This issue marks the end of our sixth year of publication. It’s the full circle issue, the back to our roots issue, the summing up issue, the What Ever Happened to Modernism? issue, which may seem a tad obscure except for the most attentive readers. Gabriel Josipovici has been a presence on these pages since the beginning. If you do a search, you’ll see his name popping up in reviews, interviews, and blog posts. That’s because I used to assign his book What Ever Happened to Modernism? to potential contributors and reviewers. (I also used to assign it to my writing students.) I needed a quick way of circumventing the pop-journo-creative-writing-school attitude to reading and reviewing that viewed everything with the same short horizon, that saw writing as simplistically mimetic, that put emotion and message over form and intellectual awareness. I also needed a way of demonstrating (to our writers) sequence, influence, traditions, and the battle of styles. What Ever Happened to Modernism? is something like a combat memoir from the literary trenches, albeit with an emphasis on the situation in England (but analogies are easily made). At a certain point, too, I was also reading Josipovici’s book on the Bible (and reading the Bible), and so that sifted into these pages as well.
Thus it was absolutely a moment of divine intervention when Victoria Best mentioned that she knew Gabriel Josipovici and might be able to convince him to do an interview for us.
The result is the longest, most comprehensive interview we’ve ever published. The spirit of the place speaks. It’s more than an interview. It is a memoir with interlocutor. With immense generosity, Josipovici has spelled out an entire writing life. wounds and triumphs, obsessions and influences.
And to go with the Josipovici interview we have a masterful, intense, engaged leading essay on David Foster Wallace (with DFW-ish structural inflections in the essay itself, um, footnotes within footnotes…) by our own Bruce Stone. I just checked and Bruce has been writing for the magazine since the June, 2010, issue.
A gargantuan book wherein all the glinting particulars of an animate metropolis everywhere dissolve in these shadows of the valley of death? This without ever skimping in the effort to speak a score of deeply personal tongues? Plus just the writer’s resolve to stake a substantial chunk of his lifespan in the manufacture of an irksome and unrepeatable nothing? With this stuff I, for one, can like totally Identify. —Bruce Stone
Frank Richardson contributes not just a review but a review essay on the new William Gass story collection Eyes. (Gass also has been a consistent presence in the magazine. See, or rather listen to, my interview with him “Limericks, Degraded Modernism and The Tunnel: DG Interview with William H. Gass” and Sebastian Ennis’s review of the reissue of On Being Blue “The Language of Birds: A Review of William H. Gass’s On Being Blue.”)
Although each of the stories in Eyes was published separately, the themes and images connect them to produce an eclectic, yet unified whole. Gass’s ideal work of art is a thing in itself, a system of internal relations, and he hasn’t missed many opportunities to integrate these stories. Above all, there is the dominant image of the eye, around which other themes circle like “subordinate suns” according to his description. —Frank Richardson
Aashish Kaul, from New Delhi via Sydney, Australia, author of The Queen’s Play (2015) and A Dream of Horses & Other Stories (2014), contributes a great essay on modernism, Formalism, Viktor Shklovsky, structure, and more. It goes without saying that Shklovsky is another constant presence at NC. See, for example, Bruce Stone’s “The Formalist Reformation | Review of Viktor Shklovsky’s Bowstring: On the Dissimilarity of the Similar,” also “From Bowstring: On the Dissimilarity of the Similar — Viktor Shklovsky Translated by Shushan Avagyan,” and “Vladimir Godar’s Sonata in Memory of Viktor Shklovsky.” Plus innumerable nods and references throughout.
This is the great heritage of modernism. Characters are not described to make them ‘round’ or believable, but to make them contextual in the larger narrative of the work. (Did not Chekhov himself believe that human character is essentially flat, and it is life instead that is complex?) Writing is an attempt to understand one’s position in the world, to find a relevance for one’s past, one’s memories in the forever-becoming present and an impersonal, abstract (or absurd) future. Most modern-day writers emphasize the structure of the work and the unity of its various parts that respond to an internal necessity rather than outward reality.—Aashish Kaul
Timothy Ogene (Photo by Clare Mackenzie)
It being December and all, we have a poem called “December” and several others from the Nigerian poet Timothy Ogene, melancholy, meditative poems, nearly funereal in rhythm, but lovely in their lush heaviness, rooted in absence. As an ex-pat myself, I cannot resist quoting these stanzas.
A tear is heavier than a severed leaf,
A sigh lighter than the crash of cymbals.
When asked my home address,
I respond with a sigh,
And watch severed leaves land on dormant grounds.
I left without a lover’s smell in my hair,
Without memories of my mother’s hug.
The passage home is burnt and that I regret. —Timothy Ogene
I was alone and I was cold when I fell asleep with Roland Barthes.
Some stupid television show on in the background
The blue of the TV climbing up the walls like mold.
This old motor-inn smells like abandonment.
A sort of loneliness that settles over you
After you sleep with someone
You don’t understand
Let alone love. —k. a. Moritz
Haijo Westra, who recently turned his training in classics to a study of the influence of the classics on early European representations of Canada (one of my favourite subjects — what dreams did they bring that changed reality?), offers here an essay and a translation of a poem by Marc Lescarbot, a French lawyer and one of the earliest settlers in what is now Nova Scotia.
The poem appears in a collection of similar occasional verse entitled Les Muses de la Nouvelle-France that was added to Lescarbot’s Histoire de la Nouvelle-France, written after his return to France. The writing of the poem was started just before departing the Port-Royal and continued at sea. It is, in effect, the first extensive poetic description of Canada. —Haijo Westra
In October, Erika Mihálycsa gave us “Memory: Fiction — Zsolt Láng | Translated by Erika Mihálycsa.” Now the Romanian author and translator is back with brief, brilliant, hilarious fiction. In the passage quoted here, I love the image of the author on a tightrope and that word “moderatrix,” which combines moderator and dominatrix — exactly!
The author is sitting on the platform sweating, with heart thumping so loud as to drown the spiky-haired fashionista’s mellifluous introductory warble. Stretched above the author’s head, taut and intimidating, is the tightrope on which the author is to jump gracefully at the moderatrix’s artfully concealed signal and read, or much rather, recite, enact, perform amid demi-pliés and relevés executed faultlessly on pointe, a particular fragment chosen by the publisher from the latest novel, hot off the press… —Erika Mihálycsa
From our regular art contributor/curator Mary Kathryn Jablonski, we have an interview with artist/photographer Diane Burko.
Getting there is the real challenge. As far as actual technique I am really a low-tech woman. I shoot with a Canon EOS 5 Mark II and Mark III, both with a 24-105 lens, as well as a Sony NEX VII – as simply as possible. No particular tricks. I try to stay at 100-ISO usually on Program and then adjust for aperture intermittently. Of course I am taking thousands of images. The process of editing is key to success. The challenge of the Polar Regions is of course keeping your batteries charged and your fingers warm. —Diane Burko
From our own Genese Grill (have you noticed lately how many stunning writers write regularly for the magazine?), an irresistable essay that begins “I am a gift to the finders; for I lose everything…”
I am a gift to the finders; for I lose everything, as if I had holes in all my pockets or the most slippery skin in the world. Perhaps it is because, as much as I adore things, there is some unexamined impulse in me that suspects, even like that much-maligned Descartes, that none of this is real (mundus est fabula — the world is a fable). —Genese Grill
Just last week I announced the Joseph Schreiber’s ascension to the masthead (apotheosis, transmutation), and now to announce his first contribution, a lively, authoritative, expansive review of a new translation of Borumil Hrabal’s early stories.
Life is fidelity to the beauty exploding all around us, even, at times, at the cost of our own lives. The newspapers, meanwhile, publish glowing accounts of the volunteer laborer who comes home from work and dances the Cossack Dance while sending mental telegrams of gratitude to the authorities, whereas in reality he coughs up black bile and collapses into his bed. Or a thirsty drop of molten steel swims through a roller’s eye, his wife’s image vanishes, and he tries, with ludicrous little steps, to dance away his misfortune. —Joseph Schreiber
From Tim Conley, who has been here before (bless him), a new story: delightful, witty, a cross between Borges and Wilde.
Charles Darwin has his hand up my skirt, and though he is clearly no expert at his task still he has a pleasant smell that I cannot quite identify. We are in a darkened room in the museum, which is now closed for the night, my back against a full-scale model of a guillotine. I can just barely read the larger signs on the wall giving the background of the French Revolution and the subsequent Terror, but something seems wrong in the account, and I try to communicate this to Darwin, who is breathing too heavily to hear my whispers. Flashlight circles begin to dance around the room as museum guards enter and Darwin halts his fumbling and we freeze together… —Tim Conley
And from Ireland, a little memoir with photos and paintings of the late poet Dennis O’Driscoll by his sister Marie (who also paints and writes herself, of which we have copious examples here).
He took me on my first trip without our parents, on the train to Dublin, where he quickly reached the top of the large queue in the train’s restaurant, with the use of my “magic slate” to announce to all that he was deaf and dumb. But he soon found his voice… when we were sympathetically ushered to the counter much to the annoyance of our fellow passengers!! —Marie O’Driscoll
Also!! Well, more. Including a review by Ben Woodard of Hubert Haddad’s Rochester Knockings and, of course, NC at the Movies, and…and…