Letter to the President

A letter from Annie Ernaux to Emmanuel Macron, originally broadcast on France Inter, translated here by Alison L. Strayer

Cergy, March 30, 2020

Monsieur le Président,

‘I am writing you a letter / That you may read / If you have time‘. As a lover of literature, you may find that this introduction strikes a familiar chord. It is the beginning of Boris Vian’s song Le Déserteur, written in 1954, between the Indochina War and the Algerian War. Today, whatever you proclaim, we are not at war: the enemy in this caseis not human, not a fellow being; it possesses neither thought nor a will to harm, knows no borders or social differences, reproduces blindly by jumping from one person to another. The weapons, since you insist upon this martial lexicon, are hospital beds, respirators, masks and tests, and the numerous doctors, scientists and caregivers. And yet, since you have governed France, you have remained deaf to the warnings from the health-care field, and the words we read on a banner in a demonstration last November – ‘The State counts its money, we will count the dead’ – tragically resonate today. You preferred to listen to those who advocate the withdrawal of the State, the optimization of resources, flow regulation – all that technocratic jargon, devoid of substance, which muddied the waters of reality. But look, these are the public services which, in great part, ensure the country’s functioning: hospitals, National Education and its thousands of teachers, so poorly paid; Électricité de France [EdF], the Post Office, the Métro and the French rail service [SNCF]. And the people you called ‘nothing’ not so long ago are now everything, those who continue to empty the rubbish bins, scan products at the checkout counters, deliver pizzas, all to guarantee the physical side of life, as essential as the intellectual side.

‘Resilience’, meaning reconstruction after trauma, is a strange choice of word. We have not reached that stage. Take heed, Mr President, of the effects of this time of lockdown, of upheaval in the order of things. It is an opportune time for questioning. A time in which to desire a new world. Not your world! Not a world in which decision-makers and financiers are already, shamelessly, resuming the old refrain of ‘work more’, up to 60 hours a week. A great many of us no longer want a world of glaring inequalities, revealed by the epidemic; on the contrary, a great many of us want a world where basic needs, healthy food, medical care, housing, education, culture, are guaranteed for all, a world which, indeed, today’s solidarities show us is possible. Be aware, Mr President, that we will no longer let our life be stolen from us, it is all we have, and ‘nothing is worth more than life’ – another song, this time by Alain Souchon. Nor will we perennially muzzle our democratic freedom, currently restricted, a freedom which makes it possible for my letter – unlike that of Boris Vian, banned from the radio – to be read on air this morning on a national radio network.

Listen to the original broadcast hereAnnie Ernaux is the author of A Girl’s Story, translated by Alison L. Strayer. 

Dispatches

A diary from Moyra Davey, New York, USA

March 29, 2020

One by one, in less than 24 hours, nearly all of my ‘projects’ toppled like dominoes, until on the afternoon of Friday, 13 March, my assistant and I found ourselves staring at each other and realising there was nothing left for us to do.

Since then I’ve wasted the better part of two weeks reading the news, but I’ve also been in touch with many friends and family members, and am doing yoga with my teacher and our group via Zoom. To briefly see their faces and hear their voices and to go through our routine together is a lifesaver.

I usually open the New York Times first thing in the morning, but today instead I read Catherine Malabou on finding her solitude within confinement, in order to write (‘the psychic space where it is possible to do something’). I copied out parts of the essay, and for one day at least, determined to shut out the noise, I cleared off my desk, which was a disgrace, if not to write then at least to read (books).

Listening: Duane Train, an updated and expanded mini-Mancuso Loft party. DJ’d by the laid back, droll Duane Harriott every Wednesday from noon to three on WFMU. Eleven years of music and playlists are archived here.

Reading: I just finished Carson McCullers’ five novels and some of her stories, and have begun her unfinished autobiography, Illuminations and Night Glare. Writing in the 1930s and 40s, her stories feel singularly undated and contemporary. Notably, she had a way of conjuring queerness that manages to be both forthright (taken for granted), and coded. This quality is most striking in my favourite of the novels, the slim, perfect The Member of the Wedding.

Catherine Malabou, ‘To Quarantine Within Quarantine: Rousseau, Robinson Crusoe and “I”‘ (with thanks to Vincent Bonin, Montreal).

Moyra Davey is an artist and writer based in New York. Her essay collection Index Cards is forthcoming from Fitzcarraldo Editions on 3 June 2020.

 

Dispatches

Recommended isolation watching and listening from Jean-Baptiste Del Amo, Loir-et-Cher, France

Anime: Parasite by Kenichi Shimizu.

Albums I’ve been listening to lately: Debris by Keeley Forsyth, You Will Not Die by Nakhane, Fixion by Trentemøller, The Inevitable End by Royksopp…

Movies I’ve been watching lately: For Sama dir Waad Al-Kateab, Naked Island dir Kaneto Shindo, Inland Sea dir Kazuhiro Soda, This Transient Life dir Akio Jissôji.

Docu series I loved: Wild Wild Country, Making a Murderer, The Keepers...

Jean-Baptiste Del Amo is the author of Animalia, translated by Frank Wynne.

rabbit

A fable from Charlie Fox, London, UK

Here’s this weird squelchy-voiced fable about a rabbit being eaten by a wolf which I recorded for my friend the artist Jason Yates’ radio show in LA a few weeks ago. I made this mix for him called DMT Trip D’Un Faune, which was an hour-long magic-realist simulation of a drug-addled faun’s mindscape, kind of as an homage to Debussy but with ambient jams, and I stuck this fable on its tail.

Anyway, the wolf eats the rabbit, they fall in love. I was thinking about Prometheus a lot – did he befriend those vultures that devoured his insides eternally? – and the eerie song, ‘Bright Eyes’, from the cartoon Watership Down, which is an elegy for a dead rabbit haunted by ecological meltdown. Is it a kind of dream? Being eaten up by and/or feeding off a hot beast might be the perfect romance: trippy, magical, inside-out intimacy that lasts forever. Which seems extra strange and sad to think about now when we can’t touch at all.

Listen here.

xo

Charlie Fox is the author of This Young Monster.

Dispatches

A diary from Esther Kinsky, Friuli, Italy

In Italy we’re in the third week of lockdown now. People are still friendly, patient, polite, considerate, but tempers are fraying. For children and adolescents, this is the fourth week without school. The fourth week of patchy online teaching, clueless parents, absent grandparents – the latter being the ones who have to be protected from the mythical beast of spring 2020.  The empty streets, the silence, even the absence of traffic – all this is beginning to feel leaden and bleak. I look at the village in this dove grey dusk in March and wonder – shall we ever return to thinking first and foremost of Paul Celan’s poem when we read or hear the C-word? 

Nevertheless, it’s good to be in the country. The deserted streets of a city must be even harder to bear. People have their gardens here. There’s chatting across the fence. My eighty-year-old neighbour is worried about his potatoes. They should’ve been planted during the last lunar phase – potato planting only under waning moon – but his field is three kilometres away. He’s worried about running into a control officer. Potatoes wouldn’t be a good enough reason for the ‘Autocertificazione’, the form one has to fill out and carry for every errand now, in case of a police control. ‘We’ll have to wait’, my neighbour says, with some sadness. ‘Perhaps we’ll just plant them under the luna giovane’ – the young moon. What a beautiful expression, pronounced with such melancholy. Meanwhile, a cold wind has descended from the north. The light is very bright, and the mountains seem so near, very blue, every crag and rocky excrescence visible. The patches of snow on the peaks glistening. A world beyond reach for lack of a good enough reason.

Esther Kinsky is the author of River and Grove, a novel of grief, love and landscape, published in April 2020.

Ed Atkins performs OLD FOOD in Helsinki

On 29 February 2020, artist and author Ed Atkins gave a performative reading of Old Food at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma in Helsinki. An audio recording of the performance, which features songs, is available to listen to here on Soundcloud

Thanks to Sanni Pajula, Patrik Nyberg, Sonya Merutka and all at Kiasma. Courtesy Ed Atkins and Fitzcarraldo Editions. Copyright © Ed Atkins, 2019 and 2020.

Old Food is available to purchase at https://fitzcarraldoeditions.com/books/old-food.

Q&A with Gina Apostol

photo by Margarita Corporan

photo by Margarita Corporan

On 17 July, we publish Filipino novelist Gina Apostol’s novel Insurrecto, her fourth book, all of which were written in English. Insurrecto follows several narrative threads, bouncing between the Philippine-American War in 1901, the 1970s and the present day. In 1901, Filipino insurrectos (as the rebels called themselves) attacked an American garrison on the island of Samar, and American soldiers created ‘a howling wilderness’ of the surrounding countryside in retaliation, murdering thousands of Filipino inhabitants in Balangiga. This real historical event is the backbone of Insurrecto, which also tells the story of the (fictional) American filmmaker, Ludo Brasi, who went missing in Samar in the 1970s while shooting a movie, The Unintended, inspired by these events. Meanwhile, in the present day, Ludo’s daughter Chiara and the Filipino translator Magsalin go on a road trip in Duterte’s Philippines. Chiara is working on a film about the Balangiga massacre, when Magsalin reads Chiara’s film script and writes her own version of the story. Within the spiralling voices and narrative layers of Insurrecto are stories of women – artists, lovers, revolutionaries, daughters – finding their way to their own truths and histories.

The novel, which was first published by the New York-based independent publishing house Soho Press in late 2018, was hailed in the New York Times as a ‘bravura performance in which war becomes farce, history becomes burlesque … Apostol is a magician with language (think Borges, think Nabokov) who can swing from slang and mockery to the stodgy argot of critical theory. She puns with gusto, potently and unabashedly, until one begins reading double meanings, allusions and ulterior motives into everything.’ Ahead of the novel’s UK publication, we caught up with Gina over Messenger while she was on holiday in Venice to get her perspective on gender in the novel, the depiction of war and the puzzle-like, non-linear structure which ‘hopscotches through time and space’ (Financial Times).

FITZCARRALDO EDITIONS

Even though you write from the perspective of the American soldiers, the women in Insurrecto are the characters who drive the various narrative threads forward. For example, the filmmaker Ludo Brasi’s story is told by his daughter, his wife and his lover rather than in the first person. The key ‘insurrecto’ in the book is Casiana Nacionales, a revolutionary also known as the Geronima of Balangiga. Why did you decide to make women so central to the plot?

GINA APOSTOL
I really wanted to decentre men because they often get to be the story in stories of war. Centring women in all stories will give us a truer picture of anything, I think. If you think about any historical or personal story (from Herodotus to Homer to Hiawatha), if you begin imagining what women were thinking, you’d get a better picture. The world is in deep shit, as far as I can tell, because the stories have been about men, and told by men. We have to keep thinking of that when we consider the stories we tell. Not to say that women tell only ethical stories or only do ethical things – they do not – but the absence of women’s voices through the centuries – the lopsidedness of history – is telling in the way the world is run right now. I gave to this novel Casiana’s ethical figure. She was an actual woman whose name is inscribed in the Balangiga war memorial, but her story is not told in the war stories even though the Filipino women in that war were central – that’s just the way Filipinos are: women are central, that is how I have experienced the world. But their stories are hidden, not told. Regarding the filmmaker, I wished to centre the women’s grief, not the filmmaker’s death, which allowed me to focus on living, and loving, and surviving – I think that’s an important story in such deaths. But in terms of writing about history, I will be honest, at this point: I think men have fucked up humanity’s story.

FITZCARRALDO EDITIONS
And yet, your depiction of most of the American soldiers is quite sympathetic. Nothing is black and white and even though we’re cheering on the insurrectos, we’re sad for the loss of young men on both sides. Why did you decide to show the soldiers’ perspectives? And why is an American soldier central to the filmmaker’s story?

GINA APOSTOL
My novels are about this idea that all of us have multiple sides, that we are not singular. It’s a healthy way of thinking, and this is important for those in power and not in power to keep in mind. I think of those soldiers as workers – also an exploited class – who do subhuman things and think like jerks, but who are also just drones. Of course, the imperial authority keeps all such positions in check, but that’s also the point, that we are all under the eye of brute imperial force – not just the Filipinos but also the soldier who has the Filipinos under his gun. I am on the side of workers, of the vulnerable; I’m not on the side of nations – or, I am not AGAINST nations, or white soldiers, or foreigners. I am against the effects of insoluble, unjust power – which is almost always one-sided, not multiple in its ways of desire and thought. We all have multiple sides to us – whether colonizer or colonized – and I was interested in showing that fact. This is true for the Filipino woman also – she has agency, too, and we needed to see her power over others as well. A key structural device in this novel about history and colonization is reversal – and considering multiple sides of people allows one to see how reversal of perceptions matter.

FITZCARRALDO EDITIONS
Insurrecto has a non-linear narrative and as a novel could be described as an act (or product) of decolonisation. The puzzle-like structure, the different narrative threads, the multitude of voices all build into something that is both outside of ‘traditional’ (read: European) forms and also a part of it. Do you think of your novels as part of the process of reclaiming narratives and histories? And why did you decide to structure the book that way?

GINA APOSTOL
I’m a dyed-in-the-wool (or banig) English major, so I am hugely aware of literary history – the history of the novel completely informs what I do. So it is unwise, in my view, to say that I could possibly write outside of the European history of that form. Of course, that history does include Tale of Genji and the looping non-linearity of Indian epics (in my view), and I do include such forms in my ways of thinking. I am in love with that Heian-era novel: I love Genji, and I still think of Krishna’s talking horse in the Bhagavad-Gita and that kind of stuff – the way time is so different in those stories – but I was brought up, being under a colonized world, with Austen, etc. And writers like Austen and Henry James absolutely inform Insurrecto. I love both of those writers, in fact I had reread them very closely and purposefully for the free-indirect discourse form, the moves from one perspective to another that I needed for Insurrecto. The great Filipino novelist, Jose Rizal, is also in my DNA – he infuses what I do. And he’s very instructive about the use of European forms as decolonizing weapons – a lovely irony about literature is that we reuse in order to fight, and art is like that. So I do consciously use those techniques of the novel to write against the brutishness of that history of white-identity-formation that in my view also informs the English-language novel. I’m very aware of the novel as a form that has enabled capitalist-power identity-productions. But how one does that is a trip. I used these various structural ploys – the puzzle, the use of reversal, the shifts in perspective, the cinematic cuts – for play, to have fun as a writer, but also to subvert. But to talk a bit more about how that works out would need another long essay – and right now I am going to have lunch at my favourite place in Venice!

Clare Bogen, July 2019

Agustín Fernández Mallo in London

 We’re delighted that Agustín Fernández Mallo will be in London for two events later this month:

Wednesday 23 January

Agustín Fernández Mallo will be in conversation with Isabel Waidner at Goldsmiths Writers’ Centre, as part of the Goldsmiths Prize’s ‘Literary Laboratory’ event series.

7 – 8.30pm. Entry is free. RSVP via eventbrite.

LG02, Professor Stuart Hall Building (PSH), Goldsmiths, University of London, London SE14 6NW

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Thursday 24 January

Agustín Fernández Mallo and Thomas Bunstead will be talking to the British Library’s translator in residence, Rahul Bery, about the Nocilla Trilogy, at the British Library.

7.15 – 8:25pm. Tickets £10 and available here.

Knowledge Centre, The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB

Events in November 2018

Thursday 15 November: Patrick Langley at UEA Live

Patrick Langley will be reading from Arkady at UEA Live.

From 7pm. Dragon Hall, 115-123 King Street, Norwich, NR1 1QE. Entrance is free.

More information can be found  here

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Monday 19 November: Alejandro Zambra at Oxford University

Alejandro Zambra will be giving a keynote speech based on Not to Read at the Political Histories of Modern Reading conference at St John’s College, University of Oxford.

5–6.30pm. St John’s College, St Giles’, Oxford OX1 3JP.

Booking is required. More information can be found here

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Wednesday 21 November: Alejandro Zambra at TANK

Alejandro Zambra will be in conversation with Adam Thirlwell at TANK.

7–8.15pm. TANK, 91-93 Great Portland Street, London W1W 7NX. Tickets £8 (price includes the latest issue of TANK and a complimentary drink).

More information can be found here

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Tuesday 27 November: Brian Dillon at Tate Modern

Brian Dillon will be chairing a panel discussion on contemporary approaches to narrative across different media and artistic forms at Tate Modern.

6.30–8pm. Starr Cinema, Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG. Tickets £12.

More information here

 

An excerpt: Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants

An excerpt from Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants by Mathias Enard, translated by Charlotte Mandell, published today:

¶ Night does not communicate with the day. It burns up in it. Night is carried to the stake at dawn. And its people along with it – the drinkers, the poets, the lovers. We are a people of the banished, of the condemned. I do not know you. I know your Turkish friend; he is one of ours. Little by little he is vanishing from the world, swallowed up by the shadows and their mirages; we are brothers. I don’t know what pain or what pleasure propelled him to us, to stardust, maybe opium, maybe wine, maybe love; maybe some obscure wound of the soul deep-hidden in the folds of memory.

You want to join us.

Your fear and confusion propel you into our arms; you want to nestle in there, but your tough body keeps clinging to its certainties; it pushes desire away, refuses to surrender.

I don’t blame you.

You live in another prison, a world of strength and bravery where you think you can be carried aloft in triumph; you think you can win the goodwill of the powerful, you seek glory and wealth. But when night falls, you tremble. You don’t drink, for you are afraid; you know that the burning sensation of alcohol plunges you into weakness, into an irresistible need to find caresses, a vanished tenderness, the lost world of childhood, gratification, the need to find peace when faced with the glistering uncertainty of darkness.

You think you desire my beauty, the softness of my skin, the brilliance of my smile, the delicacy of my limbs, the crimson of my lips, but actually, what you want without realizing it is for your fears to disappear, for healing, union, return, oblivion. This power inside you devours you in solitude.

So you suffer, lost in an infinite twilight, one foot in day and the other in night.

A

¶ Three bundles of sable and mink fur, one hundred and twelve panni of wool, nine rolls of Bergamo satin, the same quantity of gilt Florentine velvet, five barrels of saltpetre, two crates of mirrors and one little jewellery box: that is the list of things that disembark with Michelangelo Buonarroti in the port of Constantinople on Thursday, 13 May 1506. Almost as soon as the frigate moors, the sculptor leaps ashore. He sways a little after six days of difficult sailing. No one knows the name of the Greek dragoman waiting for him, so we’ll call him Manuel; we do, however, know the name of the merchant accompanying him: Giovanni di Francesco Maringhi, a Florentine who has been living in Istanbul for five years now. The merchandise belongs to him. He is a friendly man, happy to meet this hero of the republic of Florence, the sculptor of David.

Of course Istanbul was very different then; it was known as Constantinople; Hagia Sophia sat enthroned alone without the Blue Mosque, the east bank of the Bosphorus was bare, the great bazaar was not yet that immense spider-web where tourists from all over the world lose themselves so they can be devoured. The Empire was no longer Roman and not really the Empire; the city swayed between Ottomans, Greeks, Jews and Latins; the Sultan was named Bayezid the second, nicknamed the Holy, the Pious, the Just. The Florentines and Venetians called him Bajazeto, the French Bajazet. He was a wise, tactful man who reigned for thirty-one years; he loved wine, poetry and music; he didn’t turn his nose up at either men or women; he appreciated the arts and sciences, astronomy, architecture, the pleasures of war, swift horses and sharp weapons. It is not known why he invited Michelangelo Buonarroti of the Buonarrotis of Florence to Istanbul, though certainly the sculptor was already enjoying great renown in Italy. Some saw him at the age of thirty-one as the greatest artist of the time. He was often compared to the immense Leonardo da Vinci, twenty years his senior.

A

¶ That year Michelangelo left Rome on a sudden impulse, on Saturday 17 April, the day before the laying of the first stone of the new St Peter’s Basilica. He had gone for the fifth day in a row to request that the Pope deign to honour his promise of additional money. He was turned away each time.

Michelangelo Buonarroti shivers in his wool coat; the spring is timid, rainy. He reaches the borders of the republic of Florence as the clock strikes 2 a.m., Ascanio Condivi, his biographer, tells us; he stops over at an inn thirty leagues from the city.

Michelangelo rails against Julius II, the warlike, authoritarian pope who has treated him so poorly. Michelangelo is proud. Michelangelo is aware that he is an artist of great talent.

Knowing he is safe in Florentine territory, he turns away the attendants the Pope has sent after him with orders to bring him back to Rome, by force if necessary. He reaches Florence the next day in time for supper. His servant gives him a thin broth. Michelangelo curses the architect Bramante and the painter Raphael, those jealous types who, he thinks, have served him a bad turn with the Pope. Pontiff Julius Della Rovere is a proud man too. Proud, authoritarian, and a miser. The artist had to pay from his own pocket the cost of the marble that he went to pick out in Carrara to build the papal tomb, an immense monument that would sit enthroned right in the middle of the new basilica. Michelangelo sighs. The advance on the contract signed by the Pope had been spent on furs, travel, and apprentices to quarry the blocks.

The sculptor, exhausted by the journey and his troubles, a little warmed by the broth, shuts himself away in his narrow Renaissance bed and falls asleep sitting up, his back against a cushion, because he is afraid of the image of death the outstretched position suggests.

(…)

Fitz Carraldo Editions