My private criteria for sorting the great works from the less great is that the less great are built to be finished. I just finished reading an Elmore Leonard novel that began, conversed, and tied up all its ends in a completely satisfying way. I can say, without compunction, that I finished it. I’ve never, on the other hand, finished any novel of Beckett’s. I’ve read, it is true, Ulysses maybe ten times in my life, but each reading has given me different book. To finish Ulysses would be like finishing looking at Notre Dame. There are, of course, the small, fierce books that one can finish, but that take a lot of moves from the unfinishable works. Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District here. Poems that I love are built on the unfinishable principle as well. Perhaps this is why I love waste literature – Lichtenberg’s scribble books, Rozanov’s fallen leaves, Ludwig Hohl, Wittgenstein. Waste is something thrown away and thus supposedly finished – but the waste book takes as its principle the idea that you can repress it, but it will return. It will return from the hind end and erode everything that is finished in a text, from the paragraph to the sentence to the punctuation.
I love that creeping corruption.