Wednesday, March 30, 2011

2011 Pritzker Architecture Prize Awarded to Portuguese Architect

58-year-old Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura has been named the winner of the 2011 Pritzker Architecture Prize, awarded annually to a living architect whose work demonstrates "consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture."  Souto de Moura will receive a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion at the awards ceremony on June 2.

Read more at the Pritzker Architecture Prize site.

Conversion of the Santa Maria do Bouro Convent into a
State Inn, Amares, Portugal. Photo by Luis Ferreira Alves.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Estonian Literary Magazine

The new issue of the Estonian Literary Magazine is out and includes many interesting articles, including:
  • Two ways to write about Estonian history: Ene Mihkelson and Sofi Oksanen by Sirje Olesk
  • Rein Veidemann’s interview with Jüri Talvet
  • Russians in Estonian Literature by Rutt Hinrikus
  • Andres Ehin. Beyond the Empire of Signs by Taimi Paves
Download the issue here.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Meeting My Angel While Drinking Absinthe in New Orleans

So, I'm in New Orleans over the weekend for a conference and on Thursday evening I head over to The Old Absinthe House for a shot of, what else, absinthe.

I'm minding my own business and sipping from my glass of Lucid absinthe (for $19!) and I feel a hand on my shoulder as a man sits down next to me, introduces himself, and asks where I'm from. After ensuring my wallet was still in my possession I tell him I'm from the Detroit-area. Coincidentally, so is he. Or was, until several years ago when he lost his job.

He proceeds on a 15-minute monologue about his life, the city of Detroit, its baseball team, how he lost his job due to drugs and alcohol, how he's never been happier now that he's got a simple job near New Orleans. When he described how he inherited about $70k from a dead uncle I realized he probably wasn't going to ask me for money.

Yet I still wondered why he was talking to me at that moment. I suppose I'm a bit overly suspicious when a stranger starts a conversation and I was sure he must need something.

However, after his monologue he stands up and announces he has to leave. But before he takes off he asks me if I want to know why he sat down next to me. Well, of course I did.

"I picked you because I'm your angel." And just like that the man leaves me sitting there with my absinthe.

(And, no, I was not hallucinating ... )

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Finalists for 2011 Best Translated Book Award Announced

Over at Three Percent they've announced the finalists for the Best Translated Book Award in fiction and poetry. Read more here and at the Literary Saloon.

The fiction finalists are (alphabetically by author):

The Literary Conference by César Aira, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver (New Directions)

The Golden Age by Michal Ajvaz, translated from the Czech by Andrew Oakland (Dalkey Archive)

A Life on Paper by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, translated from the French by Edward Gauvin (Small Beer)

The Jokers by Albert Cossery, translated from the French by Anna Moschovakis (New York Review Books)

Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky (New Directions)

Hocus Bogus by Romain Gary (writing as Émile Ajar), translated from the French by David Bellos (Yale University Press)

The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson, translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal (New York Review Books)

On Elegance While Sleeping by Emilio Lascano Tegui, translated from the Spanish by Idra Novey (Dalkey Archive)

Agaat by Marlene Van Niekerk, translated from the Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns (Tin House)

Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer by Ernst Weiss, translated from the German by Joel Rotenberg (Archipelago)

And in poetry (also alphabetically by author):

Geometries by Eugene Guillevic, translated from the French by Richard Sieburth (Ugly Ducking)

Flash Cards by Yu Jian, translated from the Chinese by Wang Ping and Ron Padgett (Zephyr Press)

Time of Sky & Castles in the Air by Ayane Kawata, translated from the Japanese by Sawako Nakayasu (Litmus Press)

Child of Nature by Luljeta Lleshanaku, translated from the Albanian by Henry Israeli and Shpresa Qatipi (New Directions)

The Book of Things by Aleš Šteger, translated from the Slovenian by Brian Henry (BOA Editions)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Rise of European Morosité

At World Affairs, Alan Johnson writes about the rise of the far-right in France and Europe in light of a recent survey putting Marine Le Pen ahead of Sarkozy and Martine Aubry in the polls.

He attributes the seductions of the far-right in Europe to a state of "European morosité," which he describes as "a collective and quite spectacular sullenness and gloominess about a world that has irrevocably lost its lustre. Morosité can turn to inchoate anger ... "

What are the causes of European morosité?

[It] can be traced to the trauma of two world wars and the associated political barbarisms and intellectual nihilisms that caused those conflicts and flourished in their wake. It is not just that our young were lost but that they butchered each other as swathes of our philo-tyrannical intellectuals cheered them on ... morosité is also the result of the gulf that has opened up between mainstream politicians and voters in recent decades about three revolutionary changes: economic globalisation, political integration, and mass immigration. Each has unsettled citizens, melting into air all that was solid, but each has been placed beyond polite discussion by the political class and the mainstream media. Anxieties are routinely pathologised.

It will always be comforting for some to hear simplistic solutions with little nuance.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Interview with Manuel Rivas

Thanks to the Literary Saloon we learned about the interview with Galician writer Manuel Rivas over at the Financial Times:

When did you know you were going to be a writer?
One day I noticed that I talked to myself. On the way to school, in winter, I saw the letters of my breath rise out of my mouth. When I arrived at my class, I tried to recreate that writing in the air. Those were the first poems I had published in a magazine.

Read more about Rivas and pick up From Unknown to Unknown, translated by Jonathan Dunne, at Small Stations and also read his work in Absinthe #8.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Readux from Berlin

We recently learned about a new website worth checking out--Readux: Reading in Berlin.

Edited by Amanda DeMarco, the site is "a Berlin-based literary website with reviews, interviews, articles, and opinion on German and French books and events."

We will read with interest.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The End of the Russian Booker?

According to Nikolaus von Twickel in the Moscow Times, "preparations for this year's Russian Booker Prize have been postponed indefinitely because no new sponsor has been found."

The contract with previous sponsor, BP, expired after the 2010 award and apparently they have no plans to renew.

Previous winners include Ludmilla Ulitskaya (see Absinthe #3), Vasily Aksyonov, and Olga Slavnikova. 

Hopefully a sponsor will be found this year for the awarding of the 20th prize and hopefully the new sponsor will include information in English on the Russian Booker's website to help bring more attention to the award.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Italian conductor Riccardo Muti Wins Birgit Nilsson Prize

The $1 Million Birgit Nilsson Prize has been awarded to Italian Conductor Riccardo Muti for "his extraordinary contributions in opera and concert, as well as his enormous influence in the music world both on and off the stage."

(c) Todd Rosenberg
Muti is currently the conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and is the second recipient of the prize (Placido Domingo was the first) established after the death of opera singer Birgit Nilsson.

Read more at the BBC and the Telegraph.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Monday, March 14, 2011

Iceland and Its Writers

Iceland is the Guest of Honor at the 2011 Frankfurt Book Fair and the website Fabulous Iceland is full of great info about the country and its literature and culture.

Additionally, the site sponsors Fictitious Island, a look at new Icelandic literary voices with bios and excerpts from over twenty writers.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Is There a New New Wave of French Cinema?

In the new issue of Film Comment, Scott Foundas introduces Serge Bozon and other filmmakers who wrote for the film journal La Lettre du Cinema (from 1997-2005) much like Godard, Truffaut, and other French New Wave filmmakers in the sixties who started out writing for Cahiers du Cinema.

Foundas compares the Lettre du Cinema directors with other recent movements of French filmmakers, concluding:
In the case of Bozon and company, however, the “New Wave” analogy is arguably more apt, not only because they are a group of cinephile critics turned filmmakers, but because their work has been produced and distributed completely outside of the French studio system, under the auspices of a few maverick producers (in particular David Thion and Philippe Martin of the company Les Films Pelléas), and in at least one case (Jean-Charles Fitoussi’s 2008 magnum opus Je ne suis pas morte) entirely self-financed.
If Bozon, Ropert, and Fitoussi all bring varying degrees of whimsy to their work, Civeyrac could be considered the group’s tragic romanticist and Pierre Léon its brooding old Russian soul. All, if it isn’t already obvious, are devoted to narrative modes of storytelling in a way that runs counter to the verité fact/fiction hybrids and ethnographic minimalism that have become the dominant enthusiasms of international film festivals in recent years. And yet we are somehow still on the surface of these works, which are perhaps most striking for the uncommon sincerity and lack of postmodern snark with which they address such eternal dramatic questions as the nature of valor (Bozon), the possibility of true love (Fitoussi), and the existence of virtue in a corrupt society (Léon).
Definitely filmmakers to keep an eye on.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Interview with Oscar-winning filmmaker Susanne Bier

On NPR's Fresh Air today, Terry Gross interviewed Danish film director Susanne Bier, whose film "In a Better World" won best foreign-language film at both the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes.

The discussion not only focused on Bier's award-winning film, but also covered topics including her acceptance speeches and the "vow of chastity" of the Dogme 95 movement, founded by Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg:
I believe in rules. I believe in artistic limitations, and I always have. I've always thought that setting out a set of rules before you start, and then being completely consistent with them, is the only way to make a really good film. These particular [Dogme] rules are austerity rules. They force you to deal with the storyline and the characters, and that's it. And I thought it was a real challenge in a positive way. There was a number of good films coming out from this set of rules.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Truffaut's "The Soft Skin"

If you're in New York or London it's a good time to become re-acquainted with the films of Francois Truffaut (or experience them for the first time).

The British Film Institute continues its retrospective of the French director's work with screenings of his later films from March 12th-28th. Meanwhile, the magazine of the Institute, Sight & Sound, features a cover story on Truffaut's "British Connection" in the March issue.

A few weeks ago I ordered DVDs of several Truffaut films, including "The Soft Skin", and incidentally this often overlooked 1964 film has a one-week run at Film Forum, starting on March 11th.

In advance of this, Melissa Anderson discusses the film at Art Forum's site:
Francois Truffaut followed up Jules and Jim (1962), one of his most critically acclaimed and popular films, with another love-triangle story, The Soft Skin (1964). Though it was poorly received upon release (and still often overlooked today), Truffaut’s fourth feature, about a married, middle-aged, celebrated literary critic who has an affair with a flight attendant in her twenties, stands as one of his most emotionally sophisticated, thanks largely to the performance of Françoise Dorléac as the object of desire.
I recommend giving the film a look. If you can't make it to London or New York feel free to stop by the Absinthe HQ with some popcorn and we'll be happy to watch some Truffaut with you.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Roundtable on Margarita Karapanou

In the new issue of The Quarterly Conversation, Hilary Plum moderates a fascinating discussion about Greek author Margarita Karapanou--author of several novels, including Kassandra and the Wolf, Rien Ne Va Plus (recommended in Absinthe #13), and The Sleepwalker, all recently published by Clockroot Books.

Writer Angela Dimitrakaki, Karen Emmerich (the translator of two Karapanou works, her translation of a story by Ersi Sotiropoulos appeared in Absinthe #11), translator and poet Nick Germanacos, author Amanda Michalopoulou (her book I’d Like, translated by Karen Emmerich and published by Dalkey Archive Press was recommended in Absinthe #14), and Karen Van Dyck, director of the Program in Hellenic Studies at Columbia University in New York, participated in the discussion.

Germanacos starts off by recollecting how he came to translate Karapanou:
... Margarita K. and I discovered we had much in common. She, too, then left for Paris to join her mother, and on her return shyly showed me a large notebook in which, in her characteristic childlike scrawl, were a dozen or so pieces of writing, some just one paragraph or two long, others a little longer. I was stunned by their power as well as their unique form. I told her they were brilliant and that if she continued to write more, they could be turned into a book. She was incredulous at first, but was eventually convinced, and applied herself to the task. I undertook to translate each one after she wrote it, and would do my best to find a publisher in the US. Any consideration of publishing them in Greece was out of the question a) because they would have to be approved by the stupid, prurient military censor, and b) because writers in Greece had determined, following the example of Nobel Laureate George Seferis, not to publish their work in Greece while the country remained subjugated by the military junta.
Thus began our two-year collaboration on what became Kassandra and the Wolf. I myself had suggested the name Kassandra for the child-heroine, which she readily agreed to adopt, but she rejected my suggestion of a title—The Hour of the Wolf—although the phrase does come up, trenchantly, in one of the vignettes. Of course, in our discussions during the process of her writing, her opinion (when we disagreed) prevailed.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Interview with Ian McEwan

The British author Ian McEwan is interviewed by Nigel Farndale in The Telegraph, in a conversation that ranges from his friendships with Christopher Hitchens and John Updike, to death and atheism:

McEwan of course, like The Hitch and Dawkins, is an avowed atheist and when we talk about the Christian belief in an afterlife he says: “Do you think they really believe it? I’ve been to funerals where I was pretty sure the majority were atheists and they listened to the vicar say that the deceased had gone to a better place and everyone’s toes curled.
“We can’t prove it’s not so, but the chances that it is are rather meagre. If they did believe you all meet up again in this big theme park in the sky why were they crying? How can you say you believe in the afterlife and weep at the finality of death?”

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Three Percent and The Best Translated Book Award

If you haven't already, take a look at Three Percent for summaries of all the books long-listed for the Best Translated Book Award. They're written in the form of an argument for "why this book should win."

Often humorous, these write-ups will definitely inspire you to pick up one, two, or many more of these books.

Can you go wrong with Javier Marias and Elvis?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Calypso Editions

A new publisher to keep an eye on is Calypso Editions, "an artist-run, cooperative press dedicated to publishing quality literary books of poetry and fiction with a global perspective."

They are off to a good start with the bilingual publication of How Much Land Does a Man Need, a short tale by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Boris Dralyuk.

Forthcoming books include Building the Barricade and Other Poems by Anna Swir and translated from the Polish by Piotr Florczyk, and Of Gentle Wolves: An Anthology of Romanian Poetry, translated by Martin Woodside.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Words Without Borders Goes to the Movies

The new issue of Words Without Borders is up and celebrates film with writers from across the globe.

Some of the highlights include fiction by Italian author Domenico Starnone (translated by Elizabeth Harris) and João Paulo Cuenca's story celebrating Mastroianni Day:

Mastroianni Day [Exp–Adj]: in accordance with the universal lexicon, a day is deemed to be “Mastroianni” (from Marcello, Italian actor, 1924–96) when spent merrily sauntering about in the company of beautiful women, blown along by the whim of circumstance, devoid of any sense of purpose. The classic “Mastroianni Day” requires a three-piece suit, dark sunglasses, and, preferably, a hat. Some lexicographers would also include compulsive self-adulation, the drinking of dry martinis and/or gin and tonics, shallow metaphysical crises, betting on horses, mixing in unfamiliar circles, and attending parties uninvited.

In addition, read an interview with Ukrainian author (and Absinthe contributor) Vasyl Makhno.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Remembering Christoph Schlingensief

In "Epic Theater", an essay in Art Forum (translated by Oliver E. Dryfuss), Berlin-based writer Diedrich Diederichsen considers the diverse body of film and theatrical works by Christoph Schlingensief, who died of lung cancer at age 49 last fall.

At the Venice Biennale, this summer, there will be a retrospective of Schlingensief's art

Diederichsen concludes: 
Even in his final years, with his (partially realized) dream of building an opera village in Burkina Faso—an enterprise that was at first announced as a vague form of European reparations to Africa but turned out to be some kind of social project or adventure—he was toying with the idea of healing the world through art, though his notion of this was closer to Albert Ayler’s than to Wagner’s. At the same time, he could not stick to any one solution to the problem of how to produce art that would speak to an environment of commodified mass culture. The disavowal of his own projects was not only a constant in his practice but also precisely the characteristic that allowed him to become the voice of his generation: inordinately boasting, deploying all the aplomb that might be mustered by a boy whose parents always listened reverently when he spoke—only, in the very next moment, to despair over this primal scene of individual subjectivity. This might well be the biographical core that he acted out with more virtuosity, energy, insistence, and sheer effrontery than any of his artistic contemporaries.
Learn more about Schlingensief here.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Footnote to a Shout from Copenhagen in Absinthe 14 by Thomas E. Kennedy

In Absinthe 14 (Autumn 2010), my Shout from Copenhagen, “A Visit to Hunger 120 Years Later” was carried on pages 81-2. I had written the column shortly after having viewed, for perhaps the tenth time, Henning Carlsen’s 1966 film version of Knut Hamsun’s extraordinary novel from the late 19th century, Hunger. Particularly striking about Carlsen’s film was the magical performance of Per Oscarsson, the Swedish actor who played the starving character from the novel and who also played in the more recent film versions of the very popular Stieg Larsson books..

A tragic and macabre footnote to this tale of a visit to a book inspired by the capital city of Norway: On December 30th, 2010, at the age of 83, Oscarsson burned to death with his wife in their isolated home in the Swedish countryside. The wind was so violent that night that it blew away the smoke which might otherwise have awakened Oscarsson and his wife. The house burnt so completely that nothing was left standing but the chimney, and the authorities had to sift through the ash for days before finding remains of the Oscarssons.

Oscarsson's masterful performance from 1966 lives on.

Greetings from the ancient kingdom!

Thomas E. Kennedy (