Paul Auster’s 4321



In an essay from the mid-1970’s on the poet Charles Reznikoff, Paul Auster wrote of the poet’s ability to

choose the exact detail that will say everything and thereby allow as much as possible to remain unsaid. This kind of restraint paradoxically requires an openness of spirit that is available to very few….
–from The Art of Hunger

Paul Auster wrote that before he had written the novels that would make him famous. And while I have not read the poetry he had written, I’m willing to grant—because of those novels—that he was writing here from experience. He knew, from the inside, what he was talking about. The New York Trilogy proved it.

Another attribute available to few: the ability to write a successful long novel, long in my estimation being more than 400 pages. Auster has written brilliant short novels, surely some of the best of our time. Could he now, pushing 70, write a successful long one? And why would he want to? Isn’t that like moving backwards? Isn’t leaving out a greater challenge than putting in? Those are the questions that drew me to 4321, Auster’s new novel of nearly 900 pages. Why in God’s name would he want to do it? Continue reading

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54 Ice Crystals

Learn to accept a thing before it is named, they say, since the act of naming curtails the potential of process without end

It will neither dress me nor reveal me

If the sentence you’re on breaks in half

It’s just survival, but it can be more

How is one to journey in safety

Thrusting his life-force out of his body with every earth-clogged step

I blind myself to it

Polished floor

Back to the game of polishing

Emotions are never wrong/Reactions to them often are

If you’re too young

That much I’ve learned

Like a gear disengaged

My doppelgänger I am again

A whale

One black one white

Inner space is not infinite

They wave still

And you can do nothing for it

On a tumbling shore

To black memories of crow

For new detergents to try

And you don’t know me at all?

Felt, no, lived, by such bugs

In thought, in thinking, in swatting away

Until they are cast

That man also learned, as a boy

Paint the daisy chain that rushes the four borders much too fast for ordinary eyes

My knees

You could dare to add one more

Ah, ladies

Beyond the black edge of brow

Seeing him eye a Picasso, Rockefeller took the man’s hand and placed it on the impasto

His soul rolled over

Set my wheel to the clock of rain

In the void the opportunity

Your eye

Will surely shine

Sea foam sugar meringue

Take your vitamins, get your exercise

In your pursuit of wholeness

Tremors back and forth gently sawing

Run rough with a god-awful sound

Just like you

A multitude of familiar paths lead off in every direction

Every street in this city is known

The limits of matter

But home was on the Champs-Elysées

Like a color wheel in the hand


One half dangling by a vowel, use that

Form is unavoidable

Taste for waste

And staring out at the neighbor’s tree


NOTES: Continue reading

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Conrad Aiken and the Anthropological Machine

Titian, The Three Ages of Man, 1511-12

Linnaeus’s genius consists not so much in the resoluteness with which he places man among the primates as in the irony with which he does not record—as he does with the other species—any specific identifying characteristic next to the generic name Homo, only the old philosophical adage: nosce te ipsum (know yourself)…. It is worth reflecting on this taxonomic anomaly….

If the anthropological machine was the motor for man’s becoming historical, then the end of philosophy and the completion of the epochal destinations of being mean that today the machine is idling.
—Giorgio Agamben

It seems to me the “idling machine” that Agamben writes about in The Open is illustrated in the works of Conrad Aiken. In the circle of consciousness that operates in all of Aiken’s works, we see an imaginative articulation of the human as adjustments in his relationships are constantly made, next to, or interrupted by more or less florid, more or less beautiful passages one might describe as “poetic” or more unflatteringly as a deer granted the gift of language caught (willingly or no) in a beam of light. Continue reading

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Thorn Ladder

Blood rose
your body
the earth
line scorched
barbed too
within it
I’m caught
if you can’t move
I’m stuck
you and I
beyond mystery
on the cusp
or idled
in line
on the line
to be named

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Conrad Aiken and the struggle of consciousness

even one’s newness is old
—Conrad Aiken


One of the first things that comes up in a google search of the name “Conrad Aiken” (right next to we found Conrad Aiken) is a review of his Selected Poems in the Guardian from 2004. However, a recent article in the LA Times with its nod to an upcoming issue on the writer in The Scofield, along with a couple of nice articles in the Wuthering Expectations blog indicate that Conrad Aiken has not been forgotten after all. Continue reading

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In the Chemo Room

We who are turned away from the star

There’s no one here like the girl in Tarkovsky’s Stalker,
left awake in the clear morning after night’s watch.
Here, today, everyone is old, floating on feeble cheerfulness,
the relief or reprieve from their own watch,
in the hands now of nurses watched over by doctors,
nothing to do but sit back in the drip drip drip.
The young RN seems out of place here, cherubic, unreal.
She loves her job, she says, inserting a tube.
To which the reply: Job security. She reaches for,
Hopefully one day that will not be the case,
as if she wished to lose the job so loved.
But age is not really the determining factor.
It’s the impossibility of imagining anyone here moving a glass.
Whatever reserves exist remain hidden.
The visible world rules here: the dull look in the eye,
the sagging skin, row upon row of recliners.
It’s a waiting room for Hell
with a soundtrack of beeps
signaling air bubbles or completion
on repeat in the antiseptic room
locked out from that sound
long gone from the station.

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All Roads at Once with Alfred Corn

I usually seek out the books I want, primarily through online shopping. Those books, along with articles and social media connections, suggest other books. But every once in a while a book finds me. Alfred Corn’s first book of poems, All Roads at Once, published in 1976, is a peculiar instance of this. Continue reading

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