Q & A with Michael Eskin
Earlier this month Michael Eskin did an event at Book Culture for his new book, Poetic Affairs: Celan, Grunbein, Brodsky. He was introduced by Haun Saussy, Yale professor of comparative literature and editor of the Stanford University Press series that published Poetic Affairs. (Pictured here: Eskin, at left, and Saussy) After the event, Michael Eskin answered a few questions for us:
What books are you currently reading?
I have been reading many books on the very question of reading literature lately in connection with a project I am working on. I have also been reading a range of books on contemporary culture and intercultural prejudice, as well as research in social physics. I have also just reread Albert Camus’ L’étranger.
Is there anything you’re particularly looking forward to the publication of?
I am working on a couple of projects at the moment. In particular, I look forward to a volume that I am currently editing comprising selected prose by D. Grünbein.
Do you have standard titles or writers you like to recommend, either within or outside of your field?
The list would be too long – obviously. But here are some of the author’s that have profoundly touched me in recent years: J. M. Coetzee, J. Brodsky, A. Paton, E. Stein, W. H. Auden, and A. Badiou – and, most importantly, Kathrin Stengel’s book: November Rose: A Speech on Death.
What is your personal favorite book ever? Why?
I cannot answer this question intelligently. But I do recall that W. Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge had an absolutely transformative effect on me. I wouldn’t call it my favorite book though. The very concept of a “favorite book” is tricky insofar as whenever a book is experienced as strong and imposing it tends to occlude similar experiences with other books, edging them out, as it were, into the realm of recollected experience in the here and now … Hence it is, in my view, really impossible to decide on a favorite book … Thus, I also remember that Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden and Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians – but also the last forty pages of Anna Karenina, Heinrich Mann’s “Der Untertan,” as well as Le Clezio’s “Le rue des boutiques obscures” had a profound effect on me. A book’s effect on me derives from its capacity to move and trigger thought, I would say. Kant’s notion of the “aesthetic idea” as it is triggered by great art is probably still the best description of the power of art.