Albert Cossery was a man in no hurry, and in this he hoped to lead by example.
Asked why he wrote, he replied: so that his readers would not get up for work the next day.
Cossery’s heroes are usually dandies and thieves, unfettered by possessions or obligations; impoverished but aristocratic idlers who can suck the marrow of joy from the meager bones life tosses their way. They are the descendants of Baudelaire’s flâneur, of the Surrealists with their rejection of the sacrosanct work ethic, of the Situationists and their street-theater shenanigans, not to mention the peripatetic Beats or the countercultural ‘dropouts’ of the 1960s. Henry Miller, who raised dolce far niente to an art form, praised Cossery’s writing as ‘rare, exotic, haunting, unique.’ Whether Cossery’s merry pranksters wish merely to have a good time or, as in The Jokers, to wage an all-out campaign of raillery against the powers that be, there is one belief they all share: the only true recourse against a world governed by ‘scoundrels’ is an utter disregard for convention, including the convention of taking anything seriously.
—from a review by Mark Polizzotti of Albert Cossery’s work in The Nation. With new “scoundrels” being voted on in the recent Egyptian election, Cossery provides his readers with a lighter, more surreal look at politics and life in the streets of Cairo.
(photo credit: Pedro Uhart)
What is fascinating is that via this novel we enter into a world of beggars – where it is not only a choice for some, but a desired lifestyle. Poverty worn as a sign of pride. Of course there is anxiety in knowing where one is going to sleep that night, or where the next meal will come from (if any at all), but the sense of freedom that goes with the lifestyle is the addiction where these characters roam with great joy.
— Albert Cossery’s Proud Beggars gets reviewed in Book Soup’s, the West Hollywood bookstore, blog (read the rest of the review here). Particularly cool are the portraits of Cossery; we had a tough time deciding which one to post here.
The following is a paragraph from Albert Cossery’s Proud Beggars. In this scene, Gohar, an ex-professor who gave up him successful life and career to enjoy the ‘peace’ of poverty, is being interrogated by Nour El Dine, the police officer who is investigating the murder of a prostitute and whose double-life as figure of authority and gay lover makes him miserable. The following is Nour El Dine’s thoughts as he enters Gohar’s completely empty and shabby room.
The empty room gave him a feeling of peace and seemed to isolate him from the rest of the universe. He imagined himself sleeping on the pile of newspapers, happy and lazy, freed from his anguish. What was the use of continuing to search for an impossible happiness? It was true that nothing could happen between these walls, in this skillfully arranged emptiness. No doubt Gohar was right. To live like a beggar was to follow the path of wisdom. A life in the primitive state, without constraints. Nour El Dine dreamed of how sweet a beggar’s life would be, free and proud, with nothing to lose. He could even finally indulge in his vice without fear or shame. He would even be proud of this vice that had been his worst torment for years. Samir would come back to him. His hatred would vanish automatically when he saw him dispossessed of his emblems of authority, washed of his prejudice and his slimy morality. He would no longer have to fear Samir’s disdain or sarcasm.
Indolent beer sipping is the perfect way to enjoy the works of Albert Cossery.
Book: The Jokers by Albert Cossery
Beer: UFO Hefeweizen
Last night we had a panel discussion on Albert Cossery at the WORD Brooklyn bookstore to celebrate the launch of our edition of Proud Beggars, and the New Directions edition of The Colors of Infamy. Pictured from left to right is the moderator Robyn Creswell, poetry editor at The Paris Review who also wrote an article about Cossery in Harper’s magazine in February of this year; Alyson Waters, who wrote the introduction and revised the translation of Proud Beggars and translated The Color of Infamy; Anna Moschovakis, who translated The Jokers; and Anna Della Subin, associate editor of Bidoun who published an excerpt from The Colors of Infamy in their issue on Egypt. We had good showing despite the rain, and played a clip from Asmaa Bakri’s film adaptation of Proud Beggars, seen in the background. And no, that’s is not The Good Witch of the North arriving, it’s from an effect of the flash.
NYRB Classics is delighted to announce December events in New York City that will spotlight the Egyptian novelist Albert Cossery, as well as the recent re-issue of Jean Strouse’s biography of Alice James.
December 6, 2011 at 7 p.m.
A panel discussion on Albert Cossery, famous for his characteristically witty, anarchistic depictions of the Middle East’s political and cultural pitfalls. The panelists are Robyn Creswell, poetry editor of The Paris Review, Anna Moschovakis, translator of Cossery’s The Jokers, and Anna Della Subin, associate editor of Bidoun. The moderator will be Alyson Waters, who has introduced and revised the translation of Proud Beggars and translated Colors of Infamy (recently published by New Directions). Free and open to the public.
December 7, 2011 at 7 p.m.
The New York Public
Library Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
Lorin Stein, editor of The Paris Review, will speak with Jean Strouse about the James family on the occasion of the re-issue of Strouse’s Bancroft Prize-winning biography, Alice James. For more information, click here.
The Weekly WORD, 12/4 - 12/10
- Tuesday, Dec. 4, 7 p.m.: New Directions and NYRB Classics are joining forces (and booze budgets) to bring you a night of discussion on the late brilliant, anarchist, fascinating Egyptian novelist Albert Cossery with panelists Alyson Waters, Anna Moschovakis, Anna Della Subin, and Robyn Creswell.
- Saturday, Dec. 10, 12 p.m.: Classics book group wraps up its year of Russian literature with the very apropos The Possessed by Elif Batuman.
This weekend is also our 3rd Annual Holiday Open House; we’ll remind you mid-week!