Compiling the Syllabus festschrift

The SyllabusCompiling the third VP festschrift was an agonising process of cruel discrimination and random elimination. At nights, in our beds, texts called out to us to be included in the final 100 . . . from across the room, Natalie Sarraute’s Tropisms sang its praises in a soft whimper, Carlos Fuentes’s Christopher Unborn stomped and howled in envious rage, Harry Mathews’s Tlooth slid under the covers for an attempted seduction. Dozens of texts were teased and rebuffed as the list solidified into the final 100 published in the volume. The screams and moans of those left behind still torment us in our sleep—we soothe their pains with promises for inclusion in The Syllabus II. Once the provisional list had been compiled we offered some of our regular contributors first dibs on writing about the texts, and began hunting down a varied range of readers, critics, and fiction writers to share their opinions. The positive and enthusiastic responses received were incredible and helped keep our spirits up during the process.

One of our challenges in locating contributors was, in some cases, to find those enthusiastic about the lesser-known books, such as I.M.S. Prado’s piece on Palinuro of Mexico, Nate Dorr’s on Erowina (reissued by VP), and Eddie Watkins on Urmuz. There are pleasing homages from friends of the authors, such as Steve Katz and Lance Olsen’s reminiscences on Raymond Federman, Ellen Friedman on Christine Brooke-Rose, and Rodge Glass on Alasdair Gray, and several contributors suggested unknown items to the editors, such as Wee Teck Lim on The Field of Life and Death and Ammiel Alcalay on The Hypocritic Days. Several translators share their thoughts on their art, including Alex Zucker on City Sister Silver, and Peter Blundell on Eden Eden Eden.

Each writer was permitted creative control of their response to the text. The results are electic: among the approaches, Pablo Medina outlines how Three Trapped Tigers shaped him as a writer, Lee Klein re-evaluates the stories of Barthelme as an older writer, Lauren Elkin takes a class of students around Perec’s Paris, J.A. Darlington prints and cuts up web content on Alan Burns in homage, Alec Nevala-Lee and Silvia Barlaam offer male and female perspectives on Dictionary of the Khazars, some critics offer passionate sketches of their favourite novels, such as Steven Moore on Darconville’s Cat, Nicolas Tredell on the B.S. Johnson Omnibus, and Nadine Mainard on The Avignon Quintet, while academics Keith Moser and Eugene Hayworth serve up defences of Terra Amata and Island People respectively.

Among the fiction homages are Rick McGrath’s excellent take on The Atrocity Exhibition (including a full-page Advertiser’s Announcement), Fionnuala Nic Mheanmán’s annotated poem on Finnegans Wake, Jason Graff’s Oulipian story, Ali Millar’s constrained tip-of-the-hat to Lydia Davis, Rosalyn Drexler’s snippet in the mode of José Cela, Anonymous’s disturbing nod to Bernhard, and Manny Rayner’s droll tribute to Gilbert Adair.

Space (and time) prevents me from mentioning the other fantastic contributions, all of whom can be perused and applauded on this page, where the festschrift can be ordered for the respectable price of £9.99 (plus £2) shipping. Our thanks to all those who contributed.