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Posts Tagged ‘Albert Cossery’

Teeth Marks: Three Early Poems by Albert Cossery

December 3, 2013 | by

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Like his friend, fellow Scorpio, and confidant Albert Camus, Albert Cossery would also have celebrated his one hundredth birthday last month. The patron saint of indolence—who wrote only when he had nothing better to do—died in 2008. But one can imagine that Cossery, had he made it to his centenary, would have been exactly like Cossery at any age. The elegant Egyptian novelist, impeccably dressed, forever held fast to his routine. For nearly sixty years, until his death, he lived in an austere room in the Hotel La Louisiane in St. Germain des Prés. Each day he slept late, venturing out only in the afternoons, to bask in the sun and watch the girls of the Luxembourg Gardens, or to have a plate of lentils and fizzy water at the Café de Flore and linger for hours, doing nothing. Even when, toward the end of his life, he was hospitalized for an operation, Cossery—still wearing the ward’s pajamas—escaped the hospital for the café, pushed in a wheelchair by a beautiful blonde.

“Here comes Tutanhkamun,” the waiters whispered behind his back. Just so, Cossery’s writings, forever returning to the same scenes and casts—of mendicants and saltimbanques, failed revolutionaries and hashish-addled philosophers—preserved a certain consistency over the decades. The young Albert, who attended French schools as a child in Cairo, began his first novel at age ten. At seventeen, he published a book of poems, titled Les Morsures, “The Teeth Marks” or “Bites.” By all accounts the book has been lost, and Cossery himself up until his death coyly refused to aid any devoted readers in search of a copy. Yet three poems were preserved in the monumental anthology Poètes en Egypte, edited in Cairo in 1955 by Jean Moscatelli. The anthology, which brought together over fifty-five Franco-Egyptian writers, captured the collective achievements of a literary community in the twilight of its end. It included Cossery’s friends Georges Henein and Edmond Jabès, as well as Joyce Mansour and Horus Schenouda—all of whom were soon to leave, or had already left, for exile in Paris in the wake of Nasser’s coup. Read More »

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Shakedown: Cossery in Egypt

March 6, 2013 | by

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Egypt’s political efflorescence has inspired a surge in Western readership for its novelists, and few have benefitted more than Albert Cossery. An expatriate who lived in the same Saint-Germain-des-Prés hotel room for the last sixty years of his life, Cossery’s eight novels celebrate a highly attuned lethargy, the slow-burning ire of pranksters and misfits. But with countless Egyptian activists jailed, tortured, and killed since 2011 by the entrenched organs of the state they sought to overthrow, one might dismiss the renewed interest in his works as well-meaning, if solipsistic. It doesn’t help that the man, who died in 2008, seemed to have written off the revolutionary enterprise altogether: “There’s nothing worse than a reformer. They’re all careerists.” But this was before last week, when the Harlem shake fully arrived in Cairo, and four guys arrested in their underwear prompted the youthful vanguard’s latest tack: the formation of a “Satiric Revolutionary Struggle,” which, as its first action, shut down the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood with a four-hundred-strong throng of syncopated dancing.

The reaction to the Harlem-shaking of the Brotherhood’s headquarters was more than a convenient vindication of Cosserian thought—it reminded us of a truth he gently but persistently nudged along his whole life: in a world of unsmiling authority and unswerving ambition, the prank is the apotheosis of political action, the only point of escape. Read More »

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In Which the Author Reads the Works of Albert Cossery: An Illustrated Essay, Part 2

September 25, 2012 | by

 

See Part 1 here.

Nathan Gelgud is an illustrator who lives in Brooklyn.

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In Which the Author Reads the Works of Albert Cossery: An Illustrated Essay

August 10, 2012 | by

Nathan Gelgud is an illustrator who lives in Brooklyn.

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Three Events with Our Editors

December 5, 2011 | by

See our editors in action! This Wednesday night, join editor Lorin Stein at the New York Public Library as he discusses the James Family—that’s Henry, William, and Alice—with Jean Strouse, author of the recently reissued biography of Alice James. The fun begins at 7 P.M.

Then, next Thursday, Southern editor John Jeremiah Sullivan will be chatting with Wells Tower about the art of the essay, also at the New York Public Library. Seats are free; don’t miss it!

But first thing’s first: tomorrow, at 7 P.M. at Word Bookstore in Greenpoint, Poetry Editor Robyn Creswell will be on a panel tackling the biting wit and anarchist bent of the novels of Albert Cossery. Come learn more about the books that Creswell calls “hymns to laziness.”

We hope to see you there!

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Staff Picks: ‘Proud Beggars,’ A Brilliant Invalid

December 2, 2011 | by

The New York Review just reissued Alice James, Jean Strouse’s 1980 biography of a brilliant invalid—Henry and William’s sister—whose brave wit shone through depression, physical paralysis, and the constraints of being a female James. Alice is not the only one who comes to life in Strouse’s book; they all do, and the love and loneliness in that family can move you to tears. —Lorin Stein

Albert Cossery was an Egyptian novelist who lived for more than sixty years in the Hôtel La Louisiane in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. He never held a job (he refused to get out of bed before noon), and each of his seven novels is a hymn to laziness. Two new translations of Cossery will be published this month: Proud Beggars, a metaphysical whodunit set in a whorehouse, and The Colors of Infamy, about real estate, blackmail, and life in a Cairene cemetery. Both are treats. —Robyn Creswell

I was in France for a week after Thanksgiving and had the chance to go to some terrific exhibitions, one of the best of which, at the Grand Palais, was on Gertrude Stein and her family and managed to replicate their collection. (The fact that it was called “L’Adventure des Stein” didn’t hurt—and, yes, I took a picture in front of the sign!) Of everything there, my favorite piece was a small Matisse still life of some nasturtiums. And when I looked at the wall text, I saw it was on loan from the Brooklyn Museum. I’m sure there’s some cliché in there about traveling across the ocean to find the treasure in your own backyard. —Sadie Stein

In a superb piece for Vanity Fair last June, Christopher Hitchens relates how he used to open his writing classes with the cheering maxim that anyone who could talk could write (of course he would then ask his students how many of them could really talk). The anecdote is telling: the experience of encountering his latest essay collection, Arguably, is less one of reading and more one of sitting down to a long and intimate dinner with the man himself. Over the course of over a hundred pieces, Hitchens’s fierce intellect ranges from the authors of the Constitution to illicit blowjobs in public toilets to the case for humanitarian intervention in totalitarian states. The wit shimmers, and when the talk turns serious, though you may not always agree with the man, he, like the best interlocutors, will demand you know why and have the courage of your convictions. —Peter Conroy Read More »

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