Autobiography of a Corpse


By Brendan Byrne.

The opening and titular story of the NYRB’s second collection of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s short fiction Autobiography of Corpse features a typical (for the time) protagonist, a journalist from the provinces with a typical (for the time) quest, the search for a room in newly Soviet Moscow which is accomplished in a deeply atypical (for any time) manner. Housing is a theme which crops up repeatedly in Russian fiction from the 1920s, most notably in Zamyatin’s story ‘The Cave’ and Serge’s novel City Under Siege. What makes Krzhizhanovsky’s fiction stand out is not its unacceptability to the Soviet state’s nascent notions of socialist realism (both Zamyatin, Serge, and host of other writers were censored, exiled, ignored, and/or shot) but its combination of post-Gogolian fantastical grotesque and perverse Cartesian metaphysics with explicit Kantian overtones. Krzhizhanovsky isn’t just weird for Moscow in 1925, he’s weird for anywhere and everytime.

The Night


By Brendan Byrne.


“Language is the poisoned air we live in. In spite of all our jokers, words don’t play; and in spite of Breton, they don’t make love except in dreams. Words work, to the profit of the dominant organisation of life.”

The above quote is from the polemic ‘All the King’s Men’ which appeared in Internationale Situationniste #8 in 1963, three years after Michèle Bernstein’s novel All the King’s Horses. The titles are not taken from the same source. The editors of Internationale Situationniste (of whom Bernstein was one) explicitly reference Humpty-Dumpty, whereas her novel takes its title from a traditional French ballad. In ‘Aux Marches du Palais’, the coupling of a royal and a commoner is imagined, creating what Greil Marcus called “as deep and singular an image of revolution as there was ever been”. This different ethic of love fuels the shared plot (such as it is) of All the Kings Horses and its successor The Night (1961): a married couple’s seduction and abandonment of two young lovers. All the King’s Horses tells the story in an irony on the style of Françoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse. The Night mimics Alain Robbe-Grillet’s nouveau roman, fracturing the more or less undisturbed chronology of its predecessor.

Je est un autre


The January issue of The White Review is a translation issue, edited by Daniel Medin, and features

Variations on a theme


Adam Thirlwell interviewed by Susan Tomaselli.


In the British literary establishment (and let’s face it, named Granta Best Young Novelist not once but twice is ‘establishment’), Adam Thirlwell is something of a Trojan horse: ‘Good novelists (or, maybe more honestly, the novelists I like) are often not just avant-garde in terms of technique; they are morally avant-garde as well.’ His novels – Politics (2003), The Escape (2009) – use Milan Kundera and Philip Roth as templates, and feature digressions on Osip Mandelstam, the Bauhaus and Saul Bellow, to name but a few. With their narratorial interventions and other unconventional stylistic quirks, they flaunt the rules of sexual comedies. But Thirlwell is a master of turning ideas upside down and inside out, no more so than in his novella Kapow! (2012), a response to the Arab Spring that uses typography, fold-out pages and wordplay to mimic the noisy confusion of events as they emerged on Twitter and YouTube. It is the missing link between Tristram Shandy and the Lissitzky designed For the Voice. Thirlwell has always been interested in the international and the experimental, and his Miss Herbert (2007), named for an English governess who may or may not have been Flaubert’s mistress, and may or may not have helped him translate Madame Bovary, is his understanding of the possibilities of translation through a miniature history of the novel (or, an ‘anti-novel, with novelists as characters,’ as he puts it). It’s a theme he continues to explore in Multiples (2013), a ‘project for multiplying novels in any language,’ inspired, partly, by Augusto Monterroso.

Encounter at the crossroads of Europe


Will Stone, translator of Stefan Zweig‘s Nietzsche [a gorse read of 2013], on Zweig and Emile Verhaeren.

In Berlin, apart from his studies and bohemian indulgences, Zweig sought a more expansive freedom in literary terms, and caught the bug of translation. He began to explore further afield, even translating poets such as Keats and Yeats and producing with other translators a collection of Verlaine’s poetry to which he added a critically acclaimed introduction. But all the time he was moving closer to Belgium, drawn by the rich crop of its home grown artists and writers who seemed to integrate their works in fresh and creatively productive ways. So in the summer break of 1902, long anticipating a visit to the ‘little land between the languages’, Zweig made his move.


The vital importance of Zweig’s meeting with Verhaeren in relation to his ensuing career as a writer, emissary of humanism and key proponent for the higher ideal of a Europe of cultural unity, cannot be underestimated. The contrast between Verhaeren’s openness, curiosity, vitality, not to mention the explicit visionary credentials he held, and the self conscious dandified Viennese poetry circles Zweig had moved within was extreme. It was if Zweig himself had suddenly been released from a reserve of pampered elites into the rawness and unpredictability of the wild and could finally breathe real air, taste real food and appreciate the creative potential of risk and unpredictability. In Verhaeren’s verses he saw bold new vistas opening up which seemed to strike a necessary chord with the rapidly transforming epoch, as the fabled ‘golden age of security’, guarded by the Hapsburg realm unceremoniously gave way to something far more restless, ominous and uncertain.