This issue opens with an excerpt from the only novel completed by the surrealist Romanian writer Max Blecher before his untimely death at the age of 28. His Adventures in Immediate Irreality is introduced here by the Nobel-prize winning novelist, poet and essayist Herta Müller (whose cut-ups we published as a pull-out concertina in The White Review No. 5).
We are excited to publish an excerpt from an as-yet-untranslated 2008 novel by Spain’s Enrique Vila-Matas entitled Dietario Voluble; a story by the Finnish artist and novelist Tove Jansson; Uday Prakash’s story, translated from Hindi, on Judge Sa’b’s woes in modern India; an excerpt from Han Kang’s new novel The Vegetarian, on the difficulties of going without meat South Korea; a section from the acclaimed Japanese writer Minae Mizumura’s bilingual, experimental Shisosetsu from left to right; and newly translated prose by the acclaimed Mexican author Daniel Sada, whom Roberto Bolaño considered to be without rival among Mexican writers of his generation.
Elsewhere we have poems from Alejandra Pizarnik, a friend and collaborator of Julio Cortazar and Octavio Paz whose life ended tragically at 36 in 1972; a sequence from the Brazilian Angélica Freitas; and new poetry from the Austrian writer Clemens J. Setz. The issue concludes with two extensive interviews with the Guatemalan writer Rodrigo Rey Rosa and the Polish novelist Magdalena Tulli.
This issue was edited by Daniel Medin, a contributing editor of The White Review. He helps direct the Center for Writers and Translators at the American University of Paris, and is an editor of the Cahiers Series and Music & Literature.
Over at The White Review, the first chapter of László Krasznahorkai’s Seiobo There Below, ‘Kamo-Hunter’, translated by Ottilie Mulzet. Originally published in English by New Directions in the US, it’s forthcoming from
Fitzcarraldo Editions Tuskar Rock Press in the UK in 2015.
Everything around it moves, as if just this one time and one time only, as if the message of Heraclitus has arrived here through some deep current, from the distance of an entire universe, in spite of all the senseless obstacles, because the water moves, it flows, it arrives, and cascades; now and then the silken breeze sways, the mountains quiver in the scourging heat, but this heat itself also moves, trembles, and vibrates in the land, as do the tall scattered grass-islands, the grass, blade by blade, in the riverbed; each individual shallow wave, as it falls, tumbles over the low weirs, and then, every inconceivable fleeting element of this subsiding wave, and all the individual glitterings of light flashing on the surface of this fleeting element, this surface suddenly emerging and just as quickly collapsing, with its drops of light dying down, scintillating, and then reeling in all directions, inexpressible in words; clouds are gathering; the restless, jarring blue sky high above; the sun is concentrated with horrific strength, yet still indescribable, extending onto the entire momentary creation, maddeningly brilliant, blindingly radiant; the fish and the frogs and the beetles and the tiny reptiles are in the river; the cars and the buses, from the northbound number 3 to the number 32 up to the number 38, inexorably creep along on the steaming asphalt roads built parallel on both embankments, then the rapidly propelled bicycles below the breakwaters, the men and women strolling next to the river along paths that were built or inscribed into the dust, and the blocking stones, too, set down artificially and asymmetrically underneath the mass of gliding water: everything is at play or alive, so that things happen, move on, dash along, proceed forward, sink down, rise up, disappear, emerge again, run and flow and rush somewhere, only it, the Ooshirosagi, does not move at all, this enormous snow-white bird, open to attack by all, not concealing its defenselessness; this hunter, it leans forward, its neck folded in an S-form, and it now extends its head and long hard beak out from this S-form, and strains the whole, but at the same time it is strained downward, its wings pressed tightly against its body, its thin legs searching for a firm point beneath the water’s surface; it fixes its gaze on the flowing surface of the water, the surface, yes, while it sees, crystal-clear, what lies beneath this surface, down below in the refractions of light, however rapidly it may arrive, if it does arrive, if it ends up there, if a fish, a frog, a beetle, a tiny reptile arrives with the water that gurgles as the flow is broken and foams up again, with one single precise and quick movement, the bird shall strike with its beak, and lift something up, it’s not even possible to see what it is, everything happens with such lightning speed, it’s not possible to see, only to know that it is a fish — an amago, an ayu, a huna, a kamotsuka, a mugitsuku or an unagi or something else — and that is why it stood there, almost in the middle of the Kamo River, in the shallow water; and there it stands, in one time, immeasurable in its passing, and yet beyond all doubt extant, one time proceeding neither forward nor backward, but just swirling and moving nowhere, like an inconceivably complex net, cast out into time; and this motionlessness, despite all its strength, must be born and sustained, and it would only be fitting to grasp this simultaneously, but it is precisely that, this simultaneous grasping, that cannot be realized, so it remains unsaid, and even the entirety of the words that want to describe it do not appear, not even the separate words; yet still the bird must lean upon one single moment all at once, and in doing so, must obstruct all movement: all alone, within its own self, in the frenzy of events, in the exact center of an absolute, swarming, teeming world, it must remain there in this cast-out moment, so that this moment as it were closes down upon it, and then the moment is closed, so that the bird may bring its snow-white body to a dead halt in the exact center of this furious movement, so that it may impress its own motionlessness against the dreadful forces breaking over it from all directions, because what comes only much later is that once again it will take part in this furious motion, in the total frenzy of everything, and it too will move, in a lightning-quick strike, together with everything else; for now, however, it remains within this enclosing moment, at the beginning of the hunt.
César Aira’s short story, ‘Picasso’ (trans. Chris Andrews), published in the New Yorker a few weeks back, is taken from The Musical Brain and Other Stories, a story collection forthcoming from New Directions in March 2015. New Directions publisher Barbara Epler’s short interview on discovering Aira‘s work is also worth a read for context.
(This is by the by but worth recounting: In 1997 César Aira wrote a novel, since published in English as The Literary Conference, in which a translator named César with aspirations to rule the world attends a literary conference so that he can be near the man whose clone he hopes will lead an army to victory: the world-renowned Mexican author, Carlos Fuentes. In response, Fuentes wrote Aira into his 2003 novel La Silla del Águila, predicting that he would become the first Argentine writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 2020. The odds on that are probably quite good.)
It all began when the genie came out of the Magic Milk bottle and asked me what I would prefer: to have a Picasso or to be Picasso. He could grant me either wish but, he warned me, only one of the two. I had to think about it for quite a while—or, rather, he obliged me to think about it. Folklore and literature are so full of stories about greedy fools who are punished for their haste it makes you think those offers are all too good to be true. There are no records or reliable precedents on which to base a decision, because this sort of thing happens only in stories or jokes, so no one has ever really thought about it seriously; and in the stories there’s always a trick, otherwise it would be no fun and there would be no story. At some point, we’ve all secretly imagined this happening. I had it all worked out, but only for the classic “three wishes” scenario. The choice the genie had given me was so unexpected, and one of the options was so definitive, that I needed some time to weigh them up.
It was a strange choice but not inappropriate; in fact, it was particularly apt. I was leaving the Picasso Museum, in a state of rapture and boundless admiration, and at that moment I could not have been offered anything, or any two things, that would have tempted me more. I hadn’t actually left the museum yet. I was in the garden, sitting at one of the outdoor tables, having gone to the café and bought a little bottle of the Magic Milk that I’d seen tourists drinking everywhere. It was (it is) a perfect autumn afternoon: gentle light, mild air, and still a while to go before dusk. I took my notebook and pen from my pocket to make some notes, but in the end I didn’t write anything.
Asymptote features an extract from Adrian West’s translation of Marianne Fritz’s The Gravity of Circumstances, ‘a slim novelette about a woman impregnated during the Second World War by a music teacher who would be drafted and later die in battle’, published in 1978. As West explains in a critical essay accompanying his translation, Fritz is an important and controversial literary figure:
[Her] work is barely known outside her small circle of admirers. Praise, though scant, is neither tepid nor inconsiderable: from 1978, when she received the inaugural Robert Walser Prize for the unpublished manuscript of her first novel, to her winning the highly prestigious Franz Kafka Prize in 2001, her writing was repeatedly honored with awards and stipends. On Naturgemäß, Fritz’s unfinished magnum opus, Elfriede Jelinek commented, “It is a singular work, before which one can do nothing but stand, like a devout Muslim before the Ka’aba.” W.G. Sebald, meanwhile, dedicated to her a section of the late poem “In Alfernée.” Here the image of Fritz working through her exhaustion, “one hand on the keys of her machine,” recalls the passage in The Rings of Saturn on the melancholy of scholars and weavers, “harnessed to the machines we have created.”
A contrasting view was held by Thomas Bernhard, who addressed his esteemed publisher, Siegfried Unseld, with characteristic charm in 1986:
Before my departure I have had another glance at your recent publishing catastrophe: the 3,000 pages you have had printed and allowed to appear are the greatest embarrassment I have been acquainted with to this day. To print and bind over 3,000 pages of mindless proletarian trash with all the bombast of a centenary event belongs, quite frankly, in the record books: as a world record of stupidity. I am not speaking so much of the begetter of this idiocy, rather of the fact that the publisher has handicapped himself by releasing this fatuous vulgarity.
“… I WAS JUST DREAMING.”
Rudolf hung on the cross. Around him stood scattered groups of people, all of whom contemplated him with deprecating gazes. “Where’s my mother?” Rudolf cried down from the cross.
“Your mother is in her grave,” a faceless voice answered him from within the group of people, and Berta became conscious of herself, lying beneath the earth a few meters from the cross. She tried to dislodge the coffin lid and cry out with the force of her love:
“Rudolf! I’m still alive! I’m coming! Wait for me! Be patient! I’ll get you down from there! Rudolf!” The dreaming Berta observed the other Berta, as powerless, as voiceless as a corpse in her futile struggle.
“Where’s my mother?” Rudolf cried a second time and looked down onto the nearby hillock where there was no cross and no flowers, only shoveled-up earth, as on a molehill. A faceless figure, a torso on two legs, pulled away from the group and said: “There she lies. Let her rest. It will be over soon. You will understand when the sun has reached its zenith.”
Jill Schoolman founded Archipelago Books ten years ago. She’s published Knausgaard, Cărtărescu, Khoury, Duras, Mukasonga and Tsvetaeva, among others. In this BOMB Magazine interview with Bibi Deitz, she talks about the importance of literary translation:
BD It’s vital to read literature from around the world. For those of us striving to find more international literature, which books would you recommend or deem unmissable?
JS Oh, there are so so many books that I feel close to. For starters, the novels by Céline and Ondaatje and Krasznahorkai and Nabokov, Hrabal, Rulfo, Elias Khoury and Magdalena Tulli; and stories by Jergović, Gombrowicz, Cortázar, Calvino, Sait Faik Abasıyanık, and Borges. Héctor Abad’s Oblivion, Breytenbach’s A Season in Paradise, Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, and Antonio Tabucchi and Josep Pla; the poems of Mahmoud Darwish, José Ángel Valente, Nichita Stănescu, Ingeborg Bachmann, Różewicz, Césaire, Soyinka, Leopardi. More and more I am drawn to books that defy genre, like Ivan Vladislavić’s Portrait with Keys or Railtracks by John Berger and Anne Michaels.