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New Bookforum

As a number of other people have already pointed out, the new issue of Bookforum is now available, both in print and online.

This is the summer “Fiction and Politics” issues, which, in addition to a heap of good reviews, has a few features on politics novels and the like. There’s even a reflections section with short bits from host of international authors like Lydia Millet, Daniel Kehlmann, Siddhartha Deb, and Dubravka Ugresic.

(I’m particularly psyched about Dubravka’s piece on Upton Sinclair’s Oil! not because of what she has to say—which is pretty interesting about the connection, or disconnection between literature and politics—but because this is the first time I’ve seen the words “which will be published by Open Letter in September” in print.)

There’s also a nice review by Benjamin Ross of Sasa Stanisic’s How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone (a translator reviewing a translation—I like it) and a review by Michael Wood of Adam Thirlwell’s The Delighted States.

I’ve been looking forward to reading the latter for a while now, and hopefully will be able to find a copy at BEA later this week. . . . Wood’s review is similar to the few others I’ve seen that praise the subject and ambition of the book while questioning the overall style. Nevertheless, this sounds really interesting—and definitely a book we should review:

Early in the book, Thirlwell says he has sometimes thought of it as “an inside-out novel, with novelists as characters”; he also describes it as “an atlas.” He says it’s “written with a full acceptance of the mistake, the anachronism, the side effect,” because “the history of the novel is, simultaneously, a history of an elaborate and intricate international art form—and also a history of errors, a history of waste.” This is to say that The Delighted States is itself a quirky history of the novel, a story of the textual travels of a particular mind, and I need to add that if novelists are characters here, their own fictional characters are just as important. They leave their own books and cross into others, making many of Thirlwell’s most ingenious points for him. [. . .]

The story—inside out in the extended sense just described—involves Gogol, Sterne, Chekhov, Diderot, Machado de Assis, Proust, Kafka, Gombrowicz, Schulz, Tolstoy, Svevo, and others and, in spite of Thirlwell’s many grand and fuzzy claims about style and translation (“A style is . . . as much a quirk of emotion, or of theological belief, as it is a quirk of language”; “A style is a quality of vision”; “there is no need for a style to have a single style”), finally rests on two interesting and contradictory suggestions. Each proceeds from the fact that great writers, however monolingual they may be as speakers, rarely restrict their reading to works originally written in their own language. [. . .]

The first suggestion is that the details of errors and shifts in translation are infinitely important because one of the virtues of language is its eerie specificity, or the possibility of that specificity. [. . .] The second, contrary, and, for Thirlwell, more important suggestion is that all kinds of masterpieces, supposedly cast irreplaceably in their native tongue, manage to survive bad to mediocre translation and even butchery.

I’m sure we’ll be writing about this in more detail in the not too distant future. (Like after I finish the last 600 pages of 2666 and all of What Can I Do When Everything’s On Fire?)



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