Thursday, October 04, 2012
Brian Aldiss Reflects Upon Russian Literature, Leading Me To Reflect Upon Aldiss
Brian Aldiss briefly (to say the least) on classic Russian novels in today's Telegraph.
Yet in even in the three paragraphs the Telegraph allowed for his comment, Aldiss manages to remind us of several Russian classics we've meant to read or re-read, and to refer us to one that may be unfamiliar.
His comments on Dostoesvsky, Gogol. Tolstoy pack much resonance into few words, and will have me revisiting both House of the Dead and Resurrection in the near future (the Tolstoy probably nearer than the Dostoevsky).
But it is the author Aldiss leads with, Marie Bashkirtseff, who will be the the large discovery for many readers. Aldiss writes of the powerful effect of Bashkirtseff's diary on him at 14 -- an effect that has lasted for nearly 75 years!
Marie Bashkirtseff died at 25 after a remarkably productive decade of writing and painting. At 87, Brian Aldiss is still vigorously producing novels, stories, essays, poems, paintings.
I realize now that I was around 14 when I first encountered Aldiss's work, and have myself remained enthralled with this elegant, energetic, intellectually and stylistically adventurous and audacious writer ever since. While that's far less than 75 years, it's somehow closer to 50 than to 40, a reminder of the ruthless accuracy of the title of Aldiss's superb autobiography, The Twinkling of an Eye.
There is nearly always some Aldiss reading or re-reading going on at this desk or in my reading chair. He is an imminently re-readable author, always offering new levels to discover when one brings new perspectives (if only those of time passed) to familiar pages.
And through those pages Aldiss has always been generous in introducing readers to other writers. Had I not read Brian Aldiss, would I have discovered Kinglake's Eothen -- to name only one of a hundred or more books I came to through the pages of Brian Aldiss.
Now I will be reading Marie Bashkirtseff -- and looking at her paintings -- as well as adding House of the Dead and Resurrection to my re-read list.
No need to add Aldiss to either my re-encounter or new encounter plans. On the former front, I dipped back into Galaxies Like Grains of Sand (originally known, with slightly different cintents, as The Canopy of Time) just a few a days ago, and found myself recaptured with some of the same intensity, though far larger perspective, as when I first read it as a teenager.
And on the new encounters front, I have been making my way slowly, though only because I am savoring the experience rather than devouring it, through Walcot, Aldiss's massive and massively audacious (to repeat, deliberately, that word) novel of the last century and then some. Beautifully if a bit obscurely published by Goldmark, Walcot deserves a large audience which I am certain it will ultimately find -- a prospect made easier, and I hope likelier, by the ongoing republishing of most of Aldiss 100 books in e-book format. Not clear yet when Walcot will be made available as an e-book (but one hopes its title will be correctly spelled, unlike its mention in the publisher's press release). I'll have more to say here about Walcot in the future.
And there's a new science fiction novel, Finches of Mars, due soon, a new collection of essays, An Exile on Planet Earth (which I have probably longed for more than any book in a while), and more --
Including, as if he didn't have enough work (not that there's any such thing) coming out, a new series of daily short stories appearing on his Web site.
An incredible writer, still in his prime. The dilemma -- and I am endeavoring to say this without irony, though not, I hope without self-mockery -- is that Aldiss's admirably brief piece in the Telegraph managed to nod at four writers and a huge nation's literary history, offering some insight and depth on three of the writers, while this long piece barely skims the surface of Aldiss's own work.
I will have still more to say about Aldiss and, clearly, I am confident that Brian Aldiss will as well.