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Posts Tagged ‘PEN’

Stanisław Barańczak’s “This Is Not a Conversation for the Telephone”

January 5, 2015 | by

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Barańczak in a photo from Ostatni wiersz z Widokówki z tego świata, 1988.

I’ve been thinking today of Stanisław Barańczak, the Polish poet and translator who died last month at sixty-eight. He was known for flouting state censors with poems that mocked the euphemistic language of communism, and his work was seditious enough that in the seventies he was barred from publishing in Poland, though he continued to publish underground. By the early eighties, his politics had cost him his job as a professor in Poznan, and he decamped to the U.S. to lecture at Harvard. In a famous speech he likened life as a dissident to breathing underwater, with a nod to a science-fiction story by Stanisław Lem:

Bubbling sounds were the only acceptable means of communication, the official propaganda emphasized the advantages of being wet, and occasional breathing above water was considered almost a political offense—although everyone had to do it from time to time …

I wonder what Barańczak would’ve made of the new PEN International report, published this morning, on writers and government surveillance. It suggests that free expression around the world—even in the U.S., where what we’ve come to call “content producers” aren’t in the habit of fearing violence from the state—is in some ways more embattled now than it’s been since the Cold War.

It’s worth reading the report in full, though it will make you gnash your teeth and hurl invective at various institutions, chiefly the NSA. (And why shouldn’t you? You’ve already got their ear.) PEN International polled 772 writers from fifty countries, with some classified as “free,” some as “partly free,” and some “not free.” But those gradations hardly matter, it seems, when it comes to freedom of expression. Of the respondents, 75 percent in free countries, 84 percent in partly free countries, and 80 percent in not free countries said they were “very” or “somewhat” worried about surveillance. Some were so worried that they were afraid to say how worried they were:

As a final indication of the way the current “surveillance crisis” affects and haunts us, I should say that I have had serious misgivings about whether to write the above and include it in this questionnaire. It is clear to me from the information I have given you that my responses to the questionnaire, and presumably also therefore this statement, can be traced back to me. It may be that this information will be hacked by security agencies. Surely anyone who thinks thoughts like these will be in danger—if not today, then (because this is a process) possibly tomorrow.

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Alec Soth’s Niagara, Annotated

November 26, 2014 | by

Photograph © Beowulf Sheehan/PEN American Center

“Why do the falls simultaneously attract lovers and suicidals?” (Click to enlarge.)

As we mentioned on Monday, next week PEN American Center presents “First Editions, Second Thoughts,” an auction of seventy-five annotated first editions at Christie’s New York, including work by Philip Roth, Don DeLillo, and Jane Smiley, among others. The proceeds will benefit PEN, a writers’ association dedicated to protecting free expression.

PEN shared with us a few of the annotated pages from the photographer Alec Soth’s second monograph, Niagara (2006), which features pictures of the falls and the people who visit them: newlyweds and lovers in a milieu of motels, parking lots, and pawnshops, the unlikely venues for human desire. The prolific Soth has appeared on the Daily in many forms over the years; there are few photographers whose work is so consistently compelling, so intimate. (Art in America has a smarter take: “Perhaps more than any other contemporary photographer, Soth understands the tension between art and document inherent in the photographic medium. Situating his work between these two tendencies, he has created surprisingly personal metaphors for the collective hopes and anxieties governing post-9/11 America.”)

The annotated edition of Niagara finds Soth captioning his photos with canny asides, some contemplative and some rueful. (“I should’ve photographed her alone,” he writes below a picture of a newlywed couple at a motel.) He’s also supplied—and glued onto the book’s blank pages—several unseen photos from the same sessions, usually with notes as to why they were left out of the monograph; it adds up to an engaging look at his composition and selection process. Here are a few more photos of the edition: Read More »

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The Words Are Everything

September 9, 2014 | by

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Our congratulations to Ursula K. Le Guin, who will receive the National Book Foundation’s 2014 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters:

“Ursula Le Guin has had an extraordinary impact on several generations of readers and, particularly, writers in the United States and around the world,” said Harold Augenbraum, the Foundation’s Executive Director. “She has shown how great writing will obliterate the antiquated—and never really valid—line between popular and literary art. Her influence will be felt for decades to come.”

And additional congratulations are in order for Louise Erdrich, who has won the PEN/Saul Bellow Award, a “lifetime achievement honor for American writers” judged this year by E. L. Doctorow, Zadie Smith, and Edwidge Danticat, “who praised the ‘awesome’ breadth of Erdrich’s work.”

The Paris Review has interviewed both Le Guin and Erdrich for our Art of Fiction series, the former in 2013 and the latter in 2010. Erdrich advised aspiring writers,

Begin with something in your range. Then write it as a secret. I’d be paralyzed if I thought I had to write a great novel, and no matter how good I think a book is on one day, I know now that a time will come when I will look upon it as a failure. The gratification has to come from the effort itself. I try not to look back. I approach the work as though, in truth, I’m nothing and the words are everything. Then I write to save my life. If you are a writer, that will be true. Writing has saved my life.

And Le Guin said,

Fiction is something that only human beings do, and only in certain circumstances. We don’t know exactly for what purposes. But one of the things it does is lead you to recognize what you did not know before … A very good book tells me news, tells me things I didn’t know, or didn’t know I knew, yet I recognize them—yes, I see, yes, this is how the world is. Fiction—and poetry and drama—cleanse the doors of perception. All the arts do this. Music, painting, dance say for us what can’t be said in words. But the mystery of literature is that it does say it in words, often straightforward ones.

We offer both of them our best wishes.

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Rowan Ricardo Phillips Wins 2013 Osterweil Award

August 14, 2013 | by

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Photo by Sue Kwon.

Many congratulations go out to our frequent contributor and sometimes outfielder Rowan Ricardo Phillips, whose book The Ground has just won the 2013 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry. The Osterweil “recognizes the high literary character of the published work to date of a new and emerging American poet of any age and the promise of further literary achievement.” Judges cited his work’s “vivid images and rhythms, its fully present, personal voice, its lightning-bolt sincerity.” We heartily concur.

 

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“All They Do Is Eat,” And Other News

April 29, 2013 | by

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  • “It’s about eating lunch. They eat salad and cake. All they do is eat”: in which a two-year-old judges books by their covers.
  • “He tends to devoice a lot of the fricatives, but I take that purely as an idiolectal variant”: an (in-depth) interview with the linguist who created Game of Thrones’ multiple languages.
  • Fifty authors, including Hilary Mantel, Tom Stoppard, and John Banville, have contributed annotated first editions to an English PEN auction. Which is to say, they can (theoretically) be yours.
  • The Henry Miller Memorial Library decamps temporarily to Miller’s hometown of Brooklyn for the Big Sur Brooklyn Bridge festival.
  • Ishiguro on film, Tóibín on opera: six novelists on their second-favorite art forms.

 

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If You Missed the Translation Panel…

May 10, 2012 | by

As one of our readers, Ms., pointed out, I didn't really give readers enough notice about last week’s PEN translation panel. Mea culpa! You can watch the following video of the event—featuring a distinguished assemblage of writers, editors, and translators—from the comfort of your own home. And if you have any burning questions on the topic, I feel safe in saying Lorin will be delighted to answer them, via advice@theparisreview.org!

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