Later, in the age of European imperialism, it became possible to speak about world history. World history is not merely the story of an already-existing world, but the story by which the world becomes conscious of itself: it is the becoming-world of the world as such. Yet this process, and its culmination in the establishment of the contemporary global market, undermines the very sense of distance by which we have, in the past, understood the world’s enormity…
I usually find myself reading contemporary novels years after they’ve been published, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Transient fads are filtered out over time. But I’ve been feeling recently that I’m missing out, not on the works themselves, but participating in their reception: the reviews, the conversations, the tweets and (despicable word) the buzz. One of the effects of the internet’s relentless presentism, I suppose. So for 2015, I’ve decided to set aside the classics, and as much as possible, only read novels as they’re published this year.
So I’ve browsed through catalogues of forthcoming titles, especially from publishers that specialise in translated fiction, and read a few 2015 preview roundups like this one in the Guardian, and this one in the Sydney Morning Herald. Here’s what I’ve found so far. I’d be delighted if anyone reading this would suggest more novels to add to the list (comments are switched off on this website, so best just to tweet at me). It’s an arbitrary list of fiction, mostly novels, nearly all in translation, that sound like I’d enjoy reading them; no attempt at objectivity or comprehensiveness. I’ve leant towards translations of recent work rather than new translations of classics. I may or may not read them all.
To begin with, I’m going to read the Best European Fiction 2015, an annual anthology from Dalkey Archive that’s been a little hit-and-miss in the few years it’s been running, but has always contained at least a half-dozen pieces that make reading the whole thing worthwhile. I heard last year’s was a poor offering, but apparently this one’s better. (This one is actually a bit of a cheat, as it was published in December 2014, but it says 2015 in the title, so I reckon I can get away with it.)
This month (January), Michigan State University Press publishes The Knight and his Shadow, an English translation of Senegalese writer Boubacar Boris Diop’s 1997 novel. Apparently it’s full of hypodiegetic narrative and allegorical/metaphorical slippage of the real and the unreal; sounds pretty interesting.
There’s a couple of promising titles out in February. The first of Peirene Press’s 2015 season is a translation of the 2012 Finnish novella White Hunger, by Aki Ollikainen, about the famine of 1867. It’s been translated by Emily and Fleur Jeremiah; I loved their translation of Kristina Carlson’s Mr Darwin’s Gardener last year, so I’m looking forward to this one. Then there’s Dominique Fabre’s Guys Like Me, a ‘quiet, subdued tale’ of drifting Parisian lives, translated by Howard Curtis and published by New Vessel Press.
I’ve picked out three titles for March. Raj Kamal Jha’s She Will Build Him a City is billed as a ‘kaleidoscopic’ novel multiple story-lines set in Delhi (Bloomsbury). Anna Gavalda’s Billie, translated by Jennifer Rappaport and to be published by Europa Editions, alternates between the frame story (two friends trapped in a gorge in the Cervennes mountains) and the stories of their lives that led them to that point. New Directions will publish Horacio Castellanos Moya’s The Dream of My Return, about a hare-brained plan by a El Salvadoran journalist to return home during the final throes of his country’s civil war. Translated by Katharine Silver.
I’ve never read any books translated from Catalan, so I’m particularly keen to read Josep Pla’s Bitter Life, a book of short stories translated by Peter Roland Bush, which is to be published in April by Archipelago Books. One of the few non-translated books on this list is Amit Chaudhuri’s Odysseus Abroad (to be published by Knopf, but I can only find this Penguin India publisher page on it, thus far). I’ve never read anything by Chaudhuri that’s less than brilliant, so that one’s a ‘must-read’ for me. I’m also keen to read Tregian’s Ground by Anne Cuneo, translated by Roland Glasser and Louise Rogers Lalaurie, which tells the story of Francis Tregian’s journeys across Europe (to be published by And Other Stories).
In May, Edouard Levé’s Newspaper (Dalkey Archive, translated by Jan Steyn and Caitlin Dolan-Leach) sounds intriguing; apparently it’s ‘composed of fictionalised newspaper articles’. Curious to see how well (or otherwise) that conceit can be sustained across a whole book.
Another one from Dalkey Archive comes out in June: Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s The Key (translated by Louis de Paor and Lochlainn Ó Tuairisg) seems like a deliberate homage to Kafka, with a protagonist named J., caught up in a bureaucratic nightmare when his key breaks, trapping him in his office.
More historical fiction from Other Press in July, with Chantal Thomas’s The Exchange of Princesses, translated by John Cullen. Eighteenth-century intrigue set in the courts of Spain and France. The intrigue continues, this time in the world of East Berlin’s ‘postmodern underground literary scene’ and its surveillance by Stasi informants; Wolfgang Hilbig’s I is translated by Isabel Fargo Cole, and published by Seagull Books.
Salman Rushdie’s latest, Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, comes out in August, apparently on Cape (though I can’t find any mention of it on their website yet). Open Letter books will publish Rock, Paper, Scissors, a novel of ‘violence and betrayal’ by Danish writer Naja Marie Aidt, translated by K. E. Semmel.
In September, Archipelago Books will publish Antonio Tabucchi’s Tristano Dies: A Life, translated by Elizabeth Harris. I’ve been meaning to try Tabucchi’s work for some time, so this will be a good opportunity.
I loved Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red, but found The Black Book a little tiresome; I didn’t hear good things about The Museum of Innocence, so I passed it over. But I’m willing to give his latest, A Strangeness in My Mind, a try. It’s out in October, though I’m not sure who’s translating it, or publishing it.
Last book of this list is out in November (December is the only empty month). Argentinian novelist Ricardo Piglia’s Target in the Night (Deep Vellum, translated by Sergio Waisman) is a philosophical novel masquerading as a murder mystery, apparently. Sounds like a great way to end the year’s reading.
Thoughts, additions, corrections, etc., are welcome via Twitter.
Update 04.01.15: I mixed up the dates on the And Other Stories website; they got in touch to let me know (thanks for that) and I’ve switched out a book published last year that I’d added by mistake, for another forthcoming in 2015 (Tregian’s Ground) – which actually sounds more like my cup of tea, in any case.
Update 16.01.15: Open Letter Books have announced their spring/summer catalogue; I like the look of the Naja Marie Aidt novel, so I’ve added that in to the list above.
Update 27.01.15: I’ve added Wolfgang Hilbig’s I to the list.
We might first affirm the strangeness of dreams, their resistance to interpretation, their symbolic excess that can never be carried fully into daytime consciousness. If we are to use ‘dream’ as a metaphor, we should respect the radical otherness of its literal referent, and not vulgarise it by reducing it to a synonym for ambition, at best, and avarice at worst. A clumsy transposition of the ‘American dream’, and its ethos of individual self-betterment, will not answer our purpose here. The dream must be shared…
The latest issue of Southerly, 74.2, has the title ‘Australian Dreams’. Frank Moorhouse, one my favourite Australian writers, has a piece in there, which makes it especially gratifying that my essay is in it too.
Update: I’ve uploaded the essay to academia.edu.
I’m presenting a paper today at the Independent Publishing Conference. Abstract:
The trajectories of the commercial imperative and of cultural production are often opposed, and at best orthogonal. The rise of digital media and discounted online sales threatens to upset their fragile compromise. New approaches must be found to sustain literary publishing. I explore options beyond the market: the subscription model, private circulation, and finally suggest ‘public circulation’ backed by a relationship of patronage and mutual benefit between literary publishers and public libraries.
During the month of September, I’ve been the guest blogger for Southerly, the journal of the English department at Sydney University.
I’ve been in Europe for most of September. It’s been tricky getting the posts typed up and sent off at times! But it’s also been a great opportunity to reflect on my trip, which was a research trip for a work of what I’m calling ‘pre-historical’ fiction (apparently, ‘prehistoric fiction’ is the usual term, but that sounds like the fiction itself is prehistoric, which would refer to something entirely different – narratives from pre-literate oral traditions, or something like that – so I’m sticking with my own awkward coinage).
All the posts are up now – here they are:
There is a new issue of Southerly (the journal itself) coming out soon, too. I’ve got a piece in there as well; I’ll link that up once it’s launched.
The sixth issue of Abraxas was launched last Friday (26 September 2014). I was in London that day, so I made it to the bookshop (Treadwell’s, just around the corner from the British Museum and SOAS) in time for the copies of the journal to arrive from the Belgian printer, before getting on the plane. It’s a handsome, full sized magazine, glossy and beautifully laid out. I’m pleased that my sonnet ‘Hymn to Saraswatī’ is one of the two poems included between its covers.
In an essay-length review, I looked at three books on social media for the Sydney Review of Books: Jaron Lanier’s Who Owns the Future, Volker Eisenlauer’s A Critical Hypertext Analysis of Social Media: The True Colours of Facebook, and Trebor Scholz’s Digital Labor: The Internet as Playground and Factory - with some references also to various books by Franco Berardi.
A recent video advertisement by Apple captures perfectly, if inadvertently, the ambivalence of technology’s role in contemporary life. A montage of contrasting shots depicts the variety of human experience and achievement, the panoramic juxtaposed with the intimate: deep-sea divers, a toddler’s first stumbling steps, a hiker on a snow-capped mountain. Everyone, of course, just happens to be using one of Apple’s tablet computers. To a stirring orchestral soundtrack, a voiceover informs us in thrilling tones that while science and technology can do remarkable things, it is poetry that matters because it is what we live for. ‘What,’ we are asked, ‘will your verse be?’
Something odd is happening when a tech company downplays the significance of technology in favour of ‘poetry’…
The first volume of poetry journal New Trad has been published. New Trad originates in an idea I’ve had for a few years now: a home for contemporary poems that are written in archaic forms. The first issue features original poems with a diverse array of influences—Sapphic lyric, Dante’s terza rima, mediaeval alliterative verse, carmina figurata, the sonnet, Yu Xuanji’s classical poetry, liturgical music, Pindaric ode, the glyconic, the English ballad, the rubaiyat, the rondolet, and skaldic poetry.
The longest work in there is a previously unpublished extract from Bev Braune‘s wonderful epic poem ‘Skulváði Úlfr’. It was coming across another excerpt, published in Cordite, that convinced me to move forward with New Trad and make it happen.
There are two samples from issue one available online: ‘The Man from Ithaca’ by Charlotte Innes, and ‘Our Colossus’ by Tegan Jane Schetrumpf. They’re both excellent pieces and should give a flavour of what to expect from issue one, which is available to purchase from various retailers, including the big ones.
My involvement with the issue was as editor, rather than writer; but I did write the series introduction, ‘A Roll of the Dice’, which can also be read on the website:
The predicament of contemporary poetry, as described at the outset, is its rampaging self-cannibalisation, its impatience with metrical form and structure, its destruction of the ground on which poetry has traditionally stood. How can today’s poets renew poetry, when the last century has been a blur of novelty-seeking? The conviction of New Trad—and it is, I will freely admit, more of an intuition than a fully conceived hypothesis—is that the future will only be won by reference to the past…
Our emphasis is not on the recent pre-modernist past. There are several venues already in existence for the rhyming, metrical poetry that immediately preceded the onslaught of free verse and has been maintained by the likes of Robert Frost; we have no desire to replicate them. Rather, we seek to revitalise ancient forms and traditions so long fallen out of use as to have become mere objects of scholarly study. What if we still wrote like the ancient Norse skalds? What if we had never stopped writing spells and invocations in the manner of the Akkadians? What if the Sapphic lyric or Horatian ode were still with us…what would they have become, for us—what can we make of it in our own era?
Issue 215 of Ambit is on sale now. Includes my story ‘Cheat Mode’. Extract:
How angry his uncle will be when he realises, as he must, that the phone has been stolen. Everyone will know who has done it. That moment of recklessness—of greed, of envy bubbling up and congealing into something criminal, irreversible—hovers in his mind: lifting his relatives’ bags into the car, full of a dull resentment against his cousin, who can step briefly into this monotonous country life, just visiting, a nice change—quaint, if a little boring—and then stroll out again, as easily as a bird drifts on the breeze, back to the city, where anything is possible; seeing Toti’s phone fall out of a bag, and stooping to pick it up; crouching there for a second, the adults’ god-blesses muffled through the judder of the car’s engine; thinking, wondering how it would have been if he had not seen the phone fall—if it were still there later when the relatives have driven away—maybe finding it himself; hearing Toti’s nasal, whining voice, and glimpsing his fat face through the window of the car door; the sight of that insufferable spoilt pout convinces him, draws the spite that has been pooling in his heart down the veins of his arm to his fingers; almost involuntarily (and it is the almost for which he cannot forgive himself, because it was not a madness, it was a decision, a moment of surrender to evil) slipping the phone into a pouch hanging around his waist, to nestle with his dog whistle and stale pieces of yesterday’s unleavened bread; standing up, pulling the drawstring with a stealthy movement as he shuts the door with his other hand. At the same time—he now realises—he slammed it on the prospect of leaving the farm. He slammed the door on the city, on school, on being an engineer. Selfishly, stupidly, he slammed the door. Even then, he had a chance. He could have knocked on the window, given it back: look, I found your phone on the ground! But a thrill was tingling through him like the first twinge of a fever. Toti’s favourite gadget: his, now. The car rumbled forward; he waved; they drove away.