Literature

Scott Esposito and Edmundo Paz Soldán in BOMB

November 1, 2016
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Scott Esposito and Edmundo Paz Soldán in BOMB

From an interview between Scott Esposito and Edmundo Paz Soldán, the author of Norte, in the most recent issue of BOMB Magazine: SE: One of the valuable things about Norte is its outsider’s perspective on the United States—I think this is one of the unique things foreign literature can give us. How did you develop your knowledge of the border regions and your opinions on the US in general? EPS: I’ve lived in the US since 1988, in Alabama, California, Texas, and upstate New York. It took me a while to dare to set my novels in the US because I saw it as an overwhelming enterprise; this is such a huge country, and I didn’t know where to start, how to tackle it. I started to think of the US as more of a narrative space after being here for a decade and realizing that a new identity was emerging. I’m very interested in political issues and especially in how these issues affect Latin America and Latinos in the US; however, I try to differentiate between what I think and what my characters think, since I don’t want to write novels with a clear, didactic message. I went to El Paso and . . .

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Mark Goble on Bill Brown’s Other Things

October 21, 2016
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Mark Goble on Bill Brown’s Other Things

An excerpt from Mark Goble’s review of Bill Brown’s latest take on the literary and humanistic chops of material culture, Other Things, from the most recent issue of Modernism/Modernity: As a series of essays reflecting Brown’s own shifting intellectual commitments and the various objects that have patterned them, Other Things is structurally predisposed toward cases and examples. Every chapter in the book save one is parenthetically named for a writer or artist (from Woolf and Man Ray to Shawn Wong and Spike Lee) whose works occasion Brown’s more sweeping meditations on materiality and more. Yet Brown’s investment in the singular example is no mere consequence of how this book is engineered. He has a very sharp eye for things that can appear wonderfully “obtuse,” and Brown is especially insightful on the lump of glass at the center of Woolf’s “Solid Objects” or Man Ray’s creepy, all-observing metronome “Object to be Destroyed” (decorated with a photographic eye). Brown does brilliant labor excavating the historical situation of the English glass industry after World War One to give a rationale for Woolf’s material motivations, and engages Michael Fried to argue that a difference between “art” and “objecthood” is seriously hard to maintain both within a surrealist tradition, and within a book . . .

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Alice Kaplan on the (titular) history of Camus’s The Stranger

October 19, 2016
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Alice Kaplan on the (titular) history of Camus’s The Stranger

From a recent piece by Alice Kaplan for the Guardian, on the strange history of title decisions behind Albert Camus’s classic existential text, The Stranger, drawn from her recent critical biography of the book: Readers were never informed that the two titles were an accident, and for years, no one has been able to explain why Camus’s L’Étranger is sometimes The Stranger, sometimes The Outsider. And while political questions were not part of the original decision, the titles do resonate differently and lend themselves to conflicting political interpretations. An Algerian critic argued recently, in a review of Sandra Smith’s 2013 translation of L’Étranger, that the title The Outsider is politically scandalous, for it effaces the ambiguity in the French word “étranger” and substitutes a more banal idea of someone being “excluded”. He thought Smith’s 2013 title was new – not realising that the British have used it since 1946. In the end, I prefer The Stranger to The Outsider. Yet Meursault, the narrator of the novel, is not a foreigner; he is a Frenchman in colonial Algiers, a “petit colon”, and his strangeness is more like the strangeness of an outsider than the strangeness of an alien. So I question my own . . .

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RIP David Antin (1932–2016)

October 17, 2016
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RIP David Antin (1932–2016)

The University of Chicago Press published David Antin’s Radical Coherency: Selected Essays on Art and Literature, 1966 to 2005, in 2011. The book collected Antin’s singular talk pieces and lecture-performances, as well as a variety of critical takes on everything from his art world contemporaries to exhumations of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s minor philosophical asides. It was a big deal to me to get to work on the book and to exchange emails with David, and it’s certainly the only piece of marketing copy for which the work triggered my use of the phrase, “trademark antiformalist panache.” I’ll miss David, and talking with David—it was talking, after all, that was truly his medium, made all the more inimitable by the combination of a ceaseless curiosity and real sense of living in (and writing one’s self into) history. That said, rather than the usual series of formal obits (though you can read them here, and here, and also here), here’s a couple of remembrances from Antin’s friends, Charles Bernstein and Marjorie Perloff, another way of paying tribute to and honoring his conversations. From Charles Bernstein, at Jacket2: A great inspiration, radical model, dearest friend, and ever an iconoclast. David Antin was one of the great American . . .

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An excerpt from Mary Cappello’s Life Breaks In

October 6, 2016
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An excerpt from Mary Cappello’s Life Breaks In

From Mary Cappello’s Life Breaks In: A Mood Almanack, as excerpted at Berfrois: To have such mood-cloud experiences or vice versa is one thing; to make art from such encounters quite another. “We are the first generation to see the clouds from both sides,” Saul Bellow’s narrator remarks in his novel, Henderson the Rain King, “First people dreamed upward. Now they dream both upward and downward. This is bound to change something, somewhere.” Henderson is a many-times-married millionaire who has this thought as he’s purveying the clouds from the vantage point of an airplane on an ostensible pleasure trip: en route from the United States to Africa, he’s accompanying friends who are traveling there on their honeymoon. A kind of lost soul who feels guilty about his wealth and insulated from the truth of things, he wanders in search of a purpose trying to get in touch with the world—for example, getting really earthy, he tries pig farming, but that fails. “I like the idea of clouds from both sides and some other things from both sides,” singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell says after offering this préçis of Bellow’s character in her introduction to her 1967 performance of the song that she composed . . .

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Raves for Alice Kaplan’s Looking for The Stranger

September 26, 2016
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Raves for Alice Kaplan’s Looking for The Stranger

Alice Kaplan’s “biography” of Albert Camus’s existential cult classic, Looking for The Stranger, made quite the debut this past week. Drawing praise from across the web and the subject of hefty reviews in several major publications (this post doesn’t even include one from Le Monde and the book’s second profile by Publishers Weekly), Looking for The Stranger’s prescience stems in part from its subject’s applicability to contemporary conversations about race and class, and inpart from Kaplan’s ability to turn the standard biography on its head, focusing on the historical circumstances that allowed Camus to produce a mass-market paperback—despite personal turmoil, the threat of censorship, and publishing industry fallout—which went on to sell six-million copies to date, rather than tracing an overly-baked life narrative of the author. Kaplan’s abilities as a storyteller are often acclaimed, so nothing new there, but here follow some fresh critical lauds below! From John Williams at the New York Times: To this new project, Kaplan brings equally honed skills as a historian, literary critic, and biographer. . . . In an epilogue, Ms. Kaplan goes a step further and looks for the identity of the Arab involved in the real-life altercation that inspired the novel’s pivotal scene. What she learns about him . . .

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John Williams for the New York Times on Out of the Wreck I Rise

September 23, 2016
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John Williams for the New York Times on Out of the Wreck I Rise

  Out of the Wreck I Rise, edited by Neil Steinberg and Sara Bader, positions itself, as its subtitle indicates, “A Literary Companion to Recovery.” The poetics of recovery isn’t really a field (and, if we’re going by Aristotle, poetics is a system, not a discipline), but this volume comes close to illuminating a relationship between creativity and the drive to reclaim possession of one’s life. This past week, John Williams previewed the anthology for the New York Times Book Review, and coeditor Neil Steinberg posted a playlist at Largehearted Boy for some ambient inspiration that “speaks to what the book is about.” From the September 2, 2016, issue of the New York Times Book Review: “Alcoholics Anonymous,” commonly referred to as the Big Book, helped to establish the 12-step program. It’s been an indispensable guide for millions since it was published in 1939. A new, very different kind of book, “Out of the Wreck I Rise: A Literary Companion to Recovery,” by Neil Steinberg and Sara Bader, aims to be a complementary comfort. An anthology of excerpts about addiction and recovery, the book includes many names you’d expect to see on the subject: John Cheever, John Berryman, Raymond Carver. Maybe you wouldn’t . . .

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Yves Bonnefoy (1923–2016): A Tribute from His Translators

September 9, 2016
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Yves Bonnefoy (1923–2016): A Tribute from His Translators

  The French poet and critic Yves Bonnefoy, who died on July 1, 2016, was unusually well served by his translators, who shepherded many of his books into publication in English. Thanks to their devotion and talent, readers in the English-speaking world can appreciate why Bonnefoy was, as the New York Times described him, “France’s pre-eminent poet of the postwar era.” The two most prolific publishers of Bonnefoy’s work in English have been Seagull Books and the University of Chicago Press. Seagull’s Naveen Kishore and Chicago’s Alan Thomas invited Bonnefoy’s translators to recall their collaborations with the poet. ***  Richard Pevear I first met Yves Bonnefoy at a lunch organized by Jonathan Galassi, who was then an editor at Random House and the poetry editor of The Paris Review. Galway Kinnell, translator of Bonnefoy’s first book of poems, Du mouvement et de l’immobilité de Douve, joined us. He and Galassi had formed a project for translating the four books of poems Bonnefoy had published up to then . The first two were to be published by Ohio University . . .

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Edmundo Paz Soldán’s Norte: A Novel

August 29, 2016
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Edmundo Paz Soldán’s Norte: A Novel

Kirkus Reviews on Edmundo Paz Soldán’s Norte: A Novel, a refreshingly singular and urgent look at life “after” the US–Mexico border from one of Latin America’s most prominent literary voices, in a starred review: The lives of a mentally ill savant, a young artist, and a serial killer converge in a powerful novel that shuttles across the U.S.–Mexico border. The wide-ranging Bolivia-born Paz Soldán delivers a small cross-section of very different lives of Latinos in the United States, better to counter casual generalizations about them. But its key strength is its well-formed individual characterizations. In 2008, Michelle is a Bolivia-born college student and budding graphic novelist in Texas who risks being pulled astray by hard-partying friends and a professor she’s sleeping with. In 1931, Martín is a schizophrenic Mexican immigrant who becomes a celebrated outsider artist after his institutionalization in California. (Michelle will be invited to write about Martín’s work decades later.) And in northern Mexico in 1984, Jesús has begun his career as a serial killer, hopping trains across the border to hunt likely victims in Texas. Jesús, modeled after the real-life “Railroad Killer” Ángel Maturino Reséndiz, hogs the novel’s stage, largely thanks to Paz Soldán’s visceral descriptions of his killings, which rival Bret . . .

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August excerpt: Looking for “The Stranger”

August 19, 2016
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August excerpt: Looking for “The Stranger”

“Existentialist Twins”* Although few Americans had read The Stranger in French—it had been hard enough to find a copy in wartime France—word of the novel had crossed the ocean. Blanche Knopf had founded the US publishing  house Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., with her husband Alfred in 1945, and she had a special interest in publishing English translations of contemporary European literature. She had been cut off from France for the duration of the war, but by February 1945 she was back in touch with Jenny Bradley, Knopf’s agent in Paris. Sartre had lauded a new Camus novel, still in manuscript, called The Plague, in a lecture he gave at Harvard, and Blanche Knopf cabled Bradley, asking to see the proofs. The Plague, with its link to the suffering and heroism of France during the German occupation, was bound to make a splash, and she understood that Knopf might also have to buy The Stranger in order to get it. Alfred Knopf cabled Bradley in February, eager to acquire The Plague, although Camus hadn’t yet finished it, but he was still hesitating about The Stranger. In March 1945, he made up his mind and offered $350 for it. *** Not an ideological or interpretive divide, not even . . .

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