Blog Roll

Anecdotal Evidence
AuthorStore
Biology of the Worst Kind
The Book Depository Editor's Corner
Book World
BOOKSURFER
Buzzwords Blog: 3AM Magazine
Castrovalva
CruelestMonth.com
Dialogic
Edward Champion's Return of the Reluctant
The Elegant Variation
Fernham
John Baker's Blog
KR Blog
languagehat.com
the Literary Saloon
Long Sunday
MadInkBeard - Updates
The Midnight Bell
Mountain*7
Nomadics
pas au-delà
The Reading Experience
scarecrow
signandsight.com
splinters: books, authors, literature, travel, politics
Spurious
Tales from the Reading Room
This Space
University of Nebraska Press
Waggish
Weblog - A Don's Life - Times Online
Weblog - Peter Stothard - Times Online
Powered by Bloglines

ReadySteadyBlog

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

The Bookaholics' Guide to Book Blogs: "Mark Thwaite ... has a maverick, independent mind"

Blog entries for 'November 2006'

Thursday 30 November 2006

HUP as Publisher of the Week

I just have to bring your attention to a fabulous Publisher of the Week interview I did with Lindsay Waters of Harvard University Press over at The Book Depository. Lindsay is the Executive Editor for the Humanities at HUP and has given the most wonderful, chunky answers to my (rather dull) five generic questions.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Thursday 30 November 2006

More me at the PF (on RF and TT)

Sorry! More self-pimping: my "guest-blog" spot at the Poetry Foundation continues. Yesterday, I had a piece on Roy Fisher, and later today a post on Tomas Tranströmer should see the light of day. I'll have more to say about Robin Robertson's new versions of Tranströmer's The Deleted World (Enitharmon) here next week (I likes it!) In the meantime, please read the Poetry Foundation stuff -- and please leave comments! Thanks!

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: , ,

Thursday 30 November 2006

Tom on Resonance

RSB interviewee Tom McCarthy will be talking about his novel Remainder on Matthew Crockatt's Lit Bits show later today (between 3-3.30pm GMT) on arts radio station Resonance FM.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Tuesday 28 November 2006

Me at the PF on EB and PC

My "guest-blog" on Elizabeth Bishop is up on the Poetry Foundation website ... as is today's piece on Paul Celan.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: , ,

Tuesday 28 November 2006

Angry and funny

The wonderful blog The Midnight Bell has been quiet for a wee while, but recently it has come alive again as angry and funny as ever. Here is TMB on the blogs versus papers palaver:


I’m a fully qualified Eng Lit gatekeeper - the right qualifications from the right university - and I just don’t think the broadsheets are any good at the job they claim to do when asserting ownership of literary standards or style. I no longer give a fuck about what the papers have to say about books. It has mostly nothing to with the world of reading and writing, which is all I care about ... Are you fuck in charge of literature, the papers.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags:

Monday 27 November 2006

Pack and Hill: our valiant defenders

Too much has been written already about "newspaper reviewing versus online reviewing" (Scott Pack's phrase which he uses to introduce his rejoinder to Rachel Cooke's ill-informed, nugatory and defensive recent piece in the Observer), so I'll restrict myself to restating what I had taken to be self-evident: the internet is a massive space and "online reviewing" comes in many shapes and sizes and of widely differring quality. An enthusiastic customer review on Amazon is not the same as a review in Jacket magazine and nor does any sensible reader equate the two (journalists and populist academics aside, it would seem).


And no two blogs are the same. Some (often quite winningly) blether inconsequentially on about what books lie unread on the bedside table; some engage in serious criticism. All of this is, surely, utterly unambiguous. My fear with this debate, however, is that the previously mentioned Scott Pack (ex-Waterstones Buying Manager) and the novelist Susan Hill are continually referenced as somehow the voices of the blogosphere, the defenders of bloggers and blogging. When interviewed, I've heard neither cite serious literary websites and blogs (RSB, This-Space, the Literary Saloon, Spurious ... one could list for hours) and neither seem to be particularly well-informed of what they are being wheeled-out to defend. Commenting beyond this risks flattering this idiotic debate with import it doesn't possess. Next time you read an article about blogging in the mainstream media, however, take it with a mountain of salt.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Monday 27 November 2006

Guest-blogging at the PF

All this week I'll be "guest-blogging" at the US Chicago-based Poetry Foundation. I'll be writing a longish (7/800 word) piece each day in their Journal (not sure about an individual RSS feed -- I'll check). My first piece, on Elizabeth Bishop, should be up later today. (I'll update this post when it goes live.)


Update: it's up!


Further update: the Journal's RSS feed

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: , ,

Friday 24 November 2006

John Pilger: the Blair doctrine

John Pilger on The Blair doctrine: blood and money (via wood s lot):


On 17 October, President Bush signed a bill that legalised torture and kidnapping and effectively repealed the Bill of Rights and habeas corpus. The CIA can now legally abduct people and “render” them to secret prisons in countries where they are likely to be tortured. Evidence extracted under torture is now permissible in “military commissions”; people can be sentenced to death based on testimony beaten out of witnesses. You are now guilty until confirmed guilty. And you are a “terrorist” if you commit what George Orwell, in Nineteen Eighty-Four, called “thoughtcrimes”. Bush has revived the prerogatives of the Tudor and Stuart monarchs: the power of unrestricted lawlessness. “America can be proud,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the bill’s promoters, who stood with other congressmen, clapping as Bush signed away the American constitution and the essence of American democracy.

The historic significance of this was barely acknowledged in Britain, the source of these abandoned ancient rights, no doubt because the same barbarians’ law is taking hold here [in the UK].

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags:

Friday 24 November 2006

British Book Design & Production Awards

The literature category of the annual British Book Design & Production Awards has been won by Sylph Editions' beautifully presented Ten Poems from Hafez (via the Guardian blogs).

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags:

Thursday 23 November 2006

Danteania

I mentioned Teodolinda Barolini's Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture here on the blog the other day (I'll be digging into this weekend coming, it looks fab), but I failed to note that Peter Hawkins' Dante: A Brief History is just out from Blackwell. Hawkins is well known for Dante's Testaments: Essays in Scriptural Imagination which I hear very good things about but haven't yet read, so this should be worth chasing down. Its been a good year for Dante titles, hasn't it? Another I still have to read is Barbara Reynolds's Dante: The Poet, the Political Thinker, the Man.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags:

Wednesday 22 November 2006

McCarthy's The Road

Is it worth mentioning science-fiction, worth invoking that term, when talking about Cormac McCarthy's new novel The Road? I've been wondering this whilst pondering what it is I want to say about this very gripping book. Max has already briefly reviewed the title here on RSB, but I wanted to say something myself, and I wondered whether I would have to frame what I was going to say through a discussion of "genre".


The reason one might want to invoke genre is that The Road is set in what would seem to be a post-apocalyptic landscape. In his review, Max mentions Steven King's The Stand, but "post-apocalyptic" landscapes are rife in sci-fi and beyond, from Mad Max to Richard Matheson's I Am Legend. As the man and his son walk down the mostly empty road, searching for food and for a future (and isn't searching for the future also searching for a meaning?), the event of the recent past that has destroyed (their/our) civilisation is not named. But we ourselves live in a world still full of nuclear (and other) weapons and we think we know what a huge nuclear war would do to our world. And we've seen the films and read other books and those pictures help us clearly to see the world of The Road, the sci-fi world where McCarthy's characters walk.


As soon as one invokes "genre", however, the term begins to collapse in front of you and in the face of good writing. Literature is the antidote to genre, not because there can't be good genre writing, but because writing that is true to itself must focus first on its own realisation not on its submersion within genre's commonplaces. Invoking sci-fi to talk about The Road would mean, perversely, that we were not talking about The Road and its singular effort at all.


The pace and the rhythm of McCarthy's book are extremely well-handled. Short paragraphs, verb-free sentences (compare Hemingway, of course, but also Bellow), staccato phrasing, barely a comma, or a sub-clause, in sight: all these punch the work along. But McCarthy has his clumsy moments ("In the nights in their thousands to dream the dream of a child's imaginings, worlds rich or fearful such as might offer themselves but never the one to be.") as well as his more poetic ("He thought that in the history of the world it might even be that there was more punishment than crime..."). He is also unafraid, within such ostensibly clipped writing, of working his complex lexicon: discalced; isocline; loggia; piedmont; torsional. Simple, "muscular" writing is thought to be transparent, to allow the story to the fore, but McCarthy's writing here (I don't know his other work) is not nearly as simple as it pretends. Not nearly as simple, say, as the terse conversations he reports between the man and his sometimes obmutescent son. Indeed, there is a quiet tension between their curt, taut dialogue and the novels concise, condensed yet sometimes gnomic phrasings ("The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running.") This tension is between what the man and the boy say, what they can possibly say, and what they are beginning to lose how to say (what use for the word "crow" when there are no crows in the world?) As much as anything else, The Road is about fathers and sons and what they do and don't say to each other, what they do and don't bequeath to and receive from each other.


Plot-wise there is something almost Godot-esque about the man and the boy, mendicant, starving, fearful, walking the road, making camp for the night, occassionally coming across a house or an abandoned town, sometimes finding some food, or something useful, sometimes coming across -- and having to flee from -- other "survivors". And then walking on: sleeping, waking, walking. McCarthy manages to keep his repetitious, spare plot free from tedium by keeping his language surprising, his detail accurate (the man is very good with his hands; his practicality, painstakingly described, keeps him and his son alive), and giving the narrative a sense of perilous foreboding achieved by the lack of overarching description brought about by an almost free indirect style (third-person narration so close to a character's thought and perspective that it resembles first-person telling): we are as unaware as the man and the boy are as to what may be around the next corner.


So, this is an accomplished piece. And we might well expect this. But is there more here? Max called the novel a "contemporary masterpiece" and applauded its "searing humanity and compassion", but he didn't really justify his hyperbole and I'm not sure I feel compelled to defend his words. I certainly used to feel I had to make grand judgements when I first started reviewing books (when I worked for (five long years for) Amazon), but I'm less keen to do so now. I'm happier with less conclusive judgements: art and (un)certainty and all that ...


Sleeping, waking, walking. And walking on. Sleeping and waking in the face of a disaster. And in the wake of the disaster, going on. Giving your continuing some semblance of sense by creating a goal (at the end of the road, the coast) and walking towards it. This is what we all do, how we all live. And as we walk, we talk to others -- strangers or sons -- who also walk the road, also create their own reality as they continue on. And when we talk our language is often too clumsily simplistic to explain what we really mean. And sometimes our silence is pregnant with a meaning that needs few words. It is no doubt rather pat, but we are all on the road.


But I don't want to end there. I also want to remember that on the night of February 26th 1991, at the end of the first Gulf War, Saddam Hussein's government announced that it was withdrawing from Kuwait. The surrendering soldiers, returning to Southern Iraq, down the Basra road, were massacred in their thousands by the US airforce bombing them from above. Some roads are far more dangerous than others.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags:

Monday 20 November 2006

Some (more) thoughts on Woolf's The Waves

‘Now Miss Hudson,’ said Rhoda, ‘has shut the book. Now the terror is beginning. Now taking her lump of chalk she draws figures, six, seven, eight, and then a cross and then a line on the blackboard. What is the answer? The others look; they look with understanding. Louis writes; Susan writes; Neville writes; Jinny writes; even Bernard has now begun to write. But I cannot write. I see only figures.’
-- The Waves


‘Odd, that they [The Times] should praise my characters when I meant to have none’
-- Virginia Woolf, 5th of October, 1931.


Surely, a good novel must be peopled by realistic figures, have fully-rounded characters? Characters that you can believe in (believe really could exist) doing believable things, responding to other characters believably: that, surely, is a key requirement for a successful novel? For characters to be two-dimensional, to be merely mouthpieces of their author, not to act, within the novel's presented situation, in an authentic way this, surely, damages a novel, hobbles it? Indeed, many book reviews seem to suggest that believability is essential to the novel and that believable characters are the hallmark of a good writer. Well, I don't think characterisation is that important. Not at all, in fact. And Woolf's 1931 novel The Waves (and all of the Woolf novels I've recently read) has allowed me to think about this aspect of the novel again.


Of course, endowing a character with complexity is very much dependent on the relationship of the text with the reader. If we read of a character responding aggressively on one page and then, later, acting warmly, we can and do endow a third dimension to the text: we believe these two situations create a roundness to the character that we are reading about. We presume a characterfulness because different scenarios have been presented to us and the reactions to those situations have been, in some way, recognisable, identifiable. But what happens when such "characters" are not invented and such situations do not occur? Can the novel work well without such scenes?


In The Waves we most certainly don't get characters -- we get barely distinguishable (and distinguished) voices that, over the course of the novel, in some subtle ways, distinguish themselves from one another. Towards the end of the novel Bernard, the storyteller, is allowed to expatiate at length in his voice on his voice and the voices of the other names within the work. He underscores how tentative we should be about calling these cyphers characters and of endowing these names with substance. He reminds us that we are reading and that final judgements and good art do not ever belong together. He reminds us that these voices are writing and that Woolf is writing about writing with every word in her great(est) novel.


The voices, here, are, in no way, believable. The writing is poetic -- could only ever be writing; the voices are not naturalistic, not intended to be mimetic of how anyone naturally speaks. (At best, one could imagine this as a script for a play, and one is perhaps encouraged to do so by the simple repetitions of "Susan said", "Jinny said", "Louis said", etc., but the play would be very stiff.) The voices ebb and flow together (as a reader one has to be very aware when the voices shift because they are almost indistinguishable -- they aren't "characterised"; beyond the eg "Neville said" often we have few clues in the words to separate one voice from another): they have different trajectories; but they aren't clearly differentiated as characters by Woolf by her giving to each -- in the writing -- different inflexions. But characters (or sets of behaviours that, when they are reported, seem in some way correctly to be attributed to eg Rhoda rather than Susan) do emerge. At the end of the novel these non-characterised voices have almost become archetypes (Susan, wife and mother; Jinny, lover; Rhoda, suicide; Neville, homosexual; Louis, outsider; Bernard, storyteller). "Character" has, in some sense, returned to the novel; has, clearly, in a certain sense, never been able to be entirely left behind (perhaps because the reader can never be entirely left behind). One might say, that the impossible search for characters is what structures the work. And this line of argument might be said to be embodied in the one character who never appears on the novel's stage.


Percival is central to the The Waves. He loves Susan, is loved by Neville, and is beloved by all the voices. And he dies. His lack is reinforced, later, by his total absence. But his, also, is the absence of absence; both because of his constant presence in the work (he is constantly referred to by the other voices) and because of the death that defines him and defies the destiny that all the other voices had hoped for him. He never appears in the novel, but he never leaves it either.


Is Woolf breaking the novel here? Only in as far as she is immediately remaking it. And she remakes it via the traditional elements she is interrogating at the very moment she uses them to write her book.


But, perhaps, Woolf's exercise in "high modernity" is no example whatsoever to use. It is so singular (or, perhaps better, so much a part of a moment) that using it to think about the work other novels do is innappropriate. Certainly, this could be argued. But perhaps it would be better to think about the limitations of the realist novel that Woolf was working against and, more positively, of the art she was working to produce, and ask why she needed to forestall the drive to complex characters and instead produce such a beautiful (and complex) piece of writing.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: , , ,

Friday 17 November 2006

The Waves

I've just finished reading another Virginia Woolf novel. The Waves was wonderful; every bit as good as To The Lighthouse and Mrs Dalloway. (Worth noting: the University of Adelaide Library’s collection of Web books [http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/] has the entire text of The Waves online as well as lots of other goodies.) I'll think and write about the book over the weekend. In the meantime, this from an essay by Lisa Marie Lucenti:


Pamela Caughie writes that "Woolf's characters and narrators do not present a consistent theory of self and world. Instead, they make us self-conscious of theorizing about self and world by making the narrative strategies self-conscious." With such slippery characters to work with, it is perhaps less important -- or even feasible -- to try to define the form of Woolf's subjects than to trace a few of their paths and crossings. To do so is an even greater challenge when, as Bernard says in The Waves, "We melt into each other with phrases.... We make an insubstantial territory". In this novel, six "characters" or voices alternate between acceptance and rejection of their own insubstantiality. And, Woolf would have us realize, her characters are not alone in this struggle, since they are caught within the most basic and most irresolvable questions of ontology -- what it means to be and how one goes about that business.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: , ,

Friday 17 November 2006

Moretti

Via the ever-excellent Literary Saloon this, so you may well have seen it: "In Representative Fictions in The Nation William Deresiewicz tackles the English-language version of Franco Moretti's The Novel [this link to vol.1] (pared down to two volumes, from the original Italian five) ... He does write: "for all its flaws, The Novel [this link to vol.2] is an impressive achievement" -- but also:


While some of these essays make useful points, and a couple of them interesting ones, they are distinguished, in general, by numbing banality and the use of methodologies that would make a statistician weep. (As one writer admits, "My data stop at precisely the point where one wants to know more.") Some of the charts aren't even properly proofread, though that problem is hardly unique to this section. The two volumes together contain well over a hundred typos and inconsistencies -- which, given the collection's price and publisher and prestigious editorial board (which includes Fredric Jameson and Mario Vargas Llosa), is nothing short of disgraceful. Also disgraceful is the quality of the translations. Many of these essays are from Italian and other originals, and if the editors were going to bother having them translated, they might as well have taken the trouble to have them translated into English.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Thursday 16 November 2006

Arvon International Poetry Competition shortlist

The shortlist for this year's Arvon International Poetry Competition has been announced. The shortlisted poets are (in alphabetical order): Valerie Clarke; Claudia Daventry; Sian Hughes; Ruth Padel; Rodney Pybus and Siriol Troup. The announcement of the final winning and commended poets will be announced on the 1st December 2006. (Rodney is a good friend of RSB, so I hope he wins!)

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags:

Thursday 16 November 2006

Elizabeth Bishop Celebration

To celebrate the (UK) publication of Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts and Fragments, edited by Alice Quinn (Carcanet), there will be an Elizabeth Bishop Celebration on Friday 24th November (in Manchester Central Library, Committee Room 2nd floor 1-2pm -- the event is free).


Michael Schmidt will talk about Bishop and her work, there will be audio recordings of Bishop reading, and Manchester writers (like me!), students and fans of her work will contribute by reading some of her poems aloud to the gathered masses.


I was recently sent Art and Memory in the Work of Elizabeth Bishop by Jonathan Ellis (Ashgate), but I've not had a chance to look at it. The publisher reckons:


Jonathan Ellis offers evidence for a redirection in Bishop studies toward a more thorough scrutiny of the links between Bishop's art and life. The book is less concerned with the details of what actually happened to Bishop than with the ways in which she refracted key events into writing: both personal, unpublished material as well as stories, poems, and paintings. Thus, Ellis challenges Bishop's reputation as either a strictly impersonal or personal writer and repositions her poetry between the Modernists on the one hand and the Confessionals on the other.

Although Elizabeth Bishop was born and died in Massachusetts, she lived a life more bohemian and varied than that of almost all of her contemporaries, a fact masked by the tendency of biographers and critics to focus on Bishop's life in the United States. Drawing on published works and unpublished material overlooked by many critics, Ellis gives equal attention to the influence of Bishop's Canadian upbringing on her art and to the shifts in her aesthetic and personal tastes that took place during Bishop's residence in Brazil during the 1950s and 1960s. By bringing together the whole of Bishop's work, this book opens a welcome new direction in Bishop studies specifically, and in the study of women poets generally.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: , ,

Thursday 16 November 2006

Peter Nicholson's 3QD articles

The Australian writer Peter Nicholson has now handily gathered together a page of links to all his Poetry and Culture columns (written for the excellent Three Quarks Daily).

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: , ,

Wednesday 15 November 2006

Folkestone Literary Festival nuclear debate

The Folkestone Literary Festival started a few days ago and goes on until this coming Saturday. On that day, November 18th, the last event is Debating Nuclear Energy: Solution or Setback?: Martin Empson and Malcolm Grimston. Martin, campaigning journalist and member of the Socialist Workers’ Party, recently reviewed George Monbiot's Heat on RSB, Grimston is a Member of the Atomic Energy Authority and Senior Research Fellow at Chatham House.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: , ,

Wednesday 15 November 2006

Habitus

A new literary and culture magazine arrives: Habitus -- A Diaspora Journal. The first issue is devoted to Budapest:


Habitus Magazine is a new, international journal of Diaspora literature and culture. Our focus is the Jewish experience in the Diaspora, and Diaspora as a universal experience that mirrors and invigorates our own. Emphasizing literature, photography, criticism and reportage, our goal is to explore the lives of Jews and others in various locales around the globe.

The experience of Diaspora is not the sole property of Jews or Judaism; many other peoples have found themselves in an undiscovered country, turning back towards memory. These multiple Diasporas contribute to the cultural complexity of our modern world. They are the basis for a common experience that Habitus will try to address.

Each issue will focus on a new city as our venue for illuminating a different corner of the world, and a different perspective on the issues that define us.

Much isn't online, but the site has more than you'd think on first glance including editor Joshua Ellison's Welcome and My Jewish Budapest by George Szirtes. There are also some web-only articles which look good, including: Günther Grass and Imre Kertész in Conversation with György Dalos (which I've not read yet, but looks fascinating) and Ilene R. Prusher's Looking for My Tribe: A Journey to the Jewish Roots of Afghanistan’s Pashtuns.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Wednesday 15 November 2006

Lee Rourke interview

Lee Rourke, boss of Scarecrow, and RSB contributor, is interviewed over at The Paris Bitter Hearts Pit.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Monday 13 November 2006

(Me and the) Poetry Foundation Journal

I've been asked (and I'm honoured, I must say) to guest-blog (I suppose you'd call it) for the (US) Poetry Foundation. Each week in their Journal section (sadly, and frustratingly, sans RSS) they get a poet or writer to write a journal entry for each day of "their" week discussing themselves and their reading. Last week, Rigoberto González took the floor. I'm up week-commencing November 27th.


I'm really thrilled. I don't write enough about poetry, and what it means to me, here on RSB, so this is a good chance to discuss (in slightly longer postings than I normally manage here) a number of poets that have recently been on my mind.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Friday 10 November 2006

Oltermann on Hofmann's Grünbein

Philip Oltermann reviews Ashes for Breakfast by Durs Grünbein (translated by the wonderful Michael Hofmann; the Faber version reviewed here only has the English translations, the FSG edition comes, more satisfyingly, with the German originals on facing pages and is much the better for it). Oltermann has mixed-feelings about the collection, but seems just about generally positive:


In English, Grünbein in public-intellectual-mode is as much of a mouthful as in the German - but the more colloquial passages never quite seem to get off their teutonic stilts. At times, Hofmann's phrases ring with the triumphalism of the accomplished bilinguist rather than with their proper music ... This is not to say that Ashes for Breakfast isn't an overall success. When the teeth of Hofmann's vocabulary grip into the material of Grünbein's ideas, these poems can develop an irresistible emotional pull. Greetings from Oblivion City has the popular appeal of a Radiohead lyric, Portrait of the Artist works as a riveting, veiled historical epic and In the Provinces is a stoically comic cycle of five poems about different species of roadkill.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Thursday 09 November 2006

Melinda Gebbie

T'other week, I published Ismo Santala's fantastic interview with Alan Moore here on RSB. Today, I'm publishing Part II: an interview with Melinda Gebbie. Melinda is Alan's partner and the artist behind Moore's latest book (16-years in the making this) the Lost Girls.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Thursday 09 November 2006

TJ Clark interview

There is a good, chunky TJ Clark interview over at Brooklyn Rail (The Painting of Modern Life, Farewell to an Idea and most recently The Sight of Death; and, as part of the Retort team of writers and political activists, Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War):


“Yours is not a book in which darkness is winning” ... Well, I guess I agree with that judgment, taking The Sight of Death as a whole. Though obviously the book does look certain kinds of darkness more fully in the face than anything else I have written. It’s not called The Sight of Death for nothing! I think (or I hope) that you and other readers come away from it without a sense of terminal glumness because you’re carried along by the simple, central pleasure of looking that drives things forward—and the astonishment at what one or two pictures have to offer, if you give them half a chance. This pleasure and astonishment are unnegotiable. Nothing the world can do to them will make them go away. And yes, I agree: the world does plenty. Pleasure and astonishment seem to me qualities that the world around us, most of the time, is conspiring to get rid of. Or to travesty—to turn into little marketable motifs. It amounts to the same thing.

Apropos Afflicted Powers, he goes on to say:


Well, you’ll guess that there’s an aspect of this that drives me and the other Retorters mad! I wrote Afflicted Powers with an economic geographer, Michael Watts, a novelist who was once a defense lawyer fighting it out in the California prison system, Joseph Matthews, and an historian of past and present capitalist enclosures, Iain Boal. Not exactly a Situationist (or even palaeo-Situationist) line-up! Obviously our book takes advantage of certain Situationist concepts and hypotheses, and tries to apply them to current politics. And yes, we do think that the power of the image, and the control of appearances, are more and more part of the very structure of statecraft (and resistance to statecraft). We think the established Left suffers—suffers badly—from an inability to think about the new conditions of social control, and social struggle ...

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Thursday 09 November 2006

Chris Knight speech

RSB-interviewee Chris Knight, (University of East London anthropologist) spoke to scholars at the Cradle of Language conference underway in Stellenbosch, South Africa recently (via Babel's Dawn):


A hundred thousand years ago (± thirty thousand years) human primate society was replaced by a human speaking community, shifting priorities from Darwinian issues to those of a symbolic culture ... The human speaking community is radically different [from primate society], according to Knight. Members who are in need of assistance can expect it. Parents routinely feed and educate their children in the ways of the family and community. Infirm elderly typically receive some support from their children. Dominance is not won but granted by the community, typically based on what they contribute to the group. Often this contribution comes in the form of wisdom, verbal co-operation that benefits the community. The transition from primate gestures and vocalizations to speech was not driven by a new brain as it was by the evolution of new strategies for cooperation.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Wednesday 08 November 2006

Nestbeschmützer

Eris Ormsby reviews Thomas Bernhard's poetry (In Hora Mortis/Under the Iron of the Moon translated by RSB-interviewee James Reidel):


The Austrian novelist and playwright Thomas Bernhard took a mordant glee in outraging his countrymen. The Austrians have a name for such troublemakers. Bernhard, they said, was a Nestbeschmützer, a man who fouls his own nest. But for Bernhard, the nest had already been fouled, and long before ... The poems are quiet, almost whispery in tone, displaying none of the virtuoso antics of the prose: no glittering cascades of insult, no manic swerves from tenderness to savagery. The shock comes from their unabashed religious fervor. Though they sound like prayers "to the unknown God," they are, nevertheless, prayers, by turns meditative, anguished, and almost perversely devotional.

(Thanks to Dave Lull for the link.)

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: , ,

Wednesday 08 November 2006

A Mind in Mourning

Alok Ranjan's has posted Susan Sontag's essay on Sebald A Mind in Mourning on his Dispatches from Zembla blog. Alok says:


This essay by Susan Sontag is perhaps the best introduction to W.G. Sebald that I have read. It first appeared in Times Literary Supplement in 2000 and contains the appreciation of three of his books which were published at that time.

Usefully, Alok has also reproduced Cynthia Ozick's review of The Emigrants (first published in The New Republic).

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Wednesday 08 November 2006

Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture

Due from Fordham, around about now, is Teodolinda Barolini's Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture:


The essays in the first section treat the ideology of love and desire from the early lyric tradition to the Inferno and its antecedents in philosophy and theology. In the second, Barolini focuses on Dante as heir to both the Christian visionary and the classical pagan traditions (with emphasis on Vergil and Ovid). The essays in the third part analyze the narrative character of Dante’s Vita nuova, Petrarch’s lyric sequence, and Boccaccio’s Decameron. Barolini also looks at the cultural implications of the editorial history of Dante’s rime and at what sparso versus organico spells in the Italian imaginary. In the section on gender, she argues that the didactic texts intended for women’s use and instruction, as explored by Guittone, Dante, and Boccaccio—but not by Petrarch—were more progressive than the courtly style for which the Italian tradition is celebrated.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags:

Wednesday 08 November 2006

Words Without Borders: Palestine

The new Words Without Borders issue focuses on Palestine and includes fiction by Azmi Bishara, Mahmoud Darwish's diaries (translated from the Arabic by Tania Tamari Nasir and John Berger), and Adania Shibli's Silence (via Rockslinga).

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags:

Tuesday 07 November 2006

The Road

In his review of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Alan Warner is way off beam with his "we can divide the contemporary American novel into two traditions, or two social classes" nonsense. But towards the end of his review, his affirmation of McCarthy's latest -- "it makes the novels of the contemporary Savants seem infantile and horribly over-rated" -- half-convinces me. Moreover, a friend sent me a text telling me it was wonderful, and that doesn't happen that often, so ... perhaps.


But, no! I remain unconvinced. Steven Shaviro seems nearer the money with this:


The prose is polished to a point of minimalist perfection; blinding in its clarity and yet (or, I should say, and therefore) almost devoid of metaphorical or metaphysical resonance. There’s no splendor here; echoes are muffled, even as the sky is a perpetual gray ... I suppose that this extreme closure, this more-than-granite hardness and power, is one definition of the sublime. But for me, it is something that ultimately limits the novel. I read the book with avidity and intense attention; but once I finished, it almost entirely slipped from my mind. I do not brood over it ...

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Tuesday 07 November 2006

Chicago Manual of Style Q&A;

The Chicago Manual of Style Online ("the bible of the publishing and research community," so it tells me) features "a Q&A page, where the manuscript editors from the University of Chicago Press interpret the Manual's recommendations and uncoil its intricacies" (via The Chicago Blog).

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Monday 06 November 2006

Crumey on Davies

Nice review of The Goldilocks Enigma by Paul Davies by novelist Andrew Crumey:


To understand the enigma of the title, think of the way that stars burn. Stars are made of hot gas held together by gravity, and if the force of gravity were stronger than it is, stars would burn far more quickly and expire sooner. Our own Sun would have had a lifetime of only a few million years instead of the five billion it has already enjoyed, and life on our planet could never have had time to evolve. Equally, if gravity were weaker, then stars would burn too dimly, and their energy output would not support life. It seems that the strength of gravity, like Baby Bear's porridge, is "just right".

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: , ,

Monday 06 November 2006

Žižek clobber

What would Slavoj Žižek say!? Get the T-shirt or, even, the boxer shorts. Bonkers.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Thursday 02 November 2006

New WLT

The new November/December issue of World Literature Today is now online (see the table of contents (PDF); note lots of Orhan Pamuk coverage). Via the Literary Saloon.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags:

Thursday 02 November 2006

New Aeneid

A new translation of The Aeneid by Robert Fagles (retired Arthur W. Marks 1919 Professor of Comparative Literature at Princeton University) is due out from Penguin today. Quoted in the Independent yesterday, Fagles said:


"To begin with, it's a cautionary tale," Fagles told The New York Times, "about the terrible ills that attend empire - its war-making capacity, the loss of blood and treasure both. But it's all done in the name of the rule of law, which you'd have a hard time ascribing to what we're doing in the Middle East today."

"In a sense, all translations are unfinished. One thing I have learned is that no one will have the final say, that each generation needs its own translation. Some translators, like Dryden, hoped that their work would last longer than a generation. That may be a vain hope."

His publisher Penguin says:


The city of Troy has been ransacked by conquering Greeks and lies in smouldering ruins. A warrior, Aeneas, manages to escape from the ashes. He will go on to change the history of the world ... This is the much-anticipated new version of Virgil’s epic poem from the translator of the Odyssey and the Iliad. With this stunning modern verse translation Robert Fagles reintroduces the Aeneid to a whole new generation, and completes the classical triptych at the heart of Western civilization. It retains all of the gravitas and humanity of the original, as well as its powerful blend of poetry and myth. With an illuminating introduction to Virgil’s world from noted scholar Bernard Knox, this new Aeneid gives a vibrant, contemporary voice to the literary achievement of the ancient world.

For more on Virgil, there is a nice primer on the BBC History site:


Publius Vergilius Maro, known in English as Virgil (or occasionally Vergil, as closer to the Latin), is the greatest of all the Roman poets - and the author of Rome's national epic poem, the Aeneid. He was closely associated with Octavian, who, under the name of Augustus, was the first emperor of Rome; Octavian/Augustus looms large in Virgil's poetry.

Virgil was born near Mantua and spent his early life in northern Italy (with perhaps a period at Naples). His first work was the Eclogues (Selections), originally known as the Bucolics, published around 39-38 BC; it is a book of ten pastoral poems that relate to the Idylls of the Hellenistic Greek poet Theocritus (third century BC).

Virgil himself died of a fever in 19 BC. He had hoped to spend a further three years revising the Aeneid, and may have ordered its destruction on his death-bed. But it was saved, and was published to immediate acclaim. It has ever since been regarded as the classic encapsulation of the Roman spirit and of the Augustan age, and also, like Homer's epics, as a profound and sympathetic exploration of humanity.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags:

Thursday 02 November 2006

Breathturn back

Pierre Joris's translation of Breathturn by Paul Celan has just been reprinted by Green Integer. (Pierre has translated, quite wonderfully, three volumes of Celan's late poetry: Breathturn, Threadsuns, and Lightduress, all with Green Integer.)

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Thursday 02 November 2006

Fisher and McCarthy events tonight

Two wee reminders ... as I mentioned on Monday, the poet Roy Fisher is reading at Manchester Metropolitan University (in the Geoffrey Manton Building, on Oxford Road, Manchester, opposite the Aquatics Centre; £5/£3 concessions) tonight at 6.30pm.


And Tom McCarthy (worth checking-out is Tom's recent talk on Trocchi) will be reading from and discussing Remainder with Simon Glendinning of the Forum for European Philosophy at Borders, 120 Charing Cross Road, London also tonight at 6.30pm. This event is free.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: , ,

Thursday 02 November 2006

Impotent anger

Jenny Diski, author of Skating to Antarctica and On Trying to Keep Still amongst many others, angry about Bush and Blair's criminal mendacity, from her blog Biology of the Worst Kind:


So I am furious that Blair, Bush and the network of self-interested parties who have caused such havoc in Iraq that no one seems to have a solution for it, are going to get away with it. Again and again and again. I am also furious with myself for not having grown up enough to understand that they will always get away with it and for finding no better response than to be furious. It's the anger of the impotent, but impotence is no excuse.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Wednesday 01 November 2006

Ellmann on Jelinek

Fairly widely linked to this, but it was nice to see: Lucy Ellmann (whose latest novel is the unappetisingly entitle Doctors and Nurses and whose work I don't know)applauding "the tireless, scathing fury" of Elfriede Jelinek when reviewing the Nobel prize-winners' latest novel Greed (translated by Martin Chalmers):


What is killing the novel is people's growing dependence on feel-good fiction, fantasy and non-fiction. With this comes an inability or unwillingness to tolerate any irregularities of form ... For anyone who wants to write or read daredevil, risk-taking prose, therefore, it was tremendously encouraging that Elfriede Jelinek won the Nobel prize for literature in 2004 ... Jelinek's work is brave, adventurous, witty, antagonistic and devastatingly right about the sorriness of human existence, and her contempt is expressed with surprising chirpiness: it's a wild ride.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Submit News to RSB

Please let us know about any literary-related news -- or submit press releases to RSB -- using this form.

-- Mark Thwaite, Managing Editor

Serendipoetry

Omens, after Alexander Pushkin

I rode to meet you: dreams
like living beings swarmed around me
and the moon on my right side
followed me, burning.

I rode back: everything changed.
My soul in love was sad
and the moon on my left side
trailed me without hope.

To such endless impressions
we poets give ourselves absolutely,
making, in silence, omen of mere event,
until the world reflects the deepest needs of the soul.

-- Louise Gluck
Averno (Carcanet Press)

-- View archive

Word of the Day

The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or two

Pre-order Anu Garg's new book: The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two: The Hidden Lives and Strange Origins of Common and Not-So-Common Words (ISBN 9780452288614), published by Penguin more …

-- Powered by Wordsmith.org

October's Books of the Month

The New Spirit of Capitalism The New Spirit of Capitalism
Luc Boltanski; Eve Chiapello
Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM
Steve Lake, Paul Griffiths

-- View archive