Category Archives: Literature

Spoilers.

Hey, do you want to know who the literary winners are at this year’s PEN Translation Awards? Well, then, check it out in the link. I’m not going to spoil it. [via Translationista]

Yeah, this is also an excuse to link you to translator and writer extraordinaire Susan Bernofsky’s blog.

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Borges on Johnson and Boswell.

….Now, in the same way that we have seen how Johnson is similar to Don Quixote, we have to think that just as Sancho is the companion Quixote sometimes treats badly, we see Boswell in that same relation to Dr. Johnson: a sometimes stupid and loyal companion. There are characters whose role is to bring out the hero’s personality. In other words, often authors need a character who serves as a framework for and a contrast to the deeds of his hero. This is Sancho, and that character in Boswell’s work is Boswell himself. That is, Boswell appears as a despicable character. But it seems impossible to me that Boswell didn’t realize this. And this shows that Boswell positioned himself in contrast to Johnson. The fact that Boswell himself tells anecdotes in which he appears ridiculous makes him not seem ridiculous at all, for if he wrote them down, he did it because he saw that the purpose of the anecdote was to make Johnson stand out.

New Directions are releasing Professor Borges: A Course on English Literature, which features 25 lectures by Borges translated into English for the first time, and NYRB has posted this excerpt.

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Four short stories.

Find out which are the ten countries where Shakespeare’s plays are most studied and performed. Hire gangs of professional thieves in these ten countries. Purloin from public and private libraries, slowly and discreetly, as many editions of Hamlet as possible. Send them to Araraquara. Produce facsimile versions of these books, identical in all respects to the originals, from the leather binding to the yellowed pages, but for one detail: the insertion of a line into the end of the second act, a threat by the Prince of Denmark to Claudius, his father’s murderer: “Oh, if I catch you—if I catch you, oh!” Return the adulterated copies to the libraries. Burn the originals.

Words Without Borders is having a literature of Brazil feature, and it includes this fun bit by Antônio Prata. [via Words Without Borders]

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Edition Additions: The Wolf Ror’d.

the wolf ror'd

(I’m so sorry!)

Two of the more interesting books that arrived today!

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In case you’re bored.

Here’s a handy list of 30 free David Foster Wallace essays on the web. [via Open Culture]

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Borges books.

The man we see in these eleven interviews is a person made of books, a librarian who often remarked that his idea of paradise was an endless library—a sort of eternal busman’s holiday. He speaks of himself as a reader first and a writer only secondarily. That this self-conception emerges out of his scrupulous humility and instinct for self-effacement doesn’t make it any less accurate or revealing. Borges’s writing was always, to some degree, a creative form of reading, and many of his best fictions were meditations on the condition of fictionality: reviews of invented books, stories whose central presences were not people but texts. He was a man of letters in the nineteenth-century mode, possessed of a type of encyclopedic erudition that seems not to exist anymore. And this brings us to one of the structural paradoxes at the heart of Borges’s work. He was deeply invested in the past, in the idea of a living and evolving literary tradition. “I think of myself as not being a modern writer,” he says here. “I don’t think of myself as a contemporary of surrealism, or dadaism, or imagism, or the other respected tomfooleries of literature, no? I think of literature in terms of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. I am a lover of Bernard Shaw, Henry James.” And yet this strangely totalizing conservatism was the basis of Borges’s radical legacy, a new way of thinking about fiction and its relationship to the world.

An article about two new books about Borges. [via The New Yorker]

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The suggestion of people.

Illusions

Winter months, the touch of green cloth suggests cold.
Summer months, the sight of red suggests heat.
Upon entering, a spirit shrine seems to hold ghosts.
The belly of a grand master monk suggests pregnancy.
Behind a heavy curtain, the suggestion of people.
Passing a butcher shop, one feels rank as mutton.
The sight of ice jade cools the heart’s core.
The sight of plums softens the teeth.

One of a few excerpts from a translation by Chloe Garcia Roberts of the 杂纂 (Za Zuan) by 李商隐 (Li Shangyin, courtesy name of 義山). [via Harvard Review Online]

More information:

The following lists are from the Za Zuan by Li Shangyin (ca. 813–858), a late-Tang poet famous for his lush intricacy and imagery. Written in a spare, candid style, the pieces in this little-known text record the author’s reactions to the mundane in shifting tones of humor, wonder, and sadness. A complete translation of the Za Zuan will be published by New Directions in 2014.

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César Aira story.

If I were a character in a play, the lack of true privacy would arouse in me feelings of profound mistrust, disquiet, suspicion. In some way—I don’t know how—I would feel the silent, attentive presence of the audience. I would always be aware that my words are being heard by others, and if that can actually fit in with some parts of my dialogue (there are intelligent things we say to show off before the largest number of people possible, and there are also times when we regret there isn’t an audience to appreciate those things), I’m sure that there would be other parts that would have to be spoken in an authentic and not fictitious intimacy. And those would be the most important parts for understanding the plot: the entire interest, the whole value of the play would be based on them. But their importance would not stimulate my loquacity; to the contrary; I would take the requirements for keeping any secrets very literally, as I always have. To start, I’d prefer not to speak. I’d say “Let’s go into another room, I have to tell you something important that no one else should hear.” But at that point the curtain would fall, and in the next scene we’d enter that other room, which would be the same stage with different decor. I’d look all around, sniff the ineffable… I know there are no seats in fiction, and in my character as a character I’d know that more than ever, because my very existence would be based on that knowledge, but even so…

There’s a César Aira story called The Spy on Electric Literature. [via Electric Literature]

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Krasznahorkai interview.

Ok, a short story for you. I don’t know how long but I spent many years on the road, trying to find architecture that a human being had built in defence against the bad, and that’s why I was in Denmark because of a certain city wall. At night, I couldn’t sleep so I listened to Danish radio between 1 and 2am. I found a programme in which sometimes a woman, sometimes a man read some wonderful poems, unbelievably beautiful and sad.

After a few weeks I went back to Copenhagen to my girlfriend, and said what a wonderful kind of late night literary programme you have between 1 and 2am! But we don’t have such a programme, she said. But I’ve heard it, I said, it must be a literary programme. No, we haven’t one, she said, again, and slowly, she said, it’s almost 1am, please, show me. I found the station on the radio: listen, do you hear? But László, she said, this is the weather report!

And now, an interview with László Krasznahorkai. [via Transcript]

As you might possibly expect, there’s also quite a bit on Béla Tarr in there (as well as some Max Neumann).

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Interview with Can Xue.

We must first clarify this idea—what is Chinese culture? The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the way we interact with each other, romantic relationships, sense of languages, ways of speaking—do these belong to culture? Are we immersed in 5000 years of culture? As a purely modernist artist, would I have more profound, more deeply felt feelings toward Chinese culture than the ordinary person? I have read some of the pieces of Chinese literature that you mentioned; nevertheless, with the exception of Dream of the Red Chamber and some Tang poetry, the others cannot touch my soul. The essence of Chinese culture that I contemplate is the potential force of ideas like “the unity of heaven and man.” In the past 5000 years, our people have not been conscious of this power, because we have been isolated and closed to the world, and we lack a spirit of independence. Yet we are supposed to have this power—an ethnic group that has existed for thousands of years must possess some eternal elements. If you don’t develop these elements, however, then they will forever remain in darkness and never see the light of day, which also means they will never be able to truly exist. My method is to use Western culture as a hoe to unearth our ancient culture, so we can realize its proper value. Western culture has been “divided” for thousands of years. I want to now join the two shores—earth and sky, the material and the immaterial—and combine them into one. And for that task, I have some advantages: namely, the nourishment and enlightenment I receive from 5000 years of history.

There’s loads of good stuff in this interview with Can Xue over at Asymptote. [via Asymptote]

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