Gert Jonke’s Awakening to the Great Sleep War

My review of the Austrian experimental writer and all around polymath Gert Jonke is viewable now at Asymptote Journal blog. For those interested in literature in general and translated literature in particular, Asymptote is wonderful, new-ish online magazine which has already racked up an impressive list of contributors, César Aira, Herta Müller, László Krasznahorkai among many others.


A World Collapsing Endlessly (Beckett)

Nebensonne“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

I listen and the voice is of a world collapsing endlessly, a frozen world, under a faint untroubled sky, enough to see by, yes, and frozen too. And I hear it murmur that all wilts and yields, as if loaded down, but here there are no loads, and the ground too, unfit for loads, and the light too, down towards an end it seems can never come. For what possible end to these wastes where true light never was, nor any upright thing, nor any true foundation, but only these leaning things, forever lapsing and crumbling away, beneath a sky without memory of morning or hope of night. These things, what things, come from where, made of what? And it says that here nothing stirs, has ever stirred, will ever stir, except myself, who do not sir either, when I am there, but see and am seen.

From Molloy by Samuel Beckett

How does it feel for native English speakers that everybody in the world uses their language?

Answer by Matthew Spencer:

On a practical basis, it makes travel and expat life a lot easier. Of course, not everyone can speak the language. But in Europe, it’s rare to meet people without at least some knowledge of English. Running errands, speaking with colleagues, dealing with bureaucracy, all of those things come easier.

As for its worldwide adoption, I don’t feel any particular pride in that. Nowadays, English is often used outside of any specific Anglo-American context. Poles talking to Hungarians, Italians talking to Chinese, that kind of thing. It has little to do with any kind of broad acceptance of American or British culture.

There are downsides to global English adoption. The hardest for me is that I love learning other languages and would prefer the opportunity to speak them over a German, Swede, or Korean, for example, switching to English.

Lack of English can make for a more rich traveling experience. French and Italians have a reputation for cultural chauvinism, but I enjoy how many of them are reluctant to converse in English. They usually appreciate my trying to speak their language and it gives positive reinforcement for learning it.

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OOIOO Returns with Gamel

OOIOO has just released Gamel, the 7th album by this longstanding Japanese art rock band. As the title suggests, Indonesian music provided much of the inspiration for this recent set of songs. You can hear the resonant tones of Gamelan bells throughout “Atatawa” and “Jesso Testa”

Back in 2009, I reviewed their last album Amorica Hewa, another stellar collection of songs informed by a wide variety of Asian and African folk music styles.

Right now, the band is in the midst of a small US-Canadian tour. Those in the Northeast and Midwest should make the effort to see them. OOIOO ranks among the most captivating and technically proficient live acts ever I’ve seen. They possess an uncanny ability to translate the intricate, layered recorded versions of their songs onto the stage with astonishing fidelity.

Band leader Yoshimi P-We began her career as a drummer for Boredoms in the 1980s. Her skills as a percussionist and trumpet player led that band’s transition from noise rock provocateurs to their current configuration as a kind of transcendental drum-circle art happening.

Most Americans know of her as the inspiration behind the Flaming Lips song and album, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots—not a bad example of one artist tipping their hat to another, but one since become a cliché in reviews of her work with Boredoms, OOIOO and many others.

A current interview with Yoshimi can be read at Impose Magazine

Rodeo novel fiction?

Answer by Matthew Spencer:

Winterkill by Craig Leslie. The protagonist is Danny Kachiah, a Nez Perce rodeo clown living on a reservation in the Pacific Northwest. The story follows Danny as he confronts a declining career and family traumas after taking custody young son, whose mother has died in a car accent.

To be honest, I don’t remember much about the book. Like a lot of students growing up in Oregon and Washington during the 90s and  2000s, I read it as part of the English curriculum in high school. From what I recall, the prose was well crafted but the pacing slow. The flashbacks felt contrived.

But if you’re reading strictly for the subject matter, you should give Winterkill a try. The bits about rodeo life struck me as being quite realistic, and they were by far the most interesting sections of the novel.

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Nocturnal Travels (Proust)

Moonrise by Stanislaw Maslowski,1884

A sleeping man holds in a circle around him the sequence of the hours, the order of the years and worlds. He consults them instinctively as he wakes and reads in a  second the point of the earth he occupies, the time that has elapsed before his waking; but their ranks can be mixed up, broken. If toward morning, after a bout of insomnia, sleep overcomes him as he is reading, in a position quite different from the one in which he usually sleeps, his raised arm alone is enough to stop the sun and make it retreat, and, in the first minute of his waking, he will no longer know what time it is, he will think he has only just gone to bed. If he dozes off in a position still more displaced and divergent, after dinner sitting in an armchair for instance, then the magic armchair will send him traveling at top speed through time and space, and, at the moment of opening his eyelids, he will believe he went to bed several months earlier in another country.

From Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust (trans Lydia Davis)

What are the differences between historical fiction and realistic fiction?

Answer by Matthew Spencer:

Realistic fiction portrays fictional events and characters that can plausibly occur within a commonly accepted model of objective reality. Literary critics, especially of the postmodern variety, will argue whether it is possible to represent reality. But that’s a whole other argument,

Historical fiction is closely related to realistic fiction in that the past needs to be plausibly if not accurately represented, especially if the story is not only set in a historical period but the characters and events within that story have analogs within the actual historical record. In other words,  Winston Churchill the character needs to resemble Winston Churchill the man, or at least one of many different accounts of Winston Churchill. Even if a writer is positing an alternate history, those counter-historical events still need to have origins within some commonly accepted view of the past.

So the two categories are not mutually exclusive. Much realistic fiction, including works by classic 19th Century realist authors such as Tolstoy or Balzac, could be considered historical, since they were set in a time period preceding their composition. But neither are the two categories wholly inclusive. Some works of historical fiction, Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy immediately comes to mind, have elements of the fantastic that place those works outside realistic narrative strictly speaking, even though actual historic events and people are represented within them.

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