Milorad Pavic RIP

Oh no:

Serbian poet, novelist and historian Milorad Pavic died on Monday of heart failure at the age of 80.

Pavic, whose works have been translated into several languages, is known for his experiments with narrative form. Among his novels, one can be read back to front, and one has several alternative endings.

His most widely read work is The Dictionary of the Khazars, published in 1984.

Here’s what M. Werli of the Fric Frac Club and editor of the admirable Revue Cyclocosmia, had to say about his Dictionary of the Khazars in this post at the FFC:

Concernant le fond, le Dictionnaire Khazar est un roman historique, policier, d’aventures, fantastique et cabalistique. C’est l’histoire du peuple Khazar, de son déclin, de ses personnalités les plus éminentes. C’est une enquête policière et bibliophilique en quête de vérité. Ce sont des récits oniriques pleins d’inventions. C’est une très belle histoire, qui malgré l’étrangeté de sa mise en scène est absolument lisible et passionnante !


“We don’t really do much readin'” (Rant)

Really? Really? Seen Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen earlier and it’s quite astonishing. It’s dismissive of difference in such a strong way, it’s such a strong statement of old discursive hierarchies, that it is often baffling. Ebert has called this movie “the end of an era” (link) but in many worrying ways it seems to be not just a sign of the times but an indicator of the future. Short- not longterm future, hopefully, but still. Today, we Germans were reminded again of the sagacity of having a representative rather than a direct democracy as the Swiss decided to ban the construction of minarets in their country; for a country where a total of four minarets exist, and no significant problems with immigrants, this is kind of a great illustration of what the term ‘Islamophobia’ actually means. Antisemitism of the very virulent kind is rising again, becoming plain and unapologetic. Postfeminism, and plain misogyny have gained prominence again, as well as a kind of resentment against the public representation, the presence of homosexuality. Resentment is the perfect word actually. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is celebratory, but the loud, crass, widescreen mode of this screams defiance. We’re here, we’re not queer, cope with it. Mel Gibson’s work (link to an older review of mine) is hateful, but it’s also passionate, it’s a defense of the tenets and beliefs that underlie his world-view, while Michael Bay’s artistic project is just a stating of that world-view, a clear and lucid depiction of it, but not an actual defense, which make it much worse. The glaring lights and sounds, the epic length of many of his recent movies, all this at best expresses an irritation of not being given his due, of society moving in a way that is not in accord of what he expects to be his. It is this resentment that made the Swiss initiative succeed, it is this resentment that fuels the hate of some British journalists I know, and it is the same resentment that can make Bay’s movies such a sick fun to watch, although they work best the more you share his ideological premises. Just how funny are two robots, depicted in an almost offensively racist way, with black slang (linguistically, I think, partly channeled through Chappelle’s Show, it’s a pop-culturally mediated understanding of deviant language), gold teeth, who “don’t do much readin'”. This is not about racial hate, it’s a cultural indignation, a description of what’s right and what should be right. Bay is reveling in images of scantly clad women, of airplanes, of heroic shots of military men. The dialogue is just the icing on the cake. Words, eh. Bay doesn’t do much reading, but he does understand his world well and in every frame of this movie of his he presents it to us, loud and in color; this understanding is not something he wants to transmit to us, unlike Gibson. He wants us to celebrate this. He wants, no he needs us to take this at face value and applaud it. Its the only way the movie works, when it works at all. And as I said, this is everywhere.

Why me? Why? I’ve done you no harm.

If you follow this stuff, this’ll be an old canard by now, but Melville House has published a volume of interview with Roberto Bolaño called Roberto Bolaño: The Last Interview & Other Conversations (link) . The interviewer was Monica Maristain. The whole thing was translated by Sybil Perez. Here is an excerpt from it and below one question and one answer from that excerpt:

M.M.: Have you shed one tear about the widespread criticism you’ve drawn from your enemies?

R.B.: Lots and lots. Every time I read that someone has spoken badly of me I begin to cry, I drag myself across the floor, I scratch myself, I stop writing indefinitely, I lose my appetite, I smoke less, I engage in sport, I go for walks on the edge of the sea, which by the way is less than 30 meters from my house and I ask the seagulls, whose ancestors ate the fish who ate Ulysses: Why me? Why? I’ve done you no harm.


Episode 53 is online. I was late so you get about an hour or more of just the guys talking, until you hear me butt in. The guys, that’s Björn, Donny and Rennee. Their discussion is a huge lot of fun. Here is the direct link and here is Donny’s summary:

We are so agreeable with each other on this episode. The group clobbers each other with this one: should classic works have sequels? What would we consider as a sequel? Which ones were good, not good, and shouldn’t have been written in the first place? Dracula, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Gone with the Wind, Winnie the Pooh, JD Salinger, Shakespeare and many others get dragged into this debate.

A sort of remembered loneliness

Occasionally I see myself, or the ghost of myself, in the places where I first became a poet. On the pavement just around Stephen’s Green for instance, with its wet trees and sharp railings. What I see is not an actual figure, but a sort of remembered loneliness. The poets I knew were not women: the women I knew were not poets. The conversations I had, or wanted to have, were never complete.

Sometimes I think of how time might become magical: How I might get out of the car even now and cross the road and stop that young woman and surprise her with the complete conversation she hardly knew she missed. How I might stand there with her in the dusk, the way neighbours stand on their front steps before they go in to their respective houses for the night: half-talking and half-leaving.

– Eavan Boland (who’s an extraordinary poet, and editor of poetry), from the “Letter to a Young Woman Poet” (link), via peony moon.

Poetry, Doubt

Poetry and doubt require one another, they coexist like the oak and ivy, like dogs and cats. But their relationship is neither harmonious nor symmetrical. Poetry needs doubt far more than doubt needs poetry. Through doubt, poetry purges itself of rhetorical insincerity, senseless chatter, falsehood, youthful loquacity, empty (inauthentic) euphoria. Released from doubt’s stern gaze, poetry -especially in our dark days- might easily degenerate into sentimental ditties, exalted but unthinking song, senseless praise of all the earth’s forms.

from Adam Zagajewski’s essay collection A Defense of Ardor.