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NOTES WITHOUT A TEXT  by Roberto  Bazlen



by Roberto Bazlen ; edited by Roberto Calasso ; translated by Alex Andriesse

Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-62897-312-9
Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Omnibus edition of works by an Italian writer who might have been a modernist master had he not been more intent on sowing literary confusion.

Calasso, who introduces this collection of texts by Trieste-born translator and editor Bazlen (1902-1965), gives a rather murky account of the centrifugal tendencies of a writer who wrote but did not publish: “Preparing for emptiness…is an abnormal occurrence—it always has been—and not only that: the modes of existence most prevalent at present teach us to forget even the possibility of emptiness.” Accepting Calasso’s contention that Bazlen made himself right at home in the void, the texts brought together here vary in intent and quality. The lead work is an odd novel centering on a sea captain who is never at home in the world and especially not in his own home, where he feels untoward urges toward his wife: “I really have to hit her.“ In the company of strange players with names like Peg-Leg and the One-Eyed Man, he sails from harbor to harbor, meeting other stock characters like "an Oriental,” "the Gypsy Woman,” and “the negress,” who do pretty much as they would in an old Popeye cartoon, allowing for extra helpings of surrealism and non sequitur (“the Captain was close to death, but he was awfully cultured"). Included are sketches of characters like The Cabin Boy, who says to the Captain, “It would be unfair not to take you adequately into account—and besides I’m indebted to you for a couple of pesos (and a flask of wine too).” The hallucinatory mode prevails. Bazlen’s essays and notes on writers such as Italo Svevo and Habsburg-era Triestine culture are more straightforward ("it was a musical city…where everyone sang”), and his witty editorial reports come as a relief after the unrelenting peculiarity of the more “literary” writing. All in all, though, it’s a slog.

A puzzling, incomplete set of notes toward a text; of some interest to students of postwar European literature.