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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.

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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 […]

5 Questions for Martin Chalmers on December by Alexander Kluge

In the most recent issue of The Quarterly Conversation, we ran a very positive review of December by Alexander Kluge. Here, that review’s author, Madeleine LaRue, engages the book’s translator, Martin Chalmers, with five questions.

Madeleine LaRue: Alexander Kluge’s distinctive style often seems to resist going into English. You have translated Kluge before, and you have also translated some of his most prominent contemporaries (Thomas Bernhard, Elfriede Jelinek, Herta Müller, among others). What strikes you as unique or special about Kluge’s writing?

Martin Chalmers: What resists going into English in Kluge? I think it’s less a question of style (though his use of legalistic language—cf. his training as a lawyer—a necessary dispassion combined with an underlying emotional response, is certainly distinctive. One can think of the boy who survives a devastating air raid shortly before the end of the war, as described in “The Air Raid on Halberstadt on 8th April 1945,” and who then spends his life as a theorist, as a writer, as a film-maker trying to come to terms with that destruction of all that is familiar, but in the knowledge of the crimes that have preceded that rather pointless air raid—an experience, of course, shared with millions of Germans and other Europeans)—well, then, less a question of style than of form, specifically Kluge’s use of short forms, an accumulation of short forms. Short forms and not simply the short story are much more central to German literature than English. The tradition perhaps begins with an admiration of Johann Peter Hebel but continues through the Brothers Grimm to Robert Walser, Kafka’s short prose, Benjamin and so on. English writing is much more bound by a division between novel and short story and has left little room for anything else, exceptions notwithstanding. And I think it’s in this accumulation of anecdote, incident, item, quotation, adaptation, (anti-)illustration, novels in pill form that the difficulty for the English-speaking reader lies (in the first instance the English-speaking publisher and critic). The difficulty is already there on the page in the layout, in the apparent lack of a narrative. Perhaps some English-speaking readers even have a difficulty taking such an “illegitimate” mixing of forms seriously as literature — as seriously as they would a novel.

MLR: Kluge strikes me as an unusually consistent writer, both in his stylistic oddities and in his intellectual preoccupations. Many of the themes and motifs in December appear in his other works (time, accidents, the relationship between good and evil, etc.), and some stories—such as “3 December 1931,” which relates Hitler’s near-fatal car accident, are taken almost verbatim from the earlier collections you have translated. Given Kluge’s consistency and your extensive experience with his work, does he ever still surprise you?

MC: Kluge’s themes are consistent indeed throughout his career. Central, for example, is the concern with the decline, the collapse of power. The moment when power shifts, when the gods abandon the once-powerful, as in the story from 2nd December about Gorbachev. Or I find the stories about the end of the GDR in Chronik der Gefühle at once impressive and enlightening. Yes, I think one’s always learning from Dr. Kluge. Another central theme across his work which is always moving from, say, the German particular to the universal are the re-workings of the return of Odysseus.

Odysseus has killed the suitors, but how will life go on now, after 10 years’ absence in which no one has remained the same? Or: a young soldier marries his childhood sweetheart in 1941, returns home twice on brief leaves before 1944, two children result, but he doesn’t return from captivity until 1954. His wife, his children are confronted more or less by a stranger more or less determined to assert his authority. Or he returns having been declared dead and finds his wife married to another. (The essence of a Balzac story which Kluge retells about a French officer gone missing during the course of Napoleon’s Russian campaign.)

How does a society cope with such returns, which also have plenty of legal ramifications?

In some authors the re-use of material in different books might seem like a lack of inspiration. With Kluge, given the sheer volume of material he’s produced, it’s more a matter of deploying a story, an anecdote in a context where it fits.

I think the range of sources, the breadth of interests of Kluge are always capable of springing surprises, of creating surprising juxtapositions. One of my favourite stories (one of many) is one in The Devil’s Blind Spot which I translated as “The Lost Command.” A small German force disappears into central Africa during the Second World War and survives there until the Congo Crisis of the early 60’s. An impossible story, a comic book story (one imagines the young Alexander Kluge devouring comic books of the old style when the family moves west from the Soviet Zone of Occupation), certainly a surprising take on the Second World War, but one that asks questions about how Germans see and write about the Second World War (and is at the same time enjoyable as a condensed comic strip).

MLR: December is full of references to religion, history, politics, science, philosophy and critical theory, as well as to pop culture (particularly music and film). How much research do you do while translating him? Do you consult the works that Kluge makes reference to (the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, for example, or Dante’s Inferno), or do you base your translation solely on Kluge’s own text?

MC: Research for translators has on the whole become much easier with the advent of the Internet. With something like the quote from the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, I think I just looked it up, found it and incorporated it in the translation. In the case of the “Old Dragon Beneath the Temple Mount,” I re-used the translation I had done for The Devil’s Blind Spot. That’s a few years ago now and I can’t remember whether I did any checking of Dante, although I’ve certainly read The Inferno. Inevitably there are limits to the amount of research a translator does or can do. He or she is working to a deadline (either the deadline the publisher sets, the deadline imposed by the need to earn money or usually both). Translators in Britain and Germany are usually full-time translators, in the United States they often also hold academic posts. For the latter, a translation may become a ‘project’; for the former, however great the commitment to book or author, it’s also a job.

MLR: I’m curious about your take on the relationship between image and text in the book. The English edition preserves not only the same order of Gerhard Richter’s photographs as the German edition, but also their placement within the stories — image A to the left of story B, for example, or image C in between pages two and three of story D. Did Richter’s photographs influence (for better or worse) your translation? Did you feel that anything changed in the relationship between image and text once the text was in English?

MC: I assumed the order of text and image was something that Kluge and Richter had agreed on and so felt that arrangement should be retained, if at all possible, in the translation (and the photo with the deer still follows the poem which refers to a deer, e`ven if the doe of the poem is fairly metaphorical).

MLR: Kluge occasionally quotes, as I mentioned above, from popular songs, particularly, in December, songs from the 1930’s and 40’s. Usually these are given in English translation, but in the story “22 December 1943”—about a soldier returning home to his unfaithful wife—the lyrics to the song the children sing appear in the original German as well. Was there a special reason you wanted to preserve these lyrics?

MC: In the story “22 December 1943” the songs are part of the action and not a comment. For density, let’s say, for atmosphere, I give the original and then the English words, as if they were subtitles in a film. Apart from that, because of the nature of the story it’s impossible to be free with the translation of the lyrics and they’re never going to have the flow of the original and so for that reason, too, I included the German here. I first encountered Alexander Kluge as a film-maker. I saw Yesterday Girl (Abschied von Gestern) in a Glasgow cinema, in a double bill with a Godard movie, some time around 1970. It may well make a difference whether a translator comes to Kluge as a writer alone or also has a knowledge of his work in film, of his theoretical texts, of his long-running TV programme. Anyone who knows the TV work and some of the films will also have Kluge’s softly insistent, deeply ironic, dead-pan voice and questions in his or her ear while translating.

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