Sontag

So much good writing to share. An article in a recent New Yorker about Susan Sontag’s film criticism notes how dismissive she was of contemporary (late sixties) cinema in general, and says this:

“The ardency of her desire for genius was both touching in itself and the secret of her popular appeal as a writer. Sontag’s hunger made one eager to read more of her writing in the same way that Jeanne Moreau’s pouty dissatisfaction made one eager to see what man could possibly please her.”

The writer is, obviously, a man, David Denby in fact. I say “obviously” because it seems to me that his analogy is very much a male one. It seems to me that the appeal of certain women, Dietrich, for example, is the high standards they have for being pleased, and the belief that they will know it when they see it. Every man would like to believe that he is unique in his capacity for discovering how to make his princess happy. Every woman would do well to understand the man’s need to be recognized.

In the same New Yorker issue (Sept. 12) are three excellent poems by Martha Serpas, “Psalm at High Tide”, “The Water”, and “A Corollary”. Martha Serpas is new to me. She is a poet to get excited about. Her relationship to nature, and water in particular, is intimate and profound. In “The Water”, for instance, she ruminates on a day in the life of a what I take to be a tidal estuary during a rainy season:

“In the afternoon the water is there, only more,
browner and grayer, no sweeping seaweed or foam,
just its presence farther up your shore,
like a dull brother-in-law in front of T.V.”

At night the water insinuates itself back into her dreams, “darker than the shut-down sky.” Martha Serpas is worth remembering. On reading the notes I discover that her debut collection of poems “Côte Blanche”, came out in 2002, and she is a native of Louisiana. How apt for the time. Her poem “A Corollary” is a meditation on the “steady vanishing of your birthplace before your eyes”
“… The trees
stand dead but don’t fall.
Veins in the Gulf will swell, too,
carrying grayed-out swirls – ghosts –
to greed’s unbroken refrain.”

Yes. Yes indeed.

Lastly, before I forget and let it pass, I am currently embarked on my second John Banville novel, Eclipse, which is a companion piece to Shroud, the one I just finished. Banville too has an uncanny and intimate way to describe nature, and consciousness itself. His characters need to constantly question the nature of identity and the effects of memory:

“It was summer by now, one of those vague hazy days of early June that seem made half of weather and half of memory. A soft breeze stirred the lilac bush by the front door. Across the road a pair of poplars were excitedly discussing something dreadful, their foliage tinkling. Lydia had accused me of being a sentimentalist……”
I find this rich writing. We invent the world. Banville’s world is sometimes morbid but always subtle and perceptive, or as the San Francisco Chronicle writes: “Banville has an uncanny ability to pinpoint and record sensations rarely brought to consciousness.”

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