George Steiner on Thomas Bernhard

Writer and critic reflects on the writings of the Austrian novelist
Thomas Bernhard
Thomas Bernhard
I've been spending my spare time poring over a new collection of George Steiner's articles from the New Yorker magazine. It's a fascinating selection that includes shrewd reflections on an impressive range of writers and thinkers. Among them are essays on Graham Greene, George Orwell, Jorge Luis Borges and Samuel Beckett. But for now, Steiner's remarks on the work of Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard are catching my eye. Steiner was one of the first critics writing in America to recognize the significance of Bernhard's work, and his 1986 essay for the New Yorker offers an insightful and enthusiastic appraisal:
[Thomas] Bernhard is principally a writer of fiction - of novels, short stories, and radio plays. Prolific and uneven, he is at his best the foremost craftsman of German prose after Kafka and Musil. Amras (not yet translated into English); The Lime Works, translated by Sophie Wilkins (and recently reissued by the University of Chicago Press, which has also brought out two other Bernhard novels); the still untranslated Frost created a landscape of anguish as circumstantial, as closely imagined, as any in modern literature. The black woods, the rushing but often polluted torrents, the sodden, malignant hamlets of Carinthia - the secretive region of Austria in which Bernhard leads his wholly private life - were transmuted into the locale of a small-time inferno. Here human ignorance, archaic detestations, sexual brutality, and social pretense flourish like adders. Uncannily, Bernhard went on to extend this nocturnal, coldly hysterical vision into the high reaches of modern culture. His novel on Wittgenstein, Correction (available in a Vintage paperback), is one of the towering achievements of postwar literature. His Der Untergeher (untranslated), a fiction centered on the mystique and genius of Glenn Gould, searches out the manic powers of music and the enigma of a talent for supreme execution. Musicology, erotic obsession, and the keynote of self-contempt distinctive of Bernhard give compelling strength to the novel Concrete (another of the University of Chicago volumes). Between these peaks lie too many fictions and scripts imitative of themselves, automatically black. Yet even where Thomas Bernhard is less than himself the style is unmistakable. Heir to the marmoreal purity of Kleist's narrative prose and to the vibrancy of terror and surrealism in Kafka, Bernhard has made of the short sentence, of an impersonal, seemingly officious syntax, and of the stripping of individual words to their radical bones an instrument wholly fitted to its excoriating purpose. The early novels of Beckett will give the English reader some approximation of Bernhard's technique. But even in the most desolate of Beckett there is laughter.

Born in 1931, Bernhard spent his childhood and adolescence in pre-Nazi and Nazi Austria. The ugliness, the strident mendacity of that experience have marked his entire vision. From 1975 to 1982, Bernhard published five studies in autobiography. They span the period from his birth to his twentieth year. Now assembled into a continuous sequence, these memoirs make up Gathering Evidence (Knopf). They recount the early years of an illegitimate child taken in, brought up by eccentric grandparents. They chronicle Bernhard's hideous school years under a sadistically repressive system, run first by Catholic priests, then by Nazis, then again by priests, the evident point being that there is little to choose between the two. The section called "The Cellar" narrates in paralyzing detail the young Bernhard's experiences in Salzburg when the city was being bombarded by the Allied Air Forces. The immediate postwar years were an oasis for Bernhard, who became an apprentice and a shop assistant to a Viennese grocer and witness to the temporary discomfiture of the Nazi, now so suddenly and surprisingly converted to democracy. Running errands for his dying grandfather, the old anticlerical and anarchic tiger whom Bernhard loved as he had loved no one else near him, the eighteen-year-old falls ill. He is consigned to a hospital ward for the senile and the moribund. (Such wards will become perennial in his later novels and in the inspired book-part fact, part invention - Wittgenstein's Nephew) In the ward, Bernhard contracts tuberculosis. On the threshold of adult life, he finds himself under sentence of death. It is both in constant expectation of the fulfillment of that sentence and in defiance of it that he will escape into the armed citadel of his art. [...]

George Steiner, 'Black Danube' (on Karl Kraus & Thomas Bernhard)
excerpted from George Steiner at the New Yorker
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Coetzee's Summertime: A Disembodied Man

Jonathan Dee reviews J. M. Coetzee's Summertime in the New York Times:
Illustration of J. M. Coetzee by Joe Ciardiello
Great men in the winter of their lives often treat the writing of their memoirs as a kind of victory lap, but whatever J. M. Coetzee is after in this third volume of his genre-bending auto biography, it is not self- congratulation. The first two volumes, unadornedly titled “Boyhood” and “Youth” (and, in contrast to this one, labeled nonfiction), were marked by Coetzee’s decision to write about himself in the third person. In “Summertime” he takes this schism one bracing step farther, by imagining himself already dead. The book is nominally a kind of rough-draft effort by Coetzee’s own biographer, an Englishman named Vincent, to build the case — through transcribed interviews with lovers and colleagues and other figures mentioned by Coetzee in his “posthumously” opened notebooks — for the years 1971-77 as an especially formative period in the late author’s life, “a period,” as Vincent would have it, “when he was still finding his feet as a writer.” [Read the article]


Samuel Beckett 1906-1989

20th Anniversary

Irish author and playwright Samuel Beckett passed away twenty years ago today. I don't know about you, but I'm sure I'll be finding time this evening to raise a glass.
I don't know when I died. It always seemed to me I died old, about ninety years old, and what years, and that my body bore it out, from head to foot. But this evening, alone in my icy bed, I have the feeling I'll be older than the day, the night, when the sky with all its lights fell upon me, the same I had so often gazed on since my first stumblings on distant earth. For I'm too frightened this evening to listen to myself rot, waiting for the great red lapses of the heart, the tearings at the caecal walls, and for the slow killings to finish in my skull, the assaults on unshakable pillars, the fornications with corposes. So I'll tell myself a story, I'll try and tell myself another story, to try and calm myself, and it's there I feel I'll be old, old, even older than the day I fell, calling for help, and it came. Or is it possible that in this story I have come back to life, after my death? No, it's not like me to come back to life, after my death.

Samuel Beckett, The Calmative
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Winter Light: Caspar David Friedrich

John Coulthart on the influential German painter
Caspar David Friedrich, 'Dolmen in the Snow (1807).'

Artist and designer John Coulthart has made some interesting observations on the work of German painter Caspar David Friedrich:
[...] Snow scenes tend to inspire picturesque cliché but in Friedrich’s paintings winter is merely another season in which to evoke his Christian mysticism through the depiction of landscape. The pagan dolmen above is an unusual subject, far more common are churchyard ruins and mountainside crosses although he was also happy enough painting luminous landscapes, especially of mountains and the sea. His treatment of natural light is quite extraordinary and his photo-realist style makes an interesting contrast with the similar effects captured by JMW Turner’s palette of blurs and smears. [Read Article]


Disjecta: This week's links

Dan O'Bannon 1946-2009
Image: The theatrical poster for Ridley Scott's Alien (1979)


Samuel Beckett: HTML Giant on 'A Return to Beckett'
Will Self: The New Yorker reviews Liver
Will Self: Upcoming January 2010 lecture on W. G. Sebald
George Steiner: Maya Jaggi interview with Steiner, first published in 2001
Patricia Highsmith: Jeanette Winterson on Highsmith in The New York Times


Jazz: A new website, One Down, One Up.
Jazz: Blue Note at 70: Behind the Label.
Jazz: US House of Representatives honours Miles Davis' Kind of Blue
Jazz: My Top Five at 3:AM Magazine
Jazz: Critic Gary Giddins on 101 Ways to Get Into Jazz


Grace Kelly: Hitchcock star included among Philip French's Screen Legends
Michael Haneke: BFI Live: Michael Haneke in conversation
Dan O'Bannon 1946-2009: The Guardian on the late Alien screenwriter
Dan O'Bannon 1946-2009: Feuilleton pays tribute


The Simpsons: A perceptive critique of the successful animated series on its twentieth anniversary
Orson Welles: Revolutionary ideas for television to be realized?
William Shakespeare: David Tennant's performance in Hamlet to air in the UK on Boxing Day


The Guardian: We Made This on the new Guardian iPhone application
Will Self: On Christmas dinner

McCrum on Kafka's Manuscripts

On the archive at Oxford University

Robert McCrum recounts the troubled history of Max Brod's Kafka manuscripts, and shares his experiences of the archive at Oxford's Bodleian Library:
One of the most moving manuscripts is "Das Urteil" ("The Judgment"), a story of some 30 pages written – astonishingly – in a single sitting from 10 o'clock at night to six in the morning. Dated 23 September 1912, it is followed by a diary note expressing Kafka's joy at "the only way to write, only with such coherence, with such a complete opening out of the body and the soul". Scholars say that this marks his creative breakthrough. Authorship is a mystery: to see the scratched ink on the flimsy paper of the cheap, brown-backed notebook is to glimpse something strange and magical.

The potency of such manuscript pages is impossible to convey. Quite apart from the electrifying aesthetic impact, it also raises many important issues of ownership and creativity. Where should Kafka's manuscripts be stored? Israel, Germany or Oxford? Would a digital version be a match for the actual manuscript? What do such documents add to our understanding of great literature? It's also a reminder that to start writing, only three things are needful: a cheap notebook, a pen or pencil and something to say that's new and original. The first two are easy to come by. If you happen to possess the third, you may find an audience, in many formats, to the end of time. [Read More]

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Elie Wiesel, Night

A new edition
Elie Wiesel

A new edition of Elie Wiesel's Holocaust memoir, Night, is reviewed in today's Observer newspaper:
One of the most horrifying memoirs ever written, Night was first published in English in 1960. To mark Wiesel's 80th birthday, the Nobel laureate's wife, Marion, has produced a new translation. In stark, simple language he describes what happened to him and to his family. It is hard to imagine anything more hellish than the picture he paints of his arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau: "Huge flames were rising from a ditch. Something was being burned there. A truck drew close and unloaded its hold: small children."

Throughout, Wiesel conveys a collective sense of disbelief that "disciplined, educated men" could commit such crimes. In a key scene, he tells how one of Sighet's Jews, Moshe, had been deported to Poland in 1942. Moshe and his companions had dug their own graves, before being shot and left for dead. But Moshe had somehow survived, and returned to Sighet to warn his friends. Yet nobody would believe him.

As the events of the 1940s slip ever further away, they become harder to comprehend and imagine. In his foreword, Wiesel explains why he felt compelled to write Night, saying his "duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living". He has done more than most to keep alive their memory. [Read More]

'At last I understand Kafka'

Richard Crary on reading Franz Kafka

Richard Crary examines the difference between reading a book and reading it well, and William H. Gass' observation that it is absurd to claim an understanding of Kafka:
Since the beginning of [The Existence Machine], I've been ostentatiously listing on the sidebar the books I've read in the current year, which I then convert into a mammoth end of year round-up of sorts. I don't really know why I do this, other than I enjoy lists and like keeping track of my reading. Regardless, there is a tension even in such a simple exercise as this. If I've read a book, do I claim to have read it well? Or to have understood it? Some weeks ago, I added Blanchot's Friendship to the list; given my admitted struggles with Blanchot's writing, how did I do with this particular book? I confess that I was unable to get much of anything out of some of the essays, whereas others I found myself able to read and profit from. I don't pretend to have a full grasp of all of Blanchot's major themes, but the best of the essays are remarkably supple and subtle pieces that I hope to return to again and again. [Read More]


Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

A new, compressed edition of Frank's definitive biography
Abridged Joseph Frank biography, 'Dostoyevsky: A Writer in His Time'
Michael Dirda reviews a new abridged edition of Joseph Frank's 'magisterial' five volume biography of Fyodor Dostoyevsky:
In the mid-1950s, the young critic Joseph Frank, having been invited to give the Christian Gauss lectures at Princeton, settled on the then fashionable topic "Existential Themes in Modern Literature." Since Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre both regarded Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground (1864) as a central text of existentialism, Mr. Frank naturally plunged into an intensive study of that novella. His fascination with its anguished protagonist—who on the first page brazenly proclaims "I am a sick man, I am a spiteful man"—eventually led the critic to learn Russian and to plan a short book on the sociological and ideological roots of the Underground Man's self-hatred. But as Mr. Frank's fascination with 19th-century Russian culture and social thought grew, so did his project. In 1976 there appeared Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821-1849, followed by four further volumes of critical biography, culminating in 2002 with Dostoevsky: The Mantle of the Prophet, 1871-1881.

All five installments of this work—invariably and rightly described as magisterial—have now been reduced to a single massive volume. Editor Mary Petrusewicz cut the full text by roughly two-thirds, and the result was then read and approved by Mr. Frank, now 91 and a distinguished professor emeritus of Slavic and comparative literature at both Stanford and Princeton. Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time thus immediately becomes the essential one-volume commentary on the intellectual dynamics and artistry of this great novelist's impassioned, idea-driven fiction.

Naturally, some details have been sacrificed in the abridgment. For instance, in the third volume, The Stir of Liberation, 1860-1865, Mr. Frank spends several pages discussing the possible influence on Dostoevsky of Elizabeth Gaskell's novel Mary Barton and Edgar Allan Poe's short stories (especially "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat"). In this condensation all the Gaskell material has been dropped even though the plot of her novel about industrial suffering, murder and conscience almost certainly influenced Crime and Punishment (1866) and The Brothers Karamazov (1881). Happily, Princeton University Press promises to keep all five volumes of the full biography in print. [Read More]


Samuel Beckett Letters at Sothebys

To be sold at auction today

Letters from Samuel Beckett to artist Avigdor Arikha and his wife, Anne Atik, are to be sold at auction today (link via Kevin Stevens):
A collection of more than 240 letters, postcards and notes from Samuel Beckett to two close friends, spanning several decades of the writer’s life, are to be auctioned at Sotheby’s in London today.

The letters to painter Avigdor Arikha and his wife, the poet and writer Anne Atik, are described by the auction house as an “invaluable literary and biographical source” for Beckett scholarship, and have a guide price of between £200,000 and £300,000 (€225,000 and €337,000).

Beckett’s correspondence with the Arikhas, written in his distinctive sloping scrawl, reveal a warm and playful author, but also one who was frequently despondent at the slow pace of his work.

Arikha struck up a conversation with Beckett backstage at a theatre in Paris in 1956, following a performance of Waiting for Godot , without initially realising who he was talking to.

The chance meeting proved to be the start of a lifelong friendship between the writer and the artist, said to involve many “drink-fuelled lunches and evenings” spent discussing their shared passion for art and German literature. [Read More]

The poet and writer Anne Atik is notable for her book, How It Was, a memoir of her and her husband's lasting friendship with Samuel Beckett, and their admiration for his work.


The letters up for auction failed to sell this afternoon, despite interest in the collection:
A Sotheby's spokesman said the letters, which spanned three decades of the writer's life up to his death in Paris in 1989, had generated a significant amount of interest but several bids had failed to make the reserve price. [Read More]

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One Down, One Up: A Jazz Website

A new website of photographs, clips and quotations

As some readers may already be aware, I've recently launched the new jazz website One Down, One Up. The site is named after one of the John Coltrane live records released under the Impulse! label. Jazz music has always held a particular spell over me, and I hope that in the weeks and months to come the website can develop into a major new outlet.

The wonderful 3:AM Magazine has kindly been in touch regarding the new site, and asked me to contribute my favourite jazz tunes to their Top Five column. You can find my selections by clicking on the link below.

Read More:

Miroslaw Balka and Samuel Beckett: How It Is

Art exhibition at Tate Modern in London
Miroslaw Balka, 'How It Is' in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty

Journalists and critics have reviewed Miroslaw Balka's current exhibition at Tate Modern's Turbine Hall in London, drawing comparisons with the work of one of the artist's influences, Samuel Beckett. I would like to suggest that Beckett plays a profoundly influential role in Balka's work, specifically as a kind of limit-point in a crisis of representation.

Beckett's writing indirectly broaches some of the key philosophical and historical issues of the twentieth-century, and I think that Balka's work is ambitiously attempting to tread a similar path. One might argue that the Holocaust is never far away from Beckett's work, and some may read his prose text How It Is, as a kind of post-war critique of the so-called Enlightenment man. With this in mind, it is interesting to see why Beckett's work might have felt appropriate to Balka's project: an everyday evocation of being that becomes an absurd portrait of an absurd world.

But How It Is is not the first time Balka's art has held an affinity with Samuel Beckett. One of his recent short films, Bambi (Winterreise), not only deals with the difficult issue of Holocaust representation, but happens to invoke Schubert's piece, 'Wintereisse', translated into English as 'Winter Journey'. Balka's title is apt and self-contained, but it's interesting to note that Schubert's 'Wintereisse' held a particularly strong grip on Beckett's later prose work: a fact well-documented by critics, not least the authorized biographer James Knowlson, who used 'Winter Journey' as the title of his final chapter on Beckett's life.

I am interested in the potential of Miroslaw Balka's work, whether it is in audacious and literate sculptural pieces, or tranquil yet disturbing short films. Balka has been quoted as saying he would like How It Is to provide a 'space for contemplation' for those who visit and step inside. I can't help wondering what it is he hopes they will be contemplating. There is something about How It Is that denies the contemplative comforts of Olafur Eliasson's The Weather Project, previously commissioned by Tate Modern. I suspect that How It Is is closer to a darker, more troubling vision of the world. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if visitors leave the exhibition feeling slightly uneasy, tiptoeing out into the daylight preoccupied with thoughts of mortality and twentieth-century horror.

Press Release:
Tate Modern today unveils the tenth annual commission in The Unilever Series, How It Is by Miroslaw Balka. The artist has created a large steel sculpture, which cleverly responds to the architecture of the Turbine Hall. A chamber of monumental scale, the steel structure stands 13 metres high, 10 metres wide and 30 metres long.

On first entering the Turbine Hall visitors will be confronted with the end wall of the sculpture. Reminiscent of a giant shipping container it is mounted on supports two metres high so that visitors can walk underneath, before entering the sculpture via a ramp. The interior is pitch dark, provoking a sense of unease. The steel construction of the chamber adds a sound element to the work, with the sounds of those inside the space resonating both within and below the structure. The blackness of the interior will contrast sharply with the day-lit Turbine Hall.

Balka intends to provide an experience for visitors which is both personal and collective; creating a range of sensory and emotional experiences through sound, touch, contrasting light and darkness. Whether approaching the piece individually or negotiating it with others, it may provoke feelings of apprehension, solidarity, excitement or intrigue. Staring ahead into the black void of How It Is may make you wonder whether to move ahead at all. Yet rather than forming a stage or spectacle, the container focuses you inwards, both physically and psychologically, as you enter into the darkness. The structure simultaneously embodies the unknown and the familiar.

The title of the installation, which is inspired by Samuel Beckett’s novel ‘How It Is’, is intentionally open, allowing for diverse interpretations. As Balka explains, “You can shape this yourself. The shape you create is not just about your body, it’s about your mind”. In How It Is, Balka alludes to a myriad of ideas and references, from the allegory of Plato’s Cave, the biblical Plague of Darkness, black holes, images of hell and Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde 1866 to Malevich’s Black Square 1915. [Read More]

[...] The title, How It Is, is taken from Samuel Beckett's novel of the same name and Balka said the piece should be seen as being about everything and nothing. "There is no one single direct inspiration for the piece and the words of the artist are not so important. The work is important. It is good or bad. It works or it does not work."

Balka said he was using it as a space for contemplation and hoped others would do the same, just as people repeatedly visited Olafur Eliasson's The Weather Project in 2003, often lying on their backs and gazing up to the sun. [Read More]

[...] Balka has also covered some of the Turbine Hall's skylights, reducing the overall light level, and the looming darkness inside the steel structure feels both palpable and impenetrable. There is nothing here except the contained dark, which itself seems to have mass and density, weight and substance. The title invokes the dark and mud of Samuel Beckett's 1961 prose work How It Is, all the endless crawling, yard after yard, towards nothing at all. One searches for limits, as if they might offer some kind of comfort. Instead, the containment makes you feel even more puny. It is a space whose limits are sheer walls instead of a horizon, with more blackness overhead. It is a darkness you struggle to measure, or rather a darkness that measures you.

Slowly, your eyes adjust to the light leaking in, the slight reflectivity of the steel floor, the thin light brushing the felt-covered walls. You expect echoes, but there aren't any. Hell is the people in here with you. An absolute simplicity stops it being another of art's tunnels of love or mystery trains, although one wonders what kinds of games people will play here. [Read More]

The exhibition runs until 5 April 2010.


Simon Critchley Workshop: Texas, 2010

British philosopher, Simon Critchley
The University of Texas at San Antonio Department of Philosophy & Classics announces a workshop on the thought of Simon Critchley who will be the Brackenridge Distinguished Visiting Professor. [...] Please click here for more details.

Professor Critchley will deliver the keynote address on Monday evening.

Confirmed participants include:

Anne Marie Bowrey (Baylor)
Costica Bradatan (University of Wisconsin-Madison/Texas Tech)
Tina Chanter (DePaul)
Paul Lewis (University of the Incarnate Word)
Anne O'Byrne (SUNY Stonybrook)
Davide Panagia (Trent)
Philip Quadrio (University of New South Wales/ Macquarie University,
Centre for Research on Social Inclusion)
Jill Stauffer (Haverford College).

The workshop will take place on Monday February 22nd and Tuesday February 23rd 2010.

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Samuel Beckett's Letters: Book of the Year?

TLS asks a host of writers and critics
The Letters of Samuel Beckett, 1939-1940

A recent article in the Times Literary Supplement prompted a host of writers, poets and critics to suggest their personal choices for books of the year. Among them, Gabriel Josipovici, Seamus Heaney, Stefan Collini, and Paul Muldoon plumped for volume one of The Letters of Samuel Beckett:
Gabriel Josipovici: The first volume of Beckett's letters, The Letters of Samuel Beckett, 1939-1940 (Cambridge), was the funniest, most intelligent and most poignant book I read this year, and since three more volumes are promised by CUP we should be moved and entertained for some years to come. [...]

Seamus Heaney: The most bracing read was The Letters of Samuel Beckett, 1929-1940 (Cambridge), a portrait of a Dubliner as a young European with a hard gemlike gift for language, learning and mockery. Beckett's genius exercises itself most exuberantly in the correspondence with Thomas MacGreevy, another Irish poet more at home in Paris, his senior but his soulmate. Constantly Beckett is veering between certainty about his need to write and doubt about the results, all expressed in prose that is undoubting, delighted and demanding. [...]

Stefan Collini: The letters of major writers can be disappointing, illustrating in polite detail that their authors' creative energies were absorbed elsewhere. But this is spectacularly not the case with Beckett, who emerges from the first of a projected four volumes of his correspondence, The Letters of Samuel Beckett 1929-1940 (Cambridge) as a gloriously fertile and exuberant letter writer, out-Joyceing Joyce in his tangy multilingual playfulness. The letters are full of literary substance, too, as he inches towards his life's task of finding ways to speak of what lies beyond silence and despair. They also exhibit his idiosyncratic but passionate responsiveness to the other arts, especially painting, and his alert comprehension of the threatening political situation of 1930s Europe. This edition has been many years in the making, slowed by legal complexities as well as by the formidable challenge of Beckett's scrawl in several languages, but it is a triumph. The introductory and supplementary material is well-judged and helpful, the annotations and identifications are tirelessly thorough. The later Beckett famously declared that "every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness," but these letters are packed with wonderfully necessary words.

Paul Muldoon: One of the highlights of the year was the publication of The Letters of Samuel Beckett 1929-1940, edited by Martha Dow Fehsenfeld and Lois More Overbeck (Cambridge). Every page is a hoot. Beckett comes across as even smarter, and more smarting, than one already knew. I think of his description of Old Possum's translation of Saint John Perse as being "very uneven. Good when he drops the text altogether", or of Poussin being "beyond praise & appraisement", or of Proust being "so absolutely the master of his form that he becomes its slave as often as not". [...]

Excerpted from 'Books of the Year'
Times Literary Supplement, 27 November 2009
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Disjecta: This week's links

An example of Austin Kleon's 'Newspaper Blackout' poetry


J. G. Ballard: Simon Reynolds speaks to Ballardian.com
J. G. Ballard: Issue four of new journal, Kill Author, focusses on Ballard and his work
J. G. Ballard: Jacob Silverman on J. G. Ballard and Vladimir Nabokov
William S. Burroughs: Franz Wright's poem, 'I Dreamed I Met William Burroughs'
William S. Burroughs: Podcast of Burroughs on Jack Kerouac
Franz Kafka: The Los Angeles Times on new Kafka translations
Paul Auster: Christopher Tayler: 'I was a Teenage Paul Auster Fanatic'
Patricia Highsmith: The New York Times on the author of the Ripley novels
Newspaper Blackout: Newspaper + Marker = Poetry
Top Fifty Literary Websites: Onlinecourses.org offer their guide to the best on the web

Philosophy & Critical Theory:

Simone de Beauvoir: Sarah Glazer on a new translation of The Second Sex
Slavoj Žižek: The Los Angeles Times reviews Žižek's new book
Existentialism: J. M. G. Le Clézio's reading list for his class, 'Existentialism for Beginners'


Bob Dylan: An unofficial archive of Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour
Miles Davis: Miles Davis in Paris
InBFlat: A wonderful collaborative musical experiment


Deaf Theatre: Beckett in British Sign Language? The Guardian on deaf theatre


Letters of Note: 'Correspondence deserving of a wider audience'

Bea Ballard on her father, J. G. Ballard

A tribute to the late British author
1970: JG Ballard outside the house in Shepperton, Surrey. Photograph: David Reed/Corbis

Bea Ballard has written a moving tribute to her father, British author J. G. Ballard, who passed away earlier this year:
In 2009 the world lost one of its most original and brilliant authors, JG Ballard. But my siblings and I lost our father, our dearest Daddy. To the world he was this unique writer, with a huge international following, but to us he was simply a father, and the best you could ever hope for.

He had raised three of us single-handedly following my mother's premature death when we were five, seven and nine. It was the 60s, when single fathers didn't do that sort of thing. Most of his friends were sceptical. But he did raise us, as father, mother and much more besides. Fortunately for him, and for us, his work as a writer meant he could work from home and juggle writing with the care of us. So in between school runs, ironing school ties and cooking sausages and mashed potato, he wrote his novels and short stories – one minute conjuring up wild dystopias, the next watching Blue Peter. [Read More]

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Samuel Beckett Bridge Opens

The Irish Times reports on today's opening of the Samuel Beckett bridge in Dublin:
The opening ceremony of Dublin's newest bridge, named after Nobel laureate Samuel Beckett, took place today.

The iconic structure stretches 120 metres across the capital’s River Liffey from Guild Street on the northside to Sir John Rogerson’s Quay on the southside.

Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the bridge takes the shape of the Irish harp with cable-stay ‘strings’.

Actor Barry McGovern performed Beckett excerpts at the ribbon-cutting ceremony as the Waiting for Godot author’s niece Caroline Murphy, nephew Edward Beckett and hundreds of Dubliners looked on.

Ms Murphy said her uncle would have been amazed by the 40 million euro creation.

“He was a very, very unassuming man and I think he would have been quite overcome.

“I can see the tears in his eyes now — he probably wouldn’t have turned up to the opening but I think he would be very, very overcome by emotion,” she said.

“It’s wonderful that Seamus Heaney came and I’m quite amazed that there are so many people here.

“I thought there would have been only a sprinkling of people in the know but I think Dublin has taken this bridge to its heart.” [Read More]

Stephen Bayley of The Observer reflects on the design and significance of the new bridge:
Can there ever have been a more appropriate memorial to a writer than the new Samuel Beckett bridge that opened in Dublin on 10 December? The several thousand tons of steel deck and pylon were fabricated in a factory in Rotterdam, then carried across the sea by a barge labouring in the churning swell. A stately bridge carried over the turbulent water by a boat? Here's a conceit so surreal it makes Waiting for Godot read like a cereal packet. [Read More]

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Samuel Beckett Shorts, 2007

Acclaimed dancer and actor performs in Beckett's short dramatic works
Mikhail Baryshnikov in 'Act Without Words II'
Mikhail Baryshnikov stars in "Beckett Shorts," a 70-minute compilation of four brief plays by Samuel Beckett. The show, at the New York Theater Workshop, was directed by JoAnne Akalaitis, a founder of the experimental theater troupe Mabou Mines and the former artistic director of the Public Theater.

In December 2007, ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov starred in a series of 'Beckett Shorts' at the New York Theater Workshop. While in many respects Baryshnikov's performance offers an ambitious reworking of some of Beckett's shorter dramatic work, critical reception to the productions was cool. The New York Times reviewed the four plays, and photographer Sara Krulwich captured images of the performances:

Mikhail Baryshnikov in 'Eh Joe'
Mikhail Baryshnikov, who defied gravity as a ballet dancer, is gravity’s slave in “Beckett Shorts,” which opened on Tuesday night at the New York Theater Workshop. Mr. Baryshnikov enters falling in the opening segment of this 70-minute compilation of four brief plays by Samuel Beckett. And for the rest of the show you can feel good old physics tugging at feet that once took flight like no one else’s.

This grounding of a winged dancer poignantly captures the harsh laws of Beckett’s universe, where Mother Earth never stops pulling people toward the grave. Mr. Baryshnikov’s elfin-prince face is eloquent in its mix of weariness, resignation and a hopeful glimmer of tenacity. But he’s got more than physics working against him in this production, directed by JoAnne Akalaitis, a founder of the experimental theater troupe Mabou Mines and the former artistic director of the Public Theater.

As if to prove the fallacy of imitative form, the show itself feels earthbound in ways that do no one, including Beckett, any favors. Visually and aurally stylish (the hypnotic original music is by that hypnotic master Philip Glass), “Beckett Shorts” offers a lovely frame for a study in human frustration that only occasionally comes to life. [Read More]

More on A Piece of Monologue:

Disjecta: This week's links

Rare photographs of John Coltrane on the updated official website


J. G. Ballard: Rick McGrath's Letter from London: The J. G. Ballard Memorial
William S. Burroughs: Mark Dery on Naked Lunch at Fifty
The Atlantic Online: Index of Literary Interviews
Samuel Beckett: Zadie Smith compares 50 Cent to Samuel Beckett
Book of the Year: The Guardian rounds up possible contenders

Philosophy & Critical Theory:

Friedrich Nietzsche: Review of Writings from the Early Notebooks
Karl Marx: Michael Doliner on the oft-quoted phrase, 'The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.'


Ella Fitzgerald: Ella Fitzgerald, repackaged by Verve
John Coltrane: Avant Garde Jazz and the evolution of My Favourite Things
John Coltrane: The official website now online with photographs and multimedia
Blues: Desktop Blues, An interactive blues music soundboard
David Bowie: A 42 year old letter from David Bowie to his first American fan
Harvey Pekar: An archive of jazz reviews for the Austin Chronicle
Harvey Pekar: An archive of jazz reviews for Jazz Times


Francis Ford Coppola: Apocalypse Now! tops London critics 30th Anniversary poll


Will Self: On the UK National Lottery
Stewart Lee: The incomparable Stewart Lee interviewed in The Guardian

Inge Morath's Colour Photography

An new collection
Inge Morath, Road to Reno

The Guardian reviews a new published collection of Inge Morath's colour photography:
Looking at these pictures – the flashing flamenco skirts, the luminous car in the dark London street, the scarlet signage on an Edward Hopperesque scene of urban America – it's hard to understand why her work in colour has been hidden for so long. "Colour connected her to painting; in a way black and white was reportage. She always found a kind of poetry in the everyday, but colour pushed her more in that direction." [Read More]

More on A Piece of Monologue:

Dieter Rams: London Exhibition 2009

Retrospective of a distinguished European designer

The Design Museum in London is hosting an exhibition of the work of Dieter Rams, a product designer for Braun who became one of the most prominent industrial artists of the late twentieth century. His work, which strictly adhered to a set of ten design principles, has subsequently held a profound influence on contemporary product design: perhaps most notably, on Jonathan Ives' work for Apple Mac.
Good design is innovative.
Good design makes a product useful.
Good design is aesthetic.
Good design makes a product understandable.
Good design is unobtrusive.
Good design is honest.
Good design is long-lasting.
Good design is thorough down to the last detail.
Good design is environmentally friendly.
Good design is as little design as possible.

Dieter Rams
The exhibition runs from 18 November 2009 to 07 March 2010. You can find more information on the Design Museum's official website.

Read More:


A writer's obsession
Giovanni Pintori, Poster, 1962

Cormac McCarthy is selling his beloved typewriter. The Guardian website investigates writers' obsessions with this anachronistic and elegant device:
After five decades and 5m words, Cormac McCarthy is parting company with the faithful typewriter he bought in a Tennessee pawn shop for $50.

Despite his decision to auction his elderly Olivetti – offers around the $15,000 to $20,000 mark, please – not to mention the advent of the PC, McCarthy remains a devotee of the manual typewriter.

He is not alone. Will Self, Don DeLillo and Frederick Forsyth are also members of the small and select group of writers who find typewriters more conducive to the creative process than their electronic counterparts.

Self, who admits to "fetishising" the old-fashioned machines, says he enjoys the enforced discipline of the typewriter: "Writing on a manual makes you slower in a good way, I think. You don't revise as much, you just think more, because you know you're going to have to retype the entire fucking thing. Which is a big stop on just slapping anything down and playing with it."

DeLillo, meanwhile, says he needs to hear the words take shape as he "sculpts" his books. "I need the sound of the keys, the keys of a manual typewriter," he told one interviewer. "The hammers striking the page. I like to see the words, the sentences, as they take shape. It's an aesthetic issue: when I work I have a sculptor's sense of the shape of the words I'm making. I use a machine with larger than average letters: the bigger the better." [Read More]