Archive for February, 2015

February 22, 2015

Vinkensport; triolet; croft; glebe, kopje, Rappahannock river map; hiroshige/ 100 famous views [*] … Melville to Hawthorne letters. I have written a wicked book, and feel spotless as the lamb. Magi.

A Broken Appointment (Hardy)

You did not come,
And marching Time drew on, and wore me numb.
Yet less for loss of your dear presence there
Than that I thus found lacking in your make
That high compassion which can overbear
Reluctance for pure lovingkindness’ sake
Grieved I, when, as the hope-hour stroked its sum,
You did not come.

You love not me,
And love alone can lend you loyalty;
-I know and knew it. But, unto the store
Of human deeds divine in all but name,
Was it not worth a little hour or more
To add yet this: Once you, a woman, came
To soothe a time-torn man; even though it be
You love not me.

Anthology — 5.67

February 19, 2015

(pp.160)Καλλος ανευ χαριτων τερπει μονον, ου κατεχει δε, ως ατερ αγκιστρου νηχομενον δελεαρ

τέρπω, delight, cheer. καταχέω, pour down upon, pour over. ἄτερ, without, apart from. ἄγκιστρον, fish hook. νήχω, swim. δέλεαρ, bait (neut. nom or acc.).

beauty without grace only cheers, without overwhelming, like bait dangled without a hook.

W.R Paton. Beauty without charm only pleases us, but does not hold us; it is like a bait floating without a hook.


February 16, 2015

Herman Melville, The Encantadas:

Its sides are split with dark cavernous recesses, as an old cathedral with its gloomy lateral chapels. Drawing nigh one of these gorges from sea, after a long voyage, and beholding some tatterdemalion outlaw, staff in hand, descending its steep rocks toward you, conveys a very queer emotion to a love of the picturesque.


1.26 / 2.26

February 13, 2015

“A Wake”
Book 1, chapter 26; Book 2, chapter 26


1.26 Former love or wife of a man who has recently died (unnamed).

2.26 Dead man (unnamed) with ex-wife Anna/ Irene and girlfriend Anna/ Irene, and ex-wife’s young boyfriend with a pony tail (unnamed)

General Subject/ Plot

1.26: Jealousy,/ envy. While trying to decide whether to go to a former lover’s funeral, a woman’s thoughts revolve around her lover’s first wife.

2.26: Twins, death, sex. Told in the form of dream or out-of-body experience, a man attends his own wake.


1.26 “as they liked to put it,” movies, Christ, suit, purple velvet dress, black silk jacket, black gaberdine suit, DeRosa

2.26 DeRosa, pony tail, clothing (purple velvet dress), bluchers, ” as they newspapers put it”,


Moon Mullins…The “Wakes” especially heavy on the authorial asides (“as they put it”, “as the newspapers called them,” etc.). 2nd: Recalls “Dreams” (in its oddity); The “Familiar Women,” the first “Apartment,” and the second “Homburg” (in its twin-women); the first “Familiar Woman” in particular (for its clothes); the first “Brothers” (for the floral spray). The addition of the idea of patriotism, the President, is surprising. Whitehall is at the most southern tip of Manhattan. 1st: one of the “twin women” seems to contemplate attending the event described in the second “Wake”, in the process revealing her jealousy toward a rival (a jealous which is the man’s in the second “Alpine” and second “Wake”). Her “let the dead bury the dead” rings out against the dead man’s “dead with himself alone.” Just because of the mention of lower Manhattan I’m tempted to explore the influence of 9/11 on this (twin towers — what if this were a sort of parable of an historical moment.) Unlike the preceding, no kids at all in these concluding chapters.

1.25 / 2.22

February 12, 2015

“The Alpine”
Book 1, chapter 25; Book 2, chapter 22


1.25 No individuals. The children of neglectful fathers.

2.22 A divorced father, his former wife, their child, the wife’s boyfriend (all unnamed).

General Subject/ Plot

1.25: Children neglected by fathers (who are themselves betrayed by their lovers.) Children expected to go to the movies and enjoy them in certain well worn ways and to love their father for taking them, but in the event the father’s more interested in meeting with his girlfriends than with his children.

2.22: A man argues with his ex-wife for taking their son on a special trip when it’s supposed to be the father’s day to have him — but in reality it is probably just as well.


1.25 Saturday afternoons, Tarzan, daredevils of the red circle, Charms, movies, “expectation”

2.22 Saturday afternoons, Tarzan, alcohol, movies,


Another Saturday. What is supposed to happen is that the children are taken by their fathers to the movies, and frightened by what they see and then consoled by the fathers. What instead happens is that the fathers, chasing women, gradually disappear from their lives.

The titles of the chapters seem especially meaningful here: The Jungle and The Alpine stand out as being climactic zones: Rain is the precipitation of the Jungle, Snow is the precipitation of the mountains. The Alpine is a movie theater, a “cardboard jungle” is seen in a movie. (The fathers appear neither in the movies or in the theaters, first Alpine).

Both the “Alpines” seem to refer to the second Cold Supper. In that story the father won’t take the kid to the movies because, he claims, the child is afraid of the movies (whereas, in the first Alpine, the child is expected to be afraid at the movies.) In that story, too, the father blew off his weekly Saturday visit with his son to be with his girlfriend instead; whereas, in the second Alpines, he’s flown into a rage that her mother has made other arrangements this saturday, as a special occasion.

Tarzan, in the second Alpine, is, like in the first The Jungle, associated with drinking: alcohol recreates Tarzan’s world. The simple sexual and marital life of Tarzan and Jane is yearned for. The father’s dwelling on his ex-wife sex life is also cast in relief in this chapter, and the promiscuity of his former wives remains a theme in the “Wakes”.

“Bright, candid scarves” is an unusual formulation and reminds of the “dazzle of candor” of the second “Rain.”

1.24 / 2.25

February 11, 2015

Book 1, chapter 24; Book 2, chapter 25


1.24 Protagonist (unnamed man apparently dream), guy possibly named “Mickey”, and a shadowy crowd.

2.25 none exactly, but topic of the meditation is Fathers

General Subject/ Plot

1.24: [Maybe…] Religiousness [catholics/ prisoners of love] is contrasted with art [charlie parker].

2.25: a meditation on how completely the bond between child and father is dissolved through time, after so much has been experienced.


1.24 Three Deuces, Wings/ Charms, Shoes, Rockefeller Center, Prisoners of Love, black and silver evening dress, Charlie Parker, elevator, rain,

2.25 rain, Charms, Tarzan, Saturdays, Jesus, wakes, cigarettes, alcohol


Serial film. I’d been thinking of the chapters of A Strange Commonplace as vignettes, but perhaps serials would be more appropriate:

Each chapter was screened at the same theater for one week, and ended with a cliffhanger, in which the hero and heroine found themselves in a perilous situation with little apparent chance of escape.

Daredevils of the red circle. The first “Rain” through its dreaminess seems most evoke the first “In Dreams” but from its allusions (to Charlie Parker, Charms lollipops, The Three Deuces, etc) most to the second brothers. Other familiar items: Rockefeller Center, Prisoner of Love, rain, shoes, lost shoes… There’s something surprising about this chapter’s direct mention of Catholicism, which I think we’re intended to associate with the saintliness of the wife, an idea which is expressed with sarcasm in other chapter. (There’s a mosque in the first “Movies” — the “Born Again” chapters — and the frequent repetitions of “Jesus” as an exclamaition or oath –are other references to religion.) 165 W 46th is by Times Square and St. Mary the Virgin church.

2nd rain: ruined shoes in the rain again, saturdays are the days when the divorce fathers have custody over their sons, and it seems always to be raining. The fathers take the sons to the movies, but would really rather be somewhere else (drinking, with their new girlfriends) and the children sense this. And what do the father’s want, but to be as children themselves when all that was demanded of them was that they be themselves. Perhaps this is actually the source of the “curious sadness” in the second “Saturday Afternoon”:

(…) after all this, the doomed, the hated Saturdays, again and again, the fathers remembered, in a dazzle of candor, the specific moments when the last tenuous links between them and their restless and distracted children began to dissolve, disintegrate, remembered their children in the act of fading away from them, fading into their actual lives: to which the fathers had no access, of which the fathers knew nothing at all and never would.

1.22 / 2.17

February 9, 2015

“The Jungle”
Book 1, chapter 22; Book 2, chapter 17


1.22 56 year old man (unnamed)

2.17 unnamed woman (probably) (spose it could be a man.)

General Subject/ Plot

1.22: Commercialism. Older or middle-aged man watching golden era hollywood movie is disturbed by blatantly sexual and futuristic commercial for a soda…

2.17: a woman, probably having suffered a traumatic episode, attempts to solve basic questions about her identity and predicament.


1.22: Tarzan, cardboard, alcohol (“majorska” vodka),

2.17: bathroom, smoking, tiled floor, raining, black man, detective, (Ray, Warren, Claire, Pierre, Inez, Cora…)


In the first “The Jungle” the jungle referred to is the “cardboard jungle” of the broadcast of a Hollywood production of Tarzan. (For “cardboard” see first “Apartment”).

In the second, the idea of the jungle directly refers, in a figurative sense, to the extreme confusion of a character who has been drugged (we think of the woman in the first “Another Small Adventure”), and indirectly (I suppose) to the maziness of the narrative itself — the reader has many of the same confusions as the character. (And we remember from that first “Another Small Adventure” that it was that “writer bastard” who had given the girl the drug.) (Perhaps the book itself, a papery representation of something bewildering, is a sort of cardboard jungle.)

Perhaps Sorrentino contrasts here also the fake jungle of Hollywood with the bewildering jungle of real life or of his novel.

The robot, contrasting with the primitiveness of Tarzan, suggests to me the ‘hi-tech’ of the second “Saturday Afternoon” and the specific age given to the character makes me curious too (fifty-six? the eleven of the second “Saturday”?) — santa was selling soda on TV in the second “pair of deuces.”

Like a number chapters (second in the diner, second saturday afternoon) the first jungle involves a man trying to understand an obscure fleeting emotion he has: but I can no more say what’s troubling the man than he can. Is it what troubles the father in the second “saturday afternoon” who was also watching an old movie? (That man had rented his movie.)

1.23 / 2.14

February 8, 2015

Book 1, chapter 23; Book 2, chapter 14


1.23 boy, his mother and father (unnamed)

2.25 man and girlfriend (unnamed)

General Subject/ Plot

1.23: Nostalgia, dream. A child glimpses through a tunnel of snow an idyllic family life which is soon to end.

2.25: Doomed love. A pair of skaters contrasted with lovers in difficult but undescribed situation.


1.23 Grey Homburg, blue overcoat, white silk scarf with blue polka dots, worcestershire sauce, alcohol (whiskey), snow, heaven, magic, ketchup, coffee, another of the book’s “meals”.

2.25 snow, black, green, rockefeller center, candy store, coffee,


There’s a lot of beautiful, wonderful writing in Strange Commonplace, exact and complicated, but I frequently think of the two “Snows,” along with the second “Rain”, as containing the best.

The first takes us to the action described in the first “In the Diner” and clarifies the meaning of the conclusion of that chapter — the image of heaven involves domestic bliss.

But where the narrative in that “Diner” chapter is given in the frame of a memory or imagining of a man sitting at the diner, the first “Snow” is narrated omnisciently in the present.

The silk scarf with white polka dots has taken on a symbolic force by this point in the book: we know, without being told, that the reason this married couple will separate is that the husband is having an affair, and that his mistress has likely given him this scarf. (This story occurs in January. In another story, the second “Happy Days”, the scarf is given as a Christmas gift.)

Another pattern of A Strange Commonplace repeated in the “Snows” is that of looking at the same situation from drastically different perspectives or with slightly altered premises. An earlier example of this is the contrast between a married woman being raped by two men (Second, “On the Roof”) and a married woman giving herself to two men (first, “A Small Adventure.”) In the first “Snow” we see a person’s happy childhood about to be dashed by an adulterous parent; in the second, we see a (probably) adulterous relationship that seems founded on a real passion, a sincere affection.

(Perhaps the skaters in the rink of the second are the married couple of the first, or their proxies.)

1.21 / 2.21

February 6, 2015

“Saturday Afternoon”
Book 1, chapter 21; Book 2, chapter 21


1.21 old man, his son and his daughter and her son, all unnamed.

2.21 old man (unnamed); his (probably deceased) wife (Irene); his son (Warren) and fiance (Claudia); his daughter (Janet) and her son (Jack),

General Subject/ Plot

1.21: Old man, befuddled that he is still alive, contemplates his estrangement from his children and grandchildren on a “saturday afternoon”
2.21: After a family meal, an old man, with all he could ask for from his grown children, is still left strangely sad.


1.1 old man/ age, saturday, “creative work” of son, books
2.18 rain, saturday, books, old age, brothers, mother (recalls 2nd Another Small Adv.), alcohol, movies (singing in the rain)


… in the first saturday afternoon, an old man feels estranged from his grown children; in the second, the old man, with a much warmer relationship to his grown children, yet has mixed feelings after an enjoyable afternoon spent with them…. These two chapters are among those that seem to comment directly on each other (they are also placed directly across from each other in the TOC).


Saturday afternoon mainly discussed in the second “Rain.” I think this is the key passage to understanding both the Saturday Afternoons, from the first:

“Because he had to believe that they, too, [his friends and enemies from the past] were alienated from their children and unknown to their grandchildren; otherwise, the touch of normalcy that would inform their lives, were the opposite true, would destroy him completely. They had to be as strangers to the strange and thankless adults who were their children and who, it had to be, hated them, or more exactly, held then in disinterested contempt.”

The vague sadness of the man in the second refers to this truth intimated by the first: despite the general happiness he feels and its manifest outward signs there’s something opposite or antagonistic to his personhood in this pleasantry, the ‘etcetera.’ (Everything’s going so well and it seems so redundant.) While the man of the first doesn’t realize that it doesn’t have to be how it is for him: that children and grandchildren aren’t entirely ungrateful to or uninterested in their parents and grandparents. (Or this could be the same man, or similar men, at different times, in these chapters. Or it could be the chapters are much more self-contained and much less related than it occurs to me to think: for example, the obscure sadness of the man of the second may mainly involve the absence of the lady of that family, which indeed is in some part suggested by the romantic song references at the end, if they are song references… Or maybe this is two entirely different old men with two entirely different sadnesses.)

Another notable difference is how, in the first, the children haven’t been able to recover from personal problem; in the second, they appear, after had having difficulties, to have achieved a measure of happiness and success in life.

In both, the figure of the mother is absent, though in the second she is referred to by name (“Irene”) and one feels the man of the second must be a widower (if the couple were divorced it would probably not be remarked that her ex-husband was making use of her finest dinnerware, except comically). Books in both. Same time of day, similar climactic conditions (in the first the rain starts at sunset, in the second it seems to be raining for the entirety of the events of the chapter). Etcetera from the second, could that allude to “The King and I“? Is the “so they say” from “It’s Wonderful“?





I take the numbering as simply indicating a progression which could be otherwise articulated verbally. However, the size of the numbers makes me wonder if I might be missing something, especially as numbers do appear to carry a symbolic or pseudo-symbolic weight in the book. For example, the first “The Jungle” (which is the story directly after the second “Saturday Afternoon” if you’re reading the book title by title, rather than sequentially, as I’m doing for this concordance”) gives the specific age of the protagonist of the chapter — having failed to share this information in the two preceding, which dealt with old men– as 56, and 5+6=11. That second Saturday afternoon is also the first time technology in any sense is raised in the book (there are no cellphones, no computers, only television sets, record players, phones) and the first “The Jungle” presents a robot on T.V.

To be noted that this is one of several chapters that depart from the novel’s usual narrative structure. Among the other such chapters I’d include: the second Rockefeller Center (a multiply reiterated story); the second “Pair of Deuces” (paragraphs switch between sets of characters); the second “In The Bedroom” (like second “Pair of Deuces.”

1.20 / 2. 7

February 5, 2015

“An Apartment”
Book 1, chapter 20; Book 2, chapter 7


1.20 a woman lying on a kitchen floor of the apartment, a woman outside the apartment drinking beer, identical clothing.

2.7 an “old man” (unnamed)

General Subject/ Plot

1.20: the decor of an apartment is described containing many familiar objects, with a woman unconscious on the kitchen floor and another dressed like her on a nearby stoop.

2.7: an old man plays a sort of russian roulette with himself, using poker cards: when he deals himself a flush, he’ll swallow a bottle of pills.


1.20 flower print, unconscious woman, worcestershire sauce, bronze lioness, “prisoner of love,” Russ Colombo, “as the phrase has it”, alcohol, twin women, black teapot

2.7 Marina del Rey, Los Angeles, Cards, suits, Mickey Finn,


Like the four Small Adventures, the two Pearl Gray Homburgs and The Apartment seem closely related enough to almost constitute their own group. (In fact, there may be other such groups four, maybe all the chapters may be divided into such groups, which would go with the idea of their being “suits.” Going further along with this idea: perhaps the first “Pearl Gray Homburg” and the second “An Apartment” are to be taken as puns on the idea of suits: suits as clothes, suits as cards.)

The first “Pearl Gray Homburg” and the second “An Apartment” involve an old man concern with suits. The first “Homburg” mentions the old man’s apartment while the second “Apartment” gives no indication of where the man is and certainly no reason as to why it should be called “An Apartment.” Meanwhile the second “Pearl Gray Homburg” (which also involves an apartment) includes the idea of twins, which is also suggested by the second “Apartment.” The apartment in this chapter has many objects found in other chapters: a studio couch (like the second “Homburg”), a bottle of Worcestershire sauce, a Philco radio, a bronze figure of a lioness (2nd “Another Small Adventure”), a black teapot (1st “Cold supper” 2nd “In the Bedroom”), an unconscious or drugged woman.

In the second “Apartment” again the mention of magic (the “magical dress” of the second “In the Diner”, the “magical route to oblivion” of the first “Pair of Deuces” etc.) Hoarding pills like first “Born Again.” ‘Mickey’ like first “Another Small Adventure”… I’m tempted to read this chapter as containing hints as to the structure and purpose of the book.

1.19 / 2.10

February 3, 2015

“Pearl Grey Homburg”
Book 1, chapter 19; Book 2, chapter 10


1.19 Old man (unnamed) his niece (Claire), his wife, brothers and daughter (deceased, unnamed), his son in the army (unnamed)

2.10 protagonist, a literary type (unnamed), his girlfriend (Elaine) his other woman and Elaine’s friend (Jenny)

General Subject/ Plot

1.19: A man returning home has, as he does every time returns home, a renewed sense of his loneliness. (Suggestion that he had an inappropriate relationship with his niece, which he doesn’t repent of.)


1.19 Homburg (like new), suit, apartment, Claire, son in the military/ over seas, in dreams,

2.10 Homburg (dirty, worn), flowered skirt, apartment, alcohol, literature (Pierre/ Confidence Man; The Sacred Fount), black gabardine suits, women who are identical, infidelity, J.W. Dant


Both “Pearl Grey Homburg” chapters involve a man alone. In the second, he finds he’s only just found he’s been left. In the first, he’s been alone for sometime. Both feature a homburg. In the first, it is in perfect condition despite being very old and is the possession of its wearer. In the second, it is old and stained (recalling the first “Brothers”) and apparently has nothing to do with the unnamed man who’s found it, who is troubled by its appearance. The man in the first “Pearl Grey Homburg” is also unnamed but he has a niece named Claire, whom he harbors an intense feeling about; which gives one the suspicion that this might be Uncle Ray, who abused his niece, but various details complicate that view (that he has multiple brothers, for instance). The interesting detail is dropped that Claire would be sixty five at the time this chapter takes place if she had lived; so, assuming she had died at twenty three, this is forty-two years later. The man in this chapter seems to view the correctness of his clothes as proof of his own correctness — to dress properly is to be morally well. The second “Pearl Grey Homburg” is more openly literary than anything we’ve seen so far and also presents more explicitly than any other chapter yet the idea of “doubles,” and twins, of which the novel itself is replete of examples — things very like each other, almost exactly alike, which however are not at all the same as each other, or probably are not… A suggestion of “metafiction” here I think: an author unable to distinguish between his characters or find meaning in his symbols.