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.

Available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and direct from this site:

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.

For low prices on Las Vegas shows visit

You Say

Group Reads

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

Shop though these links = Support this site

Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

New Books
Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.

Interviews from Conversational Reading

New Books
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 […]

Now We Know Why He Writes the Long Sentences

Fantastic interview here with Ottilie Mulzet, translator of Seiobo There Below and AnimalInside.

One of the great things we learn here is that there are three new Krasznahorkai translations on the way:

Two translations haunt me as we speak. One is Destruction and Sorrow Beneath the Heavens, which I’m translating now. It’s literary reportage based on Krasznahorkai’s extensive travels in China, and, if anything, it’s even more relevant today than when it was first published in 2002. The other is The World Goes On, an amazing collection of short stories. George Szirtes, who won the Best Translated Book Award in 2013, also for a Krasznahorkai title, is translating From the North by Hill, From the South by Lake, From the West by Roads, From the East by River, so readers should have at least three more titles to look forward to in the next few years.

We also learn why Krasznahorkai writes such long sentences, or, at least, how the Hungarian language enables him to do it:

What are the strengths and particularities of Hungarian as a language, and what challenges does it present to translate it into English?

I feel extremely close to Hungarian as a language. I love the sound of it, I love how it works grammatically, I love the vocabulary, the astonishing mishmash of words from so many different languages, I love what writers can do with it. Hungarian is an agglutinative language with vowel harmony—it has seemingly endless suffixes and amazing possibilities for compound words, and it has absolutely flexible word order, depending on what you want to emphasize in the sentence. And I would certainly mention the unbelievable elasticity of Hungarian—it’s like a rubber band. It can expand and expand, until you think, Well, this rubber band is going to break at any moment now, or it can shrink into just a few sparse words, where all the most important parts are left out and you just have to know.

English, despite how global it is, is a lot less flexible. Maybe the kind of English that’s spoken in the Indian subcontinent—where it’s partially subjugated to the tendencies of Hindi—would be a more suitable English for translation from Hungarian, but I have to work with the language I know the best. You have to struggle to make sure the sentences don’t seem too jam-packed with information, and yet, when there’s some pretty serious elision going on, you have to test the boundaries of English, with its rigid subject-verb-object structure and having to have all your indicators in place. Hungarian can look like just a splash of ink on the page. There are sentences—or, in Krasznahorkai’s case, subclauses—of just two or three words. I’m intrigued by all of this elision, and fascinated by the problem of conveying it in a recalcitrant language like English—just trying to get English to do something it’s not really meant to do. English today is the global language of commerce and trade, so while it’s dominant, it’s also in some respects deeply impoverished. It desperately needs these transfusions from other languages.

Great job. My hat off to both Ottilie and interviewer Valerie Stivers.

You Might Also Like:

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. On the Purpose of Long Sentences A great answer to the question of “why do you write long sentences?” The respondent is LászlĂł Krasznahorkai, the author of Satantango. If I go...
  2. Long Sentences AC at Slightly Bluestocking asks a good question. Long sentences. Correction opens with a sentence that’s about two pages long. Most of the sentences (not...
  3. My Interview with Ottilie Mulzet at Hungarian Literature Online The people at Hungarian Literature Online asked to reprint the interview I conducted with Ottilie Mulzet for this site on her translation of Animalinside by...
  4. Long Sentences That ability—to graft theme into syntax—is what makes great writing a pleasure to listen to. The German expat novelist, W.G. Sebald, became a literary hero...
  5. It is by knowing a language that you come to know poems Borges’ last recorded words in English? As for books, I sometimes browse in them nowadays but seldom read them to the end. I know many...

Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.

5 comments to Now We Know Why He Writes the Long Sentences

  • P.T. Smith

    “English today is the global language of commerce and trade, so while it’s dominant, it’s also in some respects deeply impoverished. It desperately needs these transfusions from other languages.”

    I should print this with attribution on cards so I can hand them to people when they ask why I read so much translation and so little contemporary American/English writing. More positively, I think there’s some proof of her point in that at least two American writers I am looking forward to reading both do read lots translations, getting that transfusion from other languages.

  • What a crock of shit!

    You’d think after reading this that English-language writers are incapable of longuers. Have you people never heard of William Faulkner? Anyone who still marvels at a specific language’s ability to “create” long sentences clearly needs to read a bit of Steven Pinker on recursion.

    And from what I’ve read of Krazsnahorkai (Satantango), one of his simple tricks is using parenthesis a lot, something AntĂłnio Lobo Antunes had been doing before him (to cite just one example), not to mention there’s nothing easier than writing long sentences if you simply abandon grammatical rules and punctuation, the way JosĂ© Saramago does.

    I love a good long sentence (like everyone else), but let’s stop fetishizing languages and giving them inherent, quasi-mystical powers, personalities, and features (English is the language of business? Oh really, so the owner of a Polish drugstore speaks in English to his Polish customers? Italian is the language of love? Ah fuck me, so I guess all that romantic Spanish poetry is a hallucination; what, German is the language philosophy? Then what was Derrida writing in?): that’s so 19th century, that’s so Sapir-Whorff.

    • P.T. Smith

      I think the “English today” part is pretty essential to what Mulzet is saying, so Faulkner is out. For me, it’s not just the long sentence by any means, but instead contemporary English-language literature as a whole feels stylistically dull, all of it all too similar. Between big publishers looking to publish the slickest, most marketable books possible, and MFAs teaching people how to write books that big publishers want to sell, yeah, I’d say that’s the language of “commerce and trade.”

      I’m not sure that someone who is fluent in a language is guilty of fetishizing it when talking about its specific qualities. Languages may not have “quasi-mystical powers,” but they absolutely have specific characteristics.

      Finally, you haven’t read Kraznahorkai’s long sentences, have you? You’ve read Mulzet’s translations of them, so those parentheses and semicolons are hers, right? I haven’t seen a Hungarian text of his, maybe they’re filled with semicolons and parentheses, or maybe in Hungarian, he is using other tactics and the parentheses are just the best way for Mulzet to express those Hungarian tactics in English.

      • Your language of “commerce and trade” has nothing to do with English, it’s just a popular international style: short, direct sentences, limited vocabulary, free indirect style – it’s the creative writing prescription, with Hemingway and Carver as its idols, being taught everywhere to gullible would-be writers from America to China; even our “best” contemporary Portuguese writers use that awful style. I just shrug it off and go read what’s good to me, sadly that mostly means Lobo Antunes and (rereads of) Saramago. I can’t help noticing that the style I favour – rich on similes and metaphors, poetic prose, longueurs, weird shit galore, is mostly found in the old-timers all across the world: Gass, Pynchon, McCarthy, Vollmann, DeLillo, McElroy, Paul West, John Banville, CĂ©sar Aira, Milan Kundera, Julián Rios, Nadas – as they die, they’ll be replaced by creative writing graduates, with a few brave young ones carrying the torch as curiosities, which is what the above-mentioned writers always were anyway…

        “Languages may not have “quasi-mystical powers,” but they absolutely have specific characteristics.”

        Yes, but the ability to create long sentences is certainly not intrinsic to Hungarian; just about any language can and does that – the Austrians do it, the Irish do it, the Portuguese do it, the Spanish do it, it’s just a matter of adding more commas, conjunctions and subordinate clauses.

        “You’ve read Mulzet’s translations of them”

        No, I read George Szirtes’s translation of Satantango, but I’m sure the parentheses belong to the author; they’re too neatly used to be the choice of a translator.

  • The “dullness” of the language depends on the user. You still can do gob-smacking pyrotechnics with English. There is one such contemporary English master of style, unsurpassed at what he’s doing, so original and insane that I have problems comparing him to anyone. It is Iain Sinclair. I would recommend reading his Downriver, which is a jaw-dropping masterpiece on a par with Gravity’s Rainbow and The Recognitions. It’s a pity he’s not as widely read as Pynchon or Gaddis.

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>