marcel barang

Posts Tagged ‘Times Literary Supplement’

Notes in a time of ebb and flow – 9

In English on 12/11/2011 at 12:18 pm

– Ebb and flow indeed. This midday, water creeping in back and front and sideways – another six centimetres and it’ll enter the living room yet again, and the kitchen, and the bathroom. The high tides getting higher and higher and the low tides lower and lower every day until the 27th, playing Russian roulette seems to be less nerve-wracking.
To add insult to injury, I read online that last night the deputy governor of Bangkok proclaimed that the flood had receded in eleven districts, Bang Phlat here included.

– Astonishingly, I find three issues of TLS (two only slightly soggy) and two of LRB in my mailbox. Kudos to Thai Post.

– 3pm: Hello again. Short time no see. All sides, and even unnoticed holes in the parquet, leaking at once, enough to turn most of the living space downstairs into a shadow lake. To hell with cleaning walls and cupboards, I’m bone tired as it is.
My valiant daughter, now with lovely boots, arrives with a backpack, and a black garbage bag in a large black plastic pail she pulls with a string: backpack and garbage bag (the US-made model, reusable, zippable, the works) hold basic victuals for her stranded dad for the week to come. Before nightfall, there is a distribution of food and water. ‘It’s a bit spicy, OK?’ Seeing my face, they favour me with an extra ration of rice and sundried chicken bits. When my daughter is back to her still dry home, I learn from her that on her way out she met an army lorry unloading those rations at the entrance to my street – and accepted with thanks one foam container of rice and spicy stuff…

– The governor today promises ‘dry roads in Bangkok as a New Year present’. Don’t get him wrong: he means Bangkok, the eastern side of the river, not Thon Buri. The PM says ‘it’s too early’ to say whether we are in for a second round of flooding. One particularly reassuring expert on the government channel tonight purrs that the situation will definitely improve by the 20th, ‘when the tides begin to go down’ – he should consult and memorise the tide chart. What pisses me off most is that all Thai channels have been bleating for days that, ‘things are improving: Ayutthaya and Nakhon Sawan are getting dry’. They forget to say that those two provinces north of Bangkok have been under water for two to three months. It’s about time they got dry – and a good indicator of how long ‘their’ waters will be drowning us in turn.


Another pair of boobs

In English, Reading matters on 27/06/2011 at 1:06 pm


Since I’ve been otherwise busy latterly and laterally, I’ve failed to post here for almost a week. So here is a quick entry.

This morning’s Bangkok Post has a feature story on ‘endangered ungulates’ such as gorals and serows. I haven’t read it, only the filler (‘a copy with little news value used to fill space’ in journalistic parlance):

These remarkable animals can navigate vertically up and down and latterly if need be, and get most of their nourishment through the vegetation they eat.

Fancy animals ‘navigating’ up and down – and latterly too!
And fancy animals feeding on plants: truly remarkable! Then, what’s the rest of their ‘nourishment’? Pebbles? Mars bars?

Talking about navigating up and down, the morning mail delivered the current issue (June 24 2011) of TLS and, as always, I read the last page (‘NB’) first. In it ‘D.H.’ tells us about a wonder book where

…once you have got used to the idea of a book that opens out vertically rather than horizontally, the format proves friendly enough.

‘got used to the idea’ rather than to the handling of a book? What idea is that? None of my books opens horizontally in my hands, but pretty much vertically or else slanted. Do you mean a book that opens from the top rather than the side? I’m still confused.

A waste of Times

In English, Reading matters on 18/05/2011 at 4:08 pm


I’ve already mentioned here (‘Why Saneh? Why not Chart?’, 27.04.2011) how the Times Literary Supplement or TLS for short is squeezing subscribers dry by demanding €20 a year on top of a hefty subscription price – €420 for three years in my case – to access the ‘subscriber only’ online service.

This morning, I receive a letter from TLS Subscriptions Manager Sharon Foxon (I don’t make up names) saying:

Dear Mr Barang,
… Your renewal instructions are currently
[sic] being processed. [I believe she means ‘ignored’, as with the letter comes a crummy ‘free book bag’ I had specifically instructed not to bother sending – my next garbage bag, thanks anyway – though I was spared the ‘and TLS note cards’, whatever those are.]
If you haven’t already registered to use the subscriber only section of the TLS website, all you need to do is go to and click on the “SUBSCRIBER ARCHIVE” option on the right hand menu. To complete the “SUBSCRIBER REGISTRATION” section you will need your subscriber number, which is 00002…

Reading this, I rejoiced: they must have seen the light!
But when I try the link – why don’t you? – it automatically turns into and no amount of tracking of that ‘subscriber archive’ or ‘registration’ corner yields anything but a demand for registration to The Times – at €1 a month, which works out at €12 a year. €12 for a daily publication, a hypothetical but very much demanded €20 for a weekly?
At this rate, it may have been foolish of me to subscribe for as long as three more years.

Why Saneh? Why not Chart?

In English, Reading matters on 27/04/2011 at 8:47 pm

I’m often asked that double-barrelled question, especially by Thais who hold Chart Korbjitti to be literary as good as or even better than Saneh Sangsuk and don’t understand that the latter has made a splash in France and Europe, to the point of becoming a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, whereas the two best novels of the former, a Thai National Artist, have been commercial flops.
I usually explain this away by Saneh’s iconoclastic views and seductive flamboyant style in contrast to Chart’s steadier, deceptively lackluster prose.
A more fundamental answer perhaps is to be found in a Times Literary Supplement’s article published in the April 20, 2011 issue, which has yet to reach my mailbox, and kindly brought to my attention by a reader of this blog. You’ll find it (this week) at
It’s written by novelist Tim Parks and entitled ‘The Nobel individual and the paradoxes of “international literature”’.
Here are a few excerpts:

A novelist is not famous today unless internationally famous, not recognized unless recognized everywhere. Even the recognition extended to him in his home country is significantly increased if he is recognized abroad. The smaller the country he lives in, the less important his language on the international scene, the more this is the case. So if for the moment the phenomenon is only vaguely felt in Anglophile cultures, it is a formidable reality in countries like Holland or Italy. The inevitable result is that many writers, consciously or otherwise, have begun to think of their audience as international rather than national.
…translators are becoming less rather than more visible. Few readers will be aware who translates their favourite foreign novelist, even though that person will have a huge influence on the tone and feel of every page.
At one level it is generally agreed that literary prizes are largely a lottery, and international prizes even more so … the larger and more improbable the prize, the more the talk and the more the credit extended to them.
Readers, wherever they are from, want to feel that they are in direct, unmediated contact with greatness. They are not eager to hear about translators. The writer wants to believe his genius is arriving, pristine, unmediated, to his readers all over the world. So the prize is important, while the translator must disappear. The translator must be reduced to an industrial process, or a design choice; he is on the same level as the typeface or the quality of the paper. If a translator himself or herself wins a prize it is because he or she has translated a major author. A brilliant translation of a little-known author impresses no one.
The space given to America is quite disproportionate. American authors, far more than their British, French or German counterparts, need not make any special claims to international attention. No novelty is required. The opposite is true for the writer from Serbia, the Czech Republic or Holland. A writer from these countries must come up with something impressive and unusual in terms of content and style if a global audience is to be reached. Five hundred pages of Franzen-like details about popular mores in Belgrade or Warsaw would not attract a large advance.
The question arises then: what kind of literature is it that reaches an international public, surviving what is now an industrialized translation process squeezed into the briefest possible time and paying little attention to questions of affinity between translator and text (to the point that many larger novels are split between a number of translators)?
Rather than embodying the spirit of a people, this is a literature that tends to the existentialist, speaks of Everyman, not an Irishman, an Englishman or a Frenchman; and existentialism is necessarily a form of internationalism.
We arrive at this paradox. However much you prize your individuality, your autonomy from your national culture, nevertheless you’d better have an interesting national product (ball and chain?) to sell on the international market. Rather than liberating us, the process of internationalizing literature reinforces stereotypes as, faced with the need to be aware of so many countries, we use a rapid system of labelling. And the faster the translator has to work, the more, you can be sure, the final product will be flattened and standardized.

This is an ostensibly Eurocentric analysis, but in many ways one even more relevant to the fate of literary works from ‘distant’ countries such as Thailand pigeonholed for their sea, sand, sun and sex.
At this stage, let’s make a bet: let’s bet that Chart Korbjitti’s Chiens fous (Phan Ma Ba), which deals with sea, sand, sun, sex, shit and sangria, will have much better sales than La Chute de Fak (human hypocrisy, human misery) or Sonne l’heure (changing family and other social values).
This being said, my dear Tim Parks, I have no intention of ever producing translations that ‘will be flattened and standardized’, even though I’m aware of such pressures.

By the way, always the optimist, today I renewed for the next three years my subscription to the TLS – 420 pounds sterling, no less, my lawyer of a daughter’s current monthly salary – and was disgusted to see that they insist on an extra 20 pounds to give me subscriber’s access to their website. Something which should be par for the course, as the London Review of Books, to which I also subscribe, well understands: I recently also renewed my subscription to LRB to the maximum duration they offer (two years) but even a one-year subscription would have given me access to all their website pages.
I haven’t checked yet what the website policy for subscribers is at the New York Review of Books.