Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Loose Ends

Closing the books on 2012, just over 100 of which qualify as lit; my book-of-the-month (prose, that is) selection:
Jan: Patrick White, The Tree of Man
Feb: Joseph Heller, Something Happened
Mar: W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz (Anthea Bell)
Apr: Laszlo Krasznahorkai, Satantango (George Szirtes)
May: Cormac McCarthy, Suttree
Jun: Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov (Marian Schwartz)
Jul: Junichiro Tanizaki, Seven Japanese Tales (Howard Hibbett)
Aug: Tim Winton, Cloudstreet
Sep: Julio Cortazar, Blow-Up and other stories (Paul Blackburn) [reread]
Oct: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera (Edith Grossman)
Nov: Kingsley Amis, The Old Devils [reread, inadvertently]
Dec: Witold Gombrowicz, Diary (Lillian Vallee)
but lots of honorable mentions, Mikhail Shishkin's Maidenhair (Marian Schwartz), Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes, and Magnus Mills' The Restraint of Beasts just in the past month; also, stuff covered a couple of posts back ...

Prosers new to me this year: Goncharov and all the Dec honorable mentioned; Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (x3 *), Olga Tokarczuk, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, Evelio Rosero, Gert Jonke, Orhan Pamuk, Glenway Wescott, James Merrill, Mark Helprin (and Jorge Amado, current reading) and via Archipelago, Herman Charles Bosman, Albert Cohen, and Antonio Tabucchi.

* Other authors I read more than one by: Ismail Kadare, Patrick White, Amos Oz, Elias Khoury, Danilo Kis, César Aira, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Kingsley Amis (and if poetry counts, Roubaud and Merrill as well). (And other stuff left out, such as getting more breadth and depth in Brazil and Poland, beyond those mentioned ...)


Poetry Readings

Attention Conservation Notice (should the post title not suffice): meanderings not along any set line

So, I've been reading proportionately more poetry this year, not so much by intent or design, more a matter of getting an itchy understanding up to scratch. Which I guess is one reason why poets write, especially given the propensity for poems to be about poetry, as if it's a set problem. Not that I have any pretenses towards styling myself a poet, though I have perpetrated poetry, and verse. No, my writing is at least mostly in the service of my reading, and getting poetic is just part of getting poetics.

I've long interspersed poetry into my literary reading, if haphazardly, the bulk of it pre-WWII, also predominantly British or American when not premodern, and little below the rank of major, but filling in more diversely in recent years, at least as regards the first two categories; with so much territory to cover in order to get grounded, who has time for minor topological features? This year I took on more of the collected-selected variety (Delmore Schwartz, Marianne Moore, Tomas Tranströmer [via Robin Fulton], Clive James, Wislawa Szymborska [Stanislaw Baranczak & Clare Cavanagh], Francis Picabia [Marc Lowenthal], e.e.cummings, Li Po [J.P. Seaton], Vladimir Nabokov, Nichita Stanescu [Sean Cotter], James Merrill, Philip Larkin, Heinrich Heine [Louis Untermeyer], Samuel Beckett, and in progress, Czeslaw Milosz [various, adjudicated by himself]). These are invariably ordered chronologically (as I just did vis-a-vis my reading), so one follows the development of the poet's idiolect while in the process of learning it for oneself. (Having said before that I try to reread the first time through, again who has time, the Heine was an exception, but from pre-adolescence, part of my Heritage Press intro to poetry that also featured Longfellow, Whittier, Poe. [Well, Poe and Nabokov (and so Pope) and Shakespeare also exceptional, but that's different.] But I got sidetracked waybackthen by the Little Brown Ogden Nash.)

(But I digress. So what else is new?)

For all this, I'm still far from consolidating my understanding, far from having a handle on this art as on others (not just Arts as such, but all such domains of human endeavor, philosophical, mathematical, just f'rinstance). Now, I've always pretty much been a strict interdisciplinarian, even though becoming expert in some matters, but the context supplied by such boundaries seems singularly lacking in poetry in all its particularity. One distinguishing feature of literature (eg from genre, though there is lit-genre writing, ornamented rather than intrinsic) is that it creates its own context; poetry takes it another step, even beyond the idiolectical use of language, in creating its own aesthetic (genre being verse), form and function becoming inseparable in execution. Even determining any given aesthetic is quixotic (eg Arnold, Yeats), moreso given its flux (eg Auden), so trying to place some meta-aesthetic above seems more so still. Not that there isn't something to be gained in trying. But, more than in other arts, it always leads back to the particularity of the poet and of the poem, and for that matter of the reader. (And I think myself a fairly particular reader.)

Differences in degree, not in kind? Sure, I'll grant that much. But nothing else so intensifies, so heightens the contradictions. No overarching theory suffices, nor combinations thereof. Attempts to establish categories are categorically unsound (well, maybe historical, but History shares this dynamic–well, to a degree: in poetry every word count–but then there's also the Great Man perspective) (oh and I should mention A.C.Graham's renderings of Poems of the Late T'ang; historical anthologies at least giving temper of time and place if not so much the individual writers).

All of which helps make poetry the most democratic of the arts. Which of course means a greater number aspiring to high office (ntm placeholders' legacy issues, and party affiliations & broadsides) (did I mention astroflarfing?) as all the while turnout (readership) diminishes. After all, the personal is poetical ...

(Other 2012 poetry readings: relatively recent by W.S. Merwin, Ruth Patel, Tadeusz Rozewicz [via Bill Johnston], and Jacques Roubaud [Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop].)(oops, Ashbery's Self-Portrait too ...)



Best Translated Books of 2012

(updates downthere)
It'll be three months before the long list for the Best Translated Book Awards is announced, but I feel I've already read many of the books likely to be on it. Not by design, just that this year's releases hit my buttons one way or another in a way that last coupla year's didn't (including the BTBA long list) (though I read half of the first coupla year's list, which got longer as the award established itself) (how do the judges do it?). So without much ado, and in the order read, a list of the worthies [with links to publisher sites] (and translator in parentheses) (when is a translator not in parentheses?) (oh yes, BTBA ...):

Jacques Roubaud, Mathematics: (Ian Monk) [Dalkey Archive]
Elias Khoury, As Though She Were Sleeping (Marilyn Booth) [Archipelago Books]
Eric Chevillard, Prehistoric Times (Alyson Waters) [Archipelago Books]
Laszlo Krasznahorkai, Satantango (George Szirtes) [New Directions]
César Aira, Varamo (Chris Andrews) [New Directions]
Clarice Lispector, A Breath of Life (Johnny Lorenz) [New Directions]
Andrei Makine, The Life of an Unknown Man (Geoffrey Strachan) [Graywolf]
Danilo Kis, Psalm 44 (John K. Cox) [Dalkey Archive]
Antonio Tabucchi, The Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico (Tim Parks) [Archipelago Books]
Danilo Kis, The Lute and the Scar (John K. Cox) [Dalkey Archive]
César Aira, The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira (Katherine Silver) [New Directions]
Mikhail Shishkin, Maidenhair (Marian Schwartz) [Open Letter]
(and on order: *
Juan Filloy, Faction (Brendan Riley) [Dalkey Archive])

Of these, I expect Kraznahorkai and Shishkin to make the short list (four months away), along with perhaps Lispector or Makine (or Chevillard) (or non-exclusive, but there's only so much room) ...

Some likely long-listers I haven't read:
Laurent Binet, HHhH (Sam Taylor) [FSG]
Sergio Chejfec, Planets (Heather Cleary) [Open Letter]
Karl Knausgaard, My Struggle: Book One (Don Bartlett) [Archipelago Books]
Andrés Neuman, Traveler of the Century (Lorenzo Garcia) [FSG]
Enrique Vila-Matas, Dublinesque (Anne McLean) [New Directions]

And I haven't even mentioned new translations of Nobelaureates, nor university press offerings, nor the hard-to-categorize (such as Yves Bonnefoy's The Arriére-Pays (Stephen Romer) [Seagull Books] or Roberto Calasso's La Folie Baudelaire (Alastair McEwan) [FSG]) ...

but there's also a BTBA for poetry, which I've been delving into more, including a couple candidates for that long list:
Li Po, Bright Moon, White Clouds: Selected Poems of Li Po (J.P. Seaton) [Shambhala]
Nichita Stanescu, Wheel with a Single Spoke and other poems (Sean Cotter) [Archipelago Books]

... but further elaboration will have to be fodder for a future post.

(11.12.12) * at least I hope it's on order: snailmailed for Dalkey's special sale, running thru 15 Dec, online via Amazon account.

(12.12.12)Raised from comments: So far as Nobelaureates go, Miguel is right to highlight José Saramago's Raised from the Ground, which I will be reading at his instigation.
Also, while not eligible for BTBA (because previously translated even if out-of-print), one of the best of 2012 I've read is Witold Gombrowicz,
Diary (Lillian Vallee) [Yale]. Similarly ineligible but nonetheless noteworthy is Juan Rulfo, The Plain in Flames (Ilan Stavans w/ Harold Augenbraum)[Texas].


Foreign Exchange

I've been accepted on to the Board of Directors for Archipelago Books, "a not-for-profit literary press dedicated to promoting cross-cultural exchange through international literature in translation", a mission I can get behind. Which is where I want to be, rather than out in front of it: I've never been in sales, relying instead upon the product to do the persuading, preferring to be cast as support rather than to the spotlight. That's just how I role. And getting on board isn't much about group identification for me; I'm more fitter than joiner, and this suits my journeymanic ramblings.

But I'd like to unpack that mission statement a bit, give some indication as to why it's important (beyond what I've already had to say about literary translation and awards [and much more passim/en passant]). Not to unpack all the way down to "literature" or "culture", other than to note that it is the individual writers that ultimately constitute both, and this is the most telling; such personal perspectives reveal much more than any pedagogy or punditry can, thanks to the tension, artistic and otherwise, between individual and literature, culture, society. As writers both refract and affect culture, so translators broaden its reach through artfully self-effacive impersonation. So what makes culture accessible is this double movement, this intensely personal interaction, window and mirror–the writer setting him/herself apart, the translator, within.

What's going on at the atomic level doesn't explain the interactions in aggregate. Culture is more than mere aggregation, more than history (rationalization of incidence, reconciling unlikemindedness), more like memory (not that I'm ascribing consciousness to it). The act of remembering alters the memory, brings it into current context, among other perspectival shifts. For the writer, one of the most fruitful modes of movement is to smuggle in something from outside the local culture and adapt it, whether by responding to writers from other parts, or importing forms from elsewhere, or, in extremis, exile. But what is new within the local (particularly non-European) culture may be the very thing affording purchase for the international reader to the established local matrix (in an echo of the writer-translator dynamic). And recognition from abroad may feed back into better reception at home and a consequent cultural enlargement and diversity.

So this notion of "cross-cultural exchange" is not just about the benefits to the reader, but to culture, whether regional, national, or global. But I'm happy to reap the benefits as a reader, in better understanding the world, and in better connecting with those I've worked with in finance, one of the more internationalized business venues, though these were not my principal motivations in exploring the territories marked out by literature in translation. And I am gratified to have an opportunity to encourage others to make the trip. Your mileage may vary, but you'll go far.