Bely’s Petersburg and Arctic Light
How problematic to encounter superlatives. I’ve asked myself countless times if I’ve reached a peak. It’s a terrible life quivering question. that was the best day, that was the closest I’ll ever feel to anyone. that’s the healthiest I’ll ever be.
Petersburg is the best novel ever written, at least the best that through the aid of translation I’ll be able to encounter in any meaningful way. Now where? Perhaps I could read it over and over again, and as I did so with the benefit of age, depending on whether or not my brain is slowly eroding from travel and sleeplessness, it could yield further and further layers of subtlety, poetry and music, but there is a kind of stasis in that repetition. or maybe it’s a long mantra, and repetition is rich in the transcendental rewards of profound concentration. or maybe I only think it’s the same book from reading to reading and it’s not. maybe I stay the same and the text is fluid. there are other books after all james. you don’t need to re-read anything. other books are good too. they say. it’s true. ultimately how many people do you like though? really like. not too many. a handful of people are cool. the rest I wish all the best to and I’d never want harm to come to them and occasionally I’d love to have a beer with them. the cool people, the really alright people. I’d have them over for tea, then it’s 4 am and the bottle’s empty, and the encroaching tomorrow makes you say goodbye, but really if sleep wasn’t the burden it is you could of continued off into the infinite of rhetorical senselessness. and so it is with books. I grew out of as many books as I have friends. I’m probably a sociopath.
the other factor is the sense of one’s manifest destiny vectors. things are going somewhere. I will be such and such. one day I’ll be happy. bely was an aristocrat, his mind was developing rapidly, his social connections and regard as well, his essays proved clearer and clearer expositions of his singular relationship to mind and cosmos, his first stabs at literature adequate but half formed, and then Petersburg in 1916, fruition, at 36. Then the bolshevik revolution and then not much. Things must have seemed to be going in a pretty good direction, despite world war one. I mean personally. He wasn’t fighting, and he’d just written the best novel ever written. he probably thought, just wait for the next one. the soviet state proved a less colourful and flexible structure to write within. and bely’s mind was already at its peak. now down a long slope, no cliff. oh well.
I like the islands off the coast of northern norway. part of my family came from the outer hebrides. the old macdonalds, they had a castle, but by the time my great grandparents were eating oats and growing potatoes they were peasants. I imagine alcohol, gambling and sexual depravity were to blame. I’m probably a sociopath. the wind doesn’t stop blowing. the north atlantic, uninterrupted undulations. the wind blows and blows. and the potatoes grow slowly there, in the salty sandy ground. its all a dream the islands aren’t really there, they are washing away, someday the last rocks of our castle will be gone, the last sheep clinging to the highest point on the island swelling wool. baa, he says. and why not. in norway they let the colours run out. the sun goes away for a long time, and then comes back. your dad, the sun, works on an oil platform and he comes back for a long time but he goes away. and he gets paid well up there in norway, so everything is pretty expensive, those norwegian potatoes aren’t cheap. but it’s ok. living in a cabin, you can get a lot of food out of a few potatoes. the north atlantic is still uninterrupted, and the islands are there this time, but the edge of the universe is there too, looming. casually. and you are already dead. how fortunate to see it, for a moment.