Admittedly, things have been a bit slow around here lately. I’ve been in NY for the Festival of New French Writing (more below), and hard at work on a grant for the National Endowment for the Arts. It’s due next week, but, I have to finish tomorrow (along with review for Bookforum) or suffer the bureaucratic wrath of the ORPA.
Which is all a long winded way of saying that Three Percent will be back in full on Thursday with reviews, “Why This Book Should Win the BTBA” write-ups, and all the usual randomness.
For now, a couple quick things:
The new issue of World Literature Today is now available, and the focus is on one of my favorite topics: “The Crosstalk between Science and Literature.” (Did I mention that I have a Thomas Pynchon related tattoo? And that I rushed out of MLA to see Jonah Lehrer speak about neuroscience and creativity? Anyway.)
Here’s an excerpt from the intro essay by Pireeni Sundaralingam:
The meeting ground between science and literature has never been so busy. Not only have the last few years seen a proliferation of anthologies such as Riffing on Strings: Creative Writing Inspired by String Theory and Signs and Humours: The Poetry of Medicine, but there has also been a blossoming of conferences, research centers, and foundations dedicated to examining the common space shared by the two disciplines. The U.S. Modern Language Association’s discussion group on cognitive approaches to literature currently has more than 1,200 members, while last year in Europe alone there were over a dozen conferences and symposia attempting to bridge both literature and science.
Nevertheless, as with any pioneering age, there is a certain level of braggadocio, a tendency to jump on the loudest and most lucrative bandwagon rolling by. An article in last year’s New York Times (March 31, 2010) announced “The Next Big Thing in English,” interviewing a series of literary scholars who seem to have found their own Philosopher’s Stone sitting on the benches of the neuroscience laboratory. Their claims were as diverse as creating a scientific method for quantifying the complexity of literature to unearthing the evolutionary basis for the preponderance of love triangles in fiction. It has fallen to scholars such as neurologist–poet Raymond Tallis to caution us against blindly adopting reductionist analyses of literature (“The Neuroscience Delusion,” TLS, April 9, 2008). All too often, the finer details of the rigor to be found in each discipline are glossed over in an attempt to precipitate swift partnerships, and, unfortunately, those reporting for the mainstream media are rarely qualified enough in the technicalities of both disciplines to point out these slips.
As we strive to demarcate the nature of these new territories, it becomes vital to consider the thoughts and work of those who have lived and worked in both worlds. In the following pages, award-winning writers share their personal experiences of the strengths and the weaknesses to be found in the cross-fertilization between the two disciplines: Welsh poet and memoirist Dannie Abse examines how his own creative writing has both benefited from and remained at odds with his medical training; playwright Kenneth Lin, trained as a psychologist at Cornell, delineates the ways in which the intersection of scientific theory and the physical framework of the theater may or may not co-create a system of moral beliefs; physicist Alan Lightman and philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein discuss why they each turned to fiction to add a further dimension to their own scholarly research.
This issue also includes a number of other interesting sounding pieces, including an interview with Juan Villoro:
Juan Villoro: In El testigo, yes, I was very interested in asking, Who is the best literary witness of an event? From a judicial point of view, there are conditions determining what one can say in a courtroom. But from a moral, psychological, and literary point of view, the subjective process that makes someone a good witness is much more complex. So El testigo is about the formation of the figure of the witness and to what extent the witness influences what he sees. I do not believe that any witness is completely passive or apathetic. Inevitably, the witness participates in the experiment of looking. But the attitude of the protagonist in El testigo is very different from the one I have when I watch soccer, which is a much noisier, celebratory, and unrestrained attitude.
Ryan Long: So, it’s a question of distance, too.
Juan Villoro: Exactly. And when I write a novel in which the characters are unique and a little distanced from the reality in which they find themselves, when they’re actually uncomfortable in that reality, what I am looking for is a personal, individual voice. By contrast, in soccer I look for the voice of the tribe, the collective voice, the contemporary Greek chorus that expresses itself in a stadium.
Ryan Long: How does the relationship between the collective and the individual function in El testigo? I’m thinking, for example, of a particularly striking scene in that novel in which the protagonist looks over the “battalion of the fallen,” which is a place in the middle of nowhere populated by the shirts of dead Cristeros. Clearly this novel is about national identity, a nearly exhausted but important theme. In the novel, is there an image of the collective that still works?
Juan Villoro: Well, it’s a broken collective, whose ruptured nature is explained by its relationship to a very specific moment of Mexico’s history: the end of the government of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (pri), which was in power for seventy-one years. This moment also coincides with the end of my protagonist’s exile. The Mexican in my novel, for a very personal reason, has lived in Paris for twenty-four years before returning to Mexico. So the novel tells the story of the end of an era in personal terms—the character who returns to his country—and the end of an era in national terms—the first democratic alternation of power. But this alternation is more of a rupture than a continuity, because a conservative party comes to power with a spirit of vindication defined by Catholic conservative ideas that predate even the Revolution of 1910–20. My protagonist finds himself in a country that is at once his and not his. This is why he becomes a witness, because it’s so hard for him to participate in public life, to reintegrate himself with his people, his family, and his society. He realizes that the so-called step forward for Mexico is in reality the opportunity to settle old scores. All sorts of skeletons start coming out of the closet, and he finds himself in a country that he fails to understand.
And this issue’s WLT Book Club focuses on The Good Novel by Laurence Cosse, translated from the French by Alison Anderson, and published by Europa Editions. If you’re interested in joining in (or simply reading the book), you should definitely check out this interview Alison Anderson did with Laurence Cosse.
Last time I wrote about World Literature Today, I did so in some not entirely pleasant terms. Not because of WLT‘s content—which is always fantastic—but because of problems with my subscription (which, admittedly, I did nothing to try and correct prior to posting that post) and the WLT website (which, admittedly, is right in my wheelhouse of complaints and jokes).
Anyway, a physical copy of the new issue arrived last week with a really kind note from Assistant Director & Editor-in-Chief Daniel Simon addressing my subscription gripe and pointing out that the new issue is available entirely in HTML. On one hand, I feel bad for making fun of the old website (which, admittedly, did suck), but if that in any way helped bring about this radical change, I feel like I helped contribute to the greater good of all of humanity—and that it’s time for a celebratory beer! (Which, admittedly, sounds like a perfect end to the week.)
Thanks again, Daniel, I really appreciate the hard copy and really look forward to reading this issue—there’s a lot of great stuff in here. The main focus is Writing from Modern India, which was guest edited by Sudeep Sen and contains the following:
Two poems, in new translation, appear here by the celebrated Urdu poet and lyricist Gulzar, who won the Oscar for the song “Jai Ho” from the recent film Slumdog Millionaire. There are poems in Hindi by Ashok Vajpeyi, Mangalesh Dabral, and Anamika; as well as others by K. Satchidanandan, Subodh Sarkar, and J. P. Das in Malayalam, Bengali, and Oriya, respectively.
The English-language section is spearheaded by the literary star Vikram Seth. There are finely engaging pieces by Amit Chaudhuri, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Meena Alexander, Amitava Kumar, Anita Nair, Daljit Nagra, Ravi Shankar, Beena Kamlani, and many others.
Samaresh Basu’s and Premendra Mitra’s evocative stories in Bengali add a rich texture to the overall anthology.
As a special tribute to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of India’s Nobel Laureate in Literature, Rabindranath Tagore, there is a bonus section online containing an unusual selection of his poetry and poem-songs.
Also included in this issue is a piece on Akashic’s Noir Series (we should have a review of Moscow Noir in the next few weeks), an essay on Aharon Appelfeld, and an interview with South African writer Rayda Jacobs. And as with every issue, there’s an extensive World Literature in Review section.
Just to give WLT a bit more love, I would recommend “liking” their Facebook page, and checking out their online book club. And while you’re at it, you could always subscribe—to either the print or digital editions.
Also, you can receive a free issue simply by filling out this form.
OK. Now I can enjoy my weekend with a clear(er) conscience.
The September/October issue of World Literature Today is apparently now available. (Stealing from Michael Orthofer’s playbook, I say apparently because I actually subscribed to WLT a couple years ago and received exactly one issue . . . which is pretty much what happened with my subscription to The Nation. What the hell? This is a pretty savvy way to keep newspapers & magazines alive—convince people to subscribe and send them nothing.)
Anyway, the new issue has a focus on “International Short Fiction,” edited by Alan Cheuse. A couple of the stories are available online (although the vast majority of the content is only available in the mythical “print” version—OK, I’ll stop now), as is Alan Cheuse’s introduction to the special section.
I was going to copy over the paragraph describing the stories in this section, but the way WLT displays its content prevents this. I love WLT and all the people who work there, but this is stupid. On a less busy day, I would retype the paragraph and try and intrigue anyone reading this to click over to read the issue—or maybe even buy a copy. But fuck it. If you’re not going to play the game right, you’re not going to get any online love. So. There are stories. That are short. From authors. Maybe of interest.
I will link to this conversation between Michael Orthofer and Eshkol Nevo that took place at this year’s PEN World Voices Festival. It’s an interesting discussion, and Nevo sounds like a fascinating writer (Homesick is available from Dalkey Archive).
Anyway, hopefully someone in Oklahoma will decide to abandon this ridiculous internet format before the November/December issue. (And yes, I know it’s been like this for a while, but it’s never pissed me off this much before.) If you want to offer a limited amount of content from your magazine, that’s your prerogative. But if you want to tap into the power of finding readers on the Internets, offer said content in a form that makes sense. OK. Done.
Michael Orthofer has complained in the past about the crappy format of World Literature Today online, and he’s absolutely right. WLT (along with the Review of Contemporary Fiction, another publication resisting the online world) is one of the most interesting magazines being published today concerned with international literature.
Unfortunately, since so little of its content is available online—and what is available is in an odd format—it doesn’t get near as much play as it could from other bloggers, etc. In a way, WLT would be an awesome test case on the power of “free” . . . if they gave away more content, would they actually lose subscribers? Or would the probably increase in links to WLT, discussions about articles, etc., lead to an increase in attention and people willing to pay for the print version?
Ah well. Anyway, the new January/February 2010 issue is now available, and the few articles online are really interesting. There’s a piece on Japanese noir writer Natsuo Kirino, three poems from “Emerging Author” Jorge Galan, and pieces on Taiwanese and Korean literature.
Worth checking out . . . even if you have to pay for it.
New issues of a bunch of my favorite magazines (online and in print) came out this week. Here’s a quick summary:
The new Bookforum is a three-month issue, so thankfully there’s a lot of great stuff. Ben Anastas on faith in fiction, a review by Matthew Shaer of Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s The Informers, a “review by Tayt Harlin” of Ben Moser’s Why This World, and a review by Kate Zambreno of Christine Montalbetti’s Western. (On the non-international literature side of things, there’s a review by Paul LaFarge of Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, a review by Hari Kunzru of Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City, and a review by John Domini of Richard Powers’s Generosity. And much more . . .)
The new World Literature Today really deserves its own post. This is a special issue edited by Larry Venuti and dedicated to Catalan Literature. There’s a piece by J. Madison Davis on “The Inventive Crime Writers of Catalonia,” a story by Quim Monzo entitled “A Day Like Any Other” (which will appear in the Guadalajara collection Open Letter is publishing next year), several poems by Miquel Bauca, Francesc Parcerisas, and Maria-Merce Marcal, Anna Montero, Andreu Vidal, Ernest Farres, and Eva Baltasar, and a story by Albert Sanchex Pinol. There’s also an extremely interesting introductory essay by Venuti that’s available online.
This month’s Believer kicks ass. A number of interesting pieces—Damion Searls on the abridged Moby-Dick, a piece by Stephen Elliott, a reconsideration of V.C. Andrews—and reviews of two Open Letter books: a review by Lara Tupper of Jan Kjaerstad’s The Discoverer and a piece by the aforementioned Kate Zambreno on Elsa Morante’s Aracoeli. (And check out the review by Laird Hunt of Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier as well.)
New Open Letters Monthly (unaffiliated—it’s just a coincidence, or example of great minds thinking alike) is also available online and features a nice range of pieces, including a special “Music Portfolio.”
Finally, the September issue of Words Without Borders is up now as well, and is focused on “Walking the World”:
This month, in collaboration with Orion magazine, we embark on “Walking the World,” the second installment of our two-month focus on international nature writing. The writers in our September issue record their walks to give us a unique ground-level perspective on our natural and urban surroundings. Whether a remembrance of a haunting episode on the streets of Paris, or an account of a trek through Milan toward a distant peak, these pieces provide a rare glimpse into the realm of the writer on foot, in his element, and speaking about the world that we all navigate. This month we present the work of Siegfried Kracauer, Troub’s, Davide Sapienza, Agur Schiff, Antonio Ungar, Alexei Ivanov, and Marjan Strojan. We hope you’ll also head over to Orion to read their fantastic selections for this co-publication.
Lots of good stuff to be reading . . .
The January/February issue of World Literature Today is now available, with a few articles on performance poetry avaialble online.
You’ll have to get a copy to read these, but there are a number of interesting articles in this issue, including a piece on Ousmane Sembene, along with “Old Stories and New Voices in Beijing,” and “Politics and Contemporary Danish Fiction.”
And as always, included is a lengthy book review section featuring titles from around the world, which, by itself, it worth the subscription price.
Not many of the contents are available online, but the new issue of World Literature Today is out.
Looks like an interesting issue, with a focus on “Women and War.”
The July-August issue of World Literature Today—a special issue entitled “Inside China”—is now out, with some of the articles available online.
It’s interesting to me that WLT is focusing on China. Recently, PEN America/Ramon Llull Institut released a special study on Globalization and Translation that included statistics on the number of books translated into English from around the world. As part of the study (which should be available online sometime soon, and when it is, we’ll definitely link to it), there were “Case Studies” from a number of different countries. Including China, which had this chilling statistic:
According to the national statistics, China produces about 110,000 new titles per year. [. . .] But the number of those new titles that were translated into other languages, as far as can be told from an extensive Internet search, was less than 100 titles for 2003. This means about 0.01% of Chinese books are being translated into other languages.
After hearing awful insular statistic after isolationist statistic, I didn’t think anything could shock me. But 0.01%?! Less than 100 titles translated into all other languages throughout the world! The only bright side is that there must be a ton of interesting Chinese titles available for an ambitious press to find . . .
The Urdu word basti refers to any space, intimate to worldly, and is often translated as “common place” or “a gathering place.” This book by Intizar Husain, who is widely regarded as one of the most important living Pakistani writers,. . .
The Whispering Muse, one of three books by Icelandic writer Sjón just published in North America, is nothing if not inventive. Stories within stories, shifting narration, leaps in time, and characters who transform from men to birds and back again—you’ve. . .
Luis Negrón’s debut collection Mundo Cruel is a journey through Puerto Rico’s gay world. Published in 2010, the book is already in its fifth Spanish edition. Here in the U.S., the collection has been published by Seven Stories Press and. . .
To have watched from one of your patios
the ancient stars
from the bank of shadow to have watched
the scattered lights
my ignorance has learned no names for
nor their places in constellations
to have heard the ring of. . .
When Icelandic author Andri Snær Magnason first published LoveStar, his darkly comic parable of corporate power and media influence run amok, the world was in a very different place. (This was back before both Facebook and Twitter, if you can. . .
When starting Hi, This Is Conchita and Other Stories, Santiago Roncagliolo’s second work to be translated into English, I was expecting Roncagliolo to explore the line between evil and religion that was front and center in Red April. Admittedly, I. . .
Christa Wolf’s newly-translated City of Angels is a novel of atonement, and in this way the work of art that it resembles most to me is not another book, but the 2003 Sophia Coppola film Lost in Translation. Like that. . .