On the infinite wisdom of Ursula Le Guin

I’m rereading A Wizard of Earthsea. It’s marvelously wise, and to think that it was one of the earliest of Le Guin’s published novels! I’ve read interviews with Le Guin, where she credits her discovery of feminism with uplifting her career. “A Wizard of Earthsea” predates her feminist work, but there are fun ways of reading it as a proto-feminist narrative, I believe.

Here’s a passage that comes at the end of Ged’s schooling; he’s graduated and became a full-staffed wizard. Now he needs to leave the school, and for that he needs to guess the name of The Master Doorkeeper.

Ged knew a thousand ways and crafts and means for finding out names of things and of men, of course; such craft was a part of everything he had learned at school, for without it there could be little useful magic done. But to find out the name of a Mage and Master was another matter. A mage’s name is better hidden than a herring in the sea, better guarded than a dragon’s den. A prying charm will be met with a stronger charm, subtle devices will fail, devious inquiries will be deviously thwarted, and force will be turned ruinously back upon itself. . . . .

 

After the sun was up Ged went, still fasting, to the door of the House and knocked. The Doorkeeper opened.

“Master,” said Ged, “I cannot take your name from you, not being strong enough, and I cannot trick your name from you, not being wise enough. So I am content to stay here, and learn or serve, whatever you will: unless by chance you will answer a question I have.”

“Ask it.”

“What is your name?”

Buy and read the rest of the book.

Счастьеведение по методу «Хлоп-страны»

Еще одна рецензия на “Хлоп-страну”:

Это естественное любопытство автора, а также постоянное желание проникнуть глубже поверхностного восприятия – в самую сердцевину отношений – помогает Ольге Гренец, казалось бы, самую незначительную ситуацию превратить в историю, имеющую глубину. Рассказ «Любить перемены» появился из короткой переписки дочери, живущей в США, с матерью, которая, выйдя на пенсию, приняла неожиданное решение учить английский язык. Всего несколько вопросов по переводу английских фраз – а для автора это повод поразмышлять об отношениях между родителями и детьми, о сестринском соперничестве, о том, насколько крепкими остаются семейные узы, даже когда жизнь разбрасывает членов одной семьи по всему земному шару.

Продолжение тут.

Clark Coolidge’s Collected Poems

Excited to learn that Clark Coolidge’s new Collected Poems is being published in April. I’m well-connected! Got an email from City Lights, announcing his reading on April 13, and also an email from the publisher, Station Hill Press. Apparently, Publishers Weekly declined to review this book — which is a sure sign of a certain kind of quality. Coolidge’s experiments from 1962 to 1986 still feel experimental!  This book comes with the coolidge-cover-largeintroduction by the late poet Bill Berkson.

I learned of Coolidge’s work several years ago, when asked to review his long poem that came out of trips to Leningrad-Petersburg. That review appeared in HTMLGiant. I’ve been following his work ever since. What appeals to me the most is the sense of play that comes from reading his lines, the attitude toward poetry and language as something to take apart and mold in new ways, as though just to see what will happen. A reading act calls for some kind of an interaction, for a partner to whom I could speak some lines, and who would laugh and nod in response. That’s cool. This falls flat. Read that again.

Show Her a Flower, a Bird, a Shadow

Peg Alford Pursell is one of the writers whose work I’ve been following for some years, having met her when she moved to the Bay Area and became a regular, for a time, at the San Francisco Writers Workshop. It’s a particular pleasure to hold in my hands a book that I feel I already know intimately, from having seen some of the stories in drafts, from knowing the author’s aesthetic and using that as a jumping off point into the reading. my-book-cover-in-this-size-2_2_0

But what if the book proves to be too familiar, too well-known, its movements too predictable? Will the writer still surprise, like a partner after many years of marriage? The risk is high, and the reward — oh the reward. Being allowed into the inner world of another human being, being encouraged to examine the corridors of her heart, laid out in all of their complexity, the dizzying sensation of falling into the words as into a looking glass.

Show Her a Flower, a Bird, a Shadow delivers all that. I’m about halfway through. Looking at its cover, I thought of describing it as baroque for a kind of exuberance in the detail of the bird and the petals. Such a perfect cover to this book, where the sparseness of language coexists with sudden proliferation, of streamlined sentences opening unexpectedly into luxurious, and soaring, flourishes.

Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life, translated by Charlotte Collins

This novel is set in a remote Austrian mountain valley. Andreas Egger, the pr9780374289867otagonist, arrives here as a boy of four. A farmer adopts him and treats him cruelly. Egger, nevertheless, builds a life, marries, goes to war, returns, watches the world change around him as he becomes a stalwart of his valley and earns his living by leading groups of tourists through the mountains. I’m reading this novel as a meditation about stewardship of the land, an exercise of imagination about how to live lightly. It takes a certain set of experiences, good and bad luck, to get there. Here’s a sign that Egger paints to advertise his business:

IF YOU LIKE THE MOUNTAINS I’M YOUR MAN.
I (with practically a lifetime’s experiences in and of Nature) offer:
Hiking with or without baggage
Excursions (half or full day)
Climbing trips
Walks in the mountains (for senior citizens, disabled people and children)
Guided tours in all seasons (weather permitting)
Guaranteed sunrise for early birds
Guaranteed sunset (in the valley only, as too dangerous on the mountain)
No danger to life and limb!
(PRICE IS NEGOTIABLE, BUT NOT EXPENSIVE)

I’m working on a full-length review of a novel by an author from Iceland, Oddný Eir, “Land of Love and Ruins,” translated by Philip Roughton, and I find in it, what I think is a similar idea, expressed in the following terms:

It’s good to replace the idea of “love of one’s native land” with “love of one’s foster land,” to clarify your relationship to the country you tied your umbilical cord to. . . . I think that care for the foster mother is inseparable from care for all its sons and daughters, whether they’re related by blood or not. . . . perhaps we can come up with a new way to connect with nature and justice. Come up with a new collective form, a new form of shared responsibility.  . . .  I’m thinking about loyalty. Isn’t loyalty to the fosterland different than loyalty to the fatherland? I’m not thinking about loyalty for loyalty’s sake, like that claimed by sweaty, self-assertive SS hot dogs. . . . Loyalty to the fosterland can’t be separated from connections to the totality of all things.

Eir develops her thoughts on this idea of fosterland at length and through very interesting history. I find it all very appealing. Unfortunately her language, rendered by Roughton, does get a little muddled. Seethaler’s words, rendered by Charlotte Collins, read like poetry. Here it is, again, that line: “I (with practically a lifetime’s experiences in and of Nature) offer: Hiking with or without baggage.”

I want to put a smiley face at the end of that sentence.

An extended excerpt from Seethaler’s novel is available on the publisher’s website.

You can buy the book here.

Two Lines: Fall Issue

Two Lines Press has come out with a new anthology of world writing in translation, their Fall 2016 Issue. My favorite piece in this book is the first, “Sea Swell” by Enrique Vila-Matas, translated from Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa. This is how it opens,

I had a friend once. Indeed, at the time, I only had one friend. His name was Andrés and he lived in Paris and, much to his delight, I traveled to that city to see him. The very evening of my arrival, he introduced me to Marguerite Duras, who was a friend of his. Unfortunately, that evening, I had taken two or three amphetamines.

The voice is humorously self-depreciating, yet confident in telling an important story.  The line notes tell me that Vila-Matas specializes in “stories and novels that plays with the interrelation between fiction and reality,” so I’m reading this as roman à clef. Whether or not the author has actually ever met Marguerite Duras really doesn’t matter as much as the question whether this piece is a stand-alone story or a part of a larger narrative. The ending, though not abrupt, leaves me wanting a lot more.

An accompanying story appears on the Press’s website, “Vampire in Love.”  I haven’t yet had a chance to read it, and I’m a little put off by the title, but I hope to get to it soon.

In the printed anthology, another piece that stood out to me, is “Eni Furtado Has Never Stopped Running” by Alicia Kozameh, translated from Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger. A woman has come to the cemetery to clean her father’s remains. The narrator gives us nearly every bone of this man’s body, together with the smell and, ehrm, taste. Contemporary literature seems, at times, peaked on finding limit experiences, taboos to break, and this piece is that. I’m not sure whether I liked it because or in spite of this.