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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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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

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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 Treatise on Shelling Beans by Wiesław Myśliwski March 9, 2014
    A man enters a house and asks to buy some beans, but we aren’t given his question, only the response: humble surprise from the narrator and an invitation inside. This modesty, though it remains at the core of the narrator throughout, is quickly overwhelmed when his questions, his welcoming explanations, flow into an effort to tell his whole life story, from […]
  • The Gorgeous Nothings by Emily Dickinson, edited by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin March 9, 2014
    The Gorgeous Nothings, the dedicated work of visual artist Jen Bervin and author Marta Werner, presents in large format the first full-color publication of all fifty-two of Emily Dickinson’s envelope writings. As such, it opens up an aspect of her craft that suggests she was, in the so-called late ecstatic period of her career, experimenting with creating te […]
  • The Mehlis Report by Rabee Jaber March 9, 2014
    The Mehlis Report follows the architect Saman Yarid on his daily perambulations around Lebanon's capital, where his memories of the city's past and his observations of the high-rises that have emerged from the ruins of the nation's civil war dominate the faint plot. But the book transcends Beirut: Jaber writes about what is left behind when pe […]
  • The Fiddler of Driskill Hill by David Middleton March 9, 2014
    Middleton’s sensibility as poet and man is thoroughly Christian, Southern (or rather, Louisianan), and traditional, but he’s no unreconstructed romantic Rebel reliving the Civil War. His manner is meditative and elegiac, not rancorous or redneck. In a rare useful blurb on the back of the book, the North Carolina poet and novelist Fred Chappell describes Midd […]
  • The Fata Morgana Books by Jonathan Littell March 9, 2014
    After The Kindly Ones, the nine hundred-page long Goncourt Prize-winning “autobiography” of a Nazi, fans of the Franco-American writer Jonathan Littell may heave an inward sigh of relief at the sight of The Fata Morgana Books. A slim collection of “studies” (as some of these stories were called in their original French incarnations), The Fata Morgana Books n […]
  • Novelty: A History of the New by Michael North March 9, 2014
    There is no better way to ensure the early demise of a form or a style than to proclaim its newness; fewer epithets are as old as “new.” A well-known work by Italian artist Maurizio Nannucci reads, “All art has been contemporary”—we may wish to amend it, for present purposes, and have it read, “All art has been new.” Yet surely this is something of a truism. […]
  • A Life Among Invented Characters: A Tribute to Mavis Gallant March 9, 2014
    Two things immediately come to mind when remembering Mavis Gallant: her unique sense of humor—stories always told with a wry half-smile—and her near-comical stonewalling when confronted with leading questions about her craft in interviews and with audiences. The first time I was in her simple three-room apartment on rue Jean Ferrandi, a mere three blocks fro […]
  • The Guy Davenport Reader March 9, 2014
    Poet-critic. Think of that word, made of two—what a beaux construction. The first is wild, hair mussed, looking at a bird in a tree—yet the follower is practical, urbane, and seemingly obeisant to word counts. Together they bleach out the fusspot academic and appeal to logos—Davenport once said that he was “not writing for scholars or critics, but for people […]
  • [SIC] by Davis Schneiderman March 9, 2014
    In 2011 Andrew Gallix, in the Guardian, wrote a piece on unread difficult books, and mentioned “an anthology of blank books [edited by Michael Gibbs] entitled All Or Nothing,” and we can consider Blank as continuing that line. Kenneth Goldsmith’s prefatory essay “Why Conceptual Writing? Why Now?” in Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing (201 […]
  • The Ben Marcus Interview March 9, 2014
    I do tend to generate a lot of pages when I’m drafting something, and I cut as I go. I make strange noises out of my face, on the page, and they are for the most part not worth keeping. Some of the stories don’t take shape until I overwrite and pursue every cursed dead-end I can think of, which clarifies everything I don’t want the story to become. But I don […]

YFTS: To Peter Wheeler who may know better

(I’ve asked some of the participants in Your Face This Spring to share some final thoughts about the book to help us wind this project up. First up is Ginny Brewer Pennekamp with some excellent thoughts on the Bond angle to Your Face Tomorrow.)

james bondI began Your Face Tomorrow aware that Javier Marias wrote this book for his heroes–Peter Russell and his father Julian–who taught Marias how to live life but were on the verge of leaving it. Mid-read, John Wooden died, adding a personal shade to this UCLA Bruin’s read. I wondered: what will happen to his teachings? How will the world change? Have we lost a compass on how to make our way in the world?

As I thought about this, I kept coming back to the very big hero looming over Deza’s strange adventure–James Bond. Bond is unequivocally a hero, the best spy ever, the man that saved the world over and over again. Yes, he specialized in incredible violence. Yes, he seduced every woman in his path. But the end justified his means. However, in YFT, James Bond is a hero of the past. The world has changed. MI6 is a different institution. To me, one of the essential themes in this novel is who becomes the James Bond of the modern world, how does he operate and with what responsibilities?

Deza is lured into MI6 by Bond. On the night of his qualification test, Deza finds Fleming’s inscription: “To Peter Wheeler, who may know better” and follows Wheeler where Wheeler followed Fleming, the man who invented Bond. Deza enters MI6 expecting Bond and Fleming’s world but instead is presented with three versions of the modern spy–Tupra, Wheeler, and his own father. Each provides Deza with a different set of choices about his place in the world and his responsibility towards his fellow man.

the spy who loved meTupra is, of course, the most similar to Bond. Like Bond, he is a blunt hammer of justice. He beds multiple women, follows the orders of superiors, keeps quiet about his activities. But unlike Bond, the information Tupra acts on is unclear and sometimes entirely made up. Also unlike Bond, he uses many alias. He is not patriotic–he works for England but also for anyone who pays him. The outcome of Tupra’s work is murky; it’s not clear if he does good or harm. Yet Deza follows Tupra’s lead unquestioningly until Tupra assaults de la Garza in the nightclub, and then we see our first instance of Deza analyzing Tupra’s methods: “You can’t just go around beating people up, killing them.” Deza asks. “But why, according to you, can’t one do that?” Tupra answers [V2 p. 339], seemingly satisfying Deza. After all, like Bond they are attacking a greater evil.

Deza parrots Tupra’s behavior when he returns to Spain, going so far as to check with Tupra before confronting Custardoy. Interestingly enough, in this episode with Custardoy, Deza mimics James Bond in the novel The Spy Who Loved Me, which follows Bond as he defends a woman from a gang of men who threaten to harm her. Deza actually becomes Tupra’s version of the Bond who acts without thinking on the basis of imagined information.

Deza says of the men in Tupra’s video:

. . . perhaps like Perez Nuix, and like Wheeler and Rylands, they don’t hold trials or gather evidence, they simply solve problems or root them out or stop them ever happening or just deal with them. . . . And to guess what will happen if they don’t intervene . . . the sort who make remote decisions for reasons that are barely identifiable to the one who suffers the consequences or is a chance witness, or without waiting for a link of cause and effect to establish itself between actions and motives, still less for any proof that such actions have been committed. Such men and women need no proof . . . they lash out with a saber; indeed on such occasions, they don’t even require the action or events or deeds to have occurred. [V3 p. 361]

In this description, Tupra and his division resemble the America that fabricated the existence of WMDs in Iraq, that increased surveillance on the general public after 9/11, that bullied the world without pausing to make sure that the end goal was just, right or deserved.

Deza initially lumps Wheeler into Tupra’s group because he once worked there, too. But as Deza’s consciousness evolves, he begins to separate Wheeler from the rest of the pack. Like Bond, Wheeler is patriotic, carrying out justified orders of a country in the midst of war, when good and evil are clear. Every mission has a higher purpose towards an end goal. Wheeler explains to Deza:

“Do you imagine that I haven’t committed repugnant acts, things which, if I think about them now or in the future, could perhaps have been avoided? . . . They’re repugnant to me now and will seem more so as time passes, the farther off they get, but they weren’t then.” [V3, p. 512]

Unlike Bond, Wheeler is reluctant to use violence, going as far as to spare a double agent’s life when directly ordered to kill him. He devotes his life to one woman, to study, to the pursuit of truth. This is the Wheeler Fleming knows when he notes he “may know better.” Wheeler’s MI6 was not Bond’s, the methods he used were different. Wheeler distances himself from Tupra’s generation of spy when he says:

“the Americans–who, in part, copied us when it came to subversion techniques and who have reveled in using them ever since (rather clumsily, it must be said)–never learned to apply them as we did, to play it as a game despite the gravity of the situation. Far worse, they didn’t give it up in peacetime.” [V3, p. 475]

In this, Wheeler resembles England’s place in the modern world, led by the American bullies but still thinking of a time when they were in control of the world and presumably were more thoughtful and just.

Wheeler’s distinction between how things were run then and now prompts Deza to resign from the MI6, return to Spain and ultimately follow the example set by his father. Deza Sr. is the complete opposite of Bond and Tupra and prides himself on it:

“But the thing I feel happiest about, Jacobo, is that no one ever died because of something I said or reported. Shooting someone, during a war or in self-defense, is bad, but at least you can go on living and not lose your decency or humanity, not necessarily. However, if someone dies because of something you said or, worse still, invented; if someone dies needlessly because of you; if you could have remained silent and allowed that person to go on living; if you spoke out when you should or could have said nothing and by doing so brought about a death, or several . . .” [V3, p. 401]

Deza, still unaware that he has done exactly what his father condemns, answers:

“That was perhaps how it was before . . . my father still imagines he’s living in a world in which deeds left some trace and which conscience had a voice.” [V3, p. 402]

However, Deza Sr. knows the world has changed. It is only Jaime/Jacobo that has not yet developed a conscience or a voice. Deza Sr. tells Jamie:

“It’s sad watching an era in decline, when one has known other far more intelligent eras. Where’s it going to end?” [V3, p. 398]

British EmpireIn practice, the novel ends with Tupra, the new, corrupted Bond still in charge of keeping the world order. It also ends with Perez Nuix, who becomes Tupra’s successor after Deza deserts the MI6–a spy so out of control that she games the system for her own advantage, sleeps with the enemy without having the courage to look him in the face, finishes without having made any real difference in the world.

According to the book The Man Who Saved Britain by Simon Winder, Bond was invented to give the British the satisfaction that they still controlled the destiny of the world at a time when, for the first time, Britain was no longer the dominant empire. Marias takes this a step further to show us the model of the current spy in this world of fuzzy borders and grey conflicts. We should be responsible for each other. We should rely on facts, we should double check that our actions are just and executed for the right reasons. Deza comes to us this conclusion when he says:

My face will resemble and be assimilated into that of all those men . . . who were once masters of time and who held in their hand the hourglass–in the form of a weapon, in the form of an order–and decided suddenly, without lingering or delaying, to stop time, thus obliging others no loner to desire their own desires and to leave even their own first name behind. I don’t like being linked to those faces.” [V3, p. 374]

Deza chooses to be linked to the face of his father, to not hide from the world but to set a different example for the future. He describes the path of his own journey many times during the course of the novel:

time will see it off, it will be time, time that will cure it–of those who have not yet reached their end and are still groping their way uncertainly forwards or walking lightly with shield and spear, or slowly and wearily with shield all battered and spear blunt and dull, without even realising that we will soon be with them, with those who have been expelled and those who have passed and then . . . then even our sharpest, most sympathetic judgements will be dubbed futile and ingenuous, why did she do that, they will say of you, why so much fuss and why the quickening pulse, why the trembling, why the somersaulting heart; and of me they will say: why did he take those particular steps and why so many? And of us both they will say: why all that conflict and struggle, why did they fight instead of just looking and staying still, why were they unable to meet or to go on seeing each other, and why so much sleep, so many dreams, and why that scratch, my fever, my word, your pain, and all those doubts, all that torment? [V1, p. 185]

Come, come, I was so wrong about you before . . . I just couldn’t see you clearly before. [V3, p. 208]

In the end, as he warned the reader in the very beginning, Deza synthesizes his father and Wheeler’s experience, even tipping his hat a bit to the fictional James Bond:

One should never tell anyone anything or give information or pass on stories or make people remember beings who have never existed or trodden the earth or traversed the world, or who, having done so, are now almost safe in uncertain, one-eyed oblivion. [V1, p. 3]

So Deza throws aside Bond for the men “who may know better” and gives us a new example of how to watch over the world.

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. YFTS: Cleaning House I also think that now is an appropriate time to talk about the covers, which, frankly, at first mystified me but now I believe I...
  2. YFTS: The Hardest Part About Fictions Is Not Creating But Maintaining Them A couple of things I wanted to point out from the first 20 or so pages of the segment of Fever and Spear that we're...
  3. YFTS: Margaret Jull Costa Now Joining Us Legendary translator Margaret Jull Costa, who of course translated Your Face Tomorrow, as well as books by Jose Saramago, Fernando Pessoa, Eça de Queiroz, Bernardo...
  4. YFTS: The Redemption of Sympathy In my reading, the point of Deza recalling that awful story his father told him about Ronda--where the fascists baited a man like a bull...
  5. YFTS: A Pestilence: Notes on the Reading for Week 12 I’m excited to have this chance to write a post for Week 12’s reading, and just want to begin by thanking Scott for putting this...

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