This post is probably one that will steadily expand over the comings weeks and months. It is simply a kind of fantasy post imagining those books which should be available in print but are no longer/ have never been/ are never likely to be published by a English-language publisher because let’s face it, the English are one of the most insular nation on earth whenit comes to foreign cultures. The hope that there would be someone like Feltrinelli intelligent enough to discover the genuine classics of world literature and engaged enough to publish radical texts of philosophy, history, sociology as well as directly political texts is a forlorn one. So one can only seek to imagine a virtual Feltrinelli and hope that someone one day will rob a bank or two to finance a real one.
1. Roberto Arlt – The Flamethrowers – this is a particularly personal gripe that I have with Serpents Tail publishers. Years ago in the early/mid 1990s I decided to single-handedly and rather pointlessly translate Arlt’s Los Siete Locos The Seven Madmen. Pointlessly because I didn’t know much Spanish at the time, I had a rather useless Spanish-English dictionary as well as a copy of the Italian translation of the novel long out of print but photocopied in Rome’s national Library. Spending three months slowly correcting my own weird transcribed translation and many more months correcting and re-correcting the text, I sent letters to various publishers but usually got no reply. I was sent back a badly scribbled note by someone from Serpents’ Tail to send on a sample chapter or two. The reply to my chapter too was pretty illegible. Half a year or so later Roberto Arlt’s novel came out in a translation by Nick Caistor. My following letters asking them at least to publish Arlt’s sequel novel Las Lanzallamas (The Flamethrowers) never came to pass. So basically readers never know what happened to Erdosain simply because Serpents’ Tail can’t be arsed to publish it. Anyone who knows Arlt’s work, knows that one of the greatest things that he ever wrote was in Las Lanzallamas (the chapter entitled The Agony of the Melancholic Pimp) but maybe it will take Anglo-Saxon decades to find this out. Apart from this Arlt wrote a number of plays, a series of feuilleton’s called Aguafuertes both of Buenos Aires and about travels abroad. Arlt in Argentina is seen as a kind of alternative to Borges and even preferred by many Argentinians.
2. The fact that Juan Rodolfo Wilcock has barely been translated into English is truly scandalous. Close to Borges, Silvina Ocampo and Bioy Casares when in Argentina he set off to Europe to avoid the stifling atmosphere of Peronist Argentina, only to find life in London at the BBC equally detestable. Returning to Argentina and then back to Europe, this time to Italy, he changed his language as well as his country. Even many books by Rodolfo Wilcock are out of print in Italian (it is truly unforgivable that Wilcock’s ‘Il Libro dei Mostri‘ has almost entirely disappeared. I’ve been translating some of his short pieces from The Stereoscope of Solitary Beings. The hope that the publishing world will ever world will ever wake up to this great 20th century writer in their midst is flimsy, to say the least.
3. Borges was to state once that he had met few geniuses in his life but that Rafael Cansinos-Assens was surely one of them and called him his master. As well as a very prolific translator into Spanish, Cansinos Assens was an essayist, a poet and a novelist. But then why would a publisher publish the master of Borges when it can publish … (to be filled in with the latest trashy fashionable novel). Of course, while Borges worshipped Cansinos-Assens, he was treated even by Spain as a minor writer.
4. Nick Caistor as well as the translator of Arlt’s The Seven Madmen is also the translator of Los Pichiciegos (translated as The Malvinas Requiem). But the author Rodolfo Enrique Fogwill is the author of so much else that to allow only one of his works to be translated is a literary crime of the highest order.
5. I’ve written about Bobi Bazlen in these pages. A writer of footnotes but what fine ‘footnotes’ they are and, of course, no one is preparing it seems to publish these footnotes.
6. Nanni Balestrini has had some luck a few years ago when Verso published a translation of his The Unseen (Gli Invisibili). But will any publisher do something about publishing his great novel on the Italian Hot Autumn Vogliamo Tutto (We want everything). I doubt it. Or his novel on Giancarlo feltrinelli L’editore (The Editor) or on football ultras I furiosi (The Furies) or… or… or? Utopian desires, alas.
7. When will a publisher decide to honour the labour of Ed Emery (a very fine translator in his own right) and publish The Red Notes Archive. Listening to a talk on Samizdat at Moscow’s Media Impact festival of Alternative Art Actionism, I realised that there was a fine tradition tradition of samizdat in Britain and elsewhere too. The works of Italian autonomist Toni Negri and other workerist autonomists were being translated decades ago by the likes of Ed Emery long before they became well known to hipsters and university students. Who is going to reprint these archives? The admirable lib.com site does a fine job in putting much of this on the internet but somehow one would like a publisher to republish selections of this (at least) to commemorate the work that people like Ed Emery made in heroically salvaging this material. I would add to this Dear Comrades, the selected letters of Lotta Continua published at one time by Plato Press has been long out of print. Time for a reprint. I remember taking them to a school in Brighton at the age of fifteen, reading them with a Franco-Indian classmate. I physically miss holding that book in my hand and, here in Russia in 2013, how relevant these letters seem.
8. It was a facebook comment by Benjamin Noys which brought my attention to Bruno Jasienski but what a find this proved to be. Black Sparrow Press are to be welcomed for translating his novel Paris is Burning but which publisher will risk the translating of his other novels and poetry. A trilingual writer (Polish, French and then Russian) the two volume works published in the Soviet Union in the early days of the Thaw seem to have much promising stuff including an anti-Nazi rewriting of Gogol’s story The Nose and a great anti-fascist novel entitled The Conspiracy of the Indifferent. Benjamin Noys has written about ‘Paris is Burning’ here:
9. I have little to add to this piece I wrote some time ago about how the lack of a translation of Ilya Ehrenburg’s Julio Jurenito is truly scandalous. Yet this is not the only work sorely missing for Anglo-Saxons (and Europeans as a whole). I’d say that he has at least five novels as well as his autobiography that an intelligent publisher would be sorely looking around for a translator to translate any time now.
10. Artem Vesely’s great Civil War novel Россия, кровью умытая (Russia cleansed by blood), is one of those Russian novels forgotten by many Russians themselves but which should never be left out of the list of urgent translations for that new and elusive Feltrinelli.
These are merely ten of the titles/authors. I’d could add many more. These will have to wait for another post…In the meantime, here is Rodolfo Wilcock’s excellent portrait of literary consultants at publishing houses:
A large hen occupies the apartment: she is so large that she has already demolished several doors in order to pass from one room to another. It is not as though she’s edgy. Nonetheless she is an intellectual hen and spends nearly all of her time reading. In actual fact, she is a consultant of the publishing house A. The publisher sends her all the novels that appear abroad and the hen reads them patiently with her right eye since she she can’t read them with both of her eyes at the same time: her left eye stays closed under her beautiful grey velvety eyelids. From time to time the hen mumbles something inaudible because the print is too small for her, or else she makes a clo-clo sound and flaps her wings, but no one can work out whether she is doing it out of joy or out of boredom. However, when she doesn’t like a book, the intellectual hen will eat it. Later, the publishing house sends an inspector to gather up the remaining titles that the hen has left strewn all over the house – and publishes them. This in the past gave rise to certain complications: some books had been found inside a wardrobe after they had already been published by another publishing house with a most regrettable success. In spite of these facts she is the most influential hen of the book trade.
We don’t how to do with her: apart from knocking down all the doors, she dirties all the rooms and the maid has threatened to leave if the hen doesn’t go. Yet she is such an intelligent animal, her judgements are so exact, her daily habits are so routine. At six in the evening she mounts the sofa and perches on it, shuts her eyes and falls asleep no longer disturbing anyone else. She doesn’t even move to exercise her bodily needs. In the morning we get up and find her in the dining room intent on reading the latest Russian writer from Siberia or the upcoming Latin American star. And she has never once laid an egg.