Very pleased to announce that my next book, co-authored with Scott Esposito, will be out from Zer0 Books on 25 January 2013. Spread the word!
The Oulipo celebrated its fiftieth birthday in 2010, and as it enters its sixth decade, its members, fans and critics are all wondering: where can it go from here? In two long essays Scott Esposito and Lauren Elkin consider Oulipo’s strengths, weaknesses, and impact on today’s experimental literature.
Happy 2012! I hope you all had a lovely New Year's; I celebrated in the utmost style (tea roses, candles, little ebony elephant placecard-holders) in downtown Manhattan with a lovely group of friends old and new, discussing everything from "silent courtship" to Marie Calloway to Michelle Tea to the way Daphne Guinness is trying to turn herself into a shoe. Since then I have done something weird to my neck and have spent the last 24 hours trying not to move it.
This inexplicably has given me permission to do nothing productive all day, and so I'm trying to squeeze in a little work tonight. My latest project is a collaboration with Scott Esposito of The Quarterly Conversation– I'll tell you more as it gets closer. All I can say now is: I'm writing a long essay about Oulipo, and Edouard Levé, and Hervé Le Tellier. And where there is Le Tellier, there is sex.
Thing is, a brief search of Project Muse (nice redesign! Still a little buggy though) and JSTOR have not turned up much in the way of "Oulipo and gender" or "Oulipo and sex." I'm not saying the articles don't exist. I'm just saying in my lazy, torticular state I can't find them. Anyone have any leads? Or thoughts?
When I was in London in October I went to see a curious art installation in a warehouse in Hoxton… and I wrote this piece about it for Her Royal Majesty, about getting lost and finding art.
In the very best of circumstances, I have an atrociously bad sense of direction. Send me to a notoriously difficult-to-find temporary exhibit in a somewhat gritty neighborhood I don’t know at all, and depending on my mood I’ll either cry or give up. And yet here I am, on an unseasonably warm October day, wandering through Hoxton. I’ve come to see Locked Room Scenario, an art installation in a warehouse, sponsored by Artangel, a London-based art group with a penchant for outside-of-the-cube installations in unexpected locations. A friend of a friend works there. This show is meant to be really interesting, but no one will tell me anything specific about it – not my friend, and not the friend of my friend. Deciphering the website takes too much concentration. “Please tell me what is the point of the show,” I asked my friend in advance. “Just give me some idea of what I’m in for.” “Just go,” my friend said, so I’m going, despite the fact that I’ve been getting lost in London all week – taking the wrong trains, making the wrong turns, ending up quite far from where I meant to go. But as I’m contemplating moving to London, I’ve resolved to Keep Calm and Carry On. One day I will navigate the Big Smoke with ease. Or at least with less difficulty.
I start off with a half-pint at a pub called The Eagle. Thus fortified, I begin the task of looking for the Londonewcastle Depot, 1-3 Wenlock Rd. I wander up the street and pass building after building but see no numbers on either side until number 7. Maybe the numbers go the other way? I keep walking and soon I’m at number 19. Then I call my friend.
“You know I am easily lost. Why have you sent me here?”
She describes the entrance, and I seem to remember having passed something that matched her description. “Enjoy the show,” she says. “If you get yourself out of there without having your head collapse it will be amazing.”
Read the rest.
… publishes today! And I'm proud to have a short story in this issue, called "A Naturalist in the Family," which is about technology and humanity, success and failure, and ends with a duel in Les Halles. Ordering information here.
The rocking cover (all queens!) was drawn by Badaude.
The issue also features art and reflections on art by James Franco. (Because he's everywhere else– why shouldn't he be in Her Royal Majesty?)
For those of you here in Paris, you're warmly invited to the launch party tonight at Le Carmen. No word on whether James will show up.
“The materiality of the writer’s life cannot be exaggerated. If you like metaphysics, throw pots. How fondly I recall thinking, in the old days, that to write you needed paper, pen, and a lap. How appalled I was to discover that, in order to write so much as a sonnet, you need a warehouse. You can easily get so confused writing a thirty-page chapter that in order to make an outline for the second draft, you have to rent a hall. I have often ‘written’ with the mechanical aid of a twenty-foot conference table. You lay your pages along the table’s edge and pace out the work. You walk along the rows; you weed bits, move bits, and dig out bits, bent over the rows with full hands like a gardener. After a couple of hours, you have taken an exceedingly dull nine-mile hike. You go home and soak your feet” (The Writing Life, 46).
I've recently published an article on the littérature-monde manifesto and the Etonnants-Voyageurs festival in issue 2 of The White Review:
My friend Elisabeth and I had travelled from Paris to Brittany to check out the Etonnants Voyageurs (Astonishing Travellers) literary festival in Saint Malo, created by Michel Le Bris in 1990. Every year, around sixty writers converge there to celebrate… well, what exactly we’re not sure, but it’s got something to do with travel literature, francophone literature, and Russians. In 2009, when I was researching a piece on the French literary milieu, all anyone could talk about was this festival and the movement associated with it: littérature-monde.
‘French literature is opening outward,’ I was told. ‘Just look at the success of the Etonnants Voyageurs festival.’ This was all the encouragement I needed to book a spot on the TGV to the 2010 edition, which was dedicated to Russian literature, Haitian literature, and the theme of the organisers’ new book, Je est un autre – I is Other. Of all the literary festivals in France – and there are hundreds – this one is the most political, and the most controversial. This is in part because Le Bris and Jean Rouaud were the major voices behind a 2007 manifesto, ‘Pour une littérature-monde en français’ (Towards a World Literature in French), which ran in Le Monde and was followed by an anthology of the same title.
Signed by forty-four writers including JMG Le Clézio, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Maryse Condé, Nancy Huston, and Edouard Glissant, the manifesto’s argument was twofold: first, that French literature ought not to be divided into ‘French’ (for work produced by writers born in France) and ‘francophone’ (read: those writers with origins in France’s former colonies) but rather should be considered as one continuous world literature in French. We are witnessing the ‘end of francophonie,’ they wrote, ‘and the birth of a world literature in French’. Second, they argued that French writers who since the rise of the nouveau roman and post-structuralist theory have been engaged in a ‘literature with no other object than itself’ should stop navel-gazing and put the world back in the text. Le Bris and Rouaud called for literature ‘to rub up against the world to capture its essence, its vital energies’, making the littérature-monde movement a sort of randy grandchild of Sartre’s littérature engagée.
Read more here. Full article available in the print journal– which you can order here.
From a not-so-recent interview with Judith Thurman:
There's some instinctive attraction that draws you, as a writer, to your subject. And the attraction usually has to do with some primal personal thing that, of course, you have no idea about. In the end, the piece always comes down to the one or two sentences you struggle over. The sentences where you try to say explicitly what it is that the two of you, subject and writer, have in common. Those are the sentences that you just bang your head against the wall over until you get them right. It's very hard to make that distillation but that is actually what your job is. Without trying to pin the person like a butterfly to the wall, to sum it up. If I can do that, then I feel satisfied. To give the subject a reality in the form of a sentence that is like a piece of rock crystal or a prism.
Shakespeare and Company has upped the ante on their first ever Paris Literary Prize (which I told you about back in October): the winner, in addition to receiving 10,000 EUR and a trip to Paris, will now be published by Melville House, the fine people behind the excellent (and highly collectible) Art of the Novella series.
Makes it a little easier to swallow that 50 EUR submission fee, I'd imagine! And when else can you expect to have your work read by Erica Wagner, Breyten Breytenbach, Darrin Strauss, and Dennis Loy Johnson of Melville House? (They're on the jury.)
The submission deadline has been extended until December 18, 2010.
I've been meaning to mention that there are a couple of Paris writing contests afoot at the moment, whose deadlines draw near.
Shakespeare and Company is having a novella contest, open to all unpublished writers; the deadline is December 1, 2010:
There are three awards: the award for the best Novella and two runner-up awards.
The 2011 Paris Literary Prize award is 10,000€ and a weekend stay in Paris, France. The winner will also read from his or her work at a special event at Shakespeare and Company Bookshop in Paris.
The Paris Literary Prize Runner-up awards:
There will be two runner-up awards. These awardees will receive a weekend stay in Paris and an opportunity to read from their work at a special event at Shakespeare and Company Bookshop in Paris.
There's kind of a steep submission fee– 50€– but I guess you gotta gamble sometimes, right?
Then there's the Paris Short Stories contest, run by Laurel Zuckerman; details here. Deadline November 30th; submission fee 10€. Judges include Nicola Keegan, Penelope Fletcher, owner of the Red Wheelbarrow, Diane Johnson, and Cara Black. (Yours truly was invited, but due to massive dissertation-related time constraints, respectfully declined.)
So if you've got a novella or a "delightful short story about Paris" just sitting on your hard drive doing absolutely nothing for you… send it in, send it in. To not dare is to lose oneself. See, even Kierkegaard wants you to submit.
My friend Jenny Boully has a great essay in Triquarterly that you should read. It's about being (half-)Thai in America, and the way identity and food are tangled up in each other. Here's an excerpt.
Justin asked that if I made the pad Thai could I please not use fish
sauce. I told him there was no way to make it without fish sauce. He
said that fish sauce upset his stomach, which I took to mean turned his
stomach. My grad-school friend asked that I not use canola oil but olive
oil instead. I tried to explain that olive oil was not used in Thai
cooking, and that the two oils cook differently in addition to tasting
quite different. She said something about her holistic doctor. Some
girl, who was trying not to get pregnant for the fourth time by douching
with lavender oil, asked that I not use chicken because she was
vegetarian. Another guy asked that I not use egg because he was vegan,
although I watched him and the vegetarian both drizzle fish sauce onto
their noodles. Someone’s boyfriend had just finished shaving his head
and was walking around in a skirt; he told me that he had a Thai
girlfriend once who was very sexy and that I should read this certain
book because it would help me to figure all my shit out; the girlfriend
made a mad sound and stomped out of the kitchen.
In the end, it was “pad Thai” that I made: something that repulsed me
but that others ate up. And although everyone complained about it not
being “authentic,” that is, not being the way they were used to having
it in restaurants, it was all gone by three in the morning. Although the
real Buddhist was now going to bed when the sun set and waking up when
the sun rose, he had gotten up at three in the morning to eat whatever
was left of the noodles, then went back to sleep again.
I love how Jenny plays with a certain kind of American's fussy (pathological, you might say) relationship to food and the way it fights with an all-consuming need for authenticity (without any sense of what "authentic" might be). That's not the ultimate point of the piece, but it is one of its sharper observations.