:: Buzzwords Archive: August 2012. Click here for the latest posts.

The Missing Links (published 26/08/2012)

The films of Norman Mailer are like a punch in the face. * “If there’s any theme of my process, it’s generally to go towards what’s uncomfortable.” Miranda July. * “A story is an engagement although it can be protracted. A novel is a campaign.” James Salter. * One morning, after a night of reading Virginia Woolf, Teju Cole woke up partially blind. * Irvine Welsh tears into “highly imperialist-orientated Man Booker prize”. * Paul Auster on life, death & near misses. * Reading decadence. * The vampire figure did not portray Oscar Wilde per se: Rather, it stood for all the fears and fascination Wilde inspired in British society. * Silent footage of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr & others in NY (1959). * Stéphane Mallarmé, the 19th-century French poet, was a lexical innovator, whose stripped-down verse foreshadowed the hermetic sparsities of Samuel Beckett and Wallace Stevens. * When Beckett met Binchy. * “Fiction is the road not taken: the autobiography in reverse.” Carlos Gamerro. * “We’re in a moment where the relative merits of (and the borders between and the nature of) fiction and nonfiction are being questioned.” Ben Lerner. * BBC George Orwell statue turned down as ‘too left-wing’. * P.D. Smith talks City. * China Miéville on the future of the novel. * Iain Sinclair‘s Olympics. * The death of the novel will presage a rebirth of writing, George Szirtes on the ‘instinct to story’. * “The short sentence is artificial.” László Krasznahorkai. * Historian of infamy, WSJ on Danilo Kiš. * Daniel Dennett on Philosophy Bites . * What’s wrong with TED. * “I don’t write for the reader. I’m working for the text, the object coming into existence.” William H. Gass. * James Bridle on why self-publishing is no longer a vanity project. * Martin Scorsese‘s film school, the 85 films you need to see to know anything about film. * Rockville girl speaks. * Out-takes from Jim Jarmusch‘s Down by Law. * David Mitchell mobbed in Shanghai. * Moby Dick as emoticons (via @christianbok). * A partial inventory of Gustave Flaubert’s personal effects (via A Piece of Monologue).

Convulsive beauty (published )

Rick Poynor on André Breton’s Nadja:

Faucheux called Breton and asked him whether he still possessed any letters from Nadja. It was an inspired line of inquiry because Breton had kept many of her messages (these can be seen online at Breton’s archive and French Wikipedia has extensive quotations). In his monograph, Faucheux recalls: “He entrusted me with a paper cutting by Nadja, one of her last letters, the one in which she wrote about the Hotel Terminus: ‘I cannot come tonight.’ I photographed these documents to look convincing. Readers could not be insensitive to the authenticity of the document. The signal was there.” On the front cover, the designer showed one of Nadja’s hand-drawn paper cuttings described by Breton in the text and shown in the book.

The drawing is one of 44 images — photographs, pieces of print, art works, and drawings by Nadja — that punctuate Breton’s fragmentary reflections. The book is sometimes incorrectly described as a novel, though the pictures of streets, squares, hotels and restaurant exteriors are meant to authenticate the locations where these mysterious and, for Breton, marvelous encounters took place. That doesn’t mean his autobiographical account can be regarded as an unvarnished record of events. There are photographs by Man Ray and Henri Manuel of people he mentions, including the Surrealists Paul Éluard, Benjamin Péret and Robert Desnos, the actress Blanche Derval, and Breton himself, but notoriously, there is no photograph of Nadja, who comes to seem more like a phantasm of Breton’s overwrought poetic imagination, a muse, than a living person; at no point do we learn her real name. Breton did add a montage of Nadja’s eyes to the 1964 Livre de poche edition; he also changed another photo, added four more new pictures, and deleted details suggesting that he and Nadja spent a night together in a hotel.

Locked in history (published )

‘Werner Herzog: the director is present,’ Hari Kunzru on filmmaking at the border of life & death in Hazlitt magazine:

Few film directors seem as directly present in their work as Werner Herzog. Not only does he have an instantly-recognizable aesthetic, but unlike most European auteurs of his generation, he has become a familiar face in front of the camera. We are so accustomed to seeing him — playing football with Peruvian indians, arguing with Klaus Kinski, eating his own shoe at Chez Panisse — that we might mistake him for just another “personality,” one of the celebrities who parade past at various scales, from cellphone to Times Square, on our screens. Directors are required to be showmen, particularly directors of documentaries, who always have to hustle to finance and screen their work. But Herzog’s presence, his insistence on being in the middle of things, is something more like an artistic strategy — which is to say it’s the very opposite of a strategy, unless it’s possible to be both strategic and uncalculated, canny and impulsive at the same time.

In Cave of Forgotten Dreams, his 2010 documentary, Herzog can hardly help appearing on screen. The Chauvet cave, sealed off for twenty thousand years in a limestone cliff above the river Ardèche in the south of France, was rediscovered in 1994. It was found to contain hundreds of paleolithic paintings of horses, mammoths, cave bears, bison, lions, and other animals, which may be over thirty thousand years old, almost twice the age of previous finds. The caves are being studied by a team of scientists and access is extremely restricted. Herzog and his crew had to shoot the whole film from a two-foot wide metal walkway running along the cave’s floor, using hand-held lights and a stripped-down camera. They frequently appear in shot, having nowhere to hide. In voice-over, Herzog speculates about the origins of art, about being “locked in history,” and the impossibility of bridging the distance that separates his image-making from that of the painters, working in charcoal and red ochre on the cave walls. Hearing his familiar voice musing about these familiarly Herzogian themes has become weirdly comforting. It’s hard to remember how confrontational and strange his essayistic personal style seemed when audiences first encountered it. 

Kiš lightning (published 25/08/2012)

Nice appreciation of Danilo Kiš in Tablet magazine:

Kiš remains far too unknown in the United States, despite being championed by the likes of Aleksandar Hemon, William Gass, and Philip Roth, who helped to introduce him to the English-speaking world by including him in his influential Writers From the Other Europe series. In 1980, under Roth’s editorship, Penguin published Kiš’s story collection A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, which included “The Knife With the Rosewood Handle.” Since then, amidst a period when major publishers have shown fitful interest in foreign fiction, Kiš’s work has been shepherded by university and independent presses. Several of his books remain untranslated, but this month, Dalkey Archive will publish new translations of two short novels and a story collection — The Attic, Psalm 44, and The Lute and the Scars — that offer an important chance to reassess his work and return him to the front ranks of world literature. What emerges most poignantly is the theme of inheritance, both literary and historical, and of how Kiš hacked through the thicket of memory to find, if not solace, then a tenuous accommodation with the past. In his writings on the Holocaust, Kiš also produced some precocious insights about the nature of remembrance and its potentially malign influence on art.


In Yugoslavia, Kiš suffered abuse from the local writers union, whose hardline Stalinist members accused him of plagiarism, a charge that stemmed both from his Jewishness and from his being out of step with the dogmatic school of socialist realism. (He also tended to trumpet his non-Yugoslav influences, providing some ammunition for his nationalist critics.) In his introduction to A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, Joseph Brodsky says that this treatment was enough to send Kiš into a “nervous shock.”

Among the newly translated works published by Dalkey is Kiš’s first novel, The Attic. Written in 1960 and subtitled “A Satirical Poem,” the book is the story of a young writer living a bohemian life in Belgrade, where he courts a woman he calls Eurydice and lives in an insect-infested apartment. The novel has some witty moments, but it’s a scattershot collage, its varied parts less coherent and appealing than his later work.

A certain style (published )

Ali Smith at this year’s recreation of the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference 1962:

It’s the easiest argument in the world, and one of the most specious, style v content. The cliched view of literary style, especially style which draws attention to itself as style, is that it’s a surface thing, a thing of appearance, a skin-deep thing; a fraudulent thing, not the real thing, blocking us from what it’s trying to say even as it says it.

But everything written has style. The list of ingredients on the side of a cornflakes box has style. And everything literary has literary style. And style is integral to a work. How something is told correlates with – more – makes what’s being told. A story is its style. A style is its story, and stories – like onions, like the Earth we live on, like style – are layered, stratified constructs. Style is never not content. This is because words themselves when put together produce style, never lack style of one sort or another. Otherwise we could junk, say, one of the most recent translators of Madame Bovary, Lydia Davis (who went back and looked at Flaubert’s edits and took into account for her translation his removal, from draft to draft, of metaphoric or lyrical elements in the language of the novel), and just run Madame Bovary through Google Translate.

Style isn’t the ghost in the machine, it’s the life that disproves the machine. There’s nothing ghostly about it. It’s alive and human. More, style proves not just individual human existence, but communal existence.

Somewhere between The Ritz & the gilded gutter (published 24/08/2012)

From the Standard‘s diary last night:

A welcome return to the Colony Room as one of its habituées, writer Sophie Parkin, is set to publish a history of the infamous Soho club.

“It’s about the cultural and social hub of London from 1948 to 2008,” she says. “The book will be crammed full of gossip, some of it 50 years old.”

Regulars at the club included artist Francis Bacon and journalist Jeffrey Bernard. Parkin’s book is being published in December by Vink Ink, which is run by her husband Jan Vink.

Parkin, who was a member of the club for 25 years, has had access to a raft of unpublished material.

“The archive came from Michael Wojas after he died,” says Parkin. Wojas was the barman and last owner of the club, which closed its doors in 2008.

“He had all the stuff from Muriel Belcher, the original owner, and Ian Board, who took over. A lot had fallen to pieces but there were John Deacon’s photos, which Francis Bacon used for his pictures and all membership forms.”

Parkin made an early entry to the club. “My mum, Molly Parkin, made me a member for my 18th birthday — not a traditional present. I joined in 1980 for a quarter of a century. My mum had been going there since the Fifties with Henrietta Moraes and Francis Bacon and so on.”

Michael Parkin, Sophie’s father, was an art dealer who held the first exhibition of artists from the Colony Room 30 years ago. The book is timed to mark that anniversary.

Sound and Vision (published 23/08/2012)

The ICA’s inaugural Bowiefest, 31 August – 2 September. Worth it for Christiane F. alone.