Monday, May 30, 2011

Writing Beckett's Letters by George Craig

In September, Cambridge UP publishes volume two of The Letters of Samuel Beckett covering the years 1941 to 1956. The wait has been long since volume one ended immediately after and just before major events in Beckett's life. George Craig can help as we wait. As one of the four editors, he has also translated many of the letters into English. (Fifteen years ago, he was my tutor on an MA course at university and I remember seeing a photocopy of illegible text he happened to be working on.) Now in association with Sylph Editions he has produced an account of this extraordinary work:
Highly personal and at the same time informed by a lifetime of experience of movement between languages, this cahier offers an insight into the ‘task of the translator’ – when the writer being translated was himself a master translator.
You can find out how to buy the edition at the site dedicated to The Cahier Series and a list of London, Parisian and New York bookshops where they can be found.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Three steps not beyond: Peter Handke's trilogy of thresholds

Ever since the time when he lived for almost a year with the thought that he had lost contact with language, every sentence he managed to write, and which in addition left him feeling that it might be possible to go on, had been an event. Every word, not spoken but written, that led to others, filled his lungs with air and renewed his tie with the world. A successful notation of this kind began the day for him; after that, or at least so he thought, nothing could happen to him until the following morning.

The opening paragraph of Peter Handke's Nachmittag eines Schriftstellers, as translated by Ralph Manheim, is a marvel in a book of marvels. Even in English, or perhaps only in English, the sentences, not written but spoken, verify their meaning by enacting the same experience of renewal in the reader. The Afternoon of a Writer is only 85 pages long and not a great deal occurs in terms of narrated event, yet the same can be said of the whole. It is a clearing in a forest of books.

When the novel was published by Methuen in 1989, with the paperback of the translation following two years later in the superb Minerva imprint, it completed a series of three consecutive clearing novels: it was preceded in 1986 by Across and by Repetition in 1988. All three are long out of print and a new work by Handke has not been issued by UK publisher since Absence in 1990. Perhaps this fact explains the reason for my sudden need to revive attention for these books and this particular moment twenty years on. The more likely reason is that I want to understand how a quiet, reticent book like The Afternoon of a Writer can mean so much more than the overtly worldly and eventful novels that are published instead. How is literary renewal possible?

Monday, May 02, 2011


“I do not understand,” said Moro, “why this country lets all the people who amount to something run away, expels them, brazenly propels them to other continents…I do not understand this…but of course this country is dominated by the most appalling conditions, conditions that one cannot imagine, an unimaginable feeble-mindedness is winding the key of the machinery of our State…one must concede that much, indeed everything in this country is laughable…pathetic of course, theater…such that one is quite conscious here that one is dying, withering away, [that one] has decayed and must wither away…and such that I shudder whenever I think about it, my dear Zoiss…but everything is help– and powerless…when one cannot sleep under such appalling arrangements, cannot fall asleep and says to oneself that the fatherland is nothing more [or] other than an ordinary, brutal [idiotic] idiom…out of shamelessness…the children,” he said and looked down at the street, “play and live entirely alongside events, while the adults are brutalizing, withering away, are actually not present at all any longer…whoever succeeds in writing a comedy or a pure farce on his deathbed has succeeded in everything. Within the insane asylums is the universally recognized insanity, your esteemed guardian said, outside the insane asylums is the illegal insanity…but everything is nothing but insanity.”

From Ungenach by Thomas Bernhard, as translated by Douglas Robertson.


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