Archives: May 2018

Darling

Chelsey Minnis for Granta
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From Chelsey Minnis’s poem ‘Darling’, featured in Granta 143: After the Fact

Oh, it’s you.
I never could resist anything that belonged to someone else.
I suppose you feel the same.
That’s a very promising black eye.
If you want one, fix it yourself.

 

You wear a big, gold belt buckle with your name on it.
Now, I really like your eyes when they look at me with that look.
The one that is so fair-minded.
It’s dangerous like a very powerful doorbell.
Or a portrait covered with a blanket.

 

You didn’t lock your door.
You never were very particular about your associations.
Does it give you a lovely guilty feeling?
To me you’re a national disgrace.
Please act accordingly.

 

I didn’t hit you very hard.
It all depends what you want out of life.
Never mind talking.
I know I’m a bad woman.
I think you’ll find it to our mutual benefit.

 

Sure, I’m decent.
I’ll have to try that sometime.
Don’t shout, darling. I’m not used to it.
I need my hand back now.
When I don’t like something, I give it back.

 

 (…)

 

An Irish Problem

Sally Rooney for the London Review of Books
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Sally Rooney’s vital essay on abortion and women’s rights in Ireland and the upcoming Eighth Amendment referendum, featured in the London Review of Books.

In 1983, a referendum was held in Ireland to establish a constitutional right to life for embryos and foetuses. Abortion was not legal in Ireland at the time; it never has been. The referendum was the result of a campaign by conservative religious groups aimed at preventing any future legislation permitting abortion in any but the most extreme, life-threatening circumstances. The Eighth Amendment passed, gaining 67 per cent of the vote. On 25 May, another referendum will be held on whether to repeal that amendment. This one won’t pass so easily – if it passes at all.

So far the campaign has been distinguished by acrimony, falsehoods and a media obsession with ‘balance’ – an insistence that both sides must be given equal respect and consideration. Though campaign funding is strictly regulated by Irish law, there are questions about how effectively these regulations are being enforced, and in particular about the ‘No’ campaign’s links to anti-abortion organisations in the US. A group calling itself the Irish Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, made up largely of American volunteers, has attracted media attention by protesting outside maternity hospitals in Dublin with banners showing dismembered foetuses. The group is connected to a US organisation called the Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, whose leader, Gregg Cunningham, visited Ireland in January.

Across the country, ‘Save the Eighth’ posters depict gigantic, robust babies, as if the referendum concerned the health of six-month-old infants. But the subtext is clear: no matter what’s going on in a woman’s life, it’s always a good time to have a baby. One poster produced by the ‘No’ campaign shows an ultrasound image of a foetus below the caption: ‘I am nine weeks old. I can yawn & kick. Don’t repeal me.’ The Together for Yes campaign, which crowdfunded its largely text-based posters, has opted for slogans like: ‘Sometimes a private matter needs public support’.

By providing the foetus and the pregnant woman with an equal right to life, the Eighth Amendment prohibits abortion in all circumstances unless the life of the woman is at substantial risk. The threat of serious, permanent injury or illness is insufficient grounds for a termination. In 1992, a 14-year-old child who had been raped by a neighbour became suicidal as a consequence of the resulting pregnancy. After the attorney general issued an injunction to prevent her from travelling abroad for an abortion, the Supreme Court overturned the ruling, holding that suicidal feelings constitute a risk to life. Much of Ireland’s abortion debate since then – including a referendum in 1992 and another in 2002 – has hinged on whether the possibility of suicide does in fact constitute a sufficiently immediate risk. In 1992, 35 per cent of the population believed it did not.

The criteria by which doctors gauge a risk to life, as distinct from a risk to health, are still unclear. In 2012, a woman called Savita Halappanavar developed sepsis during a miscarriage. Aware that her pregnancy was no longer medically viable, and increasingly unwell as the infection spread, she asked for a termination. The request was refused, because the risk to her life was not deemed substantial. By the time she was ill enough to be allowed a termination it was too late. Halappanavar died of a cardiac arrest caused by the sepsis. The decision to hold the upcoming referendum was sparked by the public outcry that followed her death. Months after the story broke, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was passed, setting out the processes by which pregnant women whose lives were endangered could access terminations – before then, no legal guidelines had existed for doctors or patients. In 2016, as demand for constitutional change continued to grow, the government set up a Citizens’ Assembly to look into the issue. The Eighth Amendment was no longer just about abortion; it was now about public health. Discussion focused on the most egregious consequences of the law: the fact that pregnant women with cancer had limited rights to access treatment that might endanger the foetus; that women had to continue with pregnancies that had been deemed non-viable; that children (and adult women) who had been sexually abused were forced to bear their rapists’ offspring.

(…)

Vanishing Act

Deborah Levy for Tate Etc.
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For Tate Etc‘s Summer 2018 issue, Deborah Levy on Francesca Woodman’s photographs and the inspiration they have served for Levy’s writing.

She is an art student, 20 years old, and she has booked a studio for a number of hours. She will have studied the corners of the floor and walls, where the windows are positioned and how she is going to make the light work. I’m guessing she has a few plans about how to proceed, but she’s also just going to play around.

She is her own subject, but she is embodying many other subjects.

Look at her. There she is. She is all there, but she’s always trying to make herself disappear – to become vapour, a spectre, a smudge, a blur, a subject that is erased yet recognisable. Sometimes she disappears into the wallpaper, or is pinned naked underneath a door that seems to have spectrally fallen from nowhere, or hides her mouth behind an upturned umbrella – sculpturally exposing its starfish shape, the geometry of its interior. Woodman knows we know she’s there and by constructing techniques to make herself vanish, she knows she makes herself bigger. She makes herself bigger because we are searching for her. The artist, Francesca Woodman, has given us something to find. It’s a dance, a theory (perhaps a Lacanian theory: ‘la femme n’existe pas’), a performance, a provocation, an experiment, a joke, a question.

I know she is art directing everything, working out how to do her trick. She is alert, supple, aligned, poised. If she’s making herself present by making herself absent then that is an equation easier to figure out with math or physics, but she’s doing it with art.

The boots are there to land this ethereal image. It’s so important to have a grip when we walk, as we have been societally taught to perform, into the frame of femininity – and as we step out of the frame too, into something vaguer, something more blurred. Francesca Woodman, the artist, can move freely in these boots, but they also pull her down. The image would suffer without their presence. Actually, I am wearing boots that are quite similar as I write this. In about five minutes from now, I’m going to switch off my computer, lock the door of my writing shed and walk to the tube station.

I think about Francesca Woodman’s inspiring images every time I write a female character and begin to embody her (make her present) in the world of my fiction.

(…)

Events in London and Dublin

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We have lots of events on this month in both London and Dublin. Details for all events can be found below.

Thursday 17 May: The Man Booker International Prize Panel at Foyles Charing Cross

Jennifer Croft – translator of Flights by Olga Tokarczuk – joins five of the Man Booker International shortlisted translators in discussing their craft at Foyles Charing Cross Road from 7pm. Led by journalist, editor and literary critic Ellah Wakatama Allfrey and followed by an audience Q&A, there will also be a reading by actor, comedian and author Charlie Higson. 

For more information and to book tickets, head to Foyles’ website.

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Friday 18 May-Sunday 20 May: Fitzcarraldo Editions and The White Review at Offprint London

Fitzcarraldo Editions and The White Review will share a stand at Offprint London at the Tate Modern from 18-20 May, with all of our latest publications in stock. In collaboration with Tate Modern, Offprint will host publishers from 16 different countries. The event takes place in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall to coincide with Photo London. Across the weekend, there will be a programme of book signings and workshops.

Opening times are as follows:

Friday 18 May 18.00-22.00
Saturday 19 May 12.00-20.00
Sunday 20 May 12.00-18.00

More information is available on Offprint’s website.

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Monday 21 May: Waterstones presents the 2018 Man Booker International Prize Shortlist Readings

The authors and translators on the Man Booker International Prize 2018 shortlist – including Olga Tokarczuk and Jennifer Croft – come together to read from and discuss their works at Waterstones: The Upper Hall, Emmanuel Centre, Marsham St, London, SW1P 3DW, from 7pm.

Tickets are available from Waterstones.

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 Wednesday 23 May: Mathias Enard at the International Literature Festival Dublin

Mathias Enard – author of Zone, Street of Thieves and Compass – discusses ‘The Other’ with Professor Michael Cronin as part of the Talking Translation programme at the International Literature Festival Dublin from 2.30pm.

The event is free, but seating is limited, so booking is advised. Tickets are available here.

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Wednesday 23 May: Mathias Enard at the International Literature Festival Dublin

Mathias Enard will be in conversation with Javier Cercas at Alliance Francais at the International Literature Festival Dublin from 6pm. 

Tickets are available here.

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Wednesday 23 May: Women and the Essay – Daisy Hildyard, Ashleigh Young, Joanna Walsh at the International Literature Festival Dublin

A panel on the contemporary essay, and whether information overload has created a demand for personal voices. The event is chaired by writer and broadcaster Sinéad Gleeson and will take place at the Smock Alley Theatre at 8pm. Tickets are available here.

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Thursday 31 May: Patrick Langley at Waterstones Islington

Patrick Langley will be reading from and discussing his novel Arkady with Mark Blacklock at Waterstones Islington from 6.30pm.

For more information and to book a ticket, head to Waterstones Islington’s website.

 

 

Rachel Cusk takes off

Patricia Lockwood for the London Review of Books
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Patricia Lockwood on Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy, for the London Review of Books.

The observation that some people do not like Rachel Cusk is so omnipresent in criticism of her work that it’s surprising no one’s ever led off a review with ‘I, too, dislike her.’ These observations are generally accompanied by photos or illustrations of her in which she looks at you both directly and flinchingly, almost always with a strand of hair in the centre of her forehead, with a smile somewhat like Edna O’Brien’s – another writer who seemed to rouse hatred for her disarranged hair as much as for her books, another writer who went to convent school. This is the sort of education that can unfit you afterwards for normal conversation, that can make the suburbs seem beyond your power of understanding as you drive home past them from the locked-in place. You suspect that even from the other side of the frame she is noticing you, and people who notice are inconvenient, if not uncivilised. It would, after all, be uncomfortable to be on a ferry with Cusk as she visibly or invisibly observed that you had the ‘face of a withered Memling damsel’. That is, in the language of one of the places where Cusk grew up (LA), ‘way harsh, Tai’.

Cusk has glimpsed the central truth of modern life: that sometimes it is as sublime as Homer, a sail full of wind with the sun overhead, and sometimes it is like an Ikea where all the couples are fighting. ‘I wonder what became of the human instinct for beauty,’ she writes in The Last Supper, ‘why it vanished so abruptly and so utterly, why our race should have fallen so totally out of sympathy with the earth.’ A line like this is both overwrought and what I think myself when I look at these scenes. Why must we live in these places? Why must these be our concerns? Why do I have to know what McDonald’s is? It is a dissociate age and she is a dissociate artist. She is like nothing so much as that high little YouTube child fresh from the dentist, strapped into a car going he knows not where, further and further from his own will. Where is real life to be found? Is this it?

An anecdote: when I was a teenager a doctor prescribed me pills for anxiety, and when I stopped taking them abruptly I experienced a severe and unexpected and prolonged withdrawal. During that time I hated everything I read to a degree that I cannot reread those books now, or even think of them dispassionately. The feeling in my brain was like the one you have when you’re climbing the stairs and are expecting another step and you set your foot down so hard on nothing that reality ruptures. ‘This is my house,’ I had to say when I entered my house; ‘this is my bedroom,’ I had to say when I entered my bedroom. Reading Cusk I have that feeling all the time. When I came to the line in her memoir, Aftermath, ‘It is as though I’m expecting there to be a step down and there isn’t one,’ I was not so much surprised as relieved: she felt it too.

Outline landed with such a bang that it’s hard to believe it was published in 2014. Transit followed just two years later, written almost at the clip of reality. Now Kudos, just out from Faber, brings an end to the tremendously wilful project of these passive novels. In description nothing about them seems particularly out of the ordinary: each instalment is composed of a series of conversations – with strangers, with old friends and ex-lovers and her hairdresser, with her two sons. But as they unfold it becomes clear that they are fantasies in which the infinitesimal openings of small talk eventually drill down to the centre of the earth. What would happen if you let one of those cursory exchanges, brief or irritating or banal, either way trespassing on your solitude and peace – what would happen if you just let it go on?

(…)

An excerpt: Scenes from a Childhood by Jon Fosse

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An excerpt from our latest fiction title, Scenes from a Childhood by Jon Fosse, translated from the Norwegian by Damion Searls.

IT’S MAYBE FOUR O’CLOCK

It’s maybe four o’clock when Trygve and I go out to the old barn. My grandfather built this barn but now it’s fall- ing apart, the unpainted planks in the walls are rotting away, there are holes in the wall you can see through in some places and a couple of roof tiles lying in the net- tles, three more sticking out of a puddle of mud. A rusty hook is hanging from the door-frame. The door is hang- ing from the door-frame too, attached with hay-baling cord, swinging crookedly. A warm summer day, after- noon. Trygve and I sit on a large round stone a few yards from the barn. There are plastic bags under our legs with our lunches inside, slices of bread with brown cheese, we each have a soft drink. It’s hot. We’re both sweating. Mosquitoes are buzzing round our heads.

 

I JUST CAN’T GET THE GUITAR TUNED

I just can’t get the guitar tuned and the dance is about to start. There’s already a big crowd in the room, most of them people involved with the event and their friends and girlfriends, but still a lot of people, when I look up from the shelter of the long hair hanging down over my eyes I see them moving around the room. I’m bent over my guitar, turning and turning a tuning knob, I turn it all the way down and the string almost dangles off the fretboard, all forlorn, and then I strum on it while I turn the knob up, up, I hear the tone slide higher, I strum on two strings, now is this right? no, it always sounds a little off, doesn’t it, and I turn it more, I turn and turn, up and down, I turn it and turn it and the drummer is pound- ing for all he’s worth and hitting the cymbals and the bassist is thumping too and the other guy on guitar is standing there strumming chord after chord and I just can’t get this damn guitar in tune. I turn the knob more, and the string breaks. I push my hair back and shout that the string broke. The others just keep the noise going. I unplug the guitar and go backstage, I have spare strings in my guitar case. I find a new third string. I change the string, turn the knob until the string is on. I walk back onstage. I plug the guitar in again and start tuning it. I can’t hear anything. I shout for the others to stop play- ing. They stop. I try to tune the guitar. I can’t do it. I ask the other guitarist to give me the note, he plays a G on his third string. I turn the knob.

Little more, he says.

I turn it a little more. I look at the other guitarist and he shakes his head a little. I turn it a little more, strum the string. He looks up, stops, listens.

Little higher, he says.

I turn it a little higher and strum.

Little more, he says.

And now it starts to sound right.

Almost there, he says. Maybe a little more. I turn it a little higher and strum.

Little lower, he says.

I turn it down slightly and strum.

Damn it, he says. Take it all the way down, we’ll try it

again, he says.

I turn the knob all the way down. He plays the open

third string on his guitar. I start to turn the knob up. I hear it getting closer. It’s getting closer. I see the other guitarist nod. I turn it a little more. And now it sounds right, almost perfect.

Almost, the other guitarist says.

I turn it a little more and now it’s off, I turn it more and I hear it getting closer again. A little more.

Careful now, the other guitarist says.

I turn it a little bit more. And I hear the string break. Fuck, I say.

Go get another one, the other guitarist says.

I go backstage again and go to the guitar case to get

another string. But I don’t have any more third strings. I shout and say I don’t have any more third strings, I say I need to borrow one, and the other guitarist goes to his guitar case and looks for a string. I see him put one knee on the floor and dig around in his guitar case and look for a string. He looks at me.

I don’t think I have one, he says.

He digs around in his guitar case some more. He gets up and shakes his head.

Nope, he says. No G string.

Then I guess I’ll have to play with five strings, I say. That’ll probably work, he says.

People are already here, I say.

That’ll work, he says.

 

THE AXE

One day Father yells at him and he goes out to the wood- shed, he gets the biggest axe, he carries it into the living room and puts it down next to his father’s chair and asks his father to kill him. As one might expect, this only makes his father angrier.

 

IT HAS STOPPED SNOWING

It has stopped snowing. Geir and Kjell are out in the new snow but they’re not going skiing, no they’re busy with their snow shovels, pushing the snow around and beating it down flat and hard. I’m standing at my win- dow spying on what they’re doing out there. I ask my mother if I can go outside and she says OK. I bundle up, gloves and everything, and go outside. I run over to Geir and Kjell and ask them what they’re doing and they say they’re going to play car and make streets and a tun- nel and everything in the snow. I run home and get two cars. I come back and Geir and Kjell have finished with the snow shovels and they’ve already started working on the construction. And then Geir and Kjell and I build a tunnel, and a garage, and a house. This is going to be great. Geir loads snow onto the truck with an excavator. Kjell drives the snow in the truck, then dumps it out. I build a road. We are working and building. We don’t know what will happen next but we crawl around in the snow, humming and whistling, driving and dumping. Snow is falling steadily on us, light and white, so that the road has to be cleared again and again. We work and build and clear the road. Time passes, but we don’t notice. We plough the road and gravel it with the light- est new snow. We don’t notice that some slightly bigger boys, boys we barely know even though they live only a few houses away, have come walking up to us through the yard. The boys don’t live far away but we don’t know them. They stand and look at us. They ask what we’re doing, and we say we’re playing car. They ask if they can play too, and we hand them our cars, our excava- tor. Then we stand and watch the other boys play. They yell louder and push the wheels down into the road, they laugh and shout.

Crappy road, they say.

You can’t fucking drive on a road like this, they say. They have to repair the road, it’s a bad road, Geir

says.

You can’t fucking repair a road like this, they say. These road workers are useless, they say. Making such a crap road, they say.

I want my car back, Kjell says.

Your crappy car, they say.

That car’s useless too, they say.

It’s all a bunch of shit, they say.

What’s that? they say.

A car park, Geir says.

Huh, a car park, they say.

You can’t park there, they say.

 

Fitz Carraldo Editions