Monday, August 10, 2009

Global Conversations

Series Editor: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

Open Humanities Press is pleased to launch a new multilingual series in philosophy and literature published in conjunction with the University of Michigan Library's Scholarly Publishing Office. Each Global Conversations book will be freely available as an electronic book (open access) and as reasonably priced paperbacks. European languages are often seen as the source of original concepts, blissfully unaware or simply ignoring what is evolving in non-European languages and cultures. This series aims at encouraging dialogue among world cultures and languages, big and small, the dominant and the marginalized, by enabling, through open access publishing, the exchange of intellectual products, literary, philosophical and theoretical, among world languages. To avoid a one-way intellectual traffic, it means publishing works in translation in at least two languages: the source and the target. The series should be open to the possibility of many other translations that arise from the initially published. That way the dialogue becomes a multi-logue or conversation. Thus a work originally published in English and Gujarati in the series may end up being translated into Kiswahili and Maori, and these should become part of the conversation. Most importantly, the series aims at making visible original and outstanding works which may not be otherwise readily and commercially available for reasons of language and market. The series will have literary and theoretical/philosophic streams while being open to other works that may not neatly fall intothe streams.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


At the FACE Festival, I discovered that a poet and an acquaintance of mine, Edouard Levé, had committed suicide. But that’s not all. He had written an entire book toward the act, which he then sent to P.O.L. Editeur just before he hanged himself. I asked the person who told me, but did P.O.L. then publish it? They did. And surrounded the publication with clouds of words that I find so difficult to read—words in which Leve questions the selfishness of his suicide (his wife found him) against the calm that it would bring him. The listing contrasts Suicide with his previous book, Self. Self is an autobiographical survey of sorts, unlinked facts, sentences. And many of these are the negative (or the positive) of what’s in Suicide.

I don’t want to read either book. The excerpts are beautiful, moving, questioning. I still don’t want to read them. I’ve bumped up against the limits of my own definition of “art,” which is apparently life-affirming. I love some conceptualism. I loved Levé’s other projects. He stayed on our couch for a night or two several years ago, during a project for which he was documenting journeys to American cities and towns named after European cities and towns (Rome, Athens, Cairo). We had a few beers and watched a video called “Feathers for Felines,” an incredibly badly filmed how-to for cat owners on how to use toys to relieve the boredom of house cats. We all agreed it was one of the funniest movies we had ever seen. I think he even watched it twice—again after we had gone to bed. He was a nice guy—engaging, intelligent, irreverent. He gave me his book Oeuvres, a list of ideas for projects that he had never carried out. I had been intending to translate it for years (speaking of never carried out). Right now I’m thinking of somewhere to go with this mini-eulogy, this remembrance of Levé. Something that would make some sense to Suicide. Something that makes sense beyond actually reading his last book. Like, was it all the unfulfilled projects, or the idea of art as an unfulfilled project, or the idea of life as an unfulfilled project that got to him? Wanting to complete at least one project? Does this essentially negate the innovative, experimental idea of art/poetry as uncontrollable, unfinishable, uncompletable? Is Suicide an ultimate conservative achievement? Like heaven, where nothing will change once you’re “there”? No transformation beyond the act that was the idea for the book. The book was the endpoint, along with the act. No motion. It was described to me as “froid,” cold.

Suicide is a bit like Rodchenko’s paintings—where they were the end of painting (a statement I make that I firmly don’t believe), it is the end of conceptualism. Maybe. Conceptualism is ephemeral, requires explanation, “clouds of words.” Suicide is definite—does it require explanation? I’ll never get one. Conceptualism is also tired. I’m tired of entering art shows where I’ve got to read the text before looking at the work. Where the artist has to explain everything, like that the rubber bands making up the big ball are rubber bands from Enron’s board rooms and therefore they have some sort of weight that maybe the responsibility for finding is tossed to us, the viewer.

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