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Arts & Culture

Mein Scheisse

April 28, 2015 | by

Knausgaard’s fecal fixation.

Kinderen die hun behoefte doen

Gesina ter Borch, Kinderen die hun behoefte doen (Children Relieve Themselves), ca. 1650.

“I’ve been reading Knausgaard,” I’ve heard on more than one occasion, over this Scandinavian-grade winter, from a friend across a barroom table. And a few minutes into the conversation, almost inevitably: “There’s this part in the third book about taking a shit … ”

It came as no surprise that my friends wanted to talk My Struggle, the Norwegian novelist’s opus on the everyday in six volumes. (The fourth is out in English translation today.) But the number of those friends who zeroed in on Knausgaard’s excretory musings was another matter.

And it’s not just My Struggle. The subject reemerged earlier this year when The New York Times Magazine published “My Saga,” Knausgaard’s two-part North American travelogue, in which a jaunt on the john in a Newfoundland hotel leaves him with a hopelessly clogged toilet. He recounts the aftermath at length. The episode was at the center of Knausgaard talk.

Lest readers think this focus is a factor of the company I keep—that I surround myself with prudish types offended by bathroom scenes, fetishists attracted to them, or the scatological-humor crowd—I direct them to James Wood, a critic at a venue no less proper than The New Yorker. In an interview with Knausgaard published in the Winter 2014 issue of The Paris Review, Wood says, Read More »

At Work

Translating Knausgaard: An Interview with Don Bartlett

April 28, 2015 | by

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From the cover of the American edition of My Struggle: Book Four.

The fourth of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six-volume autobiographical mega-novel, My Struggle, releases today. But Knausgaard writes in Norwegian, and most of us are reading My Struggle in English. For this we must thank the translator Don Bartlett, who has spent much of the past four years transposing Knausgaard’s Norwegian into an addictive, lively English.

I recently had a chance to discuss My Struggle with Bartlett, who, as the book’s translator, is surely one of Knausgaard’s closest, most dedicated readers on Earth. He has been over every single word in the first four books of My Struggle several times; he has weighed commas and clauses like gold; he has scoured for the right voice for Knausgaard in English. Bartlett, who lives in England, was able to tell me fascinating things about My Struggle—among them, some of the differences between how Knausgaard sounds in Norwegian and English, why Knausgaard seems to sound a tiny bit British in the U.S. editions of My Struggle, and his own theories about why the novels have proven such a success in English.

When did you first encounter My Struggle?

I went to a panel discussion in London with three Norwegian writers, led by someone I knew was clued up on Norwegian literature. Afterward, I talked to Karl Ove and asked him what he was working on. He said he had just written five—I think it was five—novels. I asked him what about. He said, with a laugh, Myself.Read More »

On the Shelf

Letter from Dhallywood, and Other News

April 28, 2015 | by

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From “Love Me or Kill Me,” via Slate.

  • It must be said: in this, his bicentennial year, Trollope is trending—and not just because, as we mentioned yesterday, one of his books is soon to become a TV show. “The quality of irony that we value today is omnipresent in Trollope—and that is the habit of turning objects and values upside down, of seeing big and little inverted. Trollope’s people are all doing things that are small: getting on committees, making sermons, writing to newspapers, finding misplaced checks.”
  • More than that: Trollope has saved lives. Lives. “To this day [I] credit him with saving me from a nervous breakdown. Reading English at university I’d forgotten what it was to read for pleasure … When I stumbled upon his work, I was looking for a way to understand the world, particularly 1980s London. The ideals—some might say delusions—of the counterculture were being replaced by an enthusiasm for money, efficiency and snobbery, especially among my generation. The people and problems Trollope described seemed then, as now, astonishingly contemporary.”
  • Sarker Protick’s series of photographs, “Love Me or Kill Me,” captures film sets at the Bangladesh Film Development Corporation, where the movies are “exercises in extremes, made quickly and with small budgets to appeal to the widest possible audience.”
  • An interview with Tim Parks on reading, translating, and difficult writers: “An American author actually doesn’t have to think about anything. He can just write and think for years for Americans—and in fact, everybody’s becoming Americans … But if you’re in Holland, Norway, Sweden, even Italy, to a degree, then apart from the fact that you’ve grown up with the idea that lots of books came from other places and so there’s no reason my book shouldn’t go to other places—and apart from the fact that the number of people buying books in your country is much smaller—your chances of surviving on a book that’s totally in Italy is very small. There’s just a tendency to look outward more.”
  • Write a House, the extra-extra-extended residency program in which writers are awarded a house, forever, in Detroit, is accepting its next round of applicants. An inside tip from the last winner: “If you’re considering applying and you’re thinking to yourself, ‘I want to, but it’s in Detroit’—don’t apply. If you don’t want to live in Detroit, or Detroit’s reputation scares you, don’t apply to win a house in Detroit. It’s pretty simple. If you’re not prepared to embrace Detroit for everything it is, you’re going to have a hard time being here.”

Books

On a Pedestal

April 27, 2015 | by

Duras’s The Lover, thirty years later.

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A young Duras on the cover of The Lover.

Early in Marguerite Duras’s The Lover, we encounter an indelible image: a strange rag doll of a girl rides the ferry across the Mekong River en route to Saigon. She’s an adolescent, fifteen and a half, and she looks both too young and too old for her age, in a sleeveless, low-cut, red silk dress, a leather belt that belongs to one of her older brothers, gold lamé shoes, and—the most striking piece of her ensemble—a large, flat-brimmed men’s hat:

Having got it, this hat that all by itself makes me whole, I wear it all the time. With the shoes it must have been much the same, but after the hat. They contradict the hat, as the hat contradicts the puny body, so they’re right for me.

That elliptical, dreamlike tone is characteristic of the novel. The book’s narrator is a young woman in flux. She’s outgrown childhood and has poured her body into oversize markers of adulthood; the conclusion of the ferry ride signals the start of her sexual awakening, as she first glimpses the chauffeured black limousine that belongs to the twenty-seven-year-old Chinese businessman, the novel’s eponymous lover.

The Lover, Duras’s forty-eighth work, was published in France in 1984; the English translation arrived in the United States a year later. If the book, at just over a hundred pages, reads like the hazy, disconnected musings of a seventy-year-old writer looking at faded snapshots of her past, that’s because it is. When Duras claimed that the novel was entirely autobiographical, it became something of an international sensation. But, as the New York Times noted, “truth, in the Durasian universe, is a slippery entity”; Duras also went on to say “that the story of her life did not exist.” She and the novel found even more notoriety a decade later, when Jean-Jacques Annaud’s film adaptation was released. Duras eventually washed her hands of the film, which focused mainly on the erotic elements of the story—and indeed the novel’s depictions of sex receive an outsize portion of attention. But it’s also a study in the narrator’s fraught connection with her family and the cultural fissures in French-colonial Indochine. Read More »

Our Daily Correspondent

The Talking Cure

April 27, 2015 | by

Commuters in Lower Manhattan, 1973.

Urban life is full of glorious opportunities to hear people talking to themselves. I don’t mean mentally ill people; it doesn’t delight me to see somebody visibly ill. No, what I mean is the triumph of unself-consciousness that you can regularly witness on the streets, where all of us reliably utter short, throwaway remarks to no one in particular. We don’t do this for others’ benefit, but when someone else overhears such a remark, everything comes together and harmonizes and, for all the world, it’s as if life has a narrator. E.g.: Read More »

The ‘Mating’ Book Club

6: “A Craving for Silence”

April 27, 2015 | by

From “Kang” through “Music,” pp. 116–140

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This is the sixth entry in our Mating Book Club. (Sorry for the wait!) Read along.

This latest portion might be dubbed “The Critique of Pure Boredom, especially given that our narrator name-drops Kant in the midst of it. Early on, she declares, “One attractive thing about me is that I’m never bored, because during any caesura my personal automatic pastime of questioning my own motives is there for me.”

Lest we doubt her, she goes on to wonder whether the journey she intends to undertake to Tsau is the byproduct of certain deep unconscious maternal longings, or something else. She dismisses any neo-Darwinian and Freudian interpretation of her behavior, wrangles with the question of that behavior in relation to Denoon’s childlessness (interesting, she notes), and the overpopulation problem, plus her sympathy for abandoned children globally. And she winds up wanting her decisions in the realm of relationships to be not only deliberate, but “deliberative,” which is where Kant enters into it. Slow and steady.

Yet in the world outside her head, she’s on a flatbed truck that’s flying at hair-raising speeds for 250 miles, with cornmeal, mail, and a “fiendish shavenheaded adolescent at the wheel.” Read More »

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