Chatter's blog

Some Thoughts on Translated Literature

"As a writer I can be bad, but I can't be wrong. A translator can be good, but can never be right. Translators are jugglers, diplomats, nuance-ticklers, magistrates, word-nerds, self-testing lie detectors, and poets. Translators rock." (-- David Mitchell)
This interview with acclaimed novelist David Mitchell (discussing his and his wife's forthcoming translation of Naoki Higashida's The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism) clearly spells out much of what makes translated literature endlessly appealing. It's not simply that the settings of such works are different, or because they give us glimpses of cultures not our own -- though these are valuable and often very helpful. It's more that translations are stark reminders that reading forever dances on the divide between hubris and humility. If, as some version of the cliché goes, those who read the most usually are the ones most aware of how little they've actually read, those who read the most translations are all the more sensitive to the fact that what they've read is not actually what was written. For some readers, this creates a distance too far between author and reader. For others, though, certainly for me, it highlights in a real, tangible way the division that's always there anyway. Once this important divide has been established as a feature rather than a bug, something exciting -- and sometimes a little scary -- happens: we find ourselves involved in what we're reading in ways that an assumed intimacy rarely ever allowed.

Don't believe me? Check out these two extraordinary links below that expand on the challenges posed by translation:

1) Over at Archipelago Book's blog, Eric has written a great post reflecting on the multiplicity inherent to translation -- using as an example the poetry of C. P. Cavafy -- and reminds us, as Mitchell does in his interview, that with translations it's rarely simply a matter of right vs. wrong. What's important is that the translation is good, and that the measure of that is rarely so cut and dry. 

2) Johannes Göransson is doing a bit of guest-blogging over at Poetry magazine, and boy oh boy is he leaving his mark. In his recent post on "the diabolical music of translation" (gosh, I wish I'd written that!) he writes, "The lesson of this part of the story: Translation may not be possible, but it can be impossible in the sense of creating alternative spaces. Impossible spaces. Spaces that are not supposed to exist. You can translate paintings, Swedish poems, weird letters into poetry in order to create a lineage outside of the official lineages. Translation can make a space for you when the Poetry world has told you [sic] don’t belong. Translation is 'diabolical.'" Oh . . . but you must read the whole thing


-- Brad J. 

(Image via Stiff Little Fingers Paul)


"I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave"


As if you needed another reason to support California Bookstore Day, huh?

Three Good Things: Tuesday Link Trifecta

1) With her most recent novel, The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner showed herself to be one of the sharpest-tongued writers of her generation. With this insightful essay on the work of Clarice Lispector (another favorite of ours), she's shown herself to have exquisite taste, too.

"Lispector dispenses with, or rather swerves around, narrative altogether, and gives her main subject—being—to us straight, in the form of aphorisms linked together and floating against a background of only white paper. By some sleight of hand she manages to create a sense of forward motion without offering any kind of character development. She writes about thinking, what it’s like to think, and this task is circular, because thought, while not language, is bounded by words, its only tools for expression." (For more see Bookforum . . .)

2) "Four designers discuss their work on recent book covers: first concepts that didn’t make the final cut, and then the cover as published." (For a brilliant slideshow of, and commentary on, recent book covers and those that nearly were see the New York Times . . .)

3) I could listen all day to the late W. G. Sebald reading from his magnificent, but unfortunately final, novel Austerlitz (with a delightful appearance near the end by Susan Sontag). 



An Open Letter to President Obama

Earlier this week the American Booksellers Association and Hut Landon, Executive Director of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, wrote President Obama stirring open letters we thought you'd like to see. They were in response to the President's visit to an warehouse and on the heels of Amazon's most recent episode of loss-leader predatory pricing. Both letters are clear and to the point, highlighting not simply what independent bookstores are up against but also how we stand out as an alternative to business as usual.

Here's Hut's:

Dear President Obama,

I'm writing you on behalf of the members of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association to express our dismay at your decision to deliver an address on jobs at an Amazon warehouse.

Amazon is a company that for more than decade fought tooth-and-nail to protect a business model based on sales tax avoidance, in the process fueling other online companies to copy to its actions and costing states cumulatively billions of dollars.

Worse yet, in our state, Amazon's CEO purposely misled the media and public officials by stating that his company shouldn't have to pay sales tax in California because Amazon didn't have a presence here and therefore wasn't using services that sales tax covers. The fact is, of course, sales tax is collected by retailers on behalf of purchasers who are liable for it - Amazon wasn't being asked to pay sales tax, only to do what other retailers are required to do legally in the states.

Amazon now has largely abandoned its sales tax avoidance strategy because it believes it needs to compete on delivery time. So warehouses have been opening across the country, including in Tennessee. Amazon has created jobs, to be sure, but they are often part-time (making those nasty health benefits a non-factor) and barely minimum wage. The company has made news with their warehouses, but it hasn't always been about job creation. In Pennsylvania, employees were forced to work in extreme summer heat without any air conditioning, and you have no doubt been following Amazon's labor troubles in Germany.

On top of all this, your Justice Department handed Amazon a monopoly on e-books with it's recent ruling, assuring that independent bookstores will be unable to compete with e-books being sold as a loss leader to attract new Amazon customers. Ironically, while consumers will see lower prices, they will also see many fewer e-books published in the future. When Amazon decides not to lose money on the products, it will force e-book publishers to offer better terms. Given the already low margins, the response will be to simply not publish nearly as many titles. You'll be able to buy the newest book by Dan Brown, just not anything by the next Dan Brown.

Your appearance at the Amazon warehouse in Chattanooga sends a clear signal to small independent businesses that our value as job creators and community linchpins is not as important as an arrogant chain behemoth's contributions to states' monetary shortfalls and creation of thousands more minimum wage, benefit-poor jobs.

We will continue to do what we do best as locally owned businesses - offer knowledge and service to our customers, create and support community growth and activity, make every effort to provide employees with fair wages and conducive working conditions. And some of us will continue to grow and employ new workers, as small business has always done, even with the Amazons of the world being excused for past transgressions and rewarded for predatory business practices.

We are disappointed that you feel Amazon deserves your attention and endorsement (even if implied). We hope you will carefully consider the message you are sending with such an appearance and perhaps re-think that message in the future.

Respectfully but with regret,

Hut Landon
Executive Director
Northern California Independent Booksellers Association

Situations like this highlight all the more reason we at Diesel are excited about the plans for a California Bookstore Day, where we can celebrate and support the stores across the state that try to stem the tide and buck the trend. We hope you are too.



Saturday Evening Video:

You know you work at a bookstore when your first thought when watching something like this is "Ooo, I hope they didn't damage any of the books!"


California Bookstore Day!

A wonderful thing happens when you walk into a Diesel bookstore: you cannot help but notice you're in a space that is not only filled with books, but that you're surrounded by people who love them. As the pace of life and commerce continues to quicken, faster now than a point and click of a mouse, independent bookstores have become all the more important. Here, there is as much room for the busy, quick-in and quick-out shopper as there is the "Sunday-stroller" out on a Tuesday; the woman who knows what she wants and where it is, as well as the guy who just loves the smell of books. Independent bookstores are -- and we think will remain -- cultural destinations. And for this reason, we're excited to tell you about California Bookstore Day

On this special day, May 3, 2014, a number of extremely limited-edition, unique, word-based items and books will be available in more than one hundred independent stores across our great state. Note: these aren’t going to be your run-of-the-mill signed first editions. We're talking literary art projects, one-of-a kind books -- collector’s items created for this event only. And, of course, as California goes, so goes the rest of the country! By 2015, we hope to make Bookstore Day a national celebration.

We can't do it without your help, though, and look forward to working with you to make this happen. For specific details, visit the California Bookstore Day IndieGoGo fundraising page. Join us, and let's spread the joy and love of bookstores. 








Diesel Presents - Javier Marias

Diesel, A Bookstore in Oakland, is starting a featured section. Every couple of weeks, we'll highlight an author, a literary theme, or topic that we feel you might want to know about. We started with Roberto Bolaño, in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of his passing. This week, we bring you:

Javier Marías, 1953 - Present

Javier MariasA bit of a celebrity in his native Spain, Javier Marías is a prolific writer, translator, and columnist. He is perhaps best known for his novel All Souls, ostensibly a fiction set in Oxford University, though there are many who believe it is a not-so-subtle roman a clef. In fact, the reception of All Souls prompted Marías to write Dark Back of Time – a “false novel” according to him -- which starts off discussing the effects of publishing All Souls and the ripples it sent through the Oxford community. The book also chronicles the series of events that led Jon Wynne-Tyson, the reigning king of the small, Caribbean island of Redonda, to abdicate the throne and leave it to Marías.   

That's right. In 1997, Javier Marías became King of Redonda. As king, he has bestowed a number of duchies to artists and writers, such as the poet John Ashberry (Duke of Convexo), director Francis Ford Coppola (Duke of Megalopolis), and writer Orhan Pamuk (Duke of Colores).  Marías also created an annual literary prize, the winner of which receives a duchy of their own. Recent winners were Alice Munro in 2005 (Duchess of Ontario), Ray Bradbury in 2007 (Duke of Diente de Leon) and Umberto Eco in 2008 (Duke of La Isla del Dia Ante).   

From the Paris Review: “Marías is forever redrawing the thin line that separates illusion from reality, and they are central elements of his work. It is not only his narrators who are unreliable; the entire world of his novels is unreliable. His books enact the Nabokovian principle that memory is ultimately false, which gives his stories a sense of timelessness.”

His new book, Infatuations, will be available from Diesel on August 13th.

Try Javier Marías if you like Roberto Bolaño or W.G. Sebald.

Melancholy and Creativity

There is, as has been ably demonstrated by the likes of Kay Redfield Jamison in her splendid study Touched with Fire, an undeniable link between melancholy, madness, and creativity. When we consider the frayed and fraught weave of these connections, though, I think we should be careful to draw a too-quick equivalence between depression and melancholy. If nothing else, this sort of care is the least we can do for our mythological forebears.

The link between Kronos/Saturn and melancholy, of course, is well-known and time-honored. But it is interesting what revisiting it from time to time reveals. To re-rehearse: Kronos was a particularly naughty boy. Killing one’s father tends to earn that label. Castrating one’s dead father and casting his testicles into the ocean, that just makes one disturbed. Such being the happy accidents of mythology, though, this insult upon injury at least gave rise to Aphrodite/Venus and the nymphs -- which at last gave the world somebody to blame when its lust was too often excessive and its love too seldom returned. As naughty as he was, neither was Kronos a fool. For he knew that if he could do in Daddy, surely his own children would eventually desire to do the same to him. So, naturally, he ate them.

Down the hatch, one, two, three, four, five times, until finally, when the sixth was born, Rhea managed to convince him that, yes, a rock and a baby do in fact taste very much the same. And so it was that Zeus was spared because of his father’s undiscriminating palate.

Most of us know the story from here. Zeus eventually manages to induce in his father a profound bout of nausea the likes of which the world has never before or since known, causing him to spew out, newly living, with nary a chew mark even, Zeus’ siblings. And so began the war with the Titans from which Mount Olympus would arise.

Unlike his father, in the case of Kronos’ overthrow the insult was the injury. Whether he was spared his testicles (and instead cut into a thousand pieces) or he was castrated (and remained otherwise intact), the stories vary, his defeat made him subject to everything his peculiar taste in baby had allowed him to avoid. Namely, the onslaught of time. Time/chronos, we might say, finally caught up to Kronos — the cycle of create-to-consume was ended. The specter of death, or at least of life’s limits, had dawned.

And thus, too, was born melancholy, that most heroic of the temperaments, we’re told, of which Aristotle writes:

“Why is it that all those who have become eminent in philosophy or politics or poetry or the arts are clearly melancholics . . . ?”

Of course, not all melancholics are creators, but there is surely a sense that all creators are inevitably melancholics. This is because to create is to submit to creation, whether it be by castration or a thousand-some cuts beyond the bone. Because beginnings lead to many different and possible middles, as many as one might imagine along the way . . . to what? To that ending -- the final page of finitude -- that prompted all these beginnings in the first place and that clings, like an as-yet unfulfilled promise, to every step of the way.

Kronos could not, properly speaking, create at all until he no longer could. This, I'd suggest, not unlike our present world, makes him a depressive. Self-perpetuation, particularly when in the form of a self who at all costs seeks expansion or extension, only gets one so far — which is to say, if the myths are to be believed, to nowhere at all. Something always slips between the cracks, and only by way of this mistake or deceit — stones mistaken for babies — depressives almost always end up creating something in spite of themselves. The unfortunate thing is that, like Kronos, and, yes, like our present world, this “something” is too often their only creation: the means of their destruction.

This is why what is classically exemplary of Kronos is not to be found in the monstrosity of his depressive cuisine, but in the creatively melancholic realization of its failure to fulfill. Here, then, is the crucial distinction, between depression and melancholy. There will be some blurring of the lines between the two, but they are not, indeed must not be, the same if anything is ever to have been or be created. Zeus has seen to that.


 -- Brad J. 

Four Good Things: Women Serve Notice

1) One of the best things that's happened in publishing this year is NYRB Classics re-releasing Renata Adler's Speedboat and Pitch Dark. In these brilliant and innovative novels, Adler mixes deadpan wit with cringe-worthy rhetorical jabs and creates a prose style distinctively her own. Hers is a raw emotional fragility and hardened fortitude, reminding many of Elizabeth Hardwick and David Foster Wallace. We're so happy these novels are available once again. (For more on the Renata Adler "Renaissance," see the Guardian . . .)

2) A fantastic interview with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (author most recently of Americanah): "I wish there was a bit more understanding of the many blacks, and the many sort of permutations of blackness. I would like every black immigrant who comes here to take a course in African American history. But speaking of stereotypes, the African stereotypes are very easily absorbed in the African American community as well. I remember how amusing I found it that African Americans were shocked that I can speak English. Because, you know, you came from Africa." (for more, see the Boston Review . . .)

3) "These female characters had love stories of heartbreak, but no stories of solitary self-discovery. Like many young adults, I didn't necessarily want stable. I wanted to drive On The Road and stop off in small towns and drink more than was probably appropriate. I wanted to question who I was and be my own Catcher in the Rye. There are no Jack Kerouacs or Holden Caulfields for girls. Literary girls don't take road-trips to find themselves; they take trips to find men. . . . 'Great' books, as defined by the Western canon, didn't contain female protagonists I could admire. In fact, they barely contained female protagonists at all. Of the 100 Best Novels compiled by Modern Library, only nine have women in the leading role, and in only one of those books--The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark--do the leading women strive to do more than find a husband or raise their children. Statistically, one percent of the Best Novels are about women doing something other than loving" (For more, see The Atlantic . . .)

4) Recently the ARU Feminist Society and Cambridge University Students' Union Women's Campaign canvased the streets and campus of Cambridge with a simple-sounding question: Why do you need feminism? The responses are at turns harrowing and humorous, probing and provocative. 

 (View more responses here . . .)

"Ironic" Made Ironic

I know, I know, making light of Alanis Morissette's song "Ironic," ironically titled given the lack of irony in its actual lyrics, has been done time and time again for nearly twenty years now. Ah, but sometimes it is done right. Case in point, Rachael Hurwitz's recent contribution, which is not only a funny send-up of Morissette's hit but a full-on English lesson. English majors around the globe thank you, Rachel!