Tuesday, April 28, 2009
On Sunday, April 5, I showed up at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy on 79th St. and 5th Ave., checked my coat, and made my way up the grand stairs to the invitation-only brunch. The group was much smaller than I had expected, maybe 40 people snacking on (quite decent) cheese and charcuterie on the second floor landing of that very impressive building (I felt like I was on the set of a Resnais/Robbe-Grillet feature, or, more precisely, the decadent French consulate in India in Duras's India Song). I filled myself with St. Albray, Morbier, and soppressata and a few glasses of white wine as I tried to figure out how to approach the members of Oulipo, these semi-mythical figures who were standing right next to me. I had been counting on Harry Mathews being there to show me around. We still haven't met in person, to my regret, but we have at least corresponded a fair amount. Rescue came in the form of Claire B., one of the hosts from the embassy (with whom I bonded about food and drink—she does a quite impressive food blog that is well worth a visit). I told her of my plight and she introduced me to the nearest Oulipian, Hervé Le Tellier, who, to my great surprise, said "Matt Madden, I have all of your books!" and revealed himself to be something of a comics geek. We talked about Oubapo's activities and he showed me on his iPhone some illustrated poems he does for Le Monde. As for Oubapo, Le Tellier is particularly impressed by the work of Etiènne Lecroart, whose Bandes de Sonnets (comics following the sonnet form to various degrees) was reviewed by Dr. Bart Beaty a while back on The Comics Reporter and is indeed and impressive achivievement.
Not without some logistical difficulty, I managed to get another attendee to snap a few shots of us:
We milled around a while longer and Hervé made a quick introduction to Marcel Bénabou, then we all moved to the adjacent room for a fairly brief reading. In the course of the getting settled I managed to meet Jean-Jacques Poucel, a Yale professor and editor of the Drunken Boat Oulipo issue which features my comics, and also Lee Berman, founder of an interesting experimental website called UpRightDown which I'll post about here sometime soon. (Lee also posted a report about the week's event's here.) The one person I didn't get to meet was Michael Silverblatt, host of the wonderful LA-based radio show Bookworm. He's a great booster of Oulipo and experimental, formalist writing in general.
The members present did a quick reading, alternating French (sometimes then translated into English, usually not) and English. Jacques Roubaud read an entertaining piece from The Loop dealing with familial confusion about which train station exit young Roubaud was meant to meet up with his grandfather. Next, Le Tellier read a very meta excerpt from a novel where the narrator introduces, with merciless frankness, a protagonist in full-on mid-life crisis mode.
Ian Monk then read a few sonnets, whose constraints he declined to reveal and which I wasn't able to pick up on in a single hearing. Later on he read an amusing piece call "The 9 Ages of Man" (expanding Shakespeare's 7 to include pre-birth and death) which in places was quite expeltive-filled, to the scandalized delight of the 12 year old sitting in front of me.
Then Marcel Bénabou, whom I forgot to photograph, read the also meta, and rather Calvino-esque introduction to his book Jette ce livre avant qu'il soit trop tard, published in English as Dump This Book While You Still Can. The intro consists in a narrator trying to convince you not to read the book you are reading but despairing of being able to (because obviously if you're reading his words, you haven't dumped the book yet).
Anne Garréta, about whom I was only able to find this short page in French, talked about some of her earlier constrained work that combined formal constraints with issues of identity politics, such as her novel Sphinx, which is a love story where the genders of the characters are never specified. She then read from a novel (Pas un jour, I believe) with a Roubaud-inspired (it seemed to me) writing schedule constraint: every day for a certain amount of time (a month?) she would write for five hours on her memories of a single instance of love or desire. She then changed all the names, assigning each one a letter of the alphabet and subsequently re-ordered her writings so that they followed the alphabetical order of each character. The excerpt she read was about a light night road trip along the east coast (I remember the Merritt Parkway figuring into it) and didn't mention a particular character, just the sense that the narrator must be heading to see someone important.
After the reading I got to meet Roubaud who, it turns out, owned a copy of the French edition of 99 Ways to Tell a Story and was au courant about my association with Oubapo. I gave copies of A Fine Mess #2, featuring my alphabetically constrained "Prisoner of Zembla" and my comics sestina "The Six Treasures of the Spiral" to him and the other Oulipians (though I unfortunately didn't get to meet Garréta). Le Tellier gave me a copy of his book of illustrated poems, Les Opossums Célèbres, signed to me "oulipiennement". I was disappointed not to get a chance to really spend time with any of them but Le Tellier invited me to come to an Oulipo meeting in Paris next time I'm there so that gives me extra motivation to go back asap, as if I needed it! Read more...
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Alexander, Greg Roth, Nethery Engelbom, Wes Soriano, Pat Woodruff)
1. Most interesting for the general public will be Fresh Meat, the mini-comics convention for SVA cartooning students. You'll find a range from first efforts to polished silk-screened artbooks for sale. Come check out the superstars of tomorrow!
Friday, May 1
Fresh Meat, SVA’s In-house Comic Convention
6 – 8 pm
217 East 23 Street (SVA's Student Center "Monkeybar Lounge")
The following Tuesday there are two events, both of which are worth attending, though they are on opposite sides of the island:
2. Tuesday, May 5
Cartooning Open Studios --this will be an informal exhibit of work by current graduating seniors in SVA's cartooning program.
5 – 8 pm
380 Second Avenue, 7th floor (enter on 22nd Street east of 2nd Ave., the door past the wheelchair ramp)
3. The MFA Illustration show will be open for two weeks but the opening reception is also Tuesday May 5. I don't know most of the work in this batch but it should be worth checking out on the strengths of two former students of mine: Josh Bayer and Edwin Vasquez.
MFA Illustration as Visual Essay Department Thesis Exhibition
Visual Arts Gallery, 601 West 26 Street, 15th floor
(near Chelsea Piers)
Monday - Saturday, 10am - 6pm
Reception: Tuesday, May 5, 6 - 8pm Read more...
Thursday, April 16, 2009
On Thursday April 3 I made my way to Idlewild bookstore near Union Square for a reading by Jacques Roubaud of excerpts in English from Dalkey Archive's newly-published translation of The Loop, the second novel in the six-book cycle of novels collectively known as "The Great Fire of London". Roubaud read two excerpts from the book, the first a playful essay on children's relationships with their "security blankets" (a term he disapproves of, frowning in mock-reproach at Charles Schulz for popularizing it), the second a series of inter-related memories about his childhood in WWII, when his parents were part of the Résistance, provoked by some amateur film footage seen on a hotel TV in London in the 1980s.
One audience member asked Roubaud about reading his work translated into English and he lamented his inability to hear past the imperfections of his accent. When the audience member pursued the thought by asking whether that was true even when he read silently to himself he emphatically answered yes: "I always read with my ears. And sometimes with my feet."
The next morning I went to NYU's Maison Française in Washington Mews to see Oulipian Ian Monk (one of the few non-French members) and translator/biographer David Bellos discussing the work of Georges Perec and specifically their work as his translators. (I'm afraid I don't have any pictures but Tom Motley was sitting behind me sketching the whole time.) It was an interesting talk and shed some light on Perec's methods and thoughts about writing under constraint. Apparently he came to regret how much he had revealed about the structure of Life A Users Manual, fearing that people would read it not as a novel but merely as a kind of treasure hunt. In a related way, many of his constraints for that novel have built-in flaws assuring that there would still be human blood coursing through the Rube-Goldbergesque contraption that is the novel's structure. I was struck by how often David Bellos referenced "exercises in style" (never specifically mentioning Queneau but clearly having him in mind) as a principle underlying Life A Users Manual and Perec's work in general. Specifically, I came away wondering if the 99 chapters of that novel (technically the constraints call for 100) wasn't an homage of sorts to Queneau.
Two revelations about the Perec book Three, which Monk translated: first of all, David S Godine apparently botched Monk's painstaking index of all the rhetorical devices Perec used in "Which Moped..."; second, I read and enjoyed "A Gallery Portrait" a few years ago without realizing that the paintings described (there are 99 of them as it turns out) can be read as riffs on all the chapters of Life A Users Manual.
After the event I introduced myself to Ian Monk and we talked for a minute about Oubapo. He was also particularly intrigued by Jessica's idea for Oujapo, or the workshop for potential gardening. I owe him an e-mail about it.
One enticing tidbit that came out of the Q&A is the fact that Monk (who has done acclaimed translations of Raymond Roussel as well, in fact I'm waiting for a copy of his New Impressions of Africa in the mail) has a complete translation of Perec's La Disparition which he submitted to the publisher literally weeks after they had signed on Gilbert Adair, who translated the book--with considerable liberties and embellishments, of which Monk showed scant approval (see his lipogrammatic critique in Writings for Oulipo)--as A Void. I suggested he should make his translation available, if only through unofficial/private channels, but I'm not going to hold my breath for it. Read more...
The original drawing is (black) india ink. I really like how this turned out, even if it's way wrong. Read more...