The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Please welcome to the world … James Greer Bad Eminence (And Other Stories)

 

‘Meet Vanessa Salomon, a privileged and misanthropic French-American translator hailing from a wealthy Parisian family. Her twin sister is a famous movie star, which Vanessa resents deeply and daily. The only man Vanessa ever loved recently killed himself by jumping off the roof of her building. It’s a full life.

‘Vanessa has just started working on an English translation of a titillating, experimental thriller by a dead author when she’s offered a more prominent gig: translating the latest book by an Extremely Famous French Writer who is not in any way based on Michel Houellebecq. As soon as she agrees to meet this writer, however, her other, more obscure project begins to fight back – leading Vanessa down into a literary hell of traps and con games and sadism and doppelgangers and mystic visions and strange assignations and, finally, the secret of life itself.

‘Peppered with ‘sponsored content’ providing cocktail recipes utilizing a brand of liquor imported by the film director Steven Soderbergh, and with a cameo from the actress Juno Temple, Bad Eminence is at once a sexy, old-school literary satire in the mode of Vladimir Nabokov, as well as a jolly thumb in the eyes of contemporary screen-life and digital celebrity.’ — And Other Stories

Buy it

 

Trailer

 

Praise

‘James Greer has always been a novelist I would hock my skills set to measure up against, but even matched against his prior coups, Bad Eminence is unspeakably exciting. Its grace and hilarity and brains and foolproof read on Frenchness and I don’t even know what else made my hands shake.’ — Dennis Cooper

‘I take exception to the characterisation of my hair as “difficult”, as my hair is in fact perfect, which I can prove in a court of law. Everything else James wrote is exactly as it happened, to the best of my memory.’ — Juno Temple

‘With eye and ear and tongue – and oh brother, what a tongue! – James Greer is the leading Renaissance Man for our current and possibly terminal Dark Ages.’ — Joshua Cohen

‘A Nabokovian thriller, light-hearted and caustic, which is also a subtle reflection on all forms of manipulation, be they criminal, corporate, amorous or . . . novelistic.’ — Éric Chevillard, Le Monde

‘Greer’s lyrical erudition is both serious work and seriously fun . . . proof that there remain new places to go, both on paper and in the known universe.’ — Publishers Weekly

‘Bad Eminence is, at one and the same time, a diatribe against narrative; a fiendishly engaging mystery; a learned disputation on the arts of translation; a masterful addition to the literature of sisters and twins; a roman à clef (I’ll never tell); a catalogue raisonné of the French nouveau roman; and the most literate advert for Bolivian firewater you’ll ever encounter. By turns wildly maddening, laugh-out-loud funny, heartrendingly poignant, Bad Eminence pulls you into its world like no other. You will not regret a moment spent romping in its lexical playfields.’ — Howard A. Rodman

‘Greer has done it again: a big-city, techno-jargon-filled thrill-ride with slick medium-brow drop references to our (once-shared) mythological hometown. What could be more poignant?’ — Robert Pollard

Artificial Light skates on the purity of confession. It’s a brutal reveal; an Abyss Narrative with hooks. Read it in a rush of abomination and rise above, rise above.’ — Stephen Malkmus

 

Excerpt

On December 11, 1942, a child was born to the Breunn family of Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, England. His name was T. Edward Breunn – and that’s all we know. As most authors and publishers would prefer of their translators, Mr Bruenn managed to make himself so invisible as to have left nearly no evidence of his passage through this world. What little has been recorded is due only to the diligence of some librarian back in the age of paper. He or she made note of the above details, and no others, on the original, analogue, card-catalogue entries for his little-known English version of Kafka’s The Trial (1981). Later, presumably, these entries were transcribed with neither comment nor correction and entered into the great digital record in the sky.
—-I can find no record of his death. We’ll just have to assume the best.
—-But, the thing is, I’m working on my own translation of Robbe-Grillet’s Souvenirs du triangle d’or, and Breunn is responsible for the only extant edition in English. And Breunn’s isn’t bad, credit where it’s due, but I’m not so sure he could actually speak French. I think I can do better. I was born in a trilingual household, you see – French, English and money – so I’m as comfortable in each as in my own skin.
—-Which is to say, mostly. Better, being able to speak money fluently means there aren’t many other languages that won’t yield to you with just a whisper in the tongue of tongues. I’m also conversant with Latin, Russian, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Icelandic . . . Take my word for it.
—-How, you may ask, can I say that Breunn’s Souvenirs isn’t bad when he didn’t know the language? Well, funny story. There are a fuck ton of competing theories out there about translating, from Walter Benjamin to Hilaire Belloc to Paul Ricoeur to Susan Sontag to Hannah Arendt to R. Pevear to AS Wohl to L. Davis to J. Malcolm to every person who’s ever read a book. But let me sum up: nobody can agree what makes a good translation; nobody can agree what makes a bad translation; everybody agrees that it would be ideal if every- one could read the original work in the original language; everybody knows this is impossible.
—-Beyond or alongside these widely acknowledged (by trans- lators) competitive dogmas, the history of translation is fraught with eccentrics, frauds and prodigiously talented amateurs, without which much of the world’s literature would remain inaccessible to most of the world’s readers. Lin Shu couldn’t read a word of any foreign language, but in the early twentieth century translated something like two hundred works of Western literature – Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dickens and so on – into classical Chinese, on the basis of a plot paraphrase from a polyglot friend. Simon Leys claimed that Lin Shu somehow managed, through a superior command of style in his native tongue, to improve in many cases on the originals. He’s an outlier, I think we can agree. Also that’s not translation so much as, you know, writing.
—-The Torah’s third-century BcE translation into Greek famously took seventy (or seventy-two, depending on who’s counting, though even this has been challenged, notably in 1684 by Humphry Hody, a name I did not make up) Alexandria-based scholars to render from the original Hebrew, despite which or possibly because of which they still got a lot of stuff wrong, with repercussions that reverberate still among the religiously disposed. The Vulgate or Latin translation of the Bible, produced mostly by St Jerome in the late fourth century cE and later revised in 1592 by a troupe of performing angels, introduced – right at the top, I might add – a mistake that has slandered the entirely innocent apple (is any fruit entirely innocent, though?) down through the centuries. It was a fig, people. If you don’t believe me, consult Northrop Frye’s The Great Code. And don’t even get me started on the King James Version, another translation by committee that proves . . . I don’t know what it proves, exactly. Because for every grievous error perpetrated by that Jacobean assemblage, any number of foundational turns of phrase – without which cliché-mongers would be bereft of such succulents as ‘a drop in the bucket’, ‘a fly in the ointment’ and ‘a labour of love’ – would have gone missing forever from the collective minds of anglophone civilisation.
—-Sometimes a really outstanding author whose book might otherwise be considered untranslatable (though, as noted above, there’s a sense in which all books are untranslatable) is fluent in several languages and can oversee a given trans- lation him or herself, as was the case in, e.g., Ulysses’ French rendering, though ‘oversee’ is maybe an unfortunately ableist term considering Joyce was mostly blind at that point. But that’s as rare as Joyce himself was rare. His interest in all languages or in surpassing language itself (using language), particularly in Finnegans Wake, while possibly a doomed undertaking, incorporates translation into the writing, which is sort of the opposite of what Lin Shu did.
—-On the antipodal pole, may I present Constance Garnett, whose Englished versions of Russian classics you likely grew up reading, assuming you read Russian classics growing up, and which are objectively terrible as translations, but are responsible in large part for popularising those authors (Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in particular) with the English- speaking public. So while it’s true that if you read her version of Anna Karenina you are reading Constance Garnett as much as – if not more than – you are reading Tolstoy, at least you are palpating Tolstoy’s bones, and there now exist much better, or at least more accurate, translations of his work for your edification, or whatever you read books for.
—-Xavier Hadley, a much lesser-known light than Ms Garnett, possibly because he chose only to translate into Scottish Gaelic (his best known work is Foirm na n-Urrnuidheadh, a version of John Knox’s Book of Common Order), had the curious habit of sketching his first drafts on dried peas with a tiny brush made from the plucked hairs of a common housefly, without the use of a microscope. It will perhaps tell you something about the special nature of the community of professional translators (we have our own magazine!) that Hadley is con- sidered by some a bit of a show-off, but on the whole sound in his approach.
—-It boils down to this: you try to get down as best you can what the writer has written while also reproducing the way the writer wrote it – but in another language. With all its different rhythms, idioms, vocabularies. You try to make the reader reading in the target language believe they’re reading what the original writer wrote, had the original writer written in the reader’s language: a magic trick seldom executed with apodictic success. Howlers are as ineluctable as the modal- ity of the visible; but one can on occasion by careful and patient application of the intellect, if that’s the word I want, find elegant solutions to problems of inelegance. That’s the shit I live for.
—-There’s no money in it, so it’s good I don’t need money. The crucial aspect, from my tendentious POV, is that you love the writer you’re translating. The ones I love are precisely the ones who call themselves, or get themselves called, untranslatable. The stylists, the weirdos, the outsiders and innova- tors. Which makes and has made them extremely difficult. But when it’s an ardorous task, it’s never arduous. Hold your applause, please.
—-If I’ve done my job right, I will have made myself vanish as entirely as Mr Breunn’s prénom. The writer is, and ought to be, the star of the show. The translator ought to be, in the best sense of the word, invisible. Does that bother me, you ask? Let’s say it doesn’t bother me anymore. It may even be that I’ve come to enjoy that part of the job most.
—-Shit. There’s the doorbell. Hold on while I . . . oh, it’s my upstairs neighbour. She’s never home. I suppose I’ll have to – socialise.

 

Interview
from SmokeLong

One time in college I didn’t have anywhere to go for Thanksgiving, so a friend of mine invited me to her parents’ house. When I got there I found that her entire room was festooned floor to ceiling with elephants. There were elephant posters and stuffed elephants, elephant statues and books about elephants. I’d never known that she was an elephant person and suddenly, there it was. Are you secretly an elephant person? Or is this story an aberration? Or, to put it another way, where on earth did this story come from?

That’s sad that you didn’t have anywhere to go for Thanksgiving. I have the opposite problem. My parents always want me to come home for every holiday, and I long ago ran out of good excuses not to go. Now I just say, “I’m too busy.” They’ll accept that because I come from a hard-core Protestant work ethic family. My story about elephants has something to do with watching news coverage of one of the several wars the United States is conducting in desert places. I think I saw a picture of a tank buried up to its turret in sand and it reminded me of an elephant. It’s fair to call it an aberration because it was not something I had planned on writing. I have no special interest in elephants.

You are a very busy man! Cursory googling (nothing too scary I promise) reveals you to be a screenwriter, novelist, musician, and short story writer… possibly other things…. Could you talk a little bit about your approach to different projects? I guess what I mean is, when you set out to do something, do you know ahead of time what form it will take? Do you start out saying “okay, let’s write a song,” for instance, or is it more of a nebulous urge which then finds suitable form? Or is it something else? (Also, do you talk to yourself in plural form, or am I alone in that?)

Usually with movies I’m asked to write a specific thing so there’s little choice involved. But in general I work out the form and structure of what I’m going to write before I write it, in great detail, in my brain. For a novel I write the ending first, then the beginning, then I work on whatever section in between that I want, because I already know where it fits in the book. A story like “Elephants” is little more than an expanded image. Sometimes those will come into my head independent of my intention and I write them down hoping they will lead somewhere. This one didn’t go any further than what I wrote, and that’s fine. I live alone, so I do talk to myself a lot. Usually in the third person, though. “Good job, idiot! Now there’s pickle juice all over the kitchen floor!”

The stories of yours that I have read and heard evince a great interest in history. This sets them apart from most short fiction I’ve read, at least on the internet, where writing seems much more personal, slice-of-life. Did you study history? Do you draw from it purposely, or does it just naturally come out? (I picture you sitting in your house with a pipe, surrounded by vellum and papyrus…)

I’ve never studied history systematically but I’ve always been interested in the subject. The first books I remember reading were biographies of historical figures. When I was maybe six or seven years old my mom would take me to the library and I would check out as many books as I could physically carry (at that age, not many). I went to a public high school that was lucky enough to have one teacher who could teach Latin. He smoked a pipe that smelled like cherry wood. I was his only student, so we were able to cram six years of Latin into two years. Learning Latin is difficult but extremely rewarding. If you know Latin, when you come across a word like “uxorial,” for instance, you know immediately what it means, because “uxor” is the Latin word for “wife.”

What’s France like? I’ve never been there. Actually, I’ve never been anywhere. Except one time to Sydney, Australia, which seems to be mainly populated by fruit bats.

The thing I like best about Australia, possibly, is that their “paper” money is made out of plastic. You can’t tear it no matter how hard you try. I was in Sydney once for New Year’s Eve, which you probably know is like their July 4th, because in Australia January is summer and July is winter. Everything is topsy-turvy. I was staying on an upper floor of a tall hotel not five hundred meters from another tall building where at midnight they set off fireworks for twenty minutes or so. That was really beautiful. Coincidentally I am working with a director who lives in Sydney and not long ago we had a meeting via Skype. I’ve never done that before. It was really weird. The whole time, I kept thinking “you’re in Sydney, Australia, it’s 8:30 in the morning tomorrow where you are, and it’s 3:30 in the afternoon yesterday where I am.” The meeting was not productive, because I wasn’t really listening. I was trying to decide whether this qualified as time travel or not. France has really great roads. The highways are smooth, and the back roads are well-maintained. Also, something like 80% of their electricity comes from nuclear power. Paris is the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen.

What do you think will happen to this interview? Do you think anyone will read it? Do you think it’ll still be around in ten years, or twenty, or fifty, or a hundred? Do you ever think about the future of the internet? Does all this stuff stay around forever? Will there someday be an Archeology of the Internet? Or will it all just go up in smoke?

When I was writing for Spin in the pre-internet era, I assumed that everything I wrote would be forgotten the minute it was printed, if not sooner. About a year ago a friend of mine told me that every back issue had been scanned and put on Google Books. All my juvenilia on public display. Searchable, even. However: unless someone really conscientious is in charge, every written thing pinging around the internet will eventually decay unless backed up and duplicated (in triplicate) on an ongoing basis. The nature of magnetic media is that it decays. CDs have a much shorter shelf-life than vinyl. MP3s are even shorter-lived than CDs. Hard-drives crash and servers fail. My perfervid hope is that everything on the internet will disappear bit by byte, pressed flat by calamitous gravity, shriveling in the data basement. More likely: when Skynet takes over, it will probably keep everything I’ve ever written as a lesson for whatever humans still survive. “This is how stupid you were! You don’t deserve to live!” For me, impermanence is one of the few charms of mortality.

 

Musician


Steven Soderbergh’s Music Video for James Greer/DCTV’s “Histoire seule”


DTCV “Bourgeois Pop”


DTCV “Conformiste”


Guided by Voices (w/ James Greer) – Pantherz – 2/Sept/94

 

Linkage

James Greer @ Wikipedia
James Greer @ goodreads
James Greer @ IMDb
LAist Interview: James Greer
JG on David Foster Wallace’s ‘The Pale King’
James Greer on Sean Kilpatrick’s ‘Fuckscapes’
JG on John Barth’s ‘Every Third Thought’

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. Today the blog and I, its proprietor, are happy to use our domain to help usher James Greer’s new novel into reality. Greer is one of my favorite contemporary fiction writers, and ‘Bad Eminence’ is his greatest book yet. I had the honor of publishing one his earlier novels, ‘Artificial Light’, through my old imprint Little House on the Bowery. In addition to his fiction skills, he’s justly known for his screenplays (for Steven Soderbergh, among others), his rock criticism, and his music. He doesn’t like this being mentioned so much — sorry, Jim — but he was a member of Guided by Voices during their golden early 90s period, which, obviously, gives him godlike status for me in and of itself. Anyway, I super highly recommend that you forage through the welcome post then get/read ‘Bad Eminence’. It’s amazing. ** David Ehrenstein, Thankfully I don’t think his evil has penetrated the borders of France, as far I know. ** Billy, Yay, that love was the goal and point! I guess amusing generated by the near invisible is enough, right? I haven’t really liked Terence Davies’s films since the early ones, but ‘Benediction’ cut through and got to me for some reason. I’m down with ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, but I find it impossible not to wonder what it would have been if Kubrick had lived long enough to supervise/do the entire edit. There are points where I wonder if he would have agreed with the decision making. Anyway what did you think of it? I’m okay. The fundraising is stressful and consuming, but hopefully that’ll pay off soon. Thanks for asking. ** Dominik, Hi!!! I keep hoping Rosser Shymanski, who was the person inside DeAundra, will revive her, but he seems to be past it. I think the title ‘Rohypnol’ is enough to get me to test it at least, you know? DeAundras for the starring role in every country’s government, I say! Your love of yesterday was so right. Love changing dogs’ biology so they can eat chocolate, G. ** _Black_Acrylic, Happy to enlighten you kind folks in the UK! ** Steve Erickson, If I had the money, I think I’d start a 7″ vinyl only record company maybe. Or maybe one of those ‘single of the month club’-type things like Sub Pop used to do. No, I don’t think I knew about that “gay porn” film shot in the Parthenon. Unless I’m spacing. Cool. Everyone, Mr. Erickson has something that might well be of considerable interest to no small number of you: ‘Do you remember the “gay porn” film shot in the Parthenon last year, which became a media scandal? It’s actually a 35-minute short made by a Greek anarchist collective, and it’s up for viewing here ** Misanthrope, Scaredy cat. Oh, right, Wimbledon. Haven’t been paying attention. Might be fun. Well, then I presume his asshole must be sparkling clean, no? ** Okay. Please dig into the evidence of James Greer’s new novel until further notice aka tomorrow at least.

8 Comments

  1. Dominik

    Hi!!

    I looked up “Bad Eminence” when I explored your “Mine for Yours” post, and based on the blurb, I thought okay, could be interesting, but I’m not sure it’s for me. Now that I read the excerpt, which simply drew me in and didn’t let go ‘til the last word, I know I want to read the whole book. Thank you for this post! And thank you and congratulations, James, if you happen to read this!

    I know what you mean about “Rohypnol’s” title. I felt the exact same, haha.

    My dog would like to personally thank your love for his life altering actions. Love going back in time and asking the first person who ever had the idea of eating an egg why they thought something that’d come out of an animal’s ass should be considered food, Od.

  2. David Ehrenstein

    MAZEL TOV MONSIEUR GREER~

  3. Misanthrope

    Dennis, Okay, defo have to get this. I love James’ stuff.

    I can hear the interview after Nadal wins Wimbledon, “Yes, I played really well today, but you do know that I have the cleanest asshole on tour, right?” Everyone applauds and starts digging his or her own asshole.

  4. _Black_Acrylic

    Think I might just have to spring for this one. Been on something of a fallow period lately without much in the way of reading, writing, art et cetera, so Bad Eminence can kickstart things. I did enjoy the extract.

    Been getting into this show on Apple TV, Slow Horses is about a bunch of grimy dysfunctional MI5 agents and features some great acting turns from the likes of Gary Oldman. Certainly it will do us until Succession restarts.

  5. Bill

    The Greer novel looks interesting, will definitely look into it more.

    Didn’t Kyle Muntz used to be a DL? He has a new novel out. I just finished Kathryn Harlan’s collection Fruiting Bodies, probably my favorite this year. I’ve been grumbling about my Kelly Link fix, and it certainly delivered.

    Haven’t come across DeAundra Peek’s name in ages. Good to see the fine wacky post.

    Bill

  6. ANGUSRAZE (prrrrp)

    Hey Dennis!

    How are you? I have been reading Frisk at the moment at work, altho it is a short book and I have had it in my hands for a while I just havent found the time but now, I have been making progress, I love it alot, I always feel some sort of a connection with the characters in your work, maybe sexually, not completely, but when I see a sort of flash of myself in a charatcer its sort of a very weirdly tantilising aspect for me. I guess it helps me indulge and then become more effected by the large pendulum I see in your work, that one side being the erotic content, the flow and structure of the words, the fantasy, then the opposite side being the disarming and completely cold violence or sort of dissociated aspects of some of the characters suffering. I really do thing its almost connective to some of my work, especially this new song Im releasing on friday, my first costume piece for that performance comes tomorrow and I might do a short promo shoot inspired by that sports post you shared, the guys in their uniforms post game, that sort of energy but colourful and grainy and similar to baseball cards. total homoerotic fantasy level hahaha.

    but yeah! How is the film, what is the general narrative of it at this point? I have finally worked through my 5 consecutive days at work and they have only given me 3 days (one of them being a half day) this week so i will have lots of time to work on project! yipee, im gonna start rehearsing next week for said show, i will keep u updated and informed!

    lots and lots of jock love

    ryan

  7. Jeff J

    Hey Dennis – Great to see Jim’s new novel celebrated here. I have my copy and am hoping to read it over the next few weeks. It looks exceptional & I love that excerpt. Randomly: Do you know if he’s still doing DCTV?

    I’m continuing to work on the novel project, trying to figure out why it’s ground to a temporary halt. Guessing something needs to be reimagined/reworked before I can move ahead but not sure what yet. You have particular strategies for when the work is being stubborn?

    Any news about Michael S and Bookworm?

  8. Steve Erickson

    Sub Pop’s still doing the single of the month club – in fact, Irreversible Entanglements were their last release! But it doesn’t quite seem the same when the songs are available for digital download and streaming.

    I’m feeling pretty lousy, enough so that I’m trying to find out how much an MRI would cost if I have to pay for it myself.

    For more background, Spectacle/MOMA programmer Steve McFarlane’s Substack ran an interview with one of the anonymous filmmakers behind DISPARTHENON: https://elementxcinema.substack.com/p/its-all-bleep-to-me

    Are you still working with the difficult producer?

    I’m reading Jace Clayton’s UPROOT now. There’s a huge amount of information about intriguing genres of music all over the world here, with audio links on his website, although at times the book feels like a boast about all the cool places he’s lived and traveled. I learned from it that Konono No. 1 existed for 30 years before their “discovery” by European musicians and labels and the reason they never followed up CONGOTRONICS was because most of the members split to live as undocumented immigrants in Belgium during their European tour.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

© 2022 DC's

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑