I first met Matt Rowe when he attended his first ALTA conference a few years back as an ALTA fellow. Matt’s an interesting guy with, at expense of making a fool of my memory, an interesting history, having started his career in computers, working for, among other companies, Microsoft. Then he abandoned that all (well, sort of, he’s still involved heavily in fonts) for Indiana University and the study of translation. He translates from the Italian, gave a great presentation on the “Translator as Fiction” panel (which is a great example of what is so cool about ALTA: a whole, chatty panel about the appearance of translators in fiction and how they were portrayed), and is now living out Port Townsend way batting around a book idea about puzzles (can’t say more here lest someone steal his incredible idea) and obsessing over the Oulipo. (There are many worse movements you could obsess over.)
Very recently, like over the weekend type recently, Matt took the step to make himself more visible, launching Local Character a blog that combines his interests in contemporary world fiction, typeface design and typography, voice, community, travel, cognitive science, eccentrics, oddballs, and misunderstood geniuses, and puzzles. In his own words:
Since I’m a translator, writer, and editor, my major focus will be on fiction, translation, and book publishing worldwide. A number of other excellent blogs and web journals already focus on these topics; I’ll play nicely and support them as I work to develop my own niche, but Local Character will definitely range into areas those resources don’t touch. Exactly what “Local Character” ends up meaning will depend on your encouragement, responses, and participation.
As Local Character (both company and website) develops, this blog will continue to be its center. Here I will review books (and occasional work in other media), report and comment on news and developments, and link to other sources, both web and print. Over the next few months, I’ll fill out the links and the rest of the site design, mostly silently as I figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Really looking forward to following the development of Local Character . . . and now onto the questions:
Favorite Word from Any Language: Chiaroscuro
A very literary word that’s also fun to say: kee-ahr-uh-skyoor-oh.
Best Translation You’ve Done to Date: “Inviti Superflui” by Dino Buzzati, which became “Unwanted Invitations” in my version
Unfortunately, I can’t tell if Matt’s translation of this prose poem has been published or not . . . Regardless, Buzzati is a really interesting author, and Godine recently reissued The Tartar Steppe (“Often likened to Kafka’s The Castle, The Tartar Steppe is both a scathing critique of military life and a meditation on the human thirst for glory”) and NYRB brought out Poem Strip which sounds awesome. (“Featuring the Ashen Princess, the Line Inspector, trainloads of Devils, Trudy, Valentina, and the Talking Jacket, Poem Strip — a pathbreaking graphic novel from the 1960s — is a dark and alluring investigation into mysteries of love, lust, sex, and death by Dino Buzzati, a master of the Italian avant-garde.”)
What Book Needs to Be Published in English Translation: Fata Morgana by Gianni Celati
I’m not familiar with Celati, but after reading the brief Wikipedia entry—his first book included an intro by Italo Calvino! he translated Swift, Twain, and Celine into Italian!—I’m hoping Matt has a sample he can send our way . . .
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
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. . .