Just received James E. Montgomery’s Loss Sings in the mail, the thirty-second volume to be published in the excellent Cahiers Series by Sylph Editions:

“In this deeply personal cahier James E. Montgomery contemplates memory, loss and the consolatory power of words through the prism of his personal circumstances. His thoughts are refracted by his own translations of the dirges of the 6th-century poetess al-Khansa’, lamenting the battlefield death of her two brothers. Each section of Montgomery’s text is dated and spans over a period of two weeks with the final entry strangely ending on 11 September 2017, exactly 16 years after he himself witnessed, from his Greenwich Village window, the haunting and ‘strange beauty’ of the day’s portentous spectacle. Still, throughout the text Montgomery never loses touch with his vocation as a literary translator. He considers the practice more akin to trauma than it is to memory: ‘Translation is also mourning for what we want to retain, what we value and cherish; it is, equally, mourning for what we know we must lose’, all of which is relayed by Alison Watt’s wondrous images that accompany the cahier.”

Sylph Editions

“The stories here, including everything not in Penguin’s Metamorphosis and Other Stories, have been arranged chronologically, or as near chronologically as possible, for Kafka often interrupted one story to write another. They are often incomplete, fragmentary or even, so to speak, radically unfinished: you can’t imagine them working any better if they had continued to a conclusion. The very lack of conclusion seems often to be the point.”

— Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

A new short story collection from NYRB celebrates what is enigmatic about everyday minutiae

Robert Walser, Girlfriends, Ghosts, and Other Stories (NYRB, 2016)
Robert Walser, Girlfriends, Ghosts, and Other Stories (NYRB, 2016)
Feuilleton. Traditionally, a ‘feuilleton’ is a portion at the bottom of a French newspaper that is kept free for light literature, criticism, and commentary. It derives from the word ‘feuille’, meaning ‘leaf’. By its very nature, the feuilleton is marginal and fragmentary. For the early twentieth-century author Robert Walser, this became an ideal medium for his wandering and ephemeral style.

The NYRB’s wonderful new collection of the Swiss writer’s short texts, entitled Girlfriends, Ghosts, and Other Stories, allows us to leaf through a life of extraordinary writing. The German writer and academic W. G. Sebald, using Walser’s own words, described him as a ‘clairvoyant of the small’, a writer of prose ‘at odds with the demands of high culture’. Tom Whalen’s afterword to the NYRB volume echoes this sentiment, recognizing in Walser a sensibility of ‘sovereign insignificance’. Whalen continues: ‘For the fueilletonist anything can be an occasion for a prose piece: a walk in the mountains, a new hairstyle, an old fountain, shopwindows, a kitten, a carousel, a Parisian newspaper’. As Walser drifts aimlessly through the modern European city, we share his curiosity and wonder at the small details of this strange and peculiar life. (more…)

Christopher John Müller on his new book and his English translation of Günther Anders, a contemporary of Adorno, Benjamin, and Arendt
Günther Anders
Günther Anders

How did you come to discover the work of Günther Anders?

I was alerted to a translated essay from the 1930s called the ‘Pathology of Freedom’, whilst writing my PhD thesis in 2012. I had never heard of its author, Günther Stern, and was captivated by the work, a brilliant existential analysis of the experience of freedom.

When looking up the author, I was surprised to learn that he was connected to canonical authors and thinkers I liked to study – Stern (who assumed the pseudonym Anders) was the first husband of Hannah Arendt, a cousin of Walter Benjamin, a student of Husserl and Heidegger, friends with Ernst Bloch and Herbert Marcuse, and connected to Berthold Brecht, Georg Lukács, Literary Modernists, the Frankfurt School thinkers – the list goes on and on and on. (more…)

A call for papers for a panel at the upcoming ACLA conference in Utrecht, July 2017
samuelbeckett-passport
Samuel Beckett’s passport photographs.

Neil Doshi and James McNaughton are putting together a panel entitled ‘International Beckett’ for next year’s ACLA conference at Universiteit Utrecht, Netherlands. The seminar will comprise 8-12 participants, meeting for 2 hours on each of the conference’s 3 days. You will present a 20 minute paper, and then have an opportunity to discuss your work with likeminded scholars and enthusiasts. (more…)

seamus-heaney
Seamus Heaney

Christopher Carroll (The Wall Street Journal) traces Seamus Heaney’s connection to Book VI of the “Aeneid”, in light of his father’s death:

“[…] Heaney’s own translation of Book VI of the “Aeneid,” which he completed in July 2013, one month before he died. It is his last published poem, a poignant rendition of Aeneas’ arrival in Italy and journey into the underworld to see his dead father. And though it is beautiful in its own right, this portion of the “Aeneid” had a special significance for Heaney—one that began in his school days in the 1950s and lasted his entire life.”

More at The Poetry Foundation.

“Vasily Grossman‘s Life and Fate (New York Review Books Classics) was deemed so dangerous in the Soviet Union that not only was the manuscript confiscated – the typewriter ribbons used to type it were taken as well. As Book Haven readers know, I’ve been ploughing through the 880-page epic tale of World War II, which eloquently, powerfully, unforgettably describes the dark forces that shaped the 20th century. […] The author had witnessed the Battle of Stalingrad as a war correspondent, and provided the first eyewitness accounts of an extermination camp, from Treblinka.”

More at Cynthia Haven’s excellent website, The Book Haven.

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]

Paul Kerschen reviews the recent translation for The Quarterly Conversation

kraznahorkai-1

Though László Krasznahorkai’s early fictions were set in his native Hungary, over the past two decades he has turned to settings that cover the globe across much of historical time. He is suited to this wide range by his erudition, by the air of conviction in his long, oscillating sentences; above all because he is a writer temperamentally nowhere at home. His protagonists are wanderers, sometimes easily distinguished from their author, sometimes less so. Whether in Renaissance Florence, Muromachi Japan, New York or Berlin, they meet their surroundings with the foreigner’s mixture of curiosity and fear, and can count no homeland but the symbolic one of art. (more…)

“The Novel That Took Marguerote Duras to the Edge of Fiction and Sanity”

To the extent that she is familiar to Americans, Marguerite Duras is known for Hiroshima mon amour, the 1959 screenplay she wrote for Alain Resnais. Among its other accomplishments, that film has the distinction of being the anti-singularity of modern cinematic language, an originary limit point that acknowledges how the immense weight of an immediate and incomprehensibly violent past has broken the time of the present and preemptively attacked the future. One would have thought that Duras’ contribution, which did earn her an Oscar nomination, would have hardened her legacy in this country. But her tendency, in her near-perfect later films and fiction, to work at the edge of narrative, along with a basic American negligence — an irony given that American postmodern writers would co-opt her techniques to weakened effect — has obscured her importance. The situation is compounded in the literary present, which joins supposedly disparate political camps in their frenzy for positive identification. Duras instead wrote identification slantwise; she wasn’t offering an anti-self so much as a refusal to offer. She isn’t Yeats; she’s Duras. (more…)

Gregory Rabassa has passed away, aged 94. Source: Los Angeles Times.

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.

(more…)

“If you’re a fan of fiction, you cannot have failed to noticed the enormous success of authors such as Jo Nesbø and Haruki Murakami, alongside perennial favorites like Isabelle Allande and Paulo Coelho. And what do these authors have in common? They do not write in English.”

More at Melville House Books.

Terry Pitts of the excellent blog Vertigo weighs in on two novels by the French Nobel Prize laureate

Originally written in 1981 under the title Une Jeunesse, Young Once has just been translated into English by Damion Searls for the New York Review Books. It’s a brilliant and devastating piece of writing. (more…)

Josh Billings (Asymptote) profiles Kafka’s first major English translators
22235-franzkafka-greybackground
Franz Kafka
For Willa and Edwin Muir, the Scottish couple whose translations of Franz Kafka, Hermann Broch and many others introduced English-language readers to some of the greatest German modernists, translation was a gift and a curse. On the one hand, it offered them money and a sense of accomplishment; on the other, it encroached on the writing that both of them, at different points in their lives, considered a true calling. But no matter how they thought about it, translation remained a means of survival for the couple: a lifeboat in which they bobbed, happily or at odds, through some of the most treacherous waters of the 20th century. [Read More]