|THE PARIS MAGAZINE|
|In 1967 Shakespeare and Company published a literary magazine called The Paris Magazine which its founder and editor George Whitman referred to as 'The Poor Man’s Paris Review'—even though the contributors included Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Durrell, Jean-Paul Sartre and Marguerite Duras. Two more issues of what was meant to be a quarterly magazine followed, after long intervals, and we are now publishing a fourth.|
George Whitman claimed in that first issue that he had made unlikely bed-fellows of his contributors. More than forty years later, and in keeping with that sentiment, this fourth edition is meant to be an intriguing and unfamiliar place for both its writers and readers—just like the bookshop itself.
|Available at Shakespeare and Company bookshop or order online.|
Sylvia Whitman & Fatema Ahmed –
Shakespeare and Company and The Paris Magazine
Lawrence Ferlinghetti – The Mirabeau Bridge
Luc Sante – Concerning an Incident
Jeanette Winterson & Gregory Blackstock – Books in my Life
Marie NDiaye – Revelation
Todd McEwen – Living in the Country
Irène Némirovsky – The Virgins
Jesse Ball & Thordis Björnsdottir – Scrip M
Michel Houellebecq – Approaches to Distress
The Tumbleweed Hotel
Alexander Kluge – Seven Love Stories
Rivka Galchen – The Key to All Pathologies
Adelaide Docx – The List
Riikka Kuusisto – Once Upon a Time in the West
Daniel Arsham – Animal Architecture
Saadat Hasan Manto – Letters to Uncle Sam
Jeremy Harding – Rimbaudmania
Nigel Peake – Re-imagined Paris
|SHAKESPEARE AND COMPANY|
AND THE PARIS MAGAZINE
|THE RIGHT KIND OF ELECTRICITY|
The Paris Magazine was first published in 1967 by George Whitman my father when the bookshop had been closed by the French authorities because George’s papers were not in order. During the entire year that the shop was closed, he didn’t sell one book but remained open as an open house, free library and guest house for writers from abroad. There were readings, courses and debates on everything from great books to the war in Vietnam or LSD. Describing in the magazine how he came to be a bookseller George said:|
Like many of my compatriots I am something of a tumbleweed drifting in the wind. I drifted into bookselling for no better reason than a passion for books except for the classical reason of all booksellers who are self‑employed because they doubt if anyone else would employ them.
Having now drifted into bookselling myself, but in a very different era from my father, I often find myself being looked upon apologetically as a representative of the old world, someone who believes in the book as a living thing. This usually happens when people are about to launch into their love of their newest technological purchase. In response, I find myself saying, ‘Well, it’s the touch, the smell, the sensual aspect of the book that we would miss,’ or even, ‘It’s the photos, metro tickets and notes you find among the pages.’ I then see in their eyes an image of me as a librarian, sipping Earl Grey quietly while reading Jane Austen at the till, with a cat rolled up keeping my feet warm.
But it’s more than that. It’s the spaces books inhabit, the people they attract and the character they exude. It’s the silent community of readers. What other business encourages you to sit, meet people, browse and read a book for hours? It’s also the personal contact when someone comes in and asks for a book, remembering neither the author nor the title — only that the cover is pink; or when you manage to recommend the right title to the right person, and it’s as if something intimate has passed between you; or reading a great story and sharing your copy, with all its folded corners at your favourite bits. And, of course, the topsy‑turvy aspect of the walls surrounding you and the towers of toppling books that may even drop the unexpected into your hands. In fact, if the editor of this issue, Fatema Ahmed, hadn’t been browsing in a London bookshop where she came across something surprising — the original Paris Magazine — this issue would never have found itself in your hands.
We house books of all sorts but we also try to house writers of all sorts. George always welcomed travelling writers, or tumbleweeds as he affectionately calls them, to bunk up between the rows of books. Some of them arrive as hopeful Hemingways, others leave sure that they will be the next Kerouac, but all of them at least experience a book‑lined home on the banks of the Seine.
George wrote in the ’67 issue his own definition of a writer’s needs: ‘All the writer requires is a sensitive skin, a beard, the right kind of electricity in his brain‑waves and a world that is sufficiently disorganized to allow him to subvert it.’
We are still sufficiently disorganized and hope the writer and reader might find the right kind of electricity here. More than forty years after the first issue of this magazine, we are also attempting other new ventures, with a literary festival, weekly readings, a literary prize for the novella, writers’ workshops and many more projects to come. All of this is to create a living space for books, and to invite you to enjoy something local, personal and real. As my father says, the book business is the business of life.
|‘THE POOR MAN’S PARIS REVIEW’|
My first reaction on coming across a journal called The Paris Magazine, published by Shakespeare and Company in 1967, was: what a terrible name. Why would anyone choose a title that inevitably brings to mind a rather more famous literary magazine that started in Paris? But the cover promised Lawrence Durrell, Allen Ginsberg, Jean‑Paul Sartre and an interview with Marguerite Duras, so it seemed worth taking a closer look.|
The editorial saw off my scepticism as, right there, at the top of the page was the headline: THE POOR MAN’S PARIS REVIEW. What followed was even more disarming as the editor George Whitman modestly and incorrectly summed up his efforts:
In this issue I seem to have made bed‑fellows of a genial monarchist like Lawrence Durrell and a Marxist like Jean‑Paul Sartre. I am ready to admit I may have no more vocation as an editor than as a bookseller and will gracefully resign if someone like Mary McCarthy would like to be its editor and financier.
The first Paris Magazine was published in the year Shakespeare and Company was unable to sell books. It billed itself as a quarterly publication but once the bookshop was granted a new trading licence, it was the magazine’s turn to go on a long break. Two more issues were to follow — after a leisurely interval of seventeen years in 1984, and then again in 1989.
This fourth issue takes as its starting point the theme for this year’s festival: Storytelling and Politics. It may seem surprising to see a short story by this year’s winner of the Prix Goncourt next to an essay on the literary merits of a manual for diagnosing psychiatric disorders; or Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s translation of one of Apollinaire’s most famous poems beside a neglected satirist from the Indian subcontinent. It may seem surprising but it shouldn’t be. All these writers, and the others, share an interest in what it is that only literature can do, and the unlikely forms it can sometimes take.
In his essay on the superiority of literature to other art forms, particularly in the modern world, Michel Houellebecq comes close to declaring a manifesto for the point of reading itself when he says:
Literature, with all its strength (which is considerable), opposes the notion of permanent relevance, of a perpetual present. Books call for readers; but those readers must have an individual, stable existence; they cannot be pure consumers, pure phantoms; they must also be in some respect subjects.
Anyone who spends time in the bookshop —from tumbleweed to casual browser — probably already knows this. This edition of The Paris Magazine will have succeeded if it has given them something else worth reading, too.
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|LIVING IN THE COUNTRY|
It was Thoreau’s slow, almost maddeningly slow, description of leaves, of trees, that drew me in. Right away I recognized in Thoreau a fellow connoisseur of depression, if nothing else. Today, writing this, on the very Roof of Europe, I have three autumn leaves on my desk, and I’m working with an italic pen, just to annoy you!|
My banjo friend, K, and I were struck by what Thoreau seemed to be saying. And because I have never been able to fight free of the physical impresses of reading, I quickly made an idol of the family copy of Thoreau, covered in dark green cloth, a Viking Portable.
I was back to my altar‑making, for to my green Thoreau I added, for some kind of solace, a wooden recorder, an old dried‑out chestnut my grand‑uncle had used to carry around with him, an Osmiroid italic fountain pen, and took to wearing a pair of brown hiking boots all the time (vestment). ‘They who come rarely to the woods,’ he wrote, ‘take some little piece of the forest into their hands to play with by the way…’
I was disappointed to discover that Thoreau used to sit around playing the flute, as it’s an instrument I’ve always disliked—it is incapable of expressing neurosis, what good is a musical instrument without a dark side? — and the flute repertoire includes the most saccharine, nauseating music ever written. However Pete Seeger used to noodle on the recorder a bit, so that was OK. My father’s obsessive Nonesuch LP‑collecting had steam rollered any interest I had in the Baroque, so I just played ‘Living in the Country’ like Pete. I would do this in our one available wilderness, a park in the hills above our town. Full of dust, really, and nondescript vegetation, and banana slugs you slipped on — yet once in a while you could glimpse what Thoreau was talking about.
The chestnut was something old Ohio men used to affect (the ‘Buckeye State’, after all)— keeping one in their pockets and polishing it with their fingers over the years, as you might a briar pipe. That I liked this small shiny thing, found some natural resonance in it, was pretty funny, considering that my grand‑uncle was better known for falling face first in his soup plate than as a lover of nature. Golf was as close as he got, and given the cocktails involved in golf as he knew it, it was not very close.
The italic fountain pen gave whatever I wrote the instant authority of the older world, things written by candlelight. What a jerk. Now I’m just a fatso who sits in front of a computer, drinking. But I still write with this kind of pen when I have something intimate or unpleasant to say. Hardly any kind of paper will take it any more.
The boots were all Seeger’s fault too, as was my habit of wearing formal shirts and rolling the sleeves up. Desmond Morris once wrote that this is sexual provocation in human males —‘I’m stripping for action!’— he’d obviously never heard a Pete Seeger record. [ ... ]
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They had loved each other; but they hadn’t been happy living together. They were both passionate and jealous, each as incapable of making concessions and being content as the other. Once married, they had lovers’ quarrels; their existence was full of tempestuous conflicts that always ended in tender and passionate reconciliations. They had met when they were twenty; now they were forty‑five. She had been extremely beautiful, but, unfortunately, her face looked troubled, with lines and a bitter expression that even make‑up couldn’t hide. After she had her daughter late in life, a child she cherished but had not really wanted, her body, once so magnificent, had grown heavy and shapeless. Her husband still looked young. Endowed with a restless, adventurous nature, he hadn’t been able to settle down in France. He had travelled all over the world. Whenever possible, his wife went with him. They were not well off. There were hard times. He ended up finding work in Morocco for a few years; he was an architect. Age was creeping up on him, and with it, luck and wisdom, he used to say, laughing. He was almost wealthy; the bad times faded from their memories. Then, he left her for his mistress.|
The woman and child were returning home now, just the two of them.
The woman hoped to find refuge with one of her sisters, a primary‑school teacher in a small village in the centre of France. It was snowing, and there had been some sort of misunderstanding about the time of the train, so no one was waiting at the station for the two travellers: my mother and me. [ ... ]
Translation: Sandra Smith
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|APPROACHES TO DISTRESS|
|CONTEMPORARY ARCHITECTURE AS A |
WAY OF SPEEDING UP TRAVEL
It’s well known that the general public don’t like contemporary art. This trivial statement in fact contains two opposing attitudes. The average member of the public, coming across a display of contemporary paintings or sculpture, will stop in front of it, even if only to laugh. His attitude will fluctuate between ironic amusement and outright sniggering. Either way, he will be aware of a certain element of derision. The insignificance of what is on display will be a reassuring guarantee that it is harmless. It’s true that he will have wasted his time, but not in the end in a particularly unpleasant way. |
Place the same member of the public in a contemporary architectural setting and he’ll be much less inclined to laugh. Under favourable conditions (late at night or with police sirens in the background), you’ll observe a phenomenon that can clearly be characterized as anxiety, accompanied by an increase in all bodily secretions. At all events, the functional unit made up of the organs of sight and the limbs controlling his getaway will be working at a significantly increased rate.
That’s how it is when a busload of tourists, lost in a maze of exotic signs, is deposited in Segovia’s banking district or Barcelona’s business centre. Plunged back into their familiar universe of steel, glass and signs, the visitors instantly adopt a swift pace, with a functional and focused look in their eyes, in keeping with their environment. Progressing among pictograms and written signs, it doesn’t take them long to reach the cathedral district, the historic centre of the city. At once, their pace slows; the movement in their eyes becomes random, almost erratic. A certain stunned stupefaction can be seen on their faces (the open‑mouth phenomenon typical of Americans). They evidently feel they are in the presence of unusual, complex visual phenomena which are hard to interpret. Very soon, however, messages appear on the walls. Thanks to the tourist office, cultural‑historical points of reference fall into place; our travellers can get out their camcorders to record the memory of their travels in a cultural guided tour. [ ... ]
Translation: George Miller
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|THE TUMBLEWEED HOTEL|
|at Shakespeare and Company|
|From the first day George opened the doors of his bookshop, he invited young writers and travellers to live in the bookshop for one night, to seven years as one poet did. The French police asked him to register every guest’s name, date of birth and address and get it officially stamped at the préfecture de police and this was the beginning of the ‘tumbleweed biographies’. It soon became a tradition to ask his guests to give him a ‘one page story of their life’. This is a little taster from the treasure trove. SW|
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|SEVEN LOVE STORIES|
|IN THE JUNGLE OF COMPLICATIONS|
She, the correspondent for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, sat opposite one of those elderly researchers from Harvard of the Stephen Gould school. Instead of concentrating on the subject that she was writing about in the series for her newspaper, he was flirting with her. She had difficulty bringing him back to the matter in hand.
— You maintain that people are at the mercy of their genes? They are not in control of their decisions when it comes to their love lives?
— Genes are only interested in multiplying themselves. Everything comes back to this fundamental point. Whether we are talking about people or animals. We are talking only in evolutionary terms, though.
— So we are not talking about today, as we drink tea and rum together?
— It has limited application to that.
— And genes aren’t at all interested in the details of someone’s LOVE LIFE, in love stories?
— I don’t believe so.
— Could violence, greed, or revenge be equally useful stimuli for reproduction as far as the genes are concerned?
— Definitely. The correlation of love with the spread of ‘the human race’ is too complicated. It’s the same with animals.
— You mean, Tristan and Isolde won’t have any children. Romeo and Juliet are also childless. It is the same in the majority of cases of ‘young love’ in literature. It deviates, you say, from the utilitarian way in which genes behave.
— The only people who survived were those who did not follow the path of those famous love stories.
The rum in the tea and the sweetness of the (guilt‑free) sweetener were seductive. The eyes of the man opposite were dark blue‑grey, ‘steely’. Those eyes gripped her, at the same time she was disturbed by the ‘relevant’ expression in his look. As long as his eyes and his words appeared to contradict one another, this man had no chance of putting her into an interesting, erotic mood. In practice, he continued, the ‘persistent work’ of the genes could not be ‘seen’. They needed to camouflage their plans with distractions, foolishness, with human protagonists. Without these distractions, as the genes know full well, they would not achieve their goal. Their intrigues are successful: thwarted by their own workings, the genes try somehow to outmanoeuvre their competitors and require a veritable JUNGLE OF COMPLICATIONS.
That was a useful title. Both were in agreement now after their fourth tea and rum that people would not have survived the evolutionary process without complications: without what we call love. Love is not just tolerated by the genes, but used as a LANDSCAPE. [ ... ]
Translation: Helen Hughes and Martin Brady
|– BACK TO CONTENTS –|
At sixty‑two, Dick had held five jobs, been fired from all of them, and was now settling nervously into a sixth. If anyone cared to investigate the cause of these curtailments, and few did, they’d have discovered he had not always been wholly to blame, but by the time of the third and fourth blow, he’d grown incompetent almost to gratify expectation.|
He had every reason to look wretched, and for the most part he did. His skin sagged, there was a tremor in his fingers, and a slight droop to his lower lip. Even his long, lean body seemed stretched the better to expose more mass to shame. And although he did not smoke, he seemed to have incurred all the penalties of a smoker — everything that should have been white was yellow and a mustiness hung about his clothes. Yet there was something in Dick’s bearing that hinted at a buoyancy of nature, a looseness of limb, that gave him a not altogether deceptive appearance of ease with fate.
Six months after he had been appointed editor‑in‑chief of First Folio, Dick faced, or was supposed to be facing, an impossible task. The firm had been taken over by a larger company and he had been asked to advise on the future of its forty employees — namely, which twenty were to be cut. Briefly, painfully, he had attempted to evaluate who was critical to proceedings. But he found himself answering, alternately, everyone and no one. The pitch of panic at which all business at First Folio was conducted — reckless acquisition, hasty editing, cursory libel readings, no marketing, minimal publicity — made it almost impossible to say. When looked at closely, the whole enterprise — publishing bad books badly — was absurd. But it was the deeper truth behind this that gave Dick pause. Among the rejected, dejected, eccentric, indolent, ingenious, mad, curiously gifted employees of First Folio, an addiction to struggle, even failure, had planted itself over time. The futility of their daily efforts obscured wider failures, explaining them as part of a universal possibility. Dick glimpsed this truth and shrank from it.
Several weeks after the takeover, in the absence of any further prompts from above, Dick had almost managed to push the matter of staff reduction to the back of his mind. He was enjoying a quiet morning adding some personal touches to his office, taking particular pleasure in fixing his collection of antique printer’s type to the wall. He’d bought an assortment of metal letters — roman, italic, Gothic — back when old presses were going out of business and had the choicest of them set in a series of small display boxes. He was going about the task of hanging them rather indirectly, attaching one box a metre or so above his desk, standing back to survey the effect from different angles, then detaching it, moving it an inch or so one way or the other, and starting all over again. Arriving at last at a vertical arrangement of the letters that he felt showed the collection to best advantage, he crossed to the other side of the room to gauge how the exhibit appeared on entry, but was startled by the sight of the closed door of the publisher across the hallway.
Harry often shut his door; he spent a good deal of time fielding phone calls from his five‑year‑old twins, and his job involved protracted phone calls explaining delays, mistakes, absences and the need for extreme haste. But Dick, who had made a study of closed office doors over the years, saw something ominous in the very way it had been pulled to. He hovered for a moment, trying to work out who Harry might be talking to, then crept a little closer down the corridor.
‘Tell Tilly to go get it out of the garbage,’ he heard Harry say. ‘No … yes, yes … That’s what I said … No — don’t! Hold on. There’s a call I’ve been waiting for on the other line. I’ll have to take it. Don’t hang up!’
There was a brief silence in which Dick applied his ear directly to the door.
‘I’ll have someone send out letters to every author. And I’m assuming that where rights have reverted, we can just destroy stock … How many are unaccounted for?… Oh — yes — that is slightly more than we thought. That must include tertiary figures.’ This last statement, Dick knew, did not mean anything, but Harry had a facility for dropping such diversions into conversation. Dick realized now that Harry was speaking to David Matison, the new director.
‘Could you just hang on a moment … Bella? Are you still there? Can you put your mom on the phone … David, me again. Tomorrow? Do you want me to call a company meeting?… Yes, I’ll have someone draw up a warehouse destruction list. No, not yet. I don’t think anyone’s aware of the extent of it.’
Someone was coming towards him down the corridor. Dick was forced to move out of earshot and pretend to scrutinize the bookshelf opposite.
‘Dick. Can I have a word?’ Eric, the managing editor, stood before him carrying a bouquet of jacket samples, sheets of paper filed between the fingers of his right hand. He propelled Dick back towards his office.
‘We’ll never do it. No way. Not possible,’ Eric began as soon as they reached Dick’s desk. This pronouncement broadly covered Eric’s opinion on most subjects. ‘It’s far too late to add all this new stuff and no one’s checking anything.’
‘Wait. We’re just waiting for photos of the actual dogs, aren’t we?’ Dick ventured, picking up a pen and turning over a fresh sheet of paper.
‘What? There are dogs in it now? Are the dogs even mentioned in the book, because if they’re not, then I think it’s time someone stood up and said something. The photos are all set, pending permissions, which I don’t think anyone’s near likely to get to before we go to print, or ever.’
Dick shook his head in a pantomime of confusion, causing the flesh on his face to wobble as if he were physically navigating tunnels of understanding.
‘Are you talking about the dog book?’ he asked.
‘Which dog book? No.’
‘The celebrity dog book.’
‘I’m talking about the nuclear weapons book,’ Eric said. He paused. ‘The dog book won’t happen,’ he stated, leaning dramatically against the wall. He never sat, but was in the habit of flicking about the room like a wasp in winter. ‘It won’t happen,’ he repeated. ‘We’re officially delaying that. There’s no way, not a chance we can turn it round. Everyone’s complaining about the word count per dog. There’s only supposed to be one photo per dog and the celebrities have sent in millions for us to choose from. No one’s even agreed that the dog owners are actually proper celebrities. Is that being copy‑edited, by the way?’
‘Let me ask,’ Dick suggested. As to whom he might ask, he gave no thought.
‘Tim said he’s worried about the sources for the nuclear weapons book, to which, incidentally, they’ve just added a new Chapter Three and Prologue. Do you know if it’s being read by a lawyer? I mean, seriously, if any of this stuff is true, we should be selling the manuscript to the CIA.’
‘Did you see that? The closed door, I mean?’ Dick could no longer hold back his anxiety about what he had overheard. ‘Harry had his door closed. Did you notice? They were talking about a destruction schedule.’
But Eric did not seem to hear. He had come in here with his own agenda of disaster and was bent on seeing it through. ‘Oh, and Chad Hoops’ bio — I sent your assistant out to the printers to input the latest corrections. He’s got a cameo in some Off‑Broadway show and wants to add some reflections on his early years in the theatre. And boy is he expecting publicity — someone better be on hand to talk him through it, or out of it…’
Dick stared at a scattering of eraser debris on his desk and thought about Harry’s phone call. It greatly troubled him to know that the new management were listing, itemizing, totting things up like this. In so far as he had allowed himself to think further on what sort of advice might be required of him, he’d imagined contributing to a loose evaluation of the various departments over lunch. He’d hoped nothing quite as concrete as a list would be necessary. Now he wondered whether they really had been waiting on his advice and, in failing to act promptly, he had forfeited their trust and led them to hasty decisions. He swept the eraser shavings into the trash and looked sharply at Eric, who, encouraged, stepped forward and slapped a glossy image on the desk.
Dick looked down at the photo of a well‑known glamour model in military dress standing to attention in front of a barracks. He held it up to the light and, after considering it from this angle for several seconds, handed it back to Eric and asked, ‘Are we doing a book with her?’
‘No, but that might have helped. I have no idea how we are ever going to get permission to use her on the cover. But Hoops is insistent. That’s the only image he’ll accept.’ They looked again at the photo. Not for the first time, Dick felt that Eric was trying to point him towards some vital incongruity beyond the present.
‘Well, so long as the context is not controversial, maybe we can rush out a permissions request and hope she’ll respond.’
‘There is no context,’ Eric said, sitting down and then immediately standing up again. ‘The copy editor is the nearest anyone has been to reading this book and he swears there’s no reference to her at all.’
In a career that had dealt largely with writers unguided by money, structure, readership, and often talent, Dick had long given up the notion it was useful to confront insanity, much less the glare of minds ablaze in autobiography. Where he suspected lunacy, he was accustomed to giving in to it.
‘See if Gervaise can get permission and, if so, let’s use it.’
Eric looked incredulous, and then, as if realizing Dick had discovered some ingenious means by which to outmanoeuvre Hoops, he grinned and remarked on his way out, ‘Of course, none of this is likely to matter in the slightest once they start firing us.’ [ ... ]
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|ONCE UPON A TIME|
IN THE WEST
We must act with total resolve to achieve our aims, for the sake of humanity and for the sake of the future safety of our region and the world … We are doing what is right … Barbarity cannot be allowed to defeat justice.|
— Prime Minister Tony Blair, March 26, 1999
All stories — including the stories world leaders tell in international politics — follow certain narrative patterns. As the international relations specialist Hayward Alker argued in his 1987 essay ‘Fairy Tales, Tragedies and World Histories’, no matter how objective or scientific these stories aim to be, they invariably include elements normally associated with folktales and legends; modern‑day equivalents of princesses, dragons and heroes; kidnappings, rescues and rewards. The stories people tell about their communities tend to conform to one of three types: fairy tales, tragedies or, all too rarely, comedies.
The study of classic Western plot sequences and characters can be dated at least back to Aristotle. His analysis of the art of poetry and its division into epic, tragedy and comedy is the foundation of subsequent literary criticism and theory. In the field of international relations and world politics, however, the study of storytelling is a more recent occupation. Alker was among the first to focus on plot structures or story grammars. Since the late 1980s, Michael Shapiro, David Campbell, Michael Billig, Robert Ivie and others have also studied foreign‑policy texts: the activities of making strange and drawing symbolic boundaries, imagining community and producing (national) identity, creating ‘others’ and providing ‘us’ with a purpose. More recently, Erik Ringmar has used literary theory to analyze the rhetoric of leaders in office and opposition forces during wars.
It’s unlikely, although not impossible, that political leaders deliberately choose specific plots but, more or less intuitively, they still operate within the tradition of Western foreign policy storytelling. Simple tales are still the most common, with the emphasis on identity politics, territorial discourses, state‑centrism and coherent plots. They may be inadequate or dangerously simplistic ways to map complex problems but remain compelling all the same. Alker accounts for their power by describing basic story grammars as especially meaningful and easy to remember, as forms which appeal at a deep level to our conscious and unconscious experience. Hayden White in The Content of the Form (1987) talks about narrative appeal more generally: how our desire that real events conform to the coherence of fiction makes us impose order on our descriptions of the world. Moral meaning is possible only through narrative, and specific kinds of stories provide specific kinds of moral meaning. Katharine Young, too, in Taleworlds and Storyrealms (1987), emphasizes the ability of stories to interpret events which are merely consecutive as consequential, and therefore meaningful, to both the narrator and the audience. A better or ‘correct’ categorization of conflicts may not solve everything, but as long as stories structure our lives, we would do well to examine the different forms those stories can take. [ ... ]
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|LETTERS TO UNCLE SAM|
|Saadat Hasan Manto|
|INTRODUCTION BY TARIQ ALI|
Saadat Hasan Manto was one of the greatest short-story writers of the Indian subcontinent. He was an original. Despite the fact that he had translated Oscar Wilde, Maxim Gorky and Anton Chekhov into Urdu, there were, in his own work, no strained borrowings from English or Russian literature. After the traumatic Partition of 1947, Manto moved from his home city of Bombay to Lahore, but was never really happy in the newly created Pakistan. His alienation from the historical events that were taking place was visible in every short story he wrote during this period, of which ‘Toba Tek Singh’ is a miniature masterpiece. Set in the Lahore lunatic asylum during Partition, Manto portrays the institution as the only refuge for the sane. It is the world outside that has gone mad and bestiality reigns supreme. Inside the asylum the bureaucrats inform the lunatics that they are going to be separated. The Hindus and Sikhs among them will be transferred to ethnically pure asylums in India. The lunatics hug each other and refuse to be parted; force is deployed to breach their solidarity.|
Manto hated the new official culture being created in Pakistan. He already smelled the odour of decay. Nor was he friendly to the Communist-led Progressive Writers’ Association. Their uncritical defence of everything Russian irritated him and he let them know it. Earlier he had been taken to court by the British for writing supposedly ‘obscene’ stories and fined. The Pakistan government soon followed suit with its dismal fabrications. The Communist poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz and numerous others appeared as witnesses for the defence and Manto was acquitted. The trial increased his nausea for the new homespun morality and he saw behind this the influence of certain clerics.
The satirical letters to Uncle Sam were written in the middle of the last century in Urdu. Their impact was immediate. It was hardly a secret that the country was going to the dogs and its leaders were on their knees, pleading with the United States to take over the country. Manto’s letters became a talking point in the cafes and tea houses of Lahore and created much merriment. The fact that Manto was not identified with the usual suspects from the Left added to their effect. They make strange reading today when mullahs and Islam are perceived by the United States and its European camp followers as ‘the enemy’. Manto’s letters remind us that it was not always so. During the Cold War period the West consciously used conservative Islamist groups to fight the Communists. They were staunch allies in the war against ‘atheistic Communism’.
What Manto might have written were he alive today we can only imagine. His razor-sharp intelligence would have made transparent the games that Uncle Sam is playing today with its drones in Pakistan and its occupation of Afghanistan. And he would have had a few sharp words, too, for those responsible for Pakistan’s daily woes: the scarcity of food, the shortage of electricity, the circular nature of corruption that makes life a misery for most citizens alive in these shit-awful times.
Manto was not an existentialist. He enjoyed life too much to regard it as a torment best ended by voluntary death before the individual became a tormentor. It always amused him to be described as an ‘Indian writer’ by his detractors in Pakistan and as a ‘Pakistani writer’ by his detractors in India … But he never recovered from the brutalities of Partition. He was unhappy on many levels and, slowly, he drank himself to death. He was only forty-three years old when he died in Lahore in 1955. His death was a huge loss to the literature of the sub-continent. That he is being belatedly translated into European languages would have pleased but not surprised him. He had no doubts regarding his own genius and joked that he wanted to be remembered as a better storyteller than God.
— Tariq Ali
31 Lakshmi Mansions,|
December 14, 1951
This is a letter from your Pakistani nephew — granted you don’t know me and probably no one in the Free World does.
I’ve dared write in the first place only because you know how my country was torn from the side of India to become ‘free’. Actually my own freedom has come about in just the same way, and yet, Uncle, you’re wise enough to recognize that if you cut the wings off a bird, then its freedom isn’t going to be so great. Anyway, enough of that.
My name is Saadat Hasan Manto. Where I was born is now a part of India. My mother’s buried in India, so is my father; my first child sleeps in his grave there as well. But now it’s not my homeland. My ‘homeland’ is now Pakistan, a place I knew until recently only through five or six trips I took back when the British ruled.
First I was a famous Indian short-story writer and now I’m the same in Pakistan. I’ve published several collections and earned people’s respect. I was put on trial three times in British India and once already in Pakistan even though the country is so new.
The British thought I should be censored, and the Pakistani government has inherited that feeling. The British eventually grew tired of persecuting me, but here they refuse to leave me alone. The District Court fined me 300 rupees and sentenced me to three months’ hard labour, but the Sessions Court overruled this. The government thought this a miscarriage of justice and appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn the last ruling and reinstate the original punishment. We’ll have to see how things turn out. [ ... ]
Translation: Matt Reeck
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|The myth of Arthur Rimbaud was already in the making before he died. In 1883 Paul Verlaine published an essay in Lutèce, in praise of Rimbaud’s poetry, quoting nine of the poems entire. He put out a call to anyone who might have more of the young prodigy’s manuscripts — they would ‘be religiously returned, once copied, to their generous owners’. But if many of the poems had gone astray, so had the poet and Verlaine seemed uncertain of his whereabouts. (He was very likely heading back to Harar — in modern‑day Ethiopia — after a brief expedition in the Ogaden.) In 1886, the great editor Félix Fénéon put together some verse and the surviving Illuminations, almost all prose poems, for La Vogue. But again, the author of these strikingly original works was still missing. (He was probably stuck somewhere on the Red Sea coast of Africa, with a consignment of percussion rifles, wondering how to get them to King Menilek in his Abyssinian fastness.) Rimbaud had absconded from his work abruptly and decisively, leaving very little for the blurb. Nowadays he would be a publisher’s nightmare: ‘Arthur Rimbaud is not teaching a course in creative writing. He has never held a chair of poetry or won the Costa book award. He is currently a small arms dealer in the Horn of Africa.’ Even when his verse began to appear, he was a puzzle for journalists. On the confiscation of a disputed volume of his poems three weeks after he’d died in Marseille, Entretiens politiques et littéraires reported with confidence: ‘Having made a complete recovery, Arthur Rimbaud will be arriving shortly to revise the edition.’ [ ... ]|
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Tariq Ali is a writer and film‑maker. His most recent book is Night of the Golden Butterfly, the final novel in his Islam Quintet.|
Daniel Arsham’s show Animal Architecture was at Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin in Paris earlier this year. He lives and works in New York and Miami.
Jesse Ball & Thordis Björnsdottir have authored, separately and together, many books of absurd bleakness and invention. Their most recent, Investigations of North Pole Phenomena, chronicles their various journeys by foot and dog‑sled.
Gregory Blackstock is the author of Blackstock’s Collections: the drawings of an artistic savant. He lives in Seattle.
Adelaide Docx lives in New York.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti is a poet, painter, publisher and bookseller. He is the founder of City Lights Books in San Francisco.
Rivka Galchen is the author of a novel, Atmospheric Disturbances. Her fiction and essays have appeared in Harper’s, The New Yorker and The Believer.
Jeremy Harding is a contributing editor at the London Review of Books. His most recent book is Mother Country, a memoir, and will be published in the US later this year.
Michel Houellebecq’s novels include Platform and Atomised. His essay ‘Approaches to Distress’ was written in 1992, revised in 1997, and appears here in English for the first time.
Alexander Kluge is a film‑maker and writer. ‘Seven Love Stories’ is an extract from Das Labyrinth der zärtlichen Kraft (‘The Labyrinthine Powers of Tenderness’). His most recent short‑story collection published in English is Cinema Stories.
Riikka Kuusisto is a lecturer in world politics at the University of Helsinki. Her essay ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ appeared in very different form as ‘Comic Plots and Conflict Resolution’ in the European Journal of International Relations.
Saadat Hasan Manto was born in 1912 and died in Lahore in 1955. He was a screenwriter, translator and short‑story writer. This selection from his ‘Letters to Uncle Sam’ is a new translation.
Todd McEwen was born in California and sorted out in New York. He has published four novels; the latest is Who Sleeps with Katz (Granta). Despite a long and happy existence in Edinburgh, he now lives in England. This has come to nothing.
Marie NDiaye’s short story ‘Revelation’ is taken from the collection Tous mes amis. Her most recent novel, Trois Femmes Puissantes, won the Prix Goncourt in 2009 and will be published in English next year. She lives in Berlin.
Irène Némirovsky is the author of Suite Française. She was born in Kiev in 1903, moved to France in 1919 and died in Auschwitz in 1942. Her short‑story collection The Virgins (Les Vierges) is published in France by Denoël and will appear in English next year.
Nigel Peake trained as an architect. His illustrated essays include Sheds and Maps. He is currently working on a book which will be published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2010.
Luc Sante’s books include Low Life, Evidence, The Factory of Facts, and a collection of essays, Kill All Your Darlings: Pieces 1990–2005.
Jeanette Winterson’s novels include Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Lighthousekeeping and The Stone Gods.
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The Paris Magazine|
Published by Shakespeare and Company
37 rue de la Bûcherie, Paris, 75005, France
This selection © 2010 The Paris Magazine
Thomas Jones and David Delannet
With thanks to
Ron and Marla Bauer, Jemma Birrell, Lexy Bloom,
Gemma Collins, Linda Fallon, Lauren Goldenberg,
Lesley Levene, Camille Racine, Angela Rose,
Sarah Wasley and William Simon
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