This year, Bastião Magazine is expanding in a number of different directions. Given our European roots, we thought it was about time to reach out to young and mature writers alike in Trieste, Italy, to bring some of what we’ve learned to the forefront. Moderated by the magazine’s Editor, the three month workshop will focus on understanding fiction and the writing of it. Through reading of authors’ work, the many proponents of a successful narrative will be dissected. We begin with the importance of drafts in writing, and move onto stylistic impressions – ekphrasis, or the use of imagery in fiction examining the work of poets and writers who deploy the technique successfully, dialogue, plot, characterization, conflict, etc. – all tools in a writer’s repertoire. What role does place imagination in fiction..? Ci vediamo in tre mesi!
It’s an erotic classic yet it was written anonymously by a shy, intellectual French woman in honour of her secret lover. Sixty-two years on, British journalist and writer Geraldine Bedell goes in search of Dominique Aury, one of the first women to write frankly about sex.
Sixty-two years ago, an extraordinary pornographic novel appeared in Paris. Published simultaneously in French and English, Story of O portrayed explicit scenes of bondage and violent penetration in spare, elegant prose, the purity of the writing making the novel seem reticent even as it dealt with demonic desire, with whips, masks and chains.
Pauline Reage, the author, was a pseudonym, and many people thought that the book could only have been written by a man. The writer’s true identity was not revealed until 18 years ago, when, in an interview with John de St Jorre, a British journalist and some-time foreign correspondent of The Observer, an impeccably dressed 86-year-old intellectual called Dominique Aury acknowledged that the fantasies of castles, masks and debauchery were hers.
When Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio was named laureate for the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature, I was like many others in wondering who? His standing in English speaking nations, save for a couple of low profile translations in the States, was practically non-existant. And this is an author who has published over forty books since his 1963 debut. It’s been a frustrating wait, then, for publishers in the UK to rush release some backlist titles into print. No doubt translators up and down the country are soldiering away at more of his works.
The citation of Le Clézio, by the Swedish Academy, described him as “author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization”- a soup of intrigue, hinting at so much while retaining a cryptic aura. Having looked at the rereleased titles, Terra Amata seemed to best fit the citation. In fact, it doesn’t so much fit as describe it.
Terra Amata concerns itself with life on earth. It’s the story of Chancelade, looking at his unremarkable life and capturing all the detail and adventures he overlooked.
You’d never done playing all the games there were. A prisoner on the flat face of the earth, standing on your two legs with the sun beating down on your head and the rain falling drop by drop, you had all these extraordinary adventures without really knowing where you were going. A pawn – you were no more than a pawn on the giant chess-board, a disc that the expert invisible hand moved about in order to win the incomprehensible game.
Danilo Kis was born in 1935 in what was then the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and died less than a month before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. According to literary rumor, Kis was expected to win the Nobel Prize for Literature the year of his death. Before he died, he made a list of advice for young writers.
Born to a Jewish father and a Montenegrin mother in the Serbian city of Subotica, Danilo Kis witnessed the worst of twentieth century Europe. As a young child he survived a massacre of Jews and Serbs in Novi Sad, while his own father died at Auschwitz.
His most famous book, A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, describes seven individuals whose lives are ultimately erased by various forms of totalitarianism. It was criticized by the literary puritans of 1970s communist Yugoslavia, and he was falsely charged with plagiarism and subjected to a lengthy show trial.
Kis also lived long enough to glimpse the rise of Slobodan Milosevic and the reemergence of nationalism in Europe, which he despised. “Nationalism”, he wrote in The Anatomy Lesson, “thrives on relativism. It admits no universal values – aesthetic, ethical, etc… its only values are relative.”
In addition to several exceptional novels, including The Hourglass, Garden, Ashes and A Tomb for Boris Davidovich he left behind some potentially useful advice for young writers.
For a country as small as Belgium, having an international writer is by itself an achievement, let alone a best-seller like Amélie Nothomb. Throughout the years, the mysterious writer has created a real-life character of her own; her image is spread all over the press and tales about her biography proliferate. Let’s then discover the woman behind the character and the origins of this, as some may call her, rock star writer.
In 1992, 25-year-old Amélie published her first novel, which would become an instant success. Hygiene And The Assassin is about an old, obese, dying Nobel Prize-winning writer, who is solicited by countless journalists when they hear that he only has two months left to live and are, therefore, expecting to get one last, big interview. But, by the power of his mordacious speech, the mean old man tortures the journalists — all inexperienced, naïve and poorly prepared — one after the other. It is only then that a woman, Nina, enters the scene. She will be his nemesis and will challenge him into a duel where the word is a deadly weapon.
The fact that a woman should succeed where many men have failed —attention being brought to her gender and the implication that it is somehow related to her success— is a cliché. But if we can get past that, after reading this novel, one thing can easily be concluded: Nothomb is a wonderful plotter. This, accompanied by the fluidity of the prose, might just be the key ingredient that makes her a best-selling author.
Fascist. Communist. Eccentric. A soldier in the First World War, a diplomat, journalist, and liaison officer in the second, he was also a writer, filmmaker and sometime architect. 70 years after Malaparte hayday, we reassess one of Italy’s most conflicted men, who cultured polymath who personified the dark underbelly of European avant-garde.
Born in Tuscany as Kurt Erich Suckert, Curzio Malaparte was a man who stepped through the looking glass of death as massacre, of revolution as coup d’etat, of omnipresent dictator as flesh and bone. His great works Kaputt (1944) and The Skin (1949) take us on a delirious journey through pogroms, princesses and pubic wigs. Translated into English in their complete form for the first time in 2013, Malaparte’s tales of military madness in Nazi-occupied Europe are perhaps two of the most perversely absurd, beautifully brutal, accounts of war and occupation ever committed to paper. Now nearly 70 years later perhaps it is time to reassess a talented but disillusioned writer who yearned to be Marcel Proust, but found himself inspired by the violent, twisted aestheticism of the darker side of Europe’s avant-garde.
Over the course of her multifaceted career Xiaolu Guo has explored the boundaries of national identity, cultural exchange and the concept of home amidst diasporic communities. Ahead of her appearance at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, we talk to her about these themes and how they manifest themselves in her films and her fiction.
Q: You are considered a writer who bridges the gap between Western and Eastern cultures, and who is representative of a new generation of diasporic Chinese. What is your perspective on being labelled like this? And are these themes you purposefully deal with in your work?
A: Well, I live as an artist who chooses to express my feelings from a very personal experience, both in the east and in the west. Given the fact that I’ve barely worked for any institution, and all my work is sort of born from solitary labours, I don’t think that I approach certain themes in a very self-conscious or even an academic way, but certainly I have been dealing with the themes of home, alienation, an individual’s life in ideological environment as well as in a global scale, naturally.
Q: The strength of events such as the Hong Kong International Literary Festival reveals the interest in publishing in Hong Kong. How do you perceive the local publishing industry in Hong Kong? The city’s reputation as a haven for more diverse opinions is engrained in its identity, do you feel this still holds true over 15 years since the handover?
A: I don’t know much about Hong Kong local publishing. Really nowadays we might live in Tokyo or Paris but we publish our work in Germany or in America. I don’t know how we can stick with the locality as we have been moving around so much in this modern life, and lots of writers write in their second language or the language from their adult life. (This is) part of survival instinct, part of integration, which I actually believe will lead to a much more open future.
Jeffrey Eugenides grew up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and attended Brown University. His first novel, The Virgin Suicides, was published by FSG to great acclaim in 1993, and he has received numerous awards for his work. He lives in Berlin, Germany, with his wife.
Excerpt from ‘Middlesex’, by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Silver Spoon
I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. Specialized readers may have come across me in Dr. Peter Luce’s study, Gender Identity in 5-Alpha-Reductase Pseudohermaphrodites, published in the Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology in 1975. Or maybe you’ve seen my photograph in chapter sixteen of the now sadly outdated Genetics and Heredity. That’s me on page 578, standing naked beside a height chart with a black box covering my eyes.
My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver’s license (from the Federal Republic of Germany) records my first name simply as Cal. I’m a former field hockey goalie, long-standing member of the Save-the-Manatee Foundation, rare attendant at the Greek Orthodox mass, and, for most of my adult life, an employee of the U.S. State Department. Like Tiresias, I was first one thing and then the other. I’ve been ridiculed classmates, guinea-pigged doctors, palpated specialists, and researched the March of Dimes. A redheaded girl from Grosse Pointe fell in love with me, not knowing what I was. (Her brother liked me, too.) An army tank led me into urban baffle once; a swimming pool turned me into myth; I`ve left my body in order to occupy others-and all this happened before I turned sixteen.
But now, at the age of forty-one, I feel another birth coming on. After decades of neglect, I find myself thinking about departed great-aunts and -uncles, long-lost grandfathers, unknown fifth cousins, or, in the case of an inbred family like mine, all those things in one. And so before it’s too late I want to get it down for good: this roller-coaster ride of a single gene through time. Sing now, O Muse, of the recessive mutation on my fifth chromosome! Sing how it bloomed two and a half centuries ago on the slopes of Mount Olympus, while the goats bleated and the olives dropped. Sing how it passed down through nine generations, gathering invisibly within the polluted pool of the Stephanides family. And sing how Providence, in the guise of a massacre, sent the gene flying again; how it blew like a seed across the sea to America, where it drifted through our industrial rains until it fell to earth in the fertile soil of my mother’s own mid-western womb.
A rare screening of a much-gossiped-about silent film made by Alla Nazimova, one of Hollywood’s most controversial stars, presented in a unique way. Well, that tickles our fancy just fine.
Based on Oscar Wilde’s decadent play, Alla Nazimova and Charles Bryant’s Salomé tells the biblical story of King Herod and his execution of John the Baptist at the request of Salomé, his daughter and object of lust. A commercial flop on release back in 1923, the film now enjoys cult status. It is revered for its camp acting and for Natacha Rambova’s highly stylised Aubrey Beardsley-esque sets and costumes (many made with fabrics from Maison Lewis of Paris). The bold designs and the profusion of silver lamés, veils, turbans and peacock feathers make this a stunning visual treat. Screened with live piano accompaniment. This screening is a preview for the Fashion in The Paris Film Festival which takes place at GPM in March.
The erotic, sentimental and autobiographical work of the controversial Japanese photographer
Nobuyoshi Araki is known as one of the most prolific and celebrated living Japanese photographers. His working practice is varied and complex, as attested to by A History of Seduction. His oeuvre grips a multitude of themes while remaining stylistically aligned, and transcends the subject for which he is infamous: the erotically charged female nude. Notions of sexuality, self, life and death are laced with anecdotes, lessons and metaphors in his photographs. Araki’s camera and personality have coalesced over the years to become a single ball of energy.
Being a photographer is an all-encompassing profession for Araki. It is not sufficient to describe this photographer’s practice as his career. As he’s mentioned:
“If I didn’t have photography I’d have absolutely nothing. My life is all about photography, and so life is itself photography.”
His approach is never forceful and his photographs are left without an underlying significance. In his own words, “There is no conclusion…It’s completely open. It doesn’t go anywhere.”
Notorious in his native Japan for his challenging, emotionally raw images and explicit depictions of sexuality and mortality, Nobuyoshi Araki has courted controversy for the last five decades.
Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities had a tortuous publishing history but, as John Millar discovers, since its full publication it has become widely considered the third member of a triumvirate, including Proust’s A la Recherche du Temps Perdu and Joyce’s Ulysses, representing the pinnacle of the modernist novel in Europe.
Of these three classics, in terms of content if not technique, Musil’s work speaks most directly to a contemporary readership. Set in Vienna in the year before the First World War, it depicts a social and political elite desperately attempting to maintain the status quo in the face of radical socio-political forces that they cannot comprehend and that will in the following years tear European civilization limb from limb. Bubbling beneath the surface are the libidinal depths unleashed by psychoanalysis and nihilistic musings as described by Nietzsche. Indeed, this is the kind of ambitious novel of ideas where the central character Ulrich gives his friend’s wife Clarisse a copy of Nietzsche’s complete works as a wedding gift.
Despite the lazy comparisons to Ulysses and A la Recherche (based perhaps more on size than content), the novel to which Musil’s work bares most resemblance is Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. Both novels deal with a European elite asleep to the monstrous forces contorting beneath them, and both explore the loss of narrative certainty in the face of new intellectual and scientific developments. Where Musil’s novel differs though is in its portrayal of Ulrich, a unique anti-hero, and the unique quality of the writing. Every page of this mammoth thousand-page work contains an original thought or perspective, and there are passages that set the senses on edge in their clarity of foresight. We realize we are still living in Musil’s world. Take for example:
Venedikt Erofeev’s life, like his writing, is often referred to as a riddle. Yet this man, who lived a life of vagrancy and drunkenness, is now regarded as the underground voice of an entire nation: a voice that both celebrated and lambasted the social inertia of the Soviet system.
Venedikt Erofeev died in 1990, just a year before the Soviet Union fell. During the brief 51 years of his life he drifted across Russia without a set residency permit, taking on a series of laboring jobs whilst philosophizing, writing and drinking, existing in the same chaotic manner that characterizes the lives of this protagonists. Very few of Erofeev’s works ever made it to publication, many lost, stolen or even used as kindling. How did a man who left behind just a few of slim volumes and spent the final years of his life languishing in Muscovite apartment block come to be acclaimed as the most vibrant mind in Soviet-era literature?
Erofeev was born in 1938, far above the Arctic Circle in the Murmansk region of Russia. His father was a stationmaster who fell afoul of Stalin’s nefarious regime, serving time in a series of gulags on the charge of ‘disseminating anti-Soviet propaganda’. With their father absent and their mother unable to feed and care for them, Erofeev and his brother were placed in State care.
American writer Philip K. Dick’s passion for philosophy gave rise to a lifelong exploration into the nature of existence through the penning of numerous renowned science fiction novels. Vincent JS Wood takes a look at the life and work of this significant twentieth century author.
Questioning what it means to be human may seem like an incomprehensible, exhausting and overtly philosophical task, but Philip K Dick regularly tackled the very concept of humanity, and other political, sociological and metaphysical questions, almost exclusively through the genre of science-fiction writing. Philip Kindred Dick was born six weeks prematurely on December 16th 1928 in Chicago, Illinois with his twin sister Jane Charlotte Dick. Jane died six weeks later, which had a profound effect on Philip and lent itself to the recurring motif of the ‘phantom twin’ in many of his works.
In 1949 Dick briefly attended the University of California, Berkeley where he took classes in history, psychology, philosophy and zoology. His studies of Philosophy, and the works of renowned Philosophers such as Plato led Dick to formulate his belief system that, to a certain degree, the world is not entirely real and there is no definite way of proving its genuine existence. This idea became a major thematic concern for Dick, and dominates the discussion in all of his well-known novels.