24 January 2012

Literature of the abyss

"I had some problems with Kafka, whom I consider the greatest writer of the twentieth century."

- from an excerpt of an interview with Roberto Bolaño.

21 January 2012

Eloísa Cartonera and César Aira

It may seem odd that the text I chose to translate, El Cerebro Musical by César Aira, is bound by a cardboard cover. It is difficult to make out the title and author that are hand-painted on the cover in red and orange against a yellow background, mirroring the red lettering on the cardboard itself. One can still read the address in Buenos Aires where the box was made, and the words "INDUSTRIA ARGENTINA" are still legible under the title. The barcode on the back is not a proof-of-purchase of the book, but rather of some lost transaction made by the supermarket Día. It is a flimsy cover, hardly protecting the text within, but no other copy of this book has these same features. This uniqueness is what has made Eloísa Cartonera, the publishing house in Buenos Aires that creates these cardboard books, an inspiration to other "paper picker presses" throughout Latin America, the subject of documentaries, and the starting point of my own investigation.


Much like Eloísa Cartonera, Aira seems concerned with "much more than just books." He saturates the markets with books marked with his name, if only to demonstrate that no book is the Aira. There is a certain disposable quality to this saturation of the market and it becomes a personal choice which Airas are worth reading and which are 'throw-aways.' [Eloísa Cartonera] converts what was thrown away into a piece of art. Coupled together, Aira and Eloísa Cartonera break down the components of the book into their simplest forms—cover and text—in order to suggest how stories are ephemeral, just like the cardboard ...

- from a thesis called "On Eloísa Cartonera and César Aira: Much More Than Just a Translation of El Cerebro Musical" by Stephanie Reist, Williams College. Eloísa Cartonera is a small publishing house and cooperative in Buenos Aires; it specializes in books bound in cardboards. Reist's study covers the emergence of "cartoneros", issues on translating Aira, and a full translation of Aira's story "The Musical Brain." The story appeared in the New Yorker last month in Chris Andrews's translation. The thesis is available (pdf) here.

18 January 2012

The tree issue of Five Dials

   Yes, the trees recognized themselves in paper, in books, just as they recognized themselves in all the other things that hadn’t been thought of quite yet, like bedsteads and bagpipes and bonfires, not to mention violins, cricket bats, toothpicks, clothes pegs, chopsticks and misericords. Men and women would sit in the shade of trees, reading books, and the trees, dreaming of all that was to come, saw that they were the books as well as the chairs the men and women sat in, and the combs in the women’s hair, and the shiny handles of the muskets, and the hoops the children chased across the lawns. The trees took pride in the idea of being a book: they thought a book was a noble thing to become, if you had to become anything – a terrible bore to be a rafter, after all, and a wheel would mean such a battering, though of course the travel was a bonus, and what tree in its right mind would wish to be rack, coffin, crucifix, gallows . . .

- from "Why the Ash Has Black Buds" by William Fiennes, in the delightful 22nd issue of Five Dials (pdf download link)

16 January 2012

Photo story

And yet there are certain features of the photo (something about the arrangement of the objects, the petrified, musical rhododendron, two of its leaves invading the space of the ficus like clouds within a cloud, the grass growing in the planter, which looks more like fire than grass, the everlasting leaning whimsically to the left, the glasses in the center of the table, well away from the edges, except for Kristeva’s, as if the other members of the group were worried they might fall) that suggest a more complex and subtle web of relations among these men and women.

- from "Labyrinth", a story by Roberto Bolaño, translated by Chris Andrews, in The New Yorker. The story was accompanied by an interview with Barbara Epler, New Directions publisher, in the magazine's blog.

See also: interview with Natasha Wimmer about her translation of the Bolaño novel The Third Reich.

06 January 2012


   "Keep going," said Belano, "we'll get one."
   "What is a catachresis?" I said.
   "That one I used to know, but I've forgotten," said Lima.
   "It's a metaphor that's become part of common everyday speech and is no longer perceived as a metaphor. For example: needle's eye, bottleneck."

   - The Savage Detectives

Catachresis #9 (legs of the table, the neck of the bottle,
the elbow of the pipe, the leg of the chair), 2011

How did you translate that into sculptural form?

To make these sculptures I produced assemblages to represent these metaphors, which could resemble early Surrealist sculptures, in that the link that brings objects together into one form comes across as absurd. The ‘hidden’ meaning of these sculptures operates just like the metaphors themselves, as the complicity of the viewer is needed to find the hidden thread that binds these objects together.

- Argentine artist Amalia Pica talks about her Savage Detectives-inspired installation artworks (read more)

 Is "doorstop" a catachresis?

01 January 2012

The 2011 challenge ends

¡Feliz año nuevo!

THE 2011 ROBERTO BOLAÑO READING CHALLENGE is now officially ended. I'm thanking all the participants - 30 readers! (with blogs or without, in Twitter or not, with book reviews or none) - who joined, even some of you late in the day. It has been a splendid year reading the great Chilean writer's works and reviews of his books.

The anticipated extension to this challenge is this month's THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES GROUP READ, hosted by Richard (Caravana de recuerdos) and me. Join us in reading, reviewing, and discussing this tome at the end of the month.

My special thanks to the following readers who submitted reviews to 15 of Bolaño's books.

Vapour Trails
Caravana de recuerdos
The Parrish Lantern
Shifting Sands
Winstonsdad's Blog

Congratulations to those who did well in the challenge. For those who fell short of their goal, worry not. One can still complete it anytime, and there's no more deadline! :) I will still be interested to know when you finally achieve the level of "Mesmerist"/"Critic"/"Vagabond"/"Poet"/"Detective"/"Worm" and of course the "Godzilla status" (at least 13 books) at some point in time. Feel free to contact me, via comment or email, when you do finish your target level. We'll celebrate.

This challenge blog celebrated its 1st year anniversary four days ago (Dec. 28). In the course of the year, it has adopted a new name, Bifurcaria bifurcata, and has published more than 100 blog posts. I intend to let it continue life as a general blog about international literature and about translation, focusing on an expanded list of excellent writers, Latin American or otherwise. Stay tuned.

Thanks once again for your participation.