Monday, February 26, 2007

Goldberg: Variations - an interview

I thought about how exciting it would be to write a novel in thirty separate sections, in which each section would be completely self-contained yet the whole would add up to more than the sum of the parts. I began to sketch the thing. And, finally, I plunged into it.

The result was a disaster. It is all very well setting a short story in an earlier period, but I had no desire to ‘research the period’ as I would have had to do if I was to write a whole novel set in it. I not only do not particularly like historical novels ... I don’t believe in them or think they are a viable road for the modern writer to go down.
Gabriel Josipovici discusses how he overcame these problems in his novel Goldberg: Variations (published this week) set in part in an English country house around 1800. He also describes other of his recent works, published and unpublished. The latter includes the original novel of the German translation Nur ein Scherz that one reviewer said "should win the Cosí fan Tutte prize for the wittiest and most profound exploration of the relations between the sexes".

Also, check out the author's photograph at the end. Such light, such composition!

If collected

Plans are being finalised for the visit of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to Brighton and Hove. The Queen ... will be at the Jubilee Library while Prince Philip will visit a trapeze workshop at the Pavilion Theatre.
I just hope she doesn't do what every other pensioner does there and stand for ages blocking the World Literature shelves reading travel books by Michael Palin.

Next: One of the most gifted French philosophers of the twentieth century — ranking, in particular, with Jacques Derrida and Emmanuel Levinas. Wow, at last an introductory piece on a modern French philosopher (via wood s lot) that doesn't mention Sartre or Camus!
He was the unrecognised colleague, invisible and self-effacing, but also enormously productive (Leslie Hill tells us that his works, if collected, would run to three dozen volumes).
If collected!

Also, parallel universe time: after Tom McCarthy's Remainder is more or less ignored by those who really should be celebrating it (rather than "The Adjective of Noun" type novels), it gets a front page review in the NYTBR! And what's more, the Guardian Books blog makes a distinction between criticism and literary criticism. Next its regular The week in books blogs feature will mention the elephant in its living room.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Don’t even wait

This is the Kafka Blog, a blog about the life and works of my favorite author Franz Kafka. Here I’m going to discuss his famous works, The Trial, Metamorphosis and The Castle.
In other Kafka news, I see Robert Crumb has a book of his impressive Kafka drawings out in May. Also Anxious Pleasures by Lance Olsen from Shoemaker & Hoard this month "takes Franz Kafka’s profoundly haunting and sad comic novella, The Metamorphosis, and reanimates it through the vantage points of those who surrounded Gregor Samsa during his plight".

World leader prewash

Lenin takes a bath.

Friday, February 23, 2007

In einem dunklen Walde

In 1993, German artist Andreas Ammer teamed up with members of Einstürzende Neubauten and legendary DJ John Peel to produce a radio play of Dante's Divine Comedy. The result was Radio Inferno, with music by Einstürzende's F.M. Einheit, and starring Blixa Bargeld as Dante, Phil Minton as Virgil, and John Peel as "The Radio" (the narrator).
All 34 hair-raising cantos courtesy of WFMU's Beware of the Blog.

Roithamer's Cone

Modell des Wohnkegels (link broken) aus dem Roman »Korrektur« von Thomas Bernhard, as imagined by the architect Martin Düchs (link broken).

It is part of an exhibition at Munich's Pinakothek der Moderne called (snappy title alert) "Architecture as imagined in literature. Fictitious buildings and cities in literature". (Thanks Anja).

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Spectral Jew

In the TLS, Gabriel Josipovici begins his review of Steven F. Kruger's The Spectral Jew by discussing Pietro Lorenzetti's painting The Last Supper.
A closer look brings a shock to our liberal sensibilities: we may be happy to go along with the abstractions described so far, but baulk, perhaps, at certain aspects of the medieval imagination. For what is this dishcloth with which the scullion is wiping the plate? It is nothing other than the tallith, the Jewish ritual shawl. This domestic kitchen, then, with its cosy cat and dog, is the stinking physical world of the Old Testament, for St Bonaventure tells us that those who want real flesh as opposed to the spiritualized flesh of the Lamb of God are dogs who must be excluded from the Eucharistic banquet. This is strong stuff to emanate from so noble a painting, but it is indubitably there. Or is it – quite?
US readers should also be aware that, next week, Josipovici's exceptional novel Goldberg: Variations is published over there by Harper Perennial. You can read my review here.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The aspirin novel

@11.1 But let's consider what is currently happening and will continue to happen in the case of the novel. The same [economic] forces are and will be at work to adapt the universal novel to a single variety: the English-language novel. Any French novel featuring formal or linguistic complexities will be difficult if not impossible to translate without immense effort, and I mean economically impossible.

@11.2 Today more than ever, under two conjugated actions - the universalization of the literature market on the one hand and, simultaneously, the rapid loss of the "shares" that literature still possesses in the ever shrinking sector of the written text - we can say that the demon of standardization is winning. This is born out by the perfect interchangeability of a growing number of novels, lightly camouflaged by a handful of variations. The latter are generally geographic, even touristic in nature. They accompany the globalization of the novel with an accelerated delocalization of its languages, it constructions, its form.

@11.3 The ideal of today's merchandise-novel is to be without borders, that is, ready to be transmitted everywhere and free from such restraining and costly obstacles as difficulties of translation and recreation, products of the uniqueness of languages. The only imaginable differences in such a context are superficial, cosmetic. Aspirin can only be made from the same chemicals in pharmacies around the world, whatever the label under which it is sold. The time of the aspirin-like literary product is coming. And the novel itself, in spite of praiseworthy efforts, may not be able to adapt to this situation, even by turning into something else, the travel story for example.
Jacques Roubaud in Poetry, etcetera: Cleaning House translated by Guy Bennett, published by Green Integer.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Auden on the telly

Tonight's The South Bank Show on ITV1 spends an hour minus ad breaks looking at the life and work of W H Auden. It marks the centenary of his birth.

No doubt we'll be persuaded to accept the poet's "relevence" to the contemporary world. In last week's TLS, Nicholas Jenkins described how "[w]hat might be called the first poem of the Second World War was taken up on what seems like the threshold of another period of global conflict". This is, of course, September 1, 1939. He presents evidence from a posting on a newsgroup on the 13th, another on the 17th and from Slate on the 18th. Perhaps he didn't notice Splinters' blog.

The most real thing

From this box set.

Hollywood mantra

Every screenwriter needs a mantra, says Joe Eszterhas – an inspirational slogan pinned to the wall to keep him typing away. His is not some uplifting line of poetry, but a simple statement of Hollywood fact: "The first thing a writer must do is protect his own ass."
Robert Colvile's review of Eszterhas' The Devil's Guide to Hollywood goes on to say that his box-office reign came to an end with the "disastrous" Showgirls.

Am I the only one to think that this film is actually far better than Basic Instinct (which isn't saying very much I know)? The tide turned against Paul Verhoeven not because Showgirls is a bad film but because it cast a cold eye on the American Dream. The definitive scene is when (I think) the Gina Gershon character gets to meet the singer she has long worshipped from afar. Her gushing words to him are curtailed when he assumes he can beat and rape her with impunity. It's a genuinely shocking scene.

There was a similar reaction to the great Starship Troopers, a satire-too-far of the American empire. And yes, concerned liberals, I'm on the side of the bugs.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Friday, February 16, 2007

Free speech and other taboos

Interesting how news of the imprisonment for five years of the writer Ernst Zündel has caused not the slightest blip in the litblogosphere, certainly not in comparison to the failed prosecution of Orhan Pamuk and other Turkish writers.

We all know what the cheese-eating surrender monkey said about defending free speech. For announcing that he'd defend to the death the right to free speech, in Blair's PC Wunderland Voltaire would probably be thrown in gaol for glorifying terrorism.

Interesting too that Holocaust denial is now invariably associated with Islam. The Guardian claims in the same article that "as well as denying the Holocaust", the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has "called for Israel to be wiped off the map". This is more dangerous than anything a neo-Nazi fantasist can write about the Holocaust. While Guardian journalists no doubt adhere to the injunction "Never again", they nevertheless blithely repeat such disinformation generated by those who have already triggered a war that has led to a number of deaths many in the mainstream media are keen to deny, and now seem to wish to spread their genocidal policies to Iran and beyond.

Book design and other crimes against literature

In preparation for the summer publication of Krishna Winston's translation of Peter Handke's Crossing the Sierra de Gredos, I have begun to re-read My Year in the No-man's Bay.
There was one time in my life when I experienced metamorphosis. Up to that point it had been only a word to me, and when it began, not gradually, but abruptly, I thought at first it meant the end of me. It seemed to be a death sentence. Suddenly the place where I had been was occupied not be a human being but by some kind of scum, for which, unlike in the well-known grotesque take from old Prague, not even an escape into image, however terrifying, was possible.
The first and only time I read this was in its year of publication: 1998. It was slow going. Once the stirring opening pages were over - and they are extraordinary even for Handke - it became very difficult to concentrate. While even the most patient reader had to work hard to complete the book, I wonder how much this is due to its design. The German edition I examined years before the translation appeared is a small brick of 1066 pages. FSG's edition is crammed into 468 pages, averaging 450 words per page. One strains to read rather than scan the sentences. The latest novel is said to be even longer and FSG's coming edition is listed as 480 pages. One wonders had Handke written the kind of smug, falsifying novel over which the critics tend to wet themselves, it would be treated to a more readable edition.

What other authors have been let down by book design?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The distillation of life involving the union of intelligence, technique and feeling

Storing images of stone

I’ve come to the conjunction of the wheel where the horizon as the sun goes down gives birth for us to the twin-governed sky, and Love’s own star is distant from us all because of the bright ray that crosses it in such a way that it becomes a veil. The planet that brings solace to the frost fully to us through the great arch appears wherein the Seven a small shadow cast; and yet not even one of all the thoughts of love that on me weigh relieves my mind, now harder than a stone in strongly storing images of stone.
From Poems for the Stone Lady by Dante, translated by Joseph Tusiani, part of a larger online series. Update 2022: both link destinations no longer online, so deleted.

Friday, February 09, 2007

A pure reverberation

Charlotte Mandell's long-awaited translation of Maurice Blanchot's late essay collection A Voice from Elsewhere is published this week by SUNY Press. Should you miss the many reviews of it across the US press, Gerald Bruns recommends it thus:
Here is a volume of Blanchot’s commentaries on poems by Louis-René des Forêts, René Char, and Paul Celan, together with his celebrated account of Michel Foucault’s œuvre. In each case Blanchot finds himself obsessed by ‘a voice from elsewhere’ — a voice that is at once intimate, wordless, and uninhabited: la voix de personne, no-one’s voice. These commentaries, superbly translated by Charlotte Mandell, are themselves constituted by this voice, a pure reverberation that readers of Blanchot’s writings will not have forgotten. They will say: so here he is, if he ever was.

Excellent review of "What's left"

The blog Indecent Left has a long, patient survey of the "factual mistakes, lazy research and muddled arguments" of Nick Cohen's book What's Left: how liberals lost their way. If you relied on the mainstream media, you'd think this book was a serious contribution to British politics.
Someone unacquainted with the Iraq War would come away with no idea of what has happened there in the last four years. This crashing silence is the only way Cohen can pursue what is on the face of it an absurd project: an attack on the Left based on their rejection of a disastrous war.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


[Original link broken]

Saturday, February 03, 2007

A career in confusion

[A] confused epic of simplistic incomprehension, riddled with more factual errors and misconceptions than any other text I have come across in two decades of reviewing books on this subject.
William Dalrymple on Michael Gove's Celsius 7/7.

Last night, on the BBC's pathetic excuse for an arts review, Gove was allowed to continue with his falsehoods as he reviewed Pinter's People; see for yourself, 20 seconds in. One wonders why presenter Martha Kearney didn't stop the show and insist Gove retract the repetition of this disgusting smear. But, as she must know, the truth does not offer such good career prospects. Listen to how Gove's fellow chatterers titter so.

Castle of the unforgettable 1

In an age of the increasingly ephemeral, Kundera has long championed the permanence of art and the Flaubertian ideal of making every word count. A true novelist, he proclaims, should aim at nothing less than to build "an indestructible castle of the unforgettable":

"Against our real world, which, by its very nature, is fleeting and worthy of forgetting, works of art stand as a different world, a world that is ideal, solid, where every detail has its importance, its meaning, where everything in it – every word, every phrase – deserves to be unforgettable and was conceived to be such."
Michael Dirda on Milan Kundera's The Curtain.

Castle of the unforgettable 2

Had I ever had a frozen limb or digit, he wanted to know. "There are many men who have been marked by frost." -- "No," I said. "In the war, I should tell you, men had the feet freeze off their legs, and the ears off their heads. By thinking on a certain subject, a condition that may be thousands of years away, or at the very least a beautiful memory, it is possible to generate warmth in oneself, even heat, but only to a certain, finally unsuccessful, degree. Even those soldiers who burned with homesickness during the Russian winter campaigns were not enabled to survive by their homesickness." He said: "When the days get that cold, I sit in my bed, and stare at the frost flowers on my window, that in a succession of miracles evoke landscapes from painting, from nature, from inner despair, only to crush them again, and to draw from them such truths as, to my conviction, are dispersed in their hundreds of thousands and their millions in our lives, and portray more than an intimation of a world that lies alongside our familiar world, a universe we have failed to recognize."
From Frost, p268-9 translated by Michael Hofmann.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Dust and diamonds

Daniel Karlin isn't impressed with William C. Carter's Proust in Love:
Carter's main problem is a perennial one in modern literary biography, which can neither let go of the 'literary' nor truly do it justice. [...] Literary criticism which relies on biography attracted Proust's scorn - the original title of his novel was 'Contre Sainte-Beuve', the critic who he considered to epitomize this failing - but biography which relies on literary 'evidence' is in an even more parlous state, since it reverses the alchemical process by which experience gets transmuted into art, and offers us a handful of dust as compensation for the diamonds it has pulverised. Carter cites the opinion of Benjamin Crémieux that 'To take the true measure of Proust's achievement, it is perhaps a great advantage not to have known him' but fails to transpose the paradox: 'To take the true measure of Proust's life, it is perhaps a great advantage not to have read his book.'
From the latest TLS, not online.

More new Kafka translations

Penguin Classics has collected in one volume new or newish translations of the stories Kafka published in his lifetime. Michael Hofmann is the only named translator, but that's enough to make me covet the new edition.

It's a shame Kafka's work is published so haphazardly in English. So many different translations of the stories and even the novels now, but since the 1949 translation of Max Brod's expurgated Diaries, not one new version.


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