Skulls of Istria now available from corona/samizdat

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Left: Skulls hot off the press                       Right: First postal day for Skulls, includes An                                                                                              Angel of Sodom and Eddie Vegas

 

here’s the books Afterword, by Chris Via:

Afterword

 

What begins as a confessional novel with the casual beckoning of William F. Aicher’s A Confession , Albert Camus’s The Fall , and László Krasznahorkai’s “The Last Wolf” transitions into a frenetic descent into the bitter truculence of William Gaddis’s Agapē Agape and finally into the intense crescendo of historio-geographic onslaught found in Henry Miller’s Black Spring and Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night . Yet Rick Harsch, an American expatriate living in Slovenia, stands out from the pack with an utterly original voice, a craftsman under the spell of Joyce, in command of every element of the prose. Not an ellipsis is out of place.

The rambling narrator, who cares not whether his subservient audience of one is coherent or not, sweeps the reader away like the famed burja, a powerful wind that blows from the Hungarian basin to the Adriatic. From the first page we know that our narrator will be digressive, forceful, and sardonic. Who better to give us a diatribe of eastern Europeans and Slavic history? Matching the ever-rushing pace of his confession is the glut of word play, effortlessly compounding English and Slavic languages to achieve neologisms as poignant as they are inventive. A small example would be “squidnuncs,” which, in the context of fishermen, is a maritime play on the word quidnunc (an inquisitive, gosspiy person).

Effortlessly peppering the lingual rampage are an abundance of aphoristic quips and deft locutions: “Hyperborean philosophers bleating Wagnerian from the peaks”; “Never mistake religious or linguistic fidelity for the abominable integrity of blood”; “…that’s the best thing about being in a foreign land, the language barrier, it takes a great deal longer to despise the people you meet…”; “…what are academicians if not gangsters of the mind?”; “…American tourists always think that to step out of western Europe is to step into a war”; “…fascism is not possible without nationalism”; and “You don’t acquire virtue by the evil of your adversary”.

The narrator is a defrocked historian, whose credentials are stricken on the discovery of plagiarism. Nonetheless, his mind is brimming with historical knowledge, especially of the eastern European and Slavic territories. Istria is an interesting locale shared as it is between the three countries of Italy, Croatia, and Slovenia. From this store of knowledge, I was forced to dig into the stories of Josip Broz Tito and Gabriele D’Annunzio, among others. You get the sense that this narrator (and his creator) absorbs every book and every conversation on these matters. He mixes facts with the jousts of many presumably late-night conversations over maybe a little too much viljamovka. But the resulting synthesis, for us, is a veritable feast of signposts for further study, further broadening of mind.

With skull imagery always comes the enigmatic scene of Hamlet with Yorick’s skull held aloft. Earlier in Hamlet, the titular Dane refers to the encasement of his mind as a globe (no doubt a play on the venue in which the play was performed). The mind, then, is a symbol of confinement–Hamlet’s nutshell. In Harsch’s book, the image of the skull is conflated with that of a prison. “Islands are perfect prisons, for the mind so readily adapts itself to the idea of isolation…”. The mind, here, is “happily trapped in his skull,” and can be counted as king of infinite space. The paradox of slave and free man.

 

Chris Via

To Ignore James Joyce’s Visit to Piran is to Fail to Get to the Heart of Jimmy

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To Ignore James Joyce’s visit to Piran is to Fail to Get to the Heart of Jimmy

James Joyce was an Irishman, there’s no getting around it, but his comfort in Trieste as well as his love for drink and song and multilingualism suggest he was more Istrian than Irishman in spirit. If you don’t believe me, read The Years of Bloom: James Joyce in Trieste, or go to Trieste and count the plaques and statues regarding Joyce. Right there on the Canale Rosso he is captured in stride; in the giardino pubblico his bust is expertly presented—near to Italo Svevo’s, Svevo, the Triestine writer Joyce made famous, and whose bust has been stolen three times while Joyce’s, one would think in reverence, has been left alone. Oh people from around the world descend on Trieste to soak in Joyceana, to drink where Jimmy drank, to, well, try to see the city Jimmy saw. But they don’t see it, not there, not in a Trieste denuded of multifarious splenetic life by the loss of its hinterland since Jimmy left.

Ah, but there is a place for them to go to find what Jimmy saw when Jimmy was there. I remember a book event I held in Piran on the punta some three years ago that went on all night, precisely what Joyce would have experienced in the same Piran a hundred years ago. And, lo and behold, we know that Joyce WAS there, he was in Piran in 1910, and he did stay all night, he got drunk and slept on the marlstone, yes, we know this for a fact because his life is well documented—and this particular night was especially significant because Jimmy awoke with an eye infection that never ceased bothering him, that eventually led to his famous blindness, that gave him the famous patch over his eye. Yes, Joyce likely took the Parenzana up and down the coast numerous times, one time too many, one time to his misfortune. There is no doubt that he drank great wine, that part of his night must have been swell, there is no doubt he sang before he passed out—he had quite a tenor—but he did pass out and he did awaken with an eye infection in 1910. And nothing in Piran marks this event. The best writer in the world in the 20th century suffered a seminal difficulty in Piran, visited Piran, in 1910 and the town does not recognize this event.

This is an astonishing lack of imagination or energy, I don’t know which. I alerted the vice mayor 12 years ago and wrote in Primorske novice about the event 12 years ago. If Piran were to build a simple statue of a drunken Joyce somewhere in Piran, hundreds if not thousands of literary pilgrims would visit every year, many of them hard drinkers, most of them big spenders. Conferences could be held. Money would be made. Most importantly, a significant event in Joyce’s life would be on the map. This is your last chance, Piran. If you do nothing, we build the statue in Izola and attach an arrow pointing to Piran.

As with all empty threats this was full to the overflow of Moolarky, and there remains no stature of Jimmy in Izola, nor is there one in Piran. But as Jimmy would say: “Nansense, you snorsted? he was haltid considerable agenst all religions overtrow so hworefore the thokkurs pokkur the bigbug miklamnaded storstore exploder would he be whulesalesolde daadooped…?”

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