14 May 2013

Here and Now, a correspondance between Paul Auster and John Coetzee

A note of apology and some anger
I realise that it is now quite some time since I wrote anything on this blog. To regular readers, I must apologize: work has been quite intense over the past few months for me. Occasional readers will probably not mind too much. As for the spammers who have now started to invade the comments section of this blog with their clumsily phrased and stupid pretexts for hooking unsuspecting readers into their various web activites, would they please piss off!

And now for the real article.

I have just read, in almost one go, this shortish (about 250 pages) book which contains correspondance between two famous authors, one American, living in New York (Paul Auster), and one South African, living in Australia (J.M. Coetzee). Here and Now (that is the title) is always interesting, often extremely stimulating, occasionally funny and also moving. Two sharp minds striking sparks off each other and with a growing friendship that is quite patent as one moves through this correspondence that covers the years 2008 to 2011. As witness to the extent of the friendship, Coetzee, who is clearly the more reserved of the two, starts off by signing his epistles to Auster with "all good wishes", but finishes with a "yours fraternally".

There are too many good things in this book to name them all, but the sincerity and spontaneity of the tone, and the authors' capacities to jump from one topic to another whilst remaining interesting are remarquable characteristics throughout. The subjects covered are as varied as the authors' centres of interest: writing and reading, naturally enough, but also sports (both watching and playing), political situations here and then, financial crises, friendship, eating habits, travel, the significance of street names, sex and love, music and films.....

Reading this correspondence, I felt pangs of envy not to have had such an opportunity myself, to be able to build a male friendship throught this epistolary means, as well as through the quite regular meetings that the two manage to contrive, together with their respective wives and despite the distance that separates them. The authors do not always totally agree on everything, but they share viewpoints on a wide range of subjects and manifestly stimulate one another with their points of view and observations. There are constant twists and turns in their minds as ideas flare up and then fizzle out. Reading this book is like sitting in on a fascinating conversation that lasts all day. And indeed I managed to read it during a day-long journey from Bratislava to Paris involving two buses, two planes and some time in two different airports. Time is never "wasted" if you have a good book with you!

I was struck by one passage, amongst others, in which Auster talks about a particular aspect of novel writing, namely setting the scene for the action. He says at one point, taking the reader's perspective and the example of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice which contains almost no visual descriptions: "But how can you see a room in a book if the author doesn't tell you what is in it? You therefore make up your own room, or graft the scene onto a remembered room. This explains why each reader of a novel reads a different book from every other reader of that novel. It is an active engagement, and each mind is continually producing its own images." 

I feel that this has an clear echo in my professional field of wine tasting. Each taster has his own experience of a wine, which is precisely why it can be very hard to get people to agree about the flavours and impressions of a given wine.

so read on ......


  1. In all honesty I'll take quality over quantity any day .... your posts always being quality . As to the spammers ... they're becoming quite the pain worldwide with their futile attempts to peddle their wares on sites like yours . Kind of makes one wonder what their motivation is

  2. Hi there Guitar. Good to have you back in the commentary box and thanks for the compliment.. Just acquiring another bike (new/old and Japanese of origin) Will be telling you about it on this blog soon .

  3. As to the spammers, most of them make no sense at all to me and their sites are clearly bogus. Has to be a scam of some kind and I hope the Google people can soon find a way of blocking them. I had none for years and now there are like 10 per day!

  4. David - An FYI . More often than not when I've tried to comment the system has tossed my words into the ethosphere .... for what reasons I know not why ..So I haven't been absent ... but rather blocked by the system

  5. So there seems to be a double problem on this support system as honest comments get lost in space (you are not the first person to have mentioned this to me) whilst dishonest spammers run rife. I will attempt to find an aswer to this but it may well be out of my hands. Perhaps I need to migrate to another system?

  6. For what its worth David ... one other site I frequent ' Autoliterate " is having the same problems using the same ( I assume ) system ... at least he has with real comments being " Lost in Space " ( I'm dating myself with that one ) as he hasn't made any mention of Spam . If its any consolation with the Spam Invaders a good associate and friend's ( D Lanois ) IT staff has had to tear down his site and move servers at least three times in the last couple of years to get away from the Spam Invaders and more than a couple other sites have disabled comments all together . For what its worth I've let my website go four years ago for the same reason ( even disabling comments didn't completely cure the problem ) and have had no motivation to restart it . IMO if you're going to maintain comments etc you just need to be prepared to do regular clean up Ugh ! Aint the virtual world just a wonderful place ? But ... might I suggest the same system The Vintagent and Chabott Engineering ( Shinya Kimura ) are using ? They seem to have it under control on all fronts .

  7. Thanks for your comments Guitar. I will take a look at the system used by Vintagent and Chabott. On another blog (a shared one about wine and mainly in French) to which I also contribute we have recently moved to WordPress and are happy with that so far. I do the clean-ups whenever I can (or think about it), but man do I hate this stupidity!

  8. David, I’m glad you’re « on the air » again, I was starting to despair.
    Lasciate ogni speranza voi chi non leggete di passi più .... in a way.
    If it can be a solace – how minute the quantum of it – spams have been invading my humble blog as well, to the extent of dozens every day. Then, they vanished. Wax and wane, you call it, I suppose.
    As of Coetzee – still not sure how you pronouce his patronym – he’s a pleasure to read as I only discovered a year or so ago. I made up for my lagging behind, meantime. He’s special to anyone with Germanic-Dutch-Flemish roots and his writing flows so easily. Still, I need the dictionnary once every so often for words I only faintly know about. He’s deceptive: easy at first sight, quite complex when you think of him/it.
    To top the bill, my elder son is presently living in S.A (Port Elisabeth), and I fear he’s there for long, in spite of the danger inherent to that situation.
    I will order the book you recommend from the English bookshop in Brussels, to collect on my next journey home, as I hate to have to pay via internet for a copy to be sent to me. Don’t bloody trust it.

  9. Luc, thanks for the slice of solace. This medium has mysterious ways. Time has been short for me recently but I have a few topics in store, if ever I get the time to write them up properly.
    As for spam comments, I had none for two and a half years and now I get about a dozen per day. Where do they come from and why?
    Think I will read some more Coetzee. I read Summertime a while ago, plus his memoirs of time spent in London. Both are good.

  10. Went through Foe (bright and mysterious), Boyhood (great feeling of the bush), Summertime (very cunning) myself whilst In the heart of the country, Dusklands, Disgrace and Diary of a bad year are lying on top of the “to read” pile of mine. Bought some translations for Christine as well and she enjoyed them thoroughly.
    Can you phonetically indicate me how to pronounce his name?
    I make “køtzé” out of it, but it could be “cootsee” as well! John, I know.

  11. Handjob-teens and sexygirlchat are spams which remain far away, so far. I get “visits” from vacuum cleaners (possible connection with yours, though), track suits and jogging shoes, fruit juicers ... In earnest, I don’t see the point as, surely, everyone recognize them as spam and no-one with a sound mind would ever think of clicking on them.

  12. Luc, I can only reproduce below what the BBC (aka "the Beeb", or "Auntie") says on this Coetzze pronounciation issue.

    As to spam, the apparent contents of the sites indicated in these comments are so diverse and often weird as to be almost indescribable. I have just eradicated another dozen, but they keep coming back like cockroaches (ie "blattes").

    "But the trickiest name is probably that of South African author JM Coetzee. The first syllable is pronounced kuut (uu as in book); debate rages about the pronunciation of the "ee" at the end. Many South Africans, whether Afrikaans speakers or not, pronounce this as a diphthong EE-uh, as in the word "idea".

    Indeed, kuut-SEE-uh was the Unit's original recommendation in the early 1980s, based on the advice of the South African Broadcasting Corporation and his London publisher, Secker and Warburg. However, that vowel can also be pronounced as a monophthong (kuut-SEE), especially by those from the south of the country, and this is the pronunciation that the author uses and prefers the BBC to use too.

    We have a letter from JM Coetzee himself in our files, written in response to our query, making this very clear and, as our policy is always to say people's names in the way that they wish, that is what we have recommended ever since."

  13. This settles the issue. The way the person himself (herself?) wants it is the right way. You remember Cassius Clay insisting on Mohamed Ali, and Dollar Brand becoming Abdullah Ibrahim. To be honest I like the great pianist's work better than what the other managed with his hands. Still: "Respect, mon frère!".
    Spam has abandonned me for 6 days now. Don't ask me why.
    Thank you for the effort.

  14. David, I hope that you've solved your spam problem. I meant to comment about it when I saw this post back in May, but got sidetracked. My blog, which is on a WordPress.com platform, has been receiving an increasing amount of spam recently, but the Akismet spam filter plugin that I use filters out 99.9% of it.
    I'm curious to hear about your new motorcycle, and I hope that you will write a post about it soon. Will you be in Corsica this summer? We'll be there for several weeks in July. I'm still hoping to meet up with you--either in Corsica or in the southwest. A bientôt, Tom Fiorina

  15. Tom, thank you for this information. I will try it out asap.
    I will be writing about the new bike shortly, as soon as I have spent more time on the beast and taken a few snaps. It is a Suzuki GSXR 1100 from 1992 that has had its engine rebuilt and enlarged (!!!!) to 1240cc. It has Ducati spoked wheels, rear-sets, clip-ons and other mods to go. The Hindle "silencers" say they are homologated, but not sure by whom nor for what. Not sure either that I am not too old for this sort of thing. It sure goes fast and makes a lot of noise but it is not the ideal bike for tooling around Paris. Probably a track day or two are in line for this.
    Will be in the South-West as from about July 12th, and up to late August, with a spell in Corsica on the KTM in mid-August. Stay in touch please.

  16. When we were kids, we used to have our 50 cc engines “enlarged “ as you say, totally illegally of course, and generally to 63 or even 72 cc (almost another 50 % in capacity). Those were known as “big bore” machines – in the same meaning as with large English one-cylinder motorcycles. We were very proud of them, they went faster and our parents pretended not to know. But, I suppose your Suzu is one more of those 4-cylinder things and increasing the bore by so little surely is “easy” to do. How does all the rest cope?
    Enjoy, David, and take care.

  17. We shall see how it all works together when I have had the time to ride it a bit more. But everything seems to have been overhauled and up-graded, so it should be ok.