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ReadySteadyBlog

One of the Guardian Unlimited Books' top 10 literary blogs: "A home-grown treasure ... smart, serious analysis"

Blog entries for 'July 2006'

Monday 31 July 2006

My current top 5

The nice folk over at 3:AM's Buzzwords blog have just published my musical Top 5. Very kind of them to ask me. Thanks Andrew!


Currently I'm listening to:


1. Kafka-Fragmente -- Gyorgy Kurtag
2. Handwriting -- Khonnor
3. Plume -- Loscil
4. Pulse Shadows -- Harrison Birtwistle
5. The Ride -- Joan As Police Woman

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Monday 31 July 2006

Murray Bookchin RIP

The sad news of the death, at 85 years of age, of social ecologist Murray Bookchin comes via Booksurfer:


Author, activist, pioneer of social ecology and libertarian municipalism Murray Bookchin died on Sunday. Writing under the pen-name of Lewis Herber in the 1960s he was one of the first people to draw attention to the developing ecolological crisis in his book Our Synthetic Environment (1962). He also wrote about the breakdown and potential of urban living in The Crisis in Our Cities (1965) the same year in which his influential Post Scarcity Anarchism was published. He was author of the widely influential polemic Listen Marxist! and Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism in which he restates the case for anarchism as a movement for social revolution and not simply a lifestyle choice. The Press Association obituary is rather thin on detail, but there is a detailed biography of his life on the Anarchy Archives, with links through to a slightly dated bibliography.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Monday 31 July 2006

Vaneigem's Journal

Pierre Joris translates some of Raoul Vaneigem's stanzas (from Vaneigem's Journal Imaginaire):


The necessity to adapt to the surrounding environment for survival is an animal behavior. The primary human action consists in creating an environment that is favorable to the development of life.

Pierre says, "of the core Situationists, Vaneigem has always seemed to me at least as interesting and often more so than his ex-companion, Guy Debord". I can't agree. The vaguely hippy quality of each of the six stanzas that Pierre quotes is, for me, precisely why Vaneigem was never as interesting, insightful or essential as Debord. Good to know about the Journal Imaginaire, though. Its existence had quite passed me by.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Saturday 29 July 2006

Nigel Cox RIP

New Zealand novelist Nigel Cox died yesterday. From the Scoop obituary:


One of New Zealand's best writers, Nigel was recognised at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards on Monday evening when his novel Responsibility was named a runner-up for the Fiction Award. Nigel's eloquent and moving acceptance speech was met with a standing ovation from his family, friends and colleagues in the writing, publishing and bookselling community.

Author of five published novels, Waiting for Einstein, Dirty Work, Skylark Lounge, Tarzan Presley and Responsibility, Nigel had recently completed a wonderful new book called The Cowboy Dog which Victoria University Press are proud to publish later in the year.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Friday 28 July 2006

Lebanon

Pierre Joris, over at his excellent Nomadics blog, has some good stuff on how to help in Lebanon.


The Sanayeh Relief Center (according to Naomi Klein) "is a beacon of humanity and mutual aid".


This aint bad: Billmon on the war in Lebanon (via Crooked Timber).


This is useful too: Electronic Lebanon.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Friday 28 July 2006

Publisher of the Week

I've started a Publisher of the Week column over on The Book Depository site. Already up, we've had Dalkey Archive Press, Boydell & Brewer and the Menard Press. Today it is the turn of "progressive, critical thinking" Pluto Press.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 27 July 2006

Lust for Life review

Timmi Duchamp does a nice, chunky review of Lust for Life: On the Writing of Kathy Acker (Verso) over at Now What.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 27 July 2006

Hey succour!

Succour magazine is calling for submissions:


Succour is a biannual journal of new fiction and poetry. The magazine grew out of the University of Sussex's Creative Writing courses and is now sold in London, Brighton and Oxford. A themed journal, Succour aims to promote quality original work by new artists and writers.

For issue 4, The Obscene, Succour are looking for fiction, poetry and artwork from Manchester-based writers. You can email submissions to RSB's very own Max Dunbar. Prose submissions should not exceed 2500 words and should be attached as a Word document. Artwork can be emailed as bmp or jpeg files. You can interpret the theme as wilfully or obliquely as you like.

The deadline is Monday 28th August.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 26 July 2006

Contemporary Poetry Review

Lots of Elizabeth Bishop stuff over at the Contemporary Poetry Review this month.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 26 July 2006

Willem Frederik Hermans

Nice review of WF Hermans' Beyond Sleep (out from Harvill; who now, very kindly, seem to be sending books over to RSB again -- thank you!) by Michel Faber in the Guardian this last weekend:

Why has Willem Frederik Hermans's large and varied oeuvre failed, over half a century, to establish his place in the pantheon of Dutch writers recognised by the British? The author himself might have grinned ruefully at the thought: he was an arch-pessimist with a wry sense of humour. However, he suffered no shortage of acclaim, most of it from Germany, Scandinavia and his native Netherlands.

... Beyond Sleep is an engaging yarn once it hits its stride, intermittently thought-provoking, frequently funny, well worth investigating. But there are darker, stronger Hermans works still waiting for their chance to cross the Channel.

Toucing on Ina Rilke's translation, Faber notes:


In the original Dutch, Hermans's prose is bracingly lucid and straightforward, justifying his reputation as a champion of unadorned style. Ina Rilke's translation is fluent and finds clever solutions to tough challenges (such as preserving the comic effect of conversations in which English is the foreign language), but overall the tone is more formal, more prim than it should be. Occasionally, unintentional ambiguities are introduced, such as when Alfred steps "into the void" instead of stepping off a rock. Still, the protagonist's increasingly febrile determination is well conveyed, and the numerous humiliations of travelling ill-provisioned in a hostile landscape are detailed with satisfyingly grisly care.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 26 July 2006

Kirsch on Moretti

Over at the New York Sun (thanks Dave!) Adam Kirsch on Franco Moretti's The Novel:


The novel, you might say, is like pornography: It may be hard to define, but everyone knows it when they see it.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 26 July 2006

Robert Walser

Anecdotal Evidence brings my attention back to "Robert Walser, a strange, unclassifiable, utterly lovable Swiss writer":


Walser, born in 1878, entered a mental hospital in 1933, when he stopped writing, and remained there until he died in 1956. This Christmas will mark the 50th anniversary of his death. Walser was an inveterate walker – many of his stories begin as walks – and his body was found that day in the snow. He had suffered a heart attack. A visitor, who had asked why he no longer wrote, quoted Walser as saying, "I am not here to write but to be mad."

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 26 July 2006

Interview with ... me

The good folk at bloggasm ("Bloggasm is a media blog featuring interviews from the most interesting blogs around. In between interviews, we also talk about current events") have seen fit to interview yours truly. Far more interesting are some of the other "literature" folk they've interviewed (like George Murray from Bookninja for instance).

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 25 July 2006

Interview marathon

Serpentine Gallery curator Hans Ulrich Obrist and architect Rem Koolhaas are organising a live 24-hour interview marathon from 6pm on July 28th to 6pm July 29th, interrogating a line-up of artists, writers, philosophers and whatever that are meant to represent a cultural snapshot of London. The list of interviewees includes Ken Adam, Tariq Ali, Damien Hirst, Doris Lessing and Tom McCarthy.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 25 July 2006

Penises in public

Later today, from 1-2pm at Manchester Central Library, Carcanet are organising Lunch Poems: A Frank O'Hara Celebration:


Local poets, including Matthew Welton, Linda Chase, Barry Wood, Michael Schmidt [and me!], will read their favourite O'Hara poems to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the poet's death in 1966. There will also be a video screening of O’Hara reading his poem Lana Turner has Collapsed, from the Channel 4 series Modern American Poets, produced by Colin Still.

I'm reading The Critic which has me in the highly enviable position of being able to say penises in public: "You lurk there / in the shadows, meting out / conversation like Eve's first / confusion between penises and / snakes." What will me poor mam say!?


Carcanet publish O'Hara's Selected Poems and 'Why I'm Not a Painter' and other poems. O'Hara's work also features alongside that of John Ashbery, James Schuyler and Kenneth Koch in The New York Poets: An Anthology.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 25 July 2006

Douglas Oliver radial symposium

A "radial symposium" dedicated to poet Douglas Oliver began yesterday at Intercapillary Space. We've already had Pierre Joris's The Tea–Brown Light of Kindness and today we have Ralph Hawkins excellent Douglas Oliver's Diagram Poems.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Sunday 23 July 2006

How soon must we use the words "war crime"?

From the Information Clearing House


How soon must we use the words "war crime"? How many children must be scattered in the rubble of Israeli air attacks before we reject the obscene phrase "collateral damage" and start talking about prosecution for crimes against humanity?

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Sunday 23 July 2006

Iraq death toll

From TomPaine.com:


A United Nations report released this week says that the death toll among Iraqi civilians since January 2006 is 14,338. The number killed has been rising steadily each month, from 1,778 in January to 3,149 in June. That report significantly understates the actual totals. The U.N. relied on official data reported by the Iraqi government, which is prone to omit some of the dead. But in any case the situation in Iraq is so chaotic that it is impossible to count their numbers, especially in far-flung provinces. Still, the U.N.’s figures far surpassed previous estimates of casualties from any source.

What’s shocking — especially if you’ve been paying more attention to the destruction of Lebanon by the Israeli armed forces and missed it — is that things in Iraq has gotten qualitatively worse in July. In June, Iraqis died at the rate of nearly 1,000 per week. In July, we can only speculate—but it’s not impossible that the toll is at least twice that, 2,000 per week. The word genocide comes to mind.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Friday 21 July 2006

Why can't we read Shelley's poem?

Last week, the TLS reported that a 20-page pamphlet with a 172-line poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, which no-one has read since 1811, has recently come to light ("the Poetical Essay is ... remarkable for its unexpected emergence and for the insights a full study of it will give into Shelley’s development as a poet and political thinker.")


Professor Henry R Woudhuysen, Professor of English at UCL, reproduces a few lines of the poem in the TLS, but why don't we get to read the whole thing?


Man must assert his native rights, must say
We take from Monarchs’ hand the granted sway;
Oppressive law no more shall power retain,
Peace, love, and concord, once shall rule again,
And heal the anguish of a suffering world;
Then, then shall things which now confusedly hurled,
Seem Chaos, be resolved to order’s sway,
And error’s night be turned to virtue’s day –

The writer and broadcaster Michael Rosen has written to me saying:


It seems to me incredible that a major poem has been found by a major poet and we can't read it. This is the poem that almost certainly got Shelley chucked out of Oxford. It is also a clear example of an anti-imperialist poem by a writer when it's often been stated, by Edward Said no less, that none of the liberal or left writers ever distanced themselves from the British Empire. As it happens, Ernest Jones did on many occasions, but Shelley clearly did in this poem if the extracts are anything to go by.

Can we please start a little enquiry as to why this poem is being held back from public view? Presumably so that someone can make some money out of it!

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 20 July 2006

Telegraph review of Chomsky's Failed States

Astonishingly, a very good review of Chomsky's Failed States ("he argues, cogently and convincingly, that a similar drive towards repression is happening again") in the Telegraph:


In the pro-Nazi, isolationist United States of his novel The Plot Against America, Philip Roth creates a fictionalised version of the famous newsman Walter Winchell ... The extent to which Roth intends us to read his fiction as a metaphor for the America of today is moot, but were we to do so Noam Chomksy would be our the best current candidate for the role of Winchell ... There is a plot against America, says Chomsky, and it is real. He reminds us that "the rapid descent to the depths of barbarism took place in the country that was the pride of Western civilisation in the sciences, philosophy and the arts; a country that before the hysterical propaganda of World War I had been regarded by many American political scientists as a model of democracy".

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 19 July 2006

Welsh is a Tory; Bissell on the ULA

So, Irvine Welsh, the "chronicler of the chemical generation", shock-jock writer of Trainspotting, has come out as a Tory. I don't know why anyone is in the least bit surprised about this. It seems obvious that the innate conservatism of his books -- and of so much "cult fiction" -- reflected an essentially conservative mind. One can only hope that more readers will now realise that writing about smack, or porn, or other drearier aspects of the quotidian, does not a revolutionary make. Transgressive writing is rarely progressive and rarely very good.


Nice: Protesting All Fiction Writers! -- Tom Bissell on the Underground Literary Alliance (via Wet Asphalt)

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 18 July 2006

Mitchelmore on Rankin and Proust

Steve Mitchelmore, the finest writer we have in the literary blogosphere, has an excellent article in this week's TLS (sadly not online) reviewing Javier Marias's bloated and over-rated Your Face Tomorrow 2: Dance and Dream. For those who don't have access to the paper, whet your appetite by reading Steve on Rankin and Proust.


Steve is the only writer I know who can meaningfully bring together a genre hack like Ian Rankin and the freakish genius that was Proust, via Blanchot, and make uncommonly good sense:


This is why I am so wary of books that tend to rely on the art of previous writers, that do not make the language subject to the unique inspiration and ambition of the book it forms. They are too rhetorical and crime (and other genre) novels are, by definition, mainly rhetorical works. While Rankin's eighth novel cannot be on a par with Proust's (if only because the anger is added colour rather than intrinsic to its creation), it perhaps suggests in both cases a desire among readers for something more than routine entertainment, for more than the author to do "a good professional job for the reader". They want the real thing.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 18 July 2006

Raja Rao obituaries

The obituaries have started arriving for Raja Rao (1908-2006), the Indian writer who died aged 97th on July 8th: Daily Telegraph; The Guardian and The Times (via the Literary Saloon).

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 18 July 2006

The Frontlist

The Frontlist ...


... is a consortium of developers and writers from literary communities. We've formed to provide a new fair way to provide talented unpublished writers to have work annotated and critiqued by peers. The most well-received work will rise to the top, to be considered by a publisher.

The Frontlist is a community of talented writers that self-select work that they feel may be of interest to a publisher. Writers, upon signing up to The Frontlist, will be able to submit sample chapters of work that they are looking to publish. They will then be invited to provide detailed critiques on several pieces of work. Once they have finished this, their own work will go up for critique. Each month, the most well received work will be fast-tracked to the desk of a respected agent or publisher who specialises in the work's genre.

... Jason Cooper, a senior editor at Pan Macmillan (Picador) has agreed to read the submissions that achieve top reviews from The Frontlist.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 18 July 2006

TJ Clark

The very fine ads without products blog points me towards TJ Clark's response to Perry Anderson's The Origins of Postmodernity and Jameson's The Cultural Turn (which originally appeared in the New Left Review back in 2000).


I like TJ Clark. His Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism is superb; he was involved with the essential Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War and his latest, The Sight of Death: An Experiment in Art Writing, looks great (sadly, it is with Yale University Press so we have next to no chance of seeing a review copy!)


Last week, the National Portrait Gallery very kindly sent on some lovely volumes (including the handy wee The Irish Literary Revival Movement). One of which was Anthony Bond's Self Portrait: Renaissance to Contemporary. A gorgeous book, this too has an excellent essay by Clark (as well as fine pieces by Ludmilla Jordanova and Joseph Leo Koerner) called The Look of Self-Portraiture (where Clark argues for a version of self-portraiture "in which seeing would be pictured as itself a form of representation"). Oh, if you've not seen it, Koerner's Caspar David Friedrich and the Subject of Landscape is matchless.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Monday 17 July 2006

The Commoner

It ain't a pretty website but, if you can force your way around it, and ignore the fact that many of the articles are bloody PDFs, The Commoner has a lot of very fine essays from the likes of Nick Dyer-Witheford (author of the excellent Cyber-Marx: Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High-technology Capitalism), Silvia Federici (author of Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation) and Steve Wright (author of Storming Heaven: Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism). Definitely worth taking the time to navigate.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Monday 17 July 2006

More on Elif

The Friday before last, I mentioned that author Elif Shafak "is being charged with transgressing Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, which makes denigrating Turkishness a criminal offense." Actually, it is Elif and her publisher and her translator who are all facing trial. More details via Elif's British publisher Marion Boyars. (For those who can read German, see this interview with Shafak in the Berliner Zeitung magazine [which, actually, is also available in English!])

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Monday 17 July 2006

Moretti conjectures

Franco Moretti's The Novel, Volume 1: History, Geography, and Culture and The Novel, Volume 2: Forms and Themes arrived last week. With a thud. These are big, big boys. But, as I mentioned at the end of June, and as the Literary Saloon mentioned, these are not as big as they should be:


The American publishers -- a university press (non-profit, public interest, academic standards ...) -- was so afraid it wouldn't sell that they tossed half of it out. And the part they tossed out is the international part -- the part which Americans are most in need of information about. And to rub it in, there will be full translations into Korean and Portuguese, but not English.

I've asked Princeton UP why they didn't translate the whole shebang -- and I'll let you know their response when they get back to me. In the meantime, for more Moretti, see these articles from the New Left Review: Conjectures on World Literature and More Conjectures

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Monday 17 July 2006

Free-New-Books.com

Free-New-Books.com is a site which showcases recently published books that have been made available in their entirety for free on the Web (via Spike).

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Sunday 16 July 2006

PN Review is 30!

The magazine which John Ashbery described as "the most informative and entertaining poetry journal in the English-speaking world," the ever-excellent PN Review, is thirty years old. Andrew Motion, the British Poet Laureate, recently recalled having his first poems published in the magazine as a student in 1975, and praised PN Review's remarkable history as one of the most engaged and intellectually rigorous literary magazines of our time.


Congratulations to PN Review (to which, you'll recall RSB readers get an exclusive subscription deal) and to its polymath editor Michael Schmidt.


And, as we now do with every issue of PN Review, we've published Michael's editorial to PN Review 170 today here on RSB.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Friday 14 July 2006

Linda Chase

Manchester-based (but New York born) poet, Linda Chase, has a new website, appropriately called lindachase.co.uk. Hopefully, I'll be interviewing Linda on RSB very soon about her Carcanet collections Extended Family and The Wedding Spy.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 13 July 2006

Robert Gernhardt

According to signandsight (thanks Steve), Robert Gernhardt was one of Germany's most-loved poets. He died in Frankfurt at the end of June:


Born in 1937 in Reval in Estonia, Gernhardt studied painting and German in Stuttgart and Berlin. From 1964 until his death he lived in Frankfurt, where he worked as writer, painter and caricaturist. His lively cross-genre publishing activities soon made him the leading figure of the New Frankfurt School of writers and artists behind the satirical magazine Pardon in the 1960s and 70s and after 1979, Titanic. Here is a small selection of his poems translated into English by Ursula Runde, some of which have appeared in Poetry Magazine, and sketches from Gernhardt's German Readers series.

Definitely worth taking the time to look around signandsight's literature features too whilst you are at it.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 13 July 2006

Kertész wins Wingate Prize

Imre Kertész's Fatelessness (Harvill) has won the 2006 Wingate Prize ("established in 1977 by the late Harold Hyam Wingate, the Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Literary Prize is now in its 29th year. The prizes for fiction and non-fiction are each worth £4,000 to each category winner, with £300 also awarded for the runners-ups in each category"):


At the age of 14 Georg Koves is plucked from his home in a Jewish section of Budapest and without any particular malice, placed on a train to Auschwitz. He does not understand the reason for his fate. He doesn’t particularly think of himself as Jewish. And his fellow prisoners, who decry his lack of Yiddish, keep telling him, “You are no Jew.” In the lowest circle of the Holocaust, Georg remains an outsider.

The genius of Imre Kertész’s unblinking novel lies in its refusal to mitigate the strangeness of its events, not least of which is Georg’s dogmatic insistence on making sense of what he witnesses–or pretending that what he witnesses makes sense. Haunting, evocative, and all the more horrifying for its rigorous avoidance of sentiment, Fatelessness is a masterpiece in the traditions of Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel, and Tadeusz Borowski.

Let us hope that this will mean all of Kertész's other titles will get translated.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 13 July 2006

Home and away

Do, please, forgive the radio silence. I've been away on a wee mini-break to Big London Town (I'd headed down because PN Review were having a 30th birthday bash). As well as the party, I did some wonderful tourist things (went to Sir John Soane's Museum and Dr Johnson's House and saw the excellent Modigliani and His Models exhibition at the Royal Academy). Now I'm back ... and I'm shattered.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Friday 07 July 2006

Elif Shafak faces charges in Turkey

Bad news about the Turkish writer Elif Shafak from the highly appealing (if a little confusing) website The Ledge ("an independent platform for international literature. At the heart of the site is a series of interviews with authors, translators and critics from around the world" -- thanks Wah-Ming):


Turkish ultranationalists have once again filed a complaint against the Turkish writer Elif Shafak (1971), author of The Saint of Incipient Insanities, The Gaze and The Flea Palace, charging her with ‘insulting Turkishness.’ The complaint focuses on two passages from Shafak’s latest novel, The Bastard of Istanbul. Like Orhan Pamuk, whose statements about ‘the Armenian question’ in a newspaper interview raised the ire of the nationalists, Shafak is being charged with transgressing Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, which makes denigrating Turkishness a criminal offense.

For more information, please contact Fran van den Bogaert at fran@degeus.nl

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Friday 07 July 2006

Summer reading and idiocy

In an idiotic, and supposedly ironic/funny, post entitled Big up your shelf, Sarah Crown, from whom I would have expected much better, has a swipe at the books that authors pick on the (certainly rather silly) summer reading lists that appear with regrettable regularity this time of year. She berates Alain de Botton for claiming he is "'looking forward to reading Gabriel Josipovici's new collection of essays The Singer on the Shore'. Essays: tick. Little-known (but highly respected) author: tick. Foreign (Josipovici was born in Nice): tick."


Josipovici may have been born in Nice, but he's lived here for the past fifty years! And anyone who has bothered to read The Singer on the Shore will know how essential it is: a superb -- and very readable, even welcoming -- collection.


So, what's the deal here? Just because it is slightly warmer in July/August than in April/May, I'm suddenly supposed to pretend that reading utter rubbish is somehow hip and ironic? I do wish the Guardian would stop coming out with this rubbish.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 06 July 2006

Ligeti on UbuWeb

Some new Ligeti goodies on UbuWeb:


György Ligeti: Poème Symphonique for 100 metronomes (AVI): Video from an ARTE (France) broadcast of Poème Symphonique for 100 metronomes. Since its world premiere in the Netherlands in 1963, Poème symphonique for 100 metronomes has been very rarely performed in public. The complicated scenographic staging, the detailed preparation by hand, the need for around ten technicians to activate more or less simultaneously the 100 metronomes, makes the demand for performances limited. Also, György Ligeti: Portrait, A Documentary by Michel Follin (1993). The Hungarian composer György Ligeti's biography typifies the displaced cosmopolitan, truly at home only in the international community of music. Appropriately enough, this revealing film portrait of his life and music has a train journey as its central metaphor, with Ligeti gazing through the window onto the changing middle-European landscape. His music - innovative, complex, brilliantly eclectic - accompanies his reflections and memories. (French, no subtitles).

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 06 July 2006

Aleksander Wat

A very nice post today on Patrick Kurp's excellent Anecdotal Evidence blog on Polish poet, brother of A. Broniszowna, and co-founder of Polish Futurism, Aleksander Wat (whose My Century is out with the NYRB):


One relies on certain books the way some believers look to the Bible -- not as divinely inspired, intended for literal understanding, but as sources of dependable wisdom. At the kitschy end of the wisdom spectrum we find the self-help genre, books designed as mood-elevating delivery systems, books that assure us we are O.K. despite conclusive evidence to the contrary. Publishers and booksellers label this stuff “inspirational,” but serious readers have always assembled their own eccentric libraries of true wisdom, whether sacred or secular.

For more about Wat's (1900-1967) life, I understand that Tomas Venclova's Aleksander Wat: Life and Art of an Iconoclast (Yale) is the classic biography (nice review by Dennis J. Dunn).

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 06 July 2006

More Germania II -- Thomas Bernhard

Steve has just brought my attention to A Companion to the Works of Thomas Bernhard edited by Matthias Konzett (the author of The Rhetoric of National Dissent in Thomas Bernhard, Peter Handke, and Elfriede Jelinek), published by Camden House, another fine German-centric publisher ("scholarly books dealing with German and Austrian literature") who I noted last Thursday with reference to Scott Peeples' The Afterlife of Poe. A pdf of the introduction to Konzett's Companion should be available on the publisher website but, frustratingly, the link isn't working. I'll chase them.


Update: Boydell have just got back to tell me that the introduction to A Companion to the Works of Thomas Bernhard (PDF file; 97KB) is now back online. Thanks!

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 06 July 2006

More Germania

Regular readers will know of my fondness for the books of the London-based German specialist publisher Libris (whose wonderful In Time of Need: A Conversation about Poetry, Resistance and Exile I've just reviewed for PN Review).


Well, I've just received some fine-looking books from fellow German-language specialist Ariadne.


Elfriede Jelinek: Framed by Language (edited by Jorun B. Johns and Katherine Arens) was first published in 1994 (way before Jelinek came to most non-German readers attention by winning the Nobel prize in 2004) and contains "fifteen essays ... demonstrat[ing] the significance of this major literary voice, addressing Jelinek as a master of modernist prose, of postmodern critique of literary genres, and of stage and screen. Hers is a strong voice against domestic violence, pornography, oppression of women, and the continuance of the fascist legacy in the everyday world of contemporary Austria and Germany."


Alexander Lernet-Holenia (1897-1976) Mars in Aries "was immediately banned upon its publication in book form in 1941 [...] Richly constructed with cultural, historical, literary, linguistic, philosophical, and metaphysical references that counter Nazism [...] the intermeshing of existentialism and fate, the duality of existence, and the qualities of resistance. [The novel] underscores Alexander Lernet-Holenia's place in the Austrian literary canon alongside such writers as Schnitzler, Hofmannsthal, Musil and Broch."


Christine Lavant (1915-1973) was one of Austria's most famous yet obscure 20th-century poets. Thomas Bernhard referred to her work as testimony to a "zerstörte Welt / destroyed world." Memoirs from a Madhouse "was not published until after her death, because she considered it too personal. We find autobiographical elements in it which describes her exhaustion, her sleeplessness, her failed suicide attempt, and her daily struggles to survive by writing."

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 06 July 2006

Armed Madhouse

Yesterday, I posted Max's review of Armed Madhouse by Greg Palast. As ever with Max, its a good, solid review, but I know that comments like, "unlike many in the antiwar movement, Palast ... has not staggered down the road of supporting any dictator or theocrat who is against the US" and "I and many people on the left supported the Iraq war because it was essentially the only way of getting rid of Saddam Hussein and giving Iraqis some hope in the first time in thirty-five years" will, understandably, be a red rag to some. I'll hold my tongue for now, but for those who wish RSB book reviews had their own dedicated comments facility, comment here!

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Thursday 06 July 2006

Tantan

As you'll probably know, RSB interviewee Tom McCarthy has a new book out: Tintin and the Secret of Literature (Granta). See the Guardian extract for more or read Susan Tomaselli's review. We're not big lovers of Tantan around here: although we do pronounce his name in a poncey way just to show how francophilic we are!

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Wednesday 05 July 2006

Arvon on

The Arvon International Poetry Competition 2006 is now open. The competition has been running for twenty-five years and first opened in 1980 with Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney and Philip Larkin amongst the judges. There is no restriction on line length or subject -- all poems are welcome. The deadline is September 15th 2006. Entries cost £7 for the first poem and £5 for each poem thereafter. Prize money ranges from £500 to £5000. I'm always rather wary about competitions that you have to pay to enter, but the money raised, I'm told, goes towards Arvon's grants for writers programme.

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Wednesday 05 July 2006

Hermann Ungar

Put the name of the Czech writer Hermann Unger (rendered Ungar by his UK publishers Dedalus) into Google and the second entry you get is for the The Hermann Unger Literary Teahouse (Literární Cajovna Hermanna Ungera)! How fine is that!?


Winningly, the Teahouse gives a nice gloss on Unger's life:


The teahouse is named after a native of Boskovice whose writing was sometimes compared to that of Kafka. Hermann Unger was born in Boskovice in 1893 and grew up speaking German and Czech. While at school in Brno he became active in Jewish politics, and went on to study Hebrew, Arabic and law at university. The studies were interrupted by war and Hermann was dispatched to the Russian front from where he eventually returned wounded and with a silver medal for valour. His writing career began in 1920 with Boys and Murderers, and continued with The Maimed (1922) and The Class (1927). Unger became friends with some of Prague’s most famous Jewish-German writers: Paul Kornfeld, Ernst Weiss, and Franz Werfel, and was a contemporary of Franz Kafka and Max Brod.

He died of acute appendicitis at the age of 36 in December 1929, but has not been forgotten by the tea-connoisseurs of his hometown.

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Wednesday 05 July 2006

Zurau Aphorisms

Not due out in the UK until this coming November, but certainly worth noting, is Franz Kafka's The Zurau Aphorisms (Harvill Secker). (the publisher information I have renders this "Zureau"; a dear friend tells me "Zürau" is best.) The only information I have, so far, comes straight from Amazon:


Franz Kafka spent eight months in Zurau between September 1917 and April 1918, enduring at his sister's house the onset of tuberculosis. Illness paradoxically set him free to write, in a series of philosophical fragments, his settling of accounts with life, marriage, his family, guilt and man's condition. These "aphorisms" will appear, sometimes with a few words changed, scattered across other writings (letters, diaries), some of which appeared as posthumous fragments only after his death in 1924. By chance, Roberto Calasso rediscovered the original notebooks as Kafka wrote them, in Oxford's Bodleian Library. Each thought or sequence of thoughts is set off on a separate page in counterpoint to the white space surrounding them. With a brief introduction and afterword by Calasso, the assemblage is a distillation of Kafka at his most powerful and enigmatic. It is a lost jewel that provides the reader with a fresh perspective on the collective work of a genius.

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Tuesday 04 July 2006

Philip Rieff RIP

I've just learned of the death of Philip Rieff (1922-2006). He died last Saturday in Philadelphia. "Rieff was a sociologist best known for his examination of the social consequences — especially the moral consequences — of the assimilation of the ideas of Freud into modern culture."


In 1989, the University of Chicago Press published a collection of Rieff's essays, The Feeling Intellect: Selected Writings, edited by Jonathan B. Imber. They also have two of Rieff's most influential works: Freud: The Mind of the Moralist and The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith after Freud.


Just recently the University of Virginia Press published My Life Among the Deathworks:


...Rieff articulates a comprehensive, typological theory of Western culture. Using visual illustrations and unique juxtapositions, he displays remarkable erudition in drawing from such disciplines as sociology, history, literature, poetry, music, plastic arts, and film; he contrasts the changing modes of spiritual and social thought that have struggled for dominance throughout Western history. Our modern culture—to Rieff's mind only the "third" type in western history—is the object of his deepest scrutiny, described here as morally ruinous, death-affirming rather than life-affirming, and representing an unprecedented attempt to create a culture completely devoid of any concept of the sacred.

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Tuesday 04 July 2006

Jerzy Ficowski

Jerzy Ficowski's only book of his own fiction Waiting for the Dog to Sleep (Twisted Spoon Press) is one of my Books of the Week this week. There is a useful short obituary for Ficowski over at Forward.com which gives some background to this important Polish writer and expert on Bruno Schulz. (For more on BS, see Mark Kaplan's tribute to Bruno Schulz.)

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Tuesday 04 July 2006

July's Books of the Month

I'm never quite sure why "summer reading" has come to be a synonym for "reading rubbish books", but the lists that abound at this time of year rarely seem to bring one's attention to anything decent. I hope my own Books of the Month for July offer a little more food for thought ...


First up is Darkness Spoken the collected poems of the extraordinary Austrian poet Ingeborg Bachmann (published by Zephyr Press, "a non-profit arts and education organization" based in the US that have a very good list).


And then we have Paul Celan and Martin Heidegger: An Unresolved Conversation by James K. Lyon (Johns Hopkins University Press): "Drawing heavily on documentary material—including Celan's reading notes on more than two dozen works by Heidegger, the philosopher's written response to the poet's Meridian speech, and references to Heidegger in Celan's letters—Lyon presents a focused perspective on this critical aspect of the poet's intellectual development and provides important insights into his relationship with Heidegger, transforming previous conceptions of it."

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Tuesday 04 July 2006

New site for Carcanet

Michael Schmidt's excellent publishing house, Carcanet ("simply one of the best literary publishers in the world" according to Charles Simic), has just redesigned its website. Nice clean lines, and more easily navigable than its previous incarnation, the site promises more interactive features to come.

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Monday 03 July 2006

Louis Zukofsky is out of print!

Last Thursday, I mentioned that I'd been reading Louis Zukofsky's Prepositions + : The Collected Critical Essays of Louis Zukofsky. Wanting to read more, I asked the good folk at Johns Hopkins University Press if they could send on to me Zukofsky's Complete Short Poetry and his magnus opus A. They've just got back to tell me: "Unfortunately, the Zukofsky books went Out of Print in February." That's rubbish! Readers who want to read more thus only have the recent Library of America Selected Poems. I'll seek this out (it is in a box somewhere; half-lost since the recent move) and review it asap.

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Monday 03 July 2006

A note from Anthony Rudolf

Responding to my interview with the poet and Celan-translator Pierre Joris, the writer and publisher Anthony Rudolf (of the excellent Menard Press) has written me this lovely note, which I'd like to share:


I would like to gloss Pierre Joris's comments on Celan translations and exclusivity, made during the fascinating interview posted on RSB. I'm glad he put the word 'official' in quotation marks concerning Michael Hamburger for, during the nearly forty years I have known him, Michael has always insisted that he is against exclusivity on principle when it comes to poetry translation, although he can see why other considerations enter the frame with a long prose book.

Gisèle [Celan-Lestrange], herself a distinguished print maker and artist, exasperated by the amount of time she had to spend dealing with copyright questions, anthology requests etc, asked me in the early 1980s if I thought Michael would agree to be the exclusive translator of her late husband; it would simplify her life no end, she said. I told her about Michael's honourable attitude and that what she proposed was not the solution.

Allow me to mention a memory triggered by this communication. Gisele and I were friends for a number of years, but we lost touch, as sometimes happens. Later, I attended the funeral of my friend Edmond Jabès at Père-Lachaise in January 1991. I half-recognised a woman who looked ill and strained, a shadow of the beautiful and elegant person she had been. I went up to her, and said: Gisèle? There was a pause -- as if to complete my half-recognition and make it whole -- and then a reply: Anthony? We embraced. Less than a year later, she was dead.

Two more comments: Paul Celan and Edmond Jabès were close friends. One day, perhaps, Celan's heavily annotated copy of Le Livre des questions will be published facsimile with a commentary (Pierre is surely too busy to edit it). Lastly, for those with the requisite French, the two-volume boxed edition of Paul's correspondence with Gisèle, published by Le Seuil in 2001, is essential reading.

PS a pertinent extract from a draft memoir:

Some years ago, I was about to publish my own translations of Claude Vigée’s poetry and prose. As an old friend, I had long known about his version of Four Quartets, which had lain untouched in a drawer for half a century because T.S. Eliot had agreed to exclusive rights in the translation by Pierre Leyris about three weeks before he read (and admired) Vigée's translation. I told Claude that the time had come to mount a campaign to find a publisher for his version. There was no problem at Faber and Faber, and Valery Eliot and Kathleen Raine wrote supporting letters. But the French publisher of Leyris was adamant that there could not be a rival version in France. I said what about Menard, which is a UK publisher? To this suggestion, they said yes, but only if Leyris agreed. Naturally, I wrote to the master translator of English poetry (Eliot, Hopkins, Shakespeare etc) in appropriate and respectful terms. He replied with the sweetest letter, saying that it was impossible for him to say no but that I should make sure that Vigée drew a distinction between “durée” and “temps” when translating the word “time”. And so the book was published, with the bonus of one of Gabriel Josipovici’s best essays, which was specially written for this book and translated into French for the occasion. He later published it in English in PNR, as I recall. The Menard book also contains a previously unpublished letter by T.S. Eliot.

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Books of the Week

The Poem and the Journey The Poem and the Journey
Ruth Padel
Chatto & Windus

Ruth Padel's The Poem and the Journey suggests that the secret of reading a poem is seeing it as a journey, and argues for the value of reading poetry on the journey of your own life. Padel expertly reads sixty contemporary poems to argue her case -- from the title poem of Seamus Heaney's latest collection to others by Elizabeth Bishop, James Fenton, Tony Harrison, Rosemary Tonks and Kathleen Jamie; with poets as different as J. H.Prynne, John Ashbery and Jorie Graham and Jean "Binta" Breeze.

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Joyce's Voices Joyce's Voices
Hugh Kenner
Dalkey Archive Press

When a “correspondent from Missouri,” wrote to Hugh Kenner and asked that he elaborate on his assertion that “Joyce began Ulysses in naturalism and ended it in parody,” Kenner answered with this book. Joyce’s Voices is both a helpful guide through Joyce’s complexities, and a brief treatise on the concept of objectivity: the idea that the world can be perceived as a series of reports to our senses. Objectivity, Kenner claims, was a modern invention, and one that the modernists—Joyce foremost among them—found problematic. Accessible and enjoyable, Joyce’s Voices is what so much criticism is not: an aid to better understanding—and enjoying more fully—the work of one of the world’s greatest writers.

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Poem of the Week

He Resigns

Age, and the deaths, and the ghosts.
Her having gone away
in spirit from me. Hosts
of regrets come & find me empty.

I don't feel this will change.
I don't want any thing
or person, familiar or strange.
I don't think I will sing
any more just now;
ever. I must start
to sit with a blind brow
above an empty heart.

-- John Berryman
Selected Poems (Library of America)

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Word of the Day

fizgig

1. A squib: a type of firework made with damp power that makes a hissing sound when exploding. 2. A kind of top spun by pulling a string wound around it. 3. A flirty, frivolous girl. 4. A kind of harpoon with barbs for spearing fish. 5. A police informer. more …

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