The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘novels’

Passionate Acolytes: An Interview with Benjamin Moser

August 17, 2015 | by

Photo: Paulo Gurgel Valente

I’ve gotten accustomed to talking about the “Clarice Lispector tidal wave.” For weeks on end, I’ve scarcely been able to go online without seeing Lispector, who died in 1977, raved about, serialized, reviewed, discussed, or marveled at.

The occasion for this outpouring of attention is the publication of The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector, translated by Katrina Dodson and edited by Benjamin Moser. But this story goes back much further, at least to 2009, when Moser published his biography of Lispector, Why This World. Since then, we’ve seen a remarkable resurgence of interest in the author, whom many consider to be among the best Brazil ever produced, and one who is often compared to Virginia Woolf. Why This World was followed by Moser’s translation of Lispector’s final novel, The Hour of the Star, and then new translations of four of Lispector’s major novels, each by a different translator.

With The Complete Stories upon us, I asked Moser why Lispector is worthy of all this effort, what makes the new book such a monumental publication, and what’s next for the Brazilian author.

Let’s begin with a very basic question—why Lispector?

Sometimes you meet someone in a bar and end up in bed after a few drinks. And sometimes you wake up and look over at the person snoring by your side and gasp and say, What was I thinking? But other times that person turns out to be the love of your life. With Clarice, I certainly had no idea that our relationship would be as long or as intense as it turned out to be. Writing her biography taught me about her life, introduced me to her world, her country, her friends. Translating her books brought me into her mind on the molecular level where the translator has to work. And the better I got to know her, the more my love deepened. Read More »

At the Hundredth Universal Esperanto Congress, and Other News

August 6, 2015 | by

esperanto2

From the 1909 Esperanto Congress.

  • In 1969, Life ran a photo essay called “What it takes to be a lady author anymore,” with predictably outmoded advice: “swim a little,” for starters, “exercise in a bikini,” and be “photographed in bed.” The magazine photographed Jeanne Rejaunier—who was promoting a new novel called, ironically enough, The Beauty Trap—in various titillating poses, and also raking leaves in a Victorian dress. “Just possibly because she smiles so prettily on the book jacket (the back and the front of the book),” Life wrote, “The Beauty Trap is now in its fourth printing.”
  • Today in obscure centennials: “Last week the 100th Universal Congress of Esperanto was held in Lille. The public program included a traditional dance workshop in the Place du Théâtre, an ecumenical service in the Eglise Saint-Maurice and concerts by Esperanto singers. There were also introductory lessons in Esperanto, and an international football match between Esperanto and Western Sahara. (The match was abandoned at half-time with Western Sahara 4–0 up.)”
  • Rock music and fiction haven’t blended terribly well over the years—there’s a Great Jones Street here, a Goon Squad there, and not much between. But 2014 saw no fewer than five entrants in the ongoing contest for Great American Rock Novel, and “interestingly, none of these 2014 titles concerns itself with conveying the over-the-top elements of rock on the page. Rather, they focus on characters dabbling in rock within the larger context of their more domestic pursuits: growing up, falling in love, finding a path, having a family; in short, the arcs that have been part of the novel’s scope since at least Austen. Much of the trouble for these characters comes when their more universal journeys collide with their need to make music, play in band, tour in an airbrushed bus.”
  • Salvador Dalí’s childhood diaries remain untranslated, which is a shame, because they find him witnessing the unrest in the lead up to the Spanish Civil War: “At this point in the journal, the illustrations by Dalí … have become morbid. An old man hangs from a noose with his tongue lolling out. On the facing page, a warrior with sword in hand extends the severed head of a long-haired man toward the viewer.”
  • On the literary scene in Ukraine, which has a strange emphasis on finality: “Ukrainian literature—or Ukrainian culture more broadly—employs the words last quite often: last territory, last bastion, the last issue of a magazine, the last books of a bankrupt publisher, the last Ukrainian-speaking readers, writers, translators. There is a well-known contemporary classic, a collection of essays by one of Ukraine’s best-known authors, Yuri Andrukhovych, called My Last Territory; there is an art management agency called Last Bastion.”

On Paul Metcalf’s Genoa

July 29, 2015 | by

Metcalf’s “poeticized collage” reckons with his great-grandfather, Herman Melville.

Paul Metcalf

It is extremely rare, these days, to encounter something that feels completely new. That is, most literary artifacts are pretty easy to slot into one format or the other.What a gift then, what a rare, beautiful turn of events when you stumble on a book that seems to come from some spot entirely its own. What a gift, the moment in which you must summon all your readerly resources to grasp the enormity of what you are encountering, to see the pages as they are. I can count these reading experiences on one hand, and in each case I was somehow improved,made better as a reader (Nightwood, by Djuna Barnes; Sanitorium under the Sign of the Hourglass, by Bruno Schulz; The Recognitions, by William Gaddis; The Rings of Saturn, by W. G. Sebald; The Beetle Leg, by John Hawkes). Often the reason we read is in the hope of having these experiences of the truly, unmistakably original.

Paul Metcalf is one of these original writers. A writer who had to follow his own path, at significant cost to himself, over many decades, without a large following. A writer who took the forms that were at hand and shook them up, recast them, repurposed them, so that a traditional approach, after beholding his model, seems almost ludicrously simplistic. A writer of the new, the surprising, the arresting. Read More »

All’s Fair

July 21, 2015 | by

Tove_Jansson_with_flower_crown_001

Tove Jansson. Photo: Per Olov Jansson

 

They lived at opposite ends of a large apartment building near the harbor, and between their studios lay the attic, an impersonal no-man’s land of tall corridors with locked plank doors on either side. Mari liked wandering across the attic; it drew a necessary, neutral interval between their domains. She could pause on the way to listen to the rain on the metal roof, look out across the city as it lit its lights, or just linger for the pleasure of it.

They never asked, “Were you able to work today?” Maybe they had, twenty or thirty years earlier, but they’d gradually learned not to. There are empty spaces that must be respected—those often long periods when a person can’t see the pictures or find the words and needs to be left alone.

—Tove Jansson, “Videomania,” Fair Play

There are not many really good books that portray functional relationships. Certainly not the relationships of artists. Well, that’s not a shocker—happy families, as we are told, are all alike. Fair Play, Tove Jansson’s 1982 portrait of a partnership, is an exception.

Fair Play is based on Jansson’s relationship with the artist Tuulikki Pietilä, with whom she shared a life, and a home, for some forty years. If you have read Jansson’s classic Summer Book, certain things about Fair Play will be familiar: the island setting, the spareness, the less-is-more portrait of human connection. These things will be familiar even to those who only know Jansson from her most famous works, like Finn Family Moomintroll. (Indeed, Pietilä was the inspiration for the competent Moomin character Too-Ticky.) Read More »

The Hunters

June 23, 2015 | by

In memory of James Salter, who died last week, the Daily is republishing a series of essays from 2011, when Salter received The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize. In today’s piece, Geoff Dyer looks at Salter’s first novel, The Hunters.

To learn more about Salter, read his 1993 Art of Fiction interview or one of his stories from the magazine: “Sundays” (1966), “Am Strande von Tanger” (1968), “Via Negativa” (1972), and “Bangkok” (2003) are available in full online.

James Salter in a fighter plane.

The Hunters (1957) was Salter’s first novel and remains the most concise expression of his talents. It is based closely on his own experience as a pilot flying combat missions in Korea. The war in the air proceeds in tandem with a near civil war on the ground as the pilots vie with each other to achieve the coveted five kills that will make them aces. The conflicting demands between ensuring the safety of comrades (the “sacred” duty of the wingman) and the individual daring—recklessness even—needed to shoot down MiGs threaten to destroy the central character, Cleve Connell.

In Burning the Days Salter recalls a friend’s advising him that “the original form of storytelling is someone saying, I was there and this is what I beheld.” As soon as he began writing, Salter knew that his time as a fighter pilot would give his storytelling this elemental immediacy and power. (The magnificent climactic scene of the novel involves an incident mentioned briefly in the memoir, when two planes, out of fuel, are forced to glide back to base.) Earlier still, when he was learning to fly, Salter had fallen under the spell of the most famous writer-pilot of them all, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “it was his knowledge I admired, his wholeness of mind, more than his exploits. ... In [his] footsteps I would follow.” (This tradition—or perhaps trajectory is a better word—has recently been extended by Jed Mercurio. Part of his novel Ascent (2007), about Soviet pilots flying MiGs in Korea, can be read as a commentary on—or duel with?—Salter, whose novel, presumably, served as template and inspiration.) Cassada has at its core an event that is in some ways a reworking of the kind of crisis imaginatively depicted by Saint-Exupéry in Night Flight as two lost planes drift past their landing strip, cut off from the earth by darkness and rain clouds. The Hunters contains a direct allusion to the master, a translation of the lyricism of Wind, Sand and Stars (“Below the sea of clouds lies eternity”) into the argot of the jet age, the dawn of the right stuff: “There was a mission when they conned across seas of eternity, never catching sight of the ground except at the beginning and end.” Not that Salter is lacking in his own lyric gifts. The experience of flight, the mysteries of the sky, remain as intoxicating and magical as they were for the pilots of propeller-driven biplanes:

Suddenly Pell called out something at three o’clock. Cleve looked. He could not tell what it was at first. Far out, a strange, dreamy rain was falling, silver and wavering. It was a group of drop tanks, tumbling down from above, the fuel and vapor streaming from them. Cleve counted them at a glance. There were a dozen or more, going down like thin cries fading in silence. That many tanks meant MiGs. He searched the sky above, but saw nothing.

Read More »

Monkey Glands for Everyone

June 17, 2015 | by

gland-stealers

The Gland Stealers, 1922.

The history of our quest for eternal youth is a history of fools’ errands. It’s also, if your glass is half full, a buoyant tribute to the human imagination—or at least to the spirit of determination. We want so badly to stay young. We’ve sought to bathe in the Fountain of Youth, to imbibe the Elixir of Life, and to—well, to do whatever it is one does with the Philosopher’s Stone. (Grind it up and snort it?) But few solutions to the problem of aging are as risible or as tragic as that of Serge Voronoff, who essayed to stave off death by replacing old men’s testicles with those of healthy young monkeys.

Voronoff rose to prominence about a century ago, and his methods were in practice, if not in vogue, through the 1940s. His first book, 1920’s Life: A Study of the Means of Restoring Vital Energy and Prolonging Life, is a goulash of Freudian fixations and well-intentioned pseudoscience. Having observed that eunuchs tend to die young—“their faces are glabrous and livid, and their hanging cheeks make them look like old women. Most of them are fat, with rounded outlines and, in many cases, voluminous breasts”—Voronoff came to the deeply specious conclusion that testicles must hold the spermatozoon-shaped key to a long, vigorous life. He began to experiment by grafting the sex glands of lambs into aging rams, and went to great lengths to convince himself that his aim was true: Read More »