29 December 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

One other MLA thing worth mentioning is that Timothy Billings and Christopher Bush (of Middlebury College and Northwestern University respectively) won this year’s Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for their translation of Stèles by Victor Segalen, which was published by Wesleyan University Press in 2007.

NYRB published Segalen’s Rene Leys a few years back, and based on the bits I’ve read of Segalen’s biography, both of these books are on my “to read” shelf. Here’s a bit from a review of Stèles that appeared in The Believer (today it’s all about The Believer) earlier this year:

When Victor Segalen first printed Stèles in Beijing in 1912, the Republic of China had just been formed, ending two millennia of dynastic rule. When he expanded and republished the book in Paris in 1914, the Western powers were on the verge of successive world wars that would effectively end their colonial system of governance. Five years later, Segalen was dead at the age of forty-one, from either suicide or a severe foot injury suffered while taking a walk in the woods.

So when Segalen refers to “the crumbling unsteadiness of the Empire,” it’s not entirely clear to which sovereignty he’s referring, a situation made even more confusing by the fact that he was a European living in China who wrote sections of Stèles in the voice of an imaginary emperor. If this is history as an allegory for the psyche, then Segalen—unlike many writers, adventurers, and hippies before and since—didn’t go to the East to find himself. Rather, he was committed to “the intoxicating eddies of the great river Diversity,” along with a desire to saturate himself in Chinese culture.

2 April 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments [2]

April is National Poetry Month, so we’ll be highlighting more works of translated poetry over the next few weeks than we normally do. (In case you’re wondering, in the database there are 11 collections of translated poetry scheduled to come out this month.)

Interestingly, Poetry magazine’s April issue subtitled “The Translation Issue” and features a ton of works in translation, including an anonymous poem translated from Catalan by Lydia Davis.

There are a lot of great translators included in this issue, such as Jonathan Galassi, Fiona Sampson, Michael Hofmann, Forrest Gander, and many many more, along with poets (both recognized and more obscure) from China, Sweden, Greece, Germany, Norway, Italy, France, and elsewhere.

And if that wasn’t enough translation coverage at Poetry, the Foundation’s weblog has a very interesting article by Paul La Farge about Felix Feneon and Victor Segalen.

In case the actual description of Feneon’s Novels in Three Lines (and the fact that it’s translated by the amazing Luc Sante) isn’t enough to get you interested, here’s a description of Feneon’s life that might do the trick:

One might suspect that Fénéon was a fictional character, if only his biography did not contain so many improbable contradictions. A Frenchman born in Turin, Italy, he placed first in a civil service exam and went to work for the War Department, where he delighted so much in writing reports that, when he had completed his own, he would write those of his colleagues. At the same time, Fénéon was a committed anarchist. He took over the Anarchist Review when its editor went into hiding, and he was a friend to Émile Henry, who threw a bomb into the aptly named Café Terminus near the Gare Saint-Lazare, killing 20 strangers. Fénéon himself was suspected of bombing a different café, and was arrested when the police found mercury and detonators in his office at the War Department. (He claimed his father had found them in the street.)

Segalen—whose Steles is featured in this piece—is also the author of Rene Leys, which is available from NYRB and has been on my “to read” shelf for ages . . . He sounds pretty fascinating as well:

ike Fénéon, Segalen has a biography worth recounting: Born in Brest in 1878, he worked as a naval doctor in Tahiti, where he bought paintings from Gauguin’s widow and began a novel about the decline of the Maori people. He returned to France in 1904, finished his novel, married, had a son, collaborated with Debussy on two projects that never went anywhere, and, at age 30, worried that life was passing him by. “In France,” Segalen wrote, “with my current projects brought to completion, what will I do next, but ‘literature’!” The very idea of it was appalling, so he left for China.

11 January 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The fiftieth issue of The Believer is out and has a couple of pieces on international fiction.

The review of Havana Noir from Akashic Books is available online in full, and ends with a decent enough recommendation: “In Havana Noir, better than half the stories are truly gripping, and all of them resuscitate a dark Havana that seethes beneath the idealized island of our imagination.”

Unfortunately the review of Victor Segalen’s Steles is not, but the available excerpt captures what’s so intriguing about Segalen:

When Victor Segalen first printed Stèles in Beijing in 1912, the Republic of China had just been formed, ending two millennia of dynastic rule. When he expanded and republished the book in Paris in 1914, the Western powers were on the verge of successive world wars that would effectively end their colonial system of governance. Five years later, Segalen was dead at the age of forty-one, from either suicide or a severe foot injury suffered while taking a walk in the woods.

So when Segalen refers to “the crumbling unsteadiness of the Empire,” it’s not entirely clear to which sovereignty he’s referring, a situation made even more confusing by the fact that he was a European living in China who wrote sections of Stèles in the voice of an imaginary emperor. If this is history as an allegory for the psyche, then Segalen—unlike many writers, adventurers, and hippies before and since—didn’t go to the East to find himself. Rather, he was committed to “the intoxicating eddies of the great river Diversity,” along with a desire to saturate himself in Chinese culture.

Finally, there’s a review of Jenny Erpenbeck’s The Book of Words that has a great opening: “The Book of Words is a sinisterly lyrical novel.”

25 July 07 | Chad W. Post |

What is it with the books coverage in the NY Sun? Totally makes the daily Times look like a provincial rag . . .

Anyway, Benjamin Ivry has a review of Victor Segalen’s Steles, a collection of prose poems just out from Wesleyan University Press in today’s Sun.

I personally don’t know much about Segalen, except that his novel Rene Leys was recommended to me on several occasions. And was reissued not too long ago by the ubiquitous (at least on this blog) New York Review Books.

But back to the real matter—how is it that the Sun has such a kick-ass book review section? I’ve never actually seen anyone reading this on the subway . . . Anyone? Anyone?

....
Sphinx
Sphinx by Anne Garréta
Reviewed by Monica Carter

Founded in 1960 by such creative pioneers as George Perec, Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino, the Oulipo, shorthand for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, came about in when a group of writers and mathematicians sought constraints to find new structures and. . .

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Morse, My Deaf Friend
Morse, My Deaf Friend by Miloš Djurdjević
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

There’s little to say about a series of prose poems that willfully refuse to identify pronoun antecedents. Or perhaps there are a million things. The poems in Morse, My Deaf Friend— the chapbook by Miloš Djurdjević published by Ugly Duckling. . .

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The Crimson Thread of Abandon
The Crimson Thread of Abandon by Terayama Shūji
Reviewed by Robert Anthony Siegel

The Crimson Thread of Abandon is the first collection of short fiction available in English by the prolific Japanese writer and all-around avant-garde trickster Terayama Shūji, who died in 1983 at the age of 47. This collection would be important. . .

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Life Embitters
Life Embitters by Josep Pla
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

Last year, NYRB Classics introduced English-language readers to Catalan writer Josep Pla with Peter Bush’s translation of The Gray Notebook. In that book, Pla wrote about life in Spain during an influenza outbreak soon after World War I, when. . .

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The Physics of Sorrow
The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov
Reviewed by Izidora Angel

“Your bile is stagnant, you see sorrow in everything, you are drenched in melancholy,” my friend the doctor said.
bq. “Isn’t melancholy something from previous centuries? Isn’t some vaccine against it yet, hasn’t medicine taken care of it yet?” I. . .

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Vano and Niko
Vano and Niko by Erlom Akhvlediani
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

What to make of Vano and Niko, the English translation of Erlom Akhvlediani’s work of the same name, as well as the two other short books that comprise a sort of trilogy? Quick searches will inform the curious reader that. . .

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The Indian
The Indian by Jón Gnarr
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

The opening of Jón Gnarr’s novel/memoir The Indian is a playful bit of extravagant ego, telling the traditional story of creation, where the “Let there be light!” moment is also the moment of his birth on January 2nd, 1967. Then. . .

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