Ever since its first publication in 1934, Miklós Szentkuthy’s Prae has continued to baffle generations of critics and readers alike. Regarded as a seminal work by some, dismissed as a pretentious monstrosity by others, Prae, Szentkuthy’s first work, was published when the Hungarian author was merely twenty-six years old. To date, the book has never been translated in its entirety into any language, though excerpts appeared in French and Serbo-Croatian in the 1970s, and sections had been translated into German in the 1930s but were never published. It is quite an enterprise, then, on the part of Contra Mundum Press, to commit to publishing Prae, following two other works by Szentkuthy―Marginalia on Casanova and Towards the One and Only Metaphor―all three translated by Tim Wilkinson.
New anthologies of African fiction seem to materialize virtually every year, if not more often in recent years. When presented with the physical fact of yet another new anthology of African fiction, the immediate question, one which I was asked when I pressed the warm, bound pages of the Africa39 anthology into the even warmer hands of a new acquaintance, was: why should I read this?
Antal Szerb’s lithe, lively, and wholly endearing fiction is peopled by male dreamers on spiritual journeys of self-discovery. Each one sets out on his respective mini-mission with good intentions but knows from the outset that there are only so many harsh truths he can withstand. In this respect, all Szerb’s protagonists seem to have heeded the advice of Greene’s Dr. Hasselbacher’s at the beginning of Our Man in Havana: “You should dream more, Mr. Wormold. Reality in our century is not something to be faced.”
The idea was to uncover the secret life of these texts, why do their creators consider them their best work? What’s the clandestine, the underground, the surreptitious meaning or attachment? Where’s the kernel, the seed from which a body of work grew, what the driving obsession? Is it something sentimental, something technical, maybe even something spiritual? I wanted to open the door to the intimate space that exists between a writer and his work, and allow his or her readers a glimpse into that space, which under normal circumstances we are never privy to; here’s the text in black and white on the page, bearing witness and available to all of us now, but whose ghostly presence is still there? What is rooted in these extraordinary writers’ imaginations? I wanted the names of the ghosts haunting the blueprint spaces, and that’s why I ask the question “who are your departed?
Throughout his life, Paul Celan was haunted by the experience of the Shoah, and his later works see him undergoing something analogous to the turn in Heidegger’s thinking. Until the publication of Breathturn (which marks the beginning of Breathturn Into Timestead), Celan was heavily influenced by both traditional poetry from a variety of languages and the surrealists with whom he spent much of his youth. Even his darkest poems, such as the famous “Todsfuge,” or “Deathfugue,” contain an element of metaphorical lightness, a pleasure in the play of images, despite the horror of their content.
In 1990, Kevin White composed a piece of writing called ‘SSES”‘SSES” as his thesis for a master’s degree at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. In it he used the structure of Joyce’s Ulysses as a lens to refract and reflect on his own travels through Asia in search of his (and Derek’s) father, who committed suicide in 1982. ‘SSES”‘SSES”, along with Kevin’s journals and notebooks, came into Derek’s possession when Kevin died of a drug overdose in 1997. Derek describes SSS on what might be page one (as we shall see, where the book begins and ends are not clearly delineated), as “a dilated (+belated) expansion of that book, a deconstructed REDUX w/ further recapitulations by me searching recursively in parallel for: my brother searching for: our father.”
Look up at the sky, or down into the ocean, and what color do you see? We see blue, but not Homer—he never once employs the term throughout The Iliad and The Odyssey, famously calling the sea “wine-dark” and the heavens “bronze.” Neither did the Greek philosopher Xenophanes say blue—he described the rainbow as having only three colors. Though few would claim that the Ancient Greeks could not see blue, it has been argued that they had no word for it. This would accord with Guy Deutscher, who says in his 2010 book Through the Looking Glass that there is something strange about blue that generally makes it the last primary color a language names. Perhaps this helps explain the fixation that this color has exerted on English-speakers, a thing the novelist and critic William H. Gass makes extraordinarily clear in his beautiful book-length essay On Being Blue.
here’s a conspicuous history of books that simply should not work: Books like U & I by Nicholson Baker, a book-length exercise in “memory criticism,” where Baker traces Updike’s influence on his own writing life while studiously not actually re-reading any of Updike’s books. Or books like Out of Sheer Rage, Geoff Dyer’s book that procrastinates away from writing a book about D.H. Lawrence, which then of course becomes a very funny explication of and homage to D.H. Lawrence. Now we must add to this trickster pile J.C. Hallman’s B & Me: A True Story of Literary Arousal, which reads like some gene-spliced combination of the two.
This collection of short stories, her first to appear in English, counters material poverty with a fulfilling and deeply spiritual relationship with the natural world. Ullmann herself was no stranger to hardship. A depressive, she was plagued by personal and professional crises. Financial constraints forced her to send her illegitimate children to the countryside to be raised by farmers, while she desperately sought publication in order to provide for them. Such adversity is clear in this collection, which involves a series of downtrodden characters that suffer the rough of life more frequently than the smooth.
Sybille Bedford had the benefit—or bad fortune, however you see it—of being born into the German aristocracy in 1911. Her father was a retired lieutenant colonel and art collector from the agrarian south, from a Roman Catholic family in fiscal decline. Her mother came from a wealthy German-Jewish family from Hamburg. A widower from his first marriage, Bedford’s father retained close ties to his former in-laws, and Bedford spent much of her early years shuttling between their luxurious household in Berlin and her father’s Black Forest schloss near the French border. Between these two homes—catching snatches of conversation, stray musings, the outlines of private tragedies—Bedford encountered the textures of a doomed era, where a fearful aristocracy and a fomenting nationalism converged.
The Fall of Language in the Age of English stirred up debate upon its publication in Japan in 2008, and it’s possible it will do so in the U.S. with its arrival in Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter’s translation. In their introduction, Yoshihara and Winters Carpenter, point out that Japanese reviewers accused Mizumura of being a jingoist, an elitist, and a “hopeless reactionary.” Some attacks on the book seemed to be based solely on its title, and others focused only on the last chapter, which lays out recommendations for change. Even for careful, conscientious readers, there may be much to disagree with, particularly in the later sections of the book. But Mizumura makes a compelling case for paying attention to the current state of Japanese and other languages and for considering their future.
Another View demonstrates exciting potential in translation study and praxis. It is especially significant in deconstructing assumptions about fluency and linguistic identity. The author makes some persuasive arguments for considering and even preferring non-native translation of texts, the most controversial of which is the possibility that linguistic competence may in fact constitute an act of linguistic imperialism.
Despite South Korea having the kind of vibrant literary scene you’d expect from a country with one of the highest literacy rates in the world, we’re still not exactly inundated with English translations of South Korean fiction. Given this dearth, Dalkey Archive Press’s Library of Korean Literature series, twenty five titles published in collaboration with the Literary Translation Institute of Korea, was always going to be a welcome endeavor, though there are also niggling doubts: will the books stand on their own merits, or will they require some pre-existing knowledge of Korea to be properly appreciated? Is there some kind of cultural propaganda going on, a desire for “representativeness” that might have skewed the selection process?
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