Trinity College Dublin •  5–6 August, 2016
Samuel Beckett in London, 1979. Photograph: Paul Joyce
Samuel Beckett in London, 1979. Photograph: Paul Joyce
As suggested by his original title for More Pricks Than Kicks (1934), and proved by the pochades, roughs, foirades, and (un)abandoned works of his mature œuvre, works often presented by their author as being no more than the run-off from the creative process, Beckett was anything but put off by draff. The same can surely be said of the scholars who have long devoted themselves to studying Beckett’s aesthetic engagement with the seemingly worthless.

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David Sexton explores the lineage of one of modern literature and film’s most chilling villains in his critical study, The Strange World Of Thomas Harris
Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs
Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs
One of Lecter’s most obvious fictional precursors is Sherlock Holmes and before him, therefore, Poe’s Dupin. Many of Lecter’s observations are pure Holmes in style, if not content. As he tells Clarice: “‘You use Evyan skin cream, and sometimes you wear L’Air du Temps, but not today.'” On their next meeting, he detects a Band-Aid under her clothes.

Compare Holmes on his first meeting with Watson in A Study In Scarlet: “‘You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.’ ‘How on earth did you know that?’ I asked in astonishment.’ ” When, at their next meeting, Holmes explains his deductions, the amazed Watson says, rightly enough, “You remind me of Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin. I had no idea that such individuals did exist outside of stories.”
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Mark Thwaite (Ready Steady Book) posts an extract from Sontag’s Against Interpretation and Other Essays:
Simone Weil
Simone Weil

The culture-heroes of our liberal bourgeois civilization are anti-liberal and anti-bourgeois; they are writers who are repetitive, obsessive, and impolite, who impress by force—not simply by their tone of personal authority and by their intellectual ardor, but by the sense of acute personal and intellectual extremity. The bigots, the hysterics, the destroyers of the self—these are the writers who bear witness to the fearful polite time in which we live. It is mostly a matter of tone: it is hardly possible to give credence to ideas uttered in the impersonal tones of sanity. There are certain eras which are too complex, too deafened by contradictory historical and intellectual experiences, to hear the voice of sanity. Sanity becomes compromise, evasion, a lie. Ours is an age which consciously pursues health, and yet only believes in the reality of sickness. The truths we respect are those born of affliction. We measure truth in terms of the cost to the writer in suffering—rather than by the standard of an objective truth to which a writer’s words correspond. Each of our truths must have a martyr. (more…)

An original philosophical account of relational ontology drawing on the work of Descartes, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, and Heidegger
Andrew Benjamin, Towards a Relational Ontology: Philosophy’s Other Possibility

In this original work of philosophy, Andrew Benjamin calls for a new understanding of relationality, one inaugurating a philosophical mode of thought that takes relations among people and events as primary, over and above conceptions of simple particularity or abstraction. Drawing on the work of Descartes, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, and Heidegger, Benjamin shows that a relational ontology has always been at work within the history of philosophy even though philosophy has been reluctant to affirm its presence. Arguing for what he calls anoriginal relationality, he demonstrates that the already present status of a relational ontology is philosophy’s other possibility. Touching on a range of topics including community, human-animal relations, and intimacy, Benjamin’s thoughtful and penetrating distillation of ancient, modern, and twentieth-century philosophical ideas, and his judicious attention to art and literature make this book a model for original philosophical thinking and writing. [Read More]

Andrew Benjamin is Professor of Philosophy and Jewish Thought at Monash University, Australia and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Kingston University, London. He is the author of several books, including Working with Walter Benjamin: Recovering a Political Philosophy and the coeditor (with Dimitris Vardoulakis) of Sparks Will Fly: Benjamin and Heidegger, also published by SUNY Press.

Last week I was recently invited to give a paper at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. Here are a few snaps from the trip…
The coast of St Andrews, Scotland.
The coast of St Andrews, Scotland. Photograph: Rhys Tranter

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The Freud Museum in London will host a staged and interactive performance from 1pm on 14 June 2015

freudmuseum_CivilizationandItsDiscontents_marathonreadingThe Centre for Creative and Critical Thought at the University of Sussex together with the Freud Museum London are pleased to announce a marathon reading of Sigmund Freud’s classic text, Civilization and its Discontents.

Readers will include philosopher Simon Glendinning, poet Ruth Padel, musician Jocelyn Pook, psychoanalyst Anouchka Grose, novelist Deborah Levy, performer Cathy Naden, and other academics, writers and psychoanalysts. Click here for the full list >

The event is free with an admission ticket to the Freud Museum. There are no tickets and audience members can come and go as they please. This is a staged reading and interactive performance.

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Lydia Davis
Lydia Davis
From an interview between Dan Gunn and the writer and translator Lydia Davis, published in The Quarterly Conversation

Dan Gunn: Proust’s narrator deduces that, to convey the priority of sense-impressions over pre-formulated conclusions, he needs to write à la Dostoevsky. When I read your work I am, in fact, made to think less of Dostoevsky than of Kafka, and of the way in which the familiar becomes strange in his work—his story “Hands” for example, where his narrator’s two hands appear suddenly to be alien and potentially at war with one another. If one may provisionally call such writing “phenomenal,” do you feel that part of your own work which is “phenomenal” to be working within a tradition? Or is it rather something that you developed privately and intuitively?

Lydia Davis: I think influence is a complicated thing. I am influenced by a kind of writing because I am drawn to it, open to it. I am drawn to it because there is already an affinity between my own sensibility and sense of formal structure and those of the author I am reading or studying. I would not be influenced by a writer alien to me. I really see an ongoing process that starts in earliest childhood. The very first picture books and nursery rhymes have their effect, as do songs and the lyrics of songs. My sensibility as a child is affected by these and then my changing sensibility and sense of structure show in my writings, even the stories written as assignments in grade school. And of course the influences of interactions with family and friends and teachers continue to have their effect. (more…)

Codrington Library at All Souls College in Oxford
Codrington Library at All Souls College in Oxford

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Why read a ‘difficult’ book?
Emily Temple (Flavorwire) has compiled a list of ’50 Incredibly Tough Books for Extreme Readers’. Their toughness varies from the sheer bulk of the volume (eg. Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Stein’s The Making of Americans), to their stylistic virtuosity (Finnegans Wake, anyone?). But despite their daunting reputations, there can be something special about reading a ‘difficult’ book.

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Clare Carlisle (The Guardian) outlines the religious philosopher’s attitudes and opinions:
soren-kierkegaard-portrait
Søren Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard experienced much suffering in his relatively short life. By the age of 25 he had lost both his parents, and five of his six siblings. In addition to this, his sensitive temperament, his tendencies to melancholy and anxiety, and his difficult relationships to his father and his one-time fiancée Regine gave him an intimate understanding of various kinds of psychological pain. Rather than avoiding or denying suffering, Kierkegaard was unusually willing to confront it and investigate it. His sensitivity to suffering extended to others: one of his friends remembered that “he gave consolation not by covering up sorrow, but by first making one genuinely aware of it, by bringing it to complete clarity”. (more…)

With quietism like yours one could fill a hundred years with happiness. Whether one showed you an execution or a little finger, you would extract an equally edifying thought from both of them, and would still be content. That’s the way to get on in life.

— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot

Ferris Jabr (New Yorker) discusses Nabokov, Joyce, Woolf, and the science of walking (thanks to Emily Blewitt for the link)

In Vogue’s 1969 Christmas issue, Vladimir Nabokov offered some advice for teaching James Joyce’s “Ulysses”: “Instead of perpetuating the pretentious nonsense of Homeric, chromatic, and visceral chapter headings, instructors should prepare maps of Dublin with Bloom’s and Stephen’s intertwining itineraries clearly traced.” He drew a charming one himself. Several decades later, a Boston College English professor named Joseph Nugent and his colleagues put together an annotated Google map that shadows Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom step by step. The Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, as well as students at the Georgia Institute of Technology, have similarly reconstructed the paths of the London amblers in “Mrs. Dalloway.” (more…)

From Scott Esposito (Center for the Art of Translation)
Robert Walser
Robert Walser

In 1993 when Susan Bernofsky published her first book-length translation of Robert Walser, the author was little-known in English and virtually unread in the United States. By 2009, when Bernofsky’s translation of The Tanners signified that all of Walser’s novels were available in English for the first time, the release of that book was greeted with praise from publications as diverse as BookForum, Time Out New York, and the Los Angeles Times.

The rise of Walser in translation over the past two decades has been nothing short of stunning, and it is thanks in no small part to a group of fine translators, of whom Bernofsky has played a leading roll. Since her first publication of Walser in 1993 she has published two other books by him, with two more on the way, as well as a critical biography of the author. No less a reader than the Nobel-winning novelist and critic J.M. Coetzee—one of Walser’s great contemporary admirers—has praised Bernofsky’s translations for their “ingenuity” and “resourcefulness” in dealing with his wide vocabulary and highly precise prose. (more…)