types, of bullies and victims; a close reading of locker room behavior; an analysis of the correct proportion of vulgarity necessary for humor between friends … There are only a few scenes, lightly sketched; the modes here are the tirade and the aria—compulsively repetitive discursions with Albinati occasionally and apologetically catching himself … but Albinati is generally a humorless writer … A peculiar, disconcerting feature of the book is how frequently it reproduces the conditions it purports to criticize. It too is a harshly male-only space … Women generally appear here in slices—as membranes, fleshy protuberances, vessels for male insecurity and revulsion … Albinati conjures the minds of the killers and descends into them; we are trapped in their amber, their humid, claustrophobic logic. You expect him to take an ax to all this, to let in reason, but he merges with the muck.”–Parul Sehgal (The New York Times)
- https://bookmarks.reviews/point-counterpoint-edoardo-albinatis-the-catholic-school/


In a quiet northern suburb of Rome, a woman hears noises in the street and sends her son to investigate. Someone is locked in the trunk of a Fiat 127. The police arrive and find one girl seriously injured, together with the corpse of a second. Both have been raped, tortured, and left for dead. The survivor speaks of three young aggressors and a villa by the sea. Within hours two of the men have been arrested. The other will never be found.
Known as the Circeo Massacre, after the resort area of Circeo, seventy miles south of Rome, where the violence took place, this atrocity made a huge impact in Italy in 1975; it then came back into public conscious­ness in 1981 when one of the culprits escaped from prison and fled to Argentina, and again in 2005 when the other condemned man, granted day release to work outside prison, killed a woman and her fourteen-year-old daughter. The dust jacket of the Italian edition of The Catholic School tells its readers right away that the book is inspired by this near-­mythical crime. Particularly shocking, and immediately felt to be an ominous sign of things to come, was that all three rapists came from well-to-do families, while two had recently completed their education at an expensive, highly respectable boys-only Catholic school run by an order of priests dedicated to the Holy Virgin. The author ­Edoardo Albinati attended the same school in the 1960s and early 1970s.
The logic of the novel, then, is that the school is to be put in relation to the crime, perhaps to serve as an explanation for it. And not just this school but Catholic schools in general, since the Italian title, La scuola cattolica, could equally well be translated into En­glish with a ge­neric Catholic School. The whole idea of a traditional religious education is undermined by the suggestion that, at least in our modern times, what it actually fosters is cruelty and bedlam. It was no doubt this sense—­that something profound and profoundly evil had been revealed about an institution absolutely central to Italian culture—­that pushed this mammoth twelve-hundred-page ­novel up the bestseller lists and won it the country’s most prestigious literary prize, the Strega.
But Albinati’s book is not so easily pinned down. It’s certainly not another In Cold Blood, where victims, perpetrators, and their respective backgrounds are meticulously researched and the crime is analyzed in hair-raising detail. Albinati offers no extended dramatization of the events themselves, or the consequent police investigation, or the judicial proceedings. We do not follow the life of the girl who survived, or that of the culprit who escaped. Indeed, one of the charms and irritations of this extraordinary and extraordinarily long novel (just a few thousand words shy of War and Peace) is how ingeniously it plays with our expectations. - Tim Parks
read more here


Edoardo Albinati’s The Catholic School is a recent winner of Italy’s biggest literary prize, il premo Strega, and is coming out in the United States this month. Albinati’s novel is about a number of things—fascism, the petite bourgeois, Rome in the 1970s, growing up in a private all-boys school—and it revolves around the true story of an abduction and gruesome attack of two working class young women by men who attended the same school as Albinati.
I fell in love with Albinati’s poems two decades ago, when I was looking for writing that could both reflect society and inner life, that was neither cheap nor highfalutin. Albinati’s prose is the best Italian you can find. His books that precede The Catholic School are short works of nonfiction or “autofiction” that would make a lot of sense in the United States’ current literary scene. Back then, the best Italian authors were writing that weird, poetic stuff that Americans have learned to love in recent years. Twenty years ago, it was as if everybody in Italy was a Ben Lerner or a Sheila Heti. Albinati has always been one of the best in that tradition, so it’s fantastic that American readers can read The Catholic School now.
The following conversation about The Catholic School  was recorded at his place earlier this summer, on a hot July day.Francesco Pacifico
read the interview here

8/26/19

James Schuyler - The reader discovers that beneath the book’s apparently guileless surface lies a sophisticated awareness of the complicated ways in which words work to define the boundaries between fantasy and reality, innocence and knowledge

Slikovni rezultat za James Schuyler, Alfred and Guinevere,
James Schuyler, Alfred and Guinevere, NYRB Classics, 2002. [1958.]
Introduction by John Ashbery (pdf)


One of the finest American poets of the second half of the twentieth century, James Schuyler was at the same time a remarkable novelist. Alfred and Guinevere are two children who have been sent by their parents to spend the summer at their grandmother's house in the country. There they puzzle over their parents' absence and their relatives' habits, play games and pranks, make friends and fall out with them, spat and make up. Schuyler has a pitch-perfect ear for the children's voices, and the story, told entirely through snatches of dialogue and passages from Guinevere's diary, is a tour de force of comic and poetic invention. The reader discovers that beneath the book's apparently guileless surface lies a very sophisticated awareness of the complicated ways in which words work to define the often perilous boundaries between fantasy and reality, innocence and knowledge.


"The novel…is quite an extraordinary piece of work, chronicling an uneasy period in the life of a brother and sister, seven—year—old Alfred and 11—year—old Guinevere." — Michael Hofmann, London Review of Books
"A delectable little book…A deft and funny creation of a high quality somewhere between the terror—haunted humor of Richard Hughes’ A High Wind in Jamaica and the placid, presumably unself—conscious amusements of Daisy Ashford’s The Young Visiters." — Commonweal
"Schuyler, who died in 1991, was a noted poet, however this book is not written in 'poetic prose'—he employs a simple style, without imagery or complexities. But every page displays a poet’s sensibility in the fresh and inventive ways Schuyler has his child narrators use and misuse language.Alfred and Guinevere is a small treasure, and its restoration to print is to be commended." — Phillip RouthRain Taxi Review of Books

Poet John Ashbery introduces this slim novel by his late friend Schuyler (1923–91), a fellow poet of the so-called New York School, a style characterized by its breezy now-ness, its do-this-then-that narration, and its use of seemingly simple language. When Schuyler published his odd little book in 1958, he had yet to make his name as a poet, and it’s in that connection Ashbery finds the most value to his friend’s tale of two bickering children, which Ashbery reads biographically. Kirkus (March 15, 1958, p. 246) was intrigued by the brother and sister and their various skirmishes, misadventures, and mishaps. With impressive foresight, we praised Schuyler for the very qualities Ashbery celebrates with hindsight: the tape-recording–like accuracy of language “so sure” and “so clear.” Readers annoyed by the poet’s often puerile verse may find his childlike prose redeeming. - Kirkus Reviews


"You can hear it now — for, in dialogue form, (except when Guinevere Gates is writing in her diary) here are the skirmishes, the misadventures and mishaps, and the troubles that she and her younger brother Alfred get into in their city home…" — Kirkus Reviews




I had not heard of James Schuyler’s debut novel, Alfred and Guinevere, which was out of print for almost fifty years, before I spotted rather a lovely NYRB edition in the Modern Classics section of my local library.  I was immediately entranced by its rather charming blurb, and the strength of the reviews which adorn its back cover.  Kenneth Koch calls the novel ‘witty, truthful, simple, lively, and musical’.  Schuyler, best known for his poetry, is heralded as a ‘remarkable novelist’.
In his introduction to the volume, John Ashbery writes: ‘The reader discovers that beneath the book’s apparently guileless surface lies a sophisticated awareness of the complicated ways in which words work to define the boundaries between fantasy and reality, innocence and knowledge.’  Ashbery believes that Schuyler ‘writes about the past with tenderness and humor’, the result of which is ‘a timelessly idyllic comedy of manners, where English models are inflected by 1930s small-town life in America, as seen through the gauze filters of the movies and children’s literature.’
Alfred and Guinevere are a pair of young siblings, who are sent to spent the summer with their grandmother, Mrs Miller, in the country, after their father travels on a business trip to Europe and their mother is preoccupied with subletting their New York apartment before joining him.  Of the plot of Alfred and Guinevere, Ashbery states that it is ‘insistently ambiguous, lacking in resolution’, with the “grownups” ‘barely characters, barely anything but names.’
There are elements of violence throughout Alfred and Guinevere; Alfred is beaten by his father quite often, and the siblings discover the corpse of a murdered ‘colored’ man in the park.  Regardless, the novel is often filled with childish, but rather lovely conversations, in which the siblings endeavour to make sense of the world in which they live, and their parents’ abandonment of them.  Schuyler pinpoints children’s voices marvellously; in fact, it is the real strength of the book.  When in hospital after having his appendix removed, for instance, Alfred tells another patient: ‘”I have one sister named Guinevere who can draw and do back bends.”‘
The novel is told entirely through ‘snatches of dialogue and passages from Guinevere’s diary’.  The novel proper begins with a series of fanciful stories told by the children, of what they believe their adult lives will be like.  Guinevere fancies herself as ‘one of the leading woman big spenders of her day’, and Alfred see himself becoming a ‘great hunter’ and polar explorer.  Guinevere tends to be quite precocious, but Alfred is endearing from the start.  The relationship depicted between the siblings is surprisingly complex at times; Guinevere says: ‘”It’s so difficult, learning how to behave.  We got along like cats and dogs until he almost died having his appendix out.  It makes him more grown up sometimes.”‘  In a later passage, she writes: ‘Last night Alfred put an egg in my bed.  I almost broke it getting in.  I know he did not think of it all by himself and I will fix both of them.  So far I have been very smart and not said anything.  He kept looking at me at breakfast.  I just smiled and asked him how he felt and if he got a good night’s sleep and so on.  He is getting scared.’
Whilst Alfred and Guinevere is rather a fragmented book, the reader does end up learning a lot about both children, and how they feel about one another.  Alfred provides bursts of amusement, and the differences between the children allow Schuyler to present rather a fascinating character study.  There is some semblance of plot, but those who prefer action-packed novels would probably feel a little disappointed by Schuyler’s debut.  I enjoyed the approach overall, and would have liked a little more substance to pull me in further at times; the novel was not quite as good as I was expecting after reading Ashbery’s introduction, but it is a memorable and well written tome nonetheless. -
https://theliterarysisters.wordpress.com/2018/01/03/alfred-and-guinevere-by-james-schuyler/


There is something rather wonderful about choosing and reading a book while knowing very little about it. I knew nothing at all about James Schuyler or his 1958 novel Alfred and Guinevere when I picked it up in Hay on Wye last year – all I knew was that I loved NYRB Classics (and this one, from 2001, shows just how timeless their designs are – looking beautifully fresh 14 years later. Even though I can’t find out what the painting is). Not being a poetry buff, I didn’t realise that that was the arena in which Schuyler made his name – but I do now know that he had a knack with words that was rather extraordinary.
The eponymous Alfred and Guinevere are children who are sent to stay with their grandparents. Most of this slim novel is given in their dialogue, excerpts from Guinevere’s diary, and letters that she writes. The novella probably says their ages, but I must have flown past that section. Guinevere is the elder; Alfred is pretty unschooled in reading and writing.
Undoubtedly the greatest achievement in this novel is Schuyler’s ability to capture the cadences of children’s conversation, particularly the back-and-forth of sibling arguments, which leap from battle to truce to battle, weaving in long-standing disagreements, I-know-something-you-don’t-know novelties, and (most beautifully captured of all) snatches stolen from the conversation of adults around them, and novels the children probably shouldn’t be reading. This is a trick Schuyler uses throughout: they borrow idioms and metaphors that sound extremely out of kilter with their childish bickering, because – of course – that is exactly what children do do. Perhaps particularly those who feel adrift from the adults around them, and uncertain of the events that have occurred (more on that soon). Here’s an example from a letter Betty writes to Guinevere, her erstwhile friend:
Dear Guinevere,Thanks for the note. It is a shame boys make so much trouble and go around tattle-taling and spoiling intimate friendships. Of course your knocking me down like that made a permanent wound in my feelings which is slow to heal but it is not you at bottom I blame it is them. It was not me or Lois who told her mother or my mother what my mother told your mother she said you said. It was Stanley who told his mother and she told the other mothers. So you see how it goes.It is a shame what happens but I guess you have to take it as it comes and not spoil your life with vain regrets.More in sadness than in hate,Elizabeth Carolanne House
And there is this…
“You’re scared to walk across the bridge and look. I can tell you’re scared when you try to look like Mother.””I’ll run away and leave you in the gathering gloom at the mercy of reckless drivers and we’ll see who’s scared.””I’ll throw myself in the gutter and get sick and die, then you’ll be sorry.””No I won’t. I’ll go to your funeral and say, ‘Doesn’t he look sweet in his coffin,’ and cry, then everybody will feel sorry for me and give me things. I’ll wear a black dress with black accessories and a hat with a black veil. Black is very becoming and makes you look older. Then I’ll take your insurance money and go on a trip and meet a dark, interesting stranger.”
Lest you think that this is a cutesy book, I should say that – behind the well-observed dialogue – there is an indistinct darkness. I suppose Guinevere’s macabre callousness might already dismiss ideas of Brady Bunch levels of cuteness, but there is a much darker subtext. The children briefly discuss having found a dead body. At one very poignant moment, Guinevere blurts out “I’m sorry Daddy hit you”, but it is not explored further than that. Schuyler gives just enough shade to make clear that all is not sunny.
But, at the same time, this is a very funny book. It is the sort of humour that stems almost entirely from acute observation – and that, if coupled with a slight (slight) heightened tone, is probably the thing I find most amusing. In only 126 pages, Schuyler combines humour and darkness in a really exceptional way.
Alfred and Guinevere is deceptively quick and simple. But, oh, there is an awful lot going on – not least an authorial restraint and style that I heartily applaud. If I had to pick any other novel that it reminded me of, I would pick another NYRB beauty – Skylark by Dezső Kosztolányi. - StuckinaBook
https://www.stuckinabook.com/alfred-and-guinevere-by-james-schuyler/
Slikovni rezultat za James Schuyler, What's for Dinner?,
James Schuyler, What's for Dinner?, NYRB Classics, 2011.
read it at Google Books


James Schuyler's utterly original What's for Dinner? features a cast of characters who appear to have escaped from a Norman Rockwell painting to run amok. In tones that are variously droll, deadpan, and lyrical, Schuyler tells a story that revolves around three small-town American households. The Delehanteys are an old-fashioned Catholic family whose twin teenage boys are getting completely out of hand, no matter that their father is hardly one to spare the rod. Childless Norris and Lottie Taylor have been happily married for years, even as Lottie has been slowly drinking herself to death. Mag, a recent widow, is on the prowl for love. Retreating to an institution to dry out, Lottie finds herself caught up in a curious comedy of group therapy manners. At the same time, however, she begins an ascent from the depths of despair—illuminated with the odd grace and humor that readers of Schuyler's masterful poetry know so well—to a new understanding, that will turn her into an improbable redeemer within an unlikely world.
What's for Dinner? is among the most delightful and unusual works of American literature. Charming and dark, off-kilter but pedestrian, mercurial yet matter-of-fact, Schuyler's novel is an alluring invention that captures both the fragility and the tenacity of ordinary life.




"James Schuyler’s sublimely sad and funny novel, What’s for Dinner? looks back at Cranford and Madame Bovary and forward to present—day dysfunctional households like those of”Desperate Housewives.” It’s wonderful to have it back in print." — John Ashbery

"A quietly scarifying, very funny, and wonderfully compassionate novel." — Stephen Spender

"What’s for Dinner? is a comedy of manners all about alcoholism, insanity, adultery, drugs, moderate incest, and death. [It is] a great gift to the reader." —Alice Notley



I will confess to a highly ambivalent response when it comes to novels that are written by authors who, for the most part, are poets. I am not a poetry reader, so that bias is admitted up front. Most often, I find that the language gets in the way of the novel — Anne Michaels’ The Winter Vault would be a good example. And then, just when I am getting ready to give up on poet-novelists, along comes something like Patrick Lane’s Red Dog, Red Dog and I realize I would be doing myself a tremendous disservice if I became so arbitrary.
My poetry knowledge is so slim that I did not know James Schuyler was an outstanding poet when I ordered What’s For Dinner? — a recommendation from leroyhunter in a comment on L. J Davis’ A Meaningful Life was what put me on to the book. It was, leroy said, ” a study of suburban mores [with] a pleasant sharpness that is reminiscent of Davis”. That is as good a description as you could ask for — there are echoes of both Richard Yates Revolutionary Road and Mad Men, the television show, but more than anything else there is an exploration of New York suburbia in the 1970s.
To fill in the background that I did not have: Schuyler is indeed a major American poet of the New York school with a score or so of published volumes to his credit. He was also W.H. Auden’s amanuensis, among other things. And he was a significant playwright; both the poetic and stage-writing talents come to play in this book.
Consider the opening, where we meet Mary C. Taylor and her husband Norris in their living room:
It was a lovely light living room. Or it would have been, had not a previous owner found quick-growing conifer seedlings an irresistible bargain. When the sun set, a few red beams would struggle in, disclosing in their passage the dust of which the air at times seems largely composed. Mary C. Taylor — the laughing Charlotte of the class of 19** — found the sweet mood brought on by contemplation of the spick-and-spanness in which her husband Norris perused and, presumably, memorized the evening paper, soured.
“It seems to me all I do is dust this room.” She put on the bridge lamp at her elbow, in hopes of fighting light with light.
“It isn’t dust, it’s pollen.” Norris was never so absorbed as not to leave a trickle of attention running.
Lottie and Norris are childless; they have replaced the rigors of child-rearing with collecting (and dusting) knick-knacks and, in Lottie’s case, a dependence on the vodka bottle that will eventually see her checked into a rehab centre.

The Delehanteys, by contrast, are a Catholic family with two teen-age, twin sons, who tend to dominate their attention. Father Bruce sees himself as a strict disciplinerian, monitoring and directing (mainly on the negative side) the boys’ musical, athletic and scholastic careers. Alas, like most parental intervention, his efforts are being overtaken by reality and the twins are growing up with the same kinds of distractions (say soft drugs) that most teenagers run into.
Family three in the book actually isn’t a family it is a widow, Mag. Her husband’s death was pretty much a surprise and Mag is not yet ready to give up her life to widow’s weeds.
That’s the framework for one half of the narrative of the book. The three family units interact with each other — sort of. Dinners are hosted, bridge is played and hanky-panky does develop.
As the novel unfolds, Schuyler also spends a fair bit of time exploring the institution where Lottie has been confined, which has an entirely separate community of characters.
That cast is large enough (and very well developed, I must say) that I won’t even try to list them. What is significant about this thread of the book, however, is that it is where Schuyler the playwright comes into play (sorry about the pun). Almost all of these sections, which alternate with the suburban life ones, are done completely in dialogue. The patients go through family and occupational therapy (stitching moccasins, braiding belts and “painting” and “potting”) but most of the non-dialogue parts read like stage directions; the story and relationships between characters comes in the dialogue. An example from early in the process:
Group was in session, and Dr Kearney looked bored. “All right, Bertha,” he said, “you’ve made yourself the center of attention long enough. We’ve all heard your stories of marijuana, music and LSD. You’ve convinced us that you were a real swinger, and you swung yourself right in here.”
“You never talk about your problems, I’ve noticed,” Lottie said, “the things behind your actions. That might be more interesting and helpful. To all of us, not just yourself.”
“My only problem,” Bertha said, “is that I have a family. They’re nice, but they bug me.”
“Bug you?” Mrs. Brice said.
“They let me do anything I want, but all the time I can tell they secretly disapprove. They don’t know what to make of me , but I know what to make of them. Spineless. Nice, but spineless.”
“We haven’t heard much from you, Mrs Judson,” Dr Kearney said.
“I never did talk much,” Mrs. Judson said.
“That’s true,” Sam Judson said. “Ethel was never much of a talker. She shows her feelings in other ways.”
“In other ways?” Norris said. “I’d be interested to hear an example.”
As that excerpt illustrates, there is a somewhat painful slowness to this thread of the book but, to the author’s credit, it does eventually acquire a rhythm of its own, in contrast to the equally slow (but differently developed) world outside the institution. Like Yates (and Mad Men), part of what Schuyler is exploring is the inherent boredom of suburbia and life outside the institution is not that different from life inside it.
I don’t think What’s For Dinner? is a great book, but it definitely is a worthwhile one — exactly the kind of volume that the NYRB should be ensuring stays in print. I am sure that, if you are a poetry reader, Schuyler’s poetry is a better investment of your time, but then I am not a poetry reader. In its own way, this novel captures the same kind of stasis that drives Yates’ Revolutionary Road and explores what kinds of outcomes that suburban stasis produces — with somewhat less disastrous consequences. Written in 1978, it captures that “bust” era — the liberation of the 1960s is now a fact, it has left some damage in its wake. In its own way, that has contributed as much to the modern world as the revolution of the sixties did — it is more than worthwhile to investigate how it looked at the time.  -
https://kevinfromcanada.wordpress.com/2010/03/27/whats-for-dinner-by-james-schuyler/




Helene is restless:
leaving soon. And what then
will I do with myself? Some-
one is watching morning
TV. I’m not reduced to that
yet. I wish one could press
snowflakes in a book like flowers.”
             James Schuyler, “The Morning of the Poem”
The novel “What’s For Dinner?” is a unique off-kilter quirky comedy of manners about us poor souls who live in suburbia.  The novel was written by a poet, James Schuyler, and it has a captivating rhythm all its own.
 For readers like me who are always on the lookout for something different and interesting, this novel is near perfect.  Although “What’s for Dinner” can be considered a comedy, it is a comedy with a dark biting underside.
 New Yorker James Schuyler was a manic depressive for most of his adult life and spent years in psychoanalysis and group therapy.  In “What’s For Dinner?” he puts his group therapy experience to good use since much of the novel takes place during group therapy sessions.  A lot of the novel is the dialogue between these group members.  Group therapy talk has the potential for being very boring, but here the characters are so colorful and interesting that we care about what each character says.  The talk in the group sessions covers such weighty matters as alcoholism, adultery, drugs, insanity,  and death in an offhand conversational manner.  Dialogue is surely one of Schuyler’s strong suits.
 “Mrs. Judson,” Lottie said, “I wish you would tell me one thing that I’ve done to offend you.  Or anyone else here, for that matter.”
“How could you offend me?” Mrs. Judson said.  “I’m above that.”
“Yet you behave toward me as though I had.  I’m not trying to provoke you – I think you will feel better if you get some of what’s bothering you off your chest.”
“I’ll thank you to leave my chest out of it.”
“Very well,” Lottie said.  “I’ve tried.”
 These are just ordinary people who might have stepped out of a TV sitcom.  Being ordinary does not mean these same people can’t also be stubborn and capricious.    Some make tremendous progress in the group, and some don’t.   Also the family members of those in the group have their own things going on and their own sets of problems just like in real life.    The entire story is told with a certain elan, a kind spirit, that keeps the reader smiling the entire way. 
 This novel has caused me to be interested in James Schuyler.  I want to read more of his poetry and also his other novel which has been republished by NYRB, “Alfred and Guinevere”.
 Once again New York Book Review (NYRB) has republished a book that puts the adjective ‘novel’ into the noun ‘novel’.  I looked up the adjective ‘novel’ and found the following meaning: ‘different from anything seen or known before”.   “What’s For Dinner?” certainly fits that definition.     
 “Your poems,”
a clunkhead said, “have grown
more open.” I don’t want to be open,
merely to say, to see and say, things
as they are.
         James Schuyler, “Dec 28, 1974”   
- https://anokatony.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/whats-for-dinner-by-james-schuyler/
Slikovni rezultat za James Schuyler, Collected Poems, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1993.


James Schuyler, Collected Poems, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1993.
borrow it here


The definitive edition of the poet's work, taken from the pages of the poet's published collections, includes Freely Espousing, Crystal Lithium, Hymn to Life, and The Home Book.


This posthumous collection of Schuyler's (1923-1991) work will confirm the poet's mastery of a type of poem made famous by his friend Frank O'Hara in the late 1950s. Schuyler's subject is his life, and his poems often read like elegant journal entries. The book presents intimate and conversational accounts of life in the Eastern literary landscape--New York City, New England, Long Island. In urbane free verse, the poet recalls and meditates on music and painting, homosexuality, weekends with friends--John Ashbery and Fairfield Porter among them--deaths, a drive to the Hamptons. Unlike many later writers who have tried to convey the poetry inherent in the mundane aspects of their quotidian routine, Schuyler had a superb ear for language, for "How the thing said / Is in the words, how / The words are themselves / The thing said." His work is almost always interesting and witty, though rarely profound. A typical poem finds him dining out with friends, the narrative following the course of the poet's meandering thoughts: "Now it's tomorrow, / as usual. Turned out that / Doug Douglas Crase, the poet / had to work (he makes his bread / writing speeches): thirty pages / explaining why Eastman Kodak's / semi-slump(?) is just what / the stockholders ordered." Rarely has a poet imparted so much of his experience as honestly and engagingly as Schuyler does here. - Publishers Weekly                                                                                          The house was quiet and the world was calm.
              
The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,
              
Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom
              
The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
Wallace Stevens

Reading James Schuyler's Collected Poems this summer, just out this June, is better than vacationing at the shore, or mountain retreat; in fact it is better than anywhere one could imagine. There, or rather here in his book, one visits with the imagination of a great poet whose art transforms us as it informs our relationship within our surroundings only to discover words are the landscape in which we want most to go. Modesty, fortunately, is not one of Mr. Schuyler's virtues and the world he artfully presents, as we are keenly aware in every line, is neither his nor ours, even when the recognition of the real in his observations is so stunning we can only acquiesce.
             Objects are never as real in life as they appear in Schuyler's poems. One might say Schuyler is an objective surrealist interpolating flat reportage with hyper-descriptive elements.
The lilac leaves. The lilac trusses stand in bud. A cardinal
Passes like a flying tulip, alights and nails the green day
Down. One flame in a fire of sea-soaked, copper-fed wool:
A red that leaps from green and holds it there. . . .
(from "Hymn to Life," pg. 223)
It's as though his "outside" is the reading of an afterimage flashed upon the optic nerve creating a neurasthenic tableau whose colors shift, and in this polarization or synesthesia we find world and ourselves impressed (nailed down, taken aboard) in his process. In this activity – the need to capture – Schuyler is an ecstatic, perhaps even a religious thinker, though he is neither overtly moral nor pious. In these visions of excess, Schuyler is never a tourist. He is, however, profoundly genuine in his arduous humility to get it right.
There almost has to be a heaven! so there could be
a place for Bruno Walter
who never needed the cry of a baton.
Immortality –
in a small, dusty, rather gritty, somewhat scratchy
Magnavox from which a forte
drops like a used Brillo Pad?
(from "A Man in Blue'" pg. 17)
And wonderfully, for us, in our significant need for refreshment which he quietly indulges, getting it right means he can run on to "camp" where fun "is something more than beer and skittles, and the something more is a whole lot better than beer and skittles!" But his sense of whimsy, like that of John Ashbery, can also reveal that life in a funhouse is anything but fun. The nonsense in his poems can sometimes peek through to expose nature (and social orders alike) as empowered, terrifying and indifferent.
              When Schuyler reviewed his lifetime friend Fairfield Porter's work in Art News in 1967 he wrote: "The quotidian image is transfigured to pure paint." Replace "language" for "paint" and the same can be said of the transfiguration Schuyler enacts within his own medium. The title of the review "Immediacy Is the Message" is telling as well, as Schuyler is the master of the quick take. However it is more complicated than "first thought best thought," for Schuyler is a known fiddler and would sometimes take up to a year tinkering with a poem – getting it right. The surface of his poems has only an illusion of immediate and effortless description. His poems, like ethnographic accounts, read from a subject-position both inside and outside of the human activities and "weather" they track. And although a case can be made that he himself was an outsider, we continually find ourselves adopted within the natural and normative social intricacies he records as familiar. We know that James Schuyler suffered profoundly in his adult life, he was hospitalized several times for schizophrenia and in many ways, I feel, his work is that of a solitaire, recording the light outside a window – guest room, hospital room etc. You don't have to go digging. It's in the poems. His vivid rendering of the world is born out of a necessity to cohere, not merely for embellishment but as an act of sanity. Yet he is not simply inventing a locus for himself in his poems. The act is, in fact, far more sophisticated – it is description as event. An event which includes potentially everyone: the ominous cabby, a nurse, a failed lover from high school, a newspaper boy, friends and family alike. All have a place within Schuyler's "camp," which remains complicated and thick. The event of the poem is a promise of salvation divested within the infinite possibility of forms.
              In his book of essays "The Interpretation of Culture" the anthropologist Clifford Geertz illuminates the role of ethnography as "thick description." In Schuyler's case, we might substitute poet for ethnographer in the following quote: "What the [poet] is in fact faced with is a multiplicity of complex conceptual structures, many of them superimposed upon or knotted into one another, which are at once strange, irregular, and inexplicit, and which he must contrive somehow first to grasp and then to render: incoherencies, suspicious emendations, and tendentious commentaries. And this is true at the most down-to-earth, jungle field work levels of his activity: interviewing informants, observing rituals, eliciting kin terms, censusing households, [describing them] not in conventionalized graphs of sound but in transient examples of shaped behavior." Indeed, his entire opus is full of "transient examples of shaped behavior," never "conventionalized graphs of sound." Ethnography is not so far off, considering the subject matter of Schuyler's poems, especially the long poems. Take almost any passage:
. . . I think with longing of my years in
Southampton, leaf-turning
trips to cool Vermont. Things should get better as you
grow older, but that
is not the way. The way is inscrutable and hard to handle.
Here it is
the Labor Day weekend and all my friends are out of town:
just me and some
millions of others, to whom I have not yet been introduced.
A walk in the
streets is not the same as a walk on the beach, by
preference, a beach
emptied by winter winds. A few days, and friends will
trickle back to
town. Dinner parties, my favorite form of entertainment.
Though in these
inflationary times you're lucky to get chicken in
place of steak.
What I save on meals I spend on taxis. Lately a lot
of cabs have
signs: NO SMOKING, PLEASE, or NO SMOKING DRIVER ALLERGIC.
A quiet smoke in
a taxi is my idea of bliss. Yes, everything gets more
restricted, less free.
(from "A Few Days" pg 361)
Not unlike Whitman, Schuyler believed that "a freedom which excludes is less than free." ("Immediacy Is the Message"), and he has invented a form wherein we are free to come and go as we partake of the terms of its telling. His technique to create an open field was never more telling than when, in an important gesture near the end of his life, Schuyler came out in 1988 to give his first public reading. The line outside of the DIA Foundation was four abreast and was over a block long comprised of life-long devotees and younger readers. In short all the various clans turned out to participate in the masterful space of that event.
              I can't imagine anyone not being completely thrilled to own this edition of the Collected Poems. The cover is a portrait of Mr. Schuyler, reading in his room at the Chelsea Hotel, by Darragh Park (who, along with Raymond Foye and Thomas Carey is an editor of this volume). My only complaint is that I was also hoping to find fugitive poems from his career. The good news is that the present volume is replete with 90 pages of "Last Poems," which are remarkable. It is hard to pick favorites as they are all first rate and as good as anything he has written – outrageous, unconventional, particular, angry, disappointed, kind and knowing. A significant treat. The long poem "Hymn to Life" is presented here for the first time with its glorious long lines unbroken, which to my mind does make a difference. Also all of the poems from "The Home Book" are included. The most striking aspect of reading through the Collected Poems is the variousness of his craft, from short staccato lines to luxurious run-on sentences. The entire book creates an almost seamless vision of life as it is and as we see ourselves in it from a distance. To reread Schuyler's poems is a rehearsal for an event we need always to possess – the promise of artistic excellence.

Peter Gizzifrom Lingo, August, 1993
https://writing.upenn.edu/epc/authors/schuyler/schuyler_gizzi_collected_review.html


Slikovni rezultat za James Schuyler, The Diary of James Schuyler,



James Schuyler, The Diary of James Schuyler, Black Sparrow Press, 1996.          


The search for ways to contain the evanescence, fragility and ephemeral beauty of the moment has preoccupied lyric poets from Catullus and Herrick to James Schuyler. For Schuyler, indeed, discovering and glowing in the ineffable contingency of the moment was both theme and goal. Nowhere in his work is this more true than in that marvelous celebration of the miracle of impermanence, his remarkable Diary, here made available in full for the first time."The Diary", editor Nathan Kernan has noted, "is a work of art; it is, in a large sense, a poem. Stylistically it is of a piece with Schuyler's poems: it is cut from the same cloth, or is, in places, the cloth from which the poems were cut... The Diary's peculiar combination of fragment, meticulous description, literary allusion, commonplace book and remembrance is beautiful in its own right, and very much a window into the mind that wrote the poems".Nathan Kernan's extremely thoughtful, scrupulous and informed editing provides this long-awaited volume a scholarly care it deserves. Kernan's editorial glosses and biographical sketches on the cast of characters, placing Schuyler in a rich social context of poets, artists and friends, provide what amounts to a handy thumbnail history of the New York School.

Schuyler's poetry digs to the core of daily living in order to transcend it so convincingly. Daily living's a daily chore, and this poet imagined and titled his poems accordingly: "May 24th or So," "A Few Days," "Vermont Diary," "8/12/70," and so on. What to expect, then, from the diary of a poet whose approach was so diaristic to start with? Raw material galore--biography, memory, backstory. (Schuyler was formerly an art critic and at one-time a secretary to W. H. Auden.) But that's just the beginning; this fine book not only augments Schuyler's sizable poetic output but enriches it as well. There's a candor or lucidity to these journal entries that stands apart from (and next to) his point-blank lyrics and chapbook-length narrative poems. We know the routine already, but this time we're standing backstage. Lucky for us. Here, we see the writing is vivid and clean as ever, as after a day's events in March: "On this brilliant, cool, delicious day the city seems the work of a child who owns a pencil, a ruler, and a paint set." And editor Kernan knows his subject utterly, usefully well. A footnote defining an artist known for his ceiling frescoes reads: "Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770), Venetian painter; like Schuyler, a poetof skies." - Boston Review

“As beautiful a morning as ever was, as though the two days wind had blown something away and left — not spring, by any means: a kind of russet flash in this swept clean clarity.  The plane tree looks as though it’s shedding its flakes and scabs of bark in the interest of a new nakedness, its upper trunk like a sinewy throat.  Only the clipped privet, in which a few twig-colored leaves still lurk, has a dusty priggish look.  Only at this hour of the morning does the sun shine into the garage and pick out the bright, artificial lacquer blue of Lizzie’s bike.”
— James Schuyler, March 5, 1971, 7 a.m.


Slikovni rezultat za James Schuyler, Selected Art Writings
James Schuyler, Selected Art Writings, Black Sparrow Press, 1998.
read it at Google Books


Art Criticism. Following THE DIARY OF JAMES SCHUYLER (declared by the New York Times a "treasure"), Black Sparrow has published SELECTED ART WIRITNGS OF JAMES SCHUYLER. Edited by poet Simon Petit, this book presents Schuyler's essays and articles composed mostly for the influential trade periodical Art News during his tenure as associate editor (1957-1962). A vivid composite portrait of the New York art scene of that time, this selection includes pieces on such artists as Gorky, Pollock, Rothko, Kline, Frankenthaler, Rivers, Rauschenberg and, of course, Fairfield Porter. Many articles are illustrated with photographs of the work. "The selection and the precise arrangement of the notices and reviews that comprise SELECTED ART WRITINGS represent a final draft of a project begun and sustained with the active engagement fo the author" -- Simon Pettet. "A violet-blue, the border of the glass over the pieta, emerges as an echo, as though if you squeezed a leaf hard enough a little sky blue would ooze out. The whole thing has the musical look of a clock." ("Joe Brainard: Quotes and Notes"). As John Ashbery has said, Schuyler is simply "the best we have."


Schuyler observed in the late 1950s: "In New York, the art world is a painter's world; writers and musicians are in the boat, but they don't steer," and indeed, the New York School of Poets?John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Frank O'Hara and Schuyler?never achieved the epochal significance of their namesake, the New York School of Painters (including Pollock, Rothko and de Kooning). But the poets participated in the artistic ferment of the period: O'Hara, who served as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, was an art critic; Ashbery and Schuyler, whose poetry won a Pulitzer Prize in 1981, wrote about the visual arts as well. This volume of reviews and essays, completed largely from 1957 to 1962 for the magazine Art News, is somewhat disappointing. Absent a contextualizing foreword, the writing, which in its exuberance and associative logic differs from a mid-century critic's typically cool, analytic prose, is neither erudite nor polished. Because Schuyler was drawn to figurative artists (he lived with the painter Fairfield Porter and his family for 11 years), the bulk of his protracted attention goes to lesser-known artists such as Jane Freilicher. Jasper Johns's early iconic images receive barely two sentences, and Jules Olitiski's color-field canvases receive no mention at all. Where Schuyler's frequently luminous prose excels is in his descriptions of color, and in his longer essays on Franz Kline and Porter. The book is not well served by the illustrations, which frequently display photographs of the artists rather than examples of their work. Still, if taken on a poet's terms, this introduction to a group of artists overlooked by history comes as a pleasant surprise.  - Publishers Weekly


Slikovni rezultat za Just the Thing: Selected Letters of James Schuyler 1951-91


Just the Thing, Selected Letters of James Schuyler 1951-91, Ed. by William Corbett, Turtle Point Press, 2009.


"An extraordinarily rich and compelling book, a wonder . . . the perfect companion to [Schuyler's] brilliant and memorable poems."―Paul Auster
"James Schuyler's letters are all of a piece. . . . They have his virtues: wit, humor, intelligent observations about writing, writers, painting, and painters expressed off-handedly, bits of brilliant description of nature and weather, and a sense of the world lived in, sharply observed, and lovingly accepted for all that it is. All of a piece but with Schuyler's voice adjusted to different friends, pitched to their particular wavelengths. And, of course, his voice changes over the years as he ages and his correspondents extend beyond his contemporaries to younger friends." ―William Corbett, from the Introduction

The most accessible of the New York School of poets proves to be a delightful letter writer, as this breezy stream of correspondence over 40 years attests. Highlights are his regular bulletins to fellow poets John Ashbery, Barbara Guest and Kenneth Koch (Frank O'Hara and W.H. Auden are sadly missing). Schuyler's letters are primarily a means of keeping in touch, garnished with gossip, film and theater recommendations and other amusements. He does, of course, find time to comment archly on contemporary poetry, give solid editorial criticism, preview his own verse (including the unpublished "A Blue Shadow Painting") and collaborate with Ashbery on their satiric novel, A Nest of Ninnies. In addition to the city's poetry scene, Schuyler moved in the Manhattan art world, American expatriate cliques in Italy and gay New York. Keeping up with Schuyler's wide interests, gregariousness and penchant for name dropping, editor Corbett supplies hundreds of footnotes. There are, however, gaps in the record, starting at the time of Schuyler's nervous breakdown in 1961 and recurring over his final two decades as he struggled with mental illness. But Schuyler, unlike a friend who wanted all his letters burned, wrote to amuse his correspondents, not confess to posterity; he never worried, like that friend, about leaving behind what he called "a whited sepulcher" for himself. - Publishers Weekly


James Schuyler wrote picture-poems. As often as not, and in his shorter pieces especially, the poet is to be found at his window. The window might look out on Manhattan, or on to the beach at Great Spruce Island, Maine, or from a house in Southampton, Long Island, or from Payne Whitney Hospital, New York; but wherever it is set, the poem will invariably find the poet sitting, observing the events that fall within his field of vision, framing the view. So in "February", there's
   A gray hush
   in which the boxy trucks roll up Second Avenue
   into the sky. They're just
   going over the hill.
   The green leaves of the tulips on my desk
   like grass light on flesh,
   and a green-copper steeple
   and streaks of cloud beginning to glow.
   I can't get over
   how it all works in together
   like a woman who just came to her window
   and stands there filling it
   jogging her baby in her arms.
And so there you have it, Schuyler's view, rolled out as naturally as if you were sitting there yourself, as naturally as if the poem were a painting, by Bonnard say, or by Fairfield Porter, or by Jane Freilicher (one of his favourite artists). It's as if he sat down one afternoon and looked out over the top of the tulips, on to the trucks on Second Avenue, and across to the woman jogging her baby, and the poem, like the view, just sort of presented itself, as if the world was waiting to be carried over into words.
Except, of course, that's not what it's like. Those "boxy trucks" are not, as the poet might like to think for a moment, rolling into the sky. "They're just," as he quietly corrects himself, "going over the hill". And the green leaves of the tulips are perhaps like "grass light on flesh", but perhaps they are also like the "green-copper steeple". Or perhaps they are like both of these, or like neither of them quite. Schuyler allows all of the possibilities. And then, speaking of the view, "he can't get over / how it all works in together", which is understandable; views have that effect on people. But how is this working in together like "a woman who just came to her window"? Maybe, actually, it isn't.
And so it goes on: the more one looks at the poem the more it starts to break up slightly, and the more this most natural of situations begins to feel uncertain. The poem's setting and subject is "February": it's "the day", as Schuyler informs us, "before March first". So that's February 28, then. Or is it 29th? And being at the end of the month, just how reliably February is this scene anyway? And the green of the tulip stems: is it, as the poem suggests, like "One green wave in the violet sea", or is it "like the UN building on big evenings"? The more one reads, in other words, the more the poem's coherence begins to resolve back into its individual elements. And then it really is a wonder that it all works in together, because what the poem starts to resemble is not a landscape but a collage, with individual words, like individual things, being accorded their own particular weight and separate identity - being like one another and also radically different.
Or as Schuyler put it in a letter to an admirer named Nancy Batie: "I like an art where disparate elements form an entity. De Kooning's work, which I greatly admire, has less to do with it than that of Kurt Schwitters, whose collages are made of commercial bits and 'found' pieces but which always compose a whole, striking for its completeness."
Most of Schuyler's letters, at least most of the letters William Corbett has carefully recovered and then selected - this is a book for which Schuyler-lovers will be duly grateful - are to the writers and painters with whom the poet was friends, and who gravitated around New York in the second half of the 20th century: John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Joe Brainard, Anne Dunn, Freilicher, Alex Katz, Harry Mathews, among others. The letters begin in the early 50s - Schuyler writing to Fairfield Porter from Europe - and end three months before his death in 1991 in New York. The bulk, though, were written between 1961 and 1972, when Schuyler lived with the Porters in Southampton, Long Island, and at their summer home on their island off the coast of Maine, Fairfield Porter having taken him in following the first of his numerous mental breakdowns. Island-living seems to have lent a romance to letter writing. As he explained to Brainard from New York in 1985: "the letter-writing impulse seems to have left me. A lot of it is due to not going to the island any more: somehow it was a wonderful place to receive mail ... And there's something especially enchanting about letters that have to come by mailboat, their arrival announced by the toot of a nautical horn."
Socially stranded, Schuyler put in his letters the stuff that otherwise he might well have said in person. In any one letter, then, he reports on his weight, which fluctuates, but mostly goes upwards; the weather - though one might have hoped for more weather, the poems being among the best in the language on the nuances and qualifications of climate; his visitors, whom, as one does, he both welcomes and then bitches up; on his shopping, his lack of money, his viewing, and his reading -which was wide-ranging and completely untroubled by genre or category (he especially liked works on horticulture and experimental novels). What the letters resemble, in other words, are diary entries - Schuyler was also a beautiful diarist - but, as the poems have an undeniable diaristic quality, so the letters also resemble the poems; or they anticipate them, or sometimes they work out of them, in their switches between elements, in the fluency in which disparate items are formed momentarily into an entity.
They go quiet on two subjects: the tragically early death, in 1966, of Frank O'Hara, and on Schuyler's own serial mental health problems. He refers briefly to O'Hara's death in a handful of letters of the time, but never so as really to pass his feelings on. And while occasionally letters of the 70s and 80s are clearly written out of madness, if he recounts his breakdowns the report is strictly limited to practicalities: how his friends took him to hospital, what drugs he was prescribed, how, later, he managed to get out. This is largely a question of tone. The letters are arch at times, quite often camp: Schuyler entertains his friends (who are also in some way, of course, his rivals) as he would have done in person. The verbal energy is high. He is emotionally precise. The thinking is rapid. Any given letter is a performance.
John Ashbery and James Schuyler, A Nest of Ninnies, Dalkey Archive Press, 2008.
read it at Google Books


The Tosti sisters of Paris, France, have come to the small, upstate New York village of Kelton for a change of pace. But when the pair enters the lives of Alice, an unfulfilled cellist, her brother Marshall, and Fabia and Victor, another sister and brother who are as bumbling as they are overindulged, it is certain that Kelton will never again be the same unassuming place.


The denizens of Kelton, New York - a bedroom community some fifty miles from Manhattan - are a well-heeled bunch who spend an awful lot of time playing rummy. There is Alice, an unfulfilled cellist, and her complacent brother Marshall, who doesn't like his friends to confide in him. There are the bumbling and overindulged Fabia and Victor, another sibling duo, and their friend Irving, a meek mama's boy. Into their cloistered lives come Claire and Nadia Tosti, two sisters from Paris, whose take-charge tactics stir the winds of enterprise, romance, and change. Through them, Alice is led to a swarthy Italian who helps her orchestrate a successful restaurant business. Irving pairs up with Claire, finally winning freedom from his eccentric, cat-loving mother. Victor embraces Nadia and the antiques trade, while Fabia discovers a potential romance with Victor's French pen pal. Only Marshall finds himself eluded by love, a predicament that will lead him from the snug environs of Kelton to the crude energies of the Midwest. In bistros, galleries, bars, and theaters, the protagonists eat, drink, criticize each other, and debate the worlds of art, music, literature, life, and love.


"Destined to become a minor classic." --W. H. Auden

"Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about A Nest of Ninnies is that the two poets have dissolved their own personalities and merged so entirely into a common style that it can be said that the book's author is neither Ashbery nor Schuyler but a third entity fashioned in the process of collaboration." --David Lehman, The Last Avant-Garde

"The best comic novel I've read since Lolita." --F. W. Dupree



James Schuyler and I began writing A Nest of Ninnies purely by chance. It was July 1952 and we were being given a lift back to New York from East Hampton, N.Y. where we had spent the weekend as guests of the musical comedy librettist John Latouche. Latouche planned to make a short movie starring us and our friend Jane Freilicher called “Presenting Jane,” from a scenario by Schuyler. A few scenes had just been shot, including a scene of Jane walking on water (actually a submerged dock on Georgica Pond); the film was never finished though Schuyler’s script recently surfaced and is going to be published soon. Now we were in a car being driven by the young cameraman, Harrison Starr, with his father as a passenger in the front seat.
Since neither Jimmy nor I knew the Starrs very well, we at first contented ourselves with observing the exurban landscape along the old Sunrise Highway (this was before construction of the now infamous Long Island Expressway). Growing bored, Jimmy said, “Why don’t we write a novel?” And how do we do that, I asked. “It’s easy—you write the first line,” was his reply. This was rather typical of him—getting a brilliant idea and then conscripting someone else to realize it. Not to be outmaneuvered, I contributed a three-word sentence: “Alice was tired.”
And we were off, on a project that would keep us entertained for months and years to come. Jimmy immediately created another character, Marshall, Alice’s petulant brother. Passing through the village of Smithtown, we noticed an archetypal suburban white house with green shutters that we decided would be the home of our protagonists. After returning to New York he and I would meet regularly, sometimes several times a week, to work on the “novel.” It never occurred to us that it would one day be published and people would read it—at the time we were unknown and unpublished young poets with no apparent potential audience. But we had fun, accumulating characters and incidents, usually with a few drinks for stimulation.
This went on irregularly over the next three years, until I unexpectedly received a Fulbright scholarship to France, where I basically remained for the next ten years, except for the winter of ’57–’58 when I was back in New York, taking graduate courses in French literature at NYU and teaching beginning French at their Bronx campus (now Bronx Community College). Schuyler and I shared an apartment that winter, and worked on the novel sporadically. The fact that the apartment was a sixth-floor walk-up whose rent was $57 a month may have contributed to the relatively affluent lifestyles we bestowed on our characters.
The following June I returned to France, supposedly just for the summer, but ended up staying five years without a return visit to the U.S.—again, my income was the determining factor here, along with my refusal at the time to travel by air. Jimmy and I tried a few times to continue Nest via correspondence, but this didn’t work. It seemed we needed to be in each other’s presence in order to write it.
I finally moved back to the U.S. for good at the end of 1965. By that time I had a publisher, Holt, and a sympathetic editor, Arthur Cohen. He eventually asked the question that editors of poets often get around to: “Have you ever thought of writing a novel?” I remembered Jimmy’s and my collaboration, which by this time we seldom thought of, and described it to Arthur, who was interested. This proved the stimulus we needed, and we began working on it again in earnest, finishing it, to our satisfaction at least, in about six months. We decided to bend our own rules a little to achieve this: instead of just alternating sentences, we allowed ourselves to keep writing solo for as long we wished—whole paragraphs even. Arthur liked the end result, and it was published in the spring of 1968 by Dutton, where he was now employed.
There were some good reviews, notably one by Auden in the Times Book Review—one of his main reasons for liking the book was the fact that there were no sex scenes, which might also be one reason why it didn’t leap onto the best-seller lists. There were also some not so good reviews. After a few months the edition was pulped without our getting a chance to buy remaindered copies—a practice I have since discovered isn’t all that uncommon in the publishing world.
I suppose the book would have proved problematic for an editor to describe to the sales force. First there’s the lack not only of sex but even of much of a plot. In the early sections we had ambled along, addressing each other through our ninny characters (the title comes from an Elizabethan sottiserie I had noticed in a bookseller’s catalogue): After all, we began it simply to entertain ourselves. Once the prospect of publication arose, we continued to do so, hoping others might be amused too. That has apparently happened, since the book has been reprinted three times, not counting the present edition. One of these editions was British; a German translation (Ein Haufen Idioten) has also appeared and a Spanish one is forthcoming.
What we were also attempting, perhaps without knowing it, was to recreate the 1930s world of our childhoods, spent in two small towns of western New York state. The radio programs (especially “Vic and Sade” and “Easy Aces,” which offered mildly astringent parodies of American life, small-town and urban, respectively), the magazines (Life and Good Housekeeping), the glitter of downtown, the movie marquees that changed two or three times a week,—these were the ephemera that surfaced while we wrote, and which might require footnoting. Who now remembers Milton Cross, Evelyn and Her Magic Violin, or the operetta diva Martha Eggert (though the latter, now in her nineties, has recently published a book of memoirs)? Maybe someone will remember them again. Or, as Virgil wrote, “Perhaps some day it will be a joy to remember even this.” - John Ashbery


Interview with James Schuyler


Slikovni rezultat za schuyler last poems


Slikovni rezultat za schuyler Other Flowers: Uncollected Poems


Slikovni rezultat za schuyler Selected Poems


Slikovni rezultat za schuyler Selected Poems
Slikovni rezultat za The Crystal Lithium
Slikovni rezultat za The Home Book: Prose and Poems


Slikovni rezultat za A few days: Poems


Slikovni rezultat za schuyler Hymn to life;: Poems

Liberating the Canon - an edited anthology capturing the contemporary emergence of radically innovative and non-conforming forms of literature in the UK and US

Liberating The Canon: An Anthology of Innovative Literature , Ed. by Isabel Waidner, Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2018. "If there were a...