Rhys Tranter is a writer based in Cardiff, Wales, UK. He is the author of Beckett's Late Stage (2018), and his work has appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, The Spectator, and a number of books and periodicals. He holds a BA, MA, and a PhD in English Literature. His website RhysTranter.com is a personal journal offering commentary and analysis across literature, film, music, and the arts.
Arvo Pärt is one of the few living composers to find popularity beyond the borders of classical music. R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe and Bjork are big fans. Although the 78-year-old musician usually shies away from acclaim and the media, he is currently attending a festival of his music in New York and Washington, and he made time to talk about his music, bike riding and bells.Pärt is a major composer, and I was a little nervous meeting him. So I brought along a bell for good luck. I set it on the table between us and gave it a little tinkle. (more…)
Paul Thomas Anderson: When I was at Emerson for that year, David Foster Wallace, who was a great writer who was not known then, was my teacher—he was my English teacher … It was the first teacher I fell in love with. I’d never found anybody else like that at any of the other schools I’d been to. Which makes me really reticent to talk shit about schools or anything else, because it’s just like anyplace—if you could find a good teacher, man, I’m sure school would be great. (more…)
The Samuel Beckett Society, Affiliated Session
Conference of the South Atlantic Modern Language Association (SAMLA)
Chair/contact: Michelle Rada, Brown University
This panel seeks to explore the ways in which bodies are figured and disfigured in Beckett’s work. On their own constituting an expansive “body of work,” Beckett’s prose texts, poems, plays, radio, television, and film works posit human, non-human, and inhuman bodies in different and often surprising forms. What kinds of bodies are incorporated, disembodied, or stripped bare in Beckett’s work? How can we trace the life, vulnerability, and survival of the body in single texts and across works? Are Beckettian physical and textual bodies susceptible to or immune from affect? Which bodies, metaphorical or otherwise, are excluded from consideration and care in a quite prolific archive of Beckett criticism? How does the body function and dysfunction across genre and media, prose and performance? The purpose of this panel is to provide a multidisciplinary platform for thinking about the body in Beckett’s work through emerging reading practices, which could engender new connections and ideas for such an extensively critiqued range of texts. In keeping with SAMLA’s theme for the 2015 conference, “In Concert: Literature and the Other Arts,” emphasis placed on thinking across genre, media, and theoretical approaches is encouraged, and will be a significant part of our conversation at this panel. (more…)
Charlotte Higgins (The Guardian) on the continuing relevance of a 3,000-year-old poem
Many wishing to make sense of wars in their own time have reached for The Iliad. Alexander the Great, perhaps the most flamboyantly successful soldier in history, slept beside a copy annotated by his tutor, Aristotle. “He esteemed it a perfect portable treasure of all military virtue and knowledge,” according to Plutarch’s biography. Simone Weil’s essay, “L’Iliade ou le poème de la force”, published in 1940, holds that “the true hero, the true subject at the centre of The Iliad is force”, which she defines as “that X that turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing”. (more…)
European Society for Literature, Science and the Arts · Malta · 15-18 June 2015
A call for papers from the European Society for Literature, Science and the Arts (SLSAeu):
This year’s conference is dedicated to the theme of Scale. In one way or another, scale is an issue deeply embedded in every discipline and every aspect of scholarly and scientific research. As the Call for Papers puts it, in the grand scheme of things Scale is the scheme of things itself. We do very much hope, therefore, that you will be as excited by the prospect of an interdisciplinary conference on Scale as we are. We are very pleased that the location of the conference will be Malta, an island in the middle of the Mediterranean with a rich history and culture, where effects of scale have exerted intriguing and complex energies for centuries, and which provides a particularly fitting and appealing venue for this year’s event. (more…)
A promising new title from Zero Books: ‘David Winters has quickly become a leading voice in the new landscape of online literary criticism. His widely-published work maps the furthest frontiers of contemporary fiction and theory. The essays in this book range from the American satirist Sam Lipsyte to the reclusive Australian genius Gerald Murnane; from the distant reading of Franco Moretti to the legacy of Gordon Lish. Meditations on style, form and fictional worlds sit side-by-side with overviews of the cult status of Oulipo, the aftermath of modernism, and the history of continental philosophy. Infinite Fictions is indispensable reading for anyone interested in the forefront of literary thought.’ [Read More]
Stefano Rosignoli (New Dublin Press) has interviewed Lois M. Overbeck about the progress of Samuel Beckett’s Letters, an ambitious four-volume collection of the Nobel laureate’s correspondence
At the end of a summer rich in events on Samuel Beckett, scattered largely between Dublin, Belfast and Enniskillen, academic research was encouraged in October with the publication by Cambridge University Press of the third volume of the writer’s correspondence. As in the previous volumes, Beckett’s statements about his own work, as well as the many intertextual references expanded on in the dense notes appended by the editors, demonstrate the scholarly value of the publication, which will become a primary resource especially for young researchers with no opportunity to explore public archives and private collections on both sides of the Atlantic. It is Beckett’s mocking depiction of intellectual life, however, rather than the crowded web of literary and artistic influences, that strikes the general reader and ensures that the letters are an enjoyable, rather than purely informative reading experience: “On m’a demandé un livret d’opéra bouffe! J’ai écrit une ligne – ‘J’ai pas envie de chanter ce soir’ – puis j’ai renoncé.” (“I have been asked for a libretto for a comic opera! I wrote one line: ‘I don’t feel like singing tonight’. Then I gave up.” SB to Jacoba Van Velde, 12.04.1958; in LSB III, 130-131). This trenchant tongue doesn’t appear to spare Beckett himself. In the same letter he declares, exhausted: “Il y a deux moments qui valent la peine, dans le travail, celui de la mise en route et celui de la mise en corbeille” (“There are two worthwhile moments in my work: the opening up and the basketing”; ibid.). This is just one of the many accounts of Beckett’s distress when facing the creation of new work, something that continues to spring at the author from the white page itself even during the years of his belated success.
I met Lois M. Overbeck, research associate at Emory University and general editor of The Letters of Samuel Beckett, to discuss the series, which is now approaching its conclusion. The interview took place just a few days after a public lecture given in Reading by Dan Gunn, professor at the American University of Paris and editor of the Cambridge collection, and before a reception at the Irish Embassy in London, which hosted a reading of the letters given by Barry McGovern. (more…)
Clare Carlisle (The Guardian) outlines the philosopher’s ideas in an accessible series of articles
One of the most important and distinctive features of Spinoza’s philosophy is that it is practical through and through. His ideas are never merely intellectual constructions, but lead directly to a certain way of life. This is evidenced by the fact that his greatest work, which combines metaphysics, theology, epistemology, and human psychology, is called Ethics. In this book, Spinoza argues that the way to “blessedness” or “salvation” for each person involves an expansion of the mind towards an intuitive understanding of God, of the whole of nature and its laws. In other words, philosophy for Spinoza is like a spiritual practice, whose goal is happiness and liberation. (more…)
Over the past few years I’ve become more and more interested in the music of Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt. Here’s an extract from an excellent interview published in Music & Literature
Jordi Savall: I find your situation especially interesting. Early on, you were composing within various traditions of the avant-garde, according to those systems. Then suddenly you decide it’s time to ask questions. You went through something like a renaissance as a composer… Since then, have you used the knowledge that you had acquired during your earlier period, or did you say: “I will never again do what I’ve already done”? Are your early works completely separate from those you’ve written since?
Arvo Pärt: Of course. We learn from the mistakes we’ve made. But unfortunately, it’s not possible to change everything we would like to change within ourselves. We lack the ability of the old masters to take off and soar. Why? I can’t say. We must adapt to our conditions. Each person must search for and find his own solution. Ideally, I would be able to write a melody with an infinite voice, a voice that carries on forever. Music that would be like speech, like a flood of thought. Thought is never pure, it’s often pierced by lightning, from without as from within. Thought is fragile. This means that our music also flows from our fragility and our inadequacies. And all this is reflected in the melody that has one voice, which is like a blood test. In music, one could say that a voice or a melodic line is like a man’s soul. In this sense, polyphony would have more to do with the idea of a crowd. The richness of the music of many voices is, however, the sum of the wealth of each of these melodic lines—as was the case in the polyphony of the great masters of the past. [Read More]
Stumbled across a 2011 interview with Arvo Pärt, conducted by Tom Service (The Guardian)
[…] I’m in a hotel in Tallinn, a city that’s full of Russian tourists making the most of their Christmas and new year in the beautiful Estonian capital. I’ve been here to interview Arvo Pärt, the famous Estonian composer, and someone who has a reputation as a shy recluse; a seeming paradox given that his music is celebrated all over the world.
He talked to me in the building that houses his archive – a half-hour drive through the snow, forest and flatness of the landscape outside Tallinn, a journey that felt like a pilgrimage to a mythical musical hideaway – and I found Pärt to be the exact opposite of the forbidding, taciturn figure that looms out of some of his photos. There was laughter, humour and generosity in the way he spoke about his compositional and existential struggles, and even his religious feelings. […] [H]ere are a couple of things Pärt revealed about his music, especially from around the time of his consolidation of the technique of “tintinnabulation”, which has defined his music from the mid-1970s to this day.
In one of the rooms in the house, there was a row of plant pots. It turns out they were more than mere decoration: they were painted by Pärt in 1977, because working with riotously festive colours was one of the ways he got through the hard years of writer’s block. “You have to do something to keep your creativity going,” he told me. But the real epiphany that set Pärt on his course of what sounded like a radical simplicity in the mid-70s, producing works such as Tabula Rasa, Fratres, and Passio, which poured out of him later that decade, was an encounter with a street cleaner outside his house in Tallinn. Searching for a solution that would connect his emotional, musical and spiritual lives together, Pärt, at a loss for inspiration, went outside into the snow one morning and asked the cleaner: “What should a composer do?” “Well, he should love every note,” was the reply. “No professor had ever told me something like that,” Pärt said, and this single sentence crystallised his thinking. He realised that to really love every note, to really understand the connections between even a tiny handful of musical pitches, could be the source of lifetime of composition and contemplation. [Read More]
“Tintinnabulation is an area I sometimes wander into when I am searching for answers – in my life, my music, my work. In my dark hours, I have the certainty that everything outside this one thing has no meaning. The complex and many-faceted only confuses me and I must search for unity. What is it, this one thing, and how do I find my way to it? Traces of this perfect thing appear in many guises – and everything that is unimportant falls away. Tintinnabulation is like this. Here I am alone with silence. I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played. This one note, or a silent beat, or a moment of silence, comforts me. I work with very few elements – with one voice, with two voices. I build with the most primitive materials – with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I called it tintinnabulation.”
My 2011 nomination for The Guardian‘s Not the Booker award
This is not the Booker Prize. Let’s remember that. This is something quite different. The idea of an award named Not the Booker Prize is cheeky: it playfully challenges the prestigious honour of the Booker with a counterfeit alternative, an imitation of the real thing. Or is that going to far? I would suggest that the Not the Booker Prize is not so phoney after all: it simply awards on the basis of different values. Here, we are not looking for books that fit snugly on canonical shelves. Not the Booker Prize is our chance to praise new and alternative voices, writers that colour outside the lines.
With this in mind, what could be a more appropriate winner than Lars Iyer’s Spurious? The clue is in the title, surely. Beautifully awkward and wilfully absurd, Spurious is a short, funny text that celebrates the lowdown and the everyday. If we are feeling generous, we might compare its two protagonists with any number of other haplessly comic duos: Withnail and I immediately springs to mind, or Flaubert’s Bouvard et Pécuchet, or Samuel Beckett’s Mercier and Camier. But we’re already getting off the point – already lunging towards the classics and forgetting what draws us towards Iyer’s book in the first place. If we want texts of high-standing and lofty repute, we already know where to go. But the exchanges that comprise Spurious are something of an antidote, deflating egos and popping grandiose ideas. It’s a book that is, paradoxically, both below and above literary prizes and trinkets. What better candidate, then, for such a mischievous award?
On Raul Hilberg’s The Politics of Memory: The Journey of a Holocaust Historian
As a child refugee from Europe at the outset of the Second World War, Raul Hilberg escaped with his parents to Paris, then Cuba, before settling permanently in the United States. This traumatic exile formed the basis of a lifelong preoccupation, by turns both emotional and intellectual, which culminated in the publication of his most noted work: The Destruction of the European Jews. His short 1996 memoir, The Politics of Memory: The Journey of a Holocaust Historian, tells the story of his life.