Rise of the machines

Brendan Byrne on Nanni Balestrini’s 1966 experimental novel Tristano.

When composing Tristano, Balestrini used a computer algorithm to shuffle the sentences of the ten paragraphs which comprise each of the ten chapters. The exact methodology is not clear, but it was likely similar to the process he used for an earlier computer-manipulated text, Tape Mark 1 (1961). For that work, snippets of Lao Tzu, Michihito Hachiya, and Paul Goldwin were divided into fifteen short phrases and then remixed combinatorially by an IBM 7070 and a program comprising 322 punched cards to create short texts, each a unique sequence of ten elements.



Maya Jaggi‘s letter from Croatia.

‘We’re all more or less writers of a disappeared world,’ says Miljenko Jergović, a Croatian who feels an affinity with Joseph Roth, Stefan Zweig and Robert Musil, who all wrote after the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Born in Sarajevo, Jergović endured 18 months of siege before fleeing to Zagreb. The tender, ironic war stories of Sarajevo Marlboro (1994) and Mama Leone (1999) are published in English translation by Archipelago Books. Rod (‘Kin’), his latest novel and a bestseller last autumn, is a thousand-page autobiographical saga charting successive wars through his own ancestors. ‘It’s about burying everything of mine that is dead. My close ones are dead. My city no longer exists. Every place for me is a non-place.’

Talent for humiliation


Karl Ove Knausgård sets up ‘Come Together,’ his New Yorker short story (adapted from My Struggle: Book Three: Boyhood).

When it comes to memories of that iconic type, memories that are burned into you, I have maybe ten or so from my childhood. I’m a bad rememberer of situations. I forget almost everything as soon as it happens. But when it comes to landscapes and rooms, it’s different. I think I remember every single room that I have been in from the age of seven.

Meandering presences


Slate on Sebald’s A Place in the Country.

Whenever I read the work of the late German writer W.G. Sebald, I get distracted here and there by a preoccupation with the fact that he worked for most of his life as an academic. Probably this is because I’ve spent many of my years in a similar environment, and I often wonder about the formative pressures this has exerted, over time, on my own writing and thinking. His relationship with the academy was not that of the standard contemporary writer, who is typically housed within the disciplinary annex of “creative writing” and who does not concern himself with the business of academia per se. Sebald, although he did also teach creative writing, was a full-blown scholar, a company man of long standing who lectured in the department of German literature at the University of East Anglia from 1970 until his death in 2001. In ways that are both subtle and pronounced, this shows through in his writing — in his essays and novels (which he preferred to call his “prose narratives”).