B.A. Rice is a poet from Texas who lives in Los Angeles.
The impossibilities of translation are seldom as overtly formalized as they are in Damion Searls’s version of Elfriede Jelinek’s 1998 play er nicht als her, and for good reason — the play is a monologue built from the sentences of two writers, Jelinek and Robert Walser, and its obsessive focus is the tension between silence and polyphony. As Searls reminds us in his afterword, the last thirty years of Walser’s life were spent in an insane asylum, but his “sanity” may have been fully intact until he died. This autobiographical ambiguity informs the play’s intense ambivalence about speech as a container for thoughts — just as any number of actors could, according to the vague stage directions, perform fragments of the monologue (and therefore destabilize its presentation as a monologue), the utterances of an individual can be thought of as an endless assertion of newborn voices, as strange to the person who spoke them as they are to the listener. For some this sense of inner multitudes may seem familiar from Whitman, but Jelinek’s tone is turned inward and far from exuberant. She seems curious about what drove Walser to submit to silence within the institution of the asylum, and whether this decision might have more to do with sanity than its pathology-shrouded opposite.
Her Not All Her, the Searls version, changes the play into something even more meaningfully weird. As Searls explains in his afterword, a correct rendering of the title in English would be He Not All He. The transgendered version, then, establishes the work as Searls’s own, an original, analogous to the ways Walser’s originality is collapsed into Jelinek’s in her text. It’s an inspired decision that makes Searls’s own role as translator something of a conceptual performance, an exposure of translation’s inherent failure that perversely enhances the play’s linguistic themes. An element of visual poetry furthers the subversiveness — occasionally, the German sentences appear between the English lines in an impolite orange font, like a clamoring ghost of the original work, placing the author in a submerged role alongside the older author whose ghost hovers throughout the play. This gives new emphasis to the term paratext, and it looks surprisingly nice on the page. It’s a confident move for a translator to make, and it adds to my sense that Her Not All Her is, like Anne Carson’s If Not, Winter, a new work that also functions as a fine translation of an older one, and an opening up of possibilities for more radical forms of literature.
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .
It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .
Last year, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was an unexpected critical hit. Now, it’s just been published in the U.S. and has already received a great deal of positive critical attention. The Vegetarian was a bold book to attempt as an. . .
It’s been almost a year since the publication of Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, but despite being included on the 2015 PEN Translation award longlist, and some pretty vocal support from key indie presses, the book has. . .
Jorge Eduardo Benavides’ novel La paz de los vencidos (The Peace of the Defeated) takes the form of a diary written by a nameless Peruvian thirty-something intellectual slumming it in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands. Recently relocated. . .
Anyone with any interest at all in contemporary Moroccan writing must start with Souffles. A cultural and political journal, Souffles (the French word for “breaths”) was founded in 1966 by Abdellatif Laâbi and Mostafa Nissabouri. Run by a group of. . .
Randall Jarrell once argued a point that I will now paraphrase and, in doing so, over-simplify: As a culture, we need book criticism, not book reviews. I sort of agree, but let’s not get into all of that. Having finished. . .