I’ll save you the trouble of reading the Andre Aciman piece in the December 1 issue of the New York Review of Books: when translating Proust, it’s better to get the rhythm right and the words wrong than vice versa.
Archive for November, 2005
This year’s IMPAC longlist has already been widely noted, but I found it interesting to see exactly who nominated which books.
The nomination process is administered by the Dublin City Public Library, and the nominators consist of more than 100 public libraries around the world. Each library can nominate up to three novels. The novels must be published in English within the most previous calendar year (in this case, 2004). You can see each library’s nominees here.
A few things on this list leap out at me:
* Our own local institution, the Chicago Public Library, was among the very few to nominate a sci-fi title, Geoff Ryman’s Air, or Have Not Have. (David Mitchell and Stephen Elliot were CPL’s other choices.)
* Elsewhere chauvinism is much in evidence, with many libraries limiting their choices to books written by their own countrymen. (This is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly for libraries in smaller countries whose writers most English-language readers may not otherwise hear about.)
* And speaking of which, there are books and authors we’ve never heard of, such as Jakob Ejersbo’s Nordkraft, submitted by libraries in Denmark, Finland, and Norway.
* The longlist also includes many, many genre titles — historical fiction, mysteries, thrillers, etc. The criterion of “high literary merit” is obviously a subjective one. But if libraries want to represent their average reader, who can argue?
* Finally, Florence — home of Dante — nominates international soft-porn best-seller 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed. Ok, I take back that last remark.
ADDITION 11/28: Just noticed that Lit Saloon, in their endless industry, offered some similar conclusions last Thursday. By the way, check out Michael’s review of the new translation of Bouvard and Pecuchet.
The words of writers who meant the most to Perec are appropriated and brought directly into his books, sometimes by simple transcription but more often through an alchemy of adaptation that is also a mode of homage. In A Void, passages from Adolfo Bioy Casares’s Invention of Morel and Melville’s Moby-Dick are rewritten, without, of course, the letter e; one of the numerous rules governing Life, A User’s Manual dictates that each chapter include two unacknowledged quotations. The collage novel A Man Asleep (1967) is a seamless fabric of fragments lifted without attribution from Kafka and Joyce, among others, that he distorted and made so inconspicuous that most of the book’s readers have been unaware of them.
* * *
[In 1966], he and his friend Marcel Benabou, another future Oulipian, had embarked on a series of experiments in the “automatic production of French literature,” which transformed well-known quotations by substituting their constituent words with definitions from the Larousse, demonstrating how, as Benabou described the process, “word-meanings, as given by dictionaries, are such uncertain things as to allow any utterance to be translated into any other.” The collaboration manufactured chains of metamorphoses that produced an absurdist equivalence of disparate statements: “Workers of the world, unite!” was shown to be a “translation” of Mallarme’s “The presbytery has lost none of its charm nor the garden its splendor.”
Bookforum: the only necessary US-based book rag.
ADDITION 12/9: James Gibbons writes to let me know that the line attributed to Mallarme above is in fact from Gaston Leroux’s classic whodunnit, Le Mystere de la chambre jaune. The mistake originated as a printer’s error in the first edition of David Bellos’s biography of Perec. It’s been corrected in more recent editions.
I agree with Jonathan Lethem’s piece in yesterday’s New York Times — a “Portable Calvino” would be a good thing. But unlike Lethem I have no hesitation about what book to recommend to someone who has never read Calvino. That would be If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. If they like that — and they always do — I recommend my favorite, Invisible Cities. After that, they’re on their own.
While I’m being disagreeable, I’ll might also confess I didn’t like the picture that accompanied Lethem’s piece as much as Mr. Tata did. Looked too much like an Italian Mr. Bean. Here’s a picture of Calvino and Pasolini to make up for it:
Ok, now a couple of Calvino links I collected when I mentioned him the other day:
* One-hour audio recording of a tribute to Calvino held on Oct. 22, 1999 at The Cooper Union in New York. Speakers include Umberto Eco, Carlos Fuentes and Salman Rushdie, and readings by Maria Tucci, Katherine Borowitz, Wallace Shawn and John Hilner. Calvino’s daughter Giovanna introduces.
* Calvino profile and pieces from the Guardian.
* Brief bio and links from Il Narratore.
By the way, I swiped the Calvino-Pasolini photo from Claudio Caprara. Someday when he’s not looking I may also steal the subtitle from his blog: “Questo è un Blog di appunti sparsi: servono a poco, ma mi divertono. Non ci sono altre ambizioni.”
This week’s NewCity has a couple items of interest: a long piece on novelist Joe Meno by Tom Lynch, and a review by John Freeman of the “lost” Kerouac play recently published by Thunder’s Mouth Press.
You may recall that I was a bit dismissive earlier this year when I heard about the Kerouac book. However, Levi Asher, knower of all things Kerouac, later explained that this is indeed something we haven’t seen before.
By the way, when I got my first Internet account in the fall of 1994, Asher’s site LitKicks was one of the first things I discovered. This is what it looked like then. My first exposure to a litblog, before there was even such a notion.
Scattered reports from recent Chicago literary events drift back to us on the Technorati tide:
* Laura Demanski (aka OGIC) fills us in on a recent lecture by Gary Saul Morson on Anna Karenina. “Tolstoy, said Morson, rued all forms of totalism, from romantic love to utopianism, and Anna’s fate illustrates the dangers of such kinds of all-or-nothing thinking.” (Correct me here, but doesn’t it seem like all of Morson’s public readings are on the south side, though he teaches on the north? Perhaps he underestimates us northsiders.)
* The Mind’s Playground favors us with a report from a Humanities Fest session on Mexican-American identity, featuring Luis Alberto Urrea, Manuel Munoz, Ruben Martinez, and Brenda Cardenas. “Brenda Cardenas read her poem ‘Report from the Temple of Confessions in Old Chicano English’ which showed a beautiful blend of spanish and english (yeah both) in a poem. It sounded so natural, so smooth … of course … if we can blend both in our daily lives, why not in a poem?”
* Also re the Humanities Fest, Eric Sinclai touches on a number of sessions, including Maxwell, Gopnik, Lee, and Fitch, and offers advice for the cool kids: “One warning for attendees – the audiences skew old (so hipsters should beware, and no shoving!), and some of the sessions, were packed (the Maxwell session was not one of those). We were fortunate to have ‘access all areas’ passes, but next year we’ll be booking early.” Good advice.
Does it bother you that American consumer culture appropriates cultural elements and turns them into a product?
I always worry about that. I just did a profile for the Orlando Sentinel and they asked what was the kernel of this novel. And I said, Well, I went to the first showing in Chicago of the Buena Vista Social Club and I was excited because what I was looking at was a vitality of life in Black Cuba, and within months it had turned into something else, it had become something that was commodified. And my own anxiety happened a year after that. I was in Miami at a coffee shop and they were playing Dizzie Gillespie’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Moods, and there was this Cubana negra in front of me and she said, Oh, this is very Buena Vista Social Club.
Must confess that I started this book when it came out last year and couldn’t get into it. Maybe I’ll give it another try.
Gabriel Gudding recently shared the news that he and his students were beginning to read Flann O’Brien’s At-Swim-Two Birds. Maybe it’s the time of the year, but I was immediately reminded of the doubts O’Brien (real name, O’Nolan) had about the book in later life (from Cronin’s No Laughing Matter: The Life and Times of Flann O’Brien):
[By 1959], O’Nolan’s own attitude to At-Swim-Two-Birds was now such that the mere mention of it appeared to cause him great annoyance. When people sought to praise it he would dismiss it as “mere juvenilia” and he seemed, for the most part, intolerant of any mention of it whatever … His first novel seemed now in his mind to be associated with image of the brilliant failure which Dublin had imposed on him. To praise the work of his youth was, he felt, to write off the living man. After it had been safely reissued in 1960 he reluctantly conceded to O’Keeffe that the book must have something but when he inscribed the new edition to Angela Connolly, he begged her to remember that it was “written by a schoolboy,” and in 1964 when he was interviewed by John Bowman on Irish radio he said, “I cannot express my detestation for that damn book.”
However, over the years it had been acquiring that best of all literary reputations, one conveyed by reader to reader by word of mouth. The Hibernophiles of English criticism had been aware of it for some time and so had the sedulous avant-gardists. All this was reflected in the chorus of praise which now greeted its re-issue. It got lead reviews from Philip Toynbee in the Observer and V. S. Pritchett in the New Statesman and was praised almost everywhere.
The best immediate result of the reissue was that O’Nolan immediate set to work to write another book … The critical reception of the new edition of At Swim-Two-Birds had given him back some of the creative self-esteem which the rejection of The Third Policeman had so long ago destroyed.
Which in turn reminded me of these lines in Robert Walser’s “A Letter to Terese Breitbach,” from Selected Stories (trans. Christopher Middleton):
For a time, people here thought I was insane, and would say aloud, in the arcades, “He should be in an asylum.” Our great Swiss writer, Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, whom you certainly know, also spent some time in a sanatorium for people who were mentally not altogether at their best. Now people are celebrating the centenary of the poor man’s birth, with speeches and choral declamations. And yet once he no longer dared to take up his pen, in fear that he might botch everything he wrote. Then one day I went into a cafe and fell in love with a girl who looked so poetic.
I love how Walser changes the subject at the end of that passage, as if to distract his correspondent (or himself) from what he had just written.
In case you haven’t noticed the little link down to the left, I’ve set up a Flickr account to put up some of the literary pics I’ve taken on my travels, along with other images I want to share with GRJ readers. Not much there right now, but just lettin’ you know.
I may be wrong, but in my three years of listing Chicago literary events I don’t think I’ve ever listed an event at Chicago’s only foreign-language bookstore, Europa Books. Anyhow, the Reader this week tells us that Cuban novelist Abilio Estevez and Spanish novelist Eduardo Mendicutti are reading at Europa tonight. (They are also appearing at DePaul this afternoon, and at UIC and the North Avenue Borders tomorrow. I guess these guys like to pack in the appearances.) Too bad we didn’t have more notice, but at least the Reader was on the ball even if your servant Sam was not. Details, as always, at right.
Estevez will read from Inventario Secreto de La Habana (The Secret History of Havana), and Mendicutti from his novel, California. Both are Spanish-language novels; no idea whether the reading will be bilingual.
This is just a crazy-busy night for literary events regardless: note, among other events listed at right, the Poetry Foundation’s 50th Anniversary Poetry Day celebration featuring Derek Walcott.