Former People Podcast – Refocusing World Literature

Transcriptions by P. H. Haggins 

Former People Podcast – Refocusing World Literature

Blog Link: https://formerpeople.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/happy-new-year-former-people-speak-3-refocusing-world-year/

[Introductory Music]

0:00:42.7

Steven Michalkow
Hello everyone and welcome to the vidcast of our fourth magazine issue “refocusing World Literature.” I’m your cohost Steven Michalkow, cofounding editor of Former People, being joined with my other cofounding editor C Derick Varn, and we’ll be discussing a number of the discussions, issues, questions and concerns raised in the magazine. What’s interesting about dealing with this subject is that it’s probably the most difficult of the subjects we’ve dealt with, surely the least concentrated in concept and idea. So, the prospect of having to say something intelligent about it in an all-encompassing way feels… almost…

C
DOOOOOMED!

S
Pretty much, right? But in an attempt to maintain a certain degree of optimism, hope against hope, I think if you look through a lot of what we discussed, particularly the interviews – and our interviews went across the globe concerning issues from India to Asia to Italy to Latin America – the questions really seemed to revolve around: what is the driving force which makes some literature from these regions well-known, world known, and what doesn’t?

0:02:16.9

C
I think it was interesting, I felt like in a lot of regions people were sort of avoiding the obvious. For example, I’ve asked several people now in relation to both Chinese and Korean literature why Japanese literature is so much more dominant. I mean, even in the United States where, if you look at the diaspora community of Asians in the United States, Japanese is the absolute smallest. The largest are like Chinese and Koreans, and then South Asians, and then Japanese. It’s tiny. But why so much more interest in Japanese literature? You get things about “oh the Japanese literature had the better translators, it had the movements coming out of Pound and the Beats,” which [the Beat Movement] was also interested in Chinese literature but you get the sense that because of the focus on Zen Buddhism that Japanese literature got the stronger backing. And I felt like the elephant in the room was Japan was occupied by the United States and has, [or] had, for most of this time period either the second or third strongest economy in the world. No one brought that up.

0:03:36.3

S
You’re going exactly where my mind was going when I was reading those interviews. That is the unanswered question on my mind while thinking about it. Right, there’s no surprise in my mind that now, with the rise of the Chinese economy and China in the cultural landscape – or the mental landscape – that Chinese literature and Chinese film are becoming more and more apparent in Western culture.

0:04:07.7

C
Yeah, and Korea growing stronger as well. I’ve actually found Korean literature in translation that’s somewhat popular now; Kim Jung-Hyk, Ko Un, these are people who have been read. Plus, there’s the diaspora writers in the states like Chang-Rae Lee… they are definitely more prominent than you would have expected ten years ago, but Japanese literature has so much of a head start. So, you have thirty years of good translations of Murakami, and Akutagawa, and fascinations with Yukio Mishima, that you don’t have with Korean writers. I actually think that’s similar to what you see in Latin American literature. One thing you see in Latin American literature is, unlike East Asian literature or even Indian literature, it’s not dependent on the English-translation market as much. As there’s an Anglophone world, there’s definitely also a Latin world. So, there’s enough readers in Latin America and Europe to pretty much sustain its literary market without translation. Which is not to say it doesn’t matter, it definitely does, but if you look at Latin America you see this similar trend. I pointed out in the interview about Bolaño and novelists after him in Spanish literature that it seems that Argentina and Chile are disproportionately represented in both the market in the Spanish-speaking world and in translation; even though Mexico produces as many renowned writers in the Spanish-speaking world, and it’s the US’s neighbor and has strong cultural ties to the US, it’s not well-represented in translation. And why is that? Well, the Argentine and Chilean economies have been better for longer.

0:06:15.3

S
Right and that brings up another point that, every sort of solution come up with doesn’t really resolve the matter. And there are other ways of looking at things. For example, I think it’s no surprise that the film industries should really be considered in the relative countries and whatnot. Going to our interview on Italian literature, it’s no surprise that Italy’s fictional presence is discussed and identified in part through the film industry that came with it. In this regard Pier Paolo Pasolini is a very interesting figure, not the least of which through Salo or any number of other films he had created.

0:07:04.7

C
Yeah, and even like the Spaghetti Western. You can go on and on and on and on. Pasolini’s fascinating, I kind of want to write a book about Pasolini one day, that’s a goal of mine. I think you actually see it similarly with other Asian countries: Chinese movies have always been popular for kitsch reasons, and even now they don’t… Some Hong Kong movies do, but pure mainland Chinese movies are still not viewed for, I would say complicated aesthetic reasons? You know, some of them are very beautiful, but nobody’s writing about how Hero is as good as Throne of Blood or Ran.

0:07:46.1

S
Well, you are getting some of it. And you’re getting it through filmmakers like Wong Kar-Wai or – even though he’s no longer Taiwanese now – Ang Lee. In a way Ang Lee is more of an American filmmaker now, right?

0:08:02.8

C
He’s not mainland. I mean, we get mainland movies now. There’s a mainland corporation that now owns controlling shares in AMC! But they still don’t have the artistic clout. And there’s probably complicated reasons for that having to do with the CCP and all that. I won’t go into that politics but, you know, it’s taken a while. And Korean film’s the same. Like, you’re beginning to see a real influx of Korean films and even Korean directors making films in English. So you have like, the director of the Vengeance trilogy, you know his movie Oldboy has been remade this year by Spike Lee  – even though it doesn’t seem to be doing well – and he himself made a movie completely in English called Stoker, it came out a few months ago. Ironically it came out while I was in Korea and it didn’t do very well there. Korean arthouse cinema is also doing better internationally at the same time that Samsung has become a dominant electronics leader, it’s kind of replaced the position that Sony used to be in. The big elephant in the room is – with the exception of countries that are naturally anglophone or have anglophonism as the dominant second language – the strong economies seem to dominate World Literature. And I don’t think a lot of academics like that, [but] I don’t think many would deny it. When I asked Rob Wilson about this stuff, he doesn’t deny that, he just says Japanese literature had the better translators. And he’s right, it did until very recently. I’ve read some translations of Korean literature in the eighties when I was in Korea, and it’s bad. It’s very stilted, very literal, and if you know anything about that family of languages, if you literally translate it, it doesn’t make any sense in English or it comes off as very weirdly direct and yet formal in a way that it’s not in its native language. And it’s very interesting to me to see that.

0:10:16.4

S
Well, this reminds me that it’s probably worthwhile to bring out an old hobbyhorse and basically say, perhaps what we’re encountering here or we’re circling around is the whole idea of modernism. Theoretically, in describing the entrance of the world economy, dealing with the ramifications of this new development… it’s encountering a situation where these writers, regardless of their desire, are forced to confront this new world; and as a result you’ll have figures like in Japan, people like Mishima, who, even though they come across as conservative or are described as anti-Western or anti-Modern – described that way in some of the interviews we had – are still nonetheless modernist figures. They are confronting this idea. Regardless of how this comes about I think that’s what we’re hearing about in these discussions.

0:11:23.6

C
Yeah, I mean, it is interesting. I think it’s very interesting that most of the literature that we get is from either the Christian or secular world. And when I say that I mean, yes, East Asia is not Christian – although Korea kind of is, a little bit – it is very secular. You don’t have to know a whole lot about Japanese traditional religion, for example, to read even Mishima. You do for authors like Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, the writer of “Rashōmon. Although you don’t have to for “Rashōmon!” So, there you go! But you definitely don’t need it to read, like, Murakami.

0:12:06.2

S
Right, in particular when these writers become more and more influenced by aspects of the West, or at least factors not related to their home culture.

0:12:20.2

C
Right. I mean, like, yes it helps to understand Samurai culture to watch some Kurosawa films. Truly it does. But it also helps to know John Ford movies, and to know Shakespeare. You really have to know Shakespeare to watch two or three of them!

0:12:40.2

S
Oh very much so. In fact, I would argue that he has some of the best interpretations of Shakespeare on film. That does remind me of the funny fact that Kurosawa was shunned a little bit in Japan, precisely because of his Western influence.

0:12:57.4

C
Yeah, like, his reputation in Japan has gotten better after his death, I think. And that’s important to know. There’s a lot of really good Indian writers, for example, that aren’t as famous in India, or at least not as trusted in India, as they are internationally. Arundhati Roy comes to mind. So, there’s that too. I tend to think that literature really is more globalized now, but it’s more selectively globalized. And if what you’re writing doesn’t have some kind of correspondence to European literature, its literary tradition, in some form, you’re going to have a very hard time getting it published. And I think… that’s interesting to me. There’re countries that have had a lot more influence than others that, even literarily, don’t entirely make sense to me. Although, they kind of do if you look at it in terms of imperialism. For example: why so much French and Latin literature is considered part and parcel to World Literature, but not much German or Italian literature is. I mean, early Italian literature is, but not Italian literature after, say, 1800.

0:14:27.6

S
Well, I would say at least some of it is. Primarily that which tends to be more on the religious side. So, I’m thinking, say, Dante and Boccaccio.

0:14:35.5

C
Well I mean with some exceptions. The Decameron is not religious. But, I mean, yes Dante is vitally important. As is the renaissance literature, right? Which is kind of religious and kind of not. But after that you see a distinct fading. Modern Italian literature…

0:14:54.1

S
Well, modern Italian literature gets you Umberto Eco and Italo Calvino.

0:14:58.1

C
Calvino may be typical of Italian literature, but Umberto Eco is weird in all literature forms anywhere. And his fame is kind of interesting and very different from a writer like Bolaño in Latin America, or even like Octavio Paz in Mexico.

0:15:19.5

S
Sure, sure, I’ll give you that. But I think the case can still be made for authors like Alberto Moravia and di Lampedusa, you know, very famously having films made of their work.

0:15:31.4

C
Well yeah, but again that’s… you thank that on film. I think the reason anyone know Pier Paolo Pasolini in the Anglophone world is because of Salo and The Gospel According to Saint Matthew.

0:15:45.5

S
Yeah, and his Trilogy of Life films; so, Canterbury Tales, Decameron, Arabian Nights…

0:15:54.3

C
But people know him for those… probably now more [for] Salo than anything else, because of its infamy. They don’t know him for his poetry or for his criticism. I have to admit, I have only found Pasolini poetry translated in the library like once. And it wasn’t in the United States, it was in Korea. I don’t remember exactly, but I do believe I found it in Korea, which was weird.

0:16:18.7

S
Honestly, I can’t say I’m surprised to hear that you didn’t really find much of him in the United States. It’s very interesting, Pasolini has kind of been forced – at least in a number of circles – into the category of filmmaker. That’s certainly how I first encountered him. It’s strange, and I think above and beyond Pasolini, taking it a step further, Italy is like that too, right? Now Italy is sort of tied part and parcel with Latin America in terms of being identified with Magical Realism, right?

0:17:02.6

C
And Magical Realism which isn’t even a thing. [laughs] You and I have had this conversation before, but now that the interview is out, I can talk about it. I also don’t think that Magical Realism is a thing that actually exists outside of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and maybe Borges. And I don’t think Borges thought of himself that way.

0:17:20.9

S
No, I hear you. But, to be fair, it doesn’t really matter what the author’s sort of categorized themselves as. I mean, we have a notion which we’ve constructed of Magical Realism…

0:17:31.6

C
Yeah, but the thing is they’re only called that in English translation. So, it’s like, we have a genre that to us represents Latin American literature. And I’m not going to say it’s not a genre, I agree that the self-identification can get problematic. The thing is, we use that genre to characterize the dominant character of a region in which it doesn’t at all. Then we try to fit in people who don’t really fit into that. Like Carlos Fuente who wrote The Old Gringo, which is about Ambrose Bierce, has been labelled a Magical Realist novelist, and I don’t understand how. I don’t get it.

0:18:09.6

S
No, no, I hear you. These things can get really crazy, how people get put together. And also, the other elephant in the room we’re not talking about is the other major figure who is tied to Magical Realism, namely Salmon Rushdie, who is Indian-Kashmiri [and] who mostly operates in England and the United States.

0:18:32.4

C
Well yeah, but that’s interesting because he as nothing to do with Latin American literature. I mean, there’s some hints of Kashmiri stuff in there. I mean, particularly his most controversial books are some of his most regional ones. But at the same time, like, he’s pretty… I mean it’d be like calling V.S. Naipaul a representative of Indian literature, which would be laughable.

0:18:57.1

S
Oh yeah, very much laughable. In fact, I think it’s laughable to think of V.S. Naipaul as representative of anything other than V.S. Naipaul, to be honest.

0:19:05.6

C
Yes, “I am V.S. Naipaul, and I don’t like anything.” I actually sort of… I was going to say, I disagree with him a lot. Although his book A Turn in the South, where he goes to the Southern states is actually… as a Southerner and as a fairly “progressive,” I will say that while sneering, but as a not-Southern-Baptist Southerner, I really sympathize with that book. I’m sure that… I know that he’s intensely unpopular with a lot of people in India. Indian literature to me is the odd man out, but it’s easy to explain. Why is there so much good Indian literature in translation, or not even in translation? Because it doesn’t need to be translated!

0:19:59.6

S
Right, the prevalence of English in the subcontinent is extreme to the point of rivaling the so-called native languages. And you really don’t need a translator for that.

0:20:09.6

C
And there’s plenty of people who can, even when it’s not originally written in English. So, Tagore’s not written in English, but everybody can speak English, so you can find good translators.

0:20:22.5

S
Yeah. This may be a tangent, but it does remind me of what you’re describing in the intersection of languages, cultures, availability; it seems like we’re forgetting an important knot in the world literary discussion, which is namely the immigrant novel, or the immigrant experience, or however you want to take it.

0:20:45.9

C
I mean, the immigrant experience… Like, I wrote a paper in college basically making fun of all of these – this was when the Indian and Korean immigrant novels were really becoming popular, this is the 90s, early 2000s – and I was like, “I can jot this out: it’s the same thing as the Jewish immigrant novel!” You know, there’s some connection to food, there’s some dating of the Goyim, there’s some going back to not dating the Goyim…

0:21:16.7

S
I agree, it can be quite the predictable genre at times.

0:21:22.1

C
Yeah, I mean… I like Jhumpa Lahiri, I don’t want people to think I’m making fun of Jhumpa Lahiri, but her first two books fit this format perfectly. And the same thing with Chang-Rae Lee! His later books don’t, and I think they’re more interesting, but they’re not as popular.

0:21:36.8

S
Right, right… I guess that could be somewhat related to either a market thing or… but more than that I guess there’s a question of audience, I suppose. This could conceivably be something that more American-style audiences would like, I mean, obviously immigrant experiences are going to be different, and not everybody is an immigrant per se, so…

0:22:07.3

C
We didn’t talk about this much in the interview, but it was brought up. Because we were talking about the differences between, say, Korean literature and Korean-American literature. Korean-American literature definitely fits the profiles that you see developed in early 20
th century Jewish literature and Irish literature. I mean Irish-American literature. It’s very similar. Now, part of that could be… you could say it’s the archetype of the experience of the American experience of the immigrant. I think there’s some truth to that, although part of me thinks that’s bullshit; and I think part is like it’s a genre in itself. Like, every one of these people are Western educated and their conceiving of themselves in similar terms.

0:22:52.4

S
Right, I see where you’re going there. There’s almost like an unacknowledged attempt or desire to write, let’s say the Korean-American Augie March, or the Korean-American Portnoy’s Complaint. Just to name a few.

0:23:07.8

C
And I completely think that’s fine. A lot of people… I remember when I was in MFA-land that there was a lot of resentment towards that. I think everyone gets that one book, and what makes you a good writer if you’re coming from that experience is, can you go past that? Can you go past that sort of initial genre restriction? And most of the writers I’ve mentioned I actually think do. So, don’t think that I’m beating up on Chang-Rae Lee or Jhumpa Lahiri, because I’m not, I actually like those writers. But I think their early books definitely fit that form. And that’s usually their – it may not be critically, but commercially – their most famous book. I am interested in why there is so little Arabic literature in discussion. You know, outside of The Kite Runner, which is I guess every Liberal’s conception of Afghanistan.

0:24:04.5

S
Well, there’s also Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy, but I will sort of step back from that and say you can conceive of Egypt being somewhat different. I don’t entirely buy that, but I still sort of get that argument.

0:24:18.5

C
Yeah, but we have a cultural obsession with Egypt going back…

0:24:22.3

S
Quite a long while. I mean, the Greek and Roman obsession comes to mind.

0:24:28.1

C
Yeah, and like Herodotus is writing like “oh look at how interesting these Egyptians are, and how weird!”

0:24:33.9

S
Yeah, right. I’m sure you’re aware of the prohibition, I think from the Roman time, on people going to or dealing with Egypt, precisely because of this weird infatuation that can develop. Think famously of Anthony and Cleopatra.

0:24:51.6

C
Similarly with Persia. I think it’s more interesting that there’s more Persian literature, more Iranian literature, in the popular discourse contemporarily. Partly because of fascinations with, you know, 1979, 1980; but partly I think because there is tradition in the West that has an obsession with Persia as, you know, the Other. And I admit I sound a little bit Edward Said here, but what’s interesting to me is you don’t get that much with Arab-American and with Arab works. There are Arab-American writers, there are Filipino-American writers, all kinds of African-American writers, and there should be. I have… I think that argument that we all just need to be like “writers,” or “American writers” first is kind of dumb.

0:25:39.5

S
Right, I mean… Yeah, there is this sort of idealistic effort to blend away various identity politics. [To] adopt a sort of “true,” “multi-national” politics, which is like an abandonment of this, but it’s very difficult, right? A lot of these novels are… shall I say, dealing with this attempt to integrate themselves into the American culture at the cost or expense of some previous identity.

0:26:15.7

C
And I think we should just call those the WASP American novels. And slowly but surely the Jewish-American novel’s merging in there. I think that’s pretty honest. I just remember the pure-aesthetic argument, that was popular when I was in the MFA too. Like, “what’s with this hyphenated thing? It’s just a marketing gimmick,” and I don’t actually think that. I do think there may be a genre gimmick to it. You know, the archetypal immigrant-experience story, I don’t think people set out saying “I’m going to write the archetypical immigrant-experience story!” I think they have their lives, and then there’s all these patterns that we’ve seen in films and movies and videos from Irish and Jewish and German and whoever. And African-American, although that’s a little different… not a little different, a lot damn different, but still kind of fits in the minority literature.

0:27:08.9

S
Yeah, it’s funny, in talking about these archetypal immigrant novels it strikes me that the novel that may be less common, or the novel I’d be more interesting in reading, is that sort of minority immigrant novel which may, on the surface of things, have the integration story as a premise going into it; but sort of is the catalogue or the description of the failure or the disenchantment with that immigration. Right? I think that would be enjoyably different.

0:27:43.3

C
The best book about that would be… would actually be a book about whether that can’t happen, and whether someone wants it to, and that’s The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. I think those books largely come out of African American literature for reasons that sort of make sense. Because they’re not really immigrants, you know? And maybe also Native American literature. Native American literature has a very tragic tinge to it usually. Because, well, you know… it’s kind of actually tragic! [laughs] We can spin it whatever way we want to, but there’s really no way around that. And I’m laughing because it’s actually painful to think about!

0:28:25.6

S
Yeah. That reminds me of the painfully funny joke that Chris Rock did when he says to the effect: “calm down everyone, nobody got it worse than the Native Americans. Case in point: when was the last time you saw two Native Americans, or a Native American family, just hanging out together?”

0:28:42.7

C
Outside of a reservation? Yeah. Yeah. I had a professor who I argued with, who argued with me about how could I say what happened to the Native Americans was worse than what happened to the Jews, and I’m like, “well there are a lot more Jews in New York than there are…” Which sounds horrible, but I think it’s true. The difference is A) it’s not mechanized, and B) it was more effective. And somewhat accidental in some ways. Like, the Northeastern Indians weren’t deliberately wiped out by smallpox, I don’t think anyone planned that.

0:29:20.7

S
Well, most of the hard legwork of that was done from the very beginning when smallpox kills nine tenths of the population before anyone even thinks of anything.

0:29:32.5

C
Which is a difference between North America and Africa, right? We’re getting really political but, you know, the African population was decimated but not like that because they had immunity to those diseases.

0:29:47.0

S
An even worse detail is that, the reason you had Africans as slaves, more so than other races, was that Native Americans couldn’t survive the working conditions. In the heat you’d put them in they would die sooner, that’s why you’d pick Africans to fill in the gap.

0:30:04.6

C
Yeah well… that’s morbid, but also true. People forget that about the Atlantic conquests. And now we’re on the really depressing part of World Literature, but it underscores a lot of what we’re talking about. I think a lot of people in our field tend to either overplay the political and economic dimensions or ignore it.

0:30:32.7

S
Right, that’s my attitude. On the one hand I feel it’s very difficult – especially when you’re talking on a larger canvas – to ignore these political and economic issues, yet at the same time the other tendency – which I very dramatically avoid – is this sort of reductionist tendency to collapsing literature into social and economic categories. And as a result, I know my fault is to avoid like the plague the reductionist view.

0:31:01.4

C
I have the reductionist tendency when I talk about literature, not when I actually read it. But when I talk about it I’m like… Well, you know, it’s like I was just saying: we can explain a whole lot about why certain books catch on by what country they’re from, and how powerful they were economically and meritocratically at the times that we started reading them. There are exceptions to that though, I think the exceptions to that are interesting.

0:31:23.4

S
Right, the exception that comes to mind most clearly is the Latin American literature. Latin America, regardless of their regional strength, weren’t the strongest powers – economically speaking – in the world.

0:31:36.5

C
And Chile had good economies, but they’re not like…

0:31:39.0

S
Nor do they have, like, leading film industries comparatively speaking.

0:31:42.3

C
Oh that’s interesting. That’s something to talk about. They have a strong internal film industry, but it’s not like Italy where we had the Italian movie renaissance of the 50s, 60s, and 70s basically. Latin America had a couple of individual movies that are really good like that and have been really popular abroad, but you can’t think of like an industry, and you don’t think of directors.

0:32:13.2

S
The few directors that I do think about are generally those working in English. Most clearly contemporarily Guillermo del Toro, and his obsession actually is with Europe.

0:32:24.2

C
Yeah, I was about to say, he has this weird obsession with the Spanish Civil War that shows up, like, in two different movies.

0:32:30.4

S
I also forgot that brief period of time when Bunuel was in Mexico in exile to make Exterminating Angel.

0:32:37.2

C
Yeah, and I think about like Alfonso Cuarón… I think of a lot of Latin American directors, but they’re working in English language film if we know them very well. I live in Mexico, there are tons of awesome Mexican movies we don’t hear anything about!

0:32:55.3

S
Yeah, I find that really interesting. Especially if, putting it crassly, Americans seem to have an obsession with Mexico. Not only just it being in the news, but people just love “authentic Mexican food,” let’s say. Just cultural bits and pieces.

0:33:13.0

C
Or like, there’s a whole lot of Mexican cultural influence in the American Southwest. Like, oh I dunno, it was part of Mexico for thirty, forty, fifty, sixty years, depending on how you really draw that. Maybe two or three hundred. But really.

0:33:28.2

S
Yeah, yeah, and it’s funny… like, Mexico may be poor, but it’s not that poor, right?

0:33:36.2

C
Right, and it’s not like Mexico’s a super weak economy either. Everybody in the United States stupidly thinks – well, not everybody, I’m generalizing – but a lot of people in the United States think of it as the Third World. And yes, some parts of, say, Chiapas or Oaxaca or parts of the Yucatan are, but parts of it aren’t.

0:33:55.0

S
Oh yeah. Mexico City is full of very wealth people, and very strong immigrant population too.

0:34:00.8

C
Oh yes, Mexico City is awesome. And in the North, even in the drug war ravaged North, you have strip malls! I mean, it’s not that different. The Peso’s not that weak!

0:34:15.8

S
Yeah, I mean, going beyond that to the drug war you referenced, you’d think that even something dramatic like that would at least be drawing our attention to the point where we’re interested at the very least with Mexican literature that deals somewhat with this topic… It’s possible I’m not paying that much attention, but I’m just not seeing that going about right now.

0:34:44.7

C
But the hard thing about that is you still haven’t seen… even though, yes parts of 2666 are about Juarez, Bolaño’s not a Mexican writer! I mean, he lived in Mexico for a while, but he’s not a Mexican writer. I don’t know that the current narco wars, which have gotten Mexico all over the news, have helped Mexican literature a whole lot as far as its reception in the United States. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe that’s why people read Bolaño, and it’s just that Americans can’t tell Spanish [speaking] people apart. To sound really crass, like, “oh! This is… this must be Mexican! Maybe those Argentinian Mexicans?”

0:35:27.9

S
Yeah, that’s truer than I want to admit.

0:35:29.8

C
I say that because I’ve actually heard that said. I’m not…

0:35:33.6

S
No, no, I believe you. In fact, the funny thing about that is I know that most Latin American countries will not get along with each other, and only do insofar as in they’re united in their hatred of Argentina.

0:35:46.9

C
Even more than their dislike of Americans believe it or not. Mexicans, I will say, don’t hate Americans that much. Which is kind of amazing. To generalize. I mean, there are of course people who do, but for the main part they don’t. Whereas, for example, I had friends who lived in Honduras where there’s a lot more direct anti-Americanism.

0:36:12.0

S
Yeah, that’s interesting. Going back to the American’s lack of interest, in Mexico in particular, I go back to the question of, what is this the result of the degree to which American literature by and large won’t get into regional literature as much as one would think? Right?

0:36:41.3

C
See, I disagree with you, because I think the dominant trends of American literature are regional; and that includes both the dominance of Southern literature, and the dominance of what we call “Literary Fiction” in the default American setting, which is New York literature.

0:36:54.3

S
Right, but I would say that proves the point because those are the only two regions in which we allow that to happen.

0:37:00.1

C
Yeah, but I mean, nobody calls New York literature regional even though it is. It’s like calling movies set in LA regional.

0:37:07.0

S
Yeah, that is sort of becoming a hobbyhorse of yours and mine, this ongoing critique of the New York centric view of literature. Which, I don’t know if I ultimately want to purely maintain it because there is good stuff coming out of New York.

0:37:20.8

C
… Well, I work in literature and you work in something business-y. We should probably be kind to New York.

0:37:31.4

S
Yeah, for sure. I enjoyed the few times I’ve been in New York; I know people there who are doing interesting things and whatnot…

0:37:41.5

C
I enjoyed visiting New York, the same way I enjoyed visiting New Orleans and San Francisco. And also, I don’t live there. [laughs] I don’t live in the United States, but even if I did I wouldn’t live there. So… And no we’re… We sound so parochial; we try to talk about World Literature, and we start talking about America, and that’s so American.

0:38:04.0

S
Yeah, you could accuse us of being guilty on that front, but I guess to a certain extent it was a manifestation of some of the developments we were trying to extrapolate about genericizing things that are going on in World Literature, namely: [if you are] planning on being a very famous writer from outside of the United States, your fame is kind of dependent on finding an American audience, and as a result of that your relation to American tastes have to somehow be tied to that.

0:38:44.1

C
I think that’s interesting; I don’t think that’s as true for literature as it is for film, and I think we can see the contrasts. Like, why, what are the two reasons why American films are so damn generic and stuff, and boring now? It’s because they can’t explore regional and cultural issues really, because they have to appeal to the Chinese and South Asian market. Just to be frank, right? So, they have to be all big, the whole world’s at stake, and they don’t have anything too deep. The humor can be very physical, or it’s not crucial to the plot that you understand the humor.

0:39:18.7

S
Yeah, I get where you’re coming from with that, but at the same time I still feel like that is a result – the phenomenon you’re describing I mean – is a result of something that’s happening well before that globalization effort. I mean, a little bit of it is there, but the truth of the matter is that comes about at the end of the 70s, beginning of the early 80s with the downfall of the new Hollywood sort of auteur director type idea. Remember, late 70s not only do you have the success of “popcorn” movies like Jaws and Star Wars, but you also have in the late 80s the downfall of major directors for the sake of making very big, expensive, complicated-yet-personal movies that actually bankrupts one studio very famously in the Heaven’s Gate fiasco. That in turn sort of leads Hollywood away from arthouse 70s style films more towards the predictable box-office success and the repeatable formula that you saw throughout the 80s. So, I don’t think it’s really entirely the way you’re describing it…

0:40:36.6

C
I have a counter-thesis – this is great, it’s the most we’ve disagreed on an issue, because everyone must think we agree on everything – but it’s interesting because if you were watching films in 1999… you and I are both about that old, we’re both of a time period where those films have been crucial to us, right? But let’s really talk about that, because I thought in 1999, we were going to have another early 70s.

0:41:03.9

S
Yeah, I’ve heard that argument before, and I think there’s a little bit of teeth to that. 1999, there’s a number of interesting movies going on about that time, I know the one that immediately comes to mind is American Beauty. I know it’s kind of a faux pas to say you like it now, but I still do.

0:41:25.1

C
I like it, I will defend American Beauty. I used to teach American Beauty in Korea and the more I watched it the more I thought it was a good movie, and a much more nuanced movie than people think… But also, like, Fight Club… What else? Being John Malkovich.

0:41:43.8

S
I think David Lynch’s The Straight Story was around then.

0:41:46.6

C
You do see these O-scores have about two years after that…

0:41:51.3

S
Oh, I forgot PT Anderson as well.

0:41:52.8

C
Magnolia. We can just name… I think Wes Anderson had a movie out that year?

0:42:00.1

S
Rushmore was out in ’98 and The Royal Tenenbaums was out in 2001 I believe.

0:42:06.4

C
So, okay, right around that era, if not that year. But enough that it seems like, in my mind, the happy world where movies were good between ’98 and 9/11. But the one thing that I… I think the biggest thing that you can see is you see the return to blockbuster form, but it’s also like, those movies aren’t going to do well in China. I’m just going to be frank, they’re not. What’s interesting to me is, with World Literature, I think you do see a some of the washing out, but then again, I don’t think you always do. I mean, let’s be fair, there’s some amazing stuff in translation in English that’s fairly popular considering that most of the population doesn’t read.

0:42:49.1

S
Yeah, but that also reminds you of the degree to which it’s fairly easy to be popular. We have a plethora of media where you can sort of get whatever you want, and it doesn’t take that much to get to the point where you have a best seller on your hands.

0:43:07.5

C
Right, I mean, you know, it’s kind of why niche cable is so much better than movies right now. It’s because your audience is necessarily smaller. And that’s true in literature and it gives you a freedom in literature that I think is kind of amazing.

0:43:23.3

S
Well, fair enough, but I think we should also probably think about, above and beyond the question of audiences, also think of the cost to produce literature is on a different scale very dramatically from film or television. So, that’s just something you have to consider at the forefront.

0:43:46.7

C
Not to get into… God I’m going to sound Marxist on the literary podcast, but the cost of reproduction of the human subject is kind of low? You’ve just got to keep them alive. And you can do that by just making sure they have enough time to have a job. Which is why we have this rise of the dilletante culture, I think, in the literature. I’m not going to mention his name, but you and I know a semi-famous short fiction writer who works in Weird fiction who still works as a waiter. And he’s got an award-winning book.

0:44:22.1

S
Yeah…

0:44:22.4

B
You know, not to be all depressing, but you know… And yet weirdly, I also know people who no one reads outside of academia, and by academia, I mean MFA academia, who have pretty stable jobs in writing. It’s very weird.

0:44:43.9

S
Well, the other thing is, I don’t entirely know what the condition of various authors are in other parts of the world, which I think is crucial to really think about.

0:44:55.0

C
Well, I think… I don’t know. In Latin America I don’t know what… I do know from my contacts in India that a lot of them have day jobs. I mean, frankly, most writers have had day jobs throughout most of history if their day job was just, like, teaching the nobleman’s kid.

0:45:13.4

S
Right, well we’ve already sort of had that discussion about how this was sort of a unique period in American history where the author managed to make a very decent income from writing. And it’s very limited, right?

0:45:28.1

C
Right after World War II.

0:45:29.9

S
Yeah, and it only really lasts as a kind of half-century phenomenon before it peters out.

0:45:35.4

C
… I mean, there are still mega-authors who never have to work, but there’s not nearly as many.

0:45:41.1

S
Right, and this sort of brings me back to my old hobbyhorse of the increasing prevalence of material creating, increasing fragmentation of the audience for literature. So, you can go literally anywhere you want, to get whatever you want, at the cost of having some sort of cohesion. So, you really just have increasingly minor and minor audience numbers. Which also translates to what you are able or not able to pay.

0:46:12.6

C
Now we have infinite space and infinite writers, but not a lot of stuff to pay them [with]. You know, I say this as a semi-professional writer myself. I have an MFA; I work around literature. I’m not the most successful writer. I’m a poet, none of us expect to make money. Which is another thing altogether; it’s a weird field where you go into it knowing that you have economically doomed yourself in what you actually primarily do, but you will make money by things tangential to that. Just, very strange…

0:46:47.0

S
Yeah, we sure are painting a very… not optimistic story, putting it nicely. Maybe not bleak, but we’re getting there.

0:46:57.3

C
Yeah. “Refocusing World Literature: economics suck! The End.” [laughs] I mean…

0:47:04.7

S
Yeah, I mean, it’s funny we conscientiously try to avoid politics and yet this episode we keep on going back to it… In some sense I think it is necessary for what we’re talking about, simply by virtue of the size of what we’re talking about; when we’re talking about everything this stuff just keeps coming back, so as much as we want to avoid it I think it is necessary at this point.

0:47:33.5

C
I would prefer not to talk about politics, I already talk about politics on another podcast, but… but no, I agree with you. I think that’s going to be a big challenge, and oddly I think a lot of the regional… I think a lot of the non-English literatures will be better suited to handle it, quite frankly. Because the pool of writers in those areas are smaller, and because the market’s smaller. It may not be true in Latin America, to be completely fair, because you’re still talking about a huge section of the world. China is weird to talk about because of the relationship to the state. But definitely, you know, a lot of these regional literatures, I’ve read a whole lot in Bangladeshi lately, and in Bengali, translated from that, and I think those kinds will do fine. Because their audience is small, and they never expect to make a lot of money in the first place. You know? But to be like “a writer’s writer” now you have too… It’s a lot like when you read about the early days even when there were still a lot of magazines, like in Asimov’s and Weird Tales and all that, but you read about Lovecraft and Philip K Dick’s time period, and it seems like it was a lot like now. And as weird as that sounds, writers got paid very little; there was pay, but not much; there was tons of magazines to print in, but they were very ephemeral and didn’t last very long. We’ve lost a lot of that literature, and you see the same thing with the internet. Except it’s like even more because there’s very little overhead to pick anything up, as our own magazine is proof of!

0:49:07.7

C
Yeah, it’s very funny, it reminds me of something you had mentioned earlier at another point which was the degree to which we are in a state somewhat familiar to that era of pulp writing that we had talked about in [the] Weird Fiction [episode] that we’re going to talk about in the SF work. I’m wondering, you know, what is that then doing to the writing? In a weird way we’ve made the case that Pulp fiction is very strong, in fact very strong, maybe as strong as its ever been. And by Pulp I’m generalizing a little bit for Genre writing, but that is an interesting thing to bring up.

0:49:55.0

C
You know, I wonder, I really do wonder about – this would be something I would be fascinated to find someone to talk to us about – what is Pulp literature like everywhere else? Not Europe, Europe’s not hard to figure out.

0:50:07.9

S
Nor would Japan be I’d say…

0:50:09.5

C
Yes, yes, there’s Manga and Yaoi and all that crap. But, okay, and in Korea there’s not that much of it because it’s heavily censored, and if you really want to understand Pulp literature in Korea you really need to know a couple things: Koreans don’t read that much literature; historically they read a lot of nonfiction, so their a literary society but not a fiction society that much. Not saying they don’t, that’s an overgeneralization, but it’s still kind of a true one.

0:50:32.9

S
Going in similar directions, China is the big mystery there. I really don’t know what’s ultimately happening on that front. But Latin America’s fairly opaque. I imagine some of its like Europe, but for the most part [it’s a] question mark.

0:50:52.4

C
Right, like, what is that stuff like? I should go down to the Gandhi, which is the Mexican Barnes & Nobles; which is doing financially better than Barnes & Nobles, still going to exist in a few years!

0:51:03.8

S
Well, right. The thing about Barnes & Nobles in terms of book sales they’re doing quite well, what’s really troubling them is their E-reader gambit.

0:51:13.1

C
Yes, because they couldn’t compete in the Kindle, but the thing is they put so much money into the Kindle they still might go under. Not Kindle, Nook! Oh God. And I have a Kindle, which is incredibly convenient when you travel countries and you read as much as I do.

0:51:25.5

S
Yeah, that’s the ultimate use case for the E-Readers. I’m still in a position where I can focus on reading actual physical books, which is still my preference.

0:51:35.2

C
I used to be… I’m now a derelict and I’m completely to the screen. I found myself reading a book the other day and thinking “I wish this was on my iPad” and I was like, “oh my God. What has happened to me?” But… [laughs]

0:51:49.6

S
Yes, perhaps one day we will forgive you. But, turning back to the topic at hand, and thinking about this intersect of World Literature and “Pulp” literature outside of the United States, I think it’s interesting that we should really go back and touch upon one of the stories we received and published this month, which was “The Ashen People” by a friend of the magazine, Jayaprakash. It’s interesting to keep in mind that this story is very much in the Lovecraftian tradition but is still its own thing.

0:52:28.2

C
It has a very Indian feel to it. Like…

0:52:31.3

S
Yeah, you’re totally right. And I think we should actually spend a few moments talking about the basic structure of the story. So, on the surface of the matter it is sort of the story of a few – mostly one, but probably a few – characters in modernish day India, and there is a certain element of reflection on the nature of how things currently are in at least one city, probably in a number of places if you think about it. Images crop up which would have been… typical of a certain – I hate the term – “postcolonial” literature. So, there’s reflection on the development of these new, I guess you’d call them cybercafes; and what you get throughout this section of the story is really issues concerning questions of authenticity; the encroachment of Western values, whether or not those are or are not authentic, yes to be sure, but also their relative value, how their changing the shape of things to come. You are getting something of what we would think of as belonging in the tradition of High literature, and then you get the wrinkle: we begin to enter the Lovecraftian zone with the secret, dangerous, unknown book that comes in, and the exploration of what this dangerous text a la something like the Necronomicon, what it means and what it reveals. And again, sort of turning back in on itself, that is a text that deals, not only with the Ashen People, but more or less Shiva. And what’s interesting in the story is that Shiva then gets identified or is explored through the language, or at least the idiom, of the Elder Things that we’ve found in Lovecraft.  So, it’s a very interesting take on Indian contemporary and also historic culture. Which is really a fascinating story. And what’s interesting is that it’s only a story that could only come about by virtue of that Western influence, that Weird fiction influence.

0:55:23.1

C
You do see this sort of like, very influenced from the Western tradition Weird fiction… I mean Weird fiction itself – it’s a fascinating thing about World Literature – is Weird fiction itself is arguably influenced by things outside of the Western tradition itself. It’s influenced by Fin de Siècle writing – okay, that’s very Western – but it’s also influenced by a lot of, like, orientalist tales that came out in the 19
th century, if you want to be completely honest.

0:55:49.0

S
True, true, but the other interesting wrinkle is that the main practitioners we associate with Weird Fiction tend to be very Nordic men, and some of them rather… very inclined to keep it that way.

0:56:01.9

C
Oh yeah, I mean, you know Lovecraft was so racist he had a trouble with the Dutch. And I will say that [got milder] as he got older, at least in his fiction the racial stuff got less vehement. Let’s not rehash the Lovecraft stuff. That’s very much an arch-Western thing, it’s influenced by non-Western literature and yet sort of denies that. More so in, like, Robert E. Howard I think than in Lovecraft, but that’s neither here nor there. So, you have this weird circular thing, you have these things going back and picked up by these English-speaking, relatively well educated, usually top-two caste – if we’re being honest – Indian writers. And they do a lot with it, and yet it does have a real feeling of… And not in an exoticized way, there’s a real ambivalence and struggle with Indian culture in this work.

0:57:11.3

S
Yeah, it’s funny thinking about it… We’ll be going a little bit into how we received this story and, you know, we got it during the time of our Weird fiction issue, and then the decision was ultimately made to put it more in the World Literature issue by virtue of it doing exactly what you’re talking about. And what was interesting about my first reaction to this story was, I saw it more along the lines of using the Lovecraftian tropes as a means of demonstrating the authenticity of the Indian, Hindu experience against the Western view. So, namely you have the inauthentic Western values cropping up compared against the very dramatic, awe-inspiring conclusion, which is the manifestation of Shiva. And at first I thought, “Well, that’s very odd.” Almost as if… are we playing the normal game of “oh the non-Western are is authentic, West is authentic,” and then having that game play out. But realistically, when you look back on it, when you have Shiva depicted in the way that an Old One is depicted, you really are exploring that ambivalence in a very direct way. Because the old ones are not there in a protective way, or a pleasant way, or any way that wouldn’t result in you sort of cowering in utter fear and terror and most likely realizing your immanent death, right? So, when you add that all in together, it’s like… wow. That is a really creative way to express that anxiety, and it completely was something I didn’t entirely grasp right away.

0:59:19.5

C
[laughs] I don’t know. I’m interested in this story too, because at first I thought it was very much about, like, de-exoticized “true” India, which is the answer to this Weirdness, and I think it was a misreading.

0:59:36.5

S
Yeah, that is definitely something I realized after re-reading it a few times, and at the end of the day I think, you know, it’s a really interesting piece to explore. To go into some background, I know there is a possibility that J may revisit this story and expound upon it; and perhaps our misreading will become less and less likely to happen for other future readers, because I think he’s going to perhaps explore more ideas in that vein in any subsequent retelling of that story.

1:00:10.0

C
Right, and I think, you know, J – maybe not even realizing he’s doing this – is very much playing with ideas of invented tradition and the tension of postcolonialness. It’s not… that story is very cynical about authenticity, I think both Western and Non-Western. And you know me, when I lived in Korea I began to hate the word “Western” because I was like “there is no such thing as Western culture!”

1:00:33.2

S
Right, you probably have more the smorgasbord view of things.

1:00:36.7

C
Yes, there are Western cultures, by which you probably mean Judeo-Christian-semi-Islamic culture, except for Russia. And except for most of the Islamic world outside of Persia. But whatever. But then when your criteria for Western culture is that broad then, like, half of India belongs to it.

1:00:58.5

S
Now, now, now, you’re forcing me to give you a little bit of Hell from your neglect of Russia. Now come on, don’t ignore one of the centerpieces of Western literature.

1:01:06.7

C
Well, yeah, but it doesn’t because I said so. Even though Tolstoy is super crucial, but that’s just because it’s influenced by French. I’m joking! I realize…

1:01:17.1

S
I know, I’m just pointing at you with a little bit of fun.

1:01:20.6

C
Even Turgenev, who’s underread, I will add; people need to read Fathers and Sons, it’s a good book…

1:01:27.1

S
And A Sportsman’s Notebook

1:01:28.8

C
Yeah, that’s a good book too. Also read modern Russian literature! It’s good! Not just Nabokov, which is also good but arguably not Russian since he’s writing in English from, what, his fourth novel forward?

1:01:41.1

S
No, it’s much later. It coincides with his moving to the United States, and his first novel in English I believe is The Real Life of Sebastian Night. It’s like the early 40s, and pretty much everything he writes after that point is composed in English, even if he’s ultimately not living in the United States or an English-speaking country.

1:02:03.0

C
Yeah, which is sort of amazing! I just want to add that Lolita is composed in English, that’s amazing to me. When I think of that as he’s composing in a second language…

1:02:17.2

S
Well, it’s hard to really call English his second language since he’s almost born with it. He was dual-lingual pretty much from birth.

1:02:26.3

C
Right, he was dual educated in Russian and…

1:02:29.1

S
Right, right, English and Russian and French. And he’s both reading and writing in pretty much all of those languages.

1:02:36.6

C
He was a precursor to third culture kids. I mean, you know, it used to be only nobles were that, now everybody is a third culture kid as long as you’re not from the United States. Because apparently, we don’t bother to learn other languages. And it’s interesting, it’s interesting about that. One of the interesting things I think I’m learning from this Indian literature, and also from when I lived in Asia, I don’t think that English will be said to be “our language” for a whole lot longer. Which is going to seem strange. But I think, since it doesn’t seem to be going away as the lingua franca, even though US power is decreasing significantly, and it’s because all these places – particularly in Asia – have used it as a default second language for almost 100 years! Have almost an ownership of their own idiomatic form of it. And I think we’re going to see a lot more of that. You know? Like, even in Korea, which is not a very Anglophone country, there’s a form of English there that’s completely indigenous. We called in Konglish, and so did they.

1:03:41.3

S
Right, it seems like English is going to go through a period of fracturing into various new dialects that are emerging.

1:03:48.2

C
It’s going to be a bunch of dialects in which we can all understand uniform, global English. But that means that US English or Commonwealth English isn’t going to matter as much.

1:03:57.1

S
Oh yeah, you can totally see that happening. It’s explored in certain literature; for example, in both the book and the film Cloud Atlas one of the sequence involves just that characters are speaking in a form of English which is very much modified and different from English of our own time, but nonetheless you can still work your way through it and understand it. It’s a very interesting thing.

1:04:25.1

C
Right. And I think that’s, you know… they also play with this in Firefly but not as well, where there’s Chinese-influenced English and sort of a globalized Singlish. Which I don’t think will be the way it is, I think it’ll be more a billion regional dialects again within a standard dialect which we can all kind of communicate on. But I think that’s going to emerge, you know, as the American movie industry actually has to compete with other movie industries in English. And that’s going to change World Literature significantly.

1:04:56.8

S
Right, yes. Cityspeak will soon be upon us before we know it.

1:05:00.9

C
Bladerunner… – okay, just as a side note, and since we’re going on all kinds of tangents on this episode; our last two episodes haven’t been focused, this episode is like “let’s talk about World Literature! Woooo..!” and by World Literature we mean everything, even stuff that’s not written – Bladerunner is oddly accurate to Tokyo and Seoul right now. That cityscape is very much an Asian cityscape.

1:05:29.1

S
Oh that’s clearly intentional with the gigantic faces on the billboards and what have you.

1:05:33.5

C
Yeah, I mean, I know you probably had Tokyo as the model for that anyway at the time that it was made, but it… You know, you can see similar things in Shanghai and Mumbai. Well, I can’t speak to Mumbai personally, but I know I can speak to Shanghai and I can speak to Seoul and I can speak to Tokyo.

1:05:52.5

S
I’d throw Singapore into that mix while we’re at it.

1:05:55.5

C
Well, Singapore’s a little different. But yes, there’s multiple languages, and there’s lots of different kinds of people, and it’s bright and has a lot of neon. So, there you go. And I’m really interested in where this is going, I think… You know, the one thing that we should really try to do, there’s a scholar who I’ve had a few conversations with who’s called Wai Chee Dimock who writes on rethinking World Literature, and she said that one of Americanists need to do is to position American literature in the World Literature context as a form of World Literature, and not as a default literature. And I think that the John Langan piece… as, you know, “traditional” in a lot of ways as Langan’s literary upbringing is; I don’t mean that as an insult, it’s just true. He likes a lot of 19
th century French and American writers.

1:06:49.4

S
Yeah yeah, he’s describing the sort of classical education and upbringing.

1:06:54.5

C
Yeah, yeah. Although, “classic” is one of those words that’s confusing in literary terms because it actually refers to, like, age and things. “Traditional” is even more meaningless, so. But, yes, he likes a lot of Fin de Siecle and a lot of American neo-Gothic literature and all that, but even in that literature there’s this very interesting dialogue with Europe at the time that’s both pushing away from Europe and yet grasping onto it with both hands simultaneously. And American literature itself emerges out of those tensions when it was trying to form its national canon. We saw ourselves as competing and in dialogue with largely the French and the British. Not so much the Germans, because the Germans were… German literature in this time, Romantic German literature is crucially important, and actually has a lot of influence on American literature.

1:07:55.5

S
Especially on the transcendentalists. I know that Emerson wrote a significant essay on Goethe.

1:07:59.2

C
Yeah. Goethe, Schiller, and also like, Gothic literature is very much out of the Sturm und Drang literature too. But… okay, we are in dialogue with that. I was about to underplay that, but we are in dialogue with German literature as well, it’s just we don’t seem to be as much now. This is probably an effect of World War II, honestly; but when people read, you know, the literature of Europe there’s an overwhelming focus on – in the United States – on French literature and on British literature. And people who have read German literature beyond Goethe are pretty rare.

1:08:37.3

S
Well, I don’t know entirely about that. I mean, Günter Grass is well known here. Immediately after the war, and probably even before the war, Thomas Mann was well read. And we’re completely forgetting about Kafka who, although Jewish and living in Bohemia, was writing in German.

1:08:52.9

C
Yeah, well, the Jewish Germans are different. But who knows Hölderlin? I know more people who know obscure German philosophers than people who I know who read Trakl. I think there’s Rilke though, so that screws that up. Never mind.

1:09:04.9

S
Yeah, and we also shouldn’t forget our dear close friend Jonathan Franzen’s recent work attempting to resuscitate Karl Kraus for the English-speaking audiences.

1:09:17.9

C
Oh yeah, Karl Kraus. Gottfried Benn is – even though he was a Nazi – is being translated for the first time in a long time. So yes, German literature is in dialogue with us, but its still… Like, when people talk about what you read in school, you’ve read Madame Bovary, you might have heard of Faust. You may have heard of All Quiet on the Western Front, and Steppenwolf, and Hesse too. You know, you’ll have heard [of] that. But you’re much more likely to know Nietzsche than, you know, most of the early 20
th century German poets and most of the German Romantic poets who were vitally important. I mean, Hölderlin is super important in European literature and, I don’t know, many of the people in the US don’t study him.

1:09:59.4

S
Yeah, but we’re also forgetting certain playwrights, right? So, Brecht is an obvious name that is…

1:10:05.2

C
Because he’s a Communist…

1:10:08.8

S
Yeah, that is true, the politics do come back on that one, and that’s politics coming back in the way I actually don’t like.

1:10:13.7

C
Disclosure: I said that with the diligence of someone who’s like a McCarthyite, but you know, the readers probably know I have Marxist sympathies. But I cannot stand people who like, “oh, I like Brecht, and also I’m a Socialist.” I’m like, oh! How interesting!

1:10:34.1

S
Yeah, that is true. The way that he’s read is sort of only if you first agree with his politics. But, then again, this is a significant influence on Goddard…

1:10:45.4

C
Ah well, true. Goddard’s a good filmmaker though.

1:10:48.1

S
Yeah, but I still hear your point. The approval and love of Brecht comes only after pre-approved political positions have been taken, and God help everybody else.

1:11:00.1

C
But like, okay, you like Brecht, but you won’t read Camus because Sartre and him had a pissing fight because Camus wasn’t Communist?

1:11:06.2

S
Yeah, exactly. That’s the level of politics entering into the aesthetic arguments which I absolutely find abysmal and do not want to even lend a stage for. Because it’s not productive on either level, and it just makes for bad aesthetic judgements and bad political judgements at the end of the day.

1:11:29.4

C
Right, and you and I, it should be known, don’t share politics. Really. We come out of a similar frustration, but our politics are probably… like, I’m more Lefty than you.

1:11:41.6

S
Though, funny enough, we came out of the same political project at one point.

1:11:45.7

C
Yes. And now the dark secrets come out! But it kind of shows up in our taste; I like stuff after 1970.

1:11:56.6

S
Well, I mean 1980 is the real demarcation, but the point is taken.

1:12:03.9

C
[Laughs] [Unintelligible] … And really Jewish, what’s up with that?

1:12:07.7

S
Yeah, I pretty much read a bunch of middle-aged Jewish men from the midcentury. I may not be a Jew, but I’m definitely feeling Jew-ish!

1:12:19.9

C
You’re a Pole! [laughs] One of us here is actually sort of Jewish, and the other ones not, and who reads more Jewish literature than whom? I mean…

1:12:32.6

S
It’s true, really no one else does. I think there’s something to it though; I think a lot of it has to do with the overlap between Jewish and Eastern European culture. The humor, for example. A lot of what is thought of as Jewish jokes, Jewish humor, is actually very similar to Polish humor, and that’s not surprising to me. I think those cultures were pretty significantly integrated for a long time to which, like, in many ways it feels somewhat indistinguishable at times.

1:13:09.2

C
I would actually agree with that, maybe with the exception of maybe not in Russia. But I’ll give that Eastern/Central Europe feel. Because Kafka’s very much German. As much as he’s Jewish.

1:13:24.3

S
Right, right. He’s capturing, not only what it is to be Jewish, but being Jewish in that particular part of Bohemia. Which also gives a sort of German identity to him.

1:13:35.1

C
Yeah, it’s also very much also “I write in German, a lot of my jokes are in German.” You know, reading Kafka in German is an enlightening experience, you realize some of that stuff is more funny than you think it is.

1:13:48.5

S
Oh, very much so. There’re a number of stories about how his fellow tenants about how Kafka and his guests would read his stories out loud and laugh uproariously. It’s interesting how we really don’t have that image of it, and you’re right, it’s the translation issue.

1:14:07.8

C
I mean, it’s gallows-humor even in German, but there’s a lot of puns and stuff that’s not translatable. You know, I can even go into specifics, but I’m going to spare you.

1:14:19.4

S
No, but I mean, you make a good point. And stepping away from Kafka, [with] the importance of language in modernist writers it’s just insane to think about how difficult it must be to translate James Joyce. We’re rather lucky in that regard.

1:14:35.2

C
Yeah, well, you think about the writers that, even experimental writers that translate well. Okay? Hemmingway, we don’t think of as an experimental writer now, but in 1920 he was an experimental writer. And he translates incredibly well because it’s all subtext, and the subtext can still be portrayed in other languages. Conversely, in Spanish – I mean, my Spanish is not good, but I’ve talked to other people about this – Gabriel Garcia Marquez is an incredibly precise writer, but he’s so precise he’s easy to translate. You know, whereas, what I know about Korean, I imagine when you translate from Korean you have to do a lot of groundwork. Because the language just works differently. The entire way you get context is different.

1:15:19.7

S
Yeah, and Japanese is the same way. Tangent point: going back to Hemmingway’s experimental style, the funny thing about that is, that is his attempt to reproduce what he perceived of as the Russian style of writing found in Constance Garnet’s translations of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, what have you. The joke being that, that particular type of staccato writing is a result of her mistranslations as much as anything else.

1:15:51.1

C
Well, you know, one of the discussions that came up in the Rob Wilson interview was how good bad translations of Chinese and Japanese were for Asian-American literature and for the resuscitation of classical Asian poetry. You know, Pound did a huge service to Chinese and Japanese literature, and yet those translations are, like, wrong!

1:16:22.2

S
Right, I mean, it’s way more than a liberal translation.

1:16:26.0

C
They’re embellished and modernized. So, a lot of people read classical Japanese poetry and classical Chinese poetry as way more modern than it actually is; because the idiom it was translated in, and because of the way some of the things with inter-grammatic languages, it just comes off as less embellished than it is, because the embellishments are quite different and not, you know, they can be in character choice or in particle endings in Japanese. And you’re not going to see that in the translations, you know? And I had this big sort of argument about how the Pound, Gary Snyder, Beat use of Asian literature, when combined with people’s penchant for loving William Carlos Williams, created a monster for a while where everyone was writing these stripped-down poems that were super “Zen” or whatever. But were not really in the vein of this poetry in Chinese and Japanese at all, even though they thought it was. But that’s because it’s easy to translate! You can translate these languages as very different, the idiom can be much more in the natural idiom of the language because you have to do it anyway! Whereas something that’s closer like Spanish, the Spanish rhythms and discourses might stay in the work. But anyway, on that note we should probably end. This has been probably the most fun we’ve had on this; it’s also probably been the least focused.

1:17:57.4

S
Yeah, that’s probably true, but at the same time it’s the nature of the subject. It’s very big. I mean, we could very much have “Modernism and World Literature, Part 2.”

1:18:06.9

C
You notice that this is part one of, I don’t know, whenever we feel like doing a World Literature issue that’s not a specific region. Because I’m sure we’ll do it a lot. Next month is the freebie month, it’s like our first month that has no theme, so expect all kinds of wildness. It’s also going to be a double issue because we don’t produce an issue at the end of December because of holidays and time. But you can expect a lot of interesting things. It will be a very diverse issue, that’s for sure.

1:18:41.1

S
Yup, our goal is to throw quite a number of things in there. That’s actually been made maybe a little easier by virtue of the success we’ve had recently on the large number of submissions we get in, we get a fair amount pretty much daily right now; and that is also the result of the fact that we are now – unsolicited, I might add – on Duotrope, so that is another venue that we have been getting a number of submissions from.

1:19:15.9

C
I will say, I was afraid it was going to be a lot of crap, and it really kind of – I’m not saying we’re accepting all of it by far – but it hasn’t been as bad as when I worked at bigger literary magazine. Because people seem to be pretty self-selecting when they submit to us, and I thank the gods this is true. And I know the moment we’re successful that will stop. [laughs]

1:19:41.2

S
No, no, this actually does bring up a good point. We’re doing a lot more than I would have expected us to be at this point.

1:19:49.3

C
I would have anticipated we would still be doing a blog with about fifty hits a month.

1:19:56.7

S
Yeah, exactly. And credit where credit’s due: thanks goes a lot to our audience for participating and finding us out and continuing to submit material to us. And we do know that as we continue to grow it’s going to be more and more of a challenge to keep up with that, but that’s definitely something we’re hoping to keep up with. We’re definitely going to be taking actions that would help facilitate managing that increased submission rate, popularity, what have you.

1:20:37.9

C
Well, we’ll take on more editors as we need to, and people want to be involved. A few things: we’re still looking for book reviewers; we’ve taken on another editor, Douglas Lain has moved from being a friend of the magazine to being our co-prose-editor with Steven. He wasn’t able to be on this podcast because of other circumstances, but you’ll hear him on another podcast we’re doing with his podcast Diet Soap very soon on movies, where we talk about Tarkovsky – specifically Solaris – for a long time! Almost as long as the movie, although I’m sure we edit it down.

1:21:16.4

S
We have about an hour and a half’s worth of material.

1:21:18.5

C
We talked a lot more than a solid hour. I think we talked for, like, two and a half.

1:21:23.0

S
Yeah, that’s about right. And there was a period of time where you weren’t able to make the call right away; so there was a period of time where Doug and I were talking before you came in, and then you came in and that added to the total time length.

1:21:37.7

C
But we’ll be doing that bi-monthly, and we have a lot of stuff planned. Hopefully by the March-ish time I will release our first eBook downloadable form of the first five issues of Former People. I’m not promising it’s going to be pretty, but it will be downloadable, and the fonts will be readable, and I’ll try to format it in a way that makes sense. It will be a small fee; depending on how we distribute it, it will be either between 99 cents or $3, depending on which service we use. That’s kind of set as much by the service as much as by us. And we will use that to upgrade our server eventually and to pay our writers. So, if you’re interested, if you hate reading off of web pages but don’t hate reading off of a device, know we’re thinking about you. Admittedly in, like, three issues a year thinking about you. But we are doing it! So, when you actually do get it, it will be a lot of reading! We have other projects, but we’re keeping mum for a while because we don’t know what we’re actually going to pull off. And I’d like to thank everyone, the last issue went very well. The hits were very good; not quite as high as our Weird fiction issue, but still remarkably high! And… We really appreciate it. You have anything to say, Steven?

1:23:09.4

S
Again, my main thing to say would be more along the lines of, thank you to all of our readers and now listeners. You know, the attention that you’ve given us has been substantial. Not only in terms of just, like, the figures, but also the submissions. So, again, this is all great, great stuff. I’d also like to draw your attention to the issues after next which will be on the avant-garde, “What is the Avant-Garde?” in the February issue; and the March issue will also be paying attention to mid-century Science Fiction, particularly that of the 1970s.

1:23:55.9

C
For sure we’re doing one on Science Fiction, and I kind of want to do one on Russian literature. But then I realized I have to read a ton, and, like, beg some Russian writers to submit stuff to us in English. But for sure we’re going to have one on particularly contemporary and 1970s Science fiction, and one on what is the Avant-Garde today, and does that still mean anything? But next month is kind of a wild card from us, so expect all kinds of crazy interviews and literature and stuff that we just like. So… And expect it to be very big. There will be a lot in the next issue.

1:24:39.8

S
Indeed, that is the plan. So, just to wrap up, on behalf of Derick, myself, and Doug – who unfortunately wasn’t able to be here on this podcast – we thank you very much for paying attention to us. Thank you for reading our last issue. We look forward to hearing back from you on our subsequent issues. Take care everybody.

1:25:01.0

[Outro]

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