Saturday, June 27, 2009

"The state of music in the consumer world continues to disturb me. I grew up in the 70's when purchasing a 12-inch record with artwork, texture, information and smell was an EVENT. I'll never forget staring at X's Los Angeles in the store for 3 days before deciding to buy it--or finding Master Of Reality at a garage sale for $0.50 in the early '80s. I still own and listen to those same records. I probably spent as much time studying the lyrics of Elton John's Madman Across The Water as I did writing papers for sociology class. Those days are really gone, aren't they? " -- Trevor Dunn


Thursday, June 25, 2009

“I ain’t that particular. Between Scotch and nothing, I’ll take Scotch.”

"The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' is worth any number of old ladies."

I post here the above, my favorite statement by the greatest of all American writers, William Faulkner. And here’s the legendary interview from which the above was snatched:

It’s a good reinforcement of what I’m always saying about shutting the fuck up and getting to work.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Book Talk

A first look at the next Bolaño book to be published by New Directions, still the best press in these United States:

Add two translations of Horacio Castallenos Moya (see previous post), Borges essays, and this book and you get a very exciting fall/winter. Maybe by then I’ll be done with Lobo Antunes and have a few more Thomas Bernhard books under the belt. Having read only two, and peeked at a few others, I already think that Bernhard was among the finest writers of the 20th Century. Yes, I’m lumping him in with Proust and Kafka and Musil and the before mentioned Borges and all those others. Seriously, Yes by Bernhard, to use a very tired but apt phrase, blew me away.

In other (personal) lit news, I have suspended my reading of Cosmos by Witold Gombrowicz until I get my hands on a better copy. Mine got soaked last week when the sky showed Chicago its angry side, and it was a notoriously 2nd rate translation anyway. Actually, it was a second translation in the sense that the original Polish had been rendered into French and then into English before it reached these eyes. A new, fresh, straight-from-Polish translation has been done and I will seek that one, hoping that some of the legendary spark of Gombrowicz is more evident than in the 25 or so pages I read last week.

That’s it, fucker.

Mas Moya!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

On Random

I, with the aid of a coworker, had to remove a packaged life boat from my office and take it downstairs to the boss who pulled up in Jaguar and insisted we be careful with both the car and the lifeboat, scolding us for taking two minutes to deliver the ridiculous package which he could’ve gotten himself is he would’ve just paid for parking, but, like they say, the rich don’t stay rich by paying for anything, right?

Then I opened my inbox and saw a rejection from the New Yorker, an email from Northwestern asking for money (already?) and an invitation from some friends to play miniature golf. My tooth hurts and I am tired. The dog slept well last night, which means we slept well. I go today to get capped and gowned. William Faulkner is alive in the writing of Lobo Antunes. Last night I drank stout in an empty bar. The silence was exquisite until the bartender ruined it with a mix tape of nonsense. I keep humming violin parts from “Hunger Strike” by Estradasphere. I am the arbiter of good taste. I cannot see a thing.

I reiterate my prediction about the year 38.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Happy Broke Bloomsday

Monday, June 15, 2009

I Was a Dante Zombie

The most unusual way to celebrate a birthday has to be by sitting in a theater watching Roberto Benigni discuss the importance of The Divine Comedy. What the? First he races onto the stage and does the trademark spastic goofball routine, then he makes some of the foreign man in big American city jokes, then he discusses current politics and news items, domestic and imported, and then, oddly, he shifts to a serious talk on Canto Five of the Inferno, line by fucking line. It is, to say the least, dull.

Dull, you ask? Yes, dull. The accent and broken English, which is supposed to be charming when he’s accepting an Oscar or featured in a Jim Jarmusch film, is not very easy to endure when he’s remarking on the genius of Dante. I saw the link he was trying to make, and the point is clear: Dante saw fit to list his contemporaries in his vision of the afterlife. Right, I knew that… so I guess comedians or protest singers or anyone else using Blago as fodder for their art—comedic or serious—owes a debt to Dante. Okay, fine. But again, I knew that already and I didn’t need a clownish man prancing around to remind me.

Cassandra fell asleep, so I wasn’t alone in my boredom, but others seemed to like it. The Italians cheered and some woman told her boyfriend that the show was “brilliant.” Benigni got a standing ovation, which is sort of like “two thumbs up” these days, i.e. automatic and meaningless.

Anyway, it wasn’t the worst way to spend a birthday, and I am grateful for the gift, the effort and the meal that preceded it, but it was certainly surreal. And then I got a dog, which is even more surreal (and adorable). 38, I proclaim, is the year of the strange.

Friday, June 12, 2009

On the edge of turning 38, this is what I think…

I could use a lot more sleep. And time.

I’d like a new job, please.

I have less patience for people than I used to have, and I never had much.

I’m not 40 yet, but when I do turn 40 I will probably be happy that I’m not 50. 40 is the new 30, or so they tell me. I never felt 30 when I was 30, or 33, or 37. I feel 15 most of the time—only smarter and better looking.

I’m really digging this band Fishtank Ensemble.

I have a lot of shit to do. I have many, many ideas, all of which are brewing and trying to turn into something more than silly ideas. But ideas are important. Really, what else is there? Everything else is empty, insipid, untrustworthy. Ideas are make us special. Otherwise, we’re just meat and bone.

Last night I stayed awake too late reading Pulp by Charles Bukowski. It’s not his best novel (that would be either Factotum or Women) but it is a lot of fun and I reread it yesterday for a reason that will not disclose here. Anyway, I like it a lot and, in a way, it’s my favorite of his books. Bukowski is a young man’s writer, or so I used to think (I know young women who like him as well, and a few not so young women for that matter). I moved past ol’ Buk a while back but I thought that—aside from my private reasons—I might give him a look as I approached the end of another fucking year of my life. He’s still a lot of fun and, oddly, holds up better than I thought. The writing is sparse, certainly nothing the MFA crowd would celebrate, but there’s an immediacy there that is quite refreshing from time to time, especially when you usually read books that play with narration and thwart convention and do all that so-called (post)modernist jazz. I carried Bukowski in my backpack along with David Huerta, who writes poetry that Buk would hate. I like to think they talked all day and argued about writing, though I doubt Bukowski had much to say on the matter. He is the king of the shut-up-and-do-it school, another reason I picked him back up as that has been my philosophy as of late.

After finishing Pulp I had a problem choosing the next book. I decided on What Can I Do When Everything’s on Fire? By António Lobo Antunes. It’s big and looks serious and has that before mentioned playful, unconventional narrative thing going on that critics love and book-of-the-month types bemoan. This was chosen over the following contenders:

Ghosts by César Aira
A Light Comedy by Eduardo Mendoza
Kensington Gardens by Rodrigo Fresán
Cosmos and Pornographia by Witold Gombrowicz
Corrections by Thomas Bernhard

Most of these books are short, but I decided to give Lobo Antunes a chance, hoping that my advancing years are bringing steady concentration. I’ve found it difficult to commit to a book lately and have sought shorter, quicker reads. Pathetic. I’d like to say that I am doing so for a reason (I have my justification), but I’m just feeling lazy these last few days. Proust beckons, as does the great Musil, and I swore I’d reread Moby Dick this year and maybe start War and Peace, at long fucking last. But I also want to read The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa and finish the poetry collections by Huerta and Nicanor Parra that I flip through at night while home, snuggled with the cat and with the girl nearby. Soon I’ll be reading poetry with a dog.

On that: tomorrow Haruki arrives. I have yet to meet the little guy, though Cassandra has shown me crude pictures snatched from her mobile phone. He looks small and black. I am guessing he’ll stay that way. I begin year 38 as a partial dog owner for the first time. I never really had a dog of my own, always lived with the ones my mother or roommates owned, so this ought to be interesting. I’m thinking it is the closest I will ever come to having a newborn in my home. It’s an exciting time. I look forward to quiet nights reading or watching movies with the little guy snoozing while Gato reclaims his nocturnal territory and the thugs of RP assert their interpretation of what it is to be hard.

To quote ol’ Xtop: Good times ahoy.

Otherwise there is no news worth mentioning. I graduate in a week, which ought to be fun. I am squeezing as many big meals into June as I can so I can devote the rest of my time to not eating very much and living on an IV drip, maybe moving out to Colorado or New Mexico and watching tumbleweeds collect like snowdrifts.

Eating my Dada,


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Marco Antonio Flores

Just this morning I finished Comrades by Marco Antonio Flores. Truly this is an important book for several reasons, not least of which is mentioned in this review (the only I can find): . Flores pissed off the right and the left with this book and, as has happened all too often in the history of Latin American literature, he fled for his life as a result.

The book’s triumph is not smothered entirely by the complaints I mentioned in an earlier post. The British slang does tend to compromise the text for my Yankee eyes, but, as I went along, the book started to smooth out a bit in terms of language, though this was probably just me getting used the disjointed lingo. Slang from Guatemala rendered as British vernacular is a problem, yes, but the power of the writing took over, more or less. I would love to see a more universal translation of this book, though I do admit that Nickless did a fine job, regional issues not withstanding.

Considering the book got no press (as far as I can tell) in the States, and is published by a small British press, odds are Flores won’t become the household name that he ought to up here in Gringolandia. Oh well, consider this my (small) part to alter that tragedy.

A Super Group 20 Years Too Late

Okay, so this merits some mocking, right? We’re all so cool in this post-grunge world and better than it all, no? No.

Fuck, if this were 1989, I'd be excited as hell. Seriously.

Say what you will, hipster scum.

Robert Musil

“Here we encounter the equivocal nature of Musil’s master work. For this same novelist who is so enamored with ideas is also the quickest to show their emptiness and danger’

Read a killer essay on The Man Without Qualities, hailed by many as the novel of the 20th Century and the finest example of what the author of the above referenced essay calls the long-dead novel of ideas. If nothing else, I have to agree that Musil—along with Dostoevsky and Melville, to name but a few—would flunk out of any MFA program in this plot obsessed era.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Tin Drum Turns 50

One of the best books of the 20th Century, The Tin Drum by Günter Grass, is being retranslated to coincide with its 50th anniversary. This excites me. I love this book and, as it has been a while since I’ve read it, this might be the push I need to give it a 2nd reading. The question of retranslation is a big one, and, according to what I pulled off Three Percent, it is addressed in this new edition. Makes sense to me. If you love Don Quixote, In Search of Lost Time, Anna Karenina or any other foreign “classic” then by all means you owe it to yourself to investigate as many translations as you can.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Friday, June 05, 2009

A Message to My Would-be Writer Friends Who Blog About Writing

The lesson of Don Quixote: if you want to be a knight, act like a knight. If you want to be a writer, act like one. Don’t fret over it; just do it. As the song goes: Don’t talk about it; do it.

Get to work.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Chávez disses Vargas Llosa

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The finest moment from Love and Garbage:

“I wanted to achieve this not out of some kind of pride but because I realise that the most important things in life are non-communicable, not compressible into words, even though the people who believe they have discovered them always try to communicate them, even though I myself try to do so. But anyone who believes that he has found what is truly enduring and that he can communicate to others the essence of God, that he has discovered the right faith for them, that he has finally glimpsed the mystery of existence, is a fool or a fantasist and, more often than not, dangerous.”

English Translation Issues

Fresh off the heals of Love and Garbage by Ivan Klíma, which was tedious and dull most of the time though a few stand out passages kept my interest, I’m returning to Latin American literature after a break and exploration of some Eastern European jive. The current book, Comrades by Marco Antonio Flores, has struck me as being very interesting, though beset by a similar problem: a British translation.

It’s the same language, right? Not quite. Sure, we speak English, as do the English, Scottish, Irish, Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, and a rapidly increasing segment of the world’s population, but the colloquialisms differ greatly. I’ve read a fair amount of translated literature. I like it when I can’t notice the language being so obviously… well, translated. This is partially due to my reading translations done by Americans. When I read a translation done by a Brit, as I have with Klíma and am now starting with Flores, I notice some of the words and phrases as being unusual.

Examples: I don’t suspect a Guatemalan or a Czech to be calling their friends “mates” or saying “sod off,” “poofter,” “arse,” “bloody hell,” “knackered” and so on. This very British vernacular detracts from my enjoyment of the work. I stop believing in the characters and what they say. I get frustrated and tend to imagine the other options the translators had that might have worked better.

Then again, this is somewhat arrogant. I’m an American, so I assume that all works translated into English ought to read like they came from the mouth of a Yank? Do I not notice the vernacular in works translated by American translators? I like to think my favorite American translators (Suzanne Jill Levine, Natasha Wimmer, Gregory Rabassa) are going out of their way to make sure the texts read smoothly and are substituting regional slang for something more universal. Hell, even Richard Pevear and his Russian wife—who are so obsessed with maintaining the accuracy of the original text—don’t throw in glaring words/phrases such as those mentioned above.

Take Chris Andrews as a good example of an English translator. He’s tackled some big names in the world of Spanish letters: Bolaño, Erique Vila-Matas and César Aira. While he hails from Australia, you never see any noticeable local flavor in his English translations. I understand that a book like Comrades, which is full of Guatemalan slang, is very difficult to translate, and one choice would be to render the Spanish colloquialisms into their English approximates. Still, if Natasha Wimmer could handle several different regions of slang in The Savage Detectives (which, to my eyes, never seemed weighed down in Americanisms) than why can’t Leona Nickless handle one without making it seem so damn British?

Let me also say a thank you to Ms. Nickless, who brought Comrades (nee Los Compañeros) into English. From what I’ve read, this was a labor of love and an extension of an academic study on Flores. Obviously she has lived with this text for quite some time and feels pretty close to it, much the way Clayton Eshleman spent so much time with the work of Vallejo (and, it seems, feels as though he owns those poems in English). Kudos to you, Leona. Maybe it’s something within me, as suggested earlier, but I still wish the narrators of Comrades didn’t sound like Londoners.