It’s no secret that we’re huge fans of the New York Sun “Arts+” section and most of the reviewers who write for it. (Especially Ben Lytal, who, in my opinion, has the sweetest gig in all book reviewing.) Since the Sun has yet to penetrate the Rochester market, we usually resort to reading this online. As I was leaving my hotel yesterday, a businessman left behind his copy, giving me a chance to experience in print just how fantastic this section is.
The lead review yesterday was Adam Kirsch’s piece on Tintin and the Secret of Literature by Tom McCarthy. I’m a huge fan of McCarthy’s Remainder and have been interested in reading this new book for a while.
(Besides, since the source text for this book—The Adventures of Tintin—is a translation, I love it unequivocally, not because it’s good or interesting, but solely because it came from another culture and therefore will prevent war.)
One of the things that appeals to me about this review is how intelligent and unapologetic it is discussing McCarthy’s section on Barthes, basing the whole review on Guy Debord’s notion of “detournement,” and, most importantly, not proclaiming this book to be either good or bad, but something more complicated.
The word belongs in quotation marks because these are not the kind of interpretive claims that can be judged true or false. Nor, however, are they the kind of licensed speculation that enriches our experience of a text, even while remaining undecidable — as, for instance, with Edmund Wilson’s claim that the ghosts in James’s “The Turn of the Screw” are just projections of the nurse’s repressed sexuality. Mr. McCarthy’s analyses are, rather, arabesques, sketched over the surface of Hergé’s cartoon — or, if you like, graffiti meant to obscure and deface it.
I am not entirely sure that Mr. McCarthy himself does not want us to see them in the second sense. After all, as he writes, Hergé’s work “betrays in its massive self-reflexiveness a desire to be taken seriously, to be seen to be considering the highly conceptual issues in contemporary art with which its author is clearly au fait, alongside a desire to mock the highness of the establishment that never accepted him as highbrow, to expose its pretentiousness, its fraudulence.” If Mr. McCarthy is out to vindicate Hergé, then Tintin and the Secret of Literature might best be read in this double spirit, as a brilliant and audacious hoax.
But what’s really interesting is that right beneath this review is a piece by translator Anthea Bell (a translator! writing a review!) on Asterix.
In French, Tintin easily predates Asterix; in English by only about 10 years, the time it took for an English-language publisher to venture on a translation of the first pun-packed, wisecracking adventure of the proto-French Gauls as they defy Julius Caesar and his conquering legions, maintaining a provincial but proud Gallic outpost in what is now northwest France. The series was thought just too French to be transplanted. But quintessentially French as it is, the appeal of Asterixian humor has turned out to be pan-European.
There’s no current Asterix book to tie this to, and aside from having translated Asterix a few years ago, no necessary reason that Anthea Bell would be writing about it in the daily newspaper. And in my opinion, that’s fantastic.
And beyond the book reviews, the “sports section”—which is also part of “Arts+”—is less gossipy and more thoughtful than most. (In particular, the breakdown of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is very well-done.)
I have my doubts about the rest of the paper, but there are only a handful of arts sections in the world that can compete with this one.
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. . .
In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .
Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .
Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a collection of vignettes recorded by journalist Georges Vasseur in his diary during a month spent in the Pyrenées Mountains to treat his nervous. . .
Founded in 1960 by such creative pioneers as George Perec, Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino, the Oulipo, shorthand for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, came about in when a group of writers and mathematicians sought constraints to find new structures and. . .
There’s little to say about a series of prose poems that willfully refuse to identify pronoun antecedents. Or perhaps there are a million things. The poems in Morse, My Deaf Friend— the chapbook by Miloš Djurdjević published by Ugly Duckling. . .
The Crimson Thread of Abandon is the first collection of short fiction available in English by the prolific Japanese writer and all-around avant-garde trickster Terayama Shūji, who died in 1983 at the age of 47. This collection would be important. . .