Thursday, March 21, 2013

Bibliodeath


photo of Andrei Codrescu by Eduard Koller
Andrew Codrescu is a poet and NPR commentator and the editor-in-chief of Exquisite Corpse, whose very title should clue you into the fact that he works in the great tradition of artistic literary modernism with a capital M. His collection of poetry So Recently Rent A World: New and Selected Poems 1968-2012 was recently published along with Bibliodeath: My Archives (With Life in Footnotes), an autobiographical narrative that deals amongst other things with the fate of the book, as we know it. Unlike some Cassandras, for Codrescu the digital age harbingers not the death of the book, but rather what might be called “the transmigration of text” into a new an equally vibrant form--though at one point he does comment, “One of my darker thoughts about the new technologies of storage and production is that they are designed to contain the record of the past (under the guise of preserving it) in order to destroy it.” As a book Bibliodeath is a great deal since you are really getting two books for one, a memoir and a series of digressions in footnote form reminiscent of the style employed by David Foster Wallace, Nicholson Baker and Mark Danielewski and if one is talking of provenance ultimately Lawrence Sterne, the Ur digressor and the posthumous leader of a blossoming literary movement. Codrescu's narrative proceeds diachronically, but the footnotes function on a synchronistic level telling a totally separate story which puts the reader in the position of a traveller who is pleasantly sidetracked from his destination onto a beautiful backroad. Here for instance is a wonderful digression about the introduction of a kind of virtual cellphone in Romania. “There was a two to three years' waiting list for landlines when cellphones came into use. At first, the cellphones communicated only one way. Romania was the world’s greatest market for fake cellphones in l991-1993; they were an accessory, a way to pretend communicate with the world they eventually did communicate with when real cellphones became affordable. The interim was glorious, the young rehearsed their conversation with the 'West,' without the annoyances of interruption by the other party.” And here is Codrescu on discovering Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams and the Psychopathology of Everyday Life as a young man. “The titles alone were a comfort. I was confirmed in my belief that every daily occurrence had meaning and that it was sick from something, a pathology that was my lot to describe and confront, and I felt reaffirmed also for paying attention to my dreams, not only for what they contained, but for what they meant, and for the range of their influence, which extended to the daily La vida es sueno, indeed, a phrase that before Lope de la Vega must have at some point passed the lips of every mortal.” Codrescu is like one of those old-fashioned medicine men who traveled through the old west with varying tonics and cure alls. In his case the cure is the vastness of the central European or Mitteleuropaishe tradition, but he is not a name dropper, nor is his tone ever arch or condescending and the energy of the writing is infectious. Well, it’s poetry.

3 comments:

  1. Francis, I knew you were a marvelous writer when I read your "Seven Days in Rio," I now know that you're a magnificent reader, too. Andrei

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  2. It is really fascinating to me how readers become the repositories of memory and how for instance the wealth of experience that is communicated in Bibliodeath exists not only within the pages of the book, but in the mind onto which it latches like an incubus.

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  3. jylle benson-gaussMarch 22, 2013 at 11:45 AM

    This review is an irresistible enticement. I had to buy a copy of Bibliodeath. The choice between the Kindle version and immediate gratification or a hard copy and a three-day wait was difficult. I chose the hard copy because I feel like this book is already a friend. The closing of a book that I've finished reading for the first time: that perfect moment of completion; my gratitude to the author; my hands folding as if in prayer. Not the same with my Kindle.

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