ReadySteadyBlog

The folks over at Wakefield Press have produced a lovely new edition of Francis Ponge's The Table (translated by Colombina Zamponi): 

Written over a series of early mornings from 1967 to 1973 in his seclusion at his country home, Mas des Vergers, The Table offers a final chapter in Francis Ponge’s endless interrogation of the unassuming objects in his life: in this case, the table upon which he wrote. In his labored employment of words to destroy words and get at the presence lying beneath his elbow, Ponge charts out a space of silent consolation that lies beyond (and challenges) scientific objectivity and poetic transport.

This is one of Ponge’s most personal, overlooked, and because it was the last project he had been working on when he passed away, his least processed works. It reveals the personal struggle Ponge engaged in throughout all of his writing, a hesitant uncertainty he usually pared away from his published texts that is at touching opposition to the manufactured, “durable mother” of the table on and of which he here writes.

Ponge’s homage to this “soil for the pen” makes for an indefinable text: a poetic phenomenology by a dictionary flaneur that lies somewhere between personal diary, writerly testament, and contemplative effort to discern and define a durability that underlies the ultimate transitoriness of our lives and our efforts, written or otherwise.

Click for more information about the book.

"Considered by many to be the 'Icelandic Ulysses' for its wordplay, neologisms, structural upheaval, and reinvention of what’s possible in Icelandic writing, Tómas Jansson's Bestseller was indeed a bestseller, heralding a new age of Icelandic literature..."

A retired, senile bank clerk confined to his basement apartment, Tómas Jónsson decides that, since memoirs are all the rage, he’s going to write his own—a sure bestseller—that will also right the wrongs of contemporary Icelandic society. Egoistic, cranky, and digressive, Tómas blasts away while relating pick-up techniques, meditations on chamber pot use, ways to assign monetary value to noise pollution, and much more. His rants parody and subvert the idea of the memoir—something that’s as relevant today in our memoir-obsessed society as it was when the novel was first published.

Tómas Jansson's Bestseller is out now from Open Letter Books.

I presume y'all are all over this, but if not: Tom McCarthy's essay collection Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish is out now from NYRB.

Fifteen brilliant essays written over as many years provide a map of the sensibility and critical intelligence of Tom McCarthy, one of the most original and challenging novelists at work today. Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish explores a wide range of subjects, from the weather considered as a form of media, to the paintings of Gerhard Richter and the movies of David Lynch, to Patty Hearst as revolutionary sex goddess, to the still-radical implications of established masterpieces such as Ulysses (how do you write after it?), Tristram Shandy, and the unsung junky genius Alexander Trocchi’s darkly beautiful Cain’s Book. The longer “Recessional” examines the place of time in writing—how writing makes a new time of its own, a time apart from institutional time—while the startling “Nothing Will Have Taken Place” moves from Mallarmé and Don DeLillo to the ball mastery of Zidane to look at how art, whether that of a poet, novelist, or athlete, destroys given codes of meaning and behavior, returning them to play. Certain points of reference recur with dreamlike insistence—among them the artist Ed Ruscha’s Royal Road Test, a photographic documentation of the roadside debris of a Royal typewriter hurled from the window of a traveling car; the great blooms of jellyfish that are filling the oceans and gumming up the machinery of commerce and military domination—and the question throughout is: How can art explode the restraining conventions of so-called realism, whether aesthetic or political, to engage in the active reinvention of the world?

Long-forgotten works by Anthony Burgess (born 25 February 1917, died 22 November 1993), the author of A Clockwork Orange, of course, will be published in new editions from Manchester University Press to mark the centenary of his birth.

The novel A Vision of Battlements, never reprinted since its first appearance in 1965, is the first result of a major international project led by two Manchester Metropolitan University academics to recover ‘lost’ novels by the prolific Mancunian writer.

Each new release will also feature previously unseen documents from the Burgess archives, including extracts from the writer’s notebooks and private correspondence.

The Irwell Edition of the Works of Anthony Burgess is the brainchild of two literature scholars from Manchester Metropolitan: Andrew Biswell, Professor of Modern Literature, and his colleague Dr Paul Wake, Reader in English.

Biswell has edited a new version of A Vision of Battlements, annotated the text and written a fresh introduction explaining the history of the novel. The Irwell Edition is an international project which involves a large team of Burgess experts in North America, Europe and the UK. The series will include stage plays, musical libretti, letters and essays written by the author. Biswell and Wake are working with archives based as far afield as Texas, Missouri, Normandy and Ontario.

A Vision of Battlements is a twentieth-century retelling of Virgil’s epic poem The Aeneid, set in Gibraltar during the Second World War. Musical references are scattered throughout the text, as they were in much of Burgess’ work.

A Spotify playlist has been compiled to accompany the new books and to celebrate the first new edition A Vision of Battlements for more than 50 years.

The playlist reflects Burgess’s wide-ranging tastes which would go on to influence his own career as a musician, including little-known classical pieces, sea shanties, large-scale choral and orchestral works, pieces for Spanish guitar, operas, songs and ballets.

Published by Manchester University Press, the book will be released on 2 July 2017 to open the three-day Anthony Burgess Centenary Conference in Manchester. A second volume, The Pianoplayers, is being published simultaneously.

Burgess wrote 33 novels and 25 works of non-fiction throughout his life, yet much of his work is rare and out of print. He was also a composer of over 250 musical works, some of which will be performed during the conference.

Professor Biswell will be on stage to discuss Burgess’s music with the composer Raymond Yiu at the Bridgewater Hall on 4 July. Their talk will take place immediately before the BBC Philharmonic gives the European premiere performance of Burgess’s own Symphony in C. The concert, which is part of this year’s Manchester International Festival, will be recorded for later broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

Biswell, who is also Director of the Anthony Burgess Foundation and the author’s biographer, said: "Anthony Burgess is one of the great European writers of the twentieth century, but many people do not realise quite how prolific he was. One of the aims of the Irwell Edition is to change the conversation about his novels, and to introduce readers to little-known works which have been out of print and inaccessible for many years."

"Burgess is unusual in that he came to writing by way of having been a professional musician. Music is at the heart of his creativity, and musical references are present in all of his novels. I am delighted that people will have the opportunity to hear the Symphony in C played for the first time in the city of his birth, to celebrate what would have been his hundredth birthday."

Eden Eden Eden

First published in France in 1970, immediately greeted by both furore and acclaim, today Eden, Eden, Eden is recognised as one of the major works of the last century.

This beautiful new edition is a much-revised translation of the out of print English version originally published in 1995. It also includes new translations of the original prefaces by Michel Leiris, Roland Barthes and Philippe Sollers, plus a postface by Paul Buck.

CCRU Writings 1997-2003

From before the beginning (which was also, according to them, already the end), the adepts of the Architectonic Order of the Eschaton have worked tirelessly to secure the past, present, and future against the incursions of Neolemurian time-sorcery, eliminating all polytemporal activity, stitching up the future, sealing every breach and covering every track. According to the AOE, the Ccru ‘does not, has not, and will never exist’. And yet...

The texts collected here document the Ccru’s perilous efforts to catalogue the traces of Lemurian occulture, bringing together the scattered accounts of those who had stumbled upon lagooned relics of nonhuman intelligence—a project that led ultimately to the recovery of the Numogram and the reconstruction of the principles of Lemurian time-sorcery—before disintegrating into collective schizophrenia and two decades of absolute obscurity.

Meshing together fiction, number theory, voodoo, philosophy, anthropology, palate tectonics, information science, semiotics, geotraumatics, occultism, and other nameless knowledges, in these pages the incomplete evidence gathered by explorers including Burroughs, Blavatsky, Lovecraft, Jung, Barker, J.G. Ballard, William Gibson, and Octavia Butler, but also the testimony of more obscure luminaries such as Echidna Stillwell, Oskar Sarkon, and Madame Centauri, are clarified and subjected to systematic investigation, comparison, and assessment so as to gauge the real stakes of the Time-War still raging behind the collapsing façade of reality.

One of the most compelling and unnerving collective research enterprises to have surfaced in the twentieth century, the real pertinence of the Ccru’s work is only now beginning to reveal itself to an unbelieving world. To plunge into the tangled mesh of these conspiracies, weird tales, numerical plagues, and suggestive coincidences is to test your sense of reality beyond the limits of reasonable tolerance—to enter the sphere of unbelief, where demonic currents prowl, where fictions make themselves real. Hyperstition.

CCRU Writings 1997–2003 is OUT NOW.

The King in the Golden Mask

Hearing a lot about The King in the Golden Mask from the always interesting Wakefield Press...

First published in French in 1892 and never before translated fully into English, The King in the Golden Mask gathers together twenty-one of Marcel Schwob’s cruelest and most erudite tales. Melding the fantastic with historical fiction, these stories swarm around moments of unexplained violence both historical and imaginary, often blending the two through Schwob’s collaging of primary source documents into fiction. Brimming with murder, suicide, royal leprosy, and medieval witchcraft, this collection describes for us historically attested clergymen furtively attending medieval sabbaths, Protestant galley slaves laboring under the persecution of Louis XIV, a ten-year-old French viscountess seeking vengeance for her unwilled espousal to a money-grubbing French lord, and dice-tumbling sons of Florentine noblemen wandering Europe at the height of the 1374 plague. These writings are of such hallucinatory detail and linguistic specificity that the reader is left wondering whether they aren’t newly unearthed historical documents. To read Schwob is to encounter human history in its most scintillating and ebullient form as it comes into contact with his unparalleled imagination.

Marcel Schwob (1867–1905) was a scholar of startling breadth and an incomparable storyteller. A secret influence on generations of writers, from Guillaume Apollinaire and Jorge Luis Borges to Roberto Bolaño, Schwob was as versed in the street slang of medieval thieves as he was in the poetry of Walt Whitman. His allegiances were to Rabelais and François Villon, Robert Louis Stevenson and Edgar Allan Poe. Paul Valéry and Alfred Jarry both dedicated their first books to him, and in doing so paid tribute to the author who could evoke both the intellect of Leonardo da Vinci and the anarchy of Ubu Roi. He was also the uncle of Lucy Schwob, better remembered today as the Surrealist photographer Claude Cahun.

Wolfgang Hilbig's The Sleep of the Righteous

Right, time to get down to some proper reading, and Wolfgang Hilbig's The Sleep of the Righteous (out from Scott Esposito's Two Lines Press) sits atop the TBR-pile. (His novel "I", described as the "perfect book for paranoid times", out from Seagull Books, is waiting in the wings too.)

László Krasznahorkai tells us "Hilbig is an artist of immense stature" and LARB suggests he writes as "Edgar Allan Poe could have written if he had been born in Communist East Germany."

Enough to intrigue, for sure...

The Story Plant have re-issued RSB-contributor Leora Skolkin-Smith's highly praised novel Edges:

It's summer, 1963. Fourteen-year-old Liana travels to Jerusalem, accompanied by her older sister and larger-than-life mother. The trip takes her from a sheltered life in Westchester County, NY to the hot, bustling, and thoroughly confusing landscape of the Middle East, where Jewish and Arab cultures exist side by side in an uneasy truce. She soon drifts away from her colorful family and their over-the-top relatives, and starts a furtive, increasingly passionate, secret relationship with the runaway son of an American diplomat. Together, they abscond to neighboring Palestine, where they hide in an abandoned monastery, while a frantic search for the two missing youngsters gets under way on the other side of an increasingly hostile border. More...

Just out from Bloomsbury, Michel Henry's From Communism to Capitalism: Theory of a Catastrophe (translated by Scott Davidson):

Both a unique witness of transformative events in the late 20th century, and a prescient analysis of our present economic crises from a major French philosopher, Michel Henry's From Communism to Capitalism adds an important economic dimension to his earlier social critique. It begins by tracing the collapse of communist regimes back to their failure to implement Marx's original insights into the irreplaceable value of the living individual. Henry goes on to apply this same criticism to the surviving capitalist economic systems, portending their eventual and inevitable collapse.

The influence of Michel Henry's radical revision of phenomenological thought is only now beginning to be felt in full force, and this edition is the first English translation of his major engagement with socio-economic questions. From Communism to Capitalism reinterprets politics and economics in light of the failure of socialism and the pervasiveness of global capitalism, and Henry subjects both to critique on the basis of his own philosophy of life. His notion of the individual is one that, as subjective affect, subtends both Marxist collectivism and liberalism simultaneously. In addition to providing a crucial economic elaboration of Henry's influential social critiques, this work provides a context for understanding the 2008 financial shock and offers important insights into the political motivations behind the 'Arab spring'.

 

Two music-related books to get me through Sunday...

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine (she of The Slits; if you don't know, you probably won't care, but maybe you should – she writes well about "art school, squatting, hanging out in Sex with Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, spending a day chained to Sid Vicious, on tour with The Clash, and being part of a brilliant, pioneering group of women making musical history").

And Emily Petermann's The Musical Novel: Imitation of Musical Structure, Performance, and Reception in Contemporary Fiction:

The Musical Novel builds upon theories of intermediality and semiotics to analyze the musical structures, forms, and techniques in two groups of musical novels, which serve as case studies. The first group imitates an entire musical genre and consists of jazz novels by Toni Morrison, Albert Murray, Xam Wilson Cartiér, Stanley Crouch, Jack Fuller, Michael Ondaatje, and Christian Gailly. The second group of novels, by Richard Powers, Gabriel Josipovici, Rachel Cusk, Nancy Huston, and Thomas Bernhard, imitates a single piece of music, J. S. Bach's Goldberg Variations.

Image via the Flowerville blog

A complete reprint of Peter Handke’s 1986 novel Repetition. Translated from the German by Ralph Manheim has just been published by The Last Books. (Image above via Flowerville.)

In Repetition, Handke allows the peculiar light which illuminates the space under a leafy canopy or a tent canvas to glisten – between words, placed here with astounding – caution and precision; in doing so, he succeeds in making the text into a sort of ?refuge amid the arid lands which, even in the culture industry, grow larger day by day.” —W.G. Sebald, Across the Border

of the subcontract.png


Of the Subcontract is a collection of poems about computational capitalism, each of which was written by an underpaid worker subcontracted through Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk service. The collection is ordered according to cost-of-production and repurposes metadata about the efficiency of each writer to generate informatic typographic embellishments. Those one hundred poems are braced between two newly commissioned essays; the whole book is threaded with references to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Wolfgang von Kempelen, and the emerging iconography of cloud living.

Of the Subcontract reverses out of the database-driven digital world of new labour pools into poetry’s black box: the book. It reduces the poetic imagination to exploited labour and, equally, elevates artificial artificial intelligence to the status of the poetic. In doing so, it explores the all-too-real changes that are reforming every kind of work, each day more quickly, under the surface of life.

More on Nick Thurston's new book, Of the Subcontract, over on the information as material website.

I'm hearing good things about Johnny Rich's novel The Human Script ("One of the most intelligent books about science I have ever read," says Tom McCarthy), published ebook only by Red Button Publishing:

The Human Script tells the story of Chris Putnam, a rather introverted young research scientist who is working on the human working on the Human Genome project. Chris lives in London with his flat-mate Elsi, a perpetually stoned philosophy enthusiast who indulges, and engages with Chris’s existential dilemmas offering sympathy, tea, advice and an endless stream of joints. Emerging from mourning a lost relationship with his boyfriend Gill, Chris is just beginning to enjoy life again when he receives news of his estranged father’s death. Chris’s estrangement from his father stems from their disparate world views. Chris being gay, and more significantly an atheist inevitably disappointed his Calvinist father (more...)

Amongst a list of great looking titles coming out from Princeton University Press this season, particularly noteworthy are Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985 (selected and with an introduction by Michael Wood; translated by Martin McLaughlin); Kafka: The Years of Insight and Kafka: The Decisive Years both by Reiner Stach (both translated by Shelley Frisch); and Picasso and Truth: From Cubism to Guernica by T.J. Clark.

Work is the latest book from CrimethInc.:

After so much technological progress, why do we have to work more than ever before? How is it that the harder we work, the poorer we end up compared to our bosses? When the economy crashes, why do people focus on protecting their jobs when no one likes working in the first place? Can capitalism survive another century of crises?

Our newest book, entitled Work, addresses these questions and a great many more. To answer them, we had to revisit our previous analysis of employment and develop a more nuanced understanding of the economy. We spent months studying obscure history and comparing notes about how we experience exploitation in our daily lives, slowly hammering out a grand unified theory of contemporary capitalism.

In addition to distilling our findings in this book, we’ve also prepared a poster to diagram the system it describes. The poster is based on the classic illustration of the pyramid of the capitalist system published in the Industrial Worker in 1911. With the assistance of Packard Jennings, we’ve created a new version, much more detailed than the original and updated to account for all the transformations of the past one hundred years.

In combination, the book and poster explore the positions we occupy within this pyramid and the mechanics that maintain it. From the industrial revolution to the internet, from the colonization of the Americas to the explosion of the service sector and the stock market, from the 2008 financial crisis to the upheavals taking place right now across the globe, Work offers an overview of how capitalism functions in the 21st century and what we can do to get beyond it.

Expect Anything Fear Nothing "is the first English-language presentation of the Scandinavian Situationists and their role in the Situationist movement...."

The Situationist movement was an international movement of artists, writers and thinkers that in the 1950s and 1960s tried to revolutionize the world through rejecting bourgeois art and critiquing the post-World War Two capitalist consumer society.

The book contains articles, conversations and statements by former members of the Situationists’ organisations as well as contemporary artists, activists, scholars and writers. While previous publications about the Situationist movement almost exclusively have focused on the contribution of the French section and in particular on the role of the Guy Debord this book aims to shed light on the activities of the Situationists active in places like Denmark, Sweden and Holland. The themes and stories chronicled include: The anarchist undertakings of the Drakabygget movement led by the rebel artists Jørgen Nash, Hardy Strid and Jens Jørgen Thorsen, the exhibition by the Situationist International “Destruction of RSG-6” in 1963 in Odense organised by the painter J.V. Martin in collaboration with Guy Debord, the journal The Situationist Times edited by Jacqueline de Jong, Asger Jorn's political critique of natural science and the films of the Drakabygget movement.

Looking forward to this: Liam Sprod's Nuclear Futurism: The work of art in the age of remainderless destruction (out end of September):

Starting from the end of history, the end of art and the failure of the future set out by such ends, Nuclear Futurism reinvigorates art, literature and philosophy through the unlikely alliance of hauntology and the Italian futurists. Tracing the paradoxes of the possibilities of total nuclear destruction reveals the terminal condition of culture in the time of ends, where the logic of the apocalyptic without apocalypse holds sway. These paradoxes also open the path for a new vision of the future in the form of experimental art and literature. By re-examining the thought of both Derrida and Heidegger with regards to the history of art, the art of history and their responses to the most dangerous technology of nuclear weapons the future is exposed as a progressive event, rather than the atrophied and apocalyptic to-come of the present world. It is happening now, opening up through the force of art and literature and charting a new path for a futural philosophy.

The starting point is a George Eliot quote from Middlemarch, a sentiment is expressed of a jadedness with art that lies outside life and doesn't improve the world and favouring instead a view in which everyone's life should be made beautiful. This directly relates to the question what art is for. It reminds us not to obviate the question of what art is for. And what is art for? This is answered by Murphy: To keep us all in good order. p4 How is this to be understood? Murphy describes an instance of protest, by Brian Haw, in 2001, against the war in Iraq. This protest was dismantled later. by the police. An artist called Wallinger reconstructed this protest which was then not dismantled by the police (more...)

flowerville on Sinéad Murphy's The Art Kettle.

Then again, it was horror and fear on the part of the publishers which kept this work, first written as the opening section of Leduc's novel Ravages (1955), unpublished in its original form until 2000 – and in French, at that. Leduc, a friend of Simone de Beauvoir (who also had a crush on her), had spent three years writing Thérèse and Isabelle – and it shows, in a good way. So when Gallimard said, in effect, "no way" in 1954 ("impossible to publish openly," said Raymond Queneau, of all people), Leduc nearly had a breakdown. The publishers had, in De Beauvoir's words, "cut her tongue out," and although the work was reshaped and inserted, piecemeal, into subsequent books (and circulated in a private edition among friends), it hasn't appeared in English before this edition (more...)

Nicholas Lezard on Thérèse and Isabelle by Violette Leduc.

If there is one element of László Krasznahorkai’s prose to which critics are most often drawn, it is the length of his sentences. Indeed, they are long: comma-spliced and unrelenting. They run on, at times, for pages, requiring diligence of even the patient reader. George Szirtes, the award-winning British poet who has translated three of Krasznahorkai’s novels, describes the effect as a “slow lava flow of narrative, a vast black river of type.” But Krasznahorkai’s prose is not singular in this regard. Post-war Europe has produced a cabal of writers responsible for similar feats of syntax: Thomas Bernhard, W.G. Sebald, Bohumil Hrabal, and Witold Gombrowicz, to name a few. Amid such company, Krasznahorkai feels a bit like the uncle whose throat-clearing at holiday dinners causes those at the table to shift uneasily in their seats. He is obsessed as much with the extremes of language as he is with the extremes of thought, with the very limits of people and systems in a world gone mad — and it is hard not to be compelled by the haunting clarity of his vision (more...)

Adam Z. Levy on László Krasznahorkai’s Satantango.

Tim Martin meets Karl Ove Knausgard (author of A Death in the Family):


When I arrive to meet Norway’s most notorious contemporary writer, the snow is doing its best to camouflage the tiny, low-lying Swedish village where he lives. Closeted in his book-lined study, with his three small children riveted to Pirates of the Caribbean next door, Karl Ove Knausgård collapses his six-foot-something frame into an armchair, lights the first of many cigarettes and drums a stockinged foot distractedly on the table. We’re here to discuss his strange and backwards success story of the past three years: how his six-volume, speed-written autobiographical novel, intended as a form of “literary suicide”, turned his life into a media soap opera and him into a household name (more...)

Got Paul Mason's Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere on Monday. Read it in two sittings. Very good indeed: compelling journalism, good basic economic analysis. Essentially, a book-length expansion of his blog post Twenty reasons why it's kicking off everywhere which went viral a year ago. Strong recommendation...


Incisive grassroots account of the new global revolutions by acclaimed BBC journalist and author of Meltdown...

The world is facing a wave of uprisings, protests and revolutions: Arab dictators swept away, public spaces occupied, slum-dwellers in revolt, cyberspace buzzing with utopian dreams. Events we were told were consigned to history—democratic revolt and social revolution—are being lived by millions of people.

In this compelling new book, Paul Mason explores the causes and consequences of this great unrest. From Cairo to Athens, Wall Street and Westminster to Manila, Mason goes in search of the changes in society, technology and human behaviour that have propelled a generation onto the streets in search of social justice. In a narrative that blends historical insight with first-person reportage, Mason shines a light on these new forms of activism, from the vast, agile networks of cyberprotest to the culture wars and tent camps of the #occupy movement. The events, says Mason, reflect the expanding power of the individual and call for new political alternatives to elite rule and global poverty.

Ark Codex ±0 is an authorless book object of art & text inked on pre-existing book pages & reformulated to induce an abstracted retelling of Noah’s fabled tale.

Ark Codex ±0 speaks for itself—a self-organizing & self-contained archeological archive of language for the sake of language, an artifact collaged of image & text mined from unspecified or unknown origins; deconstructed, replicated, reappropriated, cut up, traced, erased, distressed, deterritorialized, rubbed, stained, repurposed, then reconsituted & expressed in a feedback loop driven by the same chance operations that guide natural selection. To define the meaning or intent of the assemblage that is Ark Codex ±0 would extinguish the very nature it sets out to describe or inscribe (which, in any event, is only an architected articulation of the very ark (vessel, book object, apocalyptic seed bank) that it is).

More at calamaripress.com

Hystera is a haunting, mesmerizing story of madness, longing and identity, set against one of the most fascinating times in NYC history. Skolkin-Smith’s alchemy is to inhabit her characters even as she crafts a riveting story that is nothing short of brilliant.

Leora Skolkin-Smith’s new novel Hystera: out (in the States) today!

The South African writer J.M. Coetzee wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the early fiction of Samuel Beckett, receiving his degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1969, the same year Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize. Thirty-four years later, Mr. Coetzee himself received the Nobel Prize for literature. Now the Harry Ransom Center, the same library where Mr. Coetzee did his research on Beckett, has acquired Mr. Coetzee’s papers. Among the more than 160 boxes and filing cabinets of material are family photographs, business correspondence, recordings of interviews, notebooks and early manuscripts for his novels and his autobiography...

More on this over at the NY Times.

You are my master, I’m inside you, just like that, inside you, you who are standing here, your hands clasped behind your back, you lean forward attentively and look, but really where do you think you are, in the zoo? a blossoming meadow? in an orchard!? Well no, no, not in the zoo and not in the blossoming meadow and not in an orchard but within your own self, you are completely alone, there where between you and me there isn’t any distance at all, because I’m not out there but I’m in here, because I was always inside you, at first just as a kind of cell, or rather something like a mistake in a cell, but then suddenly I grew and now I exist within you with all my force, you carry me everywhere with yourself, your bearing is nice, your clothes are nice, your coat is nice, your shoes are nice, nice and shiny and not even a speck of dust on them, not even a drop of mud, not even a speck of grimy slush, nothing, you are elegant, you went, you strolled, and now something stopped you, or rather you thought oh I’ll stop here, I’ll clasp my hands behind my back, and I’ll look at something, I will look and see what this thing is in front of me, that’s what you thought and that’s what you did, the only thing is, I am there inside, you carry me within your own self, it’s of no help at all, not the nice bearing with the head nicely tilted to one side, not the nice clothes, not the nice coat, not the two nice shoes neatly shining, nothing, and now you’re still thinking about nice things, thinking for example well let’s have a look at what’s over there, that looks pretty ghastly let’s admit it, you say good-naturedly and unsuspectingly, you clasp your hands behind your back, you put your two nice clean shoes next to each other, and you lean to the left and you look at me, erroneously, because it’s not me that you’re looking at, even if you think you are, because I, that thing that looks so ghastly, is within you, because I am within you, and I am watching all of your nice thoughts, as you think to yourself how pleasant it is here in the orchard, how marvelous it is here in this blossoming meadow, how enchanting it is to stroll a little now here in the zoo, and I look at all of these nice thoughts, and I’m watching how nicely you look and you think, but here I am inside, and I’m extending outwards, here I am inside, and I’m straining more and more, and always forwards, and always in an outward direction, and at one point I will break out, and that will put an end to all the nice thoughts, an end to the nice looks, and an end to the nice clothes and the nice coat and to how nicely you hold your head, and you look, because then you won’t be looking anywhere at all, you won’t even have any eyes, because I shall begin by corroding both of them, because my coming is violent, just a few moments now, and I shall break out of you, and you will be that which I am, and that which I always have been.

From the NYR blog, quoting from Animalinside, by László Krasznahorkai (read The Mythology of László Krasznahorkai, a wonderful essay by our friend David Auerbach) and Max Neumann, translated by Ottilie Mulzet (nice interview with Ottilie over on Conversational Reading), with an introduciton by Colm Toibin (published jointly by the Center for Writers and Translators of The American University of Paris, Sylph Editions, and New Directions press, as part of the Cahiers series.)

I understand, from Time's Flow Stemmed's twitter feed, that Belgravia Books (59 Ebury Street, London, SW1W 0NZ) has "an impressive selection of translated European fiction."

Good to know – the website (belgraviabooks.com), however, has yet to rise from its slumbers.

Looks fascinating: Robert Musil and the NonModern

Musil’s novel The Man Without Qualities is widely recognized as a monument of modernist literature alongside Remembrance of Things Past and Ulysses. But while Musil is a major scholarly industry in the German-speaking world, critical attention from English-speaking scholars remains disproportionately small. Moreover, there has been little engagement with Musil’s contribution to cultural theory from those working outside literary studies.

Freed brings Musil into dialogue with such critics of the modern as Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida, and Lyotard and argues that Musil’s theory and literary performance of essayism constitutes a strategy of nonmodernity: that is, an engagement with the problems of modernity that does not re-inscribe the distinctions on which modernism grounded itself.

This book not only offers an understanding of Musil’s essayism made possible by Latour’s account of modernity: it also articulates what the discursive and cultural project of nonmodernity might look like. The book thereby introduces Musil scholars and those working in the problematics of postmodernism to one another’s interests.

The second volume of Samuel Beckett’s letters will be published in October by Cambridge University Press. The Cahier series, which I mentioned a little while back, will be publishing a pamphlet by George Craig on his experiences translating letters for this volume, titled “Writing Beckett’s Letters.”

I would highly recommend this Cahier to anyone interested in Beckett, translation, or writing. What Craig does is to use his translations as a focus through which to draw a number of apparently divergent but in fact related threads: these would include handwriting (and an author’s physical interaction with a text); particular, in-depth translation questions; failure and futility; the uses of intellectual and cross-genre collaboration; the effects of writing in another language; and the ways in which the effects of writing in another language are transcended.

This is quite a bit of ground for a long essay that comes in at 36 pages (with illustrations), but Craig impressively remains light on his feet while treating each of these subjects with rigor. His method is to use many short, overlapping sections to build up a related set of ideas about Beckett’s writing and translation.

Via Conversational Reading.

Details below of two new research monographs that both look fascinating, via the Continuum Philosophy blog. Markus Gabriel's name is familiar to me as one of the authors of Mythology, Madness and Laughter: Subjectivity in German Idealism which he co-wrote with Slavoj Žižek a couple of years ago. If that book is anything to go by, then this latest should be a fascinating read.

The first is Transcendental Ontology by Markus Gabriel (Chair in Epistemology and Modern and Contemporary Philosophy at the University of Bonn, Germany), in which the author re-assesses the contributions of Hegel and Schelling to post-Kantian metaphysics and the contributions of these great German Idealist thinkers to contemporary thought.The book shows how far we still have to go in mining the thought of Hegel and Schelling and how exciting, as a result, we can expect twenty-first century philosophy to be.

The second new title is Subjectivity After Wittgenstein... by Chantal Bax (Visiting Postdoc at John Hopkins University and the New School for Social Research, USA), which explores Wittgenstein's contribution to continental philosophical debates about the 'death of man' and constructs and defends a positive Wittgensteinian account of human being, and about which Simon Glendinning said the following:

'Wittgenstein is widely acknowledged to have mounted a sustained and, if successful, devastating challenge to the view of human subjectivity that belongs to the traditional discourse of European modernity: the broadly 'Cartesian' view of Man as a rational thinking subject. But at what cost? Can we make sense of concepts central to contemporary ethics and politics – concepts of rights, of autonomy, and of responsibility in particular – if we do not retain that conception. Rejecting it can seem tantamount to a rejection of those central concepts. In this important new study Chantal Bax offers a compelling account of why a Wittgensteinian understanding of the fundamental sociality of the human subject encourages rather than discourages us to engage with questions at the heart of our ethical and political lives.'

Interesting looking "book presentation and conversation", at The Swedenborg Society, between Brian Dillon and Momus on the release of their new books (Sanctuary and Solution 214–238, The Book of Japans) on Monday, June 27, 2011, 7pm (admission: £5.00):

Sanctuary is a fiction set in the ruins of a Modernist building on the outskirts of a city in Northern Europe. The structure, a Catholic seminary built in the 1960s and abandoned twenty years later, embodies the failure of certain ambitions: architectural, civic, and spiritual. But it is the site too of a more recent disappearance. A young artist, intent on exploring the complex and its history, has gone missing among the wreckage. Months later his lover visits the place, unsure what she is looking for, and finds herself drawn into the strange nexus of energies and memories that persist there. Sanctuary is a story about what survives – of bodies, ideas, objects and the artistic or literary forms that might describe them – in the wake of catastrophe.

Following the success of The Book of Scotlands, Momus has been commissioned to write another book as part of Ingo Niermann’s Solution Series. Solution Japan, or The Book of Japans, makes a case for the rehabilitation of the idea of the “far.” We live in a time when difference and distance have been eroded and eradicated by globalization, the Internet, and cheap jet travel. The Book of Japans restores a sense of wonder – along with a plethora of imagination-triggering inaccuracies – by taking the reader on a trip not just through space but also time.

Brian Dillon was born in Dublin in 1969. He is the UK editor of Cabinet magazine and AHRC Research Fellow in the Creative and Performing Arts at the University of Kent. He is the author of Tormented Hope: Nine Hypochondriac Lives (Penguin, 2009) and a memoir, In the Dark Room (Penguin, 2005). His writing appears regularly in such publications as frieze, Artforum, the Guardian, the London Review of Books, and the Wire. He lives in Canterbury. briangdillon.wordpress.com

Momus is the pseudonym of Scottish musician, artist, and writer Nick Currie. Born in Paisley, Scotland, in 1960, he has released twenty albums of pop music on independent labels like 4AD, Creation, and Cherry Red. He writes regularly about art, design, and culture for the New York Times, ID, frieze, Spike, and 032c. In addition to The Book of Scotlands, Momus has published a novel, The Book of Jokes (Dalkey Archive Press, 2009). imomus.com

Excellent talk at London's ICA last night between Paul Taylor (author of Žižek and the Media) and Slavoj Žižek.

As ever, Žižek was discursive, endearing, funny and incisive. I never fail to be impressed that he pulls of that mix so effortlessly. (I had the pleasure of meeting him before the talk, and he was exactly the same talking with a group of friends and colleagues as he is up on stage.)

At the end of his talk he mentioned that he was perhaps coming to the end of his tether with playing the role of philosophy's clown (a role he accepted he invented and perpetuated in dialogue and tension with the media) and has almost finished writing a big, boring book on Hegel. I can't wait! Žižek suggested it was going to be six or seven hundred pages long, with the first hundred pages about Plato, and the next hundred or so discussing Fichte.

You heard it here first!

One I almost missed, but looks very worthy of attention: Peter Weiss's Hölderlin (Seagull; translated by Jon Swan, in collaboration with Carl Weber) –

The work of German poet Frederich Hölderlin (1770-1843) has inspired countless poets and philosophers, from Paul Celan to Rainer Maria Rilke to Martin Heidegger and Friedrich Nietzsche. Despite the international renown and respect his hymns and elegies have since earned for their lyric style and innovative approach to Greek myth, his work was not widely celebrated during his lifetime. Diagnosed with a severe case of hypochondria at a young age, he was beset by mental illness for much of his life, living the final decades in the care of a carpenter. Though the details of Hölderlin's life inspired the acute awareness of the lonely human condition that is at the center of many of his poems, there has previously been no serious biography of his life. In Hölderlin, well-known German writer Peter Weiss finally brings to the page the life and times of one of Germany's greatest poets. Weiss explains that he was motivated 'to describe something of the conflict that arises in a person who suffers to the point of madness from the injustices, the humiliations in his society, who completely supports the revolutionary upheavals, and yet does not find the praxis with which the misery can be remedied'. The resulting biography is a powerful celebration of the intense and influential poems of Hölderlin and the life behind them.

Excellent news: good friend – and regular ReadySteadyBook contributor – Leora Skolkin-Smith has a new novel, Hystera, coming out with Persea Books in November:

Hystera tells the story of a young woman who finds herself involuntarily admitted to a mental hospital on New York City's Upper East Side, in the 1970s after a family tragedy. The story is layered with Lillian's own notebook characters as she invents people from the Middle Ages through the 19th century straight up to her present time, experiencing mysterious "mental conditions" that parallel her own. Lillian joins her invented cast of characters and that of the real people she meets on the ward as she journeys to health and stability. She finds herself, too, part of a continuum of rebellion and enigmas throughout history.

The spring issue of the Paris Review will contain a lost manuscript by Roberto Bolaño called The Third Reich. The magazine plans to publish the complete novel in four installments over the course of a year. It will be followed by a hardcover version from FSG...


More at the Paris Review blog.

I'm not sure quite how I missed the existence of this one, but it was only when ambling around the LRB Bookshop t'other week that I came across Peter Linebaugh's The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All. Linebaugh, as I've doubtles said before, is the writer of one of my all time favourite history books, The London Hanged, as well as a fascinating history of piracy (The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic, with RSB interviewee Marcus Rediker).


The publisher blurbs The Magna Carta Manifesto thusly:


This remarkable book shines a fierce light on the current state of liberty and shows how longstanding restraints against tyranny - and the rights of habeas corpus, trial by jury, and due process of law, and the prohibition of torture - are being abridged. In providing a sweeping history of Magna Carta, the source of these protections since 1215, this powerful book demonstrates how these ancient rights are repeatedly laid aside when the greed of privatization, the lust for power, and the ambition of empire seize a state. Peter Linebaugh draws on primary sources to construct a wholly original history of the Great Charter and its scarcely-known companion, the Charter of the Forest, which was created at the same time to protect the subsistence rights of the poor.

Jay Parini new novel The Passages of Herman Melville is just beginning to get noticed (see e.g. the Independent's review).


Below, in an extract from the Telegraph, Parini sketches the relationship between Melville and his great peer Nathaniel Hawthorne:


Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne, the two great novelists of 19th-century America, were close friends at a major juncture in their writing lives, and it’s hard to imagine a more fruitful, poignant or complex relationship. For Hawthorne, it was a connection that stirred deep intellectual interest. For Melville, it was a matter of love.

After several years in Boston as an inspector at the Custom House, Hawthorne moved to Lenox, in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts, in 1850. He lived in a small cottage with his beautiful wife, Sophie, and their two children, Una and Julian. The Berkshires were dominated by such imposing literary figures as Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Fanny Kemble and James Russell Lowell, but Hawthorne was a shy man who rarely ventured into literary society.

In early August, when Melville was staying with an aunt in Pittsfield (six miles from Lenox), a prominent local figure invited him to meet the great Hawthorne – who had just published The Scarlet Letter to wide acclaim – at the base of Monument Mountain, a popular spot for outings.

They hiked up a trail with half a dozen others. Apparently a storm blew up, and the group retreated to a cave to drink champagne from a silver mug and read poetry aloud. Melville grew buoyant, leaping into the rain to a rocky precipice, where he played sailor, pretending to haul up imaginary ropes for everyone’s amusement. Hawthorne, in particular, admired this brash young author, who at 31 was 15 years his junior.

Two days later Hawthorne wrote to a friend: “I met Melville the other day and liked him so much that I have asked him to spend a few days with me before leaving these parts.” (More...)

410 years ago, despite the best efforts of William Tyndale (the excellent biography by David Daniell, is a must), King James VI of Scotland decided – after attending the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland at St Columba's Church in Burntisland, Fife – that a new translation of the Bible into English was the order of the day. Two years later, James acceded to the throne of England.


According to wikipedia, the "newly crowned King James convened the Hampton Court Conference in 1604. That gathering proposed a new English version in response to the perceived problems of earlier translations as detected by the Puritan faction of the Church of England... The translation was by 47 scholars, all of whom were members of the Church of England. In common with most other translations of the period, the New Testament was translated from Greek, the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew text, while the Apocrypha were translated from the Greek and Latin."


In 1611, the new (KJV) Bible was printed.


It is surely redundant to say that the new Bible's affect on both written and spoken English was – and is – profound. Along with Shakespeare's First Folio (published just over a decade later in 1623), the KJV changed English for ever, not least because it codified it, allowing countless idiots subsequently to be able to claim that what wasn't codified (ie regional or dialect English) wasn't proper English...


Anyway, all of that preamble, merely to announce that OUP published two excellent KJV-related titles at the end of last year, and both are books of the week here on RSB: Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language by the prolific David Crystal, and Bible: The Story of the King James Version 1611-2011 by Gordon Campbell.

Those of you who have read Kevin Hart's superb introduction to Maurice Blanchot's Political Writings, 1953-1993 (translated by Zakir Paul) will know what an excellent writer he is, and what an incisive reader.

So, just in time for Christmas (well, if you're very fast), I've just spotted that Hart has edited a new Blanchot-related title: Clandestine Encounters: Philosophy in the Narratives of Maurice Blanchot – "Maurice Blanchot is perhaps best known as a major French intellectual of the twentieth century: the man who countered Sartre’s views on literature, who affirmed the work of Sade and Lautréamont, who gave eloquent voice to the generation of ’68, and whose philosophical and literary work influenced the writing of, among others, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, and Michel Foucault. He is also regarded as one of the most acute narrative writers in France since Marcel Proust..."


In Clandestine Encounters, Kevin Hart has gathered together major literary critics in Britain, France, and the United States to engage with Blanchot’s immense, fascinating, and difficult body of creative work. Hart’s substantial introduction usefully places Blanchot as a significant contributor to the tradition of the French philosophical novel, beginning with Voltaire’s Candide in 1759, and best known through the works of Sartre. Clandestine Encounters considers a selection of Blanchot’s narrative writings over the course of almost sixty years, from stories written in the mid-1930s to L’instant de ma mort (1994). Collectively, the contributors’ close readings of Blanchot’s novels, récits, and stories illuminate the close relationship between philosophy and narrative in his work while underscoring the variety and complexity of these narratives.

Is Vasily Grossman beginning to achieve (in the English-speaking world) the recognition that is his due? I've never read him, so I actually don't know if he is even due said recognition (he doesn't feel like my kind of guy) but RSB interviewee Robert Chandler (Grossman's translator) reckons he is, so I should probably pull my finger out and give him a read. I should probably pull my finger out and interview Robert again too, as we last spoke about 5 years ago!


Recent sightings (and citings) of Grossman include: Vasily Grossman, Russia's greatest chronicler, awaits redemption (in the Guardian); In praise of... Vasily Grossman (Guardian CIF); Anti-Socialist Realism (TNR); Everything flows: Robert Chandler on Vasily Grossman (Vulpes Libris); and A Russian titan revealed... (BookSerf).

Under the Dome: Walks With Paul Celan by Jean Daive (translated by Rosmarie Waldrop) "is an intimate testimony of the poet’s last, increasingly dark years before his suicide. The book tells of the friendship of the author with Paul Celan, their collaborations translating each other, their walks, their conversations, their tensions, their silences, and, discreetly, of Celan’s crises and final suicide in 1970:"


Part memoir, part prose-poem, the book blurs the time of these encounters (1965 -1970) with the present of the author writing, 20 years later, on a Mediterranean island. He thinks and writes about Celan, about the women that led him to the poet, about other encounters that take place under the sign of Celan: Tarkovsky, Marcel Broodthaers.

Encounters, shared conversations, looks, dialogues, silence, angers, rebellion. Paris: the Luxembourg Garden, the Square of the Contrescarpe. And, finally, the questions: who are we, and how can we read the unreadable world.

And you can read a nice selection from Under the Dome over at Golden Handcuffs Review.

The Bookseller tells me:


The much anticipated Apple iPad will go on sale in the UK in late April, a month later than originally stated by the company's website. International pricing will not be announced until April.

Shoppers in America will be able to get their hands on the wi-fi model of the iPad from 3rd April and pre-orders from the Apple online store will begin on 12th March. The wi-fi + 3G models will be available in late April in the US. All models of iPad will be available in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland and the UK in late April (more...)

Joseph Frank's award-winning, five-volume life of Fyodor Dostoevsky "is widely recognized as the best biography of the writer in any language - and one of the greatest literary biographies of the past half-century":


Now Frank's monumental, 2500-page work has been skillfully abridged and condensed into a single, highly readable volume with a new preface by the author. Carefully preserving the original work's acclaimed narrative style and combination of biography, intellectual history, and literary criticism, Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time illuminates the writer's works -- from his first novel Poor Folk to Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov -- by setting them in their personal, historical, and above all ideological context. More than a biography in the usual sense, this is a cultural history of nineteenth-century Russia, providing both a rich picture of the world in which Dostoevsky lived and a major reinterpretation of his life and work.

Well, the world has been waiting for this, for sure (via the Future of the Book blog)!


Something is growing in South London... Spread the Word challenges writers to write and publish a book about London in just 24 hours

In collaboration with if:book, The Society of Young Publishers and CompletelyNovel.com, Spread the Word has commissioned The 24 Hour Book, a groundbreaking project to challenge a group of writers to write a new story about London in just 24 hours (more...)

Steve reviews Nick Cave's new novel, The Death of Bunny Munro:


Nick Cave's new novel is an impressive performance. Two features stand out. The first is the pleasure it takes in words and vivid descriptions: Bunny Munro is a man of the world, a cosmetics salesman on the move; he's always swigging from a bottle of whiskey and emitting "furious tusks of smoke" from his Lambert & Butler cigarettes. It's a lifestyle that takes its toll: he eyes are always "granulated", yet he maintains his appearance: the curl of hair on his forehead is always "pomaded". In order to read his watch, Bunny "trombones" his wrist out of its sleeve. And Bunny never closes his mobile, he "clamshells it shut" or "castaneted the phone". Of course, this is very reminiscent not of Cave's darkly romantic songs but of Martin Amis in his moneyed pomp. Had Bunny Munro contemplated a haircut, he would no doubt instead have considered "a rug rethink". This is why The Death of Bunny Munro has a conspicuously anachronistic quality (more...)

Via the Booksurfer blog:


Jeff Klooger who runs the occasional Castoriadis blog has written a critical exploration of the "underpinnings and implications of Cornelius Castoriadis’ reflections on Being, society and the self [Castoriadis: Psyche, Society, Autonomy.] The book introduces the reader to the main concepts of Castoriadis’ work, but goes further to uncover the fundamental philosophical issues addressed by Castoriadis, and to critically examine the issues his work opens up."

Never an easy read, but always rewarding, Castoriadis' work deserves to be better known in the UK. My introduction was by those wonderful pamphlets run off on an old duplicator by the Soldiarity group many years ago - which somehow still seem more appropriate for the subversive spirit that lays at the heart of Castioradis' writing.

I read César Aira's An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter a couple of years back now, I think, and remember it very warmly. I need to re-read it, for sure, and I'm spurred to do so as orbis quintus reminds me that a new Aira translation is just about to hit the streets:


Ghosts, the just-released-in-translation novel by César Aira, is (like his earlier books How I Became a Nun and An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter) one of the most uniquely, genuinely odd books you’re likely to stumble across. No one (to my knowledge) is doing anything quite like what Aira does in his fiction. Short books that nevertheless derail themselves, meander, drift, and stretch out while all the while remaining fascinating.

Attempting to summarize Ghosts is futile. It is set in an unfinished luxury apartment building. There are digressions on the symbolism of human self-organization, on hairstyles in Latin America, on class divisions. There are fireworks and curious children. There are ghosts. (More...)

A better-than-it-might-be piece by Christine Rosen on the death of the book (again!) and the rise of “digital literacy” (via a tweet from Harvard_Press):


The book is modernity’s quintessential technology—“a means of transportation through the space of experience, at the speed of a turning page,” as the poet Joseph Brodsky put it. But now that the rustle of the book’s turning page competes with the flicker of the screen’s twitching pixel, we must consider the possibility that the book may not be around much longer. If it isn’t—if we choose to replace the book—what will become of reading and the print culture it fostered? And what does it tell us about ourselves that we may soon retire this most remarkable, five-hundred-year-old technology? (More...)

As reported in the Guardian (via The Book Trib):


... a 51-year-old man has been arrested in England for stealing a rare first folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays, printed in 1623. The “priceless” book (only 200-300 survive) disappeared from Durham University over a decade ago in December 1998. It resurfaced when the suspect, “claiming to be an international businessman who had acquired the volume in Cuba... showed the folio to staff at a library in Washington, DC and asked them to verify it was genuine.”

Dates for your diary: coming in April, from the matchless Dalkey Archive Press, The Loop by Jacques Roubaud ("seventeen years after the publication of the first volume of Jacques Roubaud's epic and moving The Great Fire of London"); also, Fernando del Paso's News from the Empire ("one of the acknowledged masterpieces of Mexican literature"); and coming in May, Louis-Ferdinand Céline's Normance ("the last of Céline's novels to be translated into English.")

Worth looking out for in February 09, The Wounded Animal: J. M. Coetzee and the Difficulty of Reality in Literature and Philosophy by Stephen Mulhall:


In The Wounded Animal, Stephen Mulhall closely examines Coetzee's writings about Costello, and the ways in which philosophers have responded to them, focusing in particular on their powerful presentation of both literature and philosophy as seeking, and failing, to represent reality -- in part because of reality's resistance to such projects of understanding, but also because of philosophy's unwillingness to learn from literature how best to acknowledge that resistance. In so doing, Mulhall is led to consider the relations among reason, language, and the imagination, as well as more specific ethical issues concerning the moral status of animals, the meaning of mortality, the nature of evil, and the demands of religion. The ancient quarrel between philosophy and literature here displays undiminished vigor and renewed significance.

Good news from This Space:


German publishing house Suhrkamp has promised a "sensational release" during next year's Thomas Bernhard year. The publishing house will release Meine Preise (My Awards), a previously-unpublished prose text from 1980 (more...)

The Goncourt prize and Prix Renaudot winners have been announced (via the Guardian):


In the year when the literary world turned to France, with the award of the Nobel prize for literature to JMG le Clézio, Paris has returned the compliment, awarding two of the biggest prizes of the French literary calendar to writers born in Afghanistan and Guinea.

Atiq Rahimi has won the 2008 Goncourt prize with his fourth novel, Syngué sabour (Patience Stone), his first to be written directly in French rather than the Persian he spoke during his childhood in Afghanistan, while the Prix Renaudot has been taken by Tierno Monénembo for Le roi de Kahel (The King of Kahel). More.

Oulipo is back: "Eunoia is the shortest word in English containing all five vowels - and it means beautiful thinking. It is also the title of Canadian poet Christian Bok's book of fiction in which each chapter uses only one vowel."


"Mr Bok believes his book proves that each vowel has its own personality, and demonstrates the flexibility of the English language."


Extracts from each chapter on the BBC.

In November, the University of Rochester Press will publish Variations on the Canon, a collection of essays by leading musicologists in honour of Charles Rosen’s 80th birthday. The book covers a range of topics from Bach to Modernism... more over on From Beyond the Stave, the Boydell & Brewer music blog.

The Moby Lives blog is up and running once again. Welcome back!


News of The Lemoine Affair is very good to hear about.

John Self on Gert Hofmann's Lichtenberg and the Little Flower Girl (which was reviewed here on ReadySteadyBook a couple of years back):


Poet and translator Michael Hofmann has been cited before on this blog as a reliable source of reading - he wouldn’t waste his time, so I won’t be wasting mine - but I wondered if his judgement might be clouded when it comes to his father. Gert Hofmann has had his final three novels translated by his son: this, published in 1994 following Hofmann’s early death at the age of 62, was the last. Until now we’ve had to rely on an (admittedly handsome) US edition from New Directions. This month, the book is finally published in the UK by CB Editions.

Well, it comes as no surprise really, but according to the BBC, Karl Marx is back in fashion (A Reader's Words blog comments further). (Presumably a raft of books from a neo-Keynesian perspective should be expected too.)


Karl Marx is back in fashion, says one German publisher, who attributes his new popularity to the economic crisis.

Publisher Karl-Dietz said it sold 1,500 copies of Das Kapital this year - up from the 200 it usually sells annually.

Written in 1867, sales of the tome rarely hit double digits but have been on the rise since 2005.

Marxist economic philosophy - and in particular its Russian Leninist version - fell out of favour with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s.

"It's definitely in vogue right now," said the publisher's director Joern Schuetrumpf.

"The financial crisis brought us a huge bump." (More...)

I quite like Rowan Williams. Although I do wish he'd get his Church to stop obsessing about where consenting adults put their willies. Did Jesus ever even mention sexuality? I don't think he did. And maybe Paul mentioned it, like, once. As Chumbawamba once sang, "Homophobia ... The worst disease."


Anyway, the Archbishop has recently published a book entitled Dostoyevsky: Language, Faith and Fiction which looks decent enough. Via archbishopofcanterbury.org you can listen to the Archbishop talking to Susan Hitch nattering about the "conflicting ideas about spiritual regeneration and existentialism as embodied in the characters of his literary hero, the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky."

I'm just back from a short jaunt to Paris. Of course, seeing what is new in the world of French letters is always the most exciting part of any trip there -- the rest is just food and drink... There's a new novel called Zone, the fourth novel, I think, from a guy called Mathias Énard (a Barcelona-based teacher of Arabic), which I am assured by several trustworthy people, including translator and Americanophile novelist Christophe Claro, is the novel of the decade, if not of the century. It's certainly a large object and -- perhaps because of certain details in the style of the hyperbole -- I really can't wait to read it.


On the other hand, I'm reading what feels already like a great book: a novel called L'Excuse by Julie Wolkenstein, a French écrivaine born in 1968 in Paris. She wrote her thesis on Henry James and now teaches on the comparative literature course at the Université of Caen, which is the top place for American Studies in France. L'Excuse is her fifth book, I think. It traces a parallel experience to Portrait of a Lady, with certain key inversions and diversions. Lise -- our Isabel Archer -- is French and returning to the house where once, young and proud like Isabel, she came visiting American relatives. She is fighting the resemblances between her story and Portrait, forced upon her by her dead cousin, the Ralph Touchett of the novel, who has bequeathed her boxes of photographs, cassette tapes, and his own version of the story. The narrative describes the eerie connections between her story and that of James. It is told in non-Jamesian, rather beautifully ordinary prose -- the last major difference between this and the original book.


I also discovered a great bookshop in the Marais. I Love My Blender is among the best bookshops in the centre of Paris and stocks about half English origin books, half of which are actually in English. The rest of the stock being just what you'd want to read if you share the owner's taste and also read French.

I wonder if anyone is planning to translate this into English? Maybe it has already been translated?


Via the Guardian:


A 79-year-old tale of rebellion among a fishing boat crew has become an unlikely summer hit among young Japanese people facing economic decline and rising poverty. Sales of Kani Kosen (The Crab Ship) have soared, keeping it at or near the top of bestseller lists since May, an unheard of achievement for such an earnest work.

Written by Takiji Kobayashi in 1929, the novel quickly became Japan's answer to The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell's critique of capitalism. But Kobayashi paid for his radicalism in 1933 when he was tortured to death by the secret police at the age of 29 (more...)

The audiobook (starring Tovah Feldshuh) of Leora Skolkin-Smith's Edges, has won the prestigious Earphones Award from AudioFile magazine. Congratulations Leora!

D'you guys know TomDispatch? Verso are publishing The World According to TomDispatch: America and the Age of Empire in July and it looks pretty good.


TomDispatch styles itself as a regular antidote to the mainstream media and says it is written "for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of our post-9/11 world and a clear sense of how our imperial globe actually works." Well, goodness knows we always need a bit more of that, but I must admit I hadn't come across the site until t'other day. Anyway, looks good as I say: go read!

Last Thursday, I attended the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize awards at the Serpentine gallery in London (currently showing an exhibition of Maria Lassnig's dreadful paintings). As you'll all know by now, Paul Verhaeghen's massive Omega Minor (Dalkey Archive Press) -- vexing for me -- won the day.


Why my problem? Well, The Liberal magazine ("devoted to a renaissance in liberal politics and the liberal arts. First founded in 1821 by the Romantic poets Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and Leigh Hunt, the magazine is committed to regenerating liberalism and reinvigorating the public sphere") asked me to review whatever was the winner -- so now I have actually to read the monster!


I was privileged to have a meal with Paul and gang after the prize giving, and I'll be interviewing him here on ReadySteadyBook soon.


The prize money was £10,000, but, as Paul said in his acceptance speech, and as quoted on his blog, Babylon Blues, he is giving it all away:


... to avoid supporting the regime with more tax dollars than I already owe them, I have asked the Arts Council England to donate the money associated with the Prize, all 10,000 pounds of it, to the American Civil Liberties Union. Withholding the tax portion of those 10,000 pounds from the US Treasury will shorten the war by a mere eye-blink — its cost is currently 3,810 dollars per second — but the ACLU can use that money to great effect in their legal battles against torture, detainee abuse, and the silence surrounding it (more...)

I've just been sent a copy of Manuscript Genetics: Joyce's Know-how, Beckett's Nohow by Dirk van Hulle (University Press of Florida; I was also kindly sent Cannibal Joyce). I have precious little idea what "manuscript genetics" is/are, so, before I've read it, here is what the UPF website has to say about van Hulle's book:


By taking the principles of manuscript genetics and using them to engage in a comparative study of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, Dirk Van Hulle has produced a provocative work that re-imagines the links between the two authors. His elegant readings reveal that the most striking similarities between these two lie not in their nationality or style but in their shared fascination with the process of revision.

Van Hulle's thoughtful application of genetic theory -- the study of a work from manuscript to final form in its various iterations -- marks a new phase in this dynamic field of inquiry. As one of only a handful of books in English dealing with this emerging area of study, Manuscript Genetics: Joyce's Know-How, Beckett's Nohow will be indispensable not only to Joyce and Beckett scholars but also to anyone interested in genetic criticism.

Indispensable: you heard the man!


The book opens with a nice epigraph quoting Virginia Woolf:


It is doubtful whether in the course of the centuries, though we have learnt much about making machines, we have learnt anything about making literature. We do not come to write better; all that we can be said to do is to keep moving, now a little in this direction, now in that.

Surely we could do them under the Trade Descriptions Act!? Nick Cohen and Johann Hari are both finalists for this year's Orwell prize for journalism. Ha!

First published in English in 2006, Jörg Friedrich’s The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945 will soon be available in paperback: "Upon publication of the hardcover edition of the book, Peter Dimock, the editor of The Fire, wrote the following essay discussing the book’s importance, its relevance to contemporary events, and how we think about the conduct of modern warfare..."


Sometimes an editor can feel in his bones when the prose on the page of a manuscript he is holding in his hands marks a possible turning point in the way the present decides to understand itself. I have been lucky enough to have had this feeling once or twice in the course of my twenty-two years in publishing. It happened again when, at the urging of another author, I and Columbia University Press took on the project of publishing the English-language edition of Jörg Friedrich’s The Fire.

The essay can be found on the Columbia University Press blog.

The shortlist for The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2008 has been announced. "Six contenders from over 90 entries have been shortlisted for the prize, worth £10,000." They are:


  • Castorp by Pawel Huelle, translated by Antonia Lloyd Jones from the Polish, published by Serpent’s Tail
  • Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann, translated by Carol Brown Janeway from the German, published by Quercus
  • Gregorius by Bengt Ohlsson, translated by Silvester Mazzarella from the Swedish, published by Portobello Books
  • The Model by Lars Saabye Christensen, translated by Don Barlett from the Norwegian, published by Arcadia Books
  • The Way of the Women by Marlene van Niekerk, translated by Michiel Heyns from the Afrikaans, published by Little, Brown
  • Omega Minor by Paul Verhaeghen, translated by Paul Verhaeghen from the Dutch, published by Dalkey Archive Press

Lucette Lagnado has won the $100,000 2008 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature for her memoir The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: My Family's Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World.


From the press release:


The Jewish Book Council is pleased to announce Lucette Lagnado as the recipient of the $100,000 2008 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: My Family's Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World [is] a work that The New York Times Book Review called “brilliant.” Lagnado, a senior special writer and investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal, was selected based on her demonstration of a fresh vision and evidence of future potential to further contribute to the Jewish literary community.

In the memoir, Lagnado chronicles her family’s heartbreaking tale of their exodus from Egypt and eventual resettling in Brooklyn. Through The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, Lagnado has shed light on the untold stories of the nearly one million Jewish refugees across the Middle East, cast out from homelands they cherished and longed to return to until their deaths.

Looks good. And who hell Sami Rohr? Well, after spending his early years in post WWII Europe, "Sami Rohr moved to Bogota, Colombia, where he was a leading real estate developer for over 30 years. He currently lives in Florida and continues to be very active in various business endeavors internationally. His philanthropic commitment to Jewish education and community-building throughout the world is renowned. This Prize is a gift by his family to honor his love of Jewish writing, and to help encourage the continuation of the magnificent legacy of the People of the Book."

Now, I do likes me some Edgar Allen Poe, so am very happy to see, via Ed and Edgar, news of Peter Ackroyd's new biography, Poe: a Life Cut Short, which is out here in the UK next week. I haven't seen a copy yet, but Hilary Spurling has.

If you are looking for a Kierkegaard primer, you won't do better for an easy way in than Clare Carlisle's admirable Kierkegaard: A Guide for the Perplexed.


And below is a nice quite from Søren Aabye himself -- quoted by Carlisle from Philosophical Fragments, but online at sorenkierkegaard.org:


But one must not think ill of the paradox, for the paradox is the passion of thought, and the thinker without the paradox is like the lover without passion: a mediocre fellow. But the ultimate potentiation of every passion is always to will its own downfall, and so it is also the ultimate passion of the understanding to will the collision, although in one way or another the collision must become its downfall. This, then, is the ultimate paradox of thought: to want to discover something that thought itself cannot think.

Elizabeth A. Brown reviews Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Good Writing over at csmonitor.com. Brown says, Leonard wants the writer to be invisible: "Good writing is not about the writer (and the way he sounds or the size of her vocabulary), but about the story."


Not for me.


For me, good writing is precisely about the writer and their struggle to write what they are writing (for sure, I'm not interested in the size of anyone's vocabulary!) Otherwise it is merely a story ... and I'm not that interested in stories. Or -- better -- I am interested in stories, but my interest is second to my interest in why this particular writer thinks that this particular story is important enough for them to write and me to read. A self-consciousness about the act of writing and reading needs to be folded into the writing for the writing in front of me to become more than merely a vehicle to carry a plot. Only with that self-consciousness -- adroitly brought about and not merely some clever postmodern intervention where the writer tells you (s)he is writing -- can I be sure that the novelist hasn't simple taken the general shape of your typical literary fiction novel for granted and merely filled in the gaps. If that is the case, the novel becomes artless, empty, and I quickly lose interest in ... yet another story. No matter how accomplished, a novel that just tells me a story also tells me that the novelist hasn't thought enough about exactly what they are doing when and as they write.


Brown says, Leonard's most important rule sums up the rest: "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it." With this, I mostly concur. If it sounds like novelese, run away! Indeed, this was the problem I had with Dino Buzzati's The Tartar Steppe which I finished reading yesterday evening.


Giovanni Drogo is a young army officer who is posted to Fort Bastiani, a remote and almost forgotten outpost that looks out over the desert and mountains of the steppe and onto the barren reaches of the Northern Kingdom. There is a vague possibility that acrimonious relations with the Northern Kingdom could, at any time, descend into war. There is an even vaguer chance that if war were to come it would arrive over the inhospitable steppe. Whilst younger officers, like Drogo, keep their spirits up with constant chatter about the possibility of such an attack, the older officers know better. They have spent a lifetime waiting, they've succumbed to many a false hope but, in their hearts, they know that no-one will attack, certainly not over the steppe, and that their chance to prove themselves as valiant soldiers has slowly died over the course of many years pointlessly waiting for something to happen. Drogo is astute enough to see this. As soon as he arrives at the Fort he asks to be posted somewhere else, but is persuaded to stay for a few months. Those months turn into years. The years quickly turn into a lifetime.


The Tartar Steppe is a very good book, but it is not "great" because it overreaches and becomes poetic at just the wrong moments and in absolutely the wrong way. It succumbs to its own story and ruins the stark effect it has been striving for by piling up the adjectives and metaphors (particular in the key moment when one of the officers, Angustina, dies on a nonsensical trip to the border). The whole book is a tremendously powerful allegory anyway and it does not need the writing to underscore the allegory. Like Henry James does in his breathtaking Beast in the Jungle, Buzzati shows clearly the absurdity of spending a life waiting for a life-changing event: life is the journey, not the destination, simply because the destination of the absurd journey is the same for each of us. If we wait around, biding our time, endlessly watching for some episode to validate our lives, our lives will pass, our life will have been wasted. But, then, as all life ends in death, a wasted life and a fulfilled life end up looking much the same.


This is a book that will linger long in the mind ... and, doubtless, it will improve there! It will become, in memory, as unalloyed and beautiful as it hopes it is on the page but, actually, on the page it often strained: sometimes too flowery, sometimes awkward and mawkish. But, goodness, much better than most of the nonsense one reads!


Carmen Callil is "entranced by Wartime Notebooks, the first drafts of Marguerite Duras's novels" over in the Guardian.


I'll review this as soon as I get my grubby mits on a copy. I'm assured by Quercus that it is "in the post" -- yay!

One to get excited about: Geoffrey Hill's Collected Critical Writings (OUP) are coming out in March:


The Collected Critical Writings gathers more than forty years of Hill's published criticism, in a revised final form, and also adds much new work. It will serve as the canonical volume of criticism by Hill, the pre-eminent poet-critic whom A. N. Wilson has called 'probably the best writer alive, in verse or in prose'. In his criticism Hill ranges widely, investigating both poets (including Jonson, Dryden, Hopkins, Whitman, Eliot, and Yeats ) and prose writers (such as Tyndale, Clarendon, Hobbes, Burton, Emerson, and F. H. Bradley). He is also steeped in the historical context - political, poetic, and religious - of the writers he studies. Most importantly, he brings texts and contexts into new and telling relations, neither reducing texts to the circumstances of their utterance nor imagining that they can float free of them. A number of the essays have already established themselves as essential reading on particular subjects, such as his analysis of Vaughan's 'The Night', his discussion of Gurney's poetry, and his critical account of The Oxford English Dictionary . Others confront the problems of language and the nature of value directly, as in 'Our Word is Our Bond', 'Language, Suffering, and Value', and 'Poetry and Value'. In all his criticism, Hill reveals literature to be an essential arena of civic intelligence.

I read Ronan McDonald's The Death of the Critic last week and liked it well enough. I've seen it dragged into debates about print media versus the blogosphere, but really it has precious little to say about the blogging. The vast bulk of McDonald's book is taken up with the history of the critic (and owes much to John Gross's The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters). It is an interesting romp, and McDonald is good at showing how Eng.Lit.'s permanent worries about its own ontological status (is Eng.Lit. a proper thing to study? how does one study it?) and criticism's growth and mutations have been closely tied together. After blaming cultural studies for killing the critic -- the critic as public intellectual that is -- he ends his book with a guarded call for a new aestheticism. Along the way, McDonald has some warm words for F.R. Leavis which I was glad to see.


Anyway, over on Todd Swift's blog, McDonald did have this to say about blog stuff:


I know there are excellent critics working on the internet and I hope that they get the recognition they deserve. I feel that blogs have unleashed a wave of energy through the criticism of the arts. And I certainly don't endorse the caricature of blogging as amateurish and semi-moronic.

But there are dangers in the blogosphere too. My chief concern is that the talented critics writing therein will end up being swamped out by the mediocre and banal. The open door policy of the web allows in much talent, but also much dross. The small circulation magazines of the modernists had the advantage of also being few in number. I do think that there is something to fear in the volume of comment that the Internet affords. It makes it easier to miss the good stuff. And to point out that some critics have had authority in the past is by no means ot endorse 'tyranny'. It is to say that we need to read the best criticsim, just as we should be reading the best poetry.

Mike Davis, author of many excellent titles including Planet of Slums, Late Victorian Holocausts, City of Quartsz and most recently Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb, has won the Lannan Foundation Nonfiction Literary Award. (For a filmed interview with Mike Davis about Buda's Wagon take a look at the Verso website.)

Edges: O Israel, O Palestine by Leora Skolkin-Smith is to be reissued after selling out of two successive print runs. The new edition will include the Leora's afterword and dedication to her mentor, Publisher and Editor of Glad Day Books, Grace Paley.

Back in April, This Space drew our attention to The Cahiers Series from Sylph Editions. Steve now has details of the fifth book which is due out next month. Proust, Blanchot and a Woman in Red looks wonderful:


The cahier comprises three linked pieces by the translator and short story writer, Lydia Davis. First is A Proust Alphabet, which gives an account of several words and issues of particular interest, encountered during the author’s recent translating of Marcel Proust's Swann's Way. There follows a short article on the French thinker and novelist Maurice Blanchot, entitled The Problem in Summarising Blanchot. Finally comes a series of dreams and dreamlike moments, recounted in Swimming in Egypt: Dreams while Awake and Asleep. The cahier is accompanied by photographs by Ornan Rotem.

A very busy day here. To cap it -- exciting stuff -- the new Coetzee (Diary of a Bad Year) arrived: yay! I've read about 75 pages so far ... and, actually, I'm not that bothered as yet. There is a plainess to Coetzee's writing that is so austere that it is almost rudely unpolished. I'm not sure I'm always convinced by this.


I did manage to write a longish blog about the Sony Reader over on Editor's Corner, so that's good.


Oh: Benjamin Kunkel on Roberto Bolaño over at the LRB.


Now, back to Coetzee.


Update: This wee post was originally entitled Bolaño and Sebald. That was a mistake! An interesting Freudian slip, though. Nothing here, to be said about Sebald: it was Coetzee I wanted to mention. But I'm intrigued I made the mistake -- both writers do, I think, have a deep connection which I want to ponder on. For now, sorry about my foolishness!

Later today, we're off to North Wales for four days of walking, reading, drinking and sleeping. Lola the Puppy shall accompany us, of course.


I'm not sure what I'll be reading, but it won't be Herman Abert's absolutely massive Mozart biography which landed here yesterday. It looks stunning, mind, and I'm thrilled to have received a copy, but it is jaw-droppingly huge. Almost as big as Lola, and certainly heavier! I think its 1600 pages are going to have to wait for a much quieter time in my life than now.


I reckon that Philip Davis's new Bernard Malamud: A Writer's Life will come along with me, however, as it looks like a fine work. Malamud seems to have seriously missed out on the recognition and critical acclaim that Roth and Bellow achieved, yet he ranks along them both (surely better than the former, isn't he?)


My novel of choice is set to be Bruno Arpaia's The Angel of History, an "award-winning reimagining of Walter Benjamin's final days during World War II" which I don't remember noticing when it came out in trade paperback last year. Joe Sacco's Safe Area Gorazde will probably be shoved in my case too.


Have a lovely weekend, y'all.

I'm not really that excited by the Booker longlist -- I never am, really -- although it is good to see two small publishers getting a look in, with Tindal Street's What Was Lost (written by Book Depository interviewee Catherine O'Flynn) and Myrmidon's The Gift Of Rain (by Tan Twan Eng) both on the longlist.


BritLitBlogger Dovegreyreader is reading them all: what prodigious energy! Remember, though, we do have a great review here on RSB, written by Soniah Kamal, of Peter Ho Davies' The Welsh Girl.

Ooh look: a Sebald blog!


Thanks to Michael, from the fab Boydell & Brewer, for bringing this to my attention. And this is probably a good time to bring to your attention, dear readers, the fact that Boydell will be publishing Deane Blackler's Reading W. G. Sebald: Adventure and Disobedience any day now:


W.G. Sebald was born in 1944 in Germany. He found his way as a young academic to England and a career as professor of German. Only between the late 1980s and his untimely death in 2001 did he concentrate on nonacademic writing, crafting a new kind of prose work that shares features with but remains distinct from the novel, essay, travel writing, and memoir forms and gaining elevation to the first rank of writers internationally. No less a critic than Susan Sontag was moved to ask "Is literary greatness still possible?," implying that it was and that she had found it embodied in his writing. Deane Blackler explores Sebald's biography before analyzing the reading practice his texts call forth: that of a "disobedient reader," a proactive reader challenged to question the text by Sebald's peculiar use of poetic language, the pseudoautobiographical voice of his narrators, the seemingly documentary photographs he inserted into his books, and by his exquisite representations of place. Blackler reads Sebald's fiction as adventurous and disobedient in its formulation, an imaginative revitalization of literary fiction for the third millennium.

I was going to read Noam Chomsky's Interventions over the weekend, but on Friday Norman Stone's World War One: A Short History (Penguin) turned up. I read it in about two sittings. Very compelling; commendably well done. Nothing about the African campaigns and, obviously, plenty of other gaps too (weirdly, too much battle detail in parts and, overall, not nearly enough (geo-)politics). I'll review it later today or tomorrow on The Book Depository (currently down because of the Gloucester floods).


I've just got stuck into Adam Tooze's Wages of Destruction. I think this summer, history books are going to dominate.


My favourite history books? Top five might be as below. What are yours? I'm especially keen to know what you'd recommend next on WWI and WWII.


The postie has been a fount of book bountifulness this week, bless him. I think, therefore, it is worth letting you know what is sat here on the mantelpiece waiting to be read over the coming weeks:


In fiction, I'm excited to note that Tom McCarthy's new novel, Men in Space, due out in September, has landed. I'll be interviewing Tom about his latest book around the time of publication. In addition, a couple of good classics have also arrived: Flaubert's Madame Bovary, in the Penguin Red Classics range, with -- don't you know! -- a cover design by Manolo Blahnik (him of the shoes); a new translation of the classic that inspired Roland Barthes' seminal S/Z, Balzac's Sarrasine (from Hesperus); and Hermann Hesse's The Journey to the East (from Peter Owen).


In politics, Murphy and Mustapha's The Philosophy of Antonio Negri: Revolution in Theory - Volume 2 is out now, as is Robert Albritton's Economics Transformed: Discovering the Brilliance of Marx. Patrick Cockburn's The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq (Verso) has a new edition coming out in September. In On the Brink (Politico's), Tyler Drumheller a "former CIA chief" exposes "how intelligence was distorted in the build-up to the war in Iraq."


In philosophy, author William Allen has been kind enough to send me his Ellipsis: Of Poetry and the Experience of Language after Heidegger, Hölderlin, and Blanchot which looks great. More on this anon.


In art, three titles from Thames & Hudson are noteworthy: Andréa Lauterwein's Anselm Kiefer / Paul Celan: Myth, Mourning and Memory, Francis Bacon: The Violence of the Real, edited by Armin Zweite and Maria Müller and, as I've already mentioned and am currently thoroughly enjoying, Linda Nochlin's essays on Courbet.

Inkermen Press was Publisher of the Week over on The Book Depository the other week. Dan Watt's press have just released a fascinating looking title by Dan himself entitled Fragmentary Futures: Blanchot, Beckett, Coetzee:


Romanticism elaborates a model of fragmentation, different from the fragment as ruined part of a totality from which it is shorn. Rodolphe Gasché argues that the concept of the Romantic fragment would have to be ‘radically recast’ to be applied to contemporary literature. It is via Maurice Blanchot that the fragment is ‘recast’ into an event in which ‘all literature is the fragment’. This book investigates that turn, exploring its implications in the work of Blanchot, Samuel Beckett and J.M. Coetzee. Blanchot’s ‘recast’ fragment demands that literature become fragmentary whether it carries the form of the fragment or not.

Beckett’s prose work unfolds a part of fragmentary writing that appears to be degenerative, as words collide and syntactic structures are eroded. However, fragmentary writing allows the presentation of a damaged work, one under the threat of abandonment, as work in progress; being neither finished nor continued.

The work of Coetzee demonstrates the fragment’s relation to Levinasian ethics, inviting a responsiveness to the ‘other’: a situation that maintains the singularity of the work without reducing it to particular critical positions. The legacy of the fragment remains as much a responsibility for modern literature as for the event of the German Romantic fragment. Fragmentary Futures argues that the fragment points to an impossibility governing the generation of literature itself. The German Romantic fragment is still to come, haunting literature. The ‘recast’ fragment does not exorcise such a revenant but makes its future appearance more fascinating.


The Threat to Reason


Dan Hind's The Threat to Reason (Verso) comes out today. It is also, you'll note, one of my Books of the Month this month. Despite its pastiche pulp cover, Dan's book is a serious and important contribution to the current debates about the War on Terror, postmodernism, and religion versus secularism and atheism.


I really want to get behind Dan's book and see it do well. So, to that end, this week is going to be Dan Week here on RSB. Breaking from my usual interview structure, I'll be asking Dan 3 questions every day this week on the blog. Hopefully, this will create a decent amount of debate -- Dan will be about to respond to any questions/responses you have to his answers via the comments so do, please, get involved.


Update: d'oh! I failed to mention that Dan also has a blog at thethreattoreason.blogspot.com.

Always a good thing: a new John Berger book came out yesterday:


Hold Everything Dear is John Berger’s vital response to today’s global economic and military tyranny. From Hurricane Katrina, 9/11 and 7/7, to resistance in Ramallah and traumatic dislocation in the Middle East, Berger explores the countless personal choices, encounters, illuminations, sacrifices, new desires, griefs and memories that occur in the course of political resistance to empire and colonialism.

(Oh, and if anyone is counting, this is the 1000th post on RSB's blog. Yay!)

I keep hearing intriguing things about Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book The Black Swan. Frustratingly, my copy hasn't landed yet, so I can't tell you much, but there is a small interview with Nassim over on the Penguin website:


Q: The Black Swan is an intriguing title - can you give us an overview of what a black swan looks like?

A: The Black Swan is about these unexpected events that end up controlling our lives, the world, the economy, history, everything. Before they happen we consider them close to impossible; after they happen we think that they were predictable and partake of a larger scheme. They are rare, but their impact is monstrous. My main problem is: We don't know that these events play such a large role. Why are we blind to them?

Goodness! What a miserable, rainy day. And I'm a little hungover to boot. So, I should tell you a little about one of my books of the week, the "Time Out" 1000 Books to Change Your Life (edited by Jonathan Derbyshire), shouldn't I? This is noteworthy for me as I have the lead essay in the Death chapter (the book is themed in seven chapters: birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, middle age, old age and death) with a piece entitled The Art of Dying. My first time in print in a proper book: yay! The article is a not-very-inspired, vaguely chronological meandering through world literature starting with Dante and passing via Poe and Hardy onto Beckett and ending with Ted Hughes. You're not missing much. The book itself is quite handsome inside (awful bloody cover though) with lots of photos and full colour book cover reproductions. I'm not sure we really need another book of lists in the world but, as they go, this aint a bad one.

I've just finished reading Simon Critchley's Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance which I would very warmly recommend. I'll write about it further soon. Critchley combines Levinassian ethics with a neo-anarchist politics: it's clearly and persuasively argued; one of the best political books I've read in ages. And I've also just read Ethics and Infinity, a book of conversations (ten short transcribed radio interviews) between Philippe Nemo and Emmanuel Levinas, which acts as a wonderful introduction to the latter's thinking, even if some of the translation leaves much to be desired. If you don't know Levinas's work (and I'm no expert): start here.


And in the post this week there have been more than a few interesting looking titles:


I have just written a longish post on copyright over on my Book Depository blog Editor's Corner. Basic thrust is that publishers who publish out of copyright books, like Penguin Classics and OUP’s World Classics, show that, in some ways, copyright might not be that big an issue after all. My focus in the piece was on Oneworld Classics (the folks who have just purchased Calder Publications).


Oneworld Classics have, very kindly, sent on to me a number of their new books. And they really are quite beautifully produced. Oddly, I got two copies of Chekhov's Sakhalin Island:


In 1890, the thirty-year-old Chekhov, already knowing that he was ill with tuberculosis, undertook an arduous eleven-week journey from Moscow across Siberia to the penal colony on the island of Sakhalin. Now collected here in one volume are the fully annotated translations of his impressions of his trip through Siberia, and the account of his three-month sojourn on Sakhalin Island, together with author's notes, extracts from Chekhov's letters to relatives and associates, and photographs.

Highly valuable both as a detailed depiction of the Tsarist system of penal servitude and as an insight into Chekhov's motivations and objectives for visiting the colony and writing the expose, Sakhalin Island is a haunting work of tremendous importance which had a huge impact both on Chekhov's subsequent work and on Russian society.

Sounds good. So, who (in the UK, please, so that it doesn't cost me a fortune to post it!) wants my spare copy? Email me, and I'll pop it straight in the post to you. First email gets it.


Update: Sakhalin Island has been claimed. Stop emailing already!

Not due out until June 13th, but certainly one to watch out for, is RSB interviewee Simon Critchley's latest book Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance (Verso). I'm a big fan of Critchley's writing, so I'm really looking forward to this, about which his publisher says:


Infinitely Demanding is the clearest, boldest and most systematic statement of Simon Critchley's influential views on philosophy, ethics, and politics. Part diagnosis of the times, part theoretical analysis of the impasses and possibilities of ethics and politics, part manifesto, Infinitely Demanding identifies a massive political disappointment at the heart of liberal democracy and argues that what is called for is an ethics of commitment that can inform a radical politics.

Exploring the problem of ethics in Kant, Levinas, Badiou, and Lacan that leads to a conception of subjectivity based on the infinite responsibility of an ethical demand, Critchley considers the possibility of political subjectivity and action after Marx and Marxism. Infinitely Demanding culminates in an argument for anarchism as an ethical practice and a remotivating means of political organization.

Back in January, I noted the five finalists of the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, administered by the Jewish Book Council of America. Well, the winner has just been announced: Tamar Yellin, author of The Genizah at the House of Shepher (Toby Press), and one of the two British finalists, has won the $100,000 prize (the largest-ever Jewish literary prize, and one of the largest literary prizes around). Congrats Tamar. The pints are on you!


Any of you good folk read this? After my Spinoza-fest, should this be next? And, by the way, have you seen my copy anywhere!? I can't find the darn thing!

Ooh, atheism! Who'd've thought it would become flavour of the month like this? Dawkins' blunt yet shrill The God Delusion didn't convince me at all, it just made me think Dawkins was a bit of a scary megalomaniac. As an atheist, it didn't convince me as a book, as an argument, but then neither have any of the religious responses to it that I've read. Often these argue well enough for the existence of something, i.e. something spiritual (we can't empirically prove or find love, but we know it exists), but none argue convincingly for the specificity of their own very particular brand of religion. Dawkins doesn't get out of the double-bind of needing a prime mover, but equally that is no justification for thinking e.g. that Christ is the way to salvation, nor that "we" need saving. It is a huge leap from arguing that there is "something out there" to being able to posit that your own version of faith is any kind of truth.


Anyway, just landed on the mat, we have AC Grayling's Against All Gods (published by Oberon Books who say: "World renowned philosopher A C Grayling tackles the question of religion head on in this series of bold, unsparing polemics on a topical and highly controversial subject.") Hopefully, I'll be interviewing ACG very soon.

You'll have noticed, no doubt, the press concerning Norman Mailer's latest book, The Castle in the Forest, his first novel in ten years. My copy has yet to arrive (whilst I chew my fists in bated anticipation, I'll finish The Dawkins Delusion?, Alister McGrath's disappointingly shrill response to Richard Dawkins disappointingly shrill atheist bestseller The God Delusion), but I understand that it is on the way. In an interview with Robert McCrum at the weekend, Mailer said that people are "going to have a shit fit" about the work: I wonder if anyone will bother to concern themselves with whether the 84-year-old's latest effort is well-written or not or whether the content --  Mailer "imagines the early life of the 20th century's foremost representative of evil, Adolf Hitler, as narrated by one of Satan's minions" -- will be the sole concern of our "literary" journalists? If you can bear it, Nextbook have a podcast/interview with Mailer where he talks with Nermeen Shaikh.

Frantically busy here (busy adding content to The Book Depository site, finishing a review of -- one of my Books of the Month -- Rosalind Belben's wonderful Our Horses in Egypt for the TLS, and busy painting my cellar) ... so you must forgive the scant posting here at RSB. However, whilst I am here, do note that the latest (last? he died last summer) Philip Rieff volume Charisma: The Gift of Grace, and How It Has Been Taken Away from Us has just landed:


In Charisma, Philip Rieff explores the emergence and evolution of this mysterious and compelling concept within Judeo-Christian culture. Its first expression was in the idea of the covenant between God and the Israelites: Charisma – religious grace and authority – was transferred through divine inspiration to the Old Testament prophets; it was embodied by Jesus of Nazareth, the first true charismatic hero. Rieff shows how St. Paul transformed charisma into a form of social organization, how it was reworked by Martin Luther and by nineteenth-century Protestant theologians, and, finally, how Max Weber redefined charisma as a secular political concept. By emptying charisma of its religious meaning, Weber opened the door to the modern perception of it as little more than a form of celebrity, stripped of moral considerations.

Rieff rejects Weber’s definition, insisting that Weber misunderstood the relation between charisma and faith. He argues that without morality, the gift of grace becomes indistinguishable from the gift of evil, and it devolves into a license to destroy and kill in the name of faith or ideology. Offering brilliant interpretations of Kierkegaard, Weber, Kafka, Nietzsche, and Freud, Rieff shows how certain thinkers attacked the very possibility of faith and genuine charisma and helped prepare the way for the emergence of a therapeutic culture in which it is impossible to recognize that which is sacred. Rieff’s analysis of charisma is an analysis of the deepest level of crisis in our culture.

I guess this was coming: the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge have just published The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist fundamentalism and the denial of the divine by the Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University, Alister McGrath (with Joanna Collicutt McGrath). My copy, I'm told, is on the way. I'll let you know if it is any use once it arrives.


In their press release, the publisher quotes Michael Ruse, Professor of Philosophy, Florida State University, as saying: "The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist, and the McGraths show why."


World-renowned scientist Richard Dawkins writes in The God Delusion: 'If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.' The volume has received wide coverage, fuelled much passionate debate and caused not a little confusion. Alister McGrath is ideally placed to evaluate Dawkins' ideas. Once an atheist himself, he gained a doctorate in molecular biophysics before going on to become a leading Christian theologian. He wonders how two people, who have reflected at length on substantially the same world, could possibly have come to such different conclusions about God. McGrath subjects Dawkins' critique of faith to rigorous scrutiny. His exhilarating, meticulously argued response deals with questions such as: Is faith intellectual nonsense? Are science and religion locked in a battle to the death? Can the roots of Christianity be explained away scientifically? Is Christianity simply a force for evil?

Scanning the pages of The Bookseller magazine, I note that Harvill Secker has acquired a new JM Coetzee novel, called Diary of a Bad Year, which is due out in the UK in September. Not as long to wait for thankfully, we also have, coming in March, Coetzee's Inner Workings: Literary Essays 2000-2005.

In a post earlier today, Jonathan Derbyshire quotes from (some of?) his forthcoming interview with Nick Cohen, "in which he and I discuss his forthcoming book What's Left?" I suspect that I will have plenty to take issue with in Cohen's book, but I've yet to see a copy, and so will reserve my comments to simply trying to work out what Jonathan (and Cohen) mean in the following. Cohen is quoted as saying, "Because you’re no longer a socialist putting forward a programme, you don’t have to stand for anything. That’s why so many people read Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore – they don’t have to commit to anything. They just have to jeer." Jonathan calls this a "chastening diagnosis" He goes on to say, "at least in setting it out Cohen shows that there is still an alternative on the left to Chomsky’s suave nihilism and Moore's lumpen idiocies."


The only coherent reason for singling out Chomsky and Moore in this way is that they are both bestselling authors. Politically their methods are miles apart and, whilst no doubt many people buy books by both writers, their agendas and their constituencies are very different too. Moore's populism is useful for puncturing the pomposity of the powerful; Chomsky's critiques are far more considered and careful. Regardless of this, I take objection to Cohen's statement that those who read Chomsky and Moore do so merely to "jeer". Of course, when one buys a book one commits to nothing whatsoever. But many of those who have bought books by Chomsky and Moore, like I'm sure some who will buy Cohen's book, do so because of a profound interest in what is going on in the world. Those books represent just part of a way that they might begin to understand and engage in it. Further, I have no idea whatsoever how Chomsky can be called a "nihilist" (Derbyshire I'm sure knows what this word means, so I have no idea why he applies it). I'm guessing that it might be because Chomsky offers a partial critique of the Left from the Left, but I'm unsure. And the phrase "Moore's lumpen idiocies" sounds like the silliest kind of snobbery to me.


What underlies this rather forceless little attack on Moore and Chomsky, and those who read them, is Cohen's statement, followed by Jonathan's comment that "‘socialism as a practical political project is simply dead.’ What remains is the anti-imperialism of fools." What that actually equates to meaning is that those who opposed the war in Iraq, and the subsequent killing of 650,000 Iraqi civilians, are idiots. Well, I'm an idiot then. I console myself by thinking, nay jeering, that at least I know what nihilism means.

Always one of the most interesting literary prizes around, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize announced its longlist yesterday. Dag Solstad's Shyness and Dignity would get my vote; Linn Ullmann's Grace arrived for my reading pleasure yesterday.

You probably all caught this earlier in the week, but FYI: John Haynes has beaten Seamus Heaney, amongst others, to win the Costa Book Award (formerly the Whitbread) for poetry with his Letter to Patience (published by the small Welsh independent Seren, who coincidentally are my Publisher of the Week over at The Book Depository) set in a small mud-walled bar in northern Nigeria at a time of political unrest. Haynes' collection will now appear on the shortlist for the main award, which will be announced next month.

You may recall that, last June, a newly discovered novel by Alexandre Dumas went on sale in France. Le Chevalier de Sainte-Hermine was found in the Bibliothèque nationale de France by Dumas expert Claude Schopp after being forgotten about for more than a hundred years. Well, it is out in English translation next March, entitled The Last Cavalier, from Pegasus Books who puff it thus:


Rousing, big, spirited, its action sweeping across oceans and continents, the last novel of Alexandre Dumas—lost for 125 years in the archives of the National Library in Paris—completes the oeuvre that Dumas imagined at the outset of his literary career. Now, dynamically, in a tale of family honor and undying vengeance, of high adventure and heroic derring-do, The Last Cavalier fills that gap.

The last cavalier is also Count Hector de Sainte-Hermine, who for three years has been languishing in prison when, in 1804, on the eve of Napoleon’s coronation as emperor of France, he learns what’s to be his due. Stripped of his title and denied the hand of the woman he loves, he is freed by Napoleon on the condition that he serve as a common foot soldier in the imperial army. So it is in profound despair that Hector embarks on a succession of daring escapades. Again and again he wins glory—against brigands, bandits, the British; boa constrictors, sharks, croco-diles. And at the battle of Trafalgar it’s his marksman’s bullet that fells the famed English admiral Lord Nelson.

Yet however far his adventures may take him—from Burma’s jungles to the wilds of Ireland—his destiny lies always in Paris, with his father’s enemy, Napoleon.

Tomorrow, Carcanet will host a lunchtime event to celebrate the publication of The Shepherd's Calendar by John Clare, from 1-2pm at Manchester Central Library:


For the first time in nearly 180 years, this is a book that presents, side by side, two major versions of one of John Clare's most celebrated poems, The Shepherd's Calendar. The final manuscripts of the poem that Clare composed are placed against the published version in a parallel text; and some fascinating poetic differences, as well as similarities, between the two versions emerge. These changes and continuities are examined in a challenging introduction that charts the development of the poem, and that explores the imaginative strengths of both versions, as well as their limitations. The presentation of this material is enhanced by a series of beautiful woodcuts by Carry Akroyd, evoking the natural and human landscapes about which Clare wrote.

The event will include a talk by the book's editor, Tim Chilcott, a renowned Clare expert, readings of Clare's poems and a display of artwork by Carry Akroyd, who illustrated the book. Carry will also discuss her artistic interpretations of Clare's poetry.

Last year's ReadySteadyBook Books of the Year symposium 2005 was a great success. So, I'll be doing similar this year, and the symposium should be up on the site over Xmas. No doubt, I'm as ambivalent as many of you are about these lists, but they do sometimes remind one of forgotten titles or, better still, introduce you to books that somehow have passed you by.


Prospect magazine have a fine Books of the Year list up online already, actually:


Books of the year features can seem pretty pointless, ladling hype on books that have already been fulsomely praised. In order to elicit livelier responses, Prospect asked a range of contributors to nominate their "most overrated and underrated books of 2006."

David Cox, broadcaster (nope, I don't know him either), is amusingly cross with regard to these overrated titles:


The Night Watch, Sarah Waters (Virago). An imitation Catherine Cookson for dim but pretentious lesbians.
The Inheritance of Loss, Kiran Desai (Hamish Hamilton). A typically box-ticking, offence-avoiding Booker winner whose supposedly innovative structure is more sensibly viewed as narrative incompetence.
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (Bantam). Dreary rant by anti-religious fanatic lacking any grasp of all but a minor aspect of the subject he purports to address.

David Herman, writer, has the good sense to choose my year-favourite:


The Singer on the Shore: Essays, 1991-2004 by Gabriel Josipovici (Carcanet). Superb collection of essays by one of the greatest critics of the last 30 years. Worth it just for the first essay on the Bible.

Finally, Sandra, over at Book World, is "struggling to decide on [her] five favourite books of the year":


Depressingly, there are at least twelve books (which will remain nameless) which with hindsight I wish I'd given up on. But one always reads in hope. And even to the last page I worry in case a tedious book might suddenly pull itself together and turn out to be amazing and that I'll miss something if I give up. So far I have finished 69 books this year (and given up on half a dozen along the way) and I'm seriously tempted to say that it was too many.

Jörg Friedrich's The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945 is just out from Columbia University Press. The author will be in the UK, speaking at the London Review bookshop, on Thursday, February 1st (in discussion with Joanna Bourke, author of Fear: A Cultural History; chaired by Peter Furtado, editor of History Today). On the Columbia site there is a podcast interview with Friedrichan excerpt from the book and there are more links to reviews and the like.


Steve recently wrote about The Fire noting the irony that Friedrich actually supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Back in April 2003, Steve wrote a letter to the TLS in response to a review in their pages, by Daniel Johnson, of three books about the WWII air raids on Germany. That letter begins:


Daniel Johnson is right to dismiss the "moral equivalence" between the air war on Nazi Germany and the "Shock and Awe" campaign against Saddam's Iraq. One was an attack on a nation with the highest military spending in the world, bent on global expansion and threatening to succeed. The other is an attack by the most expensive military force in world history on an impoverished country with no apparent means of defence. How on Earth can they be the same?

I've recently been enjoying John Mullan's How Novels Work (indeed, it was one of my Books of the Week last week). I failed to mention, however, that back on the 5th December, over on the OUP USA blog, John Mullan gave his fine book a nice puff:


Listen to most of the talk about fiction in the media and you will find it mostly concerns what novels are about. Yet novels grip us (or fail to grip us) not because of their subject matter but because of how they are written. And leading novelists of the last decade have carried experiments with form and structure into the mainstream of fiction. To take an American example, Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, a book with three narrative strands set in different times, intricately alluding to Virginia Woolf’s modernist novel Mrs Dalloway, managed to be a bestseller. In Britain in 2004 the bestseller list was for a while headed by David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas – a novel of six narratives in different times and genres, nested in a ‘Russian doll structure’, and a knowing variation of a technique developed by Italo Calvino in his supposedly avant-garde If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller

When is this imaginative innovation, and when is it just trickiness? What terms and ideas is it useful to have in discussing contemporary novels? Thanks to reading groups, these novels are often subject to the analysis and argument that used to be reserved for the classics. The features that we most want to describe (plot, dialogue, character) are not mysterious, but emerge much more clearly if we understand what the words mean, and can compare different examples. Even the stranger-sounding novelistic techniques (metanarrative, prolepsis, amplification) are easily explained and easy to recognize.

Something else to watch for in the New Year: a new novel by Aharon Appelfeld, All Whom I Have Loved, is due out from Schocken at the end of February. (For more on Appelfeld, don't forget Lars Iyer's wonderful RSB essay Experience IV - Silence: Aharon Appelfeld’s The Story of a Life and Tzili: The Story of a Life.)

I mentioned Teodolinda Barolini's Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture here on the blog the other day (I'll be digging into this weekend coming, it looks fab), but I failed to note that Peter Hawkins' Dante: A Brief History is just out from Blackwell. Hawkins is well known for Dante's Testaments: Essays in Scriptural Imagination which I hear very good things about but haven't yet read, so this should be worth chasing down. Its been a good year for Dante titles, hasn't it? Another I still have to read is Barbara Reynolds's Dante: The Poet, the Political Thinker, the Man.

Via the ever-excellent Literary Saloon this, so you may well have seen it: "In Representative Fictions in The Nation William Deresiewicz tackles the English-language version of Franco Moretti's The Novel [this link to vol.1] (pared down to two volumes, from the original Italian five) ... He does write: "for all its flaws, The Novel [this link to vol.2] is an impressive achievement" -- but also:


While some of these essays make useful points, and a couple of them interesting ones, they are distinguished, in general, by numbing banality and the use of methodologies that would make a statistician weep. (As one writer admits, "My data stop at precisely the point where one wants to know more.") Some of the charts aren't even properly proofread, though that problem is hardly unique to this section. The two volumes together contain well over a hundred typos and inconsistencies -- which, given the collection's price and publisher and prestigious editorial board (which includes Fredric Jameson and Mario Vargas Llosa), is nothing short of disgraceful. Also disgraceful is the quality of the translations. Many of these essays are from Italian and other originals, and if the editors were going to bother having them translated, they might as well have taken the trouble to have them translated into English.

Due from Fordham, around about now, is Teodolinda Barolini's Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture:


The essays in the first section treat the ideology of love and desire from the early lyric tradition to the Inferno and its antecedents in philosophy and theology. In the second, Barolini focuses on Dante as heir to both the Christian visionary and the classical pagan traditions (with emphasis on Vergil and Ovid). The essays in the third part analyze the narrative character of Dante’s Vita nuova, Petrarch’s lyric sequence, and Boccaccio’s Decameron. Barolini also looks at the cultural implications of the editorial history of Dante’s rime and at what sparso versus organico spells in the Italian imaginary. In the section on gender, she argues that the didactic texts intended for women’s use and instruction, as explored by Guittone, Dante, and Boccaccio—but not by Petrarch—were more progressive than the courtly style for which the Italian tradition is celebrated.

In his review of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Alan Warner is way off beam with his "we can divide the contemporary American novel into two traditions, or two social classes" nonsense. But towards the end of his review, his affirmation of McCarthy's latest -- "it makes the novels of the contemporary Savants seem infantile and horribly over-rated" -- half-convinces me. Moreover, a friend sent me a text telling me it was wonderful, and that doesn't happen that often, so ... perhaps.


But, no! I remain unconvinced. Steven Shaviro seems nearer the money with this:


The prose is polished to a point of minimalist perfection; blinding in its clarity and yet (or, I should say, and therefore) almost devoid of metaphorical or metaphysical resonance. There’s no splendor here; echoes are muffled, even as the sky is a perpetual gray ... I suppose that this extreme closure, this more-than-granite hardness and power, is one definition of the sublime. But for me, it is something that ultimately limits the novel. I read the book with avidity and intense attention; but once I finished, it almost entirely slipped from my mind. I do not brood over it ...

Nice review of The Goldilocks Enigma by Paul Davies by novelist Andrew Crumey:


To understand the enigma of the title, think of the way that stars burn. Stars are made of hot gas held together by gravity, and if the force of gravity were stronger than it is, stars would burn far more quickly and expire sooner. Our own Sun would have had a lifetime of only a few million years instead of the five billion it has already enjoyed, and life on our planet could never have had time to evolve. Equally, if gravity were weaker, then stars would burn too dimly, and their energy output would not support life. It seems that the strength of gravity, like Baby Bear's porridge, is "just right".

A new translation of The Aeneid by Robert Fagles (retired Arthur W. Marks 1919 Professor of Comparative Literature at Princeton University) is due out from Penguin today. Quoted in the Independent yesterday, Fagles said:


"To begin with, it's a cautionary tale," Fagles told The New York Times, "about the terrible ills that attend empire - its war-making capacity, the loss of blood and treasure both. But it's all done in the name of the rule of law, which you'd have a hard time ascribing to what we're doing in the Middle East today."

"In a sense, all translations are unfinished. One thing I have learned is that no one will have the final say, that each generation needs its own translation. Some translators, like Dryden, hoped that their work would last longer than a generation. That may be a vain hope."

His publisher Penguin says:


The city of Troy has been ransacked by conquering Greeks and lies in smouldering ruins. A warrior, Aeneas, manages to escape from the ashes. He will go on to change the history of the world ... This is the much-anticipated new version of Virgil’s epic poem from the translator of the Odyssey and the Iliad. With this stunning modern verse translation Robert Fagles reintroduces the Aeneid to a whole new generation, and completes the classical triptych at the heart of Western civilization. It retains all of the gravitas and humanity of the original, as well as its powerful blend of poetry and myth. With an illuminating introduction to Virgil’s world from noted scholar Bernard Knox, this new Aeneid gives a vibrant, contemporary voice to the literary achievement of the ancient world.

For more on Virgil, there is a nice primer on the BBC History site:


Publius Vergilius Maro, known in English as Virgil (or occasionally Vergil, as closer to the Latin), is the greatest of all the Roman poets - and the author of Rome's national epic poem, the Aeneid. He was closely associated with Octavian, who, under the name of Augustus, was the first emperor of Rome; Octavian/Augustus looms large in Virgil's poetry.

Virgil was born near Mantua and spent his early life in northern Italy (with perhaps a period at Naples). His first work was the Eclogues (Selections), originally known as the Bucolics, published around 39-38 BC; it is a book of ten pastoral poems that relate to the Idylls of the Hellenistic Greek poet Theocritus (third century BC).

Virgil himself died of a fever in 19 BC. He had hoped to spend a further three years revising the Aeneid, and may have ordered its destruction on his death-bed. But it was saved, and was published to immediate acclaim. It has ever since been regarded as the classic encapsulation of the Roman spirit and of the Augustan age, and also, like Homer's epics, as a profound and sympathetic exploration of humanity.

On Sunday, Steve told us:


... at last, news that FSG is publishing Crossing the Sierra de Gredos, Krishna Winston's translation of Peter Handke's 2002 novel Der Bildverlust oder Durch die Sierra de Gredos. But contain yourself, it isn't out until next Summer.

Also, next year, but (happily) in January, Samuel Beckett: Anatomy of a Literary Revolution (Verso): "A radical new reading of Samuel Beckett, by the author of The World Republic of Letters":


In this fascinating new exploration of Samuel Beckett’s work, Pascale Casanova argues that Beckett’s reputation currently rests on a pervasive misreading of his oeuvre, which neglects entirely the literary revolution he instigated. Reintroducing the historical into the heart of this body of work, Casanova provides an arresting portrait of Beckett as radically subversive, doing for writing what Duchamp did for art, and in the process providing the key to some of the most profound enigmas of Beckett’s work.

Ben Marcus, author of The Age of Wire and String, reviews Thomas Bernhard's newly translated Frost in the November issue of American magazine Harper's. Sadly, the review is not online, but Matthew Cheney, over at The Mumpsimus, has picked out a nice quote from Marcus's piece for us:


Bernhard's language strained the limits of rhetorical negativity: if his prose were any more anguished, it would simply transmit as moaning and wailing. Building interest in the grief experienced by people who look at the world and find it unbearable was a dark art of Bernhard's, and his characters do not resist the long walk to death's door but run to it and claw at the surface, begging for entry. After all, says Strauch, the agonized painter in Bernhard's first novel, Frost, "there is an obligation towards the depth of one's own inner abyss," even if meeting that obligation destroys you.

Matt goes on to remind us that "in addition to Frost being released in the U.S. for the first time, Bernhard's Gargoyles and The Loser have also been re-released in paperback."

The American LitBlog Co-Op has chosen Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife by Sam Savage as its Autumn 2006 Read This! Selection. Janelle reviewed this on RSB back in May and loved it, saying:


Savage holds a doctoral degree in Philosophy from Yale University so it should come as no surprise that this slim volume is full of more questions than answers. Whether Firmin, capable of consciousness and immersion into the great works of fiction, is a better mirror for humanity’s frailities because he is a rat is difficult to state. What is apparent is that Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife merits repeated readings for Savage has filled its pages with much food for thought. This gem of a book should be a treasured addition to any bibliophile’s bookshelf.

A friend asks me: "I saw mention somewhere sometime very recently of a new critical look at comics. Can't remember where ... you haven't got a record of it somewhere have you?"


I'm stumped. Can anyone help?

Today, I briefly reviewed Anna Politkovskaya’s Putin’s Russia (over at The Book Depository, where this blog is also cross-posted). (I need to get hold of her A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya and I’ll post a review of her other book about Chechnya, A Dirty War, in the next couple of weeks.) Anna, as you’ll know, was recently murdered because of her work in Chechnya and her opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Her UK publisher Random House has a tribute page up. Next year, Profile Books will be publishing an English PEN anthology called Another Sky, which contains her last writing, and Harvill Secker will be publishing Russian Diary. The translation of that latter book arrived with her UK publisher in the week she was killed. For more, you can also read her session at the 2005 Hay festival.

Which are the best science books? Last night, at Imperial College in London (according to the BBC's Material World website) Tim Radford, former science editor of The Guardian, and Armand Leroi battled out which book can take the title of The Best Science Book Ever:


Tim’s choices:
The Double Helix – James Watson (Penguin)
Of a Fire on the Moon – Norman Mailer (out of print)
The Periodic Table – Primo Levi (Abacus)

Armand’s choices:
Artforms in Nature – Ernst Haeckel (Dover)
Pluto’s Republic – P. B. Medawar (out of print)
King Solomon’s Ring – Konrad Lorenz (Routledge)

Michael Hofmann's translation of Thomas Bernhard's first novel Frost is just out from Alfred A. Knopf. Dave Lull (thanks!) has just brought my attention to Benajamin Lytal's review in the NY Sun:


Frost can almost be read as a book of aphorisms. The artificial plot makes an unconvincing but also inoffensive device for delivering them.Meanwhile, the narrator's gradual corruption is almost meaningless, as we know little of what he was before he met Strauch. Bernhard's later novels would develop richer, more compelling relationships between the analogous narrator and subject. What is notable about Frost is the early toughness of Bernhard's pessimism.

There is, I note, a Thomas Bernhard blog. Not his, obviously, and not updated since January of last year, but still with some nice quotes and pictures. More links to more Thomas Bernhard resources (most in German as you might expect) can be found on the Freie Universität Berlin site.

The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen, edited by Professor Janet Todd, have just arrived with me. These are beautiful books. And they are the first fully annotated scholarly editions of Austen's complete works:


This is a full scholarly edition of the works of Jane Austen: the six published novels, two volumes of unpublished work and a volume setting Austen's work in its literary, cultural, political and social context. Each volume of published and unpublished work will contain the text itself, with an introduction giving a full publishing history of the work, together with explanatory notes and textual apparatus, and relevant appendices.

The "volume setting Austen's work in its literary, cultural, political and social context" is Janet Todd's cleverly entitled, and very useful looking, Jane Austen in Context:


This collection of essays covering many aspects of Austen's life, works and historical context provides the fullest introduction in one volume to the life and times of Jane Austen. Jane Austen in Context is a generously illustrated collection of short, lively contributions arranged alphabetically, and covering topics from biography to portraits and agriculture to transport. An essay on the reception of Austen's work is also included, showing how criticism of Austen has responded to literary movements and fashions. The volume emphasises the subtle interactions between Austen's life and times and her novels. This is a work of reference that readers and scholars of Austen will turn to again and again.

As I have just mentioned, Robert Gordon (of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge), the editor of Verso's newly published edition of Auschwitz Report, responded to Jonathan Beckman's "shrill assault" on that book in a letter in yesterday's Observer. The letter, as is usual, was edited for the newspaper. Here it is in full: 


Auschwitz Report by Primo Levi and Leonardo De Benedetti (published by Verso and edited by myself) is an extraordinary historical document from 1945-6, which describes in appalling medical detail the conditions in the Monowitz satellite camp of Auschwitz, where its two authors were imprisoned. Unfortunately, Jonathan Beckman’s intemperate review of the volume (Observer, 8 Oct) is such a mish-mash of bald errors, pompous arrogations and sheer confusions that it is hard to spot the single serious point that lies behind it, a point about history, literature and our notions of authorship.

To deal first with the errors. Beckman fumes against the publisher’s ‘unforgiveable’ use of an image of Levi’s ‘distinctive bottle-lensed glasses’ on the book’s cover. I am not quite certain why such an image would constitute so grave a breach of good taste, but, the point is moot: the glasses are not Levi’s – they rather mutely evoke the thousands of belongings stolen by the SS from victims destined to disappear. Worse, Beckman suggests that Levi never witnessed the selections in the camps of what he calls ‘invalids’, when the weakest and sickest were picked out and sent to the gas chambers. In fact, Levi’s 1947 masterpiece If this is a Man – written in exactly the same weeks and months as he and De Benedetti were preparing their report – contains some of the most powerful pages ever written on precisely those terrible ‘selections’, which Levi experienced and chronicled as few others. More vaguely, Beckman implies that Levi had only a minor, almost irrelevant role to play in writing and publishing the Auschwitz Report in 1946, and that it is therefore dishonest to publish it as a work by Levi. Yet none of the evidence Beckman produces to back up this assumption (such as the alphabetical ordering of the authors’ names in its first publication) suggests anything other than a genuinely co-authored report. As I discuss in the introduction to Auschwitz Report Levi’s role was, in fact, substantial: as such it is a work of considerable literary and historical interest. And it certainly does not warrant Beckman’s shrill assault on the book’s publishers.

Beckman, rather like Jonathan Aitken once did, assumes the mantle of arbiter of the true, calling for ‘absolute fidelity to truth’ and adherence to Levi’s own standards of ‘rigour’. His slips rather belie his apparently noble cause, as does his suprisingly benign description of the Nazi medical structures, when he does touch on the content of the report: to describe Levi and De Benedetti as ‘survivors of [Nazi] medical care’ hardly captures the reality of what they suffered, nor the true purpose of the report. The rhetoric is breathless and unrelenting, though: he accuses Verso of ‘dolling’ up the work, ‘desperately swelling it’ to book length (as if short books were somehow immoral), ‘piggybacking’ on Levi’s fame; the introduction is ‘spurious and crass’, although no good reason is given. Further, the book was, Beckman says, swelled by pieces in the postscript, but these do exactly what Beckman complains elsewhere the book doesn’t do enough of: that is, give Leonardo De Benedetti his due. They contain two moving tributes by Levi to his life-long friend De Benedetti.

Here we come to the serious crux of the matter: how to treat the ‘other’ author. Levi’s name – and Beckman has measured it – is apparently five times larger than De Benedetti’s on the front cover (although not on the inner cover, nor on the contents page, nor at the head of the report itself) and he appears as having written the report ‘with’ Levi. Yet, as we’ve seen, they shared more or less equal authorship of the report. Is this publication strategy immoral or hypocritical? In 1946, perhaps, there was no reason to give Levi top billing. But, now, nearly 20 years after Levi’s death, when he is established as one of the truly great voices of 20th-century literature and testimony, how disingenuous is it to pretend that he doesn’t belong above the title line, and above his co-author? It’s a tricky decision to make, one I discussed with Verso, and one without a black-and-white answer. The report is a fascinating and important historical document, but how many would read it without Levi’s name prominently attached?

Commerce comes into the picture, no doubt, but so too do canonization and history. Sigmund Freud’s complete works include Studies in Hysteria, a work co-authored by Josef Breuer. The Two Noble Kinsmen is by a pair of playwrights, called, in alphabetical order, John Fletcher and William Shakespeare. No prizes for guessing who gets first billing between the two. It would be interesting to discuss, calmly, the rights and wrongs of relegating the likes of Breuer, Fletcher and De Benedetti out of their alphabetical places and into the shadows of their more famous co-authors; and whether or not we would have heard of them at all, otherwise. We could discuss how, even with the Holocaust, documents can exist as simultaneously part of history and part of literary history, as both of then and of now. The historical document, Auschwitz Report, was by ‘Dr. Leonardo de Benedetti (physician) and Dr. Primo Levi (chemist)’; but Auschwitz Report takes its place in literary history also, as the work in which Primo Levi’s lifetime of writing about Auschwitz began.

Again, a book referred to (here on RSB), but not (as yet) written about. Back on the week commencing Monday 17th July, César Aira's "short, powerful portrait" An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter was my Book of the Week. The landscape painter of the title is Johan Moritz Rugendas (as the complete-review reminds us, "Rugendas is an historic figure, a well-known 19th century painter (he lived 1802-1858), born in Germany but best known for his South and Latin American paintings.") The novel concerns itself with a set of expeditions, beginning in 1837, with another German painter, Robert Krause.


Again, a short novel, in danger of being thought of as slight, but in fact a subtle, compelling piece: riveting, unnerving and odd. The physical journey being, as we'd expect, secondary to the spiritual quest it facilitates. Whilst Rugendas is the star pupil of the "physiognomic" painter Alexander von Humboldt, his painting interests draw him away from his master and into Argentina's wild, expansive heartland. Rugendas is not content merely to paint (and certainly not to paint by way of Humbolt's (pseudo-)scientific code). Rugendas wants, via his painting, to explore "the other side of his art". He wants his art to be the site of his exploration, to be the exploration itself; but he needs the emptiness of Argentina's massive skies and endless plains to work with and against. Implicitly then, the mind/body split is questioned. Rugendas, moving from the crass materialism of Humboldt's physiognomic painting, still actually needs the physical challenge of his adventuring and the physical sublimity of the countryside to find, and ground, his true art. And -- final triumph of the Real! -- he needs to understand his art with reference to (his) death. (Blanchot wrote in The Work of Fire: "Without death everything would sink into absurdity and nothingness.") Rugendas, in fact, nearly does die. And comes to know the cataclysm of his accident as the central moment in his life and the moment from which he could understand what he was reaching towards in his art. And Aira brings some of Rugendas's (self-)understanding back to bear on his art, in this novel: the event of Rugendas's accident being, of course, the central moment in his excellent book.

So, last night was the third episode of the BBC's latest adaption (by Sandy Welch) of Jane Eyre. The first episode was rushed and underwhelming, if stylish, with little chance for you to emotionally engage with the important early scenes at the brutal Lowood school. On the plus side, Ruth Wilson captured Jane wonderfully, but Toby Stephens's Edward Rochester didn't convince me at all (too handsome? too young? not sure). I missed the second episode because the telly was broke, but due to the combined power of me, Mrs Book, and the In-Laws, the telly is now fixed and last night we (well, me and Mrs B, not the In-Laws) settled down to watch the latest installment.


Costume dramas are the epitome of middlebrow entertainment, but I'm still a sucker for a good one. Normally, they simply remind me that the novel is a hundred times better, or bring my attention back to a "classic" that I've somehow conspired not yet to read. Last night's episode was well-paced and Toby Stephens stepped up to the plate with a much better performance than he put in earlier on. He's still a bit wooden, mind. Ruth Wilson was inspired.


Tonight the fun continues with an adaption, on BBC4, of Jean Rhys's Jane Eyre-prequel (and post-colonial theory favourite) Wide Sargasso Sea which "paints a rather different story of Mr Rochester's first wife" ...


Other adaption news: just this month Viking (Penguin USA) released The Illustrated Jane Eyre. Its a very curious thing. Its the full text of Charlotte Bronte's novel with drawings and illustrations (some on separate colour plates, some as full page black and white chapter openings, some, like marginalia, within the pages of the story itself) by cult, goth comic-artist Dame Darcy (best known for Meat Cake [Fantagraphics]; think Tim Burton or Emily the Strange). I'm not quite sure who Viking think they'll newly reach by scribbling on Bronte's book but, perhaps, all those Goths doing Bronte for A-level (or its American post-16 exam equivalent) need "darkly elegant illustrations" to "draw back the novel’s curtain, revealing the depths of human depravity, despair, and ultimate redemption" therein.

From Saturday's Guardian, David Mitchell on Kobo Abe's superb novel The Woman in the Dunes (Penguin Classics):


Sand permeates the novel like a third major character. Sand gets in the food, the house, in clothes, into clocks. It is while brushing sand off each other's bodies that the man and the woman are ushered into sex. The sand of these dunes, laden with dampness, does not preserve but rots everything it touches: wood, leather, fabric, "morality". Like time itself, "Sand not only flows, but this very flow is the sand". To combat its voracity is what requires hapless men to be held captive in the first place. Sand is the prison: literally, symbolically; and not just for the man. We, too, are down in this burning sandpit. We, too, must spend a lifetime doing a job as meaningless (to the universe at large, if not to ourselves) as shovelling never-ending deposits of sand into buckets, getting nothing for our pains but the barest essentials. As we read about the man's predicament, existentially speaking, we are reading about our own ... Maybe, maybe, maybe ... While working on this novel Abe was expelled from the Japanese Communist party for "Trotskyite deviation", and it is possible that in this novel the writer wished to eschew moral absolutes and certainties in order to suggest that no dogma, interpretation and no authorial intention is immune to the transforming effects of the future, as it inches towards us like a sea of dunes.

And once you've read the book (which you absolutely must: this is a wonderful, creepy, unsettling read: existentialist; intelligent; surreal) make sure you get hold of Hiroshi Teshigahara's 1964 film of the book, Suna no onna, which, memorably painted in expressionist shadows, is erotic and disturbing.

Coming this autumn on BBC2 is Simon Schama's Power Of Art:


Historian Simon Schama recounts the remarkable story of eight moments of high drama in the making of eight masterpieces:

Caravaggio's David With The Head Of Goliath; Bernini's Ecstasy Of St Theresa; Rembrandt's Conspiracy Of Claudius Civilis; Jacques-Louis David's Marat; Turner's Slave Ships With Slavers Throwing The Dead And Dying Overboard; Van Gogh's Wheatfield With Crows; Picasso's Guernica; and Mark Rothko's suite of paintings for the Seagram Building restaurant, the Four Seasons in New York.

Yesterday, the book of the telly programme (Power Of Art) arrived here at RSB Towers. It is big and bright and colourful, just as you'd expect. Now, I was pretty fond of Schama's A History of [the kings and queens] of Britain when it was on the telly. Yup, it was very partial; yup, it felt like a schools education programme; but it was punchy, and I found Schama to be a charming presenter. Not so Waldemar Januszczak! Writing in the Sunday Times last weekend about Schama's new book, Januszczak finds the historian "excruciatingly vain" and that "television’s demands for legibility, sexiness and pat conclusions have duly infected Schama’s prose":


Pumped up, partial and untrustworthy, this constant singling out of the best this and the most achieved that adds up to some very lazy art history.

Interesting! Via GalleyCat:


Back in March, political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt wrote an essay for the London Review of Books called "The Israel Lobby," exploring the close political and diplomatic links between the U.S. and Israeli governments and how they got so cozy. "It is hard to imagine any mainstream media outlet in the United States publishing a piece like this one," they said at the time. Well, I hope their minds were sufficiently blown by Farrar Straus Giroux's decision to publish a book-length expansion of the article (as reported by Gabriel Sanders of The Forward). No pub date has been set yet, but in the meantime, Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, where Walt teaches international affairs, hosts a longer version of the essay (PDF) on its website.

The idea of eBooks absolutely does not appeal, especially with the current crop of eBook readers being so shoddy (if I was going to invest in, say, a Sony Reader, I'd really need it to be able to hook up to the Network; indeed, I'd need it to be a laptop/reader hybrid), but y'all might be interested in this, via Holtzbrinck Online (the "Internet Marketing Department of Holtzbrinck Publishers [Farrar Straus and Giroux, Henry Holt and Company, Picador, St Martin's Press, Tor Books]):


Simon & Schuster yesterday launched a blog dedicated to eBooks. In one of their first posts, Claire Israel, Director of Digital Content, makes the case for eBooks, writing, "Because life is hectic, and while I may not have hours in a row to read daily, I have snatches of time in the oddest places, and I don’t always have a bulky book with me. But I always have something beeping or ringing or buzzing on me which may be able to hold volumes of books. And there are just too many that I want to read to limit myself to a life of only paper." I totally agree ... Vist the Simon & Schuster eBook blog.

From Yahoo!: "Unique Kierkegaard book on auction after 150-year search":


A book by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, featuring a handwritten dedication to Denmark's famed storyteller Hans Christian Andersen, is to be sold at auction after a 150-year search around the globe.

Newspaper Jyllands-Posten said the dedication in Either/Or was the only hard evidence of direct contact between two of Denmark's biggest literary figures, and described the sale of the highly sought-after copy as a cultural and historic sensation.

Jyllands-Posten itself goes on to say:


Although Søren Kierkegaard and Hans Christian Andersen were contemporaries - most likely rubbing shoulders in Copenhagen's intellectual circles during Denmark's Golden Age of the 1840s - their relationship had been merely speculative. At least until the discovery of the book.

Several years ago, scholars had discovered an effusive 'thank you' letter signed by Andersen among Kierkegaard's papers, but the book itself remained elusive.

Back in December, I mentioned Michel Onfray's Traité d'Athéologie (Grasset). Well, it seems that Serpent's Tail will be publishing what I understand is the first of Onfray's titles (he is only 46 and has already written thirty books!) to be translated into English.


Onfray sounds like a fascinating thinker and writer. This is (just some of) what Doug Ireland has to say:


A radical libertarian socialist, a self-described 'Nietzschian of the Left', Onfray's philosophical project is to define an ethical hedonism, a joyous utilitarianism, and a generalized aesthetic of sensual materialism that explores how to use the brain's and the body's capacities to their fullest extent - while restoring philosophy to a useful role in art, politics and everyday life and decisions. All this presupposes, in Onfray's philosophy, a militant atheism and the demasking of false gods.

PEN talks to Elif Shafak, recently acquitted of charges of “insulting Turkishness” in Turkey. Under Turkey’s laws, at least eighteen other authors are awaiting trial for “insult.” (via the excellent KR Blog). In English-translation, from Elif, we have The Flea Palace and The Gaze (both from Marion Boyars; both soon to be reviewed here) and The Saint of Incipient Insanities (from FSG). Next year, the book that caused the recent fuss, The Bastard of Istanbul, is out in the UK, in April (with Penguin imprint Viking). Congratulations too are due: Elif gave birth to Shererazade Zelfa the Saturday before last. Wonderful news!

Another fine looking title that I notice is just out from Columbia University Press is The Selected Writings of Eqbal Ahmad. I'd never heard of Eqbal until about an hour ago, but Noam Chomsky's foreword (caution pdf!) makes him sound well worth reading. The publisher's quote Edward Said:


Eqbal Ahmad was perhaps the shrewdest and most original anti-imperialist analyst of the postwar world. Ahmad's themes were always liberation and injustice, or how to achieve the first without reproducing more of the second. Humanity and genuine secularism in this blood-drenched old century of ours had no finer champion.

One to note: Robert Hullot-Kentor's forthcoming book, Things Beyond Resemblance: Collected Essays on Theodor W. Adorno, is due out next month from Columbia University Press. I got this via Brian Sholis:


It comprises over twenty years' worth of the philosopher and translator's essays on Adorno's work. Word earlier this week from another friend, an artist who knows Adorno's writing very well, reminded me of its imminent publication, and, by coincidence, I came across a copy yesterday. (I love how things come into one's field of vision not long after one opens one's eyes.) I skimmed it before and after last night's lecture, and found much to make me want to plunge in earnest into Adorno's writings...

Gabriel Josipovici's Everything Passes is hugely affecting: disquieting, profound, emotionally truthful. It occupies just sixty pages. I'm wary of talking about this astonishing and beautiful book for two reasons: I fear invoking cliches about it punching above its weight, about it being short but never slight; and I fear that, as with the work of Beckett, a prolix review would be entirely inappropriate given the minimalist qualities of the work in question. But criticism, like all metalanguages, tends to infinity with regard to its object: you can write endlessly about any work of art, but, in the end, it must be allowed to speak for itself. How, then, to let Everything Passes speak and, yet, to write about it, to respond to it?


As Steve noted the other day, "There are some books whose first lines, the opening lines, are enough. Reading them, you know this is it. This is why you read." As Steve quotes, the novel (the diminutive novella seems too pretty, too dismissive) begins:


A room.
He stands at the window.
And a voice says: Everything passes. The good and the bad. The joy and the sorrow.
Everything passes.


Immediately, a rhythm. The stage is set. Indeed, these could almost be stage directions. (And, again, and not to Josipovici's detriment, one thinks of Beckett.) The stage is set, and we are drawn on, we read on. The tone is melancholy, minatory even. Looking through a cracked window pane, Felix remembers. Brief sketches, but full enough, redolent of a flawed, full existence. A lived life. Josipovici doesn't create characters by packing the narrative with events that pretend, via accumulation, to some authentic, life-like verisimilitude (the more facts, the more real; the more pages, the more real!). Rather, he builds an emotional veracity that arises from an honesty about the nature of writing itself. And so, and at first this feels a little abrupt, the monosyllabic work opens out and Rabelais is recalled (but this is never bloodless, intellectual writing: Josipovici manages, via a concision that verges on the magical, to evoke the full confusion and pain of familial love in a matter of a sentence or two). Rabelais: the writer who invented modern writing. Writing that was to be read, by strangers, not made as part of, and for, a community. The writer who first knew the absurdity of modern writing, of writing, to be read, by and for these strangers. The writer who first knew. Extreme contemporary!


Rabelais is remembered and other memories intrude. A life passes. Everything passes. A lover passes besides Felix, and gently pushes her way into the garden. His son and daughter come and go. A wife, that lover, a life. Even words pass. But these, these pass slowly: the book contains as much silence and space (it is almost auto-contemplative) as it does language. And this is only right. Beautiful.

Looking back over a few weeks' blogging I sometimes note, not the books that I have mentioned, but the books that I've read that somehow haven't, in one way or another, made it into my entries here on RSB. The "absent" books may not have formed any part of the blog, but they have often been important as part of my thinking about literature and its attendant difficulties. (Or, rather, my ongoing difficulties with literature.) One such unmentioned book is Philip Roth's Everyman. I found the work hugely flawed. But, then, flaws are what make a work of art interesting, of course. There is no such thing as a perfect life and, so, a perfect novel is itself impossible to imagine. It would be like finding out that there really is an answer to the riddle that is life, the universe and everything; such an answer could only ever be a banality.


Everyman was received with mixed reviews (Tim Adams in the Guardian praised it highly; Michiko Kakutani called it, "a cobbled-together production of a writer coasting wearily along on automatic pilot") and my own feelings share the critics' general ambivalence. AS Byatt glossed the story thus: "The book opens with his funeral, and ends with the moment of his death on the operating table. In between, with a blunt and steady progress, the reader sees through his eyes the slow dissolution of his body." But it isn't the story that is interesting here (in truth, a good tale is the last thing I'm looking for when I read a novel): it is the form and the style of the work. Both whether the form and the style engage with the content, reflect it, bolster its truth and whether, in themselves, they question, in some way, the very certainty of the endeavour that is writing.


John Banville called Roth's style in Everyman "measured, understated, withholding - in a word, plain." Certainly, it is the plainness that is most affecting about the piece. Not, here, the macho, unadorned, "muscular" prose of any number of post-Hemingway writers (from the Beats to Fante and Bukowski), but something more artful, refined and reserved. Prosaic, here, because it is restrained, not because it is vapid. And artful because, starting as the story does with our Everyman's funeral, the narrative has nowhere to go, no real surprises to spring. And how apt that is! The inevitability of the narrative is admitted at the outset. The absurdity of the endeavour written into the writing of the piece: I can't go on writing, because my character is already dead, I'm already dead. I'll go on writing.


Only writing that knows the absurdity of writing in a world where death has undone so many should expect our time and effort. This is a slight work from Roth, uneven in its tone, unbelievable in some of its dialogue, seemingly rushed in some of its phrasing, confused in overall effect. But it is a compelling and troubling work even so. Its assurance is belied by the discomfiting truths that the very shape of the work embodies. And its inability to remain assured in the face of the truths it is awkwardly working out make the novel, I think, if not entirely satisfying, honest and praiseworthy.

The Man Booker Prize shortlist was announced yesterday. Nothing of particular interest on it to my mind. I was, however, amused to see that two books entitled Mother's Milk seem to be around and about this year. Edward St.Aubyn's shortlisted title and W.G. Shepherd's Menard Press title:


[Shepherd's] Mother's Milk is a series of thirty poems, written over a period of about thirty years. It charts the psychological renewal of the poet, his journey from alcohol-dependancy to sobriety. This slow awakening takes him from a dark night of depression and despair to a place of reconciliation, where he can feel whole and where the spirit is no longer located in spirits.

Good pal of RSB, Blanchot translator Charlotte Mandell has been working her wonders again. Charlotte's translation of A Voice from Elsewhere (Lydia Davis says, "This welcome new volume, beautifully translated, is an essential addition to our library of Blanchot in English") is due out from SUNY Press in February. So, Valentine's Day gifts are not going to be a problem next year then!


A Voice from Elsewhere represents one of Maurice Blanchot’s most important reflections on the enigma and secret of “literature.” The essays here bear down on the necessity and impossibility of witnessing what literature transmits, and—like Beckett and Kafka—on what one might call the “default” of language, the tenuous border that binds writing and silence to each other. In addition to considerations of René Char, Paul Celan, and Michel Foucault, Blanchot offers reflections on Lyotard’s work, together with a sustained encounter with the poems of Louis-René des Forêts and, throughout, a unique and important concentration on music—on the lyre and the lyric, meter and measure—which poetry in particular brings before us.

Been a wee while since we heard from Milan Kundera here in the UK. Well, good news is that Kundera's The Curtain (originally published as Le Rideau, in French in April 2005 by Gallimard) will be published in English in February 2007 by HarperCollins. The Curtain is "a seven-part essay by Milan Kundera, along with The Art of the Novel and Testaments Betrayed composing a type of trilogy of book-length essays on the European novel." Goodness knows if and when we'll be getting another novel, though. The last one was Ignorance (written in 1999 in French and published there in 2000; translated into English in 2002 by Linda Asher).

Well, it worked for Dickens, so Penguin are giving the old serial another try. The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters is, initially, only to be made available to 5000 subscribers ("Ten thrilling chapters in handsome perfect bound editions"), delivered to your door, over ten weeks, for just £25 (not sure of the overseas prices):


The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters will be available as an exclusive, limited edition subscription set of ten instalments beginning in early October and ending in December. To ensure you are one of the lucky recipients of these exclusive editions, you must sign up via the Penguin website in September. When you have signed up, you will receive one beautifully produced chapter through the post each week for ten weeks beginning in October.

Publishers are always looking for new (or old) ways to sell their wares, so you can't blame them for that. But the book sounds like terrible tripe:


When Miss Temple finds her engagement broken off without suitable explanation by her fiancé Roger Bascombe, she is given a choice: turn away from polite society or turn adventuress and discover the reason for her rejection. Deciding to secretly follow her former lover, Miss Temple finds herself a trespasser at a masked ball. There, strange and unspeakable acts involving electricity and books of glass (not to mention a murder) take place and Miss Temple almost loses both her virtue and her life.

Last week, in his A Week in Books column Boyd Tonkin discussed German literature. Thankfully, instead of saying something pointless about "Günter Grass's teenage fling with the Waffen SS", Tonkin did a brief, but useful, overview of recent German books and brought to my attention a few names that might deserve a closer look: Michael Krüger ("distinguished as a versatile writer and equally so as a publisher with Hanser Verlag in Munich"); Daniel Kehlmann who, though favourite, failed to win the German Book Prize with Measuring the World, "his vastly successful novel about the explorer Humboldt and the mathematician Gauss (which we will see [in English translation] from Quercus Books next year)"; Bulgarian-born Ilija Trojanow (whose The World Collector is "a sweepingly ambitious novel about the Victorian adventurer, Orientalist and pornographer Sir Richard Burton" -- "sweepingly ambitious" leaves me cold, but hey ho); Ingo Schulze; Feridun Zaimoglu ("one of an increasingly influential group of Turkish-origin German writers"); and Martin Walser (who shares, with Grass, "roots in the "Gruppe 47" set of post-war firebrands"): "Now Walser is back with Angstblüte, (almost, but not quite, "The Bloom of Doom"), a tale of sex, speculation and starlets among the brutal bourgeoisie of contemporary Munich. Think Roth (or maybe even Bellow) by the Bodensee."

Franz Kafka's The Zurau Aphorisms (Harvill Secker) is out in November. From comments to a blog entry Jenny Davidson (thanks Dave) made about the book, I think the aphorisms are the same that appear in the "Reflections" appended to Exact Change's lovely edition of The Blue Octavo Notebooks rather than anything "new" per se. The introduction and afterword to the Harvill book are written by Roberto Calasso and, again according to Jenny, "includes some material from Calasso’s K. as additional commentary".

I should have mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, but Verso (who are Publisher of the Week over at The Book Depository) have just released (well, it's been out for about a month now) Tanya Reinhart's The Road Map to Nowhere: Israel/Palestine Since 2003. This looks like the best recent history of the area I've seen:


Reinhart shows that throughout, Ariel Sharon's goals, ad those of his successor Ehud Olmert, have stayed the same: to maintain Gaza as a closed prison, to transform the West Bank into a system of sealed enclaves and to annex Palestinian land under cover of the construction of the "separation wall." The army, which represents the true power in Israel, will forcibly ensure the legacy of Sharon is applied -- Hamas' election success represents an ideal pretext to do so.

The good folk at Pluto have kindly sent on Andrew Hemingway's Marxism and the History of Art which looks very decent. As there is a nasty storm overhead, and I don't intend to move for the rest of the day, I think I'll settle down with this right now. Publisher blurb reads:


This unique book is the first comprehensive introduction to Marxist approaches to art history. Although the aesthetic was a crucial part of Marx and Engels’s thought, they left no full statement on the arts. Although there is an abundant scholarship on Marxist approaches to literature, the historiography of the visual arts has been largely neglected. This book encompasses a range of influential thinkers and historians including William Morris, Mikhail Lifshits, Frederick Antal, Francis Klingender, Max Raphael, Meyer Schapiro, Walter Benjamin, Henri Lefebvre and Arnold Hauser. It also addresses the heritage of the New Left. In the spirit of Marxism, the authors interpret the achievements and limitations of Marxist art history in relation to the historical and political circumstances of its production, providing an indispensable introduction to contemporary radical practices in the field.

Back in mid-July, I mentioned that I had asked Princeton University Press why they had republished Franco Moretti's massive, groundbreaking, five volume critical history of The Novel in an English-language version of just two volumes. I was concerned that this important work of scholarship was being worryingly emaciated. Well, just as I'd landed in Crete for my holiday, Caroline Priday from PUP kindly got back to me saying:


Our vision in contracting with Einaudi [the Italian publisher] to redact their 5 volumes to 2 volumes was driven by the desire to produce a work that would, effectively, portray the scholarship contained in the original for the broadest possible array of English-language readers around the world -- scholars, critics, and students alike. This I think we have done, and more successfully than might have been the case with a 5-volume work, whose appeal would have been limited, inevitably, to academic libraries.

Did we de-emphasize the international aspect of the work? If anything, I think we have effectively preserved the work's international appeal. Indeed, it is a tribute to Professor Moretti's editing of our two-volume edition that the book is as broadly cross-national in its scope as it is. Our two volumes include more than 40 contributors from universities outside the US -- from countries such as Italy, Germany, Cuba, India, Turkey, China and Brazil -- out of a total of 100 contributors. And more than 40 pieces were translated from their original language. So we feel our edition of this book comprises an impressively international scholarly enterprise.

As noted, our original conception for the English-language edition of this book was for a two-volume work, and this was based on our publishing vision and our sense of how to get this book out to a large audience. We certainly do not, as a press, decline to publish works on the grounds of their being multi-volume. As you will be aware, we hardly shy away from multi-volume works, and for over a century have in fact published many multi-volume works -- some of them extending into thirty or forty volumes and more -- and continue to do so.

We're confident that, with the superb direction of editor Franco Moretti and the collective efforts of our colleagues, we've published what will be a landmark book on the novel for years to come.

If, as Caroline says, the decision to reduce the Moretti down to two volumes was to "portray the scholarship contained in the original for the broadest possible array of English-language readers," rather than publish a book that was destined only to remain unread in libraries, I don't see why a single-volume "taster" could not have been published alongside the full, five volumes for those interested readers who require access to the full text.

Useful site, this, for the francophile: French Book News. The list of recent translations is handy, as is the list of recent France-related books in English.


Of William C. Carter's Proust in Love (warmly reviewed in the Guardian last week by Ian Sansom alongside The Memoirs of Ernest A Forssgren, Proust's Swedish Valet) French Book News say:


The acclaimed Proust biographer William C. Carter portrays Proust´s amorous adventures and misadventures from adolescence through his adult years, supplying where appropriate Proust´s own sensitive, intelligent, and often disillusioned observations about love and sexuality. Proust is revealed as a man agonizingly caught between the constant fear of public exposure as a homosexual and the need to find and express love. In telling the story of Proust in love, Carter also shows how the author´s experiences became major themes in his novel In Search of Lost Time. Carter discusses Proust´s adolescent sexual experiences, his disastrous brothel visit to cure homosexual inclinations, and his first great loves. He also addresses the duel Proust fought after the journalist Jean Lorrain alluded to his homosexuality in print, his flirtations with respectable women and high-class prostitutes, and his affairs with young men of the servant class. With new revelations about Proust´s love life and a gallery of photographs, the book provides an unprecedented glimpse of Proust´s gay Paris.

Last week, the TLS reported that a 20-page pamphlet with a 172-line poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, which no-one has read since 1811, has recently come to light ("the Poetical Essay is ... remarkable for its unexpected emergence and for the insights a full study of it will give into Shelley’s development as a poet and political thinker.")


Professor Henry R Woudhuysen, Professor of English at UCL, reproduces a few lines of the poem in the TLS, but why don't we get to read the whole thing?


Man must assert his native rights, must say
We take from Monarchs’ hand the granted sway;
Oppressive law no more shall power retain,
Peace, love, and concord, once shall rule again,
And heal the anguish of a suffering world;
Then, then shall things which now confusedly hurled,
Seem Chaos, be resolved to order’s sway,
And error’s night be turned to virtue’s day –

The writer and broadcaster Michael Rosen has written to me saying:


It seems to me incredible that a major poem has been found by a major poet and we can't read it. This is the poem that almost certainly got Shelley chucked out of Oxford. It is also a clear example of an anti-imperialist poem by a writer when it's often been stated, by Edward Said no less, that none of the liberal or left writers ever distanced themselves from the British Empire. As it happens, Ernest Jones did on many occasions, but Shelley clearly did in this poem if the extracts are anything to go by.

Can we please start a little enquiry as to why this poem is being held back from public view? Presumably so that someone can make some money out of it!

Franco Moretti's The Novel, Volume 1: History, Geography, and Culture and The Novel, Volume 2: Forms and Themes arrived last week. With a thud. These are big, big boys. But, as I mentioned at the end of June, and as the Literary Saloon mentioned, these are not as big as they should be:


The American publishers -- a university press (non-profit, public interest, academic standards ...) -- was so afraid it wouldn't sell that they tossed half of it out. And the part they tossed out is the international part -- the part which Americans are most in need of information about. And to rub it in, there will be full translations into Korean and Portuguese, but not English.

I've asked Princeton UP why they didn't translate the whole shebang -- and I'll let you know their response when they get back to me. In the meantime, for more Moretti, see these articles from the New Left Review: Conjectures on World Literature and More Conjectures

Steve has just brought my attention to A Companion to the Works of Thomas Bernhard edited by Matthias Konzett (the author of The Rhetoric of National Dissent in Thomas Bernhard, Peter Handke, and Elfriede Jelinek), published by Camden House, another fine German-centric publisher ("scholarly books dealing with German and Austrian literature") who I noted last Thursday with reference to Scott Peeples' The Afterlife of Poe. A pdf of the introduction to Konzett's Companion should be available on the publisher website but, frustratingly, the link isn't working. I'll chase them.


Update: Boydell have just got back to tell me that the introduction to A Companion to the Works of Thomas Bernhard (PDF file; 97KB) is now back online. Thanks!

Regular readers will know of my fondness for the books of the London-based German specialist publisher Libris (whose wonderful In Time of Need: A Conversation about Poetry, Resistance and Exile I've just reviewed for PN Review).


Well, I've just received some fine-looking books from fellow German-language specialist Ariadne.


Elfriede Jelinek: Framed by Language (edited by Jorun B. Johns and Katherine Arens) was first published in 1994 (way before Jelinek came to most non-German readers attention by winning the Nobel prize in 2004) and contains "fifteen essays ... demonstrat[ing] the significance of this major literary voice, addressing Jelinek as a master of modernist prose, of postmodern critique of literary genres, and of stage and screen. Hers is a strong voice against domestic violence, pornography, oppression of women, and the continuance of the fascist legacy in the everyday world of contemporary Austria and Germany."


Alexander Lernet-Holenia (1897-1976) Mars in Aries "was immediately banned upon its publication in book form in 1941 [...] Richly constructed with cultural, historical, literary, linguistic, philosophical, and metaphysical references that counter Nazism [...] the intermeshing of existentialism and fate, the duality of existence, and the qualities of resistance. [The novel] underscores Alexander Lernet-Holenia's place in the Austrian literary canon alongside such writers as Schnitzler, Hofmannsthal, Musil and Broch."


Christine Lavant (1915-1973) was one of Austria's most famous yet obscure 20th-century poets. Thomas Bernhard referred to her work as testimony to a "zerstörte Welt / destroyed world." Memoirs from a Madhouse "was not published until after her death, because she considered it too personal. We find autobiographical elements in it which describes her exhaustion, her sleeplessness, her failed suicide attempt, and her daily struggles to survive by writing."

As you'll probably know, RSB interviewee Tom McCarthy has a new book out: Tintin and the Secret of Literature (Granta). See the Guardian extract for more or read Susan Tomaselli's review. We're not big lovers of Tantan around here: although we do pronounce his name in a poncey way just to show how francophilic we are!

Not due out in the UK until this coming November, but certainly worth noting, is Franz Kafka's The Zurau Aphorisms (Harvill Secker). (the publisher information I have renders this "Zureau"; a dear friend tells me "Zürau" is best.) The only information I have, so far, comes straight from Amazon:


Franz Kafka spent eight months in Zurau between September 1917 and April 1918, enduring at his sister's house the onset of tuberculosis. Illness paradoxically set him free to write, in a series of philosophical fragments, his settling of accounts with life, marriage, his family, guilt and man's condition. These "aphorisms" will appear, sometimes with a few words changed, scattered across other writings (letters, diaries), some of which appeared as posthumous fragments only after his death in 1924. By chance, Roberto Calasso rediscovered the original notebooks as Kafka wrote them, in Oxford's Bodleian Library. Each thought or sequence of thoughts is set off on a separate page in counterpoint to the white space surrounding them. With a brief introduction and afterword by Calasso, the assemblage is a distillation of Kafka at his most powerful and enigmatic. It is a lost jewel that provides the reader with a fresh perspective on the collective work of a genius.

I'm never quite sure why "summer reading" has come to be a synonym for "reading rubbish books", but the lists that abound at this time of year rarely seem to bring one's attention to anything decent. I hope my own Books of the Month for July offer a little more food for thought ...


First up is Darkness Spoken the collected poems of the extraordinary Austrian poet Ingeborg Bachmann (published by Zephyr Press, "a non-profit arts and education organization" based in the US that have a very good list).


And then we have Paul Celan and Martin Heidegger: An Unresolved Conversation by James K. Lyon (Johns Hopkins University Press): "Drawing heavily on documentary material—including Celan's reading notes on more than two dozen works by Heidegger, the philosopher's written response to the poet's Meridian speech, and references to Heidegger in Celan's letters—Lyon presents a focused perspective on this critical aspect of the poet's intellectual development and provides important insights into his relationship with Heidegger, transforming previous conceptions of it."

There is a fascinating piece by Eric Bulson (whose The Cambridge Introduction to James Joyce is due out this coming September) in the TLS (article not online) this week about the controversial work of Franco Moretti, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Stanford. Bulson reviews the multi-volume Il Romanzo and also Graphs, Maps, Trees (for more, see The Valve Book Event discussing the latter title, and also Bill Benzon’s Signposts for a Naturalist Criticism and Timothy Burke’s Franco Moretti: A Quantitative Turn for Cultural History?).


In August, PUP release two volumes of selections from the five-volume Italian Il Romanzo: The Novel, Volume 1: History, Geography, and Culture and The Novel, Volume 2: Forms and Themes:


Nearly as global in its ambition and sweep as its subject, Franco Moretti's The Novel is a watershed event in the understanding of the first truly planetary literary form. A translated selection from the epic five-volume Italian Il Romanzo (2001-2003), The Novel's two volumes are a unified multiauthored reference work, containing more than one hundred specially commissioned essays by leading contemporary critics from around the world. Providing the first international comparative reassessment of the novel, these essential volumes reveal the form in unprecedented depth and breadth -- as a great cultural, social, and human phenomenon that stretches from the ancient Greeks to today, where modernity itself is unimaginable without the genre.

Steve recently got himself into a bit of hot water over at This Space for suggesting that Suite Française is being praised more for its backstory than for its inherent quality. I'll read my copy as soon as I can find it (like a good few other books, I'm struggling to pin it down since we moved), but I fear Steve is probably right. Its glowing reception does seem suspect: I hope it is not simply because of a nostalgic wish for "proper novels" and due to respect for its author's travails. But the remarkable story of the writing of the book does seem to be most reviewers' focus rather than the novel itself. Just look at the way Kazuo Ishiguro (from this weekend's Guardian summer reading article) encourages us to read it:


Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française, written as Nazi tanks rolled across France, captures the chaos, fear, humiliation, and very occasionally, the courage of the French, as well as portraying the complex emotions that developed between occupier and occupied. The story behind this novel, and Némirovsky's own fate, make for a heart-breaking coda.

It's the story within the novel that I want to read. The backstory is history and sociology, I'm interested to read it only if it works as literature.

jPod, Douglas Coupland's new book, has an official site:


Coupland's latest novel updates Microserfs for the age of Google. Six programmers are bureacratically marooned in jPod — meet them here, read an extractread an interview with Douglas Coupland, download a podcastorder the exclusive signed special edition ...

It would seem that Charlotte Bronte offered to rewrite parts of Jane Eyre after a legal threat from the headmaster of the school on which she based the Lowood school in her novel. And what is exciting everyone is that the letters raise the prospect that somewhere, hidden away in an attic or under a bed, could lie an amended manuscript which Bronte toned down to avoid a libel lawsuit. Seems unlikely, but y'never know. (More via This is Bradford.)

I know Geoffrey Hartman's name because he co-edited The Power of Contestation: Perspectives on Maurice Blanchot, but that is all I know about him. Now, Edinburgh University Press have kindly sent me The Geoffrey Hartman Reader principally because it won the 2006 Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism. ("The $30,000 Capote Award is the largest annual cash prize for literary criticism in the English language, and is administered for the Truman Capote Estate by the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.") Hartman's book was (I read):


... selected for the Capote Award by an international panel of prominent critics and writers -- Terry Castle, Garrett Stewart, Michael Wood, John Kerrigan, Elaine Scarry and James Wood -- each of whom nominated two books. Books of general literary criticism in English, published during the last four years, are eligible for nomination. After reading all the nominated books, each critic ranked the nominees.

Hartman is the author of more than 20 books and hundreds of essays and is one of America's most renowned literary scholars. He also founded the Fortnoff Video Archives of Holocaust Testimonies and has written extensively on literary and moral questions related to the Holocaust, and he has played a critical role in opening Judaic studies to a wider audience of scholars and students.

Just out from OUP is Stéphane Mallarmé: Collected Poems and other verse (new translations by EH and AM Blackmore; parallel French text). Mallarmé (1842-1898) is known to be one of the most radical and innovative and nineteenth-century; his work still strikes as magnificently modern. He is also known to be difficult. Leader of the Symbolist movement in poetry with Paul Verlaine, and at the centre of a group of Paris-based writers like Proust, Gide and Paul Valéry, Mallarmé infuriated his peers, and his friends like Edgar Degas, with his insistence on his theories of "pure poetry". More to follow on Mallarmé when I've read this and read up!

This year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize has been won by Norwegian writer Per Petterson for his novel Out Stealing Horses (Harvill). Petterson shares the £10,000 award with his translator Anne Born. I've not read Petterson, but the runner-up for the prize was Fatelessness by Imre Kertesz (translated by Tim Wilkinson) which is an excellent novel.

New graphic novel publisher First Second Books launches today. (See the First Second blog for more information.) RSB already has Ismo's review of Eddie Campbell's The Fate of the Artist up online (the book is published in the UK by Macmillan).

The has been much fuss recently over Helen Vendler's comments, in The New Republic, concerning Alice Quinn's Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke-Box (uncollected poems, drafts and fragments by the American poet Elizabeth Bishop). I like Helen Vendler. I like her uncompromising, New Critical perspective and the rigour of her reading, but she is wrong to see Alice Quinn's book as a "betrayal" of Bishop. Michael Schmidt, in his editorial for PN Review no.169, says:


Readers of Bishop’s poetry are interested in the poems, in how they work, in how they came about. It is an arrogation on Vendler’s part to speak for the poet who, in leaving her papers to an archive, spoke with sufficient, quiet eloquence, herself. To limit access to Bishop’s working, to reserve the progressive spectacle of her creative process to academic scrutiny, to preserve it from the poet’s common readers, is a very high-church thing to do.

(Don't forget that RSB readers can subscribe to PN Review at a special rate. And more RSB offers are on their way, with special deals coming from Poetry magazine and Agenda.)

Faber and Faber have announced the projected publication of a seven-volume edition of The Complete Prose of T.S. Eliot, under the General Editorship of Ronald Schuchard and an advisory board comprising Warwick Gould, Archibald Henderson, Sir Frank Kermode, Edward Mendelson and Christopher Ricks. The edition will be published jointly by Faber and Johns Hopkins University Press in the United States:


TS Eliot was one of the most prolific and wide-ranging prose masters of our age, and the collections of essays published during his lifetime have had an immeasurable impact on literature, culture, and the humanities. At the beginning of the 21st century, however, the majority of Eliot's prose (over 700 essays and articles) remains uncollected or unpublished, nor are there critical editions of those collections published during his life. For the past fifty years, most assessments of Eliot's work and thought have been produced with little access to these materials, which remain scattered in numerous libraries and institutional collections around the world.

Poet Thomas Meyer's Coromandel is now online. (And a CD is available from Brown Roux, 17 Stuyvesant Street #16, New York, NY 10003, for $15 US dollars (including p&p).)


Start in the middle. Speak to the heart. Touch the quick flesh of words. Explore the bardo of the instant. Bring the present moment suddenly, startlingly, to life. Thomas Meyer does that: he wakes us up to ourselves, and makes us wonder why we had been so long asleep. Coromandel is an urgent message from another world – but which one? The deities within us speak and become words on a page: swooning, we follow.

"What is the image of Jerusalem that dwells in your mind?" So asks artist Steve Sabella at jerusalem-in-exile.net:


Work started on the preparation of an exceptional book with a new concept jerusalem in exile – tangible memories by artist Steve Sabella. The book seeks to explore the visual imagery held of Jerusalem by Palestinians who live in the Diaspora, as well as by Palestinians who live in Palestine but are incapable of reaching their city. The project will photographically ‘materialize’ the various mental images Palestinians hold of Jerusalem in their memories and imagination. The art experience will be documented in an art book, to be edited by poet Najwan Darwish that will compile various testimonies and texts on Jerusalem and other related subjects by a number of distinguished Palestinians artists, intellectuals and participants.

I was going to be reviewing Douglas Oliver's Whisper "Louise" for PN Review in the next month or so, but another article on the book came in so my piece wasn't needed and I'm off the hook! (I'll be reviewing the excellent In Time of Need instead.) The title was recently reviewed by John Hall for Jacket magazine and now, this weekend, Martyn Everett of BookSurfer reviews it:


Poet and one-time Cambridge journalist Douglas Oliver has written a remarkable book, interweaving recollections of his own life with accounts of episodes from the life of the legendary anarchist Louise Michel. But it is far, far more than a simple exercise in biography, as Oliver uses the coincidences and dissonances of the two lives as a way of exploring memory and meaning, the construction of self, and the nature of revolutionary action.

Worth keeping your eyes our for: War & War, by Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai, is just about to land. Originally published in Hungary in 1996, I think, this is Krasznahorkai's second novel in English from American publisher New Directions (who don't have the rights to sell War & War in the UK, so you won't find it in a UK bookshop, but getting it online will be easy enough) translated by poet George Szirtes, who also translated the earlier The Melanchology of Resistance. No less than WG Sebald commented that Krasznahorkai's prose "far surpasses all the lesser concerns of contemporary writing."


Film buffs may well recognise Krasznahorkai's name as he has co-written with the director Béla Tarr (as Waggish has written so compellingly about).

Always a pleasure to receive books from Verso. And yesterday three gems arrived from "the most radical publisher in the UK and US" (or so they style themselves these days): Negri's Books for Burning: Between Civil War and Democracy in 1970's Italy ("Long before Antonio Negri became famous around the world for Empire and Multitude, he was infamous across Europe for [these] incendiary writings" ... Books for Burning consists of five pamphlets written between 1971 and 1977); David Harvey's Spaces of Global Capitalism: Towards a Theory of Uneven Geographical Development; and a backlist title, Franco Moretti's Atlas of the European Novel, 1800-1900.


For those interested in Moretti, Franco Moretti's Graphs, Maps, Trees: A Valve Book Event ("a series of short essays and comments") is a good place to start online.


For those interested in David Harvey, the first chapter in Spaces of Global Capitalism, Neo-Liberalism and the Restoration of Class Power, is online (beware PDF).

Ooh, now I am excited about this: Freud's Requiem: Mourning, Memory, and the Invisible History of a Summer Walk (Continuum) by Matthew Von Unwerth (director of the Abraham A. Brill Library of The New York Psychoanalytic Institute & Society, and coordinator of the Philoctetes Center for the Multidisciplinary Study of Imagination, no less!) The book is billed as an exploration of Freud’s ideas "on creativity and mortality and their roots in his history" and a search for "broader lessons about love, memory, mourning, and creativity."


Written in 1915 during winter and wartime, Freud’s little-known essay On Transience records an afternoon conversation with 'a young but already famous poet' and his 'taciturn friend' about mortality, eternity, and the 'sense' of life. In Freud’s Requiem, the philosophical disagreement between Freud and his companions - who may have been the poet Rainer Maria Rilke and his muse and former lover Lou Andreas-Salomé - becomes a prism through which to consider Freud’s creativity as a response to his own experiences, from his passionately curious, lovestruck teenage years to his death after a long struggle with cancer in 1939. Drawing on a variety of literary and historical sources - Homer, Goethe, as well as Freud’s own writings, including his letters - Freud’s Requiem is both an intimate personal drama and a spirited intellectual inquiry.

For more on similar, Lou Andreas-Salomé's memoir of Rilke You Alone are Real to Me (Carcanet) is thoroughly to be recommended.

Next month, 3:AM is helping to launch Bruce Benderson's The Romanian (published by London-based Snow Books), the first non-French novel to win the Prix de Flore ("Le prix de Flore, du nom du célèbre café de Saint-Germain-des-Prés, a été créé en 1994. Il s'est donné pour mission de couronner un jeune auteur au talent prometteur."). The UK launch is on May 3rd at 7.30pm at The Horse Hospital, London WC1N 1HX.

A year ago, Lisa Jardine and Annie Watkins conducted a survey of women readers to find a "watershed" women's novel, "the book which, above all others, had sustained individual women through key moments of transition or crisis in their lives." The winner was Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, with Pride and Prejudice not too far behind. Jardine and Watkins have now repeated the exercise (more details of which can be found in the Guardian) with men. A very different list has emerged with The Outsider by Albert Camus coming out top. Other favourites for the men were Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye and Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. One reason advanced for the kind of books these men chose was that "men's formative reading was done between the ages of 12 and 20 - indeed, specifically around the ages of 15 and 16. For men, fiction was a rite of passage into manhood during painful adolescence. Many men admitted that they had read little fiction since".

The excellent Book Works is calling for proposals for new chap books: "a series of artists’ books of short treatises/chapters/pamphlet style publications." For application details please send a large self addressed envelope to:

Book Works
19 Holywell Row
London
EC2A 4JB

or email jane@bookworks.org.uk


As you'd hope, Book Works "welcome proposals from all sections of the community, including practitioners from culturally diverse backgrounds." The deadline for proposals is May 12th 2006.


Before you send them a 900 page manuscript (hint: don't), take a look at their other lovely, tiny chap books, including Suitcase Body Is Missing Woman by Eva Weinmayr, Lost in Space by Andrew Dodds and Head in the Railings by Siôn Parkinson.

The Orwell Prize for Political Writing has been won by a novelist: Delia Jarrett-Macauley has won the prestigious award for Moses, Citizen and Me (Granta) a book about child soldiers in Sierra Leone. Now, I heard this on the Radio 4's Today programme this morning, but I can't find out much more information online. As soon as I do, I'll update this post.

RSB interviewee Tom McCarthy, whose novel Remainder (Metronome - see 3:AM's interview with Metronome boss Clementine Deliss) so impressed our reviewer Lee Rourke last year, has been snapped up by Alma Books in the UK (and Random House in the US). Tom's novel will be out, with Alma Books, in July.

I just noticed (from the Guardian Unlimited Books newsfeed on the bottom right of the RSB homepage), this Brecht story: "A series of letters discovered in a Swiss cellar reveal how Bertolt Brecht, Germany's famously uncompromising playwright, fell out with some of the 20th century's most glittering literary figures, including the novelist Christopher Isherwood" (from Newly discovered letters show Brecht's talent for offending). Well, to be honest, I didn't notice! Mr Nicholas Jacobs, of Libris, brought it to my attention.


Libris, as you may not know, are Germanists, who publish some wonderful writers including Brecht, Heym, Mörike, Schiller and Trakl amongst many others.


Two world wars and twelve years of national socialism took their toll on the reception of German culture in Britain, particularly literature (German music survived unscathed). Libris’s principle aim was and is to contribute to the restoration of that literature to its rightful place in the English-speaking world.

Published on Tuesday, but only in the US for now, is A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe (not that that means you can't buy it very easily from anywhere!) This is the "largest and richest volume of poetry by [Fernando] Pessoa available in English, featuring poems never before translated alongside many originally composed in English." The poems are translated by the unlikely-named Pessoa expert Richard Zenith (translator of the wonderful, eccentric and baggy The Book of Disquiet and who edited and translated The Education of the Stoic: The Only Manuscript of the Baron of Teive). Zenith provides a useful introduction and notes and good information on Pessoa's "heteronyms". "There is nobody like Pessoa" is something WS Merwin once said, by the way. But, you now, I could've said that!

I began reading Edward Said's On Late Style (one of my Books of the Week this week, alongside Amorgos by Nikos Gatsos) at the weekend. The book, nicely reviewed by Paul Griffiths in the latest BookForum, was left unfinished when Said died of leukaemia, aged 67, back in September 2003. With the help of his wife Mariam and the literary critics Richard Poirier and Michael Wood (who, as one would expect from such an excellent writer, provides a useful, short introduction) the work has been constructed and looks to be a fitting last book by a key intellectual figure of the last few decades.


The first essay in the book is an engagement with Adorno's work on late Beethoven. Indeed, Adorno haunts this work. Whilst On Late Style is being billed as Said's last book of literary criticism it is every bit as much a book of musicology.


Edward Said looks at a selection of essays, poems, novels, films, and operas to determine what late style may explain about the evolution of the creative life. He discusses how the approaching death of an artist can make its way “with anachronism and anomaly” into his work, as was the case in the late work of Thomas Mann, Richard Strauss, Jean Genet, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, and C. P. Cavafy. Said examines Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, Genet’s Le captif amoureux and Les paravents, Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Visconti’s film of Lampedusa’s The Leopard, Euripides’ The Bacchae and Iphigenia at Aulis, and Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, among other works.

JC Hallman's The Devil Is a Gentleman sounds bonkers, like something Jon Ronson or Louis Theroux might write, but coming out of an engagement with William James's The Varieties of Religious Experience:


Varieties was a watershed effort: a bestselling portrait of history’s pluralism and a defense of the spiritual quest, in all its guises, against the era’s increasingly secular sentiments. Today, with all the old tensions between skeptics and believers still in place, JC Hallman pays homage to James’s exploration of offbeat religious movements. But where James relied on the testimony and biographies of prophets and mystics, Hallman travels directly to some of America’s newest and most unusual religions, trekking from Druid circles in the mossy hills of northern California to the gleaming mother church of Scientology ... Along the way, he participates in a variety of rites and reports on a broad spectrum of beliefs. Eventually Hallman adopts James as his patron saint, spiritual adviser, and intellectual companion on the journey that will culminate in the creation of this book, a compelling combination of adventure and biography, spotted with hair-raising predicaments and rife with poignant portraits of unforgettable characters, including William James himself.

Michael Syrotinski's translation of The Flowers of Tarbes by Jean Paulhan (the introduction to which is online here at RSB) got a decent, small review, courtesy of Steven Poole, at the Guardian last Saturday. We'll be interviewing Professor Syrotinski here at RSB very soon.


A sign at the entrance to a park says it is forbidden to carry flowers inside. The crass authoritarianism of such a stricture (the idea is that anyone actually carrying flowers must have picked them from the park itself) prompts the French literary critic Jean Paulhan to a scintillating essay on commonplace expressions, language and rhetoric that was first published in 1941 and should still give pause to contemporary writers eager to declare war on cliché ... The argument is playful and urbanely self-contradicting at every turn ... I especially liked the author's sober admiration of a poet "for whom poetry seems so serious that he has taken the decision to stop writing it". Most pleasingly, he ends up running rhetorical circles around himself, confessing that he was a "terrorist" all along and pleading with the reader to act as though he had said nothing. One hopes that Paulhan continues the conversation somewhere with the shades of literary giants, carrying as many flowers as he wishes.

I've just reviewed Alberto Manguel's memoir With Borges:


Borges had known he would turn blind from an early age and finally lost his site in 1957. He was a voracious reader of a wide range of books and Manguel lists some of the titles that were housed in the modest flat Borges shared with his mother, Doña Leonor (who called him Georgie, which was his Northumbrian grandmother's nickname for him), Fanny, their maid, and Beppo, the big white cat. Borges, it transpires, loved Stevenson, Chesterton, Henry James and Kipling, and he loved the Arabian Nights, the Bible, epics like Njals Saga, Homer and Virgil: "epic poetry brought tears to his eyes." He disliked "faddish" literary theory blaming French literature "for concentrating not on books but on schools and coteries."

(For all of my review of With Borges.)

Ooh, I like the look of this: Romantic Poetry and the Fragmentary Imperative (SUNY Press):


Romantic Poetry and the Fragmentary Imperative locates Byron (and, to a lesser extent, Joyce) within a genealogy of romantic poetry understood not so much as imaginative self-expression or ideological case study but rather as what the German romantics call "romantische poesie"—an experimental form of poetry loosely based on the fragmentary flexibility and acute critical self-consciousness of Socratic dialogue. The book is therefore less an attempt to present yet another theory of romanticism than it is an effort to recover a more precise sense of the relationship between Byron's fragmentary or "workless" poetic and romantic poetry generally, and to articulate connections between romantic poetry and modern literature and literary theory. The book also argues that the "exigency" or "imperative" of the fragmentary works of Schlegel, Byron, Joyce, and Blanchot is not so much the expression of a style as it is an acknowledgment of what remains unthought in thinking.

I failed to mention that the (American) National Book Critics Circle Awards were recently announced. Two books reviewed here on RSB got the nod: EL Doctorow's The March and Svetlana Alexievich's Voices from Chernobyl.

Not much in this morning's post, but what came was wonderful: Alberto Manguel's short memoir (just 74 pages) With Borges (from Telegram Books, new imprint of Saqi Books); the Ingeborg Bachmann reader Last Living Words and Steve Katz's Antonello's Lion (Green Integer); and, thrillingly, two new CDs from the sublime Cold Blue Music - Daniel Lentz's On the Leopard Altar and Chas Smith's Descent.


In 1964, in Buenos Aires, Jorge Louis Borges, by this time blind, approached sixteen-year-old Alberto Manguel, then serving in a book shop, and asked if he would be interested in a part-time job reading aloud to the old writer. With Borges is "part memoir, part biography and all celebration of the living quality of literature."


Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-1973) was, as many of you will know, as well as a poet, dramatist, and novelist, and leading voice in post-war German literature, the lover of Paul Celan.


Cold Blue Music is the leading exponent of West Coast minimalism and post-minimalism. "The label defines a certain ‘Southern California sound,’ uncluttered, evocative and unusual, with a wistful emotional edge."


To be "rushed out in time for the 3rd anniversary of the declaration of war on 20th March and the major international demonstrations on 18th March", Verso (in collaboration with the Stop the War Coalition) are just about to release Not One More Death: "Luminaries of literature, science and music unite in their condemnation of the unjust war on Iraq and its disastrous occupation":


John le Carré attacks Tony Blair’s attempts to save the US and UK’s special relationship by giving legitimacy to the war; Richard Dawkins writes of the terrifying discourse of Good and Evil that dominates the Bush government’s thinking; Brian Eno tears apart the alleged reasons for the war and makes a compelling argument for the withdrawal of troops; Michel Faber highlights how language and rational debate gurgles down the drain in an atmosphere of hysteria; Harold Pinter’s excoriating Nobel acceptance speech; Iraqi writer Haifa Zangana documents the shocking record of atrocities in occupied Iraq and argues for the right of the Iraqi people to resist

The two latest titles from the excellent Clinamen Press are certainly worthy of a larger audience: Virtual Mathematics: the logic of difference, edited by Simon Duffy, and The Transversal Thought of Gilles Deleuze: Encounters and Influences, by RSB-interviewee James Williams, are both well-produced, challenging works of modern philosophy. I'll be commenting more on both of these books over the coming weeks.

This has been widely linked to, but librarians rule, so I'm happy to keep the meme alive: the New York Public Library has unveiled its annual list of 25 Books to Remember.


The Books to Remember program celebrates its 50th anniversary this year—with a list of outstanding titles chosen for their “distinct and lasting contribution to literature.” A panel of NYPL librarians works for months to pick the year’s most outstanding titles. The panel of seven begins by examining hundreds of book reviews. Next, they plunge in, each reading on average more than 100 of the year’s most notable works. Discussions and debates follow as the merits of each book are weighed. Finally, a vote decides which 25 make the list of the year’s most memorable reads.

The list includes some of the (dull) usual suspects (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer; Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro; On Beauty by Zadie Smith), some books we've reviewed here on RSB (The March; Small Island), Windows on the World by Frederic Beigbeder, which I thought clumsy and disingenuous, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, which moved me a great deal, and a couple of other titles that look worth tracking down - Bread and Roses: Migrants, and the Struggle for the American Dream by Bruce Watson ("vividly reconstructs the story of the 1912 textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, a watershed moment in American labor history") and The War Works Hard by Dunya Mikha’il (translated from the Arabic by Elizabeth Winslow, this "intimate, subversive, and farsighted collection by an Iraqi poet chronicles the effects of tyranny and war on the psyche.")

Brigid Hughes, ex-editor of The Paris Review, left that esteemed organ to create a new magazine focussing on fiction and poetry. Issue one of her A Public Space is available now:


The debut issue is:
Charles D'Ambrosio, Kelly Link, Anna Deavere Smith, Marilynne Robinson, Haruki Murakami, Rick Moody, Motoyuki Shibata, Yoko Ogawa, John Haskell, Lucy Raven, Peter Gizzi, Matthea Harvey, Antoine Wilson, Peter Orner, Ian Chillag, Jeremy Glazier, and others.
On:
Superheroes, Hollywood in the McCarthy Era, translating grapefruit into Japanese, New Jersey porn, Tutsi women, the coal mines of West Virginia, Chekhov, Galileo, Salinger, that weird guy who lives down the street and drives by your house slowly, Bertolt Brecht, digging a hole to China, and more.

Intesting piece in the Independent reporting that the PM Tony Blair revealed his favourite reading matter at a World Book Day event in London yesterday. Blair said: "There were people who got me very involved in politics. But then there was also a book. It was a trilogy, a biography of Trotsky by Isaac Deutscher, which made a very deep impression on me and gave me a love of political biography for the rest of my life."


Radical publisher Verso will be loving this. Verso publish Isaac Deutscher's massive biography of Trotsky in three volumes: The Prophet Armed: Trotsky 1879-1921, The Prophet Unarmed: Trotsky 1921-1929 and The Prophet Outcast: Trotsky 1929-1940. In a press release the publisher asks, "does this mean that even Verso, the radical left publishers, are now part of the Blairite project?" Let's hope not: the thought of a whole load of publishers tooling up and invading Iran does not make me happy!

The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize shortlist has been announced. For the past few years the prize has always thrown up some interesting titles but, despite thinking Fatelessness a very good book, I'm a bit underwhelmed by the rest of the choices this year: This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun; Mercedes-Benz by Pawel Huelle; Fatelessness by Imre Kertész (reviewed on RSB; and Kertész will be talking on Sunday at Jewish Book Week); Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson; The Door by Magda Szabó and The Ministry of Pain by Dubravka Ugresic.

Yesterday, Reaktion very kindly sent on to me Robert Bevan's excellent looking The Destruction of Memory. Just now I read, via the Distributed Presses blog, of an article by Robert Bevan in the Sydney Morning Herald:


Bevan argues that ... attacks on cultural and religious sites are "double attacks" on a society's foundations, "This is not collateral damage. It can be an attempt to destabilise a society or, where memories, history, and identity are attached to architecture and place, to enforce forgetting." In addition to the destruction of the Golden Mosque by unknown forces, Bevan's editorial provides various examples of different factions' uses of architecture in Iraq: the Shiite Mahdi Army's occupation of the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf in order to gain protection from the U.S forces, who knew that attacking the shrine would be unforgivable in the eyes of the Shiite population; the reprisals from Shiite groups toward Sunni mosques following the destruction of the Golden Dome; the U.S. military's use and disregard of historical sites, its militarily worthless "Shock and Awe" method, and its general failure to protect Iraq's heritage sites from looting and destruction.

Hamid Ismailov was forced to flee Uzbekistan because he was regarded as having "unacceptably democratic tendencies". He came to London in 1994 and is now head of the BBC Central Asia Service. His debut novel The Railway, translated from Russian by RSB interviewee Robert Chandler, will be published by Harvill Secker on Thursday 2nd March 2006:


Set between 1900 and 1980, The Railway introduces to us the inhabitants of the small town of Gilas in Uzbekistan. Among those whose stories we hear are Mefody-Jurisprudence, the town’s alcoholic intellectual; Father Ioann, a Russian priest; Kara-Musayev the Younger, the chief of police; and Umarali-Moneybags, the old moneylender. Their colourful lives offer a unique picture of a land populated by outgoing Mullahs, incoming Bolsheviks, and a plethora of Uzbeks, Russians, Persians, Jews, Koreans, Tatars and Gypsies.

On March 8th at 5.30pm there will be a reading, with Robert and Hamid, including snacks and wine! The event is free and will be held at St Benet’s Chapel, Queen Mary College, Mile End Road, E1 4NS (Mile End tube). For more (and please RSVP): kcf19@dial.pipex.com.


On April 4th at 6.30pm Robert and Hamid will be accompanied by music from Uzbek musicians (presumably, not whilst they read). This event is also free and to be held at Leighton House, 12 Holland Park Road, W14 8LZ (High St. Kensington tube). For more (and essential to RSVP): JacksonRowlandson@randomhouse.co.uk.

The Get London Reading ("[e]ncouraging Londoners to make more time for reading") project came to my attention the other day when a young man shoved a copy of The Rough Guide to London by the Book into my hand as I was running to catch a train back to sunny Stockport after a day in a very cold London. The guide is "[p]acked with obscure and intriguing information (How did Graham Greene survive the bombing of his Clapham house in 1941? Which nineteenth-century poet was in the habit of sliding naked down the banisters?), it chronicles the waves of novelists, poets and playwrights who have lived in London over the centuries, written about it, and developed its identity as a result." You can download (pdf!) a copy if you fancy a gander.

Tom Gauld and Simone Lia's exhibition of books, drawings, paintings and prints continues to run at Analogue Books up in Edinburgh. You can also see some of the work in the Cabanon Press gallery. Also worth noting is that Tom's new screenprint The Hairy Monster, a guide is just out. Tom also has a new story entitled Sample Collection Unit 413/R87.13 in the anthology Kramers Ergot Six which is due out this summer. Simone's Fluffy part four is also out now, completing the cutest story ever told about a rabbit who thought he was real.

Beckett once said to a friend, "All I want to do is sit on my ass and fart and think of Dante". "Ass"? Surely Beckett would have said "arse"? Anyway, Beckett centenary a timely reminder of a lifetime of artistic integrity, by Rachel Campbell-Johnston, in today's Times (via the literary saloon) reminds me, again, of the upcoming Beckett centenary events and that James Knowlson's Beckett Remembering: Remembering Beckett: Uncollected Interviews with Samuel Beckett and Memories of Those Who Knew Him (Bloomsbury) is out in the UK March 6th (Arcade's version has been out in the US since January).


Thinking of Dante, fans of Italy's finest son should certainly remember The William and Katherine Devers Series in Dante Studies (issuing out of the University of Notre Dame Press). Part of that excellent series is John A Scott's remarkable Understanding Dante, which was Book of the Week here on RSB a month ago.

According to The Times:


The decay of Britain’s most treasured books will be halted with the help of a device developed to help police to detect drugs and bombs. The British Library is buying an “electronic nose”, with the help of a £200,000 grant from an American foundation, to sniff out books in urgent need of conservation. An electronic sensor can determine whether paper is breaking down at a molecular level from the musty smell, caused by acids, which is the first sign of decay.

Green Integer are about to release Last Living Words: The Ingeborg Bachmann Reader, translated from the German by Lilian M. Friedberg with an introduction by Dagmar C. G. Lorenz (the book should be available, in the UK, in July). Bachmann was a close friend of Thomas Bernhard's and appears as a character in Extinction (so Steve tells me). Green Integer have previously published her early work Letters to Felician.


This Ingeborg Bachmann Reader consists of works of poetry and fiction published during the life of the great Austrian writer. Brilliantly translated by Lilian M. Friedberg ... Bachmann is no longer the frail and tortured writer presented in so many previous translations, but is a writer who stands as a strong woman and major literary figure. Born in Klagenfurt, Austria on June 25, 1926, Ingeborg Bachmann studied law and philosophy at the universities of Insbruck, Graz, and Vienna ... Over the next many years, she produced numerous collections of poetry, fiction, and radio plays, including Anrufung des Großen Bären (Invocation of the Great Bear), the collections of stories Das dreißigse Jahr (The Thirtieth Year) and Simultan, and the novel Malina.

James Wood reviews Robert Alter's beautifully presented and "remarkable new translation of the Pentateuch," The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary, in this week's London Review of Books:


Robert Alter eschews ‘face’ to describe the surface of the world at the start of Genesis, and I miss the cosmic implications, but his first two verses amply compensate with their own originality: ‘When God began to create heaven and earth, and the earth then was welter and waste and darkness over the deep and God’s breath hovering over the waters, God said: “Let there be light.” And there was light.’ The King James Version has ‘without form and void’ for Alter’s Anglo-Saxonish ‘welter and waste’, but Alter, as throughout this massive work, provides a diligent and alert footnote:

The Hebrew tohu wabohu occurs only here and in two later biblical texts that are clearly alluding to this one. The second word of the pair looks like a nonce term coined to rhyme with the first and to reinforce it, an effect I have tried to approximate in English by alliteration. Tohu by itself means ‘emptiness’ or ‘futility’, and in some contexts is associated with the trackless vacancy of the desert.

Out in March, in Faber's Poet to Poet series, is Michael Hofmann's choice of Robert Lowell (1917-1977) poems. Lowell's Life Studies, published in 1959, is seen as a decisive turning point in American poetry, a turn to the confessional and autobiographical which, I'd argue, has not, recently, served poetry that well (how many sub-Plath emotings do we need?) As Hofmann says in his excellent introduction, Lowell was controversial throughout his writing life - and remains so. Faber published Lowell's massive Collected Poems in 2003. (More on Lowell at Modern Amercican Poetry site. Some useful links at learner.org too.)

A new (British) film, by director Michael Winterbottom, about the horrors of Guantánamo Bay has, it seems, excited audiences at the Berlin International Film Festival and is being tipped to win the festival's prestigious Golden Bear award. The film is funded by Channel Four and will air on British TV on March 9th (the day after, the film will be released online, on DVD and in cinemas). The Road to Guantánamo is the story of the three British Muslims (Rhuhel Ahmed, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul, the so-called Tipton Three) who were held at the US military base for two years without charge or trial.


This is all very timely as it was only yesterday that the Guardian reported that a leaked UN draft report said that treatment of detainees at Guantánamo Bay constitutes torture in some cases and violates international law.


Usefully, just recently out in paperback from The New Press is Torture: A Human Rights Perspective edited by Kenneth Roth and with an introduction by Geoffrey Robertson. Due soon is David Rose's Guantánamo: The War on Human Rights.

Widely linked to, but worth citing again just in case you've not seen it: the first issue of Green Integer Review is now online.

Christine Brooke-Rose was born in Geneva and educated at Somerville College, Oxford and University College, London. She taught at the University of Paris, Vincennes, from 1968 to 1988 and now lives in the south of France. Carcanet have just released her Life, End Of:


She is eighty. Facing death, she considers her experiments with narrative, and with the narrative of her life. What is the purpose of the narrative she is creating here, and what the purpose of the life that lives it in the writing? At the centre of Life, End Of, in a mock-technical lecture from the Character to the Author, she comes to accept that her experiments in narrative are like life: the narrative creates itself ... Christine Brooke-Rose’s last novel is a darkly comic exploration of the meanings and non-meanings to which, in the end, life and art lead us.

Carcanet have also reissued The Brooke-Rose Omnibus:


The Brooke-Rose Omnibus brings together four unexpected novels: Out, a science-fiction vision of a world surviving catastrophe; Such, in which a three-minute heart massage is developed into a poetic and funny narrative; Between, a glittering experience of the multiplicity of language; and Thru, a novel in which text and typography assume a life of their own. Linking them all is wit, inventiveness and the sharply focused intellegence of Christine Brooke-Rose, a great European humanist writer.

The University of Alabama Press ("Life is short. Read good books.") have just published Coming Out of War: Poetry, Grieving, and the Culture of the World Wars by Janis P Stout. Back-cover puff (coming from Philip Beidler, author of Late Thoughts on an Old War: The Legacy of Vietnam) reckons:


It is hard for me, as a reader, to contain my praise. This study of the poetries of the great wars of the 20th century in their relation to what Stout calls the culture of mourning is comprehensive and masterful. It is immensely learned, yet readable. Most important, the book is intensely wise and humane, distilled from a career of reading and writing and meditating on the meanings of art forms and expressions.

And the publisher's own description certainly make it sound worth a read:


While probing the work of such well known war poets as Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, and Randall Jarrell, Stout also highlights the impact of the wars on lesser studied, but equally compelling, sources such as the music of Charles Ives and Cole Porter, Aaron Copland and Irving Berlin. She challenges the commonplace belief that war poetry came only from the battlefield and was written only by men by examining the wartime writings of women poets such as Rose Macaulay, Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, and Gwendolyn Brooks. She also challenges the assumption that World War II did not produce poetry of distinction by studying the work of John Ciardi, Karl Shapiro, Louis Simpson, Robert Frost, and Wallace Stevens. While emphasizing aesthetic continuity between the wars, Stout stresses that the poetry that emerged from each displays a greater variety than is usually recognized.

Camus at Combat: Writing 1944-1947 (Princeton University Press), edited and annotated by Jacqueline Lévi-Valensi, translated by Arthur Goldhammer, and with an introduction by David Carroll, has just landed.


Paris is firing all its ammunition into the August night. Against a vast backdrop of water and stone, on both sides of a river awash with history, freedom's barricades are once again being erected. Once again justice must be redeemed with men's blood.

"Albert Camus (1913-1960) wrote these words in August 1944, as Paris was being liberated from German occupation. Although best known for his novels including The Stranger and The Plague, it was his vivid descriptions of the horrors of the occupation and his passionate defense of freedom that in fact launched his public fame." Usefully, PUP have a copy of the first chapter online:


Articles that appeared in clandestine issues of Combat can at best be classified as "probably" by Camus, and it is not out of the question that he wrote others. For obvious reasons, he kept no record of what he wrote, and no firm conclusions can be drawn from either the themes or the style of what was published, since everything that appeared in the paper constituted an act of resistance and reflected goals shared by everyone who wrote for it.

Nice piece in The Times today (by Kenneth J Harvey, author of The Town That Forgot How to Breathe) satirising the ridiculous James Frey debacle:


After reading John Banville's Man Booker prize-winning The Sea, a slim volume trumpeted as fiction, I was startled to discover, upon perusing my hefty atlas, that this supposedly fantastical place named Ireland was an actual island ...

On the University of Chicago Press blog (cleverly entitled The Chicago Blog), comes information about a new book of theirs - Foucault and the Iranian Revolution:


On February 1, 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran after fifteen years of exile [and] was acclaimed the leader of the Iranian Revolution. Later that year revolutionary students would storm the U.S. embassy in Tehran and take the staff hostage, to profound consequence. One observer of the Iranian Revolution was Michel Foucault, who was a special correspondent for Corriere della Sera and le Nouvel Observateur, for whom he wrote a series of articles. In Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism, Janet Afary and Kevin B. Anderson illuminate Foucault's support of the Islamist movement and show how Foucault's experiences in Iran contributed to a turning point in his thought.

Also, read Foucault's What Are the Iranians Dreaming About?

Good to see Ron SillimanSteve and the literary saloon all mentioning Robert Kelly and Birgit Kempker's Shame: A Collaboration. I hope to be interviewing Robert here on RSB about his work very soon:


Shame is a bi-lingual text in prose and poetry ... When Birgit Kempker — a younger German writer living in Basel — invited Kelly to create a work together, neither knew the other except by reputation. They proceeded, over the course of two years, to communicate by e-mail through sixteen exchanges, and the subject was shame, shame at its most personal and prosaic and intimate, sometimes even fetching, and at its most generic and couched and poetic and hallucinatory ... Shame is a book spoken between two lovers who will never be lovers, a book of the unabashed and prised apart secret intimacy that can be laid bare against all constraint by ghostly lovers — virtual, exemplary, psychic guides to one another...and the rest of us.

Jean-Philippe Toussaint's Television was reviewed (principally by Paul Morley) on Radio 4's A Good Read last week (see the complete-review's review). Astonishingly, this was apparently enough to move it into Amazon.co.uk's top 10.

The fourth and final installment of Simone Lia's exquisite Fluffy comic is out now. Thank god! The suspense of what was going to happen to that wee stuffed rabbit was nearly more than I could take.

Elizabeth A. Brown reviews Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Good Writing over at csmonitor.com. Brown says, Leonard wants the writer to be invisible: "Good writing is not about the writer (and the way he sounds or the size of her vocabulary), but about the story."


Not for me.


For me, good writing is precisely about the writer and their struggle to write what they are writing (for sure, I'm not interested in the size of anyone's vocabulary!) Otherwise it is merely a story ... and I'm not that interested in stories. Or -- better -- I am interested in stories, but my interest is second to my interest in why this particular writer thinks that this particular story is important enough for them to write and me to write. A self-consciousness about the act of writing and reading needs to be folded into the writing for the writing in front of me to become more than merely a vehicle to carry a plot. Only with that self-consciousness -- adroitly brought about and not merely some clever postmodern intervention where the writer tells you (s)he is writing -- can I be sure that the novelist hasn't simple taken the general shape of your typical literary fiction novel for granted and merely filled in the gaps. If that is the case, the novel becomes artless, empty, and I quickly lose interest in ... yet another story. No matter how accomplished, a novel that simply tells me a story also tells me that the novelist hasn't thought enough about exactly what they are doing when and as they write.


Brown says, Leonard's most important rule sums up the rest: "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it." With this, I mostly concur. If it sounds like novelese, run away! Indeed, this was the problem I had with Dino Buzzati's The Tartar Steppe which I finished reading yesterday evening.


The Tartar Steppe is a very good book, but it is not "great" because it overreaches and becomes poetic at just the wrong moments and in precisely the wrong way. It succumbs to its own story and ruins the stark effect it has been striving for by piling up the adjectives and metaphors (particular in the key moment when Angustina dies). The whole book is a tremendously powerful allegory anyway and it does not need the writing to underscore the allegory. Like Henry James does in his breathtaking Beast in the Jungle, Buzzati shows clearly the absurdity of spending a life waiting for a life-changing event: life is the journey, not the destination, precisely because the destination of the absurd journey is the same for each of us.


This is a book that will linger long in the mind ... and, doubtless, it will improve there! It will become, in memory, as unalloyed and beautiful as it hopes it is on the page but, actually, on the page it often strained: sometimes too flowery, sometimes awkward and mawkish. But, goodness, much better than most of the nonsense one reads!