Saturday, May 31, 2008

Gogol-eyed in Canada


I do not like women. They go this way and that, picking up dust with their trains. They never know where they're going. When they walk towards you, they know not whether to go right or left. There is confusion. She goes left and you sidestep, then she goes right and almost bumps into you. They can't make up their minds."

So thinks young Arkady in Dostoevky's A Raw Youth, a possible model for J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye.

So many people borrow from old Fyodor, from the great Salinger to the author of Forrest Gump.

No wonder. The Russkies can write.

Limeys don't write very well, but when the do they can produce masterpieces. Mary Shelley. The Brontes. John Fowles.

An anglicized Ukrainian writing in English, I am somewhere in between.

All my teachers have been Irish or Jewish. And by osmosis, I guess I am something of an Irish Jew.

Hell, say it on: I was once married into a Jewish family.

Good folks, once you're in.


Ah cultural hermaphrodite.

Not quite Joe the Morph, but sometihing like Joe Palooka living in Manitoba.

Manitoba is full of Ukrainians.

I am Ukrainian.

A Characteristics of my tribe is that they don't like each other very much.

An Anglo sits down to drink with them, and the Ukie will go off with the Anglo and leave the other Ukie sitting there by himself. Maybe that's why we almost blew the country.

Anyway. We have had one, possibly two geniuses in literature. One is Nicholas Gogol and the oher Taras Shevchenko. I like Gogol because he writes about madness. All the Slavs do. But Shevchenko was sane, and very, very patriotic. Poet for the people.

But Dostevsky was part Ukrainian.

And that's about as far as it goes.

Talent. Genius.

Nice work if you can get it.


"I do not like women..."
Well, poor young Arkady, caught in the maelstrom of adolescent emotions, like Holden Caufield not knowing all the while that he may have been a bastard, and that's why all the roil.

He inserts his personality in othe people's lives, and when they come back on him, he thinks it's all their fault and not his.

Ah. Holden Caulfield trying to be the catcher in the rye.

New Yorker magazine style turned into a wonderful novel.

I have tried for some years to imitate New Yorker style.

It is almost impossible, because of its complexity underneath all that apparent simplicity

Goes something like this. Detail, Detail, Detail, Climax. And again: Detail Detail, Detail, Climax---a chein of these, and finally a big climax which is more in the reader than the author.

Yet somehow, it all harkens back to Dostoevky.

"I do not like women..."
A Raw Youth is the most peculiar of Dostoevky's novels. In his other writings there are plots of passionate feelings and sensational events.
In Youth, much less seems to happen: There is not a single murder, just two suicides, no violation of under-age girls, no public scandal with face slapping, epaulette-ripping, ear-biting and all that; and it seems no one really goes insane.

But so much else is there in the plot. Akady's intrusion into other people's affairs. His possible illegitimacy. And maybe even gayness.

Just like Holden.

And Holden went insane.

Ah. Transplaneted ethnic, with the name cleverly disguised.

I have heard it said, that all immigrants end up going off their heads.

Well, I guess I am more "Americanized".

Came back from Mexico with a novel and a newborn.

"Hey," I'd said to myself, "Going off at both ends."

Well, yeah. But you have to live in Canada.

Where you can't write novels.

Especially new material.

They don't like that.

Our novels are good because we say they are good.

And you're starting to piss us off with your Dostoevky.

##

14 comments:

Lana Gramlich said...

As a former Jew, myself, I assure you that marrying into a Jewish family still means you're goyim. Good luck, at any rate. Why try to imitate a magazine's style? Come to think of it, why compare yourself to Salinger, Gogol or anyone else? Doesn't that just inspire self-doubt while actually changing nothing?

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Lana,

The family was extreme left.

And they, like Catholics, will take just about anybody.

Yeah. Uncle Tommy was a Commie.

But then I wrote The Black Icon, which they construed as a Petlurist
(patriotic) tract.

Trouble after that.

Ah. Poliics and religion.

Oy. A goy.

Charles Gramlich said...

Writing styles are like food. Some look pretty on the plate but leave you hungry later. Others stick to your ribs. If I had to pick one I like the rib stickers myself.

Josie said...

James Michener once said "Anna Karenina" was the greatest novel ever written. You're right, the Russians are the best writers.

There aren't many good novels being written anymore. Maybe that's why I no longer read fiction.

Perhaps it's your turn to write the next great novel, Ivan.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Charles,

Yep it's got to have depth.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Josie,

Anna Karenina is with me to this day, even after three readings.

Small wonder Tostoy in Russian means "Fat One." Fat in literary genius.

Flaubert, on the same theme, seems to back into his story and there are times I can almost hear him writing it, it is so laboured.
But old Leo the Lion roars through.

the walking man said...

It is a matter of taste eh...do you like tea or coffee my dear?

The Russians can write but so can the North Americans of the same vintage. And Euro's could haveif they would have left philosophy alone...give me my head Nietzsche. Just not on a solitary stake.

Every one who puts pen to paper believes there is a master work in there, a Great Gatsby or The Twelve Chairs.

Dwelling on it though...you might miss it when the train carrying it rolls on through the station. so buy your ticket (you have old man) and ride this piss spewing, rail knocking, interminably swaying damn train to the last station.

Me I am going to POGO to play golf...I just know one day I will break par.

Peace

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Ah, what's a Poe boy to do?

Yes, American literature was certainly equal to Europe in the l9th century.

And Fitzgerald is a tough act to follow; probably a more profound writer than Hemingay or the Europeans of the same period.

Phisosohy, yes, but here and there a cookie monster like Camus.

And I don't think Sarter was smarter.

And, as they say Nee-chee was peachy.

The thing about the Uropean philosophers, though it that they were uncommonly good writers. ...Could take complex material and make it wine-cellar sparkling.
You could read Bertrand Russesll and weep.
Not at all sure of the way.

benjibopper said...

yeah, love the russian writers. i think war and peace really is the best novel ever written.

lots of good stuff coming out of india now, it seems.

to me, it's just a matter of style, what's in and what's out. invisible man would never get published now, too surreal. but there are still good books coming out, even in canada.

problem is, cbc's obsession with canadian-ness is detrimental. is any other country more obsessed with identifying itself? other cultures just are. no need to define it.

http://www.creativewriting.ca said...

You're probably right, Benji.

I could hear the old Kievan in the background in Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead.

Mailer himself admitted to lifting entire scenes from the grand master.

So Mailer decided to use his own voice and style about the alleged sexual vagaries of the late Darryl F. Zanuck, of Hollywood.

Out came The Deer Park, which critics savaged with such praise as "Sordid. Crummy. A Botch."

Hey, that sounds like some of my shorter novels. :)

Oh the CBC.

Paying lip service (face it!) "puff job" service to the New York feminists of another generation and the elevation to drama of guys who like to think of getting it on with their mothers or sisters.
No wonder at Cannes they always say "Sick Canada."
Okay. Okay. I'm not talkinf of the CBC' excellent documentaries.

I think I will either spend a delightful evening or blanch at the latest National Film Board offering, "Young People F*cking." I'll very probably see it on CBC.

...At least some senator had the sense to say, "We are giving film grant money to these clowns?"

In drama, CBC tries, but it's all retrograde.
Young girls growing up in a small down...Okay this was of interest thirty years ago but now the real material is is more like Jonathan Franzen's flawed masterpiece, The Corrections where a neurotic Dagwood Bumstead has had a family turned against him by a shrew with problems and the kids develop problems in aping the shrew."You raised your voice at Mommy!"

And the old incontinent guy on a tour boat, spewing turds at all and sundry. You want dirt, Franzen has got dirt. Probably the real dirt, but he's from New York and not Toronto.

There are times when I think CBC drama is "Survival of the Unfittest."
Certainly survival of the fittingest.

The "fittingest" in producing works of incest, homosexuality and guilty cross-dressing.
There used to ba a question in the swell bars years ago?

"What are those degenerates of Jarvis Street up to now?"

I don't think they really know.
Exept selling to private developers decomissioned CBC building.
At this the're good.

Maybe they should indeed take up real estate.
They've really got to get out of the one-star drama game, if it's even worth that much.

Donnetta Lee said...

Like Josie, not many novels appeal to me anymore. I keep trying one on for size here and there and then end up dropping it. Haven't found one recently, as Charles would say, that "sticks to my ribs." Doesn't matter what the ethnic background. But the classics, maybe a different deal there. Ah, "Anna K"-nothing quite like it.
Donnetta

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Just a private notion, Donnetta,

Seems that when writers took up he keyboard rather than the pen or typewriter, literature has gone to hell.
Keyboarding is too easy, and how right Truman Capote (one of the best) used to say, "That ain't writin' that's typin'."

Well I think too many would-be writers are just keyboarding.
And it shows all over, from journalism to novels.
Seems like sucn an easy thing to do, just lettingh one word follow another. But there is plot and structure, and it's in plot that the characters really emerge.
In a word, I don't think novelists for the past thirty years have been plain smart or talented enough.
It used to be called genius.

Darn. This is the age of the average person. And strangely, Oprah (who could be termed Ms. Average), is the only one out there pitching for new talented writers.
Mr. Franzen, after being endorsed by Oprah for his excellent The Corrections, felt in a sin of pride, that he was too cool for Oprah,an Oprah was angered and she dropped him.
After that, the book vanished.

Sugar! Here was someone as potetially good as Fitzgerald and he blew it.
Some of us think we're too cool for school.
How wise of Dostoevsky to come out with a book a hundred years ahead of its time in A Callow Youth.
Franzen was only 38 when he wrote The Correcions

Anna Karenina. Yes. Definitely for adults!

benjibopper said...

ivan, loving your polemics in these comments. age and experience help a lot. totally agree with you on plot - it's a lost art, that's where the creativity comes in, but it's left-brain too, or it doesn't seem authentic. tolstoy (again) took you deep into a character, deep into the events of the times, from elite parties to the trenches of war, and every thought along the way. details. you were right there with the characters.

ivan@creativewqriting.ca said...

Benji,

Yes.

I am sure Norman Mailer was aware of it when he put a template on Tolstoy and came out withe a less cultured American approach.
In Mailers tribute to Tolstoy (I'd say, anyeway) Mailer produced the Naked and the Dead.
The battle, unlike Tolstoy's Napoleonic war was fought on an atoll held by the Japanese. In the Pacific theatre there were none of the complications of European culture and Mailer was able to produce his own War an Peace, but from an American GI viewpoint.

He went on finally to wrie his own original novels, but reviewer' remarksk such as "sordid" and "crummy" were not helpful at all.
Mr. Mailer was great when he imitated the actions of Leo the Lion, that is to say Leo Tolstoy,
But I gues he couldn't be
Leo.