Two Words: The Blog of the Center for the Art of Translation

Connecting the Dots: Leve and Perec

Posted on October 30, 2014, 04:24:00 PM by Staff

Next week, our very own Scott Esposito will host a conversation between Edouard Levé’s translators Lorin Stein and Jan Steyn as part of the Two Voices event series.

Associate Editor Marthine Satris looked at the connections between Levé and experimental French writer Georges Perec—a member of the surrealist Oulipo movement in the 1970s—and has written a great piece over on the Two Lines Press blog.

Here are some of her thoughts of Levé’s Autoportrait (one of the works they'll discuss Nov. 5):

If Perec turned the reader outwards, toward only observable facts, Levé brings us in. One reads on, eager to find out what the author will reveal next.

Written in French in 2005, Autoportrait seems in some ways of our current confessional moment, rather than against it or apart. The personal essay dominates forms of expression now, at least in American print media, and like the writers of The New York Times’ “Modern Love” column or Lena Dunham’s Hannah on Girls, Levé turns himself inside out for us. Less estranging than Perec’s lists, which camouflage the writer in his surroundings, Levé nonetheless refuses to come to any conclusions about his life. He doesn’t organize it for us, or pare it down to a narrative that shows how everything led him to his current, fated moment. His raw emotion lacks all self-pity, which fascinates the reader even more—it’s like we, author and reader, are both studying the puzzle that is Levé. The Levé who writes, “Often I think I know nothing about myself,” yet fearlessly, shamelessly expose his fears, weaknesses, and limitations. Like Perec, Levé includes both the mundane details of life and the more “important” ones, but instead of wars and commercials, Levé balances confession and observation—and yet the confessions do not differ in tone from the observations, as in this moving, matter-of-fact, funny confrontation with his suicidal tendencies, and his musing social awkwardness:

‘In my periods of depression, I visualize a funeral after I kill myself, there are lots of friends there, lots of sadness and beauty, the event is so moving that it makes me want to live through it, so it makes me want to live. I don’t know how to leave naturally.’”

Satris writes: I thought I’d get bored reading this stranger’s look inwards. Yet I wasn’t. I felt like I’d been trusted with his tremulous life, and recognized a common human experience in how he wrote it down.

You can read the post, and don’t miss the event!

It’s all happening Wednesday, November 5, at The Lab
2948 16th Street, San Francisco
7:00 pm
(cash bar and copies of Levé’s books for sale)

From the Two Lines Press Blog: A Look at Our Animal Instincts

Posted on October 3, 2014, 10:20:00 AM by Erin Branagan

Over on the Two Lines Press blog, we’ve been spending a lot of time talking about our newest title, Baboon, by Danish author Naja Marie Aidt. We’re incredibly excited about the book (set for official release October 14, but you can pre-order it now), and especially eager to share the news of Aidt’s recent 6-city U.S. book tour.

Baboon was awarded the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2008—very unusual for a set of short stories, and a testament to the power of the writing—and Denise Newman has made a masterful translation. In an interview with SFWeekly, Aidt talks about the translation process:

“I’m grateful that Denise wanted to involve me in the process,” she said. “Over years we’ve worked to transform the stories into English in a way that felt natural and kept the tone. For example, in Scandinavian it’s very common to have short sentences one after the other. But in English it looks weird. So we had to find a new rhythm for the stories.”

For an example of how her style of short sentences propels you through the book, check out “A Car Trip”.

LA Times book critic David Ulin calls the book “an explosive collection; strange things happen to the characters, leading to unlikely twists, through which the borders of reality blur.”

In a whirlwind weeklong book tour, Aidt started out at the Brooklyn Book Festival on September 21, then hopped to Minneapolis, did two readings in the Bay Area, and finished in Seattle and Los Angeles.

On September 25, Aidt, Newman, and Esposito hosted a reading and conversation at The Booksmith in San Francisco. They talked about translating Naja’s prose; the unique aspects of the working relationship between Naja and Denise; why this book resonated so much with Danish readers (and why it was unusual that it won such major and prestigious awards); the unified aesthetic represented in the stories; Aidt’s influences as s short story writer; and more. We recorded the conversation, and you can listen to the full audio here.

If you would like to buy the book, you can order it for just $10. Or better yet, subscribe to Two Lines Press and have every title delivered to your door!