Toomas Vint’s story ‘Beyond the Window a Park is Dimming’ opens with the closing of the day. Dusk is settling, the light is fading and Vilmer, “a relatively well-to-do businessman of fifty-eight” looks out from his apartment on a darkening park as he waits for his date to finish whatever she is doing in his bathroom. (She is certainly taking a long time.)
A prisoner arrives at a Soviet hard-labour camp and is asked the length of his sentence. “Twenty five years,” he replies. “For what?” he is asked. “For nothing.” “Impossible, for nothing you get ten years.”
Be sure to check out the new issue of the poetry and translation (and more) journal Asymptote. There is, inter alia, Sven Birkerts on Bolano, an excerpt from Viktor Shklovsky’s Bowstring (translated by Shushan Avagyan) recently published by Dalkey Archive Press, and a story from Berlin Stories by Robert Walser (translated by Susan Bernofsky), forthcoming from New York Review of Books Classics.
My first thought on reading Frenchman Eric Laurrent’s ‘American Diary’ was on the reception it might get from American readers. The story is some dozen entries of a diary written by a Frenchman (thus inviting us to identify the diarist with the author, a presumption Laurrent does nothing to dissuade) that reads as xenophobic and dismissive, the condescension of a refined man of taste touring a glittering cultural wasteland. Laurrent’s distaste is there from day one as he describes the imitation of Gothic Venetian architecture and the bastardization of high art (Boticelli’s Venus as a bathing-suited, roller-skated tourist sans the shell) of the Venice Beach hotel in which he is staying. What follows is a satirical slideshow of the diarist’s misadventures as he travels from Los Angeles to San Francisco, Salt Lake City and in between.
In all ages of man there have been women who treated their bodies as currency, and men of all ages have been only too willing to treat the vagina as a purse of bottomless bounty. Social standing, personal favours, pay rises, material goods – there’s nothing that can’t be purchased with a wink, a flash of skin, and a taste of sin. Albert Karbelashvili has a fridge to sell, and Zhuzhuna’s in the market for one. Zhuzhuna is a woman of easy morals à la those described above. Normally, trading sex for gain works because the buyer is so sexually attractive that the value of her money is superseded by the promise of her body, or the seller is so desperately lonely that his desire to have sex trumps all sense. Neither of these scenarios apply in ‘Sex for Fridge,’ a story of just such a transaction, a disappointing comedy of uneven results.
From Goethe to Nietzsche to Thomas Mann, the Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy is a concept favoured by German writers. This might be accounted for by the Weimar Classicism movement of the early nineteenth-century and the focus on classical philology in the school curriculum that bloomed in its wake. As a student of classical philology, Ingo Schulze is aware of the tradition in German letters, and in his story ‘Oranges and Angel’ he would add his name to that illustrious roster.