:: Buzzwords Archive: January 2011. Click here for the latest posts.

Tandeta: Wharton, Barthes, Shepard, Lovecraft, Ellroy, writers & cats (published 22/01/2011)


How can Edith Wharton‘s The Age of Innocence possibly be the greatest New York novel of all time? [via 3QD] / The amazing about-face of Roland Barthes [same] / Writers & cats / Interviews with Jim Shepard / Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown, documentary about the life & legacy of the great horror writer / James Ellroy‘s new TV series [via Largehearted Boy].

The Funnies (published 21/01/2011)


“I’m just trying to pull together my ideas in the best possible way, and I’ve never tailored those ideas for a particular audience. I bet I could do a pretty good teenage vampire story, for example. It would have plenty of romance, and just the right amount of titillating sex, but I think I’d wind up out on the Ben Franklin Bridge looking down at that water and thinking it looked pretty good down there.” Full Stop interview Charles Burns [via The Casual Optimist] + Seth‘s cover art sketches for PEN anthology [pictured above / via Comics Reporter] + Gerald Scarfe‘s top 10 cartoonists + And Blog Horn on the one’s he missed [both via Forbidden Planet] + Steampunk Palin + Zach Worton‘s Landscapes of The Klondike + A Moment of Moore, a daily Alan Moore-related blog + A Robert Crumb underground comics covers gallery [via Comics Reporter] + Is Robert Crumb overrated?

The Riddle of Poetry (published )

Jorge Luis Borges‘ Harvard University lecture (1967). Parts two, three, four, five.

The Unportable Borges (published )


Martin Schifino on five new Borges anthologies:

Jorge Luis Borges was an eminently portable writer. He favoured various forms, but everything he produced was brief. He once claimed that his reluctance to publish novels was due to laziness, and that his works of short fiction were summaries of imagined longer works. Either he was teasing or being too modest, for his writing is deliberately compressed, and his style an instrument with an arrestingly rich sound. It takes only one reading to remember phrases as vibrant as “la unánime noche” (the unanimous night), from the story ‘Las ruinas circulares’ (‘The Circular Ruins’). And his ideas – an infinite library, a tongue-in-cheek defence of plagiarism, the claim that writers create their own precursors, rather than vice versa – have equal resonance.

Readers find it easy to carry Borges in their heads. It has proved rather difficult, however, to carry his work in a reasonable number of books. Both in the original Spanish and in English translation, the history of his publications is labyrinthine, and there is an abundance of miscellanies, selections and collections. (A Complete Works exists in Spanish. Even this is incomplete.) In English, Labyrinths and A Personal Anthology, which had the imprimaturs of the master himself, became benchmarks in the early 1960s, and have stayed in print ever since. Several volumes of poetry and fiction supplemented them. But publication was haphazard, and complicated by legal disputes which may have worked not only against readers, but also the author’s wishes for a platform in English – his second language. Thus, Norman Thomas Di Giovanni’s versions, undertaken in collaboration with Borges in the 1970s, were allowed to go out of print by the Borges estate. It took roughly three decades to work out the issues of translation, and only in the 90s, with the centenary of Borges’ birth in view, did an organized effort finally get under way to produce comprehensive editions. In 1999, Andrew Hurley produced a fluent, if often flat, rendering of the stories and other works in Complete Fiction. Alexander Coleman gathered more poetry than any previous anthologist in a judiciously edited Selected Poems. And Eliot Weinberger took care of the non-fiction in The Total Library, a cornucopia of critical writing, and an unobtrusive editorial triumph, with dozens of previously untranslated texts beautifully juxtaposed. At last, in three 500-page volumes, English-speaking readers had a reasonably complete Borges.

After the centenary of Borges’ birth in 1999, the exegesis proceeded apace, culminating in Edwin Williamson’s magisterial biography of 2004 [David Foster Wallace’s review], which put Borges’ Argentine origins and themes in perspective for anglophone readers. This Borges appeared as less universal, more deeply rooted in the traditions of his native culture than had previously been noted. It was a necessary realignment, already suggested by the Argentine critic Beatriz Sarlo in her Cambridge lectures of 1992, which were edited as Borges: A writer on the edge (1993, reissued in 2007). Jason Wilson’s Borges: A critical Life (2006) stressed the same point, and further implied that the international Borges – the globetrotting lecturer, the Homer-like poet-prophet – was the lesser writer. Hispanic readers found confirmation of this in Adolfo Bioy Casares’ Boswellian journal Borges (2007), in which all the sparkle, wit and wisdom of his friend are at the beginning, while the final years read like a melancholy coda. (Are there any plans to publish at least a selection of this in translation?) The decade ended roughly at that point: with the origins in need of revision, and the feeling that the canon in English may not be so complete after all.

The Last of the Luftmenschen (published 20/01/2011)


In the New Statesman, Ken Worpole gives a soaring overview of the writing career of Alexander Baron alongside the reissue of his own study of British working-class and popular fiction, Dockers and Detectives, published by Five Leaves:

Two of his best novels were still to come, both touching on Jewish themes. The Lowlife, published in 1963, focused on Harryboy Boas, a Hofmann presser in the rag trade and one of the last of the Luftmenschen, the Jewish street philosophers who once filled the pavements of Whitechapel, Hackney and Stoke Newington of a summer’s evening, putting the world to rights. This celebration of one of the less illustrious aspects of Jewish life in London featured the bohemian, sometimes semi-criminal subculture of the eponymous “lowlife”: the gambler, bookworm and Soho drinking-club habitué. Furthermore, it was a novel still in love with “the London street” as the locus of all human affairs. Iain Sinclair, an early advocate of this novel, wrote: “The wonder of The Lowlife is that it does justice to a place of so many contradictions, disguises, deceptions, multiple identities.”

In 1969, King Dido emerged, the most accomplished of Baron’s historical novels, based on his long-standing admiration for Arthur Morrison’s 1896 classic social reform novel, A Child of the Jago. Baron transmutes this slum melodrama into a fast-paced revenge tragedy. Dido Peach, a dockworker of suggested Romany or Jewish origins, dominates the novel from start to finish. There is something of the Heathcliff figure about him, a complex, mysterious man whom it is hard to like but who represents some kind of vital force in the backstreets of Bethnal Green, matched and eventually defeated only by the equally frightening Metropolitan Police inspector Merry, his archetypal class nemesis, whose literary origins are clearly based on Victor Hugo’s ruthless Javert in Les Misérables.

Translated By (published )


A new exhibition which “speculates about the future(s) of writing, reading, listening and fiction”:features an excerpt from Tom McCarthy‘s Remainder:

Featuring Douglas Coupland, Rana Dasgupta, Julien Gracq, Hu Fang, Jonathan Lethem, Tom McCarthy, Guy Mannes Abbott, Sophia Al Maria, Hisham Matar, Adania Shibli and Neal Stephenson

Curated by Charles Arsène-Henry & Shumon Basar

AA Gallery 15 January–9 February 2011 Monday to Friday 10am–7pm Saturday 10am–3pm

Architectural Association 36 Bedford Square London WC1B 3ES Information 020 7887 4145

You’ve entered the room. It looks empty, silent. Vinyl text on the wall, like an album track-listing. Writers’ names instead of bands.

You’ve been given a black pamphlet and an electronic device connected to a pair of headphones.

You’ll put them on. Pick a number. Press play. You look for the same number on the walls. You find it. Next to it, an image. Beside it there is a seat. You sit. On a beat-up office chair dredged from a river. You listen. And you start travelling. You’re on Atlantic Avenue, between Nevins and Third. It’s Brooklyn. 1971.

The voice stops. You go for another track, another chair, a different place. Now on a little stool, you follow a six-year-old girl’s voice in your ears. You’re lost in the Sheraton Hotel.

An Aztec spaceship in Doha’s desert.

It will last for 11 tracks. Through Tripoli, Brixton, Ramallah. Sofia, The Metaverse.

Ardennes forest. A garden.

Until West Vancouver. Where the world is ending.

No one does it to you like Roman Polanski (published )

Black Spring Press and the Society Film Club are screening Roman Polanski‘s adaptation of Roland Topor‘s novel, The Tenant. From the New York Times review of the film (1976):

Trelkovsky, the hero of Mr. Polanski’s striking new horror film, The Tenant, is a character who might have been invented by an Edgar Allan Poe who’d had the opportunity to read about Raskolnikov and Josef K. He’s a particularly Eastern European kind of late 19th-century outsider set down in contemporary Paris. He is also—by the end of the movie—something of a joke, but an entirely intentional one.

The Tenant, which opened yesterday at Loews Tower East, is the most successful and most consistently authentic Polanski film in years, and in saying that I realize that a lot of people prefer the Polanski who turns out films more or less tailored to popular tastes, like Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby.

The Tenant displays the clear-eyed narative discipline of his early Knife in the Water and Repulsion, but without the self-indulgent gimmickry that have made a lot of his later “personal” films, including The Fearless Vampire Killers and What?, almost impossible to sit through even when the idiosyncratic talent behind them was visible.

The Tenant, adapted by Gerard Brach and Mr. Polanski from a novel by Roland Topor, tells the story of the strange series of occupations that take place when Trelkovsky, a filing clerk in what appears to be a library, moves into a two-room Paris apartment made vacant by the attempted suicide of the previous tenant.

The Tenant, on page and screen,
Sanctum Soho Hotel,
24 January 2011, 6.30 & 9.30p.m.
Admission £5, includes copy of Black Spring edition of book