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Lectures from the Allen Room and the Wertheim Study: Brazil's Marquise de Sade : On Translating Hilda Hilst's "Cartas de um Sedutor"

June 13, 2013

Program Locations:

Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, South Court Auditorium
General Research Division

At her death in 2004, Brazilian author Hilda Hilst, born in 1930 (in Jaú, São Paulo State), had received many of her country's most important literary prizes and published more than two dozen books. Yet she remains almost completely unknown in the English-speaking world, and, especially in the last third of her life, increasingly operated outside the mainstream of Brazilian literary culture. Prodigious as a poet, dramatist and prose writer, Hilst gained notoriety for what Brazilian critics label her "pornographic" tetralogy of the years 1990-1992, none of which had been translated into and published in English, until very recently. Of this quartet of books her 1991 novel Letters from a Seducer will appear in the fall of 2013. Letters from a Seducer employs the form and modes of the libertine epistolary tradition, juxtaposing letters from a wealthy, depraved socialite, named Karl, to his cloistered sister, Cordélia, against a formally distinct narrative that comprises a series of stories, some nested like atomic particles, by a near-homeless graphomane named Stamatius ("Tiu").  What becomes ever clearer as the novel proceeds is Ludwig Wittgenstein's famous dictum that "ethics and aesthetics" are one.

This presentation will include a brief summary of Hilst's career, connecting her work to the broader history and trajectory of contemporary Brazilian literature and society; discussions of the novel and several distinctive aspects of translating Hilst's fiction, and in particular Letters from a Seducer; and a reading of several short passages from the translation.

John Keene, writer in residence in the Library's Wertheim Study, is Associate Professor of English and African American and African Studies, and a member of the Creative Writing MFA faculty at Rutgers University in Newark. He is the author of Annotations (New Directions), and, with artist Christopher Stackhouse, of Seismosis (1913 Press). His poetry, fiction, essays, reviews, and translations have appeared widely, in periodicals such as Baffler, Fence, Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, and Washington Post Book World. His many honors include a 2005 Whiting Foundation Writer's Award for poetry and fiction. He wrote the introduction to the first English-language translation of Hilda Hilst's novels, The Obscene Madame D =, collaboratively translated by Nathanaël and Rachel Gontijo Araujo and published by Nightboat Books (New York) in collaboration with A Bolha Editora (Rio de Janeiro) in 2012, and his translation of Hilst's novel Letters from a Seducer will be published in Fall 2013 by the same publishing collaboration.

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