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Posts Tagged ‘Béla Tarr’

From Nowhere: An Interview with Antoine Volodine

July 8, 2015 | by

© Didier Gaillard

© Didier Gaillard

We both discovered Antoine Volodine, appropriately enough, in winter. One of us was sitting in a classroom overlooking bare trees, translating the first pages of Des anges mineurs (Minor Angels). The other one of us had just read the same novel in English and was sleepwalking through the dark, snowy streets of Rochester recalling Volodine’s declaration that the novel’s meaning was “not in the book’s pages but in the dreams people will have after reading it.”

Volodine’s books are almost as dreamlike as their author himself. He writes under four (or perhaps five) heteronyms, including Antoine Volodine, and only the most basic facts of his biography are known: he was born in 1950, came of age during the 1968 student protests in Paris, and taught Russian in France for some fifteen years before devoting himself entirely to writing. His debut, Comparative Biography of Jorian Murgrave, appeared in France in 1985. It is the story, told by way of fragmented microbiographies, of an alien hunted down on Earth whose dreams are invaded by psychobiologists intent on making him talk. “There is no way I could call Biographie comparée a novel,” one befuddled critic wrote; others were swift to express their shock and delight at such an innovative author appearing in the frequently monotonous ranks of science fiction. In a matter of years, Volodine had became famous for his (and his heteronyms’) singular brand of writing.

Names, places, and themes recur throughout his oeuvre; it has quickly coalesced into a new genre, which Volodine terms “post-exoticism.” This genre, “a foreign literature written in French,” describes prisons and Eurasian steppes, interrogations and monologues, walks through the Bardo state, failed revolutions and cataclysms, and humans struggling, in spite of everything, to survive in a world similar to our own.

Minor Angels, published in France in 1999, comprises forty-nine narracts—brief texts, prose poems, short stories—loosely connected around a group of immortal crones who indirectly revive capitalism; it won Volodine the Prix France Inter in 2000 as well as an international readership. To date, he has published some forty books—including Naming the Jungle, We Monks and Soldiers, In the Time of the Blue Ball, and Writersunder his own heteronym, as well as those of Manuela Draeger and Lutz Bassmann. Open Letter Books will publish translations of three new books over the next three years; the first of these, Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven, appeared in May.

We interviewed Volodine last winter, shortly after he was awarded the Prix Médicis for his novel Terminus radieux. We asked our questions in English, and he responded in wonderfully Volodinian French.

Twenty-five years ago, a reporter at Le Nouvel Observateur asked in which literary category you would place your work, and you responded that it was outside and beyond the conventional categories of existing literature. The question prompted you to invent the nearly nonsensical phrase “post-exoticism.” But eight years later, the phrase had taken on some significance, enough that you published a book around it, Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven. Since then, has “post-exoticism” come to mean something different for you?

I’d like to start by correcting an error I made. I attributed this question to a Nouvel Observateur reporter. It actually came from a reporter for Le Point in July 1991. Our conversation was exactly this—“What genre do you prefer to be classified in?” “Anarcho-fantastic post-exoticism.” It was a somewhat irreverent wisecrack, but it was a way, at the time, to confirm that I didn’t belong either to science fiction, the genre in which my first four books had been classified, or to highbrow French avant-garde literature, which Éditions de Minuit, my publisher at the time, often published. I took the opportunity of the interview to proclaim this break, which seemed evident to me but which literary critics had had trouble taking into account. They hid for far too long behind the adjective unclassifiable, which I can still find in numerous publications today. Read More »

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What We’re Loving: Lawyers and Criminals

April 26, 2013 | by

Albertine Sarrazin

Albertine Sarrazin

In spring of 1971 the New York Times got hold of a top-secret, seven-thousand-page history of the Vietnam War. When the Times ran a series based on the Pentagon Papers, it sparked one of the biggest First Amendment battles of the last century. Leading the Times’s defense was the young lawyer James Goodale. In his new memoir, Fighting for the Press, Goodale gives a fascinating blow-by-blow account of the legal arguments, personal rivalries, and inspired teamwork behind that famous defense, which started from the principle that there is nothing inherently illegal about publishing classified information. “My philosophy as a publishing lawyer,” Goodale writes, “was that anything could be published. I had always found that if you took a word out here and there, shifted a paragraph here and there, anything was possible.” In later years, Goodale worked his way up to become house counsel for The Paris Review: we look forward to volume two. —Lorin Stein

When Albertine Sarrazin’s L’astragale was published in 1965, the autobiographical novel, about a young woman who escapes reform school and embarks on a life of prostitution and petty crime, became an overnight sensation. The fact that the glamorous, enigmatic author died at the height of her fame, at only twenty-nine, has only added to the book’s mystique. In her introduction to a fresh edition from New Directions, Patti Smith describes the book as her youthful talisman and Sarrazin as “my guide through the nights of one hundred sleeps.” I think it is a book to read when you are young; in some ways I am too old to have just discovered it. But even knowing this, I reveled in its entertaining, gritty weirdness. It bears mentioning, too, that the translator is Patsy Southgate, writer and fellow traveler of the Paris Review. —Sadie Stein

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The Star-Crossed

November 10, 2011 | by

A few weeks ago, I went to the local art-house cinema in Royal Oak, Michigan, to see Gus Van Sant’s Restless, starring Dennis Hopper’s son, Henry Hopper, and the sensitive indie-girl du jour Mia Wasikowska. The movie is in many ways a conventional love story: awkward boy meets awkward girl; they both have secret traumas that they eventually reveal to each other; they support each other emotionally when the rest of the world is unable; they have a fight; and then, by the end, they come to a greater acceptance of each other. But one director’s trite structure is another’s fresh material. If Van Sant had made nothing but offbeat romances, Restless might have been boring. But he is one of the most experimental filmmakers we have, and his decision to helm an ostensibly ordinary love story is, itself, anything but ordinary. Read More »

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