Introducing Les Figues Press

Andrew Wessels, the new managing editor of Les Figues Press (and longtime Quarterly Conversation contributor), has been in touch with me regarding the books his press publishes. I asked him to put together some pitches for a few of his titles, as I think they will appeal to the kinds of people who read this blog.

In the preface to The End of Oulipo, Lauren Elkin and Scott Esposito write that “a great Oulipian work is both a statement of what it knows and a gesture toward something infinitely larger than itself.” I think that that statement would work as a good description for what we are trying to do at Les Figues Press: to create aesthetic conversations between readers, writers and artists by publishing books that push the boundaries of genre, form, and general acceptability.

Over the last week, Scott and I have been emailing about the Les Figues catalog, and he’s asked me to write about some of our titles as an introduction to the books that we are publishing.

I’ll begin with one of our recent titles, Matias Viegener’s 2500 Random Things About Me Too. What began as a simple Facebook meme (you probably remember being tagged in at least one–“25 Random Things About Me”) became an obsession of listing. For 100 consecutive days, Viegener made a list of 25 random things about himself, reflecting on events and feelings both past and present: family, memory, sexuality, social networks, randomness, art, dogs, death, and fruit. This book is an experiment on the construction of identity in a Facebook-drenched world of self-manufacturing and short attention spans: “Have you noticed how fashionable randomness is right now? Random is the new black.”

One of my favorite books we’ve published is Harold Abramowitz’s Not Blessed, in which a narrator tells the story of one incident twenty-eight times in twenty-eight shifting versions. The narrator’s (continuously failing) attempts to tell the story correctly become a compulsion that plays itself out winding toward the trauma of non-truth and multiple non-originals. Anyone who found Calvino’s Invisible Cities tantalizing would find in this book a friendly companion.

Or, if the experiments of Perec and Queneau are up your alley, I’d challenge you with Vanessa Place’s DIES: A Sentence, a novel written in a single sentence, the period withheld for 117 pages for the tale of a war journey by a legless narrator to an armless man making stew. This book, as Susan McCabe says, is “our new original.”

Maybe you like writers who put their money where their mouth (or language) is. Doug Nufer did this in By Kelman Out of Pessoa, where he split himself into three characters (inspired by Fernando Pessoa’s heteronyms) at a racetrack and, using a betting system devised in an earlier short story, set these characters loose at the betting desk every week for a full racing season. All in the name of art, of course. From these three wagering diaries, Nufer finds the basis of his literal experimental novel where “only the results are official.”

In addition to publishing American constraint-based and conceptual writing, we’ve published a number of translations. One of our recent translations, Negro Marfil / Ivory Black by Myriam Moscona and translated by Jen Hofer, won the 2012 PEN Award for translation and the 2012 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award. Another, Urs Allemann’s Babyfucker, originally won the Bachmann Preis des Landes Kärnten award in 1991, then (as the title probably suggests) went on to cause one of the biggest literary scandals in the post-1945 German-speaking world. Now that scandal, which carries the torch of other provocative books like Bataille’s The Story of the Eye or Delany’s Hogg, is available for the first time in English.

Lastly, I’ll briefly mention the next book we’ll be releasing, a new translation of Jean Genet’s classic Notre-Dame-des-Fleurs by Chris Tysh, titled Our Lady of the Flowers, Echoic. What makes this translation unique is that it’s not just a translation; Tysh simultaneously translates and cuts Genet’s text, forming it into a series of paired seven line stanzas. This crafting into a new form produces what John Tranter has called a “volume of verse played over by a flickering, ghostly flame” that is “perhaps the book that Genet meant to write.”

I could go on and on, as these books are near and dear to me. I think that any and all who enjoy daring literary work can find something of interest in our catalog. If the above sounds interesting to you, but you’d like to explore more, head on over to our full book list (http://www.lesfigues.com/books/). And don’t hesitate to contact me (awessels@lesfigues.com) if you have any questions or are looking for a tailor-made recommendation.

Now go get your Fig on!



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