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Jonathan Basile - an in-depth exploration of one of literature’s greatest tricksters, Jorge Luis Borges. His short story “The Library of Babel” is a signature examplar of this playfulness, though not merely for the inverted world it imagines, where a library thought to contain all possible permutations of all letters and words and books is plumbed by pious librarians looking for divinely pre-fabricated truths.

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Jonathan Basile, Tar for Mortar: "The Library of Babel" and the Dream of Totality, Punctum Books, 2018.
Read an Excerpt from Tar for Mortar Here!


Tar for Mortar offers an in-depth exploration of one of literature’s greatest tricksters, Jorge Luis Borges. His short story “The Library of Babel” is a signature examplar of this playfulness, though not merely for the inverted world it imagines, where a library thought to contain all possible permutations of all letters and words and books is plumbed by pious librarians looking for divinely pre-fabricated truths. One must grapple as well with the irony of Borges’s narration, which undermines at every turn its narrator’s claims of the library’s universality, including the very possibility of exhausting meaning through combinatory processing. Borges directed readers to his non-fiction to discover the true author of the idea of the universal library. But his supposedly historical essays are notoriously riddled with false references and…

Teodor Parnicki uses novel and surprising literary structures: interview (or rather, and almost always, interrogation), informer’s reports, police reports, confessions, dream-journals, and letters (often fragmentary). He writes in extraordinarily long, dense, complicated sentences using odd grammatical constructions

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Teodor Parnicki, Ostatnia powieść (The Last Novel)






In world literature there is a special category: the Great Unfinished Novel. It comprises such early-20th century classics as Robert Musil’s The Man without Qualities, Jaroslav Hašek’sTheGood Soldier Švejk, Franz Kafka’s The Castle, and, from more recent times:  Ralph Ellison’s Three Days Before the Shooting and David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King. Teodor Parnicki’s thousand-page TheLast Novel belongs to this revered company: the Polish author left it uncompleted at the time of his death on December 5, 1988. When it comes to complexity, however, this cognitive overkill of a novel stands out even among the above-mentioned titles. Based on the critical response of those Polish readers who managed to read, let alone digest, this colossal book, I can assume that it has secured the place as the most formidable work of 20th century Polish literature.
Teodor Parnicki is a great unknown for the Anglophone reader as none of his works have bee…

Michael Krüger - world-weary characters seek—and only temporarily find—solace in nature and culture, rendering their search for a better life simultaneously comedic and heart wrenching

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Michael Krüger, The God Behind the Window, Trans. by Karen Leeder and Peter Thompson, University of Chicago Press, 2018.




The thirteen stories of Michael Krüger’s The God behind the Window capture the poignancy and cynicism of late life through tales of misanthropic old men full of the mixture of wisdom and melancholy that so often accompanies old age. In Krüger’s stories, world-weary characters seek—and only temporarily find—solace in nature and culture, rendering their search for a better life simultaneously comedic and heart wrenching. From a solitary hiker in the Swiss Alps to the book’s eponymous shut-in, these aging malcontents are continually surprised by the unexpected interventions of a world that has come to seem predictable. Krüger captures this stage in life masterfully, contrasting the deeply personal emotions of affection, melancholy, and longing with an indifferent world. The resulting stories are lyrical, philosophical, and tender despite their cynicism.













Abel Posse - With a crew of prostitutes, representatives of multinationals, priests, a bull-fighter and his bull, a rabbi, Swedenborg the theologian, a prototype of Karl Marx, peasants, and Nietzsche looking for proof that God is dead, Columbus sets sail for paradise

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Abel Posse, Dogs of Paradise, Trans. by Margaret Sayers Peden, Trafalgar Square, 1992.
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Brilliant, profound and startlingly comic, here is a transformation of the old stories about the discovery of the Americas by distinguished Argentinian author Abel Posse. Ranging from the decadent Spanish court to the shores of the Mediterranean to the tropical Earthly Paradise, the Admiral of the Ocean Sea triumphantly finds the New World.
The medieval Spanish state and the New World in the early years of its discovery by Europeans are the backdrops for a revisionist historical farce that will be best appreciated by those already familiar with the personalities and events of the period. The disjointed narrative renders with Rabelaisian gusto (and, frequently, crudity) several settings: Aztec and Inca societies; the passionate, cruel court of Isabella and Ferdinand; the lonely wanderings of Christopher Columbus as he moves toward his fateful mission of finding Earthly Paradise. Posse,…

Paolo Volponi - He splits the language the way scientists split the atom to create the nuclear weapons he is so paranoid about. On many occasions his rants and diatribes transform into something reminiscent of automatic writing or W. Burroughs’ cut-ups: incompatible concepts are put together, familiar phrases are divested of their usual meanings, syntactic relations are disrupted

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Paolo Volponi, The Worldwide Machine: a novel, Grossman Publishers, 1967.


The essay-novel, or the novel of introspection or symbolic action, has only recently caught on in Italy. Moravia is sexually oriented, the interests of Silone and Vittorini are basically social, and all three employ a more or less realistic immediacy. Paolo Volponi's The World Wide Machine, on the other hand, is closer to Musil and Kafka, to dehydrated prose, indirect representation, and allegorical issues. The first person narrator here exists in the closed world of his own mind, coolly spinning an abstract meditation on the evolutionary drive of the future and the bourgeois olly of the present. For Anteo Crocioni, ""reality has only two terms: man and science."" He is the obsessed utopian, the philosophical scientist without an accomodating bone in his body, the historical martyr whose fancy it is ""that men have been built in the likeness of a machine by other beings who...are…