Posts tagged JS
“No one reads Nichita Stănescu” is a five-word poem; it is a lament, my lament, but I need not cry it in his homeland of Romania. There, he is revered by everyone, and his poems are not merely read but prayed.
[The Romanian poet] Nichita Danilov recalls Stănescu being feted with an introduction suited for a demigod: “Remember, my friends. Take a good look at this man. He is a genius. Rejoice that you were able to meet him! That you lived at the same time as he did!”(SC, 307)
He was born on March 31, 1933, in Ploieşti. During WWII, the city’s groundbreaking oil refinery was taken over by the Nazis and eventually crippled by US bombers—“people dying in flames, the smell of burning everywhere, screaming, the indecent redness of split flesh” are some of the horrors that riddled through Stănescu’s childhood. His account of failing the first grade, because “he’d found it unusually difficult to imagine that the uttered utterance and the spoken speech exist and that they can be written”, serves as a good primer for his approach to poetry (“the ritual of writing on air”), and it describes a bewilderment toward language that every writer would benefit from experiencing and cultivating.
In 1952, Stănescu moved to Bucharest, where he studied Romanian, linguistics, philosophy, and literature. After university, he worked as an editor for various Romanian literary periodicals. His writings earned him the Herder Prize in 1975, and he was nominated for the 1979 Nobel Prize in Literature, which ended in the hands of Greek poet Odysseas Elytis—that same year, Max Frisch, Léopold Senghor, and Borges were also in contention.
Stănescu preferred togetherness over solitude; he married three times, smoked, drank heavily, resided mainly in the houses of friends, and could be found extemporizing poems in bars with his audience eagerly scrambling to make transcriptions.
‘Gutenberg flattened words out,’ declared Stănescu in a Belgrade interview, ‘but words exist in space … Words are spatialized. They are not dead, like a book. They are alive, between me and you, me and you, me and you. They live; they are spoken, spatialized, and received.’(SC, 308)
During his fiftieth year of life, the long-suffered illness of his liver worsened, prompting a trip to the hospital. The doctor, while attempting to revive him, asked Stănescu if he could breathe. “I breathe”, he said, and those were his last words, written in air, written in pneuma: “am respira”.
He left behind a prodigious body of work that includes not only his diverse poetry, but also essays, and Romanian translations of the Serbian-language poets Adam Puslojic and Vasko Popa.
Collections of Stănescu’s poetry in English translation:
- The Still Unborn About the Dead (Anvil Press, 1975), selected poems translated by Petru Popescu and Peter Jay. It is a shame that this collection is out of print, because it is the only one that contains the full Elegies (a.k.a. The Last Supper; originally Elegii, 1966), including “The Slit Man”, which Stănescu dedicated to Hegel and labelled the “anti-Elegy”, “a kind of Judas” to the eleven others.
- Ask the Circle to Forgive You — Selected Poems, 1964-1979 (The Globe Press, 1983), translated by Mark Irwin and Mariana Carpinisan. In my opinion, this might not be the strongest of the out-of-print books, but it is worth tracking down just for “Contemplating the World from the Outside”. Thankfully, a lot of the other poems can be found via the later books, albeit in different translations.
- Bas-Relief with Heroes — Selected Poems, 1960-1982 (Memphis State University Press, 1988), translated by Thomas C. Carlson and Vasile Poenaru, with illustrations by Benedict Gănescu. Its introductory essay by Dumitru Radu Popa provides an excellent overview of Stănescu and Romanian literature. The illustrations seem ill-suited, but the visual accompaniment is redeemed by a single, uncaptioned photograph (see above, third thumbnail) that is found near the end of the book, beside “Knot 19”. A handful of the poems from this collection can be found online at RomanianVoice.com.
- Sentimental Story (Editura Athena, 1995), translated by Bogdan Ștefănescu. Unfortunately, I was not able to acquire a copy of this book, so I am not certain, but the Worldcat.org listing suggests they are English translations. [Update (2012/11/15): I acquired this charming little book, and I can confirm it does have English translations; it is also a bilingual edition.]
- Occupational Sickness (BuschekBooks, 2005), selected and translated by Oana Avasilichioaei. You should get this book while it is still available; as of October 7, 2012, I still see copies for sale on Amazon.ca for ~$11. It contains a unique selection of poems, and she has beautiful translations of Stănescu’s lyrical verse. It is also the
onlysecond completely bilingual edition that I know of. (The Carlson edition does include a few Romanian versions of the harder to translate poems.)
- Wheel with a Single Spoke and Other Poems (Archipelago Books, 2012), selected and translated by Sean Cotter. Up until this glorious book, Bas-Relief with Heroes was the most extensive collection. Cotter and Archipelago have done English-language readers a great service. Feel free to start reading anywhere, but I suggest Cotter’s selections from Stănescu’s Egg and Sphere, Epica Magna, and Unwords.
Stănescu “tears with [things’] tears”, because “[e]verything on earth / at one time or another needs to cry”, so he cries for the unable, for “the still unborn about the dead”, for the everyday, for Language. As such, he belongs in the same league as Rilke, Vallejo, Celan: poets for whom “[poetry] is [often] the weeping itself”; poets who do not simply play with words but, rather, who accumulate a poetic charge until it arcs out and brilliantly sears fresh paths through language—paths that become new homes for Being.
With English translations of Stănescu’s poems back in circulation, now is the time for you to embrace his words with your ribs: by breathing them in through your eyes, ears, skin.
‘A poet is greater,’ [Stănescu] wrote, ‘when those that read him don’t discover the poet but themselves.’(OA, 10)
(Photos: please click the photos to see their captions—unfortunately, I could not find credits for all of them, and there are a lot more photographs on the extremely popular Facebook page dedicated to Nichita Stănescu. Also, this article could not have been possible without the essays and translations by Popescu, Irwin, Avasilichioaei, and Cotter; where appropriate, I noted, either in superscript or in tooltips, their initials and their book’s page number.)
No one reads Reinhard Lettau (1929-96), a German-American writer, activist, and scholar who wrote: numerous short stories, a radio play, critical works, poetry, English translations (with Ferlinghetti) of love poems by Karl Marx; and, whenever permissible, avoided noting his middle name: Adolf.
Among the vast archipelago of short(-short) fiction—near the islands of Buzzati, Calvino, Thurber, Barthelme, and Hildesheimer—there is the seldom visited and often uncharted islet of Lettau’s short works. Chief thereof is found in his American debut Obstacles (1965), a volume that contains English translations of his first two books of stories: Schwierigkeiten beim Häuserbauen (Difficulties in Housebuilding, 1962) and Auftritt Manigs (Enter Manig, 1963).
The 21 of the three- to eight-page prose pieces that comprise Difficulties in Housebuilding are Lettau at his most charming and inventive. A favourite of mine is the epistolary “Potemkin's Carriage Passes Through”; here is an excerpt that reveals the essence of the book (my emphasis):
April 11, 1784
[…] Of course the roofers are really painters, and so are the glaziers who insert windows with deft brushes. The bricklayers are painters and so are the masons; the only people who work at their true trade here are the stagehands who put up the scaffoldings and lent a hand with our lodgings. But since then no one’s seen them do any work. I am told that they are lying around drinking behind the wooden wall that looks like a tavern from the road. One of them supposedly had the idea of throwing a stone through one of the not-so-well-painted windows in the village, the other day, and replacing it with real glass. If this practice spreads, I almost fear for the success of my mission.
April 12, 1784
The meaning of my last sentence in yesterday’s annotations can best be illustrated by the fact that more and more fake window fronts have, since then, been replaced by real ones. […] Sometimes I can’t help feeling that we are in reality building two villages: a false one and a real one, without actually wanting to build the real one, as though it were growing by itself out of the false one, as if by necessity.
All the stories in the American (Pantheon) edition are translated by the prolific Ursule Molinaro. The British (Calder & Boyars) edition of Obstacles (1966) supplants eight of Molinaro’s translations with new ones by Ellen Sutton and adds a Sutton translation of another Lettau story (“The Road”) to the end of the first book. However, in all eight cases, I prefer Molinaro’s translations for their economy and diction, and her in-sentence sequencing of events makes for better poetic and comedic effects.
[The 57 shorts, none longer than a page, are centered on the character Manig, who] is treated like a tracing powder that is thrown into turbulent water to expose hidden currents: Lettau uses Manig to isolate and depict behavioral patterns, only to cleverly undo them. Manig is portrayed predominately through pantomime, and some of his gesticulations are clownlike. […] Lettau disrupts reality by equating the thing with the word and the absolute with the relative, and by separating image from reality through leaps in logic and optical illusions.
Lettau’s other works in English translation:
- Enemies (1973), Agnes Rook’s translation of Fiende (1963). A six story collection that is best saved for completists, because the set of three new stories ridiculing war are outdone by the two similar war stories in Obstacles: “A Campaign” and “A Pause Between Battles”. The three shorter, supplemental stories, one of which is Rook’s version of “The Road”, are also redundant.
- Breakfast in Miami (1982), Lettau’s and Julie Prandi’s translation of his radio play Frühstücksgespräche im Miami (1977). Caricatures of deposed dictators meet in Miami and say their piece. Yet another only for the completist, but, on the strength of Obstacles, I remain optimistic about his still untranslated later works, which can be found—with promising cover art—in Alle Geschichten (Complete Stories, 1998).
For more about his life and writings:
- BookRags.com has most of the DLB’s article on Lettau.
- The obituary from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), where Lettau taught Writing and German Literature from 1968-90.
(Images: the cover art is by Günter Grass; here’s an online gallery of Grass’ graphic work, 1972-2007.)
No one reads Junnosuke Yoshiyuki (1924-94), a prolific Japanese author who wrote short stories, novel(la)s, essays, translations of stories by Henry Miller and Kingsley Amis, and, for a time, edited and wrote for—what he later described—a “third-rate” scandal sheet.
With the additional intent of briefly highlighting anthologies of Japanese literature, here is an annotated list of Yoshiyuki’s writings available in English translation:
- "Sudden Shower" (Shūu), trans. Geoffrey Bownas, New Writing in Japan (Penguin, 1972). This is the anthology that Bownas compiled with the legendary Yukio Mishima, they completed their collaboration just a few months before Mishima’s coup attempt and seppuku. In the introductory essay, Mishima wrote:
The delicacy of Yoshiyuki’s language and sensibility is probably more subtle and sophisticated than that of any Japanese writer since the war. “Sudden Shower” is not just a love story; Yoshiyuki gives us first-hand experience of the woman’s sensuality and we are made to feel somehow like skin-divers on the sea-bed of man’s passions and emotions. […] The lyricism of Yoshiyuki’s writing is semi-neurotic and, by restricting his subject, he is able to convey a deeply sensual experience in a world as confined as a bath-tub. The idée fixe of Japanese youth today—that love is impossible and impracticable—lies deep at the root of Yoshiyuki’s thinking.“Sudden Shower” was Yoshyuki’s first literary success, he was lying sick in a hospital bed when he was told that it had just won the 1954 Akutagawa Prize. (Also, this collection begins with Bownas’ translations of two excellent stories by other Japanese writers no one reads, “Icarus” by Taruho Inagaki and “Cosmic Mirror” by Yutaka Haniya.)
- The Dark Room (Anshitsu), trans. John Bester (Kodansha, 1975; orig. 1970). Yoshiyuki’s only novel, thus far, available in English. It was awarded the Tanizaki Prize. With that said, he is often compared to Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, and they do have much in common, but Yoshiyuki’s subdued style makes his writings bleaker and more haunting. The narrator’s pessimism toward domesticity and procreation is the basis of this disconcerting novel—however, I think Yoshiyuki achieves as much or even outdoes this novel with some of his shorter works.
- "In Akiko’s Room" (Shōfu no heya; literally, "A Prostitute’s Room"), trans. Howard Hibbett, Contemporary Japanese Literature: An Anthology of Fiction, Film and Other Writing Since 1945 (Alfred A. Knopf, 1977). Another historic anthology; the 2005 reprint is a bit pricey and it only adds a two-page preface by Hibbett, so look for the older editions.
- "Are the Trees Green?" (Kigi wa midori ka), trans. Adam Kabat, The Shōwa Anthology - Modern Japanese Short Stories, 1929-1984 (Kodansha, 1985). One of my favourite Yoshiyuki stories, and it’s only found in this must-have anthology, which features neglected authors and lesser-known stories by well-known authors, e.g., Kōbō Abe, Ōe, Kawabata. (Note: it’s common that sellers only have one of the volumes from the older, two-volume edition: Yoshiyuki is in the first book.)
- "Three Policemen" (Sannin no keikan), trans. Hugh Clarke, The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories (1997). Even though this anthology covers a broader timespan, and it’s easier to track down, I prefer the overall selections in the aforementioned anthologies. “Three Policemen” is a quick and entertaining introduction to Yoshiyuki’s portraits of (postwar) nightlife.
- "Personal Baggage", trans. John Bester, The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature, vol. 2 of 2 (2007). The most ambitious and comprehensive anthology to date. (One of the editors, Van C. Gessel, also worked on the above Shōwa collection.) “Personal Baggage” is a clear example of what Yoshiyuki meant by “internal realism”, a term he proposed as a more accurate classification of his later works. The story is a nightmarish and disorientating account of the mind’s unsteadiness and unreliable self-righting mechanism.
- Fair Dalliance: Fifteen Stories by Yoshiyuki Junnosuke and its companion Toward Dusk and Other Stories were published by Kurodahan Press in 2011. Fair Dalliance features two biographical essays on Yoshiyuki and fifteen previously uncollected stories that span his diverse career; “My Bed is a Boat”, “The Man Who Fired the Bath”, “I Ran Over a Cat”, “Three Dreams”, “The Flies”, and “Katsushika Ward” are my favourites from the collection. Toward Dusk and Other Stories opens with an interesting exegesis on Yoshiyuki’s fiction, and presents nine previously uncollected short stories, plus the title novella; “Burning Dolls”, “The Molester”, “Treatment”, and the seven (somewhat loosely connected) chapters of “Toward Dusk” are the standouts for me.
For more online material about Yoshiyuki and his works, see:
- "Obituary: Junnosuke Yoshiyuki", one of the three hundred obituaries the poet and translator James Kirkup contributed to The Independent. (Fittingly, here’s a snippet from The Independent's obituary for Kirkup: “He was a one-man world literature necrology department, […] an evangelist for the untranslated […]”.)
- Two reviews of The Dark Room: one by Nihon Distractions and another by Bibliophilia Obscura.
- A review of Toward Dusk and Other Stories in The Japan Times.
(Image: the front cover of the first edition of The Dark Room: “Jacket design by S. Katakura, incorporating a pen-and-ink drawing by Masuo Ikeda from My Imagination Map (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1974).” Ikeda was also a film director and an award-winning novelist, see: obituary (another by Kirkup), blog article, web gallery, and 50 Watts.)
Vincent James O’Sullivan (1868-1940) was an American-born writer of macabre stories and Decadent poetry. Oscar Wilde, after having read O’Sullivan’s poems, commented: “In what a midnight his soul seems to walk! and what maladies he draws from the moon!”, and such a remark aptly characterizes most of O’Sullivan’s oeuvre.
It was in Montague Summers' The Supernatural Omnibus (1931) that I first noticed O’Sullivan’s artistry. His stories—even in a collection that includes such figures as J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Bram Stoker, Vernon Lee, and, one of Crowley’s cronies, William Seabrook—immediately stood out for their delivery, if not their content. O’Sullivan’s prose is vivid, flowing, and capable of deathly sudden twists. His most widely anthologized story, "When I Was Dead", was described by Robert Aickman as a “spasm of guilt”, “sudden and shattering”; Aickman included it in The Fourth Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories (1967), a long-running series he edited. However, that story is quite mild in comparison to some of O’Sullivan’s others. A few of my favourites are "Hugo Raven’s Hand", "My Enemy and Myself", "The Bars of the Pit", and the novella-length "Verschoyle’s House".
For more about Vincent O’Sullivan, see:
- Jessica Amanda Salmonson’s essay, "A Fallen Master of the Macabre"; it is from the introduction to Master of Fallen Years: The Complete Supernatural Stories of Vincent O’Sullivan (London: The Ghost Story Press, 1995). (Note: the book is very hard to come by, only 400 were printed, has a creepy cover, and it contains his rarest story, “The Monkey & Basil Holderness”, which I am desperate to read.)
- "Vincent O’Sullivan: Unstrung Second Fiddle", an essay that compares him to other Decadent poets, and discusses in detail his story collection A Dissertation Upon Second Fiddles, which is said to read like an English Léon Bloy.
- Archive.org has the story collection Human Affairs, and the Decadent “prosetry” of The Green Window. Unfortunately, their scan of Sentiment, his second of two novels, is the edition without the stories, and they don’t have his first novel, my favourite, The Good Girl. (I hope to add some of his other works to Archive.org.)
- Horror Masters is a good resource for stories of the supernatural, of Vincent’s, it has: "Will", "The Business of Madame Jahn", "The Interval", "Master of Fallen Years", "When I Was Dead", and "The Burned House".
(Image: the frontispiece was done by the talented Aubrey Beardsley; the drawing does not look to be his most inspired work (see Stanley Weintraub's Beardsley for why =]), but do take a look at this collection.)
No one reads Rudolph Wurlitzer (b. 1937, Texas), that is, if Barthelme and Pynchon—advocates of Wurlitzer’s Nog—don’t count, and if I don’t include the small cult following that the book has had since its debut in 1969. Still, by my esoteric calculations, Wurlitzer could use some more exposure, especially for his later works, e.g., Flats and Quake.
Fans of Beckett, Denis Johnson, and Bukowski—just to name a few kindred spirits—should definitely give Wurlitzer a read.
For more about Rudy, see:
- "Wurlitzer’s Wiles", Gary Indiana's survey of Wurlitzer's books
- Jeremy Hatch’s short, and perceptive, essay on Nog at the Quarterly Conversation
- The official Rudolph Wurlitzer website
- The IMDB listing of Wurlitzer’s filmography
(Image: the 1970 Pocket Books edition; I couldn’t find any artist credit in the paperback—contacted the publisher, still waiting for a reply)
No one reads Arno Schmidt (1914-1979), a little-known major German writer whose corpus ranges from (seemingly) straightforward stories to writing that assails the reader with a literary and linguistic density of the highest degree—he is Germany’s Joyce.
Parsing Schmidt’s trade=mark syntax will reveal, among much else: tremendous wit, metanarratives, caustic social commentary, and passages fully charged with melopoeia.
English readers will have to wait for the amazing John E. Woods to finish translating Schmidt’s magnum opus, Zettels Traum (Bottom’s Dream)—it’s twice as long as Finnegans Wake—but, for the meantime, Woods has already provided us with sublime translations of Schmidt’s works, and he recommends the Collected Novellas as the place to start. In addition, I would suggest beginning with the volume Nobodaddy’s Children, which contains Scenes from the Life of a Faun, Brand’s Heath, and Dark Mirrors.
For more about this juggernaut of literature, see:
- Arno Schmidt at the Complete Review, where he is well-loved, and strongly influenced their Literary Saloon dialogs (Radio Dialogs I, II)
- "The Intellectual after World War III: Arno Schmidt’s Science Fiction", an essay by Ursula Heise
- "Watching TV with Arno Schmidt", an essay by Volker Langbehn; also, see his analysis of Zettels Traum (Google preview)
- Dalkey Archive is the current fountainhead of Schmidt in English
- Green Integer publishes the little sibling of Zettels Traum, The School for Atheists, and a selection of Schmidt’s erudite literary criticism, Radio Dialogs I and II
(Image: “Kühe in Halbtrauer” (trans. “Cows in Half Mourning”) by Jens Rusch; a title of a short story by Schmidt)
No one reads Roberto Arlt (1900-1942), an Argentine author of novels, short stories, articles, and plays—he even fancied himself an inventor: in 1932 he registered a patent on a method to prevent runs in pantyhose.
Borges praised Arlt’s prose; Cortázar read him passionately in his youth, and Juan Carlos Onetti (another writer no one reads) had this to say:
If ever anyone from these shores could be called a literary genius, his name was Roberto Arlt. … I am talking about art and of a great and strange artist. … I am talking about a writer who understood better than anyone else the city in which he was born. More deeply, perhaps, than those who wrote the immortal tangos. I am talking about a novelist who will be famous in time … and who, unbelievably, is almost unknown in the world today. [Translated by Michele Aynesworth; her notes from Mad Toy are the source for the above praises.]
Sources in English (Amazon US links):
Of the two works available in English, my favourite is The Seven Madmen (pictured above): ingeniously captured and articulated spasms of madness are littered throughout the book, one gem after another—reminiscent of Céline. Humorous tics of the psyche, eccentric characters, anarchistic undercurrents, and a portrait of living in the urban rain shadow are just some of the features that make this short novel worth a read—even if its sequel (The Flame-Throwers) is never translated into English.
(Image: designed by Oscar Zarate)
No one reads Ilse Aichinger (b. 1921, Vienna). She and her husband, the poet, Günter Eich (now deceased), were honoured members of the exclusive and prestigious postwar literati constellation Gruppe 47—Wolfgang Hildesheimer (another author no one reads) was also a member; see here for an extensive roster.
Ilse Aichinger’s short stories—with their haunting imagery, deft escalations of strangeness, chilling humour, poetic concision and lyricism—will leave you stirred. “The Bound Man”, “Story in a Mirror”, “Speech Under the Gallows”, and “Where I Live” are excellent stories to read through first; the former three are her most highly acclaimed.
Sources in English (Amazon US links):
- Herod’s Children - her groundbreaking (and only) novel.
- The Bound Man and Other Stories - her must-have collection of short stories.
- Selected Poetry and Prose of Ilse Aichinger - a worthy compilation, but start with the previous.
Unfortunately, her books, in English translation, are out-of-print, making them difficult and (usually) costly to acquire. With that said, her writing has been included in many anthologies; here’s a listing, courtesy of IBL (be wary of shoddy translations):
- Best Short Shorts (1958)
- Great German Short Stories (1960)
- Modern German Stories (1961)
- Slaying of the Dragon, the (1984)
- Art of the Tale, the (1986)
- Evidence of Fire: An Anthology of Twentieth Century German Poetry (1989)
- Contemporary German Fiction (1996)
- Contemporary Jewish Writing in Austria (1999)
- Nightshade: 20th Century Ghost Stories (1999)
- Escaping Expectations (2001)
- Dedalus Book of Austrian Fantasy 1890-2000, the (2003)
Note: For the really keen, a Google search of Aichinger’s “The Bound Man” might be worthwhile. ;-]
No one reads Gorky’s close friend, Leonid Andreyev (1871-1919), who wrote plays, novels, and short stories. His writing is melancholic, psychological, satirical, and illuminatingly unorthodox in its treatment of religion.
Borges included one of Andreyev’s short stories, “Lazarus”, in the Russian stories section of The Library of Babel. In addition, I recommend, for starters, A Dilemma (a.k.a. A Thought), The Red Laugh, and The Seven Who Were Hanged; the latter two were in Lovecraft’s personal library.(Image: “Leonid at his desk, mid-May 1910”, scanned from Photographs By A Russian Writer; the book features Andreyev’s photographs and a couple of his paintings.)
Start with his short stories: “The Labrenas”, “The Mute”, “Gogol’s Wife”. Italo Calvino’s introduction to the other collection, Words in Commotion and Other Stories, is also useful in getting to know this Italian recluse.
I first read of Landolfi in Harold Bloom’s How to Read and Why. He also shows up on Don B.’s reading list.