The modernist author Joseph Conrad “can be read,” British philosopher John Gray provocatively argued, “as the first great political novelist of the twenty-first century.”
The case set out for this agonistic view in his 2002 “Joseph Conrad: Our Contemporary” departs from Conrad’s 1907 novel The Secret Agent, which is based upon an “actual terrorist attempt on the Royal Observatory in 1894, when a French anarchist accidentally blew himself up in Greenwich Park before reaching his target.” This is given a “darkly ironic vision” by Conrad, “whereby the symbols of trade and new technology have come under terrorist attack.” (more…)
From an interview conducted by George Prochnik (The Telegraph)
George Prochnik: I thought your film [The Grand Budapest Hotel] did a beautiful job of transposing Stefan Zweig’s actual life into the dream life of his stories, and the stories into the fabric of his actual life. You showed how his own experiences had a fairy-tale dimension, confectionary and black by turns. I wondered if you could say anything about these qualities and how Zweig became an inspiration for you.
Wes Anderson: I had never heard of Zweig — or, if I had, only in the vaguest ways — until maybe six or seven years ago, something like that, when I just more or less by chance bought a copy of Beware of Pity. I loved this first book, and immediately there were dozens more in front of me that hadn’t been there before. They were all suddenly back in print. I also read the The Post Office Girl, which had been only published for the first time recently. The Grand Budapest Hotel has elements that were sort of stolen from both these books. Two characters in our story are vaguely meant to represent Zweig himself — our “Author” character, played by Tom Wilkinson, and the theoretically fictionalised version of himself, played by Jude Law. But, in fact, M. Gustave, the main character who is played by Ralph Fiennes, is modelled significantly on Zweig as well. (more…)
In a 2010 interview to promote his novel, Nemesis, Philip Roth shares what he’s reading with Scott Raab, alongside his memories of teaching at the University of Pennsylvania
Roth’s talking about his reading these days, revisiting a revered Russian master of the nineteenth century, Ivan Turgenev.
Fathers and Sons is a great book — there’s a new translation of it. I think it’s called Fathers and Children now, and the translation is wonderful. And there are several long short stories that are pearls. One is called ‘The Torrents of Spring’ or ‘Spring Torrents,’ which is a masterpiece, and the other — which is beyond masterpiece — is called ‘First Love.’ Read those two things.”
Roth chortles with something like delight. He stopped teaching twenty or so years ago but still seems as if he’d fit in on any campus in any decade. It’s not only his outfit — tan slacks, blue-and-white-checked shirt with the sleeves rolled loosely up his skinny forearms, brown walking shoes — but also his easy passion for those writers who’ve nourished his soul. (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?
Rendering Russia’s literary masterpieces into English
Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have begun a quiet revolution in the translation of Russian literature. Since the publication of their acclaimed version of The Brothers Karamazov in 1990, they have translated fifteen volumes of classic Russian works by Dostoevsky, Gogol, Bulgakov, Chekhov, and Tolstoy, restoring all the characteristic idioms, the bumpy syntax, the angularities, and the repetitions that had largely been removed in the interests of “good writing” by Garnett and her followers, and paying more attention (in a way that their predecessors never really did) to the interplay or dialogue between the different voices (including the narrator’s) in these works—to the verbal “polyphony” which has been identified by the literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin as the organizing principle of the novel since Gogol.
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.