This is a critifiction that originally appeared last year in the Full Stop Quarterly. It’s part of an ongoing series of experimental reviews I’m writing about literature in translation. I’ve been publishing them pretty slowly, about once a year. They’re a bit hard to place, being so different from traditional reviews, but I enjoy writing them. Thanks for reading!
On Recitation by Bae Suah, translated by Deborah Smith
By Matthew Jakubowski
The critic read Suah’s novel, Recitation, on the train to and from a writers conference. At a panel about the art of criticism featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Margo Jefferson the discussion turned to writing, the personal process of coming to terms with bias against different sorts of texts, the ways critics develop an approach for each piece. In the audience the critic listened as Jefferson described the nature of critical writing as “giving real coherence to ambiguity,” saying that not unlike a fiction writer a critic must also, “play different parts, very much adjusting your voice,” when interpreting a book’s potential meanings.
The critic finished the book the next afternoon shortly before her train arrived at the station back home. That evening as she paged through it, alert to anything vital and imperative to her review, she scanned her annotations about time and existence, love and truth, pathways yielding forms of hope. She’d jotted down many questions, each marking a point on a borderline in the text where either her concentration failed or her resistance to Suah’s narrative succeeded. Passages underlined in blue, margins filled with wavery scribble; the train had been rocking back and forth.