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Despite being praised in his lifetime by his contemporaries Rilke, Beckett, and Camus, no one reads Emmanuel Bove—“a writer for true readers,” according to Keith Botsford.
Bove (1898-1945), “an excellent example of the ‘eclipsed’ writer” (Botsford, whose afterword to Bove’s A Winter’s Journal is required reading for any student of writers no one reads), is so forgotten, in fact, that he doesn’t even have an English language Wikipedia entry. Although the Marlboro Press keeps a few of his novels in print, Bove’s work is difficult to find and, if found, difficult to bear. Novelist Peter Handke, who translated Bove into German, wrote of his hesitancy before undertaking that task:
It would take a lot of courage to translate… I couldn’t write such a book. That [Bove] was able to write such books, so black and so right, is a mystery.
Full of heroes—or, rather, antiheroes—living on the razor’s edge of poverty, loneliness, ineluctable mediocrity and misunderstandings, Bove’s novels require a certain bravery and stamina to confront. They promise no redemption, yet for all their bleakness they occasionally evince the kind of humor later perfected by Samuel Beckett.
A typical Bovean passage reads like the following, taken from the end of A Winter’s Journal:
If I do start life all over again, I’ll do so very cautiously, but will I even start? Caution, understanding, it’s all useless. There is weariness, and nothing more. What will become of me?
[Image: Vilhelm Hammershoi, The Four Rooms, 1914]
“ The greatest fortune that can befall an author is not to be read, a painter not to be seen, or to be seen with haste, like on those horrendous group museum tours: as long as the work is talked about, obviously. Or, if they see you, if they read you, you’re fortunate to be misunderstood. If they understand you, no one will think you’re right; if they don’t understand you, everyone will project onto you their inchoate desires, their secret dreams. And your success is assured.”
With only three books in print in English translation, it seems no one reads Juan Jose Saer (1937-2005). Believed by many to be the greatest Argentine novelist of the 20th century, Saer’s work, like his more well-known contemporaries Cesar Aira and Roberto Bolano, toys with the limits of genre, ultimately expanding our sense of what a novel can be. Befitting a novelist whose work straddled so many genres, Saer’s voice ranges from the lyrical to the hard-boiled.
Proof of his voluptuous lyricism is evident in the following passage from his novel of cultural dislocation and cannibalism, The Witness (trans. by Margaret Jull Costa, who has translated Saramago and Javier Marias):
Amongst so many strange things: the predictable sun, the countless stars, the trees that resolutely put on the same green splendor each time their season mysteriously comes round, the river that ebbs and flows, the shimmering yellow sand and summer air, the pulsating body which is born, grows old and dies, all the vast distances and the passing days, enigmas which we all in our innocence believe to be familiar, amongst all these presences that seem oblivious to ours, it is understandable that one day, in the face of the inexplicable, we experience the unpleasant feeling that we are just voyagers through a phantasmagoria…. But, despite its intensity, that feeling, which we all have sometimes, does not last and does not go deep enough to unsettle our lives. One day, when we least expect it, it suddenly overwhelms us. For a few moments familiar objects are totally alien to us, inert and remote despite their nearness.
And his hard-boiled, gritty realism is evident in the opening of the recently published translation of Cicatrices (Scars, trans. Steve Dolph):
There’s this filthy, evil June light coming through the window. I’m leaning over the table, sliding the cue, ready to shoot. The red and the white balls area across the table, near the corner. I have the spot ball. I have to hit it softly so it hits the red ball first, then the white, then the back rail between the red and the white ball.
In addition to Scars, Open Letter Books has also recently published The Sixty-Five Years of Washington, which leaves us with the hope that we will one day be able to strike Saer from the roll of Writers No One Reads.
No one reads the pseudonymous Jean Ray, author of the gothic classic Malpertuis, a modernist haunted house novel that contributed to his being called the “Belgian Poe.”
- For a lucid essay on this bewildering book, see Michael Cisco’s piece at The Modern Word
- Check out some scenes from the 1971 film adaptation starring Orson Welles
No one reads Daniel Spoerri, a visual artist known for his snare-pictures, and also the author of a classic literary snare-picture, An Anecdoted Topography of Chance—an unfortunately difficult book to track down.
The premise of An Anecdoted Topography of Chance is simple: the map above is of Spoerri’s room, drawn on the afternoon of October 17, 1961. After numbering the items in his room, the author set out to inventory each object, providing in the process an autobiography unlike any you’ve read. Each page lists a single object (illustrated by the inimitable Roland Topor) followed by an entry describing the object. Sometimes laconic:
44 Very Pretty Dark Blue Bottle
with a large neck, bought in a shop opposite the Galerie Raymond Cordier, rue Guenegaud, one day when for no apparent reason I visited the gallery; said bottle is topped by a socket and bulb, the whole forming a bedside lamp.
And at others elaborate, like number 66, a bottle of Sauze (a cologne), to which are appended three footnotes and five pages of text that ends with the following anecdote:
I myself was so drunk that evening that I’m certain it was there I infected my finger, and not in the door of a taxi, as I once supposed; after two days the infection had spread almost up to my shoulder, and I was sent to a doctor: if I had come two days later, he said, I probably would have died of blood poisoning.
To get a better idea of how the book works (and to see how easily it could be adapted to an online text), see this page.
And for an article about “chance art,” see Dario Gamboni piece in Cabinet Magazine.
No one reads Ghérasim Luca (1913-1994), a member of the Romanian Surrealist Group who was declared by Gilles Deleuze as “the greatest French poet.” Luca left Bucharest for Paris in 1954, where he later killed himself by jumping into the Seine.
A writer of hermetic, delirious, and erotic prose, Luca was also the creator of the game of “Objectively Offered Objects,” a variation of Salvador Dalí’s symbolically functioning objects, in which a found object was transformed into one imbued with deep psychic meaning by a member of the game. (For a comprehensive essay on OOO, see Sean Sturm’s blog.)
An excerpt from Luca’s Passive Vampire will give you an idea of the writer who believed that “everything must be reinvented”:
I close my eyes, as active as a vampire, I open them within myself, as passive as a vampire, and between the blood that arrives, the blood that leaves, and the blood already inside me there occurs an exchange of images like an engagement of daggers. Now I could eat a piano, shoot a table, inhale a staircase. All the extremities of my body have orifices out of which come the skeletons of the piano, the table, the staircase, and for the very first time these ordinary—and therefore non-existent—objects can exist. I climb this staircase not to get to the first floor but to get closer to myself. I lean on the banisters not to avoid vertigo but to prolong it.
- Read the entirety of Luca and Trost’s manifesto, Dialectics of the Dialectic
- Twisted Spoon published Luca’s legendary and obscure Passive Vampire (trans. Krzysztof Fijalkowski) from which the photograph above is taken. Read a review at Bookforum.
- Black Widow Press published his Inventor of Love, translated by Julian and Laura Semilian.
- Ubuweb has audio of Luca reading some of his poems
[Submission by Rhea137]:
No one reads Nicholas Moore, son of philosopher G.E. Moore and a poet who in the 1940s was as renowned as Dylan Thomas, but who faded into obscurity through a series of misfortunes and “mysterious circumstances.” Later deemed an eccentric, Moore may have had his revenge on the establishment by pseudonymously submitting 31 translations of Charles Baudelaire’s “Spleen” to a contest in the Sunday Times judged by George Steiner. These translations, available on Ubuweb, brilliantly evoke a number of poetic voices and bring to light many of the thorny issues surrounding translation.
- For more of Moore’s poems, see the September 1945 issue of Poetry
Architectural dreamwork, end-times seascapes so barren they seem cut from the pages of the Bible, coolly-rendered Rube Goldberg apparati, and the crushing sadness that results when you tie your emotional fortunes to a person whose tongue is so fat in his mouth he can barely speak, mark this little masterpiece of a novel. Cast as a soliloquy in the form of a ship’s log, a grief report from someone who has no good insurance she will ever be heard, the novel moves fluidly between its major forms: love song, a treatise on gardening at sea, an argument against the company of others, and a dark science expo for exquisite inventions like a hybrid lichen that makes things invisible. Published by Alfred A. Knopf under the editorial guidance of Gordon Lish, the fiction world’s singular Quixote—a champion of innovative styles and formal ambition—there may have been no better year  in which to tuck such an odd, exquisite book. Instead of rushing for relevance and breaking the news, Crawford was taking the oldest news of all—it is strange and alone here, even when we are surrounded by people, and there is a great degree of pain to be felt—and reporting it as nautical confessional. The result, now thirty-six years later, seems to prove that interior news, the news of what it feels like to want too much from another person, will not readily smother under archival dust.
Through his press, Gaberbocchus (the name is a latinized version of Jabberwocky), he introduced to the English-reading world translations of works now considered canonical, including Alfred Jarry’s absurdist play Ubu Roi, Raymond Queaneau’s Exercises in Style, and Cozette de Charmoy’s above-pictured “collage novel,” The True Life of Sweeney Todd.
Bertrand Russell admiringly summed up Themerson’s own work as being “nearly as mad as the world.” The plot of The Mystery of the Sardine, a meandering detective story that begins with an exploding poodle and includes among its cast of characters a 12-year old author (of a book titled Euclid Was an Ass) and a bureaucrat called the Minister of Imponderabilia, suggests that Russell was not far off in his pithy assessment.
For more, see:
No one reads Thomas Lovell Beddoes, who asks in his poem “Dream-Pedlary”:
If there were dreams to sell/ What would you buy?
and whose obscurity perplexed Lytton Strachey, who wrote:
If the neglect suffered by Beddoes’ poetry may be accounted for in more ways than one, it is not easy to understand why more curiosity has never been aroused by the circumstances of his life. For one reader who cares to concern himself with the intrinsic merit of a piece of writing there are a thousand who are ready to explore with eager sympathy the history of the writer; and all that we know of both the life and character of Beddoes possesses those very qualities of peculiarity, mystery and adventure which are so dear to the hearts of subscribers to circulating libraries.
For more on Beddoes’ peculiar, mysterious and adventurous life, see John Ashbery’s lecture on the poet in Other Traditions.
(Image: first stanza of “Lord Alcohol”)
No one reads Alfred Kubin (1877-1959), who in addition to being an illustrator also wrote the bizarre and eerily prophetic novel The Other Side (1908), which tells the story of a journey to the disquieting city of Pearl, a place where a citizen’s mood is mirrored by his or her surroundings. Parts Meyrink (another author no one reads), Poe and Kafka, Kubin described the book as “a sort of Baedeker for those lands which are half known to us.”
No one reads the self-styled Viscount Emilio Lascano Tegui, an Argentinian who, in addition to writing De la elegancia mientras se duerme (recently translated by Idra Novey as On Elegance While Sleeping), was at various times in his life a dentist, demagogue (it is reported that he made “incendiary speeches in perfectly rhymed verse”), bohemian, art dealer, world traveler, translator, painter, instructor in the culinary arts, as well as friend of Apollinaire and Picasso.
For more, see Isola di Rifiuti