2013: Reads of the Year – Andrew Rubens
Walter Benjamin Baudelaire. Edited by Giorgio Agamben, Barbara Chitussi et Clemens-Carl Härle, with an introduction by Giorgio Agamben (La Fabrique, 2013)
Giorgio Agamben stumbled upon Benjamin’s lost manuscripts in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in 1981 but it took until this year for the monumental task of bringing them to publication to be achieved. Benjamin’s fragmentary masterpiece is beautifully and clearly presented in the French edition and changes the game not only for Benjamin scholars but for those of Modernity in general – an English version must surely appear soon.
Benjamin Fondane “Faux traité d’esthétique” (Plasma)
Published in 1938, this book-length essay by the poet Benjamin Fondane marks a development in his turn to philosophical expression, confronting the fundamental problem of the tension between so-called empirical knowledge about reality and the individual’s lived experience in a vivid engagement with the poetic faculty (‘Why, exactly, did the only animal possessing reason begin to make art?’) . Written partly in response to André Breton’s dogmatism, Fondane’s polemical approach confronts the reader with some explosive turns of thought which may lead us to reconsider everything we took for granted about life and art.
Jean-Claude Izzo La Trilogie Fabio Montale (Gallimard Folio Policier, 2006)
While the word noir inevitably conjures up images of gloomy, rainy streets, the hot sun of Marseille (not so different from the LA of Chinatown or The Big Sleep) actually provides the perfect element for Jean-Claude Izzo’s flawed hero, Fabio Montale, as he searches through the shadows for a scrap of decency in a Mediterranean riddled with the Mafia, corrupt politicians, bent cops, the extreme right and cruelty in general. Izzo’s novels are sometimes scrappy, but the atmosphere they create is incomparable. Unfortunately, although this is the only book I’ve chosen which is available in English, the translation I looked at was terrible, which may explain why Montale has been less popular in the UK than the Scandinavians.