A week or so ago I posted this: an excerpt of a Bulgarian poem, followed by a set of questions. Here are the answers.
The words, as you have probably guessed for yourselves, were written by Tomas Lurgsy during his increasingly notorious ‘London period’ in the late 1970s. Increasingly notorious, you say? Well yes, I do. And if you don’t believe me, I invite you to peruse the contents of Ivor Bellinson’s new book, A Bulgarian in the British Museum: Tomas Lurgsy and London – by far the most comprehensive study of Lurgsy’s London years (albeit the only one, to date).
Not that I need Bellinson to supply me with the facts I already know. Such as the fact that, contrary to popular opinion, only sixty percent of the poems Lurgsy wrote in London were written in English (a lot of critics still believe that all of them were). Or the fact that all of his poems from this period are jam-packed with subtle allusions to English writers, from G K Chesterton to Virginia Woolf.
Indeed, it is Woolf whom he invokes in this very excerpt. The image of a woman retrieving a ‘sheaf of paper’ from a dungy midden is quite clearly inspired by events occuring within the pages of Woolf’s 1928 biography, Orlando. Biography, you say? Oh yes. Though some are still wont to call it a novel, there is to me little doubt that Woolf’s work is a well-researched piece of non-fiction; a factually accurate retelling of the long and strange career of the eponymous hero/heroine.
That Lurgsy should have referred to Woolf’s work comes as little surprise, as he was living at this time in the area known as Bloomsbury. Having said that, this is (so far as I know) one of only two Woolf allusions, the other appearing in his 1978 work, Laura, Large on the Grass. This is typical: Lurgsy rarely echoed the work of other writers more than a couple of times – with the exception of John Webster, to whom he alluded fourteen times within a series of poems written across in a week towards the end of 1979 (‘Webster Week’ as Bellinson calls it, somewhat predictably).
In an attempt to ‘assuage a double hunger’, self-righteous writer Niña Ostero will be publishing her seventh novel, How Dignified Is it?, on edible paper. This will allow her readers, she claims, to ‘simultaneously fulfil their eternal thirst for art and food’. Once read, a page may be ripped out and eaten immediately.
Though edible paper is probably not the best way of filling an empty stomach, the novel does top four hundred pages, so you get a little more than a snack. However, for those interested in re-reading (like myself) the idea of consuming the book so quickly presents some clear problems. Still, it’s refreshing to see an author go so far as to publicly admit that their novel is disposable.
One is reminded, inevitably, of Tosca Calbirro, who regularly publishes his novels in similarily adventurous forms, from toilet roll to shower curtains (for a review of the former, proceed in this direction).
As I have noted several times (including here) Turgidovsky’s new novel, Delicious Air of Life, comes with a subtitle, namely The Ugly God-damned Wife. This raises an obvious question – who is the ugly god-damned wife?
Truth be told, the book contains quite a few wives, few of whose faces would launch a tugboat, let alone a thousand ships. And, bearing in mind the fact that everyone is, in Turgidovsky’s melancholy eyes, damned by god, we find we have at least two dozen candidates for the sorry role in question.
Which is not to say that I think the subtitle actually refers to a specific character. After all, Turgidovsky’s previous novel, The Lunatic, was not concerned with a single lunatic, was it? Indeed, its kind conclusion was that we are all lunatics: united in our glorious and tragic idiocy. In which case we might presume that all the women in Delicious Air are ugly god-damned wives.
Which raises another question. Turgidovsky is, essentially, a misanthrope – not a sexist. He appears to despise men and women equally – so why, in a book that deals with both sides of various unhappy marriages, does he drag the focus onto the women in his ambiguous subtitle? Why not Delicious Air of Life, the Ugly God-damned Wife and her Witless, Pug-nosed Husband? As titles go, it’s a little on the unwieldy side, but does much better justice, I think, to the writer’s worldview; to his charmingly fair concept of the sexes as being equally ineptitude, proportionally fatuous.
As you will probably know, two days ago I published a transcript of an interview with the experimental writer Jean-Pierre Sertin. Though we are old friends, Sertin nonetheless asked to see a copy of the transcript before it appeared online. I happily obliged, seeing little to which he might take exception. I was, thus, surprised to receive a phone-call from Sertin, in which he claimed that I had ‘taken severe liberties with the truth’ pointing to a particular place in the text where I had written, in reference to the writer: ‘he giggles unnervingly’.
‘What?’ squealed Sertin down the phone – ‘giggles unnervingly? I never did that! Riecke you wretch, you loathsome hound, you truth-bender you!’
‘I am nothing of the sort,’ I replied: ‘truth and I are locked in an eternal embrace and you may lop my tongue off if I am wrong’.
To show that I was serious, I offered to play back the tape on which I had recorded the interview. Sertin took me up on the offer and, together, we reconsidered the nature of the incriminating giggle. Sertin listened in careful and honest silence, before coming to what was, all things considered, a brave conclusion.
‘Goodness, Georgy, you’re quite correct: that giggle was unnerving’.
Because I am a mature sort of fellow, I did not say ‘told you so’. I did, however, think it.
I don’t suppose I’d be giving the game away if I said that Turgidovsky’s Delicious Air ends with a death. I would, however, be lying, for it doesn’t quite end with a death – no, that’d be far too sentimental. It ends with yet another glimpse at people leading deathly lives; people who have yet to find their eternal rest, if rest it is.
Proceeding that, though, we get what is possibly the longest, most clinical description of a corpse I’ve read for a while. Thirty eight pages! And yet I’d be deceiving you if I suggested that these pages aren’t, in their own special way, exhilarating: crammed with the odour of decay, oozing with putrescence like nobody’s business. There are points at which you think it’d be easier to kill yourself than turn over the next page – and yet you plough on regardless, enjoying each depressing line as much as the last.
And so I have reached what some people call ‘the death of the book’. The end. Ah, but have I finished the book? Not at all. What can any man learn from reading a book just once? Back to the beginning with you, I say, back to the beginning. Read, re-read and re-read again.
Not that I won’t be taking a short break. After all, Turgidovsky is gruelling stuff. He is the arch-prince of spirit-dampening: the great lord of lugubriosity – and for this, I salute him. But I’m sure that he even understands the need to step out of the chamber of desolation every now and again; to sup, sometimes, on that delicious air of life he seems so keen to disparage. One day a year, perhaps, he treats himself. Just one day he gets up late, turns off his logical mind, and learns to admire life.
Or maybe not.
GR – Are you still writing Intercuttings?
J-P S – No.
GR – Oh. You think the form has become redundant, old-fashioned, moribund, pointless?
J-P S – No. They were all created in a certain kind of notepad which I can’t seem to buy anymore.
The new J-P Sertin interview can be found here. Conversation topics include p.52, crosswords and the fuzziness of the word ‘antelope’.
I have at last located the transcript of the Jean-Pierre Sertin interview published at Underneath the Bunker two or so years ago. It can be found here.
Earlier today I interviewed Sertin for a second time. The transcript for that will be available as soon as possible. Needless to say, there aren’t so many ‘uh huh’s in my interview – though I do recommend reading both.
The full-text of Sertin’s ‘experimental novel’ p.52 can be found, as ever, here.