Category: Uncategorized

Poetry and Work: Some Thoughts on Paterson

JT Welsch for Honest Ulsterman
feature_166_59c4f95a7ba9a-870x440

JT Welsch considers the relationship between poetry and ‘work’ in Jim Jarmusch’s 2016 film Paterson:

If poetry’s status as work is worth asserting, it needs to go beyond semantics and subjective difficulty into more practical considerations of how the making of poems is valued (in various senses) alongside other kinds of labour. To this end, Paterson nudges the question of whether poetry is work towards a more interesting one about what kind of work it might be. In more and less subtle ways, Jarmusch gives us a chance to weigh poem-making against, on one hand, more material types of ‘creative’ work, and on the other, the waged work of Paterson’s bus driving job. The structure and editing foreground a sustained comparison of the former. While Paterson writes ‘at work’, his wife Laura makes things at home: sewing or painting curtains, making or refashioning clothes, redecorating their house, learning to play the guitar, or baking cupcakes for the local farmers market. Immediately, we’re confronted with the historically lopsided status and often strongly gendered division of work that takes place in the public or private sphere.

For the philosopher Hannah Arendt, this apparently ancient division of public and private is partly linked to the raising of intellectual labour over manual labour (or what we now call white- and blue-collar work) in classical Greek society. In The Human Condition (1958), Arendt singles out ‘poetry, whose material is language’ as ‘perhaps the most human and least worldly of the arts, the one in which the end product remains closest to the thought that inspired it’ – in other words, as almost purely intellectual labour. Leaving effort aside, this gives us the option of evaluating the work of poetry in terms of its material (or immaterial) nature. In The Craftsman (2009), however, the American philosopher Richard Sennett diverges from his Arendt (his former teacher), in his insistence on the merging of mental and manual labour in the work he venerates as ‘craft’. ‘Every good craftsman conducts a dialogue between concrete practices and thinking,’ Sennett insists. In this way, craft and its products represent ‘the intimate connection between the hand and head.’

But Sennett himself also acknowledges the unequal status of different crafts, linking to Arendt’s distinction between public and private realms in his defence for the male focus of The Craftsman. ‘Most domestic crafts and craftsmen seem different in characterthan labor now outside the home,’ he writes (with my emphasis). ‘We do not think of parenting, for instance, as a craft in the same sense that we think of plumbing or programming, even though becoming a good parent requires a high degree of learned skill.’ In Sennett’s historical account, this is simply the way it is. The preface of Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft – also published in 2009, and in the UK as The Case for Working with Your Hands – apologises likewise that ‘it so happens that most of the characters who appear in this book are men.’

When Paterson premiered at the Cannes festival last year, Jarmusch recalls some ‘feminist French journalist’ accusing him of making ‘a throwback to ‘50s domesticity, et cetera, with this character of Laura.’ He finds this ‘a little shallow,’ however, and is ready with a long reply, which ends with him exclaiming ‘I’m a feminist!’ (Elsewhere, he tempers it to ‘I consider myself a feminist, in a way.’) To the French journalist and others questioning the film’s undeniably regressive gender roles, he explains: ‘Laura lives how she wants; she does what she wants. She’s entrepreneurial, even if it’s in a domestic set-up like selling cupcakes. She wants to maybe be musical – she’s very artistic in décor – so to say that she is not liberated, if one were to say that, then I wonder how these people think of all the working-class women in the world that are washing their families’ clothes or making food.’ When Jarmusch tells a female interviewer that ‘domesticity is a fact of how social structure works,’ he isn’t far from Sennett’s matter-of-factness regarding the difference in character of that work. Yet, his defence of Laura’s ‘entrepreneurial’ set-up also points to an essential difference between the two main characters’ approach to their respective crafts.

(…)

Metaphors on Vision

Stan Brakhage writing to Robert Kelly
Brakhage

To coincide with the upcoming republication of Stan Brakhage’s Metaphors on Vision – out of print for nearly forty years – BOMB Magazine are featuring an excerpt:  a letter written by Brakhage to the poet Robert Kelly describing his work on the groundbreaking film Mothlight, which Brakhage made without a camera, instead affixing bits of material directly to film strips.

To Robert Kelly,

August 22, 1963

I have been working almost entirely on Mothlight these days and finding it THE most difficult film to finish, at least per length (about 100’) I’ve yet been involved in (I had to pause after involved to decide whether in or with should follow; and this ambiguity illustrates my difficulty with the film itself—a difficulty engendered by the creation of a whole new film technique, a new niche into which few of my previous working techniques will function adequately enough to leave me free to be myself, to be, myself, adequately functioning instrument for the film’s simple passage thru me . . . technical considerations, as conscious thoughts, making me be by myself, eventually beside myself, at every turn; so that “involved with” would describe a great many of the moments in the making of Mothlight, tho’ I have always had sense enough once past eventu-or-crisis-ally to follow The Dance rather than take over as I was often tempted.)

Long after I’d begun making strips of film, with no thought other than creating a frame at a time in relationship to all other frames within a given strip (the length of Mylar1 I’d cut off, rather arbitrarily, before beginning to stick a given collection of parts of a plant or plants, etc., onto it), the words came to me: “As a moth might see from birth to death if black were white:” and shortly thereafter the title: Mothlight. Up till then I had thought-up the title: Dead Spring: growing out of a simple pun on the process, the material involved, and the simulation of life which the eventual unwinding of this film would create of the material by way of this process, etc. But these new words, in their coming to me, made me aware of the extent to which the movements of this film were inspired by my previous thoughts, observations, and study (most recently D’Arcy Thompson’s Growth and Form) on the flight of the moth and moth sight, etcetera. I have been very involved with moths since a curious incident in early winter 1959: I was working on Sirius Remembered—it was late at night and Jane [born Mary Jane Collom; now Jane Wodening; married Stan Brakhage in 1957; divorced in 1987] had gone to bed—I was sty-my-eyed sinking into sty-meeeed in all self-possession when suddenly Jane appeared holding a small dried plant which she put down on my working table and, without a word, left me—and I soon began working again and then noticing that the plant was shifting and that I had, without thinking, been picking up whatever its flattened petals, and sometimes its stem, had seemed to be pointing to; but as soon as I took notice of this interaction my relationship to this plant broke down into speculation, etcetera, until I stopped working altogether . . . the next morning, much to my surprise, Jane had no memory whatsoever of having brought me the plant; and the following night I returned to my work table, and the plant thereon, in a struggling-to-be-open, preventing opening, frame of mind . . . in midst of attempts to work, what must surely have been the year’s last moth, and a gigantic multi-colored beauty at that, began fluttering about me and along the work table, the wind of its wings shifting the plant from time to time and blowing away all speculations in my mind as to movements of dead plants and enabling me to continue working and, later, to notice that I was again often, but not always, moving in relationship to plant-points and moth-moves and, in fact, every moving thing within the workroom; but finally I got hung-up like they say, on the moth itself, its movements, particularly when it began settling first on one then another strip of film hanging beside me . . . the next day I photographed this moth in extreme close-up as it fluttered against the window glass, with the specific idea in mind to use those images in Dog Star Man (which I already have) and Jane and I were referring to the moth as “The Moth Queen” and were quite excited by the entire several days’ events (which naturally distracted from continuing work on Sirius Remembered) . . . by the third day I was beginning to worry about the moth; and we agreed that night to let the moth outside, as it was warm weather; but that night when I went to the workroom I found the moth dead on my table beside the dried plant and, on closer inspection, found that the head of the moth was as if sliced almost completely off, swinging as if hinged to the body, and that the body itself was completely hollow inside . . . both plant and moth remained on my table, without undue attention but constant inter-relation, until the end of the editing of Sirius Remembered.

(…)

Metaphors on Vision is being republished by Anthology Film Archives and Light Industry.

The Confessions

Joshua Cohen for Wired
The Confessions - Joshua Cohen

For Wired, a new short story by Joshua Cohen called ‘The Confessions’, where it is explored what might happen if one’s secrets became public information:

DEAR MONICA—THAT’S how you start a letter, with a salutation, I’d almost forgot.

Monica, my dear, my love, my girl woman pony heart—I’ve written you a letter! On paper! With pen! A letter!!!

(How many exclamation points do I have to use nowadays to come off as normal???)

Hope you can read my scribbles.

Now I know what you’re thinking: You’re thinking that if I’ve gone to all the trouble of cursiving and sending you a Marriott Marquis stationery/Marriott Marquis ballpoint letter all the way from the middle of my business trip to New York, I must have something serious, something grievous, to tell you, because letters are for serious grievous occasions, like Latin is for funerals.

In my mind, I can see you sitting down now, green couch, den, and preparing yourself with a breath to hear that I’ve been diagnosed with over 70,000 incurable rare cancers, or that I’m leaving you for someone else, but don’t worry. Or do worry, but about yourself: Because while I’m fairly sure that I’m in decent health, I’m just as certain that, at the end of this, you’ll be the one leaving me.

OK. My computer. It seems as if my computer has been hacked and all the crap on it, or all the crap related to all the accounts related to it, or whatever—everything I’ve ever done on it—has been made public.

I was alerted to this fact by a phone call from HR—apparently, the attack has struck throughout the company. Striking most of management too, along with all the road reps. I’m just putting that out there, the extent of the attack, not so as to evade responsibility by spreading guilt or victimhood around but just as reassurance, to reassure you more than myself: I’m not alone.

We’re not.

It’s all out there, all of us now: not just my company emails and files but my personal emails and files, all our chat logs together, our banking.

I’m sorry, Monica, I apologize. You’re about to find out many things.

I love you. That’s the most important thing. That I love you and our life together. That I love what we have very much. I see your face every night when I shut down my head, in a new bed in a new room in a new hotel, wherever the company gets a discount. Your voice is the sound that every morning wakes me.

But sometimes I just lose it. I’m ashamed, but I do.

It happens when I’m too far out, when I’ve been gone for an extended stretch and everything like a dream just fades away for me.

I forget who I am, what joy I have.

I have sex with other women. This has never happened in LA, only on the road, and there is never any emotional involvement on my part. The sex is always safe. Or mostly safe. I promise to get tested.

Better that you find this out from me than online.

You don’t want to go online, Monica, you don’t want details. It sounds perverse, I know, but: Trust me.

I will never cheat on you again. Or even be in contact with these women. I will go, alone or with you or both, to counseling of your choosing. And I will stop taking Modafinil (Provigil), and I will stop posting on men’s rights subreddits (under all my names). All of that brute shit I wrote about your parents I didn’t mean. And I will repay the money, about $70,000, which I took from the 401(k). I never did make those investments. And what investments I did make failed.

I’m currently on the phone, on hold, trying to cancel the Visa.

And now I’m off—to figure out how to contain that other damage: the professional damage. I want to keep my job. I want to keep my wife. I’ll be back in LA by Wednesday, this letter should land there by Mon or Tues. How many times have you reread it already? Or is it shredded? If you prefer that I don’t come home, just say so, but don’t email. Tie a ribbon that isn’t yellow to the front yard oak and I’ll stay away—Monica, I’ll check every day until it’s gone.

Loving you,

Austin

(…)

John Ashbery’s Whisper Out of Time

Ben Lerner for the New Yorker
Lerner-John-Ashbery-Montpelier

Following John Ashbery’s death earlier this month, Ben Lerner remembers the poet, for the New Yorker:

There was in the person and there is in the work such a mixture of genius and modesty, ambition and gentle irony, innovation and deliberate unoriginality, that it sounds a little off, maybe a little stuffy, to speak of John Ashbery’s greatness. A major poet, a master, the most important writer since X—none of that seems right for a poet so enamored of the minor: his love for “other traditions” (as he titled his Charles Norton lectures), his interest in “mild effects” (to quote a phrase from “The Skaters”), his method of “wandering away” (the formulation appears in several books; “wandering” is Ashbery’s version of Whitman’s “loafing.”) It’s as if, when you say he wrote some of the greatest poems in English, his poems respond, “Who, me?” Well, yes, you.

Today I walked around listening to one recording after another on my phone. Ashbery doesn’t change his voice when he begins—when he began—to read his poetry. There is no dramatic heightening, no shift, however subtle, into a declamatory mode. It’s just John reading. And what he’s reading sounds simultaneously like something you’ve heard a million times before, like the songs we know best, and like an intercepted transmission from another world or era, a whisper out of time. I have some ideas about how he accomplishes this weird effect—how he makes the (mild) shock of recognition and the (mild) shock of the new coexist—but I’m too sad to try to summarize them here. And they’re insufficient anyway. (“When one goes at ideas directly, with hammer and tongs as it were, ideas tend to elude one in a poem,” he once said. “I think they only come back in when one pretends not to be paying any attention to them, like a cat that will rub against your leg.”) The poems are like those mirrors in Cocteau’s “Orphée”: at one moment they reflect this world, then suddenly they’re portals to another (although in Ashbery’s poems we rarely find ourselves in the underworld).

The first time I met John (a decade ago), he thought I was someone else. This became slowly clear to me because he kept asking me questions about the poet Landis Everson, about whom I knew basically nothing. (It turned out that John thought I was the writer Ben Mazer, who edited Everson’s collected poems.) There was something appropriate about being misidentified by the poet who’d become my hero, in part because of the beautiful fungibility of his “you”: the way sometimes the poems address you, are alone in the room with a particular reader (yes, you), and sometimes address all possible yous, expand until we feel the mundane miracle of address as such—that there are other people, that there might be a common language. “The poem is a hymn to possibility; a celebration of the fact that the world exists, that things can happen,” Ashbery wrote, sixty years ago, in a review about Gertrude Stein’s “Stanzas in Meditation”; it remains among my favorite descriptions of John’s own work. After I quoted these lines while introducing him at a reading in Brooklyn a few years ago, he wrote to me: “The fact that you would someday be born and later would read my Gertrude Stein review, which I typed laboriously in my furnished room in Rennes, and that you would apply my words to me, well it all makes me feel somewhat dizzy.” I’m dizzied by my luck at having overlapped with John Ashbery, one of the good things about being born when I was (here he would probably make a joke: “Television is pretty good, too,” or “Antibiotics can come in handy”).

(…)

 

Launch Party for THIS LITTLE ART by Kate Briggs

at Caravansérail Bookshop-Gallery
This Little Art

Please join us at Caravansérail Bookshop-Gallery for the launch of Kate Briggs’s new book This Little Art on 20 September from 6.30-8.30pm. There will be a short reading at 7.30ish; there will be drinks. The event is free to attend but please do RSVP to info@fitzcarraldoeditions.com. 

An essay with the reach and momentum of a novel, Kate Briggs’s This Little Art is a genre-bending song for the practice of literary translation, offering fresh, fierce and timely thinking on reading, writing and living with the works of others. Taking her own experience of translating Roland Barthes’s lecture notes as a starting point, the author threads various stories together to give us this portrait of translation as a compelling, complex and intensely relational activity. She recounts the story of Helen Lowe-Porter’s translations of Thomas Mann, and their posthumous vilification. She writes about the loving relationship between André Gide and his translator Dorothy Bussy. She recalls how Robinson Crusoe laboriously made a table, for him for the first time, on an undeserted island. With This Little Art, a beautifully layered account of a subjective translating experience, Kate Briggs emerges as a truly remarkable writer: distinctive, wise, frank, funny and utterly original.

‘Kate Briggs’s This Little Art shares some wonderful qualities with Barthes’s own work – the wit, thoughtfulness, invitation to converse, and especially the attention to the ordinary and everyday in the context of meticulously examined theoretical and scholarly questions. This is a highly enjoyable read: informative and stimulating for anyone interested in translation, writing, language, and expression.’
— Lydia Davis, author of Can’t and Won’t

‘In This Little Art, Kate Briggs looks at the “everyday, peculiar thing” that is translation, testing it out, worrying at its questions. She deftly weaves her recurring threads (Roland Barthes, Crusoe’s table, The Magic Mountain, aerobic dance classes) into something fascinatingly elastic and expansive, an essay – meditation? call to arms? – that is full of surprises both erudite and intimate, and rich in challenges to the ways we think about translation. And so, inevitably, to the ways we think about writing, reading, artistry and creativity, too. As a translator, I’m regularly disappointed by what I read about translation – it feels self-indulgent, irrelevant in its over-abstraction – but This Little Art is altogether different. It comes to its revelations through practicality, curiosity, devotion, optimism, an intense and questioning scrutiny, as the work of a great translator so often does.’
— Daniel Hahn, translator of José Eduardo Agualusa and winner of the International Dublin Literary Award in 2017

‘Not so much a demystification as a re-enchantment of the practice of literary translation, that maddening, intoxicating ‘little’ art which yokes humility and hubris, constraint and creativity – in Briggs’s passionate telling, you can
practically hear the sparks fly.’
— Deborah Smith, translator of Han Kang and winner of the Man Booker International Prize in 2016

‘Briggs interrogates and celebrates the art of translation. She wears her erudition lightly in this highly readable essay that makes intriguing connections and raises more questions than it answers. Urgent and pertinent questions that challenge
us as readers, writers and translators and offer much food for thought.’
— Ros Schwartz, translator of Tahar Ben Jelloun, Georges Simenon and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This Little Art maps the current landscape and disputed territories of literary translation with exquisite precision. With xenophobia on the rise across the western world, the complex art of translation has achieved a new level of relevance for English-language readers and Briggs has crafted an excellent exploration of the reasons why.’
— Idra Novey, author and translator of Clarice Lispector

‘Just as there is something intimate about the act of translation – the translator is inhabiting the text being translated, reading it as closely as possible – there is an intimacy to This Little Art, Kate Briggs’s wonderfully evocative essay on translation. We feel the author is talking to us from across the table about the most important things – novels, language, beauty, art – but in a confidential, friendly way, in a way that makes us listen more closely. Translation, Briggs shows us, is a conversation – between the author and translator, between the translator and reader – and it is this conversation that keeps literature alive. I hope this book will produce not only more readers appreciative of the art of translation, but also more translators willing to engage in the courageous and daunting task of true close reading, that most intimate act we call translation.’
— Charlotte Mandell, translator of Maurice Blanchot, Jonathan Littell and Mathias Enard

Pursuing the Artfully Naked “I”: The Myth-making of Kathy Acker

Chris Kraus for LitHub
kathy-acker2

An extract from Chris Kraus’s new book After Kathy Acker appears in LitHub:

The trauma of the disappeared father is a theme Kathy Acker pursued throughout her writing, from The Childlike Life to her last published novel, Pussy, King of the Pirates. In The Childlike Life,

My mother tells me my “father” isn’t my real father: my real father left her when she was three months pregnant and wanted nothing to do with me, ever. This husband has adopted me. That’s all she tells me.

The story is told exclusively from the daughter’s point of view in all its many iterations. But then again, perhaps the greatest strength and weakness in all of Acker’s writing lies in its exclusion of all viewpoints except for that of the narrator. As William Burroughs wrote, with great precision, in his blurb for Grove Press’s 1983 publication of Great Expectations, “Acker gives her work the power to mirror the reader’s soul.”

How does she do this? Acker had no shortage of female contemporary writers throughout the 1970s. Outside the downtown New York scene, Jayne Anne Phillips, Margaret Atwood, Ann Beattie, Alice Munro, Janet Frame, and dozens of others published semiautobiographical novels with strong female narrators. But, shaped by their interactions with others in naturalistically described situations, the presence of their narrators was wholly relational. While these women were widely respected for their achievements as writers, they never sought or attained the iconic status of Great Writer as Countercultural Hero that Acker desperately craved. Until she achieved it, no woman had.

In Great Expectations, Acker worked deeply under the influence of such Beat-era icons as William S. Burroughs and Alexander Trocchi and the French modernist writers and thinkers Georges Bataille and Pierre Guyotat. Sometimes described as “philosopher-artists,” these writers conveyed their narrators’ internal lives with startling primacy. And so, by extension, whatever pain and emotion they felt was not theirs alone. They offered themselves as receivers for cosmological information transmitted via their works. “In my writing I am acting as a map-maker, an explorer of psychic areas,” William S. Burroughs wrote.

Defending his work at the 1962 Edinburgh Writers’ Conference, Trocchi proclaimed himself “a cosmonaut of inner space.” Written against history and time, Trocchi’s 1960 novel Cain’s Book dispassionately records a few months in his life as a remorseless heroin addict. His narrator states, “When I write I have trouble with my tenses. Where I was tomorrow is where I am today, where I would be yesterday. I have a horror of committing fraud.”

A special issue of Sylvère Lotringer’s journal Semiotext(e) devoted to Georges Bataille appeared in 1976, and Harry Mathews’s translation of Batailles’s 1928 classic Blue of Noon came out with Urizen Books the following year. Acker and Lotringer were close friends and lovers between 1977 and 1980. Years later, she would credit him widely for introducing her to French theory and “giving her a new language” through which to explain her existential and literary sense of fragmentation, multiplicity, and disjunction. Lotringer taught Georges Bataille in his Columbia University “Sex and Literature” graduate seminar; no doubt he and Acker discussed Bataille’s work and thought.

The first line of Bataille’s Story of the Eye could easily have been written by Acker herself: “I grew up very much alone, and as far as I recall I was frightened of anything sexual.” I don’t write to express anything, she’d write in a 1979 self-interview in the French literary magazine Dirty, named after the “Dirty” character in Bataille’s Blue of NoonEverything is material. . . culture is more and more a rag-bag. . . I use material that is commonly described as “autobiography.” There are lots of emotions to draw from, and I love working with emotion because I love shock. Acker was the first female writer to so relentlessly pursue the artfully naked “I” of French modernism. In fact, she’d go on to “plagarize” Bataille in Great Expectations:

I never wanted you, my mother told me often. It was the war. She hadn’t known poverty or hardship: her family had been very wealthy. . . My father, a wealthier man than my mother, walked out on her when he found out she was pregnant. . .

(…)

I Love You So Much I Would Drink Your Blood

Charlie Fox for the Paris Review
Jim Goldberg - Megan

Charlie Fox looks at Jim Goldberg’s book Raised by Wolves for the Paris Review:

Friday?
Dad,
I’m really sorry about
losing control of myself
+ hurting you (+ the, “ahem”,
bathroom mirror).
I know + understand
that talk doesn’t mean a
damn thing to you by
now. (Especially from my mouth.) …

Some facts before things get messy. This unattributed note—handwritten as neatly as one’s science homework, its margin decorated with a ghostly heart—appears in Jim Goldberg’s mammoth book of photographs Raised by Wolves (1995), juxtaposed with a fuzzy snap of a scarecrow-like boy tilting forward as if hit by a windstorm. I think that boy is Tweeky Dave, a cadaverous teenage drug addict who died from liver disease circa 1993; he was, for a few years before his death, something of a celebrity urchin on the Los Angeles streets he used to haunt in search of opiates. He’s also the hero of Goldberg’s epic book, which chronicles the lives of various homeless kids in LA and its environs (shout-out to Echo, Marcos with the wonky eye, Wolfette, Vampchild—“this cute boy who says he’s a real vampire”—and Blade) and comes stuffed with transcripts of their conversations, faxes from Social Services, Polaroids, and other grungy ephemera testifying to the decade Goldberg spent shadowing his subjects. Tracking them through the book—on drugs, out of school, and running away from ogreish parents—also means confronting some of the gnarliest fallout from the Reagan-Bush years: the rapacious mutilation of education programs and social services, not to mention the, ahem, decline of the “family values” they claimed to protect. Tweeky Dave is just the most wretched embodiment of the trouble all those acts can cause. 

“I’m really sorry about losing control of myself … ” Raised by Wolves is about what happens when the self gets lost amid all the drugs and dereliction as economics turn savage and parents disappear. Meanwhile, the kids are too spaced out to know what day it is.

Before Dave died, he liked to call Jim Goldberg “Dad,” too. Check that picture of a scar snaking up Dave’s stomach and it’s obvious that his real father, “a biker from hell,” shot him …

Or maybe he stabbed him?

Maybe he did neither: it depends how much you believe the stories coming from that junkie mouth, which, as Dave acknowledges, is famous for telling tall tales. Three hundred pages later, he’s on his deathbed playfully telling “Dad” to invite James Brown, “Trent from Nine Inch Nails,” Stephen King, and “Cher (what the fuck)” to his funeral. This sad event happens on a sunny day outside a Salvation Army Youth Center. Cher doesn’t make it. At its conclusion, the kids release balloons into the sky.

*

The, uh, “establishing shot” that opens the book shows a handsome pinewood house, hazy, shrouded by flowers, sleepy trees, and seen through some creep’s binoculars. When we talk on the phone, Goldberg tells me he was thinking about Buffalo Bill in Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991), the toad-voiced sociopath who abducts and kills innocent women after tracking their movements through his night-vision goggles. Lycanthropic vibes: we could be experiencing the perspective of the Big Bad Wolf lurking outside the house of a succulent little pig. There’s something storybook-like, upstate idyllic, about the picture, too, which may not actually show Echo’s mother’s real house at all but a weirdly familiar dream home liberated from elsewhere, giving extra resonance to her claim that what’s happened to her family could strike “any home in America.”

What Goldberg assembled in Raised by Wolves isn’t a real history, which wouldn’t be a fitting tribute to the kids since they never told the whole truth anyway, but something lyrical and a little feverish. Facts get high or vanish on their way through the night. “Some of the names,” Goldberg tells me, “have been changed to protect the innocent.” Verification is difficult when it’s tested against the kids’ habits of compulsive mythmaking, which is also a strategy for survival: I can’t be hurt if I’m not the real me.

(…)

Camilla Grudova at Burley Fisher Books: A Belated Book Launch

On 12 September 2017
tda-green-3

Please join us to celebrate The Doll’s Alphabet, published in February 2017 by Fitzcarraldo Editions, on the occasion of a rare visit by Camilla Grudova from Canada, at Burley Fisher Books, 400 Kingsland Rd, London E8 4AA, from 7-9pm on 12 September 2017. There will be a short reading. There will be drinks. The event is free to attend.

Interview with Ottessa Moshfegh

Yen Pham interviews for the White Review
For-Otessa-2

(…)

Q
THE WHITE REVIEW

— You’ve talked about very specific historical anxieties you’ve inherited from your parents (who are Croatian and Iranian immigrants). They fled fascism and were divested of wealth but raised you to be very rich in culture. What was it like growing up in Newton and how did your family fit in there?

A
OTTESSA MOSHFEGH

—  Well, my parents are both violin teachers, and in a sense, that was how I think my parents related to the culture – as musicians and educators. But I’m in the middle of three siblings and I learned a lot from my big sister, who was my hero growing up – very rebellious and sort of counter-culture. So I did not grow up in mainstream America, I guess. I didn’t play sports, although I wish I did, it probably would have been good for me. I always felt estranged from the place I grew up, but part of something less nationalistic and more human – my family culture, which was primarily art-based.

Q
THE WHITE REVIEW
— It comes to mind because many of your characters – or, McGlue and Johnson and Eileen – are characters that are deeply imprinted by but also alienated from New England and its culture. Is there a connection for you between the sort of openness in your writing about ‘grotesque’ exterior functions of the body and socially unacceptable interior functions of the mind?

A
OTTESSA MOSHFEGH

— Well, yes, because I think both are things that aren’t openly acceptable in quote-unquote civilised society. At least in the culture that I’ve known, we’re meant to feel like there’s something really wrong with us if we don’t look healthy and beautiful all the time, and if we’re having negative thoughts, then we’re not good people and that has to be corrected. And there are industries that work on both sides of that to make people look young and beautiful all the time and to make people feel right and think right and act right all the time. But you know, other cultures aren’t like that. Like, other cultures embrace things that we might think of as evil, or a power that might scare us, or something transgressive or more mysterious. But I think, at least in America… I mean, we come from Puritans, who were totally psycho and stole the country really violently from a Native culture that was probably pretty violent too. Americans don’t really live in lily-white cookie-cutter societies, but I think the way that Christianity has worked in the government has instilled a sense of God as the authority that spies on you and controls the world, more Big Brother than anything else. Growing up, I didn’t totally understand where the sense of the terrifying authority that was always watching me came from, and it was probably a brainwashed conception of God. You know, like, do the right thing, ’cause you’re gonna get in trouble, and what’s the consequence, you’ll go to hell. I’m not a Christian but that entered me through osmosis and it took 36 years for that concept to dissipate. Actually, I’m still working on that.

Q
THE WHITE REVIEW

— That’s an extensive period of unbrainwashing.

A
OTTESSA MOSHFEGH

— And the way that that manifested for me was in the ways that it manifests for my characters quite often. Feeling ashamed of having a mortal body, and feeling like, ‘I must be crazy.’ Like, either I’m crazy, or everybody else is crazy, because what the fuck is going on here, you know? Just as simple as walking down the street and seeing someone suffering and begging for help, and people walking by on their cell phones. How are we doing that? How are we so shut off that this is the way that things work? And this is the way it’s worked for thousands of years, I’m sure. It’s not like we’re all benevolent creatures, but we pride ourselves on being good, and, I don’t know, I question that in my work.

Q
THE WHITE REVIEW

— Do you think that people in general are as weird as the people in your stories?

A
OTTESSA MOSHFEGH

—  I think that there are some people who are boring by nature and maybe placid. You know, people vibrate at all different frequencies. I vibrate at a – I would say – a high and neurotic but spiritual frequency, with a lot of anxiety but a lot of passion. And I think my characters do that too, sometimes. I think that there are also some people who were never given the freedom to individuate as children so they didn’t really develop personalities or strategies for coping with the world which would make them interesting. So I don’t blame people for being boring, but I don’t want to write about boring people. Sometimes I attempt to and what I uncover is that they’re boring because they’re really repressed.

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Luljeta Lleshanaku: Words Are Delicate Instruments

Lucia Duero interviews for Guernica
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Albanian poet Luljeta Lleshanaku is interviewed by her translator Lucia Duero for Guernica:

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Guernica: You grew up in communist Albania, under a dictatorship led by Enver Hoxha, who was in power from 1944 until his death in 1985. It was a climate characterized by oppression and isolation; religion was outlawed. In an already isolated country, your family’s political background—which included an uncle’s attempt to assassinate Hoxha—isolated you even further. What do you remember about that time?

Luljeta Lleshanaku: When I was three years old, my family moved to my mother’s hometown, Kruje. That is where I spent my childhood. The town had a beautiful landscape, set on mountains with a view of the Adriatic Sea. It was a conservative place, well-known for having done business with Italy before World War II. That’s why the people there were pragmatic, reserved, and skeptical. In my family there was no small talk, only talk about serious things like global politics—trying to interpret the distant political signs, looking desperately for some hope things would change. Religion was forbidden beginning in 1968, when I was born. So my communication with them was limited to issues of everyday life, which were issues of survival.

When I was in kindergarten, not quite six years old, I was part of a group of children who were being prepared to give a concert on television—then I was separated from them, without explanation. When I went home, sad and angry, my mother had to explain me that we were “different.” Our family had what she called a “bad biography”—as an anti-communist family, we were condemned. Later I had to face this kind of situation all the time. Our family was like a quarantine: No one could escape, and no one could get in. We were rejected. So I was prepared for a difficult life, as were my parents and grandparents.

Albania was a very isolated country, politically, economically, and culturally. Our only connection to the world was through a radio program called Voice of America, and through the Italian television waves, which we caught illegally through primitive, improvised antennas. The only way to escape from reality was reading books. When I was twelve years old, I had already read all the books for children in the library. Confused, the librarian gave me some novels for adults and asked, “Are you sure you will not misunderstand them?” I smile when I remember that now. I think she hesitated because she was afraid love stories might influence me in a negative way. So my books were hidden everywhere—as “love letters,” as I call them in one of my poems. I had to hide those books from my mother; the last thing she wished for me was to be a daydreamer. And in such circumstances, she was right to worry.

Guernica: In one of your poems you write, “a childhood without promises / is bread without yeast / still sweet yet tough and dry.” How did you reconcile the idea of future with such a hopeless situation?

Luljeta Lleshanaku: Childhood is usually identified with fantasy, adventure, and dreaming. But mine didn’t offer a lot of hope. I could read my future in my palm. Everything foretold: “You have no future!” A person must be very strong to keep going without hope.

My early books, especially the Child of Nature, are my attempt to understand and explain the essence of morality in that kind of situation. My people were persecuted, hopeless, abandoned by the world and by God (“at the edge of sadness,” as they used to say), but they never gave up. They never betrayed themselves; they were a great moral model. Amid such challenges, you have to wonder: What gives meaning to human life?

Guernica: You’ve lived under two very different political regimes: communist Albania with its lack of freedom, scarcity, and lack of possibilities, and capitalist Albania, with so-called freedom, abundance, and opportunity. What has been your experience of those two regimes, and how did they impact your writing?

Luljeta Lleshanaku: Totalitarian regimes produce a culture and a moral code that is totally different from what happens in a democracy. There are two moral categories in a communist society: honest men and bad men. The “honest” ones resist compromising or collaborating with the regime, while the “bad” are the persecutors and collaborators. You can choose to be on one side or the other, but there is nothing in between. In a normal society, other factors can define who you are. You can be a good worker, sociable, tough, generous, tolerant, collaborative, friendly, and so on.

Jean-Paul Sartre said that France was freer than ever during the German occupation, when people had no choices but one: to collaborate or to resist. I’m not saying there was something good about that system. But the freest people I’ve ever met, or knew about, belonged to that period. For example, Musine Kokalari, an Albanian writer who dared to fight for political pluralism and free elections. She created the first social democratic party, despite knowing the high price she would have to pay. We usually understand freedom as meaning that there are many choices—but does having more choices, or believing we do, actually make us more free?

Guernica: Your writing grapples with ideas of femininity and masculinity, and you yourself often write from a perspective of a man. How do you think about that binary?

Luljeta Lleshanaku: Very often I hear talk about female literature, or femininity in literature. It’s a categorization I am not sure about. Maybe there are a few elements that distinguish women’s observations from men’s, like the ability to notice some fine details. But if you hide the author’s name, in most cases you would have difficulty identifying their gender. The same is true of the subjects of men and women’s writing: women’s literature is often considered sentimental. But if depth and brains are thought to be masculine characteristics, what we can say about women writers like Wisława Szymborska or Emily Dickinson?

Every time I find myself writing from the perspective of a man, a male character, I don’t have a clear explanation why. It might be because through a male voice I can satisfy my curiosity about what it would be like to be of the opposite gender. Or it might be even more subconscious than that—perhaps I feel less exposed under the “skin” of a man, less prejudged and more protected.

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