World Body

Overview

Clark Blaise's fiction and its (presumed) autobiographical sources have drifted further and further apart in recent years, and World Body is the latest evidence. The first three volumes of his New & Selected Stories (Southern, Pittsburgh and Montreal Stories) are celebrations of variant lives within the familiar outline of a not-quite Clark Blaise whom Clark Blaise would nevertheless recognize. Volume Four explodes the easy identification of a writer with his own life-experience. In World Body, Blaise weaves ...

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Overview

Clark Blaise's fiction and its (presumed) autobiographical sources have drifted further and further apart in recent years, and World Body is the latest evidence. The first three volumes of his New & Selected Stories (Southern, Pittsburgh and Montreal Stories) are celebrations of variant lives within the familiar outline of a not-quite Clark Blaise whom Clark Blaise would nevertheless recognize. Volume Four explodes the easy identification of a writer with his own life-experience. In World Body, Blaise weaves an intricate tapestry of terror and desire; the geography of Blaise's concerns is unique in the modern canon.

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Editorial Reviews

The Afterword

'Those who have read Blaise will likely be familiar with his non-fiction bestseller Time Lord, not the four volumes of his Collected Stories that have sold somewhere in the low hundreds. Though he became a member of the Order of Canada in 2009, Blaise has never won a GG. And yet his body of work -- and one can speak of it as a coherent body -- is an entertaining and profound monument to the craft of the short story.'

— Alex Good & Steven W. Beattie

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780889842847
  • Publisher: Porcupine's Quill, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 12/28/2006
  • Series: Selected Stories Series
  • Pages: 216
  • Product dimensions: 5.61 (w) x 8.77 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Meet the Author

Clark Blaise has taught in Montreal, Toronto, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, as well as at Skidmore College, Columbia University, Iowa, NYU, Sarah Lawrence and Emory. For several years he directed the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Among the most widely travelled of authors, he has taught or lectured in Japan, India, Singapore, Australia, Finland, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Holland, Germany, Haiti and Mexico. He lived for years in San Francisco, teaching at the University of California, Berkeley. He is married to the novelist Bharati Mukherjee and currently divides his time between San Francisco and Southampton, Long Island. In 2002, he was elected president of the Society for the Study of the Short Story. In 2003, he was given an award for exceptional achievement by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 2009, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada &'grave;for his contributions to Canadian letters as an author, essayist, teacher, and founder of the post-graduate program in creative writing at Concordia University''.

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Read an Excerpt

The first time I met Clark Blaise was in September 1984. He happened to be the host of a party in Iowa City. The house and the garden were packed with bizarre people, beer and wine flowed freely and there was the sweet music of chatter and laughter. Quite a number of the guests had walked over here from a rather unremarkable concrete high-rise building of the University, which, however, bore the wonderful, resonant name 'Mayflower'. It was there, in a long corridor on the eighth floor, that a community of international writers happened to reside. About forty individuals had been invited for a period of three months. And here we were, in infinite celebration and dialogue: playwrights, poets, novelists, essayists and translators from all corners of the world, guests of the International Writing Program, invited by the legendary Iowan and citizen of the world, Paul Engle, and his Chinese wife, the writer Hualing Nieh. The crowd of celebrants in the house and in the garden of the writer couple Blaise and Mukherjee was made complete by an equally high-spirited group of students from the University of Iowa's famous Writers' Workshop, which in the past had been attended by aspiring writers such as Tennessee Williams, Kurt Vonnegut and Raymond Carver, as well as a young writer by the name of Clark Blaise. It was here that he met a fellow student from India, Bharati Mukherjee....

It was a party on Noah's Ark, so to speak, with remarkable couples: the writer from Taiwan talking to the one from the People's Republic of China (or as they used to say in America in those days, 'Mainland China'). There was the novelist from Israel and the short story writer from Palestine, my colleague andfellow countryman from the other side of the Berlin Wall and myself, the 'Westerner'. Constellations such as these require a special place, and here in this house and this garden there was such a place -- radiating openness to the world, colourful diversity and curiosity.

I have to mention, by the way, it was at this party that I first laid my eyes on my future wife and co-founder of our family, the poet Sujata Bhatt, then a student, who unfortunately, at least at that stage, showed little or no response to my longing gazes. Like my host's wife, she happens to be originally from India. Fate or coincidence? (A blessing, I tell you.)

During numerous visits to the United States, some long, some short, I have realized that there are some unwritten laws of small talk. It may well happen, for example, that a host asks countless questions of a guest without actually caring about the answers. Indeed, it may even be impolite to give a proper, extensive answer to a very personal question. It didn't take me long, however, to notice that this rule by no means applied in the house of Blaise. Here was a host showing genuine interest in his guests, a polyglot contemporary who elegantly stood his ground in this multilingual confusion of tongues. He too, a constant traveller, a researcher, an investigator, someone making proper use of his eyes and ears -- ein Augen- und-Ohrenmensch, as we say in German, someone who cannot get enough of the visible and invisible secrets of the world. It's no surprise that almost a decade later, this man became the successor to Paul Engle as the director of the International Writing Program.

Reading the short stories collected in this volume, I cannot help thinking of that first encounter in Iowa City, of the international writer Clark Blaise, who is more than just a sharp observer of North American realities and states of mind.

Dear God, how must these permanent repetitive questions get on his nerves: whether he defines himself as a U.S. citizen or as a Canadian citizen. Let the U.S. critics claim him for their country and likewise the Canadians. But please, let me raise my hand and claim his services for the rest of the world! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there is life beyond your borders.

Brilliant how Clark Blaise (or rather Gerald Lander, his Faustian hero and anti-hero) shaken by mid-life crisis, moves about in that part of the world which I myself know best, which has fascinated me since my childhood, my family ground, which nonetheless, will always be full of riddles for me. With the stories 'Kristallnacht', 'Drawing Rooms' and 'The Banality of Virtue', he places us right in the centre of the Baltic microcosm. The ice of the Communist paralysis has melted, the submerged bonds of the neighbouring countries which had developed over centuries are finally becoming recognizable again. But so are the scars, the wounds inflicted on the neighbours by German guilt. Immediately, Czeslaw Milosz comes to my mind, as well as G[u:]nter Grass, with his Danzig Trilogy, and his Polish colleague, Stefan Chwin. And naturally, I have to think of the poet, short story writer and novelist, Johannes Bobrowski, a native of Tilsit (birthplace of my father), a town which is called Sovietsk today, and is a part of the Russian enclave, known as Kaliningrad Oblast. Like no one else, Bobrowski has made his ancient 'Sarmatia', these complicated, fertile, and often enough horrible neighbourhoods, into his grand theme:

Sprache .br abgehetzt .br mit dem muden Mund .br auf dem endlosen Weg .br zum Hause des Nachbarn

Language/exhausted/with the tired mouth/on the endless path/to the neighbour's house

There is an echo of all this in Clark Blaise's writing, when he makes his readers follow him to this cultural sphere, to a nameless city with Hanseatic features which reminds one of Riga or Tallin. In other stories, we find ourselves in Gdansk, Sopot or Pomerania. This is where they have always lived together: Estonians, Latvians, Russians, Lithuanians, Poles, Germans, Jews and non-Jews. This is where they have learned and profited from one another in times of tolerance and this is where they turned life into hell for one another when times were bad. Not only here, have people come to know from painful experience that the varnish of civilization is very thin indeed. So that it is not forgotten that this danger is always dormant, it is important to speak about it and to write about it. If I Were Me, the book from which most of the stories collected here have been taken, ranging from 'Strangers in the Night' to 'Yahrzeit' (with the addition of 'Migraine Morning', a strange, incredibly breathtaking story), shows us the 'world according to Blaise'. A patchwork novel, a novella composed of tales, an assembly of short stories, where each story taken by itself reveals great diversity in terms of style and perspective. Here is a master at work, a virtuoso taking us on a tour de force through time and space, and through the tricky history of the short story.

'I may be in all of my characters', he once confided in an interview with Derek Alger, 'but none of them are me.' And indeed, there seems to be a hearty portion of Blaise in Gerald Lander, the eternal seeker of sense and meaning -- the incarnation of the mid-life crisis. Blaise, too, as Goethe would say, 'wants to know what keeps the world together in its core' -- this shrunken world of bonus miles, airports and hotel rooms. 'The one thing he could not imagine was meaninglessness.' Clark Blaise has made his family trauma a theme. His grandfather and his mother died of Alzheimer's disease. Whoever knows this, whoever knows even one single person who has been in the claws of this incomprehensible disease will be touched especially by this aspect of the stories. 'Salad Days', one of the shortest pieces in this rich collection, belongs, for me, among the most exciting, disturbing and lasting texts he has written.

I have already mentioned the diversity of locations Blaise takes us to: Poland, the 'new' Baltic states (which have only recently become full members of the EU), North America, Japan, Israel ... In other stories, (most of them published in his 1992 collection, Man and His World), we find ourselves in Prague, in Vienna, Bruges, Paris or Toronto. Places Clark Blaise captures perfectly in his sensuous rendering of atmosphere.

'Meditations on Starch' is one of those stories in which he enchants us with his magical power. As if one were sitting in a time machine, one is taken suddenly from the contemporary American everyday life and plunged right into the explosive 1930s of pre-war Central Europe, into the life-threatening years after Hitler's rise to power, when it became foreseeable that 'Old Europe' was only a step away from being extinguished, when this continent was about to lose its centre. A journey through time and space, encompassing three generations and three continents, ending in the present-day Vienna, Berggasse number 19, where once a certain Dr Freud dissected the soul of the world. 'Number 19 is just a flat, as it always was, squeezed between other flats and offices' -- or is it? You must be dreaming.p

'Meditations on Starch' is one of Clark Blaise's many stories connecting 'the West and the East'. Countless outsiders have had a go at writing about themes connected with India, ranging from Hermann Hesse, via Thomas Mann all the way to G[u:]nter Grass and his Calcutta poems, just to mention some of the most famous writers in my language, all three of them Nobel laureates. One could fill a library with all the stories, novels, travelogues, fairy tales, and poems of Western authors who have dared to explicate the Subcontinent. Clark, too, has written with unusual insight and success about India and its people. His early work, in collaboration with his wife, Bharati Mukherjee, Days and Nights in Calcutta, received great acclaim.

In recent years, new generations of Indian writers in the Diaspora have invaded the book market ('The Empire writes back') stunning readers and critics alike with unfamiliar perspectives of life in these times of multiculturalism and globalization. They (not unlike the Irish writers) are the ones who prevent stagnation in the 'traditional' literatures in English. This is how unjust history can be -- awarding the undeserving former colonial powers with new ideas, new sensibilities, new perspectives! Clark Blaise, though, is probably one of the very few Westerners who manage to give readers insight into the complicated structures of the Indian Diaspora. If one takes, for example, the previously uncollected story, 'Dear Abhi', a highlight of this collection (which to me reads like a wonderful script ready to be made into a great film), one finds oneself exposed to the experiences of a certain Abhishek Ganguly from Bengal, a successful immigrant who has made his fortune in Silicon Valley. Abhi is married to a second-generation Indian from San Diego, they have two children and are leading a responsible life, eager to recycle at least part of their good fortune to the community they live in -- an 'extremely well-adjusted' family. Abhi believes that 'my situation is not uncommon among successful immigrants of my age and background'. And yet: it's the background, the hyphen, the navel-string that hasn't been cut, the old family bonds with his native India, his relatives, and in particular, his Chhoto Kaku, his late father's youngest brother, which will shake the foundations of his existence. This is a beautiful, well-balanced story, full of surprising turns (which, of course, I won't give away here), it is a sad and moving story and yet, one that makes you smile and wonder ... A powerful story written entirely from the perspective of an Indian immigrant, a daring undertaking by the author -- but one that proves fully successful (and this holds true for the other new story, 'The Sociology of Love', as well).

What I value about Clark Blaise is the way in which he perceives the world: his sensibility, his respect for the other, his curiosity and his almost scientific talent for going to the heart of the matter, revealing the hidden layers, connecting the seemingly unconnectable. And yet, Clark's scientific precision does not prevent him from being a man of beautifully weird fantasies and humour. One can also say: this man is not a globalizer -- he's an internationalist. And that's exactly what the 'world body' needs. May there be many translations of his work! -- Michael Augustin

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Table of Contents

Introduction
Strangers in the Night
Salad Days
A Saint
Kristallnacht
Drawing Rooms
The Banality of Virtue
White Children
Doggystan
Dark Matter
Migraine Morning
Yahrzeit
Meditations on Starch
Did, Had, Was
Sweetness and Light
Man and His World
Dear Abhi
The Sociology of Love
Partial Renovations
Afterword

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Preface

The first time I met Clark Blaise was in September 1984. He happened to be the host of a party in Iowa City. The house and the garden were packed with bizarre people, beer and wine flowed freely and there was the sweet music of chatter and laughter. Quite a number of the guests had walked over here from a rather unremarkable concrete high-rise building of the University, which, however, bore the wonderful, resonant name 'Mayflower'. It was there, in a long corridor on the eighth floor, that a community of international writers happened to reside. About forty individuals had been invited for a period of three months. And here we were, in infinite celebration and dialogue: playwrights, poets, novelists, essayists and translators from all corners of the world, guests of the International Writing Program, invited by the legendary Iowan and citizen of the world, Paul Engle, and his Chinese wife, the writer Hualing Nieh. The crowd of celebrants in the house and in the garden of the writer couple Blaise and Mukherjee was made complete by an equally high-spirited group of students from the University of Iowa's famous Writers' Workshop, which in the past had been attended by aspiring writers such as Tennessee Williams, Kurt Vonnegut and Raymond Carver, as well as a young writer by the name of Clark Blaise. It was here that he met a fellow student from India, Bharati Mukherjee....

It was a party on Noah's Ark, so to speak, with remarkable couples: the writer from Taiwan talking to the one from the People's Republic of China (or as they used to say in America in those days, 'Mainland China'). There was the novelist from Israel and the short story writer from Palestine, my colleague and fellow countryman from the other side of the Berlin Wall and myself, the 'Westerner'. Constellations such as these require a special place, and here in this house and this garden there was such a place — radiating openness to the world, colourful diversity and curiosity.

I have to mention, by the way, it was at this party that I first laid my eyes on my future wife and co-founder of our family, the poet Sujata Bhatt, then a student, who unfortunately, at least at that stage, showed little or no response to my longing gazes. Like my host's wife, she happens to be originally from India. Fate or coincidence? (A blessing, I tell you.)

During numerous visits to the United States, some long, some short, I have realized that there are some unwritten laws of small talk. It may well happen, for example, that a host asks countless questions of a guest without actually caring about the answers. Indeed, it may even be impolite to give a proper, extensive answer to a very personal question. It didn't take me long, however, to notice that this rule by no means applied in the house of Blaise. Here was a host showing genuine interest in his guests, a polyglot contemporary who elegantly stood his ground in this multilingual confusion of tongues. He too, a constant traveller, a researcher, an investigator, someone making proper use of his eyes and ears — ein Augen- und-Ohrenmensch, as we say in German, someone who cannot get enough of the visible and invisible secrets of the world. It's no surprise that almost a decade later, this man became the successor to Paul Engle as the director of the International Writing Program.

Reading the short stories collected in this volume, I cannot help thinking of that first encounter in Iowa City, of the international writer Clark Blaise, who is more than just a sharp observer of North American realities and states of mind.

Dear God, how must these permanent repetitive questions get on his nerves: whether he defines himself as a U.S. citizen or as a Canadian citizen. Let the U.S. critics claim him for their country and likewise the Canadians. But please, let me raise my hand and claim his services for the rest of the world! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there is life beyond your borders.

Brilliant how Clark Blaise (or rather Gerald Lander, his Faustian hero and anti-hero) shaken by mid-life crisis, moves about in that part of the world which I myself know best, which has fascinated me since my childhood, my family ground, which nonetheless, will always be full of riddles for me. With the stories 'Kristallnacht', 'Drawing Rooms' and 'The Banality of Virtue', he places us right in the centre of the Baltic microcosm. The ice of the Communist paralysis has melted, the submerged bonds of the neighbouring countries which had developed over centuries are finally becoming recognizable again. But so are the scars, the wounds inflicted on the neighbours by German guilt. Immediately, Czeslaw Milosz comes to my mind, as well as Günter Grass, with his Danzig Trilogy, and his Polish colleague, Stefan Chwin. And naturally, I have to think of the poet, short story writer and novelist, Johan—Michael Augustin

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