Posts Tagged: Jonathan Safran Foer

Loui Lit here I come

My ticket for this year’s Louisiana Literature has arrived.
I am psyched and ready to dig my festival heels into the tarmac, up close and personal, first row baby, at the annual show of authors and audience galore.
Hoping that my smile and winks will get the attention of those heavenly, holy, saintly, divine, godly, godlike, ethereal, otherworldly; immortal, angelic, seraphic, cherubic beings, perhaps a quote, or at least a good snap with the hipster filter.

If you have any interest in names such as Patti Smith, Kerstin Ekman, Jonathan Safran Foer (you would), Cia Rinne (you should), Judith Schalansky – I could go on… so I will – Linn Ullmann, César Aira, Anne Carson and Tomas Espedal et cetera, and no interest in going to Louisiana to ogle (or you just plain and simple can’t), but still would                                                                                                               know what it was like; stick around kid.                                                                                                                     This might get interesting.

Refresh your memory of LouiLit last by checking this post out, or looking through the pictures here.
For a feature I made for Litteratursiden on the event in 2011 look here. (NB: it’s in Danish)

Also, I am on Twitter – if you want to follow the hopefully steady live-tweets.

…in Berlin

Books, paper and language course book

It’s been so long since I’ve posted anything, but I have had so much to do lately that I barely have had time to do my work, let alone anything extra curricular. But as the title would insinuate; I am in Berlin!!! This is the third week of my German Intensive course (out of four) and it is very hard, but I am starting to see very encouraging glimpses of hope in the horizon. It’s been so long since I have studied German grammar, and as those who try to learn it would agree with me, it is not really the easiest language to learn. The course is from 9 am to 3 pm every day (and then there are the Hausaufgaben), so I have little time to see the city – nonetheless, I make it a personal goal to see parts of Berlin every week, even if it is just a cup of coffee in a Kreuzberg café. Like they say, you can’t learn the language if you don’t use it in public (or I say…).
One of the lovely members of Beinglorious was in Berlin at the start of my course (for the umptheenth time :)) and we made a coffee date. She was very kind about my many uhh’s and aaahh’s and eeeeh’s, stuttering and butchering my way through sentences in German (she is German, just to clarify the situation), but I actually think it helped a lot – it’s only when you verbalise what you learn throughout the day in a stuffy classroom that you are aware of what you are saying and in what situation. We came past a second-hand bookshop and of course had to stop a couple of hours, browsing.

There was a lot of good literature in there, and I bought a couple of books, one of which was Ovid’s Love Books. We had a segment of his literature in one of the earliest semesters at uni. From what I can remember I found it very brazen, something I didn’t expect, and I am looking forward to reading it in German.

E-reader with Gertrude Stein as screensaver – what more could a gal ask for?

In other news, I am now the proud owner of my very own e-book reader!! Yessir, bobsky, hubby came to visit me in Berlin with a nice red packaged present containing an e-reader. He of all people can appreciate an affection for electronica, and so he thought it was only suitable, since I had been rambling on and off about e-readers the last 2 years, but never actually owned one, that I got one for myself 🙂 Unfortunately, I don’t have time to read in it so much these days, but I am betting on it being the best 3-hour wait in the terminal and 1-hour flight back home ever! There are already over 500 books on it, so the only trouble I will have is to make up my mind which one to start on… Unfortunately, there is as of yet almost no literature in German on it. Where does one buy German literature for one’s e-reader?

Foer, Eggers, Schami and Tellkamp

Yesterday I went into town after uni (just to not go straight home and hit the books) and I of course ended up in a bookstore – endresult: 4 books, 2 postcards and a bookmark. Since I have become more aware of the massive (and in many cases, unnescessary) meat consumption, and Jonathan Safran Foer at the International Author’s Stage in Copenhagen made such an impact on me, I had to buy his book – I’ve heard it’s not that rah-rah, but then again, I could be surprised. And of course since I am in Germany I picked up Uwe Tellkamp’s ‘Der Turm’ that was much hypened in literary circles back home. Rafik Schami’s book I bought because I want to get some sort of feel for Germany’s Migrantenliteratur – not a lot of that going on in Denmark, apart from Manu Sareen’s children’s books, and a couple of short stories in the 2007 Anthology of Forfatterskolen, I am having trouble coming up with what else is there, so I am speculating that it really is a blank spot in Danish literature. The last one I bought is Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. It is set in Bush-era and Hurricane Katrina time, and it questions the political and social structure of the US, when a Syrian-American man is arrested and held imprisoned for 23 days without proper legal process in the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans.
Anywhoo, enough of this, I am going to do some weekend sightseeing: stops along the way include Marga Schöllers Bücherstube, Käthe Kollowitz Museum, Zara (not really a sightseeing/cultural point, but if I come across one, I go into one), Dalí at Potsdamer Platz and, if I have time, a quick stop at the 15. Internationale Berliner Bierfestival on Karl-Marx-Allee.

Electronic, conceptual, visual, concrete, structural literature, literature, literature

Last week another semester started at uni, and this time I will be delving into the vast field of literature as more than just the piece of text inside a book. On Thursday we were introduced to the semester plan and the curriculum with bonus literature.
The course is really fascinating. When I first read the course description I didn’t really know what to expect, and only had a vague idea of what the “expanded field” of literature covers. I have talked about the e-book before on my blog, but more as a concrete tool for reading a piece of text without anything extra to it, or introducing the possibilities that come with an electronic book. The e-book has spawned new directions for literature and at the same time reintroduced the book as physical form and an integral part of the context where no text can stand alone.

Shadows never sleep

One take on the e-text is taking advantage of the multi-touch function of smartphones or tablets. Aya Karpinska has created a children’s story, a so-called zoom-narrative, where you use the zoom function to maneuver around in the story. It’s an app that can be downloaded to your iPhone, and there you can explore and create your own paths through the narrative. The story is called Shadows Never Sleep and there is also a demo video.


Tree of codes by Jonathan Safran Foer (photo from Visual Editions)

In the physical realm there are creations such as Jonathan Safran Foer’s latest book, Tree of Codes, which combines the visual and the tactile with the cognitive. There is more than continuous text on page after page after page. What he’s done is he has taken a novel by Bruno Schulz and made his own story out of the already-existing words by cutting chunks out of the “original” and the pages therefore are fragmented. It is a piece of text that is much more, that takes into account its physical presence.

Cue hypertexts and the children of the digital age, children in a way that you get to play with the internet, try its boundaries and piss people off by not abiding to rules and regulations. Today (and I have like 143 tabs open, my computer is ready to give up, and I don’t have enough time in the day to read all of them, so I am on a continuous journey that takes me longer and deeper into different corners of literature+art+internet) I found Jane Wong/Joe Davis with Ways to carry you, and Jason Ockert/Mattias Dittrich Shirtless Others. I will not say to much about it, except invite you to try it, see what you think. And then there is Kenneth Goldsmith’s Soliloquy, which is an unedited transcription of everything Goldsmith uttered in one week of his life. It’s quite funny to browse through.

UPDATE: I keep finding new stuff, but this last one is so good I have to make an update and include it: it’s Seoul based web-art group Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries. They make text animations with funky music, you have to check it out. I stumbled onto Dakota (a reading of Ezra Pound’s Canto I & II), which is linked here, and a transcription here, but there is much more if you go to the mainpage:

I picked these (sorry) almost at random, just as an introduction to the vast amount that is just lying out there, and all my tabs are waiting, nay pining, for me to explore them (as I assume, of course, my tabs have emotions resembling that of humans, and not, as I heard at a party, fish, who have no feelings and thus can be eat by vegetarians, over and out).

Everything is illuminated by Foer

Everything is illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer

I started to read ‘Everything is illuminated’ on the train on my way to uni last semester. I just realized that I haven’t read a lot of contemporary American literature, and this (in my humble opinion) is not a bad introduction. I had not heard about Foer before, and actually bought it because I thought it was a very thought-provoking title, so sure of itself. It starts like this:

My legal name is Alexander Perchov. But all of my many friends dub me Alex, because that is a more flaccid-to-utter version of my legal name. Mother dubs me Alexi-stop-spleening-me!, because I am always spleening her. If you want to know why I am always spleening her, it is because I am always elsewhere with friends, and disseminating so much currency, and performing so many things that can spleen a mother.

Fantastic!! I was hooked right from the start by the lingo, and people on the train thought I was totally off the deep end. I was laughing out loud, chuckling, and I swear, at one point a tear ran down my cheek. I felt sorry for the people around me that they couldn’t join in on it. The whole book is written with a deep embedded humor playing on the border between surrealism and familiarity.

The core of the story is the town of Trachimbrod in Ukraine. From this place, and because of this place, the novel jumps in time between 1791 and present time. In present time, Alex’ father has set him the task of acting the guide to an American Jew (whom Alex dubs ‘the hero’- a.k.a. Jonathan Safran Foer) coming to Ukraine to seek out his grandfathers past in Europe and to find a town that no longer exists. With them on the journey through the Ukrainian landscape is Alex’ own grandfather and a ‘Seeing Eye bitch’. Pure candy for my fantasy setup 🙂
Alongside this story is the tale of Trachimbrod’s inhabitants (divided into two groups: the goers to the Upright Synagogue and the Slouchers) at a time when Trachimbrod still existed, narrated in a magic realism style. In 1791 a wagon drives into the lake Brod and a baby girl is found in the water. After being ‘won’ in a lottery she grows up with Yankel who loves her unconditionally and respectfully.

Yankel made every effort to prevent Brod from feeling like a stranger, from being aware of their age difference, their genders. He would leave the door open when he urinated (always sitting down, always wiping himself after), and would sometimes spill water on his pants and say, Look, it also happens to me, unaware that it was Brod who spilled water on her pants to comfort him. When Brod fell from the swing in the park, Yankel scraped his own knees against the sandpaper floor of his bathtub and said, I too have fallen. When she started to grow breasts, he pulled up his shirt to reveal his old, dropped chest and said, It’s not only you.

The mood in the novel is like this all the way, even in the sad and horrible parts.

I would suspect that the story is also permeated with Jewish culture and thought, but I am not well enough versed in this area that I would make a claim of any sorts. It reminds me a bit about home, the Faroe’s, and the mentality seems to correlate on many levels.
Either way, I am so happy it had a catchy title that caught my eye while surfing the web. His narrative style appeals to me, and I hope that he soon completes one of his stories, so I will have yet another excuse to frighten my fellow passengers with my out-of-control-laughter. Until then I might have a little cry with his ‘Extremely loud and incredibly close’, which he read a passage of when he attended the National Library’s International Author’s Stage. But that’s a whole other story which deserves its own place.