Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Dalkey Archive has been hitting it hard lately (as usual, I guess). New releases and first English translation of Jean-Philippe Toussaint's novels, for example. Arrived yesterday: a month or so ahead of schedule (pronounced: shedyool) my copy of Gert Jonke's novel HOMAGE TO CZERNY: STUDIES IN VIRTUOSO TECHNIQUE. I've got Jonke's novel GEOMETRIC REGIONAL NOVEL in the to-read pile, so I recognized his name. Anyway, I read the opening pages last night while rocking the baby to sleep, and I am now reading it along with finishing up Toussaint's Camera. The premise of HOMAGE is that two siblings are preparing for their annual garden party. They hang paintings that are perfect realism, mimicking the scene behind it so exactly that it seems they had simply hung an empty frame. But the brother is walking around taking photos of the setup and comparing them with photos from last year's party so that they can exactly reproduce it; not simply a reproduction, but a

REPETITION OF THE PARTY that we had last year on the same day at the same time. It's supposed to be exactly the same party again . . . The same guests, said Johanna, are going to have the same conversations at the same time and tell the same stories they did last year, with the same movements, the same gestures, same looks, same sentiments.

Except they haven't mentioned this to any of the guests.

We have to see if it's possible to establish a congruity of chronologically sequential feelings, sensations, thoughts, relationships, inferences, and insights, explained Diabelli--possibly not just conguity, but identity. Don't you see what we're after? Whether people can still feel, sense, think, experience, and discover exactly the same things one year later.

And so the novel begins. The central word/concept is obviously "Repetition". As I read these passages I immediately thought of Kierkegaard's book REPETITION (subtitled "A Venture in Experimental Psychology). Yeah, really tough, I know. Except there's more than simply the word Repetition. It's the entire concept of attempting to recreate the exact same "feelings, sensations, thoughts, relationships, inferences, and insights" that echoes (repeats?) Kierkegaard's character's return to Berlin in an attempt to relive exactly his time there the previous year. Whether or not Jonke had Kierkegaard's book in mind at all, it's a striking coincidence that got my attention.

HOMAGE TO CZERNY, what with the siblings' exact painting of the entire garden, recalls for me Borges's stories like "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote" and "On Exactitude in Science", also obviously stories dealing with the idea of perfect repetition.

All of this and more unfolded in my brain by page 4 of Jonke's novel. So I am stoked to read the rest of the book. And I'll probably read Kierkegaard's REPETITION again, too.

Aside from the idea and uses of the fragmentary, I've been obsessed with the notion of repetition in literature. Not the boring rehashed and redundant, but a repetition that actually changes and paradoxically adds something new. I think of the last line of Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! where Quentin keeps saying that he doesn't hate the South, how the meaning changes and deepens as he repeats himself (speaking of Faulkner, I'd love to read a study of repetition in his body of work, too). I've think Carole Maso's AVA is a good example of work moving in both the fragmentary and using repetition. You'll find repetition in Beckett's work, and Deleuze certainly had a few things to say about it (not without looking at Kierkegaard, of course). Gert Jonke's novel doesn't seem to be overburdened with dry philosophizing, but is well balanced with living imagination where things happen.

So, that's all for now. I can already recommend checking out Jonke's work.


CM said...

Josh, reading this post, you're tricking me into making my brain work. And I have a cold. But it is comforting.

mike fallon said...

David Markson novels are somewhat repetitive and looping.

mike fallon said...

David Markson, born 1927, Albany, New York.

Josh Maday said...

i'm a sneaky dude, cm. i've found that getting tricked into thinking while suffering a cold helps to break up the mucus.

good call, mike. exactly. can't believe i left markson out.

sam pink said...

johannes climacus

Josh Maday said...

i am going to change my name to johannes climacus. or johannes de silentio. or johannes climacus de silentio. or bob. not sure yet.