Here’s a brilliant lecture by the late Mark Fisher. Pre-Brexit and Trump, I take it. But predicting the breakdown of things. It explains the demise of the heady ideas of my youth in ways I had not conceived before.
The Burning Air, Hutchinson, London, 1960
The Way In Viking, New York, 1968
No Resting Place Viking, New York, 1972
The World at Noon, Guernica Editions, Montreal, 1994
Eugene Mirabelli has written four novels which form a significant oeuvre. They are not singular, but interrelate in complex and delightful ways to form a unique (and, one assumes, unfinished) collectivity connected by a set of thematic concerns: family, marriage, Italian heritage, Cambridge, mutability and death; and structural articulations: the dominant male point of view that modulates briefly into the female at climactic junctures, the subtle fracturing and dislocating of time, and the interpolation of what Milan Kundera calls novelistic essays.
Literary comparisons are often invidious, but the names that come to mind as I read Mirabelli’s work are Philip Roth and Saul Bellow. The Burning Air is very much an Italian American “Goodbye, Columbus” and also reminds one of Bellow’s brief, tightly controlled early novels. Almost immediately, though, this comparison breaks down: Roth and Bellow share an era and a set of social concerns with Mirabelli, but their work falls into a Jewish American tradition (with roots in Yiddish literature) which is male-oriented, materialistic (i.e., of this world), intellectual, and comic. Mirabelli’s Italian American mental syntax is quite different: he builds his literary universe around an Augustinian dichotomy. His books are like long, careful sessions in the confessional, talking to God, enumerating small and large sins. His protagonists have one eye on the woman (wife and lover — Mary and Mary Magdalene) and one eye on death. He sees this world as an anxious and frustrating place, a place where his protagonists vain attempts at control are always being defeated by their own sinfulness and the fleeting nature of existence. Redemption comes only in the chaotic embrace of the family, the constricting yet reassuring bonds of love. A Mirabelli character may crack up and take anti-depressants, but one could never imagine him taking Roth’s detour into psychoanalysis or filing for multiple divorces as in Bellow.
Reading through Mirabelli’s novels in sequence one also begins to admire his technical ingenuity. He does lovely things which might not be noticed unless one treats the books as an on-going production. For example, he links his novels by taking a thematic note or plot segment from one and using it again in the next. The Burning Air is about a man who proposes to a woman and then never sees her again. In The Way In, the next novel, Frank Annunzio has proposed to a woman named Alba and then lost her. The Way In ends with Nancy’s premature and difficult delivery which is echoed darkly by Marianne’s miscarriage at the opening of No Resting Place. And, of course, Marco’s affair with Carol Crispin in No Resting Place is echoed in Nicolo’s affair with Roxanne in the last novel, The World at Noon.
Beginning with The Way In, Mirabelli also makes telling use of the novelistic essay. In The Way In, this takes the form of background essays on the Puritans who built New England and on the Shakers who built the school at which Frank begins his teaching career. The latter — mystical, other-worldly craftsmen — become a moral-spiritual counterpoint to the sad emptiness of Frank’s life before marriage and career. In No Resting Place, the device ramifies and extends itself into interpolated essays on Brook Farm, a running Sacco and Vanzetti sequence, and a tiny chapter on historic Albany. And in The World at Noon, the novelistic essay and family history combine and foliate in a delightful series of comic-mythic stories about the ancestors of the Cavallus. These interpolated essays and stories function like classical epyllions (one of Marshall McLuhan’s hobby horses) and give Mirabelli’s books what Yeats, in his essay on sub-plots in King Lear, called “the emotion of multitudes.”
This repetition of technical and thematic elements results in the odd sense one has reading these novels that the twenty-year gap between the publication of No Resting Place and The World at Noon ceases to exist in the experience of the reading. Mirabelli’s novels seem to form a perfectly logical sequence of growth, mutation and expansion. Each novel has been an advance in terms of technical virtuosity, thematic complexity and, for want of a better phrase, metaphysical accommodation. The Burning Air is taken up with George’s failed effort of control over the mysterious and fearful Giulia Molla. In The Way In, Frank Annunzio’s existential emptiness is the aftermath of that kind of loss of control (over women and/or the dark, shiftingness of things in general). Briefly, Frank is reprieved through marriage to Nancy and the community of friends he finds at the (Shaker) school (note especially the wonderful and redemptive chapter on kite flying), only to be plunged back into insecurity by the difficult birth of his child.
In No Resting Place, Mirabelli’s Manichean tour de force (the light of Brook Farm warring with the darkness of Sacco and Vanzetti), Marco Falconieri almost drowns in the slough of mid-life (and post-1960s) burnout which, really, is nothing but the final realization life itself will never redeem us, that things will not miraculously get better: “All our desire has been to carry through time, to stand on firm ground, reach out and stay the changes. Love leads us from ourselves to the things of this world, but in time these same things alter and pass away, no matter how much we cling to them. Here is no steady place.” In No Resting Place, Mirabelli grants us for the first time full access to the mental states of his protagonist as befits the overtly confessional mode of the narration. Mirabelli, as author, is himself beginning at this point to move deeper into his unique Italian-Catholic-American psyche, turning away from the vaguely modish, existential angst of the first two books toward a more chaotic (less controlled) vision of worldly and domestic uncertainty (the sinfulness of the flesh).
This is a dark, brave book which, in many ways, points toward its successor The World at Noon while yet not preparing us for the surprising shift of tone, the operatic and magical comedy of this most recent Mirabelli production. The World at Noon, as I have mentioned, replicates some of the plot articulations of No Resting Place — the extramarital affair, the reconciliation at the end. But the material is handled in a completely different way. It is as if, in delving always more deeply into who he is, Mirabelli has reinvented the peculiarly Italian, extravagantly melodramatic and often comic vision — the opera — in the novel form. By fusing the tale of American mid-life domestic woe with the mythical family histories of the Cavallus, he has created a wonderful interplay of now and then, this and that (the epyllion structure again). And he has coupled this complexity with a new sense of tranquil acceptance; not a superficial shrug but a genuinely comic (loving) accommodation. When Nicolo Pellegrino calmly invites his wife’s naked lover to climb down from the tree where he is hiding we know we have arrived at a totally new (for Mirabelli) and special literary place. And at the end of the novel, the double wedding of Gina and Aurora echoes the wedding at the close of The Tempest when Prospero throws his books of magic away and the world is renewed in the ritual sanctification of love and sexual regeneration.
This essay originally appeared in Italian Americana Vol. 13, No. 2 (Summer 1995)
Here’s the new trailer for the Waterford production of Elle, the play based on my novel, which is actually the Theatre Passe Muraille touring production, bound later for Winnipeg and Vancouver. But the Waterford performance is first on the tour, my home town, champagne extravaganzas on the first and last nights. I will be there, possibly not standing upright.
In other news, it turns out Goose Lane Editions, Elle‘s publisher, is rolling out a new print run to keep up with demand. Nice news.
Jonah put this song in my mind; now it won’t go away. Recalls to me the piratical impulse that led us to start the magazine in the first place. And then, yes, after seven years — a broken, lonely man on a Halifax pier. Ah me.
Maybe it’s not that bad.
With this in mind, knowing full well the catastrophe that awaits you, I want to remind one and all that we still need production editors. We found one very competent person (soon to be announced) last week, but we’d be more comfortable with another (spreads the work around and provides reserves).
Here is the HELP WANTED PAGE. Please take a look and throw your bodies onto the pyre.
Also let it be noted that the SUBMISSIONS PAGE for Childhood, My First Job, and What It’s Like Living Here essays has been reopened for a while. We got a gorgeous Childhood piece this morning from County Mayo in Ireland.
More exciting news about Elle, the play (based in my novel Elle). If you have been tracking this you are aware that Severn Thompson and Theatre Passe Muraille are taking the play on tour this winter (tour details here). But it’s just been announced that this tour will actually start with performances in my home town of Waterford, Ontario, at the Old Town Hall Theatre, under the aegis of the most charming artistic director ever, Claire Senko (passionate, fierce, scarily competent, friend of Fred Eaglesmith).
I went over to meet Claire Friday afternoon and wander around the place. All strangely familiar because I grew up just outside of town, and once even strummed a guitar with my brother’s band during a rehearsal on the theatre stage in the early 70s.
There will be performances on January 26, 27, 28 and 29, and on February 2, 3, and 4.
There will be an opening night champagne gala and a talkback session with the playwright and actress Severn Thompson and Theatre Passe Muraille’s artistic director Andy McKim (who fed me incredibly intelligent questions about the novel and play when we did an onstage interview together last January).
And closing night (February 5, Saturday) there will be ANOTHER! champagne gala and a talkback session with me after the show. (Amber Homeniuk will be the facilitator, as they call it.)
This video slideshow was produced by an old friend, Alison Bell. (Her brother Ian Bell has appeared in the magazine.)
DG and his intrepid close relative RG, who has appeared earlier on these pages, went for their usual pre-winter canoe trip on Big Creek (see Google map above: southern Ontario where Long Point juts into Lake Erie). RG fell in first unwisely trying to clear a snag. Then they went to another put in spot and realized they’d left the paddles back at the first put in. RG made DG stay with the canoe in the mud while he drove in his warm car (with heated seats) back for the paddles. DG, the creative mind behind NC, passed the time taking selfies. Then RG rammed DG into a thorn bush and his hand was bleeding. When they got back to the landing DG’s bare feet were so cold he fell over.
Actually, it was quite stunning (aside from the nature and brother-on-brother violence). Immense labyrinthine marshlands, many threatened species holding out there. Fascinating to me because in 1670, on Easter Sunday, two Sulpician priests, François Dollier de Casson and René de Brehant de Galinée, were struggling to cross Big Creek in flood when they heard above them the shrieks of horses, the jangling of harness, war cries and the sounds of battle. According to their journal, they knew exactly what it was, King Arthur’s Hunt. King Arthur’s Hunt is one name/a version of the legend of the Wild Hunt (also Charlemagne’s Hunt), which John Irving used in the short story “The Pension Grillparzer” in the The World According to Garp. Ghostly, wraithlike warriors riding and battling endlessly in the sky. Terrific to be in exactly that spot.
I have an anthology of quotations about Long Point and Norfolk County, including that journal entry, which you can read here.
—Photos by dg, rg & google maps
He was always an inspiration to me as a writer. I am still learning from him. You can find an essay I wrote about his novel Beautiful Losers in Notes Home from a Prodigal Son. That’s all I have to say.
Still tracking threads from German Sierra’s essay “Deep Media Fiction” I came upon a series of lectures from this symposium on the inhuman. This one was absolutely riveting, not the least because the phrase “pesky women” echoes the “nasty woman” crack in the last presidential debate. Difficult women, women and work, women’s work and the replacement of women by machines. You have to watch this. Helen Hester takes stray trends and lines of thought and makes them fit, makes the world a little bit clearer. Brilliant mind. Just fun to watch her make sense.
You must read Walter Johnson on slavery, capitalism & American history. Here’s a new essay in Boston Review teased below by way of introduction. But read his books River of Dark Dreams and Soul by Soul. Change your life.
Indeed, the history of capitalism makes no sense separate from the history of the slave trade and its aftermath. There was no such thing as capitalism without slavery: the history of Manchester never happened without the history of Mississippi. In Capitalism and Slavery (1944), Eric Williams gives a detailed account of the supersession of British colonial interests by manufacturing ones and the replacement of cotton with sugar as the foundation of capitalist development. Williams argues that Great Britain freed its slaves, but did not free itself from slavery. British capitalists simply outsourced the production of the raw material upon which they principally depended to the United States.
The morning started like this: Views from the NC Bunker.
Then I slid my car down the back hill to Barre to get it undercoated at a place called Yipes. Went to Espresso Bueno to write then slipped down Granite Street, over the railway tracks, to visit the Socialist Labor Party Hall (aka the Old Labor Hall). Hallowed ground. Emma Goldman used to live on Granite Street.
Big Bill Haywood who led the IWW spoke at the hall. He’s the big guy below, leading a strike parade in Lowell, MA, in 1912.
Also the legendary Red Flame, Annie Burlak (National Textile Workers Union).
The great Anarchist Luigi Galleani lived a block or two away on Blackwell Street and published his internationally influential newspaper Cronaca Sovversiva (The Chronicle of Subversion). How I love that name, Chronicle of Subversion.
And the young brilliant stone carver Elia Corti was famously shot to death (by another Anarchist) on the front doorstep in 1903.
It did me good walking there. I felt the hairs go up the back of my neck a bit. I was more moved than I care to talk about. I think I fell in love a little with the Red Flame. I could feel the big hall packed with voices.
And yet it’s a functioning community hall and social centre. I went back to Yipes to get my car and the woman at the counter told me how she has a small foster child who had never had a birthday party in his life. So she rented the Socialist Party Labor Hall and threw him the biggest party ever just a few weeks ago.
It did my heart good, as I say, — in the midst of this tawdry election cycle — to find myself suddenly in the presence of such kind, dedicated, hearty people (the current ones and the ghosts).
I have an essay in the new issue (July/August — just out though) of American Book Review. It’s called “The Literature of Extinction” and in something like 1,500 words covers the entire history of experimental literature to the present. One of the fascinating things about writing this essay was the insight I derived from Germán Sierra’s essay “Deep Media Fiction,” which we published here in the magazine in January. I keep going back and rereading that essay. It has driven a good deal of my current reading.
American Book Review is a print publication. You’ll have to buy a copy or find it in your library or download, if you can, from Muse. But here is a short passage.
We see the world more clearly now (we think). It’s very small, dirty, crowded with people, and heating up. The Anthropocene is the new name given to the period of time (roughly beginning with the Neolithic) human beings have had a significant impact on the environment. Now we know there is no free lunch, and the hubris of our assumption that the earth was an infinite, free resource specially catered for us by the gods is beginning to look like a monumental gaffe.
Nor are we essentially different from the other orders of being (say, trees, rocks, newts); consciousness may be a neural anomaly, or as the A.I. researchers like to say, an emergent property, that is, a side effect of our neural interaction with whatever we are interacting with (just as the colour of an object is not a property of the object but a side effect of the wavelengths of light interacting with eye neurons). Not a self, a soul, a ghost in the machine, but a whisp of smoke, dream-like and temporary.
Insomnia led me to this, Gene Vincent doing his musician-seer-trance thing, going right out of himself.
Left the NC Bunker today to check out the Tunbridge Fair. Was persuaded against better judgement to go on rides. First took pictures of this thing, which I think of as The Claw, and then rode on it. Feel much better now. But cannot write complete sentences yet.
Then I went on another very fast whirling gyroscopic orgasmomegatron ride (which I did not photograph) and with four tickets left got onto the Zero Gravity machine with Matt Monk (dg dressed in dark clothing, Matt in white). I recall Matt saying, as we entered the big kids’ ride enclosure, “Now the shit gets real!” Needless to say someone else took these pictures.
What you see here are the faces of men who have faced Death in the Zero Gravity ride (along with 12 small children).
Click the link below to listen to the spectacular Shelagh Shapiro interviewing the irrepressible (irrendentist, irresponsible…) Douglas Glover, editor at NC, about the magazine and various and sundry topics guaranteed to trigger his loquacious streak.
Douglas Glover/Numéro Cinq – Interview #410: A conversation with Douglas Glover, founder, publisher and editor of the online magazine Numéro Cinq.
From Toronto, Theatre Passe Muraille’s Dora Moore Award nominated ELLE, adapted from Douglas Glover’s award-winning novel, tells the story of a French noblewoman abandoned on the Isle of Demons (off the coast of Newfoundland) in 1542.
Severn Thompson in Elle
Severn Thompson’s stage adaptation of my novel Elle is on the short list for a Dora Award in the Outstanding New Play category. The Doras are given out by the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts.
Read the Globe and Mail announcement @The Doras 2016: The best in Toronto theatre have a distinctly Canadian flavour.
Okay, this is one of those, you know, things that come out of the blue. Tom Greene, VCFA’s president, called me from his car this morning to tell me they had launched a new Vermont College of Fine Arts Artists Development Fund based on a $1 million donation from the Martin Foundation. Part of the fund, a fund within the fund for writers, authors, and publishers, is named after me.
Naturally, I am nonplussed, amazed, bemused, and touched. I am grateful to the Martin Foundation for singling me out like this. It’s a terrific honour. I hope the fund inspires and supports many, many great writers in the future.
There is, of course, backstory here. But so far the donor wishes to remain anonymous, and I won’t blab.