A Year End Post of Sorts

Mircea Cărtărescu’s Nostalgia is a world in miniature, and also, a people. In fervent minds such as Maria Gabriela Llansol’s and his, ideas come together from will to achievement to produce an extraordinarily rich vision, a higher synthesis in which contrasting ideas come forth to forge an incomparable unity. Like every brilliant work, Nostalgia and Llansol’s Geography of Rebels trilogy need nothing. The tone and flavour of their work makes allusions to art that has gone before, but they are uniquely their own. Made of nothing but words they transmit  a vital atmosphere that seems freshly formed from nothing.

Of this year’s reading, a good year in which I’ve read several fine works that will stay with me for a long time, it is these two writers that give me both the passionate excitement and the contemplative rapture I find only from literature. Both stem the flow of time and leave me refreshed to perceive the world with altered lens.

I am reading Nostalgia again, so I shall begin the new years’s reading as I end this one. The list below summarises the books that stayed with me from this year’s solitary and mediative pursuit of reading literature. In Jon Fosse I think I may also have found another literary companion to accompany me through the dark forest of the next decade. I’ve long awaited a translation of Bazlen’s Notes and it was all I hoped it would be.

Fanny Howe, The Wedding Dress
Hermann Broch, The Sleepwalkers (t. Willa and Edwin Muir)
Reading and re-reading Maria Gabriela Llansol’s trilogy (t. Audrey Young)
Ricardo Piglia, The Diaries of Emilio Renzi: Formative Years (t. Robert Croll)
Reading Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle end to end (t. Don Bartlett)
Moyra Davey, Moyra Davey
Roberto Bazlen, Notes Without a Text (t. Alex Andriesse)
Thomas Bernhard, The Loser (t. Jack Dawson)
Jon Fosse, An Angel Walks Through the Stage and Other Essays (t. May-Brit Akerholt)
Mircea Cărtărescu, Nostalgia (t. Julian Semilian)

A special thanks to Andrei, keeper of The Untranslated blog. It is through him that I discovered both Llansol and Cărtărescu and, of course, to the bold translators and publishers that interpret these remarkable texts into the English language.

Care of the Self

Quote

‘Raulff: As I understand it, almost every philosopher has had a vision of the good and the right or of a philosophical life as well. What does yours look like?

Agamben: The idea that one should make his life a work of art is attributed mostly today to Foucault and to his idea of the care of the self. Pierre Hadot, the great historian of ancient philosophy, reproached Foucault that the care of the self of the ancient philosophers did not mean the construction of life as a work of art, but on the contrary a sort of dispossession of the self. What Hadot could not understand is that for Foucault, the two things coincide. You must remember Foucault’s criticism of the notion of author, his radical dismissal of authorship. In this sense, a philosophical life, a good and beautiful life, is something else: when your life becomes a work of art, you are not the cause of it. I mean that at this point you feel your own life and yourself as something “thought,” but the subject, the author, is no longer there. The construction of life coincides with what Foucault referred to as “se deprendre de soi.” And this is also Nietzsche’s idea of a work of art without the artist.’

From this 2004 interview.

Inoperativity as the Real Truth

‘While for the ancients it was labour—negotium—that was defined negatively with respect to the contemplative life—otium—moderns seem unable to conceive of contemplation, inoperativity, and feast otherwise than as rest or negation of labour.’

Giorgio Agamben, Creation and Anarchy (trans. Adam Kotsko)

Philosophy and Potentiality

Quote

‘After many years spent reading, writing, and studying, it happens at times that we understand what is our special way—if there is one—of proceeding in thought and research. In my case, it is a matter of perceiving what Feuerbach called the “capacity for development” contained in the works of the authors I love. The genuinely philosophical element contained in a work—be it an artistic, scientific, or theoretical work—is its capacity to be developed, something that has remained—or has willingly been left—unspoken and that needs to be found and seized. Why does the search for the elements susceptible to being developed fascinate me? Because if we follow this methodological principle all the way, we inevitably end up at a point where it is not possible to distinguish between what is ours and what belongs to the author are reading. Reaching this impersonal zone of indifference in which every proper name, very copyright. and every claim to originality fade was, fills me with joy.’

Agamben’s writing is a voyage. There are passages like the one above that stop me reading any further, for the need to admire and reflect at length. This is from Adam Kotsko’s translation of Creation and Anarchy, lectures held at the Mendrisio Academy of Architecture.

Literary Yearnings

On shelves in various rooms of my home are over a thousand books I’ve yet to read. I want to read them all of course. I want also to read the catalogues from the art exhibitions I visit, and the programmes from my regular opera attendances. Then there’s the journals I can’t do without: The White Review, PN Review and The Review of Contemporary Fiction, and my weekly TLS, which these days invariably comes late, three or four at the time. I skim the FT daily on my iPad, and the headlines from the Guardian, Daily Mail, New York Times and Washington Post.

In an average year I read around sixty-five books, so in the event of house arrest for unforgivable literary consumerism, I have sufficient reading material for at least fifteen years, slightly less perhaps if I can resist the allure of social media. On the other hand, I’ve decided to spend more time on developing my inept film literacy, so I could possibly stretch existing supplies out for up to twenty years, especially if I make time for those art catalogues and opera programmes.

Surrounded by unread books, unwatched films, with the treasures of London’s galleries within fifteen minutes of my office, why is it that the writers I most want to read are not those on my shelves, but those effectively unattainable because they are not translated into a language I can read?

One of this year’s most thrilling moments was the delivery of Roberto Bazlen’s Notes Without a Text. I’ve been translating fragments for at least a decade from the Biblioteca Adelphi edition. More recently I’ve been possessed by Maria Gabriela Llansol’s work since reading and rereading the Geography of Rebels trilogy. Translating from Portuguese is enjoyably difficult but glacially slow work.

This week I’ve been reading Alejandro Zambra’s Not to Read. I am drawn to Zambra’s voice, particularly his essays, translated by Megan McDowell; he writes with precision and extreme generosity. This book gathers essays written for the culture section of a Chilean newspaper. He writes about writing, books he has read, and has fuelled a few more literary yearnings for the difficult to obtain novels of Josefina Vicens and the journals of Paul Léautaud and Raúl Ruiz.