by Roberto Bolaño
New Directions, 2012
96 pages / $9.95 buy from Amazon
1. I wouldn’t say that this is the big bang of Bolaño’s fictional universe. I would say that it’s a baby fictional universe growing in the black hole of another baby fictional universe growing in the black hole of another baby fictional universe growing in the black hole.
2. This book has a lot of quotations without identified speakers. Without particularized mouths. As in how do we know who’s speaking or what it means to claim possession of a speech act. As in how do we know what’s Tupac and what’s a hologram of Tupac.
3. It’s like if I were to say to my computer, “say banana” and it said “banana,” and if this went on for a while with me saying words and my computer repeating them, until eventually I wrote down only my computer’s part of the exchange and made a novella out of it. Except that instead of saying banana I would say things like
“ The evening light dismantles our sense of the wind.”
4. Machines that move you. People in cars and trains, racing across highways and fields, going nowhere fast, towards a multiplicity of voided horizons.
5. Once I had a dream that was also a film I was directing where the main character kept experiencing acute disassociation from her body every time she got on an airplane or into a car, etc, and in the dream I (as the director and actress of the film) kept feeling the words “I’m not here.” I wish I could describe the torture of that feeling besides just calling it singular and unforgettable. Similar to the feeling of watching the movie Inception in the middle seat of an airplane flying over the ocean. Also, the feeling of reading this book, in certain moments.
6. There’s someone writing a story, the one you’re reading, and as the words are being written they’re simultaneously being picked up and examined by the characters in the story, or they’re splattering onto the car windshield of the man driving across the desert, who every few minutes catches himself looking down at his wrist despite the fact that he’s never worn a watch, not once in his life. i.e. “The word ‘teeth’ slid across the glass, many times.” Its pretty much how I feel about being human and having to die- like I have the vaguest awareness of myself as a decaying thing, but only enough to be a minor irritation to whomever(s) or whatever(s) may or may not have put me here.
7. One really great thing is how many of the short, one page “chapters” are actually scenes from the avant-garde porn film Bolaño wanted to make but never did. Or maybe he wanted someone else to read the book and do it for him. He even gave clues as to what he imagined the premiere would look like: a hunchback in the forest watching while someone ties a sheet to a pine tree with a thick piece of yellow cord and then says, smiling, “I’m going to show a film.”
8. This is one of those literary works that make me wish I’d studied quantum physics as a kid instead of making timelines.
9. At one point someone diagrams the changes in the affective landscape of a dream using straight-wavy-jagged line patterns and follows that with “nnnnnnnn” repeated, which is a really estranging onomatopoeia because I don’t seem to belong to the sound-world it’s referencing.
10. There’s a character who’s just called “the hunchback.” I’m not going to be corny and say that this was my favorite character in the book, except that I’m not sure there are any other characters. READ MORE >
April 4th, 2013 / 5:00 pm
For its 65th anniversary, New Directions has just released an expanded edition of Raymond Queneau’s classic Oulipean text, Exercises in Style, featuring 25 previously untranslated exercises by Queneau, as well as new exercises by Jesse Ball, Blake Butler, Amelia Gray, Shane Jones, Jonathan Lethem, Ben Marcus, Harry Mathews, Lynne Tillman, Frederic Tuten, and Enrique Vila-Matas. If you’ve never experienced Queneau’s encyclopedia of ways to write the same scene over and over, each time new, there’s never been a better time.
On Feb 21st, at 8:00pm, there will be a launch party for the book in Brooklyn, info here.
Below, we’re happy to feature a few of the new exercises from the book.
COQ-TALE (first published in Arts, November 1954)
Ever since the bistros got closed down, we just have to make do with what we have. That’s why, the other day, I took a pub bus, at cocktail hour, on the N.R.F. line. No point in telling you that I had a terribly hard time getting in. I even had a permit, but IT WASN’T ENOUGH. It was also necessary to have an INVITATION. An invitation. They are doing pretty well, the R.A.T.P. But I managed. I yelled, “Coming through! I’m an Éditions Julliard author,” and there I was inside the pub bus. I headed straight for the buffet, but there was no way to get near it. In front of me, a young man with a long neck who hadn’t removed the Tyrolean hat with a plait around it that he wore – a lout, a boor, a caveman, obviously – seemed set on gobbling down every last crumb that was before him. But I was thirsty. So I whispered in his ear, “You know, back on the platform, Gaston Gallimard is signing contracts.” And off he ran, the sucker.
An hour later, I see him in front of the Gare Saint-Bottin, in the midst of devouring the buttons of his overcoat, which he had swapped for some
Translated by Chris Clarke
January 31st, 2013 / 2:25 pm
Journey to the End of the Night
by Louis-Ferdinand Céline
New Directions, 2006
464 pages / $17.95 buy from New Directions
1. Will Self compared Joyce’s life before Ulysses to Céline’s experience in the war before writing Journey, in his exquisite discussion of the book upon some anniversary publication in The New York Times. I think I read that review about halfway through the novel and it complimented the thing quite well, gave a necessary contemporary slant on the whole thing.
2. Though remembered—much like Knut Hamsun—for his anti-Semitism (later in life) before his talents as an author after so many years gone by, a return to Céline and this novel in particular has occurred among authors and intellectuals almost every decade since its publication in 1932.
3. A new sort of manic transcription of the author’s experiences through his protagonist Ferdinand Bardamu jettisons the reader from war-torn France into the jungles of colonial Africa (my absolute favorite portion of any picaresque I’ve ever read) to post WWI America and back to France without missing a beat and yet the effect is akin to a hammer pounding against your chest.
4. I’ve read the book on three occasions, the last of which I suppose I felt ready enough and barreled through it in a couple of days and felt the aforementioned chest pounding that I’ve never experienced reading another book.
5. Its second translator, Ralph Manheim, also translated Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
6. Every time I remember that this is Céline’s first novel a little part of me that used to believe in writing as a career dies, then runs itself over in some hellish ghost tank, and dies again.
7. Famous for his use of three dots (“…”) in the sprawling paragraphs of his books, Céline—to me—has created a new and perfectly original way of de-Salinger-izing your first bildungsroman and turning it into a strange fucked up masterpiece.
8. Here we have the antihero, and the antihero’s doppelganger (in so many words) Robinson, who comes out of nowhere after any number of times to keep the protagonist company while he evades work, wanders around like a lunatic, and speculates about the desperate stupidity of mankind.
9. Bardamu’s a fan of kids, however; this being one of the few hopeful characteristics of the man. He believes in them, the promise of a good future, that maybe—just maybe—they won’t wind up shit like every adult he sees around.
10. The simplest characterization of this book is to say that it’s a picaresque, which is valid, but feels like the largest slight inflicted upon a great work of literature since everyone said all that shit that one time about your favorite whoever the hell; so I don’t want to do that. I want to call it a bible for people with less-than-hope but more-than-pettiness who hope to suck the congealed blood from the wounds of a better life forgone in the name of money, or democracy, or the nuclear family; and those who read it needing that companionship, needing that sense that all is not lost just yet, you’ll find it here. READ MORE >
November 1st, 2012 / 12:09 pm
The Secret of Evil
by Roberto Bolaño
New Directions, 2012
192 pages / $22.95 buy from Powell’s
We now have a new book (in English) of Bolaño’s fiction, presumably one of his last (FSG is releasing the unfinished Woes of the True Policeman later this year, an extension of the Amalfitano section in 2666). The Secret of Evil is a collection of Bolaño’s fiction found on his computer after his death, comprised of many pieces that appear unfinished. As Ignacio Echevarría’s introduction notes, and as readers will already be familiar, Bolaño’s texts can tend toward inconclusiveness. The typical Bolaño ending culminates in anti-climax, things sort of petering out, trailing off indiscriminately, people boarding planes, looking down desolate streets, etc. So what’s interesting in these pieces is figuring out which are truly finished and which are still works in progress. READ MORE >
June 26th, 2012 / 12:06 pm
by Roberto Bolaño
New Directions, 2011
352 pages / $24.95 Buy from Powell’s
“Reading, said Gil de Biedma, is more natural than writing. I would add (redundancy aside) that it’s also much healthier, no matter what ophthalmologists say. In fact, literature is a long struggle from redundancy to redundancy, until the final redundancy.”
- Roberto Bolaño
September 6th, 2011 / 12:30 pm
Robert Walser: The Microscripts, with Susan Bernofsky and Rivka Galchen
Saturday, May 22, 6 p.m.
177 Livingston (downtown Brooklyn)
$3 donation [unofficial rebate: free book from Walser & Co. if you go and comment below]
Walser biographer and translator [and writer and superhero] Susan Bernofsky teams up with writer Rivka Galchen (Atmospheric Disturbances [and, in the May Harper's, "From the pencil zone: Robert Walser's masterworklets" (subscribe already]) to introduce stories from and about Walser’s enigmatic microscripts, late texts written on scraps of paper in a millimeter-scale hand, which will be published on May 25 by New Directions and Christine Burgin Gallery.
Stories, a trivia quiz with prizes [!], larger-than-life secret manuscript pictures [!!], and a German penmanship lesson [!!!].
Advance copies of Microscripts [hands up the most beautiful $25 book ever published: heavy paper, full color, plus they actually glued a live microscript to the front cover, tucked elegantly beneath the decoy jacket like so: READ MORE >