Latin

(I didn't make it to the Brooklyn Book Festival this year, but Tara Olmsted did, and here's her report! -- Levi)

The Brooklyn Book Festival can be a mixed bag. At its worst the annual autumn event is complete chaos: no consistent theme, hot and crowded rooms, poorly moderated panels, no-show authors, smug hipsters as far as the eye can see. This year's list of participating authors is less exciting at the outset than in previous years: the type of book being discussed on all the panels feels pretty much the same, as if some kind of homeostasis has been achieved.

But at its best, the Brooklyn Book Festival s a platform for small, independent presses.  Publishers like Melville House, New Directions, & Other Stories, Europa, Other Press, Archipelago and Greywolf are there. (Technically some of these are not exactly indie publishers anymore, like New Directions, which has been absorbed by the big five publishing conglomerates. I still consider the presses “indie” because they’ve managed to retain the literary identity and traditions on which they were founded.)

Smaller indies are here too: Zephyr, Bellevue, The Head & The Hand. There are literary magazines: BookForum, The Paris Review, NYRB and Lapham’s Quarterly. And many of Brooklyn’s independent bookstores attend, including WORD, The Community Bookstore and Greenlight.  There’s a lot to discover at the outdoor booths.  And for me the highlight of the festival has always been (and remains) the author panels.

"Catch a Fire: Social Collapse in Multiple Voices" began one panelist short (a fairly common occurrence at book festivals). The Somali author Nuruddin Farah was unable to attend for reasons that were not explained.  But the smaller panel created an opportunity for the two present authors to expand their discussion beyond their individual novels and discuss the politics of Jamaica and Somalia.

Marlon James’ novel A Brief History of Seven Killings opens in 1976, Jamaica - the year men armed with machine guns invaded Bob Marley’s home and opened fire, seriously injuring his wife and manager. Marley received only minor wounds and went on to perform at the free “Smile Jamaica” concert two days later.  And then he left Jamaica, choosing not to return for two long years. Taking those events as the novel’s launching point, James goes on to explore the history of Jamaica and the Jamaican diaspora over the next three decades.

Marlon James is a charismatic speaker and the scope of the book, as he describes it, is impressive:  687 pages, 76 characters, written in Jamaican patois, set in both Jamaica and New York City. The panel's moderator hinted at moments of disturbing violence, which James defended as being necessary. He didn’t seem to believe in trivializing violence by sterilizing it. James also spoke on the topics that interested him and had crept into his writing: the politics of the island where he was born and its role in the Cold War; stereotypes and expectations he’s encountered as a Jamaican author; his views on politics as they relate to his writings; and, in response to one audience member’s question, which of Marley’s albums was the soundtrack underscoring the events in his novel (Rastaman Vibration is the correct answer, not Exodus).

Nadifa Mohamed’s novel is set 13,295 kilometers away in Somalia. The Orchard of Lost Souls follows the lives and fates of three women at the outbreak of that country’s 1987 civil war.  Like James, Nadifa Mohamed did not discuss her novel’s plot at length. She talked instead about her relationship to the place where she was born and the current wave of the Somali diaspora.  She and her family immigrated to England when she was only four years old, and so her experience is completely different than those of the (more conservative) Somali expats arriving in London.  She spoke of the ways in which the country where she was born is and isn’t home, and of how the characters in her novel both experience and perpetrate acts of violence.  The common theme for both both authors -- as for many authors on the panels I attended this year -- was our relationships to the countries where we are born and what that means in the wake of ever increasing globalization.

My next panel, again dealing with international literature and authors, was called "Cultural Collisions: Around the Day in Eighty Worlds".  I’m still not sure exactly what the title had to do with the actual panel.

This included the Brazilian author Paolo Scott (Nowhere People), Mexican author Valeria Luiselli (Faces in the Crowd) and Cuban author Mylene Fernandez-Pintado (A Corner of the World).  All three books are translations.  Anderson Tepper, a Brooklyn Book Festival staple, was an excellent moderator as always, allowing each author to discuss their books in depth and give short readings.

Nowhere People is the first and only Brazilian novel about that country’s native population -- the Guarani Indians -- a subject on which Scott expressed strong feelings. Brazilians, according to Scott, avoid addressing race in a way that is detrimental (and shameful) to the society as a whole.  His novel tells the story of a young Brazilian man who is drawn into the world of an indigenous girl he sees walking along the side of the road.

Valeria Luiselli’s Faces in the Crowd and Mylene Fernandez-Pintado’s A Corner of the World are so different that I’m not sure how they all ended up on the same panel. Luiselli’s book moves in time between modern New York City and 1950’s Philadelphia. Her characters are a young Mexican translator living in Harlem and the real-life poet Gilbert Owen (who the author described as “an all-right poet”). Taken directly from the back cover: “As the voices of the narrators overlap and merge, they drift into a single stream, a mingling that is also a disappearing act, and an elegiac evocation of love and loss”.  Fernandez-Pintado, in contrast, has written a love story set in modern Havana, a story about a society that lacks choices and opportunities.

I’ll say it again: the Brooklyn Book Festival can be a mixed bag. Particularly this year. The panels for which I harbored the highest expectations turned out to be terrible. And the one’s I felt lukewarm about turned out to be fantastic. But where else can you spend an entire day lining up to hear (mostly) obscure authors talk about books that will never make it onto the New York Times Bestseller List?

At the Brooklyn Book Festival I feel as if I’ve managed to escape the influence of Amazon’s algorithm, NPR recommendations and the Colbert bump. For one day a year I get to be on my own. Which is enough to bring me back in 2015.

4

Tara Olmsted finds a mixed bag at the annual book festival in downtown Brooklyn.

view /BKBF2014
Friday, September 26, 2014 09:35 am
Brooklyn Book Festival 2014
Story
Tara Olmsted

One Hundred Years of Solitude must be Gabriel Garcia Marquez's best title, and it's the book that made him famous all over the world. But I somehow neglected to finish that epic novel, and was more attracted instead to Love in the Time of Cholera, a book so good it would probably have made the Colombian author famous again if he hadn't been already. I also enjoyed Marquez's The General in His Labyrinth, and I wonder if I specially favor these two novels because they both employ a vivid setting: Colombia's Magdalena River.

I'm a fool for riparian literature, perhaps because rivers hold such great spiritual significance (from the Jordan to the Ganges), or because they work so well as metaphor, whether the characters are lazily floating downstream like Huck Finn or tensely steaming up against the current like Marlow in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. My fascination with rivers makes Love in the Time of Cholera a natural for me, since this novel is basically a happy Heart of Darkness with senior sex. The ever patient Florentino Ariza has waited an entire lifetime to lie in the arms of his beloved Fermina Daza, and after many decades he finally outlasts her husband and scores with her on a boat heading up the mighty Magdalena. (Ariza's patience is his one great power, a character trait so distinct it earned him a seat in my hypothetical literary poker tournament a few years ago).

The river is a constant presence in this novel. Early in the story, Ariza escapes his heartbreak by travelling up the river, where the beauty that surrounds him is disturbed by visions of the cholera epidemic currently gripping the land:

The days were easy for him as he sat at the rail, watching the motionless alligators sunning themselves on sandy banks, their mouths open to catch butterflies, watching the flocks of startled herons that rose without warning from the marshes, the manatees that nursed their young at large maternal teats and startled the passengers with their woman's cries. On a single day he saw three bloated, green, human corpses float past, with buzzards sitting on them.

Many decades later, he manages to persuade his unreachable Fermina Daza to join him for a new journey up the same river. They are now both over seventy years old, and now even the river has changed, has gone dry in many places.

She was embarrassed when she greeted him, and he was more embarrassed by her embarrassment. The knowledge that they were behaving as if they were sweethearts was even more embarrassing, and the knowledge that they were both embarrassed embarrassed them so much that Captain Samaritano noticed it with a tremor of compassion. He extricated them from their difficulty by spending the next two hours explaining the controls and the general operation of the ship. They were sailing very slowly up a river without banks that meandered between arid sandbars stretching to the horizon. But unlike the troubled waters at the mouth of the river, these were slow and clear and gleamed like metal under the merciless sun. Fermina Daza had the impression that it was a delta filled with islands of sand.

"It is all the river we have left," said the Captain.

Florentino Ariza, in fact, was surprised by the changes, and would be even more surprised the following day, when navigation became more difficult and he realized that the Magdalena, father of waters, one of the great rivers of the world, was only an illusion of memory. Captain Samaritano explained to them how fifty years of uncontrolled deforestation had destroyed the river: the boilers of the riverboats had consumed the thick forest of colossal trees that had oppressed Florentino Ariza on his first voyage.

Two years ago, it was announced that South America's most beloved writer would not be writing any new books. We'd already heard rumors that Gabo's mental abilities were declining, and his family now confirmed that the novelist had senile dementia, or Alzheimer's disease.

This is always a shocking diagnosis for any victim, and for the families and loved ones of any victim. It's hard to imagine the sharp mind of Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the torment of constant confusion, and his readers must wonder how much (if any) of his literary or artistic sensitivity may have remained during his final years. "It is all the river we have left," said the Captain. I don't know how Gabriel Garcia Marquez lived out his last years, but I like to pretend or imagine that he might have been taken on a boat ride on the river he described so well.

The ship left the bay with its boilers quiet, made its way along the channels through blankets of taruya, the river lotus with purple blossoms and large heart-shaped leaves, and returned to the marshes. The water was iridescent with the universe of fishes floating on their sides, killed by the dynamite of stealthy fishermen, and all the birds of the earth and the water circled above them with metallic cries. The wind from the Caribbean blew in the windows along with the racket made by the birds, and Fermina Daza felt in her blood the wild bleating of her free will. To her right, the muddy, frugal estuary of the Great Magdalena River spread out to the other side of the world.

1

In 'Love in the Time of Cholera', an elderly man finally fulfills a lifelong dream of love during a journey up the Magdalena River.

view /MagdalenaRiver
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 12:45 pm
Colombia's Magdalena River
Story
Levi Asher

Miguel de Cervantes, perhaps the first great novelist in the history of literature, was a natural-born metafictionalist. His Don Quixote was a multi-layered masterpiece, a lost story within a found story within a supposedly true story ... about a man whose mind was destroyed by reading. After the book became a success, Cervantes was forced against his will to re-enter the multi-dimensional universe of his now-famous character, because an anonymous plagiarist had begun selling an unauthorized "Part Two" to Cervantes's story to eager readers. In an attempt to counter the ersatz sequel, Cervantes wrote his own sequel, which is now highly regarded as the second half of Don Quixote.

An fanciful backdrop to the Spanish novelist's battle with this mysterious hoaxer provides much of the drama and conflict in Jaime Manrique's new novel Cervantes StreetCervantes Street. Manrique talks about his interpretation of Cervantes at Lambda Literary Review.

0

Jaime Manrique's Cervantes Street dramatizes classic metafictionalist Miguel de Cervantes's literary battle with the anonymous author of an unauthorized sequel to Don Quixote.

view /CervantesStreet
Sunday, October 14, 2012 11:04 pm
Cervantes Street, a novel by Jaime Manrique
Story
Levi Asher

(This book review is the Litkicks debut of Tara Olmsted, who runs BookSexy Review, a blog with a special focus on international and translated literature.)

Attending college in New York City in the mid-1990’s left me with some distinct memories of the city. De La Vega chalk tags on the sidewalks of Broadway next to graffiti stencils that read “Free Mumbia”; the booksellers whose tables used to line St. Marks Place before they were kicked out; boys from Columbia going on (and on) about Ayn Rand and their counterparts from New York University in Che Guevara t-shirts.

Those t-shirts with their iconic image were my only connection to Guevara. Which is kinda’ sad. The man has been made into a symbol and used to market non-conformity, anti-establishment and revolution to a mostly compliant public. His silk-screened face has become one of the most recognizable and ubiquitous commercial images in the world.

So, unsurprisingly, images are what drew me to Remembering Che: My Life with Che Guevara, Aleida March’s memoir of her marriage to Ernesto Che Guevara. The book contains dozens of personal photographs, many published for the first time -- candid pictures of a charismatic and amazingly photogenic couple.

It’s not hard to understand how Che Guevera became the poster child for Latin American revolution. There’s an energy -- a directness -- in his eyes that’s hard to look away from. Even in his later years, when he frequently travelled in disguise and under aliases, that gaze is unmistakable. These photos will be the main draw for all but the hardcore Guevara fan. They, along with the couple’s personal correspondence, provide a definite sense of the man as his family and friends knew him.

The memoir's narrative, unfortunately, lacks the spontaneity of the photographs. Aleida March is as committed to the cause of the revolution in Cuba (her own country, though Che was from Argentina) as was her famous husband. She was involved in the guerrilla movement as a young woman and first met Che while acting as a courier (she delivered a package of money to his camp in the Escambray Mountains). After the overthrow of the Batista government they were married. Aleida took up the role of his personal secretary. She minimizes her government service while acknowledging being appointed to the Cuban Delegation to the First Latin American Congress of Women and Children and being an elected officer in the Federation of Cuban Women, an organization which worked to overcome what she describes as “persistent male chauvinism” in order to fully integrate women into the new Cuban society. It’s obvious that her access to Che gave her knowledge of more than the details of their own life together. She was in a unique position, which makes her able to provide potentially new insights into Che’s political activities.

But Aleida is also the current head of the Che Guevara Studies Center in Havana -- appointed by Fidel Castro himself -- making her as protective of her husband’s legacy as she has, until now, been of her private memories of their time together. The combination makes Remembering Che more complicated than the typical memoir. There are multiple agendas at play here, and it would be foolish to approach this book believing otherwise. (Aleida March is published by Ocean Books, whose tagline is “radical books on Latin America and the World”. They also publish Guevara’s diaries, as well as books authored by Fidel Castro -- including Obama and the Empire).

Remembering Che: My Life with Che Guevara is fundamentally a collection of names, dates and locations peppered with personal anecdotes -- not all of which are interesting. Aleida talks about her husband, the places they traveled, the births of their children, their friends and fellow campesiños. She moves quickly and as a result often deals with events only superficially; including their revolutionary activities (“revolutionary” is a word that’s used a lot). This may be in part because she assumes the reader has also read Guevara’s published diaries.

Aleida chooses to focus instead on Guevara’s long absences after the Cuban Revolution, when he distanced himself from Castro’s government. She describes their clandestine meetings (often arranged by Fidel) and the infrequent communications she received from the Congo, Bolivia, and Eastern Europe. Only the most rudimentary details -- and almost no opinions -- are given of Che’s activities in these places. The details the told in a prose so carefully worded that I wouldn’t be surprised if they were transcribed from recorded interviews and then doctored. Even the major historical incidents of the Cuban Revolution, such as the executions at La Cabaña Fortress and the Bay of Pigs invasion, are allotted only a few, brief sentences. The Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 is discussed in two paragraphs.

Despite the years that have passed since October 1962, I can still vividly recall the tension of the days when humanity faced an armed conflict of unimaginable proportions. After the Bay of Pigs, facing the constant threat of a US invasion, Cuba decided to accept the Soviet Union’s offer to have nuclear missiles on our territory. We regarded this as a legitimate act of defense of our sovereignty.

The location of these strategic arms was detected by spy planes and denounced by the US government. Unfortunately, when the crisis came to a head, Cuba was not consulted and our revolutionary government was forced to take a principled stand, refusing to succumb to the threats of imperialism. The Soviet missiles were withdrawn, but we did not allow UN inspection.

She then goes on to quote briefly from Che’s farewell letter to Fidel Castro, in which he expresses the pride he felt during those “brilliant yet sad days” ... and that’s it. A book about the man who engineered the entire Cuban-Soviet relationship and that’s all we get. The sad truth is: the Wikipedia entry on Ernesto Che Guevara provides more information than Aleida March. This restraint, along with the repeated use of keywords and phrases like “revolutionary government”, “imperialism” and “cultural development” causes Remembering Che to appear almost quaint, like a vintage Soviet propaganda poster.

Still, despite all attempts to stay on message, Aleida is never convincing in the role of stay-at-home-revolutionary. I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that she was Mileva Marić to Che’s Einstein, but she obviously knows more than she’s telling. By her own admission she was a guerrilla, an eyewitness to history. She served on government committees, attended university and taught students as part of her husband’s literacy program. She also had the ear of high ranking officials and represented her country internationally ... all while raising five children virtually alone.

She recalls how Che initially had to convince her of the merits of Communism -- so she obviously has a mind and opinions of her own. In this book's Afterword, she expresses regret at not having "sufficiently acknowledged many compañeras, women who played a key role in our struggle", -- a statement that hints at feminist leanings. Her omissions are fascinating, much more so than what she chose to include. They make me believe that there is a more interesting version of this story, one told entirely from Aleida March’s perspective. This book, though, isn’t it.

5

Tara Olmsted reviews "Remembering Che", a new memoir by Aleida March, the wife of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara.

view /RememberingChe
Wednesday, July 11, 2012 11:05 am
Che Guevara and Aleida March
Story
Tara Olmsted

(This introduction to a too-little-known French author is the Litkicks debut of Eamon Loingsigh, whose novella An Affair of Concoctions can be sampled here).

I didn’t come across Comte de Lautréamont right away. I found him only after a long search for the most furious literature I could find, and I suspect others don’t find him quickly either, if they find him at all.

As a disgruntled teen, mainstream writers like Stephen King and dusty fuddies like T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stephens could not slake my brooding brain. Poe turned my head and Coleridge was my favorite Romantic in school, both with drug addictions and personality disorders that were sent desperately to the pen in order to relieve their burdens, financial or emotional. But when I found Bukowski and Kerouac and those who influenced them, I eventually bumped into Comte de Lautréamont, who quickly became even more interesting to me when I heard that translations abound in many languages, except English.

Lautreamont was born as Isidore Lucien Ducasse in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1846, and left it during a time of great turbulence. His mother died soon after giving birth to him, in the midst of the Argentinian-Uruguayan War, and he was raised by his father, a Uruguayan public official of French ancestry. He was sent to school in Paris, France at the age of thirteen. By seventeen he was known at his Lycée as a quick student, yet morbid and sardonic in humor. Memorizing the Romantic writers as well as Dante, Milton, Baudelaire and Racine, he soon decided to become a writer in order “to portray the pleasures of cruelty!”

Holing up in various hotels and lodgings on the Right Bank and sustained from afar by his father’s finances, Ducasse began what would become his most renowned, or infamous work, Les Chants de Maldoror.

Out of necessity, Ducasse created a nom de plume, and a strange one at that. Knowing full well that libel laws could send a writer to prison, and that his work would hardly be celebrated next to the likes of the day’s famous Parisian giant Victor Hugo, the pen name Comte de Lautréamont would protect the author from the reaction to his work’s considerable blasphemy, black humor and caustic sex and violence.

But the name Comte de Lautréamont procures wonder from literary historians and may offer an insight into the symbolism and detail of his writing. Changing his name to the very noble “Comte,” or “count” provides a window to his curious, sarcastic wit. Though much of his short life remains a mystery, it can be said confidently that the use of Comte was not just a sneering nod toward nobility, but also a jab at the French philosopher Auguste Comte who bestowed the need for French “positivism” during a time of great unrest and poverty in the Paris of Lautréamont’s day. Such allusions to reigning positivist philosophies were not new to French literature; Voltaire’s Candide over one hundred years earlier has obvious satirical similarities. As far as his new surname, "Lautréamont" was lifted from a deviant character in a popular Gothic novel by Eugene Sue, though the spelling was slightly altered. In the French, “l’autre” literally means “the other,” while Amon was a dog-toothed, raven headed governor of forty legions of Hell in the 16th Century work of occultist Johann Weyer. This evil Amon was known as a storyteller and a reconciler of feuds, among other dastardly things.

Historians have asked, is it enough simply to move a letter around in a name (Lautréamont – Latréaumont) to avoid plagiarism? Can a pen name be a form of plagiarism? These flaying jokes, ambiguities and word games on the literary establishment are where Lautréamont is most playful and mischievous, displaying his daring way of inviting reality into his work.

Les Chants de Maldoror proved difficult to publish. The opening of the book throws a warning at the reader and offers a way out in order for the reader to avoid the “rigorous logic” in the coming “somber, poison-filled pages.” Not the type of hook most publishers are looking for. Lautreamont then proceeds to show his protagonist’s background by describing how Maldoror once hoped to become like those “narrow-shouldered men” who feign happiness while accumulating wealth. In a childish attempt to conform to the saccharine grins of the Paris bourgeoisie, he cuts open the sides of his own mouth with a penknife in the shape of a smile.

In possibly the most famous scene of the book, Maldoror blindfolds a child, cuts the boy’s chest open with his fingernails and drinks his blood while enjoying the cries of the wounded youth. At the end of the scene Maldoror states that regardless of how he is to be judged for his evil acts, “I exist still!”

In my favorite scene, Maldoror watches a warship pass as a squall appears on the horizon. Sensing doom, the ship dumps its anchors to avoid being smashed against the rocky coast, then fires off its alarm guns. Soon the ship is sinking from the whipping waves and wind while desperate souls swim to the shoreline only to be ripped to shreds by sharks. Maldoror is strangely angered and soon begins shooting the drowning sailors before the sharks can pull them under the “crimson cream.” He then dives in the water and stabs some of the sharks only to be confronted by the school’s ferocious leader, an imperious female shark, who squares off against him. Finally finding someone who has “the same ideas as I,” Maldoror and the shark make love together during the storm. lit by “lightning’s light.”

Unable to find a publisher, Lautréamont insolently decided to self-publish the work at his father’s expense. He traveled back to Uruguay to convince his father, then quickly returned to Paris. He then turned his attention to his next project, Poésies. Registered in the French Ministry in 1870, just two months before France declared war on Prussia, Poésies was barely read by anyone other than the author's old classmates.

France under Napolean III was defeated by September, and the siege of Paris began. Food shortages led to a chaotic famine intensified by numerous epidemics which sent the city’s patrons into panic. Thievery and desperation took over the Parisians besieged by the shelling of the Prussian Army.

On November 24, 1870, during a severe winter, Lautréamont’s death certificate was signed by a hotel employee at 7 Faubourg-Montmartre. Dying before seeing his work properly published, certainly he must have thought his life undone. The death certificate described him only as “a man of letters”, and he was hastily buried in a temporary grave in order to quarantine the body while disease spread throughout the beleaguered city.

In 1873, Lautréamont’s father arrived in Paris to collect his son’s humble belongings and pay off the debt owed to the publisher. The book first became available to buy sometime the next year, though only in Brussels, Belgium.

In the years to come, Lautréamont’s work was largely ignored, though it was read by a small group of Belgians. Not until some fifty years later when André Breton, Aragon, Soupault and friends unearthed Lautréamont from a small Paris bookstore did his work begin to enter literary circles. In the early 1920s, Lautréamont became the Surrealist movement’s hero, or anti-hero and the now famous quotation from Maldoror “as beautiful as the random encounter between an umbrella and a sewing-machine upon a dissecting-table,” became the phrase that represented the Surrealist movement’s doctrine.

Still, Lautréamont’s name does not enjoy the same level of celebrity (especially in English-speaking countries) as some of his contemporaries. His name often buried in French Literature courses, if mentioned at all, he still holds a place dear to the French as an outsider even to their maudit, or “accursed” standards. Though he hasn’t made it onto most readers’ bookshelves, Lautréamont has succeeded in influencing some of the 20th Century’s most important writers, artists, philosophers, musicians and the theater and film industries. They in-turn influenced the world. Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Andre Breton and the Surrealist Manifestos owed much to Lautréamont and so too did Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty. Jean-Luc Godard’s famous 1967 film Week End has a scene where a character reads Lautréamont. The poet John Ashbery named his 1992 book “Lautréamont Hotel.” Others influenced include Henry Miller and Jim Morrison. Lautréamont’s fingerprints can certainly be found on the Beat Generation (especially William S. Burroughs) as well as vicariously through the Surrealists.

The slogans behind the May 1968 student revolts in France were heavily influenced by the Situationist philosophers Guy Debord and Raoul Vaneigem, who both reference Lautréamont in their works. Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle undertook the unpopular stance that plagiarism, for which Lautréamont was known to have purposely committed, is not as bad an act as academia would have us believe. Debord contended that plagiarism is certainly much more common than we would like to admit, though thinly veiled and at least Lautréamont had the temerity to openly admit his influences while flaunting the stuffy establishment’s rule at the same time.

What fascinates me is that it is yet to be proven that Arthur Rimbaud could have ever read Lautréamont regardless of their works’ likeness and their crossing paths. How could it be that Rimbaud, who shared the same anti-social tendencies during the same era, in the same city and in the same field could not have read Lautréamont? I decided to consult an expert, Alexis Lykiard, the English poet, writer and one of the only English translators of Lautréamont’s work, 1994’s Maldoror and the Complete Works of the Comte de Lautréamont (a new edition with an excellent afterword came out in 2011).

“I think it is highly unlikely that Rimbaud ever knew of Lautréamont,” Lykiard told me. “Maldoror wasn’t published in France until many years after Lautréamont’s death.”

Still, it seems hard to believe that Rimbaud could not ever have heard of Lautréamont, especially when one considers the second city they both had in common: Brussels. Consider this, Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine met up in Brussels where Verlaine shot Rimbaud in the wrist in their now-famous lover’s quarrel. The same city that Lautréamont’s work first became available to buy. Verlaine spent the next two years in prison an hour away from Brussels in Mons, and never once heard of Lautréamont? A fellow Parisian writer in Belgium? But alas, the possibilities diminish when you consider that the Verlaine/Rimbaud shooting occurred in July of 1873, while Lautréamont’s work did not become available until sometime in 1874. Even as Verlaine, who by then Rimbaud utterly ignored, languished behind bars just miles away from booksellers, Lautréamont’s work was virtually unheard of at that time. Certainly the possibility exists that Rimbaud could have read Lautréamont, but no facts exist as of yet.

In the end, I’m certain Lautréamont would be delighted by the debate his work has procured and the influence it has had, even as it’s been wholly ignored or admonished by the mainstream. The writing style, which Octavio Paz called a “psychic explosion,” has a great sense of the mystical which only enhances the protagonist’s tortured soul as he brazenly spites God’s will, searching and hoping He will appear to tell Maldoror something, anything.

Lautréamont may not have been read by many, if any of the Symbolist writers of the 1890s, but his work underscores the fertile ground that was French Literature of the 19th Century. Lautréamont’s influence on the novel did come later though. As the traditional novel generally “explains” a reality, Lautréamont’s work makes the reader “experience” a reality, a very Surrealist approach. Literature as spectacle, instead of literature about spectacle.

In The Society of the Spectacle, Debord found in Lautréamont a face for his thesis on how modern life is no longer experienced; instead it is shown through spectacles provided by mass media. Today we call it "reality TV", and we note the rise of memoires, documentaries and the sampling of others’ music by DJs and articulated well in David Shields’ Reality Hunger.

Lautréamont took literature to a completely “personal” level, and although some have found him insolent, feckless and childishly devious, it should be noted that he was intentionally incendiary. Maldoror was written in order to bring reality to the reader, to make the cruelties of life breathe in his work; a stark contrast to the traditional separation of cruelty portrayed by a bad guy or the enemy of the protagonist. By taking controversial stances on issues and examining horrifically absurd scenarios, Lautréamont does succeed in forcing the reader to understand that, while the author may be considered politically incorrect or simply wrong, still ... wrong exists.

6

Eamon Loingsigh examines the unusual literary career of Comte de Lautreamont.

view /Lautreamont
Monday, May 7, 2012 07:06 pm
Comte de Lautreamont
Story
Eamon Loingsigh

1. Kafkaesque: Stories Inspired by Franz Kafka, edited by John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly, includes pieces by J. G. Ballard, Jorge Luis Borges, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Philip Roth, Rudy Rucker and Robert Crumb. Here's the full table of contents.

2. And the Nobel Prize in Literature goes to ... some dude I never heard of! Which kind of surprises me, since I thought I sort of knew this space. Anyway, meet Tomas Transtromer of Stockholm, Sweden. Words Without Borders has him, of course.

3. I couldn't find any Tomas Transtromer at Asymptote, another new journal of international/translated literature I've started looking at, but they do have Robert Walser (translated by Susan Bernofsky), Lin Yoade and a new translation by Mani Rao of an old Upanishad.

4. Speaking of translation, I've been browsing Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything by David Bellos. An interesting tidbit from page 303:

In 1870, Otto von Bismarck, the German chancellor, released a statement to the press about his sovereign's negative reaction to a request from the French ambassador that the German royal family should commit itself to never accepting the throne of Spain. The statement also reported that the Kaiser didn't want to talk to the French ambassador again and had sent him a message to stay away by the hand of the "adjutant of the day".

The "adjutant of the day" -- "Adjutant von Dienst" -- names a high-ranking courier, an aristocratic aide-de-camp. But it happens to be almost identical to a word of French -- "adjudant". When Bismarck's statement was received in Paris it was instantly translated by the Havas news agency service and wired to all newspapers, which reprinted it in the "special extra" that went on sale straightaway. In the Havas version, "Adjutant" is not translated, but left in its original form. The effect of that one word was enormous. French "adjutant" means "warrant officer" ("sergeant-major" in Britain). It therefore seemed that the French ambassador has been treated with grievous disrespect by having had a message from the Kaiser to him by a messenger of such low rank. The French were outraged. Six days later, they declared war.

So, maybe the Franco-Prussian War (which led, decades later, to World War I and eventually World War II) could have been avoided by a more careful translation. I hate when that happens.

5. Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma is the second book I've read recently about Gertrude Stein's puzzling long dalliance with the fascist Vichy regime in Nazi-occupied France during World War II (the first was Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice by Janet Malcolm). The relationship appears so inexplicable on the surface -- among other things, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Tolkas were both American Jews, and the Vichy regime tended to export foreign Jews to concentration camps -- that it takes at least two books to untangle it. Barbara Will's Unlikely Collaboration digs much deeper than Janet Malcolm's Two Lives, and lays out the elliptical ideological and aesthetic sympathies that led Gertrude Stein to warmly embrace the arrival of fascism in France. A fascinating book designed to stir up the uncomfortable complexities of 20th century history, and of the Modernist literary movement in its own time.

6. In a wonderful new audiobook, Stephen Fry reads the great poetry of Czeslaw Milosz.

7. And while we're on the international tip, here's Tara Olmsted on Cesar Aria.

8. Back here in the United States of America ...we're sad to hear that the Friendly's restaurant chain may close. "Going to Friendly's" was a big part of my childhood, and apparently it's a big part of Nicholson Baker's literary method as well.

9. J. C. Hallman is blogging the letters of William and Henry James (I've enjoyed reading these letters too).

10. Dignity by Ken Layne is a different kind of epistolary novel: "A packet of hand-scrawled letters found in a stanger's rucksack tells of self-sufficient communities growing from the ruins of California's housing collapse and the global recession."

11. Chasing Ray blogger Colleen Mondor has written a book, The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska.

12. William Kennedy's new novel Chango's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes takes us from Albany to 1957-era Cuba.

13. Chuck Palahniuk looks like Abe Lincoln?

14. And, finally: don't people look foolish when they lose their temper?

5
view /Regions2011
Thursday, October 6, 2011 11:43 am
Story
Levi Asher

Mexico. The land of intrigue south of the border. The place where Dean and Sal headed for ultimate kicks. The destination of choice for taking it on the lam, as in “I’m goin’ way down south, way down to Mexico way” in the Hendrix reading of “Hey Joe”. So many images of Mexico, most of them on the dark side. Think back to the opening scene of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, where Humphrey Bogart is down and out in Tampico.

I wanted to get away from the endless Chicago winter. I wanted to feel sun on my face and soft breezes blowing through my hair. I wanted to go to Mexico. So I booked a flight to Querétero, a colonial town in the central highlands, and packed my bags. What to read, though? Graham Greene? Not in the mood. I wanted something dark that penetrated to the heart of my image of Mexico, but I wanted a writer other than Greene. Browsing through the stacks at the library, I found it. Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry.

Lowry started writing Under the Volcano in the late 1930s, finally publishing it in 1947. The novel tells the story of the ex-British Consul of Quauhnahuac, the Indian name for Cuernavaca. The Consul, Geoffrey Firmin, has resigned his post because Britain has severed diplomatic relations with the Mexican government over Mexico’s nationalization of its oil reserves. We see him in 1938, on his last day on earth: November 2, the Day of the Dead.

The novel opens one year later, with the Consul’s sometime friend, Jacques Laruelle, reflecting on Firmin’s life as he walks along the barranca (ravine) in Quauhnahuac and dodges into a cantina to avoid an evening downpour. We get just enough background on Geoffrey Firmin to help form an image of the man. Firmin was born in India. His mother died when he was just a boy. His father remarried and then vanished into the Himalayas one day, never to return. The second wife died soon after, leaving Geoffrey alone to care for his step-brother, Hugh. The Consul and Laruelle were friends for a brief time in childhood, where they both spent a summer at the English seaside home of noted British poet Abraham Taskerson. Geoffrey was staying with the Taskersons until his school term started, and Laruelle, a young Frenchman who had met the Taskersons on holiday in Normandy, was there as a guest. Then there is mention of an incident during the First World War, in which Firmin, as a naval lieutenant aboard a submarine destroyer disguised as a merchant vessel, had captured and destroyed a German U-Boat, for which he received the British Distinguished Service Cross. The event was not without controversy: during the passage back to England, all of the German officers were incinerated in the ship’s furnaces. The German crew members were unharmed.

There was an investigation. Firmin was first court-martialed for the event, acquitted, and then received his decoration. After the war, Firmin joined the Diplomatic Service, and went from one consular post to another, each more obscure, until he ended up in Quauhnahuac. Did the affair of the U-Boat cast a lasting pall over the Consul, or did some other demons drive him? All we know is that by the time he reconnects with Laruelle in Mexico, he is in the downward spiral of acute alcoholism. As Laruelle sits drinking in the cantina and thinking about Firmin, the owner of the cinema next door to the cantina gives Laruelle a book that he had found in the theatre. It is a book of Elizabethan plays that Geoffrey had lent Laruelle a year earlier. He leafs through the book, and a letter that had been folded up inside falls out. Laruelle picks it up. It is a letter that the Consul had written to his wife, Yvonne, after she had left him. He had written it in a state of inebriation and despair, and never posted it. Laruelle reads the letter. It is a desperate plea for Yvonne to return, as well as a frightening insight into the drunken state of the Consul. Laruelle crumples the letter and then burns it.

After this long flash forward, we emerge into the day, one year earlier, when the consul’s wife does indeed return, and the events leading to his death are set in motion.

Yvonne finds Firmin alone in the bar at the Bella Vista hotel as she arrives early in the morning after travelling from Acapulco. He is quite the worse for wear after heavy drinking the night before with his acquaintance Dr. Vigil, but he is still coherent. He and the doctor had been celebrating All-Saints day at the Red Cross Ball. Yvonne and Firmin walk home – to the Consul’s house – and Yvonne learns that the Consul’s brother, Hugh, is staying with him. Back at the house, Yvonne relives some of her memories of her time as the Consul’s wife. The Consul manages a few therapeutic drinks, and then passes out. There follows an idyllic interlude where Hugh and Yvonne ride horses to the old brewery, the Consul wakes up and finds various hidden bottles of tequila and whiskey which he drinks to cure his shakes and hangover, and the three of them finally set out for the nearby town of Tomalín, where they will watch a bull-riding event.

On the way to the bull riding, we get some insight into the main characters, through flashbacks, and we are first-hand witnesses to the depths of Geoffrey Firmin’s personal hell. As a study of alcoholism, there are few books that compare to Under the Volcano. The Consul is at the stage in his addiction where he is plunging headlong toward the bottom, but hasn’t quite reached it. He is cut off from his feelings, he wants to reconcile with Yvonne, but he is constantly thinking of where he will get his next drink.

At one point, in an ill-fated stop at the house of Jacques Laruelle on the way to Tomalín, Laruelle prepares cocktails for the four of them – Geoffrey, Yvonne, Hugh, and himself. The Consul doesn’t touch his drink. He ponders quitting altogether. The mood at Laruelle’s is tense, because Laruelle and Yvonne had had an affair prior to her leaving Geoffrey. Laruelle still has feelings for Yvonne, but Yvonne wants to reconcile with the Consul. She pleads with Geoffrey to make an excuse and leave with her. But the Consul can’t. He wants a drink. He wants to stop. He tells Hugh and Yvonne to go on into town, that he will meet them at the bus terminal. Laruelle goes to take a shower before going to play tennis with Dr. Vigil. Firmin decides to call his physician, Dr. Guzman, for help with his addiction. He tries to call Guzman, but he has forgotten the number. He tries looking the number up in the phone book, but he is sweating so profusely and shaking so badly that he can’t find the number.

Then the desire to drink takes over: “He would need a drink to do this. He ran for the staircase but halfway up, shuddering, in a frenzy, started down again. I brought the tray down. No, the drinks are still up there. He came on the mirador and drank down all the drinks in sight. [...] The Consul finished the contents of the cocktail shaker and came downstairs quietly.”

This will be the pattern for the rest of the day. He moves forward, finds drink, drinks heavily, and his delirium subsides for a while. He moves forward again. The ostensible destination for the day’s outing is Tomalín, to see the bull-riding. But the Consul’s real destination is the nearby town of Parián. There, in a lowdown dive of a cantina called the Farolito, just a short walk through the forest from Tomalín, is where he can sit in the darkened bar and drink Mescal, his personal poison, and try to come to grips with what is going on around him.

It is here that his fate awaits him. The day grinds inevitably toward this end, with the Consul trying to fuel himself with enough drink to keep going, while at the same time trying to hide his imbibing from Yvonne. Time itself decelerates to the crystalline, amber slowness that can only be achieved when one is, like the Consul, completely and utterly intoxicated. “Minutes seem like hours, hours seem like days,” as Robert Johnson has described it.

The other characters in the novel have also come up short in life. Laruelle is a film-maker who had some success in Europe, but who detests Hollywood and is just marking time in Mexico, with perhaps his best work behind him. Yvonne showed early promise in Hollywood films as a child actress, but has been unable to make the transition to adult roles. The Consul’s brother, Hugh, was highly popular as a guitar player and leader of a jazz band in England, but he walked away from fame, doubting his talent. He has leftist sympathies, and supports the republican loyalists against Franco in the Spanish civil war that is being fought across the Atlantic. In fact, he has plans to leave for Spain on a boat carrying dynamite to aid the faltering loyalist cause. These characters surround the Consul in a Mexico which resembles Dante’s Inferno.

The twin volcanoes Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl loom over the town, giving the novel its name, and providing a brooding, hellish background for the events of the story. The barranca, a deep gash of a ravine, runs through the center, hinting at circles of hell below that which the Consul and his friends currently inhabit.

Lowry’s style in Under the Volcano can best be described as cinematic. As the Consul and Yvonne walk to the Consul’s house in the morning, their dialogue is punctuated with exclamations like “BOX! ARENA TOMALÍN. EL BALÓN vs EL REDONDILLO” – posters and signs proclaiming the boxing match to be held later that day. The gloom of the Consul’s condition is contrasted with the festive atmosphere of the Day of the Dead celebrations. The Ferris wheel in the center of town comes in and out of site. Posters of a second rate film by Peter Lorre showing at the cinema constantly appear “Los Manos de Orlac. Con Peter Lorre.” Also, the symbol of the Consul’s death appears and reappears throughout the day – a horse with the number 7 branded onto its hip, ridden by an Indian who later appears dying at the side of the road on the bus trip to Tomalín.

In addition to the cinematic use of posters, repeating visual symbols and the setting of the town under the twin volcanoes, Lowry captures the interior monologue of the characters, particularly that of the Consul. When he has reached the cantina called the Farolito in Perián, we see the consul’s thoughts, reflecting the state he has reached: “he thought for a minute with a freezing detached almost amused calm of the dreadful night inevitably awaiting him whether he drank much more or not, his room shaking with daemonic orchestras, the snatches of fearful tumultuous sleep, interrupted by voices which were really dogs barking, or by his own name being continually repeated by imaginary parties arriving, the vicious shouting, the strumming, the slamming, the pounding, the battling with insolent archfiends, the avalanche breaking down the door, the proddings from under the bed and always, outside, the cries, the wailing, the terrible music ...“.

Lowry uses the Joycean technique of packing sentences with multiple levels of information and meaning: “the water still trickling into the pool – God, how deadeningly slowly- filled the silence between them … There was something else; the Consul imagined he still heard the music of the ball, which must have long since ceased, so that this silence was pervaded as with a stale thudding of drums. Pariah: that meant drums too. Parián. It was doubtless the almost tactile absence of the music however, that made it so peculiar the trees should be apparently shaking to it, an illusion investing not only the garden but the plains beyond , the whole scene before his eyes, with horror.” He remembers the drums from the debauch of the night before, which invokes Pariah – a word with multiple meanings here – an outcast, originally a drummer in Tamil festivals, but also a reference to the Pariah dogs that follow the Consul around wherever he goes in the town. And Pariah evokes Parián – his dark village of refuge and fate.

The structure of Under the Volcano is less like that of a modern novel, in that the development of the characters drives the action of the novel forward, and more like that of a classic Greek tragedy, where the destiny of the characters is sealed and inescapable. The Consul, like Oedipus, is drawn to Parián, and it is only a matter of when and how, not if, he will meet this fate. Along the way, the novel paints a dark picture of the world in the 1930s, with the rise of fascism and Nazism and the doomed struggle of the loyalists in Spain against Franco’s forces of repression.

And Mexico? The Mexico I once visited for a week was sunny and warm, with an eternally blue sky. The town was colorful – crowded with people from all walks of life – and filled with music and flowers. The Mexico of Under the Volcano that I entered each day as I sat on the veranda reading was a dark place, filled with foreboding, broken only occasionally by scenes of great beauty. I found this dichotomy quite satisfying.

8

I wanted something dark that penetrated to the heart of my image of Mexico, but I wanted a writer other than Greene. Browsing through the stacks at the library, I found it. 'Under the Volcano', by Malcolm Lowry.

view /UnderTheVolcano
Thursday, April 21, 2011 11:39 pm
Mexican day of the dead
Story
Michael Norris

1. Scientists have discovered linguistic signals indicating that sperm whales may refer to themselves by names when they speak. Sounds like the kind of fact Herman Melville would have been interested to hear. It also makes me think of T. S. Eliot's cats with their "ineffable, deep and inscrutable singular names".

2. Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, a tremendously popular book of philosophical poetry first published in 1923, will be adapted into a film, apparently with a series of directors contributing interpretations of separate chapters.

3. Amanda Hocking, a 26-year-old self-published writer, has had amazing success with $.99 e-books. The story of her success is inspiring other e-book authors, but often with highly questionable results. Here's more from The Next Web about the fast-growing field of indie/electronic self-publishing.

4. Isn't this what it's really all about? A photographer and her boyfriend recreate romance novel covers.

5. Marcy Dermansky reviews -- and likes -- the new film version of Jane Eyre.

6, Talk about all work and no play. Stanley Kubrick was a great filmmaker, but he must have been a bastard to work for.

7. Rediscovering The Dionysiaca of Nonnus, a little-known ancient epic poem celebrating the classical God of divine ecstasy.

8. Alberto Granado, Che Guevara's Motorcycle Diaries sidekick, has died.

9. Kathryn Valentine of the 80s new-wave band The Go-Gos is writing a heartfelt memoir on Twitter about her life as a rock star.

10. Mike Watt's new record Hyphenated-Man is about being a middle-aged rocker.

11. Eric Rosenfeld's hopeful thoughts on literature beyond categories.

12. Steve Mitchelmore explicates this quote from Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello: "Kafka stays awake during the gaps when we are sleeping.".

13. Bret Easton Ellis analyzes Charlie Sheen.

14. Check out Broadcastr, a localized storytelling service from the innovative folks who bring you Electric Literature.

15. The really great Morning News Tournament of Books is taking place right now. I check it every morning. I think Freedom or Bad Marie (already knocked out, but not dead) should win, but I suspect Jennifer Egan's Goon Squad will take it. I haven't read this book yet, but you all know about my aversion to books that get their titles from Elvis Costello songs.

16. Did you recognize anything familiar in the image on the top of the page? After I heard that Bob Dylan's one-time girlfriend Suze Rotolo had died, I decided to visit the street where she and Bob posed for one of the most fetching album covers of all time. Here's the cover of Bob Dylan's second album, Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, from 1962.

I wanted to take a photo of the exact spot as it exists today, and I waited till late afternoon so that Jones Street, a small and humble byway in New York City's West Village, would be bathed by evening light. I'm no expert photographer, but I think I caught the light just right.

Suze Rotolo was the subject of some of Bob Dylan's best and most impassioned love songs and anger songs. One of the all-time best breakup songs of all time is his jaunty minor-key anthem "Don't Think Twice It's All Right". This song was written for Suze Rotolo, with whom Bob apparently kept breaking up and getting back together, and the words drip with sarcasm.

I ain't sayin' you treated me unkind
You could've done better but, I don't mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
but don't think twice, it's all right.

I wish there were something we could do or say
To try to make me change my mind and stay
We never did too much talking anyway
But don't think twice, it's all right.

The funny thing is that this song was on the album that featured their rosy faces on the cover. The lovely ironies of Jones Street ... which, forty years later, looks exactly like as it did in 1962.

10
view /PositivelyJonesStreet
Tuesday, March 15, 2011 11:31 pm
Story
Levi Asher

Here are three books I've recently enjoyed. I'll cover a couple more next week as well.

The Shadow of What We Were by Luis Sepulveda

Chilean novelist and activist Luis Sepulveda lived through his nation's greatest political humiliation -- the overthrow of its democratically-elected leader Salvador Allende by rightists (backed by USA President Nixon's CIA) in September 1973 -- and now recalls that era in The Shadow of What We Were. This deceptively lighthearted comic novel presents a modern-day reunion of aging freedom-fighter heroes, fugitives, dreamers and organizers from 1973, now elderly men grown weak and bittersweet, gathering one last time to carry out a mission against the powers that still oppress them. Sepulveda skillfully balances the morose political overtones and deep sense of national loss with warm, wry dialogue and layered pop-culture references -- we catch glimpses of The Watchmen, Reservoir Dogs and The Magnificent Seven -- that point our attention to what has really conquered Chile since the days of Allende and Pinochet: western culture, and the complacent spirit of entertainment.

From Battlefields Rising: How The Civil War Transformed American Literature by Randall Fuller

Randall Fuller, a professor at Drury University, has reconstructed our celebrated 19th Century American literary scene around a single organizing element: the Civil War, which reverberated in sometimes unexpected ways through the careers of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Herman Melville, Louisa May Alcott, John Greenleaf Whittier, Ambrose Bierce and Edward Everett Hale. Emerson welcomed the conflagration -- his convictions against slavery lead him to a surprising (and, for me, disappointing) attitude of stark militarism -- while Hawthorne had a sharper sense for the tragedy of war and lost his direction as a writer amidst the madness. Many writers saw opportunity in the war. Herman Melville, grasping to recover the literary reputation he lost with the commercial failure of Moby Dick, expected his war poetry to bring him new success; instead, ironically, success passed his Battle-Pieces by and landed on Walt Whitman's Drum-Taps. Fuller is at his best when writing about the works themselves, and is particularly good on Hawthorne and Emily Dickinson. But From Battlefields Rising has one big flaw: how can it call itself a history of American literature during the Civil War when it completely ignores the literature of the South? This is really a book about the Concord, Massachusetts literary scene and its various northern offshoots (everybody, it seems, was published by the Atlantic Monthly). I can't be the only reader who wonders what the intellectuals of the Southern states were reading and writing and thinking about during these years too (I bet they weren't reading the Atlantic Monthly), and the reference to "American literature" in the book's subtitle should justify itself with a wider scope. If Fuller ever stretches his knowledge to cover the broader national literary sensibility in a future volume, I'll be thrilled to read it.

Like Shaking Hands With God: A Conversation by Kurt Vonnegut, Lee Stringer and Ross Klavan

Lee: For me, the reason [I write] is it's the first thing I completely chose to do on my own: tried on my own, made up myself, and kind of found that I could do all right at it. That's almost ninety-percent of [why I write]. I guess there's ten percent in the fact that I find that it's very good for me. So that leaves maybe half a percent where I hope it'll be good for your guys.

Kurt: People will continue to write novels, or maybe short stories, because they discover that they are treating their own neuroses. And I have said that practicing any art -- be it painting, music, dance, literature or whatever -- is not a way to make money or become famous. It's a way to make your soul grow.

Kurt Vonnegut (all his humble disclaimers aside) was able to make a lot of money writing, and it made him famous too, even if most of the rest of us have seen more negligible rewards. Like Shaking Hands With God is a neat little book that captures a 1998 bookstore dialogue featuring Vonnegut and a scrappy New York City writer and one-time Street News editor named Lee Stringer. The slim volume amounts to a tasty after-dinner mint to follow the career of the late American satirist, as well as an introduction to the unusual work of Lee Stringer, a writer Vonnegut was clearly eager to promote.

7
view /NewBooksMarch2011
Monday, March 7, 2011 07:10 pm
Story
Levi Asher

1. After a whole lot of passionate (and incorrect) guessing, Mario Vargas Llosa has won the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature (the dapper fellow above just announced it on a live webcast from Stockholm). I must admit that, while I once enjoyed hearing from this Peruvian novelist at a New York reading with Umberto Eco and Salman Rushdie, I don't know much about his work as a whole. I'm looking forward to learning more. And, yeah, I do wish Ngugi wa Thiong'o had taken it. Maybe next year.

2. A Ted Hughes poem dealing directly with his wife Sylvia Plath's suicide has been revealed for the first time.

3. I like Julie Taymor and I really like William Shakespeare's The Tempest, so I'm pretty psyched about a new Julie Taymor film of The Tempest, starring Helen Mirren as a female Prospero, along with the likes of Russell Brand and Alan Cumming in various roles.

4. Susan Hill ponders whether or not a writer must tweet.

5. Human Landscapes.

6. Can't get enough of those HTMLGiant literary doppelgangers.

7. Don't Forget The Motor City by David Bryne.

8. I'm not particularly freaked out (as some are) that Mo Tucker of the Velvet Underground, one of the most exciting rock drummers of all time (she used mallets instead of sticks, and drummed standing up) is now Tea Partying. Maybe she's a philosophical Tea Partier. (It's also worth noting, if only barely, that the Velvet Underground used to play a hip Boston club called the Boston Tea Party).

9. Typographical Origins (no, it's not a Yes album, it just sounds like one).

10. Our old friend Dr. Seuss used to make sculptures of his fictional creatures. Some of them are now for sale on E-Bay.

11. Also on E-Bay: 1960s environmental absurdist Edward Abbey's sweet Cadillac.

12. A great quote from Barack Obama on meeting Bob Dylan at the White House.

13. Emily Gould on Eileen Myles at the Poetry Foundation.

14. The great Harold Pinter in Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape. Pinter sure could turn out a chilly look.

4
view /Nobel2010
Wednesday, October 6, 2010 09:55 pm
Story
Levi Asher