Collection of Sand has just been published in English in the U.S., as has the Complete Cosmicomics. More Calvino in the world is better.
Here is Ron Slate on Collection of Sand.
Collection of Sand comprises four sections. The first part, “Exhibitions – Explorations,” includes ten pieces that mainly deal with shows and exhibits he visited in Paris: an exhibition of “bizarre” collections (sands, cowbells, train-tickets, toilet-paper packaging, etc.), early maps of the New World, the recreation of an 1856 display of wax monstrosities in wax, cuneiform and hieroglyphics, on the making of Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People,” the significance of knots, and famous writers who also drew. Like most of the essays in the collection, these initially appeared in Italian newspapers.
The second part, which deals with aspects of the visual, begins with a revealing tribute to Barthes, illuminating the mode of the preceding essays and those to follow. Barthes’ work, he says, “consists in forcing the impersonality of our linguistic and cognitive mechanisms to take account of the physicality of the living and mortal subject … the one who subordinated everything to a rigorous methodology and the one who had just one sure criterion, namely pleasure (the pleasure of intelligence and the intelligence of pleasure.)” Precision and pleasure, phrased through the lightness of speculation, are Calvino’s attributes as well.
One finds these qualities in his essay “The Written City” which considers the “visible writing” of ancient Rome and medieval cities. . . .
And Michael Dirda on the Cosmicomics:
As McLaughlin notes, the cosmicomics were influenced by Lewis Carroll and Borges, philosophy and cartoons. “The Origin of the Birds,” for instance, is imagined as a series of panels in a comic book. Still, none of Calvino’s stories is truly whimsical; they possess a dryness of tone, as well as a logician’s compulsion to run through every possible permutation or implication of any line of thought. But as Qfwfq says, “If you aren’t going to be patient there’s no use in my trying to explain.” These are, after all, scientific fairy tales by an admirer of Samuel Beckett who was also a member of the mathematically oriented Oulipo school of writers.
Not surprisingly, contemporary literary allusions abound in the cosmicomics. In “Nothing and Not Much,” Qfwfq talks about “a time when it was only in the chinks of emptiness, the absences, the silences, the gaps, the missing connections, the flaws in time’s fabric, that I could find meaning and value.”
Those who studied literary theory in the 1970s will recognize this nod to Jacques Derrida, who argued for the importance of what went unsaid in any poem or story. . . .
Best post-Nobel piece I’ve read on Patrick Modiano.
Modiano’s aim has been to place his own personal history against a broader social backdrop. He has called himself “a plant that grew out of a dung heap”, and, more directly, at least at first, “a product of the Occupation, the time when one could simultaneously be a trafficker of black market, a gestapiste of the Lauriston street and a pursued man. It is in this time when I met my father, a cosmopolitan Jew, and my mother, a comedian of Belgian origin, in the pre-war cinema”. (Modiano’s first language was Flemish; his parents split soon after the war.) The reference to meeting his own parents before he was born is partly clarified by a comment in Livret de Famille (1977), not yet in English: “my memory precedes my birth. I am convinced, for example, that I have first-hand experience of Paris during the Occupation since I can recall certain characters from this time, together with some intimate and disturbing details, which go unmentioned in the history books.”
Modiano’s characters often try to find peace in the present through a reckoning with the past, though past and present are never allowed to be wholly separate. Thriller mechanics often yield an existential outcome, though rarely a conclusive one. The ultimate Modiano sentence can be found in Missing Person, in which an out-of-work private eye investigates his own forgotten past: “And in this labyrinthine maze of buildings, staircases and lifts, among these hundreds of cubbyholes, I found a man who perhaps. . . ” Worst case scenario of the quest for closure and salvation is realised in Un Cirque Passe (1992), not yet translated, when the narrator writes: “It was at number 14 du la rue Raffet. But the topographical details had a peculiar effect on me: far from bringing images of the past closer and clearer, they brought a heartbreaking sensation of broken ties and emptiness.” Directories and documents are often invoked in his novels, recorded fact being memory made stable–or promising to be.
As well as forming part of the narrative turn in post-Robbe-Grillet French fiction, Modiano is also strongly associated with “la mode rétro”, the historical turn in French culture as a whole, which dispelled Gaullist myths about the resistance, revealing instead how les années noires haunted les trente glorieuses. Modiano has expressed guilt about typing away during the period of student and worker revolt but as it turned out, his project dovetailed with this movement by showing in extensive detail, often derived from archival sources, the extent of French collaboration. Modiano was an early contributor to a revisionist project that included Marcel Ophuls’s long documentary The Sorrow and the Pity (1971) and Robert Paxton’s book Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944, published in 1972 and translated into French the following year.
A nice review of Lila at the Los Angeles Review of Books.
So when I tell you that Lila ends with a birth, if you are anything like me, your first read of this novel will be vaguely agitated. Not because it is unclear what will happen (this is no spoiler: we know from Gilead that there will be a child and that both he and Lila will live), but rather because across nearly 1,000 pages and over 30 years of reading Robinson, we have not yet encountered a depiction of pregnancy and parturition: the violent wrenching of the self apart from its most beloved. Here Robinson takes us to the paradoxical truth about giving birth: the act that is most socially domesticating is also the most profoundly wilding.
By bringing this female waywardness into the Gilead world, Robinson prompts us to return to the dualities that underpin Housekeeping — transience and home, domesticity and wildness, the ordinary and the strange, taking care and doing damage. Gilead and Home feature men who inhabit domesticity as a sort of faith and for whom faith serves an important sheltering function. The itinerant central women of Housekeeping and Lila press hard on the tender buttons of their benevolent theology: what becomes of those who live their lives outside of these structures?
In Gilead, Ames wonders “what birds did before there were telephone wires. It would have been much harder for them to roost in the sunlight, which is a thing they clearly enjoy doing.” In Lila, a lesson that Ames intuits but never fully articulates becomes clear: one shouldn’t mistake a brief and warmed rest from flight, for an animal’s natural state.
The Literary Saloon reports that a book by Linda Boström Knausgaard will soon be making its way to the English language. Yes, that name should look familiar to you.
In The Bookseller Anna James reports that Visser of De Geus launches English language publisher — which is to be called World Editions. (The current World Editions site doesn’t quite capture the English-language-publication version that’s coming.)
They kindly sent me ARCs of their forthcoming (in early 2015) first four volumes and it’s a promising start. The most notable title is Linda Boström Knausgård’s The Helios Disaster (see, . . . continue reading, and add your comments
Jacobin has an interesting, if problematic take on the Nobel Prize in Literature as an institution. The thrust of it is that the Literature Prize as it currently stands is a golem-esque creation of transnational capitalism, serving its needs by highlighting those authors that play to the humanistic, liberal ideals (which everyone in Stockholm, and probably Europe, knows are universal). It does so by books that are fit for global consumption and that feed in to a very particular image of the author as a lone outsider, completely detached from any present political realities.
Okay, okay, there’s . . . continue reading, and add your comments
After reading many, many translations, I am attempting to catch up with developments in mainstream American prose; i.e., the “big names” in American fiction. The last book I read in this vein was The Flamethrowers, which I liked to a point.
Now up, Ben Lerner’s new novel 10:04.
I view this book as a very ambitious failure. If we are to believe the backstory presented in the book itself—that it grew out of a story published in The New Yorker on June 18, 2012—then it was written extremely quickly, maybe in as little as a . . . continue reading, and add your comments
Rebecca Solnit has a new essay collection publishing from Trinity University Press: The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness.
Kirkus offers an early review:
In her latest collection of previously published essays, Solnit (Men Explain Things to Me, 2014, etc.) explores troubled and troubling spaces and places that illuminate her concerns about community and power.
How, asks the author, do individuals express their sense of connection to one another when they respond to disasters, such as hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the BP oil spill, and the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan? How do communities come together . . . continue reading, and add your comments
I have to say, it’s perfect that Murakami does translation in the afternoon to relax after a morning of writing.
Murakami of course knows that he needs to be translated in order to be read widely. He is very conscious of the power of translation, being himself one of Japan’s most important translators of American literature. He has long collaborated with Motoyuki Shibata, a well-known professor of English literature at the University of Tokyo, who has his own flourishing career as a translator. Of course, both men are admired as great stylists in Japanese, and that attracts . . . continue reading, and add your comments
Nice piece on The Wallcreeper by Jonathon Sturgeon.
Also, before I get to the blockquote, how awful is it that currently the only Amazon review of this book is a one-star review by someone identifying as “Chris Roberts, God,” which includes the nonsensical line ” A blurb from a famous writer will not capitulate your book…” as well as the always-obnoxious “The author’s prose is not reader friendly…” Please, somebody do something to change that.
Anyway, onto Jonathon’s piece:
Not much is known about Nell Zink: this much is confirmed by the scant publicity materials and . . . continue reading, and add your comments
My review of Lila by Marilynne Robinson runs this weekend at the San Francisco Chronicle.
The genteel genre of the newspaper review doesn’t really permit me to say these sorts of things, so this is one of the things that a blog is for: READ MARILYNNE ROBINSON!!!!! Really. I am quite convinced that she is one of the great American thinkers of her generation. Read the novels (duh) and read the essays too. Taken together, they are a remarkable body of work, a deep and satisfying examination of the American project—spirituality, as we understand it, and . . . continue reading, and add your comments