Detail of “Der Rabe,” a painting by Carl Spitzweg 1808-1885, used to illustrate a paperback collection of E.A. Poe. What is the opposite of anthropomorphism? Is there one? Isn’t it redundant?
I re-read the Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, Poe’s only novel, skipping the tedious bits (a recapping of Antarctic exploration; an excursion into natural history -- all fine, but dramatically, shouldn’t these have been before the cannibalism?), gritting my teeth over the non-ending. Narrative interruptus! We never get into “the whiteness of the whale.” I mean the whiteness of the South Pole, of course, but I, and I assume everyone else, can’t escape the 19th C.’s whale.
And speaking of shaggy fish stories, I finally read Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds. An amazing novel, about (I’m simplifying here, like, way) a university boy writing, between pints of stout, a book about a writer whose characters rebel against him, with guest appearances by legendary Irish heroes Finn McCool and King Sweeny (who insulted a monk and was turned into a bird-thing, which I always thought was a rather pagan punishment) and plenty of the old blarney. “Tell me this,” says the boy’s pissed-off uncle, “do you ever open a book at all?”
I next read O’Brien’s The Third Policeman and enjoyed it even more. Surprisingly, it was only published posthumously, after being rejected by doltish publishers, serious maroons in this case. You’ll never think of bicycles in the same way again. Or bands of one-legged men, hobbling to the rescue of one of their own.
With Sergeant Pluck and Policemen MacCruiskeen and Fox, the trio of monstrous cops looming over the novel, I was thinking of some other famous instances of crazed coppers: Inspector Javert, Inspector Bucket, Officer Krupke, Offissa Pupp (“Limb of Law and Arm of Order”), the real Inspector Hound. There are plenty more, only I can’t think of any others at the moment; not even mentioning the innumerable television ones -- though, as characters, I’d probably only add the Barney Miller crew to the pantheon. What a precinct house these would make! From Poe on, the cops usually play Sancho on the second fiddle to the private detective genius, acting as necessary bumblers to the make the star shine shinier, but there are some doozies out there in the woof of culture.
“Tell me this, do you ever open a book at all?” Me, I’m ready to open Roberto Bolano’s 2666. You don’t have to wrap it, unless the paper’s recycled.
The raven's more kempt cousin, the crow.