Enjoyable Hours (Answers)

A few days ago I posed three questions. Here are my answers:

1. It depends on what he means by ‘low point’. Turgidovsky’s fiction is deliberately depressing; in one sense, therefore, his novels are as ‘low’ as novels can get. If it is a question of quality, however, one must disagree with the critic in question. Turgidovsky may be an embittered misanthrope with a heart of coal, but he wields a semi-colon with the confidence of a classical master.

For all this, my experience of Andrey Torg suggests that to take him seriously is to wilfully waste the time of the world and oneself. Hyperbole is his plaything: he means not what he says, because he knows not what he means.

2. A title is just a title – or is it? A wise man once said that if a title is the front door of a book, than a clever reader ought to enter via the first-floor window. On top of this, I find that many titles suffer greatly in translation. In Spanish it may seem like a sensible idea to put a fruit in a title of a novel; in English it strikes one as desperate. There was a trend, once; a time in which the sounds chimed brightly. Now I only have to see the word ‘mango’ or ‘apricot’ in a book title to walk the other way.

3. There remains something of a difference of opinion over whether Yevgony Nonik ever existed, let alone when he died. I maintain, nevertheless, that I was either a.) in the bath, b.) reading a book or c.) engaging in a spot of illegal elvering.

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Conversation (State of Play)

Over breakfast, my wife says I’ve been sipping orange juice ‘angrily’. I deny the charge. She shrugs her slim shoulders. ‘In any case,’ she says, ‘you can’t say you haven’t massacred that egg’. I look down at my plate. It’s true: my spoon-work was a little on the violent side. ‘You sent egg shell to all four corners of the room,’ she notes, calmly. ‘What’s wrong?’

Nothing is wrong. Not really. Nothing too serious anyway. After all, I’ve been ignored before. In fact, I’ve been ignored pretty much all the way along. The obscure regions of European literature are just that: obscure. Not many people pass this way. That’s the way it has always been and the way it always will be. Yevgeny Nonik will never be found cosying up to a mouse-brained celebrity chef on the end-of-year bestseller lists. Not whilst I’m still living, anyway.

So why do I still harbour expectations? Why do I still imagine that I deserve a little more attention than I am currently receiving? Is it really so presumptuous to assume that an article on pineapples and active reading should attract more than the merest handful of fans it has so far gathered? Perhaps so.

Or perhaps I’m simply not going the right way about my business. I confess: things haven’t quite panned out as planned this year. The Underneath the Bunker site overhaul is, to all intents and purposes, several months behind schedule, whilst the Yevgeny Nonik book is, at present, almost non-existent. Other projects, meanwhile, meander with insouciance. Even this blog has been quieter than usual the last few weeks. But then you can’t blame me. This is all a lot of work for one man to get through with so little feedback. Even my hate-mail is on the decline. Sad times.

Still, 2010 is full of promise. The promise, not least, of more to come. For despite my present mood (brought about, mainly, by the ‘joys’ of the season) I have no intention of stopping. No, no, no. So long as eighty year old Andorrans are still writing experimental novels, so I will be writing about them. You haven’t got rid of me yet, apathetic non-readers! Georgy Riecke is still here, quietly spreading the sweet treacle of obscure european culture over the rough dry bread of contemporary criticism.

There, I’ve said it. Now, who’s ready for some half-hearted Christmas quizzing?

Panting for Nonik

As the deer pants for water, so our souls long for a collection of essays exploring the life and work of the late great Yevgeny Nonik, Russian madman and avant-garde writer extraordinaire. Earlier in the year I announced the existence of such a project, claiming that it would appear before the end of the year. Someone wrote in, mocking my confidence. I replied, mocking his mocking.

Did I speak too soon? It wouldn’t have been the first time. Still, I had every reason to believe that Full Stop?: A Tribute to Yevgeny Nonik would be completed before 2010 poked its mule-like head through December’s cheery pane of glass. What’s more, it should be said that Egg’s argument (for it was he) was illogical at best. It did not revolve around a sensible suspicion of publishing dates for important literary projects. It revolved around the fact that he doesn’t like me, and thinks I am lazy.

He may be startled to discover, therefore, that any setbacks from which the Nonik project has suffered (and there have been a few) cannot be blamed on my having done too little work, but too much. A hungry child first in line at a church buffet has less on its plate than I do at the moment. Eschewing my duties I am most certainly not. Duty and I roll in the hay like two young lovers. I barely have time to pause for breath.

What does all this amount to? Well, firstly, I think I can safely say that the Yevgeny Nonik book will be arriving a little later than I’d hoped it would. When it does arrive, however, I can confidently claim that it will be much the better for its long gestation period. When one oversees a project as important as the first collection of critical essays on Yevgeny Nonik, one doesn’t wish to scrimp on quality. Suffice it to say, the wait will have been worth while.

Secondly, there are other projects on the horizon (if not a little closer than that). One of these is at least as exciting as the Nonik book, if not more. In fact, I’m almost certain that it will stuff a sock into the mouths of all my critics. I can’t say any more than this at present, for various reasons, but I trust that this is enough to turn all your anticipation meters up to some high number (seventy-seven, perhaps, or eighty-two).

Needless to say, more on this later.

Life in the Swamp

It causes me much regret to say so, but posts may be slightly thin on the ground for the next few weeks or so, as I find myself swamped by a not-so-heavenly host of pug-faced problems, ranging from computer crises to work-related worries.

You will recall, no doubt, that I have been working on a publication which combines, at long last, the complete writings of Yevgeny Nonik with a selection of academic essays exploring his life and work (first mentioned here). You may also recall that some poor fools had the cheek to doubt that this book would, as promised, be made available for public consumption before the end of the year (see here). One may be tempted to ask – is there, at this point in time, any fear of failure? To which, in reply, I offer a resounding ‘no!’ As things stand, the book will appear before the end of the year, though this very space may suffer as a result.

In light of this I think I ought to remind readers of the purpose of this blog. It was not designed, as some think, to replace Underneath the Bunker, but to serve as an alternative space: a place to wander whilst the other website underwent a few changes. Though I have no intention of radically altering the current set-up, the golden goo of truth oozing out of the project at present informs me that a little more time needs to be spent ensuring that the aforementioned changes are made; and a little less time spent hanging out here. Whether this will become a reality remains to be seen. In any case, don’t expect me to disappear for too long. And remember that, if I ever do, there is more than plenty to be read in the meantime, both here and at the main site.

May the treacle of culture continue to drop upon your noble faces.

Full Stop Found?

In the last two days I have received a generous smattering of e-mails asking me to verify the fast-spreading rumour that a ‘large stack’ of material relating to the early career of Yevgeny Nonik (including, it is said, ‘two novels, full of full stops’) have just been ‘discovered by a family member’ (whose it is not said).

All I can say at this point is that this is a matter that requires further investigation –  and that any answers may have to wait until the publication of the Nonik tribute (due, as you know, later this year).

Now, back to Turgidovsky…

Hat Feast Pending

Further to yesterday’s announcement (see post below) I have received correspondence from an anonymous and cantakerous source (i.e. Aldous Egg):

Mr Riecke,

Hear me when I say that if this Nonik book of yours sees the light of day in 2009 I will eat my hat, your hat, your wife’s hat, Nonik’s hat, Carl Stensson’s hat, Heidi Kohlenberg’s hat, Jinpes Terenk’s hat, Johannes Speyer’s hat, Eva Holubk’s hat, Pyetr Turgidovsky’s hat, Napoleon’s hat, Margaret Thatcher’s hat, Aretha Franklin’s hat, the Cat in the Hat’s hat, the Mad Hatter’s hat, Magritte’s model’s hat, Van Eyck’s hat/turban, the wife of the man who mistook his wife for a hat and his hat too, Fritz Kakfa’s hat, Franz Kafka’s hat, Jean-Paul Sartre’s hat, Max Beerbohm’s hat, Harry Bensley’s hat/helmet, the Queen’s hat/crown, a workman’s hat, a surgeon’s hat, a hat-maker’s hat, a hustler’s hat and every hat worn by anyone who happens to be walking down my street on the last day of this dear year.

Well – what can one say? I hear you, Mr. Egg –  I hear you loud and clear. And let me say that it looks like quite a feast you’re preparing there, even when you consider the fact that 1) some of these people you list may not actually own a hat (e.g. Carl Stensson) or 2) they own hats which would, let’s be fair, be somewhat difficult to acquire.

Still, thanks for the feedback and I’ll take care to send you a copy of the book when it appears (which will, of course, be soon).

Tribute to Nonik

Offering further proof that Upside-Down-Then-Backwards has been not been swallowed by the dirty tidal wave of International Debt (see here), I am blushingly pleased to announce that Full Stop?: A Tribute to Yevgeny Nonik will be published sometime later this year. It will contain the full text of both Nonik’s novels (molasses pry with wantonness and subtle carnivores), along with a handful of critical essays (three or four, as things stand) and a poem or two composed in especial honour of the mad Russian writer.

For those who don’t know Nonik’s work, I direct you to my articles here and here – and to examples of Nonik’s work starting here.

Aside from (or seen in direct relation to) his insanity, the feature of Nonik’s work that has always got the critics salivating with abandon is his conspicuous aversion to full stops. This is something he seems to share with at least one other writer, a certain Mathias Énard, whose recent Zone covers more than five hundred pages without need of a second sentence. Of this it is written, nevertheless, that:

Much has been made of the 517-page sentence. Too much. Most French reviewers took it as the cue to yell experimental! The few English-language mentions that Zone has garnered on blogs and in newspapers have generally taken a similar approach. Let’s take this opportunity to set the record straight: nothing could be further from the truth than to call Zone an experimental book.  

Since ‘too much’ has already been said, I will say no more. Except perhaps this: Énard may not be experimental, but Nonik most certainly is.

More on this later.