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“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
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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
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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