Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Medin’

Fitzcarraldo publisher Jacques Testard: “He is the best thing that has happened to the anglophone literary world in years.”

Thursday, May 31st, 2018
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Translator Jennifer Croft, author Olga Tokarczuk, publisher Jacques Testard at the Man Book International Prize.

A few days ago, we discussed a remarkable man, Jacques Testard, founding publisher of Fitzcarraldo Editions. The tony new house published this year’s winner of the Man Booker International Prize, Olga Tokarczuk‘s FlightsI quoted friend and editor extraordinaire Daniel Medin of the American University of Paris, who was in London for last week’s ceremony:

Author and translator at signing

But in the applause for the author (and in this case translator, too), many forget the role of the publisher. Not Daniel, who also had praise for Fitzcarraldo Editions and its founding publisher Jacques Testard, with whom he has worked closely at The White Review for many years. “He is the best thing that has happened to the anglophone literary world in years. Firstly, for co-founding The White Review, which helped launch the careers of so many compelling English-language writers in the UK and in translation. Then, for Fitzcarraldo, which has brought the work of intrepid writers like John Keene, Kate Briggs and Claire-Louise Bennett to a larger audience. These are the first three that came to mind but his list is strong across the board, and includes of course many works in translation.

“It’s extraordinary that his books have won the Nobel and Man Booker International within a few years of launching. The best part’s that this is only the beginning. Jacques is playing the long game: his first translated title was by Mathias Enard, a finalist last year who will be eligible with his forthcoming novel, Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants.

“Fitzcarraldo should be competitive next year with Esther Kinsky‘s remarkable novel, River. (Incidentally, Kinsky translated Flights into German and won a major prize for her rendering of Tokarczuk’s House of Day, House of Night.)”

I did a little digging, and found this: “Interview with a Gate-Keeper: Jacques Testard,” a Q&A from 2017 with Kerri Arsenault over at LitHub. How did the house get its name? I wondered, and apparently so did Arsenault. The answer: “The name of the press, which comes from the Werner Herzog film about the man who wants to build an opera house in the jungle, is a not very subtle metaphor on the stupidity of setting up a publishing house—it’s like dragging a 320-ton steamboat over a muddy hill in the Amazon jungle.” From the interview:

Publishing today…

JT: I suppose my original interest in editorial work specifically came from a misguided notion of the glamour involved in the job, the mythology around great publishers of yesteryear, and the intellectual nature of the job. I wouldn’t say I had an easy time becoming an editor—in the early days I never managed to get the jobs I was applying for and so I ended up doing it in this long, unusual and convoluted way, working my way in from the margins by starting up my own project with a friend in order to eventually get to do it for a living.

KA: You mean editing isn’t glamorous?

JT: Publishing is a fairly low-adrenaline job, particularly when you work for a small independent press. I spend a lot of time on my own, editing, but also doing everything else you need to do to keep a small press ticking. I’ve had a few glamorous moments—the pinnacle was the Nobel Prize dinner for Svetlana Alexievich in Stockholm—but I spend a lot more time carrying big bags of books to the post office than drinking martinis with famous authors. In fact, carrying books around is quite a big part of the job.

The publishing house got an early boost when it published little-known Svetlana Alexievich’s Second-hand Time, “which we managed to pick up before she won the Nobel Prize, thus rendering any future prize successes utterly meaningless by comparison.” It was nominated nonetheless:

KA: I see Second-hand Time was longlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize, the UK’s most prestigious award for nonfiction. What has publishing Alexievich meant for Fitzcarraldo?

The Nobel helped.

JT: A lot. It gave the company financial stability in our second year of operations—thanks to the rights sales we were able to slowly grow the company, going up initially to eight books a year, and now ten. It also gave Fitzcarraldo Editions a platform, a visibility which it might have taken a bit more time to achieve—that book was reviewed absolutely everywhere and critics and literary editors pay attention to what we publish as a result. It also gave us our first significant publishing success, from having to manage successive reprints to making contingency plans in the event of a prize-win, to organizing a ten-day tour for a Nobel Prize laureate. In that respect it’s given me the opportunity to learn more about my job as a publisher.

So is publishing still a madman’s dream?  “Kind of. I guess the suggestion is that publishing is so difficult and financially precarious that to set out to publish the kinds of books that we do is akin to dragging a 320-tonne steamboat up a hill. It’s possible, but it’s going to be extremely difficult.”

It’s looking better with last week’s Man Booker International Prize. Can’t wait to read Flights. Read the interview here.

Man Booker International Prize: a big night for Olga Tokarczuk, Jennifer Croft, and one phenomenal publisher, Jacques Testard

Saturday, May 26th, 2018
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Winners past and present: László Krasznahorkai and Olga Tokarczuk   (Photo: New Directions)

Now the whole world knows: Olga Tokarczuk has become the first Polish writer to win the Man Booker International Prize, for her novel Flights. The Man Booker press release called it “a novel of linked fragments from the 17th century to the present day, connected by themes of travel and human anatomy.” The prize was announced this week during a ceremony in London.

Croft ,Tokarczuk, Testard (Photo: Boris Dralyuk)

“Tokarczuk is a writer of wonderful wit, imagination and literary panache,” Lisa Appignanesi, who led the panel of judges, said in a statement.  She added that the novel “flies us through a galaxy of departures and arrivals, stories and digressions, all the while exploring matters close to the contemporary and human predicament — where only plastic escapes mortality.”

The £50,000 prize for best translated fiction from around the world will be shared with translator Jennifer Croft.

I heard the news from an unusual source: the boyfriend of Jennifer Croft is my colleague and editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books, Boris Dralyuk. We’ve written about him here and here. He’s over the moon, obviously and almost literally, as he’d just flown from Los Angeles when we exchanged messages, and 30,000 feet is as close as any of us will get to that chilly orb.

Wise words from Daniel

It was cheering news to others who attended the ceremony as well. Daniel Medin of the American University in Paris wrote me: “I’m delighted by the result. Flights is an original and formally adventurous novel. Great translation, too.” Daniel is associate director of the AUP’s Center for Writers and Translators and one of the editors of its Cahiers Series. He is also co-editor of Music & Literature magazine and a contributing editor to The White Review. He also tells me he’s now on the jury for the Berlin-based Haus der Kulturen der Welt  Internationaler Literaturpreis. (We’ve written about him here and here.)

He continued, “I’ve taught an earlier novel by Tokarczuk – also in a wonderful translation, in this case by Antonia Lloyd-Jones – in my course on Central European literature and history. Her fiction clearly belongs in that tradition.”

Boris at Pushkin House

But in the applause for the author (and in this case translator, too), many forget the role of the publisher. Not Daniel, who also had praise for Fitzcarraldo Editions and its founding publisher Jacques Testard, with whom he has worked closely at The White Review for many years. “He is the best thing that has happened to the anglophone literary world in years. Firstly, for co-founding The White Review, which helped launch the careers of so many compelling English-language writers in the UK and in translation. Then, for Fitzcarraldo, which has brought the work of intrepid writers like John Keene, Kate Briggs and Claire-Louise Bennett to a larger audience. These are the first three that came to mind but his list is strong across the board, and includes of course many works in translation.

“It’s extraordinary that his books have won the Nobel and Man Booker International within a few years of launching. The best part’s that this is only the beginning. Jacques is playing the long game: his first translated title was by Mathias Enard, a finalist last year who will be eligible with his forthcoming novel, Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants.

“Fitzcarraldo should be competitive next year with Esther Kinsky‘s remarkable novel, River. (Incidentally, Kinsky translated Flights into German and won a major prize for her rendering of Tokarczuk’s House of Day, House of Night.)”

And Boris was doing double-time, too: during his week in London, he celebrated his new Ten Poems from Russia (Candlestick Press) with a reading at the Pushkin House.

Author and translator (Photo: Janie Airey/Man Booker Prize)

Edwin Frank of NYRB: “Great literature is literature that remains news.”

Monday, December 19th, 2016
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A conversation in Paris – with and about books

We’ve written about editor extraordinaire Daniel Medin of the American University of Paris, who is an editor for Music & Literature, The Cahiers Series, and The White Review. We’ve also mentioned Edwin Frank, editorial director of New York Review Books (and, incidentally, a Stanford alum), from time to time, since Stanford’s Another Look book club so often features NYRB’s books.

So we’re pleased the two of them got together for an interview last fall at Shakespeare & Company in Paris.

A few excerpts from the comprehensive Quarterly Conversation Q&A:

Daniel Medin: Could you tell us about the origins of NYRB Classics?

Edwin Frank: NYRB came into existence crab-wise, almost accidentally. I was in my mid-30s and had never had anything to do with publishing when I got a freelance job with a business associate of the New York Review called The Readers’ Catalog, a sort of a giant Sears Catalog of books. The idea was to sell the 40,000 best books in print. Independent stores were closing across the United States, so you could get The Readers’ Catalog and order the books you couldn’t find. And I got this job that basically consisted of reading through sections and saying “this shouldn’t be here” or “why isn’t this here?” The most prominent example that has stuck in my mind is that [Alberto] Moravia was pretty much completely out of print everywhere, this would have been around ’96. And lots of other things were out of print that I just thought by definition would be in print. I didn’t know why they weren’t in print, and since I didn’t work in publishing it took me a while to figure out that they weren’t in print because they wouldn’t sell. So I made a list and at some point made a proposal to the publisher of the New York Review, Rea Hederman, that effectively said, “maybe we should have a publishing project.” It took a few years to come together, but in 1999 we did come out with about 14 books, in a different design than we have now, a sort of disastrous design, but we survived that. And the books did better than anybody would have expected; I think we sort of went into it on tiptoes, but the response was more excited than I think anyone anticipated.

DM: I wonder about the vision of the project. You mentioned that the initial idea was to do reprints, so maybe you can talk about how it has developed since 1999.

edwin-frank

He got into the venture “crab-wise.”

EF: The fact is, I really, really didn’t want to call the series “classics.” Who knows what a classic is? It’s difficult to explain to people in the States, and also to foreign publishers, where “classics” has a much more defined meaning. So it was difficult for a while to get people to understand that we weren’t doing new editions of Thucydides. But it’s just as well, or else we would have been arguing about the name of the series to this day. Anyway, from the beginning our goal was always to mix things up. Great literature is literature that remains news, and there’s a way to publish things that can cast a new light on things we take for granted in our own time. The metaphors I tend to think of are somewhere between the vinyl bin, where you can flip through and there’s a whole range of music and so on, or the repertory film theater that can move from Japan to B movies and so on. So that was always the idea, but at the beginning it was very much about reprints, and that was true for two or three years. Partly because the series was doing well there was a moment where it seemed right to begin acquiring books and doing new translations of books.

***

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Daniel with Hungarian author László Krasnahorkai

DM: I’m curious as to how you’ve curated the lists from languages you cannot read. Hungarian literature, for instance. I happen to specialize in writing from that region—and your Hungarian list is remarkable. Anybody in this audience can go online and look at NYRB’s offerings, and if you pick a title and mention it to an author or cultivated reader from Hungary, they will acknowledge its importance. And Hungarian’s only one example among many in your catalog. What’s been the approach?

EF: Well, it varies. The Hungarian case is an interesting one because the language is so isolated that basically the Hungarian state commissioned a program of translating Hungarian literature into English. And the translators they employed were actually quite brilliant. (The Soviets also had that kind of program, but the translations were a lot iffier.) … one of my favorite books in the whole series is [Gyula] Krúdy’s Sunflower—a totally bizarre book, I’d never read anything like it. I mean it’s a book that . . . I used to compare it to a strange cross between Bruno Schulz and PG Wodehouse, with gypsy music kind of thrown in, funny and sexy and just odd. Like nothing I’d ever read. It’s not often you read a book that’s like nothing else you ever read. I sometime think if I read a book like that I should publish it, but sometimes that’s a mistake. Anyway, so for the most part [the Hungarian translations] haven’t been commissioned, and to get back to the larger question, you are dependent to an extent to the translators or the literary criticism.

Read the whole thing here. Or check out the video and podcast of the event at the bookstore’s website here

Editor extraordinaire Daniel Medin: he’s “raise-your-eyebrows smart”

Friday, May 13th, 2016
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Man Booker award-winner László Krasznahorkai’s with Daniel Medin at last year’s ceremony. (Photo: Hans Balmes)

One of our favorite people is international literary tastemaker and editor extraordinaire Daniel Medin of the American University in Paris. We’ve written about him here and here and here, among other places. It’s been a pleasure to watch his rise as a truly great editor and homme de lettres, fostering literary excellence wherever in the world he finds it.

Fortunately, our good taste is contagious. An article on the Washington University of St. Louis’ The Source called him “an evangelist for outstanding contemporary foreign-language writers.”

Case in point: Medin is a judge for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize. The annual award honors a fictional book translated into English and published in the United Kingdom. The winning title earns a lofty £50,000 ($75,800), split equally between author and translator.

...and his admirer

Literary evangelist

Medin and the four other jurists pored over 160 novels and met several times throughout the winter and early spring to create the prize’s longlist and then select the winner. “What I’m doing doesn’t feel like work,” he says. “It’s a privilege.”

Warm, self-effacing and raise-your-eyebrows smart, Medin works in three languages — German, French and English — allowing him to read fiction by authors famous in their own countries but underrepresented or completely unknown by Anglophones.

When a novelist or poet impresses him, Medin gracefully labors to expose that person’s prose to English-language readers. He publishes translated selections of their work in Music & ­Literature, The White Review and The Cahiers Series, the three literary ­magazines that he helps edit. He also sends copies to publishers, critics and writers all over the world.

“Reading these books is a pleasure,” Medin says. “It’s similar to having something delectable to eat; the delight is enhanced by sharing it with others.”

Read the whole thing here. The only thing I’d fault it for is that it doesn’t mention Daniel’s long stint at Stanford, which is where our paths finally crossed.

Congratulations to Dubravka Ugrešić, winner of the Neustadt Prize!

Friday, October 23rd, 2015
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(Photo: Zeljko Koprolcec/Wikimedia Commons)

(Photo: Zeljko Koprolcec/Wikimedia Commons)

In May we announced that Croatian writer Dubravka Ugrešić was a finalist for the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. Tonight we are thrilled to announce that she’s a winner!

The Neustadt Prize, offered by the University of Oklahoma’s World Literature Today, is considered the “American Nobel,” and is often a harbinger of the Swedish award.

Ugrešić is the author of several works of fiction and essay collections. She went into exile from Croatia after being labeled a “witch” for her anti-nationalistic stance during the Yugoslav war. She now resides in the Netherlands.

Here’s what she had to say about that:

Ten years ago I held a Yugoslav passport, with its soft, pliable, dark red cover. I was a Yugoslav writer. Then the war came, and the Croats, without so much as a by your leave, shoved a blue Croatian passport at me. The Croatian government expected a prompt transformation from its citizens, as if the passport itself was some sort of magic pill. Since this didn’t go down easily in my case, they excluded me from their literary and other ranks. Croatian passport in hand, I abandoned both my newly acquired and formerly demolished homeland and set out into the world. With impassioned, Eurosong-like glee, the rest of the world identified me as a Croatian writer. I became a literary representative of a place that no longer wanted me. I, too, no longer wanted the place that no longer wanted me. I am no fan of unrequited love. Even today, I still, however, haven’t shaken free of the labels.

Again I hold a passport with a soft, pliable, dark red cover, a Dutch passport. Will this new passport make me a Dutch writer? It may but I doubt it. Now that I have a Dutch passport, will I ever be able to “reintegrate” into the ranks of Croatian writers? Possibly, but I doubt it. What is my real problem? Am I ashamed of the label of Croatian writer that still trails after me? No. Would I feel any better with a label like Gucci or Armani? Undoubtedly I would, but that’s not the point. Then what is it that I want? And why am I, for God’s sake so edgy about labels?

ministryWhy? Because the reception of literary texts has shown that the luggage of identification bogs down a literary text. Because it has further been shown that labels actually alter the substance of a literary text and its meaning.

Not surprisingly, then, she considers herself a “post-Yugoslavian writer.” Clive James wrote of her: “For her, Yugoslavia lingers in the mind and heart as the dreamed reality, whereas Croatia is the living nightmare. Tito’s iron hand at least kept the ethnic minorities from each other’s throats. … She comes from one of what Kundera memorably called the Kidnapped Countries, and she has given it its voice, which is the voice of a woman. The woman carries plastic bags full of the bad food and the thin supplies she has queued for by the hour while the men sit around in the square scratching their crotches and dreaming up their next war.”

As he points out, there is much to discomfit Western readers. For example, when she writes: “Proudly waving its own unification, Europe supported disintegration in foreign territory. Emphasizing the principles of multiculturality in its own territory, it abetted ethnic cleansing elsewhere. Swearing by European norms of honour, it negotiated with democratically elected war criminals. Fiercely defending the rights of minorities, it omitted to notice the disappearance of the most numerous Yugoslav minority, the population of a national, ‘nationally undetermined’ people, or the disappearance of minorities altogether.”

You can read an excerpt from her excellent interview with Daniel Medin in Music & Literature here.

Neustadt finalist Dubravka Ugrešić: “Risk is a moral category.”

Sunday, May 31st, 2015
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(Photo: Zeljko Koprolcec/Wikimedia Commons)

Not risk-aversive. (Photo: Z. Koprolcec/Wikimedia Commons)

A few days ago I wrote that my friend Daniel Medin of the American University of Paris said he was “over the moon.”

That was true, but for more reasons than we had time to say. He wrote me in the wee hours (Paris time) to say, “So much good news, I don’t even mind being up this early.” The main reason was that one of the authors in the university’s Center for Writers and Translators – László Krasznahorkai – had just won the Man Booker Prize. Here’s another: two of the writers he works at have been named as finalists for the Neustadt; one is Can Xue (M&L5), too, on the heels of taking the just-announced Best Translated Book Award for The Last Lover. She was recently featured in Music and Literature, here.

The second, Dubravka Ugrešić, is the author of several works of fiction and essay collections. She went into exile from Croatia after being labeled a “witch” for her anti-nationalistic stance during the Yugoslav war. She now resides in the Netherlands.  Other contenders include Caryl Churchill (England), Carolyn Forché (United States), Aminatta Forna (Scotland/Sierra Leone), Ann-Marie MacDonald (Canada), Guadalupe Nettel (Mexico), Don Paterson (Scotland), Ghassan Zaqtan (Palestine).

The Neustadt Award, a prize offered by the University of Oklahoma’s World Literature Today, is considered the “American Nobel,” and is often a harbinger of the Swedish award. The winner will be chosen in October. Read more about it here.

Daniel is understandably chuffed. “Happiest for the recognition these authors are getting for their (brilliant, uncompromising) work,” he wrote. Daniel, who is co-editor of Music and Literature, recently interviewed the Croatian author. It’s very, very good  – and it’s online here.

A few excerpts from the interview:

DM: In your essay on Susan Sontag, you introduce the importance of “literary apprenticeship.” Could you discuss this notion at greater length?

DU: One has to earn the right to write, the right to “a voice.” I propagated an old-fashioned apprenticeship. I was a passionate reader from an early age. I studied comparative literature. I wrote about other writers. I translated them, too, from Russian to Croatian. I assembled anthologies. I edited, selected, and collected works of classical writers (Chekhov and Gogol, for example). I edited scholarly editions. I did a bit of literary history, criticism, and theory. I rediscovered some forgotten Russian writers (such as Leonid Dobychin and Konstantin Vaginov) and wrote about them. I think that the notion of a literary work ethic is extremely important, especially today when practically anybody can write, produce, and distribute his or her own work. This work ethic presupposes knowledge and a deep respect toward—and compassion for—your ancestors and contemporaries, toward your trade. It also assumes a deep awareness of what one is doing, why one is doing what one is doing, what the sense of the work is, what it brings to the cultural context, what it brings to the reader, and so on and so forth.

***

ministryDM: Could you please elaborate [on “literature as seduction”]?

DU: Yes, literature as mental, aesthetic, linguistic, emotional, intellectual, and sensual seduction. In that sense, Scheherazade is an ideal author, not solely because of her skill as a storyteller (although that too!), but for the risk that hovers above this activity. There are so many writers in this world who never ever question their trade. Fewer are prepared to confront all the dangers—and all the consequences—of their work. I experienced writing as a dangerous or double-edged activity. I was awarded the biggest prizes for literature in the former Yugoslavia (the NIN prize for fiction, for example), but only a few years later—at a time of nationalism and war—I was expelled from my cultural community and ostracized because of my writing. Instead of conforming to a changed situation, which is what the majority of people did, I took a risk. Then bore the consequences. I left my country.

museumDM: It sounds like you’re proud of that.

DU: No; I am sad because of it. I learned a lesson I would have rather avoided, namely that the majority of writers, intellectuals, artists, and thinkers will conform to any situation—whether it is war, dictatorship, communism, fascism, extermination of the “Other,” et cetera. However, going against the mainstream is not an aesthetic category. Risk is a moral category, which shapes our attitude toward our vocation as well as our ideological, political, aesthetical, and ethical choices.

***

DM: You’ve already explained why you channeled these new experiences into fiction, instead of memoir or autobiography. Yet at least half the books you’ve published in English are collections of essays, and even the novels themselves borrow often from essayistic strategies and tone. What attracts you to this particular form of writing? Were you steeped in a particular culture of essay writing, for example a Central European one?

DU: The choice of an essay came naturally to me at one point in my life. I stepped into it like into an old comfortable shoe. In that respect, the strategy of “fictionalizing” an essay and of “essayizing” fiction also came naturally. That impulse was there from the very beginning, I would say. Besides, stepping outside his “domain” is an act of artistic freedom: that’s why some excellent writers (first recognized as fiction writers and poets) also became first-rate essayists. Joseph Brodsky, Danilo Kiš, and Milan Kundera come to mind.

The choice to write essays came with a radical change of my life: the outburst of nationalism (i.e. fascism, at this particular time and place) in former Yugoslavia, with the fall of the SFRY, the war, and subsequent exile. The essay was, at least for me, the most appropriate form to protest against human conformism, lies, killings, national and ethnic homogenization of the society (e.g. fascization of society), against trivialization and standardization of culture, and so on and so forth. I turned to the essay at a crucial moment, when things desperately (at least from my point of view!) needed to be explained, when I lost my familiar addressee and my familiar cultural environment.

***

Theodor W. Adorno

Heretical essays

DU: The best definition of the essay came from Theodor Adorno, who said that heresy is at its essence and core. However, we have to be careful with all these notions today: the notion of heresy included. In our contemporary society—which is highly homogenized by the global marketplace—intellectual and artistic heresy is like oxygen. Globalized culture sucks that oxygen from our mental landscape. The global marketplace pretends that it offers us a diversity of products but in fact sells us the powerful substitute of the holy ONE. Today, we get one “subversive” philosopher, one “subversive” artist, and one subversive “writer”: the global market can’t bear more than one! In other words, we get one Coca-Cola, but we believe that by consuming it we consume the whole world. Celebs are our modern prophets, whether they sell the photos of their impressive posteriors, like Kim Kardashian, or their seductive theories, like Slavoj Žižek, or millions of their books, like Haruki Murakami. I don’t have anything against Kim Kardashian or, God forbid, against the great Slavoj Žižek, or my fellow writer Haruki Murakami, but the holy ONE policy (created, ultimately, by consumers themselves) is a quite obvious sign of a society homogenizing its tastes and needs. That’s why many cultural “species” (forms, patterns, genres, practices, ideas, and cultural spaces) are disappearing. The global market standardizes our tastes, our intellectual and cultural needs. In the result, we all read one book, one Bible, one Koran, we all follow one “prophet”; we all wait in long lines to buy a new book by one writer, or in line to see the exhibition of one artist. There is a market pressure to love Him, to buy Him, and as we live in a religious world, we like to establish our modern “prophets” (in visual art, the entertainment industry, literature, film, etc.). And then we like them and respect them because everybody else likes and respects them…

 

Do yourself a favor. Read the rest here.

 

The Booker Prize: Big night for Krasznahorkai, and his editors and translators, too.

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015
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Krasznahorkai’s German publisher, Hans Balmes, took a photo of Daniel Medin with the man of the hour.

There is much to celebrate in László Krasznahorkai‘s winning the Man Booker International Prize – I say that as someone of Hungarian descent, and heir to that impossible language. Certainly one reason to pop a few corks is the Hungarian novelist’s frank and humble appreciation for some of the people who made it happen. His remarks were welcome for another reason: one of the recipients of his comments happens to be among our friends, poet and translator George Szirtes. (We’ve written about him here and here – and about the London onstage conversation between the author and Colm Tóibín here, and we’ve written about the Krasznahorkai here and here, too).

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Poet and translator George

In “My Hero: George Szirtes and My Other Translators” in The Guardian, Krasnahorkai writes: “I have had six translators into English but the first was George Szirtes, who was born Hungarian but moved to England as a child and relearned the language as an adult. I knew his poetry and felt I understood his sensibility. When my publisher asked who would be a good translator, I suggested him. George said: ‘OK, but I’m not a translator, I’m a poet.’ My publisher replied: ‘Krasznahorkai wants you, so we’re prepared to be patient.’ He began with my second novel The Melancholy of Resistance and it took years.”

The £60,000 award has made other friends happy, too: “I’m over the moon about the prize,” wrote Daniel Medin of the Cahiers Series and the American University of Paris. The Cahiers Series (we’ve written about it here and here) published Krasznahorkai’s Animalinside, hence the jubilation. “I was excited even before they announced the winner – such a terrific, diverse group of finalists. Dozens of translations will appear as a result of this, and scores of new readers will now find their way to his books,” Daniel told me.

“All I would add is that the two publications I’ve been involved with: Issue 2 of Music &Literature, which provides a thorough overview of his entire career, and Animalinside are both, by design and by circumstance, optimal points of entry to his work.” We pass that info on.

Daniel Medin is also a contributing editor to The White Review in London, which featured a Q&A between author and translator in 2013:

G.S.: Why do you think  Sátántangó has been so successful right now? Has something happened in the world, or in literature, that has opened doors for it?

Animalinside2L.K.: I think readers who already knew Sátántangó, the film by Béla Tarr and myself, and had read The Melancholy of Resistance, War and War and Animalinside were waiting to read this too. And it seems that at the time of publication, Sátántangó was the kind of book many people actually wanted. People who wanted to escape the middle ground of high-formal pyrotechnics and the exhaustingly new; those who were waiting for a book that says something about the world; those who want something other than entertainment, who don’t want to escape from life but to live it over again, to know that they have a life, that they have a part in it, and have a preference for the painfully beautiful. My explanation is that we have no great literature. But readers need it, not as medicine, not as delusion, but because they need someone to tell them there is no medicine.

G.S.: Why is it so important for you to map things so clearly? Why is it so important to specify precise location?

L.K.:  Because it’s always important to know where things are. And a thing can only precisely be where it is.

G.S.: What do you read apart from the classics such as Kafka?

L.K.: When I am not reading Kafka I am thinking about Kafka. When I am not thinking about Kafka I miss thinking about him. Having missed thinking about him for a while, I take him out and read him again. That’s how it works. It’s precisely the same with Homer, Dante, Dostoevski, Proust, Ezra Pound, Beckett, Thomas Bernhard, Attila József, Sándor Weöres and Pilinszky

Read the whole thing here.

 

animalinside

 

More praise for the Cahiers Series – with new works by Anne Carson and Paul Griffiths

Thursday, October 31st, 2013
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Anne Carson’s essay, translations, and the Greek poet Ibykos

From this week’s Times Literary Supplement:

The Cahiers Series is a collection of beautifully produced booklets (twenty-two have been published so far), around forty pages in length, all illustrated with images, which are sometimes apposite, sometimes not, but always interesting. The declared goal of the series is ‘to make available new explorations in writing, in translating, and in the areas linking these two activities’. Some editions have a fairly tenuous connection to translation: in Shades of the Other Shore, two Americans, a poet and an artist respectively, are “translated” from the United States to rural France, with Jeffrey Greene’s short prose pieces and poems exploring “imagined correspondences between personal and historical ghosts tied to the seasons”, and Ralph Petty’s watercolours recording a journey to the source of a local river; in Józef Czapski: A life in translation, the novelist and translator Keith Botsford writes an imaginary autobiography of the Polish author and critic; in In the Thick of Things, the French architect Vincen Cornu attempts ‘to “translate” architectural sensation into words and images’. Then there are the cahiers written by translators or by poets who also translate, as well as translations of stories or plays followed by a brief translator’s note.”

That’s about as good an introduction to the Cahiers Series as I’ve seen anywhere (I’ve written about the valiant endeavor here and here – and the Book Haven even sponsored the Józef Czapski giveaway here).  Alternatively, you could take this, from the Book Trust: “The Cahiers Series represents all that we should be striving for in our increasingly interwoven world.” The effort is managed on a shoestring out of American University of Paris, and yet the short cahiers are truly elegant productions with thick paper and hand-stitched bindings, lavishly illustrated – a friend, Assoc. Prof. Daniel Medin (we’ve written about him here and here) is one of the admirable champions behind the project, and one damn fine editor, too.  Margaret Jull Costa‘s article about the Cahiers Series in the current Times Literary Supplement here seems to pretty much weave together all the past issues. Although I don’t have the list in front of me, it looks like she’s been able to fit about every title into her text.

Except the newest two.  That gives me an opening to tout them:

noh

Eleven Noh plays become stories in English.

Nay Rather
Anne Carson

This cahier unites two texts by celebrated Canadian poet Anne Carson, encouraging readers to experience them alongside and illuminating each other. ‘Variations on the Right to Remain Silent’ is an essay on the stakes involved when translation happens, ranging from Homer through Joan of Arc to Paul Celan; it includes the author’s seven translations of a poetic fragment from the Greek poet Ibykos. ‘By Chance the Cycladic People’ is a poem about Cycladic culture where the order of the lines has been determined by a random number generator. The cahier is illustrated by Lanfranco Quadrio drawings and gouaches, inspired by his reading of Anne Carson’s texts.

The Tilted Cup: Noh Stories
Paul Griffiths

Paul Griffiths effects a multi-layered translation, taking a series of eleven Japanese noh plays and turning them into stories in English. The reader will encounter spirit-beings set free, lovers lost and found, dreams and desires fulfilled, lessons learned from nature, and always a longing for the infinite, as the long, slow drama of each noh play is transformed into a short and moving tale. Interspersed and contrasting with the stories are ten photographs of contemporary Japan by John L. Tran which further explore the relation between theatricality and narrative, while offering hints of a very different vision of infinitude.

The price (£12) is pretty good. Order them here.

Chez moi – old neighborhood, eminent neighbors, and a long wait

Sunday, November 18th, 2012
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My neighbors at the Palais-Royal.

Diderot lived and died here.

So, while waiting for my luggage, and deepening my relationships with the baggage resolution personnel at United Airlines, I finally did spend a few minutes this afternoon wandering around my neighborhood, with my cellphone handy in case I had to rush back home for a joyful reunion with my suitcase.  Alas, the phone call never came… (we’re getting close to three days now).  Clearly, this arrondissement is big on the 17th century – so am I, so it’s a nice match.

Colette lived and died here.

Daniel Medin was right in telling me that this is a literary neighborhood – but really, aren’t all Paris neighborhoods literary ones?  Certainly my previous digs near the Eiffel Tower had its share of literary associations. Since I could not meet Daniel at the Louvre today as we had hoped, this increasingly grubby woman could explore the sites that Colette, Diderot, Molière, Corneille, and even Peruvian writer César Vallejo (1892-1938) called home – or at least a place to die.

A few blocks away, French tragedian Pierre Corneille (1606-1684) is entombed at the magnificent Eglise St. Roch.  Nearby, the Comédie-Française, which reaches back to the days of Molière (1622-1673). Good company for an afternoon walk.

The brouhaha with the airlines reminds me of the famous saying of Colette (1873-1954), “Plus je connais les hommes, plus j’aime mes chats.”  Mes chats are far away, but I’ll settle for the company of a few ghosts, these eminent and familiar spirits.

This one, however, disquiets me.  A marker for Ludovic J. Jacquinot, one of the “group of angels” who “fell gloriously” on the 26th of August, 1944.  The name, which has slightly Slavic resonances for me, reminds me of the ones I saw in Poland, trying in my off-hours to find out what I could about these wartime victims and heroes.  Unlike his Polish counterparts, however, there were no flowers at Ludovic’s marker.

There’s not much about him online. The FFI, or “Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur,” were the French Resistance fighters at the tail-end of the war. He may have been an architect, and may have lived on this or that street.  He was forty years old, and of course did not fall but was “tué,” under what circumstances it isn’t clear, except that it occurred here, at 2 rue des Pyramides.  Who remembers him?  I will, I guess.

Postscript:  Voilà!  My luggage has arrived while I have been writing this.  What a glorious thing it is to be clean again.

László Krasznahorkai: “So-called high literature”? Finito.

Saturday, July 7th, 2012
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Hungarian writers tend to be a lonely lot – the fruit of their labor is stranded out on the most inaccessible branch of the broad language tree.  Who speaks Hungarian, except those born to it?  Its closest antecedents are Turkish and Finnish, and they aren’t all that close.  Wisely,  László Krasznahorkai divides his time between New York and Berlin, as well as the cosy little village of  Pilisszentlászló,  about half an hour out of Budapest.  That, in addition to the skyrocketing  reputation of his work, has put him in the world’s literary epicenter.

More thoughts on "this rotten world we live in."

After all, Susan Sontag said he is “the contemporary Hungarian master of apocalypse who inspires comparison with Gogol and Melville. W. G. Sebald said, “The universality of Krasznahorkai’s vision rivals that of Gogol’s Dead Souls and far surpasses all the lesser concerns of contemporary writing.”

To my discredit, then, I discovered Krasznahorkai only this year when, in Paris, Daniel Medin shoved a Cahier into my hand.  The short, 39-page work,  Animalinside, was undertaken for the Cahiers Series as part of a collaboration with German painter Max Neumann (we’ve written about the Cahiers series here). For reasons to tedious to get into, the book wound up in a stack of backlogged reading, and I’d only got round to reading it after the interview in the current Quarterly Conversation.

The interview is republished from The Hungarian Review – a publication I regard with gratitude, as its editors allowed me to republish Czesław Miłoszs poem “Antigone,” translated by George Gömöri and Richard Berengarten – the poem, in English, exist only in the journal and An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czesław Miłosz. It’s not the only reason I read the Q&A with interest, however; it’s lively stuff.

A few excerpts:

Ágnes Dömötör: Many people have the impression that your books are hard to read and to understand. That’s a myth, but don’t you think you’ve got some bad PR?

László Krasznahorkai: You know, the problem is that anything that’s the least bit serious gets bad PR. Kafka got bad PR, and so does the Bible. The Old Testament is a pretty hard text to read; anyone who finds my writing difficult must have trouble with the Bible, too. Our consumer culture aims at putting your mind to sleep, and you’re not even aware of it. It costs a lot of money to keep this singular procedure going, and there’s an insane global operation in place for that very purpose. This state of lost awareness creates the illusion of stability in a constantly changing world, suggesting at least a hypothetical security that doesn’t exist. I see the role of the tabloid press somewhat differently. I can’t just shrug it off and say to hell with it. The tabloid press is there for a serious reason, and that reason is both tragic and delicate.

AD: Suppose someone who has never read anything by you picks up this interview and says: what an interesting guy, which one of your books would you recommend to them? What would be a point of entry to your life’s work?

LK: The Old Testament. The Book of Revelation. Let them choose from my books at random.

AD: How do you relate to your fellow Hungarian writers? Do you ever e-mail one another? Would you tell György Spiró, for instance,‟I liked your last book, Gyuri?” I’m asking because in an earlier interview you seemed to see yourself as an outsider on the literary scene.

Pilisszentlászló ... half an hour away from Budapest

LK: I don’t just see myself as an outsider, I am one. Which doesn’t mean I’m not happy to see colleagues I admire; after all, we share the same fate. But I also worry about them. I worry, for instance, because they’re in literature, something that you can still sell for awhile, but it’s getting harder and harder. This kind of communication is really over and done with. Its disappearance is a rather obvious process; it is happening faster at some points of the world than at others. I’m afraid this kind of literature is not sustainable.

AD: You mean it’s not just the authority of literature that’s finished but literature as such?

LK: The so-called high literature will disappear. I don’t trust such partial hopes that there will always be islands where literature will be important and survive. I would love to be able to say such pathos-filled things, but I don’t think they’re true.

On our tabloids: “The structure of vulgarity is very complex.”  He also talks about apocalypse, and “this rotten world we live in.”  And rock bands?  You can read about his favorite ones, along with the rest of the interview, here.

What does he think about bloggers, such as Humble Moi?  “Recently one blogger suggested that I should be hanged. I immediately put on my space suit, started the engine and went to the moon for a while.”  That puts me in my place.

Meanwhile, here’s what Irish novelist Colm Tóibín said about Animalinside:

Language for Krasznahorkai is a force struggling against the domination of cliché and easy consumption, offering small, well-organized revolts, plotting in upstairs rooms for plenitude and jagged rhythm, arming itself with clauses, sub-clauses and asides, preparing high-voltage assaults on the reader’s nervous system. … The world of his fiction is enclosed and stable, it must be taken on its own terms. … His work is full of menace, but it would be a mistake to read the menace either as political or as coming from nowhere. …