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Alice Kaplan
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Hi DL, PK must know this!! will send on.... A
Paol Keineg published Abalamour this past May. Abalamour: in the Breton language it means “because”, but when you say it in French, you hear the phrase à bas l’amour—down with love. When I tried to press Paol on the purpose of this double meaning, he was serene: “The whole purpose of poetry is to have a multitude of meanings. These poems are in a sort of perpetual hesitation between “because” and “down with love.” We thought we would try to see what some of this poetry sounded like in English, and as we worked on the translations, I asked Paol to talk about how this newest book of poems came about. The genealogy of Abalamour reflects Paol’s lives as a Breton poet and playwright, a French poet, a professor of literature in the United States (at Brown and Duke Universities) and a translator of American poetry whose own work has been translated into many languages. Paol Keineg: Two of the texts had already been published under different names and I didn’t know what to do with them. Not pseudonyms, where you hide your real name from your editor, your public. Instead I was inspired by Fernando Pessoa who invented the idea of the “heteronym.” Pessoa published poems using at least 100 different names. I wondered if I would write differently if I had a different name, but the result wasn’t very convincing since anyone who knew my poetry recognized it right away. This was around 2004. When I came back to Brittany from Duke three years ago, a friend took me to a reading in Brest. There I met Alain le Saux (‘le Saux’ in Breton means ‘the Englishman.’). He wanted to publish my poems, and I wasn’t enthusiastic at first because these small editors can be unreliable. But I was won over by the quality of his books. The next year I took out a lot of poems I had been working on in the US—I thought I’d find about 40 and in fact I found 100 poems that I was able to rework. They became the part of Abalamour book called “Quatre à quatre” [four by four]—99 quatrains: A few pages by Walter Benjamin On the power of imitation, a new dispute among the blue jays whose cause I will never know. The individual poem Abalamour was inspired by a letter I found—a letter in Breton written by my great uncle to his father in 1905. He criticized his father’s drunkenness, which was destroying the family. He didn’t want to be a peasant, he wanted to be a priest. I was overwhelmed by this letter, by its length and by the quality of the language—beautiful literary Breton in the style of the period. No one could explain to me where this uncle learned how to write in Breton! This was at a time when the whole of European peasantry was supposed to be illiterate and yet here was this boy writing a long letter in Breton to a... Continue reading
Posted Aug 2, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Last week I was wandering around the giant warehouse of a bookstore on the rue de Rennes called the FNAC, and in a fit of nostalgia I found myself face- to-face with the “Literary Criticism” section. It was a sad moment. On a whole floor bursting at the seams with novels from every continent, histories of every century, sociology, religion, political theory, and you-name-it---and in the country that has inspired countless budding literary critics the world around….Literary Criticism got two small book cases. They looked embarrassed, those two minuscule towers wedged between two other bookcases labeled “Biography” and “Literary History” (and literary history turned out to mean textbooks designed to prepare French students for their various state exams). This Literary Criticism section was nothing to shout about. It had some recent editions of Blanchot, a translation of David Lodge’s The Art of Fiction; books by the 17th century scholar Marc Fumaroli, and almost everything by Antoine Compagnon, a brilliant writer, but alone on that shelf in thinking about how criticism has evolved and what it might mean today. Also, mis -shelved but inviting, Eric Fottorino’s exposé of his years as writer and editor in chief at Le Monde: Mon tour du "Monde". Some good books, some great books, some enervating books, but they added up to nothing-- no sense of a movement, no collective energy. All of which made me reflect on the state of literary criticism in general. The last big thing in France, before cognitive science at least, was called “genetic criticism.” By comparing manuscript variants of masterpieces on their way to being published, genetic critics hoped to discover something really interesting about literary creation. These genetic critics had the following intuition: Maybe what the French theorists meant in the 1970s when they announced the death of the author was not so much that the author was dead but that the book was alive! And if you could get as close as possible to whatever set of choices constituted the making of a book, you would have committed an essential act of criticism—and gone one better than interpretation. You have to be a pretty serious nerd to love genetic criticism. Whereas Michael Gorra has taken the same insights as the genetic critics, the same scholarly finesse, and created a book that is an adventure from beginning to end. His meditative and deeply pleasurable Portrait of a Novel : Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece cured my melancholy over the state of criticism by page xxiv—and I hadn’t even started the first chapter. I’m reading galleys, and his book is going to be published at the end of August. Dear Reader, order it! Gorra has invented a genre that ought to catch on among literary critics in search of a method: the biography of the novel. It’s not obvious what the biography of a novel should entail, but the first thing Gorra does is to show us James’ Portrait of a Lady as it has always... Continue reading
Posted Jul 22, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
François Hollande was calm and presidential on French television yesterday. Speaking of his function rather than his person, he suggested that the President of the Republic must soothe, conciliate, and compromise. In a world where denial is the common currency, the way he explained the French economic disaster was reassuring: “There are three figures that everyone needs to keep in mind: national debt at 90% of the GDP; unemployment at 10%; a deficit of 70 billion euros.” What it will take to balance the budget? Not austerity, but rather “l'effort juste.” Words still mean a lot in this country, words and symbols. "L'effort juste", “effort with justice”, means that cutbacks will aim to be fair. No sales tax increase for example. There’s an echo too, that my inner French student wants to hear, of “le juste milieu”: just the right balance. Hollande has taken a 30% salary cut and so will the heads of the state owned enterprises. And indiscreet tweets from his entourage? “It will not happen again”-- cela ne se reproduira plus. His most demanding listeners bristled when he referred to his partner by her first name --“Valérie.” Wasn’t this too personal for a president who wants to keep the private private? True, a note of tenderness slipped into his voice, personal tenderness. But I can’t imagine him having said “Madame Treirweiller.” This is territory deeply foreign to Americans, we who are used to our politicians with spouses attached to their coattails. Deeply foreign and instructive. There’s a lot of talk about a “normal” presidency: no hyped up schemes, no bling bling, no constant changes of course. FDR in 1933. And so around midnight, French men and women, and a few assorted beasts, gathered on the widest streets in viewing distance of the Eiffel Tower to watch a fireworks display that was effortful, not austere. I made my way to the avenue de Breteuil with other wanderers; it’s never as jammed with people as the Trocadéro or the rue saint Dominique. Still, I always remember how Henry Miller described it in Tropic of Cancer: “that open tomb of an Avenue de Breteuil which at ten o’clock in the evening is so silent, so dead, that it makes one think of murder or suicide, anything that might create a vestige of human drama.” Last night, from 11:30 to 12, the streets were packed and the people were silent, hypnotized by the shimmering iron lady and her multi-color crackle and pop. Finally, is it my imagination, or are Jack Russell Terriers everywhere in Paris since The Artist won an Oscar? Pictured here is a Jack Russell with his companion, a wire haired fox terrier. Uggie from The Artist and Milou from Tintin watching the fireworks on the Avenue de Breteuil, Paris, July 14, 2012. Continue reading
Posted Jul 15, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
A Moroccan dog and an Algerian dog meet up at the Paris airport. The Moroccan dog says to the Algerian dog, “So why are you going to Morocco?” The Algerian dog says: “To eat.” The Algerian dog says to the Moroccan dog, “So why are you going to Algeria?” The Moroccan dog says, “To bark.” This was big joke here around 1988, year of the liberalization of the Algerian press, explains Deborah Harrold, a political scientist and Middle East specialist at Bryn Mawr. If you read El Watan today, it still works….But it didn’t work during the black decade, when 100 journalists were murdered. (Would love to hear other versions of this joke with different countries, animals, and questions….) Until tomorrow, blogging from Rabat. ak,42956.html Continue reading
Posted Jul 7, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
In Brief (but not so brief....) On Thursday the newspaper announced that a new law would allow people to take paying guests in their homes. Will tourism be born again? There are cash machines in Algiers, but no one takes credit cards, and if you want a really good meal you’d better go to someone’s house. Or better yet, go to an Algerian wedding. There aren’t even any postcards on sale in the streets of Algiers. With luck, you might find leftovers from the 1960s, covered in dust. An American social scientist who works on the economy was here in the 80s, then in the terrible 90s, now again this year. What a pleasure and relief, she said, to see people enjoying an ice cream on the street. An Algerian cab driver jokes with his French passenger: “I plan to sue the French government for abandoning me at age eight.” The fashion forward modern Muslim outfit: headscarf in a beautiful chiffon fabric tight blouse and full skirt. It all matches. People like to say there was no Arab spring in Algiers because everyone was still traumatized by the violence in the 1990s. On the other hand, the “Place des martyrs”—the big gathering place at the base of the Casbah—is completely blocked off for public works (metro etc). And during the events in Tunisia, there were so many police in Algiers that the city, long known as “Alger la blanche”, white Algiers, became “Alger la bleue”—blue Algiers. Also, out of the blue, the university professors got a 200 percent raise in salary last year. Making their salaries comparable with their Tunisian and Moroccan counterparts. How to measure the chilling effect of the death of a gentle activist in Oran? GENEVA (27 April 2011) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, on Wednesday expressed deep shock and sorrow over the killing of a political activist he had met on a recent official visit to Algeria. The expert had met Ahmed Kerroumi, professor at the University of Oran, and member of the opposition party Democratic and Social movement (Mouvement Démocratique et Social) and the Oran section of the National Coordination for Change and Democracy (Coordination nationale pour le changement et la démocratie), during his official mission to Algeria from 10 to 17 April 2011 organised at the invitation of the Government. Mr. Kerroumi was one of the civil society representatives with whom the Special Rapporteur discussed the human rights situation in the country at a meeting in Oran on 15 April. He reportedly disappeared on 19 April, and his body was found in his office on 23 April. *** Thursday was the first day of a three day conference sponsored by the newspaper El Watan, the opposition paper, for the 50th anniversary of independence. A special issue of the paper, distributed at the conference, was full of rage. Headlines: “Algeria is the only country in the world where power is hidden, clandestine”;... Continue reading
Posted Jul 6, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
After my lecture at the Glycines, a university professor talked about what Camus means to Algerians today. What she said may have been familiar to everyone in the room, but it was completely new to me: “It’s true that Camus was banished for a long time, by critics, readers, etc. I don’t think it’s The First Man that brought him back. It was the situation, the terrorism we experienced in the period we call our civil war (1990s). A lot of Algerians realized then that there might be a parallel, that they were in fact a little like those French Algerians from before, from the 1950s and 60s—Algerians whose stature as Algerians wasn’t being recognized. And so they started to reread Camus from that perspective. Those Algerians in the 1990s recognized themselves in Camus—whose Algerian dimension was denied, whether it was in his novels, in his refusal to take a position or in the positions he did take— the constant vacillation, the hesitation, the not being able to figure out what is going on or take a clear position. Since we were experiencing those same hesitations, we read him again in a new way. There were a lot of bridges. I remember how we felt threatened in our Algerian identity [by Islam fundamentalists]: what, we were supposed to leave Algeria now? We’re as much Algerians as they are! It was a scandal! Also there was the question of exile: people were leaving the country and they were criticized. Had they done the right thing? Did they have a choice? That new identification still doesn’t mean that Camus has finally been accepted as an Algerian writer. Last year there was a kind of triumphant cancellation of a caravan that was supposed to tour the country with readings of Camus. But that project was almost immediately cancelled, for reasons no one understood. There was a lot of opposition. And that was shocking.” She reminded the audience that Feraoun, the father of Algerian literature, quoted Camus’ The Plague in the epigraph of his first novel, Le Fils du pauvre. It’s going to be impossible to convey in this blog what it felt like listening to N* .speak about literature. I learned later that her husband had been murdered during the dirty wars, one of 100,000—and that she had never left Algeria. Afterwards I thought, if it had been an American event, she might have stood up and told her whole life story and not said much about Camus. And instead, here, Camus was a way of thinking about real life. Continue reading
Posted Jul 5, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Am writing from my room in the Glycines study center, where the sound of honking cars and screaming people is keeping me awake at 2 am. Tomorrow, if all goes according to plan, the fronds on the several miles of palm trees planted along the highway into town from the airport that have been wrapped tight against their trunks, will finally shake their booty. In this country where a liter of gas costs less than a mineral water, there is too much to say and not always a good way to say it. Here was the running joke at dinner tonight, in an outdoor restaurant high above the monument to martyrs: so what does France really have to show for its fifty years of independence ? Continue reading
Posted Jul 4, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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Jul 4, 2012