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30 April 2014

An interesting study

Just a heads up that this book has been recently published, and the final section is on Javier Marías.  It is, however, a bit pricey. 

28 April 2014

Best Translated Book Award 2014

Here is the press release from Three Percent:

László Krasznahorkai becomes the first repeat winner, and Elisa Biagini and her three translators take home the poetry award in this year’s Best Translated Book Award.

After much deliberation, Seiobo There Below, Krasznahorkai’s follow-up to last year’s BTBA winner, Satantango, won the 2014 BTBA for Fiction. Translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet and published by New Directions, the jury praised this novel for its breadth, stating “out of a shortlist of ten contenders that did not lack for ambition, Seiobo There Below truly overwhelmed us with its range—this is a book that discusses in minute detail locations from all around the globe, including Japan, Spain, Italy, and Greece, as well as delving into the consciousnesses and practices of individuals from across 2,000 years of human history.”

The jury also named two runners-up: The African Shore by Rodrigo Rey Rosa, translated from the Spanish by Jeffrey Gray and published by Yale University Press; and A True Novel by Minae Mizumura, translated from the Japanese by Juliet Winters Carpenter, and published by Other Press.
On the poetry side of things, this year’s winner is The Guest in the Wood by Elisa Biagini, translated from the Italian by Diana Thow, Sarah Stickney, and Eugene Ostashevsky, and published by Chelsea Editions.

According to the jury, “from the first, these surreal, understated poems create an uncanny physical space that is equally domestic, disturbing, and luminous, their airy structure leaving room for the reader-guest to receive their hospitality and offer something in return (the Italian ospite meaning both ‘guest’ and ‘host’). The poet’s and translators’ forceful language presses us to ‘attend and rediscover’ the quotidian and overdetermined realities of, as Angelina Oberdan explains in her introduction, ‘the self, the other, the body, and the private rituals of our lives.’”

The two poetry runners-up are Claude Royet-Journoud’s Four Elemental Bodies, translated from the French by Keith Waldrop, published by Burning Deck, and Sohrab Sepehri’s The Oasis of Now translated from the Persian by Kazim Ali and Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, and published by BOA Editions.

As in recent years, thanks to’s giving program, $20,000 in cash prizes will be awarded to the winning authors and translators.

Krasznahorkai is the first author—or translator—to win the prize more than once. His novel Satantango, translated by Georges Szirtes and also published by New Directions, won last spring. Seiobo There Below is the sixth of his works to appear in English, the others being Satantango, The Melancholy of Resistance, War and War, Animalinside, and The Bill.

The Guest in the Wood is the first collection of Elisa Biagini’s poetry to appear in English translation, despite her reputation in her home country of Italy. In addition to writing poetry in both Italian and English, Biagini is a translator herself, having translated Alicia Ostriker, Sharon Olds, Lucille Clifton, and others into Italian. She also edited an anthology of contemporary American poetry.

This is the seventh iteration of the Best Translated Book Awards, which launched at the University of Rochester in the winter of 2007. Over the past seven years, the prize has brought attention to hundreds of stellar works of literature in translation published by dozens of presses. Earlier this month, at the London Book Fair, the BTBA received the “International Literary Translation Initiative Prize” as part of the inaugural International Book Industry Excellence Awards.

To celebrate this year’s winners and the award itself, all supporters of international literature are invited to The Brooklyneer (220 West Houston, NYC) from 6pm-9pm on Friday, May 2nd for drinks and appetizers. This event is open to the public.

The nine judges who made up this year’s fiction committee are: George Carroll, West Coast sales rep; Monica Carter, Salonica; Scott Esposito, Conversational Reading and Center for the Art of Translation; Sarah Gerard, Bomb Magazine; Elizabeth Harris, translator; Daniel Medin, American University of Paris, Cahiers Series, Quarterly Conversation, and the White Review; Michael Orthofer, Complete Review; Stephen Sparks, Green Apple Books; and, Jenn Witte, Skylight Books.
And the five poets and translators who made up the poetry committee are: Stefania Heim, Bill Martin, Rebecca McKay, Daniele Pantano, and Anna Rosenwong.

26 April 2014

The worst movie I've seen in quite some time

There are movies that come along every so often and ask the big questions of life. Where do we come from? Where are we going? What is our purpose on this earth? What is love? Is there a god, and if so, why is there evil? There are films that show the inner depths of belief and struggle, of doubt. There are movies that dispense with tired stereotypes and facile phrases in favor of meaty discussion and deeper meaning. “God's Not Dead” is not one of these movies.

The movie follows Josh Wheaton,a freshman at a public university, who does battle in his philosophy class over the existence of god, even though it costs him his relationship with his overbearing girlfriend. He's pitted against his evil atheist professor. Josh wins, the professor is killed by a car driven by the other evil atheist male in the movie (but not before he gets to spit out a blood-filled conversion), and we get to rock out to the Newsboys at the end. Side stories concern a gotcha, leftist, vegetarian journalist who finds out she has cancer, is dumped by her Ayn Rand-like evil boyfriend (the one who runs down the professor at the end of the movie), and finally gets saved by the Newsboys, as well as an Asian kid from China, who gets saved because of Josh, and a young Muslim girl who is eventually beaten by her father because – you guessed it- she has become a Christian. The evil atheist professor's verbally abused girlfriend is a Christian with a dying mom, sort of martyr within a film with a martyr complex. There is a pleasant little subplot of Reverend Dave and his amicable missionary friend from Africa, both of whom just want to go to Disneyland, but God won't let their rental cars start. And, for almost no reason other than marketing, there is a cameo from Willie of Duck Dynasty fame.

Now, usually I would discuss the arguments used in a movie like this, but seeing as how almost everything any character says is a quote and an appeal to authority, I can't find any real arguments to analyze from either side. Instead, I'd like to focus on honesty, stereotypes, and the process of projection in the face of reality. Let's start with projection first.

The premise of the movie is that the evil atheist professor forces his students to sign a pledge that “God is dead.” At a public university. In an introductory philosophy class of all places. I'm not kidding. Now, for anyone who has actually been to and/or worked at a public university, and especially those who have taken philosophy classes, you will recognize this as pure fantasy. Such a pledge under threat of class failure would lead to the professor's termination and open the university to legal action. And it should. In fact, I can think of only one place in America, one type of university, where students are required to sign a pledge over the existence of god and their conduct toward their private beliefs or else be expelled or not admitted: select Private Christian colleges.

Evil Professor Raddison not only wants to make his students sign a pledge, but he wants to, as he states “avoid senseless debate all together to arrive at a consensus,” because apparently the idea of professors following a syllabus as carefully laid out by department protocol isn't as plausible as some idea where the professor teaches according to what the students want to learn. Riiiight. Philosophy courses are as much about vigorous arguments as they are about conclusions, so “reaching a consensus” is not what philosphy classes are about. They have never been about that, and they will never be about that. They are about the exchange of ideas and the intellectual arguments that go into those ideas. But, there is a place where an intellectual consensus is what is desired, where the answer must always be the same: the apologetics departments of select Private Christian colleges.

The arguments throughout the movie are mostly quotations and appeals to authority, both by the professor and the student. This type of argumentation is a fallacy, and is dismissed almost at once in real philosophy courses. You can hold any faith position you want in a philosophy class, and argue, so long as you explore those arguments in the context of philosphy. But, there is one place where this type of reasoning, appeals to authority, holds sway, where you could replace the names of Sartre and Russell on the evil professor's board with those of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John: can you guess it.

In the cases above, and many more, the movie is a projection of the world in which fundamentalist Christians live, not the world which is supposed to be portrayed by the movie.

And now we come to the stereotypes. Here's a list

Good looking Christian white kid as hero: Yes
Attractive but overbearing girfriend: Yes
Random black kid who uses the word “dawg” and is obviously 'street”: check
Female gotcha reporter: check
Who is a leftist vegetarian: check
Ayn Rand: see: Dean Cain
Richard Dawkins: See: Kevin Sorbo
Good hearted but overwhelmed middle-class pastor: check
His missionary friend, from Africa, and thus simple and wise: check
Chinese kid who morphs into an awkward sidekick and is comic relief: check
and is really good in math:  check
and his commie dad back in China who fears Big Brother: check
abusive male Muslim: check
terrified Muslim daughter: check
sneaky Muslim boy: check
plainspeaking duck-huntin' honest as the day is long folks: check
Is every non-Christian fantastically evil: check
Is every Christian fantastically good: check
Do the non-believers get what is coming to them in the form of death: check
Are the leaders male: yep
Are the females only strengthened in their faith after getting advice from a male: yep
Or else are they seen as controlling or vindictive if they go agains a male character: yep
Are university professors all portrayed as godless wine snobs who constantly berate their students as they listen to classical music: indeed.

And on and on.

All of this plays into the idea of honesty. For a group who constantly espouse the desire to know and spread the truth, the makers of this film show a remarkable amount of dishonesty in the way in which they portray people of other faiths or no faith, in the actual workings of public universities, in physics, where they either quote-mine or distort arguments, and in philosophy, where they ignore the actual nature of the subject at hand.

This dishonesty is extended to the court cases listed at the end of the movie and cited as “inspiration.” While a few are actually very compelling cases in which a student's rights have been trod upon, the majority of them involve cases where campus orginizations have failed to follow the guidelines of the university in the policies of discrimination or in where and when they can gather. In other words, they have to do with the Christian organization being given or not given the ability to deny membership to gays, Jews, Muslims, or other outsiders to their faith. These are not cases of persecution of Christians denied the right to believe, but are cases of Christians fighting to deny the right of membership to others. While interesting, they have absolutely nothing to do with the content of the film under review.

In short, “God's Not Dead” is an internet meme come to life, one in which you can almost here at the end a sactimonious voice boom: “and that boy was Albert Einsten.” The film is as detrimental to believers as it is to people of other faiths or no faiths at all. My Christian friends deserve better. Go see Ben Hur again.

21 April 2014

The salt spray

The salt spray bit
the inside of my nose,
so that I tasted the sea
without tasting the sea

and the gulls chipped away
at the bloodied midday sun
as they carved up the sky

I watched a little boy
in a big checked blue hat
build a shabby sandcastle
and then observe in shock as
the rising tide destroyed it

He was learning about fate,
and that idea
filled me with joy,

for I was no longer alone
on the distant shore.

17 April 2014


The writer and Nobelist Gabriel García Márquez has died today.  He was 87.

15 April 2014

Child's play

One of these lads has grown up to be my perennial pick for the Noble Prize in Literature.  Can you guess which one?

10 April 2014

The rupture of the dome of the sky

Your ripped red dress         falling on the ground
and your victorious smile   at my weakness.

Did you think that              you could escape
my hands, my looks           my crumbling desire

       at every dark and throbbing hour
       of our first last love,

       the ever-flowing fountain
       of first blood and last pulses...

       Did you think you could escape
       the rupture in the dome of the sky?

R. R. Shea

04 April 2014

Dyer conditions

A little thought from Geoff Dyer:

I find it increasingly difficult to read. This year I read fewer books than last year; last year I read fewer than the year before; the year before I read fewer than the year before that. The phenomenon of writer’s block is well known, but what I am suffering from is reader’s block. The condition is creeping rather than chronic, manifesting itself in different ways in different circumstances. On a trip to the Bahamas recently I regularly stopped myself reading because, whereas I could read a book anywhere, this was the only time I was likely to see sea so turquoise, sand so pink. Somewhat grandly, I call this the Mir syndrome, after the cosmonaut who said that he didn’t read a page of the book he’d taken to the space station because his spare moments were better spent gazing out of the window. Sometimes I’m too lazy to read, preferring to watch television; more often I am too conscientious to read. Reading has never felt like work in the way that writing has, and so, if I feel I should be working, I feel I should be writing. Theoretically, if I am not writing then I am free to read but, actually, I always feel vaguely guilty, and so, instead of writing (working) or reading (relaxing), I do neither: I potter around, rearranging my books, clearing up. Basically I do nothing—until it’s time to catch a train, whereupon, like a busy commuter nibbling away at War and Peace in twenty-minute snatches, I plunge into a book, thinking, At last I’ve got a chance to read. In no time, though, I’m like Pessoa in The Book of Disquiet, “torn, in a futile anguished fashion, between my disinterest in the landscape and my disinterest in the book which could conceivably distract me.”
Back home there are plenty of books that I’ve not read and yet, gazing blankly at my shelves, all I can think is, There’s nothing left to read. Hoping to lance the boil, to get to the heart of the matter in the course of a transatlantic flight, I bought—but couldn’t face reading—Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader and Alberto Manguel’s A History of Reading. Having resigned myself to not reading them (or any of the other books I’d bought for the flight), I scavenged around for anything to read: the in-flight magazine, the duty-free catalog, the emergency evacuation procedure. And yet, at the same time that I am ready to read scraps like this, I am an overdiscriminating reader. I am always not reading something in the name of something else. The opportunity cost of reading a given book is always too great. Some books, obviously, are a waste of one’s eyes. To feel this about airport blockbusters is perfectly normal, but I feel it is beneath me to read Jeanette Winterson, for example, or Hanif Kureishi. In fact, most so-called quality fiction that is story-driven seems a waste of time (time that, by the way, I have in abundance). This would be fine if I could transpose a reluctance to read James Hawes into a willingness to read Henry James, but I am unable to get beyond the first five paragraphs (i.e., four sentences) of The Golden Bowl.
The strange thing about this is that at twenty I imagined I would spend my middle age reading books that I didn’t have the patience to read when I was young. But now, at forty-one, I don’t even have the patience to read the books I read when I was twenty. At that age I plowed through everything in the Arnoldian belief that each volume somehow nudged me imperceptibly closer to the sweetness and light. I read War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Ulysses, Moby Dick. I got through The Idiot even though I hated practically every page of it. I didn’t read The Brothers Karamazov: I’ll leave it till I’m older, I thought—and now that I am older I wish I’d read it when I was younger, when I was still capable of doing so.
Geoff Dyer, “Reader’s Block,” from Otherwise Known as the Human Condition. Copyright © 2011 by Geoff Dyer.

03 April 2014

Looking out the window

Looking out the window
as the last snow melts
and the newly born winds
come to erase forever
the dark nights of the soul.

I turn away,
back to you
and to the fire
and the aching purity
of these memories...

Those whispered promises?
The white surrender flags,
like the fluttering clouds
scattered by April winds
into oblivion,

into new seasons,
and the end
of seasons, of pledges,
of desires. I turn back,
looking out the window.

R. R. Shea