sebald_02

“The Institute of Cultural Inquiry, an organization devoted to project-based study of visual technologies, issued a call for submissions for critical essays and artist projects related to the work of W.G. Sebald. The overwhelming response to this call precipitated the development of this ambitious anthology [Searching for Sebald: Photography After W.G. Sebald, ed. Lise Patt].

With 632 densely populated pages, this volume presented challenges of scale, organization, and cohesion. Within four thematic sections, 38 contributors present illustrated arguments and diverse visual explorations. These are separated with editorial ‘intermezzos.’ A framing introduction with extensive illustrated footnotes establishes the complexity of this multifaceted dialogue.”

JulieFry.com

Is That Kafka?: 99 finds, which sounds perhaps like warmed-up leftovers from Reiner Stach’s monumental and definitive three-volume biography of Kafka (which Shelley Frisch has translated into English), is nothing of the kind. Actually, it’s more like a fascinating recipe book, from which the reader may improvise or enrich his or her own Kafka. Long into the age of the automatic biography – though not all of them are as judicious, as devoted, or as brilliant as Stach’s – it is interesting to consider whether a different, less autonomous form may not in the end be more helpful, and more in the interests of writers and readers.”

More at TLS.

Nirmala Jayaraman reviews the recent translation, published by Verso
b109a-walter-benjamin
Walter Benjamin

There are habits of the mind that are nurtured by Walter Benjamin’s collection of notes, dreams, short stories, characters, and diary entries in The Storyteller. Like the art of medicine, storytelling is a practice that is both technical in terms of skill and relational in its potential to reach people across any distance; Benjamin even used surgery as a metaphor to distinguish between these two aspects of art in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” suggesting that the healing touch hidden within a surgeon’s attempt to detach from his patient could be left uncommunicated and lost like the mass proliferation of human images due to industrial advancement. Without collapsing the comparisons of medicine and writing, the larger theme at work in his prose is that the healing power of art is derived from rituals rather than material reality alone. [Read More]

Alison Flood (The Guardian) traces the term’s history and its current uses in contemporary culture
adebf-kafka_trialmanuscript
A doodle by Franz Kafka

The dictionary defines the adjective, incidentally, as “of, relating to, or suggestive of Franz Kafka or his writings; especially: having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality”. Nightmarish and illogical is also what I’d have taken from a description of something as Kafkaesque, with an insectile undercurrent beneath it all (I don’t think that last bit is right, incidentally, but it’s what the word makes me think of).

But Merriam-Webster also admits that the word, which saw its first recorded use in English in 1946, “is so overused that it’s begun to lose its meaning”, a word that a columnist for Toronto’s Globe and Mail argued is “tossed around with cavalier imprecision, applied to everything from an annoying encounter with a petty bureaucrat to the genocidal horrors of the Third Reich”. [Read More]

The Paris Review shares two excerpts from Reiner Stach’s Is That Kafka? 99 Finds that reveal a new side to Kafka

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“The invention of a cross between a telephone and a parlograph, it really can’t be that hard. Surely by the day after tomorrow you’ll be reporting to me that the project is already a success. Of course that would have an enormous impact on editorial offices, news agencies, etc. Harder, but doubtless possible as well, would be a combination of the gramophone and the telephone. Harder because you can’t understand a gramophone at all, and a parlograph can’t ask it to speak more clearly. A combination of the gramophone and the telephone wouldn’t have such great significance in general either, but for people like me, who are afraid of the telephone, it would be a relief. But then people like me are also afraid of the gramophone, so we can’t be helped at all. By the way, it’s a nice idea that a parlograph could go to the telephone in Berlin, call up a gramophone in Prague, and the two of them could have a little conversation with each other. But my dearest the combination of the parlograph and the telephone absolutely has to be invented.”

Although Kafka was timid and skeptical in his interactions with the latest technical gadgets—particularly when they intervened in social communication—he was always fascinated by people who knew how to handle these devices as a matter of course. That included his fiancée Felice Bauer, who worked in the Berlin offices of Carl Lindström AG, where she was in charge of marketing for the “parlograph,” a dictation machine. Bauer even appeared in an advertising film that Lindström produced and distributed as a flip-book. In this film, which is only a few seconds long, she can be seen working with the parlograph and the typewriter simultaneously. (more…)

Alberto Comparini (LARB) reviews a new study of the novel-essay and its place in modernity
“Hybrid genres,” and the questionable orthodoxy of traditional genres, are subjects that continue to vex literary theory. Consider Joris-Karl Huysmans’s Against Nature, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain and Doctor Faustus, Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea, or Robert Musil’s The Man without Qualities: What do these novels share? What kind of novels are they? Are these books truly novels, or are they another form altogether?

(more…)

A new collection, published in English for the first time
Thomas Bernhard,On Earth and In Hell: Early Poems
Thomas Bernhard, On Earth and in Hell: Early Poems

From Three Rooms Press:

November 13 marks the release date of one of our proudest moments here at Three Rooms Press: the release of the first English translation ever of world-renowned Austrian author Thomas Bernhard’s first book, On Earth and in Hell, early poems, translated from the German by the remarkable Vienna-based poet Peter Waugh.

The book caught the attention of famed poet Edward Hirsch, who raves, “These hard won-poems, these furious convulsions, by turns savage and tender, mark the beginning of Thomas Bernhard’s true work, his first startling blows. It is deeply illuminating to have them so wonderfully translated into English.”

National Book Award Winner Jaimy Gordon (Lord of Misrule) was likewise impressed. In her introduction, she writes, “In these poems, written in Bernhard’s mid-twenties . . . all the matter of the subsequent malicious laughter is there—the self-splitting disgust and nostalgia, the hyperbolic despair, the failed (desired but also scorned) glory, the juxtaposition of village idyll and doom, of scathing superiority and terminal degradation, of sex and nauseated frailty and exhaustion.” (more…)

Never in my whole life have I read a more engrossing and elemental work, and at the time I had never read such a long one. It had the effect of a powerful drug, and for a time I was totally absorbed by it. For some time after my return home I refused to read another book, fearing that I might be plunged headlong into the deepest disappointment. For weeks I refused to read anything at all. The monstrous quality of The Demons had made me strong; it had shown me a path that I could follow and told me that I was on the right one, the one that led out. I had felt the impact of a work that was both wild and great, and I emerged from the experience like a hero. Seldom has literature produced such an overwhelming effect on me.

— Thomas Bernhard, Gathering Evidence

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…)

Alex Shepard (Full Stop) interviews the author of Spurious and Dogma
Lars Iyer
Lars Iyer

[In Spurious,] Lars and W. worship Kafka and wonder if they more resemble Kafka or Max Brod, his executor. Is Kafka one of your heroes? Do you, like Lars and W., think of yourself as more of a Max Brod than a Kafka?

I do not even see myself as a Brod! Max Brod was the most energetic of men – he wrote a great deal, he was active in various intellectual circles – and he placed himself most genuinely in the service of others. A remarkable combination. W. and Lars seem to form the entirety of each other’s intellectual circle, and the question whether they actually help anybody is an open one.
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W. G. Sebald
W. G. Sebald
From a 2000 interview by Jens Mühling

Sebald: Being a writer is by no means an easy profession. It is full of difficulties, full of obstacles. For a start, there is the psychology of the author, which is not a simple one. There are these situations when suddenly nothing seems to work anymore, when you feel unable to say anything. In such cases it is very helpful if someone can tell you that this happens to everybody, and show you how one might deal with such problems. In these situations it is very often the case that people neglect the research aspect. Every writer knows that sometimes the best ideas come to you while you are reading something else, say, something about Bismarck, and then suddenly, somewhere between the lines, your head starts drifting, and you arrive at the ideas you need. This research, this kind of disorderly research, so to speak, is the best way of coping with these difficulties. If you sit in front of a blank sheet of paper like a frightened rabbit, things won’t change. In such situations you just have to let it be for a while. (more…)

In a 2000 article for the New York Review of Books, J. M. Coetzee reviews Robert Walser’s The Robber (translated by Susan Bernofsky) and Jakob von Gunten (translated by Christopher Middleton)
Robert Walser
Robert Walser
On Christmas Day, 1956, the police of the town of Herisau in eastern Switzerland were called out: children had stumbled upon the body of a man, frozen to death, in a snowy field. Arriving at the scene, the police took photographs and had the body removed.

The dead man was easily identified: Robert Walser, aged seventy-eight, missing from a local mental hospital. In his earlier years Walser had won something of a reputation, in Switzerland and even in Germany, as a writer. Some of his books were still in print; there had even been a biography of him published. During a quarter of a century in mental institutions, however, his own writing had dried up. Long country walks—like the one on which he had died—had been his main recreation.

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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…)

“We disappear, and yet we resurface”

An excerpt from David Winters’ Infinite Fictions

Around the time I began writing book reviews, I read that reviewing was “what lice will do, when they have no more blood to suck.” If so, the only blood I’ve ever tasted is mine. Early on, I already knew that my writing wasn’t entirely about the books “under review” so much as my internal “reading experience” – though that term might be misleading. In suggesting that my reviews reflect something of my “self,” I’m not about to recount my life story, let alone resort to that fashionable form, the “confessional” essay. On the contrary, literary subjectivity isn’t always aligned with autobiography. Right now, I’m writing this in the first person, but I perceive that person as a perfect stranger.

David Winters
David Winters

Put simply, I’ve never known who I am. Nor do I feel securely in sync with the world. I intersect with it at an abnormal angle – my link with life is dislocated. Of course, this condition isn’t uncommon. I mention it only to emphasize that an initial alienation led me to literature. Part of me is predisposed to treat reading as, to quote Houellebecq, a practice that pushes “against the world, against life.” At the same time, I don’t see reading as simply a passive escape from reality. As Kafka famously says, books can be “like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of oneself.” Reading is really a dual movement: books allow us to withdraw from the world, while bringing us back toward it. In reading we disappear, and yet we resurface. (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…)