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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Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec

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Interviews from Conversational Reading

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  • Reviving Antal Szerb March 15, 2015
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  • 39 Africans Walk into a Bar March 15, 2015
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  • The Country Road by Regina Ullmann March 15, 2015
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  • Another View: Tracing the Foreign in Literary Translation by Eduard Stoklosinski March 14, 2015
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  • The Latest Five from Dalkey Archive’s “Library of Korea” Series March 14, 2015
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  • 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 […]
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  • On Being Blue by William H. Gass March 14, 2015
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Milan Kundera at 80

Kundera
Milan Kundera
is an author I could stand to read more of (I've only read The Unbearable Lightness of Being, although I did like it a lot). Now that he's 80, they're beginning to mark the occasion.

Geordie Williamson at The Australian has a nice, if occasionally inconsistent, tribute to Kundera:

But these fictions were always more than Iron Curtain exotica.
Kundera's talent, though unevenly applied throughout his career, has
always been impressive in essence and deeply original. His method has
been to graft abstract philosophical ideas with fictional invention to
create narrative cyborgs: intellectually speculative, formally
experimental, intermittently essayistic, yet warm-blooded, grounded in
human experience. His characters are not mere automatons, programmed
with pure theory and set to shuffling: they are sophisticated neural
networks that grow through those dilemmas of love, history, nation and
politics the author obliges them to confront.

Few, for example, have read and fewer understand German philosopher
Martin Heidegger when he writes about truth and untruth, and their
relation to human freedom (me included). But everyone can appreciate
Sabina, the embodiment of his ideas in The Unbearable Lightness of
Bein
g.

One wonders how Williamson knows that Sabina embodies Heidegger's ideas if he doesn't understand them . . .

Later on, Williamson marks the turn in Kundera's fiction post-Iron Curtain:

It is difficult to know how consciously Kundera incorporated this
new political and cultural dispensation into his writing. But with his
turn to French in the 1990s came an increased interest in philosophy at
the expense of politics. Although these later novels were
well-received, re-reading the reviews it is hard toavoid the sense that
while his aphoristic intelligence remained undimmed, Kundera's
characters, now often Gallic, no longer at the pointy end of
20th-century history, had grown insubstantial. As Geoff Dyer, one of
Kundera's strongest English advocates, admitted of 1990's Immortality:

I find I don't much care about Kundera's characters in their (chic,
bourgeois) environment. I love Kundera speculating about his
characters, but when the characters are on their own, when he is not
around, in other words, when he is not looking, Iskip.

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Milan Kundera in Czech Who whould have thought it would take them this long. Milan Kundera wrote The Unbearable Lightness of Being in Czech (Nesnesitelná lehkost bytí) back in...
  2. Kundera Milan Kundera’s got a new book about fiction out. Reviewed in the SF Chron: In his latest essay, "The Curtain," Milan Kundera embarks on a...
  3. Great Literature of the Austro-Hungarian Empire Last week I knocked off Stefan Zweig’s excellent (and possible uncompleted) novel The Post-Office Girl while winding up the last of rhte BTB 2008 longlist....
  4. Kafkaish Interview The Harpers blog has a worthwhile interview with James Hawes, who wrote that new book about Kafka that has a lot of Germans in a...

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5 comments to Milan Kundera at 80

  • I have little time for critics who think – as Williamson seems to suggest – that fiction is only ever pressing when read against a background of historical events.
    Kundera did not increase “his interest in philosophy at the expense of politics” – it’s only critics in their “chic, bourgeois environment” who think they can be separated into commodious entities.

  • Coincidentally I watched the film of The Unbearable Lightness of Being tonight. It has been several years since I read the book but it is a reasonably good adaptation.

  • Still can’t get enough of Kundera. In fact, I added him to my top 100 books on totalitarianism list.

  • What a nice Kundera essay! (BTW, have I told you am a massively major fan of MK?).
    The best thing about Kundera is his philosophic humor and light reading style. I’d recommend Book of Laughter and Forgetting, or for something earlier The Joke.
    Conventional wisdom says that Kundera lost his magic touch in the 90s. But I found his last work Ignorance to be first rate.
    Also, his most recent essay collection The Curtain is a masterpiece. It talks about the history of the European novel among other things. I savored every page.
    I made a few more remarks about Kundera a year ago.
    The key test is whether Kundera remains relevant post-Iron Curtain. I think he does. When I read ULOB, I find the historical facts described ironically. Communism was a backdrop and an oppositional ideology, but Kundera was more focused on art and humor than politics.
    That said, I still believe Kundera’s characters are a bit flat.

  • I just stumbled upon this 5 years late, but I appreciate the heads up on the Geordie Williamson article, of which I was quite unaware.

    I am not sure I buy into the Czech/French binary discussed above–I’ll have to re-read the later novels and see! If anyone is interested, I wrote an extended appreciation of his first book on the aesthetics of the European novel, The Art of the Novel on my blog at http://wp.me/p2OBGe-3u

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