Less Than Nothing

At the Overland blog, I wrote on the Fairfax job cuts, the crisis of journalism, and the (lack of) solidarity in the digital media industry:

The bundling of these services in a single package meant that unprofitable activities, like journalism, could be subsidised by profitable ones, like facilitating the sale of second-hand cars. People expected a newspaper to provide all these services, and so long as the newspapers remained profitable, their owners tolerated the delivery of social goods such as investigative journalism and informed scrutiny of state and corporate propaganda – albeit diluted by cultural bias and pressure from paymasters. But there was nothing natural or inevitable about this compromise. The notion that people used to be willing to pay for news, and now are not, is an oversimplification. The success of Seek, and the decline of Fairfax, shows what happens when these services can be ‘unbundled’, to use the ugly neologism. With the upset of the delicate balance of technological and economic forces that have sustained the newspaper for so long, its viability as a product has become increasingly uncertain. The means of production used to be printing press; now it’s the giant server farm. Google famously promises to ‘organise the world’s information’ – not to produce it.

[ read the full post at Overland ]

The View from Nowhere

My latest piece for the Sydney Review of Books examines Aamir Mufti’s Forget English! Orientalisms and World Literature and Rebecca Walkowitz’s Born Tranlated: The Contemporary Novel in the Age of World Literature. Both books look at world literature from different slants, Mufti via Edward Said’s Orientalism with particular attention to the literatures of the Indian subcontinent, while Walkowitz addresses the way translation affects literature and is represented within it.

The idea of world literature, taken as a whole rather than divided into many national or linguistically based literatures, is a paradoxical one. How can we speak of a ‘literature’ that encompasses far too many languages to master in a single lifetime? Does the term refer to the totality of all the literature in the world, or does it imply a project of canonisation—and if so, who gets to decide which works are included? For the purposes of the study of literature, what constitutes the ‘world’?

Read on at Sydney Review of Books ]

Jez we can! (But which ‘we’?)

In the Overland website, I’ve written about the Labour leadership contest, Jeremy Corbyn’s candidature and the European question:

Often, the impulses and motivations ascribed to the Corbyn campaign seem suspiciously congruent with the Blairites’ own actions and disavowed impulses: a textbook case of projection. A Corbyn victory would be driven by entryism! cry the remnants of a tiny coterie who captured power despite being so ideologically opposed to the mainstream of the party that they openly embraced the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. Handwringing warnings of splits — remember the Gang of Four! — are being made by those most likely to carry them out (even, shamelessly, by those who were involved in the original SDP split from Labour), making them closer to threats than to warnings. The mastermind behind the infamous ‘dodgy dossier’, cobbled together to justify the rush to invade Iraq, has sternly urged the party not to do anything rash. ‘Does he even want to be leader?’ scoff a political class despised for knowing no principle but personal ambition and the will to power.

[ read the whole post ]

Literatures of Worlds #1

I’ve just sent off the first issue of my new monthly newsletter, ‘Literatures of Worlds’. In the August issue I write about the IFFP / Man Booker International merger, problems of translation and other literary news from around the world(s):

European culture may be bankrupt, according to Houellebecq, but no one has told the Culture Programme of the European Union, which awarded its seventh Prize for Literature this year. I say seventh, but each year there are eleven or twelve winners, chosen from their respective countries, which are rotated from a membership, currently thirty-seven but fluctuating between each three-year cycle. It’s a typically byzantine arrangement, and most bizarrely of all, no attempt is made to pick an overall winner among this year’s dozen. Perhaps the mandarins in Brussels were too concerned to avoid ruffling nationalist sensibilities to allow competition between writers of different states…

[ read the first issue ]

[ sign up for the newsletter ]

Globes – Peter Sloterdijk

Back in 2012 I reviewed Bubbles, the first volume of Peter Sloterdijk’s Spheres trilogy, for the LA Review of Books. Now, I’ve reviewed Globes, the second volume, for the Sydney Review of Books:

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…

[ read the full review

To read in 2015

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.

BEF2015_cover-194x300To 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.

whitehunger_web_0There’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.

downloadI’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.

blanco_nocturno_anagramaLast 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 to the list.

Against Progress: Dreams, Nightmares, and the Meaning of Abbott

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.

[ see the table of contents ]

Update: I’ve uploaded the essay to academia.edu.

Dubplate literature: distribution beyond the market

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.

[ read the full paper on academia.edu ]

(Pre)historical fiction

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:

  1. Historical fiction
  2. (Pre)historical fiction
  3. Mode, genre and time
  4. Klekkende Høj

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.

Hymn to Saraswati


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.

[ full info at Fulgur ]