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 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 […]

John Biguenet, Rising Water; Horacio Castellanos Moya, Senselessness

Risingwater
We are not lacking for literary responses to Hurricane Katrina; the one that has engaged me the most so far is playwright and novelist John Biguenet’s. As a New Orleans resident, Biguenet wrote about the disaster’s aftermath for the NY Times. He also used the disaster as a backdrop for a play, Rising Water (video info and stills from the performance), the first of a trilogy considering Katrina. After hearing him speak about it, I hope it’s coming to the Bay Area soon.

I recently had the opportunity to see Biguenet discuss Rising Water at an event put on by the Center for the Art of Translation. The play involves a couple trapped in the attic of their house, watching the water slowly creep up the stairs and into their refuge. As Biguenet explained, their likely fate was rather unenviable: many real-life Katrina victims did just as the couple in the play did, climbing from living rooms to attics as the water invaded their home. The lucky ones were able to punch out a window and escape to the roof before the water enveloped their home completely; those that didn’t faced likely dehydration and death while waiting for rescue that was criminally slow in coming.

This was an event by the Center for the Art of Translation, and though Biguenet published his play in English, there is translation involved. For the play, he integrated a haunting short story he wrote about the wife and daughter of a ship’s captain who died and are buried at sea. For the play, the story is told by one protagonist to the other as they pass the time it the attic. Biguenet read his story to us, and then we watched the "translated" version by performed by two actors as a story-within-a-story in the play.

After the performance, Biguenet discussed the metaphorical significance of the water in his play. He considered the play primarily about the couple’s very personal response to crisis and likely imminent death. Only secondly was it about the disaster, and for him with water worked on multiple levels: he mentioned the titular rising water being something that every couple faces, either as strife due to a souring relationship or as an inevitable part of life and death. He said that the story he translated into the language of the stage was a way to implicate the hurricane while maintaining focus on the central relationship.

Moya
The week following Biguenet
, I saw novelist Horacio Castellenos Moya read from his new novel, Senselessness, at City Lights. Moya is either an aspiring actor, someone who has internalized the narrative voice of this novel, or simply a person who has given this reading many, many times, because his interpretation of the protagonist’s inner monologue was spot-on. Moya speaks English with a heavy accent, and this perfectly suited the narrator, especially as Moya repeatedly returned to the narrator’s refrain: "I am not compleet in de MIND."

Moya read from the novel’s first pages, in which two things are repeated again and again: "I am not complete in the mind" and "one-thousand-one-hundred pages" (the length of a report on atrocities the narrator is editing). Hearing Moya speak these refrains with emphasis and color hammered home the importance that these two quotes have for the novels opening section. Hearing Moya read also worked as a curious kind of re-reading–while he read I started seeing new associations between the starting chapter and the rest of the book.

Publisher Barbara Epler and translator Katherine Silver were also on hand for the event. I was surprised to hear Epler say that she had first learned of Moya from novelist Francisco Goldman, who had also first brought Roberto Bolano to her attention. At the event, Epler mentioned that the next Bolano novel from New Directions would be The Ice Rink, and that, in addition to his poems and novels, they will be publishing a book of his essays. Epler mentioned that much more Cesar Aira is on the way, as well as another novel from Moya (I’ll be eagerly waiting), with a title currently translated as "She-Devil in the Mirror."

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  1. Katrina Book Deals Frances over at Ghost Word reports on some of the book deals already spawned by the hurricane Katrina disaster. Of course, given the speed with...
  2. The Compulsive Pasticheur Jonathan Rabon on James Meek in the LRB: Meek is a compulsive pasticheur. The opening pages of his new novel, We Are Now Beginning Our...
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  4. John Cowper Powys John Cowper Powys gets an essay in the latest Guardian Review. Words poured from him, and he was famous for never rereading any of them....
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6 comments to John Biguenet, Rising Water; Horacio Castellanos Moya, Senselessness

  • Thanks for the summary of the Moya reading. Sounds like he should put out an audio book! I just picked up Senselessness the other day based on reviews here and elsewhere. The description as “Bernhardian” is what hooked me.
    Are there any other writers who do the Bernhardian thing well? The only one I can think of offhand is Tim Parks, particularly in Europa and some of his other novels. (Or at least they struck me as mimicking Bernhard somewhat — I don’t know if that’s a common opinion.)

  • Drew North

    I believe I read an excerpt of the Moya novel at the Words Without Borders website some time ago – the writer who came to mind at the time, rhythmically, was Saramago. Would anyone familiar with both care to make a comparison?

  • Kevin,
    You should see the review over at Ready Steady Blog. That’s the best one I’ve seen on the Bernhard connections, and I’m sure the review’s author could help you out with other Bernhardians.
    Drew,
    I’ve read one of Saramago’s novels; based on that I think there’s a fairly lare gap between Saramago and Moya. Moya’s sentences (again, on the evidence of one novel) keep changing register and direction, whereas Saramago’s seem more monotonic.

  • Scott, thanks for the pointer.
    I’ve read a few of Saramago’s novels and I’d agree with your comparison. Saramago is more run-on, fast-paced, and Bernhard is more musical in a sense, with repetitions and emphasized phrases.
    Another long-sentence writer is Bohumil Hrabal. He fits somewhere between Saramago and Bernhard on this scale, I think.

  • Drew North

    Thanks to you both for the feedback. I’ll seek the Moya out through the Denver Public Library. Saramago has a new novel being published in the U.S. in November, and I hope you will both take a look at it.
    Also, regarding a post or two north of here, I am halfway through the Agualusa novel, and, for what it is worth, I would put it in or around the top ten novels I’ve read this year.

  • Zoloft.

    Zoloft. Zoloft side effects.

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