Category: Uncategorized

Diary

Vadim Nikitin for the London Review of Books

Vadim Nikitin’s diary, about the unearthing of a time capsule buried in Murmansk on the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution, featured in the LRB:

The time capsule was buried in a secluded square in Murmansk in 1967 on the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Inside was a message dedicated to the citizens of the Communist future. At short notice, the authorities brought forward the capsule’s exhumation by ten days, to coincide with the city’s 101st birthday. With the stroke of an official’s pen, a mid-century Soviet relic was enlisted to honour one of the last acts of Tsar (now Saint) Nicholas II, who founded my hometown in October 1916. From socialism to monarchism in ten days. Some of the city’s pensioners accused the local government of trying to suppress the sacred memory of the revolution. ‘Our forefathers would be turning in their graves,’ one woman wrote in a letter to the local paper. The time capsule ‘is not some kind of birthday present to the city; it’s a reminder of the centenary of the great October Revolution and its human cost.’

My father had watched the time capsule being buried. He came to Murmansk aged 17. From his remote village, he had dreamed of the sea but he failed the navy’s eye test. In October 1967, he was a second-year student at the Higher Marine Engineering Academy, an elite training school for the Soviet Union’s massive fishing fleet. As a year-round warm water port, Murmansk – the largest human settlement above the Arctic Circle – is a major fishing and shipping hub, home to the world’s only fleet of nuclear-powered ice-breakers.

The time capsule was put together by the Murmansk cell of the Komsomol, the Communist Youth League. On a Saturday afternoon fifty years ago, my father and his classmates put on their dress uniform – peaked caps and double-breasted black jackets with gold buttons – and marched into the city centre. ‘We weren’t told anything,’ he said. ‘And because we were assembled facing the crowd, I didn’t see much.’

The unearthing ceremony in 2017 fell on a Wednesday afternoon. Perhaps a hundred people, most of them elderly, had gathered at the base of the Monument to the Victims of the Intervention – Murmansk was briefly occupied by British troops during the Civil War. The austere Constructivist structure was the city’s first monument, erected on the tenth anniversary of 1917. A few people were holding Soviet flags. A naval band began to play. Beyond a rope cordon, the boulder and its plinth were pulled away to reveal a concrete slab. As this was being winched out, the mayor gave a speech. The crowd turned towards the hole. There was another slab underneath. This too was prised off, revealing a square cavity filled in with cement. ‘The capsule is missing,’ someone said. ‘Somebody must have got there first.’ A few minutes later, a soldier arrived with a metal detector, followed by men with high-vis vests and hammer drills. They began to chip away at the cement.

Progress was slow. With no sign of the capsule, an archived copy of the original text was produced and handed to a retired local actor. ‘Our dear successors, fellow citizens,’ he read out: ‘We are gathered here on the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of the Great October Revolution, at the foot of a sacred place: the Monument to the Victims of the Intervention. Through five subsequent decades, we extend our hand in brotherly greeting from 1967.’ The letter listed the achievements of the preceding generation: ‘In a half-century of Soviet rule, a sleepy, derelict Russian hinterland became a large industrial and cultural centre, a beautiful city of 300,000. In the tundra we built mines and factories, created a mighty fleet, laid roads and learned to grow rich harvests in the thin Arctic soil.’ There was a smattering of applause. ‘We are proud and happy to live in the 20th century, which signalled the start of the transition from capitalism to socialism,’ he read on. ‘We are certain that you, our descendants, will complete the revolutionary transformation of the world.’ Awkward pause. ‘We even confess to being a little envious of you, who will live to see with your own eyes the fruits of our labours. We took the first step into space; you will fly to other planets. Try to remember us, your ancestors, who built your city and gave their lives to building communism. Fiercely love your wonderful motherland! Let the eternal fire of immortal Leninist ideas always burn brightly in your hearts – the fire of revolution sparked in the unforgettable year, 1917.’

There was polite clapping, and a few hurrahs. As the drilling continued, dusk started to fall on the thinning crowd. Finally the slender, foot-long sharp-tipped metallic cylinder was lifted from the rubble. It looked like a relay-race baton. By that point, only a smattering of reporters and die-hard capsule buffs remained. An official announced that it would be opened another day, when more people could witness it. With that, the last of the crowd dispersed.

(…)

York launch party for Daisy Hildyard’s The Second Body

At Pica Studios, 29 November
Second Body

Please join us for the York launch of The Second Body by Daisy Hildyard on Wednesday 29 November, 7-9 p.m., at Pica Studios, 7A Grape Lane, York, YO1 7HU.

Daisy will give a short reading and there will be drinks. The event is free to attend but please do RSVP to info@fitzcarraldoeditions.com.

Every living thing has two bodies. To be an animal is to be in possession of a physical body, a body which can eat, drink and sleep; it is also to be embedded in a worldwide network of ecosystems. When every human body has an uncanny global presence, how do we live with ourselves? In this timely and elegant essay, Daisy Hildyard captures the second body by exploring how the human is a part of animal life. She meets Richard, a butcher in Yorkshire, and sees pigs turned into boiled ham; and Gina, an environmental criminologist, who tells her about leopards and silver foxes kept as pets in luxury apartments. She speaks to Luis, a biologist, about the origins of life; and talks to Nadezhda about fungi in an effort to understand how we define animal life. Eventually, her second body comes to visit her first body when the river flooded her home last year. The Second Body is a brilliantly lucid account of the dissolving boundaries between all life on earth.

‘Part amateur detective, part visionary, Hildyard’s voice is so intelligent, beguiling and important. Like Sir Thomas Browne or even Annie Dillard, her sly variety of scientific inquiry is incandescent.’
— Rivka Galchen, author of Little Labors

‘In its insistence on the illusion of individuality and on the participation of human animals in the whole of earthly life, The Second Body might be an ancient text; in its scientific literacy and its mood of ecological disquiet, Daisy Hildyard’s book is as contemporary as the morning paper. If ecstasy means to go outside oneself, the word usually carries connotations of chaos and inarticulacy. Here, however, is a precise and eloquent ecstasy – and this slender book about who we are beyond our own skins is likewise much larger than itself.’
— Benjamin Kunkel, author of Utopia or Bust

‘Daisy Hildyard has turned her curious, sifting, brilliantly original mind onto the pressing ecological questions of our age. The result is a series of essays as captivating as they are delightful, their object no less than to quietly rewire our thinking.’
— Sarah Howe, author of Loop of Jade

‘Hildyard takes us on a white-knuckle philosophical ride through identity, agency, ecology and molecular biology, leaving us vitally disconcerted, but with a strange new sense of community and solidarity. A curious, oblique, important, and fascinating book.’
— Charles Foster, author of Being a Beast

‘In The Second Body, Daisy Hildyard gives a body to an idea in a series of curious encounters that take us from the floor of a butcher shop to the computer room of a biologist to the wreckage of a flooded home. Heady and visceral both, this essay revels in the mess and splendour of the world.’
— Eula Biss, author of On Immunity

Daisy Hildyard holds a PhD in the history of science, and has previously published essays on the language of science, and on seventeenth-century mathematics. Her first novel Hunters in the Snow received the Somerset Maugham Award and a ‘5 under 35’ honorarium at the USA National Book Awards. She lives with her family in North Yorkshire, where she was born.

On Marguerite Duras

Rachel Kushner for the New Yorker
Kushner-Marguerite-Duras

A section of Rachel Kushner’s introduction to ‘The Lover, Wartime Notebooks, Practicalities’ by Marguerite Duras (recently published by Everyman’s Library) has been featured in the New Yorker:

Marguerite wasn’t always Duras. She was born Donnadieu, but with the publication of her first novel, “Les Impudents,” in 1943, she went from Donnadieu to Duras and stayed that way. She chose, as her alias, the village of her father’s origins, distancing herself from her family, and binding herself to the emanations of that place name, which is pronounced with a regionally southern French preference for a sibilant “S.” The village of Duras is in Lot-et-Garonne, an area south of the Dordogne and just north of Gascony. The language of Gascon, from which this practice of a spoken “S” derives, is not considered chic. More educated French people not from the region might be tempted to opt for a silent “S” with a proper name. In English, one hears a lot of “dur-ah”—especially from Francophiles. Duras herself said “dur-asss,” and that’s the correct, if unrefined, way to say it.

Marcel Proust, whom Duras admired a great deal and reread habitually, modelled the compelling and ridiculous Baron de Charlus on Robert de Montesquiou, of Gascony. Some argue that on account of Montesquiou’s origins and for the simpler reason that Charlus, here, is a place name, it should be pronounced “charlusss.” In “Sodom and Gomorrah,” Proust himself makes quite a bit of fun of the issue of pronunciations, and how they signify class and tact, and specifically, the matter of an “S,” of guessing if it’s silent or sibilant. Madame de Cambremer–Legrandin experiences a kind of rapture the first time she hears a proper name without the sibilant “S”—Uzai instead of Uzès—and suddenly the silent “S,” “a suppression that had stupefied her the day before, but which it now seemed so vulgar not to know,” becomes the proof, and apotheosis, of a lifetime of good breeding.

So vulgar not to know, and yet what Proust is really saying is that it’s equally vulgar to be so conscious of élite significations, even as he was entranced by the world of them. Madame de Cambremer-Legrandin is, after all, a mere bourgeois who elevated her station through marriage, and her self-conscious, snobbish silent “S” will never change that, and can only ever be a kind of striving, made touchingly comical in “Sodom and Gomorrah.” Duras is something else. No tricks, full “S.” Maybe, in part, her late-life and notorious habit of referring to herself in the third person was a reminder to say it the humble way, “dur-asss.” Or maybe it was just an element of what some labelled her narcissism, which seems like a superficial way to reject a genius. Duras was consumed with herself, true enough, but almost as if under a spell. Certain people experience their own lives very strongly. Regardless, there is a consistent quality, a kind of earthy simplicity, in all of her novels, films, plays, screenplays, notebooks, and in the dreamily precise oral “telling” of “La Vie Matérielle,” which is a master index of Durassianisms, of “S”-ness: lines that function on boldness and ease, which is to say, without pretension.

(…)

Large Issues from Small: Meditations on Still Life

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Claire-Louise Bennett on still lifes, ‘the essence of simple things’, and the poetics of space for frieze:

When I was very young, I made drifting lists that were triggered by the things on my bedroom floor, migrated outside to name those things that I imagined inhabited the dark – wolves, moths, fireflies, greying tennis balls tucked beneath black conifers – before turning inwards to tentatively alight upon that strange menagerie of internal phantoms that has been skimming across my marrow since day one. Writing was – and is still, to some degree – a way of linking the inner, the outer and the beyond along the same imaginative continuum. As Bachelard put it: ‘Large issues from small.’ Yet, despite the vibrant poetics that his meditation upon familiar space brings forth, the home and its accoutrements are still routinely thought of in predominantly domestic terms, amounting to nothing more than an environment characterized by habit, drudgery, tameness and unvarying outcomes. Seen from that dour angle, it’s hardly a strata of life that seems worth reporting on. In recent years, visual and performance-art practices have done a great deal to foreground the aesthetic value of the events, tasks and items that constitute daily life. Challenging the hegemony of fine art and its emphasis on beauty, religion and greatness, everyday aesthetics alert us to those myriad responses, from disgust to consummation, that calibrate our day-to-day environments and the activities they are host to. While this is a crucial and exciting turn, I feel that some of the artworks that have emerged from this discourse often present an estranged pastiche of ‘everyday life’, and reinforce generic ideas of the domestic. Too much of the human role is apparent in them, perhaps. I’ve sometimes wondered if it’s people who subdue things, rather than the other way around. Liberated from their customary function, objects regain a marvellous ambivalence which hints at their belonging to a limitless system far more generative than the one they are assigned to through their routine encounters with individuals. An unoccupied stage set has often seemed to me to transmit a greater dramatic charge than the play that comes to pass upon it. Perhaps it is for similar reasons that some of the artworks I like best are still-lifes from the Renaissance period.

The absence of human subject matter in still life meant that, as a genre, it wasn’t held in as high regard as portraiture, landscape or history painting; in my view, it is the very eschewing of a blatantly anthropocentric theme that makes these canvases so singular. And the more stripped down the compositions the better. Among my favourites is a still life, or bodegón, by the Spanish painter Juan Sánchez Cotán. He completed Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber around 1602, at a time when most artists were exclusively occupied with depicting religious tableaux, battle scenes, royal figures and so on. Here, in this arrestingly austere arrangement, a quince hangs from a thin string at the top-left corner of an apparently paneless window; its outstretched leaves make it look winged and restless, as if at any moment it might take flight and disappear upwards out of the frame. Suspended beneath it is a cabbage, whose downcast aspect brings to mind Cyrano de Bergerac’s defence of vegetable life in his novel A Voyage to the Moon (1657): ‘To massacre a man is not so great a sin as to cut and kill a cabbage, because one day the man will rise again, but the cabbage has no other life to hope for.’ Below, on the unmarked sill, a cleaved melon has come to rest. The seeded surface of its hacked interior is the only area in the painting that is free from shadow; yet, here, unadulterated light seems indecent, intrusive, exposing the disarrayed pips and the dent of the severing blade to disquieting effect. Beside the melon is a slice of itself, one end in the merciful umbra of its bigger portion, the other end rent from its stippled skin. A year or so after he completed the painting, Sánchez Cotán joined a Carthusian monastery, part of a Catholic order whose emphasis on contemplation meant that the monks passed their days in silence and solitude. Perhaps only a painter with the capacity for hermetic spiritual dedication would feel moved to wrench these humble comestibles away from the raucous chaos of a muggy kitchen and present them in isolation. As De Bergerac, writing less than 50 years later, said: ‘Plants, in exclusion of mankind, possess perfect philosophy.

Another Spanish painter who created still lifes that transcend the daily round is Francisco de Zurbarán. It is not surprising to discover that the artist was very much influenced by Sánchez Cotán. As in Sánchez Cotán’s windowsill, the table of his Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose (1633) is placid and unmarked: there are no traces of human tasks, no nicks in the wood, no stains from previous repasts and neither of the table’s two ends can be seen. There is a similar precise ordering of objects and, like his predecessor, Zurbarán conjures mesmerizing black backdrops that pull our attention through the tangible elements onto an amorphous metaphysical plane. A metal dish of four citrons stands in front of this darkness, the fruit nosing the static air like deracinated moles. On the right is a saucer, upon which a cup of water stands askew, watched by a pale rose poised on the rim. Between both is a basket piled with coy oranges and a sprig of spiky blossom. The light on this arrangement seems to be coming from behind my left shoulder, picking out the protuberant lemons, some of the huddled oranges and one side of the obstinate cup, where it stops. The light does not, or cannot, penetrate the darkness behind; we could be anywhere. I do not consider what hand gathered and organized this produce, nor what mouth will consume it; again, these fruits are not for eating. This is not a slice of life.

(…)

Poetry and Work: Some Thoughts on Paterson

JT Welsch for Honest Ulsterman
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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
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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. . .

(…)

Fitz Carraldo Editions