Published by Wakefield Press. By Tony Duvert. Introduction by S.C. Delaney. Translation by S.C. Delaney, Agnès Potier.
District describes, in ten vignettes, the sad, sordid and sinister aspects of a section of an unnamed French city, and the manners in which the ghostlike human entities that live and wither within it are molded, moved and absorbed by its spaces.
A noisy metro station, old tenements, buildings going up, along with the fixtures of French communal life: the open-air market, the public garden; the little shops and bars, the lively town square—the ugly and mundane, the coarse and unmentionable sit side by side with the occasionally burgeoning bit of beauty. With a sense of voyeuristic tension and queasy complicity, the reader is taken on an outcast’s tour of city life—from construction site to metro, from bar to brothel—an analysis of communal living in the conditional tense from the perspective of the absolute exile. One of Duvert’s last books, it is also one of his shortest: an unexpected return to the roving, fractured eye of the Nouveau Roman that had informed his earliest work.
Published by Wakefield Press. By Oscar A.H. Schmitz. Translation and introduction by W.C. Bamberger. Illustrations by Alfred Kubin. Afterword by James J. Conway.
First published in German in 1902, Hashish is a collection of decadent, interwoven tales of Satanism, eroticism, sadism, cannibalism, necrophilia and death.
Encountering the enigmatic dandy Count Vittorio Alta-Carrara in a Parisian eatery, the narrator finds himself invited to a “Hashish Club,” where in the dim light of red-filtered candles, a roomful of “recumbent wanderers” explores the abyss of the unconscious. The narrator and the count don a variety of identities as they in turn enter the narratives, sometimes participating in them, other times merely observing them from the vantage point of a shifting divan. Engaging in romantic liaisons with masks and cadavers, taking part in Satanic orgies and carnivals, plotting blasphemy and riding carriages through cityscapes where time loses its bearings, the protagonists draw the reader into their narrative and psychological unmooring.
A forgotten yet important chapter in the lineage of German fantastic and decadent literature, this translation of Hashish is illustrated throughout with drawings by the author’s brother-in-law, Alfred Kubin, from the book’s second, 1913 German edition.
Oscar A.H. Schmitz (1873–1931) lived the life of a literary dandy. Although best remembered in Germany for his second book, Hashish, and the decadent lineage it helped inaugurate in German letters, his output was wide-ranging, from Romantic verse to plays and travel books, to a series of popular nonfiction works on politics, yoga, astrology, etiquette and Jungian psychology.
Published by Wakefield Press. By Marcel Schwob. Foreword by Jorge Luis Borges. Translation by Kit Schluter.
“I’ve just read Marcel Schwob’s The Children’s Crusade twice over, with deep admiration and reverence. I am profoundly moved: what a work! And to think I’d never heard the name of Marcel Schwob. Who is he?”—Rainer Maria Rilke
Marcel Schwob’s 1896 novella The Children’s Crusade retells the medieval legend of the exodus of some 30,000 children from all countries to the Holy Land, who traveled to the shores of the sea, which—instead of parting to allow them to march on to Jerusalem—instead delivered them to merchants who sold them into slavery in Tunisia or delivered them to a watery death. It is a cruel and sorrowful story mingling history and legend, which Schwob recounts through the voices of eight different protagonists: a goliard, a leper, Pope Innocent III, a cleric, a qalandar and Pope Gregory IX, as well as two of the marching children, whose naive faith eventually turns into growing fear and anguish.
Though it is a tale drawn from the early 13th century, Schwob presents it through a modern framework of shifting subjectivity and fragmented coherency, and its subject matter and its succession of different narrative perspectives has been seen as an influence on and precursor to such diverse works as Alfred Jarry’s The Other Alcestis, Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s “In a Grove,” William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Jerzy Andrzejewski’s The Gates of Paradise. It is a tale told by many yet understood by few, a mosaic surrounding a void, describing a world in which innocence must perish.
Published by Wakefield Press. By Marcel Schwob. Introduction and translation by Chris Clarke.
“The art of the biographer consists specifically in choice. He is not meant to worry about speaking truth; he must create human characteristics amidst the chaos.”—Marcel Schwob
Imaginary Lives remains, over 120 years since its original publication in French, one of the secret keys to modern literature: under-recognized, yet a decisive influence on such writers as Apollinaire, Borges, Jarry and Artaud, and more contemporary authors such as Roberto Bolaño and Jean Echenoz. Drawing from historical influences such as Plutarch and Diogenes Laërtius, and authors more contemporary to him such as Thomas De Quincey and Walter Pater, Schwob established the genre of fictional biography with this collection: a form of narrative that championed the specificity of the individual over the generality of history, and the memorable detail of a vice over the forgettable banality of a virtue.
These 22 portraits present figures drawn from the margins of history, from Empedocles the “Supposed God” and Clodia the “Licentious Matron” to the pirate Captain Kidd and the Scottish murderers Messrs. Burke and Hare. In his quest for unique lives, Schwob also formulated an early conception of the anti-hero, and discarded historical figures in favor of their shadows. These “imaginary lives” thus acquaint us with the “Hateful Poet” Cecco Angiolieri instead of his lifelong rival, Dante Alighieri; the would-be romantic pirate Major Stede Bonnet instead of the infamous Blackbeard who would lead him to the gallows; the false confessor Nicolas Loyseleur rather than Joan of Arc whom he cruelly deceived; or the actor Gabriel Spenser in place of the better-remembered Ben Jonson who ran a sword through his lung.
Marcel Schwob (1867–1905) was a scholar of startling breadth and an incomparable storyteller. The secret influence on generations of writers, Schwob was as versed in the street slang of medieval thieves as he was in the poetry of Walt Whitman (whom he translated into French).
Published by Wakefield Press. By Tony Duvert. Introduction by S.C. Delaney. Translation by S.C. Delaney, Agnès Potier.
This series of 23 satirically scabrous short texts introduces the reader to an imaginary French suburb via the strange, grotesque small-town occupations that defined a once reliable, now presumably vanished way of life.
A catalog of job descriptions that range from the disgusting functions of “The Snot-Remover” and “The Wiper” to the shockingly cruel dramas enacted by “The Skinner” and “The Snowman,” Odd Jobs evinces an outrageous, uncomfortable and savage sense of humor. Through these narratives somewhere between parody and prose poem, Duvert assaults parenthood, priesthood and neighborhood in this mock handbook to suburban living: Leave It to Beaver as written by William Burroughs.
Tony Duvert (1945–2008) earned a reputation as the “enfant terrible” of the generation of French authors known for defining the postwar Nouveau Roman. Expelled from school at the age of 12 for homosexuality (and then put through a psychoanalytic “cure” for his condition), Duvert declared war on family life and societal norms through a controversial series of novels and essays (whose frequent controversial depictions of child sexuality and pedophilia often led his publisher to sell his works by subscription only). He won the Prix Medicis in 1973 for his novel Strange Landscape. His reputation faded in the 1980s, however, and he withdrew from society. He died in 2008.
Published by Wakefield Press. By Pierre Mac Orlan. Translation and introduction by Chris Clarke. Illustrations by Gus Bofa.
Mademoiselle Bambù is Pierre Mac Orlan’s take on the spy novel, written and expanded between 1932 and 1966.
Set in Hamburg, London, Palermo, Brest and other ports of call in the anxious Europe of the 1920s and 1930s, Mademoiselle Bambù tells the tales of three secret agents: the melancholic adventurer and accidental spy, Captain Hartmann; his enigmatic mistress from Naples (and a double agent for the Germans), Signorina Bambù; and the sinister Père Barbançon, who retires from his life of espionage and murder to eke out his troubled days in an aptly named “Boarding House of Usher,” where shadows are as likely to strangle a man as they are to haunt him.
Like all of Mac Orlan’s novels, Mademoiselle Bambù is less a novel than a barometer of societal unease, crippling melancholy and dark humor.
Pierre Mac Orlan (1882–1970) was a prolific writer of absurdist tales, adventure novels, flagellation erotica and essays, as well as the composer of a trove of songs made famous by the likes of Juliette Gréco. A member of both the Académie Goncourt and the Collège de ’Pataphysique, Mac Orlan was admired by everyone from Raymond Queneau and Boris Vian to André Malraux and Guy Debord.
Published by Wakefield Press. By Georges Perec. Introduction and translation by Mara Cologne Wythe-Hall.
“In the beginning was the pun,” Samuel Beckett once wrote. And so it was that Georges Perec brought the good word to his friends and acquaintances on a yearly basis, as an expression of his best wishes for the New Year. Wishes gathers together these ten pamphlets of homophonic wordplay that Perec sent out from 1970 until his death in 1982, printed at his own expense in limited quantities. This paean to the pun consists of a series of short prose pieces, each concluding with a list of the everyday bits of language lying at their root. English proverbs, Latin phrases, the names of musicians, filmmakers, novelists and book titles are all fodder for Perec’s homophonic translations: John Coltrane turns into an anecdote about a wanderer with a severe ring around the collar; Antonioni’s first movie transforms into a prophecy of a murderous holiday; the phrase “All’s well that ends well” becomes a pregnant cow named Alice hailed by a drunk Satan; and Maurice Ravel proves to be a warning against corpses with a predilection for root vegetables.
These texts and their marriage of sound to meaning present a challenge to any translation, and bring into stark relief the choices translators are often forced to make. This English edition sidesteps such choices, offering two alternate translations: a traditional one focused on the literal content of Perec’s texts, and another focused on their formal phonological play.
Georges Perec (1936–82) was a French novelist, essayist and filmmaker whose linguistic talents ranged from fiction to crossword puzzles to palindromes. Winner of the prix Renaudot in 1965 for his first novel, Things, and the prix Médicis in 1978 for his most acclaimed novel, Life A User’s Manual, Perec was also a member of Oulipo.
Published by Wakefield Press. By Juan Benet. Translation and introduction by Adrian Nathan West.
Juan Benet’s penultimate book, The Construction of the Tower of Babel brings together two essays that testify to the multiplicity of the author’s interests, both personal and professional.
The titular essay is a meditation on Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s 1563 painting of the Tower of Babel: the first painting in European art history to feature a building as a protagonist. An engineer by trade, Benet brings his knowledge of building construction to bear on Bruegel’s creation, examining the archways, pillars, windows and the painter’s meticulously depicted chaos at the heart of the edifice’s centuries-long execution. An unusual analysis of architectural hubris and the linguistic myth that gave rise to it, Benet’s essay builds its own linguistic telescoping structure that could be described as an “architextual” discourse on the madness of the unending project.
Also included is “On the Necessity of Treason” (a theme of particular interest to Benet, whose father was shot by Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War, and whose brother was forced to escape to France, exiled for his Republican sympathies). Benet considers the essentially dual nature of the spy and the curious World War II cases of Julius Norke and William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw) to conclude that, within the order of the State, the traitor is not only necessary, but welcome.
A civil engineer by profession, Spanish writer Juan Benet (1927–93) began writing to pass the long nights of solitude he spent on construction sites in León and Asturias. He self-published his first novel, You Will Never Amount to Anything, in 1961. In 1967, he won the Biblioteca Breve Prize for his novel A Meditation.
Being an Inquiry, in Twenty-Five Parts, into the Question of Immortality
Published by Wakefield Press. By Erich Mühsam. Introduction and translation by Erik Butler.
With Psychology of the Rich Aunt, German author Erich Mühsam made his ironic bid for authorial immortality by announcing his discovery that immortality in fact exists—specifically in the person of the Rich Aunt. Through 25 case studies, arranged alphabetically (from Aunt Amalia to Aunt Zerlinde), Mühsam argues his case: the Rich Aunt is able to live forever provided she has a nephew waiting for her demise and for his inheritance. The corollary revealed in these tales, of course, is that a Rich Aunt’s eternal rest is directly tied to her nephew’s deprivation of said inheritance. The pathways to an immortal’s demise can thus be the result of anything from the vagrancies of sexual proclivities or the stock market to the unforeseen expenses of literary ambitions. The Rich Aunt emerges as the enduring fly in the ointment of Church, Family and State, the undoing of fate personified and the transformation of morality into mortality under the aegis of Capital.
Originally published in German in 1905, Psychology of the Rich Aunt is a caustically tongue-in-cheek portrayal of greed under capitalism in the bourgeois epoch.
Erich Mühsam (1878–1934) was a German-Jewish anarchist writer, poet, playwright, cabaret songwriter and a fierce satirist of the Nazi party. He played a key role in the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic, championed the rights of women and homosexuals, advocated for free love and vegetarianism, and opposed capitalism and war. He was brutally murdered in the Oranienburg concentration camp.
Published by Wakefield Press. By Pascal Quignard. Translated by Douglas Penick, Charles Ré.
A Terrace in Rome describes the tormented life of Geoffroy Meaume, a 17th-century engraver of encrypted shadows and erotic prints. After a passionate affair in his youth concludes with his face being burned by acid thrown by his lover’s jealous fiancé, Meaume undertakes a lifetime of wandering, his psyche forever engraved by the memory of the woman who spurned him. With a face of boiled leather and a mind haunted by a nightmare of desire, he devotes himself to the black-and-white world of etchings and mezzotints, forsaking the paradise of color to engage in a science of shadows. This fragmented narrative of a man attacked by images is related in 47 short chapters which themselves act as engravings; a tale told by an antiquarian, full of fragmented vision and sexual hell. First published in French in 2000, A Terrace in Rome received the Grand Prix du Roman de l’Académie Française that same year, and went on to be translated into 19 languages. This is its first appearance in English. Pascal Quignard (born 1948) has written over 60 books of fiction, essays, and his own particular genre of philosophical reflection that straddles the personal journal, historical narrative and poetic theory. His books in English include Albucius, All the World’s Mornings, The Sexual Night, Sex and Terror, On Wooden Tablets: Apronenia Avitia, and The Salon in Wurttemberg, as well as the multiple volumes of his ongoing book project The Last Kingdom, which, to date, includes The Roving Shadows, The Silent Crossing and Abysses.