A feature by Daniel Medin
DM: To what extent did the war change your approach to writing? On the one hand the answer seems obvious: Berlin and Amsterdam became settings for your fiction, and the experience of exile a principal theme. And yet I was struck while rereading Lend Me Your Character, since the stories featured in that volume are remarkably consistent, despite having been published originally between 1981 and 2005.
DU: The war did not change my approach toward literature. I have always cared more about how things are written than what is being written about. But the war changed me. It brought with it new themes, preoccupations, and thoughts. And of course: exile, a changed life, a deeper knowledge of human nature, fresh stimulations. These were powerful experiences. However, I had no desire to convert them into a memoir or autobiography.
I would never judge the quality of a literary text by inspecting whether the writer’s experience was real or false; the text itself betrays the author. A careful reader only feels comfortable in the text when the author feels comfortable in there too: it’s a secret communication between them.
A feature by Denis Frajerman
The contemporary French novelist Antoine Volodine has explored the soul’s migrations and the mind’s liminal states—between humanity and animality, between madness and reason, life and death—in over forty books since he began publishing in the mid-1980s. In this article, the French musician and composer Denis Frajerman recollects his friendship and numerous literary-musical collaborations with Volodine over a twenty-year period, the most recent of which was performed last month at the Maison de la Poésie in Paris.
A feature by Lutz Bassmann
Like an eternal wanderer in the Bardo, the post-exotic writer Lutz Bassmann exists in a constant floating state between reality and fiction. He is the primary narrator and protagonist of Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven, in which his final moments and history are described. He is also the author of several books, including not only The Eagles Reek but also We Monks & Soldiers (trans. Jordan Stump) and a collection of prison haiku. Like his comrades Manuela Draeger and Elli Kronauer, he possesses a deep sympathy for egalitarian struggle. In honor of Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven’s publication in English, Music & Literature Magazine is pleased to debut several excerpts in English from Bassmann’s as-yet-untranslated The Eagles Reek.
A feature by Nathanaël
] I wish to speak ill of translation and of translators.
] Call it a professional deformation, to abuse, for a moment, the French phrase. In the light of the contemporary pious consensus destined to the martyred translator for undertaking the often anonymous traversal of borders between languages, weighted with pacific significance as the rent frontiers of nations are more explicitly bloodied than they have allowed themselves to be in at least as many years as it has been since the recognized tellers of history have acknowledged the existence of concurrent wars on territories extrinsic to their own . . .
A feature by Paul Kerschen
Can Xue's Five Spice Street is among other things an author’s reflection on her newfound public position. The book was originally published as Breakthrough Performance (突围表演), a purposely self-conscious title for a debut novel. At the same time, 突围 suggests breaking free, an escape from entrapment or other immediate danger, and this raises the possibility that the escape itself constitutes the performance, that a kind of Houdini act is being staged . . .
As the years pass, the winters seem darker and colder, the spring unsettling and fickle, and the rays of the summer sun seem wrapped in a distant, leaden cloud that drains them of energy. As the years pass, the flowers are only flowers by name. Their colours and perfumes largely fade. “Here are some flowers for you,” we say one day to please our aged grandmother. She cautiously holds out her hand, for she can barely see the colours or smell their perfume, but, because we used the word “flowers”, she looks at them as if we had presented her with a bunch of fresh memories and bestows on them a faint smile, slightly sad and distant.
Music of the twenty-first century’s most provocative progression has been the widespread use of digitized audio editing tools, programs such as Ableton and Logic which give a composer or producer endless possibilities to augment sound. Things like sampling, looping, effectation (reverb, delay, phasing, etc.) are largely the result of discoveries made by twentieth-century composers through the use of aleatory occurrence—and more importantly, magnetic tape. If, for example, post-war musique concrètists never had access to tape machines, you wouldn’t have modern pop music. A bold claim, but here are two reasons why. Guitar effects, manufactured processing units modeled off tape procedures, facilitated the psychedelic rock and roll of the 1960s. And the idea of sampling—taking a piece of sound and deploying it repetitiously, this is cornerstone of contemporary pop and hip-hop . . .
A feature by Jason Grunebaum
To read Uday Prakash is to witness profound displacement. It’s not the displacement of a bride and groom migrating from India to the west and negotiating unfamiliar food, or of middle-class youth railing against their elders’ bewildering and intransigent attitudes toward love and marriage. It’s a displacement unleashed by forces both imported and indigenous in the India of today—global, hungry, late-stage capitalism steeped in centuries-old caste oppression—and inscribed on the likes of sweepers, weavers, semi-retired judges, typesetters, servants returned from the dead, sick slum kids, and others unable, or unwilling, to fall in line. Prakash narrates his urgent tales of endangered, recalcitrant beings with attention to both inner lives and external forces in a manner that at once loves and seethes. His gifts as a writer also include permitting himself to meander within the narrative, and to reveal his authorial hand, baldly and unapologetically. This creates additional layers of displacement, and ones that enhance a singular storytelling voice comprised of disjointed, circuitous lives. His gift to the reader amid these dark portraits is an unexpected, wry humor that provides needed perspective and levity. An English reader of Prakash’s stories may wonder where he or she is in the first place. A Hindi reader may remember times of dizzying change, triggering feelings of displacement that once were and continue to be. But both readers will be eager to follow the voice of Uday Prakash wherever he wishes to take them . . .
A feature by Doyle Armbrust
One element that can be traced through Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s catalog is a certain seamlessness, the instantaneous immersion of the listener in a given piece’s sound world. There is no “getting acquainted” period to speak of within the language. Timbre provides the immediate entryway, and the use of pitch is concise but inexorable. While the composer doesn’t often incorporate obscure noisemakers or flurries of novel instrumental techniques, an exception is made here for the rolling of a giant metal wheel across the stage (the tremor). There is a theatricality to the revolution of this steel, as its handler is the only performer on stage save the conductor. Four horns, three trombones, and three more percussionists are instead positioned around the hall, enveloping the audience in pitch-less drafts of wind sound, unisons stretched apart by quarter-tone deviations, and hieratic, ceremonial pronouncements from the alpine bells. The vista is scarred by the wind, but not desolate…nor uninhabited. The question is, inhabited by what?
A feature by Hilary Plum
Hilary Plum: Let’s start with your first novel, The Book of the Sultan’s Seal, just out in English, in Paul Starkey’s wonderful translation. In my work as an editor with Interlink Publishing, I’ve been lucky to be reading and rereading this novel for years, as I acquired it and then saw it through several rounds of editing. This was an exceptionally challenging work for Paul Starkey to translate, since the Arabic undertakes a breadth of linguistic experimentation and intertextual references—to diverse works from the Arabic canon, medieval to present-day—that no other language could really reproduce. Yet somehow, here we are, with this book in our hands. I wonder if you could talk to us, your English-language readers, about the experiments you enacted in the Arabic original, creating a style of narration for the novel that you’ve sometimes called “a contemporary equivalent of ‘middle Arabic’.” What drove you toward this endeavor? And what has it been like for you to see this novel come into being in English?
Youssef Rakha: There were two things I wanted to do with The Seal. The first—and maybe it wasn’t the first when I was writing but now that I’m moving into English, kind of the way you move into a house, I like to think it was the first—is that I wanted, from where I was, in post-millennial Cairo, to be part of the larger conversation that is the contemporary novel. By that I mean quite simply world literature today, which though still dominated by a more or less “Eurocentric” ethos is no longer particularly European, and though rife with death-of-the-novel discourse is actually irrevocably novel-bound . . .
A feature by Damjan Rakonjac
To the extent that posthumous musical works only receive their public “resurrection” following the death of their composer, they always have a built-in cachet. Hearing them feels like something of a miracle. With large works such as Górecki’s Fourth Symphony Tansman Epizody (“Tansman Episodes”), the sense of awed curiosity is only compounded: unlike with a poem or painting, their creator never really got to experience them in the first place. They seem to bridge the putatively unbridgeable chasm between the realms of the living and the dead. What Górecki jotted down in his last moments assumes its aural form only now that his hand has been forever quieted. The Fourth Symphony fits that mold well, surveying the various styles he adopted throughout his career. . .
A feature by Rebecca Lentjes
Ashley’s aversion to plot, to “eventfulness,” makes it nearly impossible to say what Perfect Lives is “about.” It possesses none of the tropes of grand opera (betrayal, love, tuberculosis), only the ordinary themes of the American everyday: money, confusion, forgetfulness, time. “They come to talk, they pass the time. They soothe their thoughts with lemonade.” One can imagine Isolde pondering these words in her mathematical mind, the neighbors sipping lemonade before heading home to watch television.
Most of what we can know about Robert Ashley can be found in Gann’s book, but what we can’t know is to be found in the operas. In Perfect Lives, Ashley’s memories are organized into anecdotes organized into episodes that fade away at the end of the day like the sky in Isolde’s backyard. The lines between the everyday and the infinite, between the known and unknown, blur together like the light and darkness along the horizon . . .
Kronos first met Kaija in the summer of 1984 at the Darmstadt Festival of New Music. I remember it was the same summer that we played Morton Feldman’s big and beautiful String Quartet No. 2 there. And it was the same festival where we met Kevin Volans, the South African composer who would go on to write White Man Sleeps and Hunting:Gathering for Kronos—very important works in our repertoire, and among the first string quartets ever by an African-born composer. So in meeting both Kaija and Kevin, Kronos began two very important relationships that summer . . .
Stig Sæterbakken is one of the most important Scandinavian writers of my generation. His novels in many ways resemble paintings by the Danish artist William Hammershøj: scenes of one or two persons in an otherwise empty room, painted in shades of white, gray, and black. The models often turn their back to the viewer. Occasionally you glimpse a pale face in a mirror. There are sometimes endless corridors, and open doors that lead to a room with more open doors leading to yet another room with yet another open door, and, behind that door, darkness.
A feature by Lydia Davis
Lydia Davis: To start off with, Dan, I have a long question. I’d like to ask you something I’ve been curious about for years, actually. It has to do with your work and your life. You teach full time at the American University of Paris, with all that entails, including directing the University’s Center for Writers and Translators and editing its beautifully produced Cahier Series on translation. In addition, you have, for many years now, been one of four editors in the monumental (and highly labor-intensive) ongoing project of producing a multi-volume selection of Samuel Beckett’s vast correspondence, three fat volumes of which have to date appeared. You regularly give public lectures or take part in conferences on this ongoing project as well as on other subjects as various as Muriel Spark, the Scottish Gothic, translation, Primo Levi, etc. You have written a number of articles on writers including Flann O’Brien, Georges Perec, Thomas Bernhard, to name just a few. You have translated numerous works from the French, and written a study of psychoanalysis and fiction, as well as what I found to be a very engaging and thought-provoking—not to speak of amusing—memoir of your last days of psychoanalysis. As if this were not enough, you are also a writer of fiction, with, now, three novels to your credit, the latest being the imminently forthcoming Emperor of Ice-Cream. You also have a life quite apart from literature, of course—family, friends, dinners, outings to concerts and museums, travel. So, my question is, how do you do it?
A feature by Katy Derbyshire
The Berlin novelist Inka Parei has written three books—The Shadow-Boxing Woman, What Darkness Was, and The Cold Centre—all of which I have translated for Seagull Books. Recently, we visited two locations: an absolutely unspectacular, slickly modernized residential building in Berlin-Mitte where Inka once lived—in The Shadow-Boxing Woman it is run down and empty, the book’s protagonist and her neighbor the last tenants before the landlord strips and refurbishes the apartments—and then, a short S-Bahn ride away, the 1970s block built for the Socialist Unity Party’s newspaper Neues Deutschland. These two settings have disappeared and the places themselves have become bland parts of today’s Berlin. As in Parei’s stories, it was less the buildings than the history behind them that ignited our conversation, which continued by email . . .
A feature by Camilla Hoitenga
At this time, she gave me the flute solo Laconisme de l’aile, a piece she had just written in Freiburg, for a Finnish flutist friend of hers, Anne Raitio (now Eirola). I had just been working intensively with Karlheinz Stockhausen on a piece he had revised for me—Amour for flute—and Kaija’s score, by comparison, looked vague, and I remember asking her many questions about what this and that meant and how much time I should take here and there. Eventually, however, I not only played her piece, it became one of the most-performed solos of my repertoire. And I became her “muse” for all subsequent flute pieces!
Galehaut: I am a character.
Violin: Perhaps I am too. I have no physical existence. I am not an object, though I need a certain class of objects—wooden boxes with strings and a bow—to be heard in the real world. I am represented, bodied forth, by these objects, just as you are by a voice, even a silently reading voice. I am not to be identified with the object that renders me, nor with the musician, any more than you are with the voice relating your words, or the reader or actor whose voice this is.
When Kaija Saariaho describes her 1994 composition Graal théâtre as being “for violin and orchestra,” or as a “violin concerto,” we may imagine her to have had in mind a musical instrument in its actuality, including its tuning and its responses, and we may suppose her to have been considering also Gidon Kremer, her destined performer, but she will have been thinking not only of but through these manifest conditions of her work, to me, to an entity whose features are not materials and dimensions, not personality and technique, but sound, and a design for sound, and experiences of that sound through time.
A feature by Jesse Ruddock
Avishai Cohen has been working since he was ten, when his job was to stand on a soap box and play trumpet for a big band. Raised in Tel-Aviv, the youngest of three jazz prodigies in one house, his music is persistently lyrical, often sublime, and intensely playful. Cohen stands out on stage in a way that’s athletic: his lead’s to follow. What the body has to do with the soul can be heard in the tone of his trumpet, that strange precise math of breath and spirit. On Dark Nights, the third and latest album from his trio Triveni—with Omer Avital on bass and drums by Nasheet Waits—Cohen’s tone is clearer than any voice. The songs all go slow but never keep you waiting to find out what they’re trying to mean. This interview took place high above Broadway Avenue in Manhattan, one afternoon before Cohen played three sets through midnight with the Mark Turner Quartet . . .
A wonderful sense of being consumed, this is what the Vigeland mausoleum offers its unprepared first-time visitor. But the feeling does not fade through repetition. On the contrary, I’d say. As if the knowledge of what awaits you heightens rather than diminishes this overwhelming sensation. And I guess that’s why so many visitors keep coming back: they want to be devoured again. And again. And again. And isn’t that what drives us, repeatedly, toward art in any form, the dream—however often it leads to disappointment—of being overpowered, shocked, overcome by horror and joy, the stubborn dream of becoming one with the object in question, melting into it, rather than standing at a distance watching it, analyzing it, evaluating it, in other words: the dream of being swallowed, digested, and spat out again, presumably dizzy, definitely shaken, thoroughly and utterly confused, as we re-enter the so-called real world?