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This Week's Reading

What We’re Loving: Tropical Paradise, Anxiety, Translation

January 18, 2013 | by

When the novelist Adam Thirlwell told me his idea, I was skeptical: to publish a work of fiction in many translations, each version being a translation of the one before. But Adam Thirlwell is Adam Thirlwell, “schemey like a nine-year-old,” as one collaborator describes him, with “weird vibes, as if he does unorthodox things to the books he carries to the bathroom.” Multiples, the new issue of McSweeney’s, edited by Thirlwell, is an unorthodox thing of beauty, a stunt that only a kid would attempt, and an absolute pleasure to read—though almost nobody on earth will be able to read every page. What Thirlwell has done is to assemble new or obscure works by Kierkegaard, Vila-Matas, Krasznahorkai, et al., translated (and retranslated, and retranslated) by a dream team of polyglot writers. So, for example, Dave Eggers translates a Spanish translation by Alejandro Zambra of an English translation by Nathan Englander of a Hebrew translation by Etgar Keret of an English translation by John Wray of a previously untranslated short story by Franz Kafka. It’s a game of pro-level Chinese whispers, and—thanks to Thirlwell's list of contributors—a wide-angle snapshot of our literary firmament, circa now. Plus, the afterwords by Thirlwell and Francesco Pacifico have persuaded me not only that it would be fun to read Emilio Gadda in Italian, but that a translator can have more fun with an untranslatable writer than I ever dared to dream. —Lorin Stein

The editors of the New York Times blog Anxiety recently asked Laszlo Krasznahorkai to contribute an essay on the theme. This is the writer who eschews paragraph breaks and short sentences because he feels they are artificial and whose subjects are often very bleak—which is to say, he’s their ideal contributor. The author himself describes it as “a lyrical essay about the terrible meeting between boorishness and aggressiveness,” but with Krasznahorkai, it’s so much more than that. There are paragraph breaks and the occasional brief sentence (one wonders if the former appeared in the original version), but this is a hard little gem, a Möbius strip of what feels simultaneously like madness and utter logic. —Nicole Rudick

Since coming down with the flu that’s been plaguing the city, I’ve been reading David Foster Wallace’s latest posthumous book, the collected essays Both Flesh and Not. It will likely interest only Wallace’s most devoted fan base, as his best work has arguably already been published. This is a collection of nonfiction: book reviews and articles on topics as varied as tennis, math, Borges, and The Terminator. Scattered throughout the pages is a sublime word list DFW continually updated: sacerdotal, satyromaniac, scilicet, sciolism. The first essay, “Federer Both Flesh and Not,” is the best; he waxes poetic on the tennis prodigy and talent in general. “Twenty-Four Word Notes” is fascinating and offers useful writing tips, like “The great thing about using feckless is that it lets you be extremely dismissive and mean without sounding mean; you just sound witty and classy.” —Laura Creste

I find it hard to sate my midwinter cravings for flora and fauna. (There is only so long one can loiter in a flower shop before being asked to please buy a fern or, at the very least, a day-old rose.) Thankfully this Saturday marks the beginning of “Tropical Paradise” at the New York Botanical Garden. The five-week long showcase features tropical photographs to complement a conservatory tour. You might seek an even fuller (and slightly clichéd) experience by bringing your favorite copy of nature verse. I suggest Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris. Don’t forget to enter the photo contest. —Kendall Poe

In the late nineties, my grandmother joined an Italy-bound tour group for seniors. The only one thing she wanted to do while she was there was visit the Fortuny factory on the Venetian island of Giudecca. When the group arrived in Venice, though, she discovered that not only was the famed textile house not open to visitors, but that there was no time allotted for tour participants to wander about on their own during that particular leg of the trip. So my grandmother did what any headstrong seventy-year-old would do: she harassed a gondolier until he agreed to take her to Giudecca, showed up unannounced at the factory (much to the bewilderment of its staffers), and held up her entire tour group for an afternoon. New Yorkers have it easy—they can simply head to the Queen Sofía Spanish Institute, on the Upper East Side, where “Fortuny y Madrazo: An Artistic Legacy,” curated by Oscar de la Renta, will be on view until March 30. —Clare Fentress

Are you reading The Milan Review? You should be. Their claim—“almost certainly the best Italian-American literary journal in the world”—is a bold one but borne out by the consistent creativity of its content. Issue 3, out now, has been temporarily christened The Milan Review of Adultery and consists entirely of Travels in Central America, a novella by Clancy Martin. As the editors put it, “It is small and hardback and pleasing to the eye as well as the mind.” —Sadie Stein

2 COMMENTS

2 Comments

  1. Maureen Murphy | January 18, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    “Multiples” reminds me of the story of James Joyce learning Norwegian to write a letter to Ibsen. I am a poet and have been noodling with Gaelic lessons, so I can write poetry in English, translate it to Gaelic, then translate it back to English. It is an interesting journey!

  2. Joe Carlson | January 18, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    Clancy Martin? Doris Lessing’s friend and lover who shows up wearing a mask in THE GOLDEN NOTEBOOK? Ooops – that’s Clancy Sigal. Thanks for the tip on a writer I need to catch up with.

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