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Results 1 - 16 of 16
1. New Haruki Murakami Story at ‘The New Yorker’

murakamiThe New Yorker has published a new short story by Haruki Murakami, and you can read it for free online.

The short story opens as a dramatic reversal of Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. You can read a free copy of Kafka’s masterpiece for comparison. Here’s Murakami’s opening line:

He woke to discover that he had undergone a metamorphosis and become Gregor Samsa.

continued…

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2. The Writers That Inspired Pussy Riot

Today a Russian court sentenced the three members of the punk band Pussy Riot to two years in prison for staging a protest performance against Vladimir Putin inside a Moscow cathedral.

Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova presented inspiring final statements in court on August 8th, speaking about the history of protest literature in Russia and sharing the writers who inspired them.

Using N + 1′s transcript of the statements, we have linked to their literary inspiration below…

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3. Martin Walser on Faith and Fiction

When I read Barth, I notice – and I am sure many others do as well – that we have fallen asleep and have produced legitimizing explanations for all kinds of substitute pleasures. Of course Barth can motivate you to wake up and to stop retreating to pseudo-justifications for social, political, or biographical success. But that alone is insufficient. That is the reason why Kafka’s “The Trial” is so important for me. The protagonist Josef K. is asked to appear before a court on his 30th birthday to testify about his life. When he realizes that he cannot justify his life with the things he has done, he despairs. He sees lawyers, artists, and finally a priest. The more he strives for justification, the more he realizes that he is lacking it. You cannot finish the book without confronting these themes in Kafka’s writings. The book is incredibly radical; it ends in a staged suicide. That is more than simple fiction (More...)

He continues: "You cannot retreat to the comforts of atheism. Behind us are two thousand years that have been marked by questions about God. Today’s atheistic calm, even from intellectuals, is equal to the eradication of our intellectual history." Superb stuff from Martin Walser (in an interview in The European Magazine.)

Not quite at the same level, but I did also enjoy Melvyn Bragg attacking Richard Dawkins' 'atheist fundamentalism' in this video on The Telegraph's site.

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4. The Metamorphosis

If you woke up one morning and realized you’d turned into a big brown beetle while you slept, would you be surprised? Or, like Gregor Samsa in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, would you be more worried about the fact that you had overslept and missed your train, that your tardiness would look bad at the office? Would you then, trying to get yourself up out of bed and dressed for work, worry about how your family might be bothered by your new appearance? No? I can’t say I’d be concerned about those things either. I’d be panicked and yelling some choice swear words at the top of my new beetle lungs and hoping Bookman called an ambulance because a human turning into an insect is not normal. Gregor Samsa takes it all in stride, however. He is not surprised and I was surprised at his lack of surprise. Until, that is, I got a look at his family.

Turns out Gregor has been supporting his parents and younger sister Grete for about five years. They all four live together in a big lovely apartment that Gregor pays for. Gregor’s father used to have a business but it went bankrupt and his father hasn’t worked since. He makes himself out to be a poor and broken old man. His mother doesn’t work either, she claims it’s because of her asthma. Then there is Gregor’s sister Grete, seventeen at the time of the story, deemed too young to go out and work even though the maid that works for the Samsas is only fifteen. So Gregor, a traveling salesman, is out working his fingers to the bone in order to support his parents and sister, but also to pay back debt his father incurred in his business. Gregor hates his job and dreams of the day he can quit. Nonetheless, he never asks anything for himself, is always concerned about the comfort and well-being of his family and whether or not he is imposing on them.

After meeting the family it is no longer a surprise why Gregor was not surprised to wake up as a beetle. He was already a bug, he just didn’t have the form before. Now that his outward appearance has caught up, one would think his family would feel some remorse. Nope. As Nabokov says in his lecture on the book:

Gregor is a human being in an insect’s disguise; his family are insects disguised as people.

Gregor’s father clearly despises him and eventually pelts poor Gregor with apples. One of the apples gets stuck between his beetle-y sections and it is the beginning of Gregor’s end because no one will remove it. Gregor’s mother is not allowed to see Gregor at all in order to spare her feelings. Because she does fret about him, more than anyone else does. But in the end, even she rejects him.

Then there is Gregor’s sister. Gregor loves Grete very much. She plays the violin and Gregor has convinced himself that she is so good he will work extra hard so he can pay to send her to a music conservatory. Late in the story we get to hear Grete play and it is clear that she is not very good at all. His sister is the only one who will take care of Gregor. She takes on his care willingly. At first she is attentive, bringing him food regularly, cleaning his room and opening and closing a window so he can have fresh air all while Gregor is hiding from her view under a couch and sheet so he doesn’t scare or offend her. But as time goes by the food gets neglected as does the cleaning and Gregor’s room gradually becomes a storage room.

Things come to a head when, one evening, Gregor’s door is left opened. The family has taken on three borders and after dinner they invited Grete to play her violin for them. Enchanted, Gregor creeps out from his room. He is weak with starvation and the apple lodged in his back has become a festering wound. Of course he is seen. The family goes ballistic. The lodgers are horrified and demand all their rent back. Gregor’s father says absolutely not and evicts the lodgers on the spot. Gregor is chased back to his room and locked in but still, he overhears the ensuing family conference in which Grete calls hi

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5. Ray Bradbury, Nabokov, and Bookyard

Just a few things of interest today.

First, if you, like me, are still feeling a bit down because of Ray Bradbury’s death, go spend some time with him in his Paris Review Interview and some reminiscing from the intern who had to fact check it. In the interview he talks of his beginnings, his career, his thoughts on science fiction and writing, who his influences are, his love of poetry, libraries, writing the screenplay for Moby Dick, his dislike of ereaders, and so much more.

Second, thanks to my marvy sister for sending me the link, watch a 40 minute “movie” of actor Christopher Plummer recreating Nabokov’s lecture on Kafka’s Metamorphosis (via)

Bradbury did not think much of Nabokov or Proust, Joyce, and Flaubert. They put him to sleep, he says. Bradbury much preferred George Bernard Shaw, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Steinbeck, Huxley, Shakespeare, Hopkins, Frost, and Thomas Wolfe. Bradbury was also an admirer of Edith Wharton, Eudora Welty and Katherine Anne Porter.

Bradbury also says he was completely “library educated” and calls himself a librarian:

I am a librarian. I discovered me in the library. I went to find me in the library. Before I fell in love with libraries, I was just a six-year-old boy. The library fueled all of my curiosities, from dinosaurs to ancient Egypt. When I graduated from high school in 1938, I began going to the library three nights a week. I did this every week for almost ten years and finally, in 1947, around the time I got married, I figured I was done. So I graduated from the library when I was twenty-seven. I discovered that the library is the real school.

So I am sure he would really appreciate Bookyard. Bookyard is a joint art installation and library book sale in Ghent, Belgium. It will be up through September 16th with all proceeds from the sale of books going to local libraries. While I would like to visit Ghent someday, this summer will not be the time. If, however, you will be in Ghent this summer, be sure to visit the Bookyard!


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6. Free eBook Flowchart

What’s your favorite kind of book? We’ve created a giant flowchart to help you browse the top 50 free eBooks at Project Gutenberg.

Click the image above to see a larger version of the book map. Your choices range from Charles Dickens to Jane Austen, from Sherlock Holmes to needlework. Below, we’ve linked to all 50 free eBooks so you can start downloading right now. The books are available in all major eBook formats.

Follow this link to see an online version of the flowchart, complete with links to the the individual books.

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7. The Kafka Myth: Hawes' defence

We had a bit of a ding-dong here on ReadySteadyBook, back at the end of last month, about James Hawes' thesis of the Kafka myth. Knowing my scepticism, James has been good enough to flesh out his thoughts here on RSB:


So why has the vast academic Kafka-industry failed to undercut this myth? Kafka’s business memoranda get their own Critical Edition, entire exhibitions are mounted about the factories he inspected, whole books published about the cafés he sat in or the distant relatives he occasionally met. Yet the standard German reference guide, the Kafka Chronik (1999) used by every scholar, still maintains on its back cover the hoary myth that Kafka was “almost unknown in his lifetime”, and in 2004 the UK’s top Kafka-scholar (Oxford Chair of German Ritchie Robertson) felt moved to praise Germany’s top Kafka-scholar (Berlin Chair of German Peter-André Alt) for countering “the notion, still widespread today, that Kafka was hardly noticed by fellow-authors and reviewers in his lifetime” (more...)

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8. Busy boy!

Thanks to Nigel Beale and D.G. Myers for responding to my question concerning what should be on a history of the novel reading list with long reading lists of their own. Both Nigel's and D.G.'s lists are very useful (and this bibliography from the University of Warwick has some good pointers too), but I'll compile one of my own here soon which is specifically just about the history of the novel itself. (For starters, my current Book of the Week, The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain: Volume 2, 1100 - 1400, would certainly be on it, as would Robert Mayer's excellent History and the Early English Novel and Nancy Armstrong's flawed engagement with Ian Watt, How Novels Think: The Limits Of Individualism From 1719-1900.)


Really, though, the last thing I should be doing is starting a new project! I'm run off my feet at the moment: we got over 120 submissions for this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, (so lots and lots and lots of reading, but nothing I can talk about until after we've longlisted some of them); and I'm also working on getting all sorts of content together for the new look Book Depository website which will land some time in the next couple of weeks.


Whilst all that should be enough for anyone, I'm rather beside myself with excitement as The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume 1, 1929-1940 (CUP) has just landed. A bottle of whisky and a few nights without sleep seem in order!


Finally, you'll have all no doubt noticed that Twitter has become all the rage -- despite having been around for quite a while, it suddenly seems to have really taken off. RSB has had a Twitter page for ages (and so has The Book Depository and BritLitBlogs), but I've relied on RSB's RSS feed to do all the tweeting for me and have not actually done much active tweeting myself. Well, expect that to change soon!

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9. Poetry Friday: You might have missed

You might have missed this quote from Franz Kafka, via Kurt Scaletta on Facebook:


We need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. - Franz Kafka

You might have missed this glorious poem at Francisco Stork's journal, which he posted on an ordinary Tuesday in June.

Inspiration


Do not worry that your love’s beauty
Will dazzle me,
Blind me,
Keep me
From my daily bread.

Do not worry that the bursting
Notes of your anvil
Will stun me to dead stillness.



Taken together, this quote and this poem, make me believe that each book, each poem is a chance to die . . . and rise, living again.

Don't miss that chance.

Poetry Friday is hosted today at Wild Rose Reader

8 Comments on Poetry Friday: You might have missed, last added: 9/20/2010
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10. Authors Who Doodled

Flavorpill has collected the doodles of famous authors, including Sylvia Plath, David Foster Wallace, Vladimir Nabokov, Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, Allen Ginsberg, Mark Twain, Henry Miller, Kurt Vonnegut, and Jorge Luis Borges.

The drawings ranged from insect portraits to nightmare images. Wallace drew one of the funnier pieces, doodling glasses and fangs on a photo of Cormac McCarthy.

Vonnegut (pictured with his artwork, via) incorporated many of his drawings into his books. He even had his own art gallery exhibitions. What author should illustrate their next book?

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11. A psychiatry of Kafka

In the past I have been very critical of literary critics using scientific methods to justify itself, yet here a medical scientist allows literary creation to countermand the positivist inferences of science. Indeed, Mishara recognises that "literature documents and records cognitive and neural processes of self with an intimacy that is otherwise unavailable to neuroscience." One has to attend to literary writing as literary writing rather than only as clinical data. And while documented intimacy is Mishara's concern, for us it can teach us again how to resist dominant contemporary notions of literature as craft, as mastery, as memory, as a record of historical events, as social commentary, as a career, as something less than an impossible letting-go. "In a letter to Max Brod," Mishara notes, "Kafka writes that it is 'not alertness but self-oblivion [that] is the precondition of writing'". For Kafka, writing was a means of transformation, the seeking of an unsayable end, whether or not there are traces left on the page (more...)

Stephen Mitchelmore responds to psychiatrist Aaron Mishara's "remarkable paper" Kafka, paranoic doubles and the brain.

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12. Kafka to the Bodleian

The remarkable announcement this week by the Bodleian Library and the German Literary Archive at Marbach that they have agreed jointly to purchase a collection of more than 100 letters and postcards from Franz Kafka to his sister Ottla will cause great excitement amongst Kafka biographers and scholars. New archival material about this exhaustively covered writer is an increasing rarity.

The new material will offer a chance to learn more about Kafka's favourite sister, who is a remarkable woman in her own right. Ottilie ("Ottla") David was totally dedicated to her brother. She divorced her non-Jewish Czech husband, Josef David ("Pepa") in order to save his life, declared herself a Jew to the Nazi authorities and, on arrival at Theresienstadt concentration camp, volunteered to accompany around 1,200 children on a "special transport" to Auschwitz, where she was gassed to death on arrival.

The Bodleian has not yet itemised the material in detail so it is difficult to know exactly how much of this material is genuinely new (a volume Letters to Ottla and the Family was published in 1974) but it is clear from the joint statement by the two institutions that there is at least some brand new material unseen by any scholars and biographers to date. In particular there are said to be new letters from Kafka's last lover Dora Diamant and the young Hungarian medical student and friend of Kafka's on his deathbed, Robert Klopstock (more...)

Via Nicholas Murray.

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13. The Trial

I’ve been delaying writing about Kafka’s The Trial in hopes that I would be able to sort it all together and come up with something brilliant to say about it. Alas, brilliance never arrived and I’m at the point where if I don’t say something about it now, I won’t remember enough of the details to write anything coherent about it.

In case you don’t know the story, Josef K. wakes up one morning and is arrested for he knows not what. The police who arrest him don’t know what the charges are either. They question him for awhile and then he is allowed to go to work. However, he is supposed to appear in court, not for a trial, but for a hearing. Basically, K. throughout the whole book is left “free” to go about his regular life and business. But it turns out members of the court are everywhere, not the public court mind you where they try common criminals, but a court that exists in attics and apartment rooms, and to whom almost everyone K. meets is affiliated in one way or other. So one gets this sense that K. is always being watched, his simplest actions and words continually evaluated, and added to the court record for the case against him. We never find out what crime he committed. K. never finds out what crime he committed either but insists he is not guilty of whatever it might be.

K. appears at his hearing and makes a big speech. In it he declares that the court’s

purpose is to arrest innocent people and wage pointless prosecutions against them which, as in my case, lead to no result. How are we to avoid those in office becoming deeply corrupt when everything is devoid of meaning? That is impossible, not even the highest judge would be able to achieve that for himself.

The phrase, “when everything is devoid of meaning” seems to sum up the book. K.’s battle against the court is a battle against meaninglessness. At first he stands tall and vows to fight it. He is full of energy and is driven by his anger at being accused and all the attendant frustrations and confusions the sometime-in-the-future trial invokes. But as time goes by K. begins to get worn down. His Uncle drags him to a friend who is also a lawyer who is engaged to work on his case. But to K. it seems that the lawyer does nothing and he eventually fires him and tries to handle his case himself. However, he has to file papers with the court but since he doesn’t know what the charges are against him he doesn’t know what he should say in the papers. He paralyzed and unable to write as he tries

to remember every tiny action and event from the whole of his life, looking at them from all sides and checking and reconsidering them.

Finally, from a painter to the court, he learns that there is no way he will ever be free of the court. A complete acquittal is impossible and K. can look forward to spending the rest of his life dealing with the court in one way or another until they finally decide to deliver a verdict.

K. begins to come unraveled. He used to be a rising star at the bank where he works, in line to be assistant director, but now because he has become preoccupied with his trial his work is suffering and his job is in danger. He is given a warning by a friendly priest that things are not going well for him in the court. The priest tells K. a parable about a man who sits waiting outside a door his entire life for the chance to access the law. K. fails to find the meaning in it and argues the logic of it with the priest who tells him,

“you don’t need to accept everything as true, you only have to accept it as necessary.” “Depressing view,” said K. “The lie made into the rule of the world.”

Eventually a verdict is handed down and K., exhausted, accepts his fate and goes willingly to receive it. It had echoes for me of Orwell’s 1984 (or maybe it is more correct to s

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14. Bleak House, Part One

In many ways Bleak House by Charles Dickens is very much like any other Dickens book. There are orphans, abject poverty, very wealthy people, stingy people, people with hearts of gold, light satire, mild humor, passages of purple prose and great verbosity, and unforgettable characters.

In other ways this is not a typical Dickens book. There are two different narrators, there is quite a bit of death and one of those deaths is from spontaneous combustion, there is also a murder which accounts for another of the numerous deaths, it is very tightly plotted and everything introduced into the story is accounted for by the end, and while there are cheerful scenes it is not a cheerful book. In addition, there were times when Dickens seemed like he was foreshadowing Kafka’s The Trial.

Bleak House was published in serial form between March 1852 and September 1853. Before Dickens landed on the title he tried out several others: Tom-All-Alone’s (an area of London with abandoned and falling down buildings in which the poor and homeless squatted); The Ruined House; Bleak House Academy; The East Wind (When things are not good Mr. Jarndyce always declares the wind to be in the east. This also references the east wind in London coming out of the poor quarters spreading stench and disease across the rest of the city).

We have Peter Ackroyd’s biography of Dickens on our bookshelves. It is a big fat thing and has a nice 20 pages or so on the period when Dickens was writing Bleak House. I was prompted to learn more about the book because of the murder mystery, a part of the plot that doesn’t happen until the last third or so of the book. I was surprised by the murder but the subsequent investigation by Inspector Bucket had me wanting to know what sort of influence Wilkie Collins may have had because it seemed to me lifted from one of Collins’ books. Ackroyd doesn’t say anything about Collins helping Dickens with the book or giving him advice, however, he was a frequent visitor at that time and even stayed with Dickens who was ill and living abroad when he wrote the final three or four installments of the book. Perhaps Collins had an indirect influence simply because of his presence and because the two were friends.

I did learn some other things about the book though. The character of Skimpole is based on Dickens’ friend Leigh Hunt. Skimpole is not the most likable of characters even though he is well liked in the book. He is a freeloader, always getting into debt and relying on his friends to get him out. He claims he doesn’t understand money, that he is an innocent child and one is never sure if he is telling the truth or if it is a convenient fiction Skimpole uses to get out of being responsible for anything.

When Leigh Hunt read the book he did not recognize himself in Skimpole but Hunt’s close friends did and were not pleased. When Hunt came around and finally realized what Dickens had done, he protested. The friendship cooled for awhile but it was never ruined.

Bleak House was popular with readers but not so much with critics. They declared it “dull and wearisome” and lacking in the “freedom” and “freshness” of Dickens’ previous eight novels. The book was also attacked for its “unreality,” but far from upsetting Dickens, the critique served to increase his belief that what he wrote was true and important.

The main plot of the book circles around the Chancery court and the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. The suit is over a will and has gone on for so long that the original litigants are no longer alive. There is so much paperwork that an army of clerks is needed to carry it all in and out of court whenever the case comes up. It seems the lawyers are purposefully dragging it on forever. The case has become a joke both ins

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15. More on Kafka's "new" papers

I mentioned yesterday that some papers of Kafka had been newly discovered. There is much more on this at the Diary Junction blog, including this nugget about Max Brod:


Interestingly, however, Brod was also a keen diarist, and his diaries formed part of the estate left to [his secretary Ilse Esther Hoffe]. According to Haaretz, a German publisher, Artemis and Winkler, paid Hoffe a five-figure advance for Brod’s diaries in the 1980s, but never received them. In 1993, the German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that Hoffe had removed the Brod diaries from her apartment and transferred them to a safe at a bank in Tel Aviv, where they remain to this day. Artemis and Winkler is now owned by a large publisher, apparently, who is still negotiating access to the diaries. They are thought to contain intimate details about Brod’s life, and may well provide interesting information on Kafka’s life.

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16. Nick Murray on James Hawes's Kafka

Talking about The JC.com, Nicholas Murray writes a brief demolition in its pages of James Hawes' recent study, Excavating Kafka. Hawes condemns Kakfa scholarship for creating and cultivating "the K. myth" of a saintly, tortured, unknown artist. He quite rightly calls this a nonsense and uses... Kafka scholarship to prove his point! So, Murray (author of a recent Kafka biography himself) nails the biggest absurdity of the book in his review: "it is Hawes's mission to remind us that he liked upmarket porn, consorted with prostitutes, and treated his women rather badly, none of which will be news to anyone who has any basic knowledge of Kafka derived from recent biography."


But Hawes' book isn't all bad. Most Kafka scholarship does have something of an awed tone towards its subject and Hawes is refreshingly cross about this. He seems to dislike Kafka the man as much as he values his work, and he wishes to get the man full square out of the way so that readers can concentrate on his writing free of biographical distractions. But Hawes has created new biographical distractions of his own (his reaction to Kafka's "porn stash" -- omigosh, heterosexual man likes pictures of noody ladies shock! -- is adolescent and priggish in the extreme) and he offers little in the way of new, critical comment on the work. For all that, I enjoyed Excavating Kafka. It is punchy and impassioned and written with some verve, but Kafka and his work remain just as enigmatic after reading Hawes' essay as they do before you begin. And that is only right.

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