Kategoriarkiv: Intervjuer

Interview: Alban Fischer on designing book covers

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Horse Less Press, 2015

I have made brief interviews with a few Swedish and American graphic designers I admire. I have asked somewhat similar questions, but interestingly enough the answers vary to a considerable degree. “It’s a hopeless question,” one of them answered, while another answered the same question with enthusiasm.

I really enjoy reading about how each and every one of them approach the task to make an excellent book cover, one of those that makes you want to snap up that book, not one of the others, immediately. Alban Fischer, author and graphic designer, have made several covers with that quality – beautiful, haunting, melancholic and nostalgic.

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Trnsfr Magazine, 2015

Fischer has designed covers for poetry and literary fiction for some of the finest American small presses, including Horse Less Press, YesYes Books and Birds, LLC. He has also designed magazines like Trnsfr and PANK. His portfolio is varied and very enjoyable to explore, some of my favorite covers have a layered quality to them, a depth that makes them visually captivating.

Fischer is the author of the poetry chapbook Status Area (Varmint Armature, 2011). His work has appeared in BlazeVox, Kindling, Past Simple, Thieves Jargon, amongst other publications. He is the founding editor of Trnsfr and he lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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Aforementioned Productions, 2014

Could you please tell us a little about your background and how and why you became a designer of book covers?

I became a designer somewhat by accident. I’m a little wary of how that sounds, I must say; it seems blithe or capricious or something. Serendipitous, even. But I’ve certainly worked hard to make a career for myself. When I was young, I thought I’d grow up to be an artist. I’d discovered at an early age that I had a talent for drawing, for making things. I was even excused from handwriting exercises in school because I had such nice penmanship. The trade­off was that I’d clean erasers instead. (It’s funny—it occurs to me just now that this is something of a model for what my life is like now as a freelance designer.) I don’t think I had any real idea what an artist was, though, or what an artist did, exactly. I figured I’d just go on drawing things.

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Tiny Hardcore Press, 2014

Then, in my early teens I became a voracious reader, and discovered what I’d really wanted to do was write. So, naturally, in my twenties I began reading tons of literary journals, and submitting my work. And I thought, sort of vaguely, that maybe one day I’d start my own journal. And at thirty I did. Obviously, I knew I’d need someone to design the thing, but I didn’t know anyone. So I taught myself. Trnsfr was my education in design. At the time, though, I didn’t think of what I was doing as design. I just wanted to make something unique. A few years later, I was out of work for a brief period. It occurred to me that I’d developed through Trnsfr a number of contacts in indie publishing. I thought maybe I could get work doing layout for a small press or something. Luckily, there were a number of them that needed help. Some of them really responded to the look of Trnsfr, so I started doing book covers as well.

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Curbside Splendor, 2015

What purposes are book covers supposed to fill?

Well, obviously book covers were initially purely utilitarian. Dust covers were just that—meant to protect books from dust and whatnot. They’re now of  course a kind of art form unto themselves. Naturally, we want them to be pretty. And pretty certainly goes a long way, but we need them to do more than just look pretty. A lot more. They have to say, I have what you’re looking for. They’re advertisements. We also need to be able to trust them. So in a certain way a good book cover has to tell it straight. But in the most attractive way; it has to be astute. And book covers are a kind of visual shorthand for the book itself, for its contents. A designer has to be cognizant of that. And a cover has to be able to withstand that responsibility, that challenge. And when it does, it can sometimes itself become as iconic as the book it clothes.

When I think of one of the books that has always meant a great deal to me, Ulysses, I think of the cover—in this case the Gabler edition, with that beautiful design by Carin Goldberg (whose work I revere). And I think this is all the more underscored by the current age, with so many people buying their books online. Covers have to be more aesthetically concise than ever before. But I think they have to reward us too. Maybe like a validation of our taste and intelligence. People want to possess something that is really remarkable, something they can cherish. We need covers to reinforce our belief in a book’s power, that its contents are invaluable and truly meaningful (this extends to a book’s interior layout and production, too). You’re not impelled to pick up an ugly book.

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Arcadia, 2015

Are there differences between book covers and other kinds of graphic design? I think quite a few of your covers would work well as posters.

Absolutely. And certainly there are similarities. For instance, what I said about rewarding us, and the validation of taste. With any design—in whatever discipline—those are definitely concerns. But perhaps we view books as even more tied to our taste and intelligence as intellectual flags, signifiers, mirrors, projectors. We view them as communicating something deeper about who we are than, say, one’s choice of footwear. I know this all sounds a bit superficial, but at the same time, I think those concerns are important. Because these signifiers are communicating a certain truth. What a person wears obviously says a lot of things about him or her, but class and fashion can be cleared away. Intelligence, what we know, our moral core—these are something else altogether.

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Elixir Press, 2015

And I think the haptic nature of books informs their design to a greater degree: they don’t become what they are until we open them. Obviously, one could say that about a shirt, but a book keeps becoming a book, forever. Its stories don’t exist until we imagine them. And then, too, we want precious objects to feel good in the hand, but with books this feel also tells us something that is directly connected to the content of a book. Is it serious?, say; or is it light?

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Trembling Pillow Press, 2015

Do you have a philosophy, rules of thumb or rituals that you follow during the creative process? Please tell us a little bit about the creative process.

I don’t—not really. Certainly no ritual, or at least nothing I would recognize or categorize as ritual. Maybe just that I don’t think a book cover should pander to easy expectations or simply be a patchwork of fashionable motifs. I don’t see why a work of genre fiction, for instance, should look a certain way or should follow a proscribed set of visual tropes. Design for me is more an intuitive process than anything. And I don’t see why those same tropes can’t be exploited or queered, too—even for genres with which they’re not customarily associated. I think tradition is important—hugely so. Without it, without a keen knowledge of it—and even respect for it—what do you have to push against, spring off from, broaden, or tear down? It’s heuristic, in a sense: paradigms can themselves be tools to dismantle other paradigms. As far as process is concerned, it is in many respects different for each book.

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YesYes Books, 2015

It seems most of my covers rarely resemble the original concept. Of course, I’ll read a book, take notes. Often the author or publisher has a few ideas or images they’d like me to do something with or keep in mind. Sometimes I’m given artwork to incorporate into the design. With some publishers, albeit rarely, I’m given carte blanche; with others, it’s a little more collaborative, in a way: they’ll like certain aspects of two different concepts, say, and ask that I merge them, or suggest a different angle I hadn’t thought of. And sometimes—also (very) rarely—I nail it the first round.

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PANK Magazine, 2015

You have made covers to small and cool niche magazines, like PANK Magazine and Arcadia Magazine, and to books from rather small presses oriented towards literary fiction, like Tiny Hardcore Press, YesYes Books and Birds, LCC. Looking at your work I see all kinds of different styles, from Dadaism and collage to very contemporary visual expressions, like the beautiful cover to Dolan Morgan’s recent story collection. Do you think that you enjoy a greater freedom than a graphic designer working exclusively for large presses?

I find it hard to apprehend my own “style.” A client will contact me and say they love my style or aesthetic or my sensibility. But it can be hard for me to see what that is. Or perhaps to see what they perceive it to be. I know how I don’t want something to look. Maybe a person’s style can be defined by what they choose to not do. I’ve wondered this about larger presses, whether I’d have less freedom with a major house. Perhaps one does have more freedom with an indie press. But I have no idea, I’ve no metric for that. I mean, it’s rare that I have a marketing or sales team to please, or a distributor. But I do have to deal with this too for a few of the presses I work for.

And while one might say I’ve created work in many different styles, I don’t think I’ve ever consciously tried to create anything in a certain style, unless asked to do so outright. I like to think I’m flexible. And I’m influenced by a lot things. Graffiti, for instance. Things that aren’t design—happy accidents— like the look of a casually laid stack of junk mail, even. Or completely utilitarian things, user manuals. But as a freelancer, I have to be flexible. Maybe that necessity is what accounts for the freedom one might see me as having as an indie designer.

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Horse Less Press, 2014

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Can you please pick one of your covers and explain how it came about and how you intended it to work?

A cover I’m particularly proud of is James Tadd Adcox’s Does Not Love. There is a scene in the book in which one of the characters peruses online profiles of surrogate mothers. In all of the profile pictures, the women’s are eyes blacked out with a bar. Tadd wanted an image like that for the cover, and I believe even had a particular one in mind. Eventually, the editor on the project, Jacob Knabb, sent along the images you see on the book now. I wanted the placement of the text to work in the same way the black bars over the eyes would, to obscure identity, to give a sense of something hidden or verboten. The book has a lot to say about identity—identity in the context of a marriage. The book is about a lot of things—pharmaceuticals, paranoia, conspiracy theories, jealousy, infidelity, the American dream, the inviolable ideal of the nuclear family—and I needed the tone to encompass all of those things. So the images on the cover are somewhat classic, suggesting a more “proper” time in which our roles in our relationships and the world were, we imagine, more clearly defined. But I wanted the book to feel big, too. Because it does feel like a big novel, even though it is short (its dimensions are quite small, too). For Adcox’s first book, I placed a quote from the book on the spine, no author name or title, and I wanted a similar treatment for this one. I thought it would be interesting to have a pharmaceutical label on the spine. The mysterious pill one of the characters takes is called Milamor, so I thought it would be perfect to create a mock label for that. It would look sort of institutional and threatening, and seem a bit strange, which the book is—in the best of ways.

Ola Wihlke

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Under Bokomslag bilder och foto, Intervjuer

Interview: Kimberly Glyder on designing book covers

 

 

When I look at the book covers designed by Kimberly Glyder, of Kimberly Glyder Design, I sense that what you see is what you get. I would even claim that her designs have an honest quality, if that makes any sense, and they are rooted in different American traditions. Kimberly doesn’t use Helvetica very often and seldom play it safe and minimalistic. She makes covers for books of literary fiction, essays and more commercial novels, but she always finds a style and solutions – she is very good with typography and colors – that are bold and that makes you want to grab and explore the books.

 

 

Kimberlys work has been recognized by the AIGA in their 50 Books/50 Covers Show, the biennial AIGA 50 design competition for the DC area, the AIGA Philadelphia Design Awards, the AAUP Book Jacket and Journal Show, the New England Book Show, the New York Book Show, and in PRINT’s Regional Design Annual.

 

 

Kimberlys clients include: Random House, Ecco, National Geographic, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Grand Central Publishing, Johns Hopkins University Press, W. W. Norton, Abrams, Graywolf Press, and Little, Brown. We had the opportunity to ask Kimberley a few questions. For the interview I mostly chose covers she made for books from independent and university presses. They are not representative of her work as a whole.

 

 

Could you please tell us a little about your background and how and why you became a designer of book covers?

I’ve always been a voracious reader and involved in the fine arts, so being able to combine books and design is an ideal fit for me. I attended the Rhode Island School of Design where I received a BFA in Graphic Design. Though I wanted to go into book design right out of school, there were limited oppor-tunities at the time, so I had brief stints in print design studios working on brochures, catalogs, branding systems, etc. Then I spent a couple years working as a museum designer creating exhibits for international and regional clients. Finally, I landed at Da Capo Books in Boston and began my career as a book designer, leaving a couple years later to strike out on my own (which I love).

 

 

What purposes are book covers supposed to fill?

Whether the cover is shown online or as a printed copy in a bookstore, the purpose of a book cover is to create an engaging experience for a potential buyer. Hopefully, a buyer “clicks on” a book online or picks up a book in a bookstore, and then it’s really the writing that must convince someone to buy the book. My job, as I see it, is to push a buyer to interact with a book.

 

 

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Are there differences between book covers and other kinds of graphic design?

Certainly, I think there is much more emphasis on conveying a specific concept or tone for a book cover. Authors and publishing companies have very definitive ideas of how they want to market books and there is a fine line between creating something visually appealing and accurate (enough). It’s not just about what is beautiful, but the balance of the author’s writing to take into consideration.

 

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Do you have a philosophy, rules of thumb or rituals that you follow during the creative process? Please tell us a little bit about the creative process.

Over the years, I’ve been able to streamline my process effectively. I always begin a book by reading the manuscript and taking notes. These notes are usually “big picture” concepts. Sometimes they are specific visuals that stand out within the book (such as a variety of flower mentioned, or the color of a woman’s hair, etc.). At the beginning of many book projects, I will also get input from the author which then gets combined into my notes. After reading and note-taking, I move on to sketching. I always sketch first before turning to the computer. These small sketches are rough thumbnails where I distill my notes and take a first stab at translating the concepts into visuals. This also might be when I’m doing photo research. Often times, I will move on to hand-lettering or some painted element. I seem to be hired for more and more projects in which illustration is requested, so this has become an important stage in my process. Finally, I move on to designing.

 

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You are very versatile stylistically and have a quite varied portfolio – you have made covers for books of fiction and books of non-fiction and you also work for different kinds of publishers, from rather small and indie Graywolf Press to Random House. Yet I find unifying elements, many of your covers are bold, they certainly stand out against the background, and several of them are humorous. Could you please comment on the variation of your portfolio? Could you also say something about working with publishers with quite different identities?

I think as a book designer, you have to be varied in your style. There are some designers who aren’t and it works well for them, but for me, it’s rather a necessity to have the variation. Not only is this variety fulfilling since it allows me to work on a range of subject matters (one of the best parts of working with books in my opinion!), but it also brings in a number of varied clients. I have a soft spot for Graywolf Press, as I feel as though the covers I’ve worked on for them are my most successful from a creative standpoint. Part of the reason for this I think, is that they allow me the freedom to really stretch my creative limits and they value my contribution to the book. So many large publishers get saddled down by what they think is commercially viable, and in the process, the covers lose any uniqueness which would have made them stand out in the first place.

I do like bold covers and am happy to hear you think mine have that quality. I’m not someone who uses Helvetica as an afterthought. I like type as image. I think a lot can be visually conveyed with a little and that’s taken many years to figure out.

 

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Can you please tell us a little bit about the cover you made for Rails Under My Back and explain how it came about and how you intended it to work?

Rails Under My Back chronicles the lives of two African-American brothers and their families. The metaphor of the railroad (the themes of migration and uprooting) dominates the book. The “rails under my back” also signify scars from whipping and the legacy of slavery. The two brothers take divergent paths so my goal was to convey this break in a visual way. My solution was to  create a railroad graphic that splits to move off in two directions. The railroad design also refers to the human spine/back and the small yellow marks evoke the scars. The type is jumpy and carries a lot of movement, in keeping with the writing style. The color palette is intentionally limited to reinforce the strong visual impact of the typography and background graphics.

 

We really appreciate that Kimberly took our questions, thanks. These are the books featured in the interview:

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison (Graywolf Press), design and lettering.

Dead Neon (University of Nevada Press), AD Kathleen Szawiola, the cover was awarded several prizes.

The Red Parts by Maggie Nelson (Graywolf Press), AD Katie Dublinkski.

Leaving Orbit by Margaret Lazarus Dean (Graywolf Press), AD Katie Dublinski.

Unbuttoning America by Ardis Cameron (Cornell University Press), AD Scott Levine, Vintage Pin-Up Illustration by Al Moore.

The Pinch by Steve Stern (Graywolf Press), AD Katie Dublinski.

Get in Trouble by Kelly Link (Random House), unused comp, AD Paolo Pepe, design & illustration.

Beyond Competitive Advantage by Todd R. Zenger (Harvard Business Review Press), AD Stephani Finks.

Woke Up Lonely by Fiona Mazeel (Greywolf Press), AD Michael Taeckens.

Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto by Maile Chapman (Graywolf Press), AD Katie Dublinski.

Mad Men Unzipped (University of Iowa Press), AD Karen Copp.

Rails Under My Back by Jeffery Renard Allen (Greywolf Press), AD Katie Dublinski.

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For more covers by Kimberly Glyder, visit the homepage of Kimberly Glyder Design and the blog Shelved Books, where you can see several versions of the cover to The Empathy Exams, among many other things.

Ola Wihlke

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Under Bokomslag bilder och foto, Intervjuer

Berl’s in Brooklyn, passionate about chapbooks and small press poetry

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In the autumn of 2013 a new bookstore opened in New York. The name of the store is Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop and it’s unique – it’s the only bookstore in New York that only sells books of poetry. And if that’s not extraordinary enough – the store focus almost entirely on chapbooks and books from micro- and small presses. Presses like Ugly Duckling, Birds, LLC and Future Tense.

Berl’s is a family business and is run by the married couple Farrah Field and Jared White. They met when they studied poetry writing at Columbia University. Both are published poets. They soon married – even the marriage was a bit literary – and 2011 they started to sell chapbooks and books of poetry from small presses at Brooklyn Flea.

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At Brooklyn Flea they learned everything about selling beautiful but somewhat obscure books to people who might not be the obvious audience for contemporary and alternative poetry. When Field and White had a baby, Rome, they put their Flea market venture on hold while tending for him.

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Field and White had always dreamed of opening a proper bookstore, a space where they could arrange events and exhibit art, but it’s not easy to find affordable and suitable spaces in New York. But by a stroke of luck they found a space in DUMBO, Brooklyn, right below Manhattan Bridge, which is brilliant. There are several publishers, other bookshops and journals in the neighborhood as well – Verso, Melville House, powerHouse Books, P.S. Bookshop, n+1 just to mention a few.

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And quite a few residents in DUMBO and the environs both write and read poetry and attend readings, and European tourists find their way to Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop as well, where they can buy colorful, hand printed, rare, playful and thought provoking chapbooks and books, most of them by American poets.

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The books at Berl’s are meticulously curated and they are displayed as pieces of art, despite the fact that a chapbook might cost as little as $10. At Berl’s poetry is all and we had the opportunity to ask co-founder and owner Jared White a few questions.

You are specialized in chapbooks and books from small presses. Can you explain what makes them so appealing and desirable?

– For us, discovering the vibrant ecosystem of small/micro publishers making chapbooks and books in an independent, do-it-yourself spirit was hugely inspirational to opening the shop. Here is a huge body of really exciting poetry writing being published for the most part under the radar, too diffuse, vast and rapid-paced for most bookstores to keep up with. It seemed a field in which we could really do something valuable and different than other bookshops in bringing a lot of these publications together, making them available and giving them a significant platform (and shelf real estate in our space).

– We struggle to do justice to the enormity of what is published and of course what we have in our shop is only a slice of what is out there and it is always a huge challenge to keep our inventory updated but we do the best we can to rise to the challenge of making a home for this kind of work.

Chapbooks appeal to me because:

– they represent an attempt to create a more personal means of production and to make gatekeepers less exclusionary

– they allow poets to present work in ways that reimagine what books can be or accomplish

– they are handmade, often very beautiful art objects in and of themselves

– they are approachable in that they are often much shorter than a full book-length so they can often be read in a single sitting

– they offer younger or less institutionally supported writers a way of getting their work out there and also a way for people by inventing presses to be able to participate in a conversation about poetry and to connect with writers they admire

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When you begin to explore this part of the poetry scene, it seem rather small, but when you take a closer look, you get the impressions that it’s large and very vital. Could you please tell us a little bit about how the scene have changed and developed? Is it altogether different from the rest of the poetry scene / book market?

– It certainly feels as if there has been an explosion in terms of the number of presses making chapbooks, probably partly fueled by the growth of MFA programs graduating classes of poets every year, and partly by the internet/social media turning local conversations about poetry into national and international communities. My research remains hugely word of mouth driven since so many publications happen in small editions announced only inside networks online though I’m always trying to find new outlets to include in our shop (such as our budget and our limited bookshelf space can allow). I would not describe chapbook publishing as a scene exactly, and certainly poets have been making and distributing their work in chapbooks for ages, but more like the work of many overlapping communities.

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Is it relevant to compare this niche market with vinyl records?

– I sometimes, especially with non-poets, might mention vinyl records or EPs as a loose comparison, in terms of the idea of B-sides or work-in-progress being made available. But obviously the big differences are a) presses are much looser, more DIY operations than most indie record labels b) handmaking a chapbook is a pretty different relationship to materials than sending off a record to be pressed c) the market is so much more about fellow poets in a shared, porous economy of reading and writing than with regards to music where listeners are not so often fellow musicians. They’re both related to passion but I think maybe there’s a bit less value in poetry placed on collecting.

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You know this ecosystem exceptionally well. Could you recommend a few recent books and a few publishers to follow? Are there any current trends that are particularly interesting?

– Off the top of my head, some great US-based include doublecross, dancing girl, graying ghost, horse less, the song cave, ugly duckling presse and so many others. Not sure if I see trends so much as a constant surge of new presses, many coming from other parts of the world. Recently we bought some great new books from Metatron in Canada and Vagabond Press in Australia for instance. And my list of presses that I intend to contact is humongous – the main limitation, even more than budget, is time since we are a small operation and right now I’m working pretty much single-handedly on most of this. Way too many books coming out all the time to make any more than a totally random listing – hope the list I sent in my last email might flag some good writing that I personally enjoyed especially:

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Anne Boyer’s GARMENTS AGAINST WOMEN

Orlando White’s LETTERRS
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Jackqueline Frost’s THE ANTIDOTE
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Carrie Lorig’s THE PULP VS. THE THRONE
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Monica McClure’s TENDER DATA

Could you please tell us a little bit about what you can find and do at Berl’s except from buying chapbooks and poetry from small presses?

– At Berl’s acquiring new chapbooks is an important part of our mission but in general we also have been growing a very expansive collection of poetry from all sorts of presses, including university presses and some large publishers as well. We aim to have a curated collection of books that is diverse and full of compelling writing generally. We have been hosting a lot of events in our shop as well, mostly readings, about 2-3 a week on average, so that is a huge part of our work.

Ola Wihlke

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Interview: Murray Shanahan on the technological singularity

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Professor Stephen Hawking has said, on several occasions, that efforts to create thinking machines pose a threat to humankind. He might be the most famous thinker to hold this view, but he is certainly not the only one. The fear is that thinking machines (AI), when they finally reach human-level intelligence, will enhance themselves and become superintelligent, completely outwitting us humans. An explosive technological development would begin, and this moment is known as the technological singularity.

Many thinkers, including Nick Bostrom, believe that the singularity will be either very good or very, very bad. In the utopian scenario machines or robots would enhance the lives of humans, they might invent pharmaceuticals that can cure diseases such as bipolar disorder and Alzheimer. In the dystopian scenario the machines or robots would be more like the computer HAL or a terminator, seeing humans as a threat to their position as the new rulers of the world.

A Disneyland without children

“A society of economic miracles and technological awesomeness, with nobody there to benefit,” as Bostrom writes in his new book Superintelligence. “A Disneyland without children.”

A majority of the experts believe that human-level AI will be achieved pretty soon, according to a review of the book in Financial Times:

“About half the world’s AI specialists expect human-level machine intelligence to be achieved by 2040, according to recent surveys, and 90 per cent say it will arrive by 2075. Bostrom takes a cautious view of the timing but believes that, once made, human-level AI is likely to lead to a far higher level of ‘superintelligence’ faster than most experts expect – and that its impact is likely either to be very good or very bad for humanity.”

We have read a brand new, hugely entertaining and accessible book on this subject, The Technological Singularity (MIT Press) – it’s published in MIT:s very fine series Essential Knowledge – and we had the opportunity to ask its author, professor Murray Shanahan, a few questions. Mr. Shanahan is professor of Cognitive Robotics in the Department of Computing at Imperial College London.

Could you please tell us a little bit about your background, about how you begun to take an interest in theories about the technological singularity and how this interest has developed?

– I was fascinated by robotics and artificial intelligence at an early age, mainly thanks to science fiction books and movies. I was especially influenced by Asimov’s robot stories. But I also loved Dr Who as a kid, and always wanted to know what a dalek was like inside. I used to draw pictures of the insides of robots – mainly random boxes and wires, if I recall.

– Years later, when I was studying computer science at high school, I started thinking more seriously about the possibility of AI. I read I. J. Good’s seminal paper ”Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine” in the 1980s when I was still a teenager. This 1965 paper was the first serious treatment of the idea of the technological singularity. At that time I was sure that, if human-level AI was developed, it would be a wholly positive thing. I still think so, on balance. But now – partly thanks to the work of Nick Bostrom – I feel it’s important to exercise caution and think about the risks and downsides too.

In your book, the aim is not to make predictions but rather to explore different scenarios. In the literature as a whole on the technological singularity, would you say that the discourse is more dystopian than utopian? Has it changed over time?

– Non-fictional literature on the subject used to exhibit a nice balance of positive and negative portrayals of AI in the future. Recently this has shifted somewhat towards the discussion of risks and dangers, particularly since the publication of Nick Bostrom’s book. Of course, the general public loves a bit of apocalypse, so the media tends to amplify the concerns. And for the same reason, AI often gets a negative portrayal in science fiction movies. But it’s very important not to muddle up science fiction with reality.

– There are real concerns with how to build AI with human-level capabilities and beyond. But it’s not because researchers are worried that AI will have human foibles such as greed and cruelty. Rather it’s because a very powerful AI may be very good at achieving the goals we set it, but in ways with very harmful unanticipated side-effects. Nevertheless, I’m confident that we will solve these problems and that AI will be beneficial to humanity.

Could you please explain why human-level AI could develop very rapidly into superhuman AI and set off an intelligence explosion?

– In my view it would be a small step form human-level AI to superhuman-level AI. As soon as human-level intelligence is realised in a digital substrate then there are some simple, conservative ways to improve it dramatically. For example, it could be speeded up. Or aspects of the system, such as memory capacity, could simply be expanded. These thigs wouldn’t require any sort of further conceptual breakthrough. The prospect of an intelligence explosion is a different thing. Here we are imagining the implications of self-improving AI – artificial intelligence that is good at creating better artificial intelligence. If an AI can make its own improved successor, which in turn can make an even better successor (perhaps more quickly) then the result could be very dramatic.

Could you please describe a scenario in which a superintelligent AI goes rogue? What kind of damage could it do and what are the most reasonable ways of avoiding AIs going rogue?

– The sort of scenario that worries people is analogous to the sort of folktale where a genie gives you three wishes, and the genie makes them all come true but in horrible ways you weren’t expecting. The worry is that we will be unable to specify what we want a powerful AI to do precisely enough to ensure that it doesn’t think the best way to achieve the goal involves the destruction of humanity as a side-effect. We don’t yetknow how serious this problem really is, but people are starting to do research to make sure we can avoid it.

Human-level AI and superhuman AI raises a lot of philosophical questions. What are the most important ones?

– I think the most important philosophical questions relate to what it means to be human. The prospect of human-level AI obliges us to consider very different kinds of intelligence, very different kinds of consciousness even, which throws new light on our own form of intelligence and consciousness. It also makes us ask ourselves what we really want. If we could create servants with god-like powers, what would we ask them to do for us? How would we reshape human society and human life if we could do whatever we wanted?

Ola Wihlke

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Suddenly, a very brief interview with Etgar Keret

seven good years

Etgar Kerets new book is autobiographical, but the mixture of the absurd and hilarious with the tragic, is very keretesque (Review in Swedish). We asked the author a few questions.

Your new book is a very gripping memoir, The Seven Good Years, spanning the time from the birth of your son to the death of your father. It’s a departure from your special brand of short fiction, with elements of the surreal and fantasy. Was this an altogether different book to write?

– Yes. It didn’t start as a book but as a bunch of pieces which I wrote about my son’s birth and baby days, telling myself I’ll show it to him when he’ll grow up. I published some of them in the NYT and other places but their offical function was to keep them for family’s history sake. The real reason, I guess was that they could help me reflect at hind sight on all those important and confusing moments a first time parent has to deal with. I’ve only decided to turn it to a book when my father was dying from terminal cancer. His death was the real trigger to collect all these pieces together.

I think there are similarities between Suddenly a Knock On the Door and the essays in The Seven Good Years. You can be pretty sure that something very unexpected is about to happen. Is this an essential feature of reality as you percieve it or is it a necessary feature of a good story?

– I see life as something that is totally unpredictable both in a good way, being full of imagination and creativity and kindness, and in a bad way with arbitrariness and violence lurking behind the corner. This is how real life feels like and when i write fiction I try to write the stories the same way I feel real life is.

I have also enjoyed the stories you have somtimes told about your mother and father, at readings an such, they were both survivors of the Holocaust. But your parents seemed to have a very positive outlook on life. How has your father influenced you and your writing? Can you share with us a brief story about him?

– My parents had always said that because they have experienced the Holocaust as children they came to their grown up life with very low expectation from humanity and had , since then, been surprised for the better. This was their explaination for their conssitent optimism and belief in mankind. I think that the fact the they never had a normal childhood had made them remain children in a way, not completing the normal process of growing up and rebelling against their own parents (my mother had lost all her family in a very young age).

– The strange paradox was that as children they had to be very adult, being constantly in friction with great suffering and violence, but they had stayed in this old child mode all their life, keeping the child in them alive throughout their entire life. Until his last days, nothing had pleased my father more than going to a swimming pool and buying a posical or an ice cream there. His attitude toward that had the pure happiness you would usually only find in a child. In the film Jellyfish my wife, Shira Geffen, and I had gave him the role of the ice cream man who sells ice cream at the beach and just before the first shot we discovered we had a problem: My father, who had been almost eighty at the time of the shooting had eaten all the ice cream in his box during the rehearsals for the scene.

Have you found that your writing is viewed differently from country to country? As a writer who occasionally writes about Israeli politics, are those pieces received differently in, say, New York than in Israel?

– For sure, When I write my opeds I actually feel that people overseas are more attentive and curious, picking the nuances, while Israelis  seem to ignore the story and emotional sentiments in the piece, clearing all the ambiguities in the piece away, trying to come up with some bottom line, clear, ideological statement which they could either support or resent.  I must say that unlike fiction that is a totally positive experience for me, writing opeds always feel like an unwanted chore. Something which, whatever you’ll say, will end with one group of people or another calling you a traitor or an idiot.

How has it affected you becoming a father?

– Before becoming a father I was only interested in the present. Thoughts like: ”Where will my country be in ten years” had never came to mind , but becoming a father I find myself thinking a lot about the future and , also, failingly and very pathetically, doing my best to change it for the better.

Whats next? Have you written more fiction lately?

– I’m currently working on a TV series my wife and I are developing for the French TV channel Arte. It is a series about Real estate, death and time traveling.

In our archive there are links to several wonderful short stories by Etgar Keret. His short story collections are strange, beautiful and seriously addictive.

Ola Wihlke

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Intervju: Anna Axfors om skrivandet och poesin

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Det har talats en hel del om dansk poesi den senaste tiden. Det har talats om ”den etiska generationen” och en boom för ung dansk poesi – poeter som Asta Olivia Nordenhof (dikt), Theis Ørntoft (dikt), Maja Lee Langvad (dikt), Amalie Smith (dikt) med många flera. Och som grädde på moset, eller lök på laxen, kom det ut en väldigt bra antologi med ung dansk poesi: Nervsystem – ung dansk poesi (recension).

Nervsystem

Det var bara en tidsfråga innan frågan skulle väckas: Varför kommer det ut så mycket ny bra ung lyrik i Danmark medan återväxten är så skral i Sverige? Den som stack ut hakan tydligast var poeten Anna Axfors. I två debattartiklar (här och här) hävdade hon bland annat att de stora förlagen inte tog sitt ansvar och att det finns en brist på mångfald i den svenska samtidspoesin. Hon hävdade att klassfrågan är viktig.

Och därmed var sommarens poesidebatt i full gång, en rad etablerade poeter, utgivna på stora förlag, tillrättavisade Anna Axfors, men det var också många som höll med henne. Axfors är dessutom helt aktuell med en chapbook, Veckan innan, ett dikthäfte utgivet av det norska indieförlaget AFV Press (intervju med förläggaren Kenneth Pettersen).

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AVF Press startades delvis inspirerat av den rörelse som kallas Alt Lit. Utan att vilja etikettera Axfors poesi som Alt Lit, tycker jag att det är värt att göra en jämförelse. Kenneth Goldsmith skrev en bra och uppskattande artikel i New Yorker om antologin YOLO Pages och Alt Lit. I den hävdar han bland annat att riktningen är “an online writing community that emerged in 2011 and harnesses the casual affect and jagged stylistics of social media as the basis of their works — poems, stories, novels, tweets, and status updates.”

Sedan skriver han mer om stilen: “The poems and stories, published on blogs and Twitter feeds, are usually written in the Internet vernacular of lowercase letters, inverted punctuation, abundant typos, and bad grammar. […] Alt Lit tends to use emo-heavy, homespun language, bearing the urgency and candor of a status update; no sentiment is too trite to be repurposed as poetry.”

De här beskrivningarna passar ganska bra in på Anna Axfors dikter (dikt) och jag tycker att de passar ganska bra in på andra poeter som ges ut av AVF-Press, exempelvis Hanna Rajs Lundström, Caspar Eric, Tom W-O Silkeberg (dikt) och Elis Burrau (dikt).

Beskrivningarna stämmer väldigt väl in på de dikter som drottningen av Alt Lit, Mira Gonzalez skriver (dikt), avväpnande, självutlämnande, pendlande mellan förintande självironi och hybris och, inte minst, humoristiska. Det funkar som beskrivning av Axfors poesi.

Dikterna kan ge ett obearbetat intryck, men sannolikt är de lika genomarbetade som mer konventionella dikter, men det är inte meningen att det ska synas. Alt Lit-poesi är påverkad av social medier, men den påminner också en hel del om texter till popmusik.

Vi fick möjlighet att ställa några frågor till Anna Axfors. Hon har dessutom haft vänligheten att göra en Spotify-lista: Anna Axfors – Veckan innan

Skulle du kunna berätta om hur du började skriva och vad skrivandet betyder för dig idag?

– Det började jag med när jag var liten. Det betyder mycket för mig eftersom jag lagt ner mycket tid och energi på det och det kommer jag fortsätta göra. Det går inte att sluta när man väl börjat liksom.

Förutom några populärkulturella referenser, till Broder Daniel, Carola, Weeknd och Iggy Azalea, så har du med två citat av Clarice Lispector, ett i början och ett i slutet. Betyder hon mycket för dig?

– Hon betyder inte speciellt mycket, jag har inte läst jättemycket av henne men det jag läst har varit inspirerande. Hennes noveller är i min mening perfekta och Levande vatten som citaten kommer ifrån är en bok med ett medvetandeflöde som nästan är galet men samtidigt mänskligt, dvs normalt. Så vill jag skriva.

Om du träffade en femtioårig man som diggade Hjalmar Gullberg och Birger Sjöberg, hur skulle du beskriva Veckan innan för honom?

– Jag skulle troligtvis säga att det inte är en riktig bok, eftersom jag har svårt att stå upp för att det jag gör är på riktigt om det till synes inte ser ut så. Min bok ser ju inte ut som en riktig bok varken till formen eller innehållet, och jag tycker att det är en riktig bok men vet inte hur jag skulle förklara det för nån som inte fattar. Men femtioåriga män som gillar Hjalmar Gullberg kanske fattar mer än vad man tror.

Veckan innan fick en fin recension på bloggen Bernur (sällsynt välskrivna recensioner). Den beskrivs som märklig, men på ett positivt sätt. Den beskrivs också som spontan och lös i konturerna, dikterna jämförs med dem Stig Larsson skrev på 80-talet. Den avslutas med påståendet att det du gör är något helt annorlunda och något som saknas. Vad tycker du om den här och andra recensioner?

– Jag är van vid den sortens omdöme, ”jag gillar det men vet inte varför” typ. Jag tror det är för att det har kvalitet men ser inte ut som kvalitativa saker (dikter) ska göra. Då blir man väl förvirrad (positivt eller negativt). Sen skriver jag med en röst som inte är särskilt sansad, för mig är det också att berätta en historia. Att berättelsen kan ligga i hur man berättar, inte bara vad.

– Jag tror att mina karaktärers naivitet ibland misstas för min naivitet. Och kanske med rätta. Men då värjer man sig, om man inte vet hur pass mycket kontroll författaren har, hur pass mycket integritet och distans. Och det är en svår balans, men jag tror jag har lagom av allt.

Man skulle kunna tolka vissa dikter som samhällskritiska, exempelvis en väldigt rolig dikt som delvis handlar om att samla på Åhléns-poäng. Strävar du efter någon form av samhällskritik?

– Jag har inte haft någon politisk agenda men är samhällskritisk i mig själv så då blir det jag skriver samhällskritiskt. Jag älskar rättvisa, även fast det är ett tråkigt ord. Jag har aldrig fattat varför vissa ska vara fattiga och andra rika till exempel. Jag har aldrig haft mycket pengar, verkligen inte nån fattig barndom heller men sen jag växte upp har jag aldrig gått på stan och känt att jag kan köpa grejer utan det har i så fall varit en ekonomisk uppoffring.

– Men för ett år sen fick jag mitt första heltidsjobb (24 år gammal) och plötsligt hade jag råd med grejer. Jag hade egentligen tänkt spara pengar så jag kunde sluta jobba sen och åka till Indien och skriva en massa som Carina Rydberg gör i Den högsta kasten, men att köpa saker var så kul så jag la mina pengar på det. Eftersom jag skriver samtidigt som jag lever så kom Veckan innan att handla ganska mycket om shopping. Jag tycker inte att poeter bör vara någonting, förutom sanna mot sig själva. Jag har svårt att se hur en bra dikt inte skulle vara samhällskritisk på något sätt, men det finns säkert.

Du är även aktuell som debattör. Du har debatterat ung dansk respektive ung svensk lyrik, särskilt avseende de stora förlagens agerande i Danmark och Sverige. Skulle du kunna sammanfatta dina viktigaste poänger.

– Samtiden går miste om sin samtidslyrik, i Sverige i alla fall. Den skrivs, men de stora förlagen ger inte ut den, de satsar inte på debutanter och knappt på etablerade poeter heller. Små förlag ger ut men de får ingen uppmärksamhet. Detta skapar ett tråkigt litterärt klimat som jag tror också får som konsekvens att nya poeter inte sporras och bara folk som aktivt söker upp poesin nås av den.

– Jag jämför med dansk lyrik därför att poesi är oerhört populärt i Danmark just nu och även de svenska förlagen översätter den. Jag säger inte att svensk poesi måste vara exakt som i Danmark, eller att den befintliga estetiken ska ersättas på något sätt, bara kompletteras. Om vi vill ha en ”poesiboom” här också så går det nog att ordna. Men vi kanske inte vill ha en poesiboom?

– De etablerade skribenter som uttalat sig i debatten verkar nöjda, de tycker att vi som vill bli utgivna av stora förlag ”klagar” fast de själv är utgivna på stora förlag. Nya grejer trycker på men portarna till både storförlag och offentlighet är stängda. Förutom att det är tragiskt så är det också ganska intressant. Varför måste rådande normer omhuldas, makten skyddas till varje pris? Är poesin så skör, tål den ingen konkurrens alls?

Ola Wihlke

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Under Artiklar, Intervjuer

Foto: ”White Africans. A Journey To The Homeland” av Katharine Cooper

Declan with Polly the parrot-Ledbury Farm-Zimbabwe

Declan with Polly the Parrot : Ledbury Farm, Mazowe, Zimbabwe 2013 © Katharine Cooper

Cheryldean Hestia Marisan & Clara- Prins Albert park SA 2013

Cheryldean, Hestia, Marisan & Clara in the Park at Prins Albert, South Africa 2013 © Katharine Cooper

Belinda Bakeberg & family-Johannesburg 2013

Belinda Bakeberg & Family: Apple Park, South Africa 2013 © Katharine Cooper

Stacy & the little stranger-Harare-Zimbabwe 2013

Stacy and the Little Stranger: Harare, Zimbabwe 2013 © Katharine Cooper

Jean Charl Greef-surfer-Koffiebaai-SA 2013

Jean Charl Greef, Artist & Surfer: Koffiebaai, South Africa 2013 © Katharine Cooper

alexia & dino

Alexia & Dino, brother and sister: Sandton – Johannesburg, South Africa 2013 © Katharine Cooper

Rugby team at coronation park

Coronation Park Rugby Team: Krugersdorp, South Africa 2013 © Katharine Cooper

Pieter Pretorius & his friends-Groenfontein-SA 2013

Pieter Pretorious & Friends Playing Rugby: Groenfontein, South Africa 2013 © Katharine Cooper

Hein van Jaarsveldt & Dylan-Krugersdorp-SA

Hein van Jaarsveld (double-leg amputee) & his Stepson, Dylan:
Krugersdorp, South Africa 2013 © Katharine Cooper

zane & vanessa-koffiebaai-south africa 2013

Zane and Vanessa, Childhood Friends: Koffiebaai, South Africa 2013 © Katharine Cooper

Nina with her children and their grandfather-Grahamstown-SA 2013

Nina, Mayrie & Max with Oupa Lindsay: Grahamstown, South Africa 2013 © Katharine Cooper

Danielle & Tiger by the Pool-Harare-Zimbabwe 2004

Danielle & Tiger by the Pool: Harare, Zimbabwe 2004 © Katharine Cooper

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Katharine Cooper, Anna Karien & Nina reunited after 22 years at Beadle
Street House: Grahamstown, South Africa 2013 © Katharine Cooper

In 2012 and 2013 the young South African photographer Katharine Cooper, who now lives in Arles, travelled back to her homeland South Africa and Zimbabwe to photograph women, men and children of the white minority, people whose lives she might have shared. Cooper gave us the opportunity to choose and display photos from the resulting series, ”White Africans. A Journey To The Homeland.” She was also kind enough to answer a couple of questions.

I have read several texts about ”White Africans”. Most are very similar. Could you please tell us a little bit about it in your own words, its a very personal project. Please tell us how you went about it, and about the taboos you wanted to challenge.

– I suppose it was a very personal thing. It all begins with the white diaspora leaving South Africa and Zimbabwe for Europe, America, Australia, because of increasing hostility towards them, owing to the colour of their skin.  They were given no choice but to leave, in order to make safe lives for themselves and their children, in communities where they did not feel like a threatened minority, in countries where they had rights and where the future seemed surer than in their country of origin.

– But it was heartbreaking for all of us to leave Africa. We lived our new lives with a constant nostalgia and longing. Some might call it permanent homesickness. I and friends of mine deal with these feelings on an almost daily basis. We have built homes for ourselves in the first world, but our hearts yearn for Africa. We are white, but we are not like the Europeans, Americans or Australians. We have an entirely different culture, vocabulary, and in the case of the Afrikaans people, a whole new language, which are peculiar to us.

– We are White Africans, afraid to proclaim it too loud, because of all the guilt that colonialism and apartheid make us bear. ”I wanted to confront this and proclaim verly clearly that certain white people in Africa have as much right to call themselves ‘African’ as as the people who settled in the Americas have the right to call themselves ‘American’. And I count myself amongst them.

You get the sense that the persons in the series, a few of them, are vulnerable and living under difficult conditions. You have taken their photographs with great sensitivity. But there is a tension in a several of the photos, there are more than a hundred, and quite a few of the persons look reserved. How did you approach the persons you wanted to take pictures of? Have they seen the photos?

– There is a freshness and innocence about these people that is lacking in Europeans. The expression is a result of the interaction between myself and the subject. I am such a reserved and shy person myself that it is in fact an ordeal I have to overcome every time I take a photograph of someone, to ask them if they would accept to pose for me. I am so afraid of exploiting or making people feel ill at ease, that it is an incredibly complex process for me to approach a stranger in the street and ask them to perform for my camera.

– Every time that someone accepts to look into my lens, it is an event. It is a meaningful encounter, full of gravity and mutual respect. Or at least, I hope so! Maybe they just think I am totally nuts! At any rate, I think this explains the expression on their faces : I do not want them to clown around, to smile, but rather to retain their full dignity by looking straight into the camera without smiling. I really do feel that the scowl is the best form of freedom of expression.

– As a general rule, I always take the name and email addresses of the people I photograph, in order to send them the images. Some people do not have email, so it is more difficult to show them. So, most of the people who are in these pictures have seen the end result and are pleased.

From seeing your photos, the ones on your homepage as well, I get the impression that you are both interested in the documentary tradition and the art and even fashion tradition of photography. Can you please tell us a little about photographers that have infuenced you?

– It is so interesting that you should mention that, because I have, in fact, been very much influenced by the old masters of fashion photography. I must say that Irving Penn is one of my gods, as well as Richard Avedon, Horst P Horst, Helmut Newton, Man Ray and Lee Miller, Edward Steichen. Of course there was also Diane Arbus in a more purely documentary style, as well as Jacques Henri Lartigue and Brassaï.

– Film has influenced me a lot too: Federico Fellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Luis Buñuel, Alfred Hitchcock and film noir as a genre. To me it is vital to bring out the glamour, the life force, the beauty in every subject. Straight documentary can never quite do this; one must mix in a drop of fantasy. Irving Penn photographed fashion like documentary: a bit of dirty carpet folded over a wooden crate on which he would place a woman in a couture dress; still life messed up with a dead fly; a celebrity squashed up in the corner in his studio.

You had a huge sucess with ”White Africans” in Paris. What are your plans for the near future?

– It is true that ”White Africans” was very well received, and I am so grateful to everybody – friends and strangers alike – for their sincere enthusiasm and real enjoyment of the pictures. I could not have dreamed of anything better or more rewarding. Now I am slowly getting my ideas together for the next project which will be happening in my homeland – South Africa – again.

– I cannot say too much because it is barely in embryonic form at the moment, but I am trying to get the ideas to flow onto paper (computer) so that I can ask the very lovely people in charge of the purse-strings for some funding. Without them, these projects would never happen, because, as we all know, artists are always broke!

If you like the images in this blog post, you should visit Katharine Coopers homepage.

Ola Wihlke

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Under Bokomslag bilder och foto, Intervjuer

Intervju: Kenneth Pettersen om AFV Press, poesi och chapbooks

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Det norska förlaget AFV Press är specialiserat på ung skandinavisk poesi. Det ger ut så kallade chapbooks, dikthäften, med poeter som inte ännu är etablerade på de stora förlagen. På vissa sätt påminner det lite om den amerikanska alt lit-scenen, med förlag som Boost House och, kanske i ännu högre grad, Muumuu House.

Det finns både likheter och skillnader och några av dem tar Kenneth Pettersen upp i sina svar på våra frågor. Han grundade AFV Press och förlaget har, eftersom det ger ut unga oetablerade poeter, blivit aktuellt i den pågående debatten om varför det finns så mycket bra ung dansk poesi, medan det är mycket mer tunnsått med unga poeter på de stora svenska förlagen.

Anna Axfors, som är aktuell med en chapbook utgiven av AFV Press, har i två artiklar, här och här, gett sig in i debatten. Pettersen tar upp den och rader av angränsande frågor i sina långa utförliga svar nedan.

Kan du berätta om när du drog igång AFV Press? Hur såg planerna ut?

– Planene da jeg startet AFV Press (den gangen het vi America’s Funniest Home Videos) sammen med en venn var nok ganske vage. Min venn hadde litt erfaring fra fanzine-virksomhet, og jeg hadde vel mest av alt bare en interesse. Det første vi gav ut var en bok av meg, basert på artisten The Weeknd sine tekster. Den andre var en amerikansk venn, David Fishkind, som gav ut et sammendrag av filmen Armageddon.

– De første utgivelsene våre var alle relativt konseptuelle, alle forfatterne fikk et ‘oppdrag’. Jeg hadde ikke så stort litterært nettverk, så jeg spurte bare folk jeg likte og som jeg tenkte kunne komme til å svare ja. Men jeg var vel også ambisisøs, husker jeg spurte Theis Ørntoft blant annet. Vi hadde et mål om at alle forfatterne skulle være under 30 år tror jeg. Et mer underbevisst mål var nok at jeg ønsket å bli kjent med flere i litteratur-Oslo.

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Idag är ju AFV snarast ett skandinaviskt förlag. Kan du så här i efterhand se att ni nått olika steg i utvecklingen? Kände du till den amerikanska alt lit-scenen i början?

– Jeg skjønte relativt raskt at det var nødvendig å se utover Norge for å kunne gjøre det jeg hadde lyst til å gjøre med AFV Press. Det første året var det utgivelser fra USA, England, Danmark og Norge. Senere kom flere utgivelser fra Sverige. Du nevner Alt lit-miljøet, og det har vel vært/var en stor inspirasjon for meg fra starten og jeg lette etter forfattere som hadde en slags tilknytning til dette, enten helt konkret (som med Liam Adams og David) at de var en del av dette miljøet, litt mindre konkret (som Adrian Waldenstrøm, Daniel, Ole-Petter og Alexander Fallo) at de var påvirket av miljøet, eller enda mindre konkret (som Kristine og Unnveig) at skrivingen deres hadde berøringspunkter til dette miljøet uten at de selv nødvendigvis hadde lest noe fra Alt lit.

– Dette var i 2012, senere har jeg vel ønsket å bevege meg litt videre, og har særlig vært opptatt av hva internett og modern life gjør med skriving/lesing (noe forsåvidt Alt lit også er opptatt av). Forlaget gir ikke ut ‘det jeg liker’, men oftere ‘det jeg liker’ og ‘det jeg tror passer til forlaget’. Et skandinavisk miljø har etterhvert, synes jeg, blitt mer og mer tydelig og det har blitt enklere for AFV Press å finne tekster som passer profilen vår. Jeg har lagt merke til at Alt lit har fått mer oppmerksomhet i Skandinavia. Ironisk, siden Alt lit, i sin amerikanske versjon, døde høsten 2014, lol.

– Men Alt lit inspirerer meg ennå, fx Tao Lins og Mira Gonzalez’ Selected Tweets, eller Megan Boyles kommende LIVEBLOG (dette røper vel at jeg allerede er gammel i dette, nye, mer interessante stemmer finnes helt sikkert). Caspar Eric kalte nettopp det han skriver på bloggen sin for poppoesi, det kan nok være en merkelapp som passer godt på AFV Press også (i en nylig anmeldelse av Om jag dör ung av Hanna Rajs Lundström, kalte Mats O. Svensson tekstene ‘poetisk pop’), ikke nødvendigvis fordi vi navnedropper popkulturelle fenomener, men fordi poesien vi representerer er umiddelbar, samtidssensitiv og tilgjengelig, tror jeg.

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Vilken funktion har AFV Press och andra liknande initiativ? Vilken funktion skulle de kunna ha?

– AFV Press er nok opptatt av litteratur som er en slags skandinavisk variant av, eller som er skandinavisk litteratur påvirket av, alt lit-miljøet i USA. Det var også min egen inngang til litteratur og chapbooks i kanskje 2008-2009. Utgivelser fra dette miljøet gjorde meg mer oppmerksom på både distribusjon og litteratur med en DIY-ånd, der man i særlig grad brukte internett, et medium jeg var godt kjent med.

– Jeg har hatt ulike samarbeidspartnere, men oppfatter nok nå AFV Press som noe både forfattere, lesere og redaktører til en viss grad ‘eier’. AFV Press er nok en av flere aktører i et tverrskandinavisk miljø av unge poeter med internettnærvær, popreferanser og en ‘snakkete’ skrivestil. For meg er en slik tverrskandinavisk deloffentlighet viktig først og fremst for å kunne løfte frem mange forfattere som av ulike grunner ikke blir plukket opp av den større offentligheten. Dersom man bare kan snakke om litteraturen når noen har gitt ut en ordentlig diktsamling eller en roman, mener jeg noe forsvinner fra offentligheten, forsøkene, tingene som ikke helt passer inn, det unge, de nye tendensene ennå ikke manifestert i et stort ‘verk’.

– Det pågår for tiden en debatt i Sverige, startet av Anna Axfors, som AFV Press publiserte i sommer, om de større forlagenes ansvar for den unge poesien. Jeg kan ofte ikke like det skandinaviske publiseringsklimaet, der de større forlagene gjør trygge valg, mens mindre litteraturinitativ ofte (synes jeg) hermer etter de større forlagene, fx med tanke på inntjening og redaksjonelle og estetiske valg. Jeg er, som du skriver noe om, glad i den amerikanske chapbooktradisjonen, og selv om jeg er glad i tryggheten man kan oppleve i det litterære Norge/Skandinavia, med økonomiske støtteordninger etc., kan jeg like hvordan armodet i USA tvinger frem veldig spennende litterære bevegelser.

– Det er selvfølgelig ikke bare strukturelt, men også basert på enkeltpersoner som har talent/gjør en innsats, jeg håper AFV Press kan være et slikt initiativ, som gjør noe på utsiden av systemet, og som kanskje gjør det å følge med på ‘scenen’ litt mer spennende. Chapbook-/fanzinekulturen legger vel til rette for en litt annen distribusjon, og det er interessant å tenke på hvordan litteraturen i Skandinavia ville vært annerledes dersom distribusjonen var annerledes.

Ett stort tack till Kenneth Pettersen för att han tog sig tid att svara på frågor. Vi hoppas framöver kunna intervju några av de författare som ges ut av AFV, recensera chapbooks och publicera texter av några författare i Veckans dikt.

Ola Wihlke

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Intervju: Erik Andersson om att översätta ”Ulysses”

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När Ulysses, James Joyce modernistiska mästerverk, kom ut i svensk översättning av Thomas Warburton efter andra världskriget blev den tillgänglig för den breda allmänheten. Och när Warbutrons korrigerade utgåva kom ut i början av 80-talet, var det också en stor litterär händelse.

Och så för tre år sedan kom översättningen av Erik Andersson, som fick många kritiker att jubla. Framförallt prisades hans känsla för Joyce sinnlighet. Vi har ställt några frågor till Andersson om varför det är så svårt och roligt att översätta Ulysses. En roman som ligger hyfsat till på Modern Librarys lista över de 100 bästa romanerna.

Jag läste en underhållande artikel om den första kinesiska översättningen av Ulysses. Ett äldre par översatte romanen och mannen, Xiao Qian, tycker att Joyce ibland gick för långt: ”Det finns partier,” säger Xiao, ”som jag tycker att han gjorde onödigt svåra.” Kan du känna sympatier för Xiaos ståndpunkt? Och kan du försöka förklara lite kortfattat varför Ulysses är så sällsynt svår att översätta?

– Några av de saker som tas upp i artikeln är vitsarna eller vitsigheterna eller de vitsande anspelningarna. De är förstås ett bekymmer. Gripen av viss oro bestämde jag mig för att se efter hur jag hade tacklat de anförda exemplen. Jag märkte att det var på olika sätt: genom att göra en ny förvrängning av ”originalet” (t ex Bibeln) eller genom att skriva något annat eller genom att låta det stå kvar på engelska (ett sällsynt fall, motiverat av den pågående Shakespearediskussionen där engelskan så att säga redan var aktualiserad).

– Ändå skulle jag inte säga att detta var det svåraste. Det finns många sätt att göra det på, och det är inte alltid så illa att vara mer aktiv medskapande. Det svåraste var istället de partier där idén inte framstod som riktigt lyckad. Jag tänker på barnbördshusets stilpastischer och på pubkapitlets parodier. De föreföll mig ibland litet oviga. Droskhakskapitlets stil är enastående trög och krånglig men rätt charmig ändå. Men att det skulle vara för svårt tycker jag egentligen inte. Det är helt rimligt att det blir som det blir utifrån de utgångspunkter som valts.

Det är välkänt att Ulysses är svår att översätta, men det är ju också ett hedersuppdrag, många kritiker och läsare är ganska överens om att Ulysses är det främsta modernistiska prosaverket, prosans motsvarighet till T.S. Eliots The Waste Land. Men sedan handlar det ju inte bara om Joyce, utan även om hans tidigare svenska översättare. Har du känt påtagligt att du jobbat i en tradition? Samtidigt är ju du en väldigt erfaren översättare, men det vore kul att få veta hur du förhållit dig till traditionen och hur det har satt avtryck i översättningen.

– Det finns ett tävlingsmoment i det här, i så måtto att det vore meningslöst att göra en ny översättning om den blev sämre än den gamla. Men ganska snart försvinner det ur tankarna: de båda versionerna kan inte mätas mot varandra, utan bara mot sig själva. Min uppgift blev att göra en så bra Andersson-översättning som möjligt. Jag hade också en skicklig redaktör, Rachel Åkerstedt, som också var inställd på att översättningen skulle bli så perfekt som den kunde bli utifrån sina premisser.

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– Det finns mycket att glädja sig åt i Warburtons översättning. Den är ett storverk, inte minst med tanke på att det är hans första översättning och att den kom så pass tidigt, liksom att han kunde lösa så många språkliga problem och allusioner utan den för mig helt oumbärliga Ulysses Annotated av Don Gifford.

– Naturligtvis finns det en stor Ulyssestradition som översättningen ingår i, men för mig har det varit viktigare att jag själv ingår i den svenska översättargemenskapen. Vi har mycket kontakt med varandra och har arbetat fram en översättarkultur som måste tillhöra de starkaste i världen. Det är viktigt med översättning i Sverige, och tålamodet är kort med dem som bara gör någon slags gloslista eller som inte kan skapa ett eget verk – och däri har ju även de älskade kritikerna en del.

Men som läsare upplever man naturligtvis att svårigheten att läsa Ulysses är nära kopplad till hur underhållande det är att läsa romanen. Det måste väl vara snarlikt för er översättare, att det är otroligt stimulerande att arbeta med en så utpräglat mångskiftande text? Berätta gärna om det som varit roligast, och nämn gärna exempel på särskilt roliga kapitel, episoder eller rentav detaljer.

– En stor fördel med Ulysses är att den saknar transportsträckor: det finns en idé med allting, en språklig idé, det är hela tiden minst lika viktigt hur det berättas som vad det berättas. Ett kapitel som jag tyckte var särskilt roligt att översätta var det näst sista, det som är uppställt i katekesform. Kapitlet genomsyras av en stillsam humor, som kanske bottnar i förhållandet mellan de tvärsäkra och otroligt uttömmande svaren å ena sidan och den osäkra berättarinstansen å den andra. För vilka är det egentligen som talar?

I Svenska Dagbladet läste jag följande om din översättning: ”James Joyce fick rätt när han förutsåg att hans stora roman skulle sysselsätta professorer under lång tid. Erik Anderssons nya översättning tar upp kapplöpningen med Joyce smidiga engelska.” Det måste kännas bra att läsa efter fyra års idogt arbete. Tycker du att mottagandet var bra? Finns det saker som lekmän, inklusive kritiker, missuppfattar vad gäller översättningar?

– Något som både kritiker och lekmän underskattar tror jag är hur lätt det är att bli oense om hur något skall översättas, särskilt när det gäller Ulysses där mångtydigheten närmast är en kompositionsprincip. Och man kan vara oense och förbli vänner… Översättaren kan naturligtvis göra fel eller träffa olyckliga val – men det kan också hända att han har övervägt många alternativ och av någon anledning valt bort det som lekmannen ser som det givna alternativet.

Ett varmt tack till Erik Andersson för att han tog sig tid att svara på våra frågor. Om du är intresserad av översättning i allmänhet och Anderssons översättning av Ulysses i synnerhet, bör du kika närmare på hans Dag ut och dag in med en dag i Dublin. En skildring av de fyra år långa arbetet, både detaljer och mer övergripande.

Ola Wihlke

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Interview: Anne Jordan on designing book covers

The best book covers 2014

In two previous interviews we asked graphic designers Sara R. Acedo and Håkan Liljemärker a few questions about designing book covers. Acedo and Liljemärker are well established graphic designers with their own distinct styles, easy to recognize but hard to pin down. They mostly make covers for books of fiction.

In this interview we ask Anne Jordan, graphic designer based in Rochester, New York, about her work. She takes a special interest in typography and mostly designs covers for academic and theoretical texts. But the questions we ask her are similar to the ones we asked Acedo and Liljemärker.

Could you please tell us a little about your background and how and why you became a designer of book covers?

– I went to college at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where I took an intro-level graphic design class as a freshman and decided to major in Graphic Design. Typography class during sophomore year sealed the deal – I love the structure, the history, and the endless freedom that is possible within the finite system of letterforms. It didn’t hurt that I met my husband, Mitch Goldstein, on the first day of type class.

– I designed a few book covers during college and was so enamored with the format and the potential for expressive typography that I decided to make a series of book covers for my senior project. That project was the first of many personal book cover projects, which eventually led to paying clients. I continued to investigate book covers during graduate school at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts, and now I am an independent designer working with various publishers.

What purposes are book covers supposed to fill?

– Form is my primary concern. A book cover must first catch the eye of the reader, or else the book will never be opened. I think good design must be visually seductive – that might mean beautiful, or interesting, or weird, or new – but without enticing form, there is no entry point to content.

– There should also be a meaningful relationship between material and message – the image should make sense with the content in a smart and interesting way. That visual-verbal connection must be present and strong. A good book cover should also reward the reader – there should be a little bit of mystery to allow for personal interpretation, and enough depth in the image so the reader’s experience of the cover changes and grows as they make their way through the text.

– I want to make work that contributes to our society’s intellectual growth – that’s part of why I love book covers so much. If a book cover encourages someone to pick up a book and read it, that adds to our culture’s collective understanding. I am interested in work that promotes thinking and ideas.

Are there differences between book covers and other kinds of graphic design?

– I have worked on countless different kinds of graphic design projects and keep coming back to the format of the book cover. Book covers provide unique opportunities and limitations that seem to align well with my interests and disposition as a designer.

– Book covers are very concise – big ideas must be communicated in a single image, usually at a small scale. A book cover designer doesn’t have the luxury of working out an idea over 200 pages or an enormous poster. I love this limitation. Projects don’t spread out over years. My process of designing a cover is very intense, but only takes a couple of weeks.

– Another part of book covers I love is the content. As a designer I get to read lots of interesting stuff, briefs on subjects I have no clue about. It’s a great way to learn lots of new things. The kinds of books that I’ve been designing lately (mostly non-fiction academic texts) allow for quite a bit of abstraction. I really appreciate the opportunity to design highly expressive, abstract pieces that explore type as image. There’s a lot of room for personal expression.

– And finally, the fact that books are lasting and permanent objects is very satisfying. I can hold the finished book in my hand. It doesn’t disappear below the fold of my laptop screen the very next day, it’s there on my bookshelf collecting dust for years and years. That’s pretty cool.

Do you have a philosophy, rules of thumb or rituals that you follow during the creative process? Please tell us a little bit about the creative process.

– My work explores the intersection of typography and materials, so I begin each project by playing with a table full of real stuff. I manipulate the materials and explore various methods and processes in order to integrate them with typography. Sketches don’t really work for me – I can’t predict how a material will react until I start to work with it in my hands. This means my process involves a lot of unpredictability, tangents, research, and accidents. I just keep going and going, working with a material in every way I can think of until I find something I like, and then refine, refine, refine. This process requires faith and stamina, and can be frustrating at times, but I think it leads to interesting results.

– I collaborate with my husband Mitch Goldstein. We work at home – the whole first floor of our house is our studio. It’s just the two of us, and we work very closely together on all aspects of our practice. We have everything we need here – lots of tables, a photography setup, printers, scanners, etc. Collecting is essential – we have a supply room full of materials and tools waiting for the right project to come along. The studio starts out neatly organized at the beginning of each project, and gets turned upside down by the end. Then we clean the space up again as a way to change gears for the next project.

You have made covers to books by great fiction writers, but you have also created covers to several academic and theoretical texts. I think you have developed a very interesting and captivating style, with a lot of distortions of images and text. Can you please tell us a little bit about that?

– The style of my work evolved from my process. I am an image-maker. I make most of my images by constructing tactile objects or three-dimensional setups and then photographing or scanning them. I love finding ways to embed text in physical objects, building scenes in-camera instead of relying on purely digital effects. Everything you see in my work is a result of a physical process, my attempt at giving type a physical body, giving letterforms a chance to misbehave and express themselves outside of the computer. I use all sorts of materials including ink, paper, plastic, concrete, light, water, etc. and the various combinations create an infinite amount of effects.

Crowds and Party by Jodi Dean. Client: Verso Books

Can you please pick one of your covers and explain how it came about and how you intended it to work?

– This book is about how political groups move from the inert mass to organized activists. Crowds and Party extends the energies of the riotous crowds of the last five years (such as the Occupy movement) into an argument for the political party.

Andy Pressman, the art director, asked us to come up with a way to communicate “crowds” and “teeming masses” without being literal. So Mitch and I knew that we didn’t want to use any human-like symbols such as heads or hands to show a crowd – we needed something more abstract. We searched through our studio for materials that evoked the feeling of crowds. We looked for materials that were messy, showed movement, felt like they were teeming, were made up of lots of little pieces that could come together, stuff that was solid but diffuse. Then we started experimenting.

– We became very interested in hot glue because of the snake-like, chaotic lines it created when we drew with it straight out of the glue gun. It reminded us of a colony of insects, squirming and full of energy. At the same time, hot glue has the ability to melt and gel into a distinct mass – all of these squiggly lines can come together to form a unit, similar to a crowd. We made lots of tests with hot glue to figure out how the energetic lines could be married with type.

– Through this experimentation we developed a process of injecting hot glue into silicone molds to create letters, and then using the squiggly lines to draw over the letters and melt the pieces together. We created a series of sculptures – each one was a different design of the cover in which all of the letterforms and lines are one piece, glued in place by itself. We photographed our favorite sculpture and added a bit of color to pull out the type, and that was it. There are no digital effects in this piece – everything is inherent in the sculpture itself.

Many thanks to Anne for taking our questions. And congratulations – Print Magazine recently named her one of the 2015 New Visual Artists Under 30.

Ola Wihlke

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