Thursday, June 30, 2011

Interview with Ulf Peter Hallberg, part 1

Watch part 1 of our interview with Swedish writer Ulf Peter Hallberg and read an excerpt from European Trash below:

An excerpt from Hallberg’s European Trash (2009):
I open the door and walk into my father’s empty apartment. Already in the hall I get the feeling that he is still in the kitchen making coffee, quickly turning around to look in my direction. In that unfamiliar silence, visions and memories are released: how he walked toward me with that gleam in his eye, how he pronounced my name, how he inspected me to check my level of fatigue. It’s been a lifelong relationship from childhood to adulthood, the naturalness of his slow movements, my impatience and joy. All that is overshadowed now by irretrievable silence and total darkness.  All paintings and objects speak to me of him, of his sense of order, of his tender dedication as a collector. I know everything will soon be scattered about, but his objects are still resisting; they are still attached to him, even though he vanished and left them in the apartment. I stand by the rarely-used fireplace, which once smoked up the room so badly right next to his priceless Endre Nemes watercolor, which he sold against his will because we needed the money to a teacher at the Mellanhed School, who really didn’t appreciate it enough. That four-edged Human Machine set my imagination working because it didn’t look like anything I’d seen before. My father’s directorial hands made sure that Beauty had a place in our home in a miniature exhibit of everything created, like a mirror image of a grander scheme.  That way he could love the universe and give it its own meaning.  My glance meets the writing desk he always sat at. In front of that large oak desk, he held vigils long into the night, stooped over his books and clippings. He always had classical music playing directly from the radio, or from cassette tapes in frightfully bad condition, which he got off the P1 radio station’s classical recordings, filling two closets. And these things helped him rally his energy during the twelve years following my mother’s death.

   His place in front of his desk had become the axis my world revolved around; his glance had filled my life with meaning. His black notebooks lay there on the desk stacked neatly together as if ready for mailing, some with beautiful elastic bands wrapped around certain important pages. I still don’t dare to touch them, even though he often picked one up and read to me. One of the books is open right in the middle of a note. A foreign word translated: “Erato= the Muse of Love.” I know that he jotted down his own and others’ thoughts without bothering to differentiate whose they were. Everything became immersed in his grand scheme, the collection that was his life’s energy, and unusual defense against the world’s entropy. Night after night he was making notes, his threadlike handwriting going from one context to another, from one commentary to another fancy, from one fact into larger fictions. That was his encyclopedia—the words he had made his own, the energy he had mustered against the void.  I peer at random inside one of the books: “Birds who are larger than wind itself don’t know where to rest their wings.” The words pull me toward him. I still feel his breath, though I just closed his eyes. I keep turning the pages, quickly and nervously: “The novel is usually the combination of two absolutes—absolute individuality and absolute universality.” I am alone with his gift. There is no real message, just an obvious stack of notebooks, a scribbled pad from the Local Swedish Agrarian Society in Hoerby with the birth and death dates of my grandparents, Victor Hallberg 1885-1951, Hertha Hallberg 1890-1971, as well as a pink-dotted notebook with foreign words and a catalog of all the paintings stored in the kitchen cabinets. My glance falls on a note that, unusually enough, has been attributed to its source, Romans 8:20 “All creatures subject to emptiness.”  The first words in the pink-dotted notebook are “redundance= superfluous, excess information (which can be eliminated without any loss).”
                                                                         Translated by Erland G. Anderson

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Father’s Legacy: Swedish Author Ulf Peter Hallberg on European Trash

I had the good fortune to meet up with Swedish writer Ulf Peter Hallberg and his American translator Erland Anderson several weeks ago in Chicago at the annual conference for the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study. It was a great visit and during our time together Peter and Erland agreed to participate in several short video interviews. Over the course of the next week I’ll be sharing these videos on the Absinthe Minded blog, along with excerpts from Hallberg’s book European Trash.  (You can also read a selection that appeared in Absinthe #11.)

 To kick things off we feature a short interview Hallberg participated in on October 25, 2010 at the Åbo Academy in Finland.

Tell us about your book European Trash.
It’s about Art’s imprint on the world, about sixteen ways to remember a Father collector who opposed himself to all that was clearly economically practical in terms of a vocation. I write about my father’s devotion to art and culture in sixteen different stories that all deal with how humanity, through art, can create a refuge and provide itself with pure energy.

Where does the title of your book come from? There is some irony in the image of ”European trash”.
One time, while walking in Central Park in NYC, I overheard a woman explaining her love of European culture to her husband. ”Oh, I just love Socrates, Dante and Shakespeare, Dickens, oh Dickens!, and the modernist art movements!”  Her husband appeared really downtrodden, as if he was being evaluated by standards of an outlandish region, where everything was impenetrable and pretentious, rather than free and easy. He interrupted her after a while, so that her solicitous being shouldn’t lead him any longer in the direction of that horror. ”I don’t go for European Trash!” he said, quite definitely, and with a strong emphasis on the word Trash.  That’s when I knew I had a title for my book on how my father passed on his anachronistic love of art as a legacy to his own son.

What is your own relationship to European trash?
My father, as a private person, was something of a symbolic head of European Trash.  Now, as that collector’s son, I have taken on his role.  I maintain the tradition tenderly, because it makes me happy.

Translated by Erland Anderson

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The New Breed of Polish Animation

Chained by Corsets is an animated documentary by Polish director Barbara Szewcyk. The film presents the history of fashion through the story of a young girl jumping back in time in a magic wardrobe to the end of the 18th century in a quest for her own style, with the viewer following her through the last 200 years of fashion developments.

Szewcyk said that the idea for the film grew out of her interest in fashion as well as the art of the periods her film took place in. Visually her chief inspiration came less from the world of animation than from painting – from Rococo to Victorian to modern painting the backgrounds of the film contain a mass of stimulating images.

“I wanted to make a kind of educational film. The most interesting thing in the history of fashion is that everything around us influences changes in fashion. Things like politics, the industrial revolution, art styles - all create what we wear. My plan was to present those changes in fashion against the background of particular periods.”

An example of the intersection of politics and fashion that the film deals with occurred in Poland following the uprising against Russian rule in 1863. After the uprising was crushed some Polish women took to wearing black as a means of protest. The authorities soon put a stop to this practice though, only allowing women able to document that they were mourning a relative’s death to maintain the somber attire.

Chained by Corsets was recently screened at the Czech animation festival AniFest, where Szewcyk was able to participate in discussions on the production and promotion of animated shorts in Central and Eastern Europe. Szewcyk values the region’s legacy of animation, but is worried by how things are developing.

“It’s because we are facing a new reality, we are learning how the free market works and we have to learn how to look for money for a production and how to sell it afterwards. This is very difficult for countries that are not used to it,” she said.

The festival also offered a Production Forum where she and other filmmakers were able to meet and consult producers about their ongoing projects as well as a Pitching Forum where she was able to watch young filmmakers pitch their projects. “I have never participated in any pitching, but I know that I’ll have to do it, so it was a very enlightening experience.”

To see Barbara Szewcyk’s excellent website (in Polish and English) with a subtitled documentary on the making of the film go to

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Open Letter Books Launches eBook Series

A great offer from Chad Post and our friends over at Open Letter Books:

"Open Letter is proud to announce the launch of a new ebook series for international literature. Beginning today, the first nine titles in the collection will be made available on e-reader devices such as Kindle, Nook, and iPad, among others.
To highlight this event, each book will be priced at $4.99 at launch—a limited offer lasting until June 30, 2011. Currently available ebooks include translated titles like the award-winning A Thousand Peaceful Cities by Polish writer Jerzy Pilch and the Russian classic The Golden Calf by Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov.
The Open Letter ebook series also boasts what is believed to be the world’s largest ebook collection of Catalan literature translated into English, with titles such as the modern classic Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda.
“We believe the best publishing model for Open Letter is the one that gets great international literature into the hands of readers. That’s why we’re so excited, not only to be offering a large selection of our books in both print and digital formats, but also to be putting these ebooks out there at a price that allows anyone to take a chance on something new,” says publisher Chad W. Post.
The current collection includes: Bragi Ólafsson’s The Ambassador andThe Pets, Jerzy Pilch’s A Thousand Peaceful Cities and The Mighty Angel, Mercè Rodoreda’s Death in Spring and The Selected Stories of Merce Rodoreda, Quim Monzó’s Gasoline and Guadalajara, and Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov’s The Golden Calf.
To see the full collection to learn more about each title, click here."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Popescu Prize for Poetry in Translation

The longlist for the 2011 Corneliu M Popescu Prize for poetry translated from a European language into English has just been announced. This prize, administered by the UK Poetry Society and sponsored by the Ratiu Foundation, is awarded every two years and is the only UK translation prize devoted solely to poetry.

The longlist is always mouth-watering! Translations from Spanish top the list with 13 titles, followed by French and Italian with nine. Romanian comes in fourth place with six submissions, followed by German, Latin and Turkish with four.

There is then a smattering of European languages with one or two submissions, including major languages such as Russian and non-national languages such as Galician.

The longlist can be seen here. The judges are Jane Draycott and Sasha Dugdale. The shortlist will be announced later in the year.