And whilst I'm plugging websites, it's also worth me mentioning Five Books. Been going a while, but I only came across it fairly recently. Five Books "ask experts to recommend the five best books in their subject and explain their selection in an interview. [The] site has an archive of over one thousand interviews, or five thousand book recommendations." They publish a new interview every Monday and Thursday.
The wonderful city of Glasgow has been my second home for the past year or more. As that phase of my life comes to an end, it's probably worth me remembering to give a shout out to the excellent Glasgow Review of Books an online "review journal publishing short and long reviews, review essays and interviews, as well as translations, fiction, poetry, and visual art. We are interested in all forms of cultural practice and seek to incorporate more marginal, peripheral or neglected forms into our debates and discussions. We aim to foster discussion of work from small and specialised publishers and practitioners, and to maintain a focus on issues in and about translation. The review has a determinedly international approach, but is also a proud resident of Glasgow."
Just noticed that issue 16 of PARRHESIA: A JOURNAL OF CRITICAL PHILOSOPHY (online journal "dedicated to publishing the latest work on continental philosophy, along with new translations and interviews with contemporary thinkers") is out.
Probably old news, but perhaps still worth passing along (the links below are all to PDFs)...
In the Footsteps of Hermes: The Meaning of Hermeneutics and Symbolism
Luis Garagalza, translated by Michael Marder
Crossing Ways of Thinking: On Graham Harman's System and My Own
Tristan Garcia, translated by Mark Allan Ohm
Tristan Garcia and the Thing-in-Itself
Badiou and Mallarmé: The Event and the Perhaps
Quentin Meillassoux, translated by Alyosha Edlebi
Lots of new stuff on the indispensable backdoorbroadcasting.net:
... starting with the 2013 Hayes Robinson lecture – which is an annual lecture from the department of History at Royal Holloway:
and the annual Hellenic Institute (also at Royal Holloway) chipped in with an interesting lecture on the Greek Diaspora:
And one more offering from the History department at Royal Holloway:
Lots more links the BBC news section.
Fifteen years before the ‘i-doser’ reports hit the mainstream press a group of renegade academics at the University of Warwick were challenging their own experiences of cyberspace as an addictive substance. These explorations were both theoretical and more importantly practical.
The experimentation was led by philosophy lecturer Nick Land, an academic who took great pleasure in introducing himself as ‘working in the field of The Collapse of Western Civilisation Studies.’
Following the release of his collected works, for the first time in over 15 years the audio performance of Nick Land’s seminal paper Meltdown is available to listen to on the web [over at virtualfutures].
The Modernist Journals Project is a multi-faceted project that aims to be a major resource for the study of modernism and its rise in the English-speaking world, with periodical literature as its central concern. The historical scope of the project has a chronological range of 1890 to 1922 (though the earliest journals that currently appear on the site date from 1896 and 1904), and a geographical range that extends to wherever English language periodicals were published. With magazines at its core, the MJP also offers a range of genres that extends to the digital publication of books directly connected to modernist periodicals and other supporting materials for periodical study...
Thomas Bernhard is dead. He had a terrible life, at least the early part. He was born in Holland where his Austrian mother had fled to escape the shame of her unwanted pregnancy. He never knew his father who died far away and in obscurity (and obscure circumstances). His mother mistreated him because of the shame he represented. Back in Austria he wanted to be an opera singer and studied music but caught a cold working at a menial job to make ends meet; the cold turned into tuberculosis. He was hospitalized repeatedly, his treatment was bungled, he was given up for dead, and survived just to prove how stupid his doctors were. Since opera-singing was out, he became a writer. He became a famous writer of deadpan, mordant, hilarious, difficult (modernist) novels and plays that often portray depressed characters with lung diseases (more...)
A Scrupulous Fidelity, On Thomas Bernhard’s The Loser by Douglas Glover
Wikipedians spend thousands of hours every week working tirelessly in reviewing and removing infringing content. Wikipedia talk pages show tremendous care about protecting copyright and sophisticated study on the many nuances of what constitutes infringement as opposed to legitimate speech. Wikipedia is based on a model of free licenses. Every Wikipedian is a rights owner, licensing their work under free licenses. Infringement harms our mission; free licenses do not work with infringement. Wikipedia has a mission of sharing knowledge around the world, and that is not possible when the knowledge is tainted with infringement. So, yes, Wikipedians care deeply about protecting the rights of others and ensuring against infringement.
But this does not mean Wikipedians are willing to trample on free expression like SOPA and PIPA. The proposed legislation seeks to take down sites entirely, because courts and others simply don't have time to worry about the nuances of copyright law and free expression. That is what is troubling. When the remedies are bludgeons, when entire sites are taken down, when everyone assumes that all content is infringing because some is, we lose something important. We lose the nuances of copyright about which our community cares, we lose our values based on protecting free speech, we lose what we represent. The Internet cannot turn into a world where free expression is ignored to accomodate overly simple solutions that gratify powerful rightowners who spend lots of money to promote the regulation of expression. There are better ways, like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, to find the right approach to legitimate copyright enforcement without trampling on free expression. SOPA and PIPA don't represent these values, and for that reason we ask you to oppose these bills (read more...)
Debt is the most effective way to take a relation of violent subordination and make the victims feel that it’s their fault. Colonial regimes did this all the time; they would charge people for the cost of their own conquest, via taxes. However, using debt in this way also has a notorious tendency to rebound, because the subtle thing about debt relations is that, on a certain level, they are premised on equality—we are both equal parties to a contract. This both makes the sting of inequality worse, because it implies you should be equal to your creditor but you somehow messed up, but also, makes it possible to start saying ‘wait a minute, who owes what to who here?’ But of course once you do that, you have accepted the idea that debt really is the essence of morality. You’ve accepted the masters’ language.Nice interview with David Graeber (who I interviewed on RSB back in 2007) over on the impressive website of The White Review.
In the Haganah you give a month of yourself to working in a kibbutz. We worked inKiryat Anavim, up in the fields with the shepherds. One day there was a call that a group of new immigrants arrived from Germany. The kibbutz rang the bell for lunch and all these young immigrants scattered into the fields. They were screaming and running very fast. You could not get them to believe the bell was being rung so that they could be fed. They thought it was rung for the slaughter. They thought they would be taken if they did not hide themselves. This stayed with me all my life.
Good friend of – and regular contributor to – ReadySteadyBook, Leora Skolkin-Smith has a new short story, A Tape of Helen Gilderstein Speaking, published up on International Jewish Fiction. (For more about Leora see leoraskolkinsmith.com.)
I don’t like realistic and natural descriptions of people, even if they are magisterial like those of the 19th century, in Stendhal and Flaubert, or in a different form, like Tolstoy’s and Dostoevsky’s. It’s alien to me. I like strong outlines, like in Romanesque art. That is to say, the outline gives form, and inside the form, the reader or observer can come to meet the person. I was searching for a different epic, for what I found as a reader of Medieval epic poems; they let me live in the personalities. I intended to contemporize them as well in My Year in the No-Man’s-Bay, in Crossing the Sierra de Gredos, and in At Night Over the River Morava. These, at their core, are medieval novels, epic poems more than novels. In this sense, I don’t believe as much in the novel as in the epic, the story that comes from afar and is balanced toward the distance. In other words, I am an enemy of psychological writing.
To say that Literature is dead is both empirically false and intuitively true. By most statistical indicators, the prognosis is good. There are more readers and writers than ever before. The rise of the internet marks the rise, in some senses, of a deeply literate culture. We are more likely to text each other than to talk. More than ever before, we are likely to comment or write than to watch or listen. The oft quoted fact: there are more graduates of writing programmes than there were people alive in Shakespeare’s London. As Gabriel Zaid writes in So Many Books, the exponential proliferation of authorship means that the number of published books will soon eclipse the human population, soon there will be more books than people who have ever lived. We have libraries on our phones, books (in or out of print) available at a touch of the finger. The mighty Amazon, the infinite Feed, the endless Aggregation, the Wikiwisdom, the Recommendations, Likes, Lists, Criticism, Commentary. We live in an unprecedented age of words.
And yet... in another sense, by a different standard, Literature is a corpse and cold at that...
Brilliant essay from Lars Iyer: A literary manifesto after the end of Literature and Manifestos in The White Review.
Vote for it. (Exact details on how to vote if you are not clear on the process!)
Laurel and Hardy, Bert and Ernie, Withnail and Marwood... double acts have long delighted us. Couples, it seems, are intrinsically funny. Lars and W., the heroes of Lars Iyer's novel Spurious – and, in their own way, fighting damp, fighting their stupidity, squabbling with each other, they are heroic – easily join the ranks of the best of them. Two intellectuals – and not ‘would-be intellectuals’ either, our heroes are clever and well-read, but know, because of this, how little they know, how huge is their ignorance – who battle and bond, who gossip, grumble and gripe. W. castigates, Lars reports back. Their squabbles are incessant and repetitive, but there is no enmity here: “W. tests me on Spinoza: What is a mode? What’s a substance? What’s an atttibute? ... W. tells me ... ‘get The Idiot’s Guide to Spinoza, then. But that’ll be too hard, too. Start with these letters on a piece of paper: S-P-I-N-O-Z-A. Ponder that in your stupidity’.” Clever about how being clever is never that far from being daft as a brush, rarely ennobling, and mostly just beside the point, this is one of funniest books about friendship I’ve ever read.
Asymptote is "an exciting new international journal dedicated to literary translation and bringing together in one place the best in contemporary writing. We are interested in encounters between languages and the consequences of these encounters. Though a translation may never fully replicate the original in effect (thus our name, “asymptote”: the dotted line on a graph that a mathematical function may tend towards but never reach), it is in itself an act of creation." Looks very decent.
Nice: Jenny Attiyeh's recent conversation with Helen Vendler about "blasphemous poet" Emily Dickinson, over on thoughtcast.org.
Robert Musil's works fascinate me until this day ... and what I learned from him was the hardest thing: that one can undertake a work that will take decades, without knowing if one can ever finish it, an undertaking that consists mainly of patience, that assumes an almost inhuman stubbornness ..." (Elias Canetti)
For lots of Musil-related goodness, try: www.robertmusil.net
Love this: Totality for Kids – excellent website by McKenzie Wark author of The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International.
Riots have their own logic. Both those who celebrate and decry them tend to think of riots as irrational outbursts, which can be channeled back towards order either by offering a few concessions or by sending in more police. There is invariably some moralizing that goes along with all this, none of it terribly helpful for understanding why riots are a constant of modern urban life rather than some inexplicable exception (more...)
In 1921, a well-to-do Argentine family arrived in Buenos Aires on a grand transatlantic ship, the Reina Victoria Eugenia. If they were on deck to watch the city come into view after seven years in Europe and a three-week ocean crossing, they would have first seen the curved art nouveau facade of the Argentine Yacht Club at the port’s entrance, its spire evocative of a lighthouse; then they may have noted the belle epoque customs house, which rose higher than the loading cranes and warehouses of the Dársena Norte port complex; and finally, once they arrived at the passenger pier, they would have seen the crowd eagerly awaiting the ship. On that pier, if we are to trust the memory of Jorge Luis Borges, began the most pivotal friendship in Argentina’s 20th century literary history...
The so-called 'cult of Apple' is in some ways nothing more than a tongue-in-cheek fiction perpetrated by those unable to accept the advantages of some of the company's remarkable developments in both hardware and software capabilities.
But there lies within that fiction a kernel of important truth. Apple's pseudo-religious, at times dogmatic attitude towards computing mirrors other control-obsessed organisations such as Facebook and Google. Except that Apple goes further, or has been allowed to go further, by those who refuse to question the social implications of the company's growing influence.
It is amusing that brain scans have shown that, to Apple fanboys, images of the company's logo set off similar neurological signals to religious people viewing the iconography of their faith. But despite this, and despite the fact that the Latin word for "apple" happens to also be the Latin word for "evil", Steve Jobs' corporation is only really a spiritual order in an analogical sense. Still, that analogy obviously bears cultural weight. The iCloud is a kind of heaven, where we, in the form of our digital property, will be eternally secure. We are asked to put faith in that ideal; we cannot visit the data centre ourselves or even physically see what is stored there. This presents a challenge which is so far an exceptionally new experience to human beings, and it is because of that, that Apple and other companies appear to have an almost ethereal grip upon us as a species.
From the excellent The Machine Starts blog.
I'd love to be remembered as a good teacher of reading, and I mean remedial reading in a deeply moral sense: the reading should commit us to a vision, should engage our humanity, should make us less capable of passing by. But I don't know that I've succeeded, either for others or for myself.
Is there any kind of education, schooling in poetry, music, art, philosophy that would make a human being unable to shave in the morning — forgive this banal image — because of the mirror throwing back at him something inhuman or subhuman? That's what I keep hammering at in my own thinking, in my own writing. Hence the move in Real Presences, coming around that immensely difficult corner, towards theology. What about the great poets, the great artists who have known about such things — Dante, for example, or Shakespeare? Could something make us incapable of certain imperceptions, incapable of certain blindnesses, deafnesses? Is there something that would make the imagination responsible and answerable to the reality principles of being human all around us? That's the question...
The key issue here is the sense of what cannot be analyzed or explained. A major act of interpretation gets nearer and nearer to the heart of the work, and it never comes too near. The exciting distance of a great interpretation is the failure, the distance, where it is helpless. But its helplessness is dynamic, is itself suggestive, eloquent and articulate. The best acts of reading are acts of incompletion, acts of fragmentary insight, of that which refuses paraphrase, metaphrase; which finally say, “The most interesting in all this I haven't been able to touch on.” But which makes that inability not a humiliating defeat or a piece of mysticism but a kind of joyous invitation to reread.
Ernst Bloch is most famous for some standard phrases which have gone into the German language but which are very rarely, if at all, attributed to him. Der aufrechte Gang (the upright gait), die konkrete Utopie (concrete utopia), das Prinzip Hoffnung (the Principle of Hope - also the title of his three volume magnum opus, published in the 1950s) are just three of the concepts which demonstrate his commitment to rescuing political, historical and philosophical change back from the dogmatists of stasis and to putting individual human concerns and rights back at the centre of philosophical considerations. Behind all of his work is a both a documentation of, but also a contribution to the optimistic drive forward into new philosophical territories. From his early Nietzschean and expressionist work Geist der Utopie (spirit of utopia), via his studies of the relationship between Religion and History (Atheismus im Christentum) through to his analysis of human dignity and natural law (Naturrecht und menschliche Würde - written after his experience of having lived under Stalinist rule in the GDR), his constant concern was with demonstrating that we are not human beings but human becomings. His thoughts on these issues have been decisive inspirations for many writers and thinkers in the past decades and, in particular, his ideas about the role of religion in society are becoming increasingly pertinent in the post-secular age...
From the Centre for Ernst Bloch Studies homepage.
We have previously featured films by the great Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. So we’re overjoyed to report that the Moscow film company Mosfilm has just made 50 Russian classics (including Tarkovsky’s Mirror, Solaris, and Andrei Rublev) available on YouTube in high definition. According to Yahoo News, Mosfilm has pledged to release five more films each week, all in HD with English subtitles, eventually bringing the total for the year to 200.
You can look over the whole list of currently available classics at Mosfilm’s YouTube channel.
Nice piece in the Guardian a month or so back with Stefan Collini reviewing The Good of the Novel (edited by Liam McIlvanney and Ray Ryan):
This book contains some outstanding writing about fiction, about individual novels and also, along the way, about the power and reach of the novel as a form. In an age of drive-by reviewing, when every reader can tell the (electronic) world whether or not they "like" a particular book, these 13 essays together constitute something of a manifesto, speaking up for the continuing vitality of that traditional form, the critical essay, a discursive piece of writing which is longer than a journalistic review but more accessible than an academic article. Almost all of them strike those sparks of understanding whereby we recognise that we half knew what they tell us yet didn't, in any articulated way, know at all. This is true of Mary Hawthorne on Anita Brookner's Hotel du Lac ("how to live in the world in the absence of having achieved one's heart's desire"), and Frances Wilson on Hanif Kureishi's Intimacy ("Breaking up is a form of editing, which is perhaps why writers do it so well")...
Wonderful quote, from Mary Hawthorne, about Anita Brookner, a writer whose work, in book after book, has been such a moving meditation on loneliness, and on how arid life can be when it is shorn of love.
Of the novels discussed here, JM Coetzee's Disgrace is the only one I have read more than once, so it might be expected that a critical essay on this book would have more of an uphill task than the others to engage me and make me feel I was learning very much. But Tessa Hadley manages this and more, and does so precisely by concentrating on questions of "technique". She returns to that old chestnut of novel-criticism, "point of view", though without the clanking of heavy machinery that often accompanies excursions into narratology. How far is Disgrace written from the point of view of its central character, David Lurie, and how far from that of an omniscient narrator? Taking an instructive detour through the narrative technique of Boyhood and Youth, Coetzee's ostensibly autobiographical accounts written in the third person, she alerts us to the way in which the novel shows us the world through Lurie's sensibility while also including that sensibility as, in some sense, part of its "subject-matter". As she acutely observes: "We aren't given any alternative secure perspective from which to 'know' Lurie, but we are able to scrutinise the edges of the knowledge his temperament makes available to him." This now seems to me dead right, but something it was very hard to get right. The brilliance with which Coetzee pulls off this delicate operation is enhanced rather than diminished by Hadley's analysis, even though, on a reductive view of the matter, she hasn't given me any information that I didn't already possess.
Aside from Collini's rather ill-informed jibes about online reviews which pepper and unbalance his piece, his review is an excellent little essay in defence of literary criticism: "What is going on, I'm tempted to say, is literary criticism, something more ambitious than much everyday reviewing. Such criticism, at its best, involves a sustained attentiveness to how a work of literature achieves its effects plus a focused analysis of what kind of achievement it represents and where that comes in the scale of things."
London-based readers may be interested to know that The Good of the Novel is being discussed at the London Review Bookshop on Monday 16 May at 7.00 p.m.
The admirable Three Percenters have started a podcast:
This week, Tom and Chad talk about the PEN World Voices Festival and the upcoming Best Translation Book Award ceremony. Along the way, they talk about Vladimir Sorokin (his “Siberian earthf***ers” and how he’s not really like Bolaño), the overratedness of Gabriel García Márquez, and the Hungarian author László Krashnahorkai (more...)
When What Ever Happened to Modernism? came out critics and writers pounced on Josipovici’s well-reasoned remarks about the deficiencies found in the works of Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan, Martin Amis and Philip Roth. The local tempest needn’t be recapitulated here, and indeed, Josipovici’s comments on his fellow writers occupy only a few pages of the book. More serious discussion occurred–though not a great deal of it–concerning Josipovici’s argument that Modernism had not found a lasting place in the homeland of Virginia Woolf and Wyndham Lewis, and the adopted home of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. In Josipovici’s view, Modernism is not a style or period of 20th century literary history, but stretches back in time (taking in Cervantes and Wordsworth, for instance), and is closer to a philosophical position. As he says about Mallarmé, Hofmannstahl, Kafka and Beckett – words that may apply as well to Josipovici – they all feel impelled to write, this being the only way they know to be true to their own natures, yet at the same time they find that in doing so they are being false to the world – imposing a shape on it and giving it a meaning which it doesn’t have – and thus, ultimately, being false to themselves. Their works feel like an interference with the world... lacking proper authority they have strayed into a place where they should not be...
In the wake of the stir caused by What Ever Happened to Modernism?, a reader might pick up Only Joking expecting to find it the equivalent of eating something disagreeable yet good for you. This isn’t the case at all. Despite its title (for we’re aware of the irony of that expression, and how seldom it consoles when we’ve been made the butt of a remark), Only Joking is a witty, complex comedy of machinations, mirror figures, sex and love, art, and verbal dexterity. In 2009 Josipovici’s After & Making Mistakes was published: it consists of two novels collected under the same cover, with “Making Mistakes” based on Mozart’s comic opera Cosi fan tutte. For all I know, the same underpinning could be present here. However, there’s enough business with doors, telephones, disguises and cats to qualify Only Joking as a pastiche of British farce.
Jeff Bursey reviews Gabriel Josipovici's Only Joking in the Winnipeg Review.
RSB interviewee Dan Hind was a publisher for more than ten years, working for, among others, Penguin and Random House. In 2009 he left the industry to develop a program of media reform. In The Return of the Public he argued for the democratisation of the media is a prerequisite for self-determinaton and rational political change. As he explained in an interview with New Left Project, “if we want to have an account of the world that is broadly accurate, and that can therefore provide a basis for rational decision-making, we need to create mechanisms in which each citizen has some commissioning power and some publishing power”.
Alberto Barrera Tyszka, in an interview over on MacLehosePress.com:
I have always been interested in fragility, in pain. From this starting point, I connect myself with writing, with readers. Illness, in all its dimensions and possibilities, is an experience that exemplifies human misery very well. It is when we are at our most vulnerable, searching for answers we cannot find. Even more so in these times when there is such an authoritarian pressure to keep oneself healthy and so much blame attached to illness. The obsession with health seems to replace the obsession with death. The novel tells several stories to do with this phenomenon of illness, mostly within the context of a family, who try to maintain affection in these trying circumstances and to find hope (more...)
Literary news from LA:
The Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB) debuted a preview site today as the first step in the two-phase launch of a major literary and cultural arts online magazine. The preview site, which is now available at www.lareviewofbooks.org, will feature essays, book reviews, and interviews from the extensive roster of writers, critics, artists, filmmakers and scholars that currently make up LARB’s prestigious contributors. The launch of LARB’s official website will follow in late 2011.
Triple Canopy’s Sam Frank on a written life: “Saul Bellow hated competition, no matter who it was. And he was seeing the handwriting on the wall in terms of the end of the great period of his quasi-realist enterprise. He said I was writing soufflés or something. I said, elegant soufflés, I agree, but you prefer brisket. The motherfucker was jealous of the gifts I had.” Author Joshua Cohen tells the history of technology’s impact on handwriting and its repercussions, from medieval scriptoria to the LongPen™. Two sonic-mythological poems by German poet Anja Utler are innovatively formatted as text and audio, in German and English. Novelist Sergio De La Pava writes on boxing and metaphor, from Gatti–Ward and Corrales–Castillo to Virgina Woolf.
Triple Canopy announce publication of their eleventh issue, Default Environments.
I mentioned Georges Perec's Art and Craft of Approaching Your Head of Department to Submit a Request for a Raise last Thursday. In the UK it is published by Vintage, but in the US it comes out via Verso (with the slightly shorter, but less winningly pedantic title The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise; same David Bellos translation of the text).
There are so few podcasts worth listening to – Entitled Opinions, In Our Time (unless it's on science), KCRW Bookworm – that is worth drumming out news of a fourth. Colin Marshall's Marketplace of Ideas has been going for a few years but came to my attention only recently when Gabriel Josipovici was interviewed about What Ever Happened to Modernism? If you know of any others of equal quality, please let me know.
So says Steve. And, please, if you do know any decent podcasts, let us know in our respective comment boxes!
Established in 2006, PARRHESIA: A JOURNAL OF CRITICAL PHILOSOPHY is dedicated to publishing the latest work on continental philosophy, along with new translations and interviews with contemporary thinkers:
PARRHESIA is a part of the Open Humanities Press, an international open access publishing collective whose mission is to make leading works of contemporary critical thought freely available worldwide.
PARRHESIA is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License... The contents... are free for any and all to use in educational and non-commercial settings as long as their source is properly attributed.
My reading this evening shall be: Friendship, Asymmetry, Sacrifice: Bataille and Blanchot (PDF) by Patrick ffrench.
World Book Night, taking place on Saturday 5th March 2011...
...is launching with an ambitious website connecting readers across the UK and Ireland with events as they unfold in the build up to World Book Night when one million free books will be given away by 20,000 passionate readers in a high profile celebration of the written word.
The World Book Night site is at worldbooknight.org
Broadcastr.com just went live:
Broadcastr.com is a new, free social-media platform for location-based audio and storytelling. Broadcastr lets people easily create and share recordings on an interactive map. We have apps for the Android and iPhone coming out in the next two weeks that will let users hear an automatic stream of stories based on their physical location, like a museum tour of the entire world.
Not really my cup of tea, but I'm sharing the love!
We focus most strongly at the margins, on the music that others may be blind to. We don’t care whether it is electronic, metal, jazz, folk, classical, noise, world music or whatever. We are as excited by the experimental, as we are exhausted by the ephemeral. We listen. We mosh. We think. We dance. We write words. We capture images. We hope to do justice to the art which inspires us.
We are The Liminal. We welcome all visitors with open ears and eyes.
Excellent new music zine The Liminal: very worthy of your attention.
You've probably read this, and it might be a week or so old, but this is an excellent piece from Johann Hari (who has considerably upped his game over the last year)...
Every one of us owes a debt to Julian Assange. Thanks to him, we now know that our governments are pursuing policies that place you and your family in considerably greater danger. It's only because of his leaks that we know the US government has secretly launched war on yet another Muslim country, sanctioned torture, kidnapped innocent people from the streets of free countries and intimidated the police into hushing it up, and covered up the killing of 15,000 civilians - five times the number killed on 9/11. Each one of these acts has increased the number of jihadis. We can only change these policies if we know about them - and Assange has given us the black-and-white proof (more...)
Ficton Uncovered invited me to contribute to their site. So I wrote about Gabriel Josipovici's fiction...
(The Ficton Uncovered has been down since the weekend, so I'm now reproducing my article in full below...)
In the summer of this year (2010), a critic of some standing (and with over 25 books under his belt) suddenly seemed to cause a silly season media storm for saying in his latest book what he’d said in all his previous ones, and what he’d dedicated a lifetime to articulating. The academic in question is Gabriel Josipovici, the controversial book was What Ever Happened to Modernism?. In it, Josipovici argued that modernism wasn’t confined to the period of Official Modernism at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, that literary art always needs honestly to face modernism’s perennial questions, and that many of today’s most vaunted writers of literary fiction are woefully overrated. I couldn’t agree more strongly with Josipovici in his overall analysis. The media was less convinced. What it particularly seemed to find galling was that an “unknown” academic had the nerve to tell writers how they should write, and implicitly accuse literary journalists of not realising that their novel-writing emperors were inadvertently wandering around without any pants. What, they growled, did a dusty academic really know about fiction?
The question is idiotic, of course. Critics of all forms of art don't have to be practitioners to have useful things to say; indeed, if that was the case, none of us would be allowed to respond to anything. Whatever your view of, say, Brian Sewell, I think we can all agree that he probably can't paint as well as Rubens! The bile directed at Josipovici was yet more idiotic because, firstly, he was not in any way unknown -- countless books, a longstanding contributor for the TLS, JQ etc, and a regular reviewer in the Irish papers to boot. Secondly, and arguably more important, he too is a writer of fiction! Josipovici, it turns out, is a practitioner of some considerable note, with 13 or so books of fiction published over the last few decades. What we have here, then, is precisely the kind of critic the media so often call for: one who really knows what he is talking about, and from the inside.
It is true, however, that Josipivoci is, as a novelist, comparatively unsung (he did win the Somerset Maugham Awards back in 1975). This is a real shame. Whilst his critical work is peerless, it feeds into and comes out of his work as a practitioner. A subject close to Josipovici's heart is that of authority. In short, artists from the dawn of time worked as craftsfolk within a tradition. When tradition began to splinter -- and it is ever-splintering, so choose your own moment of Fall -- artists had to ask themselves: who/what gives me the authority to speak, to write, to paint. Rabelais and Sterne asked this of themselves when, no longer community storytellers, they knew that the printed book would see their words take wings and reach a much wider audience than ever before: but what of their responsibility to their 'audience', now unknown, now so detached from direct contact with them? A connection had been broken in this brave new world. TS Eliot felt the same lack of connection to a world in pieces after WW1. Why should someone listen to Prufrock's woes?
Art without authority forces the question of the responsibility for art back onto the artist. Why am I saying this? To whom? What right do I have? These questions can't be answered archly. These aren't the ingredients for postmodern insouciance. But they are the questions that serious literary artists have to know hang in the air as they write. Of course, heavy questions don't always need earnest answers. Josipovici is a delighfully light, funny and engaging fiction writer. A comedian in the fullest sense: intelligent, knowing, sly. As he punctures others' pomposity, he also laughs at himself. His critical bombshell, What Ever Happened to Modernism?, landed earlier this year, but it followed last year's novellas After & Making Mistakes (published together in one beautiful volume by Carcanet Press) and is followed this autumn by two more books. Hearts Wings and Other Stories collects together a lifetime's worth of short fiction; Only Joking (CB Editions) shows the author at his comic best.
So, Josipovici the critic is someone I'd say you really must read if you want to think carefully about what writing fiction means, but Josipovici the novelist is someone you must read to know what delightful, considered, modern writing actually is.
As Mr Mitchelmore informs us, "to celebrate its fifteenth year, Spike Magazine has created a 600-page PDF book sampling its online output. You can download it for free from the website." As he goes on to explain, Mitchelmore was an early — and key — contributor, and even if he is less than happy about his own excellent contributions, the rest of can only be glad that they are gathered amongst a lot of other goodies herein.
Chris Mitchell, Spike's founding editor, says in his introduction, "there was very little about books or literature on the web". Well, there is plenty of books on the web now, but literature, I'd argue, still has a hard time getting heard. Those of us who followed Spike's example onto the web can only salute, and hope to emulate, it's longevity, but also know that there is a very long way yet to go to create a web journal that is truly worthy of the best writers that we read and seek to comment critically and intelligently upon...
In a paper entitled Outlines of a world coming into existence: Pervasive computing and the ethics of forgetting (running an argument you may be familiar with from Viktor Mayer-Schönberger's book Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age), Martin Dodge and Rob Kitchin examine (sometimes in horrid academese, it must be admitted) "the potential of pervasive computing to create widespread sousveillance, that will complement surveillance, through the development of life-logs; socio-spatial archives that document every action, every event, every conversation, and every material expression of an individual’s life":
Reflecting on emerging technologies, life-log projects and artistic critiques of sousveillance we explore the potential social, political and ethical implications of machines that never forget. We suggest, given that life-logs have the potential to convert exterior generated oligopticons to an interior panopticon, that an ethics of forgetting needs to be developed and built into the development of life-logging technologies. Rather than seeing forgetting as a weakness or a fallibility we argue that it is an emancipatory process that will free pervasive computing from burdensome and pernicious disciplinary effects (more...)
Of course the main requirement of speeches like this is that I'm supposed to talk about your liberal arts education's meaning, to try to explain why the degree you are about to receive has actual human value instead of just a material payoff. So let's talk about the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about quote teaching you how to think. If you're like me as a student, you've never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted by the claim that you needed anybody to teach you how to think, since the fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think. But I'm going to posit to you that the liberal arts cliché turns out not to be insulting at all, because the really significant education in thinking that we're supposed to get in a place like this isn't really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about. If your total freedom of choice regarding what to think about seems too obvious to waste time discussing, I'd ask you to think about fish and water, and to bracket for just a few minutes your skepticism about the value of the totally obvious (more...)
I'm something of a Scribd newbie. Actually, I'm investigating it with my Quercus hat on, wondering how best a publisher might use such a platform — anyone use it particularly well, d'you think? Whilst I'm wandering about, if I see anything particularly interesting, I shall, of course, let you know.
China Miéville is sick of people impersonating him on Facebook, and Facebook doesn't care, so he has written them a public letter (this via Mary Robinette Kowal's Journal, but is being distributed widely):
I know lots of people enjoy being on Facebook. Great. More power to them. Vaya con Dios. Me, though: not my thing. I have absolutely no interest in it. I am not now nor have I ever been a Facebook member. Short of some weird Damascene moment, I will not ever join Facebook – and if that unlikely event occurs, I promise I’ll tell you immediately. In the meantime, though, as a matter of urgency, as a matter of courtesy, as a matter of decency, please respond to my repeated requests:
- Please delete all profiles claiming to be me (with or without the accent on the ‘é’ – last time I looked, I found one ‘China Mieville’, and one more accurately rendered).
- Please do not allow anyone else to impersonate me. I have neither time nor inclination to trawl your listings regularly to see if another bizarre liar has sprung up.
- And while you’re at it, please institute a system whereby those of us with the temerity not to sign up to your service can still contact you on these matters and actually get a [insert cuss-word] answer more...
Not many writers write from both the right and left brains, but Jacques Roubaud bridges that chasm much like an expert martial artist—in a way that makes it seem simple. Or not. Roubaud is an encompassing author. He writes through a full spectrum of the “simple” (i.e. his poetry for children) to mind-bogglingly dense pieces underpinned by mathematical concepts incomprehensible to many left-brained creative folks. After all, the title for his first book was a mathematical symbol—graphic and discrete, yet to explain what it means would take more words than I have been allotted.
Then there’s his life. Child of French Resistance parents. Member of Oulipo, short for the Ouvroir de Litterature Poténtialle, commonly translated as “Workshop for Potential Literature.” Inventor of the “clandestine hunger strike” during his tour of duty in Algiers and translator of Lewis Carroll. University professor of mathematics, but not “a very important one,” as he says, “I didn’t want power!” Survivor of tragedy—World War II, the early death of his wife. Writer through prodigious memory, therefore inevitably grappling with Proust, with whom one senses Roubaud has a wary relationship. But Roubaud himself is now a revered figure in French literature—a postwar writer who, thanks to the ongoing invention of “constraints” demanded by Oulipo, always seems cutting edge...
At one point in Chris Petit’s haunting new film Content, we drive through Felixstowe container port. It was an uncanny moment for me, since Felixstowe is only a couple of miles from where I live – what Petit filmed could have been shot from our car window. What made it all the more uncanny was the fact that Petit never mentions that he is in Felixstowe; the hangars and looming cranes are so generic that I began to wonder if this might not be a doppelgänger container port somewhere else in the world. All of this somehow underlined the way Petit’s text describes these “blind buildings” while his camera tracks along them: “non-places”, “prosaic sheds”, “the first buildings of a new age” which render “architecture redundant”.
Content could be classified as an essay film, but it’s less essayistic than aphoristic. This isn’t to say that it’s disconnected or incoherent: Petit himself has called Content a “21st-century road movie, ambient”, and its reflections on ageing and parenthood, terrorism and new media are woven into a consistency that’s non-linear, but certainly not fragmentary (more...)
I'm interested in the way a whole stratum of the liberal literati (Rushdie, to some extent Ian McEwan, A C Grayling, obviously Amis and Hitchens) - the very people you'd have expected to be guardians of the liberal flame of tolerance and understanding - have, at the very first assault, rushed into these caricatured postures driven by panic. I'm very struck by how those who are making ugly, illiberal, supremacist noises about the superiority of the west are precisely the sort of literary and liberal characters from whom you'd expect more imagination, openness and sensitivity...
The latest issue of The Quarterly Conversation has landed "with essays on Nobel laureate Herta Mueller, Jonathan Swift, Per Petterson, and more, plus 19 reviews, includin William Gaddis, Jose Manuel Prieto, and Gilbert Sorrentino, and interviews with David Shields and others."
They also have an all-new blog: "The Constant Conversation [has] a group of contributors drawn from TQC's ranks, the site delivers book news, reviews, and fresh links every day."
The centrality of melancholy to Sebald's work is probably the equivalent of Bernhard's cynicism; manifestations, that is, of contingent facts of life: the peace of the East Anglian landscapes, for example, compared to the venal denial of Vienna. Writers become who they are for many reasons, some more obvious than others. Self's thesis is that distance from Germany and closeness to the Jewish community in Manchester guided Sebald's determination to bare witness to the Holocaust and thereby help to remove the taint on Germany. But more than that: to bare witness to the presence of destruction in the peace of the English present. He writes about the destruction of German cities by the Allies and the destruction of nature in the abattoir of industry. Self's lecture is particularly welcome for bringing the English taint to our attention (more...)
Excellent post over on This Space which ranges from Amis through to Bernhard and W.G. Sebald...
I'm not a great one for reading challenges (it is, as I've written before, sometimes quite enough of a challenge simply to read anything at all), but as 2010 has seemingly become my "Year of Shakespeare" I'm thinking of joining the folk over at 38 Plays: 38 Days in their effort at reading each of Shakespeare's 38 plays in as many days...
Yes, it is a somewhat brutal rush through a corpus that should be lovingly savoured but, at the same time, I'm rather excited by the idea that by early April I could have read the whole lot and then I might know which ones I need to return to (to do the loving savouring bit) sooner rather than later.
Genius -- as ever -- from The Onion:
In this big dramatic production that didn't do anyone any good (and was pretty embarrassing, really, if you think about it), thousands upon thousands of phonies across the country mourned the death of author J.D. Salinger, who was 91 years old for crying out loud. "He had a real impact on the literary world and on millions of readers," said hot-shot English professor David Clarke, who is just like the rest of them, and even works at one of those crumby schools that rich people send their kids to so they don't have to look at them for four years. "There will never be another voice like his." Which is exactly the lousy kind of goddamn thing that people say, because really it could mean lots of things, or nothing at all even, and it's just a perfect example of why you should never tell anybody anything (more...)
Owen Hatherley, author of Militant Modernism, and RSB interviewee too, of course, has a wonderful entry about that finest of Southern cities, Southampton, up on his sit down man, you're a bloody tragedy blog:
The main reason for all this obsessive city-cataloguing, this rewriting and rewriting of the same piece - other than certain writing commitments combined with residual guilt from endlessly complaining about the place's provincialism despite my (and almost all my former Southampton friends) contributing to this in our small way, by fucking off to London or even further at the earliest opportunity - is that Southampton presents itself as a puzzle. Every time I go there the question 'how did this happen?' presents itself. How did this city, which by all accounts was once the undisputed regional capital (a perusal of The Buildings of England's extremely complimentary 1966 entry on the city is instructive here) get to the point where an entire stretch of its centre, as large as a small town, was given over to a gigantic retail park? How is it that the 16th largest city in the country has the 3rd highest level of violent crime and the 3rd worst exam results, despite being central to one of the most affluent counties? And does any of this have anything to do with the fact that the city contains what was, when built, the largest urban mall in Britain? (More...)
Those dear friends from other fine Southern towns, for instance Portsmouth, are invited not to comment!
Hans Ulrich Obrist in conversation with Raoul Vaneigem over at Info Exchange:
HUO: Today, more than forty years after May ‘68, how do you feel life and society have evolved?
RV: We are witnessing the collapse of financial capitalism. This was easily predictable. Even among economists, where one finds even more idiots than in the political sphere, a number had been sounding the alarm for a decade or so. Our situation is paradoxical: never in Europe have the forces of repression been so weakened, yet never have the exploited masses been so passive. Still, insurrectional consciousness always sleeps with one eye open. The arrogance, incompetence, and powerlessness of the governing classes will eventually rouse it from its slumber, as will the progression in hearts and minds of what was most radical about May 1968 (more...)
blinkbox.com "is a premium movie and TV site that allows you to stream or download the best programming on the web." They have "over 5,000 movies and TV shows to choose from" which you can purchase or rent, but, on top of that, they have lots of free movies. Normally, I wouldn't bother to mention such a website, but the free movies include Caravaggio, The Draughtsman's Contract, Death And The Compass and Patrick Keiller's superb London and its follow-up Robinson in Space.
There's nothing that Open Book likes more than browsing and discovering the forgotten treasures of the literary world - books that have been overlooked or become inexplicably out of vogue.
With Neglected Classics we're digging out some of the lost works and forgotten authors of the world of literature.
Ten of our best known authors have nominated the books that they feel most deserve to be re-read and reinstated onto our bookshelves.
We want you to vote for the title that most appeals to you and the winner will be dramatised on Radio 4 in 2010.
You may recall Luther Blissett's Q from four or five years back. Well, because the Luther Blissett "shared name" is dead, the Italian anarchists who wrote Q under that moniker now write as Wu Ming. They have a new book out, called Manituana, following their earlier 54. More details about this via the Manituana website.
Litro is "a free monthly literary magazine that publishes new, original short fiction that excites us and offers a creative alternative to disposable free papers. Previous contributors include Irvine Welsh, Yiyun Li, Glyn Maxwell, Benjamin Zephaniah and Andrew Crumey. Litro is published by Ocean Media and 100000 copies are distributed monthly around London and the UK, including in underground stations, libraries, galleries, bars and cafes, as well as online."
As you would expect, they also have a blog, mostly written by the novelist Ali Shaw, which is just beginning to take shape.
Oh, when am I not busy! Anyway, today I seem even busier than ever... So, a few web goodies to tide y'all over:
- lots of Ezra Pound links from orbis quintus (I've always been an Eliot man rather than a Pound-head, but I'll be taking the Cantos away with me on my next trip to London so maybe that'll change soon...)
- did Joyce coin 'blog'?
- John Self on Zweig Stefan (as my bloglines feed has it!)
- John Berger archive at the British Library
- anyone else going to the TLS party on Thursday? email me if you are...
Today is Bloomsday, of course. literaryhistory.com has a useful "selective list of online literary criticism for James Joyce, favoring signed articles by recognized scholars, articles published in reviewed sources, and web sites that comply with MLA guidelines."
Issue 13 of The Drawbridge contains work by Mario Vargas Llosa, Shalom Auslander, José Saramago, Paul Verhaeghen and Samanta Schweblin. Looks worthy of your attention.
blogRank "uses over 20 different factors to rank the blogs in any category. Some of the factors include: RSS membership, incoming links, Compete, Alexa, and Technorati ranking, and social sites popularity."
According to the blogRank ranking ReadySteadyBook is the 21st most popular literary blog out there. Indeed, RSB is the only British blog on the list, aside from the London Review of Books website which most certainly is not a blog. It's an odd list -- a book site list rather than a blog list really -- but it is interesting to be well-placed on a chart which is created via such an array of data.
"[T]he curious name of the protagonist, Aue (which looks like the Latin word for hail or hello), certainly didn’t strike me immediately as German, but did seem vaguely familiar. Then memory works: Hartmann von Aue, the mediaeval German narrative poet, whose major poem, Gregorius, tells the story of brother-sister love, and their incest, from which a child is born who will go on to find himself, ignorant as Oedipus, years later in bed with his mother. This is, of course, the story that Thomas Mann renewed for our time in his late novel, The Holy Sinner. So meeting Aue’s name already makes the unconscious mind of the translator, and of the reader, stir with anticipations of incest and outrage — the very emotional core of The Kindly Ones, in fact." Charlotte Mandell writes about translating TKO over on beatrice.com.
Why there is a close relationship between poetry and philosophy, or more generally between literature and philosophy? It’s because philosophy finds in literature some examples of completely new forms of the destiny of the human subject. And precisely new forms of the concrete becoming of the human subject when this subject is confronted to its proper truth.
I name figure this textual presentation of forms of the subjective truth. The figures are of great interest for a philosophical theory of the subject. My example today will be some figures that we discover in the novels of Samuel Beckett (more...)
Litopia After Dark with Martyn Daniels on the Google books settlement.
The most thrilling stretch of Reborn is its beginning, where we get a sustained look at a heretofore entirely mythical creature: the teenage Susan Sontag. As a grown-up, Sontag was so relentlessly, categorically adult that the very notion of a “teenage Sontag” (I imagine her eating sno-cones, lip-synching into a hairbrush, giggling) threatens to tear open some kind of existential wormhole, like a “male Gloria Steinem.” And yet here she is, at 15, a steaming vat of molten adolescence—possibly the most eloquently self-dramatizing teen of all time. She stays up all night reading André Gide (“Gide and I have attained such perfect intellectual communion,” she writes, “that I experience the appropriate labor pains for every thought he gives birth to!”), uses the word aye unironically, and nearly wears the needle off her turntable playing Mozart records. She compiles epic lists for self-improvement: books to read, difficult vocabulary, central beliefs (“the only difference between human beings is intelligence”). She strains mightily against the philistinism of middle-class life with her mother and stepfather: “Wasted the evening with Nat. He gave me a driving lesson and then I accompanied him and pretended to enjoy a Technicolor blood-and-thunder movie.” When she gets to Berkeley she reads poetry aloud and walks around with friends speaking “brilliantly” (her description) about “everything from Bach cantatas to Mann’s Faustus to pragmatism to hyperbolic functions to the Cal Labor School to Einstein’s theory of curved space.” (More...)
Welcome to Danteworlds...
... an integrated multimedia journey -- combining artistic images, textual commentary, and audio recordings -- through the three realms of the afterlife (Inferno, Purgatory, Paradise) presented in Dante's Divine Comedy. The site is structured around a visual representation of Dante's worlds: it shows who and what appear where. Click on regions within each realm (circles of Hell, terraces of Purgatory, spheres of Paradise) to open new pages featuring people and creatures whom the character Dante meets during his journey. Click on individual figures in the regions to view larger images in pop-up windows. Available for each region are explanatory notes, a gallery of artistic images, recordings of significant Italian verses, and study questions -- all aimed at enriching the experience of reading Dante's poetic vision of a voyage literally out of this world (more...)
Most poetry in the modern age has retreated to the private sphere, turning its back on the political realm. The two intersect only in such absurd anomalies as the poet laureateship. But whereas Andrew Motion does his bit to keep the monarchy in business, one of the greatest of English poets played his part in subverting it. John Milton, who was born in Cheapside 400 years ago today, published a political tract two weeks after the beheading of Charles I, arguing that all sovereignty lay with the people, who could depose and even execute a monarch if he betrayed their trust (more...)
Scott McLemee on Negri (in BookForum):
Four new works by Negri appeared in English in 2008 — the year we all found ourselves well downstream from that era when debate over globalization and its discontents took the form of extrapolating long-term trends. The problem now is to find a way through the ruins. I have been studying the books in a state of heightened (indeed, strained) attention — with powers of concentration periodically stimulated and shattered by arteriosclerotic convulsions in the world’s financial markets — but also through tears in my eyes.
They are tears of perplexity and frustration. It is not that Negri’s most recent books pose difficulties, both conceptual and programmatic, that his earlier ones did not. The ambiguities have been there all along, as have the opacities. Still, they seemed poetic—not just in that terms like Empire and Multitude possessed a certain evocative, science-fictional luminosity, but also in something like the root sense of poesis. They did not simply name possibilities; they seemed to create a new thing in the world, if only by inciting the political imagination to new efforts. But the latest books do not have that quality. Negri’s analysis of the emerging system is itself a system — if not a world unto itself — and the movement of his thought is now largely centripetal (more...)
Sarah Kerr writing in the NYRB on The Triumph of Roberto Bolaño:
Well beyond his sometimes nomadic life, Roberto Bolaño was an exemplary literary rebel. To drag fiction toward the unknown he had to go there himself, and then invent a method with which to represent it. Since the unknown place was reality, the results of his work are multi-dimensional, in a way that runs ahead of a critic's one-at-a-time powers of description. Highlight Bolaño's conceptual play and you risk missing the sex and viscera in his work. Stress his ambition and his many references and you conjure up threats of exclusive high-modernist obscurity, or literature as a sterile game, when the truth is it's hard to think of a writer who is less of a snob, or—in the double sense of exposing us to unsavory things and carrying seeds for the future—less sterile (more...)
BookTrib is a new, US-based aggregator which claims it is "the place where you can find all the book news that matters from all over the web. It’s also the home of The Great American Book Giveaway, where every week you can win books -- free books -- no strings."
At the moment, all the links on their homepage seem to be to the Complete Review's Literary Saloon, but presumably they'll get this sorted:
BookTrib is the result of our endless searching for book news, reviews, and gossip. We yearned for a single place, a starting point, where we could find all the book news as it’s updated, all the time. That’s what BookTrib is, an aggregator that gathers the best, the most outrageous, the most fun, informative, and creative blogs that relate to books and puts them all in one easy to find place.
The Auteurs' Glenn Kenny reports on Un Homme Qui Dort, Perec and Queysanne's 1974 film of Perec's book of the same name (thanks Robin):
In the early '70s Perec and his friend Bernard Queysanne, a filmmaker whose experience had heretofore been as an assistant director, teamed up to make a film of the book Un Homme Qui Dort. While much of the film's narration — which comprises the entirety of the film's verbal content; there is no dialogue — is taken directly from the novel, Perec jettisoned the book's linear structure in favor of, Bellos explains, "a mathematical construction. After the prologue (part 0, so to speak) there are six sections. The six sections are interchangeable in the sense that the same objects, places, and movements are shown in each, but they are all filmed from different angles and edited into different order, in line with the permutations of the sestina. The text and the music are similarly organized in six-part permutations, and then edited and mixed so that the words are out of phase with the image except at apparently random moments, the last of which — the closing sequence — is not random at all but endowed with an overwhelming sense of necessity." (More...)
Highlights: John G. Rodwan, Jr., finds The Same Man -- David Lebedoff’s provocative double biography of Evelyn Waugh and George Orwell -- “unpalatable”; Irma Heldman finds that P. D. James’s latest -- perhaps last -- mystery novel, The Private Patient, “delivers the best that P.D. James has to give”; and Sam Sacks actually likes the Booker-Prize-winning (and, to my mind, utterly undeserving) The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga.
Bored with ELF!? I've not read anything published by these folk, but they look like they might be interesting: Fiction Collective Two "is an author-run, not-for-profit publisher of artistically adventurous, non-traditional fiction. FC2 is supported in part by the University of Utah, the University of Houston - Victoria, University of Alabama Press, Illinois State University, and private contributors."
Of course, just as "Booker-winner" is code for dull, dull, dull, experimental fiction can be code for all over the place, but, regardless, FC2 might be worth y'all taking a look at.
We live in an era when ideals of human rights have moved centre stage both politically and ethically. A great deal of energy is expended in promoting their significance for the construction of a better world. But for the most part the concepts circulating do not fundamentally challenge hegemonic liberal and neoliberal market logics, or the dominant modes of legality and state action. We live, after all, in a world in which the rights of private property and the profit rate trump all other notions of rights. I here want to explore another type of human right, that of the right to the city (more...)
You will have no doubt heard about the accusations against Milan Kundera. One notes, just like every commentator who has no access to the documents and so is in absolutely no position to judge, that the accusations seem to be based on very little.
This is a good rejoinder (from euro|topics):
In the daily El País the Czech writer Monika Zgustova criticises the accusations levelled at her fellow countryman, the writer Milan Kundera, who, on the basis of secret service documents, is suspected of denouncing an anti-communist activist to the police in 1950.
"How can an accusation with such grave consequences be made on the basis of a single dubious document and use so many vague expressions? Dubious because in the Czechoslovakia of the 1950s it was routine for the police to receive denunciations, for every police official who received a denunciation could be sure of being awarded a medal ... Both the Czech and the international press were quick to comment on the article [in Respekt] and to spread the accusations against Kundera. In this way we became witnesses ... to something very grave: we were witness to massive accusations against a person in the midst of democracy, without the documents referred to even being questioned, without knowing whether there were any other documents, without hearing other witnesses and above all without listening to the accused's own version of the events."
The second issue of the Radical Anthropology Group's journal Radical Anthropology is now online (PDF format, I'm afraid) with an excellent article on The Scarcity Myth: What hunter-gathers can teach us about sharing (Stone Age Economics by Marshall Sahlins might be your follow-up reading), and interviews with a combative Noam Chomsky and with Lionel Sims, Principal Lecturer in Anthropology and Anthropology at the University of East London, who "decodes Stonehenge" for us.
This whole issue of optimism and pessimism, cynicism and utopianism—these issues will always be with us. Always you can draw up this double list. Always. You can draw up this double list you started to draw up, which is a terrifying list which shows we are still going to stupid wars and still violating people’s liberties and all of that is true. You can’t deny it. On the other hand, you can also draw up a list which says there is a greater consciousness today in this country about the rights of women than there was twenty years ago. There is a greater consciousness of people to sexual privacy. A greater consciousness about that. And the problem is—and there is a greater consciousness of the futility of war–it’s a consciousness which can be set aside when [there’s] a fusillade of propaganda from the government and it’s echoed by the press, and that’s what happened in the Iraq war (more...)
Talking about The JC.com, Nicholas Murray writes a brief demolition in its pages of James Hawes' recent study, Excavating Kafka. Hawes condemns Kakfa scholarship for creating and cultivating "the K. myth" of a saintly, tortured, unknown artist. He quite rightly calls this a nonsense and uses... Kafka scholarship to prove his point! So, Murray (author of a recent Kafka biography himself) nails the biggest absurdity of the book in his review: "it is Hawes's mission to remind us that he liked upmarket porn, consorted with prostitutes, and treated his women rather badly, none of which will be news to anyone who has any basic knowledge of Kafka derived from recent biography."
But Hawes' book isn't all bad. Most Kafka scholarship does have something of an awed tone towards its subject and Hawes is refreshingly cross about this. He seems to dislike Kafka the man as much as he values his work, and he wishes to get the man full square out of the way so that readers can concentrate on his writing free of biographical distractions. But Hawes has created new biographical distractions of his own (his reaction to Kafka's "porn stash" -- omigosh, heterosexual man likes pictures of noody ladies shock! -- is adolescent and priggish in the extreme) and he offers little in the way of new, critical comment on the work. For all that, I enjoyed Excavating Kafka. It is punchy and impassioned and written with some verve, but Kafka and his work remain just as enigmatic after reading Hawes' essay as they do before you begin. And that is only right.
The Jewish Chronicle online seems to have opened up its articles' archive. Search for Josipovici, for instance, and you get a whole pile of priceless reviews from the man himself. Go play!
A good piece in the latest Adbusters on 'hipsters' (which I confess I don't take ordinarily).
With nothing to defend, uphold or even embrace, the idea of "hipsterdom" is left wide open for attack. And yet, it is this ironic lack of authenticity that has allowed hipsterdom to grow into a global phenomenon that is set to consume the very core of Western counterculture. Most critics make a point of attacking the hipster’s lack of individuality, but it is this stubborn obfuscation that distinguishes them from their predecessors, while allowing hipsterdom to easily blend in and mutate other social movements, sub-cultures and lifestyles.
It's a variation on the theme of the 'end of Bohemia' but powerfully written and points to the tedium of apolitical contemporary culture – this goes beyond music and the counter-culture, but also, I think, infects literature (choose your own offender).
The Summer 2008 edition of The Quarterly Conversation is up online -- and the site has a neat new look and feel (and RSS feed). Particularly noteworthy is the interview with Christophe Claro author of Madman Bovary (recently reviewed here on ReadySteadyBook).
As most of you will know, The Quarterly Conversation is the brainchild of Scott Esposito. Something I should've mentioned previously is Scott's excellent review of J.J. Long's W.G. Sebald: Image, Archive, Modernity.
Tom refers me to an article on reader's block:
The Guardian ... published an article on "reader's block", that tendency to buy books and never read them or to start them and not finish them. Apparently spending on books in Britain (£4.4bn per year) is rising faster than any other country in Europe while the number of hours spent reading books is declining.
For anyone who has ever been crassly sub-edited, Giles Coren's very angry and wonderfully pedantic letter to the Times' subs is a cathartic must-read (via the snowblog).
Inexpert though I am in all other fields, I am a connoisseur of sleep. Actually, my speciality is not sleep itself, but the hinterland of sleep, the point of entry to unconsciousness. One of my earliest memories of sensual pleasure (though there must have been earlier, watery ones) is of lying on my stomach in bed, the bedtime story told, lights out (not the hall, leave the door open, no, more than that), the eiderdown heavy and over my head, my face in the pillow, adjusted so that I had just enough air to breathe. I recall how acutely aware I was of being perfectly physically comfortable, as heimlich as I ever had been or ever would be, and no small part of the comfort was the delicious prospect of falling slowly into sleep. Drifting off. Moving off, away, out of mindfulness. Leaving behind. Relaxing into hypnagogia (a condition I may always have known about and desired, if not been able to name), anticipating the blurring of consciousness.
I feel that Beckett's thinking has been misrepresented. That's one reason I wrote The Philosophy of Samuel Beckett. At one Beckett conference in America I mentioned Beckett's view, expressed in Worstword Ho, that one reason for human existence is that pain should exist. And one professor actually said, 'I can't teach that to my students, I'd lose my job!' There may be many people who believe that while pain surrounds us all the time it is somehow constructive to try to ignore it. Beckett doesn't. His thinking is very close to Schopenhauer's in this, although I think by the time he discovered him he'd already come to the same conclusions. Schopenhauer thinks that everything is caused by a kind of Will: Nature has a Will that for him is evil, the cause of suffering. Standard religions - not so much Hinduism or Buddhism - of course, deny this. Beckett asks deeply searching questions about conventional beliefs. Why should a god want to be worshipped, admired, praised? All we're doing is replacing a parental figure with a god: Please, daddy, give me this.
As a young man, Beckett read Schopenhauer again and again...
... and not only because of his beautiful style, despite his claims to the contrary. Schopenhauer’s pessimism was very close to Beckett’s own, and he was to heed the three ways of enduring the misery of existence that Schopenhauer recommended: art, or aesthetic contemplation, compassion, and resignation.
In a fascinating short essay in James Knowlson and John Pilling's Frescoes of the Skull: the later prose and drama of Samuel Beckett (1979), Pilling writes:
Beckett's admiration for Heinrich von Kleist's Über das Marionettentheater, written in 1810 [Kleist shot himself a year later], emerged clearly in October 1976 during rehearsals of the first production on BBC television of his recent television play Ghost Trio...
It is not at all surprising, of course, that Beckett should have been so strongly attracted to Kleist's essay. For trapped as he is by his own consciousness of self, Beckett's man yearns to escape from the limitations of his mortal state ... his sense of the disaster of self-consciousness in man (and the inadequacy of the human intellect to arrive at any form of salvation) finds an unusually faithful echo in Kleist's remarkable essay.
If you want to read Kleist's essay for yourself, Idris Parry's translation is online at the Southern Cross Review.
The Translators Association of the Society of Authors celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion they have compiled a list of the 50 outstanding literary translations from the last 50 years.
My friend Joe Bageant's book Deer Hunting With Jesus explains through personal stories his brutal assessment of just how strong the class system in the US really is, why the classes are and always have been at war, and why that plays perfectly into the hands of the right-wing political and economic interests there. These are stories about the people Joe grew up with and calls friends, and to write about their lives so bluntly and candidly is an act of incredible courage and honesty.
This is a society where poverty and illness are stigmatized as symptoms of laziness, ignorance and self-neglect, a society built on two-way class vs class fear of the unknown and misunderstood. The principal determinant of one's class in America, and the hermetic worldview that comes with it, is education.
More than anything, Deer Hunting With Jesus is a plea to those of progressive inclination to meet with their working-class peers, at a grass-roots level, to understand how they live, how they think, and why they think that way, and to find, as hard as it will be to do so, common cause with them against the corporatist exploiters and their right-wing political and religious handmaidens, and common cause for universal health care, quality education for all, a fair pension and a decent wage for a day's work -- the end of the "dead-end social construction that all but guarantees failure".
In How Fiction Works Wood holds up Flaubert as the turning point in the novel's becoming modern: for introducing, all in one package, acute visualisation, a lack of sentimentality, unshowy narration and, above all, an instinct for "truth", no matter how unpalatable. For Wood, this is a moral mission. Flaubert is bent upon a scrupulous investigation of how people really are. But the problem is that Flaubert also seems to represent the novel's endgame for Wood. As a yardstick, Wood's strictly defined ideal of the real leaves him a restricted space in which to move as a critic, and the novel little wriggle room to develop further. It is not nearly as flexible as Kundera's more historical understanding of the novel, as a kind of enlightened mindset, which leaves room for its form to shift and evolve. For in spite of the fact that Wood's books pay lip-service to (and borrow much of their gravitas from) Kundera's two chief preoccupations, scepticism and humour, Wood lacks his cannier understanding that novels are also always strategic. (No wonder Wood, who never openly acknowledges his debt to Kundera, and who differs so fundamentally on the issue of an author's freedoms to self-consciously reflect upon such matters in his work, distances himself from that author at the beginning of How Fiction Works with a snide comment about the lack of "inkiness" in The Art of the Novel.)
A new review of an old classic: Thomas McGonigle takes a look at B.S. Johnson's The Unfortunates ("the British author's experimental novel is made up of sections that can be changed at random so that no two readings are the same).
McGonigle's review begins:
The writer B.S. Johnson was one of a handful of modern authors -- among others, Alan Burns, Ann Quin, Zulfikar Ghose -- who extended the range of the English novel by moving beyond the innovations of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. Johnson was trivialized by a ferociously traditional British literary establishment wedded to the conventional realistic novel. He committed suicide in 1973, but thanks to his very loyal readers, his novels continue to be reprinted because they are so deeply human, formally innovative and pay microscopic attention to detail.
Right, now you have no excuse: Reading Marx’s Capital with David Harvey (thanks Rowan!)
Fair use, digitization, public domain, archiving, the role of libraries and cultural heritage are intricately interconnected. But the name that connects all these issues over the last few years has been Google. The Institute has covered Google's incursions into digitization of libraries (amongst other things) in a way that has explored many of these issues - and raised questions that are as urgent as ever. Is it okay to privatize vast swathes of our common cultural heritage? What are the privacy issues around technology that tracks online reading? Where now for copyright, fair use and scholarly research?
In-depth coverage of Google and digitization has helped to draw out many of the issues central to this blog. Thus, in drawing forth the narrative of if:book's Google coverage is, by extension, to watch a political and cultural stance emerging. So in this post I've tried to have my cake and eat it - to trace a story, and to give a sense of the depth of thought going into that story's discussion.
More at if:book.
Via Pages Turned:
“We are not only what we read,” says Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University and the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. “We are how we read.” Wolf worries that the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace (Is Google Making Us Stupid?)
Sam Golden Rule Jones acts as moderator for the discussion and we’re joined by a host of Walser lovers who will take turns discussing the author and his work. Susan Bernofsky’s afterword to the book is already up, as is Sam’s introduction. Head over to the page and take a look, and be sure to check back often as we roll out work from Tom Whalen, Damion Searls, Tamara Evans, Mark Harman, Millay Hyatt, Jonathon Taylor, Bernhard Echte, Peter Utz, James Tweedie and others. We hope that after reading the commentary from our group of artists, writers, scholars, and Walser translators and aficionados, you’ll feel moved to add your own thoughts over at our Walser Discussion Forum.
Over at the interesting looking Triple Canopy magazine, amongst other goodies you can find the first complete English translation of Bolaño's 1999 speech accepting the Rómulo Gallegos Prize for his novel The Savage Detectives (translated by David Noriega).
So, like an excited young puppy, yesterday I woke early and ran to the local shops to buy a copy of the Sunday Times. My first ever review for that prestigious organ was due to appear and I was beside myself with glee and anticipation.
I grabbed the paper, flung the correct change at the newsagent, and opened the paper. There it was. My review. In glorious black and white type. And -- wait a minute! what's this? -- credited to the poet Anthony Thwaite. I was gutted! Floored! And me poor mother ... well, I doubt she'll ever recover.
Happily, the review is now attributed correctly online. So if you want to see my take on The Dying Game: A Curious History of Death by Melanie King pop over to the TimesOnline.
Issue 3 of The International Literary Quarterly is now online featuring new work by Geoffrey Hartman, Irina Ratushinskaya, Marjorie Agosin, Zulfikar Ghose, Roberta Gordenstein, Michael Blumenthal, Jill Dawson, C.J.K. Arkell, Anthony Rudolf and Denise Duhamel. Artwork is by Cuban artist Lydia Rubio.
In Procrastination Lit (via the Literary Saloon) Jessica Winter looks at "great novels about wasting time" -- though she includes non-novels such as Geoff Dyer's Out of Sheer Rage. Lots of Thomas Bernhard too!
Anyone out there know anything about John Edgar Wideman's Fanon which is mentioned in the piece? Looks interesting.
I interviewed the excellent Clay Shirky the other week over on the The Book Depository. And I heartily recommend Clay's book Here Comes Everybody to anyone interested in web-culture. Indeed, go and see how impressive he is by watching the video I've just posted over on Editor's Corner (which I sourced from LibrarianInBlack) where Clay talks about gin, sit-coms and "cognitive surplus".
Good pal of ReadySteadyBook, Ken Worpole, writes about children's street games and the importance of play in underpinning a free society (via Booksurfer):
As the events of 1968 are commemorated, it is worth noting that it was the postwar celebration of children's play that anticipated the reclamation of the street as a domain of political liberty. Even the Opies realised that many children's games were an implicit form of political protest, as when they saw that dangerous games of risk such as Last Across the Road were an "impulse of the tribe" against the encroachment of the car into their sacred territory. This position was endorsed by the anarchist Colin Ward in his seminal 1970s book, The Child in the City, the last great expression of belief in the power of play to turn the street and the playground, if not the world, upside down (more...)
Booktrust, which runs the translated fiction website, is committed to encouraging people of all ages and cultures to discover and enjoy reading. We are proud to be able to expand our work into the world of translated fiction and believe we are well placed to celebrate and broaden readers’ awareness of these amazing novels.
We also want to support the authors who wrote the books in the first place, and the publishers who have committed themselves to publishing these books in a highly competitive and increasing homogeneous market.
"My editor thought that a column on French theory would elicit a small number of responses from readers interested in continental philosophy. More than 600 comments later, it is clear that terms like deconstruction and postmodernism still have the capacity to produce excitement and outrage." Stanley Fish revisits his original French Theory in America post from last month and responds to commenters.
Mark Athitakis brings my attention to a public discussion between James Wood and Jonathan Franzen (the latter cattily saying that "the stupidest person in New York City is currently the lead reviewer of fiction for the New York Times" i.e. Michiko Kakutani):
The relation between those who create art and those who critique it is notoriously fraught, something that was evident quickly to the standing-room only crowd in Sever Hall last night that watched novelist Jonathan Franzen face English professor James Wood, who has been one of his toughest critics (more...)
Ooh, I am in a linking mood today!
Cortázar belonged to the boom generation of Latin American writers who broke new ground with their works during the 1950s and 1960s. His literary career, which lasted almost 40 years, includes short stories, novels, plays, poetry, translations, and essays of literary criticism. His work is strongly influenced by surrealism with attempting to raise consciousness above reality in his fantastical short stories. He combined existential questioning with experimental writing techniques in his works and many of his stories follow the logic of hallucinations and obsessions.
"Eurozine is a network of European cultural journals, linking up 70 partner journals and just as many associated magazines and institutions from nearly all European countries. Eurozine is also a netmagazine which publishes outstanding articles from its partner journals with additional translations into one of the major European languages" (via wood s lot which brought my attention to the article On the economy of moralism and working class properness).
The Modernist Journals Project collects literary arts journals from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including both issues of Wyndham Lewis' Vorticist manifesto Blast, the first ten years of Poetry magazine (with Amy Lowell, T.S. Eliot, G.K. Chesterton and foreign correspondent Ezra Pound), topical essays, the Virginia Woolf-inspired December 1910 Project, the amazing proto-dada zine Le Petit Journal des Réfusées and a searchable biographical database of famous and not so famous artists and writers (via MetaFilter; thanks Steve!)
I've just posted an interview with web-superstar Clay Shirky over on The Book Depository site (Shirky is the author of Here Comes Everybody, the book-puff of which runs thusly: "Our age’s new technologies of social networking are evolving, and evolving us. New groups are doing new things in new ways, and we’re doing the old things better and more easily. Business models are being transformed at dizzying speeds, and the larger social impact is in a way so profound that it’s under-appreciated. In Here Comes Everybody, one of the culture’s wisest observers give us his lucid and penetrating analysis on what this means for what we do and who we are.")
Sharon Blackie is the author of The Long Delirious Burning Blue, translator of Raymond Federman's memoir of Samuel Beckett, The Sam Book, and editor of the forthcoming Cleave: New Writing by Women in Scotland and Riptide: New Writing from the Highlands and Islands. She has a croft in the north-west Highlands of Scotland and in her spare time runs Two Ravens Press with her husband, David Knowles (publishers of recent RSB Book of the Week Auschwitz by Angela Morgan Cutler).
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.
Decent George Steiner profile in the Guardian on Saturday:
Visitors to George Steiner's house in Cambridge are likely to be greeted at the door by Ben, an enormous Old English sheepdog. Like his owners, Ben is used to dealing with the press. "Monsieur Ben, the French call him," Steiner says. "French journalists in particular are always fascinated by him." Ben has appeared, Steiner notes, on the cover of a distinguished literary journal. Is it true that he has discriminating taste in music? "Ravel's Bolero - he growls. But he is fond of Tchaikovsky." "And Duke Ellington," Steiner's wife Zara, a Cambridge historian, adds from across the kitchen (more...)
I'm back from the London Book Fair. I had an excellent time and met some lovely people, but right now I'm really, really shattered!
So, whilst I recover (drink lots of tea, cuddle the dogs), go read a piece about Simon Critchley (via wood s lot) for your edification -- Middle Spaces: Media and the Ethics of Infinitely Demanding by Daniel Punday:
The novel has long been associated with ethics. This link goes back to F.R. Leavis, but Andrew Gibson has shown that this tradition is alive and well today not only in the work of humanist critics like Wayne Booth, but among postmodernists like Richard Rorty and J. Hillis Miller. One way to interrogate Simon Critchley's theory of ethics and political resistance in Infinitely Demanding is to set it alongside of contemporary novels and to ask how they respond differently to the same cultural moment (more ...).
Audio from Philip Roth's 75th birthday celebration at Columbia Univesity in New York on Friday can be heard via the website or downloaded as podcasts at wnyc.org (thanks to David Bukszpan).
As the subtitle says, Doktor Faustus is The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn as Told by a Friend. Leverkühn is born in 1885 in central Germany. He studies the piano and some composition as a boy but first earns a degree in theology before returning to his German-American music teacher Wendell Kretzschmar to study composition in Leipzig. The very day Leverkühn arrives in Leipzig he is led to a brothel by a tour guide and first meets a prostitute whom he later revisits. She will then infect him with syphilis. The infection is interpreted as a stimulant to artistic creativity - and as a silent pact with the devil who makes his appearance exactly half-way through the novel, probably only in Leverkühn’s fantasy. The primary infection is not adequately treated and 24 years later, in 1930, will lead to Leverkühn’s mental breakdown and paralysis, from which he will not recover until his death ten years later. The paralytic shock happens when Leverkühn has invited his friends from Munich to the nearby village where he lives, apparently for a presentation of his last composition The Lamentation of Doctor Faustus, but in fact to confess his nefarious trade of love and warmth for artistic creativity.
I have a small blog/article going up on Picador.com's blog next week sometime (about Oliver Sacks and the importance of narrative to our self-perception). But I can't access the site (and this has long been the case).
... I’ve been a member of many book related communities on the web these past five years. Most of these tend to be general book forums, encompassing as much as possible. To me, this can lack focus... So to this end, I’ve created World Literature Forum, which I hope will offer an area of the internet for people to discuss, review, recommend and publicise translated works. Fingers crossed.
The Willa Cather Archive is team-based scholarship. Each component requires the substantial work and interactions of Cather specialists, technical specialists, graduate and undergraduate students, administrators, and more. The Cather Archive brings together the Cather Project from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln English Department, the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at UNL, and the Archives and Special Collections of the UNL Libraries, and a full list of the individuals working on the project can be found here: cather.unl.edu/staff.html. As a scholar working on this project, I feel extremely grateful to learn so much from so many, and to create something that I feel at once is extremely useful for the scholarly community and can push that community in new directions.
I’m busy with some other projects now and instead of leaving the blog alone for several days, I thought I’ll do a quick post on a helpful tool that I’ve been using for more than a year.
It’s called Dark Room and its a minimalist fullscreen word processor which forces you to focus on the writing process and nothing else.
This free Windows/.Net application transforms your entire computer screen into a dark background and removes all the usual word processor toolbars and quick buttons. The only thing you’ll see is the words. I feel that it really improves my ability to concentrate on the blog post or school essay I’m writing.
Are duras.ifrance.com and Société Marguerite Duras really the best the web can do for Marguerite Duras pages? Goodness. This is woeful. I needs to sort me out my minisites and knock something decent together for Ms Duras asap!
About twenty years ago, a friend from Paris gave me a copy of Premier Amour (1945), one of Samuel Beckett’s very early works in French. This friend especially treasured this little-known short récit, but there was a word he did not understand. The protagonist does some kind of business with a “panais”. “Qu’est-ce que c’est qu’un panais?”, he asked. “It’s a parsnip.” “Yes, so the dictionary says. But what is a parsnip? The French don’t eat parsnips. They feed them to animals.” The appearance of the panais in Premier Amour is ruefully comic; it brings into play the cryptic, the abject and the theatrical. It hints, according to punning dream logic, at the proverb, “Fine words butter no parsnips”. Beckett was finding his way out of fine words.
A new issue of The Quarterly Conversation (issue 11, Spring 2008) is up online.
I've seen this linked to at a number of blogs and sites now but, still, it is certainly worth passing on: very funny -- Garfield minus Garfield:
Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolor disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life? Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against lonliness and methamphetamine addiction in a quiet American suburb.
Bernhard offered me a language for these nascent, creeping feelings of misanthropy and also relief from them, with his melodrama and humour. I can't think of a writer who better captures the intensity and ridiculousness of big-city living. Bernhard's books are the only ones I want to open on the subway. He managed to capture the most beautiful aspects of life using the most wretched, miserable situations and characters. Such glimmers of humanity are similar to those brief moments of serenity that can be found on a crowded subway station, if one looks closely enough.
Well, really Wood on Peter Carey and Hari Kunzru (over at The New Yorker), but it opens with this nice riff (he's good at riffs is Wood) on Conrad:
Ever since the attack on the World Trade Center, we have all heard a lot about “the Professor,” the chilling anarchist in Conrad’s The Secret Agent, who walks around with a bomb strapped to himself and one hand on the detonator. Far more attention has been paid to this ruthless fanatic—unsuggestively reprised by Cormac McCarthy as Anton Chigurh, in “No Country for Old Men”—than to Verloc, the harried, soft, pithless entity who is the novel’s actual protagonist. But Verloc is more interesting than the Professor because he is so much less confident. The Professor is an arrow; Verloc is a target, helplessly bearing the gouges of the various assaults made on him. He works for the anarchists, but he also works against them, as a double agent; he is despised by his handler at the embassy, and feels bullied into following the diplomat’s order to blow up the Greenwich Observatory, a job that he fatally bungles; he is a minor London shopkeeper, who sells pornography under the table; he moves through his shabby domestic existence sluggishly, as if under water.
Verloc is vivid because he is trapped...
Menard Press author Augustus Young has embarked on "a regular webzine of new and unpublished work." He has a nice short essay on the site entitled Sacrificial Lamb discussing Bacon and Giacometti. The layout is a bit scary -- a blog would've been easier to write and much easier to read and navigate, but nice to see him online anyway!
Issue two of The International Literary Quarterly is now online:
A central tenet of ILQ is that it play a part in sponsoring an ethos of literary internationalism. To this end, Issue 2 showcases new work by Aamer Hussein, brought up in Pakistan; Mimi Khalvati, born in Iran but raised in Switzerland; and Mohamed El-Bisatie, whose novel, exploring the mores of modern Egyptian life, is translated by Cairo-based Denys Johnson Davies.
Closer to home, this issue is enriched by masterful contributions from four well-considered British writers: Jenny Diski, Sara Maitland, Dilys Rose and Iain Sinclair.
In Taking Sides: Jacques Rancière and Agonistic Literature (link via wood s lot; thankfully now available to me because of the wonder of Page2RSS) author Hector Kollias discusses:
... Jacques Rancière's theory of literature as centred on an agonistic concept of literature, where literature is seen as a ‘positive contradiction’. This positive contradiction arises from what Rancière sees as literature's origins in the ‘errant letter’, which is conceived as an intrinsically democratic principle that, for Rancière, also results in the tendency of literature to incarnate the word and to propose an extra-textual truth which would signal the end of literature as democratic errancy. Asking whether it is possible to identify Rancière as ‘taking sides’ in what he sets up as a struggle, the article analyses three examples of Rancière's engagement with literary texts (Balzac, Mallarmé, and Proust) in which he demonstrates the necessity for literature to maintain its constitutive contradiction, resulting in a conception of literature as an agonistic field and as a self-critical mode of writing.
One of my favourite websites is wood s lot, but I do find it hugely annoying that it doesn't have an RSS feed. I do nearly all my web-reading via a newsfeeder (Bloglines, in fact) so when a site doesn't have a feed it is all but lost to me these days.
Well, the web has a solution: enter Page2RSS: "a service that helps you monitor web sites that do not publish feeds. It will check any web page for updates and deliver them to your favorite RSS aggregator." Nice. Very nice.
two reviews of English translation of Walter Benjamin's scraps, notebooks and other miscellany in Guardian and Financial Times.
And to brighten up the evening, an excerpt from his essay The Storyteller (PDF). I like the first two paragraphs too in which he talks about how the art of storytelling has declined in the modern age in commensurate with a parallel decline in the ability to exchange experiences...
Dispatches from Zembla brings to my attention that there is a new issue of Bookforum online. Latest issue includes an article on Knut Hamsun, an extract from Roberto Bolano's forthcoming book and a short review of the fab sounding Against Happiness: "... happiness as immediate gratification, happiness as superficial comfort, happiness as static contentment ... may annihilate melancholia."
Shortly after the new year of 1960, a small family car crashed in the French town of Villeblevin in Burgundy, killing two of its occupants. One was the publisher Michel Gallimard; the other was the writer Albert Camus. In Camus’ pocket was an unused train ticket and in the boot of the car his unfinished autobiography The First Man.
Camus was only 46 when his life was cut tragically short but had already worked for the French Resistance, fallen out with Jean-Paul Sartre, written a series of brilliant novels and won the Nobel Prize for Literature. And although he has been dead for nearly 50 years, his ideas on the absurdity of life and the richness of his writing live on.
Via Three Percent: "It's a few days old now, but the New York Times review of Daniil Kharms’s Today I Wrote Nothing is worth checking out. Saunders does a good job of explaining how Kharms isn’t simply an "absurdist," but an author who basically objected to the essential artifice of fiction:"
All of us who write fiction have, I suspect, felt some resistance to this moment of necessary artifice. But for Kharms this moment hardened into a kind of virtuous paralysis. I imagine him looking out his little window there in St. Petersburg, seeing people walking around out there in those Russian hats, and just as he’s about to invent some “meaningful,” theme-causing things for them to do, he freezes up, because per his observations, such meaningful, drama-exuding things do not happen so tidily in reality.
The Observer's Books of the Year list -- the first of the many to come -- is up online. Like Steve, I was really pleased and very surprised to see Toby Litt choose Pierre Joris's translations of Paul Celan (issued by Green Integer Books; Celan, it seems, would have been 87 last Friday had he not killed himself back in 1970) and intrigued by Peter Ho Davies' recommendation of the work of Charles Baxter. I'm a big fan of Pierre so it was a real thrill to see the Litt notice; the Baxter book, The Art of Subtext, arrived here a week or so ago -- I'll try to get around to it this coming weekend. The rest of the list didn't really bring anything exciting to light ... but, regardless of the almost inevitable disappointment, one always trawls such lists in the hope that they might turn up something good or surprising.
Mick Finch reviews Conversations with Samuel Beckett and Bram van Velde (via This Space):
Perhaps the most revealing aspect of their encounter is the degree of difference in each man's presentation of their world. Van Velde's nihilism weighs heavily upon the reader and this is not alleviated by his repeated claims that laughter is the only true response to the existential conundrum. Beckett, on the other hand, embodied such a response in both his life and his work and laughter is a product of his writing, not a subject.
Today, Amazon launch their e-book reader, the Amazon Kindle. There is a very chunky article in Newsweek (thanks Lee!) with the details:
This week Bezos is releasing the Amazon Kindle, an electronic device that he hopes will leapfrog over previous attempts at e-readers and become the turning point in a transformation toward Book 2.0. That's shorthand for a revolution (already in progress) that will change the way readers read, writers write and publishers publish. The Kindle represents a milestone in a time of transition, when a challenged publishing industry is competing with television, Guitar Hero and time burned on the BlackBerry; literary critics are bemoaning a possible demise of print culture, and Norman Mailer's recent death underlined the dearth of novelists who cast giant shadows.
Via The Frugal Panda, a nice article entitled 17 Ways to Get Free Books: "You can never have too many books, so we are delighted to share with you some ways to get them for free. From children’s books to technical books, there are numerous resources that offer literature for free. Some of the following sites offer actual printed books, while others feature electronic books (aka “ebooks”)."
Editor Peter Robertson has brought my attention to the first issue of The International Literary Quarterly which contains contributions by, amongst others, Lydia Davis, Gabriel Josipovici and Suzanne Jill Levine. Looks damn fine:
We strive to publish the best in contemporary literature while shunning all ideological affiliations. Indeed, the driving force behind The International Literary Quarterly is that it be a broad church in the world of letters, a forum for outstanding poetry and prose, whether in its original version or in translation, and for criticism that is trenchant and thought-provoking.
Interesting new blog from Siva Vaidhyanathan, The Googlization of Everything:
This blog, the result of a collaboration between myself and the Institute for the Future of the Book, is dedicated to exploring the process of writing a critical interpretation of the actions and intentions behind the cultural behemoth that is Google, Inc. The book will answer three key questions: What does the world look like through the lens of Google?; How is Google's ubiquity affecting the production and dissemination of knowledge?; and how has the corporation altered the rules and practices that govern other companies, institutions, and states?
Lee Rourke has just written to say that there is a "new scarecrow up." Best go read it then!
I missed this, so I guess that one or two of you might have missed it as well: John Sutherland meets Franco Moretti.
Moretti has spoken previously of making criticism less like a Platonic academy, and more like a laboratory. But what does he mean by that? "A Platonic academy, or symposium," he says, "is a group of people sitting round a table discussing ideas, which is a great thing to do. But it may have run its course, historically. What I mean by talking about laboratories is that larger and larger banks of data are becoming available, and we have absolutely no idea of how to deal with them. In just a few years, all the texts in existence will be online, and searchable. We really do not know how to pose useful questions to that mass of information.
The Database of Mid-Victorian Illustration (via Literature Compass):
... contains records and images of 868 literary illustrations that were published in or around 1862, providing bibliographical and iconographical details, as well as the ability for users to view images at exceptionally high quality.
The database is the culmination of a three-year project, based in Cardiff University’s Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research, and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The aim of the project has been to examine the feasibility of developing an online database application that would allow users to view images at high quality, as well as providing access to images by accurate bibliographic classifications and an appropriate iconographic taxonomy.
John Self, over on his Asylum blog, has written an excellent review of Roth's Exit Ghost. John's review could easily grace the pages of any broadsheet, but it misses what makes Roth's book so exciting and different to the mass of adequate Establishment Literary Fiction that crowds the shelves.
James Wood gets nearer to what makes Roth special in his New Yorker article Parade’s End: The many lives of Nathan Zuckerman:
Roth has been the great stealth postmodernist of American letters, able to have his cake and eat it without any evidence of crumbs. This is because he does not regard himself as a postmodernist. He is intensely interested in fabrication, in the performance of the self, in the reality that we make up in order to live; but his fiction examines this “without sacrificing the factuality of time and place to surreal fakery or magic-realist gimmickry,” as Zuckerman approvingly says of Lonoff’s work. Roth does not want to use his games to remind us, tediously and self-consciously, that Nathan and Amy and Lonoff are just “invented characters.” Quite the opposite. Unstartled by their inventedness, he swims through depthless skepticism toward a series of questions that are gravely metaphysical, and more Jamesian than Pynchonian: How much of any self is pure invention? Isn’t such invention as real to us as reality? But then how much reality can we bear? Roth knows that this kind of inquiry, far from robbing his fiction of reality, provokes an intense desire in his readers to invest his invented characters with solid reality, just as Nathan once invested the opaque Amy Bellette with the reality of Anne Frank. In this kind of work, the reader and the writer do something similar—they are both creating real fictions.
Roth "does not regard himself as a postmodernist." And neither do I. The power of Exit Ghost comes from Jamesian questions, as Wood says, not postmodernist answers. The power comes from Roth's modernism.
Two recent additions to the 400+ documentaries, shorts and feature films on ChristieBooks' Brightcove site are Costa-Gavras' Z (1969) and Peter Watkins' rarely seen 1967 film Privilege.
Z (1969; Costa-Gavras)
Z is a 1969 French language political thriller directed by Costa Gavras, with a screenplay by Gavras and Jorge Semprún, based on the novel of the same name by Vassilis Vassilikos. The film presents a thinly fictionalized account of the events surrounding the assassination of democratic Greek politician Gregoris Lambrakis in 1963. With its satirical view of Greek politics, its dark sense of humor, and its chilling ending, the film captures the sense of outrage about the military dictatorship that ruled Greece at the time of its making.
Privilege (1967; Peter Watkins)
After directing several extraordinary documentaries for the BBC, Peter Watkins made his first dramatic feature with this flawed but striking film about Steven Shorter (Paul Jones), a pop singer in a future society where entertainment is controlled by a totalitarian government. Shorter's music and image is used to channel the impulses of rebellious youth; in one concert sequence, the crowd watches him sing a plaintive plea for love and understanding while locked in a cage surrounded by police officers armed with clubs. While Shorter is remarkably popular, he's also living a life created for him by the government, which Steven knows is a sham. When Shorter's handlers decide to revis image into that of an obedient, religious boy, he rebels, to his peril. Model Jean Shrimpton made her film debut here as an artist comissioned to paint a portrait of Shorter. Privilege later became something of a cult film; one of the film's admirers was rock poet Patti Smith, who recorded one of "Steven Shorter"'s songs, Set Me Free, on her 1978 album Easter.
The semantic web is so called because it aspires to make the web readable by machines as well as humans, by adding special tags, technically known as metadata, to its pages. Whereas the web today provides links between documents which humans read and extract meaning from, the semantic web aims to provide computers with the means to extract useful information from data accessible on the internet, be it on web pages, in calendars or inside spreadsheets.
There is a new CONTEXT up online which includes:
Lola the puppy is at the vet's (getting spayed, god bless her). Stupidly, I'm quite frantic with worry, but the nervous energy at least means I'm cracking on with lots of work...
I've just posted a great interview up on The Book Depository with Janet Gezari, author of the excellent Last Things - Emily Bronte's Poems.
And -- in addition to The Official ReadySteadyBook.com Fanclub -- I've also created the Editor's Corner on Facebook group so you can stay up-to-date with what is posted on my Book Depository blog, Editor's Corner, what reviews I've recently added to The Book Depository site and what is going on behind the scenes at The Book Depository (a facelift for the website if you're curious to know ... and soon -- yay!)
There is a detailed overview of the work of Elfriede Jelinek by Tim Parks over in The New York Review of Books: he isn't that impressed!
I'll be spending the weekend catching up with myself, walking Lola if it ever stops raining, and reading War & War. Might I suggest that if you have a moment you read my interview with Robert Macfarlane? Or read Ellis Sharp on Malcolm Lowry?
Nice podcast: Andrew Mitchell on Poetry and Thinking in Martin Heidegger's later work (via enowning).
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?
The latest issue of the excellent American literary magazine Bookforum is completely available online. All of it! Bookforum is one of my very favourite things so do check this out. (UK subscription rates are a steal, by the way.) Includes Stefanie Sobelle on Gabriel Josipovici's Goldberg: Variations and Ross Benjamin on Peter Handke's Crossing the Sierra de Gredos.
Byliner allows you to keep up-to-date with your favourite writers. You can set up a personal list of writers and Byliner will look out for new articles by them. You can be sent daily or weekly emails containing links to these articles, or you can simply return here and they'll be waiting for you on this page.
Sorry I've been so quiet: very busy! I'll try to mention a few bits and pieces tomorrow (not least I want to brag to y'all about the fact that an essay of mine is now available in an actual, real book!)
Also, The Book Depository have been shortlisted in three categories for The Bookseller Retail Awards 2007. We are in the running for:
- The Nielsen Supply Chain Initiative of the Year
- The Peter Jones Award for Entrepreneurship in Bookselling
- The Direct to Consumer Bookselling Company of the Year
Yay, a possibility of slipping into my tux again!
For those who want to discover more, the excellent Debra Hamel has got a very useful list together of literary Twitters.
You can now get RSB blog posts via instant messaging, SMS and other new-fangled ways through Twitter (thanks, Lee, for all your help here). If you're already a Twitter user, just add ReadySteadyBook at http://twitter.com/readysteadybook. If you're not, signing up is nimps (old scouse for "easy"). If you wish to avoid such nonsense, I don't blame you!
News from Habitus magazine:
An exclusive essay by acclaimed novelist Aleksandar Hemon is now available online from Habitus: A Diaspora Journal.
The essay, entitled "Sarajevo Is..." is one of two pieces that Hemon contributed to the just-released second issue of Habitus, devoted to writing from and about Sarajevo. Other contributors include David Rieff, Courtney Angela Brkic, Semezdin Mehmedinovic, Muharem Bazdulj, and photographer Simon Norfolk.
Nobody has better thought through the question of what literature fundamentally is than this man: it's a non-space, a vanishing, a being-towards-death. Blanchot was lined up in front of a Nazi firing squad in 1944, but was reprieved at the last minute and lived, albeit as a virtual recluse, until 2003, endlessly narrating the unnameable disaster - of history, thought, writing itself.
Yesterday, the complete review celebrated eight years of being online. A magnificent milestone; a great website. Well done!
The excellent writer and music critic (and RSB contributor) Paul Griffiths (whose The Substance of Things Heard I heartily, nay vigorously, recommend) is featured in the latest Golden Handcuffs Review. The issue features two chapters from Paul's latest novel let me tell you (the full work is out next year with Reality Street Editions). As Steve noted, Paul explains that the novel is "a narrative in which the Ophelia of Shakespeare's Hamlet tells her story in her own words – literally, in that she is restricted to the 481 different words she speaks in the play (including both quartos as well as the First Folio text). Where other characters from the play speak, they are similarly confined to the words Shakespeare gave them."
Via Patrick Kurp's Anecdotal Evidence, I note that a fascinating debate is taking place between Rebecca "Betraying Spinoza" Goldstein and Michael Weiss. The two writers are conducting "a sort of epistolary book review and kibitz on Spinoza’s life and philosophy" over at A Kibitz on Pure Reason.
I loved Goldstein's Betraying Spinoza -- a very special book indeed to my mind. And last night, with my growing affection for Spinoza happily spiralling out of all reasonable control, I started reading Spinoza's Heresy: Immortality and the Jewish Mind (OUP):
At the heart of Spinoza's Heresy is a mystery: why was Baruch Spinoza so harshly excommunicated from the Amsterdam Jewish community at the age of twenty-four?
In this philosophical sequel to his acclaimed, award-winning biography of the seventeenth-century thinker, Steven Nadler argues that Spinoza's main offence was a denial of the immortality of the soul. But this only deepens the mystery. For there is no specific Jewish dogma regarding immortality: there is nothing that a Jew is required to believe about the soul and the afterlife. It was, however, for various religious, historical and political reasons, simply the wrong issue to pick on in Amsterdam in the 1650s.
After considering the nature of the ban, or cherem, as a disciplinary tool in the Sephardic community, and a number of possible explanations for Spinoza's ban, Nadler turns to the variety of traditions in Jewish religious thought on the postmortem fate of a person's soul. This is followed by an examination of Spinoza's own views on the eternity of the mind and the role that that the denial of personal immortality plays in his overall philosophical project. Nadler argues that Spinoza's beliefs were not only an outgrowth of his own metaphysical principles, but also a culmination of an intellectualist trend in Jewish rationalism.
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 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.
Not yet complete but still an amazing online resource -- it will eventually provide free access to "virtually all written material from William Morris that was published in his lifetime." Most of the material in the archive was provided and transcribed by the late Nick Salmon (author of the William Morris Chronology). In particular the website includes many articles and talks that are difficult to locate including Morris's contributions to Commonweal, as well as the remarkable Socialist Diary, edited and annotated by Florence Boos (originally published by the History Workshop Journal in 1982). This is a website to bookmark and return to again and again.
After the announcement of Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe's death three weeks ago, a friend of mine and I tried to find a way of remembering and publicly honoring him, and decided, for lack of a better solution, to put together a web site where his ex-students and friends can share memories and honor the exceptional philosopher, writer and teacher who was Philippe. We finally came up with something and we invite you to take a look at the site and, if you have anything to contribute, please do so; if not, maybe you can pass the information along to someone else. So far we have a text in French and one in English, and either language is acceptable for future contributions. Considering that this is a work in progress, any suggestion is welcome. Thank you.
Mark Sarvas, a New York-born son of Hungarian parents, a voracious reader, a Francophile and a foodie, comes to Los Angeles to be a writer, sells some screenplays and starts an acclaimed literary blog, The Elegant Variation.
The encyclopedic Marxists Internet Archive is in trouble:
In early November we came under sustained denial of service attack from Internet hosts in China attempting to exploit a misconfiguration in our server's operating system. The nature and origin of the attack, our previous history with the PRC, and the experience of others suggest that this maybe politically motivated and directed by the Chinese government. Protecting ourselves necessitated rebuilding part of the kernel and rebooting the system remotely. The failure of the system to properly boot into the new kernel caused a prolonged outage as we scrambled to find someone with the necessary access to get the system back into the previous configuration. More...
Whenever I manage to state my view in its full extent, my partner in conversation at any point of the world invariably reminds me: if you paint such a gloomy picture of the world, then why write? This is a subtle way of asking why I don´t shoot myself in the head right there and then and, indeed, why I hadn´t done so a long while ago. My critical remarks do not mean that I think or have ever thought that literature could directly interfere with the workings of the society it criticises or rejects. The impact that a writer can exert over his or her own society is far more subtle, almost indecipherably complex and indirect, working through a number of transformations. I even doubt whether at such a degree of remoteness you can still call this an impact and an influence.
Affinities "is a web-based journal that focuses on groups, movements, and communities that set out to construct sustainable alternatives to the racist, hetero-sexist system of liberal-capitalist nation-states." Contributors include Steve Wright, author of the excellent Storming Heaven: Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism. Beware the PDFs, though!
The Thomas Gray Archive is a ...
virtual archive for the study of the life and work of English poet Thomas Gray (1716-1771). It consists of two major sections: the Primary Texts section and the Materials section. The former contains searchable electronic editions of Gray's complete poetry with critical apparatus and extensive collaborative commentary, selected prose works, a browsable calendar to Gray's complete correspondence, a concordance to the poetry, a digital library of primary sources and audio-visual media, and a finding aid to Gray MSS. The latter section is comprised entirely of contextual materials, such as criticism, a biographical sketch, an introductory chronological table of Gray's life and work, a glossary of names and terms, a select bibliography of print materials, a picture gallery, and links to related online resources.
Also included in this issue is Words without Borders Celebrates New Translations in 2006. Esther Allen has the following to say about a book that will certainly be in my Books of the Year list, César Aira's An Episode in the Life of a Language Painter (translated by Chris Andrews):
The most extraordinary book in translation of 2006 was César Aira's An Episode in the Life of a Language Painter, brilliantly translated by Chris Andrews (and published by New Directions). Aira is a rather unusual writer who composes his short books (more than thirty of them so far) in uninterrupted bursts of inspiration and without looking back or correcting, or so I'm told. As you might expect, such a methodology leads to a highly varied and uneven though always fascinating body of work. In this brief, incandescent book, about an actual incident in the life of the German artist Johann Moritz Rugendas who traveled in Argentina in the early nineteenth century, lightning strikes.
If you have read Elfriede Jelinek's most famous novel, The Piano Teacher, you'll know what to expect from Greed. First of all, pathological characters, rendered with glassy fury: traditional Austrian self-hatred, like that of Kraus, Canetti and Bernhard, but - I know it's hard to imagine - even more hateful. Second, something you don't find even in them: a great deal of violent, sado-masochistic, four-letter sex. In sum, a horrifying vision of human nature ('friends, that is, greedy beasts') and nature itself ('fundamentally evil'), in which human beings are objects, and objects are human - days stretch their limbs, valleys grin, handkerchiefs 'are quite stiff from everything they've had to swallow in their lives'.
I've just finished reading another Virginia Woolf novel. The Waves was wonderful; every bit as good as To The Lighthouse and Mrs Dalloway. (Worth noting: the University of Adelaide Library’s collection of Web books [http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/] has the entire text of The Waves online as well as lots of other goodies.) I'll think and write about the book over the weekend. In the meantime, this from an essay by Lisa Marie Lucenti:
Pamela Caughie writes that "Woolf's characters and narrators do not present a consistent theory of self and world. Instead, they make us self-conscious of theorizing about self and world by making the narrative strategies self-conscious." With such slippery characters to work with, it is perhaps less important -- or even feasible -- to try to define the form of Woolf's subjects than to trace a few of their paths and crossings. To do so is an even greater challenge when, as Bernard says in The Waves, "We melt into each other with phrases.... We make an insubstantial territory". In this novel, six "characters" or voices alternate between acceptance and rejection of their own insubstantiality. And, Woolf would have us realize, her characters are not alone in this struggle, since they are caught within the most basic and most irresolvable questions of ontology -- what it means to be and how one goes about that business.
A new literary and culture magazine arrives: Habitus -- A Diaspora Journal. The first issue is devoted to Budapest:
Habitus Magazine is a new, international journal of Diaspora literature and culture. Our focus is the Jewish experience in the Diaspora, and Diaspora as a universal experience that mirrors and invigorates our own. Emphasizing literature, photography, criticism and reportage, our goal is to explore the lives of Jews and others in various locales around the globe.
The experience of Diaspora is not the sole property of Jews or Judaism; many other peoples have found themselves in an undiscovered country, turning back towards memory. These multiple Diasporas contribute to the cultural complexity of our modern world. They are the basis for a common experience that Habitus will try to address.
Each issue will focus on a new city as our venue for illuminating a different corner of the world, and a different perspective on the issues that define us.
Much isn't online, but the site has more than you'd think on first glance including editor Joshua Ellison's Welcome and My Jewish Budapest by George Szirtes. There are also some web-only articles which look good, including: Günther Grass and Imre Kertész in Conversation with György Dalos (which I've not read yet, but looks fascinating) and Ilene R. Prusher's Looking for My Tribe: A Journey to the Jewish Roots of Afghanistan’s Pashtuns.
There is a good, chunky TJ Clark interview over at Brooklyn Rail (The Painting of Modern Life, Farewell to an Idea and most recently The Sight of Death; and, as part of the Retort team of writers and political activists, Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War):
“Yours is not a book in which darkness is winning” ... Well, I guess I agree with that judgment, taking The Sight of Death as a whole. Though obviously the book does look certain kinds of darkness more fully in the face than anything else I have written. It’s not called The Sight of Death for nothing! I think (or I hope) that you and other readers come away from it without a sense of terminal glumness because you’re carried along by the simple, central pleasure of looking that drives things forward—and the astonishment at what one or two pictures have to offer, if you give them half a chance. This pleasure and astonishment are unnegotiable. Nothing the world can do to them will make them go away. And yes, I agree: the world does plenty. Pleasure and astonishment seem to me qualities that the world around us, most of the time, is conspiring to get rid of. Or to travesty—to turn into little marketable motifs. It amounts to the same thing.
Apropos Afflicted Powers, he goes on to say:
Well, you’ll guess that there’s an aspect of this that drives me and the other Retorters mad! I wrote Afflicted Powers with an economic geographer, Michael Watts, a novelist who was once a defense lawyer fighting it out in the California prison system, Joseph Matthews, and an historian of past and present capitalist enclosures, Iain Boal. Not exactly a Situationist (or even palaeo-Situationist) line-up! Obviously our book takes advantage of certain Situationist concepts and hypotheses, and tries to apply them to current politics. And yes, we do think that the power of the image, and the control of appearances, are more and more part of the very structure of statecraft (and resistance to statecraft). We think the established Left suffers—suffers badly—from an inability to think about the new conditions of social control, and social struggle ...
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 ...
Fairly widely linked to this, but it was nice to see: Lucy Ellmann (whose latest novel is the unappetisingly entitle Doctors and Nurses and whose work I don't know)applauding "the tireless, scathing fury" of Elfriede Jelinek when reviewing the Nobel prize-winners' latest novel Greed (translated by Martin Chalmers):
What is killing the novel is people's growing dependence on feel-good fiction, fantasy and non-fiction. With this comes an inability or unwillingness to tolerate any irregularities of form ... For anyone who wants to write or read daredevil, risk-taking prose, therefore, it was tremendously encouraging that Elfriede Jelinek won the Nobel prize for literature in 2004 ... Jelinek's work is brave, adventurous, witty, antagonistic and devastatingly right about the sorriness of human existence, and her contempt is expressed with surprising chirpiness: it's a wild ride.
The latest issue of the Green Integer Review is now online. It includes some poetry (including four poems by Christopher Middleton), Douglas Messerli on Harry Mathews' My Life in CIA and Brian Evenson on Jon Fosse's Melancholy (which Max Dunbar reviewed recently here on RSB and hated!) Messerli also writes on the Polish novelist and dramatist Witold Gombrowicz (1904-1969).
The complete work of Charles Darwin are now online over at darwin-online:
This site currently contains more than 50,000 searchable text pages and 40,000 images of both publications and handwritten manuscripts. There is also the most comprehensive Darwin bibliography ever published and the largest manuscript catalogue ever assembled. More than 150 ancillary texts are also included, ranging from secondary reference works to contemporary reviews, obituaries, published descriptions of Darwin's Beagle specimens and important related works for understanding Darwin's context.
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.
Nietzsche's Features attempts "to collect ALL files we can find on the web, in English, that are directly related to Nietzsche's works, and archive them in what has become the Nietzsche's Features website."
In the About section of they site they bemoan "the experience we had over the last years that although several individuals invested a lot of time and effort in creating Nietzsche pages, after a while they somehow seemed to disappear from the web ... Of course that resulted in a lot of dead links and lost files." Sadly, I don't think the Nietzsche's Features folks have carried on with their good work ... The site was last updated January 1st, 2002. Still, full texts of a number of publications from The Birth Of Tragedy to The Will to Power make this a useful resource.
Via Jenny Davidson's Light reading blog: Arielle Saiber, associate professor of Italian literature at Bowdoin College, has created Dante Today (a website featuring citings and sightings of Dante in a wide variety of contemporary media).
This experimental website, inspired by students of Arielle Saiber'a “Dante’s Divine Comedy” course, has been built to archive occurrences of Dante and his works in popular and contemporary culture of the twentieth century and beyond. The goals are twofold: 1) to provide a central access point for said references; and 2) to offer data that students and scholars of Dante can use to think about the Nachleben (“afterlife”) of Dante’s works in terms of reception theory, resonance, and cultural studies.
Spoof literary website Underneath the Bunker celebrates its first year online:
Underneath the Bunker, the online home of Europe's Premier Cultural Journal, has now been functioning for a year. During the last twelve months it has published no less than twenty-one reviews of novels from Georgy Riecke's Greatest Novels By Contemporary Writers as well as exclusive excerpts from D H Laven's Story of Forgotten Art and Yevgeny Nonik's novel subtle carnivores.
At WorldCat, you can search for "1.3 billion items in more than 10,000 libraries worldwide":
WorldCat is the largest library network in the world. WorldCat libraries are dedicated to providing access to their free resources on the Web, where most people start their search for information.
WorldCat will supersede the soon to be defunct RedLightGreen service (which you probably won't know about unless you are a librarian anyway!)
From The Independent today an overview of Levi's Auschwitz Report (Verso): "Primo Levi's earliest account of the Holocaust was not a memoir or a novel but a document detailing what happened inside the Nazis' most notorious death camp. Compiled in collaboration with a fellow survivor at the request of their Soviet liberators, the Auschwitz Report is a work of extraordinary restraint and lucidity. As it appears for the first time in English, we tell the story of how it came to be written, and publish extracts."
Widely linked to this, but certainly worth reading (and hence repeating the link): Fredric Jameson on Slavoj Žižek's Parallax View in the LRB.
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."
Larry Law's renowned series of situationist booklets, Spectacular Times, are online over at cornersoul. I tried to take a nostalgic peak at Bigger Cages Longer Chains but, frustratingly, it took an age to download (the text seems to have been captured as images of each individual page) ...
The world is full of ideologies that claim to offer freedom, but in reality simply offer us bigger cages and longer chains. The demand for an end to cages and chains may seem idealistic to some people, but the real idealists are those who think we can carry on as we are.
So, I'm surfing. And I come across the Australian Book Review (" ... founded in 1961, revived in 1978, and has appeared continuously since then. In April 2003 we published our 250th issue, a milestone for any publication. Peter Rose is the editor of ABR. ABR is widely regarded as offering the fullest coverage of Australian books and literary culture. But it is not just interested in writers and writing. Our interests lie everywhere, and encompass current affairs and the broader culture.") Coming highlights include "Gail Jones on Blanchot". So, you have to remind me to go back again and check! I'm off now to read Anthony Cordingley's essay Waiting on Beckett and then I'll probably read Peter Rose's The Sound and the Fury: Uneasy Times for Hacks and Critics.
Gabriel Josipovici is a prominent British critic and novelist who at a midpoint in his career became interested in the Bible and acquired a competence in Hebrew (he already knew Greek) in order to engage with it seriously. The Book of God is an imaginative overview, sensitive to narrative detail and to stylistic nuance, of both Testaments. Josipovici sees how the Bible constitutes a unique kind of literature--a book, as he says, meant to change your sense of reality--which is nevertheless linked with certain later writers. He proposes surprising comparisons with Proust, Kafka and other modernists. Some biblical passages, he observes, "bring us face to face with characters who can be neither interpreted nor deconstructed. They are emblems of the limits of comprehension."
From Eleanor (at Carcanet):
The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. has launched a wonderful new Walt Whitman website, to coincide with their current exhibition, One Life: Walt Whitman, a kosmos ... [includes an] online gallery of Whitman portraits ... [and] fascinating recordings of the poet reading America and Leaves of Grass.
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.