The writer and academic scholar talks about juggling writing with family and a full-time job, his artistic influences, and his enduring interest in the work of Samuel Beckett
Samuel Bolin, Three Pioneers (A...P Press, 2017)
Samuel Bolin, Three Pioneers (A…P Press, 2017)

How did you come to be a writer?

I began writing fiction seriously near the end of my doctorate, in 2011 or so. At the time I was preparing to leave Oxford for a lectureship in Australia. The writing I did in Oxford and then in Wollongong (a coastal town in New South Wales), over summers at an archive at UT Austin, and elsewhere, eventually became a book project: Three Pioneers. I finished the project in 2013, in the UK.

The book clearly had a lag before it saw publication; it ran through a long list of publishers and agents who, when they replied at all, uniformly classed it as ‘too difficult’ or, less often, ‘too philosophical’ (I’m aware that in the vocabulary of many of these gatekeepers these are euphemisms, to put it mildly).

You ask how I ‘became a writer’. As transparently as I can, permit me to say that writing, the kind of writing we are talking about, was and remains an obscure urge for me. I am not writing, in any case, to become a ‘novelist’ or a ‘writer’ in the sense of someone who is an authority on writing, a cultural authority, or a practitioner of a certain genre; if I were, I would have written (would be writing) differently. As an academic, too, there are other routes, other forms of writing that are open to me to pursue such aims, in however limited a manner. Nor does being an ‘artist’ attract me (I will let that term remain vague). Again, I could have been an ‘artist’ otherwise, and to my mind, more directly – I could have wholly devoted myself to painting, for example, to which I once partially devoted myself.

Why write, then? What can still be called the novel, in the loosest possible sense of the term, is a way of thinking and feeling that allows me to stage problems that I otherwise find difficult to articulate. As this response perhaps suggests. (more…)

A 2011 review of the luxurious Sylph Edition
Archives: The writer Samuel Beckett in France in April, 1997.
Samuel Beckett

The title of George Craig’s recent book, Writing Beckett’s Letters, is both playful and paradoxical. And it prompts the question: how can Craig claim to be the author of someone else’s correspondence? The answer is both simple and complicated: Craig is a translator. He has spent the last fifteen years as part of a band of scholars, translating literally thousands of letters written by Samuel Beckett from French into English. It is a job that few are cut out for, involving long hours of arduous transcription and the seemingly endless search for that most elusive of things: the right word.

The work forms part of a hugely ambitious project, culminating in a four-volume edition of Samuel Beckett’s Letters. The first part, released in 2009, covered much of Beckett’s early period: intellectual development, his move to Paris, his encounters with James Joyce and the European literary scene. Its publication ushered a new period in the scholarly appreciation of Beckett’s work, whilst offering a rare glimpse into the personal and artistic life of this most private of writers. (more…)

Liesl Schillinger (LA Review of Books) speaks to the American writer and translator about her work
This spring, I spoke with six outstanding translators: Lydia Davis, (who translates from French and seven other languages), Michael Hofmann (German), Edith Grossman (Spanish), Ann Goldstein (Italian), Jamey Gambrell (Russian), and Don Bartlett (Norwegian). On this round-the-world tour made from my desk, I sought to learn what impulses drew them to this painstaking craft. I wanted to prize out their passions and their working habits, and to learn what goal each of them thinks translation serves. I did this partly for selfish reasons: I myself translate from French, German, and Italian. In my frequent reading of literature from other nations, I have a visceral (positive) reaction to translations that seem to make language sing, faithfully and assuredly transmitting the meaning, power, and grace of the works they recast in English; and a visceral (negative) reaction to weak translations, which make me writhe. Lydia Davis told me that she, too, recognizes the peril of what she calls “translationese.” The interviews contained in this series, beginning with Lydia Davis, reflect my desire to learn as much as I could about these masters, and to share with you some of the secrets of their art: I wanted to translate the translators.

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French philosopher and literary critic Maurice Blanchot on the strange power of Giacometti’s work, and the aim of writing
alberto-giacometti-art-sculpture-walking-man-i
Alberto Giacometti, Walking Man (1/6), 1960.

When we look at the sculptures of Giacometti, there is a vantage point where they are no longer subject to the fluctuations of appearance or to the movement of perspective. One sees them absolutely: no longer reduced, but withdrawn from reduction, irreducible, and, in space, masters of space through their power to substitute for space the unmalleable, lifeless profundity of the imaginary. This point, whence we see them irreducible, puts us at the vanishing point ourselves; it is the point at which here coincides with nowhere. To write is to find this point. No one writes who has not enabled language to maintain or provoke contact with this point.

Taken from Maurice Blanchot’s essay, ‘Approaching Literature’s Space’ in The Space of Literature (translated by Ann Smock).

Harvard acquires manuscripts, typescripts, notebooks and proofs by the post-war French writer and philosopher
Maurice Blanchot
Maurice Blanchot
Houghton Library has acquired the archive of French writer, literary theorist, and philosopher Maurice Blanchot (1907-2003) from his daughter, Cidalia Blanchot. Christie McDonald, Smith Professor of French Language and Literature at Harvard University, said, “I am thrilled by Houghton’s acquisition of this important archive.  Scholars will have unprecedented access to material that will give us a deeper understanding of his work.”

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I am delighted to have an article included in the prestigious Beckett periodical, Samuel Beckett Today / Aujourd’hui . This most recent volume celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Beckett International Foundation

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An abridgement of Simon Critchley’s landmark essay on the 1999 film
Wittgenstein asks a question, which sounds like the first line of a joke: ‘How does one philosopher address another?’ To which the unfunny and perplexing riposte is: ‘Take your time’. Terrence Malick is evidently someone who takes his time. Since his first movie, Badlands, was premiered at the New York Film Festival in 1973, he has directed just two more: Days of Heaven, in 1979, and then nearly a 20 year gap until the long-awaited 1998 movie, The Thin Red Line, which is the topic of this essay.

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Thomas stayed in his room to read. He was sitting with his hands joined over his brow, his thumbs pressing against his hairline, so deep in concentration that he did not make a move when anyone opened the door. Those who came in thought he was pretending to read, seeing that the book was always open to the same page. He was reading. He was reading with unsurpassable meticulousness and attention. In relation to every symbol, he was in the position of the male praying mantis about to be devoured by the female. They looked at each other. The words, coming forth from the book which was taking on the power of life and death, exercised a gentle and peaceful attraction over the glance which played over them. Each of them, like a half-closed eye, admitted the excessively keen glance which in other circumstances it would not have tolerated. And so Thomas slipped toward these corridors, approaching them defenselessly until the moment he was perceived by the very quick of the word. Even this was not fearful, but rather an almost pleasant moment he would have wished to prolong. The reader contemplated this little spark of life joyfully, not doubting that he had awakened it. It was with pleasure that he saw himself in this eye looking at him. The pleasure in fact became very great. It became so great, so pitiless that he bore it with a sort of terror, and in the intolerable moment when he had stood forward without receiving from his interlocutor any sign of complicity, he perceived all the strangeness there was in being observed by a word as if by a living being, and not simply by one word, but by all the words that were in that word, by all those that went with it and in turn contained other words, like a procession of angels opening out into the infinite to the very eye of the absolute. Rather than withdraw from a text whose defenses were so strong, he pitted all his strength in the will to seize it, obstinately refusing to withdraw his glance and still thinking himself a profound reader, even when the words were already taking hold of him and beginning to read him.

— Maurice Blanchot, Thomas the Obscure

Mark Thwaite (Ready Steady Book) talks to Charlotte Mandell about translating the French writer and theorist Maurice Blanchot
Charlotte Mandell
Charlotte Mandell

I first came across your name as a translator of the work of Maurice Blanchot. What first got you interested in Blanchot?

Fate. My friend Pierre Joris, who translated Blanchot’s The Unavowable Community, was asked by Helen Tartar (then editor-in-chief at Stanford University Press) to translate La part du feu. He didn’t have the time, so he recommended me. I sent in a sample chapter – I was only 24 then and the only book-length work I’d translated was a book of poems, Le feu l’ombre, by the French poet Jean-Paul Auxeméry. Helen liked the straightforwardness of my translation, the fact that it didn’t use any acadamese – I tried to translate Blanchot as simply and as honestly as I could. (more…)