“… parle”

December 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

I.e. poor post-rate of late. Excuse for a New Year’s Resolution etc.

Someone has posted an awesome series of French spoken-word vinyl on Youtube: here’s the Alain Robbe-Grillet one as an example (the rest are linked at the side).

A pile of bonus marks for the video-art vibe achieved by using a wobbly hand-held camera – filming the front and backs covers – as a means of recording the disc. It takes on a mesmerising, oddly sinister visual rhythm entirely separate from what’s being said. 


Eva Figes (1932-2012)

September 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

I just found out about the death of Eva Figes. I know she was active in the more experimental end of the British literary community of the 1960s, doing readings with B.S. Johnson and Alan Burns and co., translating for John Calder, and then of course being a major figure in 1970s feminism.

Personally, I know her work in most depth for her 1972 novel B.. It fits nicely alongside B.S. Johnson and Ann Quin’s writings of the time, charting disintegration as it does. What struck me about it the first time I read it is that the subtle way Figes suddenly makes you aware of the space of the page: it seems for a good period of the novel that the page is a neutral thing, and suddenly, with a jolt, the material aspect is there, paragraphs start falling off, starting at odd spaces across the line, gaps appear, the arrangement into chapters disappears. It’s brilliantly done, and all part of a novel of sinister, quiet repetitions, contradictory reports, lies, misinformation, all coming from the pen of an author-protagonist who is trying to tell a story about a fellow author ‘B’ (who at one point near the end becomes ‘G’), but whose attempts descend and deteriorate as his life does. I hope a few people might revisit it at this time. Though it doesn’t have the world-historical weight on it, and eloquent testimonial to trauma that, for example, Winter Journey (1967) does, it’s a thrilling and maybe under-represented example of a time in British literature when experiment seemed a viable proposition again. I saw a signed copy of it once at a second-hand book fair, and I hope someone with £20 more than I had in my wallet that day picked it up and can wax lyrical about it better than I have here.

Edinburgh Writers’ Conference

August 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

Nice to see John Calder’s Edinburgh Writers’ Conference getting some publicity. Alongside a nice Today Programme bit, it’s good to see the Guardian on board with it.

And China Miéville’s keynote has been the best thing yet: a state-of-the-(literary)nation address seen askew, a quiet and non-grandstanding, non-totalising intervention into many of the big literary debates of the day. And with such clear sight and sensitivity to the real things – like the idea of writers earning a living.

I loved his particularly acute choices of the “wind-blown straws” of people sitting up and noticing Christine Brooke-Rose and Ann Quin. Quin, especially, seemed the most apposite choice, and a perfect symbol of where Miéville was and what he was arguing. Quin is, in one way, a great lost chance for British experimental fiction, straddling interestingly a line between French (Sarraute, Beckett) and American (Burroughs, her friend Robert Creeley) influences, with a strong sense of place (her Brighton, her Greece come to mind), of sex, of people pulled down by their own interiorities. She was a writer with great possibility. The trajectory of her career was not certain, and the writing she left is full of verve and variety. I’ve just come back from looking at the Calder & Boyars  archive at the Lilly Library in Bloomington, Indiana (a real gem), and was touched by the support Calder (who of course is behind the Edinburgh Writers’ Conference) and Marion Boyars gave to Quin, not only in promoting her work with a real belief and commitment, but also by supporting her financially and professionally, advancing her royalties, applying for grants and fellowships for her. The correspondence the Lilly has is deeply touching, especially considering Ann Quin’s early death, and what struck me the most was the weight that she felt pushing down on her from the burden of her constant financial need. She wasn’t from a wealthy family, she wasn’t university educated, and wasn’t a networker in the literary mainstream of the day. Seeing her turned down for an Arts Council grant in the final year of life was crushing.

Quin can symbolise so much, then, beyond her vital status as a kind of lost 1960s modernist: she was a voyager of the kind we (in the wake of psychogeography) appreciate more and more now; she was a working-class writer outside of the confines of social realism; she was a female writer offering an entirely different vision to the dominating broad-sweep vision of the majority of British female writers of her time (I’ll always offer Muriel Spark and Christine Brooke-Rose as an exception though); she was an experimentalist too, in life and literature, through-and-through. So Miéville chose well, and I hope a few more people reading his speech find their way to Quin (heroically kept in print of course by the godlike Dalkey Archive Press).

Mario Dondero’s nouveau roman pictures

June 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

A great video has recently popped up on YouTube courtesy of FranceInter, which has Mario Dondero talking about his famous, definitive pictures of the nouveaux romancers, although the “the” there is never quite certain (cf. Sam Beckett, front and centre). Why no Butor in the major shot? Why no Duras anywhere? Did it help form the public perception of the group, who was in and who was out? Dondero tries to answer as best he can. A real treasure.


“An Exhaustive Five-Column Grid’

June 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

A day late to the party I know, but the ever-excellent Melville House blog pointed me to this fascinating open letter from Joan Sellent to his translatee (I feel ordering it that way round puts things in their right places) Edward Albee. Any dialogue about translation is a good one, as it is too often wished away (and apparently now by people like Albee).

For me, it’s also interesting as a kind of jolting reminder to my Lit student sensibilities. I think Lit people have a tendency to wear heavy-lensed spectacles, where we see all of our subjects (writers, books, etc.) as all invested in the same kind of open-to-contexts/interpretations, super ambiguous, pleasure-of-the-text-y stuff that we’re into. And when we’re reminded that they’re not, that they might be into the dastardly logos and other things we thought we threw out…well, I guess it just redoubles our love of literary things, as always stubbornly other, as never pin-downable, as always one step ahead, as always off, slipping away round the corner. So I guess everyone goes home happy after all. Happy reading…

Barney Rosset

June 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

A great tribute to Barnet Rosset over at Salon (or Imprint-via-Salon). The scans from the Evergreen are an especial treat…

Hoop-jumping, numerical coincidences, horse riding metaphors

June 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Having just successfully negotiated my way through the first mandatory hoop-jump of my academic career (I am now a real, not a probationary PhD student, woot), and given that it is exactly a numerical month since I last posted, I thought I’d get back in the saddle by posting another sixties book-cover.

It took a while for John Calder to publish Alain Robbe-Grillet’s first novel Les Gommes in translation, but in 1966, he (and Marion Boyars) finally did: