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Archive for August 2010

la carte et le territoire

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Just ordered this, due out in September. Been awhile since we’ve gotten one from MH.

(Biased towards him, must admit, because his French surname is even more elaborately and inefficiently spelled than my French surname….)

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August 10, 2010 at 11:29 am

Posted in houellebecq

sunday post: altitude

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– He is becoming differently male. He finds that he, for instance, has less and less to say, and somehow this seems related to his maleness. Perhaps the point, he thinks, is to sit silently, whether alone or together. The other things are for print, for pay. It suddenly occurs to him that there is an economy of speech and writing, and that his economy has been unbalanced on this point.

– He talks to his parents daily now. Yesterday his mother fell in the bathroom. Today, they went to the hospital to x-ray her chest. Abrasions, contusions only from the fall. But beyond that, and unrelated to the fall, a panoply of problems. Two fractured bits of spine. “Nodes” in her lungs that may or may not be…. But, whatever, this is the sort of thing that happens all the time, the three of us agree.

– His friends and loved ones wonder why he has such a complexly dark relationship to his own physicality, even his corporeal mortality. If in an interview he were to be asked about it, he would simply say “Try growing up deep in the shadow of a degenerative disease and then get back to me.” He would then pause, take a drink, and then continue: “Oh, and Roman Catholicism.”

– But it is not only his relationship to his own body, he would not continue in this interview. It’s his relationship to women too that was affected by the same factors.

– He meant to write, finally, a long-planned story today. A quasi-fiction tilting over into an essay, complete with illustrations. Stills from porn. Instead he took a walk and then read Craig Raine’s bizarre Heartbreak and then had a nap and then made a series of phone calls.

– Below his balcony a young woman sits on the bench texting into her phone. She seems to him iconic – a living statue of an indeterminate age.

– The day before, during an anxious morning, he took pleasure and comfort from the sight of a man trimming the hedges at the girl’s back with an electric device.

– A few nights ago, the following notes toward the Sunday Post:

– The end of lurid

– The backlighting that makes the thing. The backlighting, he imagines, even behind the girls on the strip just off the tourist streets, if any actually exist anymore.

– No matter the make of booze, the same red glow. Christmas lights along the bottom, and mirrors.

– Ice carried in buckets. Later the ice will melt in glasses.

– Now the relationship to the television in the corner. Think of the television people, where they are, the studio, the cameras, the air conditioning. All only to place a human animal, animals in pairs, to chat silently above the scrolling sports scores here.

– (Milton on the lurid)

– Later, now, he checks: the word “lurid” doesn’t appear in Paradise Lost, despite the fact that it was available to Milton, according at least to the dictionaries. He feels, as he does this, that he has done this all before.

– The trick of Handke’s Weight of the World – and no book in years has influenced him so much – is that the crisis or the crises (and there certainly must be some) are never mentioned, are held backstage, while the patter of everyday life, its ups and its downs, runs on the foreground, despite the crevasses it has to surmount.

– If he returns to the USA this week, thirty to forty percent of the reason why will be to cure his recent and profound bout of anorexia.

–  Yesterday he experience deja vu so profound that it felt as though he had fallen into a temporal house of mirrors. When he said aloud “Ah I am feeling deja vu” he heard himself saying it before, and saying that he said it before, and before that, ad infinitum.

– A story called “Moleskine.” What do you fill the notebook with in certain situations when you write in order not to look alone. The negative space of writing, graphomania driven by vanity, in place of the usual theory of trauma making it all happen.

– He asked himself “If I took another pill would everything go differently?”

– She says “I am a nurse, actually” and then “It’s my husband’s birthday and that’s why I’m here.”

– Communal psychopathology and glue-stuck semi-vintage porn in a bar. Or is this simply what we might call “Animal Rights”?

– ….

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August 9, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Posted in sunday

delillo interview

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A rare interview with Don DeLillo in today’s Observer. I read it twice, and can’t find anything of relevance in it. Hmmm…. Must say, I really like the fact that he resolutely refuses to talk about it, even when he actually does talk about it.

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August 8, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Posted in delillo

“this sort of life”

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Kafka to Brod via Josipovici’s new What Ever Happened to Modernism:

During last night’s insomnia, as these thoughts came and went between my aching temples, I realised once again, what I had almost forgotten in this recent period of relative calm, that I tread a terribly tenuous, indeed almost non-existent soil spread over a pit full of shadows, whence the powers of darkness emerge at will to destroy my life… Literature helps me to live, but wouldn’t it be truer to say that it furthers this sort of life? Which of course doesn’t imply that my life is any better when I don’t write. On the contrary, then it’s much worse, quite unbearable, and with no possible remedy other than madness.

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August 7, 2010 at 7:24 am

planned obsolescence: lydia davis’s new translation of bovary

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The Times (the UK one) has put up a paywall, so you can’t read this article in its entirety unless you pay a pound or have a subscription, but this is from a feature piece on Lydia Davis from Saturday’s paper.

In late November Penguin Classics will publish Davis’s translation of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Why a new translation? There are many — Davis has counted more than 15. “I’ve found that the ones that are written with some flair and some life to them are not all that close to the original; the ones that are more faithful may be kind of clunky. So what I’m trying to do is what I think hasn’t been done, which is to create a well-written translation that’s also very close, very faithful to the French. The conventional wisdom is that we should bring to a translation what English has, and one of the things it has is these wonderful Anglo-Saxon words; but I tend to keep it more Latinate and closer to the French, and not draw on all those resources because I think they are very characteristic of English — but not of French.” It’s a remark of characteristic precision, and it’s clear she found the task, which took her three years, engaging. But then she says something that amazes me.

“I was asked to do the Flaubert,” she says, “and it was hard to say no to another great book — so-called,” she arches an eyebrow. “I didn’t actually like Madame Bovary.”

Really? I ask. Have you changed your mind? “Not really,” she says coolly. “I find what he does with the language really interesting; but I wouldn’t say that I warm to it as a book. I know a lot about his attitude too; he despised everybody in the book, and he despised their way of life and he had a horrible time writing it, because it wasn’t the kind of book he wanted to write. And I like a heroine who thinks and feels … well, I don’t find Emma Bovary admirable or likable — but Flaubert didn’t either.” She shrugs. “I do a lot of things that people don’t think a translator does. They think: ‘She loves Madame Bovary, she’s read it three times in French, she’s always wanted to translate it and she’s urging publishers to do another translation, and she’s done all this background reading . . .’ but none of that is true.”

This, my friends, is some upsetting bullshit. Now I like Lydia Davis’s work well enough (though I liked her more before I read the above paragraphs) and even prefer her translation of Proust to the Moncrieff. But the current Penguin edition of Madame BovaryGeoffrey Wall’s – is an absolute masterpiece. I have taught with it for years, and it’s absolutely astounding how little corrective work I need to do to bring even the most sophisticated issues from the original text to a class reading (close reading!) the thing in English. The fact that I was brought up on this edition as an undergraduate before I had good enough French to master the original is one of those small inflective miracles of academic life – as the very start of my life’s work as a critic owes itself to things that I found – and could only have found – in Wall’s translation of the novel. I simply can’t imagine what Davis is going to do – what she needs to do – to improve on it. And in light of this I can’t help but think – actually, I know – that this is simply one of those cynical retranslations bent on fucking up the used-text market. That is, hundreds of lecturers in the future will be forced to say to their classes “No, I want you to have the current Davis translation, not that old one you found used on Amazon or at Oxfam.”

I’m not even going to go into Davis’s whole “I hate Bovary” thing except to say that her words are suggestive of someone who has read the book, well, without the requisite amount of subtlety – say the amount requisite amount to pass muster in my MA seminars. But to each his or her own, I guess. Still, doesn’t give a lot of confidence regarding the quality of the forthcoming translation, does it? (Just a bit more snark. I remember buying Davis’s Samuel Johnson is Indignant when it came out with high expectations, reading bit of it, and then returning it to the store where I bought it under the claim that I’d bought it as a birthday present for someone who already had it. I’ve only done this sort of move two or three times – it takes a certain special antipathy to make me not simply consign it to the “maybe later this year” pile rather than actually asking for my money back…)

But just to let the people at Penguin know right now: Once I get a chance this summer I will a) walk into a Waterstones and b) purchase a new, unmarked copy of Wall’s Bovary and c) return to the department office and d) fire-up the fancy pdf-generating photocopier and then finally e) scan the entirety of Wall’s translation into a pdf which f) in future years I will distribute to my graduate seminars. I just basically can’t see teaching this novel without it, and I’m here claiming some sort of pedagogical mandate as a justification. If, nay when I do so, I will take up a collection at the end of the seminars and send the proceeds to Wall.

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August 1, 2010 at 7:49 pm

Posted in fiction, flaubert

“this schoolboy desire to boast and to shock”: josipovici strikes a blow

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Was out for a drink with a colleague in Farringdon the other day and when he went in to buy us another round I picked up the copy of the Guardian that someone had left on the table. It was open to this, a media-scruff rendition of Josipovici’s new What Ever Happened to Modernism. Fantastic stuff:

“We are in a very fallow period,” Josipovici said, calling the contemporary English novel “profoundly disappointing – a poor relation of its ground-breaking modernist forebears”.

He said: “Reading Barnes, like reading so many other English writers of his generation – Martin Amis, McEwan – leaves me feeling that I and the world have been made smaller and meaner. The irony which at first made one smile, the precision of language which was at first so satisfying, the cynicism which at first was used only to puncture pretension, in the end come to seem like a terrible constriction, a fear of opening oneself up to the world.

“I wonder, though, where it came from, this petty-bourgeois uptightness, this terror of not being in control, this schoolboy desire to boast and to shock.” Such faults were less generally evident in Irish, American, or continental European writing, he added.

Laurence Sterne’s 18th-century novel Tristram Shandy remained more avant-garde than the so-called avant-garde today, Josipovici argued.

“An author like Salman Rushdie takes from Sterne all the tricks without recognising the darkness underneath. You feel Rushdie’s just showing off rather than giving a sense of genuine exploration.”

Was hard at the moment not to fantasize that the reason the paper was on the bar table and left open to that page in particular was because one of the authors in question or at least one of their acolytes had settled in for an early afternoon restorative, flipped through to this page, and then left in haste and in a tremendous huff….

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August 1, 2010 at 6:55 pm

Posted in josipovici, novel