- Last week, our editor Lorin Stein spoke at an event in San Francisco about Édouard Levé, whose work he’s translated—the audio from the discussion is now online.
- Flannery O’Connor has been inducted into the American Poets Corner at New York’s St. John the Divine, the “only shrine to American literature in the country.” “Inducting O’Connor this year was a fairly easy consensus decision. More contentious was the selection of the quotation for her plaque. The challenge was to tread a line between what Nelson called O’Connor’s ‘grand pronouncements’ and what Alfred Corn called her southern ‘cracker-barrel humor.’ The quote they settled on is from a 1953 letter that O’Connor wrote to Elizabeth Hardwick and Robert Lowell … ‘I can with one eye squinted take it all as a blessing.’ ”
- John le Carré’s A Most Wanted Man is banned at Guantánamo, and he’s altogether pretty psyched about it: “In banning my novel, the custodians of Guantánamo have once again demonstrated their sensitivity and respect for human dignity. No prisoner who has not been found guilty of any crime should be subjected to cruel and degrading literature.”
- Today in bold claims from evolutionary psychologists: “Gossip is what makes human society as we know it possible.” Tell all your friends.
- The long, strange birth of Fundamentalism in America: “The term itself was coined in the 1920s by American Protestants who resolved to return to the ‘fundamentals’ of Christianity. Their retreat from public life after the Civil War had narrowed and, perhaps, distorted their vision. Instead of engaging as before with such issues as racial or economic inequality, they focused on biblical literalism, convinced that every single assertion of scripture was literally true. And so, their enemy was no longer social injustice but the German Higher Criticism of the Bible, which had been embraced by the more liberal American Christians who were still attempting to bring the gospel to bear on social problems.”
I find myself ugly more often than handsome. I like my voice after a night out or when I have a cold. I am unacquainted with hunger. I was never in the army. I have never pulled a knife on anyone. I have never used a machine gun. I have fired a revolver. I have fired a rifle. I have shot an arrow. I have netted butterflies. I have observed rabbits. I have eaten pheasants. I recognize the scent of a tiger. I have touched the dry head of a tortoise and an elephant’s hard skin. I have caught sight of a herd of wild boar in a forest in Normandy. I ride. I do not explain. I do not excuse. I do not classify. I go fast.
Édouard Levé’s “When I Look at a Strawberry, I Think of a Tongue” appeared in our Spring 2011 issue, and it’s been a staff favorite ever since—a beguiling and sui generis self-portrait. It’s taken from the pages of Autoportrait, which Levé wrote in 2002 while he was traveling across America, taking the photographs that became “Série Amérique.” He’s still best known as a photographer, but his four works of prose—Oeuvres, Journal, Autoportrait, and Suicide—have begun to find the wider readership they deserve. Levé delivered Suicide to his publisher eight days before he took his own life, in 2007, at the age of forty-two.
If you’re in San Francisco, join our editor, Lorin Stein, in conversation with Jan Steyn for “Deconstructing Édouard Levé,” tonight at The Lab. (Lorin and Jan have both translated Levé.) Two Lines Press’s Scott Esposito, a certified Levé-ian and the coauthor of The End of Oulipo?, will moderate the discussion:
“We will immerse ourselves in the artistry and ideas behind his books—and we will also invite the audience to participate in creating some Levé-ian artworks and texts of our own. No prior knowledge of Levé or experimental prose necessary!”
Entry is free, and the event begins at seven this evening.
I remember reading Joe Brainard’s accumulated aphoristic memories for the first time. I remember the way each entry built on the one that preceded it, even when they had little to do with each another, and I remember the texture of the entire enterprise: a pointillist portrait of a man by way of his internal dialogue; his observations, at one time absorbed as impressions, sent back out into the world, now shaped by a unique river of associations.
I can only imagine the extent to which Brainard’s I Remember has influenced writers since he penned his flowing juxtapositions forty-four years ago. I had long thought Édouard Levé’s Autoportrait the most obvious example—a seemingly endless sequence of declarative sentences that coolly relate both trivialities and intimacies. But I’ve now discovered that Georges Perec got there first.
In 1970, Perec met Harry Mathews; Mathews introduced Perec to ideas then circulating in the New York art scene, including Brainard’s “serial autobiography,” which was then on the cusp of publication. The French writer likely never saw Brainard’s book, but tale of its concept—each sentence beginning with the phrase “I remember”—was enough to inspire him. Next month, the fruits of Perec’s efforts, also titled I Remember, will be published in English for the first time, by David R. Godine.