Literary roundup: Life’s cheerless dance – Szymborska, Joseph Roth and Satantango

Dancing-to-Restore-Eclipsed-Moon

Wisława Szymborska died on February 1 and as the remembrances and tributes pour forth a couple of very good ones that have come out in the last few days include Ruth Franklin’s “A Requiem to an Age of Brilliant Polish Poetry” at The New Republic and James Hopkin’s recollection of an interview with the poet in “Cake and Brandy with Szymborska” at The Economist’s More Intelligent Life.

And if you want to read one great Polish poet writing about another here is the foreword Czesław Miłosz wrote for Szymborska’s Miracle Fair at poets.org, “Our Common Heritage: On Wisława Szymborska.”

“A great deal had to happen before the necessary tools could be forged to allow a poet like Szymborska to respond to the clearly perceived need for intelligent discourse on life’s cheerless dance. Varied shades of irony and humor became the modern and indispensable seasoning. Szymborska brings joy because she is so sharp, because she derives pleasure out of juggling the props of our common heritage (when she writes about Rubens’ women and the Baroque, for example), and because she has such a good sense of the comic. And she takes a conscious risk, performing her magic tricks along the fine line between poem and essay.” – Miłosz

Tricky, treacherous business

From an epitaph to a person to an epitaph for an age, the recently published Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters contains a mass of information for anyone interested in this great novelist’s life and work (and will be reviewed here shortly). In The Millions, the book’s translator Michael Hofmann traces the course of Roth’s masterpiece The Radetzky March through the itinerant writer/journalist’s wanderings and culls out the references to it in his correspondence in “My Novel is Going Nowhere: Dispatches from a Literary Classic in Progress.”

And in The Spectator there’s a review of Roth’s letters in “A world dying of ugliness.”

Speaking of dancing …

László Krasznahorkai’s Satantango is due to be published by New Directions on March 5, 2012. The BBC has a five-minute audio interview with the book’s translator, poet George Szirtes. “The effect in Hungarian is a kind of gathering darkness, a series of loops in dark alleyways. It’s like wandering in and out of cellars of various sorts,” Szirtes says, while adding that what comes out stronger in English is the black comedy of the novel.

And of Krasznahorkai and the now-retired filmmaker who adapted the novel to the screen Béla Tarr, Szirtes says “They share a kind of vision.” He also admits to telling Krasznahorkai that translating his work gives him a headache.

For a great essay on the Hungarian novelist read David Auerbach’s “The Mythology of László Krasznahorkai” at The Quarterly Conversation, Dan Bevacqua’s review of Satantango “Dance with the Devil” at The New Inquiry and, if you have a subscription, James Wood’s essay on the writer in the July 4, 2011 issue of The New Yorker, “Madness and Civilization.”

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Categories: Magazines

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