In Conversation: On Winkler

AN EXCHANGE ON THE BOOKS OF JOSEF WINKLER

Essay by Bernard Banoun and Adrian West

“Winkler became a sort of instant obsession for me—it was maybe a month after reading Natura Morta that I had bought everything he had written, and I began translating him that fall—and second because a marked characteristic of his work is the unwillingness or incapacity to depart from a fairly limited number of themes. The backgrounds change, but whether he is in Roppongi, Mexico City, or Varanasi, the same images crop up like ghosts: the pig with its throat slit, the two boys who hanged themselves together, his aunt lifting him up over the coffin to look down at the dead face of his grandmother. I tend to relate these to two phenomena well-known in psychology: the so-called “intrusive memories” common to trauma sufferers and what is known as memory-rehearsal, an act by which our recollections of the past become more refined, sharp-edged, and potent. A curious aspect of Winkler’s writing is his ability to impress his own concerns onto the reader. I, at least, do not grow bored seeing the same scenes played out again, though I have read all of his books, and some of them several times; the fine-grained differences, the way the contours of an event harden or soften over time, is fascinating to me. Proust is the great writer of memory and time, but with the possible exception of Albertine disparue, I don’t know that he delves so deeply into the evolutions of memory in time, and this seems to me one of Winkler’s signal contributions. I suppose these memories take the place of protagonists in Winkler’s writings, they have a kind of disembodied reality and serve to maintain tension in the novels.”

To read the full dialogue-essay:

Quarterly Conversation (March 10, 2014)

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In Conversation: On Winkler