The Complete Works of Primo Levi edited by Ann Goldstein, with an introduction by Toni Morrison
White Magic: The Age of Paper by Lothar Müller, translated from the German by Jessica Spengler
Time Ages in a Hurry by Antonio Tabucchi, translated from the Italian by Martha Cooley and Antonio Romani
Indian Nocturne by Antonio Tabucchi, translated from the Italian by Tim Parks
Dreams of Dreams and the Last Three Days of Fernando Pessoa by Antonio Tabucchi, translated from the Italian by Nancy J. Peters
Requiem: A Hallucination by Antonio Tabucchi, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa
Pereira Declares: A Testimony by Antonio Tabucchi, translated from the Italian by Patrick Creagh
The Missing Head of Damasceno Monteiro by Antonio Tabucchi, translated from the Italian by J. C. Patrick
Tristano Dies: A Life by Antonio Tabucchi, translated from the Italian by Elizabeth Harris
The Woman of Porto Pim by Antonio Tabucchi, translated from the Italian by Tim Parks
It’s Getting Later All the Time by Antonio Tabucchi, translated from the Italian by Alastair McEwen
Confessions of an Italian by Ippolito Nievo, translated from the Italian by Fredericka Randall, with an introduction by Lucy Riall
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami, translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel
The Informed Air: Essays by Muriel Spark, edited and with a preface by Penelope Jardine
Curriculum Vitae: A Volume of Autobiography by Muriel Spark
The Comforters by Muriel Spark
Memento Mori by Muriel Spark
The Bachelors by Muriel Spark
The Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark
The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark
Territorial Rights by Muriel Spark
Loitering with Intent by Muriel Spark
A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark
In Paradise by Peter Matthiessen
Zibaldone by Giacomo Leopardi, edited by Michael Caesar and Franco D’Intino, translated from the Italian by Kathleen Baldwin, Richard Dixon, David Gibbons, Ann Goldstein, Gerard Slowey, Martin Thom, and Pamela Williams
Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers
Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd
Traveler of the Century by Andrés Neuman, translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia
Anton Chekhov: A Brother’s Memoir by Mikhail Chekhov, translated from the Russian by Eugene Alper
Memories of Chekhov: Accounts of the Writer from his Family, Friends and Contemporaries edited and translated from the Russian by Peter Sekirin
Adam and Evelyn by Ingo Schulze, translated from the German by John E. Woods
Busy Monsters by William Giraldi
My Little War by Louis Paul Boon, translated from the Dutch by Paul Vincent
Beyond Sleep by Willem Frederik Hermans, translated from the Dutch by Ina Rilke
Parents Worry by Gerard Reve, translated from the Dutch by Richard Huijing
Silent Extras by Arnon Grunberg. translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett
Wonder by Hugo Klaus, translated from the Dutch by Michael Henry Heim
The Darkroom of Damocles by Willem Frederik Hermans, translated from the Dutch by Ina Rilke
The Jewish Messiah by Arnon Grunberg, translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett
Problemski Hotel by Dimitri Verhulst, translated from the Dutch by David Colmer
The Window Dresser: A Dance Novella by Christiaan Weijts, translated from the Dutch by Brian Doyle
Seven Years by Peter Stamm, translated from the German by Michael Hofmann
On a Day Like This by Peter Stamm, translated from the German by Michael Hofmann
Unformed Landscape by Peter Stamm, translated from the German by Michael Hofmann
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland
The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson, translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson, translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland
The Empty Family by Colm Tóibín
Best European Fiction 2010 edited and with an introduction by Aleksandar Hemon, with a preface by Zadie Smith
Why Translation Matters by Edith Grossman
The Novel: An Alternative History, Beginnings to 1600 by Steven Moore
Reality Hunger: A Manifesto by David Shields
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, translated from the Norwegian by Anne Born
To Siberia by Per Petterson, translated from the Norwegian by Anne Born
Wonder by Hugo Claus, translated from the Dutch by Michael Henry Heim
The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker, translated from the Dutch by David Colmer
Summertime: Fiction by J.M. Coetzee
Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer
The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, translated from the Italian by Geoffrey Brock, with an introduction by Umberto Eco and an afterword by Rebecca West
Woman of Rome: A Life of Elsa Morante by Lily Tuck
House of Liars by Elsa Morante, translated from the Italian by Adrienne Foulke, with the editorial assistance of Andrew Chiappe
Arturo’s Island by Elsa Morante, translated from the Italian by Isabel Quigly
History by Elsa Morante, translated from the Italian by William Weaver and with a foreword by Lily Tuck
Aracoeli by Elsa Morante, translated from the Italian by William Weaver
Alfred and Emily by Doris Lessing by Doris Lessing
Apples and Oranges: My Brother and Me, Lost and Found by Marie Brenner
House Rules by Rachel Sontag
Thrumpton Hall: A Memoir of Life in My Father’s House by Miranda Seymour
The Sum of Our Days by Isabel Allende, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden
The Gathering by Anne Enright.
ABC: A Novel by David Plante
The Francoeur Family: The Family, The Woods, The Country by David Plante
Difficult Women: A Memoir of Three by David Plante
Annunciation by David Plante
Greed by Elfriede Jelinek, translated from the German by Martin Chalmers
Women as Lovers by Elfriede Jelinek, translated from the German by Martin Chalmers
Wonderful, Wonderful Times by Elfriede Jelinek, translated from the German by Michel Hulse
The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek, translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel
Lust by Elfriede Jelinek, translated from the German by Michael Hulse
Thomas Hardy by Claire Tomalin
Thomas Bernhard: The Making of an Austrian by Gitta Honegger
Frost by Thomas Bernhard, translated from the German by Michael Hofmann
Samuel Beckett: The Grove Centenary Edition edited by Paul Auster, with introductions by Colm Tóibìn, Salman Rushdie, Edward Albee, and J.M. Coetzee
How It Was: A Memoir of Samuel Beckett by Anne Atik
Beckett Remembering, Remembering Beckett: A Centenary Celebration edited by James and Elizabeth Knowlson
Beckett After Beckett edited by S.E. Gontarski and Anthony Uhlmann
Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte, translated from the Italian by Cesare Foligno, with an afterword by Dan Hofstadter
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco, translated from the Italian by Geoffrey Brock
Mussolini: A New Life by Nicholas Farrell
Mussolini by R.J.B. Bosworth
On the Fiery March: Mussolini Prepares for War by G. Bruce Strang
South Tyrol: A Minority Conflict of the Twentieth Century by Rolf Steininger
Ohne meinen Segen: Die Lebenserinnerungen der Unterfurner Bäuerin by Adelheid Vorhauser Rabensteiner
Südtirol im Dritten Reich/L’Alto Adige nel Terzo Reich, 1943–1945 edited by Gerald Steinacher
The History of the South Tyrol Question by Antony Evelyn Alcock
Die Walsche by Joseph Zoderer
SS Proleterka by Fleur Jaeggy, translated from the Italian by Alastair McEwen
The Moon and the Bonfires by Cesare Pavese, translated from the Italian by R.W. Flint, and with an introduction by Mark Rudman
The Selected Works of Cesare Pavese translated from the Italian and with an introduction by R.W. Flint
Disaffections: Complete Poems 1930–1950 by Cesare Pavese, translated from the Italian by Geoffrey Brock
The Harvesters by Cesare Pavese, translated from the Italian by A.E. Murch
Il mestiere di vivere: Diario 1935–1950 by Cesare Pavese, edited by Marziano Guglielminetti and Laura Nay, with an introduction by Cesare Segre
An Absurd Vice: A Biography of Cesare Pavese by Davide Lajolo, translated from the Italian and with an introduction by Mario and Mark Pietralunga
D.H. Lawrence: A Biography by Jeffrey Meyers
The Letters of D.H. Lawrence: Volume 8 edited by James T. Boulton
The Cambridge Companion to D.H. Lawrence edited by Anne Fernihough
The Complete Critical Guide to D.H. Lawrence by Fiona Becket
Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence by Geoff Dyer
Body of Truth: D.H. Lawrence: The Nomadic Years, 1919–1930 by Philip Callow
Living at the Edge: A Biography of D.H. Lawrence and Frieda von Richthofen by Michael Squires and Lynn K. Talbot
April Blood: Florence and the Plot Against the Medici by Lauro Martines
Cosimo de’ Medici and the Florentine Renaissance by Dale Kent
The Medici, Michelangelo, and the Art of Late Renaissance Florence by Cristina Acidini Luchinat and eleven others
Famous Women by Giovanni Boccaccio,edited and translated from the Latin by Virginia Brown
L’odore dei soldi (The Smell of Money) by Marco Travaglio
L’Italia che ho in mente (The Italy I Have in Mind) by Silvio Berlusconi
Italian Politics 1998: The Return of Politics edited by David Hine and Salvatore Vassallo
Italian Politics 1999: The Faltering Transition edited by Mark Gilbert and Gianfranco Pasquino
Selected Non-Fictions Jorge Luis Borges, edited by Eliot Weinberger, translated by Esther Allen, Suzanne Jill Levine, and Eliot Weinberger
Vertigo by W.G. Sebald, Translated from the German by Michael Hulse
Leopardi: A Study in Solitude by Iris Origo
Images and Shadows: Part of a Life by Iris Origo
All’apparir del vero: Vita di Giacomo Leopardi by Rolando Damiani
Imagining Robert: My Brother, Madness, and Survival by Jay Neugeboren
Transforming Madness by Jay Neugeboren
Storie permesse, storie proibite: polarità semantiche familiari e psicopatologie by Valeria Ugazio
An Equal Music by Vikram Seth
The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie
Blindness by José Saramago, Translated from the Portuguese by Giovanni Pontiero
Collected Poems 1920-1954 by Eugenio Montale, translated and annotated by Jonathan Galassi
A Ghost in Trieste by Joseph Cary, drawings by Nicholas Read
Could this be the function, then, or at least one important function of fiction: to make us aware of our differences?
Can one ever know “too much” about a writer? Take the delicate case of Primo Levi.
What is it about ambiguity that it is so highly praised in literature? Above all, how did it come to take on, at least for some, a cloak of liberal righteousness, to shift from being an aesthetic to a moral virtue?
What happens when we read? The mind is not devising a key to decipher the text, it is disposing itself in such a way as to allow the text to become a key that unlocks sensation and “meaning” in the mind.
Is re-reading a gradual and always positive accumulation of greater and greater control and retention of a book, or is it rather a precarious process in which each new engagement with the text cancels and alters earlier ones?
How is it possible that even when I know nothing about a novelist’s life I find, on reading his or her book, that I am developing an awareness of the writer that is quite distinct from my response to the work?
“What do we see when we read (other than the words on the page)?” asks Peter Mendelsund in a welcome and fascinating new book. Or more precisely, “What do we picture in our minds?”
Is there a relationship between the quantity of books available to us, the ease with which they can be written and published, and our reading experience?
Can a writer’s original inspiration survive success?
“Are these real concerns? Is this work convincing?” Behind all the other questions one asks oneself about a novel, these are perhaps the most determining.
Now that the whole world is my neighbor, my immediate Internet neighbor, do I make any concessions at all, or do I uphold the ancient tradition of satire at all costs?
If reading is a skill, there must be techniques and tools that all can use or try, even if they use them differently.
There is something predatory, cruel even, about a pen suspended over a work of literature. Like a hawk over a field, it is on the lookout for something vulnerable.
Hasn’t it all been done before? Perhaps better than anyone today could ever do it? If so, why read contemporary novels?
It has long been a commonplace that fiction provides a way to break taboos and talk about potentially embarrassing experiences. But what happens if the main obstacles to free and direct expression fall away?
What is the social function of the novel? Conversation. A shared subject of discussion. Something complex for minds to meet around.
We have an absolutely false, energy-consuming, nit-picking attachment to an outdated procedure that now has much more to do with the sad psychology of academe than with the need to guarantee that the research is serious.
“Frankly, I don’t mind what they’re reading, Twilight, Harry Potter, whatever. So long as they are reading something there’s at least a chance that one day they’ll move on to something better.” How many times have we heard this opinion expressed?
Is there any consistent relationship between a book’s quality and its sales? Or again between the press and critics’ response to a work and its sales? Are these relationships stable over time or do they change?
The conditions in which we read today are not those of fifty or even thirty years ago, and the big question is how contemporary fiction will adapt to these changes.
Many authors have sold or bequeathed their manuscripts to appropriate archives. What has changed is that writers are now being pursued on the basis of a few years celebrity, and invited to sell their correspondence even before it is written.
Last night I walked out of a play. It was too painful. Too boring. At the same time I understood why so much that is experimental in literature has come to us via the theater.
Most writers complain about the people who come to hear them talk. Or rather the questions they ask.
Over the past year or two I’ve realized how much the organization of the books in my childhood home still influences my reading and reviewing.
Can a novel that will affect the author’s closest relationships be written without any concern for the consequences?
Why do literary biographers feel a need to depict their subjects as especially admirable human beings?
Can people change their lives? Can novelists change the kind of stories they write?
Why do people have such a high regard for authors, even when they don’t read?
Will the West slowly and voluptuously choke on a mounting tangle of red tape, meantime entertaining itself to death with a mountain of literature that describes and charmingly castigates the whole scandalous process?
What is literary style and why is it bound to change as the novel rapidly goes global?
More and more I wonder if it is possible for a novel not to give me the immediate impression of being manipulated toward goals that are predictable and unquestioned.
Nothing prejudices the way readers come to an article more than its headline. Nothing is more likely to make them believe, even after reading it through, that the author has said something he or she has not said.
Vote me out of jail, or I will bring the country down with me. This, essentially, is the message Silvio Berlusconi has just sent to the Italian government, one that clarifies at last the nature of what is at stake in Italy.
How far is the trajectory of an author’s writing career and the themes that guide it related to the moment and nature of his or her death?
How does Leopardi’s cosmic pessimism, as it’s sometimes called, affect my translation? As one reads the Zibaldone one can’t help feeling that one has heard its voice elsewhere.
Do we as readers subconsciously correct the books we read to make them conform to our expectations? How far can such corrections go?
Giacomo Leopardi was special to the point of idiosyncrasy. How do you translate him?
How long should this post be? A thousand words? Exactly?
It is impossible not to wish to interpret or somehow understand intense dreams, especially when they are repeated, or come in series and with infinite variations. The potent combination of urgency and enigma gives you the impression that there is something you need to know, something crucial and at the same time elusive.
What is the status of translated texts? Are they essentially different from texts in their original form?
It is essential for the creative writer that there be, or be perceived to be, a usual way of saying things, if a new or unusual way is to stand out and to provoke some excitement.
Despite my hailing from England—a country that still uses miles—I had expressed distances in meters and kilometers and it seemed odd now to find my Italian characters speaking to each other about yards and miles and, of course, Fahrenheit, which they never would. Or saying AM and PM, rather than using the twenty-four-hour clock as they mostly do, even in ordinary conversation.
It’s always exciting to think about works of art or literature in relation to the person who made them, especially if you have some direct acquaintance with the artist. The usual order of events, of course, is that you grow familiar with the work and later meet the man or woman behind it, at an opening or a reading or some social event. What matters, then, is that the artist be on a par with the art, and for a serious admirer, disappointment is almost inevitable. But things are quite different when you know the artist well before you see the work, and even more so when you actually grew up with him.
In 1904, three years after the first Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to the French poet Sully Prudhomme, the English Football Association chose not to participate in the formation of an International Football Federation (FIFA). They could not see the point. Nor in 1930, the year in which Sinclair Lewis won the Nobel, did England participate in the first World Cup: the English objected to the prospect of a ten-day ocean crossing to Uruguay to play teams that meant nothing to them. The first international football game, they pointed out, had been between England and Scotland, in 1872—a time when Alfred Nobel was still focused on improving his dynamite. Who needs Argentina or Brazil when you have Scotland to play?
How should a novelist feel on seeing his work translated, completely, not just into another medium, but also another culture? Last night I opened a DVD package with the title Stille (Silence), put it into my computer, and sat down to watch. Actually, I received this DVD a month ago. It is an Austrian film production of my novel Cleaver. I did not look at it at once because I was in denial. I have been generously paid for the rights to film, I am delighted it has been made and grateful to the producer for pushing it through, but Cleaver was written in English and had an English hero from a specific milieu—a journalist and documentary film maker who, as the book opens, has carried out, for the BBC, a destructive interview of an American president easily recognizable as Bush.
“If a book is really good, it will reach out to everyone, the world over,” one of the directors of the Edinburgh Book Festival tells me. We’re attending a reception at the National Gallery of Scotland to celebrate a loan of nineteen Dutch paintings from the seventeenth century, housed for many years in glorious isolation in a stately home on the Isle of Bute, along with the publication of Dutch writer Herman Koch’s new novel, The Dinner.
I am known in England mainly for light, though hopefully thoughtful non-fiction; in Italy for polemical newspaper articles and a controversial book about soccer; in Germany, Holland, and France, for what I consider my “serious” novels Europa, Destiny, Cleaver; in the USA for literary criticism; and in a smattering of other countries, but also in various academic communities, for my translations and writing on translation. Occasionally I receive emails that ask, “But are you also the Tim Parks who…?,” Frequently readers get my nationality wrong. They don’t seem to know where I’m coming from or headed to.
Do I, as an author, have the right to prevent people copying my books for free? Should I have it? Does it matter? Officially the idea is that the writer, artist, or musician should be allowed to reap the just rewards for his effort. This is quaint. There is very little justice in the returns artists receive. Somebody becomes a millionaire overnight and someone else cannot even publish. What we are talking about, more brutally, is preventing other people from making money from my work without paying me a tribute, because my work belongs to me. It’s mine. What we are talking about is ownership and control.
Let’s talk about money. In his history of world art, E. H. Gombrich mentions a Renaissance artist whose uneven work was a puzzle, until art historians discovered some of his accounts and compared incomes with images: paid less he worked carelessly; well-remunerated he excelled. So, given the decreasing income of writers over recent years—one thinks of the sharp drop in payments for freelance journalism and again in advances for most novelists, partly to do with a stagnant market for books, partly to do with the liveliness and piracy of the Internet—are we to expect a corresponding falling off in the quality of what we read?
By far the main protagonist of twentieth century literature must be the chattering mind, which usually means the mind that can’t make up its mind, the mind postponing action in indecision and, if we’re lucky, poetry.
About 56 percent of Europeans speak a second language, and for 38 percent of them that language is English. In Scandinavia and the Netherlands the figure is more like 90 percent. Even where the percentage is smaller we are nevertheless talking about the most educated part of the community, those more likely to be reading novels, particularly literary novels. Inevitably, as the number of people speaking English increases, so do the sales of novels in English. But not enormously. The surprise is that increased knowledge of English has also brought a much more marked increase in sales of literature written in English but read in translation in the local language.
“Walk around a university campus,” fumed Geoff Dyer in Out of Sheer Rage, “and there is an almost palpable smell of death about the place because hundreds of academics are busy killing everything they touch.”
Is the novel a space of intense engagement with the world, of risk and adventure? Or is it a place of refuge, of hanging back from life?
“I love the new DeLillo.”
“And I hate it.”
It’s a familiar conversation: like against dislike with no possible resolution. Or alternatively: “I can’t see why Freedom upsets you so much. I didn’t like it either, but who cares?” Interest against disinterest; as when your wife/brother/friend/colleague raves about some Booker or Pulitzer winner and you feel vaguely guilty. “Sure,” you agree, “great writing, intriguing stuff.” But the truth is you just couldn’t find the energy to finish the book. Is there anything we can say about such different responses?
Or must we just accept De gustibus non disputandum est? The fact is that traditional critical analysis, however brilliant, however much it may help us to understand a novel, rarely alters the color of our initial response. Enthusiasm or disappointment may be confirmed or attenuated, but only exceptionally reversed. We say: James Wood/Colm Tóibín/Michiko Kakutani admires the book and has given convincing reasons for doing so, but I still feel it is the worst kind of crowd-pleaser. Let me offer a possible explanation that has been developing in my mind over a decade and more.
“There are no images.” This was the first time I noticed Riccardo Manzotti. It was a conference on art and neuroscience. Someone had spoken about the images we keep in our minds. Manzotti seemed agitated.
Let’s tackle one of the literary set’s favorite orthodoxies head on: that the world “needs stories.” “There is an enormous need,” Jonathan Franzen declares in an interview with Corriere della Sera (there’s no escape these days), “for long, elaborate, complex stories, such as can only be written by an author concentrating alone, free from the deafening chatter of Twitter.” But what is the nature of this need? What would happen if it wasn’t met?
Are there occasions when we might choose to leave off a book before the end, or even only half way through, and nevertheless feel that it was good, even excellent? That we were glad we read what we read, but don’t feel the need to finish it? I ask the question because this is happening to me more and more often. Is it age, wisdom, senility? I start a book. I’m enjoying it thoroughly, and then the moment comes when I just know I’ve had enough. It’s not that I’ve stopped enjoying it. I’m not bored, I don’t even think it’s too long. I just have no desire to go on enjoying it. Can I say then that I’ve read it? Can I recommend it to others and speak of it as a fine book?
Since when did being a writer become a career choice, with appropriate degree courses and pecking orders? In the last thirty or forty years, the writer has become someone who works on a well-defined career track, like any other middle class professional, not, however, to become a craftsman serving the community, but to project an image of himself (partly through his writings, but also in dozens of other ways) as an artist who embodies the direction in which culture is headed. In short, the next big new thing. Does this state of affairs make any difference to what gets written?
It is all too easy to defend the e-book. We can buy a text instantly wherever we are in the world. We pay less. We use no paper, occupy no space. Kindle’s wireless system keeps our page, even when we open the book on a different reader than the one we left off. But I want to go beyond practicality to the reading experience itself, our engagement with the text. What is it that literary men and women are afraid of losing should the paper novel really go into decline?
What would it mean for a country to change, profoundly? What real news would we get of that and how would it feel to its citizens? Would it necessarily be a good thing? A few months ago, when the Greek crisis made it clear that being a member of the Eurozone did not mean having access to unlimited credit on equal terms with countries like Germany and France, Italy was suddenly in trouble. Snoozing for years in a debt-funded decadence, all at once the country found lenders demanding unsustainable interest rates, as if this were some shaky third-world economy trying to borrow in a foreign currency. Very soon something would have to give.
If there is a problem with the novel, and I’m agreed that there is, it is not because it doesn’t participate in modern technology, can’t talk about it or isn’t involved with it; I can download in seconds on my Kindle a novel made up entirely of emails or text messages. Perhaps the problem is rather a slow weakening of our sense of being inside a society with related and competing visions of the world to which we make our own urgent narrative contributions; this being replaced by the author who takes courses to learn how to create a product with universal appeal, something that can float in the world mix, rather than feed into the immediate experience of people in his own culture.
Let us remember our most intense experiences of poetry in our mother tongue, reading Eliot and Pound as adolescents perhaps, Frost and Wallace Stevens, Auden and Geoffrey Hill, then coming back to them after many years, discovering how much more was there than we had imagined, picking up echoes of other literature we have read since, seeing how the poet shifted the sense of this or that word slightly, and how this alters the tone and feeling of the whole.
Now imagine that, having a poet friend who wishes to translate these authors, you offer a literal translation of their poems in your second language. Maybe you read The Four Quartets out loud, line by line, to give him the cadence. But does our translator friend, who doesn’t know our language well, hear what we hear when we read aloud?
So the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer wins the Nobel prize for literature. Aside from a couple of long poems available on the net, I haven’t read Tranströmer, yet I feel sure this is a healthy decision in every way. Above all for the Nobel jury. Let me explain.
If one suggests that the international literary market is also a power game where different nations set their cultural and political might against each other in bestseller lists and international prizes, one inevitably arouses a certain amount of hostility from those who like to think of literature as operating in a more idealized world of noble aspiration and expression.
Often it feels like Jonathan Franzen’s characters only exist as an alibi for what is really a journalistic and encyclopedic endeavor to list everything American.
For any practitioner of Zen who imagines he has achieved a state of detached equanimity, the ultimate test must be to watch his national side play at soccer’s World Cup. That England’s team is dull, I tell myself after the first game, I can handle; that they are truly dire, I reflect after the second and third, is perhaps only par for the course. When, in their first knockout match, England goes 2–0 down to a fluent and attractive Germany, it seems the perfect opportunity for resignation and acceptance.
Not all writers share the same sense of whom they are writing for. Many may not even think they are directing their work at any audience in particular. All the same, there are clearly periods of history when, across the board, authors’ perceptions of who their readers are change, something that inevitably leads to a change in the kind of text they produce. The most obvious example is the period that stretches from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century when writers all over Europe abandoned Latin for the vernacular. Instead of introducing their work, as before, into an international arena presided over by a largely clerical elite, they “descended” to local and national languages to address themselves to an emerging middle class.
What happens in the brain when we look at a painting, listen to music, read a book? This was the subject of Neuroesthetics: When Art and the Brain Collide, a workshop conference at IULM University Milan bringing together a mix of neurobiologists and art historians. The atmosphere was tense and expectant, the art folk anxious that they wouldn’t understand a word, the biologists concerned that their work would seem underwhelming and wrongheaded.