Our biggest-ever selection of literary / cultural news from around the global village.
by Andrew Gallix
Copyright © 2001, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
3AM PLUG ON SPIKE
Thanks a million to Spike, “the UK literary / cultural website of impeccable taste,” for the plug. Check out the entry for October 20th in Splinters, Spike’s excellent daily weblog. Go to: www.spikemagazine.com
THE NEW PURITANS
In September, two young novelists Nicholas Blincoe and Matt Thorne edited an anthology entitled All Hail the New Puritans (Fourth Estate) and all hell was let loose: “Only people trapped in the ‘Big Brother’ house for the past two months can have avoided the wealth of coverage accorded” to this book (Time Out). The 15 stories (written by the likes of Alex Garland, Toby Litt, Matthew Branton, Rebecca Ray and Geoff Dyer) included are all written in accordance with the editors’ 10-point New Puritan manifesto:
1. Primarily storytellers, we are dedicated to the narrative form.
2. We are prose writers and recognise that prose is the dominant form of expression. For this reason we shun poetry and poetic licence in all its forms.
3. While acknowledging the value of genre fiction, whether classical or modern, we will always move towards new openings, rupturing existing genre expectations.
4. We believe in textual simplicity and vow to avoid all devices of voice: rhetoric, authorial asides.
5. In the name of clarity, we recognise the importance of temporal linearity and eschew flashbacks, dual temporal narratives and foreshadowing.
6. We believe in grammatical purity and avoid any elaborate punctuation.
7. We recognise that published works are also historical documents. As fragments of our time, all our texts are dated and set in the present day. All products, places, artists and objects named are real.
8. As faithful representation of the present, our texts will avoid all improbable or unknowable speculations on the past or the future.
9. We are moralists, so all texts feature a recognisable ethical reality.
10. Nevertheless, our aim is integrity of expression, above and beyond any commitment to form.
With this manifesto, Blincoe and Thorne want to do for literature what Lars von Trier’s Dogme 95 manifesto has done for cinema. As Boyd Tonkin pointed out in his article “Back to Basics (Yet Again)” published in The Independent (October 2nd), the New Puritans are part of an old literary tradition:
“For the past two centuries, artists and writers have delighted in planting the sort of explosive manifestos that blow up in the appalled faces of their senior colleagues. . . . With a staggering degree of consistency, the core of what counts as creative renewal stays the same. No frills, clean lines, firm rules, simple methods, a democratic style and a stern commitment to the here-and-now. . . . From the right vantage-point, the pared-down Lyrical Ballads of Wordsworth and Coleridge and the three-chord anthems of Rotten, Vicious & Co [the Sex Pistols] belong on the same artistic street. . . . The latest bunch of slimline militants to disturb the peace of an over-dressed old guard are the New Puritans of British fiction. . . . I'm not the first critic to notice that the NP touchstones -- "clarity", "textual simplicity" and "grammatical purity" in the service of an "ethical reality", "set in the present-day" -- recall Wordsworth's Preface to the second, 1800 edition of the Lyrical Ballads. The Lakeland revolutionary (as he then was) demands a poetry made from "a selection of language really used by men" in order to express "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings"; he lambasts "the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers" with their false and fanciful "poetic diction". . . . Early in the 1900s, WB Yeats staggered out of the Celtic Twilight to simplify his verse. Before, he had "made my song a coat," he wrote in retrospect, blinking in the fierce 20th-century sunshine, "Covered with embroideries/ Out of old mythologies". These days, he felt, "there's more enterprise/ In walking naked." Nakedness remains the prime Puritan virtue. As for Yeats's old mythologies, they take a secular form for the NPs: the burdensome history and culture of the past as they affect (or infect) fiction now. In the introduction, Blincoe rails against historical fiction "written with the sole purpose of denying life. These novelists believe that literature belongs in a heritage theme-park," he fumes, "or, better, the grave".
. . . Yet it's the new mythologies that intrigue me. The NP editors pay predictable homage to the "cultural primacy" of film narrative (that deeply Victorian invention). They want fiction to "prove . . . the equal" of storytelling on screen. Where gods and monsters, kings and heroes, once crowded the fictional myth-kitty, now movies, TV and computer-games fill the vacancy for a shared body of allusion. . . . The funny thing is that, while the NP editors bow down before the mechanical or digital visual image, several of their contributors show exactly how it can mess you up. The theory purports to flatter new technology; the practice treats it with suspicion. Trust the tale, not the teller, said that original new puritan, DH Lawrence.
In fact, ambivalence towards hi-tech media lies behind most of back-to-basics crusades since the Romantic era. The 1800 Preface laments the reduction of modern minds to "a state of almost savage torper". Chief culprit is the "craving for extraordinary incident, which the rapid communication of intelligence hourly gratifies". In other words, Wordsworth blames the Media. Yet without that "rapid communciation" about (among other things) rebel writers and their causes, there would be no Romantic movement and no William Wordsworth, Lakeland Superstar. Half a century on, The Pre-Raphaelites fled the urban grime around them for a pastoral never-never-land. Again, that flight was assisted no end by industrial dyes, by the pictorial tastes of muck-spreading Northern magnates, and by the fast distribution of the periodical press along newly-built Victorian railway lines. Come the 20th century, and the advocates of a new simplicity at last began to praise the modern machine. Wildly in love with movies, newspapers, factories and fast cars, the Futurists and Vorticists delivered plenty of New Puritan iconoclasm. In a foretaste of later Keats-vs-Dylan quarrels, Marinetti's first Futurist manifesto of 1909 famously lauded "a roaring racing-car" above classical sculpture. Yet in Britain, Wyndham Lewis, who issued his ferocious Blast manifesto against soppy Victorian culture in 1914, kept his distance from machine-worship. He condemned "Futurist gush" about aeroplanes as sentimental fantasy. The best of Lewis's fiction dramatises a kind of rage against the machines that drive modern life. With their uneasy mix of technophilia in theory and techno-scepticism in practice, the New Puritans share this self-doubt.” Boyd Tonkin’s final analysis is that the New Puritans “testify to a perennial -- and fundamentally healthy -- desire to clear the clutter out of culture.”
In “Brave New Word” (The Independent on Sunday September 24th), Nicholas Lezard reacted in similar fashion:
”. . . What is most striking about this, and most welcome, is that it should have been written at all. It is nice that people care enough about writing to lay their heads on the block, and that they have such touching faith in prose literature. . . . literature’s story has been punctuated regularly by voluntary restrictions and accusations of decadence ever since Aristotle’s Poetics. . . . But it is odd how the New Puritans’ manifesto, with its emphasis on plain speaking, its rhetoric against rhetoric, recalls nothing so much as Wordsworth’s combative advertisement to his and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads of 1798 (which itself proclaimed a new era for British poetry).”
The title of the anthology comes from a song by The Fall: “No one yet, as far as I know, has pointed out the unwisdom of taking The Fall’s lyrics out of context, rich as they are in disdainful irony. . . . ‘The conventional is now experimental / The experimental is now conventional.’”
It’s all fine and dandy rejecting “show-off” authors, but can the New Puritans hack it? When “one thinks of the the sheer technical flamboyance of Rushdie and Amis, as against the flat, affectless prose of the New Puritans, it is hard to avoid the suspicion that a simple inability to be in command of the language, to make it sit up and play tricks for you if you so choose, is being turned into a virtue.”
Then again, they could be taking the piss: “At first glance,” says Boyd Tonkin, “this is a playful project in keeping with the spirit of its commitment-phobic times. The NPs don't seem to take themselves quite as seriously as do (or did) their closest cousins: Lars von Trier and his wacky band of camera-shaking Danes in Dogme '95.” In Time Out, John O’Connell wonders “how seriously Thorne and Blincoe themselves take all this.”
NEW PURITANS VS SHOW-OFFS
On September 27th, one-third of the New Puritans attended The Word, London’s literary festival: “They are young, attractive and middle class, and the audience is similar” (The Guardian). Toby Litt, Geoff Dyer and Alex Garland were not present. Rebecca Ray and Daren King read their contributions to the anthology. Blincoe and Thorne explained that only six points in their manifesto really define the puritan style of writing. The other four were simply introduced to make things more difficult. Blincoe insisted on the “spirit” of the manifesto: a rejection of “show-off” writers (Amis, Rushdie) who write for other writers and academics, a desire to break down the barriers between commercial and literary fiction and to provincialise fiction in the face of a Londoncentric publishing world. The NPs explained that the anthology was a one-off experiment and that they do not intend to respect all the NP rules in their future works.
NEW CAVALIERS VS NEW PURITANS
In September, Brendan Trafford, founder of the London branch of the neo-Hydropathes announced the publication of a New Cavalier manifesto which “ like reverses all the rules of the New Puritans, basically, although we agree that writers should not write for the academic world.” The manifesto will be translated into French and published in Hurluberlu.
Brendan is preparing an anthology entitled All Hail the New Cavaliers. Short stories written in accordance with the New Cavalier manifesto may be submitted to: firstname.lastname@example.org
London’s second annual literary festival, The Word, took place between September 23rd and October 12th. Instead of being scattered all over the city, most events took place at The Globe on Bankside and fewer foreign writers were flown in (with the notable exception of Arthur Miller) to keep costs down. Highlights included appearances by JG Ballard, Melvyn Bragg, Zadie Smith, Hanif Kureishi, Niall Griffiths, Margaret Atwood, Arthur Miller, Jake Arnott and Andrew motion. www.theword.org.uk/
One of the stars of The Word was 39-year-old Jake Arnott whose crime thriller The Long Firm (Hodder & Stoughton, 1999), set in London’s Soho during the swinging sixties, is being turned into a TV mini-series by the BBC. Arnott lived in London squats for 10 years, joined a radical theatre company, then moved to Leeds where he wrote his first novel. His second novel, He Kills Coppers, will be published in May 2001.
Jake Arnott rents a flat in Islington (London), his favourite book is the London A to Z and he reckons that the Thames is the sexiest river in the world: “its curves are so voluptuous.”
At The Word festival, Jeanette Winterson stated that she didn’t want to become “an alive dead-white-male” and that her latest novel, The Powerbook could be her last.
THE NOTHINGS ONLINE
Alistair Gentry’s “modular online novel”, The Nothings, was released in late September: “New components of the novel will be available every month. Some of the characters already know each other well; some of them have relationships formed by the reader's own connections. Every individual section and character in The Nothings may be linked or juxtaposed in a number of ways. This can be accomplished online with hypertext, or by printing sections and physically reordering them. As components of the novel accumulate, larger stories and narrative patterns will be come apparent.”
Go to: www.btinternet.com/~gentry/online.htm
LITERARY IMMORTALITY FOR SALE
On December 5th, literary immortality will be up for sale at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) in Piccadilly, London. The winning bidders’ names will appear in the next works by Hanif Kureishi, Jim Crace, Louis de Bernières, Nick Hornby, Sebastian Faulks, Rose Tremain, Julian Barnes and Kathy Lette. The auction should raise at least £70,000 for the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture.
The Times (October 15th) revealed that Jim Crace has already used the name of an obsessive fan in one of his books (where he drowns). On BBC Radio 4, he said he was excited to invent someone who already exists (October 16th). Louis de Bernières’ next novel is set in Turkey, so the name must be Turkish. Rose Tremain’s is set in the past so no Kylies. Ruth Rendell refused to take part in the auction, but will donate to the fund. Martin Amis (who appears as a character in one of his own novels and also appears in Terence Blacker’s recently-published Kill Your Darlings) simply refused: “The name is an integral part of the text.”
Winners will have to sign a disclaimer that they will not sue over the use of their names!
Details of the auction: www.bol.com
More Jim Crace below. See “literary Pranks.”
trAce AT CHELTENHAM
For the second year running, trAce has appeared at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature which has been going since 1949. There were workshops, discussions and live online events. Check out the full Cheltenham programme:
The Scriberazone which offers “modern, funky poetry for the masses” has come up with some multimedia poems to celebrate National Poetry Day. On October 26th, The Scriberazone organised a “Words & Beats” evening at the Poetry Cafe in London with “chilled beats by a guest DJ, live readings and large multimedia projections of poetry.”
Channel 4 and The Observer have joined forces to discover the best N°1 song ever. A provisional list of singles from the past 50 years has been chosen by a celebrity panel. Readers and viewers will now be able to vote and choose Britain’s favourite N°1 single. Zadie Smith, author of White Teeth, said that “Vogue” by Madonna was her favourite single. Andrew Motion, the poet laureate, chose Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the grapevine.”
GOOD SEX AWARD?
The infamous editor of The Literary Review, Auberon Waugh, thinks the annual Bad Sex Prize (awarded to the worst description of a sex scene in a novel) may have been too successful: “Whether or not they have been scared by the Review’s Bad Sex Prize, fewer and fewer novelists attempt any sexual description at all. There is also a growing tendency among women to complain bitterly and publicly about the practice of it. These developments are the reverse of what we intended when we started the prize. In 2001 we may have to reward the most encouraging description of the sexual act published that year” (The Sunday Times October 15th).
MORE WILL SELF
Can Spike Magazine do no wrong? Log on and read Chris Hall’s in-depth interview with Will Self: “We meet at the Groucho Club in Soho, london, one of Self’s former haunts but which he says he hardly ever visits anymore. Outside he crouches down to chain his 22cc Go-Ped Bigfoot -- a small motorised scooter -- and strides into the bar wearing a black leather jacket, a crisp white shirt and a pair of well-worn brown Chelsea boots to go with his new cropped haircut.” No trousers, apparently. Self talks about his latest novel, How the Dead Live, which he defines as “a Buddhist allegory. He also describes himself as “a transcendental idealist”: “People aren’t really materialists, they don’t really want the car, the house, the Phillipe Starck juicer, they actually want cachet, the status and culture that go with those things.” self also talks about the Fig 1 gallery experiment which we mentioned in our summer issue: “If anyone’s got a problem with writer’s block that’s the way to cure it. . . . You’re sitting there with 30 to 40 people with nothing to do but write, and necessity to entertain them. The word rate goes up from 300-500 words an hour to about 1,000 words an hour -- a colossal production.” self recounts one particular incident: “One evening i’d written at great length about this Chinese girl who was there, and of course she disappeared; but by then she’d become quite a major character who then reappeared again towards the end of the day. When I was leaving she button-holed me outside the gallery along with a posse of other people, all of whom I recognised as being characters in my story, and said ‘Come for a drink with me’ -- I reared back and she said ‘Oh, I suppose you find it really disturbing to have to come and have a drink with one of your characters?’ And it certainly was. And I didn’t do it!” Self may do another live writing gig in the States next year. His short story “The Rock of Crack as Big as The Ritz” is being turned into a kind of “reggae opera.”
Alan McGee, the man who brought you Creation Records and Oasis, indeed the man who tried to get Malcolm McLaren elected mayor of London, has decided to use the internet to kick the music scene up its arse. Here’s an extract from the Poptones manifesto:
“Since primitive man began to think, one question has troubled the greatest philosophers . . . "are you taking the piss or what?" Today we will apply this to the current uk music scene.
It's like punk never happened.
But all is not quite lost. Have you ever thought actually how few records all these no-talents sell. Not many really. That's because the people who missed the ads don't want them. The several generations of kids marked by the lingering shadow of punk rock are just not that dumb. And however you spin it, twelve year old girls are a captive but very, very, minority audience, about the same as for jazz. That's not my theory, it's simple demographics.
People are bored, nothing is capturing the imagination. Even the dance scene has been co-opted by the deeply uncool. Ibiza was a weird, secret, all night world of hedonism, with the lingering traces of the avant-garde artists who lived there in the last century. Now it's an all-night beer boy disco full of slappers, live on tv for the middle aged, just like any Saturday night in anytown. There is a place for exclusivity, for snobbery even, and maybe this was one of them... another dead scene... it's not really underground if it's on the Judith Chalmers show, is it?
But here in London, we've spotted a renaissance. People are into such a wide range of music it's not even funny, people crossing over from one scene to another via record collections. Is the new LINK in the chain going to be possession of a second-hand Fred Neil album? The maelstrom of what used to be called post-modern culture is throwing up strange bedfellows. And you don't know what the fuck is happening, Mr. Mainstream Media, do you?”
There is also a Poptones night at the Notting Hill Arts Club every Wednesday called Radio4. Alan McGee and friends play everything from Captain Beefheart through Funkadelic via the Ramones and Joy Division: “Sometimes there'll be bands, sometimes there won't. Sometimes there'll be special guest djs, sometimes we won't let anybody else near the decks.”Radio4@ Notting Hill Arts Club, 21 Notting Hill Gate, London W11. Every Wednesday. Doors open at 6pm. Free until 8pm, £5 thereafter. Open until 1 am.
Listen to Poptones radio on their site:
Poptones djs also have a show every Wednesday on the Student Broadcast Network:
HAPPY DEATHDAY CHAUCER!
The Museum of London celebrated the 600th anniversary of Chaucer’s death with an exhibition entitled “Chaucer’s Londoners.” The Times Literary Supplement (September 29th) revealed that a Caxton Canterbury Tales will now set you back £4m!
B. S. JOHNSON
There are two articles on experimental novelist B. S. Johnson (1933-1973), author of Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry (1973), in the October/November issue of the London Magazine. Picador, who published his famous book-in-a-box, The Unfortunates, last year may bring out the rest of his work.
THE BOOKER PRIZE 2000
The shortlist for the Booker Prize, Britain’s most important literary prize, was announced on Thursday October 5th. The shortlist includes heavyweights like Margaret Atwood (The Blind Assassin, Bloomsbury) and Kazuo Ishiguro (When We Were Orphans, Faber and Faber). Ishiguro won the Booker in 1989 with The Remains of the Day; Atwood has already been shortlisted three times in the past. The big surprise this year is that Zadie Smith’s White Teeth (shortlisted for the Orange prize) has not made it on to the list unlike Trezza Azzopardi for her first novel, The Hiding Place(Picador), which was only published in August. Another big surprise is that there are no Commonwealth writers.The other shortlisted books are The Keepers of Truth (Phoenix House) by Michael Collins, English Passengers (Hamish Hamilton), The English Passengers (Hamish Hamilton) and Brian O’Doherty’s The Deposition of Father McGreevy (Arcadia). The three lesser-kown authors (Azzopardi, Collins and O’Doherty) had only sold a total of 553 copies of their books before the Booker shortlist was unveiled! The winner, who will be announced on November 7th at the Guildhall in London, will receive £21,000. The others on the shortlist will get £1,000 each. Margaret Atwood is the current favourite.
A new series of Late Night Poker is being broadcast on Thursdays on British TV (Channel 4). The first episode includes such highbrow players as novelist Martin Amis, actor Stephen Fry and playwright Patrick Marber.
NATIONAL POETRY DAY
To celebrate National Poetry Day (October 5th), Poet laureate Andrew Motion published his top 10 poetry books:
1) Lyrical Ballads by Wordsworth & Coleridge (1798)
2) Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St Agnes and Other Poems by John Keats (1820)
3) Poems, Chiefly Lyrical by Alfred (not yet Lord) Tennyson (1830)
4) Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1855)
5) North of Boston by Robert Frost (1914)
6) Poems by Edward Thomas (1917)
7) Poems by WH Auden (1930)
8) The Less Deceived by Philip Larkin (1955)
9) North by Seamus Heaney (1975)
10) Complete Poems by Elizabeth Bishop (1983)
On September 23rd, The Spectator announced that it was abandoning its “anti-poetry policy”: “From today, we have a new poetry editor. His name is Lloyd Evans. He has a beard. He knows his stuff.” The reason why nobody reads poetry these days? Because “none of it is any bloody good,” that’s why.
Top poet Carol Ann Duffy (45) has been awarded a lottery grant amounting to £75,000 over five years. This figure is three times that of Andrew Motion’s annual stipend as poet laureate. Duffy is already the biggest-selling poet in Britain after Ted Hughes, the late poet laureate, and the Nobel prize-winner Seamus Heaney.
THE WILDE ONE
An exhibition marking the centenary of Oscar Wilde’s death, called “The Wilde Years”, has opened at the Barbican in London. It runs until December 10th. You can find lots of Wilde links on the World-Wide Wilde Web:
JOE ORTON ONLINE
On to the Oscar Wilde of welfare state gentility. You can now discuss the works of Joe Orton online at the Joe Orton Community. The moderator is none other than yours truly.
A big thanks to artist Sardax whose interview (“Sardax in Rubberland”) can be read in our entertainment archive. His site was updated in September, so what are you waiting for?
BLAKE AT TATE BRITAIN
A huge exhibition on William Blake opens at Tate Britain on November 9th. It runs until February 11th.
Check out the William Blake Archive:
Nick Duerden’s first novel, Sidewalking (Flame), which he describes as being “about a young man who comes into a lot of dirty money with calamitous consequences”, was published in September. It immediately aroused interest from film companies. As a result, Duerden wrote an article in The Observer (October 8th 2000) on the big screen’s love affair with fiction. Unlike American authors, British writers produce few screenplays. Moreover, it appears that the UK “has always been far stronger in its original fiction than screenwriting.”
The film rights to two 3 AM favourites, Kevin Sampson’s football hooligan book Awaydays and Harland Miller’s tale of a Bowie fanatic, Slow Down Arthur, Stick to Thirty have both been sold in recent months. But the most eagerly-awaited films are the adaptations of Helen Fielding’s The Diary of Bridget Jones (starring Renée Zellweger) and Louis de Bernière’s Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (starring Nicolas Cage).
All is not fine and dandy in Tinselworld. Take Harland Miller’s novel. Six months ago, the fim rights were sold to Danny Boyle (of Trainspotting fame) and Andrew MacDonald’s production company, DNA. Jude Law was to play the lead role and the film would be directed by Jarvis Cocker (lead singer with indie band Pulp). Now, Miller thinks the book is “currently sitting in a drawer right now, gathering dust.” Jude Law and Jarvis Cocker have not confirmed their involvement in the project.
Ever heard of Pycletius? Neither had I -- or anybody else for that matter. Until the new Oxford Companion to English Literature was published, that is.
Pycletius (c116-c163) was, apparently, a “Graeco-Spanish geographer and traveller” whose “wise and subversive Histories record details of Mediterranean life under the Romans in the 2nd cent AD.” In The Oxford Companion, he is described as a proto-magic realist who was admired by the likes of Calvino and Borges. Or so Jim Crace would have you believe. The novelist, who is in the habit of prefacing his works with fictitious epigraphs, invented Pycletius.
According to Henry James (following Delia Bacon), the greatest literary prank ever was Shakespeare Himself: “I am haunted by the conviction that the divine William is the biggest and most successful fraud ever practised on a patient world.”
Tony Marchant’s latest two-parter for Channel 4, Never Never is to be broadcast on November 5th and 6th. It stars John Simm of Human Traffic fame. Tony Marchant explained that “[Tony] Blair is exhorting us that we’re all middle class now and I want to remind people that it’s not true and this thing [poverty] won’t go away.”
A team of engineers claim they have proved that Shakespeare was the sole author of Henry VIII. The play, first staged in 1611, is widely believed to have been the result of a collaboration between the ageing Bard and John fletcher, a member of the King’s Men players. The softaware developed by SER Systems, SERbrainware, concluded that Shakespeare was most likely to have written the play alone.
Canongate.net, the brilliant website of brilliant Scottish publishing house, Canongate Books, will soon be launching a radio station on their site in association with an LA-based internet radio station. It should go live in mid-November: “The music will be streamed live, and there will also be exclusive archived sets available, ranging from Gil Scott-Heron to the canongate.net superstar deejays. We will also be rotating archives every month from some of the world's best dj's.”
Check out the website of Attack Books for their avant pulp maifesto. Here’s a preview in the great McLaren tradition:
WILL SELF, AS BYATT, MARTIN AMIS, SALMAN RUSHDIE, BONO, TORY FILTH, WILLIAM BURROUGHS, THE NEW CHEMICAL GENERATION, CHARLES BUKOWSKI, JAZZ, ALL BEAT WRITERS . . .
ATARI TEENAGE RIOT, NEW ENGLISH LIBRARY, MOTOWN, STEWART HOME, SVEN HASSEL, LITTLE RICHARD, JOHN WOO, HP LOVECRAFT, STEVE AYLETT, WILLIAM GIBSON, MICKEY SPILLANE, ec80r, THE CLASH, PIRATES . . .
Graham Linehan, author of brilliant comedy Father Ted is back with a new series called Black Books.
Black Books, set in the eponymous London book shop, stars Dylan Moran who co-wrote the series. He plays the part of Bernard Black, a drunken, chain-smoking book shop owner. Bernard’s assistant, Manny Bianco, is played by long-haired comedian Bill Bailey.
NO ONLINE CENSORSHIP!
The Manchester-born scientist who invented the world wide web, Tim Berners Lee has publicly denounced attempts to regulate the internet.
The venerable Times Literary Supplement recently revamped its website.
BITCHY LITERARY LONDON
Salman Rushdie who recently left London (and his third wife and two children) for New York and a new model girlfriend, stated in The New York Times (September 17 2000) that London’s literary circles were “backbiting and incestuous.”
A few days later (September 25, The Guardian), John Sutherland tried to understand why “the greatest living novelist we have” had fled England: “I suspect that one of the things that most irked Rushdie was the literary party gossip. . . . But what really got to him, I suspect, were the reviews.” Mr Sutherland explained that the “London literary world runs on bile”: “Competition for readers is part of the reason. There are 10 times as many book-page inches in London as in New York and fewer readers for them. . . . Competition for space is the other main factor. There are some 2,000 new novels published every year in the UK. Only a few hundred can get reviewed at all. . . . To achieve visibility for a new novel you need a big advertising budget and a lot of expensive pre-publication. ‘Hype,’ in a word. Reviewers see themselves as merchandisers of anti-hype.”
Rushdie (The Guardian, September 27th) responded to this article. He hadn’t left England because of “bad reviews” or “London literary gossip” but because of the belief, “widespread in Britain” that he was “to blame for the terrorist assault” on his “life and work.”
MARK AMERIKA IN NY
In October, Mark Amerika, who is interviewed in this issue of 3 AM Magazine took part in a festival alongside the Überdeconstructionist Jacques Derrida to showcase his latest web art project.
HUBERT SELBY, Jr.
Hubert Selby, Jr., the author of Last Exit to Brooklyn (1964) is interviewed by Lauren Sandler in Feed, the famous online magazine. He explains that when he started writing he realized that he “had to do more than just tell a story”: “Because if you wanna hear a good story go to any street corner in New York, right? Any candy store, coffee shop, any place. I mean, New Yorkers are storytellers. . . . But I knew that for some reason I had to do more than that.” Hubert Selby Jr. goes on to explain that his goal “has always been to write the best line [he] can write”: “And my ultimate goal would be to have the surface of the line so powerful that the reader doesn’t have to read it, it just comes off the page and you experience it.” Read the interview and find out why his nickname is Cubby or why all his novels include a character called Harry.
ON e-BOOKS & MOTORIZED HORSES
The excellent e-zine, Pif Magazine, featured an interview (by Christopher Orlet) with po-mo supremo William Gass in its October edition. The topic they discussed was the author’s passion for books. Gass introduces us to his library: “My library is an accumulator’s library. I have one room in my house devoted to the French and one to the German. I live in a rather large house, thank God. One room is devoted to Latin America, one bookcase for the Irish, and so forth. I’ve quite a lot of books on Japanese, Chinese, Philippine literature. Since I’ve been to some of these places, I’ve gotten a line on what’s going on, and I buy what I can. The collection is largely in world literature -- in translation, mostly. Then there is the philosophy collection, which I have slowed down on. I’ve run out of room, and, since my retirement [from teaching], I wasn’t so sure I’d being using new stuff. I also have a large criticism and linguistics collection. And my wife (the architect Mary Gass) and I have a huge architecture collection. I don’t know how many books I have. Certainly over fifteen thousand.”
William Gass also has some interesting views on e-books: “The [traditional] book form does its job wonderfully. It’s hard to imagine substantially improving on it. . . . Apart from the immalleability of the material, there is no sense of the simultaneity of the text [in an e-book]. You can only see a small part of the text at one time. . . . But even if they could overcome these problems, what they are still doing is imitating a book. When Ford came out with the motorcar, he didn’t create a motorized horse.”
On the peripatetic life of books: “Books have amazing lives. What brings first editions of Paul Valéry’s essays in French to a book fair in St. Louis, I don’t know.”
On the future of books: “It’s never been better. There are more books being published, including more interesting books. The availability of books throughout the world is greater ever before. . . . I remember when the novel was supposedly dead. It was a period when the novel was never better, during the 1960s. It was the greatest period for the novel ever. People said that painting would be hurt by photography, but, instead, painting got more and more serious, more and more outrageous. Now photography has become just another art form. So, no, I’m not worried.”
BLONDIE MEETS SARAH KANE
Deborah Harry needs no introduction. Most men of my generation had their First Wank over her. Get ready for some nostalgic self-abuse. The lead singer with Blondie stars in the US premiere of Sarah Kane’s Crave at the Axis Theatre. Sarah Kane (born in 1971) became the new enfant terrible of British theatre when her first play, Blasted, was produced at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs in 1995. She committed suicide in 1999.
Crave runs from November 1st through December 23rd 2000.
The Axis Theatre is located at 1 Sheridan Square, New York city.
Nearest subway: 1 or 9 train to Christopher St.
tel: 212 807 9300
An in-depth interview with Aleksandar Hemon (conducted by Jenifer Berman) appears in Bomb Magazine. Hemon rejects the idea that the “fragmented structure” of his short stories is due to “the breakup of Yugoslavia”: “What I am saying is that the fragmentation of my stories is a legitimate strategy and it does not require being justified by a great tragedy.” According to the author, all humans experience “the loss of the protection that he or she had as a child, the loss of the sense of things being unified.”
HAPPY BIRTHDAY SPARK-ONLINE!
October 1st marked one year of “exploring electronic consciousness” at spark-online. Editor in chief, Kristopher Krug describes the e-zine’s first year as “an unqualified success”: “More than 80,000 unique readers visit the site each month and stay an average of 17 minutes each.” Happy birthday from 3 AM.
LIT MAGS PARTY ON
The Village Voice Literary Supplement recently analysed a new phenomenon: the publication of books (“as a response to the limitations of mainstream publishing”) by trendy literary magazines like Open City, Fence or McSweeney’s. These new literary magazine presses have unorthodox methods preferring to throw parties rather than throwing money away on traditional ads: “We have people who only know about Open City because of the parties.” They must be doing something right: David Berman’s Actual Air (Open City Books) has already sold more than 10,000 copies which is no mean feat for a poetry collection. To promote Neal Pollack’s book, McSweeney’s are taking their “New York party scene on the road.” Pollack says that he wants it to be more like “an indie rock tour”: “Why not market a book like an album?” Dave Eggers’ McSweeney’s also offer original financial arrangements: writers are given 100% of the profits instead of an advance.
The ubiquitous Dave Eggers also features in Feed (October 11th). The online magazine asked the editor of McSweeney’s along with John Donatich, publisher of Basic Books, and Andre Schiffrin, author of The Business of Books, to talk about the conglomeration of American publishing (6 publishing houses now control four fifths of the US market!) and the way in which “Amazon, ebooks and print-on-demand” could change the role of the editor. Among many other things Eggers describes ebooks and print-on-demand as “red herrings” that “deliver no visceral pleasure whatsoever to a reader. They both specialize in removing absolutely all of a book's tactile appeal -- and then they charge a premium for it. There will be a market for these things, but ebooks, for example, will most likely appeal to the sorts of people who wear calculator watches and ride solar-powered bikes. Gadgeteers. Our opinion is that the average reader likes owning books, actual books, period.” And so say all of us.
NEAL POLLACK EXISTS!
Just because your book is published by prankster Dave Eggers doesn’t mean you are a figment of his fertile imagination. On September 24th, James Hebert published an article saying that he was: “Neal Pollack just might be the greatest writer who ever lived. He might be, if not for the inconvenient fact that he has never, technically speaking, actually lived.” Two days letter, they received a letter from Neal Pollack’s mum!
Read the two letters:
The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature is published by McSweeney’s Books.
Budding writers should check out 399novel.com, a publisher-bookstore who publish and sell paperback and hardback fiction at very interesting prices.
PRICELESS CHINESE BOOKS STOLEN
The FBI is trying to find 43 ancient Chinese books and scrolls which have been stolen from Harvard University. Art historians have described the missing works as “priceless.”
ARTHUR MILLER BACKS GORE
On October 12th, Arthur Miller (85) appeared at the Lyric Theatre as part of The Word literary festival in London. He said that he would “probably vote for Gore” despite being “less enthusiastic about him than the others.”
FRENCH LETTERS (!)
The latest issue (number seven) of the excellent Exquisite Corpse is now online including translations of Tristan Tzara and Georges Bataille. You can also check out the article on Witold Gombrowicz and the translations of Céline in issue 5-6.
EUROPEAN LITERARY FESTIVAL
France’s annual literary festival, Lire en fête took place between October 13th and 15th. The theme this year was European literature. Michael Collins (whose latest novel is shortlisted for the Booker Prize) and one of our favourite authors, Tim Parks (read two of his essays in our literary news archive) were among the guests. The latter also took part in a debate at the Sorbonne University organised by François Gallix (see details below).
October 13th: Tim Parks at the Sorbonne University. 3.30-5 pm.
Tim Parks and Michael Collins at the (Canadian) Abbey Bookshop. 8pm.
October 14th: Tim Parks and other guests at the Instituto Italiano Di Cultura. 5 pm. 50 rue de Varenne 75007 Paris.
CHINESE PEASANTS’ BACKSIDES:
GAO XINGJIAN WINS NOBEL
In October, Gao Xingjian (60), who lives in a suburb of Paris, was awarded the Nobel prize for literature worth £615,000. In the 1960s, Gao was forced by the Chinese regime to burn his manuscripts and was sent to a re-education camp. In 1987, he fled China and is now a French national. His most famous work of fiction is his first novel, Soul Mountain. As a playwright, he is known (mainly in France and Australia) for having mixed European influences (the theatre of the absurd, Brecht) with traditional Chinese drama. Gao has also translated several French surrealist poets, Ionesco and Beckett into Chinese. Some critics accuse him of ripping off Beckett (Bus Stop is about waiting for a bus that never turns up), and his love of young Chinese peasants’ backsides pisses off feminists no end. I’ll drink to that!
Scottish genius Alasdair Gray interviewed in Libération at the end of September. The interview coincided with the publication in France of Lanark: A Life in 4 Books.
D’ici et d’ailleurs is the title Jean-François Sené’s collection of short stories published by Eclats d’encre.
On October 14th, Michel Houellebecq and other French authors read some of their works at the Théâtre National de La Colline. The event was organised by Les Inrockuptibles.
The American publication of Houellebecq’s Elementary Particles is discussed in the excellent Feed magazine: see Jonathan Bing’s “Feed Daily” for October 17th in which he describes the novel as an “operatically cynical, XXX-rated portrait of what Houellebecq sees as the steep decline of French culture since the 1950s.” He explains that “the novel scandalized the world of French letters for its scabrous treatment of the generation of leftists who took to the streets in 1968. . . . For Houellebecq, American-style consumerism has determined modern sexual mores and transformed modern Europe into an atomistic pleasure dome, and the continent is growing stupid as a result. That position isn't likely to earn him many friends among the crowd that gave Jose Bove a hero's welcome at WTO rallies in Seattle last year -- the very demographic that should provide Houellebecq's largest American readership. Running down McDonald's is one thing, but we always thought the sexual revolution came from Europe. And, unlike Houellebecq, we're grateful for it.”
THE NEO-HYDROPATHES ARE BACK!
The latest issue of Hurluberlu, the literary review of the neo-hydropathes group is out now. It includes a list of the young Parisian writers’ current favourite records. This is what they seem to be listening to at the moment:
Looper, The Geometrid (Jeepster, 2000)
Radiohead, Kid A (EMI, 2000)
Primal Scream, XTRMNTR (Sony, 2000)
Echoboy, Volume 2 (Mute, 2000)
Blow Up, Blow Up A-Go-Go!: Dancefloor Classics From the Legendary Blow Up Club (Blow Up Records, 1999)
Adam and the Antz, Dirk Wears White Sox (Do It Records, 1979)
Solex, John Peel Sessions (downloaded from BBC Radio 1 website)
ALEXANDRE DESTOINS (1979-2000) RIP
The late Alexandre Destoins’ anthology of poems, Cette douleur will soon be republished. A farewell concert is being organised by assorted neo-Hydropathes to say goodbye to Alexandre in style. (Alexandre was born in 1979 and not in 1968 as stated last month.)
The literary website auteurs.net has published an interview with Guillaume Dustan (b 1966) in which he talks about the influence of music on his work. He also comments on the transformation of writers into multimedia artists (Houellebecq’s album and concerts, Despentes’ film).
Hache is the name of an interesting online and paper publishing house launched by Jacques Du Pasquier in 1996. Check it out and discover the works of Du Pasquier and Stéphane Ilinski.
Three more conferences at the Sorbonne University which may be of interest to our readers:
November 10th or February 2nd (3pm): Novelist and film director José Giovanni will talk about the transformation of novels into films.
December 16th (amphithéâtre Guizot, 9am-7pm): Conference on James Joyce’s Dubliners and John Huston’s film The Dead.
January 19th 2001 (5.30pm): Vanessa Guignery will talk about Julian Barnes’s Flaubert’s Parrot (“Du psittacisme [don’t ask!] à l’émancipation? L’intertextualité flaubertienne dans Flaubert’s Parrot de Julian Barnes”).
March 16th (salle Louis Liard) and 17th (amphithéâtre Guizot): Conference on genre fiction. The winner of the second Marcel Duhamel prize for the best French translation of a detective novel written in English will be announced.
Contact François Gallix: email@example.com
KUPUS SUPPORTS MILOSEVIC
Serbian neo-Hydropathe Danilo Kupus surprised his friends back in Paris when he sent them an e-mail on October 5th explaining that he now supported Slobodan Milosevic to “piss off the NATO countries and in particular Parisian intellectuals.” His epistle will appear in the next issue of Hurluberlu.
FRANKFURT eBOOK AWARDS
Here are the fiction winners of the first annual Frankfurt eBook Awards:
Best Fiction work originally published in ebook form: The Last Dance by Ed McBain, Morgan's Run by Colleen McCullough and E.M. Schorb’s Paradise Square.
Best Fiction work originally published in print and converted to eBook form: Bee Season by Myla Goldberg, Extension du domaine de la lutte (Whatever in English) by Michel Houellebecq and White Teeth by Zadie Smith.
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