Michael Hofmann, "Where Have You Been?"

The library has a high-ceilinged, clerestory-windowed reading room, big, thick, heavy oak tables, squeaky leather chairs, good lighting that manages to look gentleman's libraryish, a historic water clock and lots of computer plugs. It also has the LRB, the NYRB, the TLS and some French book reviews. It's where new books get shelved: just-catalogued, hardback, shiny-plastic-covered, no coffee stains, no grease marks, no blood, and you can be the first reader stamped on whatchmacallit in the back (big deal. I don't like to think of the number of books I have checked out over the years for which I am the first reader ever, and they still message me to return it 3--or is it 4?--weeks later, as if people were lined up to read it).

Anyway. That's where I found Michael Hofmann's essay collection a month ago and pounced. I binge-read the poetry section (Bishop, Lowell, Seidel etc) and the rest--most of which I'd probably read elsewhere over the years--and now I'm even reading the parts about people I'm unfamiliar with, mostly German. Yesterday I read a Paris Review Interview with Hofmann, how he felt a little embarrassed about his first poetry collection: lightweight alongside papa's novels. And this morning in the shower, having read Hofmann's essay on Antonioni twice yesterday, I was thinking: maybe Hofmann has invented some new manic-critic form, akin to Bernhardt's rants or Sebald's depressive meanderings or even Kundera's tamer fiction-as-essay style. Where Have You Been is, after all, honourably thick (unlike the slender, reductive distillations of a volume of poetry), Hofmann has a powerful (putting it mildly) presence in it, it is jam-packed with his taste and culture and vocab and sentences, it's sort of magic-realismy over-the-top, kid-on-christmas joyful (he's left out the hatchet jobs), bright-coloured torn tissue paper and ribbon tossed around--what would it take to tip all this towards the realm of capital-L enduring Literature? Who else writes like this? A new nonfiction form? Whitmanian capaciousness? Perec exploding out of the Oulipo straitjacket?

I had a twinge of an epiphany, reading the Antonioni piece, when Hofmann describes the film The Passenger's shape as "just something of a certain length. A piece of string. Scenes are knots along it. It is easy to imagine other ones, different ones. . .Finding fault with them doesn't seem to be the point. They aren't load bearing. Other cafés, other roads, other dialogues. It doesn't matter. [...] It is waiting, while nothing and everything, happens."