Saturday, January 14, 2012

Nicholas James Whittington

Hey John,
Happy New Year! Just got back yesterday (Jan. 12) from India. My little sister was married there, in Kolkata, New Year's Day, to a Bengali-born-&-raised, England-&-Berkeley-educated chap. Left the bookshop in the hands of a couple old hands right after Christmas & the whole family went for about 4-5 days lead-in & then the Big Day itself with all attendant rites, including me & my brother having to hoist little sis on a mat & carry her round the bro-in-law-to-be 7 times. Didn't drop her, tho the ritual fire did almost engulf the entire wedding party at one point. Anyway, in the buildup to the trip, maybe three weeks before leaving, I came across a copy of Ginsburg's Indian Journals at the Friends of the Public Library Fort Mason store, I think. Seemed fortuitous, so had to take that along for my plane, train, bus & boat rides (hard to read on a rickshaw). & more fortuitous, he spends the vast majority of the time recorded here in Kolkata, West Bengal, and the state south, Orissa, which were the two states I spent most of my two post-wedding weeks in. I've never been a journal-ist myself, but have read some great selections of such, including Joanne Kyger's Japan & India Journals, Strange Big Moon (which I read a couple years ago & plug here not only for the India connection, but also cuz I'm lucky to be able to include a half-dozen notebook pages from her October in Oaxaca this year in AMERARCANA 2012, too). Journals & notebooks can be very fun stuff to read. Ginsburg's was, for sure. Major obsession of his: melting brains at the ghats (funeral pyres) which make one think of Varanasi, mainly, but actually there're tons of these all over, a half dozen at least in Kolkata on the banks of the river. Also, shit, shit, shit... & poo... Ginsburg writes a lot about poo in these pages. He's also refreshingly insecure about his own place, & work in the period (March 62 -- May 63). & speaking of lists, interspersed in all his brains, poo, & insecurity (poems too, of course, there are poems too, & dreams & photographs & much else; I'm just being flippant) -- interspersed in all this are a couple lengthy "books read" lists, which are interesting. Swahili Ahporisms, Henry Miller, Henry James, Sanskrit stuff, Anselm Hollo, of course Hindu & Buddhist materials, various pamphlets published in Kolkata, which is a major literary city, on the world scale, & has long been. Seagull Books is one of the uber-presses based there now publishing all kinds of great books.
On the planes back, I watched (along with such other fine films as Cowboys & Aliens, The Three Musketeers, & a really godawful flick produced by Emilio Esteves as a vehicle for his daddy Martin Sheen called The Walk, oy!) Hertzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Now, I have a hard time listening to old Werner narrate, & I understand this film was well made for 3D to really put you in the caves, so watching on a 6" screen isn't quite it, still, it was pretty dope to look at those 30K year old paintings, & they're such fantastic works some of them. So I'd like to yak a bit about Georges Bataille's Cradle of Humanity, which is an absolutely fantastic book about such prehistoric art, but I read it a couple years ago, so instead I'll just bridge to Gaudier-Brzeska, hence Ezra Pound, & Hugh Kenner's The Pound Era, which I'm still slogging thru, but think worth mention along with his buddy Guy Davenport'sGeographies of Imagination. Both of these are hit and miss books, to be sure. Half the time Hugh seems to have his head so far up his ass, intentionally, I think, that his navel might serve as third-eye. Guy's impossible much of the time too, but the essay on Agassiz is fantastic, as are a couple of the others. Both books were recommended to me in the same bar, Glen Park Station, but on separate occasions & by different people - Patrick Dunagan & Jason Morris, irrespectively. & in the fairly short time I've known them, I've found those two are pretty damn reliable in their recommendations, so the Kenner I copped at Green Apple, but had to buy the Davenport new off our own shelf at Bird & Beckett. That's one of the great bane/blessings of running a bookshop. If we haven't got it, but a book's in print, all I've gotta do is click two buttons & it shows up a couple of days later. & plenty good poets, & bad poets, & occasionally even non-poets, come & clue me into all sorts of great sounding books & I've an itchy trigger finger on the orders, too, so they stack up quick. Luckily, I feel no remorse ignoring a book for a good long time in favor of another, & another, & don't mind not finishing things either. Most things I don't, especially when they're as thick as that Kenner. We'll see.
But speaking of Patrick & thick books, one of the most worthwhile I read this year, in January, was Philip Guston: Collected Writings, Lectures and Conversations which Clark Coolidge edited. At the end of 2010, talking to Patrick about his then forthcomingThere Are People Who Think That Painters Shouldn't Talk: A GUSTONBOOK, I caught his Guston-bug & ordered a bunch of stuff for the store (& by extension, myself) & insodoing caught wind of the soon-to-be-published Writings, etc., & Clark's hand in it. It was a sort of perfect Gustonstorm. I'd only just gotten to know Clark, thru David Meltzer, the littlest bit that year, & had also just met Bill Berkson on account of a reading he did at B&B with Simon Pettet. Bill had a brand new collection of art writings, including a couple on Guston, too. & out of the blue, just then, Gary Meyer who runs the Balboa Theatre in the outer Richmond in SF called us up to see if we wanted to do any book/film events. So I set up that mid-March screening of the Blackwood doc on Guston, to be followed by Bill & Clark in convo. I tagged Patrick to do an intro & thot I would have him mediate the conversation, but both BB & CC gave me a pretty hard time about setting the whole thing up & then hiding completely in the shadows, so I had to then actually read all that stuff I'd ordered for the store, so as I'd have some sort of foundation to stand on. & I'm really glad, because that Collected Writings, etc. volume is just crammed with fantastic tropes.

Before leaving for India, I packed up (almost) all of my books. We were leaving for 3 weeks, & the 19 year old sister of a friend was to stay in our apt to watch over the cats (& do godknows what else) while we were gone, & then we were expecting in the days after our return to be moving to Oakland. The new apt fell thru tho, so we're staying put until we find another, obviously, which I'm ok with -- it's heart-wrenching to leave the City, which is the City of my birth & upbringing, etc., but, needing to move after 4 years in our spot, we just can't afford it anymore -- except that now all my books (many of them not yet read) are in boxes & I can't rationalize unpacking them all again until we do move, so until then I've got only the aforementioned Kenner and Benjamin's Arcades Project, which I've been plugging away at for some time with great joy. Luckily, if I'm not feeling one or the other of these on any given day, I've also got a whole bookstore above my head, so I guess I'll be ok.
Best, better...

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