Literary roundup: Egon Bondy and still controversial modernism

“The concept of being and non-being is a philosophical con”

– Egon Bondy

At the Czech Literature Portal I wrote about the fact that you can see a documentary about Czech writer Egon Bondy online for free and with English subtitles. Titled The Last Lesson of Egon Bondy the 32-minute film is full of the last surrealist’s irreverent wisdom. Unfortunately, there is not much of Bondy’s work translated into English. Surprised?

Will Self on Modernism

All the links to Will Self’s interview at The Browser seem to hone in on his aside on literary prizes, which was a throwaway comment in response to the interviewer’s characterization of postmodernism’s packaged-looking cleverness, “as if angling for a literary prize” Much more interesting are what he says about modernism, such as not finding postmodernism intriguing and that it “is a retreat from the hard-edged insights of modernism itself.” His indictment of British fiction and connection of it to Britain’s now more than century-old anti-modernism is on point too.

I’m putting £50 with my local bookie that Will Self is not going to get a blue plaque.

James Joyce probably wouldn’t like Paulo Coelho’s books either

I read the mocking takedown of Coelho’s opinion of Joyce at Literary Saloon and honestly thought that even reading an interview with this literary snake-oil salesman was more than his intellect deserves. As the story gets more cucumber season traction it will inevitably get the “and he’s not the only one,” with The Guardian already adding Roddy Doyle’s eight-year old opinion that it needed proper editing. Maybe Lionel Shriver will weigh in that not only doesn’t she have the patience for the boring “long philosophical digressions” of Dostoevsky, but for this difficult modernist work either.

Yet while this pseudospiritual windbag is dead wrong about Ulysses, I think there is something to the idea that Joyce’s influence hasn’t always been beneficial. This is not his fault, of course. He has influenced more great modern writers than can be listed, and just today I read an interview with Danilo Kiš, where he says of his book Hourglass, “Without knowing Ulysses, I don’t know how I could have given form to that novel.” But you could also find old dusty copies of works blurbed as Joycean, with streams of invented, compound words described as a “romp.”

The same could be said of Hemingway, whose worst imitators seem to think it’s enough to write gruff, telegraphic prose about something vaguely manly. I’m not sure that there are as many bad Proustian spin-offs, but I’ve seen a few examples of the “write really, really long reflective sentences about your distant childhood where you make involved metaphorical comparisons between say, a flower petal and the fragility of youth” school.

As derivative as these writers can get though, none are as bad as you know who.

Update: A day later Stuart Kelly lays into Coelho with critical force, hitting all the right nails on the head.

Photo – 1) Egon Bondy – Doc Alliance

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