Translations, critical summaries, annotated bibliographies, book reviews, sporadic interviews, etc.

I once visited the archives of Paul Metcalf and wrote 10,000 words on his life & work for the Scribner’s Annual American Writers Supplement (before it was cancelled definitively the following year). It was fact-checked!

I have translated a few books by Pierre Senges from French into English. The first was in 2016, The Major Refutation. Senges’s work is deeply intertextual and I think that’s one of the things that’s most interesting to me about it. I don’t really try to proselytize for it, I think translating it is enough.

All the books I have translated have been published by independent presses.

Sublunary Editions has published two of the books you see here, “Falstaff: Apotheosis” and Studies of Silhouettes. The latter is in a way a continuation of the work of Franz Kafka. Due out early in 2022 from Sublunary Editions is Rabelais’s Doughnuts, an original collection of seven essays by Senges.

Studies of Silhouettes was recently (March 2021) discussed at length by Alina Stefanescu at The Babel Tower Notice Board in an article entitled “Pierre Senges’ Silhouettes of Kafka: Dim Light Is Best.”

Vertiginously Stefanescu writes:

“The world may die but Senges’ book exists in dialogue with the death of the author, Kafka, as this review exists in dialogue with Siefring’s translation, as it builds upon lines borrowing Senges’ methodology to create a canvas of Sengian response to the form he perfected in order to reveal form’s imperfections.”

The whole review is really exceptional and worth reading, as I hope and believe Studies is too.

In 2020, Nicholas Birns discussed Geometry in the Dust at length in Contra Mundum’s in-house journal Hyperion. I will quote amply:

“This is not just an illustrated book, but a book that has thought of itself as a physical object. The white spaces between the sections operate powerfully precisely because they mirror the idea of a cognitive blank slate on which the projections of the imagined city are layered. In addition, the book does not seem to be paginated until the end, where we are presented with the equivalent of a table of contents, with the first words of each of the book’s fourteen sections (perhaps modeled in a sonnet?) to the right of a page number. This gives the book a clean, uncluttered feeling in terms of design, but also makes the offbeat table of contents a kind of encryption key, even though there is no mystery and no solution. Inside the Castle has designed the book not just as a visual treat but as a text where pictures and empty spaces add to the sense of carnival and conundrum.”

“Menippean satire, as a mix of playfulness, erudition, argumentation, and nonsense […] does shed light on [Geometry in the Dust], although the presence of illustrations perhaps rolls the text over to a new genre. Notably, though, this book, and Senges’ work in general, is not just about the display of erudition. There is much rumination on obscure arcana, but it is not simply a commonplace-book of quirky fragments. The narrative lets itself pour out into ecstasy or abandonment, does not become fixated on details or insights. In the past a certain sort of writer might have been able to harness a series of erudite observations into a compelling text by sheer bravura of style. But, with information now so available electronically, the aptitude of these collector-writers is now more dime a dozen. Moreover, erudition itself is now associated with a certain kind of (racial, gender, positional) privilege. Senges’s perspective, at once present and absent, learned but also prepared to take in a sense of reverie and astonishment and even delirium from worlds and illusions, is aware of these pitfalls, so that we can ride with its conjecture and not feel it too presumptuous.”

“Senges’s text is expertly and accessibly translated by Jacob Siefring. Siefring’s tone—not too stately and gravid, but not so bouncy as to diminish the sense of ‘as if’ and estrangement that characterize the text’s verbal performance—makes for an English that is both fluid and eloquent and permits us to imagine the French original. Siefring uses English colloquialism or paraphrases to give a sense of familiarity amid strangeness that heightens the text’s innate uncanniness: “Those old folks at home since forever ago might be powerful, unconcerned Gorgons—little does the length of time matter; but the idea of eternity is woven of a similar nostalgia” (37). The use of “gumption” on page 30 is a similar example. Just as Senges does not presume on his own erudition, Siefring renders the text not just in an English, but in something close to our own English. Translations, like imagined cities, have their own wayward geometry; and this translation of Senges gives the reader both the architecture of its daring and the pungent dust of the shy concourses of experience it deliriously renders.”

What’s next?