29 July 2008

Day-off links

25 July 2008

Confronting misconceptions about Blake

Northrop Frye does this brilliantly in the first few pages:
  • "[I]t is only by cutting out two-thirds of Blake's work that [one] will be able to wedge the rest of it in with that of the minor pre-Romantics."
  • "The prophesies form what is in proportion to its merits the least read body of poetry in the language, and most of the more accessible editions of Blake omit them altogether, or print only those fragments which seem to the editor to have a vaguely purplish cast."
  • One prevailing impression is "that Blake is to be regarded as an ultrasubjective primitive whose work involuntarily reflects his immediate mood. The Songs of Innocence are then to be taken at their face value as the ourpourings of a naïve and childlike spontaneity, and the Songs of Experience as the bitter disillusionment resulting from maturity--for when Blake engraved the latter he was no longer a child of thirty-two but a grown man of thirty-seven. It is logical inference from this that the prophecies can reflect only an ecstatic self-absorption on which it is unnecessary for a critic to intrude."
  • "It is pathetic to read his letters and see how buoyant is his hope of being understood in his own time, and how wistful is the feeling that he must depend on posterity for appreciation. And it was not only recognition he wanted: he had a very strong sense of his personal responsibility both to God and to society to keep on producing the kind of imaginative art he believed in. He despised obscurity, hated all kinds of mystery, and derided the idea that poets do not fully comprehend what they are writing."
  • Frye insists that "all of Blake's poetry, from the shortest lyric to the longest prophesy, must be taken as a unit and, mutatis mutandis, judged by the same standards."
  • He also believes (quite logically) that Blake should "be placed in his historical and cultural context as a poet who, though original, was not aboriginal, and was neither a freak nor a sport."
  • "Further, Blake's poems are poems, and must be studied as such. Any attempt to explain them in terms of something that is not poetry is bound to fail."
  • Also, "No one who has read three lines of our straightforward and outspoken poet can imagine that he wished to be pursued by a band of superstitious dilettantes into the refuge of a specialized cult. Whatever Blakes prophecies may be, they can hardly be code messages. They may need interpretation, but not deciphering".

Taking a deep breath

This article made me grit my teeth and (at least) inspired me to repost this Flannery O'Connor quotation (and make part of it bold while I'm at it):
There are those who maintain that you can't demand anything of the reader. They say the reader knows nothing about art, and that if you are going to reach him, you have to be humble enough to descend to his level. This supposes that the aim of art is to teach, which it is not, or that to create anything which is simply a good-in-itself is a waste of time. Art never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort needed to understand it. We hear a great deal about humility being required to lower oneself, but it requires an equal humility and a real love of the truth to raise oneself and by hard labor to acquire higher standards.
(via The Literary Saloon)

23 July 2008

Praising Dillard

Amber Ruth Paulen at Descriptedlines has written a lovely response to Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:
Above all and all, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is a book of praise; it’s like sitting in an old-fashioned pew and a man of no certain religious leaning says, “All take out your psalms.” And so you get your singing voice ready, but these little ditties were written by Annie Dillard and she wants you to trip over her words. Not the words really, but the “ideas,” she wants you to go slowly, learning how to sing as she does. What stunning poetics and what oddball facts! One must pass one sentence twice-by for sometimes the reflection off the words cause a over-white gleaming blur, like a flash, like the sun glinting off a the scales of a fleet-finned fish or a crystalized beautiful thought.

Of interest

  • Scott Esposito writes about the necessity of supporting the literary outlets we love and why he's begun to pay writers of The Quarterly Conversation (one of the best literary journals out there).
  • The official website of Kate Summmerscale's The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher has completely sucked me in. (Too bad there's no ebook version of the novel yet! I'd really like to read this one.) Update: Stay away from Maureen Corrigan's NPR review. She gives away the identity of the killer! I am deeply annoyed and disappointed.
  • Jenny Davidson offers a fascinating account of her adventures in research in preparation for the sequel to The Explosionist.
  • Mark Sarvas has embarked on his Summer of Roth: "The majority of readers see only finished reviews but I want to show you what goes into a sausage – the things I notice, the patterns I detect, the strengths and weaknesses. And then, as I turn to Indignation and prepare my review, I will give you some specific glimpses into that process – the preparation, the contemplation and the composition."
  • A new Alina Simone song is up at NPR Music.

22 July 2008

Transcending time

Once upon a time I contemplated taking a master's course on William Blake. There were so many aspects to his work that my undergrad English classes inspired me to explore, and I wanted to keeping learning about him. His theories on art and the imagination seemed to link him more closely to the metaphysical poets than the Romantics (in my humble opinion), and having been lucky enough to see an exhibit of his work at the Tate, I wanted to understand more about his holistic vision of reality.

I bought a used copy of Northrop Frye's Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake a few years ago, but have only now begun reading it.

Holy crap.

I'm only on page 68, but my mind has been officially blown. Frye is examining everything I've ever suspected about Blake, offering a refreshing look at one of the most misunderstood poets in the English language. The timeliness of Frye's work is also compelling. As he says in the preface,
I wrote Fearful Symmetry during the Second World War, and hideous as that time was, it provided some parallels with Blake's time which were useful for understanding Blake's attitude to the world. Today, now that reactionary and radical forces alike are once more in the grip of the nihilistic psychosis that Blake described so powerfully in Jerusalem, one of the most hopeful signs is the immensely increased sense of the urgency and immediacy of what Blake had to say.
Frye penned this passage in 1969. There's a special urgency to what he has to say as well, and this beautifully wise work of literary criticism (that also encompasses philosophy and theology) deserves a wide readership today. I look forward to continuing my journey through this spectacular book.

Despite the "delicate original"

Wyatt Mason defends translated literature and takes a look at Adam Thirlwell's The Delighted States, an examination of how literary style "survives translation":
Most discussions of translation take this generalization as unquestionable truth: If only the translator were more careful, or more gifted–or merely competent!–the delicate original would not have arrived in shards and tatters, ruined for readers, upon our shores.

The trouble I have with this conventional wisdom is how patently it flies in the face of practical experience. If translations were so routinely terrible and so generally unreadable, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky and Flaubert and Stendhal and Kafka and Proust and Mann—whose translators have been mocked and derided by generations of critics—would have had no hope of finding readers beyond their respective shores. Given that these writers have readers around the world, the ire and indignation felt by those who take at translators comes not over the errancy of translation but its adequacy: however error-ridden and technically troubling a translation might be—the syntax clumsy, the vocabulary misleading, the dialogue wooden—translations have nonetheless managed, somehow, to convey their sources sufficiently for their originals survive, not to say thrive, far from home.

That “somehow”—a compelling mystery—is explored in a fine new book by British writer Adam Thirlwell.
And on to the wish list it goes...

Update, 24 July: As promised, Mason has posted his interview with Thirlwell. Happily, they discuss several nuts-and-bolts issues concerning the latter's translation of Nabokov's "Mademoiselle O," as well as specific issues of translation in general:
Did the practice of translating “Mademoiselle O” produce any changes in your thoughts on the nature of translation?

I realized more precisely than ever that the problems with content and form were more complicated than I had thought. Often, the phonetic tricks, like alliteration, were quite easy to mimic: what proved recalcitrant were the small elements, like songs, or slang, or objects. And I became aware of the more personal problem: how to avoid one’s own tricks, or even, how to avoid the excessive imitation of the original writer’s tricks—how to prevent their later style from dominating one’s version of the earlier style.
There's also a nice tip of the hat to Roberto Arlt and Macedonio Fernández.

21 July 2008

Peaceful Sunday

Yesterday was beautiful. Millions of us in over 60 countries around the world marched together for peace and the release of the hostages held here in Colombia. It was also a beautifully historic celebration of our Independence Day.
"A Dios le Pido" was sung in Paris and "La Gota Fría" en Leticia. Simultaneous concerts lasted until nearly 5.00 p.m. in Cali, Medellín, Barranquilla, Bogotá, and many other cities across the country. Time will tell whether our cries for freedom for the hostages will be heard, but the world can no longer be in doubt as to what our hearts believe.

Rilke and self-identity

A.N. Wilson reads Rilke:
If you have ever read W G Sebald's The Rings of Saturn, you will realise that this cult book of the 1990s is heavily influenced by the Malte Laurids notebooks. Rilke completed it in 1909, when he was 34.

The book takes the form of meditations by a young Danish aristocrat, living a lonely and impoverished life in Paris and observing the extraordinary street "characters" of that city. [...]

The central question of the book is self-identity. It ends with a retelling of the Prodigal Son, who runs away from home precisely to escape being loved on his family's uncongenial terms. In his return, he wonders whether he is ready for the love of God - about which, in his reading of St Teresa of Avila, he has already meditated.

He wonders, moreover, whether God is ready to love him. If I had to teach creative writing, I think I would use this book as a text.

So many bad books - either novels or autobiographies - charge artlessly into their theme, assuming that the author's soul is (a) interesting and (b) self-evidently existent.

Rilke's prose masterpiece reminds us of the questionability of either statement.
Given the connection Wilson makes between Rilke and Sebald, it would be interesting to read Laird Hunt's The Exquisite alongside The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (since the former was inspired by The Rings of Saturn).

(via The Literary Saloon)

18 July 2008

Literary translation workshop

The University of East Anglia hosts the British Centre for Literary Translation 2008 International Literary Translation Summer School, which kicks off next week:
This year major names in world literature – both authors and translators – will be attending. They include British writers Giles Foden and George Szirtes, Irish poets Gabriel Rosenstock and Paddy Bushe, Spanish mystery and children’s author Carmen Posadas, and Angolan novelist and journalist José Eduardo Agualusa.

Delegates will arrive on Sunday July 20 from as far afield as Lebanon, Angola and Brazil. This year the following languages will be translated: Irish, English, Arabic, Italian, German, Portuguese and Spanish.

"Irish appears on our programme for the first time, and we are delighted to welcome Gabriel Rosenstock and Paddy Bushe, who are both active as poets and translators,” said Dr Valerie Henitiuk, BCLT associate director.

“The enthusiasm and creativity sparked by bringing these and other brilliant literary figures together with such talented participants make this summer school a quite extraordinary experience.”

Founded in 1989 by the late WG 'Max' Sebald, the BCLT is Britain’s foremost centre for the development, promotion and support of literary translation. The BCLT residential summer school has been a highlight of the literary calendar since 2000. Each year acclaimed writers and translators gather for an intense week of translation workshops, panel discussions, and talks. The event culminates in multilingual readings of the work accomplished.


From Rachel Cusk's A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother (see Literary Mama for an excellent review):
Reading books to my daughter revives my appetite for expression. Like someone visiting old haunts after an absence I read books that I have read before, books that I love, and when I do I find them changed: they give the impression of having contained all along everything that I have gone away to learn. I begin to find them everywhere, in pages that I thought familiar: prophecies of what was to come, pictures of the very place in which I now stand, and yet which I look on with no spark of recognition. I wonder how I could have read so much and learned so little. I have stared at these words like the pots and pans, the hoarded gold of a previous civilization, immured in museum glass. Could it be true that one has to experience in order to understand? I have always denied this idea, and yet of motherhood, for me at least, it seems to be the case. I read as if I were reading letters from the dead, letters addressed to me but long unopened; as if by reading I were bringing back the vanished past, living it again as I would like to live every day of my life again, perfectly and without misunderstanding.

16 July 2008

Midweek links

15 July 2008

Written on the body

“I’m telling you stories. Trust me.”

- Jeanette Winterson, The Passion
Contrariwise is a marvelous collection of literary tattoos that includes lines from Dante, Wilde, Eliot, Cummings, Creeley, Kerouac, Shakespeare, Whitman, Frost, Winterson, Gaiman, Sophocles, Plath, Joyce, Vonnegut, Blake, etc., etc. It's enough to get me thinking about lines of my own...

(via Grasping for the Wind)

10 July 2008

Finding a way into the Wake

One of the most interesting sections of Umberto Eco's Experiences in Translation is his discussion of the decisions James Joyce made in the French and Italian translations of Finnegans Wake. The Italian translation
is certainly not an example of 'faithful' translation. Yet many have written that, to understand Finnegans Wake, it would be a good idea to start with his Italian translation of it. Perhaps, or rather certainly because, on seeing the text wholly rethought in another language, one can understand its deep mechanisms, over and beyond the insistence on this or that play of quotations.
Setting aside the mind-boggling idea that Finnegans Wake can even be translated, the fact that Joyce undertook to take nearly 700 pages of "Finneganian" and basically rewrite it in other languages isn't simply a testimony to his genius, but is also a way for readers to enter into the text and find out how it works. For example:
Tell us in franca langua. And call a spate a spate. Did they never sharee you ebro at skol, you antiabecedarian? It's just the same as if I was to go par examplum now in conservancy's cause out of telekinesis and proxenete you. For coxyt sake and is that what she is?
Eco explains the allusions in English and then examines how Joyce rendered it in Italian, illustrating how Joyce was more interested in linguistic playfulness to convey underlying themes than he was in "the letter of the original."

06 July 2008

Existential downfall

Just read this wonderful article on René Girard. He's still publishing--at 85:
He explained to James Williams, in an interview included in The Girard Reader, the epiphany that was connected with the writing of his first book, Deceit, Desire and the Novel: "I started working on that book very much in the pure demystification mode: cynical, destructive, very much in the spirit of the atheistic intellectuals of the time. I was engaged in debunking, and of course recognizing mimesis is a great debunking tool because it deprives us moderns of the one thing we still have left, our individual desire."

"The debunking that actually occurs in this first book is probably one of the reasons why my concept of mimesis is still viewed as destructive," he said. "Yet I like to think that if you take this notion as far as you possibly can, you go through the ceiling, as it were, and discover what amounts to original sin. An experience of demystification, if radical enough, is very close to an experience of conversion."

He described his eventual realization this way: "The author's first draft is a self-justification." It may either focus on a wicked hero, the writer's scapegoat, who will be unmasked by the end of the novel; or it may have a good hero, the author's alter ego, who will be vindicated at novel's end.

If the writer is a good one, he will see "the trashiness of it all" by the time he finishes his first draft—that it's a "put-up job." The experience, said Girard, shatters the vanity and pride of the writer. "And this existential downfall is the event that makes a great work of art possible," Girard said.
(With thanks to Brook.)

02 July 2008

Free at last!

Los liberados son:

Contratistas estadounidenses

* Keith Stansell
* Thomas Howes
* Marc Gonsalves


* Ingrid Betancourt

Ejército colombiano

* Teniente Juan Carlos Bermeo
* Subteniente Raimundo Malagón
* Sargento Segundo José Ricardo Marulanda
* Cabo Primero William Pérez
* Sargento Segundo Erasmo Romero
* Cabo Primero José Miguel Arteaga
* Cabo Primero Armando Flórez


* Cabo Primero Julio Buitrago
* Subteniente Armando Castellanos
* Subteniente Vianey Rodríguez
* Cabo Primero Jhon Jairo Durán
(see also)

I am crying tears of joy. A day for the history books... Thank God.

The Impossible Dream

From Umberto Eco's introduction to Experiences in Translation, translated by Alastair McEwen:
Every sensible and rigorous theory of language shows that a perfect translation is an impossible dream. In spite of this, people translate. It is like the paradox of Achilles and the turtle. Theoretically speaking, Achilles should never reach the turtle. But in reality, he does. No rigorous philosophical approach to that paradox can underestimate the fact that, not just Achilles, but any one of us, could beat a turtle at the Olympic Games.