Category: 2016

I Used to Go for Long Walks in the Evenings

Stephen Sexton writes for Granta

Stephen Sexton’s poem in Granta 135: New Irish Writing

My celebrity accumulated like a kidney stone:
children, pets, even some corvids recognised me
so it was time for my appointment at the wax museum.
I was to be measured and charted with lasers and calipers,
from the depth of my philtrum to the balls of my feet.
Finally, the fellow admired The ears like little queries,
he said, What do you think about that!
Just then the Director of the museum, a man
with no more scruples than a cat o’ nine tails has pulses,
entered to inspect his investment.
Very expensive, he grumbled, footfall, overheads,
gallons of Japanese beeswax, apiarists’ strike in Osaka
and I passed the time naming the counties of Ireland.

When it was December, I came in to view
my likeness the night before its exhibition.
There was a little party. Because I loved myself
I had plenty of wine and made my acquaintance.
Every detail was present: itchy Velcro hooks of stubble,
pink threads of blood vessels in the sclera.
I had the sensation of looking in a mirror about a year ago.
After an hour or so I pretended to quarrel with myself
and the long and short of it is that the model went over
and broke off at the waist. It was accidental.
The Director exploded like a good break in a great game of pool.
I’d be arrested, prosecuted, fined, executed unless
we came to some sort of arrangement. I had no choice.
It hasn’t been easy learning to stand perfectly still
but from 10 until 6 each day, I do in the East Wing.
The days are long but the evenings are mine.
This is why my eyes are so glassy, this is why my legs are so sore.

Highlights of 2016

Charlotte Mandell, Dan Fox, Shaun Whiteside and Jen Calleja on their highlights of the year.
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As 2016 finally teeters on its last legs, we decided to take a look back over a few of the year’s highlights for us. This year we were proud to publish excellent essays by Dan Fox, Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Svetlana Alexievich, and Ben Lerner; as well as works of fiction by John Keene, Ed Atkins, Clemens Meyer, and Agustín Fernández Mallo with the second installment of his brilliant Nocilla triology.

For this blog post we asked a few of our translators, and an author, to reminisce over some of their own cultural highlights of 2016: Charlotte Mandell, Shaun Whiteside, Jen Calleja, and Dan Fox tell us about their most memorable experiences of the year in literature, music, and the arts.

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Charlotte:

For the past year I’ve been working on my translation of Mathias Énard’s long novel Boussole (Compass), so much of my reading has been connected in some way to that: Edward FitzGerald’s elegant translations of Omar Khayyam; Germain Nouveau’s poetry, in the Pléiade edition that Sarah (one of the main characters) bemoans no longer features him; Xavier de Maistre’s very funny Journey Around My Room.  There are so many books mentioned in Compass that it would take years to read them all, but I’d certainly like to try, starting with Leg Over Leg by Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, a book that Sarah claims is one of the best novels of the nineteenth century in any language, not just in Arabic.  

I suppose the cultural highlight of the year for me was a gorgeous production of the seldom-performed opera Iris by Mascagni, conducted by Leon Botstein, at the Bard Music Festival last July.  It was beautifully sung by the soprano Talise Trevigne; the beginning of the third act, with its mysterious, Wagnerian overture, was one of the most haunting things I’ve ever seen in a live performance:  Iris is shown falling in slow-motion, while tendrils of smoke rise up from the trash heap below.  A screen between her and the audience made it look even more other-worldly and ethereal. 

There’s an exciting new publishing collective, an offshoot of Lunar Chandelier Press, called the Lunar Chandelier Collective, which published several innovative poetry books this past year, each one very different from the other:  Heart Thread by my husband, Robert Kelly; Uncreated Mirror by a powerful young poet named Tamas Panitz; Waters Of by a lyrical and sensuous poet named Billie Chernicoff; and Porcelain Pillow, a poem that combines memoir and essay, by Thomas Meyer.  Robert actually had four books published this year: The Hexagon, a long poem published by Commonwealth Books; Opening the Seals, a meditation on proto-language, published by Autonomedia Press; Heart Thread; and The Secret Name of Now, a selection of shorter, lyrical poems, from Dr. Cicero Press.  

One of my favorite novels of the year, The Night Ocean, isn’t actually out yet — we received an advance copy of it from its author, Paul La Farge.  Its cast of characters includes H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Barlow, and William S. Burroughs, and the narration is so beautiful and intricately wrought that any summary would do it an injustice.  

Finally, I’ve been caught up lately in Nocilla Dream by Agustín Fernández Mallo, from Fitzcarraldo Editions — another difficult-to-summarize novel, having to do with the interconnectedness of things and the illusory nature of reality.  It’s elegantly and convincingly translated by Thomas Bunstead.  I’m looking forward to the next installment, Nocilla Experience.  I’m also very excited about Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems, just out from New Directions:  there’s a fascinating article about it by Dan Chiasson in the recent New Yorker, here, with this memorable sentence:  “Her idiosyncratic punctuation sometimes feels like triage for the emergency conditions of her muse.”

Charlotte Mandell has translated fiction, poetry, and philosophy from the French, including works by Proust, Flaubert, Genet, Maupassant, Blanchot, and many other distinguished authors. She translated Street of Thieves by Mathias Enard for Fitzcarraldo Editions, and has received many accolades and awards for her translations, including a Literature Translation Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts for Zone, also by Mathias Enard.

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Dan:

At the start of BS Johnsons pitch-black comic novel Christy Malrys Own Double-Entry (1973), the books anti-hero, Christy, begins his adventure by taking an accountancy course. Here he learns the principle of double-entry bookkeeping: for every debit, there must be a corresponding credit. Christy is a miserable young man who rationalizes his dreary lot with the belief that the world has conspired against him. Deciding that the metaphysical books need to be balanced, he begins to apply the double-entry system to his life. Christy draws up a two-column ledger: one for Aggravations, the other for Recompense.Each time life aggravates or debitshim he awards himself recompense, usually an act of minor vandalism. When for instance, he is forced to take a detour on his way to work, his compensation is to scratch the expensive stonework of a nearby building. As his sense of aggravation grows larger, the credit he demands becomes more gruesome.

What, I wonder, would the accounts look like for the calendrical crock of cowshit that called itself 2016?

AGGRAVATIONS                                                                                  RECOMPENSE

Donald Trump and related misery 

Neo-fascism

Aleppo

Brexit

Zika

Post-truth politics

Standing Rock

Climate change

22% of Great Barrier Reef coral dead

Record decline in Arctic sea ice

Pulse nightclub shooting, Orlando

Murder of Jo Cox

Death of David Bowie

Death of Prince

Death of Pauline Oliveros

Death of Sonia Rykiel

Death of Leonard Cohen

Death of Leonard of Mayfair

Death of Malick Sidibe

Death of Alan Vega

Death of Doris Lamar-McLemore (last speaker of the Wichita language)

Death of William Christenberry

Death of Jenny Diski

Death of Victoria Wood

Death of Harper Lee

Death of William Trevor

Death of Sharon Jones

Death of Kenny Baker

Death of David Mancuso

Death of Raoul Coutard

Death of Elaine Lustig Cohen

Death of David Antin

Death of Dario Fo

Death of Prince Buster

Death of Don Buchla

Death of Edward Albee
Death of Elie Wiesel

Death of Caroline Ahearne

Death of Abbas Kiarostami

Death of Billy Name

Death of Tunga

Death of Peter Shaffer

Death of Bernie Worrell

Death of Tony Feher

Death of Alvin Toffler

Death of Carla Lane

Death of Tony Conrad

Death of Ken Adam

Death of Merle Haggard

Death of Umberto Eco

Death of Pierre Boulez

Death of Alan Rickman

Death of Terry Wogan

Death of Jacques Rivette

Death of Zsa Zsa Gabor

Death of Scooter, the oldest cat in the USA

This myopically Western-centric and mostly arts-fixated list could go on. I am stumped for Recompense line items that could truly balance the bereavement, fear, heartbreak and anger that the past year has brought. Nothing on my roll-call of admiration and pleasure is going to stop climate denial or bring down Donald Trump. But these talismans of open-minded thought, empathy and action serve as a reminder for me to keep going. 

Exhibitions:

Denzil Forrester, White Columns, New York, and Tramps, London

Mark Leckey, Containers and Their Drivers, MoMA PS1, New York

Marc Camille Chaimowicz, The Serpentine Gallery, London

Paulina Olowska, Metro Pictures, New York

Bruce Conner, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Jessi Reeves, Bridget Donahue Gallery, New York

Danny Lyon, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Kerry James Marshall, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

Diane Simpson, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

Nicole Eisenman, New Museum and Anton Kern Gallery, New York

Lukas Duwenhogger, Artists Space, New York

Books:

The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissimby Kristin Dombek

Respectable: The Experience of Classby Lynsey Hanley

The Complete Madame Realism and Other Storiesby Lynne Tillman

Here is Information. Mobilize.by Ian White

Film:

Arrival

Embrace of the Serpent

A Bigger Splash

Moonlight

Television:

Stranger Things

Black Mirror

Atlanta

Camping

‘Captain Fantastic’

Music:

Lodestar, Shirley Collins

‘Last Signs of Speed’, Eli Keszler

Juarezand Lubbock (on everything), Terry Allen

We Got It from HereThank You 4 Your Service, A Tribe Called Quest

Borealis Festival, Bergen. (At this small, yet brilliant music festival, I discovered the stunningly strange father and daughter improvised pop duo Yeah You; a blistering footwork set from Jlin, the hypnotic Egyptian Females Experimental Music Session, and the premiere of Object Collections new opera Its All True’ – based on the complete archive of recorded gigs by the post-hardcore band Fugazi.)

The two works that made the biggest impression on me bookended the year. In January, it was a song: I Cant Give Everything Away, the final cut on David Bowies final curtain album, Blackstar, released days before his death. Opening with warm string synths in respirating refrain, as if struggling for breath, and a plaintive harmonica line that directly echoes Bowies 1977 track A New Career in a New Town(what better description could there be for an afterlife?), the song begins with an admission with anxiety about the future; I know somethings very wrong…’ Over skittering drums, and an increasingly frenetic saxophone, the words I cant give everything awayare a line being drawn between the personal and private, or a defiant assertion of personal sovereignty. Ive given you all the love I can, it seems to say, but now I must take care of myself or I will be reduced to nothing. 

In December I saw Arthur Jafas seven-and-a-half minute video Love is the Message, The Message is Deathat Gavin Browns Enterprise, New York. Cut to Kanye Wests song Ultralight Beam, Jafas video pulls together reportage footage, cellphone video, and archival film of police shootings, civil rights marches, block parties, iconic performances by black musicians, and the burning surface of the sun. Wests sparse, roboticized gospel track problematised by the singers recent support of Donald Trump wrings pathos from the multiple video textures on screen, from the high-res to the low-grade and pixellated. Jafas film has the quality of a trailer for a documentary, a tantalising promise of a longer cinematic survey of African American social history, but its compressed expression of the complexities, contradictions, tragedies and triumphs of the black experience in the USA is gut-wrenching. I dont know what could possibly balance the books.

Dan Fox is a writer, musician, and co-editor of frieze magazine, Europe’s foremost magazine of art and culture. He is based in New York, and has published Pretentiousness: Why it Matters this year with Fitzcarraldo Editions.

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Shaun:

What a year. Book-ended (more or less) by two black-edged farewells: Blackstar and You Want it Darker, just in case the message of 2016 hadn’t got through. Both rare much more than coded farewells, and have seldom been off the stereo in our house. Goodbye, Bowie and Len. 

In literature, the great event for me was Sam Garrett’s translation of the Dutch classic The Evenings by Gerard Reve, first published in 1946 and never before translated into English. It’s a dark, existential sitcom, very unsettling and in places very funny indeed. As a Dutch commentator described it: “Nothing happens, and it seems to have been written by a psychopath.” Well done, Pushkin Press, and worth the 70-year wait. 

The exhibition has to be Bosch in ‘sHertogenbosch: the weirdness of the late medieval imagination laid bare in a comprehensive show bringing together works from all over the world, except the ones in the Prado, which it eventually joined when the show moved there. Wonderful. 

In film, my favourite was the touching, subtle and ultimately conciliatory divorce drama After Love by Joachim Lafosse. He coaxes extraordinary performances from his actors, not least from the children. 

But the most heart-stopping experience of all, on every level, was Akram Khan’s Giselle at Sadler’s Wells, to a semi-industrial score by Vincenzo Lamagna. This borrowed not only from classical ballet and Martha Graham, but from Bollywood and, most dramatically, Japanese horror movies. It was quite stunning, with dancers constantly transformed from objects into people and back into objects again. The scary second half in particular was a real treat, and Alina Cojocaru was of course amazing. Would almost restore your faith in humanity.

Shaun Whiteside is a translator from French, German, Italian and Dutch. His translations from French include novels by Amélie Nothomb, Patrick Rambaud, Michèle Desbordes, Georges-Marc Benamou, and Georges Simenon, as well as works of non-fiction by Pierre Bourdieu and Anne Sinclair. He translated Football by Jean-Philippe Toussaint for Fitzcarraldo Editions, and lives in London.

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Jen:

Exhibition – Helen Marten, Tate Britain/Serpentine Gallery

I went to see the Turner Prize with a very good friend of mine and we both experienced a kind of epiphany when we saw Marten’s work. Afterwards we bought her book Parrot Problems, and while flicking through saw that she was due to have a solo exhibition at the Serpentine. We headed straight there and spent what felt like hours taking in her poetic reflection of contemporary life, it’s almost as if it’s everything in existence refracted through dreams back into materiality and image. I couldn’t be happier for her win (the last time I fell in awe with a Turner Prize winner was Richard Wright, I think) and I especially commend and celebrate her sharing of her prize money with the other artists shortlisted (for the second time in as many months) against the winner/loser hierarchy.

Fiction Michelle Steinbeck, Mein Vater war ein Mann an Land und im Wasser ein Walfisch (My Father was a Man on Land and a Whale in the Water) & Max Porter, Grief is the Thing with Feathers

I’m currently in Zurich working on my first novel and I’ve been savouring this short book by Swiss writer Steinbeck. It’s a dark contemporary fairy tale where anything can happen, and opens with a woman accidently killing a child with an iron, stuffing it in a suitcase and being told by a wise woman to track down her father to give the suitcase to him. One critic said that she had to be sick in the head to write something like this but to write this kind of thing you have to be absolutely attuned to the structures of reality and your own consciousness. This book isn’t translated into English yet, sorry. But you can read a review in English in the latest issue of New Books in German

I read Max’s GITTWF – that just won its one hundredth award this week – on a flight to Italy. Well actually, I read it within the first hour or so and didn’t have anything else to read for the rest of the flight. In that short time I laughed, cheered, was left breathless, and then left devastated. For a writer also writing a novel in juxtaposing fragments it’s got a reassuringly small word count and a massive impact that still wakes me in the middle of the night or interrupts my thoughts while waiting in queues.

Poetry – Jack Underwood, Happiness

Jack’s poetry has spoken to me for years and he definitely made me feel that there was a place in poetry for my kind of writing and the kinds of things I wanted to write about. I’ve returned to this book may times this year, soothed by the melancholic hesitancy, depiction of personal embarrassment and unstoppable worrying.

Non-Fiction – Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts & Chris Kraus, I Love Dick.

These have been two life- and game-changing books for many people. I did that whole ‘resist the hype’ thing I always do and then bought Nelson based on a recommendation from a friend who then bought me Kraus because she was moving to Australia. Just the quality of writing, the integrally experimental forms, and the unsurpassable honesty of both books have changed autobiographical, essay and feminist writing forever. Rebecca May Johnson and I are making loose plans to start a reading group next year and these will be the first two books for sure.

Record – Anxiety, Anxiety 

Glasgow’s Anxiety made the perfect punk record. It’s not just the record though, they break out the best unhinged, be-gloved live show I’ve seen since getting to watch Vexx many times around the UK last year. After listening to this record constantly, you should listen to frontman Michael Kasparis’ solo project Apostille, which sounds pleasant on record, but live is like watching a mean and sarcastic wailing goblin addicted to dancing sweating profusely over various electronics, and bassist Helena Celle’s new synth record is subterranean and distorted, absorbingly submerged like it’s bubbling up out of water. 

Jen Calleja is a writer and literary translator from German. She translated Nicotine by Gregor Hens for Fitzcarraldo Editions and her debut collection of poetry Serious Justice is published by Test Centre. She is currently translating Kerstin Hensel for Peirene Press and Wim Wenders for Faber & Faber. Throughout December and January she is index writer in residence working on her first novel.

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