Let Me Build You
Funnily enough, I told a friend of mine the other day (who will hopefully contribute something here very soon) that this blog wasn’t meant to be a link dump; that is, I wanted everything to be original content. But I’ve read enough interesting stuff recently that I feel I ought to share—partly because I don’t update the books/film section enough and because, like the album reviews, it’ll give me a chance to jot down some thoughts on things that piqued my interest and allow me to revisit them and react to those thoughts at a later date. So here we go.
I couldn’t be more excited about the reissuing of William H. Gass’s In the Heart of the Heart of the Country. When I was at university I had to do an inter-library loan in order to get my hands on a copy, and I urgently wanted to do so after a curious and—until recently—little-examined novella entitled ‘The Pederson Kid.’ John Gardner discussed it in his guidebook The Art of Fiction, describing it as “a more or less perfect example of the form.” And he’s right. There’s a tendency in modern, short fiction (at least in America) of jumping around in time, be it in flashbacks or in moving forward weeks or months ahead, but ‘The Pederson Kid’ is virtually real-time save for a minor flashback towards the beginning. It’s an enigmatic little thing, more style than substance, or at least it appears to be that way. In two wonderful essays I discovered a while back—Nick Ripatrazone’s ‘Let Me Make a Snowman’ and Ted Morrisey’s ‘The Trauma of Alcohol Abuse’—both writers examine some of the unexplored elements of Gass’s masterpiece.
I recently revisited Kafka’s Complete Stories, flipping through the labyrinthine short fiction section, which is crowded with dozens of extremely brief tales, parables, and allegories. I once again came across ‘A Little Fable,’ which features a mouse lamenting the journey of his life before an ironic twist, all in three sentences. I searched online for a better explanation of the fable, one that David Foster Wallace used to begin his essay ‘A Few Remarks on Kafka.’ Naturally, Wallace doesn’t really give much of an explanation as to what the fable’s about, just kind of beating around the bush, hinting and nudging as if we should already know. Interestingly, though, I found this blog post ripping the Muirs’ translation a new one—a translating team Wallace approves of heartily. In it, the author shows how the Muirs’ poor choice in words alters the meaning of the fable considerably, a mistake considering the commentary I’ve read concerning translations of Kafka’s work suggests it is anything but mercurial. It leaves me to wonder just how accurate anything else I’ve read by the Muirs’ is reliable, and how much their translations altered my reading experience,
On a similar note, Rivka Galchen attempts to explain, in a review about Reiner Stach’s extensive Kafka biography, just what kind of funny Kafka is, since Wallace once again doesn’t really explain that. Perhaps the dark comedy (which feels horribly wrong to use) in his work stems from this real life experience, surely reminiscent of The Castle: “Here he is reading a letter from the tax office asking about capital contributions to the First Prague Asbestos Works, here he is writing back explaining that the factory had ceased to exist five years earlier, and here he is receiving another letter asking what his reply meant as no record could be found of the referenced original letter, and then here he is a few months later receiving a third letter threatening him with charges and a fine if he persists in not accounting for the capital accumulation on the First Prague Asbestos Works.”
Michel Houellebecq’s new novel Soumission (Submission) has caused quite a stir in France, if not the entire Western literary world. Set in 2022, a Muslim candidate named Mohammed Ben Abbes wins the election, and the country is forever changed. I’ve never read any of Houellebecq’s work, although what I understand is that he’s rather rightwing and usually dismissed save for one of his more recent books.The Paris Review, true to form, is a bit aggressive in its questioning, something I like and admire about the magazine. A nice exchange opens up between interviewer and interviewee, and I’ll let you decide how well Houellebecq holds up in defense of his controversial novel. Maybe I’ll read it before I wait to judge, but I’ll go ahead and say he’s got some kooky ideas as to what racism is, and I find it confusing that he thinks anti-Semitism and racism don’t often go hand-in-hand.