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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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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

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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 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 […]

But Why Is It Called The Exterminating Angel?

Nice essay about a great film, perhaps Bunel’s best. But can anyone tell me why the name The Exterminating Angel?

The plot is easy to summarize, though the characters’ motivations remain mysterious. Buñuel describes it as “the story of a group of friends who have dinner together after seeing a play, but when they go into the living room after dinner, they find that for some inexplicable reason they can’t leave.” For equally inexplicable reasons, after preparing dinner for the guests, all but one of the servants feel compelled to flee the mansion. Trapped in the living room, the guests soon begin to panic. The narrative places us in the same position as the guests, puzzling over why they can’t leave, how they might escape, and what it all means.

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10 comments to But Why Is It Called The Exterminating Angel?

  • Gs

    Dramaturgical pretense?

  • P.

    There’s something about accusing somebody of being theatrical while also outdoing them by incorrectly using the word ‘dramaturgical.’ Really is.

    As for the title, when he’s not directly referencing a character or a textual source (Viridiana, Tristna, Belle de Jour, et al), Buñuel will frequently resort to senselessness, sometimes a kind of senselessness that seems to suggest some deeper sense even as it has none, like Le phantôme de la liberté or Un chien andalou or L’age d’or. What, after all, is the titular ‘discreet charm’ of the bourgeoisie? Or the obscure object of desire?

  • Michael

    I haven’t seen the film, but I imagine the title refers either to the angel that murdered the firstborn of all the Egyptians (Exodus), or maybe the angel that slaughtered Senacharib’s army in their sleep (Book of Judges).

    So there may be some connection between a dinner party and the Passover meal. But being trapped in a living room, unable to leave? Beats me.

    • spencer shears

      That’s what I was investigating. You’re right. there’s a DH Lawrence line ‘It is the three strange angels/admit them, admit them’. Also the angels that visited Lot in Sodom (and had an odd reception by some unfriendly townfolk) and the angel who held the sword up to Baalam as he was about to go and curse the Jews at the pay of Ba’alak, and lets not forget the angel who stood at the entrance of Gan Eden to bar Adam and Eve’s return AFTER they had eaten of the Tree of Knowledge, thereby losing ‘Life’ (cross reference Baudelaire ‘Litany of Satan). Biblical ‘angels’ cerubim, seraphim, oophim etc (all the various layers in the pantheon) are NOT renaissance putti!!! Anyway, I was asking because I’m calling my new company ‘Exterminating Angel’ because I, like angel Mikhail, Exterminate Clutter. No, I’m not a nice guy who holds these crazy hoarding hands and pretends to ‘organize’. I call in dumpsters and clean the place out, just wanted to make sure that ‘Exerminating Angel’ didn’t have any neonazi skinhead stuff attached.
      Da Svetanya
      Spencer Amos Shears

  • Birne

    IMDB has this to say:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056732/faq
    Luis Buñuel had originally called it The Outcasts of Providence Street. Then, renaming it El ángel exterminador after he had seen the name from an unfinished play in which his friend José Bergamín was writing at the time.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056732/trivia
    The title was taken from a friend of Buñuel, José Bergamin, who was writing a play with that title but never finished it. When Buñuel wanted to title his film, he asked for the rights of the title from his friend, but he answered that there was no trouble, because it was taken from the Bible, the Book of Revelations.

  • Matt

    The Exterminating Angel is a name for the angel Abaddon, the angel of the abyss and king of the locusts in Revelation 9:7-11. The text of the Vulgate gives him 3 names: in Hebrew Abaddon, in Greek Apollyon, in Latin Exterminans. That might suggest that Buñuel himself is the angel, casting the characters into an abyss of their own decadence – with no possibility of exit.

  • Richard

    Un Chien Andalou is not, I would argue, senseless. You might accuse him of obscurity with that one, but not senselessness. The Andalusian dog of the title is reportedly Federico Garcia Lorca. Lorca, Bunuel, and Dali were “friends” for a time, but then, as the story is told, Bunuel and Dali paired off, so to speak, and ganged up against Lorca, mercilessly making fun of him for, among many other things, his “feyness” (and you can read that as “his homosexuality”; I do). Lorca, whom they saw as a bit of a “hillbilly,” if you will, or “gypsy,” had also spent the early part of his career celebrating the Andalusian folk songs, dance, and art, and the cante jondo (deep song) and romancero gitano (gypsy ballads).

    At any rate, Un Chien Andalou is a coded attack on Lorca. Some sources (the ubiquitous, and, um…often ridiculous?) Wikipedia states that Lorca “perhaps erroneously” “interpreted it” this way.

    Some say Lorca was in love with Dali; at any rate, their attachment/friendship is usually described as “passionate” and quite intense. That is, until Bunuel came along and apparently stepped in between them.

    This is perhaps way off point, but I for some reason felt the need to at least “defend” that title. Cruel? Perhaps. Senseless? I would disagree.

  • Richard

    P.S. Jacques de Sores as source of that particular title makes complete sense to me in light of the film.

  • [...] The Raft Of The Medusa, but another writer friend of Buñuel’s had used The Exterminating Angel (a reference to Abaddon (in Hebrew), or Exterminus (in Latin) who was the King of the Locusts in Revelations, and [...]

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