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.
The last five days of the eleventh-century Icelandic politician, writer of sagas, and famous murder victim Snorri Sturleleson (the Norwegian spelling, Snorre, is preserved in the book) make up Thorvald Steen’s most recently translated historical fiction, The Little Horse. Murdered. . .
We all know Paris, or at least we think we know it. The Eiffel Tower. The Latin Quarter. The Champs-Élysées. The touristy stuff. In Dominique Fabre’s novel, Guys Like Me, we’re shown a different side of Paris: a gray, decaying. . .
One hundred pages into Birth of a Bridge, the prize-winning novel from French writer Maylis de Kerangal, the narrator describes how starting in November, birds come to nest in the wetlands of the fictional city of Coca, California, for three. . .
At 30, the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli is already gathering her rosebuds. Faces in the Crowd, her poised debut novel, was published by Coffee House Press, along with her Brodsky-infused essay collection, Sidewalks. The essays stand as a theoretical map. . .
Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia (narrated by Julio Cortázar) is, not disappointingly, as wild a book as its title suggests. It is a half-novella half-graphic novel story about . . . what, exactly? A European tribunal, Latin. . .
Marie NDiaye has created a tiny, psychological masterpiece with her Self-Portrait in Green. In it she explores how our private fears and insecurities can distort what we believe to be real and can cause us to sabotage our intimate relationships.. . .
Reading a genre book—whether fantasy, science fiction, crime, thriller, etc.—which begins to seem excessively, stereotypically bad, I have to make sure to ask myself: is this parodying the flaws of the genre? Usually, this questioning takes its time coming. In. . .
The Sicilian Mafia has always been a rich subject for sensational crime fiction. The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos worked the mob’s bloody corpses and family feuds to both entertainment and artistic value. Giuseppe di Piazza’s debut novel attempts this,. . .
Antoine Volodine’s vast project (40 plus novels) of what he calls the post-exotic remains mostly untranslated, so for many of us, understanding it remains touched with mystery, whispers from those “who know,” and guesswork. That’s not to say that, were. . .
It hasn’t quite neared the pitch of the waiting-in-line-at-midnight Harry Potter days, but in small bookstores and reading circles of New York City, an aura has attended the novelist Elena Ferrante and her works. One part curiosity (Who is she?),. . .