The Seamstress and the Wind . . ." />

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 LasVegas.ShowTickets.com
  • Two PansTwo Pans

    Another high-profile pan for David Mitchell's newest. I think Mitchell is pretty seriously overrated, but most people in the... »
  • ThoughtcrimeThoughtcrime

    There are a lot of really obvious takes on this that you are probably already thinking of. To me, the interesting/scary thing... »
  • Wood on MitchellWood on Mitchell

    For the record, James Wood's take on Mitchell is pretty much my own. Dude can write for days, but I rarely feel that there is... »
  • M&L on Ann QuinM&L on Ann Quin

    Music & Literature unearths a sroty of Ann Quin and publishes it. If the name is new to you, have a look here.... »
  • The Potato EatersThe Potato Eaters

    Nice interview with Bela Tarr's cinematographer, Fred Kelemen, discussing the film The Turin Horse (which I recently watched,... »
  • 35 Worthy Independent Books35 Worthy Independent Books

    All publishing this fall. Pretty nice list. Good on Publishers Weekly.... »
  • The new DostoevskyThe new Dostoevsky

    Been a while since I read Crime and Punishment. Sounds interesting. Several earlier translations tended to smooth over... »
  • Golden HandcuffsGolden Handcuffs

    The current issue of the Golden Handcuffs Review has my essay "The Eclipse; Or, The Vulva," which is part of a series of work... »
  • The Translation Is HotThe Translation Is Hot

    While I tend to lump blockbusters into an outlier category regardless of what language they were originally written in, I do... »
  • LRB on Robbe-GrilletLRB on Robbe-Grillet

    Nice that there are still places like the LRB that publish things like this: By the time he was elected to the Académie... »

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.


  • Nostalgia June 15, 2014
    Few habits are as prone to affliction, or as vulnerable to an ordeal, as the bent of a peddler’s consciousness. Placeless, the peddler completes an untold number of transactions; there are ideas to conduct (through language, which can transact a mind) and feelings to certify (through tasks, repeated interminably). […]
  • Why Literary Periods Mattered by Ted Underwood June 15, 2014
    There are some writers who are, and likely always will be, inextricably linked to the “period” with which their work is associated, and in many cases helped to define. Surely Wordsworth and Keats will always be “Romantic” poets, while Faulkner and Woolf will remain modernists, as the term “modern” has been fully appropriated to describe the historical era be […]
  • Trans-Atlantyk by Witold Gombrowicz June 15, 2014
    August 1939. You sail to Buenos Aires on the Chombry as a cultural ambassador of Poland. Why say no to a little holiday on the government’s tab? Soon after arriving you sense that something isn’t right. You emerge from a welcome reception and your ears are “filled with newspaper cries: ‘Polonia, Polonia,’ most irksome indeed.” Before you’ve even had a chance […]
  • Accepting the Disaster by Joshua Mehigan June 15, 2014
    The first collections of most young poets, even the better ones, carry with them a hint of bravado. Flush with recognition, vindicated by the encouraging attentions of at least one editor and three blurbists, the poet strikes a triumphant pose and high-fives the Muse: “We did it, baby.” When Joshua Mehigan published his impressive first collection, The Optim […]
  • The Histories of Herodotus, translated by Tom Holland June 15, 2014
    Two of the greatest of Tom Holland's predecessors in translating Herodotus are Victorian scholar George Rawlinson and Aubrey de Selincourt; the former translated Herodotus in 1860, making an enormous hit (despite the fact that its detractors often referred to it as “dull and prolix"), while the latter's 1954 Herodotus was another enormous hit, […]
  • Bullfight by Yasushi Inoue June 15, 2014
    The premise of Yasushi Inoue's debut novella Bullfight, celebrated in Japan as a classic of postwar literature, is unassuming enough: an evening newspaper sponsors a tournament of the regional sport of bull-sumo. As practical and financial issues arise, the paper's young editor-in-chief, Tsugami, soon realizes he has taken on more than he can handl […]
  • Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones June 15, 2014
    Sworn Virgin was made to be translated. Elvira Dones wrote this book not in her native language of Albanian but in Italian—a necessarily fraught and complicated decision. In an Italian-language interview with Pierre Lepori, Dones speaks about her choice of language: “Sworn Virgin was born in Italian . . . I’ve lived using Italian for nineteen years, it has s […]
  • On the Letters of David Markson June 15, 2014
    Knowing these narrators and how their lives paralleled David’s own, it’s difficult to deny his being a recluse. I certainly held that image of him, and nursed it, secretly cherishing it because it meant I was one of the few people with whom he corresponded, and with whom he would occasionally meet. Arranging our first meetings in person was something of a ni […]
  • Storm Still by Peter Handke June 15, 2014
    Storm Still (Immer Noch Sturm) does not necessarily represent new terrain for Handke. Originally published by Suhrkamp Verlag in 2010 and now available for English-language readers thanks to Martin Chalmers’ fluent translation, the play chronicles the dissolution of the Svinec family, a family of Carinthian Slovenes—a quasi-fictionalized version of Handke’s […]
  • Red or Dead by David Peace June 15, 2014
    David Peace's novel Red or Dead is about British football, but it partakes in the traits of Homer's epic. This is a novel about the place of myth and heroes in modern society, about how the cyclical rhythms of athletic seasons reflect the cyclical patterns of life. It is a book about honor and fate, and one which bridges the profound, dreamlike ter […]

Six Questions for Rosalie Knecht on Cesar Aira’s Seamstress and the Wind

For more interviews, follow this link.

By now, readers of this blog (and I would hope readers in general) need no introduction to Cesar Aira, one of the most exciting authors to be making his way into English. Over the past couple of years, New Directions has done amazing work with Aira, publishing novel after novel. I think they’re beginning to make some headway in developing the kind of audience that this writer deserves.

They have just published The Seamstress and the Wind, the sixth title of Aira’s to appear in English from New Directions. (A seventh, The Hare, was published in 1997 by Serpent’s Tail but has since gone out of print.)

Perhaps New Directions is beginning to feel that an audience for Aira in English is somewhat assured, as this is the strangest Aira they have yet published. (Although, as this interview makes clear, there are much stranger things out there.) Although no Aira title I have read is conventional, this one goes further than anything I’ve seen in English in throwing out the traditional mechanics of plot and character to create something pure Aira-ian. It’s a strange book, albeit a powerful read. I interviewed its translator, Rosalie Knecht for some insight into Aira, his books, and his future in English.


Scott Esposito: Your bio accompanying Seamstress and the Wind indicates that you received a Fullbright to work with Aira on the translation of this book. Can you tell us a little about how Aira participated?

Rosalie Knecht: We met several times for coffee and talked about how the translation was going, and I emailed him drafts as I finished them. I was in Santa Fe, Argentina, and he lives in Buenos Aires. He had a pretty light touch on the whole thing–he translated mass market stuff from the U.S. for a living for years. He would read the drafts and say, “Sure, that’s fine.” Close to the end of the process I had a list of problems I couldn’t solve and we met in Buenos Aires and went over them. He approved the final draft and gave me the go-ahead to talk to his U.S. publisher.

SE: Can you discuss one of the translation problems from the list that you brought to Aira?

RN: One of them was the word acanastado. I’d had no luck in my dictionary or online–Google returned exactly one result, and it was the same text I was working on, which is apparently online in PDF form somewhere. Anyway, canasta means basket, and acanastado is what would happen if you could conjugate basket like a verb. It was referring to the backseat of a car that had been in a wreck. I asked him if I could use basketed, and he said that that was probably what he meant. He wrote the book in 1994, so some of it was reverse-engineering to something that he hadn’t needed to think about in a long time.

SE: It’s funny that you mention about Aira not having thought about the text since 1994. I conducted an interview with him in the spring where he essentially said that he writes so much that he more or less forgets what he’s previously written, to the point that it’s hard to talk about it with critics, interviewers, etc. Did this come up a lot with the translation of this book?

RN: It did come up, yeah. When I brought him translation problems he tended to approach them in a collegial way, as if the two of us were working on a third party’s book and he just happened to be more knowledgeable about it than I was. He doesn’t like to look back on his past work, and people often remark on that, but I think it’s actually kind of typical for writers. I write fiction too, and once I’m really finished with a piece, I kind of superstitiously avoid it. There’s a sense that once you let go of a piece of work, it may change into something you don’t recognize.

SE: I take it you’ve read a number of books of Aira’s. Can you talk a little about why this one was chosen for you to translate, as well as how you see this one fitting in with some of the better-known Aira books out there? For my own part, I found it a remarkably whimsical book from an author who, of course, tends not to spare the whimsy.

RN: I picked this book myself. It was the second half of a two-novella volume put out by Beatriz Viterbo in Argentina, the first half being How I Became a Nun. I was just pulled in by it. I think a lot of it is about loss. All the stuff you lose, all the stuff you can’t get rid of no matter how hard you try. But it’s sort of wide-eyed instead of being depressing.

It does fall more on the whimsical side–How I Became a Nun buries its weirdness a little deeper, messing with gender and continuity instead of monsters and cars made out of armadillos and that kind of thing. An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter plays it pretty straight, by Aira’s standards, a lot of the time. I think some of the weirder stuff hasn’t been translated yet, like his short stories, for instance. Cerebro Musical is about a brain made from cardboard that plays music in a library, and then escapes and wreaks havoc on Aira’s actual hometown. Mil Gotas is about the drops of paint that make up the Mona Lisa, which escape (a theme?) and go into space and get into some kind of interplanetary showdown. But he’s published about eighty books, so I can’t claim to know his whole catalog.

SE: Seamstress has a strange sort of beginning. Aira discourses about the role of memory and forgetting in the creation of fiction, and then he starts telling what is ostensibly a true anecdote about when he was a boy growing up in Colonel Pringles and a boy named Omar went missing. This ends up being the first event in what is clearly a fictional story; and, throughout the book Aira casually injects himself into the narrative, seemingly per whim. How do you construe his relationship to this text?

RN: There’s a lot about things going missing and “disappearing” in the novel, which is a very loaded word in Argentina. I think Omar’s disappearance is kind of an oblique reference to the dictatorship years–something historical and specific turned into something abstract and personal. Maybe it’s that “personal” aspect that explains Aira’s relationship to the text, beyond just the fact that Aira tends to insert himself into his own books, either as a character or a commentator, pretty often. The memories described are obviously not real, because these things can’t actually happen, but they could be seen as a personalized, individualized interpretation of national collective memories that are traumatic.

I think if he heard me say this, though, he would roll his eyes.

SE: One final question about where translators might head next with Aira. Of the stuff out there to be published, there’s the story “Cecil Taylor,” one of my favorite Aira works. I’d love to see that published somewhere someday. Will you be translating any Aira in the future and what books of his you’d most like to see make their way into English.

RN: I’d be happy for the chance to work on another Aira book, and I’m also looking into some other writers. The challenge is finding the money to do it. Most translators are either grant-supported, as I was in this case, or they’re academics.

I was just talking to somebody the other day about Ema la Cautiva–one of his more popular books, and as far as I can tell, unavailable in English. It was sort of his breakout novel in 1981, after which his books started getting printed in Europe. Somebody should get on that.

For more interviews, follow this link.

You Might Also Like:

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Cesar Aira Interview With the U.S. release of Cesar Aira's novel Ghosts, it's a good time for an interview. As far as I know, though, no one Stateside...
  2. Favorite Reads of 2010: The Literary Conference by Cesar Aira If I could be King for one year, what I'd do is call together 10 or 15 of the best Spanish-language translators I could find,...
  3. Cesar Aira in NYRB Since 1975, the Argentine writer César Aira has published about seventy novels—it is difficult to arrive at an accurate count, and the number continues to...
  4. Ghosts by Cesar Aira Review The Complete Review provides the first review I’ve seen of Ghosts, the newest translation from prodigious Argentine Cesar Aira. It’s a curious little book (as...
  5. Ghosts by Cesar Aira in NYTBR, Eventually The Literary Saloon reports that the NYTBR is finally catching on about Cesar Aira. That's good for them. And while you wait for them to...

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

4 comments to Six Questions for Rosalie Knecht on Cesar Aira’s Seamstress and the Wind

  • Isn’t this Aira’s fifth book from New Directions? I count An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter, How I Became a Nun, Ghosts, The Literary Conference, and now this one. They do list Varamo as forthcoming in 2012, though.

  • Stephen

    Pretty cool interview with Aira in this months Harpers.

  • S.

    Someone please translate “Cecil Taylor” ! Looking at the original with my rusty Spanish I can tell that it shouldn’t be too difficult of a translation. Scott, you should do it for the good lovers of weirdo experimental literature that read your blog.

  • Jonathan

    I translated Cecil Taylor just for fun. If anyone wants it, just email me to piromas@gmail.com

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>