I was delighted a couple of days ago to stumble across a review of Goat Music, my reinvention of the tale of Apollo and Marsyas, over on The Letterpress Project.
“The gods are largely spiteful, arbitrary, self-centred and generally driven by shabby motives…This is indeed a story of incautious hubris but in Buckingham’s hands its also a tale of the arbitrariness of power.”
Those who follow my other blog WaywardPhilosophy.com will already know that I am currently in Myanmar, where I’m spending several months teaching a course on global cultures as a part of an exciting new initiative. Whilst I’m away, I’ll be posting more essay-like updates about life in Yangon and beyond over on WaywardPhilosophy, and continuing to use this blog for news about writing and other projects.
Just a quick update to announce the recent publication of two new books to which I’ve contributed chapters. The first is Catalin Partenie’s In Fiction We Trust. My contribution to this one is called “Lies in Which Not Everything is False: Levinas, Philosophy and Fiction”. However — and here I must offer my apologies to English-speaking readers — this one is only in Romanian.
I may look into publishing the English version somewhere else, and if I do, I’ll make an announcement here. For the time being, however, here’s a quick passage from the conclusion.
This plea to read philosophies as stories (and perhaps stories as philosophies) is one that acknowledges that philosophers of Levinas’s calibre are always worth listening to. But it also is one that reminds us that when it comes down to it, they are not wholly to be trusted. If philosophy is a set of lies in which not everything is false, this is not to dismiss philosophy. Instead, it is a call to responsibility. It is to suggest that when it comes to listening to the philosophers, we should remain alive to their artfulness, heedful not only of the question of what may or may not be true in what is said, but also of their tricks and ruses and sleights of hand, or to their blind-spots, the things that they are incapable of seeing or saying. If philosophy truly is a kind of storytelling, this implies we need to listen to it even more carefully, more imaginatively, more artfully — and perhaps also less reverentially. In this way, it might be possible to develop a richer sense of how we might think about our lives collectively and individually, whilst maintaining a commitment to truth, keeping a proper humility about the limits of argument, and holding out for new, unthought possibilities. It is a subtle balancing act. But we owe it to each other.
You can trust me on this. Because this, too, is a lie in which not everything is false.
The second chapter is in Irene Brown and Christian Mieves’s collection Wonder in Contemporary Artistic Practice, now available from Routledge. My chapter here is called “Wonders Without Wonder: Divining the Donkey-Rat”. This grew out of my interest in what might be called the moral imperative to wonder, the idea that — whether in science, in religion, in education, or in the arts — wonder is something that we ought to cultivate. So this chapter takes a strange tale of an ancient Chinese diviner, Guo Pu (郭璞), to explore the possibility of thinking about strangeness without this moral imperative to wonder.
It was a pleasure to be back in Sofia last week for the Sofia International Literary Festival, which must be one of the friendliest festivals I have ever been to. I was interviewed by the wonderful journalist Beloslava Dimitrova. I always like events that are not scripted in advance — it is good to think on your feet. So the resulting conversation was wide-ranging. We talked about my book The Descent of the Lyre (in Bulgarian Произходът на лирата), creative writing teaching, the connection between writing, travelling and staying put, and the strangeness of literary festivals.
The advance reader’s copies of my children’s novel, Lucy and the Rocket Dog arrived in the post this morning, with illustrations by the exceptionally talented Monica Arnaldo, and they look absolutely stunning. The book is about a girl scientist, her dog, the theory of relativity, time dilation, space worms, friendship, loss and the here, there and everywhereness of space. It is due to be published by Knopf in the USA in the summer of 2017.
Last night, I stumbled across the Chinese edition of The Snorgh and the Sailor, and I was delighted to see what they’d done with the book. The title in Chinese is 长鼻子冒险家和长耳朵冒险家, or “Long Nose the Adventurer, and Long Ears the Adventurer”. I was wondering what the Chinese translators would do with “Snorgh”, and I think that “Long Nose” is an admirable solution. The cover text is nice as well, with the long nose and ears integrated into the Chinese character for “long” (click the image above to get the full-sized cover). Very clever! And to my surprise, the format is taller than it is wide, so I’ll be interested to get my hands on a copy to see how they have worked on the page layout.
As I am no longer in China, I like to imagine that Long Nose and Long Ears can act as ambassadors on my behalf. I’ll be following their activities closely. There’s a nice review of the Chinese edition here.
Meanwhile, over in Turkey, my wonderful publishers over there, Büyülü Fener, have let me know that their Turkish Snorghs have arrived in the office, and apparently the book is looking good. The Turkish title is Şnörk ve Denizci.
A few weeks back Michael Keane, who is a Professor of Chinese Media at Curtin University and who runs the Digital China Lab, wrote a very generous review of my Sixty-Four Chance Pieces over on the Creative Transformations Asia blog. Here’s an extract.
There is so much in the book to savour if you like a taste of magic realism mixed with observations about change and the passing of time. History, scholarship and finely honed literary skills combine to produce a minor masterpiece. A book about philosophy, adventure, discovery, about life and death, yin and yang, it’s also about creative transformations.
So there I was, warming my toes by the fire in my little house, listening to the howl of the wind, when there was a knock, knock, knock! on the door. I put down my pen and went over to see who it was. ‘Writers don’t like visitors,’ I muttered to myself. ‘Particularly not when they are busy writing.’
But when I opened the door, I found it wasn’t a visitor. Instead it was the postman. And the postman handed me an envelope. I took the envelope and closed the door, then I went back to sit on my chair by the fire.
I opened the envelope and pulled out a book. And it was not just any old book. Instead it was a copy of the newly published picture book, ‘The Snorgh and the Sailor at Christmas’, a sequel to ‘The Snorgh and the Sailor.’
There was a letter inside the envelope too, that said the book was written and illustrated by the amazingly talented members of class Primary 4D, from the Riverside Primary School in Falkirk. I looked at the map. The book had come a long way: miles and miles and miles, all the way from Scotland. I hadn’t realised that the Snorgh had travelled so far away.
The cover of this new book looked promising. It made me want to read on. So I opened up the book and discovered that since I’d last seen him, the Snorgh had come home from his adventures with the Sailor, and was living once again in his ugly little house. But the pictures also made me sad, because it was winter, and the Snorgh’s marsh looked very cold, and his nose was very red.
Then I remembered that it was a couple of years since I had last called on the Snorgh, and I wondered how he was doing. I felt a bit guilty that I hadn’t gone to visit him for a while, and decided that I would do so this summer, when the weather was warmer.
I read on, and found that—to my dismay—the Snorgh seemed to have become even older and grumpier since I’d last seen him. But just as I was feeling very sorry for him, and wondering where the Sailor had gone, I turned the page, and there was a ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!’ at the Snorgh’s door.
It was the Sailor, back from his adventures. And I was surprised to find that he’d got himself a job since I last met him, delivering presents for Santa. He even had a proper Santa-hat and everything. But he’d clearly he’d bitten off more than he could chew and needed some help.
So the Snorgh and the Sailor set off again on another Great Journey, delivering presents for Christmas. And I’m not going to tell you exactly what happened, because that would ruin the surprise. But ‘The Snorgh and the Sailor at Christmas’ is a great sequel. It is exciting and funny and just a little bit sad, at least on the page where the Snorgh is lonely and has a very cold, red nose. And when you come to the end of the book, you will smile. Which means, in my opinion, that it must be a very good book indeed.
I’ve not posted here for a while, as I’ve been busy settling into life here in China, where I’m currently spending a year at Sichuan University. But I thought I should post this beautiful image of some of the illustrations from the now imminent Turkish version of my novel “Lucy and the Rocket Dog” (translated as Lucy ve Laika). The illustrations are by the extraordinarily talented Oğuz Demir, who has captured the spirit of the book perfectly. The book is about space dogs, the theory of relativity, friendship, and science.
Readers who don’t speak Turkish (like me!) will have to wait until 2017 to read the English version, which is due out from Knopf in New York. But if you know Turkish, then you can get hold of a copy of the book soon at your favourite local bookstore!
It has been very busy recently, with moving house back home in the UK, and then — only a few days later — relocating to China for a year. I’m here in China to take up an associate professorship at Sichuan University, in the College of Literature and Journalism. About which more below.
But first, I should say something about goats! Because I’m delighted to say that my author copies of Goat Music, my latest novel, arrived today in the UK. They are four thousand or so miles away, and so I haven’t really had much of a chance to look at them yet. But from the photograph below, courtesy of Elee Kirk, they are looking good.
Goat Music is a bit of a departure from my usual work. It is an attempt to write a kind of modern-day satyr play, taking up the myth of Apollo and the satyr Marsyas, as well as pillaging the ancient Greek playwrights, to weave a tale about music, power and its abuses. In this sense, it forms a pair with my earlier book, The Descent of the Lyre, although the sensibility is somewhat different. In the UK, you can get hold of a copy here. It’s on general release, so should be easy to track down. I’d be interested to see what people make of this one, as it’s by any measure quite a curious book. Read more