Ellis on Satin Island

Warren Ellis muses on completing Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island in the latest edition of his newsletter:

SATIN ISLAND is about systems and surfaces.  It has points to make about anthropology and futurism.  Like his book C, the last section is kind of a tired, aching drift towards an end, and the weakest part of the work.  The climactic peak, in the section before, where the narrator has a long-overdue conversation with his girlfriend — that, however, is massive.  McCarthy tears the veil of the book wide open and shows you what it’s really about. Surfaces and the genuine destabilisation of seeing the true nature of the world. Leading our man to find a real metaphor for the contemporary condition, the “Satin Island” of the title.  It’s a magnificent display of idea-building, a structure of clue and curtain and revelation.  I loved it, and will be thinking about it for days.

A few other Satin Island reviews and reactions have been like this. It feels like a flawed but ultimately interesting book, more nourishing than a novel about the tangled relationships of globe-hopping people with careers picked from a David Brooks box of chocolates. I remember C. That last bit was indeed a long drift into nothingness.

I look forward to Warren’s newsletter every Sunday evening. There’s always something worth chewing on in it, although the bastard makes me worry for his health and happiness lately.

Tom McCarthy discussion on the relation of literature & film

Architectural Association site has a 70 minute video of Tom McCarthy discussing the relation between literature and film.

I haven’t watched it yet, and won’t be until next week perhaps, as this week is my finals week. Bill sent it to me two weeks ago, but i’ve been distracted.

Update: Have it running in background as i mess with Tech Writing assignment. It’s mostly readings from Remainder. Carry on.

Two from the LRB

(h/t the inimitable Helen Dewitt)

The Adulteress Wife, on a new translation of The Second Sex (news of which had me excited until I had finished the article).

The book is marred by unidiomatic or unintelligible phrases and clueless syntax; by expressions such as ‘the forger being’, ‘man’s work equal’, ‘the adulteress wife’, and ‘leisure in château life’; and formulations such as ‘because since woman is certainly to a large extent man’s invention’, ‘a condition unique to France is that of the unmarried woman’, ‘alone she does not succeed in separating herself in reality’, ‘this uncoupling can occur in a maternal form.’ The translation is blighted by the constant use of ‘false friends’, words that sound the same but don’t mean the same in the two languages.

And then there are the howlers. A character in Balzac’s Letters of Two Brides is made to kill her husband ‘in a fit of passion’, when what she really does is kill him ‘par l’excès de sa passion’ (‘by her excessive passion’). In the chapter on ‘The Married Woman’, Beauvoir quotes the famous line from Balzac’s Physiologie du mariage: ‘Ne commencez jamais le mariage par un viol’ (‘Never begin marriage by a rape’). Borde and Malovany-Chevallier write: ‘Do not begin marriage by a violation of law.’

The translators fail to recognise many of Beauvoir’s references. Adler’s ‘masculine protest’ becomes ‘virile protest’; the ‘sexual division of labour’ becomes, on the same page, ‘the division of labour by sex’ and the ‘division of labour based on sex’; Bachofen’s ‘mother right’ becomes ‘maternal right’; and Byron’s epigram, ‘Man’s love is of his life a thing apart; ’Tis woman’s whole existence,’ loses all its wit on the round trip from English to French and back again: ‘Byron rightly said that love is merely an occupation in the life of the man, while it is life itself for the woman.’

The notes, bibliography and index are riddled with mistakes. Names are misrecognised and bibliographical references are botched. According to the translators, Stekel’s Frigidity in Woman was first published in French in 1949; in fact it appeared in 1937 (Sartre quotes it in 1943, in Being and Nothingness). Oxford University Press may be amused to learn that A.V. Miller’s Hegel translation is listed as published by Galaxy Press, the publishing house of the Scientologists. In the index, references to Balzac’s Eugénie Grandet turn out to be references to Stendhal’s Mme Grandet, a character in Lucien Leuwen. There is one entry for Johann Bachofen and another one for a character called ‘Baschoffen’ with no first name. In general, far too many index entries fail to provide first names. After all, to find out who Samivel was, all it takes is to type the name into Google.

That bad?  One wonders how things like this happen…

Given the profile of the book, Beauvoir specialists hoped that the publishers would turn to a first-rate translator with a track record in the relevant field: maybe Carol Cosman, the translator of Sartre’s multi-volume study of Flaubert, The Family Idiot, and of Beauvoir’s America Day by Day; Lydia Davis, a translator of Proust; or Richard Sieburth, translator of Leiris, Michaux and Nerval. Instead, the publishers chose Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier, two Americans who have lived in Paris since the 1960s and worked as English teachers at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques. They have published numerous textbooks in English for French students (My English Is French: la syntaxe anglaise), and many cookery books (Cookies et cakes and Sandwichs, tartines et canapés among others). Their track record in translation from French to English, however, appears to be slim (I have found only two catalogue essays for art exhibitions in Paris, both translated by Malovany-Chevallier).

In a 2007 interview with Sarah Glazer, published in Bookforum, Borde and Malovany-Chevallier dismissed doubts about their competence. They explained that they first heard about the problems with the English translation at the 50th anniversary conference on The Second Sex in Paris. After the conference, they contacted a former student, Anne-Solange Noble, the director of foreign rights at Gallimard, to propose themselves for the job, and in due course Noble told Allfrey [the British publisher of the book] that she ‘already knew the perfect translators’.


And then this–McCarthy on Toussaint.    Please read it.  It is a list of McCarthy’s obsessions in the guise of a review essay.  Perhaps “obsessions” is a bit strong.  Perhaps not, though.  When I read Camera last year I was reminded of McCarthy (and, less flatteringly, of Benoit Duteurtre). M and T share preoccupations.  There are affinities.  One enjoys teasing them out of the other’s books.  Have you preordered C yet?

McCarthy, Cortázar, & Bolaño

It’s funny how i used to await the Man Booker long list with bated breathe, but now don’t give a good god damn. Is there anything interesting on there or is it yet more middlebrow fare cenrting on socially conscious midlife crises?

So there’s a piece on the Quarterly Conversation that has me wanting to finish the last third of McCarthy’s Tintin and the Secret of Literature. Why did i falter? Because i am a first-rate sucker. Being full aware of McCarthy’s crazy bullshit games, i still kinda bought into it wholeheartedly. I read too many comics in which one really can do that kind of deconstruction. When someone puts up a blog post analyzing every panel of a superhero comic, meticulously footnoting each reference, i subscribe right away. I want cosmic meaning from my escapist fantasy, even if its pure projection. When i read a review (i don’t recall which) that McCarthy was meanspiritedly mocking comics, it hurt my little feelings. I put the book aside and wept. Even if McCarthy was spinning a fantastic lie and i didn’t believe any of it, there was something in that review that made the book sour. This new piece in the Quarterly Conversation whets my sense of fun again fortunately.

Ready Steady Book has a nice piece on Cortázar that i haven’t read yet. I check him as a favorite author, but i haven’t read all of his work yet, so i feel like a fraud. Cronopios and Famas is at the bedside unfinished and The Winners is on the shelf untouched.

A Roberto Bolaño short story in the New Yorker, Clara. One of those first-person narrated character sketch. Another failed or stillborn artist of sorts. Still digesting that.

some Tom McCarthy reference links

A few more reference links from that Tom McCarthy interview with the Believer:

  • Maria Torok. “Developed the idea of cryptonymy, suggesting that anagrams, homophones, rhymes, puns and other word and sound plays expressed certain patients’ unconscious desires, circumventing the mind’s linguistic censorship.” Interesting. This cryptonymy could be applied to Bolaño’s theme in the Caracas Speech to an extent.
  • Nicolas Abraham. Not much there, although the entry goes a little more on how they separated from Freud’s very specific sex fixations.
  • Lettrism. Yep. We all recognize it, but this is the third time this week that i’ve run across the, first in reading background on who Cendrars influenced, then the McCarthy interview, and now the Bolaño speech. Need to find out more about Isidore Isou. UbuWeb seems to be a place to start, but i betcha it’s in French, which i don’t understand.

Who are you calling Pierre Menard, Pierre Menard?

As someone has who read some Borges, i actually already got the reference that the Stereogum writer was trying to make to Pierre Menard. It just happens to be shorthand for being dismissive of any kind of post modern deconstruction. That story gets invoked whenever someone wants to chop someone off at the knees when they getting a little too deconstructive for the critic’s taste.1 It’s not much better than a jock yelling, “Way to go, Einstein!” sarcastically at anyone evidencing higher thought.

The Pierre Menard comparison doesn’t hold water anyway, in that the story describes an author recreating a piece word by word, exactly, and only changing the meaning by the fact in the period in which it was recreated.2 One extremely fucking salient point about Price’s cover of “Creep” is that he changed the song significantly. This is not the Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard recreation of the Cramps’ 1978 performance at Napa Mental Institute.

I don’t really have a stake in this minor conflict. I’ve been a fan of Eppy’s3 writing for years. Although i hate the vibe of Stereogum, that writer doesn’t seem so bad in comparison. However, he’s guilty of placing a huge target on Eppy for having the nerve to say anything deeper than “Rock on! Free the music!” and changing the context of Eppy’s writing to something other than Eppy intended after Thom Yorke made his comment.

So, almost ironically, the Stereogum writer changed the meaning of the piece by removing it from the period in which it was written, and placed in a different time completely changed the meaning…. just like Pierre Menard, with Eppy as Cervantes. Eppy is no longer the author of his own work, or better yet, the Eppy, a simulacrum of Stereogum™, who is the author of the latter piece, has ceased being the Eppy of the prior piece. The first Eppy no longer has a credible perspective on the reaction to these words, as they no longer belong to him.

Yep… i’m just winging it at this point.

p.s. The point is moot.

  1. Although i cannot cite specific examples at this time. []
  2. If you have a problem with that, go fight it out with Tom McCarthy and his buddies. They’re bound to have some choice words for you. []
  3. I’m aware of his real name. It’s just not common for anyone to make a reference to particular run of the comic Grendel, and that’s how i choose to keep his identity straight in my addled head []

looking up some artists mentioned in Tom McCarthy interview

There’s probably going to be all kinds of stuff to be messing with in this Tom McCarthy interview with Believer magazine over the next few days, but this is the first thing that i want to explore:

Look at all the people like Jeremy Deller, Rod Dickinson, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, whose work consists of staging reenactments, like a historical society, of events and showing an awareness of the kind of inauthenticity and mediation within that.

If you’re anything like me, you’re asking who the hell are these people? Again, it’s that art thing that i’m very weak in. McCarthy follows up with a project that Rod Dickinson did, but i need more.

  • Jeremy Deller. “His work has a strong political aspect, in the subjects dealt with and also the devaluation of artistic ego through the involvement of other people in the creative process.” Uh huh.
  • Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard. (Apparently they work as a team.) They seem kinda musically oriented in their recreations, which is an aspect of their work that i can get a handle on rather easily. I’ve always loathed tribute acts, but it seems that they are doing something more peculiar. The Cramps recreation is something i had read of previously. Hey! They did the video for “Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!”

Remainder is beginning to make altogether too much sense to me now.

back to Tintin & the Secret of Literature

For some odd reason, i didn’t read a single item from the Literature folder in my RSS reader this week. I just got to the link to this NY Sun article via Three Percent. McCarthy’s book is unfinished, because i grew bored with it. I’ve never read a single page of Tintin, so some of the imagery being described was only known through McCarthy’s descriptions. The feeling that he was just fucking with the reader grew with each page. At first, i swallowed his nutty theories whole, as i can be quite a gullible shithead, but i didn’t quite catch onto the fact that it is a true prank. It just began to feel like deliberately repetitious bullshit. It was obvious McCarthy was up to something, but i was impatient and not in on the joke. Yeah, some of the proposals that were being made were obviously funny, but without any real familiarity of the text that he was writing, i couldn’t quite be sure just how outlandish they were. I’ve read some pretty crazy comics over the years. With all of the grand theories written about Dan Clowes, Steve Burns, Will Eisner, Steve Ditko, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison, how are McCarthy’s proposals about Herge’s meaning supposed to be so obviously outlandish?

Eh, maybe that’s McCarthy’s point. Perhaps he reads these graphic novels that are supposed to be treated as literature, and this is his exercise in delfating it. It’s not only an attack on French theory of literature, but of the movement that comics are “real literature.”