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Interview with Bill Johnston and More on Magdalena Tulli

Someone from Polish Writing posted this in the comments section, and since it’s such a good interview, I thought I’d post about it separately.

First off though, if you haven’t seen Polish Writing, it’s definitely worth checking out. Great interviews, info about Polish books and authors, and even a graph detailing how many books have made their way into English. . . . Looks like last year there were about 10, although 1990 was a banner year.

The interview with Bill Johnston about Magdalena Tulli is pretty interesting (and a good example of what’s cool about this site):

What have been the main developments in her writing style between Dreams and Stones and Flaw?

In Dreams and Stones there are practically no people, or more precisely, no characters. It’s a novel about objects and about ways of seeing and explaining. The only actual character is the narrator, whose rather pedantic voice is our only clue to his existence. (Tulli and I disagree over what kind of book Dreams and Stones actually is—Tulli claims it’s a novel, whereas for me it’s a prose poem.) In her subsequent books Tulli gradually introduces narrative, though she does so in a very tentative and self-aware way (this is why she’s sometimes accused, wrongly, of writing “meta-fiction”). In In Red she retells the story three times; the plot of Moving Parts (Tryby) also unexpectedly changes course at several moments. It’s only in Flaw that she settles into a single narrative arc that carries through the entire book.

And related to Daniel Green’s desire for an introduction to Flaw (and my echoing of the need for more contextual info):

Archipelago also tend not to include many notes or translator’s introductions. Is this a conscious intention for the work to stand on its own?

I can only speak about my own translations with Archipelago. I’ve always tried to minimize paratext in any form, and my hope is always that a work ought to be able to stand either completely or mostly alone—this is certainly the case with Tulli, who simply needs to be read carefully. You don’t need to know a lot of Polish history or culture to “get” her, I think. For me, footnotes and so on are a major part of the ghettoization of small literatures I referred to above, and I avoid them whenever I can—they make texts look like academic treatises rather than novels to be read and enjoyed.

I definitely agree re: footnotes and the like, although I still feel that there’s a way of creating a context for approaching someone like Tulli, be in through an intro/afterword, promotional materials, or whatever.

And finally:

A significant number of authors who came to prominence in the 1990s have now made it into English. Are there any newer writers you are keen to translate?

A current project of mine is the translation of Tomasz Różycki’s brilliant 2004 epic poem Dwanaście stacji or Twelve Stations. He’s by far the outstanding poet of his generation (he was born in 1970); his lyric poetry has been (and is being) translated wonderfully by Mira Rosenthal, and I’m going to have a go at this longer piece.



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