bsdaesdfst buaassdsy 5912291886 link


bsdaest buaasy 5912291886 link


asasvbest buasdy 5912291886 link


bsdaesdfst buaassdsy 8479885311 link


bsdaest buaasy 8479885311 link


asasvbest buasdy 8479885311 link


bsdaesdfst buaassdsy 5877379643 link


bsdaest buaasy 5877379643 link


asasvbest buasdy 5877379643 link


bsdaesdfst buaassdsy 9349432393 link


bsdaest buaasy 9349432393 link


asasvbest buasdy 9349432393 link


bsdaesdfst buaassdsy 9208107356 link


bsdaest buaasy 9208107356 link


asasvbest buasdy 9208107356 link





Category Archives: Uncategorized

Missing Books + Latin American Mixtape Bundle Offer

caravaggio_-_san_gerolamo

I’m now offering The Missing Books and the Latin American Mixtape as a bundle for the sweet price of $4.99. That’s gonna be 35K+ words of blissful literary idyll——

The Missing Books is a living, growing, updating collection of books that don’t exist, but should.

Since its release on Oct 10 of this year, it’s been featured in Literary Hub, 3 Quarks Daily, the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Millions, and many others, as well as co-signed on Michiko Kakutani’s Twitter feed.

Featured authors include: Cormac McCarthy, the Oulipo, Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, JM Coetzee, Roberto Bolaño, Vladimir Nabokov, Mario Bellatín, Jose Saramago, Philip K. Dick, Christian Bök, Kenneth Goldsmith, Gerald Murnane, Jorge Luis Borges, László Krasznahorkai, Edouard Levé.

Whoever purchases The Missing Books receives the right to all future versions for free. Version 2.0 is in the works and currently slated for release at some point next year.

The Latin American Mixtape is charismatic, fun tour through a continent’s leading writers.

In includes an in-depth interview with César Aira, the most important digression of Aira’s career, why Roberto Bolaño has become a worldwide phenomenon, why Guatemalan superstar Rodrigo Rey Rosa needs to be on your to-read list today, + lots more. Over 25,000 words on Latin America’s finest.

Get both of them:

The Missing Books can also be purchased separately:

Kindle ($4.99)

Megan Abbott: Writing Noir in a New Way

52403

One of the reasons I love editing The Quarterly Conversation is that it opens up so many authors I would never find out about otherwise. Having some of the best, most open-minded, engaged readers in our world writing reviews and essays of top notch writers is a little like having my own private research staff cluing me in to great stuff. For a writer who thrives on creative influence as much as I do, this is incredible.

Case in point, last issue Angela Woodward (a very interesting writer herself) intro’d me to Megan Abbott with this essay. After editing it and publishing it, I knew I had to check Abbott out.

The elevator pitch for Abbott is that she does feminist noir. That’s a reductive label, but it’s a powerful way to coordinate what makes Abbott’s fictions feel so interesting to me, so I’m just gonna go with it.

Abbott is the author of several novels, all noir-like in their structure and feel, but insofar as I’ve read her it feels like no noir I’ve ever read before. The narrators are female, and though the stories play on familiar noir tropes (the femme fatale, the private investigator, etc, etc) the books are resolutely feminine: the focus on women’s relationships, they view masculine relationships from a female perspective, and (perhaps most interesting to my mind) the narrative voice has a very “female eye” for detail.

Let me focus in on that last point for a minute. Typically noir constructs a very masculine world, not just in things like the protagonist (who is usually male), his desires, his methods, etc but also much more quietly in the very texture of the story. The items the noir trades in (the guns, the cars, the clothes) are masculine items, the approach the protagonist takes is a man’s approach. The very word choice and incidental detail is geared toward evoking a masculine sensibility.

With Abbott’s novels, all this is couched in a feminine perspective. For instance, as I was reading Abbott’s Die a Little, I was struck by all the little details here and there that continuously created a female world:

And I take his arm. And my hand doesn’t even seem to make it halfway around his thickness.

Their fingernails are painted dark.

“Oh?” I say politely, taking my hand back and burying it safely in my dress pocket.

One night, lice is putting delicate finger curls in my hair . . .

Two pencils poked out of her upswept hair.

On and on, these details are endless, and I think there’s an important purpose to them in Abbott’s writing. Die a Little is very much about Lora the narrator’s journey, how this subversive woman named Alice comes into her life and shows her a kind of femininity she never before knew existed. All these little details establish Lora’s world—what she pays attention to, what she notices, what seems normal to her, and what’s dangerous—and as Lora develops her eye begins to catch other details. Whole new realms of signification open up to her. She comes to understand what these things signify, she even tries some of them on her own body, or wants to possess some of them as objects. She takes the typical noir plot of a rough woman shaking up a man’s life and she reimagines it for a relationship between two women.

There’s another important thing that I think Abbott is doing with Lora’s eye for detail. All of these little things that are a part of Lora’s world—how the dress she wears feels, how Alice’s makeup connotes danger, how little her hand and body is as compared to a man’s, how she inhabits space and moves around a room—these details are working to establish Lora’s vulnerability. And I think this is one of the most interesting things about Abbott’s noir. She creates a world in which Lora feels very, very delicate and vulnerable in a very true and deep way. Because most likely a woman like Lora in the 1950s was in a very vulnerable and subjected position, and in establishing this and integrating it into the plot and very texture of the story, Abbott gets across something very important about how women exist in our world and why they act as they do, why they choose the strategies they choose, why they communicate as they communicate, etc, etc. What Abbott does is to help someone who doesn’t know this world begin to understand it, which seems to me a very important thing.

Abbott is first and foremost a storyteller. She’s not preachy, she’s not didactic. I’m sure lots of readers just enjoy her books as stories and never come to think of the things that Ive found in her books. But I do think she writes with something along the lines of a purpose or an agenda, made just call it a powerful point of view that guides her literary sensibility. This moment from Die a Little has stuck with me:

It reminded me of a conversation I witnessed between Bill and Alice right after Edie’s miscarriage. Bill had talked about how these women, they were so delicate, like those flowers that look too heavy for their stems to support, that seem to defy their very structures.

“I’d say you men are the fragile ones,” Alice had replied. “Too soft for this world.”

When she said it, I thought she was teasing. but I could tell Bill was affected, that he found the remark surprising, penetrating. Even if he couldn’t put his finger on why.

The look in Bill’s eyes had been: She knows things. Things I can’t begin to know.

I think what Alice “knows” is simply what it’s like to be a woman in a man’s world, which is to have to give the impression of great delicacy while also having to live with the fact that all the people of power and status in your world view you as a delicate object. And so who is really the strong one, the one who stands up to that pressure every day, or the one who benefits from and controls that arrangement?

I think that Abbott’s book is such that, by the time we reach this moment, anyone who has been paying attention can likely read this subtext. And this is why I call her work feminist: it gets across this perspective, simple by very powerfully evoking this world and this lifestyle for anyone to see.

I would just add in conclusion that it seems that fiction like this is still greatly called for. I happened to read Die a Little almost exactly as the revelations about Donald Trump’s sexual abuse of women were occasioning a flood of testimony about sexual abuse that the women I know in day to day life had experienced at some point. So I think that even though Abbott writes about a society that is decades old and that we can think of as something we have left behind, certainly many tenets of the female experience she brings to the page have not aged at all. I would hope that in reading her books the genders can come to understand each other better.

Interesting New Releases: November 2016

Bosch-garden-delights-left-book-reading

Here are a few new releases for the month of November 2016 that have caught my eye. All of these, and many, many more new releases, can be found on my Interesting New Books — 2016 page.

Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marías Nov 1. New Marías is always a moment. Been hearing lots of good about this one.

Kafka: The Early Years by Reiner Stach Nov 1. Final volume of a bio of Kafka that will break new ground for the English-language reader.

Landscapes: John Berger on Art by John Berger Nov 1. Major new work from John Berger at 90. You gotta love it.

The Voynich Manuscript Nov 1. Nobody actually knows how to read this. Maybe you’ll decode it!

The Beach at Night by Elena Ferrante Nov 1. Elena for your children.

The Apparently Marginal Activities of Marcel Duchamp by Elena Filipovic Nov 4. New take on Duchamp.

Pieces of Soap: Essays by Stanley Elkin Nov 15. Beloved essay collection by one of America’s most respected experimental authors.

Wayward Heroes by Halldor Laxness Nov 1. A new translation of Laxness is always a big deal.

The Attraction of Things by Roger Lewinter Nov 1. Short and vvvery powerful.

Nocilla Experience by Agustín Fernández Mallo Nov 8. If you dig experimental, pomo lit, Book 2 in the Nocilla trilogy.

Spooky Action at a Distance by George Musser Nov 14. I liked this a lot last year in hardcover.

Thomas Bernhard: 3 Days by Thomas Bernhard Nov 15. Bernhard talks about himself for 3 days; so probably brilliant and horrifying at once.

The Post-Structuralist Vulva Coloring Book by Elly Blue and Meggyn Pomerleau Nov 15. I’m not actually recommending this, I just think it’s one of the most oddly specific titles I’ve ever seen.

In Praise of Defeat: Poems of Abdellatif Laabi Nov 15. One of the major poets of North Africa.

Chronicle of the Murdered House by Lúcio Cardoso Nov 21. Classic of Brazilian lit, for the lovers of Faulkner. Supposedly Clarice was a big fan.

Recommended Reading: Henry Green, Alberto Manguel, Megan Abbott, Werner Herzog, David Constantine

old-book

A few things I’ve been recently enjoying, or have been recently released, that I think you all should read.

Caught, Back, and Loving by Henry Green. Although Green has been around for a while, he’s criminally under-read and hard to get a hold of, so NYRB Classics is reissuing everything of his, starting with these three. If you want to know why he’s great, Dan Green’s essay in The Quarterly Conversation is a good place to start. There’s also an appreciation Deborah Eisenberg just wrote for the NYR Blog and an essay in The New Yorker. When heavyweights like Parks and Eisenberg are stumping for Green, you better give him a look.

Reading Pictures by Alberto Manguel. Manguel is a real polymath, kind of like a less flashy but better researched Geoff Dyer. He’s written on all sorts of things, and this 2002 release is him giving deep readings of numerous works of art. Engrossing, filled with all sorts of magnificent research and delightful trivia. This book is such an education, like the art history class I never had mixed with the mass media critiques I learned in college.

Die a Little by Megan Abbott. Another TQC tie-in. Angela Woodward wrote a really smart essay on the feminist noir of Megan Abbott, so I decided to give it a look. Die a Little deserves its own post at some point, but for now I’ll just say that it reinvents the conventions of noir from a female perspective in some really surprising and deep ways. I’ll be reading more Abbott.

Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed by Werner Herzog and Paul Cronin. I’ll say right off the bat, 600 pages of interviews with anyone, let alone Herzog, is going to be a wee bit extreme for some people. I love interview books, and I dig Herzog’s energy, so I loved this book. And I will say, if there’s anyone who could bullshit about himself and his career for 600 pages and keep it fresh and surprising and illuminating the entire time, it’s probably Herzog. Film lovers should definitely check this one out.

The Life-Writer by David Constantine. I first found out about David Constantine while staying in a friend’s apartment. She shoved his stories into my hands and said I had to read them. So I did, and from the very first sentence I knew I was in the presence of a master storyteller. Think Mavis Gallant, Deborah Eisenberg, Alice Munro. So when Constantine’s first novel in 30 years came out, it was a must-read for me. It did not disappoint.

21 Great Books to Demystify and Remystify Translation

dantestarfield

The Craft of Translation, eds. John Biguenet and Rainer Schulte

For a primer on the central dilemmas and activities in the practice of translation, you can learn a lot from the essays collected in this book. (Also see Biguenet and Schulte’s Theories of Translation: An Anthology of Essays from Dryden to Derrida.)

The Man Between, eds. Esther Allen, Sean Cotter, Russell Scott Valentino

A tribute to Michael Henry Heim, one of the most artistic and successful translators of the 20th century, plus a remarkable translation advocate and a man who translated from nearly a dozen languages. The book collects tributes, essays, and interview to give an accessible idea of Heim’s ideas on translation, the nuts and bolts of his translation practice, and the impact of his translations (make sure to see Sean Cotter’s piece on how Heim’s translation of Kindera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being essentially gave the English language the construction “the un-x-able y of z”).

Is That a Fish in Your Ear? by David Bellos

Another good, accessible primer on the central questions in translation and the practical matters of how people translate. Bellos is a major translator of French fiction, having done, among other things, the English-language edition of George Perec’s Life A User’s Manual, an extraordinarily challenging (if not impossible) translation.

If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents by Gregory Rabassa

Rabassa, who recently passed away, is one of the great translators of the 20th century, creating the English-language editions of canonical authors like Gabriel García Márquez and Julio Cortázar (García Márquez claimed Rabassa’s English-language One Hundred Years of Solitude was better than his original). This is Rabassa’s memoir of a lie in translation, as well as his ideas on the practice.

The Subversive Scribe by Suzanne Jill Levine

Levine is a translator (and friend) of many canonical Latin American authors, including Manuel Puig, Julio Cortázar, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and Guillermo Cabrera Infante, and this is her book laying out her ideas and experiences. Notable here is Levine’s idea of translation as subversion.

The Feud: Vladimir Nabokov, Edmund Wilson, and the End of a Beautiful Friendship by Alex Beam

This forthcoming title tells the tale of the feud between Nabokov and Wilson over Nabokov’s highly controversial (and widely panned) translation of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. Looks to be a fascinating book for people curious to know more about translation orthodoxy and how/why Nabokov decided to shatter it in his translation of the canonical Russian novel in verse.

The Delighted States by Adam Thirlwell

Thirlwell’s fun, very readable, anecdotal trip through some of history’s major translation questions. Although Thirlwell can be maddeningly superficial at times, he does a good job of explaining (and subverting) translation practice, making this a good one for both demystifing and remystifing translation all at once.

19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei by Eliot Weinberger

In looking at 19 different translations of a single Chinese poem, Weinberger gives you some fascinating trivia on the Chinese language, as well as some excellent reasons why translation is impossible (or at least translating Chinese poetry into English). Eye-opening if you’ve never seen the practical side of translation up close.

Writing Beckett’s Letters by George Craig

Craig, who was an editor and translator on the mammoth project to make Beckett’s letters available in English, discussed the particular questions the came up with the project. This included the challenge of reading Beckett’s handwriting (often stylized to the point of incomprehensibility), dealing with Beckett’s movement between languages in a single letter, and many others. Also see all the Cahiers (or which this is #16) for more great discussions of translation in all its forms.

The Poetics of Translation by Willis Barnstone

Barnstone is, among other things, one of the major Biblical translators, as well as a collaborator with Borges. These are his ideas of how translation can be an art form of its own. His discussion of Biblical translations (ancient and more recent) are especially interesting.

The Pleasure of the Text by Roland Barthes

Few if any people have written better than Barthes on what happens when a reader experiences a text. This is a matter essential to translation, because translation is often (and probably rightly) called the closest form of reading. The “erotics of reading” (Richard Howard) that Barthes creates in The Pleasure of the Text must deeply discuss what happens in a translator’s mind while immersed in the remarkably complex task of translation.

Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau

The book where Queneau famously wrote the same brief anecdote 99 different ways is great for seeing how many different forms a story can take (many of the ones in this book transcend language altogether). The expanded 65th anniversary edition from New Directions has additional exercises from the likes of Jonathan Lethem and Enrique Vila-Matas to give greater breadth to the idea of translation here. Also check out Matt Madden’s 99 Ways to Tell a Story, which brings Queneau’s idea into the realm of graphic fiction.

Ventrakl by Christian Hawkey

These are Hawkey’s experimental translations (and/or mistranslations) of the major Austrian Expressionist poet Georg Trakl (including translation via shotgun). Along the way you get Hawkey’s reflections on the art of translation and his personal experiences of Trakl (or his ghost).

Deformation Zone by Joyelle McSweeney and Johannes Göransson

In twinned essays, McSweeney and Göransson lay out their (sometimes controversial) ideas of translation as Frankenstein-like deformation of the original text (as opposed to the ideas of fidelity and transparency that translators generally espouse).

Experiences in Translation by Umberto Eco

In addition to all the writing he did, Eco translated a great deal (including the Italian edition of Queneau’s Exercises), and this is Eco’s definitive statement on the practice, with copious illustrations from his own experiences of translating and being translated. (Also see Eco’s Mouse or Rat: Translation as Negotiation.)

After Babel by George Steiner

After being released in 1975, this boo quickly became an essential text on the theory and practice of translation (although it’s also still an accessible work. Steiner finds translation as an essential quality of all communication and an indispensable practice for cultures to comprehend one another. He also, memorably, claims translation to be “not a science, but an exact art.”

The Hall of Uselessness by Simon Leys

Leys’s massive essay collection is a bounty in many ways, one of which are his reflections on translation (which he did much of himself). “The Experience of Literary Translation” is his most direct approach to the subject, but you can fin observations and theories throughout the other essays in this book.

Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature by Erich Auerbach

Not a book on translation per se, this is the major study on how reality has been transformed into literature throughout 3,000 or so years of Western literature. An essential book for anyone interested in the many ways reality can be composed into literature and the cultural and historical differences that have made for different representations. Without translation, this book wouldn’t exist, and it gives a good idea of the many different ways of seeing and comprehending the world that a reader can discover by reading translations.

Illuminations: Essays and Reflections by Walter Benjamin

Recommended because it contains Benjamin’s major essay “The Task of the Translator,” which lays out Benjamin’s (often controversial) ideas on translation as well as his thoughts on what he calls a “pure language.”

Dictionary of Untranslatables, eds Barbara Cassin, Emily Apter, Jacques Lezra, Michael Wood

A mammoth compendium of some 400 philosophical ideas that are “untranslatable.” A weird, fun, in-depth book that will live with you for some time (it’s over 1300 pages long).

Bottom’s Dream by Arno Schmidt

The incredibly massive, Joycean German mega-novel deals with a pair of Germans translating Poe. According to David Auerbach, the book is about “a sort of shared linguistic unconscious, where ‘etyms’ form a deep structure of language that guides how we interpret reality”—a provocative idea for those who are trying to get a better grasp of translation.

The Missing Books, Now With Lit Hub Excerpt

missing-books-web-1000

As part of the release of The Missing Books this week, you can now read an excerpt of it at Literary Hub.

From the chatter I’ve been seeing this week on Twitter, people are digging this project. I think it’s pretty cool, and I hope you’ll check it out. If you’re thinking of getting in on this, the Lit Hub excerpt might help you make up your mind.

And if you’re a longtime reader who values the info at CR & are looking for a cool way to support the site, this is a win-win for both of us. So do have a look. Excerpt at this link, description and ordering info below.

The Missing Books is a curated directory of books that do not exist, but should.

Featuring missing books from: Cormac McCarthy, the Oulipo, Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, JM Coetzee, Roberto Bolaño, Vladimir Nabokov, Mario Bellatín, Jose Saramago, Philip K. Dick, Christian Bök, Kenneth Goldsmith, Gerald Murnane, Jorge Luis Borges, László Krasznahorkai, Edouard Levé. Nearly 100 titles in all.

In its pages you will find: an infinite book; a book nobody can read; an unwritten book worth $5 million; a book written on skin; a universal dictionary; a book of 25,000 pages; a missing book that will be found in 100 years.

The Missing Books is a living document. It will be updated and re-released as new missing books are discovered, and as a circumstance render missing books found.

Anyone who purchases a copy of The Missing Books also receives the right to receive for free all future versions of it that I release.

available as a downloadable ePub file and PDF file

Kindle ($4.99)

 

———Excerpts———

FROM THE BOOKS THAT ARE YET TO BE

Winter Journeys by various members of the Oulipo

An ongoing hypernovel written over three decades by the Oulipo, a collective of experimental writers (mostly French) who utilize writing constraints. The concept of this hypernovel was originated by Perec’s account, “The Winter Journey” (see The Books That Never Were). After the great success of that piece, other members of the Oulipo wrote their own sequels to Perec’s “Winter Journey,” and the idea caught on among the group. Subsequent “Winter Journey” installments have become a rite of passage among new Oulipo members. In 2013 an English-language edition of the original “Winter Journey” plus 20 sequels was published by Atlas Books, a volume of some 350 pages. One would imagine that it is a virtual certainty that, much like the Oulipo itself, the complete chronology of the “Winter Journey” is far from over.

Los Cien Mil Libros de Bellatín

A theoretical project by Mario Bellatín, an experimental Peruvian author currently headquartered in Mexico City. He has already made some progress on “Los Cien Mil Libros de Bellatín” (The Hundred Thousand Books of Bellatín), through which he aims to write and publish 1,000 copies each of some 100 literary works. A supposed list of the plots for these 100 books was published with the journal Dossier, among them: “17- Explicar la importancia del perro sin pata trasera en la existencia de Mario Bellatín” (17- To explain the importance of a dog without a hind leg to the existence of Mario Bellatín); “38- Un libro sólo sobre el tiempo anterior a que la enfermedad se presentará” (38- A book about the time before disease existed); “57- La particular sensación de inmortalidad que debió soportar hasta el día de su muerte” (57- A particular feeling of immortality that one must sustain until the day of your death).

 

FROM THE BOOKS THAT COME FROM BOOKS

The Winter Journey by Hugo Vernier

A strange book that plays a central role in an account of madness; said account was written by Georges Perec, who chose to title it “The Winter Journey.” Perec’s account goes as follows: one night a man discovers an obscure book titled The Winter Journey that seems to be the source text for all the major developments of French literature to-date (1939). All the great poets of the 19th and early 20th centuries have plagiarized this work, which the man is convinced was published before all of them. But his copy of the book is lost in the Second World War. The man then spends the rest of his life failing to find another copy and dies in a madhouse. It is unknown if Perec ever possessed a copy of The Winter Journey, and if so why he chose not to share it with the world in any way other than in this brief piece. Of course, if he did have a copy, it would help explain why he so avidly plagiarized his fellow authors; knowing that they, too, had already plagiarized, what difference would it make if he then took what they had already taken? To date no other copies of The Winter Journey have surfaced, although the Oulipo seems to be at work on their own version (see Winter Journeys).

 

FROM THE BOOKS THAT WERE LOST

The Owl in Daylight by Philip K. Dick

Unfinished final project by Philip K. Dick. According to some reports, Dick claimed Daylight as his Finnegans Wake; other (perhaps corresponding) reports say that this book would have combined ideas of Beethoven as humanity’s most incandescent genius with visions of heaven as a bath of lights. Others have argued that the correct source for this book was Dante’s Divine Comedy, or that the story was to have involved ideas of a quantum leap in human evolution that would bring about new concepts of reality. Plot summaries abound, generally involving higher life-forms and/or godlike beings, and the little that can be said about Owl has been gleaned from hearsay and some letters Dick wrote. To add to the confusion, at one point the author’s former wife published a version of the book that she claimed reflected her understanding of the project, but it has since been removed from circulation. Supposedly, the title is a reference to our inability to understand, our blindness.

Richard and Samuel by Kafka/Brod

Incomplete joint novel to have been co-authored by Franz Kafka and Max Brod. Brod was one of the most successful German authors of his day, Kafka one of the least. Fortunately for posterity, the former used his success and influence to win the latter publication with leading venues of the day, contributing to Kafka’s production as an author. The two were good friends and attempted to co-author a novel that would have been called Richard and Samuel. One imagines it a sort of Germanic Bouvard and Pécuchet, wherein two friends reflect on the absurdity of the world as they travel the land via train. Unfortunately, while Brod had no difficulties elaborating on the conceit the two had agreed upon, Kafka grew more and more despairing, and the project, like so many of Kafka’s, remained incomplete.

Interesting New Releases: October 2016

Bosch-garden-delights-left-book-reading

Here are a few new releases for the month of October 2016 that have caught my eye. All of these, and many, many more new releases, can be found on my Interesting New Books — 2016 page.

The Path of the Jaguar by Stephen Henighan October 1. Latest novel from one of my favorite critics, translators, and all around literary eminence.

Caught, Back, and Loving by Henry Green. Oct 4. Henry Green is your favorite author’s (and critic’s) favorite author. So incredibly pumped that NYRB Classics is reissuing all 9 of his novels.

Ghostland by Colin Dickey October 4. I’ve been a big fan of Colin’s essays for some time, and I love the topic for this book.

Cockroaches by Scholastique Mukasonga October 4. Probably the worst interview I’ve ever experienced, but she’s an interesting author.

A Greater Music by Bae Suah Oct 11. The first time I read Bae Suah, I knew she was a very special writer.

My Private Property by Mary Ruefle Oct 11. New short prose collection from one of my favorite essayists and poets.

In Another Country: Selected Stories by David Constantine and The Life-Writer by David Constantine October 11. David Constantine is definitely one of the top stories writers on Earth. And DC’s first novel in a while is fire.

Reel: A Novel by Tobias Carroll Oct 11. Excited to see what Tobias Carroll can do.

Dear Mr. Beckett – Letters from the Publisher: The Samuel Beckett File Correspondence, Interviews, Photos Oct 13. Name says it all.

Iza’s Ballad by Magda Szabo Oct 18 More Magda.

The Letters of Samuel Beckett 4 Volume Hardback Set Oct 19. All of Beckett’s letters. You might never escape.

The Complete Madame Realism and Other Stories by Lynne Tillman Oct 21. Madame Realism is one of Tillman’s best creations.

Float by Anne Carson Oct 25. Looks like Anne Carson has channeled a little B.S. Johnson for this one.

Norte: A Novel by Edmundo Paz Soldán Oct 26. The translator (Valerie Miles) has impeccable taste, and I’ve published Paz Soldán before, so I know he’s got a lot of talent.

Now Available: The Missing Books by Scott Esposito

missing-books-web-1000

The Missing Books is a curated directory of books that do not exist, but should.

Featuring missing books from: Cormac McCarthy, the Oulipo, Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, JM Coetzee, Roberto Bolaño, Vladimir Nabokov, Mario Bellatín, Jose Saramago, Philip K. Dick, Christian Bök, Kenneth Goldsmith, Gerald Murnane, Jorge Luis Borges, László Krasznahorkai, Edouard Levé. Nearly 100 titles in all.

In its pages you will find: an infinite book; a book nobody can read; an unwritten book worth $5 million; a book written on skin; a universal dictionary; a book of 25,000 pages; a missing book that will be found in 100 years.

The Missing Books is a living document. It will be updated and re-released as new missing books are discovered, and as a circumstance render missing books found.

Anyone who purchases a copy of The Missing Books also receives the right to receive for free all future versions of it that I release.

available as a downloadable ePub file and PDF file

Kindle ($4.99)

 

———Excerpts———

FROM THE BOOKS THAT ARE YET TO BE

Winter Journeys by various members of the Oulipo

An ongoing hypernovel written over three decades by the Oulipo, a collective of experimental writers (mostly French) who utilize writing constraints. The concept of this hypernovel was originated by Perec’s account, “The Winter Journey” (see The Books That Never Were). After the great success of that piece, other members of the Oulipo wrote their own sequels to Perec’s “Winter Journey,” and the idea caught on among the group. Subsequent “Winter Journey” installments have become a rite of passage among new Oulipo members. In 2013 an English-language edition of the original “Winter Journey” plus 20 sequels was published by Atlas Books, a volume of some 350 pages. One would imagine that it is a virtual certainty that, much like the Oulipo itself, the complete chronology of the “Winter Journey” is far from over.

Los Cien Mil Libros de Bellatín

A theoretical project by Mario Bellatín, an experimental Peruvian author currently headquartered in Mexico City. He has already made some progress on “Los Cien Mil Libros de Bellatín” (The Hundred Thousand Books of Bellatín), through which he aims to write and publish 1,000 copies each of some 100 literary works. A supposed list of the plots for these 100 books was published with the journal Dossier, among them: “17- Explicar la importancia del perro sin pata trasera en la existencia de Mario Bellatín” (17- To explain the importance of a dog without a hind leg to the existence of Mario Bellatín); “38- Un libro sólo sobre el tiempo anterior a que la enfermedad se presentará” (38- A book about the time before disease existed); “57- La particular sensación de inmortalidad que debió soportar hasta el día de su muerte” (57- A particular feeling of immortality that one must sustain until the day of your death).

 

FROM THE BOOKS THAT COME FROM BOOKS

The Winter Journey by Hugo Vernier

A strange book that plays a central role in an account of madness; said account was written by Georges Perec, who chose to title it “The Winter Journey.” Perec’s account goes as follows: one night a man discovers an obscure book titled The Winter Journey that seems to be the source text for all the major developments of French literature to-date (1939). All the great poets of the 19th and early 20th centuries have plagiarized this work, which the man is convinced was published before all of them. But his copy of the book is lost in the Second World War. The man then spends the rest of his life failing to find another copy and dies in a madhouse. It is unknown if Perec ever possessed a copy of The Winter Journey, and if so why he chose not to share it with the world in any way other than in this brief piece. Of course, if he did have a copy, it would help explain why he so avidly plagiarized his fellow authors; knowing that they, too, had already plagiarized, what difference would it make if he then took what they had already taken? To date no other copies of The Winter Journey have surfaced, although the Oulipo seems to be at work on their own version (see Winter Journeys).

 

FROM THE BOOKS THAT WERE LOST

The Owl in Daylight by Philip K. Dick

Unfinished final project by Philip K. Dick. According to some reports, Dick claimed Daylight as his Finnegans Wake; other (perhaps corresponding) reports say that this book would have combined ideas of Beethoven as humanity’s most incandescent genius with visions of heaven as a bath of lights. Others have argued that the correct source for this book was Dante’s Divine Comedy, or that the story was to have involved ideas of a quantum leap in human evolution that would bring about new concepts of reality. Plot summaries abound, generally involving higher life-forms and/or godlike beings, and the little that can be said about Owl has been gleaned from hearsay and some letters Dick wrote. To add to the confusion, at one point the author’s former wife published a version of the book that she claimed reflected her understanding of the project, but it has since been removed from circulation. Supposedly, the title is a reference to our inability to understand, our blindness.

Richard and Samuel by Kafka/Brod

Incomplete joint novel to have been co-authored by Franz Kafka and Max Brod. Brod was one of the most successful German authors of his day, Kafka one of the least. Fortunately for posterity, the former used his success and influence to win the latter publication with leading venues of the day, contributing to Kafka’s production as an author. The two were good friends and attempted to co-author a novel that would have been called Richard and Samuel. One imagines it a sort of Germanic Bouvard and Pécuchet, wherein two friends reflect on the absurdity of the world as they travel the land via train. Unfortunately, while Brod had no difficulties elaborating on the conceit the two had agreed upon, Kafka grew more and more despairing, and the project, like so many of Kafka’s, remained incomplete.

The Doubles by Scott Esposito

My next book has been announced at Civil Coping Mechanisms (scroll down for their 2017 list). It’s currently titled The Doubles and it’s on film (although, really also about a dozen other things, all seen through film). Will be out in the fall of next year.

A Generally Mixed Response to The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

argo

I am no stranger to the work of Maggie Nelson. I’ve been following her writing for years now, and when I heard that she was to release a fragmentary, book-length essay on the subject of gender and identity, I was greatly enthusiastic. It seemed like a project that would very much play to her strengths, and this was a subject on which I was greatly interested in hearing her voice.

I did have a little trepidation, though, as I’ve never read a book of Nelson’s that I was unambiguous about. I felt that her prior book-length fragmentary essay, Bluets—the book of Nelson’s that was her greatest market success prior to The Argonauts and probably which I like the best—though showing very much brilliance, was generally too loose, a little too flimsy and too easy to work as a whole. But I recommend it to you—give it a shot.

Likewise, I found that Nelson’s later book The Art of Cruelty had very much to recommend it. This is a book-length study of “cruel” art (what a great subject), and indeed, Nelson’s vivid writing did introduce me to a number of hugely interesting writers and artists that I had never known, and I found her often insightful on their work and the quandary of “cruel” art in general. Unfortunately, I found a lot of her conclusions to be half-baked and poorly reasoned, and it was clear to me that about halfway through the book she had run out of things to say and just began repeating earlier sentiments. Nonetheless, I also recommend this book to you!

Nevertheless, knowing how much good I had found in these books, I definitely wanted to read The Argonauts, a book which has gotten blazingly positive reviews in just about every place one might look for reviews of books.

So here’s my take. (And if you’d like to read a more positive take, I recommend this one here as the best I have read.)

I think the book gets off to a good start with its very beautiful and poetic evocations of Nelson’s relationship with Harry, an artist who is undergoing a masculinization of his body. Indeed, I think this is where The Argonauts is the strongest: when Nelson is teasing out the dilemmas of her life, be they with Harry, or when she is portraying her own feelings about being a mother (and a step-mother to Harry’s child), or on other topics, even being a writer. Here, the book is very honest, sincere, and deep. Nelson’s writing is clear and often interesting.

But The Argonauts is not simply a book about Nelson and Harry: it is also a book that seeks to engage with gender and feminist theory, to delve in to the popular literature surrounding motherhood, and to make its own original statements about these topics.

I think I found Nelson’s discussion of her own complex feelings around her attempts to get pregnant, and then her life as a pregnant woman, a woman who had just given birth, and a mother the most interesting parts of The Argonauts. I appreciated her ability to examine the myths surrounding motherhood and the image of the mother in our culture. In these sections she is engaging everything from her own parents and childhood memories (difficult territory for her) to popular perceptions of motherhood and even such traditionally dicey areas as lactation. She does it all with aplomb, depth, and a careful irony that gives a certain casualness to her ideas while not shortchanging them at all.

I also like the way Nelson has chosen to integrate citations from the likes of Judith Butler, Luce Irigaray, Anne Carson, William James, Susan Sontag, Eileen Miles, and many, many more of an eclectic cast of thinkers. (And, this being a Maggie Nelson book, I have come to expect to discover a new constellation of artists and writers that I had never before known—I appreciate the introduction to many such thinkers that I will surely find out more about.) She works their words into her sentences, only letting you know that they aren’t her words by italicizing them and including the name of the thinker in the margins of the page. This makes the citation feel effortless, and oftentimes and interjection is a nice moment of frisson in the context of the work—a little piece of thought that both seems to fit in natively but also makes you pause and reflect. And in most cases she has isolated particularly interesting utterances and reflected how they inform her own life with care and depth.

So, a lot of good for The Argonauts, but I do think this book has some very serious problems that ultimately make it a failure. The biggest issue is that while Nelson provides a very able introduction to many of the issues surrounding gender and identity—I can see this book as “it book” making trans issues legible to people who have probably never knowingly met a trans person in their lives—I didn’t find Nelson’s thinking on the subject original or provocative at all. At this point in my life I’ve read quite a few books on this subject; more than that, I’ve profited greatly from them and discovered an identity in no small part through them. This would include very conservative instances of the genre, like Jan Morris’s Conundrum, up through much more radical statements, like Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto”, Sandy Stone’s The War of Desire and Technology, and Juliet Jacques’s Trans (which, full disclosure, I read in manuscript and made suggestions on), among many more.

By comparison, I felt that Nelson’s assessment of gender, sexuality, and identity in The Argonauts was very boilerplate, and I didn’t feel that it offered me very much personally, in contrast to many other writers on similar subjects. For instance, early in the book Nelson spends some time fretting that increasing acceptance of homosexual behavior will rob queerness of its political edge: “There’s something truly strange about living in a historical moment in which the conservative anxiety and despair about queers bringing down civilization and its institutions (marriage, most notably) is met by the anxiety and despair so many queers feel about the failure and incapacity of queerness to bring down civilization and its institutions.” Nelson continues: “This is not a devaluation of queerness. It is a reminder: if we want to do more than claw our way out of repressive structures, we have our work cut out for us.”

I think this is a fairly rich topic, one that I have spent more than a little time contemplating. But Nelson’s cursory and generally easy-to-agree with statements do nothing more than introduce an issue that, at this point, has generally been pretty well introduced. And Nelson’s somewhat cartoonish statement of the issue—though pleasingly ironic—is too heated and preening to offer very much substance. Reading it made me wonder: hasn’t queerness (at least the homosexual variant) just about lodged its critique of Western civilization at this point? What more does it have to get across to straight culture, and, with the general triumph of homosexual marriage across most of the developed world, hasn’t it more or less made its political mark? And why should we even be equating “sexual deviancy” with radicality—aren’t there other more interesting ways to be radical? I’m not sure I know the answer to these questions, they would have been interesting things for Nelson to delve into, but she quickly forgets about this strident line on queer culture and moves on to other targets. And this suggests a general failure of The Argonauts: again and again Nelson reaps the rhetorical benefits of the easy statement on the hot-button issue, but she never follows up with the much riskier and more difficult matters of digging into the premises of said statement and saying things that not everyone would agree with.

(And, again, she probably does the best on this front when engaging the ideas of motherhood, particularly the mothering advice of paediatrician DW Winnicott, probably not every intellectual’s go-to theorist on motherhood.)

Nelson’s playing to the crowd includes the sacrificial flaying of some great white male thinkers, and, again, here I encountered some problems. First let me say that I am in no way opposed to reappraisals of the likes of Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Lacan, or even Slavoj Zizek (who is far less canonical than Baudrillard and Lacan and who has been attacked very, very much). These sorts of thinkers are clearly dominant forces in their disciplines, and I would like nothing better to read an insightful reappraisal or critique of their work—indeed, wasn’t it by doing just that to their predecessors that these thinkers got to be where they are now? If anything, the world of cultural criticism is too full of easy veneration and fawning recitation of the teachings of the masters. So hack away.

However, what you cannot do is what Nelson does when she attempts to critique Zizek. Nelson’s attack on Zizek is either intellectually duplicitous or lazy to the point of messiness—I’m not sure which one, but either way she gets the basic facts wrong.

In the context of talking about her difficult efforts to be artificially inseminated (which, by the way, Nelson describes quite beautifully and sensitively) she finds a very long and complex essay of Zizek’s where he talks about the question of reproduction detached from the sexual act. (It’s right here to read if you want to see it.) She quotes the following from Zizek, declaring it what he thinks is “the type of sexuality that would fit in an ‘evil’ world”:

In December 2006, the New York City authorities declared that the right to chose one’s gender (and so, if necessary, to have the sex-change operation performed) is one of the inalienable human rights—the ultimate Difference, the “transcendental” difference that grounds the very human identity, thus turns into something open to manipulation . . . “Masturbathon” is the ideal form of the sex activity of this trans-gendered subject.

The problem is that this is complete untrue. If you read the essay, it is quite clear that Zizek isn’t condemning non-reproductive sex as “evil,” and he most certainly isn’t saying anything negative (or really anything at all) about transgender people. The essay isn’t even about transgender at all, and Zizek’s use of the term—once in the entire essay—is accidental.

Continuing her critique, Nelson tells us that Zizek is claiming that “the transgendered subject is barely human, condemned forever to ‘idiotic masturbatory enjoyment.'” Unfortunately, the only true part of that sentence is that Zizek does write the words “idiotic masturbatory enjoyment” in his essay—the rest is a complete fabrication. In this essay, these words don’t apply to trans people at all (they appear far, far before Zizek has even brought up transgender), and Zizek certainly doesn’t say anything remotely like calling trans people “barely human.” It very much seems that Nelson just cherry-picked a few quotes from Zizek without actually reading the work.

I wish I could say that this was the only instance in which I got the feeling that Nelson was loading her arguments to score some cheap rhetorical points, but that is not the case. Indeed, based on the very cursory readings of thinkers like Freud and Zizek in The Argonauts, I would have to conclude that Nelson is out of her depth in attempting to critique them—either that or she is not putting in very much effort. I don’t know what the truth is—Nelson strikes me as a very intelligent, open-minded, well-read thinker—but insofar as the thought presented in The Argonauts, this is the conclusion I have to reach. And this is unfortunate, because this book very much does aspire to play in the realm of theory and make a few theoretical statements of its own. I think this is the flip side to Nelson’s very free and often energetic use of brief quotations throughout her book. As I’ve noted already, it has its strengths, but it does expose her to the appearance of a lack of rigor.

Moreover, many of the feminist critiques of mainstream culture that Nelson makes in The Argonauts too often read like something I would expect to find on The Huffington Post or some other generator of clickbait. They are just too one-sided, too spring-loaded with cynicism, lacking the sort of empathy, generosity, and patience that Nelson admirably has in such great quantities for those she regards as allies and fellow intellectuals. Again and again Nelson presents situations where she assumes bad faith on the part of people that I find it hard to believe bore her or her partner any ill intent whatsoever. Not only that, but she takes a tone toward straight culture that’s a sort of preening chic pride that I find very, very counter-productive. It’s the kind of condescending, no-win critique that slams a straight person for their perceived ignorance of trans/queer/feminist culture while also never giving that person the opportunity to “do the right thing” by dismissing them out of hand. I think it’s important to love yourself and take pride in what you are, but not at the cost of armoring yourself within a stylized coolness that implicitly casts aspersions toward those who are not what you are. That tone very much grates on my ears, both in real life and in books, and from what I’ve gathered about Nelson from interviews and profiles, that’s not really who she is. But more importantly, it prevents The Argonauts from taking a more pluralistic approach that gives a truly complex, multi-faceted picture of the question at hand. And this is to shortchange Nelson and her inquiry.

I appreciate that there are frustrations with trying to live a queer life in a largely straight culture—I’ve experienced these plenty of times myself. And I understand that sometimes a person will reach their limit with said frustrations and do something that they momentarily feel entitled to but are later ashamed of. I get it. And, in some very honest moments in this book, Nelson owns up to just that, and I commend her for that honesty and self-awareness. Unfortunately there are other moments in this book that bespeak unfounded assumptions, an unfocused anger, and a mocking pride that may have been satisfying to write but that are not at all interesting as reflections, and that will only be counter-productive in promoting the sort of understanding of trans culture that would make life easier for Nelson and her partner.

Then there are things like this:

Harry lets me in on a secret: guys are pretty nice to each other in public. Always greeting each other “hey boss” or nodding as they pass each other on the street.

Women aren’t like that. I don’t mean that women are all back-stabbers or have it in for each other or whatnot. But in public, we don’t not at each other nobly. Nor do we really need to, as this nod also means I mean you no violence.

Suffice to say, having presented as a man nearly every day of my adult life, I am unfamiliar with this practice, and I certainly don’t feel the need for reassurance that fellow men are not waiting to commit violent acts upon me.

I am tempted to chalk this up as an isolated moment or a piece of irony that doesn’t quite work, but the problem is that there are multiple instances of such things. Nelson is a better writer than this. Very obviously she is. She should have taken the care to remove such things.

This reminds me of something I once read in an interview with Deborah Eisenberg. Deborah Eisenberg said that she spends “most of my time trying to tear away banalities.” It really struck me, because if a writer like Eisenberg spends so much time pulling away banalities, then we all must need to do that. Indeed, writing banalities like the above quotation is part of the writing process, they are in all writers’ manuscripts. They’re just the things that come out as your work your way toward good writing. And we must pull them out relentlessly. I think that a blind eye to her own banalities is an issue with Nelson’s writing. I feel like I could lodge this critique of all of the work of hers I’ve read. And I wish she had been more careful here; these sorts of things dilute her style, which tends to be very refined and very smart when it is not dropping things like the above.

I think I’ve said enough about this book. And I think, as promised, a profoundly mixed take. Having written out my feelings on this book, I think I’ve just convinced myself to read Nelson’s next book; I’ll probably find a lot in there that I like. But I gather that certain aspects of Nelson’s style will just grate on me, and this is part of who she is as a writer.

THE SURRENDER

The Surrender is Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning his lifelong desire to be a woman.


LADY CHATTERLEY'S BROTHER

Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


THE LATIN AMERICAN MIXTAPE

5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

Shop though these links = Support this site

Copyright © 2017. Powered by WordPress & Romangie Theme.