Daily Postings
literature : interview

Juan Villoro

by Carlos Fonseca

Writing in the midst of political upheaval.

An inheritor of Jorge Ibargüengoitia’s sense of humor, Carlos Monsiváis’s acute perception, and Juan Rulfo’s poetic density, Juan Villoro has gracefully established himself as a central figure within Latin American literature. His versatility, evident in his prolific and protean production, is famous in the Spanish-speaking world. From his early short stories to his famous crónicas, from journalistic essays to academic ones, from children’s books to literary translations of German classics, from books on soccer to monumental novels, his capacity to intertwine, in every possible register, political reflections and literary imagination, provides each of his interventions with an impressive poignancy. His work is an exploration into the perverse social fantasies driving Mexico’s violent modern history and leaves nothing untouched.

His 2004 novel El testigo, winner of the prestigious Herralde Prize, is arguably where Villoro’s literary reflections regarding violence, history, and literature have been most brilliantly embodied. The novel tells the story of Julio Valdivieso, a Mexican émigré intellectual who, after a long stance in Europe, returns to Mexico after the ruling political party loses, following seven decades in power, the elections. His research into the figure of modernist poet Ramón López Velarde quickly leads him into a landscape of violence where history and spectacle overlap to the point of confusion. A novel about what it means to be a historical witness, El testigo remains Villoro’s masterpiece, a monument to his versatility as a writer and to his complexity as conjurer of Mexico’s social fantasies. With the recent events in the Mexican state of Guerrero, where forty-three students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College of Ayotzinapa have disappeared, his work seems today of the utmost relevance.

Despite its uncontested centrality and visibility within contemporary Latin American culture, Villoro’s work has only recently become available in translation to an American audience. On the tenth anniversary of El testigo’s publication, and with the English translation of two of his recent titles—The Guilty and Arrecife—forthcoming from New York publishing house George Braziller, Jeffrey Lawrence and I thought it pertinent to interview him on the political as well as aesthetic repercussions of his recent novels. We wish to thank him for such an enjoyable conversation.

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Literature : interview

Ottessa Moshfegh

by Lorin Stein

Voice, vulnerability, and putting the intellect to bed.

Ottessa Moshfegh received the 2013 Plimpton Prize for Fiction from The Paris Review, where she has now published four stories, with one on the way. Her first novella, McGlue, will be published by Fence Books this month.

The following interview was conducted by e-mail during August and September 2014, with Moshfegh answering questions from New York, Paris, and Nairobi.

Lorin Stein Unlike your stories—at least the ones I've read—McGlue is set in the past. How did you come to write an historical novel?

Ottessa Moshfegh McGlue is set in 1851. It was inspired by a brief article in a New England periodical from that year. I have lost the article by now, but the moment I read it, McGlue's character emerged in full form. It was one long run-on sentence, as I recall, and read something like: “McGLUE. Salem. Mr. McGlue the sailor has been acquitted on the count of murder which he was found guilty of committing in the port of Zanzibar by reason of his being out of his mind since having hit his head when he fell from a train several months prior and because he was in a blacked out state of drunkenness at the time he stabbed a man to death.”

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Literature : Word Choice

One Poem

by Daniel Bouchard

Poem Ending with Clotbur

Alive in liverwort, a life’s worth
  among lambsquarters
and burcucumbers    purple
  dead nettle, the absurd
birdseye pearlwort
  heard by pursley
breathing in tumble mustard  
  in devil’s grip   gypsy
combs, ordinary corn cockle
  and henbit of Aaron Burr

Bought purslane   wild
  portulaca   which is best
of worts?    in wire grass
  or path rush two penny
grass, wirestem muhly 
  one day this trillium glare
broken-glass green sparkle
  bloodwort type

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Literature : Interview

Joanna Ruocco

by Micaela Morrissette

Deviance, social collectives, narrative constraint, and looniness in the groundwater.

In Joanna Ruocco’s new novel, Dan (Dorothy, 2014), the beleaguered but stouthearted heroine, Melba Zuzzo, finds herself the object of a conspiracy of criticism by perhaps every member of the titular small town in which she lives. As Melba says, “In Dan, we all live in the shadow of blame.” Yet Melba’s sufferings are smothered, to some extent, by the simplicity of the voice Ruocco employs to convey her extremely peculiar tale. The often disconcerting directness of the syntax muffles the otherwise startling use of vocabulary and the contextual absurdity; it softens but never distorts the unpredictable laws of cause and effect that rule the world of Dan. Accused of murder, of impersonating the dead, of abducting a principal, of being special, of being a succubus, of anarchy, of being hairy, Melba is dismayed, outcast, evicted, and bewildered. She faces repressions both linguistic and societal; she’s a creature in a society where desire is anxious, fervent, but sterile; limbo is metamorphic; unkindness is loving. She is threatened with the same fate as that of her friends and neighbors who have disappeared, reappeared, or are revealed to have never existed, even though, “in small towns [like Dan] … the only way to leave is to go nowhere. But that takes a certain type of resolve.”

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Literature : Interview

Claudia La Rocco

by Jennifer Krasinski

Rug pulling and responsibility in a writing practice that commingles genres.

Claudia La Rocco is a poet and critic who at the same time is not a poet and critic. Her calling is to entwine these forms, leveling their useless distinctions to lay claim to another, more promising territory. Sharp eyed and nimble minded, she is one of the rare practitioners of the slippery art of presence, no matter if her attention is turned toward a stage, or a page, whatever points in between appear in order to pique her interest. Whether her subject is a contemporary dance performance or the confusions wrought by desire, her first question always seems to be “What is this?” Then she asks, “How can I see this for what it is?” One of the many things I love about her writing is how it records the particular flicker of her synapses, swerving between subjects, veering in many directions in order to find the sharpest views, no matter if fractured or fleeting. At her core, Claudia might be a passionate champion of misbehavior. She understands that thinking and creating are messy businesses, that opinions are facts of a different stripe, and that ideas rarely arrive whole or in manageable sizes. If that wasn’t enough, she is also a teacher, collaborator, and curator, propelled by a personal velocity that seems to whir at a speed that clocks somewhere between pirouette and cyclone. A collection of her work titled The Best Most Useless Dress has just been published by Paul Chan’s Badlands Unlimited, so she and I took this occasion to talk about how she writes through unknowing, how she negotiates the rights and responsibilities of form crashing, and the reasons why confusion might be the most truthful expression of all.

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Literature : Word Choice

from The Second Dog

by Rob Walsh

The mother opened the door but was not able to speak, not right away.

It took her a long moment to become accustomed to the idea of a town official in her home, or on the threshold of her home. Maybe the idea was gradually starting to appeal to her, to warm her sense of importance, to give her a more functional role in the community and environment she had begun to see as unchanging, but when the time came for someone to say hello, it was Kramer who stumbled forward and said hello, who kind of elbowed to the front and said hello again, breathing harder than should have been necessary for a man who had only crossed from the living room.

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Literature : Word Choice

Four Poems

by Tomaž Šalamun

Irradiated Gnostics

As if water would have three                 
skins, one Istanbul’s, one

birds’ and one still cobbled into
fingers’ gloves’ skin. How

to pumice the skin into pavement
for two, how to define its

feathers up and down. You crumple
yourself in the fish pond.

There they stain your iron shirt.
Burda lotuses float on

the surface, Villon spat pits.
Anymore village boys

don’t spit pits. Pits fall out
their asses to the ground.

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Literature : Editor’s Choice

The Third Person

by Michael Oblowitz

The Third Person is a film written, produced, and directed by Michael Oblowitz/ Camera: Michael Oblowitz/ Assistant Director: Michael Shamberg/ Assistant Camera: Christophe Lanzenberg/ Editors: Skip Lievsay, Lizzie Borden/ Music: Anton Fig/ Make up: Dunja Sagov/ With: Rosemary Hochschild, Ron Vawter, Will Patton, Fiona Templeton, Nancy Riley Peyton, Stuart Sherman.

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Literature : Word Choice

Three Poems

Dead Links

A hammer was wrapped
in a canvas bag, gagging

the piano’s middle C.
I think you’re trying

to tell me something. Once,
I stood near the river

so long, I heard two of them
whispering in a tree. He said,

It’s about so much more
than the sound. I think

he was trying to be funny.
A group of them were shuffling

onto the top deck of a purple bus.

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Literature : Interview

Jean-Marie Gleize

by Noura Wedell

An invitation to disorder: poetry, insurrection, and concrete utopia.

On November 11, 2008, the French government stormed what they called an “anarcho-autonomist cell,” a group who had set up a store in the small village of Tarnac in central France. Accused of “criminal conspiracy to commit a terrorist act,” the members of this group were suspected of having sabotaged the catenaries of a high-speed train. Although most of those arrested were released fairly rapidly, Julien Coupat, the presumed leader of the cell, spent more than six months in jail without trial, under “preventative arrest.” What is particularly striking about this situation, and generally in line with the effects of increasingly liberticidal antiterrorist laws, is that part of the accusation included the presumption that Coupat belonged to the anonymous collective that had written The Coming Insurrection, a handbook on active exile from capitalism. The presumption of authorship as a political crime is perhaps something we thought ourselves safe from in our so-called Western democracies. Jean-Marie Gleize's book Tarnac (Kenning Editions, 2014) arose as a response to this situation, as an act of friendship, and as an experiment in what he calls another form of politics.

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Literature : Word Choice

Views

by Leah Dieterich

I am alone at a house in the middle of the California desert, looking out a plate glass window. I look past the porch, which isn’t really a porch, just a slab of concrete. And while the concrete really is concrete, it could just as well be the ashes of the thoughts of anyone who’s ever sat here and contemplated this middle view.

The middle view is perpetually between. It’s the scrubby desert plants, the skeletal remains of mattresses propped up as fences, the tan horizontality. It is the kind of view that settles the gaze but frustrates the camera.

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Literature : Word Choice

One Poem

by Emmalea Russo

1
One cultivates one  Each
Row   makes a simple Grr
One engenders One enters
a G One Greets One   Grd
ns   One Grammars one  A
Group of   1 Growths one
eventually  even Grows e
ast even astutely into G

 

What is G must be greater than my desire to bury G while I secure G in the earth and witness growth. If no reality exists apart from the mind. Does G. If precision is what I aspire to, then I must let G drop down from the alphabet and be here. Rows of seeds and seeds cupped in the hand. G is a gardening. In use and seemingly simple. Learning.

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Literature : Interview

Jill Schoolman

by Bibi Deitz

Archipelago Books, the hypnotic quality of Knausgaard, and the translator's role as diplomat and ventriloquist.

Jill Schoolman, founder of Brooklyn-based translation press Archipelago Books, gave a talk at Bennington College this summer. I sat rapt in the audience, wildly scribbling phonetically spelled names of writers from around the world and notes about their work. Schoolman speaks in a torrent of rapidly articulated ideas, but she slowed down at the end of her discussion to read a striking prose poem by Antonio Tabucchi called “A Whale’s View of Man” that closes, “They soon get tired and when evening falls they lie down on the little islands that take them about and perhaps fall asleep or watch the moon. They slide silently by and you realize they are sad.” This is the kind of writing that the nonprofit press publishes, by turns tender and startling and deeply literary—the bone marrow of international literature.

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Literature : Word Choice

Your Head in the Right Place

by Rhoads Stevens

Now that her mother was dead, Lucille could die, and no one important to her would mind. She could get murdered. She could die of old age or by some disease. She could take a month of medication in an evening.

Lucille was in the shower at her fiancée’s apartment. Her underwear was in the sink, and it was black. Yesterday, just before her mother’s funeral, Lucille had realized she owned no black clothing except for that underwear. When she gave her mother’s eulogy, Lucille had worn navy slacks, burgundy shoes, and a shirt so dark purple that it was almost black but not.

The black underwear was in the sink, where she often put her underwear while she showered, and this habit bothered her fiancée. Her fiancée said it was not clean to do that—a contamination. It could make them sick. Lucille would apologize and say she wouldn’t do it again but still forgot and did it often. And she could not help but feel her underwear wouldn’t make them sick and that it would be better if her fiancée were not to mind.

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Literature : Word Choice

One Poem

by Kyle Schlesinger

rifling glove as you well know
one and the same this was the late
never defect back to the wall

at the far end a gloomy bay
books in the black it all began on
whose thousand yard stares

until that day when the last
variegated cloud lifts off the roof
and it was here on the radio

in what was always a beverage
back to the wall while waiting tables
never been any waiting since

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Literature : Interview

Joe Wenderoth

by Paola Capó-García

“Beautiful, stupid, dangerous, life-saving, corrupting, and perhaps all there is.”

In Joe Wenderoth’s most recent collection of poems, If I Don’t Breathe How Do I Sleep (Wave Books, 2014), the speaker is in constant discovery of his limitations. Whether it’s a desire to travel, to offer sympathy, to miss a loved one, to avoid bureaucratic obligations, to assemble a clown, to keep in shape, “to eat of the world you live in,” the speaker visits each poem only to find more despair and more limits. “I very recently came into complete possession of where I am. / Trouble is: / having complete possession of where I am / diminishes the potential of my dramatic arc.” The speaker realizes this during “My Coronation,” where awareness is a coming to terms with playing an unsatisfying role.

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Literature : Word Choice

Three Voice Overs

by Joanna Howard

I am reading a book about brain plasticity while John attempts to hook up an arcane device (DVD player) to our very modern media-viewing system. The arcane device will allow for the viewing of an arcane medium (DVD) in particular an arcane medium from an unrecognized/unpermitted region (in this case region 2, Europe/UK). The hunt for cables and mounting and dismounting tools begins early in the morning and ranges all over the house. There’s some concern on both our parts that the attempts to introduce this arcane device into our very modern system might bring all media-viewing to a crashing halt. All this so we can watch an Alan Bennett play staged and performed for television (arcane-but-evolvable technology) in another, forbidden regional format (BBC). I have already seen it; I went through a similar but less complicated process of media accommodation several years ago in another house in order to watch this play. John, however, hasn’t seen it even though he would have been living in that region when the program aired on its intended technological medium. The play, oddly enough, is called “An Englishman Abroad.”

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Literature : Interview

Elizabeth Mikesch

by Erik Morse

Strange songs: Elizabeth Mikesch channels the grit and caprice of suburban adolescence.

Elizabeth Mikesch’s debut novella, Niceties, is a collection of domestic fairytales that evoke the kind of suburban witchcraft of Harmony Korine, Vladimir Nabokov, and Catherine Breillat. Presumably based on the author’s experiences as a precocious child living in Small Town, USA, the book is composed of a series of loosely related miniatures on eroticism, witchery, and boredom, which occasionally braid and loop back on one another as if through the tiny nooks of the book’s imaginary floor plan. Mikesch’s sentences are, throughout, pleasantly plump and oleaginous, seeping with the sights and smells of pubescence: grandmother’s repasts, masturbatory bed-sheets, and nocturnal beasties. “We were sleeveless daughters once in the sleet nights of the wild fields, smokes and talk, eyelids stained, in the spunout drives, riding suicide, in the chardark, in the moonlight,” she writes of the rituals of teenage girls in the parlance of a millennial Sibyl. “There was hiding coughing—do not make a sound—inhale a puff of a poison, did the coffin slam shut?” Its familial subject matter, often portrayed in illicit and traumatic vignettes, and a lyrical, albeit dissonant, use of language makes Niceties a rewarding experiment in the linkages between Victorian “house” literature and the transgressive, free-versification of the archly feminist New Narrative.

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Literature : Interview

Peter Mendelsund

by Christopher King

Wrapping words up in images.

Among book designers, Peter Mendelsund is the best reader of all. You always recognize one of his covers when you see it, and it’s not because he tends toward certain colors or typefaces—quite the opposite. Rather, it’s something about the way the cover illuminates the text. You can tell he didn’t just read the manuscript; he internalized it. The result somehow feels both inevitable and surprising: the only possible solution but one you could never dream up yourself.

That such a good reader would turn out to be an outstanding writer is perhaps inevitable as well, but Peter has once again confounded expectations by publishing two books of his own, with two different publishers, on the same day. The first, Cover, is a design book full of words, and the second, What We See When We Read, is a philosophy book full of pictures.

Six years ago, I had a desk a few floors up from Peter’s office at Random House. He was already famed for his iconic covers for authors like Martin Amis and Mark Haddon, but many of his greatest hits—the Kafka reissues, the Cortázar covers, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—were still to come. We became acquainted that summer, and every now and then I’d poke my head in and ask for advice about how to be a better designer.

Of course, now I realize I was asking all the wrong questions. So I recently went back to Peter’s office and asked for advice about how to be a better reader.

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Literature : Word Choice

Meaningful Work

by JoAnna Novak

Pre-shift you stop at Valley Mart. You need two Mountain Dews to survive. The slog. See yourself when you say slog. You’ll slug Dew—wind catching your black cargo chef pants, raw chicken gunking your kitchen clogs—and mud will pour into the Mansion. Gray-brown, doom and gloom, life after your mother’s death—that’s what you need to overcome: today’s shift. Tell yourself it’s any Tuesday.

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Literature : Interview

Clive Phillpot

by Elizabeth Zuba

Human collage, mail art, and punning with the nothing master Ray Johnson.

Almost twenty years after his death, Ray Johnson continues to be revealed as one of the most consequential figures in American contemporary art. The progenitor of correspondence art and an influential pioneer of pop art and conceptual art (though he eschewed all of these monikers), Johnson’s curiosity resulted in an immense body of work that spans collage, correspondence, performance, sculpture, drawing, painting, and book arts. For better or worse, he embodied that over-glorified and under-recognized role of “the artist’s artist.” Johnson’s dynamic life-art unfolded within a nexus of artists and media that read as a who’s who and what’s what of American art from the 1950s through 1970s, and yet he systematically refused or flouted all opportunities to popularize his work through mainstream art commerce.

Grace Glueck once wrote to me that Johnson sent letters to academics and journalists in the art world whose attention he wanted. Maybe, but it certainly wasn’t fame he was after. So I guess the question is, what kind of attention? From what I can tell, Johnson was highly selective about whom in the art establishment he tried to engage. He sent letters to academic figures who he thought could and hopefully would correspond with him the way he wanted—persons who might match his intellect and interests, and parry with his acerbic wit; persons who might be game to enter into an alternative kind of correspondence via the oblique and contiguous relationships of words, ideas, and images. Clive Phillpot was one such favorite correspondent and friend of Ray Johnson’s. Since Johnson’s death, Phillpot has become one of the foremost scholars of his work. It was an honor to be able to talk with Clive and plumb his unique and illuminating insight into Johnson’s art and person.

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Literature : Word Choice

Four Poems

by Darin Ciccotelli

Assistance

You have the vague hope. Like a fritillary
it ekes along the perimeter of what
you can see. It is some consequence of youth,
this idea that you can be revived.
Until then, each day seems like that
apartment you’ve lived in—unfurnished,
wet with primer. Then the weekend is gone,
television having usurped it with
the dressage portion of the event. Increasingly
you rely on the idea that you were nearly
understood. The sky all fumes.
Inside, a refrigerated lily holds itself
still. The post-industrial town fits its
hours in envelopes. So you assuage yourself
with the person you never knew.
She sits in the mind like a
telephone. The feeling can’t help be
compounded. I read the article that said
we weren’t supposed to look each
other in the eyes. Without being asked,
the unceremonious plot resets itself. You are
in love. Everyone, at every corner,
suddenly like road flares.

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Literature : Interview

Kate Durbin

by Gabriela Jauregui

Literary television, tragicomic starlets, and objects galore.

Kate Durbin and I sat together to gossip and eat pink food on her pink leather sofa—the only fit way to celebrate the publication of her most recent book, E! Entertainment, which was printed on pink paper. She wore a pink angora sweater (she’s always a little cold) and I wore a pink Lycra jumpsuit (and was therefore too hot). We had fish eggs, salmon, radishes, wild strawberries, Pink Lady apple tart with blush crème fraîche, and a dry rosé wine while we discussed the best shade of nail polish (powder rose) as well as writing and process. In the background the television set was muted and I could see flashes of a gemstone infomercial.

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Literature : Word Choice

from Blonde Summer

by Andrew Durbin

In Basel, I smoked hash and listened to Sophie’s “Bipp,” a little out of date by the time I heard it, zoning out on the line I can make you feel better. I used to think life was about feeling better and searching for the better in what is not. I have now realized that there are errors in this pursuit.

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