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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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.

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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

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

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Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

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


Interviews from Conversational Reading

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


  • A Legacy by Sybille Bedford March 15, 2015
    Sybille Bedford had the benefit—or bad fortune, however you see it—of being born into the German aristocracy in 1911. Her father was a retired lieutenant colonel and art collector from the agrarian south, from a Roman Catholic family in fiscal decline. Her mother came from a wealthy German-Jewish family from Hamburg. A widower from his first marriage, Bedfor […]
  • Reviving Antal Szerb March 15, 2015
    Antal Szerb’s lithe, lively, and wholly endearing fiction is peopled by male dreamers on spiritual journeys of self-discovery. Each one sets out on his respective mini-mission with good intentions but knows from the outset that there are only so many harsh truths he can withstand. In this respect, all Szerb’s protagonists seem to have heeded the advice of Gr […]
  • 39 Africans Walk into a Bar March 15, 2015
    New anthologies of African fiction seem to materialize virtually every year, if not more often in recent years. When presented with the physical fact of yet another new anthology of African fiction, the immediate question, one which I was asked when I pressed the warm, bound pages of the Africa39 anthology into the even warmer hands of a new acquaintance, wa […]
  • The Country Road by Regina Ullmann March 15, 2015
    This collection of short stories, her first to appear in English, counters material poverty with a fulfilling and deeply spiritual relationship with the natural world. Ullmann herself was no stranger to hardship. A depressive, she was plagued by personal and professional crises. Financial constraints forced her to send her illegitimate children to the countr […]
  • The Fall of Language in the Age of English by Minae Mizumura March 14, 2015
    The Fall of Language in the Age of English stirred up debate upon its publication in Japan in 2008, and it’s possible it will do so in the U.S. with its arrival in Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter's translation. In their introduction, Yoshihara and Winters Carpenter, point out that Japanese reviewers accused Mizumura of being a jingoist, an e […]
  • Another View: Tracing the Foreign in Literary Translation by Eduard Stoklosinski March 14, 2015
    Another View demonstrates exciting potential in translation study and praxis. It is especially significant in deconstructing assumptions about fluency and linguistic identity. The author makes some persuasive arguments for considering and even preferring non-native translation of texts, the most controversial of which is the possibility that linguistic compe […]
  • The Latest Five from Dalkey Archive’s “Library of Korea” Series March 14, 2015
    Despite South Korea having the kind of vibrant literary scene you'd expect from a country with one of the highest literacy rates in the world, we're still not exactly inundated with English translations of South Korean fiction. Given this dearth, Dalkey Archive Press's Library of Korean Literature series, twenty five titles published in collab […]
  • B & Me: A True Story of Literary Arousal by J.C. Hallman March 14, 2015
    here’s a conspicuous history of books that simply should not work: Books like U & I by Nicholson Baker, a book-length exercise in “memory criticism,” where Baker traces Updike’s influence on his own writing life while studiously not actually re-reading any of Updike’s books. Or books like Out of Sheer Rage, Geoff Dyer’s book that procrastinates away from […]
  • The Valerie Miles Interview March 14, 2015
    The idea was to uncover the secret life of these texts, why do their creators consider them their best work? What’s the clandestine, the underground, the surreptitious meaning or attachment? Where’s the kernel, the seed from which a body of work grew, what the driving obsession? Is it something sentimental, something technical, maybe even something spiritual […]
  • On Being Blue by William H. Gass March 14, 2015
    Look up at the sky, or down into the ocean, and what color do you see? We see blue, but not Homer—he never once employs the term throughout The Iliad and The Odyssey, famously calling the sea "wine-dark" and the heavens "bronze." Neither did the Greek philosopher Xenophanes say blue—he described the rainbow as having only three colors. Th […]

Arnold Schoenberg: Far Crazier Than I Expected

I’ve read some damning stuff about Thomas Mann (particularly this LRB piece by Colm Tóibín), so it was with interest that I picked up his letters this weekend. Granted, they’re selected, and, granted, Thomas Mann had a vested interest in crafting his public image, but they really show a very good side of him. He comes across as extremely modest for a man of his accomplishments (there’s the one where he goes on at length in an effort to dispel rumors of his encyclopedic knowledge engendered by his, well, encyclopedic novels), and he sounds very reasonable and even-tempered throughout.

Perhaps nowhere is he more even-tempered than with Arnold Schoenberg, who, it seems, was convinced that Mann was out to steal credit for inventing the twelve-tone system. In letter after letter Mann assures Schoenberg that he has nothing to fear from him, and he repeatedly tells Schoenberg that he’ll have no success goading Mann into attacking him. (For another subjective take that puts Mann into a good light in this encounter, see this essay by Michael Wood.)

I know that Schoenberg was legendarily paranoid, but the following missive in this ongoing battle over twelve-tone supremacy was striking for the amount of lunacy it implies. On February 17, 1948, Mann opened a letter to Schoenberg with this line: “That certainly is a curious document.” One already senses the understated but utterly palpable condescension employed when talking to a stray animal, a young child, or Arnold Schoenberg. And here’s the proof of it: a footnote appended to the end of the sentence informs us that:

A “Hugo Triebsamen” had purportedly sent Schoenberg an extract from an imaginary Encyclopedia Americana of 1988, and Schoenberg forwarded it to Mann with a bitter comment. The extract stated that Thomas Mann, originally a musician, was the real inventor of the twelve-tone system, but that after he became a writer he silently tolerated its appropriation by a thievish composer named Schoenberg. With the publication of Doctor Faustus, Mann had claimed the musical system as his own intellectual property.

I know what you’re thinking: “Sure, it’s a little excessive to send Thomas Mann an extract from a fake encyclopedia written by some madman as objective historical proof that Mann really did steal Schoenberg’s system, when Mann had already stated otherwise on numerous occasions, but it’s not that bad.” True, true, until you read the next sentence in the footnote: “In a cordial letter of reconciliation dated November 25, 1948, Schoenberg admitted that he had invented Triebsamen and his letter.”

Didn’t Schoenberg have enough to occupy his time with?

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Uchida on Schoenberg ...
  2. This Month, We’ll Be Reading Buddenbrooks Last spring I was completely blown away by Thomas Mann's novel Doctor Faustus. On the spot I vowed to read more Mann, and then didn't...
  3. Reading Resolutions 2009: Sacha Arnold (Sacha Arnold is a senior editor of The Quarterly Conversation. His most recent piece was on the novelist Carter Scholz.) See all of TQC’s Reading...
  4. Buddenbrooks: My Final Thoughts Just to get a little closure on this huge book, I wanted to take a minute and talk about how the whole thing struck me....
  5. Sooner Than I Expected Somehow I'd assumed The Original of Laura wasn't getting published for some time. But there it is, up on Amazon, with a November pub date....

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3 comments to Arnold Schoenberg: Far Crazier Than I Expected

  • Eric Lundgren

    Mann seems to have been a decent and generous human being, but I’ve always wondered why he doesn’t acknowledge Adorno’s huge intellectual contribution to Doctor Faustus (at least there is no acknowledgement of him in my Vintage edition).

  • Eric Lundgren

    Correction:

    “I discovered in myself, or, rather, rediscovered as a long familiar element in myself, a mental alacrity for appropriating what I felt to be my own, what belonged to me, that is to say, to the ‘subject.’ The analysis of the row system and the criticism of it that is translated into dialogue in Chapter XXII of Faustus is entirely based upon Adorno’s essay. So are certain remarks of the tonal language of the later Beethoven …

    “An idea as such will never possess much personal and proprietary value in the eyes of an artist. The thing that matters is the way it functions within the framework of his creation.”

    – Mann, The Story of a Novel: The Genesis of Doctor Faustus, Knopf, 1961

  • In addition, Mann made another tribute to Adorno in the description of Beethoven’s Opus 111:
    “Mann playfully pays his debt to Adorno by working Adorno’s patronymic, Wiesengrund (meadowland), into Kretschmar’s explication…”
    –Gunilla Bergsten, in her Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus

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