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Archive for May, 2009

May 28th, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

Audio Interview with Damon Galgut, by Nigel Beale.


Damon Galgut is a writer based in Cape Town.  He wrote his first novel, A Sinless Season (1984), when he was seventeen. Small Circle of Beings (1988), a collection of short stories, was followed by The Beautiful Screaming of Pigs (1991), the story of a young white man on military service who suffers a nervous breakdown. The Quarry (1995), was made into a film by a Belgian production company. The Good Doctor (2003), is set in post-Apartheid South Africa, and explores the relationship between two different men working in a deserted, rural hospital. It won the 2003 Commonwealth Writers Prize (Africa Region) and was shortlisted for both the 2003 Man Booker Prize for Fiction and the 2005 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.  His latest novel is The Impostor (2008).

We talk here about national and personal trauma, corruption and realpolitik, the shadow of J.M. Coetzee, South African literature as boundaried by massive inequalities, childhood cancer, ambiguity, the new class system, real world maturity and the need for compromise.

Please listen here:

Copyright © 2009 by Nigel Beale.

May 27th, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

Return of the Spider

Not finished with the spiders yet. Promise I’m not looking for them. But…after reading the NBCC list of criticism winners I scuttled over to the bookshelves to find 2001 winner Malcom Bowie’s Proust Among the Stars. In it, we find this quote from the narrator of Le Temps retrouve:

the poet was right when he spoke of the ‘mysterious threads’ which are broken by life. But the truth, even more, is that life is perpetually weaving fresh threads which link one individual to another and one event ot another, and that these threads are crossed and recrossed, doubled and reboubled to thicken the web, so that between any slightest point of our past and all the others a rich network of memories gives us an almost infinite variety of communicating paths to chose from. (Vl, 428)


May 27th, 2009 • Posted in Literary Criticism

Lauded Literary Criticism Titles

 The National Book Critics Circle consists of nearly 700 book reviewers. Here’s a list of recent winners of their annual award for criticism:

2008 · Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History by Seth Lerer

2007 · The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century by Alex Ross

2006 · Everything That Rises by Lawrence Weschler

2005 · The Undiscovered Country by William Logan

2004 Where You’re At: Notes From the Frontline of a Hip-Hop Planet by Patrick Neate

2003 · River of Shadows: Edweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West by Rebecca Solnit

2002 · Tests of Time by William H. Gass

2001 · The War Against Cliché: Essays and Reviews, 1971-2000 by Martin Amis

2000  Quarrel & Quandary: Essays by Cynthia Ozick

1999 ·Selected Non-Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges

1998 ·Visions of Jazz by Gary Giddins

1997 ·Making Waves by Mario Vargas Llosa

1996 ·Finding a Form by William Gass

And now we’re at it, here’s the same for the Truman Capote prize for literary criticism. The award is administered by the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Helen Vendler, The Given and the Made

John Felstiner, Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew

John Kerrigan, Revenge Tragedy

Charles Rosen, Romantic Poets, Critics, and Other Madmen

Elaine Scarry, Dreaming by the Book; Philip Fisher, Still the New World

Malcolm Bowie, Proust Among the Stars

Declan Kiberd, Irish Classics

Seamus Heaney, Finders Keepers: Selected Prose 1971–2001

Susan Stewart, Poetry and the Fate of the Senses

Angus Fletcher, A New Theory for American Poetry:


Geoffrey Hartman, The Geoffrey Hartman Reader

William H. Gass, A Temple of Text

Helen Small, The Long Life


Geoffrey Hill, Collected Critical Writings

May 27th, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

Catching up with Charlie Rose

A conversation here about German writer Hans Fallada and his book Every Man Dies Alone with Ulrich Ditzen, son of Hans Fallada, Liesl Schillinger of "The New York Times" and Dennis Johnson of Melville House publishing. 

Adam Gopnik on Darwin, Lincoln and Updike. Judith Jones, Senior Editor and Vice-President at Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., David Remnick and Sam Tanenhaus also on John Updike.

May 26th, 2009 • Posted in Literary Criticism

Spider Invasion

Spiders have been crawling into my headspace from every which way of late.

Several nights ago I dined with Dalhousie English Professor and fellow blogger Rohan Maitzen. After a happy, tapas-like meal, we got to talking about Middlemarch (stay tuned for our off the cuff conversation)  - Rohan’s favourite novel, one she has taught numerous times to first year university students.

She talked of  the novel’s complex social order, of how the narrator often refers to local town life as a  web, and of how Eliot weaves and loops together the varying life experiences of the book’s cast of characters. The absence of a consistent life-organizing world-view among the characters and the fact that no-one dominates the action reinforces the strength of the web metaphor, a web, however, that lacks a center. Each person stands at a separate point in the web, affecting and being affected by the others. Similar to the idea that a butterfly (sticking with insects) flapping it’s wings in Aylmer, Quebec can cause a windstorm in Hong Kong.

The following evening I came across this epigram from Virginia Woolf at the front end of a book I can’t at this moment locate: 

Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible.

Finally, I picked up a free copy of William Hazlitt’s On The Pleasure of Hating from the Penguin booth at the Book Fair attached to the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences currently in session at Carleton University:

Here’s how it begins: 

THERE is a spider crawling along the matted floor of the room where I sit (not the one which has been so well allegorised in the admirable Lines to a Spider, but another of the same edifying breed); he runs with heedless, hurried haste, he hobbles awkwardly towards me, he stops — he sees the giant shadow before him, and, at a loss whether to retreat or proceed, meditates his huge foe — but as I do not start up and seize upon the straggling caitiff, as he would upon a hapless fly within his toils, he takes heart, and ventures on with mingled cunning, impudence and fear. As he passes me, I lift up the matting to assist his escape, am glad to get rid of the unwelcome intruder, and shudder at the recollection after he is gone.

It ends with the same starkly realistic, unhappily ever after tone that Middlemarch possesses. There’s even reference to a web:

How often is "the rose plucked from the forehead of a virtuous love to plant a blister there!" What chance is there of the success of real passion? What certainty of its continuance? Seeing all this as I do, and unravelling the web of human life into its various threads of meanness, spite, cowardice, want of feeling, and want of understanding, of indifference towards others, and ignorance of ourselves, – seeing custom prevail over all excellence, itself giving way to infamy – mistaken as I have been in my public and private hopes, calculating others from myself, and calculating wrong; always disappointed where I placed most reliance; the dupe of friendship, and the fool of love; – have I not reason to hate and to despise myself? Indeed I do; and chiefly for not having hated and despised the world enough.

May 25th, 2009 • Posted in On The Book

Making Faces: Jim Rimmer (trailer)


Documentary on the cutting of metal type by Jim Rimmer, produced by Richard Kegler

More on Jim Rimmer from the Alcuin Society:

"Scores of printers, both new and established, have come to Rimmer’s door over the years asking for help, whether it be casting type or figuring out a way to fix some piece of archaic machinery. His career began as an apprentice typesetter at a Vancouver print shop in the 1950s. A childhood artistic bent eventually allowed him to expand into graphic design, but always with a passion for type. In the 1970s he was type director at the Lanston Monotype Corportion during its brief incarnation in Vancouver. Over the years he has created 190 digital and seven metal typefaces, the latter engraved and cast in his own studio. Although his book output has been limited-Leaves is just the third book from his Pie Tree Press & Type Foundry imprint-his broadsides are widely seen, and he printed a number of pamphlets and books for Colophon Books in the 1980s."

And if you like that, why not buy this (via Fine Press Book Association Blog):

Author: Jim Rimmer
Publisher: Gaspereau Press
Genre: Autobiography
Details: $59.95 / 9781554470624 / trade hardcover
Release date: 24 October 2008
A new and expanded trade edition of Jim Rimmer’s letterpress limited-edition original makes available the autobiography of this gifted type designer and private-press printer.

Beginning with his less than shining early academic career, Rimmer recounts his first experiences setting type at Vancouver Technical High School and leaving school after grade ten for a six-year apprenticeship in the composing room at J.W. Boyd & Sons in the 1950s. With stories about the colourful characters who inhabit the printing trade and his alternately calamitous and successful attempts at refurbishing printing and typecasting machinery, Rimmer revels in the influences and misadventures that have shaped his life.

Pie Tree Press contains reproductions of Rimmer’s illustrations and presswork, as well as samples of his original metal and digital type designs. The book also includes photographs and detailed descriptions of Rimmer’s unique typecutting processes and a new chapter on his experiences with Giampa Textware creating digital fonts in the 1980s and 90s.

This book is a trade hardcover. The text is typeset in Rimmer’s Amethyst Pro and printed offset on wove-finish paper making 128 pages trimmed to 7 × 10 inches. The sheets are Smyth sewn, and case bound in cloth-covered boards stamped in foil. The book includes over 30 illustrations.

Jim Rimmer is a designer, illustrator, typographer and type designer. Rimmer was born and raised in Vancouver, BC, and worked for many years as a commercial designer. He was type director at Lanston Monotype during the 1970s when it was based in Vancouver. At his Rimmer Type Foundry in New Westminster, BC, he has created 190 digital and seven metal typefaces.

May 24th, 2009 • Posted in On Politics

T.S. Eliot’s Criterion would not have been Eligible for Canada’s proposed new Magazine Funding Program

It’s all very well to whine about how little Canadians care about literature these days, but let’s put this into perspective:

According to Rachel Lehmann-Haupt:

Still working at Lloyds Bank in the Colonial and Foreign Department to support his poetry, Eliot concealed his role as editor to avoid losing his day job, even though it was an open secret in the London literary world. But that fall a nervous breakdown bought him a three-month leave from the bank – during which he wrote his opus "The Waste Land," and began scouting for writers for The Criterion.

On October 16, 1922, publisher Cobden and Sanderson printed 600 copies of the magazine’s debut issue. It had a demure beige cover with red lettering. It carried no advertisements and featured "The Waste Land," and an eclectic mix of essays by the writers Sturge Moore and George Saintsbury. It also carried a translation, edited by Virginia Woolf, of Doestoevsky’s plan for a new novel. Lady Rothermere dubbed the issue "dull," and writers complained that the rates were too low.

But the journal did challenge contemporary aesthetics and cultural assumptions. "He and his wife Vivien regarded the launch as a ‘gun powder’ plot to dynamite the British literary establishment," says Peter Sacks, who teaches a course on Eliot at Harvard.

And Wikipedia

The Criterion was a British literary magazine published from October 1922 to January 1939.[1] The Criterion (or the Criterion) was, for most of its run, a quarterly journal, although for a period in 1927-28 it was published monthly. It was created by the poet, dramatist, and literary criticT. S. Eliot who served as its editor for its entire run.

Eliot’s goal was to make it a literary review dedicated to the maintenance of standards and the reunification of a European intellectual community[2] and George Orwell, although he had referred to it in a letter to a friend in 1935 as follows: "… for pure snootiness it beats anything I have ever seen."[3] writing in 1944, referred to it as "possibly the best literary paper we have ever had,…"[4]

The first issue of the magazine, of which 600 copies were printed,[5] included Eliot’s The Waste Land.

In its first year, it received contributions from Luigi Pirandello, Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, E. M. Forster, and W. B. Yeats.[6]

Other contributors over the years included Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound, Herbert Read, John Middleton Murry, John Gould Fletcher, W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender, and Hart Crane….The Criterion became the first English periodical to publish Marcel Proust, Paul Valéry and Jean Cocteau.[6][9]

And Terry Eagleton:

"The task of cultural criticism must therefore be consigned to prose, which is one reason for the incongruity of Eliot’s poetic and prose styles. While the poetry is cryptic, allusive and ambiguous, the prose is lucid, oracular, loftily self-assured. The Criterion would be Eliot’s chief organ of such Kulturkritik, dedicated to a revival of classical European Christian civilization.* Nothing less than a kind of EU of the Spirit would now suffice to repel the barbarism of modernity. It was not clear how a little magazine whose circulation probably never topped eight hundred was to put the organic society back on its feet"

* On second thought, perhaps the Harper government would have in this case made an exception.

The Criterion would not qualify for money from the proposed Canada Periodical Fund.


May 24th, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

Summertime and J.M. Coetzee on Beauty and Consolation

New J.M. Coetzee work, Summertime (due out September 3rd). This from BookSA:

 About Summertime

A young English biographer is working on a book about the late writer, John Coetzee. He plans to focus on the years from 1972-1977 when Coetzee, in his thirties, is sharing a run-down cottage in the suburbs of Cape Town with his widowed father. This, the biographer senses, is the period when he was ‘finding his feet as a writer’.

Never having met Coetzee, he embarks on a series of interviews with people who were important to him – a married woman with whom he had an affair, his favourite cousin Margot, a Brazilian dancer whose daughter had English lessons with him, former friends and colleagues.

From their testimony emerges a portrait of the young Coetzee as an awkward, bookish individual with little talent for opening himself to others. Within the family he is regarded as an outsider, someone who tried to flee the tribe and has now returned, chastened. His insistence on doing manual work, his long hair and beard, rumours that he writes poetry evoke nothing but suspicion in the South Africa of the time.

Sometimes heartbreaking, often very funny, Summertime shows us a great writer as he limbers up for his task. It completes the majestic trilogy of fictionalised memoir begun with Boyhood and Youth.

Also, watch this beautiful hour-long dutch interview/film with J.M. Coetzee musing (in English) on beauty and consolation, writing and death.






Notes to follow here tomorrow.



May 23rd, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

J.M. Coetzee on Canada’s Commercial Seal Hunt and the Sweetness of Life

Image from here.

This from the Humane Society of the United States:


HSUS: While most Canadians oppose the commercial seal hunt, the Canadian government defends it as an important tradition. Do you think tradition can justify the commercial slaughter of seals or any other animal?

JMC: One might as well argue that because Canada used to hang convicted murderers by the neck until they were dead the tradition should not be allowed to disappear. Sealing in Canada is not a tradition, it is just an unenlightened, outdated practice.

HSUS: Millions of people—including a number of prominent authors such as Farley Mowat, Timothy Findlay, Michael Ondaatje, Barbara Gowdy and yourself—have spoken out against Canada’s commercial seal hunt. What is it about this slaughter that provokes such strong reactions from the public?

JMC:  In the first place, baby seals are highly photogenic. In the second place, they are entirely helpless and haven’t the faintest idea of what is about to happen to them. In the third place, even the hardest-hearted among us has private reservations about killing creatures that have barely tasted the sweetness of life. In the fourth place, the people who do the killing are very unappealing, very unphotogenic.

May 23rd, 2009 • Posted in On Politics

Library and Archives Canada eliminating acquisition budget?

This from  Library and Archives Canada’s 2009–2010 Report on Plans and Priorities

"…the Library and Archives of Canada Act establishes an ambitious, wide-ranging mandate related to the acquisition, preservation and making known of Canada’s collective memory. Through a continuing multi-year process across LAC, we have been consolidating and focusing our efforts on the core activities most relevant to our mandate and to the interests of Canadians. Consistent with the government-wide priorities announced in the 2008 Speech from the Throne to ensure sound budgeting and make government more effective, we are applying a strategic perspective to our mandate, evaluating our processes and rethinking our practices to get the best results from our resources. Those steps are enabling us to become a knowledge institution fully in line with changing information environment in Canada and worldwide."

re: ‘effective, sound budgeting’: Two people in the past two days have now told me that LAC will be freezing/eliminating its acquisitions budget…if so…whither Canada’s collective memory?

Anyone else heard anything about this?