The Aardvark Speaks : essence, effervescence, obscurity. Established 2002. A weblog by Horst Prillinger. ISSN 1726-5320

The Aardvark Speaks : books & bookkeeping

This page contains the last 50 stories posted to this category, sorted in chronological order (earliest first). For earlier stories, you need to check out the monthly archives.


Translation quiz continues

The translation quiz will continue until 8:00am CET tomorrow, so if you want to win the prize, send in your translations soon.

The correct translation and the winner (or the approximate winner, since no 100% correct translation has been submitted yet) will be announced tomorrow.

Posted by Horst on June 03, 2005 | # | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Translation result

There is always more than one correct translation for any given text. Here is one version that is more or less correct:

"Wie unzertrennlich wir waren - du und ich und Carter". Es war offensichtlich, dass seine Erinnerungen sich von meinen unterschieden.
"Was ist mit Carter passiert?"
"Er ist zu Cable & Wireless gegangen und gestorben."
Ich sagte: "Wenn ich aus Malakka zurückkomme..." und ging nachdenklich hinaus.

The excerpt is from a short story called "The Revenge" by Graham Greene. A couple of people who sent in translations found that out. What they did not find out, or chose to ignore, is that the story is set in 1951, which is significant in that the dialogue contains a number of elements from informal speech that would be used differently, or not at all, today.

Most frequent mistakes:

  • "old Carter" - Carter isn't any older than the two speakers; "old" is merely a way of referring to a good friend. It is therefore not translated into German at all.
  • "Cables" - is a short, informal way of referring to the company Cable & Wireless, like today people might use "BT" instead of "British Telecom" (C&W still exists by the way, although they're more into Internet connections than telephones these days). The capital C should have given this away as a proper name and thus as the name of some company, but most people chose to ignore this. Even using "Cables" as in the original would be more correct than "er geriet in ein Starkstromkabel und starb".
  • "Malacca" - can be a peninsula or a city. As the context is missing it's not clear from the excerpt alone that the city is meant, so it's "aus Malakka" rather than "von Malakka", but in German still both are spelt with -kk-.
  • "thoughtfully" - no, it's not anything like "gedankenverloren" or "in Gedanken versunken". A plain "nachdenklich" is quite sufficient.

Read pp. 173 ff. of Dieter Zimmer's RedensArten to find out what happened when Die Zeit did a translation competition based on the short story. 620 people sent in translations; the results are anything between hilarious and frightening.

Posted by Horst on June 04, 2005 | # | Comments (18) | TrackBack (0)

Pain of the poet

Following last Friday's poetry open mic, I am currently working on a poem entitled "Poetry Lesson".

Ah, I guess I shouldn't complain. After all, I sold three copies of my book.

Posted by Horst on June 06, 2005 | # | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Unsurmountable difficulties

When told that the requested book is not available immediately, but only after a two-hour wait, one in three people will rather not use the book at all rather than wait.

When told that a book cannot be borrowed, only read in the library, one in four people will not read it at all rather than read it in the library.

When told that a book cannot be copied for conservatory reasons, two out of three people will not use the book at all rather than just read it and take notes.

When told that a book must be ordered from the online catalogue rather than via the index cards and paper order forms, one in three people aged 50+ will not use it at all rather than order it this way.

When told that a book must be searched in the index card catalogue and ordered with a paper order form rather than online, two out of three people aged 20 and less will not use it at all rather than order it this way.

Posted by Horst on June 21, 2005 | # | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Creative blog project

I'm looking for one or two people who would like to participate in a fiction blog project. Basically, it's a weblog that pretends to be the collected e-mail correspondence of four people who were sent on an as yet unknown mission to three cities. The first few messages can be found here: http://www.aardvark.at/messages/.

If you are interested and want to participate, please bear in mind that you are expected to write at least three short blog entries per week for the next couple of months (in English).

If you are still interested, please send me an e-mail with a list of 3 names which character you'd like to be (Bell, Cam, Vac or an as yet undisclosed 5th character; in order of preference).

Update: One slot has been filled. This means that only the 5th, so far undisclosed character is still available. Depending on how the story develops, this character may not appear at all for another month or so. Still, if you're interested, feel free to write now, but don't forget about it until your turn comes.

Update: Slots full.

Posted by Horst on June 24, 2005 | # | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

No

No, I don't have it yet. No, I don't intend to buy it. No, I don't have any of the others. Yes, I tried to read the first one, honestly, but it bored me stiff after about 30 pages, so I stopped. No, I don't want to hear any more about it. Yes, I think it's hugely overrated. Yes, I want to be as rich as Ms Rowling.

Posted by Horst on July 17, 2005 | # | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

Existentialism

You enter an underground train, and you don't think about the bombs for a second, and you notice that (a) all the people around you are reading, and (b) the titles of the books they are reading are Dostoyevsky's Idiot, Camus' The Plague and Tolstoy's Crime and Punishment, and you think it's such a cliché.

Me, I was reading Joann Sfar's Piano, more about which later.

Posted by Horst on July 22, 2005 | # | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Book archive?

Netzeitung refers to Die Deutsche Bibliothek (the German national library) as "the national book archive". I suppose they also call themselves "journalists". Do they have any idea what libraries are about?

Posted by Horst on August 03, 2005 | # | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

"Garbage remains garbage, no matter how fast you can find it"

Article in Die Zeit on Google's project to digitize the books of several large libraries, and the ensuing reactions (in German). [via netbib weblog]

Posted by Horst on August 06, 2005 | # | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Busy / Looking for writer(s)

Sorry for not writing in a while -- for once, it's not due to a lack of ideas. Other things (like building this stupid little website) have kept me pretty busy lately.

In other news, the fiction project is looking for one or two new writers. If you feel like you want to participate, please contact me, but please beware:

  • You must read the entire story so far and familiarize yourself with the characters and places before you begin writing.
  • You must be imaginative. After reading the story so far, you should have a rough idea on which open thread to pick up and how the story could proceed from there.
  • You must be able to get the feeling/mood of the story and continue in a similar vein, not turn it into something completely different.
  • You must be able to write an entry at least 2-3 times per week, regularly, for the next few months.
  • You must be a person who can follow rules.

If you like the story and think you can do all this, then you're very welcome to join.

Posted by Horst on August 30, 2005 | # | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Announcement

Just a brief note that I will be reading a section from my new short story "Hair Fetish" tomorrow (7 October) at the Labyrinth Poetry Open Mic at Café Kafka, 1060 Vienna, Capistrangasse 8 (starting around 8:30pm), which will reveal the truth about speed dating and what men really talk about when they talk about sex.

Posted by Horst on October 06, 2005 | # | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

The Wait

Still no word from either of the publishers that I contacted about my short story collection. I wonder whether they do actually send rejection letters (or e-mails) these days when they're not interested. Like a couple of years ago, employers used to send you a rejection letter if you applied for a job and didn't get it. These days, hardly anyone writes back to say they don't want you.

I wonder how long I should wait before either contacting them again or trying somewhere else. An awful lot of time just seems to be wasted doing nothing.

In the meantime I wanted to submit one of the stories in a competition, but it seems that most competitions require you to pay money before you can actually submit something. Looks like a big rip-off to me.

Posted by Horst on October 18, 2005 | # | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

Announcement

As tomorrow is the first Friday of the month, you are herewith invited to come to the Café Kafka in Vienna's 6th district, Capistrangasse 8 (just off Mariahilferstrasse) to hear me read my new short story "An Anxious Man in the Moon" at the Labyrinth Poetry Open Mic. Event starts around 8:30pm, I'll be reading pretty early on.

Posted by Horst on November 03, 2005 | # | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

New poems

Tonight, 8:30pm, Café Kafka, Capistrangasse 8, 1060 Wien: Labyrinth Poetry Open Mic. I will be reading a few new poems and possibly be doing a Mercurian impersonation.

Posted by Horst on December 02, 2005 | # | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Bad news of the day

Someone set fire to one of our libraries. At least 20,000 books have been destroyed. Click here to see what's left of the Biology library. Click here to see what it looked like until yesterday.

Posted by Horst on December 14, 2005 | # | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Ah! It is done

The last Message from the Lost Continent was sent today. Writing this throughout the past six months was good fun -- thanks to Gina, John, Mig, Richard and Shira for participating. Now if only this found a wider audience... I'm considering publishing it in book form though. Feedback would be nice. If anyone has actually read it.

Posted by Horst on December 22, 2005 | # | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Revision

I used to be able to just write. Of my early poems and short stories, there is always only just one version. I never revised. I never saw the need to revise. The stories or poems just flowed out of the pen, and they seemed to be perfect the way they flowed out.

These days I revise and rewrite all the time. With most things (including weblog entries) I go through at least five rewrites. It seems impossible to get something out right the first time. I wonder how I did it back then.

Still, I just went through some of my old poems and found that most of them weren't really very good. I think I'm writing better stuff these days, though my opinion on that might change in 15 years from now.

I checked whether the old poems would be better with a few revisions or rewrites, but I found that I just couldn't revise or rewrite them. They seem to refuse any changes. They are just "as is". Any change seems to change the meaning, or make them even worse. They're perfect in the literal meaning of the word "perfect": per being Latin for "through", "from beginning to end", and facere meaning "to make". In other word, all work on them has been done, nothing more can be added; they're finished.

They're pretty bad, but also perfect. I wonder if this can serve as some kind of parable.

Posted by Horst on January 11, 2006 | # | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Practice

They say if you want to become a good writer, write. Write a lot. They say it's important to get into the habit of writing. Every day if possible. Like, keep a journal. Or start a weblog. They say it doesn't really matter what you write about as long as you just write something on a regular basis.

No matter if you think it's interesting or not. No matter if anybody else thinks it's interesting or not. After all, you're writing to get the practice. It's not as if anybody is ever going to read what you're writing. They'll be reading the good stuff, the official stuff, the stuff you'll be writing and publishing once you have enough practice from writing something on a daily basis.

Theoretically.

Posted by Horst on January 19, 2006 | # | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

2nd announcement

As usual on the first Friday every month, I will read a few of my poems as part of the Labyrinth Poetry Open Mic on Friday 3 February at Café Kafka, Capistrangasse 8, 1060 Wien. The event starts around 8:30pm. Come and bring a friend.

Posted by Horst on January 31, 2006 | # | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Long Play Records

Observation 1: The ideal length of a long play album is between about 36 and 42 minutes. Incidentally, this happens to be the average length of a vinyl record in the 1960s and 1970s. Interestingly, this is not just the length of a recording that you can fit on a vinyl disc without compromising the sound quality too much (if you don't care about sound, a vinyl record can carry well over 60 minutes of music), it also seems to be about the amount of music that an averagely gifted musician can produce in the course of a year (the Beatles, who made two l.p. records per year, or Mozart, who composed a lot more, are of course not considered "average").

However, this optimum record length has become a problem in the age of the compact disc, when you can fit about 80 minutes of music on a disc and most musicians therefore feel compelled to fill their discs with at least 55 minutes of music. With very few exceptions, all of these tend to drag. Actually, most CDs feel like they're at least ten minutes too long. I think this is because whatever you are listening to, everybody needs a break after 45 minutes. It's probably not a coincidence that classes at school and university are usually 45 minutes long.

Observation 2: I rarely listen to song lyrics. I appreciate their presence, but I usually notice them only if they're particularly good or particularly bad. Since I don't pay full attention, it might take me a while to understand song lyrics. Some I understand instantly and they make sense, more or less; some take a few listens until I get them. Some seem to be just jumbled sounds, and I might understand them at some point, or never. For example, I don't think I'll ever be able to fully understand what Mark E. Smith is mumbling.

Sometimes, however, I will suddenly understand lyrics that I've been unable to decipher for ridiculously long periods. For example, it was only yesterday that I understood that on "Another Girl", Paul McCartney is singing "Through thick and thin she will always be my friend". This realisation struck me no less than 26 years after I bought the record and first listened to that song.

Observation 3: You can still play a vinyl long play record if you accidentally spill yoghurt on it, but a CD that has been in contact with yoghurt will refuse to play.

Posted by Horst on February 02, 2006 | # | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Speaking of which...

Having mentioned "obscure Chet Baker records" yesterday, the one I linked to may have a goofy, unprofessional cover picture, but it's actually quite good. Very good, to be precise. However, in terms of buying records that really make very little sense, I am currently trying to figure out if I should really buy the reissue of what is generally considered to be Chet Baker's worst record, and from the sound clips that I've heard, it's really abysmally bad.

I've had it on order from Amazon for a while now, and more than once have I considered cancelling the item from my order. However, for some reason I never hit that "Cancel" button, much as I thought I ought to, so it's still in my order, it's become available now, and if I don't cancel it soon, it may be in the mail any day.

Arguments against cancelling: it might be interesting, for purely documentary reasons, to own the worst thing that Baker has ever recorded, if only to demonstrate it to people who might be interested how low he sunk at one point. Also, it's only €7, and I've bought pretty awful records for more than that.

Arguments for cancelling: the CD is bad. It's really bad. I am not going to listen to it very often. In fact, I may not listen to it more often than once. And €7 is the equivalent of two delicious portions of Dim Sum at Happy Buddha. Which are most likely much more satisfying than this CD.

It's painful enough to be a shopping addict, but there's this truly spooky feeling of uneasiness once you start buying stuff that's not just useless, but that you know you aren't going to like.

Posted by Horst on February 14, 2006 | # | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

Paradox

Whenever somebody tells me to write, my first instinct is to not write anything. Even if I actually have an idea for some text that I could write.

It doesn't work the other way round though. Telling me not to write anything does not make me write.

I'm kinda funny that way.

Posted by Horst on March 01, 2006 | # | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Disappointed by cult

After people have been trying to talk me into doing it for years, I have now finally read Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman. I must admit that I didn't do it because of other people's recommendations (which were plentiful), but mostly because the creators of the TV series Lost said that anyone who has read the book "will have a lot more ammunition when dissecting plotlines" of the show.

And I could see a number of interesting parallels to the TV show, especially in the part of the book that deals with eternity. Mostly, however, I was disappointed. In fact, I see why O'Brien's book was initially turned down by the publisher; and I don't see why people find it funny. But maybe it's just incompatible with my sense of humour. I think it's trying too hard to be clever and it's trying too hard to be funny, and like most things that are trying too hard, it fails to be either.

The supposedly big revelation of the book was obvious to me the whole time (maybe I just read too many crime novels to figure it out instantly), hence there was no big mystery about anything that went on, and the remainder of the story was a bit thin. I actually had to struggle my way through the book, only to get a confirmation of what I had already known.

Are strange theories about people and bicycles really enough to turn a book into a cult book?

Posted by Horst on March 13, 2006 | # | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Philip K. Dick reissues

I only found out yesterday that Heyne Verlag has been publishing great reissues of the German translations of Philip K. Dick's novels.

My only problem is that I'd like to read the original English version. So when will we finally get the long overdue, equally pretty English edition? The currently available editions in English look more like cheap dime store novels, with cheesy cover designs, poor paper quality and cluttered typography. In fact I bought a few of the German translations [1 2 3 4 5 6 7] just because the design difference really makes up for the language difference.

Posted by Horst on March 28, 2006 | # | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Writing

I ought to do some writing. Some real writing, not like the stuff I've done recently, which was mostly filling out the tax report, writing reminder letters to people who owe me money or letters of endorsement for people who seem to be very nice, but who I still don't know.

It's weird to recommend someone you barely know to someone you don't know at all. And difficult. And don't ask me how I did it. I just hope this works out in some way.

No, some real writing, like I ought to put out Messages from the lost continent, which I would do instantly if I finally got to talk to all the people who were involved in writing it and settle the terms under which we'll share the debts or profits that will come from this project once it's out on the market. That is, if I finally kicked myself in the body part that I usually sit upon to finally get going and talk to all these people.

Some real writing, unlike the To-Do lists that I should be writing to finally get some things done.

Some real writing, like perhaps that MSc thesis I'm supposed to be working on, but am not working on because (a) other things are creating the impression of being more urgent and/or more fun, and, more importantly, (b) other people keep borrowing the books I need from the library, that is books which weren't really there in the first place and which are only there because I had them ordered because I needed them, and now everybody else seems to want them and get them and I'm the one who doesn't get them because our stupid library system allows each borrower to have each book for a full month, so I have to wait f'ing six months until I'll get some of the books, meaning I'll get them at a time pretty much after I'm supposed to submit the finished thesis, and I'm having no idea how to get to my sources.

Some real writing like the eighth and ninth short story that are supposed to be in my collection which was supposed to be out in November but which was held back because (a) I thought those two stories should really be in it and (b) I'm still not convinced it's a good idea to publish a book of short stories written in English with a publisher in Germany, but then none of the publishers in England that I wrote to found it worth the hassle to even respond to my letters, so this whole thing looks like it's delayed, like, indefinitely. Unless I finally write those stories and publish it in Germany.

And in between all this, I suddenly start buying and listening to Curtis Mayfield records, of all things. What is wrong with me?

Anyway, some real writing, unlike this rambling that's going on here at the moment, this whining without direction which, if you've actually read this far, is probably boring you stiff by now. Actually, I wonder why you've made it until this point, because, frankly, today's blog entry sucks in a major way. And that is mostly because I felt like filling some space with words, even though there isn't really anything to write about.

This is the kind of writing that I hate.
This is the kind of writing that shouldn't be published.
It's the kind of writing that, along with cat pictures, gives weblogs a bad name.
And if you find this interesting, then you're sick, or a social voyeur, or both.

No wisecrack comments please. I'm not in the mood for them and will delete them mercilessly.

Posted by Horst on April 17, 2006 | # | Comments (4)

Milkshake

If you think that you need just four ingredients for a strawberry milkshake, think again.

milkshake

Eric Schlosser's new book Chew on This: Everything You Don't Want to Know About Fast Food will be out on 25 May.

Posted by Horst on May 02, 2006 | # | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Assistance needed

If there is anybody in Vienna who would like to assist me presenting a new poem of mine at the Café Kafka this Friday, please contact me. I need a total of four people to read this. Any help would be gladly appreciated.

I suppose I shouldn't write a poem for five voices when I'm perfectly unable to find the necessary number of people to perform this, but there you go.

But today my mind is clouded with the all-consuming question "Will Henry Gale finally start talking sense on today's episode of Lost?" anyway.

Posted by Horst on May 03, 2006 | # | Comments (2)

Tonight at Café Kafka:

The Swindon Magic Roundabout

The Labyrinth Poetry Open Mic featuring
"The Swindon Magic Roundabout" -- a poem for five voices by Yours Truly.

Café Kafka, Capistrangasse 8, 1060 Wien.
Event starts around 8:30pm. The roundabout will most likely be presented after the break around 10pm.

Posted by Horst on May 05, 2006 | # | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Anticipation

Yesterday was the last day of the fourth deadline at which Amazon promised to send me a CD I ordered back in February ("available in 2-5 weeks"). Let's see if they cancel the order this time or if they make the fifth promise to send it to me in yet another 2-5 weeks.

You see me shiver with antici--

pation.

Posted by Horst on June 06, 2006 | # | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

Story

There's this story that I want to write, about this guy who's in this rocky, off-again on-again relationship with this woman whom he really loves and who loves him too, but for some reason their relationship doesn't work out, and the story is about how they struggle on for seven years, until they finally decide to call it quits and to move on to other things with the realization that even if you really really love someone, it doesn't mean that your relationship will necessarily work out.

Yes, I'm aware that this sounds like a tedious, lengthy, painful read -- but hey, such is life.

The problem is that I want this story to have a happy ending, like the man finding somebody new, or maybe just seeing the future from a new perspective, or maybe merely something symbolic that's nothing but a starting point to give the reader some feeling of optimism; only I don't have the slightest idea how to do it and still make it seem realistic.

Posted by Horst on September 05, 2006 | # | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)

Inspiration

Messages from the Lost Continent    The Happiest Guy in the World

I realize now that working on two book projects at the same time has a somewhat adverse effect on the inspiration needed to keep up writing a weblog.

So if you were wondering, the above two books, hopefully in shops by early December, are currently keeping me from updating this site more often. I am currently in the final stages of revising them and expect to send the manuscripts to the publisher next week or so.

Messages from the Lost Continent is the printed, edited version of the fiction weblog (now offline) that Richard, Mig, Gina, Sabine and I wrote from June to December last year. The book will have 396 pages and will cost €24.90.

The Happiest Guy in the World and Other Stories About Sex and Pain is the short story collection that I have been announcing to everybody since October last year, but never got around to revising and layouting. It is now done. I have added two more stories to come to a total of nine, and the book will now have 160 pages and cost €11.50.

As I said, both books should be available by December. Expect me to keep you updated as soon as the books are available from online bookshops such as Amazon or Libri.

Posted by Horst on October 12, 2006 | # | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

Disappointment

A smallish, medium-interested audience did not seem to react at all to my reading from Messages from the Lost Continent last Friday. Neither did they seem bored, nor did the funny lines provoke more than a smallish smile from two listeners.

I guess it was the weather. Or the moon. Or they were just tired. Or I was.

Posted by Horst on November 05, 2006 | # | Comments (4)

Reference

Okay, so the temperature is up again by 10 degrees, which isn't helping the headache. At all. Fortunately there are TV series such as Gilmore Girls, which I suddenly felt I had to watch by all means, and so I stumbled over this scene in which Lorelai tells Rory about a conversation with her mother,

I talk, I think I'm being clear, and all she hears is "blah blah Ginger".

I was amazed. I was amazed because I know what "blah blah Ginger" refers to, have known it for quite a while (15 years?) in fact, but didn't know that so many other people would know it that you could put it in a comedy TV series and expect people to understand it.

And now I've become curious whether (a) this is is really common knowledge or (b) they just planted a perfectly obscure reference in the dialogue, even though only a few people understand it.

Posted by Horst on November 07, 2006 | # | Comments (5)

Available

The happiest guy in the worldThe Happiest Guy in the World and Other Stories About Sex and Pain

Blurb: "A man and his girlfriend looking at the moon; a fetishist trying to find true love at a speed dating event; a woman in shock posing as a private investigator; a girl abducted by enemy soldiers; a painter struggling to not finish her paintings; a master interrogator meeting his match; a man under the influence of pheromones; a mafia killer who has the tables turned on him at a game of Russian roulette; a man observing people from his table at a café -- these are main characters of Horst P. Prillinger's darkish, quirky, but not unlikely stories about sex and pain, two things that are more closely related than some people would like to think"

Contents: "An anxious man in the moon", "Hair fetish", "Less than you'd think", "Liberty, equality, fraternity", "Must I paint you a picture", "The good guy", "Pheromones", "Click click", "The happiest guy in the world". 160 pages. The stories were written between 2004 and 2006; most of them are published in this volume for the first time.

ISBN 978-3-8334-6590-1 - €11.50

Order from Amazon | Order from Libri.de
In stock at the Vienna bookshops phil and Shakespeare & Co..
Available on order in all bookshops in Austria and Germany.

Posted by Horst on November 23, 2006 | # | Comments (2)

Available (2)

Messages from the lost continent"Messages from the Lost Continent is a unique and at times hilariously funny blend of thriller, science fiction and fantasy novel, which was originally published in 2005 as a fiction weblog."

Click here for more information...

Order from Amazon | Order from Libri.de
In stock at the Vienna bookshops phil and Shakespeare & Co..
Available on order in all bookshops in Austria and Germany.

Posted by Horst on November 24, 2006 | # | Comments (3)

Marketing

I spent much of the previous weeks trying to get people interested in my new books, and I think I understand now why cocaine use is so widespread in the marketing and PR community. Basically, it seems that you either have to be part of some social network where you know lots of really important people, or you have to maintain a cocaine level that makes you feel so energised that you can talk everybody into the ground; otherwise the whole thing is totally futile.

And I'm not even trying to become rich with this. Basically, all I want is to try and sell just enough copies so that I get roughly the money back that I invested in it. I had hoped that by contacting people who know people I might get some sort of exposure, but apparently I'm not important and/or energetic enough, and the whole concept of Messages from the Lost Continent (a collaborative novel! written by webloggers! and it's about conspiracies and ancient artefacts!) is just not catchy enough. And I'd understand if people would think it's not catchy enough to buy the book, but no, the problem is that, with one two notable exceptions, they apparently think it's so not catchy that they're not even willing to spread the word. So far, nobody ordered one of the free review copies that I offered them.

It's understandable, I guess. We live in a world where everybody is trying to sell everything, and it doesn't really matter what you sell as long as you're out of touch with reality enough to talk people into whatever it is you're selling -- that is most likely how I lost the slot on the reading programme of a chain bookstore to a woman reading from How to Paint Your Own Garden Gnomes (a DIY guide on, yes, putting paint on garden gnomes). Unfortunately I am kind of queasy about the side effects of cocaine (addiction and personality changes come to mind), so I see myself in no position to bring up the energy and talk so much that the people who could give me exposure will eventually cave in, and hiring someone will definitely cost a lot more than the amount of money I'm trying to raise by selling my books.

I am so not made for the business world. If I were, I'd be contributing to the 1000 kilos of cocaine that end up in the Danube every year. I'd probably be slightly paranoid and/or prone to even more dramatic mood swings than I already am, but at least my bank account would look more reassuring. And Messages would already be a best seller.

Posted by Horst on December 09, 2006 | # | Comments (9)

Canon

Despite the fact that I spend a lot of time teaching my students the concept of the literary canon, I believe I may have violated it and lost some respect in the process. These things happen.

canon (noun); a collection of books accepted as holy scripture, especially the books of the Bible recognized by any Christian church as genuine and inspired

The concept of the canon, which was originally a purely religious matter, has of course since been applied to various fields of art which have also enjoyed something of a religious devotion by their aficionados, in particular literature, film, and music. Generally, it still refers to a list of titles that are perceived to be "genuine and inspired".

Of course that is also why the canon has been so strongly criticized: it will by definition always reflect the tastes of those who set it up; even if they are a many people, or even a representative group, the canon will reflect the cultural and ideological values of the society that makes it, and as these values can and will change, so that everything can become part of the canon and everything can cease to be part of it. In other words, whether something becomes literature or art depends not so much on the work itself than it depends on cultural contexts and subtexts.

Currently we could say that the concept of the canon is no longer a matter of Knowing the Truth; it has been transformed into a matter of style -- in other words, there are things that are hip and things that aren't. To be hip requires that you (a) are aware of what is canonical and (b) are aware of things that will become canonical, but especially that (c) you stay clear of things that are not and will most likely not become canonical.

This means, of course, that canons are exclusive: if you read canonical texts, listen to canonical music, watch canonical films, you are part of the "in crowd". If you so much as make one wrong move, you're out.

Or, let me rephrase the first part of the previous sentence: if you know what kind of things are canonical and pretend that you read/listen to/watch them, then you are part of the "in crowd". Because interestingly, many canonical things are not ever consumed.

Who, for example, has honestly read Joyce's Ulysses, Musil's Mann ohne Eigenschaften, Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu? Or rather, what percentage of people who talk about these books have read, understood, and enjoyed them?

Why is it that the BYG "Actuel" series of jazz records receives such universal acclaim and is most certainly canonical and still, if you mention any title in that series, for example Dave Burrell's Echo, everybody will ask you, "I hear it's great, so what's it really like?".

The trick with the canon is that it is perfectly alright to talk about canonical literature, music or films if you haven't seen them, but that you should never, ever talk about something that is non-canonical.

The problem here is that, as I have pointed out, what is canonical and what is non-canonical can depend a lot on the group of people you are with. So talking about Star Trek can be perfect in one situation and an absolute no-no in another.

And of course you have to be up-to-date as to what's canonical at the moment. Ally McBeal? Very canonical in 1999, totally unacceptable in 2006.

So what this all amounts to and why I'm writing this is that I seem to have made a total fool of myself by saying at some point that my winter depression had made me watch five seasons of Gilmore Girls on DVD. I did not say I liked it; I did not said it had worked against the depression. Everybody was simply appalled.

I had been under the impression that Gilmore Girls was, at least partly, canonical. Apparently not.

Posted by Horst on December 13, 2006 | # | Comments (3)

Photography

For some weird reason everybody whom I have so far sold a copy of Messages from the lost continent has asked me if that's me on the cover.

Let's for a moment forget that the person on the cover does not even remotely look like me. Let's leave aside that I have hair loss in the exact opposite place than the person on the cover. Let's leave aside that the person asking the question is usually standing rght in front of me, getting a good look at both the cover photograph and me. Let's not even take into consideration that using a photograph taken by somebody else on a book cover is a copyright nightmare.

Let's just consider this:

I consider myself extremely unphotogenic. Anybody who has ever tried to take a picture of me and actually managed to survive can tell stories of violence and mayhem. There exist only about a dozen photos of me, all taken against my will. In fact, compared to the amount of pictures that exist of me, Ernst Haas was a model.

On the other hand, I have an archive of thousands of pictures that I have taken. As a child, I wanted to become a photographer, and I'm still angry at myself that I didn't pursue this more insistently, especially considering that I did get some of my photographs exhibited at one point.

So I ask you: which is more likely -- that it's me on the picture or that it's me who took the picture?

Strangely enough, most of the people who ask that stupid question think they know me.

Posted by Horst on December 20, 2006 | # | Comments (7)

Jesus

In my letterbox I found, right on top of the stack of invoices that I usually get at this time of the year, a book entitled Jesus und der Fall Natascha ("Jesus and the Natascha Kampusch case").

Natascha Kampusch is, as I only need to mention for readers outside Austria, the girl who was abducted eight years ago when she was ten years old and who managed to escape from her kidnapper earlier this year.

There was no address on the book cover and also no other sign that it had been sent by mail, so somebody other than the postman must have put it there. I have no idea if everybody in the house got a copy, but there weren't any in the wastepaper recycle bin, so there is the weird possibility that somebody wanted me to have it. Why they would do that is beyond me.

Basically, the book consists of three chapters: what Jesus would say to Natascha Kampusch, what Jesus would say to Natascha's parents, and what Jesus would say to Natascha's kidnapper. Most of these are adventurous interpretations of disconnected chapters of the bible, interspersed with prayers, some of which seem to be of very limited use unless you are a kidnapping victim, a parent of a kidnapped child, or a kidnapper.

What I found particularly ironic is how the author repeatedly stresses the importance of unconditional love and strong family ties. I, on the other hand, agree almost completely with Rainer Just's recent essay in Wespennest (partially reprinted here) that the kidnapper's main incentive was most likely a combination of loneliness and a pathological, misguided sense of romanticism, a yearning for the kind of family and togetherness very similar to the one that permeates our society and that is also propagated in this very book. What the kidnapper did then was a twisted variation on the male fantasy that Pedro Almodovar made fun of in Atame, namely that a woman that you capture will eventually grow to love you. However, it doesn't work like that; the most you'll get in real life is a case of Stockholm syndrome.

Finally, while the author of the Jesus/Natascha book seems to be very convinced of "what Jesus would say", I rather doubt his ability to communicate with Jesus and channel his thoughts. I just don't believe that Jesus would tell the kidnapper twenty pages of religious gook, including how committing suicide would not get him to hell, but adbucting Natascha does. Or at least I hope he wouldn't.

I mean, the only thing anybody should say to the kidnapper in that situation is something like "you stupid idiot, let her go at once".

Posted by Horst on December 21, 2006 | # | Comments (4)

Inspiration

Yesterday's newspaper contained the basis for twelve new short stories. Of course I realised this only today, more than twenty-four hours after I'd thrown it away, and I can only remember enough to base one short story on it. Have to check out the paper at the library tomorrow. It could be next year's book.

Posted by Horst on December 27, 2006 | # | Comments (4)

Prize?

Just to inform you that Messages from the Lost Continent has been entered to compete with numerous other books in the 2007 Lulu Blooker Prize. It's one of those few prizes where you don't have to pay anything to submit your work, and the Grand Prize is an actual $10,000 (before taxes). However, the competition is tough, and it's not one of those prizes where the public can vote, so I can't ask my handful of readers to vote for me, and the book will have to make it through the process all on its own merits.

The shortlist will be announced on 12 March. I don't really care about the prize, but I'd really want to be on the shortlist. Sigh.

Posted by Horst on January 23, 2007 | # | Comments (2)

Reading

Just a brief reminder that I will be reading at Friday's (tomorrow's) Labyrinth Open Mic at Café Kafka, Capistrangasse 8, 1060 Vienna (starts around 8:30pm).

Most likely I'll be reading from "The Happiest Guy in the World". You'll also be able to buy signed or unsigned copies of the book (at the usual discount).

Posted by Horst on February 01, 2007 | # | Comments (4)

Good news

Messages from the Lost Continent has been shortlisted for the 2007 Lulu Blooker Prize.

Which means that we're in the top 6 of 34 submitted fiction entries. Which is pretty cool. Thanks to my co-authors for making this possible.

If you still haven't read the book, this could be an incentive to order it now and help us cover some of the costs (we're still about €400 short -- basically, this means we'll have to sell some 150 more copies). As Amazon has once again decided to remove it from its catalog, I recommend ordering from Libri.de instead.

Posted by Horst on March 12, 2007 | # | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)

On my desk this morning

A thriller entitled Das Geheimnis des Buchhändlers ("The Bookseller's Secret"; the actual English title is The Bookman's Promise). The caption on the back reads: "Loving books can be deadly."

What nonsense. Booksellers do not love books. At least no more than pimps love their prostitutes. It's commerce. It's about money. Or sometimes it isn't because I've repeatedly had to deal with booksellers who couldn't care less if the ordered books arrive at the library or not.

Booksellers loving books is just a cliché, and a pretty bad one too. It's almost as bad as librarians reading books.

Posted by Horst on March 29, 2007 | # | Comments (9)

They're doomed

If you have a large CD collection, maybe you should check some of the CDs that you bought between 1989 and 1991. Especially UK imports. Because that's what I did after I accidentally stumbled over an article that discussed data safety on compact discs. One particular type of disk degradation made me check some items in my collection, and this is what I found:

CD bronzing

These two CDs are victims of CD bronzing, a type of deterioration that occurs specifically with CDs manufactured at one particular pressing plant in the UK in the late 1980s and early 1990s. What happens here is that the reflective layer of the CD oxydizes (i.e., essentially rusts), rendering the CD unreadable over time. Remarkably, the two CDs above have been slowly decaying for 17 years, but still play fine. This seems to be due to proper storage, as reports on the Internet talk about unreadable CDs already about ten years ago.

Anyway, much as I hate Wikipedia, I have gathered all information that I found on this problem and written an article on CD bronzing, mostly because there is no place on the Internet that I know of where such information can be pooled safely. If you have a large CD collection and/or are interested in this matter, I suggest that you read it fast because as with anything else I have written on Wikipedia so far, it's only a matter of time until it has been defaced and/or lots of wrong details have been added.

Funny though, I remember that in the late 1980s I used to complain that the German pressings that you got in Austria always seemed to have cheaper booklets and no artwork on the CDs compared to the UK imports. Having found those two dying CDs in my collection (there may be more, but hopefully not too many), I'm actually relieved now that those UK imports were so elusive back then.

Even funnier (if perhaps somewhat disquieting), the first track on the left CD pictured above is called "Doomed", and the first words you can hear on it are "I'm doomed."

Posted by Horst on August 06, 2007 | # | Comments (10)

This Friday

This Friday, 7 December, poetry open mic at the Café Kafka, Capistrangasse 8. I'll be there and reading something. Come if you want some literary entertainment.

Posted by Horst on December 05, 2007 | # | Comments (1)

Poetry

I might be reading at the Poetry Open Mic at Café Kafka tonight. I'm not really sure yet if I'll be there, but I probably will. As usual, the event starts at 8:30pm, you can come and read your own texts if you like (any language is ok), and the address is Capistrangasse 8 in the 6th district.

Posted by Horst on January 04, 2008 | # | Comments (1)

Speaking of qualifications

I'm still writing on the thesis about libraries and weblogs that I mentioned about a year ago, only the difference now as compared to a year ago is that there is a submission deadline, which is in exactly 21 days. This means that apart from a slight unwillingness and a minor case of writer's block, I am now also under substantial pressure to finish it in time. Having initially been told an incorrect page limit (128,000 characters rather than 180,000 characters) didn't particularly help either.

Anyway, during my research I came across two articles on librarians' weblogs that mention my weblog specifically, and one of them also mentions that I don't write about library-related things a lot. Which is true, I guess. I've been thinking about this, and have come up with three possible explanations:

  1. When it comes to library-related information, many others are doing it already more comprehensively than I could, even if I had the time, and there's no point repeating anything just for the sake of having your own library weblog.
  2. The number of stories from the library that are actually worth telling is very small. From this number I have to subtract the stories that can't really be published because people might recognize themselves in it and sue me. Both our customers and the powers that be seem to have lost all sense of humour over the past few years. This leaves the number of library stories that I can tell without repercussions at the current rate of about one per year. Sad, but true.
  3. Lastly, there is the following explanation, which is drawn right out of Heinrich Böll's short story "Der Lacher" ("The Laughing Man"), and which makes perfect sense:
    [...] der Melker ist froh, wenn er die Kuh, der Maurer glücklich, wenn er den Mörtel vergessen darf, und die Tischler haben zu Hause meistens Türen, die nicht funktionieren, oder Schubkästen, die sich nur mit Mühe öffnen lassen. Zuckerbäcker lieben saure Gurken, Metzger Marzipan, und der Bäcker zieht die Wurst dem Brot vor; Stierkämpfer lieben den Umgang mit Tauben, Boxer werden blass, wenn ihre Kinder Nasenbluten haben [...].
    In other words, I am separating my work and my writing.

So now you know. This is still a librarian's weblog though, no matter what you think.

Posted by Horst on February 05, 2008 | # | Comments (1)

New & reissued

SpectreThe first three in a series of audio CD releases of material by yours truly are out and available to order; expect more to arrive before the end of the year.

First of all, there's Spectre, a spooky drone for two bass guitars and voice that I performed already a couple of years back, now available on CD-R in a limited edition of 50 copies. Hypnotic, and not the kind of music you'd want to listen to if you're stuck in a deserted house and it's late at night.

Bass for PeaceGeorge W. Bush will be gone soon, but other politicians all over the world are still waging wars. Therefore, even though it was initially conceived as a statement against the Iraq war, Bass for Peace is as up-to-date as ever and is receiving a reissue in a limited edition of 50 copies, each of them wrapped in a papersleeve made from printouts of my "Things I Learned from Watching TV After Midnight" series. No two covers are the same, and as with the original release from 2003, all proceeds from this release will also go to UNICEF.

The Yelling PianoFinally, there's a reissue of my 1987 recording of The Yelling Piano, the free jazz/noise workout during which we seriously mistreated a grand piano, an alto sax, a guitar and an empty salad dressing bucket. This reissue on CD-R has been remastered for a less booming bass on "Raspberry Jam". The piano-less synth blubbering of "Frames and Pictures" was left off this release. Yelling Piano Redux comes in a limited edition of 25 copies, all of them in handmade, hand-painted papersleeves, with no two copies looking the same.

Forthcoming, due in early to mid December: A complete collection of my Jazz Poems; also Croakpot, a selection of sound poems, and probably more ambient drones. If you're thinking about getting any of these as Christmas presents for your friends, drop me a note, and I'll keep you informed.

All orders can be placed through my Books and CDs page. Prices include shipping (please select the correct country).

Posted by Horst on November 08, 2008 | # | Comments (4)

Croakpot

CroakpotAs promised earlier, Croakpot, a collection of most of my sound poems and cumulative poems is now available in a limited edition of 50 CD-Rs. Orders can be placed through my Books & CDs page, and the price includes shipping.

While some of the sound poems go back as far as 1986 and have been heard on my numerous Dadaist happenings throughout the late 1980s, the CD also contains five so-called "cumulative poems", which are published here for the first time and have not yet been performed live -- look out for the December Open Mic at Café Kafka, where one or two of them will be premiered. Stretching between 3 and 13 minutes, they represent for me something like a missing link between sound poetry and music.

Tracklisting: Green, K-K, War, Four Politicians, Smmrrr, Stay, Delirium Tremens, Wobb, Huuoy, Message f.t.l.c., To Ndnd, Ü sehr ziert, A Tone Cone for Arthur, K-K Reloaded, I Reckon, Smmrrr Reloaded, Everywhere I Was. 17 poems, total playing time approximately 51 minutes.

Posted by Horst on November 18, 2008 | # | Comments (1)


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