THE AFTERNOON OF A WRITER by Peter Handke
(Translated by Ralph Manheim, Minerva paperback, 1991)
One of Zadie Smith’s more sobering rules for budding writers was that they should be resigned to “the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied”.
This bleak, but no doubt realistic, viewpoint is one I suspect Austrian playwright and novelist Peter Handke would also subscribe to.
In ‘The Afternoon Of A Writer’ he presents the scribe’s life as one dogged by self doubt, guilt and constant feelings of inadequacy.
The brief tale follows a nameless man who having spent some time writing “a few lines that had clarified a state of affairs to his satisfaction” goes out for a random stroll around a nameless European city before returning home where he feeds his nameless cat and goes to bed. His life is no bed of roses! Continue reading
GIRL IN TRANSLATION by Jean Kwok (Riverhead Books, 2010)
As a compelling, at times shocking, account of a young immigrant’s life in America this book has many merits. As a convincing work of narrative fiction it leaves a lot to be desired.
The episodic nature of the novel is problematic in that the story has a disjointed quality. As the author jumps from one event to the next, the reader is left with more questions than answers.
In the opening chapter we learn that the mother of the first person narrator, Kimberley Chang, had suffered from tuberculosis in China but her state of health is something which is barely mentioned therafter.
Later on, at the age of 18, when it is clear that Kimberley (Kim) needs to obtain U.S. citizenship, she applies and studies hard for naturalization but we are never told how the actual test went. The cumulative effect of these gaps is disorientating and infuriating. Continue reading
A Hawk & A Hacksaw – husband and wife duo Heather Trost & Jeremy Barnes performing at the Bronson club, Ravenna as part of the Transmissions Festival they curated.
Father Murphy, A Hawk & A Hacksaw, Mouse On Mars at the Bronson Club, Ravenna.
The juxstaposition of styles presented during this concert showed how sonic transmissions in our technically challenging (and challenged!) age can be by turns nostalgic, alienating and invigorating.
In Keywords (A vocabulary of culture and society) Marxist academic Raymond Williams wrote that, in the 18th century, the verb ‘to modernize’ was mainly applied to buildings and was not automatically regarded as something positive. Nowadays, modernization is generally associated with improvement and forward thinking. Williams noted that when we say modern now we generally refer to something which is “unquestionably favourable and desirable”. It signifies that you are up with the times and at one with the contemporary world.
Compare this to words like ‘tradition’ or ‘traditionalist’ which are commonly used to dismiss something as quaint yet old-fashioned and contrary to notions of innovation or change. We associate these terms with the work of artisans and craftsmen and think of outdated skills handed down from generation to generation.
When applied to music, ‘tradition’ is usually linked to an analog philosophy while to describe sounds as ‘modern’ is to say the artist is making a break with the past. However, an incessantly forward momentum has its pitfalls. The fact that discerning listeners will still seek out vinyl releases or lossless audio is a sign that the ‘modern’ day digital revolution is regarded in some quarters as a step backwards.
On the third and final day of Ravenna’s Transmissions festival the stark contrast between the old and the new was very evident. After being gently wooed by the Balkan-influenced folky charm of A Hawk And A Hacksaw (+ special guests) we were abruptly wowed by the uncompromising techno beats of German duo Mouse On Mars. Continue reading
FEED by M.T. Anderson (Candlewick Press, 2002)
Ever get the feeling that you are just part of the machinery?
Do you have the sensation that information is accessing you NOT vice versa?
If you cannot categorically answer a defiant NO to either of these questions then maybe Feed is the novel for you.
The publishers also think that you need to be a ‘Young Adult’ , or at least a mature teenager, to be classified as one of its target audience but I’d say the arguments are applicable to all ages. Continue reading