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Today in International Lit

By David Varno

Why we Read Bolaño

Horacio Castellanos Moya's, "Bolaño Inc." for the November Guernica, is a further effort to debunk our romanticized construction of the decade's literary star. Moya is one of our authors, so we have to forgive him if he overlooked some of the more thoughtful criticism to make his point.

The argument about the tokenizing of one author to represent Latin American literature for Northern readers is important, and the tendency of reading these books to confirm stereotypes is probably a real danger. Still, I'm sure most of the Bolaño's loyal readers would scoff just as much as Moya at the Paste headline: “Meet the Kurt Cobain of Latin American literature." Perhaps it's time to forget the hype, and try to remember why we started reading Bolaño in the first place. For many, there was an instant connection with a voice that was truly international; a "cataclysmic event," as Francine Prose put it in 2006.


Celan and Language

A new translation of Jean Daive's "Under the Dome: Walks with Paul Celan," by Rosmarie Waldrop, has inspired a wonderful essay by John Steen on Celan's unique perspective on the power of poetry for the Oxonian Review.

The book was written by Daive in mourning of Celan's 1970 suicide, and originally published in 1996. Steen compares the project to Mallarmé's attempt, following his son's death, to compose a poetic tomb--an analogy that shows how Daive honored Celan's own mission. Steen reproduced Celan's response to Adorno's pronouncement, “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric”:

It, the language, remained, not lost, yet in spite of everything. But it had to pass through its own answerlessness, pass through frightful muting, pass through the thousand darknesses of deathbringing speech. It passed through and gave back no words for that which happened; yet it passed through this happening. Passed through and could come to light again, “enriched” by all this. (Tr. John Felstiner)

By continuing to write in German, Celan "identified language as the sole survivor of the Nazi era."


Keret as Paul Auster?

On a lighter note, here's a brief clip from the Daily Beast of a backstage interview between Etger Keret and Ira Glass, preceding their talk at the NYPL last week. The opening is hilarious, with Keret reflecting on an author photo in which he strove to resemble Paul Auster and came out looking like a German porn star, sans mustache.


Event Reminder

The Wall in my Head Reading and Q&A
Idlewild Books, 12 W. 19th Street, New York, NY
November 10, 2009 7 p.m.

Words without Borders will host a short reading followed by a discussion and Q&A, featuring a group of writers from its new anthology The Wall in My Head and from its November issue on German writing from the years after 1989. The readers will include Dorota Maslowska (Poland), the author of Snow White and Russian Red, and winner of the Nike prize; Dan Sociu(Romania), the author of Urbancholia; and Kathrin Aehnlich (Germany), author of Alle Sterben, auch Die Loeffelstoere. The event will be moderated by Eliot Borenstein, Chair of the Department of Russian and Slavic Studies at New York University, and the author of Overkill: Sex and Violence in Contemporary Russian Popular Culture. The panelists will discuss their contributions to the WWB anthology and issue, the relevance of the events of 1989 to today’s world, the role of literature and culture in bringing down the Iron Curtain, and what the fall of the wall has meant for writers in the former Eastern Bloc.

This event is cosponsored by Open Letter Books, the Polish Cultural Institute in New York, the Romanian Cultural Institute, the German Book Office, and the Goethe-Institut.

Published Nov 11, 2009   Copyright 2009 David Varno

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