Long posts

(Careful readers will have noticed that this section of the blog used to be called Longueurs. I’ve been reminded that humour doesn’t necessarily travel across cultural borders, and don’t want to put visitors off comments that are entertaining, even if they are a bit bulky.)

If you find yourself writing a post growing into something like a mad knitter’s ankle-length cardigan,

(i) cut and paste it into Leave A Reply, here

(ii) summarise its gist in the main discussion or thread, and tell the rest of us to look for the rest of it in this long post pen


22 responses to “Long posts

  1. freepoland

    Nice dog! Makes a nice grave contrast with the manic smile of the sculpture. More later. freep.

  2. === Nice dog! ===

    I agree: not mine, alas. First met her about nine years ago, when she and my own dog (now in the next world) took one look at each other and were instantly locked in brutal combat.

    The scuplture is only one in a gallery occupying about half an acre. With permission from the sculptor-welder, I might post a few more exhibits. They are mostly made from rusting agricultural equipment.

  3. So . . . I’m trying out this long post pen myself . . .

    A full-length reply to _freep_ suggesting that the WWI poets ‘introduced a new function for poetry’:

    You might agree that we’re unlikely to see anything like the WWI treasures emerge from a modern war. The Observer has sent a young reporter with a sharp eye for the revealing detail to Iraq twice, in the last year. His dispatches about the daily lives of the soldiers there were riveting, [. . .] _Impossible_ to conceive of anyone scribbling lines like Rosenberg’s in those circumstances. . .

    . . . with soldiers as chronically distracted as we are by our electronic communication widgets and other toys.

    === In an army base in Baghdad, in functional wooden booths in a white-walled room, a row of young men in uniform stare at computer screens. Many are emailing, instant messaging or playing online card games with their wives and girlfriends seven or more time zones away. There is a background hum from others talking on a bank of phones. One soldier can be heard protesting: ‘You have no idea what I’m going through out here.’ ===


    === The US bases here are imperial in their giant footprints and even have their own coffee shops, Pizza Huts and street signs. At Camp Striker near Baghdad international airport, I saw that one dirt track had been named Band of Brothers. I took it as a reference to Steven Spielberg’s TV series but thought back to Henry V:

    “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers,
    For he today that sheds his blood with me
    Shall be my brother.”

    Last year I travelled into Iraq with a grizzled Vietnam veteran-turned-journalist who still relishes the dirt, guns and craic on the front line. This time I shared military transport through the desert with two young Frenchwomen wearing summer blouses and reading Elle and OK!, the latter’s glossy cover headlined “Wedding of the year” above a picture of Angelina Jolie. I rather hope it is they, not some camera-toting Rambo, who track down Bin Laden one day. ===


    === Outside, the air is punctuated by the echo of gunfire and distant thud of ordnance. US Army lieutenant-colonel Gregory Baine emerges from a bulletproof vehicle in body armour and helmet. He is not expecting to be greeted by an Iraqi wielding a guitar and singing ‘Baby You Can Drive My Car’.

    Mohammed Ahmed is the Baghdad Beatle. He says he learnt English by listening to Lennon and McCartney rather than his teacher. As a child prodigy in 1970, he performed ‘Love Me Do’ on Iraqi national TV. He is now station manager and DJ at Peace 106 FM Baghdad and plays the Beatles – and sometimes sings them too. ===


  4. DesmondSwords.

    [continued from here: https://acacciatura.wordpress.com/2008/11/21/what-did-the-guardian-censor-today/%5D

    . . .So the game is, to use a verbal form which *makes nothing happen* – to effect some kind of happening, ultimately World peace and love between all human beings, would be the fantasy extension of this line of logic, which naturally most would shake a baffled head at those of us propounding this as some ideal Dream state in which we operate as bores in print.

    I started out with a dream and after three years training on the writing studies and drama degree, which i fell into more by accident than design, within months of making the decision – at 34 – to go for the impossible dream, denied to me when 16, (in part) by the judge who marked me as U in my O level English literature exam and thereby scuppered the vaugue career route i as a 16 year old son of non-thrid level educated parents, had then.

    Even though i had played Malvolio on stage at 14 and got an A in my mock; this one result, coupled with forgetting to attend my History, discovering only at my lunch break of the job i had secured in between the exam period on a buidling site, being the clever go getter with his whole career as an actor spread before him, realising this basic error when seeing my student colleagues in school uniform and them asking where i had been that morning — meant the four exams i had nailed on to qualify for studying a minimum of two A levels needed to gain university entrance on a drama course that would logically let one pursue the Spielberg fantasy in real life, had been whittled down to three definite, bare minimum O levels needed to study 2 A levels in two years without having to waste a year gaining more O’s.

    So this one exam, failing it as ungradeable, in such spectacular fashion, going from an A to

    A B C D E F – U

    ..though a minor event in the history of deep space and time, for a 16 year old with precocious verbal talent whose singular failing was a total absence of patience, always wanting my dreams to come true, NOW, now now ! this exam failure was the grain of balance that tipped me into the life i lead, where i learned the art of patience and dissapointment over the course of the next 18 years, beginning as a bright kid who was destined for success in whatever endevour i undertook, to a washed up 34 year old all but myself had written of in the career department. Indeed, by the time i started my current career, most others i knew my age, were well established in their own, and so i recognise now how a butterfly effect and comedy of errors that took 24 years to right themself, lead one to learn the circuituitous route, of how fragile and how random a career based on hope can be.

    If fate had been different and my exam work collided with a different eye, maybe my life would have been totally different, maybe not, but the whole game of writing for me, is exactly that and from the word go, all the guardian hoo ha has been about testing my belief, getting my own private religion of Poetry on the go in a unique way.

    One of the words in Irish for Art, is *dan*, from the Tuatha De Dannan, trans. – the people of the goddess Danu, danu translating as (among ither things) Art. So the people of Art, but which in its original context also meant, Fate. When discussing a person’s *dan*, it could refer to one line of their Art or their entire life, and in this sense, Poetry, the art of it, in the original Old Irish iunderstanding, meant one’s life, fate, what was written in the stars, and having this grasp, that Poetry not only *makes nothing happen* but

    In the valley of its making where executives
    Would never want to tamper…
    A way of happening, a mouth…

    …means when engaging with other. so called experts on the blokes blog, i can test my own faith whost continuing my learning in the right competitive environment, where competition is a force which spurs us onto creating better stuff, more eloqeunt pieces, chasing whatever spectre haunts about the periphery of our vision and which we seek to make manifest as though by an act of magic. And so the 18 months i had there, was all about psychic soundings, starting with the clean slate, coming in to do battle with the Battle Executive of the Ideas Insititute, who at first i thought held a clearer, deeper poetic knowledge than myself, along with the rest of them – but slowly, one by one, their mystique dissolved as i hoked in clearer to whatever it is at the core of what i am doing in Poetry, and when put to the true test, their words more marketing blurb than a serious attempt to engage in the business of poetry, as i understand it to mean.

    Everything was ok til reletively recently, and after hitting ollamh, i knew i had reached a state above the average, as by this point, i had bceome impervious to the mannings. Let me tell you, any of you, if you suddenly lost yr posting rights there, you would feel a bit, guilty, that somehow you had done something wrong, an inverse naming and shaming had occured, where you were considered not the right type for polite, left leaning liberal society. Then after rejoining and disguising yr voice or toning down whatever it was that got you barred in the first place, the silent ciphers, the anonymous people you do not know, the mods, the staff, the above liners, the whole psychic theatre in yr head, whose protaganists are other writers you have little or no direct contact with (except for Mills, who is the only one to have been a below the line poster) – you cannot help but project them into this fantasy virtual world.

    I always had a picture of being an outsider and all the natural oxo higher ups, Jordison, Lea, O’Riordan, had an innate literate class i hadn’t, and this chip on my shoulder, went from being worn away, to coming back, not as a chip, but in clearer focus, once i had beaten the oxo crew fair and square in the eloquence stakes, by sheer graft – as it became apparent that the usual networks that have been running England since Tidr times, are alive and well, and it is not so much a class thing, as a world view, what’s inside yr head more than anything, regardless of who yr parents are. Basically if you buy into having one person yr natural born better, which many sensible and clever people unfortunately have clogging up their natural intellgence, and is mirrored on the blog. Get better than them, and they will exclude you.

    But the trick is, to treat it as a game, and i have reached a state where the Poetry is making a difference, as in a tool, a badge, word which, though it’s only Poetry, some bloke’s words, without being on the pocket of pay of any rich mob controlling who gets sold what, is getting up the noses of the Highnesses, to the extent it is.

    I suppose it will all boil down to one person who has made this decision. It could be anyone i imagine. It could be Armistead, could be the head mod, could be anyone, but i do not think we are going to have transparency on it, as – from thwir point of view – we are just trouble makers, sabotaging their work-days, although this gaffe, it is clear the new website desgin has not paid off in the manner the person selling it them would have been spieling when they were handing over the dough, as comments are down, it takes loger to load and the sure sign of it, the editor never appears and when she does, writes only about who has won what, who might be winning what, and the funniest, just at the time i got banned for insolence in the face of theser thrusting thirty summats all soo knowledgabel on life, was when she wrote a piece about the three dimensions of literature.

    I responded, genuinely, good naturedly, in the same jokey tenor Armistead had been going for, talking about the four dimensions of literature, riffing on the idea and ending up with the ten deminsions and for which i was immediately removed. This was another small indicator, that you can say what you like there, as long as it doesn’t prove by a mile you are more intelligent than the staff, and at the end of it, that is what it is all about. Call me antyhing you want, but do not treat me as if i am thick, that’s all, and intelligence, the best brains of oxo, all sacked by a lover with a dream and vision to realise it, against the odds, proving as a consequence, racist and class prejudice, is alive and well at the heart of the English literary establishment.

    gra agus siochain

  5. DesmondSwords

    [continued from . . . https://acacciatura.wordpress.com/2008/11/29/never-confuse-editing-with-counting-beans-or-spreadsheet-nerdery/ . . .]

    . . .from which i was slung a few times for the usual upsetting of others with sensitive egos, and on which i first met Britain’s premier intellectual and author of an exquisite drinking song you found so moving on the blokes bog.

    It was after being slung out of poem uk, I decanted to herr jammers hot chat gaffe, in which she was happy to have me write when the shop windows were bare, but when the poem uk broke down to IT gremlins and the regular, mainly middle aged male members, migrated there at the invitation of jammers, i was swiftly disabused of the illusion i was anything other than a pawn in the Maj’s career-game-plan.

    S/he wrote to me, cackling that her other half (who you may remember s/he said was the perfect partner as s/he just did as s/he was instructed?) – had congratualted on her machevelian prowess (the exact word used), but within days of the old gang arriving, began pm’ing me in a series of increasingly garbled e mails i took to be as the attempt of a jealous poet trying to put the blockers on my own practice of trying to get more eloquent.

    Then, when i transgressed some supremely important rule in the Maj’s head, s/he slung me out my deepest dearest Wordy, and the rest, as they say in the cliche – is history. ha ha ha ha ha !

    Yes, and so i dunno if you follow events at Jammers gaffe, but since s/he slung me out and found fame on potw, s/he has been going from strength to strength, and the gaffe became a place poets had to join, and most would not have been aware of the true picture and poetic history of how this came about and the comedic hoo ha that occured between the core protaganists from the original poem uk gaffe, back in the day – god it must be, four years ago now since the tight nit mob of jostling poet-egos, pretending they were upper class, trying to shut each other up with one liners, just like Stearnsie, argh, Tommy mate, Elly pal, Leavis and the gang of clever sneery gits..happy daze we wuz Wordy my deeepest dearest online pal of long enough standing to know, well you know, we’ve got history wordy and in the account between you and i, i know it was me who got you wrong and not vice versa, and for which i am genuinely grateful for al your kindness in the face of my paranioa during the ding dong days of lit lovers first flowering, where we learned how to quick draw on the basis of getting it wrong cuz a da spambots from Google i thought was you prosecuting some black op, undercover, targeting a bloke in a Dublin bedsit, up to no good, and for which i never really apologised or admitted till now. So, thanks a million mate, you’re an original.

    So, anyway, Jammers ends up with a full house of frightened fawns, and hubris kicked in. S/he put into place a raft of chat rules and *security* measures, reflecting the state in which she lives, and because s/he was the only one understanding how the admin controls work, well, no mass pm’s so the members can talk en masse to each other, divide and rule, *warn levels* to discreetly remoind them when they are getting too close to the bone, and total delusion by herr dictatters that this voluntary chat gaffe was some MI6 HQ of british poetry – and all the measures in place, primarily, to keep me out. ha ha ha!!

    Foo manchu, superman, honk kong fuey, and really, very very entertaining, as i never even tried to get in the kip. Until, until Wordy, the old order began breaking up.

    The main force running the original poem uk, who
    was the one who slung me out in the first instance, before me and jammers had our ding dongs, when we were still pals, just humble members of the same gaffe, her with her own, empty one in which i was a main contributor – well Wordy, when Jammers first invited them over, as a temporary home, this poet, was made a moderator by jammers and things carried on pretty much as they did at poem uk. But then this poet, who was never a long poster, mainly one liners designed to shut people up and keep them on tip, lost the head over summat, and told some VIP members at the fire gaffe, to eff off, thereby dissolving any pretence s/he was an intellectual, and then stormed off in a huff, with the love in with s/he and jammers, coming to a bust up and their relationship emded. boo hoo, hurrah!!

    After this long term love in imploded, Jammers struck out now the rival was out the way and got more obnoxious, and i know how it can be as i had lit lovers only a few months, and no matter how good our intentions, it doesn’t take long to turn into a raving dictatters, and so after three years, imagine how jammers head is Wordsie dearest?

    So, then, a few of the supporters of the one who stormed off, were not best pleased at the coup, and the final straw was, Niall O’Sullivan left and Jammers said, the exact word was her gaffe was a *dictatorship*.

    So, being a lurker and lover of poetry, i decided, enough was enough and went into action, I set up a gaffe and wrote to three poets informing them what i was doing and saying, eveyone would be sick of jammers dicator act, but no one would fancy setting up a new gaffe for fear of feeling a failure of no one joins. One of the poets, a young woman of 22, wrote back saying jammers had pulled a number on her, writing, *you will never get published in this town again* kind of e mail, and which made me have total faith that my intervention was warranted, and affirmed to me that jammers is one for intimidation rather than eloquence?

    So then, i join the gaffe under an assumed name and just waltz in and be myself, which s/he cops on immediately, pm’ing me and making a public anouncement who i was, but me being so reasonable in my speech, having learnt the tricks, couldn’t sling me out, as the recent events there, any more carry on and she would have looked totally stupid, as i was merely an eloqeunt poster speaking of what one professionally loves wordy.

    So, i have a great week or two there, as it was the first time in two years i had been in the same playground as the old gang, since being on the blokes bog for all that time, and i got a chance to measure what distance i had travelled as a writer, as it was all the old same as names, bar the many new ones, the young uns who only respect what they like, and it was clear, i had come a fair way.

    I then wrote and sent an e mail to every single of the 70 or so posting members, which i had to send individually as jammers divide and rule policy meant no more than one at a time could be sent netween members, thus stopping them speaking outside of the fear fiefdom s/he created — in which i detailed, somehwat comedically but coherently and laying out the exact lineage of events and occurences which had caused me to write to them, explaining who i was, how jammers had treated me, how s/he had come to the blokes blog and got stuck straight into the wonderful writer who i live with, and all the rest of it, ending with a link to the new gaffe – saying it was an empty room, i had no wish to be admin and that it was there is things got too much at jammers.

    An hour after i had finsihed sending it, jammers made a public announcement in an utterley appalled tenor, informing the thralls what was going on and inadvertandly paid me the best compliment a poet can pay to another, that i was *completely incapable of disguising his own voice*

    And only two responded to this thread supporting her, and a few motre who were clearly impressed at the stroke i had pulled, bypassing the commando patrol bollix and just going straight in, like Michael Collins, if you don’t act like you’re on the wanted list, people won’t think you are.

    Ah, revenge Wordy, especially when it is impelled by being treated clearly unfairly, is sweet.

    Anyway, Niall has his own gaffe now and jammers power, totally gone. One of her recent blog posts was to take to tasl the entire british poet youth for being crap, appalled on behalf of her constituents, the fantasy ones.

    Forgive me wordy and zap this, or anything else of mine at will, as i write for my records first and appreciate not everything is gonna be appropriate.

    many thanks, here’s to a beautiful relationship as two nutters on a freedom buzz, and sorry once again for that unpleasantness i was responsible for wronging you with.



    From Max Perkins wouldn’t have confused editing with counting beans — or spreadsheet nerdery, 2008/11/29 at 7:11 AM

  6. BaronCharlus

    [This is the complete version of @BaronCharlus’s post here: https://acacciatura.wordpress.com/2008/11/29/never-confuse-editing-with-counting-beans-or-spreadsheet-nerdery/ ]


    (Wordn, if you want to shift this whole rant straight to the ramblers’ hut out the back, feel free)

    How exciting to pop my head around the door from far Bavaria, and find my cranky musings being addressed with such thought and thoroughness. Sincere thanks, Wordn.

    I think we’re talking, partially at least, at cross purposes. No doubt due to my roving brain and lack of clarity. So maybe a numbered list is in order…

    1) Shakespeare. Good place to start, as our foremost writer by reputation and also amongst the first generation of authors to benefit/suffer from printing (note marked rise in available texts after establishment of publishing industry). Wordn, you respond:

    “though commerce stimulates and lubricates the transmission of words, imaginings and ideas, surely it’s the Bard’s superior magnetisation, his talent for communicating what absorbs and enthralls audiences — and not anything resembling a ‘marketing plan’ — that explains his staying power?”

    Okay, my argument was that, beyond ‘stimulating and lubricating the transmission of words’, without the publishers there would be no Shakespeare texts at all for us to argue over. This may cause ‘excessive arrogance’ in individual publishers but isn’t it also historical fact? Unpleasant effect does not disprove cause. Had printers not identified a market for reading texts of the many popular plays of the 1590s-1600s we would not know anything of their content. For support of this idea see the lost Shakespeare play Cardenio – possibly published in quarto but not included in the Folio – about which scholars have been speculating in vain for years (itself inspired by a tale from Don Quixote that reached London via the medium of print). There’s no text. Cardenio doesn’t exist. We can’t read it.

    Shakespeare was amongst the many playwrights being offered to readers at the time. He was not, to begin with, special. So there was no ‘marketing plan’ but printers’ identifying an audience and supplying that audience with what it wanted as fast as possible. For every Hamlet there are many more anonymous, undistinguished, effectively genre plays. Shakespeare also wrote genre, don’t forget. Shakespeare has, as you say, since flourished on the merit of his extraordinary talent but the proof of this is only available via the texts of his work that were produced to supply his contemporary audience. As if the Beatles had only played live and all we had were breathless reports of this amazing group but not one note of recorded music. Their influence would be almost infinitely diminished.

    As a footnote, it should be noted that part of Shakespeare’s identification as a writer apart, a unique kind of genius, was in part foisted on history by David Garrick and his 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee (the Boydell Shakespeare exhibition helped promote this idea, largely – as satirised by Gilray – for the purposes of self-promotion and the lining of pockets).

    ‘Surely it’s his rows of words that created his audience, not a pack of salesmen who dreamt up the qualities of Shakespearean literature’

    I don’t know if either of us can answer this, as the texts’ chronology isn’t secure. Shakespeare was, to begin with, writing to please the trends and chase them as they changed – English history, Marlovian heroics, pastoral, tragedy, etc – I’m sure there was a point where Shakespeare began to set these trends rather than follow them but, as now, I suspect no one knew what an audience would bite and how long it would be before they spat it out: as now, publishers and theatres responded accordingly, offering an audience as much as it could stand of a proven genre, panicking when it failed, then scrambling to ape the next unexpected success. Many of Shakespeare’s works, as you know, are flagrant rewrites of previously popular plays and prose – hardly avant garde.

    2) “The mainstream UK publishing houses are putting out very few lit fiction debuts — one per season in some cases.”

    I think all I’ve been proposing since the beginning is that publishing’s relationship between commerce and art is as cruel as it’s ever been. I’ve wondered aloud if anyone can prove or state that things have actually changed for the worse. If the above quote is true, then they may have changed for the worse. Although, again, I would ask if it is the publishers or the general readership who hold the power. If them folks out there were jonesing for sensitive portrayals of disappointment ending in partial redemption then I bet there would be more of them getting published.

    I doubt Murray would complain about, say, falling sales of horror fiction. Lit fic is a genre like any other and I do have a problem when its worth is assumed. Here’s Toby Litt on the generic literary fiction novel:

    ‘There is a prologue, occasionally printed in italics, in which it is suggested that there is some sort of worthwhile mystery: a lost canister of film-footage, a dubious inheritance-with-strings…Two stories are followed, often in alternating chapters. There is a contemporary character who…is inexorably drawn into examining the reasonably distant past. And then there are the characters of that past, going about their fairly historically accurate business (because research must not only be done but be seen to be done)…Sooner or later, probably sooner, the contemporary character becomes aware of the worthwhile mystery, and sets out to solve it…
    Just as it is inevitable that Throngar the Brave’s plucky little band of misfits will finally defeat Zograx’s hordes to regain the Chalice of Power, or that Nurse Modest will overcome both rivals and misunderstandings to find herself in the tender arms of Doctor Yearn, so it is inevitable that the hero or heroine of literary fiction will gain knowledge, suffer damage and be moderately redeemed.’

    I have an old, rejected manuscript in my hard drive that fits this savage summary, even down to the italicised prologue (*sigh*).

    I’ve met enough aspiring authors who assumed the high value of their own – always literary – work, to be suspicious of statements regarding publishers/agents’ universal lack of vision/taste. As Alarming (I think) noted, there are many, many of us out there now. Some are going to go home disappointed and it’s not always the publisher who’s fallen short.

    3) Wonderful Perkins story. Thanks for introducing me to his luminous humanity. The woman who considered it her right to bully Perkins sounds like just the kind of self-mythologising boor I’ve described above: ‘If I’m not getting published the only possibility is that the world is full of cretins dedicated to stifling my genius’. As you say Wordn, that this correspondence took place in 1944 suggests that the terms of debate on the industry haven’t changed much.

    4) Cetainly a tragic story about Fitzgerald. But surely we can all cite as many writers who have risen fast, sustained their status and received career-long financial and creative support from their editors and publishers. Off the top of my head, Gunter Grass and Salman Rushdie. I don’t know a great deal about Fitzgerald but what I do know suggests that most of the destructive and wasteful damage done to his talents came from the author himself and not the publishing industry.

    5) ‘I would want @BaronCharlus…to tell us that commerce is responsible for everything wonderful in literature’. Whilst I now have a mischievous urge to present this argument, I don’t think this is a fair representation of my position, Acacia. I suggested commerce was the means by which literature reaches us and those that come after, not the means by which it becomes wonderful. I also think commercial considerations can sometimes have a positive effect on levelling out many artists’ more indulgent excesses or instilling discipline and resourcefulness in others: Shakepeare’s art was dictated by the demands of plot convention, running length, different audience groups’ tastes, state censorship, budget and cast availability.

    Re your Scribners story, we can all tell tales of famous writers who struggled to be published and just as many who shot to success, others who used nepotism but turned out to have great talent, etc. Like rival theologians, there are enough conflicting ‘proofs’ around to keep us swapping anecdotes forever.

    In summary:

    I suspect the publishing industry has always been a chaotic paradox, financially-motivated yet one of the means by which great art is found and preserved for posterity; unfair, often wildly inconsistent in its treatment of authors, peopled by those who seek only gain and others who live to provide a conduit for what they believe to be beautiful. The truly ambitious attempt both at once.

    I’m not taking an exclusively pro-publishing stance (come on, I take my username from a 3,000 page novel about biscuit-induced melancholy) but I am expressing strong scepticism regarding what seems to be a generalised assumption that commerce has no place in art, sullies it, defeats it, whereas the two are, and have always been, symbiotically linked (ask a Medici). As I’ve said, we have brave new technologies: let those artists who truly seek only free expression go and publish online, scornful of financial reward. I think most writers, including the worst of the ‘literary’ bunch personified by Perkins’ tormentor, are as hungry for cash and wide recognition as anyone else. I smell hypocrisy: “I refuse to acknowledge the times, readers’ tastes and the need for publishers to consider these things but I demand that I be rewarded by the industry and readership for which I have such contempt.”

    For an author to be published is an achievement, not a right. It should require sensitivity to one’s times and the realities of the industry and readership you expect to be funded by, as well as rigorous self-awareness and creative risk (I mean, ‘certain serious defects in her mastery of the English language’ in the Perkins story says it all). Few authors or individual publishers/editors do both. Without the former we have inward-looking, ‘literary’ follies, without the latter we have bland, shelf-filling genre titles. I place the final word, as you say Wordn, with the author’s “talent for communicating what absorbs and enthralls audiences” or, of course, their lack of that talent. It’s all about the readers. About whom no one seems to have much to say.

    Oh, and if anyone wants to talk about the genuine, industry-wide exploitation and subsequent disregard for a generation of artists, including many of near-genius talent, look to the ‘race’ and ‘hillbilly’ sectors of the US recoding industry up to the second world war. In a few years these isolated artists, tracked down and recorded to meet a new, popular audience, set down the template for almost all modern music (whilst surpassing most of it, imho). The companies paid no royalties, only one-off fees, and most of these artists returned from their day in the studio to decades of Depression, segregation, vagrancy, complete disregard by the critical powers except as examples of ‘folk tradition’ and working in mines and cotton fields. By the time of the Sixties folk revival, when young enthusiasts roamed the South seeking out these lost heroes, most were dead and those who weren’t had absolutely no knowledge that their work was the foundation on which Elvis, Dylan, the Stones and their generation had built their fortunes on. I get angry just thinking about it. But the creepy truth remains; no exploitative record companies, no records, no continuation of the artform.

    If I come across as a little pompous, many apologies. It was the opportunity to give my moustache the occasional imperious flex that inspired my adoption of the great Baron de Charlus’s name, not the need to ‘identify’ as male. Zut alors! I would have picked Hotspur or Ajax if I’d wanted to appear macho, not the Baron.

    From Max Perkins wouldn’t have confused editing with counting beans — or spreadsheet nerdery, 2008/12/02 at 5:30 PM

  7. wordnerd7

    Meticulous @BaronCharlus, you and @alarming are doing valuable work in stating the case for the other side — even if that amounts to today’s consensus . . . ‘conventional wisdom.’

    If I only had five lines for an answer, I’d go back to @Hazlitt’s reminder of Fitzgerald. The introduction to my edition of Gatsby is by Charles Scribner III, who says: ‘Fitzgerald blamed the commercial failure of his novel to its title (‘only fair, rather bad than good’) and ‘_most_important_,’. . . ‘the book contains no important woman character and women control the fiction market at present.’

    Absurd, yes? So if he’d let himself be run by mercantile considerations . . . oh dear . . .

    == without the publishers there would be no Shakespeare texts at all for us to argue over. ==

    Oh but there would, @Baron! . . . Remember, even before the Bard’s day, as far back as the Middle Ages, manuscripts were disseminated by some of the most vital champions of egalitarianism in the West – the universities. Later, by booksellers supervised & controlled by universities . . until the advent of printing. Before the unis appeared on the scene, the monks hugged their precious parchments to their chests and hardly ever let lay people look at them. . . Even before Gutenberg and his press, booksellers were taking on more and more copyists to meet fast-growing demand . . Yes, commerce at work, as you say, but — I would say — playing a strictly secondary role in the creation of a literary culture.

    === Had printers not identified a market for reading texts of the many popular plays of the 1590s-1600s we would not know anything of their content. ===

    Think farmers & food, why not? Without commerce we wouldn’t eat the wonderfully varied diets we can . . . but someone has to grow it in the first place. Writers aided by editors plant and harvest the cultural equivalent of barley, fatten the pigs & cluck-clucks, …

    === Shakespeare has […] flourished on the merit of his extraordinary talent but the proof of this is only available via the texts of his work that were produced to supply his contemporary audience. ===

    But I’d say that the texts themselves still matter less than the particular expressions of thoughts and feelings in them. . .Yes, I know that he stole his stories, the dreadful man. : )

    About your reaction to Sean Murray’s argument (where are you, smd?):

    === I think all I’ve been proposing since the beginning is that publishing’s relationship between commerce and art is as cruel as it’s ever been. I’ve wondered aloud if anyone can prove or state that things have actually changed for the worse. If the above quote is true, then they may have changed for the worse. ===

    (i) As I’ve asked before, when, before the awful present, was publishing completely dominated by books produced by non-writers and non-thinkers (celebrity books). . . (ii) Seventy-something (?) scribblers as different as Naipaul, Theroux, Clive James . . . have all said, in recent interviews, that they could not have built the careers we know them for under today’s conditions for new writers. The writer-editor Diana Athill has said so in her memoir about the industry.

    === Some are going to go home disappointed and it’s not always the publisher who’s fallen short. ==

    No quarrel with that.

    === what I do know suggests that most of the destructive and wasteful damage done to his talents came from the author himself and not the publishing industry. ===

    Couldn’t agree more. . . Zelda for a wife was terrible luck, a tragedy, but what he did to himself (and Scottie) with the boozing and high living was far worse. . .

    === I also think commercial considerations can sometimes have a positive effect on levelling out many artists’ more indulgent excesses or instilling discipline and resourcefulness in others: Shakepeare’s art was dictated by the demands of plot convention, running length, different audience groups’ tastes, state censorship, budget and cast availability. ==

    I agree . . . I’m doing things differently too, in this blogging experiment — a brand new medium for me. Start your own and you’ll see what I mean.

  8. wordnerd7

    I said, === Start your own === but you sound as if you’d prefer not to — why? We’d all come and help.

  9. am enjoying this but will have to duck out as the art-form I work in ( performance ) is entirely dependent on audience both to shape the rhythm of a show and also to show up to see it and also show up to see it in such numbers that justify me asking for money from a promoter to perform. So my observations are not entirely helpful in a discussion about literature – the nuts and bolts of which I know virtually nothing. Other than most authors I have met have been able to get writing jobs on radio/soap operas to sub their fiction writing. Often by helpful producers who realise the plight of the writer and push work their way.

    The climate now is definitely harsher but aren’t there also many avenues for the marginalised that never used to exist? I do know a bit about comics/graphic novels ( vile term though it be ). Art Spiegelman winning a Pulitzer? Chris Ware winning a Guardian prize? Bill Griffiths Zippy the Pinhead continuing to be syndicated in the mainstream press ( now there’s an example of a benign supportive editor or syndicaliser ) ? Unthinkable even 15 year’s ago.

    Of course the purists will throw their hands up and say “Comics as literature is the very epitome of dumbing down and celeb culture” but I’d reply give Spiegelman and Griffiths a look – they are well worth it. Plus they are examples of that weird mix of art and commerce.

    But this has been a stimulating ping pong match between wn and BC

  10. BaronCharlus


    Splendid response, thank you. This –

    ‘Seventy-something (?) scribblers as different as Naipaul, Theroux, Clive James . . . have all said, in recent interviews, that they could not have built the careers we know them for under today’s conditions for new writers.’

    Is what I was waiting for, was all I needed to hear.

    And don’t forget – I’ve said it somewhere before – that I’ve been explicitly told by a commissioning editor that if the budget for editorial development was still available I would already be published. I just refuse to let myself feel martyred or blame anyone but myself for my work’s inabaility to withstand the rigours of the world as it is.

    Book slams shut. Great debate, thanks.

    re starting my own….
    I set one up a few weeks ago – inspired by this place – but got a bit shy and didn’t tell anyone. Will go back and see if i can fluff the cushions up a bit and maybe invite you over. Thanks for the encouragement.

    Comics indeed – ’twas they got me writing in the first place. When I first thought it mught be fun to write a book – fool that I was – I was influenced by comics far more than literature. Hadn’t read any. Then I read Moby Dick and the world fell into a vivid, full-spectrum brand new set of dimensions.

  11. seanmurray

    BC: ‘If the above quote is true, then they may have changed for the worse. ‘

    Sorry, I’d been assuming that you too believed things had turned for the worse and that the debate was about whether or not the net offered a viable solution.

    I don’t blame anyone in the lit fiction industry –agents/eds/journos — for its current farcical state (volume, sales, quality, variety, class and racial mix, cultural relevance). They seems as frustrated and embarrassed as the rest of us by the drivel being churned out. I’m simply saying the industry’s dying on its feet and the net offers an alternative, esp. if it’s *readers* the writer’s after.

    Once again: any Brit expecting decent cash or a decent readership from publishing lit fiction (even 3-for-2 MOR stuff) is in for a shock. The obvious comparison is with poor souls planning their finances and social life around that ever-looming lotto win.

    I’ve been lucky in that my first exposure to net fiction was to the best stuff out there. I’d probably be more sceptical if I’d first had to plough through all the shite.

  12. BaronCharlus

    Hi Sean,

    Thanks for the response.
    I was proposing that publishing, rather than getting worse, has always been rather cruel and predatory.

    It seems that most believe it has changed for the worse and I’m pretty much persuaded, ever willing to defer to those with more knowledge than myself.

    I think we agree on the net as an option for those seeking a readership.

    The sense of shock you describe was something I experienced last year; having been pitching my work towards lit-fic, assuming the genre to offer a broad readership and more creative freedom, I was rudely disabused of that idea: an article on Booker nominee sales figures being one of several watershed moments.

    Great to hear your take on the state of things.

  13. seanmurray

    ‘an article on Booker nominee sales figures being one of several watershed moments.’

    For me too. The other was reading Steven Augustine’s work online.

    Best of luck if you decide to join the merry net throng.

  14. wordnerd7

    @alarming, why not post a link to your site here?
    I enjoyed satisfying my curiosity about your work a few months ago and am maddened by my inability to find the URL I was sure I’d filed. Maybe I lost it as a bookmark — the last time I changed browsers. . . Would love to see the pig again, and the four-poster wheeze you were offering visitors.

    @BaronC and @Sean,

    I find I have too much to say in reply to your exchange, which I’ve enjoyed. . . which means that though I agree with BC about taking a break from this subject, I will write about it again.


    ===I don’t blame anyone in the lit fiction industry –agents/eds/journos — for its current farcical state (volume, sales, quality, variety, class and racial mix, cultural relevance). They seems as frustrated and embarrassed as the rest of us by the drivel being churned out. ===

    . . . yes, but too many simply accept the status quo and give braver colleagues trying to resist the way things are no support whatsoever. I most definitely do think that these weak-at-the-knees people deserve our censure.

    === I’m simply saying the industry’s dying on its feet and the net offers an alternative, esp. if it’s *readers* the writer’s after. ===

    Yes . . . it’s been really interesting to get a feel for what you and StevenAugustine were telling us about nearly two years ago. . . @BaronC, I can’t wait for your experiment to hatch: bonne chance, but don’t worry about fluffing the cushions for us.

  15. Wordnerd if you click on my username when it’s in the recent post column here it will go straight to the web-site.

    I’m reluctant to add a link to my company’s web-site on these forums because it doesn’t seem appropriate. It’s not a site where new thoughts and work are regularly added in and there’s nowhere for people to add a comment. It’s there basically to sell our work to promoters far and wide and functions as a piece of virtual promotional literature as well as a document of what we’ve done.

  16. BaronCharlus


    Nice, if daunting, to be cited as part of this discussion. Not quite what I wanted to read today, as I’m handing in my latest MS :-).

    Although Heffernan may be setting it up as a specious argument, I think this is unfair:

    ‘Creators, producers, artists and journalists should attend only to producing great work and leave the current changes in the distribution and display of information to nerds in suits.’

    It makes an assumption about artists’ attitudes that should not go unchallenged. In the quote of mine that you’ve used, I don’t – I hope – denigrate the artistic possibilities of new media but state how I, personally, prefer to create.

    ‘All of the fascinating, particular, sometimes beautiful and already quaint ways of organizing words and images that evolved in the previous centuries — music reviews, fashion spreads, page-one news reports, action movies, late-night talk shows — are designed for a world that no longer exists.’

    This, whilst exciting to read, is not – for me – entirely true. Pitchfork, for example, has no comments board below its reviews and is very influential. It should also be noted that Heffernan’s article is, from what I can see, about media rather than fiction and, despite citing ‘the previous centuries’, one could argue that only ‘page one news reports’ existed in any recognisable form prior to the 19th century. There aren’t any music reviews in the Lindisfarne Gospels.

    Doesn’t Leith’s sacking suggest a change in how (and where) books and other media are analysed, rated and promoted, rather than saying anything about fiction itself? Many comments you cite suggest a healthy public appetite for fiction, with all those Amazon reviewers and bloggers taking the time out en masse to rate, review and argue over Novellus Brontosaurus.

    Despite cinema revolutionising the way stories were told, certainly an example of ‘new forms’, theatre and the written word survived. Despite the invention of the Victrola, the Walkman, the iPod, live music thrives. Some forms survive because they offer an experience that is unavailable elsewhere, even if the means of ‘experiencing it, disseminating it and monetizing it’ change in ways we never dreamed of. To return to Heffernan’s list, we have ‘action movies’ but also action computer games, new action novels and the Iliad is still in print and available online. Don’t new media bring new possibilities in storytelling – I don’t know about media content – without necessitating the death of the old?

    A friend of mine once noted that the book has survived because it is unimprovable in its uniting of form and function. This is what, perhaps, the inventors of the Kindle and other i-readers have been finding. Books are portable, cheap, durable, don’t run out of battery; they are aesthetically pleasing (in some cases), survive forever if looked after – don’t need faddish upgrades – and can become treasured possessions and even objects of great value in their own right. I believe the deaths of the book as an object and the novel as a narrative form are far from inevitable.

    I’m going shopping soon, so if there are only boarded-up shells where Foyles, Blackwells and Borders used to be, I’ll let you know.

  17. 3p4

    a different context for a different tone,,i am hesitant about posting too often for the mechanical reason of making the “new posts” map become unrevealing
    for less frequent visitors,,ie it just shows me,,i can not make long posts and ,,when enthuisiastic,, tend to towards floods of short posts,, this is a significant factor in the equation of interaction,, ie you can think me a pest,,given my usual flippant and weird style ,,(such as pausing here to say i never ever use the word we*rd )i am also aware that this is a demanding season so do not feel the need to play good host,,but some solution to me overwhelming the signpost post signs would be cool,,i have some very good erm ah awareness i would really like to share with peers,,and i feel at ease (relative) on your blog,,
    i have written a book,,usually i print three copies at a time,, bind them,, and cover with canvas,(spray painted fauxness of clouds or branches or waterdrops or whatever it might be),or strange papers or wood veneers or medite panels or whatever it might be if there is a next time,,
    all the sheets of paper go into the printer as a stack of five different colours repeated,, the pages are printed two up both sides,,the twenty sheets
    seperated into four registers folded and sewn,,40 page book,,piece of art,,i have never sold one,,i have given away ,,no idea,,never kept count,,how about a bunch now and then for the last few years,,plus some others,,two have gone to poetry gu readers,,possibly three or four or five but i dont know the behind to many monikers,,twenty to thirty yr olds have very positive reaction,,many that i have given have led to no feedback at all,,its very dependent on
    typographical design and cannot be rendered as text in a box,,some pages may have type and or text rotated twisted in maybe ten different fonts and five different sizes etc,,there is an occasional small clipart icon,,much of it looks like gibberish,,well so does milton to me,,ow that was well said,,the most ‘establishment’ reviews from my artistic wellspring (old friends now famous) were on the one hand
    “blimey mate someone worked hard,,well done that man” and on the other hand ” a collection of cliches and aphorisms some thing some thing blahh humph”
    anybody interested ?
    please note i have considered the digital approach and just putting it on line but artistically speaking that wont do
    and practically speaking the file arrangement for two up both sides fold 4 registers means i will go around in as many circles
    rearranging the pages for a coherent pdf as i went getting them tickety boo in the first place,,doubtless some of you
    can do such a simple task in an hour or less but my brain aint that sheep,,might as well ask a poodle to herd shape
    design forty pages no sweat hey you want sixty ?
    organize and arrange TO THE PLAN ,,,here shape good shape err woof ?
    kinda like my posts,, this one started out as an email to wordy and now look where i am
    any one say yes please ?

    ,,i can not make long posts,, very funny,,ha bloody ha ,,wheres the lithium,,nurse, nurse !

  18. 3P4

    (CRAWLING AROUND ON IT) but its kinda scary since you might
    get eaten while your down there which tends to really keep you on
    your toes you know totally heads up ,,i guess if the cell phone buzzs
    you dont answer till you up a tree and like that ,,so anyway,,one of the
    cool things to be found “down there” is rocks,,these suckers are so
    cool that many thousands of years will pass and still the dude says” woah
    that rocks dude” so you can see how cool these rocks were,
    and in fact those who never did “get it” with the rock thing died out
    anyway, rocks became such a craze that every body had to have one,
    almost like they was pets (many thousands of years later) and of course
    if everyone had one some creative dude sooner or later (few thou yrs)
    gonna think”i want to customize my rock!!!” well pretty soon these rocks
    started to do amazing things,,,the best of which was killing and breaking
    stuff which was everyday routine back then. as apposed to some time ,,err ,
    yet to come, (soon?,,maybe?) so cool mod (ification) number one soon becomes
    ” rock on a stick”
    rock on a stick is where is at for hacking slashing bashing and breaking
    and there really isnt much else to do yet,,,which is where the plot thickens
    some of the folks, (usually the women take the blame/credit) started to say
    “dude rock on a stick does not have to be used to hack n slash break n bash
    if you turn it the other way up and poke it in the ground then drop one of
    these food bits in the hole more food bits are gonna show up but you get
    interest so you get more food bits back than you started with,,cool huh
    AND they dont try to eat you when you want to eat them,and you dont have
    too take the kids out of school to follow the mac’herd down the river for
    six months. now this dont suit everybody ,,cos some folks like hackin and slashin
    and dont wanna quit so this “sitarounds vs walkabouts ”
    debate goes on for a long time ,, both sides have merit,whats a bun without a
    burger and vicemacversa, so the sitabouts who soon changed their name to
    ” the stayheres” made the buns from food bit interest and the walkabouts
    ,,who though they had been pleased with the walkabout name felt they might
    look dumb if they didnt change the name so they became the” go there”
    and they brought home the red stuff. working conditions being what they are (were)
    the cut and thrust of the go there life style(both men and women) and the poke and
    grind pace of the stayhere starts to have a noticeable impact on their
    respective kids,,,

    the “stay here” kids like to do every thing “the same as last time”
    cos the same way as granma did it is the way that works,,,,,,,,,,,,
    that way you drop the right food bits at the right time, and no surprises like
    “i know i poked the holes someplace here but all this white stuff wasnt on top”
    or like ” yeah it tastes great on chicken but the other stuff was great reefer”
    whereas the “go there” kids did everything,,,,,, “my way cos granpa used the black rock
    but they kept breakin and dad used the white rock which dont break but dosnt
    stay sharp,,so i am going to use the red rock cos it dont break and it
    stays sharp a long time”,,,,,,, “to fix the last problem i have to do it different”
    so all these apes came down out the tree but then they kinda divided and
    the division is now the great divide. one of the borders twixt
    the black and the white, the ying and the yang, the yes and the no the
    right and the wrong is this GREAT DIVIDE. so the name the team sweepstakes
    went on for a long time many came and went, hunter becoming a big hit
    one side and farmer on the other but eventually even these enduring favourites
    no longer really served so good, plus there was now other teams involved like
    churches and corporations and nations so it was as much a question of which division
    you played in rather than the team,and the two divisions became
    the tribal and the creative,,,,,,,,, the great divide ran between the tribal and the
    creative. and still does,

    this is not the only tool for examining
    mans group and personal decisions
    but it is a very flexible and adaptable
    one,, like the screwdriver with
    many tip shapes in the handle

  19. [This is a VERY long comment (over 3,000 words) — actually, three exceptionally generous posts by Suzan about contemporary literature in the Middle East, stitched together. When I have some free time, I’ll fiddle with the formatting to make them easier to read . . . many thanks, Suzan.]


    Wordy, here is something I wrote on my blog, on Cafe Riche, a famous cafe where intellectuals met everyday in Egypt during the early post-war years.
    The cafe has already reopened in downtown Cairo.

    Once an exciting meeting place for intellectuals to hover over a delicous cuppa, the Daily News Egypt reported yesterday that the famous Cafe Riche first founded in 1908 and soon to celebrate its 100th anniversary, after having long shut its doors, will re-open to an eagerly waiting public, in a fortnight’s time.

    The journalist Chitra Kalyani starts her interesting article by mischeviously challenging the reader as to any form of excitement that would be most likely to prevail if in the event, the reader and soon to turn connoisseur of exotic brews, could visit the homes of Naguib Mahfouz, Om Kolthoum, Taha Hussein and Youssef Idris all at once.

    Indeed, the cafe is bound to project the thrill of an awed mood as it has long been a favourite haunt of Egypt’s intellectual elite. Caricatures of writers and artists have always loyally adorned its walls.

    Kalyani outlines a delicious history of how the cafe was in its early days, first owned by an Austrian and later sold to a Frenchman, then a Greek and of how many of the Nobel Prize winning writer, Naguib Mahfouz’s inspiration for characters and plots were picked up from intimate dialogues at the cafe.

    She also talks of literary gatherings among the thinkers, writers, artists and filmmakers and of how conversation would pass like a game of grab the parcel from one table to the next, while a stream of noisy dialogue circled the air.

    She hints at a slice of clandestine history…the discovery of printing press machines as well as secret passageways that led to an exit on nearby Huda Sharawi street. Later, the destination was changed to the kitchen. There is also an exciting mention of the presence of popular pilots like Mohamed Tony who fought the 1948 war and of dramtic tales centering around King Farouk.

    Kalyani also reports that the current rumour holds that a book will soon be published on Cafe Riche.

    Cafe Riche opens in two weeks time. The address is 17, Talaat Harb Street, just off Talaat Harb Square, Downtown, Cairo.n suzan abrams –




    Here are a few book reviews I wrote that were accepted by a couple of Persian/Arab sites. It wasn’t easy to get in. You will see with Iranian.com that I am the only non-Persian writer there. Basically, the Arab literary world is closed and guarded. When I sent in these reviews, the editors held on to them and there’s no guarantee of publication. And you only find out that they’re thinking about your work when you’ve posted a submission.

    For Iranian.com, this is a link to a review I wrote on a book of short stories by Iranian women:

    Afsaneh: Short stories by Iranian Women

    This is a link to my review on a popular modern novel that talks about the arab quarter in Jerusalem.

    Let it be Morning by Sayed Kashua

    & this is a link to a review I wrote that talks about suicide bombers in Algerian writer/French resident Yasmina Khadra’s award-winning novel, The Attack.

    The Attack by Yasmina Khadra


    Another Arabic site called Cafe Arabica in the States did accept both The Attack and Let it be Morning as above, but they also ran of my other reviews called Sharon and my Mother-in-Law (Ramallah Diaries) by Suad Amiry – Palestinian & the award-winning Lebanese writer, Rawi Hage for DeNiro’s Game.
    The introductory blurbs are on this page:

    Cafe Arabica reviews

    Wordy, something on Egyptian writer, Baha Taher who won the International Arabic Prize for Fiction earlier this year in affiliation with the Man Booker.

    He was once banned but a widely-travelled Egyptian writer and United Nations translator, His fifth prized novel is called Wahat al-Ghuroub meaning Sunset Oasis. The novel which talks about the 19th century cultural, social and political implications on a remote village and oasis on the outskirts of Cairo under British rule, is currently being translated into English for the world.



    Happy New Year to you too, Baron. 🙂

    Hi Wordy,

    I’m really sorry for clogging up your comment box but I’ll break into a few different sections what I wanted to say, not because my thoughts were lengthy so much as they are varied. I assure you I won’t make this clogging thing, a habit.

    Over here, I’ve placed a summary of what I had written on the Egypt tour thread – since you had expressed interest in the Middle-East. I don’t know if you may have seen it already.


    In the chunky hardback, Chicago, Alaa Al-Aswany, one of Egypt’s modern writers wrote an expansive story on the Egyptian diaspora in America…the regrets, lamentations and failed political ambitions of history professors and students, housed in an academic setting in Chicago. He adopted strong-willed characters to competently trace storylines back to the heart of the Egyptian people’s disgruntlement over their country’s repressed democracy, for which they would blame their President and be suitably lambasted by secret agents. The educational novel stayed a black comedy.

    But while informative, I felt that Aswany still flushed with excitement from an early bestselling success of The Yacoubian Building, wrote with amusing deliberation for the West. In this sense, he proved the excellent puppet-master, manouvering an assortment of characters back and forth with meticulous ease and armed with a scientific structure, aimed to entertain and please.

    With several political challenges set in his book – Jew measured against Arab – White against Black – liberal American households pitted against Cairo’s gossipy neighbourhoods, the effect signalled a superficial political correctness, laced with neat ready formulas for a final resigned acceptance.

    I say this because there is a marked difference with younger Egyptian writers writing for the West against several translated versions of the past, where the raw essence to Arabic fiction would be held as one of brooding instrospection and significantly philosophical. A sharp irony or wry humour is likely to pepper darker remembrances from the ravages of wars and stories of exile, and often used as a key weapon for any character’s attempt at survival in painful circumstances.

    I find many Arab writers in the Middle-Eastern world overall, guarded in their approach to literature. They write for themselves or their people. In this way, their novels serve as friendly diaries…there is no impression of a set agenda yearning for commercial success. They triumph as raconteurs.

    Naguib Mahfouz is easily known but there are others who have lasted the course. Among these the distinguished scholar Taha Hussein who promoted women’s liberation through his stories, Egypt’s father of the short story, Mahmoud Tehmour (1894-1974) eg. Tales from Egyptian Life and the playwright, Tawfik al Hakim famed for verse dramas.

    Yahya Hakki( 1905-92) was especially popular for his humorous short stories. He wrote several little tales for the peasantry in Upper Egypt because he considered those residents ‘his beloved.’ Hakki was labelled as one of the first writers of 20th century Egypt to lighten a mood through prose. His folklore although pure comedy reflected deep insight. In ‘Story in the Form of a Petition’, a man caught in wartime is measured for his wealth through his brand of cigarettes and lighters as he graduates to more expensive tastes.

    Wordy, here I’ll offer you some content from Hakki’s tale, the kind of writing that held Mahfouz’s admiration, that the Nobel Laureate would in his early years, watch and learn…

    “…he was forced to give up his studies owing to a lack of funds; he then went off to his village, after which he returned and opened a small shop for shoe-shines in the American style. Having sufficient money, I was able to continue with my education, and then I got a job as messenger in the Post Office. …
    … I would find him sitting at a small table, behind him a raucuous radio, and on his right a sewing-machine, the noise of which was interrupted by the blows of a hammer driving nails into heels and soles. ……
    ….The thermometer by which I measured the rise in his fortunes was the cigarette he smoked; a Laziz or a Feel; then it became a Maadan or a Flag, then a Mumtaz or a Wasp. When I found him offering me a Chesterfield from a cigarette case, I knew that he had become one of the war’s nouveaux riches….” – Story in the Form of a Petition

    In the next tale, The Lamp of Umm Hashim, Ismail returns to Cairo after being trained in England as a doctor and immediately experiences a clash of cultures. For example, architecture of the East and West are critically compared afterwards and is fasting at Ramadan really necessary? Then there is the constant yearning for the Scottish countryside and a renewed longing for a fresh European escape.

    Yahya Hakki who was a lawyer and worked in the diplomatic service, was also one of Egypt’s first wave of new writers to to have drawn on two diverse cultures through his plots.

    All these stories are readily available in English, thanks to perhaps one of the Middle-East ‘s pioneers of modern Arabic translations,Denys Johnson-Davis, who would in earlier years, use his own funds to help bring Arabic fiction to Western audiences.

    One of the most famous publishers bringing Arab stories – including literature from Egypt to the West today has to be The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo, Egypt with bookshops and offices in New York and Cairo. The Cairo bookshops are besides the university grounds also situated in Zamalek – upper-class township. region.

    Recently, Haus Publishing in London set up a new venture in Arabia Books, a wonderful innovative enterprise that now distributes translated literature once obscure from the Palestinian Territories, Tripoli or Beirut to the UK and Commonwealth countries.

    On 11-11-08, Haus Publishing opened a book showroomwhich stocks a vast amount of translated Arabic fiction. (2 minute walk from Sloane Square Tube Station, London)

    Egyptian novelist Baha Taher won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2008 – Booker – for Sunset Oasis.

    Also, the famous Cafe Riche where Mahfouz met with writers in Cairo, has just reopened.


    I forgot to add with regards to what I had written above, that Naquib Mahfouz was an early admirer of Yahya Hakiki’s critical writings and of his short stories and for a time chose to work under him. Later, they were to remain close friends.

    In fact, it was Mahfouz who wrote the introduction for Yahya Hakiki’s collected Letters to his Daughter or which in Arabic meant Rasa’il Yahya Haqqi ila ibnatihi,.

    If English novelists must be at all named as a yardstick for comparison to writers of Middle-Eastern literature than Hakiki’s own translator Denys, Johnson-Davis has compared him to Kipling simply for their similarities in demonstrating that the East and West could and would never meet in a harmonious blend.

    The difference seen between Mahfouz’s writings and that of Hakiki’s is that the latter loved expounding on colloqial language while Mahfouz had turned his back on the very idea though when his characters replayed themselves on screen, they would inherit once more, their natural voices.

    It is also Yahya Hakiki who is acknowledged in Egypt today – as he had been by his fellow writers – as having laid the foundations for an Arabic literary renaissance in Egypt midway through the last century. Taha Hussein, a great man of letters, Yusuf Idris, Mahmoud Teymour and Tawfik al-Hakim all participated in the renaissance.

    The writers I mention have all won literary or human rights awards. The prolific novelist and playwright, Yusuf Idris, had been nominated for the Nobel Prize of Literature several times.

    Many Arab writers stick to good old-fashioned storytelling as a whole and don’t deter from this fact, which reinforces what I said earlier, at the end of the fourth paragraph: They triumph as raconteurs.


    2 Middle-Eastern countries intent on producing new literature and translating old ones at a fast pace, currently include Beirut, Lebanon and Tehran, Iran. – suzan abrams –

  20. Two extracts from Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama, discussed in this thread.

    I told them I’d leave them alone for at least a couple of days, and went out to my car feeling slightly light-headed. I can do this job, I said to myself. Have this whole damn town organized by the time we’re through. I lit a cigarette and in my self-congratulatory mood imagined taking the leadership downtown [. . .to. . .] discuss the fate of the city.

    Then, under a streetlight a few feet away, I saw the drunk from the meeting spinning around in slow circles, looking down at his elongated shadow. I got out of my car and asked him if he needed some help getting home.

    ‘I don’t need no help!’ he shouted, trying to steady himself. ‘Not from nobody, you understand me! Punk-ass motherfucker . . . try to tell me shit . . . ‘

    His voice trailed off. Before I could say anything more, he turned and began to wobble down the center of the road, disappearing into the darkness.


    Winter came and the city turned monochrome – black trees against gray sky above white earth. Night now fell in midafternoon, especially when the snowstorms rolled in, boundless prairie storms that set the sky close to the ground, the city lights reflected against the clouds.

    The work was tougher in such weather. Mounds of fine white powder blew through the cracks of my car, down my collar and into the openings in my coat. On rounds of interviews, I never spent enough time in one place to thaw properly, and parking spaces became scarce on the snow-narrowed streets – everyone, it seemed, had a cautionary tale about fights breaking out over parking after a heavy snow, the resulting brawl or shooting. [. . .] At times, driving home from such evenings, with the northern gusts off the lake shaking my car across the lane dividers, I would momentarily forget where I was, my thoughts a numbed reflection of the silence.

  21. Extracts from two discussions of a proposal for a multi-media web site dedicated to literary translation – focusing on Miguel de CervantesDon Quixote. [ posted in connection with On Books as Bondmobiles . . . and a translation web site ]

    from the comments section of Unfinishable Masterpiece?, Sam Jordison, The Guardian, 2 March 2007.

    03 Mar 07, 11:57am


    Maybe it is enjoyable for me because I am reading it in Portuguese translation (he’s pronounced key-SHO-chee in Brazilian Portuguese – I hear much 16th/17th-century Castilian pronunciation is closer to Portuguese than modern Spanish) as my limited Spanish would make it too laborious. Perhaps the humour, historical assumptions and other bases for the humour, the funny turns of phrase etc aren’t as e asily translatable in English as into languages closer to Castilian.

    In the English translations, for example, how do they carry across the constant, nervous boasting of Sancho Pança that “I am an old Christian, you know” “… at least I’m an old Christian” etc against constant references to the Inquisition and interspersed with him saying the only lineage that counts is wealth and once that has been obtained the rest can fall into place?

    [. . .]


    07 Mar 07, 6:28pm

    This marvellous exchange is having a powerful converting effect on me, and I can see myself returning to DQ sooner than planned. The passion of a reader much closer than I am to the original language of a book could make up for the chief annoyance of translations, not being able to hear the language and harmonies (or dissonance) that the author chose. . . . This thought, and the nimble detective work on the Net that yielded a Portuguese translation of the phrase, suggests another idea: wouldn’t it be wonderful if each of the great classics could have its own web site, with experts or lovers of the original language on hand to answer questions and help foreigners struggling with uninspired and stodgy renderings into their mother tongues? To cheer that foreign reader through longueurs – if only with an excellent chat?

    The site I have in mind would also make it possible to highlight a passage, and then listen to a beautiful reading of it in the original, to get the kind of feeling for the language that bypasses a literal understanding of it. It’s already possible to do this at the movies, when you can stop reading the subtitles in, say, a film by Almodovar (surely another Spanish artist indebted to Cervantes, as maybe Dali was, too) and just listen for a while.

    07 Mar 07, 7:16pm

    It’s a good idea wordnerd. Some works really lend themselves to that kind of treatment. Some kind of English site with a direct per-chapter linkage to the Spanish site could be a starter.

    [. . .]

    from the comments section of Embrace the Textual Revolution, Chris Meade, The Guardian, 22 March 2007

    25 Mar 07, 11:04pm


    Chris Meade: again, thanks for replying. Have you considered changing your charity’s name? “Bookfutures” is a red flag for people worn out by digital hype. It promises more than you could hope to deliver, and your piece’s embrace-the-textual-revolution standfirst — and your inability to answer fmk’s questions — only compound the acute sense of letdown, as I hope you can see.

    But here’s an absolutely specific question for you — the kind of suggestion you say you want us to bring to you. You’ve told us that you wrote about Don Quixote for your dissertation. Sam Jordison started a hugely enjoyable discussion about the difficulties of finishing that book, a few weeks ago, and some of us wondered if we can ever fairly judge works in translation.

    The best contributor to that subject was a Portuguese-speaking blogger called farofa. He confirmed that English readers lose most of Cervantes’ wordplay, a lot of which does make the journey from medieval Spanish to contemporary Portuguese.

    Though the “music” of the Spanish original is equally untranslatable, we agreed that it might be wonderful to have a web site with links that allow for massive annotation of a good translation — in which a reader could also highlight a segment of text and listen to a superb reading of that segment in Spanish. That would be a bit like just watching a part of, say, an Almodovar film, ignoring the subtitles — and letting a stream of Castilian flow into you. . . And as part of this idea, the Quixote site would have volunteers on hand able to chat about the book when English readers hobbled by desiccating translations are tempted to give up – and would answer their questions about it.

    Farofa imagined this imaginary site being linked to one run from Spain, a master-site, perhaps.


    MrOverleaf [Chris Meade]
    26 Mar 07, 8:18am

    Wordnerd, the Don Quixote site is a fantastic idea and I’d be delighted to discuss it further – but perhaps in private rather than here. I’m at chris.meade@booktrust.org.uk.

  22. [ This post relates to On books as Bondmobiles . . . and a translation web site . . . — wordnerd7]

    ‘virtually all the great literature there will ever be has already been written’

    This could well be true. The quality of illuminated manuscripts has really gone down, recently. Whilst books are still popular as a form of entertainment, anyone with a true spirit of radicalism, the need to be seen at the forefront of something new, is very unlikely to choose to work in fiction/books. Also, much of what we call literature now is enjoyed by us in ways that the original authors could not have imagined. The Don Quixote conversation does suggest a way in which the great literature of the past may be consumed – just as Chaucer could not have foreseen his works flying across the ether as spoken-word recordings or digital texts (or even distributed as a printed text).

    I can’t read and listen to music – there was a Jordison blog on this recently – and I think the addition of multi-media makes a novel into something else, something we don’t yet have a name for.

    A good friend of mine is a computer games designer. I asked him recently if he thought that – just as all emergent artforms seem to have a moment when they present the potential to cross from generic entertainment/functionality into art – computer games had produced a game/series that showed such potential. He said they probably hadn’t although he felt elements of Grand Theft Auto IV revealed a depth of character, complexity of motivation and perspectives, that he’d not seen before. But then is the territory being encroached on here more cinematic?

    As with the Quixote concept, everyone seems to agree that interactivity will be central to whatever literature will become. How the autonomy and vision of the artist will interlock with the readers’ input I can’t imagine although, as someone was saying recently, the idea of the ‘patriarchal voice’ is dissipating, replaced by a more chaotic, more fecund and febrile process – creativity as natural selection, all happening in a public space. You could say a gentle version of this is happening on this week’s Poster Poems.

    Wordn, from how I understand your model – custodians would be required to offer alternatives/guidance. This sounds more like a tutorial or interactive lit-class than a model for new fiction. A wonderful idea but how would you apply this to new fiction? I guess the author could – like a theatre company director – be curator of his/her own work, offering clues/hints/disclosure/playlists/updates etc. But I think you’re correct in your artistry interruptus forecast: new forms will certainly be created but will be as far from the private immersion of modern reading as a quiet night in with a Penguin Classic is from the original, public recitations of the Odyssey.

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