REAR VIEW MIRROR #3

When they hand the house over to the wreckers they will open the doors and the windows. The light will come in as it did before. And they will find the house despoiled of doors and panels and door jambs and baseboards and parquets, a husk which will fall at the first blows of the pick into ruins in the garden overrun with weeds. But I would prefer it to end in a fire set by those children, a gigantic animita lit to her memory. . . . Joso Donoso’s college thesis concerned “the elegance of mind” of Jane Austen — seemingly strange for a man who constructed novels as houses of horrors, peopled with grotesque witches, prostitutes, and magicians.  But there may be no better analogue for this master of the darkly surreal.  His novels turn on perspective and desire, just as much as Austen.  Donoso was certainly a modernist architect of the macabre, but this obscures his facility with the brighter side of the sublime: in a Donoso book, emotion, time, and identity shift in ways that narratives struggles to contain, but are fundamental to the possibilities of being human.  There is a certain humor, too, in Donoso that is hard to resist. Today, just as back then, Donoso’s work is eclipsed by the equally expansive, but gentler, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the more overtly political Carlos Fuentes.  Indeed, if he is lumped anwhere, it is with the edgier and, even less read, Spanish language writers Adolfo Bioy Casares, Alejo Carpentier, and Julio Cortazar. Perhaps now is the time for his dark star to rise. HOW’s is pleased to present the writer David Auerbach, the fiercely intelligent mind behind Waggish — as this installment of Rear View Mirror takes a closer look at two of Donoso’s more important novels.  .  .  . —Andrew Zornoza Peta Ponce’s incessant tempest: Jose Donoso. By David Auerbach           A symbol means nothing to me. What I want is that these symbols be dynamic, vague, ambiguous, opaque. –Jose Donoso The works of the Chilean writer Jose Donoso (1924-96) evoke an excruciating balance between the realm of nightmares, the harsh social landscape of Latin America, and most of all, the experience of raw suffering. Though considered part of the Latin American “Boom” of the 1960s, Donoso remained on the periphery of the movement, little known until he produced his masterpiece The Obscene Bird of Night in 1970. Donoso’s work does share some superficial surrealist, political, and indigenous touches with the famous writers of that era (Garcia Marquez, Vargas Llosa, Fuentes, and Cortazar being the big four), but his achievement is considerably different from theirs, and, arguably, greater.  It is rare for prose so surreal, so confusing, so experimental, to seem so wholly lived, utterly thought through in all its multiplicative chaos. Donoso, who struggled with chronic illness and pained familial and sexual relations, must have experienced so much of the emotions and experience that come through in Obscene Bird. That much is easy to say, but the question of his narrative methods is a much more difficult one. How were they so effective? Samuel Beckett and Robert Musil managed such things, by very different means, and I think that for any work of sufficient greatness,  a writer must inevitably invent his or her personal means of negotiating between emotion and language, never to be reused. For Donoso, this negotiation begins in his dark, visceral prose, but it ends, perhaps, in his unique use of structure.  Throughout his body of work, Donoso cannily creates two or…

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REAR VIEW MIRROR #2

“All this is what makes them marginal. The space which they inhabit is artificial. Hence their tendency to bundle towards the edge of it. (Beyond its edges there may be real space.) In some cages the light is equally artificial. In all cases the environment is illusory. Nothing surrounds them except their own lethargy or hyperactivity. They have nothing to act upon.” So says John Berger about the creatures in a zoo in his influential essay, “Why Look at Animals?”  30 years after its publication, he might as well be talking about us.  What happened?  Stateside, Berger was — and still is — a seldom discussed intellectual.  In his native England, he is known for his BBC television series “Ways of Seeing” which combined close-readings of canonical art with cultural critique.  But Berger has also authored thirteen novels, among them the 1972 Booker Prize winning “G” and the 2008 Booker nominated “From A to X.”   His “Into Their Labours” trilogy documents the lives of peasants in the small Alps village of Quincy, where Berger relocated after leaving Britain in 1962.  Berger is a rarity, the critic who creates — well.  His lefty humanism is singular: a mashup of Georg Lukacs’ theory, Emile Zola’s realism and the high-low restlessness of poet John Ashbery — and seems, to me at least, to contain some antidote to the post-modern blues.  Here, in this essay, the writer Michael Powers discusses T-Mobile’s “Home for the Holidays” advertisement campaign, Cary Foulkes, Jesus toast, Jorie Graham, David Foster Wallace and the “promise of total semiotic freedom” as he searches to find a place for Berger’s fiction in the age of now. . . . —Andrew Zornoza Ways of Singing: Belonging to No Place.  Voice and Context in John Berger’s “Into Their Labours” Trilogy. By Michael Powers           In a recent television commercial for T-Mobile, pegged to the 2011 holiday shopping season, a young woman, blonde, very pretty in one of the conventional ways, rides up an escalator in a suburban shopping mall. She is wearing a satin or satin-esque dress—short, sleeveless, seasonally out-of-place—the specific pink of which is the only clue thus far as to what is being sold here. She is singing—softly, contemplatively, as if to herself—Robert Allen and Al Stillman’s secular Christmas classic, “Home for the Holidays.”  In a moment she is passed by a cluster of four more women on the down escalator, all of the same approximate age, wearing the same dress, all very pretty in other conventional ways, singing harmony. At this point the game is up. We know—as do the mall shoppers, whose delighted, anticipatory faces the camera keeps showing us—that some highly orchestrated spectacle has been prepared for us, and is about to unfold. When girl number one reaches the top of the escalator, she is suddenly joined by dozens of women running in double rows from side alleys. They are of all sizes and colors, some of them not pretty in any of the conventional ways. They are all wearing the same vaguely luminescent pink dress, and they are all singing, so that what began with one slightly melancholy voice has swelled to a rousing and joyful chorus. Now the camera pans up to the mall’s top level, where a large black woman begins to belt out a gospel solo that both transcends and transforms the familiar song. She is very good. Her voice is a force totally separate from everything else that’s happened here. It rises to the height of the mall’s glass ceiling, and now everyone is clapping and…

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REAR VIEW MIRROR #1

What follows is the inaugural essay for Rear View Mirror, a new column that aims to reintroduce neglected and undervalued authors to a new audience. Under the aegis of HOW magazine, the editors encourage you to explore these works, to find them in your libraries, to pass them to friends, to add your voice to the comments section, and, most importantly, to keep these precious books alive. . . . Rear View Mirror #1 João Guimarães Rosa was one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. In a language of puns and invention, with winding narratives of love and adventure, and characters larger than life, he created an entire cosmology out of the primitive Brazilian hinterlands. His masterpiece Grande Sertão: Veredas—or as it is seen in the USA, The Devil to Pay in the Backlands—is an epic love story as gritty as a Sergio Leone flick, but as vertiginously modernist as Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. The publishing house Knopf has held onto the rights of this novel since 1962: long out of print, copies go on the marketplace for hundreds of dollars. The  World Library agrees with the marketplace’s valuation, placing the book on its top 100 novels of all time, putting it on a shelf with like-minded relatives such as Ulysses, Moby-Dick, and Absalom, Absalom!  Here, the writer Felipe W.Martinez discusses Rosa’s work, laments the state of translation in the United States and shines the light on this almost forgotten, great author. . . . The Higher The Level Of A Work, The More Does It Remain Translatable Even If Its Meaning Is Touched Upon Only Fleetingly, Or: João Guimarães Rosa, The Whole Wild Word There must be innumerable authors we’ve never heard of before. Whose work is long out of print, or was written in another language and never translated, or never happened to fall into our line of sight. Writers who didn’t succeed, or never had much to offer, or who had brilliant ideas and stories to tell, but who failed to be noticed. There are countless reasons why we readers may be ignorant of any given writer. In the United States, when it comes to foreign literature, I’m certain this is largely due to the fact that only a tiny fraction of our literature is translated from other languages. I won’t go into statistics. But what I wish to assert here is that we must acknowledge that our knowledge of foreign literatures has, in large part, depended upon the decisions made by publishers who are, especially in the case of large publishing houses, businesses with bottom lines. Now, whether a lack of monetary gain or secret conspiracy (as many have joked) is to blame for the dearth of material available by the Brazilian writer, João Guimarães Rosa, no one can be sure. What is certain however is that, in the United States, Guimarães Rosa continues to be one of the most unduly neglected Latin American writers of the twentieth century. João Guimarães Rosa (1908-1967) is renowned in his native Brazil as the preeminent literary figure of post-world war II modernity, and yet, he’s virtually unknown in America. You can’t buy his books unless you’re willing to search diligently, and, on top of this, they are egregiously expensive. Further, three of the four extant translations are of debatable quality.1 Between 1963 and 1968, English translations of three of Guimarães Rosa’s works were published in the United States by the prominent publisher Alfred A.…

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H.O.W. Contest Winners, Fiction edition: first place

HOW is proud to present the winners of our 2011 fiction contest. All winners’ work will appear in Issue #9 of HOW. The fiction contest was judged by award winning author Mary Gaitskill.  For our first place prize, she chose the story “The Repository Emporium” by Gloria Beth Amodeo. THE REPOSITORY EMPORIUM PROPS The Repository Emporium sold cedar blocks, too. They were available individually on an end-cap in the closet section, with lavender sachets and little balls that absorbed moisture. After her training was complete, Daisy often turned the cameras on them. People liked to slip them in their pockets. “Every item matters!” Ivan insisted during training, when Daisy was a newbie and going through the month long “Principles Program”. It took her that first month to retain one-fourth of the information, watching Ivan’s eyes tear up behind his glasses as he spoke of the “register pod area” and the “suction cup attachment guide”. He taught her about the grippy glass jars in Kitchen and the expandable file folders in Office and the bamboo clothes folding carts in Laundry, all the things that held things, but weren’t the actual things. Daisy noticed the display items. A red dress, hanging in a display window garment bag. A mountain bike, resting on the claws of a bike hanger across from the eco-friendly trash cans. “Do people ever steal those?” she joked. Ivan’s head twitched towards her, his eyes drying as he looked from her face to her feet, then back to her face. “You’ve been hired to catch the most powerful thief in retail history,” he said. “Keep this in mind: There’s nothing funny about stealing the props.” CARLA Daisy followed me to the one-dollar pizza stand on our first day of training. Ivan told us to take an hour break and she watched me with this white face. Her eyes shook, like water when something’s swimming in it. I felt like I should give her a bottle or else she would cry. She was so skinny. She had no ass, like maybe when she sat down her bones scraped against the chair. I tore my nametag off and stuffed it in my pocket. The bank never gave me a nametag that fancy. The retail job I took because I was out of work was acting better than the real job that fired me. Daisy’s face was in the corner of my eye. You know when you’re being watched. I left with a dollar in my hand. She came to my bench with a piece of pepperoni and sat down, like the sidewalk was kindergarten and teachers told us where to sit. “Sucks being here for eight hours,” she said. “This place is intense.” I took a bite of pizza. “Why, you got something better to do?” I said, my mouth full of hotness. “No. I guess.” “You never got something better to do than work, girl. City‘s expensive. Everyone wants to live here. Complainers never prosper.” “I’ve only been here a month,” she said. “I don’t really know what’s going on yet.” “Well, wake up. You’re gonna be behind the cameras, right? You’ve got some big thief on your hands?” Ivan spent an hour at training on the guy. He had been stealing from the store for two years, and his theft alone was the reason for 40% of our shrink. He wore the same thing every time. This faded pair of jeans and a giant orange t-shirt, no…

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H.O.W. Contest Winners, Fiction edition

HOW is proud to present a preview of the winners of our 2011 writing contest.  Five writers were chosen out of hundreds of submissions.  All finalists’ work will appear in the next print issue of HOW. The fiction contest was judged by award winning author Mary Gaitskill.  For our second place prize, she chose the story “Barbados” by Mark Brazaitis. BARBADOS When Eddie saw the job candidate’s name, he smelled the Chesapeake Bay, its saltwater and jellyfish, its speedboat oil. He saw the moon roll a thin silver carpet across the water. He felt his blood fill him everywhere, deliciously, and he felt hands on his chest and in his hair and on his cheeks. He felt lips on his lips as cool and inviting as the night. But the Alvaro López Eddie knew had returned to Guatemala after the summer they were counselors at Camp Go in Edgewater, Maryland. He had plans to go to college in Guatemala City, buy a coffee finca, live with his future wife and children on the shore of Lake Atitlán. The Alvaro López Eddie knew was history. Eddie was supposed to meet with this other Alvaro López at two-thirty on Friday. Alvaro was the last of three finalists for the position, a late replacement for a candidate who had withdrawn. Eddie had met already with the two other finalists, whom he had found adequate if uninspiring. He wasn’t on the four-person search committee and had no vote on who was hired. The committee simply wanted his input. A note at the bottom of Alvaro’s schedule said a copy of his dossier was available at the departmental secretary’s desk. But when Eddie asked to see it, the secretary said one of the committee members had taken it home. Who needs a candidate’s file, Eddie thought, when there was the Internet. But when, sitting at his desk in his third-floor office with its view of downtown Sherman, Ohio, he Googled Alvaro López, he was greeted with hundreds of Web links to three musicians, one a drummer, another a guitar player, the third a saxophonist. He tried to narrow the search by putting “Alvaro López Guatemala” into the search field. This yielded stories about a drug lord and links to YouTube videos of the guitar player strumming in a dust storm. Late to pick up his son from preschool, Eddie raced down the stairs to the parking lot and his Nissan. During their summer by the Chesapeake, he had driven an ancient Volkswagen Beetle, which smelled of dirt and Alvaro’s nectarine-scented cologne. On their nights off, he and Alvaro sometimes drove into Washington, D.C., to watch movies and drink beer in Georgetown. One time at the Alligator, a club on K Street, Alvaro, who was five-feet, seven-inches tall only by the most generous measurement but had brilliant black hair, skin a color somewhere between copper and gold, and dark eyes with lush eyelashes, spent an entire night dancing with the young women in the club as Eddie watched from a table. Alvaro spun them, twirled them, drew them into his chest. He was masterful, and Eddie found himself becoming jealous, which was, he suspected, Alvaro’s intention. Later in the Volkswagen, before they reached the camp parking lot, Eddie pulled to the side of the dark road, lined with maple and oak trees, and after clicking off his headlights, grabbed at Alvaro’s slacks in a gesture as much angry as lustful. “Gently,” Alvaro said…

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INTERVIEW #1 JOHN D’AGATA

interviewed by Andrew Zornoza John D’Agata is the author of Halls of Fame, a collection of short essays, and About a Mountain, a meditation on the limits of human understanding, and, ostensibly, the disposal of nuclear waste. David Foster Wallace called him “one of the most significant U.S. writers to emerge in the past few years.” and Annie Dillard says of him: “A writer of rare intelligence and artistry . . . John D’Agata is redefining the modern American essay.” D’Agata is also an editor of two influential anthologies: The Next American Essay and The Lost Origins of the Essay. His new book, out now, is titled The Lifespan of a Fact. D’Agata teaches creative writing at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, where he lives. HOW:  I am curious about how you deal with the aftermath of a book like About a Mountain. A fiction or poetry writer is free to create a whole cosmology and not be responsible for it: the response, “I made it all up,” is always available. While your books have a poetic movement to them, your subjects are nevertheless out there in the world, still changing, and can talk back at you, call you in as an expert, deride you as a heretic. The essay writer seems to be beholden to many things after the creation of their work. D’AGATA:  A year after the book came out, almost to the day, Japan’s earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear emergency occurred. I was on my school’s spring break at that time, trying to get some work done. But what I spent that week doing instead was discuss with various news editors why I wasn’t the right guy to come on their TV program or radio show or to contribute to their Op-Ed page about my thoughts on Japan. I am agonizingly shy, so in truth that’s part of the reason why I was turning them down. But, more importantly, I’m not an expert on nuclear waste. Despite having spent nine years researching and writing about the subject, I knew I was not anywhere near the best person to be speaking about what was happening in Japan. Certainly there’s a lot of information in About a Mountain that’s about nuclear power, and in writing the book I had to learn how to turn on a whole new part of my brain that could process the physics and the politics that are involved. But, as a writer, my understanding of all that information was in the service of a metaphor, not in the service of the information itself. Nuclear power and nuclear waste were not really my subjects; they are a vehicle for discussions of larger issues. So, for example, when the book was initially rejected by an editor because he didn’t think it read like a “general nonfiction reader on nuclear power,” I was actually relieved. I was bummed too, of course, because I wanted the book to be published. But I was relieved because what that rejection indicated was that the book was indeed signaling that it was about something other than its information. And that’s the issue that so-called “nonfiction” writers grapple with—the assumption that their books are comprised of nothing but their information, that there could never be anything in them other than information, that they are, in other words, not literary works but merely dispensaries of information. HOW:  You’ve championed many contemporary writers (Jenny…

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Welcome to H.O.W NOW!

Welcome to H.O.W NOW! HOW NOW is online!  Interviews and essays on the fringe.  Join us for an ongoing dialogue between cutting edge artists of today and the avant-garde of yesterday. The magazine’s REAR VIEW MIRROR column focuses on neglected, under-appreciated authors to bring these great writers to life for future audiences.  And the INTERVIEW series aims to engage today’s most interesting voices in a candid discussion about creativity and the world of books.  Through these two series and more, HOW NOW aims to create a long-lasting archive of quality conversation on the future of literature.   For submissions, or further information, contact the editors at hownow AT howjournal DOT com.

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