Wednesday, May 2, 2012

    The big thing that makes Dostoevsky invaluable for American readers and writers is that he appears to possess degrees of passion, conviction, and engagement with deep moral issues that we - here, today - cannot or do not permit ourselves. Joseph Frank does an admirable job of tracing out the interplay of factors that made this engagement possible - FMD's own beliefs and talents, the ideological and aesthetic climates of his day, etc. Upon his finishing Frank's books, though, I think that any serious American reader/writer will find himself driven to think hard about what exactly it is that makes many of the novelists of our own place and time look so thematically shallow and lightweight, so morally impoverished, in comparison to Gogol or Dostoevsky (or even to lesser lights like Lermontov and Turgenev). Frank's bio prompts us to ask ourselves why we seem to require of our art an ironic distance from deep convictions or desperate questions, so that contemporary writers have to either make jokes of them or else try to work them in under cover of some formal trick like intertextual quotation or incongruous juxtaposition, sticking the really urgent stuff inside asterisks as part of some multivalent defamiliarization-flourish or some such shit.

- David Foster Wallace
"Joseph Frank's Dostoevsky
    On Saturday nights we used to meet in the main park of the town. In a quiet corner were statues of long-haired and bearded writers which fascinated us. No Marx, Lenin or Ceausescu - just poets. Huge busts, small benches between , bushes and trees. By daylight the park was a hangout for gypsies. They sat on the benches, eating salami, chucking bottles of beer on the paths, spitting and peeing on the statues. At night, the place was deserted.
    We used to meet by the bust of Eminescu, our national poet. We still hated school, but how could we resist his poetry? Sophisticated and yet rooted in the folk tradition, his verses touched the depths of our souls. His philosophy stirred our imagination, his love for the eternally insensitive woman made our hearts ache. During the day we threw paper pellets at the literature teacher, when he turned his fat back to the class. At night we gathered round Eminescu and cleaned him of the gypsies' spit, urine and bird shit with a sponge. Then we sat on the benches and recited his poems by heart. On special nights, George used to climb on to his head to recite while we held candles in our hands, echoing the main stanzas like an ancient Greek chorus.
    One night we noticed a guy dancing alone in a copse of chesnut trees. We stopped and watched him for a while. At first we did not understand what he was doing as we could hear no music. Gaps in the clouds from above threw small round circles of moonlight on to the grass. He leapt from one silvery patch to another as though spotlit on a stage, waltzing with an imaginary girl, his arms spread wide in an embrace. It took us a while to realize that he was actually dancing with the moon.

- Dan Antal
Out of Romania