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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 'August 2006'

Thursday 31 August 2006

Tonkin on the Germans

Last week, in his A Week in Books column Boyd Tonkin discussed German literature. Thankfully, instead of saying something pointless about "Günter Grass's teenage fling with the Waffen SS", Tonkin did a brief, but useful, overview of recent German books and brought to my attention a few names that might deserve a closer look: Michael Krüger ("distinguished as a versatile writer and equally so as a publisher with Hanser Verlag in Munich"); Daniel Kehlmann who, though favourite, failed to win the German Book Prize with Measuring the World, "his vastly successful novel about the explorer Humboldt and the mathematician Gauss (which we will see [in English translation] from Quercus Books next year)"; Bulgarian-born Ilija Trojanow (whose The World Collector is "a sweepingly ambitious novel about the Victorian adventurer, Orientalist and pornographer Sir Richard Burton" -- "sweepingly ambitious" leaves me cold, but hey ho); Ingo Schulze; Feridun Zaimoglu ("one of an increasingly influential group of Turkish-origin German writers"); and Martin Walser (who shares, with Grass, "roots in the "Gruppe 47" set of post-war firebrands"): "Now Walser is back with Angstblüte, (almost, but not quite, "The Bloom of Doom"), a tale of sex, speculation and starlets among the brutal bourgeoisie of contemporary Munich. Think Roth (or maybe even Bellow) by the Bodensee."

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 31 August 2006

Spectacular Times

Larry Law's renowned series of situationist booklets, Spectacular Times, are online over at cornersoul. I tried to take a nostalgic peak at Bigger Cages Longer Chains but, frustratingly, it took an age to download (the text seems to have been captured as images of each individual page) ...


The world is full of ideologies that claim to offer freedom, but in reality simply offer us bigger cages and longer chains. The demand for an end to cages and chains may seem idealistic to some people, but the real idealists are those who think we can carry on as we are.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 30 August 2006

Israel, Palestine and Lebanon: benefit reading

News from good friend of RSB Leora Skolkin-Smith:


In response to the current crisis in Israel, Palestine and Lebanon, a group of authors have organized a benefit reading, with donations and book sale profits to go to Seeds of Peace, a non-profit which brings together teenagers from conflict zones, especially the Middle East, to teach skills aimed at advancing reconciliation. The reading will be held September 18th at McNally Robinson Booksellers, 50 Prince Street, New York, 7 pm. Fifteen authors will read in all, and the current list includes: Diana Abu-Jaber, David Gates, Masha Hamilton, Natalya Handal, Binnie Kirshenbaum, Bernie McFadden, Wendy Orange, Evelyn Shakir, Joan Silber, Leora Skolkin-Smith, Cathy Sultan, and Katharine Weber. Grace Paley and Robb Forman Dew are helping organize the event, and Skolkin-Smith, whose novel, Edges: O Israel, O Palestine, was published by Paley's Glad Day Books, will serve as committee chair and MC. Sue O'Doherty, writer, and clinical psychologist in NYC, is head of the organizing committee.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 30 August 2006

Australian Book Review

So, I'm surfing. And I come across the Australian Book Review (" ... founded in 1961, revived in 1978, and has appeared continuously since then. In April 2003 we published our 250th issue, a milestone for any publication. Peter Rose is the editor of ABR. ABR is widely regarded as offering the fullest coverage of Australian books and literary culture. But it is not just interested in writers and writing. Our interests lie everywhere, and encompass current affairs and the broader culture.") Coming highlights include "Gail Jones on Blanchot". So, you have to remind me to go back again and check! I'm off now to read Anthony Cordingley's essay Waiting on Beckett and then I'll probably read Peter Rose's The Sound and the Fury: Uneasy Times for Hacks and Critics.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 30 August 2006

Naguib Mahfouz RIP

Egypt's Naguib Mahfouz, the only Arab to have won the Nobel Prize for Literature, has died in hospital in Cairo aged 94 (via the BBC). His The Cairo Trilogy - Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street, all of which originally appeared in the 1950s - detailed the adventures and misadventures of a Muslim merchant family and were recently reissued by Black Swan.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 30 August 2006

Reflections on Sin, Suffering, Hope and the True Way

Franz Kafka's The Zurau Aphorisms (Harvill Secker) is out in November. From comments to a blog entry Jenny Davidson (thanks Dave) made about the book, I think the aphorisms are the same that appear in the "Reflections" appended to Exact Change's lovely edition of The Blue Octavo Notebooks rather than anything "new" per se. The introduction and afterword to the Harvill book are written by Roberto Calasso and, again according to Jenny, "includes some material from Calasso’s K. as additional commentary".

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Friday 25 August 2006

Closed for business

One of my favourite blogs, Brendan Wolfe's The Beiderbecke Affair has, from today, ceased to be:


Time to quit. Too much work. Can’t even write complete sentences anymore. Blogging’s been fun, but you know it’s bogus when it prevents you from reading as many books as you want or from reviewing as many books as you want or, most importantly, from writing as many books as you want.

All the best, Brendan.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 24 August 2006

Dungeness

Nice post from James at STML on Dungeness, home to Derek Jarman's home Prospect Cottage:


Dungeness is Britain’s only desert, a shingle wasteland punctuated by strange plants and even stranger human interventions ... Scattered around these trig points are the homes of the small but diverse Dungeness community: a mix of fishermen and hermits, madmen and artists seeking the last areas of seclusion on the English coast. One of these is better known than many others: Prospect Cottage, the former home of artist, writer and filmmaker Derek Jarman.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 23 August 2006

Israel/Palestine Since 2003

I should have mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, but Verso (who are Publisher of the Week over at The Book Depository) have just released (well, it's been out for about a month now) Tanya Reinhart's The Road Map to Nowhere: Israel/Palestine Since 2003. This looks like the best recent history of the area I've seen:


Reinhart shows that throughout, Ariel Sharon's goals, ad those of his successor Ehud Olmert, have stayed the same: to maintain Gaza as a closed prison, to transform the West Bank into a system of sealed enclaves and to annex Palestinian land under cover of the construction of the "separation wall." The army, which represents the true power in Israel, will forcibly ensure the legacy of Sharon is applied -- Hamas' election success represents an ideal pretext to do so.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 23 August 2006

Marxism and the History of Art

The good folk at Pluto have kindly sent on Andrew Hemingway's Marxism and the History of Art which looks very decent. As there is a nasty storm overhead, and I don't intend to move for the rest of the day, I think I'll settle down with this right now. Publisher blurb reads:


This unique book is the first comprehensive introduction to Marxist approaches to art history. Although the aesthetic was a crucial part of Marx and Engels’s thought, they left no full statement on the arts. Although there is an abundant scholarship on Marxist approaches to literature, the historiography of the visual arts has been largely neglected. This book encompasses a range of influential thinkers and historians including William Morris, Mikhail Lifshits, Frederick Antal, Francis Klingender, Max Raphael, Meyer Schapiro, Walter Benjamin, Henri Lefebvre and Arnold Hauser. It also addresses the heritage of the New Left. In the spirit of Marxism, the authors interpret the achievements and limitations of Marxist art history in relation to the historical and political circumstances of its production, providing an indispensable introduction to contemporary radical practices in the field.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 23 August 2006

Top tomes on the Bible

Opinion Journal (thanks Dave) list the top five books on the Bible. Good to see that they have the very good good sense to include RSB interviewee Gabriel Josipovici's wonderful The Book of God:


Gabriel Josipovici is a prominent British critic and novelist who at a midpoint in his career became interested in the Bible and acquired a competence in Hebrew (he already knew Greek) in order to engage with it seriously. The Book of God is an imaginative overview, sensitive to narrative detail and to stylistic nuance, of both Testaments. Josipovici sees how the Bible constitutes a unique kind of literature--a book, as he says, meant to change your sense of reality--which is nevertheless linked with certain later writers. He proposes surprising comparisons with Proust, Kafka and other modernists. Some biblical passages, he observes, "bring us face to face with characters who can be neither interpreted nor deconstructed. They are emblems of the limits of comprehension."

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Monday 21 August 2006

Grass and Appelfeld: culpability and art

Recent revelations about Günter Grass (his time spent as a teenager in the Waffen SS, in the 10th SS Panzer Division no less) have met with the expected media responses. Grass was (just about; he was 15 years old) the right age and class to have served: it was known he was a soldier, but not that he had been a member of an organisation declared by the Nuremberg tribunal to be "criminal".


As readers, what we might do well to ask ourselves after these "revelations" (instead of indulging ourselves in high-handed and ignorant condemnation) is how Grass's writing has served us as readers in each of his novels. (Not least because saying it was bad to be a Nazi is a pathetically banal response.)


Like Steve, I don't find myself ideally placed to answer: I've tried and failed to read an entire Grass novel on a number of occassions (I floundered with The Flounder; The Tin Drum beat me). Regardless, I think what we should be asking is what questions that we previously hoped his novels might answer or pose cannot now be put or responded to now that we think we know about Grass's personal history? What do we think this knowledge can and should do to our reading? And what does this tell us about our readerly expectations in the first place? What image of the writer has been destroyed or damaged by us knowing now what we think we know? (I note that in Daniel Johnson pompous Open Letter to Günter Grass he complains that: "Now, however, you have forced us to read your books again, and in an ambiguous light": if Johnson was previously reading any novel unambiguously it shows just what a bad reader he is.)


Ellis Sharp condemns, sometimes superbly well, Israel and its atrocities towards the Palestinians (and, in this most recent phase of its ongoing warring, the Lebanese). (I do sometimes find his obsession with Israel a little worrying: all states are war machines.) Recently, Imre Kertész's stupid remarks about José Saramago (referring to none to clever remarks by Saramago himself) were highlighted on his blog and now Aharon Appelfeld has been condemned.


Condemning Appelfeld for his silence, which has been rendered into support for Israeli violence, seems as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. Perhaps it is useful to point out the partiality of his understanding of the "human condition", about which he has written so wonderfully well, and right to condemn his silence and the politics it suggests. But this only confirms that Appelfeld's novels are better than the man, a paradox one should remember as we read his best novels and ignore (what we imagine to be) his politics. Knowing that Appelfeld has perhaps failed to understand the full import of his own enigmatic writing makes me wish he was as good a reader as he is a writer. But good readers are as rare as good writers. And good men rarer still.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Sunday 20 August 2006

Why Moretti is down to two

Back in mid-July, I mentioned that I had asked Princeton University Press why they had republished Franco Moretti's massive, groundbreaking, five volume critical history of The Novel in an English-language version of just two volumes. I was concerned that this important work of scholarship was being worryingly emaciated. Well, just as I'd landed in Crete for my holiday, Caroline Priday from PUP kindly got back to me saying:


Our vision in contracting with Einaudi [the Italian publisher] to redact their 5 volumes to 2 volumes was driven by the desire to produce a work that would, effectively, portray the scholarship contained in the original for the broadest possible array of English-language readers around the world -- scholars, critics, and students alike. This I think we have done, and more successfully than might have been the case with a 5-volume work, whose appeal would have been limited, inevitably, to academic libraries.

Did we de-emphasize the international aspect of the work? If anything, I think we have effectively preserved the work's international appeal. Indeed, it is a tribute to Professor Moretti's editing of our two-volume edition that the book is as broadly cross-national in its scope as it is. Our two volumes include more than 40 contributors from universities outside the US -- from countries such as Italy, Germany, Cuba, India, Turkey, China and Brazil -- out of a total of 100 contributors. And more than 40 pieces were translated from their original language. So we feel our edition of this book comprises an impressively international scholarly enterprise.

As noted, our original conception for the English-language edition of this book was for a two-volume work, and this was based on our publishing vision and our sense of how to get this book out to a large audience. We certainly do not, as a press, decline to publish works on the grounds of their being multi-volume. As you will be aware, we hardly shy away from multi-volume works, and for over a century have in fact published many multi-volume works -- some of them extending into thirty or forty volumes and more -- and continue to do so.

We're confident that, with the superb direction of editor Franco Moretti and the collective efforts of our colleagues, we've published what will be a landmark book on the novel for years to come.

If, as Caroline says, the decision to reduce the Moretti down to two volumes was to "portray the scholarship contained in the original for the broadest possible array of English-language readers," rather than publish a book that was destined only to remain unread in libraries, I don't see why a single-volume "taster" could not have been published alongside the full, five volumes for those interested readers who require access to the full text.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Saturday 19 August 2006

More Bloggasm interviews

More interviews over at Bloggasm, including a fine interview with Stephen Mitchelmore from This Space and good stuff from the interview with Ben Granger from Spike Magazine and from the interview with James Bridle from Short Term Memory Loss.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Saturday 19 August 2006

Whitman in Washington

From Eleanor (at Carcanet):


The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. has launched a wonderful new Walt Whitman website, to coincide with their current exhibition, One Life: Walt Whitman, a kosmos ... [includes an] online gallery of Whitman portraits ... [and] fascinating recordings of the poet reading America and Leaves of Grass.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Saturday 19 August 2006

Back from Crete

Right then! I'm just back from two weeks holiday in (very) sunny Crete. Today, I'll be catching my breath, but expect things to start coming alive again around here (and at the Book Depository) on Monday at the latest.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 16 August 2006

Value this man

Blogging here on RSB will recommence this coming weekend, or early next week. In the meantime, London-based readers might want to know about this (via Through A Glass Darkly):


Value This Man: the work of B.S. Johnson is scheduled for the evening of Thursday August 17 and will feature Jonathan Coe, Paul Tickell and David Quantick in conversation, as well as other special guests and possibly even some screenings. It all takes place from 7.30pm, upstairs at The Crown Tavern, 43 Clerkenwell Green, London EC1. The entry fee is £2.00.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 03 August 2006

k-punk on Virilio

Via ads without products, k-punk on Paul Virilio


The bringing to bear of what, following Veblen, we might call conspicuous force presupposes a second stupidity: the verminization of the Enemy. Before Gulf War 1 had even happened, Virilio saw the logic of verminization rehearsed in James Cameron's Aliens wherein the 'machinic actors do battle in a Manichean combat in which the enemy is no longer an adversary, a fellow creature one must respect in spite of everything; rather, it is an unnameable being that it is more appropriate to exerminate than to examine or analyse.' In Aliens, Virilio ominously notes, attacks on the 'family [form] the basis of ... necolonial intervention.' The teeming, Lovecraftian abominations which can breed much faster than we can are to be dealt with by machines whose 'awesome appearance is part of [their] military effectiveness.' Shock and awe.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 03 August 2006

French Book News

Useful site, this, for the francophile: French Book News. The list of recent translations is handy, as is the list of recent France-related books in English.


Of William C. Carter's Proust in Love (warmly reviewed in the Guardian last week by Ian Sansom alongside The Memoirs of Ernest A Forssgren, Proust's Swedish Valet) French Book News say:


The acclaimed Proust biographer William C. Carter portrays Proust´s amorous adventures and misadventures from adolescence through his adult years, supplying where appropriate Proust´s own sensitive, intelligent, and often disillusioned observations about love and sexuality. Proust is revealed as a man agonizingly caught between the constant fear of public exposure as a homosexual and the need to find and express love. In telling the story of Proust in love, Carter also shows how the author´s experiences became major themes in his novel In Search of Lost Time. Carter discusses Proust´s adolescent sexual experiences, his disastrous brothel visit to cure homosexual inclinations, and his first great loves. He also addresses the duel Proust fought after the journalist Jean Lorrain alluded to his homosexuality in print, his flirtations with respectable women and high-class prostitutes, and his affairs with young men of the servant class. With new revelations about Proust´s love life and a gallery of photographs, the book provides an unprecedented glimpse of Proust´s gay Paris.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 02 August 2006

Fight!

A recent spat on This-Space, concerning Steve's judgement of Ian Holding's Dylan Thomas Prize longlisted novel Unfeeling, has again highlighted how differently different readers read from one another. Steve was accused by one of those commenting on his post of being "out of touch with general critic's views" (something Steve rightly saw as an accolade!) "Prof. J. Williams, Kent" asked, "Don't you know that the book was widely hailed and got rave reviews when published?" And "Jane, Surrey" wrote, "The novel DID get rave reviews and HAS been highly praised for its literary qualities."


So, bang to rights, Steve is caught out: praised by other book reviewers, shortlisted for a prize, Holding's novel must be "BRILLIANT!" (Prof. J. Williams's word).


When reviewing books -- and I mean reviewing in the widest sense, for instance proselytizing about what you've just read to a bunch of mates in the pub -- the temptation (and one I'm certainly not immune to) is always to hyperbole. A book is often hailed as either "shit" or "great". This is why we turn to the best critics: for argument; for nuance. Sadly, we rarely get it. The most cliche-ridden novels, with the tritest of plots, are regularly hailed as "classics". Each week a "must read" book gets over-praised and the genre of literary fiction continues to spew forth mediocrity. In truth, a "must read" novel comes along very, very rarely. And whilst we wait for the next, we get work that exists along an arc of the undistinguished and prosaic.


What confuses the matter further is that the separation between fine writing and art (what I'd like to dignify as Literature), which seems to me to be Steve's central concern, is lost on many readers. Steve seems to have been condemned by his commenters (who really could have saved their energy by reading the very careful arguments about writing that This-Space has articulated over very many months) for not swooning, as they do, over a polished paragraph or a nicely-turned phrase.


Paradoxical though it may seem, fine writing is not synonymous with Literature. Indeed, it might be better to think that what is synonymous with Literature is paradox itself.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 02 August 2006

Spurious interview

I received the Bloggasm interview treatment t'other day. And now it it is the turn of Spurious:


What matters is to allow criticism, or a writing on literature to partake of literature, to embody the same risks. The question of style is paramount; the experimentalism of literature (its modernity), must also be carried over to literary criticism.

Great criticism – Blanchot’s, for example – is part of literature. But it always has its eye, too, on philosophy (and couldn’t the same be claimed of literature itself?). Without philosophy – scepticism about everything received, including what comes by way of the column and other kinds of journalism, which prop up a particular image of the world – nothing. And isn’t there a kind of philosophizing, or at least a kind of research, implicit to literature?

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 02 August 2006

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Culture Space discusses Luis Buñuel's 1972 film The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) (as part of the Avant-Garde Film Blog-a-Thon.)


The friends' attempts to sit down and enjoy a meal are continually interrupted by one absurdist occurrence after another, by the arrival of troops, by the realization that they sitting on a theater stage in front of a live audience, by the intervention of armed gunmen. These all might be the material of individual dreams, which themselves might be parts of a larger dream, but Buñuel deliberately confuses us by interrupting these sequences with scenes that clearly are dreams ... Yet it is the film's rupturing of the symbol of the meal that is most powerful. For the meal, the tea ceremony, the weekend lunch are the central, accepted social rituals of the bourgeoisie, and with their rituals distended, the characters are cast adrift with little sense of purpose or duty. This is why, despite its humorous moments and its status as a comedy, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, ultimately, is as disturbing as it is hilarious.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 01 August 2006

Political biographies

Paul Routledge, political columnist at the Mirror newspaper, recommends his 10 favourite political biographies over at Abebooks.co.uk. Nowt much of interest there, really. Political biographies are mostly deadly dull but, if you can wait until late September, Penguin Classics are releasing Emma Goldman's Living My Life.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 01 August 2006

Syrotinski interview

Please take the time to read my interview with Jean Paulhan expert Professor Michael Syrotinski. I've already published Michael's wonderful, short profile of Jean Paulhan here on RSB and also his introduction to Paulhan's The Flowers of Tarbes. In our interview, Michael outlines further why Paulhan is such an important figure.


In the interview, Michael mentions a forthcoming anthology of Paulhan's collected essays (translated by Jennifer Bajorek) due soon from the University of Illinois Press. Actually, that translation is a collective effort: Jennifer translated a third of it, RSB interviewee Charlotte Mandell translated a third, and Éric Trudel (who teaches French literature at Bard College) translated a third.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 01 August 2006

August: don't expect much!

Don't expect much posting throughout August! I'm not sure when, where or even if a holiday is on the cards this year, but I do know I need to not look at another computer screen for a few weeks!

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Books of the Week

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He Resigns

Age, and the deaths, and the ghosts.
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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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