Blogging for judge Jenn Witte is Clark Allen, an artist living in New Orleans. His work is easiest found on his site, rentcontrolkhole.com.
In essence, perhaps, the fantastic is a hermaphroditic entity. It breeds in solitude, in moments of quiet reflection where the mind is free to rave alone and meditate on the banal to the point of absurdity. It is the psychedelic experience of deprivation, unsocialized, removed from societal conveniences that would temper it. Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, whose name alone takes on an unreal quality to his new American readers, wrote extensively under conditions such as these; conditions unique to the staunch, over policed twentieth century Soviet Russia. A state whose lack of outlet would inadvertently and somewhat ironically promote the fantastic. Krzhizhanovsky was solitary, censored, and barring friends and contemporaries, largely unread. Residing in a small, cell of a room, he middled over stories for an audience that would never appear in his lifetime.
Only now with its aptly titular story, Autobiography of a Corpse, are American readers beginning to see the scope of Krzhizhanovsky’s solitary endeavors. These are tales of between-spaces and non-spaces. They are both literally and philosophically detailed in stories such as “The Collector of Cracks”, in which an author communes with one of his own characters, a hermit who begs of the Lord, “Give me power over all the cracks, great and small, that are crannied into things.” Through such interactions he examines the gorges in both the physical earth and time itself. In “The Pupil” he similarly dissects human perception. This time his vehicle is a lover, who in an evening has a discourse with the reflection of himself in his beloved’s eye. From this he learns the pattern in which his partner’s heart has moved and will move. He learns that he will soon be abandoned to live out his days with only his reflection deep inside of her, forgotten, like all the lovers before him. In Krzhizhanovsky’s stories pianists lose their fingers, and most men lose their way.
It is through the acknowledgement of these losses and non-spaces however, through the discussion of the empty and forgotten, that Krzhizhanovsky gives them life and purpose. In a near stoic, matter-of-fact tone he meditates on the bizarre relationship we have with what has gone missing. Funny that this writing was doomed to be left behind by the man who wrote it, yet posthumously discovered, translated, repackaged and distributed.
An old Indian folktale tells of a man forced to shoulder a corpse night after night- till the corpse, its dead but moving lips pressed to his year, has finished telling the story of its long finished life. Don’t try to throw me to the ground. Like the man in the folktale, you will have to shoulder the burden of my three insomnias and listen patiently, till the corpse has finished its autobiography.
By reading this now we rouse Krzhizhanovsky’s resting bones, and for a collection of his work to win the Best Translated Book Award this year, well, that would be nothing short of poetic.
César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with. . .
Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .
Even though the latest from Jean Echenoz is only a thin volume containing seven of what he calls “little literary objects,” it is packed with surprises. In these pieces, things happen below the surface, sometimes both literally and figuratively. As. . .
Who is this woman? This is the question that opens Xiao Bai’s French Concession, a novel of colonial-era Shanghai’s spies and revolutionaries, police and smugglers, who scoot between doorways, walk nonchalantly down avenues, smoke cigars in police bureaus, and lounge. . .
For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .
Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .