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This item is taken from PN Review 52, Volume 13 Number 2, November - December 1986.

News & Notes
The death of JORGE LUIS BORGES, two months short of his eighty-seventh birthday, brings to an end the career of the first Latin American author to acquire an international audience. Borges's first fame, fifty years ago, was as a poet: the subject, his native Buenos Aires. Even in his early work, however, Borges is to be discovered pondering the paradoxes of life and death with which his name would later be synonymous; in the poems on the Recoleta cemetery, for example, aptly and, as if by design, the focus for the penultimate meditation in his last published book (Atlas). In due course, in early middle age, Borges found prose the more convenient medium for a vision at once profoundly idiosyncratic and disturbingly impersonal. But it was not until the Ficciones were translated into English in the early 1960s - they were first published in 1944 - that Borges became known to readers outside South America. Thereafter, on the many occasions on which he gave guest lectures or responded to invitations to speak about his work, Borges would wryly remind his public of the shortcomings of the Fictions and the virtues of his subsequent writings. But those whose first experience of Borges had been the Fictions were largely unpersuaded, in spite of the many fine books he produced in old age, whether under his own name or - as suited his creative purposes, and was occasionally necessary to offset the handicap of blindness - in collaboration. It was in the Fictions, though we may find them anticipated by the verse, that Borges developed the metaphor which, without being in any way original or distinctively Argentine, seems certain to keep his reputation alive indefinitely: the labyrinth. Now that, to quote the poem on his great-grandfather ('Sepulchral Inscription') he is 'a handful of dust and glory', it will be as difficult to differentiate the man and the metaphor as in the comparable case - a Borgesian benchmark both in person and on paper - of Keats and the nightingale. Borges died on 14 June in Geneva, of cancer of the liver.

SIR CHARLES JOHNSTON, a frequent contributor to PN REVIEW, was a distinguished translator of Pushkin, Turgenev and Lorca. In July, three months after his death, a second selection of his own poems appeared, Writers on the Edge (Bodley Head, £4.50). The book is particularly remarkable for its dramatic monologues evoking writers in the late Roman Empire and vividly suggesting parallels with our own day. If these poems embody a sceptical view of civilization and its discontents, the closing poem 'In Praise of Gusto' offers a witty and celebratory autobiographical statement. The book is a handsome epitaph.

MICHAEL HAMBURGER has been awarded the Goethe Medal, which was presented to him by President von Weizsäcker. Last year he was awarded the Poetry Society's biennial European Poetry Translation Prize. His book of critical essays on German literature, A Proliferation of Prophets, is being reissued in paperback in November at the same time as a new book on post-war German literature, After the Second Flood (both titles from the Carcanet list).

On in-house affairs, some readers of PN REVIEW will have noticed that a letter by J. M. Cohen has appeared in two issues of the magazine. As the letter is sharply critical of a recent editorial statement (PNR 48's polemic on critical theory), our repeating it may be construed as magnanimity. Other readers have, it seems, been construing the illustrations in PNR 51. The editors avow that these illustrations do not constitute a sub-text subverting the overt meanings of the text, nor a deconstructive trope for a countervailing discourse. However readers who insist on detecting such a discourse will clearly not be dissuaded by avowels of mere 'intention', and they are invited to send to the editors a brief hermeneutic synopsis.

The Institute of Contemporary Arts has embarked on a second series of videos recording its programme of Writers in Conversation, some of which we shall be reviewing in PN REVIEW. In such an extensive programme the quality of the conversations varies, inevitably perhaps, but to have A. S. Byatt in conversation with Iris Murdoch or Ian McEwan with Martin Amis allows genuine dialogue, a reciprocity of ideas and sympathies, and the videos of Raymond Williams and John Berger catch the tones and particularities of their intellectual stance. The form gives interesting variations: thus Mario Vargas Llosa now interviews G. Cabrera Infante, then changes seats to be interviewed in turn by John King, and - too much of a good thing maybe - Malcolm Bradbury seems set to be a regular interlocutor, taking up William Gaddis, Elizabeth Hardwick, Alison Lurie and George Higgins. The videos are sold on subscription and there is a useful scheme by which libraries are sent two videos each month for a year. Further information from the ICA, 12 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AH.

The Shrewsbury Poetry Festival, September 12-21st, provides several events of interest to PN REVIEW readers. The programme promises readings by John Ashbery, Norman MacCaig, Yves de Bayser, Dannie Abse, Michael Longley and Mahmood Jamal. There are to be poetry workshops by Patricia Beer and George Szirtes, films about Philip Larkin, Les A. Murray and Peter Porter, and a forum on women and publishing. Details are available from 52 Portland Crescent, Shrewsbury (telephone 0743 5606).

Dalhousie French Studies (Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3H 3/5) is publishing a special number (172pp), 'Perspectives on Sartre and Beauvoir'. Among others, Oreste F. Pucciani recalls his acquaintance with Natashe Moffat (the 'Lise' of de Beauvoir's memoirs and The Mandarins, and whom Sartre refers to as 'la petite Sorokine' in his correspondence with de Beauvoir). Natasha was a student of Pucciani's in the United States, and it was through her that he knew of Sartre, de Beauvoir and existentialism. 'That friendship certainly changed my life.' He does not doubt that if Natasha had stayed in France. 'she would have become an important writer'. In the States she published 'Nuits sans importance', already published by Les Temps Modernes in 1945, and which is reissued. Natasha died in San Francisco in 1968.

The editors of PNR apologise for omitting to ascribe the translation of Ralph Bossert's poems that appeared in these columns in PRN 51: these were translated by Julia Sterland.

Most British publishers' lists are scarcely outstanding for their translations of modern European fiction. Particularly welcome then is the paper-back series Quartet Encounter which is developing a substantial and enterprising list of translations of twentieth century European novels, both in new versions and in reprints of established translations. With titles as diverse as Witkiewicz's Insatiability, Appelfeld's The Retreat, Gadda's An Awful Mess on Via Merulana, and with versions by Louis Iribarne, Goronwy Rees and William Weaver, the series points to rich traditions. The continuities of these traditions in their cultural and political history are usefully mapped out in the introductory essays to each volume - for instance, the Gadda is discussed by Italo Calvino, the Witkiewicz by Czeslaw Milosz.

In South Africa, Nadine Gordimer and a group of writers, journalists and academics have formed an 'anti-censorship action committee' in response to the state of emergency there. They report that the crisis of censorship is evident not only in the acknowledged direct censorship of the press and the arts but also - and increasingly - in the indirect forms of suppression and intimidation which the emergency regulations make easier. The steering committee formed on July 9th is seeking the participation of publishers, booksellers, actors, film-makers, educationalists and writers. The chairman of the South African Book Trade Association has dissociated the BTA from the Committee's statements. (The Bookseller)

Confronted with the dismaying documentation (Index) of cultural repression, there's some slight consolation in its vagaries. While Turkey is banning James Joyce's Exiles, David Hume's On Religion, Nazim Hikmet's Ivan Ivanovich: did he exist? and Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, we learn that South Africa in a determined spasm of liberalism has 'un-banned' Stan Barstow's A Kind of Loving and - of course - Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer

On the occasion of the centenary of Jacques Rivière and Alain-Fournier's birth (there are numerous reissues of the latter's work and correspondence coming out in France), William Blake & Co. Edit. (B. P. 4 33037 Bordeaux Cedex) are launching a subscription for the publication in two illustrated volumes of the correspondence - mostly unpublished - between Rivière, Alain-Fournier and André Lhote, under the title La Peinture, le coeur et l'esprit.

We always knew it was hard to get a book started. It now seems this has something to do with the fact that 'Any beginning is determined by the exclusion it operates and the conclusion it repeats. . . the primitive categories of this book could be established only in an infinite regression because they both constitute and are constituted in ramified processes of conceptual and political exchange. To begin is to interrupt these changes, to take a point in a series and disregard what precedes it.' Once you have managed to begin there remains the problem that 'Content is thus the presence of an absence, signifying the absent presence of reality, and the text is torn between the phenomenality of the signifier and the quasisubstantiality of the signified. Substance enters the text through the presence of content, but is absent insofar as content is also an absence. . .' (Frow, Marxism & Literary History, Blackwell 1986.) In fact this book is often sharply argued and illuminating - for those who persevere beyond its opening.

The season for poetry competitions never closes. If you just missed the Times Literary Supplement and Cheltenham Literature Festival date, there's still time to catch the annual competition run by Outposts magazine. Prizes total £1000 and the closing date is September 30th (details from 72 Burwood Road, Walton on Thames, Surrey). Or again, the national Poetry competition organized by the Poetry Society offers £4,500 in all, with its closing date of October 30. Ever fortunate, the members of the Poetry Society may submit an extra poem free of charge in an 'exciting concession'. The judges John Fuller and Ken Smith are joined for cocoa by Wendy Cope.

At an international theatre festival in Baltimore, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland threatened to withdraw their entries until the British production was withdrawn. Its title was Animal Farm. 'The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again. . .'

Our magazine is reviewing the wrong novels. Current publishers' lists of their forthcoming titles mark a richness seldom glimpsed by our reviewers. Beside the commonplace virtues of 'sensuous and lyrical stories about love, obsession and disillusionment moving effortlessly from grey reality to surreal fantasy' and 'lyricism and irony in a powerfully evocative and sensual novel' there is on hand 'the publishing sensation of 1986. The originality of the story, the dynamo (sic) of the writing, the supremely sensual grasp of one man's secret world make it a novel worthy of comparison with the great European masters.' Pre-eminent, however, is the appearance in October of an unfinished novel (only three chapters written) by Truman Capote: 'had (it) been completed it would have been an international bestseller' but in any case it already is 'one of the most famous unpublished novels'. Famous, unpublished, unwritten, it is entitled Answered Prayers.

This item is taken from PN Review 52, Volume 13 Number 2, November - December 1986.

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