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The End of Oulipo?

The End of Oulipo? My book (co-authored with Lauren Elkin), published by Zero Books. Available everywhere. Order it from Amazon, or find it in bookstores nationwide. The End of Oulipo

Lady Chatterley’s Brother

Lady Chatterley's Brother. The first ebook in the new TQC Long Essays series, Lady Chatterley's Brothercalled “an exciting new project” by Chad Post of Open Letter and Three Percent. Why can't Nicholson Baker write about sex? And why can Javier Marias? We investigate why porn is a dead end, and why seduction paves the way for the sex writing of the future. Read an excerpt.

Available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and direct from this site:


Translate This Book!

Ever wonder what English is missing? Called "a fascinating Life Perecread" by The New Yorker, Translate This Book! brings together over 40 of the top translators, publishers, and authors to tell us what books need to be published in English. Get it on Kindle.

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Group Reads

The Tunnel

Fall Read: The Tunnel by William H. Gass

A group read of the book that either "engenders awe and despair" or "[goads] the reader with obscenity and bigotry," or both. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Naked Singularity

Summer Read: A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Fans of Gaddis, Pynchon, DeLillo: A group read of the book that went from Xlibris to the University of Chicago Press. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Life Perec

Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec

Starting March 2011, read the greatest novel from an experimental master. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Last Samurai

Fall Read: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

A group read of one of the '00s most-lauded postmodern novels. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Tale of Genji

The Summer of Genji

Two great online lit magazines team up to read a mammoth court drama, the world's first novel.

Your Face Tomorrow

Your Face This Spring

A 3-month read of Javier Marias' mammoth book Your Face Tomorrow

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Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

New Books
Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.


Interviews from Conversational Reading

New Books
See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


  • A Treatise on Shelling Beans by Wiesław Myśliwski March 9, 2014
    A man enters a house and asks to buy some beans, but we aren’t given his question, only the response: humble surprise from the narrator and an invitation inside. This modesty, though it remains at the core of the narrator throughout, is quickly overwhelmed when his questions, his welcoming explanations, flow into an effort to tell his whole life story, from […]
  • The Gorgeous Nothings by Emily Dickinson, edited by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin March 9, 2014
    The Gorgeous Nothings, the dedicated work of visual artist Jen Bervin and author Marta Werner, presents in large format the first full-color publication of all fifty-two of Emily Dickinson’s envelope writings. As such, it opens up an aspect of her craft that suggests she was, in the so-called late ecstatic period of her career, experimenting with creating te […]
  • The Mehlis Report by Rabee Jaber March 9, 2014
    The Mehlis Report follows the architect Saman Yarid on his daily perambulations around Lebanon's capital, where his memories of the city's past and his observations of the high-rises that have emerged from the ruins of the nation's civil war dominate the faint plot. But the book transcends Beirut: Jaber writes about what is left behind when pe […]
  • The Fiddler of Driskill Hill by David Middleton March 9, 2014
    Middleton’s sensibility as poet and man is thoroughly Christian, Southern (or rather, Louisianan), and traditional, but he’s no unreconstructed romantic Rebel reliving the Civil War. His manner is meditative and elegiac, not rancorous or redneck. In a rare useful blurb on the back of the book, the North Carolina poet and novelist Fred Chappell describes Midd […]
  • The Fata Morgana Books by Jonathan Littell March 9, 2014
    After The Kindly Ones, the nine hundred-page long Goncourt Prize-winning “autobiography” of a Nazi, fans of the Franco-American writer Jonathan Littell may heave an inward sigh of relief at the sight of The Fata Morgana Books. A slim collection of “studies” (as some of these stories were called in their original French incarnations), The Fata Morgana Books n […]
  • Novelty: A History of the New by Michael North March 9, 2014
    There is no better way to ensure the early demise of a form or a style than to proclaim its newness; fewer epithets are as old as “new.” A well-known work by Italian artist Maurizio Nannucci reads, “All art has been contemporary”—we may wish to amend it, for present purposes, and have it read, “All art has been new.” Yet surely this is something of a truism. […]
  • A Life Among Invented Characters: A Tribute to Mavis Gallant March 9, 2014
    Two things immediately come to mind when remembering Mavis Gallant: her unique sense of humor—stories always told with a wry half-smile—and her near-comical stonewalling when confronted with leading questions about her craft in interviews and with audiences. The first time I was in her simple three-room apartment on rue Jean Ferrandi, a mere three blocks fro […]
  • The Guy Davenport Reader March 9, 2014
    Poet-critic. Think of that word, made of two—what a beaux construction. The first is wild, hair mussed, looking at a bird in a tree—yet the follower is practical, urbane, and seemingly obeisant to word counts. Together they bleach out the fusspot academic and appeal to logos—Davenport once said that he was “not writing for scholars or critics, but for people […]
  • [SIC] by Davis Schneiderman March 9, 2014
    In 2011 Andrew Gallix, in the Guardian, wrote a piece on unread difficult books, and mentioned “an anthology of blank books [edited by Michael Gibbs] entitled All Or Nothing,” and we can consider Blank as continuing that line. Kenneth Goldsmith’s prefatory essay “Why Conceptual Writing? Why Now?” in Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing (201 […]
  • The Ben Marcus Interview March 9, 2014
    I do tend to generate a lot of pages when I’m drafting something, and I cut as I go. I make strange noises out of my face, on the page, and they are for the most part not worth keeping. Some of the stories don’t take shape until I overwrite and pursue every cursed dead-end I can think of, which clarifies everything I don’t want the story to become. But I don […]

As de Man Goes

Interesting piece in the LARB overviewing the madness that followed the publication of Evelyn Barish’s The Double Life of Paul de Man.

Barish’s bill of indictments is long, detailed, sometimes overwrought, sometimes startling. But it also seems oddly beside the point. Her demystification has a tenuous relation to de Man’s actual critical work, which Barish claims not to really understand — which is an excuse our students might give but which few of us (from them, at least) would accept. The book, in any event, ends in 1960, before de Man’s most important work, so the extension to his actual achievement needs to be made inferentially, if at all.

This has, it should be said, not stopped reviewers and commentators from making it: such a linkage was the focus of the Times coverage, for example, and of an evisceration of de Man by Carlin Romano in the Chronicle of Higher Education, of a defense of deconstruction by Louis Menand in The New Yorker, and so on. And at first, the case seems clear: deconstruction à la de Man posits that there is no such thing as truth, that the figurative nature of language creates systematic patterns of misrecognition that engender the delusion that there is such a thing, that an enabling condition of our insights is our blindness to the conditions that frame them, and vice versa. What theory could be an easier alibi for a liar, a cheat, a bigamist — much less a moonlighting Berlitz instructor!

Perhaps this is the case with de Man, perhaps not, but the focus on de Man has limited the case to deconstruction tout court. . . .

Just Stop

I reviewed David Lipsky’s book about his conversations with David Foster Wallace during the Infinite Jest tour for the LA Times, and I gave it a very meh review, because it was only occasionally insightful or interesting. Although, I will say in Lipsky’s favor that I get the sense that he would have ended the project if Wallace’s survivors and literary estate had asked him to.

And in addition to that, Lipsky did at least have the respect to present the conversations without morphing them into some dramatization of someone who may or may not resemble David Foster Wallace. Because that, it seems, is precisely what the people who are making Lipsky’s book into a movie are doing.

I suppose there’s a possibility that this film is a respectful adaptation of Lipsky’s book, but I really kinda doubt it . . .

“The David Foster Wallace Literary Trust, David’s family, and David’s longtime publisher Little, Brown and Company wish to make it clear that they have no connection with, and neither endorse nor support ‘The End of the Tour.’ This motion picture is loosely based on transcripts from an interview David consented to eighteen years ago for a magazine article about the publication of his novel, ‘Infinite Jest.’ That article was never published and David would never have agreed that those saved transcripts could later be repurposed as the basis of a movie. The Trust was given no advance notice that this production was underway and, in fact, first heard of it when it was publicly announced. For the avoidance of doubt, there is no circumstance under which the David Foster Wallace Literary Trust would have consented to the adaptation of this interview into a motion picture, and we do not consider it an homage.”

Where the Unbearable Lightness Came From

Just learned that in the fall Open Letter Books will be doing a very cool sounding book in honor of the great translator, translation-mentor, and translation-advocate Michael Henry Heim: The Man Between: The Life and Legacy of Michael Henry Heim.

Words Without Borders extracts an essay by Sean Cotter about Heim’s legendary translation of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I didn’t know this, but originally the title was controversial, as it was rather far from Kundera’s Czech. And, as Cotter explains, it cleared quite a path for itself once it got into the world . . .

Heim’s translation, like a spot of dye, dropped into the flow of culture and altered the hue of English as it diffused downstream. A meme before memes, the breadth of this title’s reach lets us see something we know is true but can rarely prove: translation choices transform our language and our experience of the world. The list in this essay is drawn from internet and library catalog searches of article, chapter, blog, and book titles for variations on the translation.

the unbearable lightness of meaning
the unbearable lightness of acting
the unbearable lightness of community
the unbearable lightness of exodus
the unbearable lightness of sight
the unbearable lightness of games
the unbearable lightness of the climate change industrial complex
the unbearable lightness of anthropology

Heim’s gallant defense of American intellectual pride has been seconded, and thirded, and thousandthed, by writers who fit their own titles into the algebra of these abstract words. It has become an English given, a linguistic formula like Raymond Carver’s “what we talk about when we talk about [x]” or R. F. C. Hull’s “zen and the art of [x].” The English words that Heim poured into the Czech original have become the form where other authors cast their words.

The Country Where Knausgaard Failed

Last week, CR-reader Donato wrote in on this blog to let me know that, despite My Struggle author Karl Ove Knausgaard’s stratospheric levels of fame throughout much of Europe (and now, increasingly, the U.S.), there was one country where his books have failed: Italy. In fact, Knausgaard’s Italian publisher quit after just two volumes of La mia lotta.

I’m intrigued by the whole Knausgaard phenomenon, so I was immediately compelled: just why did Knausgaard’s books fail in an Italian context? So, I sent Donate a few questions, which he graciously answered. Note: Donato isn’t a part of . . . continue reading, and add your comments

RIP Garcia Marquez Twitter Roundup

These days, social media seems to be the way I most often hear about breaking news. But as much as a truism as that’s become for me, I really can’t recall having seen such a diverse and sizable group of people on the same page about an event as when Gabriel Garcia Marquez died yesterday. A sampling of the outpouring on Twitter following a death . . .

Where the Truly Audacious Work Lies

So I took the opportunity in my review of Blinding to editorialize a tiny bit about the state of American fiction. My thesis: if you want epic ambition, look overseas.

I don’t think it’s controversial at all to say that in the past decade or so, the great majority of the real shoot-for-the-moon, thrilling novels published in English have appeared in translation. Things life Freedom and The Goldfinch may pack in a lot of pages, but in terms of style, theme, and structure, they’re extremely tame. They’re page-turners that are mean to be plowed . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Notes on Conceptualisms

Nice to see that Notes on Conceptualisms has been translated into Spanish, and is attracting some serious attention in that language.

Depending on who you are, that title is either going to really excites you or scare the shit out of you. If you’re part of the latter group, though, there’s no reason for it. The book mostly consists of aphoristic statements about art and literature, all of which are interesting in and of themselves, and even more so when read in order. Yes, as the title suggests, it’s mostly about conceptual art, but in a . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Working with Chejfec

Sergio Chejfec’s two main English-language translators, interviewed at Asymptote:

Let’s get back to the translating itself. You both have been very fortunate in that you live in the same city as your writers, which isn’t the case for most translators. What kind of collaboration do you have with Chejfec?

Carson: It was important to know Sergio personally and get a sense that he was invested in the project. He’s fascinated by what the translator is doing—it resembles, particularly in its uncertainties and ambiguities, the thought process of his narrator. I found Sergio to be very patient and . . . continue reading, and add your comments

FSG’s About Face on the My Struggle Covers

Apparently the abomination is over: as Michael points out, the market has spoken, and it hates the original paperback covers for My Struggle, so FSG has gone with a change of design. Here’s how they compare.

Old (Lord have mercy!!):

New:

True, these new covers are boring as hell and reflect the InDesign skills of roughly 95% of current high school seniors, but, by God, I think at this point we’ll all gladly accept non-offensively dull over the carnival-madman-vomit aesthetic of the originals.

I admit, I’m sad . . . continue reading, and add your comments

Searching for the Self

A very insightful reading of Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be? at The Point.

Sheila and Margaux suffer from complementary forms of philosophical confusion. Sheila’s tendency to think of the self primarily in external terms, which never translate into what she wants them to be internally, is met by Margaux’s strong sense of her inner self, which in turn is threatened when translated into the outside world. How Should a Person Be? is hence more than a simple self-help book masquerading as a novel. Rather, it imaginatively stages both sides of a profound philosophical problem: . . . continue reading, and add your comments