Sherds Podcast is a journey through the outskirts of literary history. Each episode, we take an in-depth look at a lesser-known literary text and attempt to give it the critical attention it deserves: books that are criminally overlooked, have struggled to reach an anglophone audience, or are just downright odd. Hosted by Sam Pulham and Rob Prouse Sam Pulham
#33 The House of Hunger by Dambudzo Marechera
1:27:13The House of Hunger was originally published in by Heinemann in 1978. The book is a collection of harrowing, autobiographical short stories in which Marechera’s experiences both in his native Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and as a university student at Oxford, are channeled into a psychedelic cascade of blistering imagery and broken stream-of-consciousness narratives. In his own words, writing in English - his second language - rather than the Shona he grew up speaking, meant confronting the inherent racism of the language, “discarding grammar, throwing syntax out, subverting images within […] developing torture chambers of irony and sarcasm, gas ovens of limitless black resonance”. Over the course of the episode, we discuss the violence and vibrancy of Marechera’s prose, consider his attitude to the newly independent Zimbabwe, and his torturous love affair with the English language. Bibliography: 'African Doppelganger: Hybridity and Identity in the Work of Dambudzo Marechera' by David Buuck in Research in African Literatures, Vol. 28, No. 2, Autobiography and African Literature (Summer, 1997), pp. 118-131 'On Dambudzo Marechera: The Life and Times of an African Writer' by Helon Habila in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 82, No. 1, A Special Report: Aids in Africa (Winter 2006), pp. 251-260 ‘Reveling in Genre: An Interview with China Miéville’ in Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 30, No. 3, The British SF Boom (Nov., 2003), pp. 355-373
#32 Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo
1:19:59Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo was originally published in Spanish in 1955. The book is published by Serpent’s Tail, the translation is by Margaret Sayers Peden and the readings in this episode are by Jakub Blank. The book concerns the journey of a young man to his mother’s native village of Comala, where he will search for his father, the elusive figure, Pedro Páramo. What he finds upon his arrival is a ghost town, the spectral image of a once vital community whose voices rise up to assail him with lamentations from beyond the grave. Somewhere within this chorus of the dead unfolds the tale of the landowner, Don Pedro, whose iron grip upon the town may well have been the source of its desolation. Over the course of the episode, we discuss Rulfo’s intriguing use of structure, Mexican rituals surrounding death, and the brutality of its central character. Bibliography: ‘The Fractal Structure of Pedro Páramo: Comala, When Will You Rest?’ by Elizabeth Sánchez in Hispania, Vol. 86, No. 2 (May, 2003) ‘Landscape and Loss in Juan Rulfo's Pedro Páramo’ by M. Ian Adams in Chasqui, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Nov., 1979) ‘Introduction to Juan Rulfo’s Naming Strategies in Pedro Páramo’ by Margaret V. Ekstrom in Literary Onomastics Studies (1979)
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#31 The Child Cephalina: An Interview with Rebecca Lloyd
53:21In this episode, I spoke to the writer, Rebecca Lloyd, about her novel, The Child Cephalina (2019), which is published by Tartarus Press: Rebecca Lloyd’s superb Gothic novel explores friendship, obsession and the uncanny in teeming mid-Victorian London. At its heart is a tale of human relationships threatened by an unknowable force.’ From the very first, the child Cephalina brought conflict into the otherwise peaceful, if eccentric, household at number 12 Judd Street. Robert’s fascination with her was instant, but he could never decide if this eleven-year-old was innocent and lonely, or clever and manipulative. It worried him. His encounters with her were both enchanting and unnerving. All the while his devotion to her was growing, until in the end, nothing could save him from a fate he would never have believed could be his . . . Find out more about Rebecca Lloyd’s work at her website: beccalloyd.org Over the course of the episode we discuss spiritualism in the nineteenth century, Henry Mayhew, who was the inspiration for the novel’s narrator, and consider some of the taboo relationships depicted in the novel.
#30 Sweet Days of Discipline by Fleur Jaeggy
52:38Sweet Days of Discipline by Fleur Jaeggy was originally published in Italian in 1989. The translation is by Tim Parks, and the book is published by And Other Stories. The novel concerns the early years in the life of a young student at an exclusive boarding school in the Swiss mountains. Throughout the book, her strained relationship with her environment, her peers, and her inner self are subject to cold examination. In crystalline, almost clinical, prose, all is dissected and laid bare - the innocent exterior of school life is peeled away, and the rotting core exposed.
#29 Cinnamon Shops by Bruno Schulz
1:12:37I’m joined by Stefan Głowacki to discuss Cinnamon Shops, a collection of short stories by Bruno Schulz, which was originally published in Polish in 1934. In this episode, we discuss this classic of Polish literature in its most recent translation by Madeline G. Levine, which is published by Northwestern University Press. The readings are by Marceli Sommer. In these magnificent autobiographical stories, Schulz writes about the sleepy town of Drohobych where grew up, transforming it into a mythical landscape in which every object blushes under the intensity of his gaze. Over the course of the episode, we discuss the importance of Schulz’s critical text, Mityzacja rzeczywistości (The Mythologising of Reality), which some have called his manifesto. We also debate his similarity to Franz Kafka, and examine the figure of the father in Schulz’s aesthetic project. The artwork for this episode is ‘Night Walk’ by Alicja Nikodem, which she based on Shculz’s stories. More of her work can be found here: http://www.alicjanikodem.com/ Bibliography: Regions of the Great Heresy: Bruno Schulz, a Biographical Portrait by Jerzy Ficowski (W. W. Norton, 2003), trans. Theodosia S. Robertson Opowiadania. Wybór esejów i listów (Wydawnictwo ossolineum, 1989) ed. Jerzy Jarzębski
#28 Dhalgren by Samuel R Delany
1:26:41Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren was originally published in 1975. Since its publication, Dhalgren has had its fair share of proponents and enemies - it has been called both the best and the worst book ever to come out of the field of science fiction. Over the course of its eight-hundred pages, we follow our main character, the Kid, as he wanders listlessly through devastated city of Bellona, located somewhere in the United States on the border between utopia and dystopia. It is a city where time dilates and contracts, buildings spontaneously combust, obscuring mists curl through the streets. And here, all society’s misfits and outcasts have gathered under its twin moons. In this conversation we discuss the extent to which Dhalgren can be considered science fiction, examine the role of its metafictional games, and think about its presentation of racial and sexual politics. The readings in this episode are by Daniel Mills, host of the true crime podcast, These Dark Mountains: https://thesedarkmountains.com/ Bibliography: ‘The Convergence of Postmodern Innovative Fiction and Science Fiction: An Encounter with Samuel R. Delany's Technotopia’ by Teresa L. Ebert Poetics Today, Vol. 1, No. 4, Narratology II: The Fictional Text and the Reader (Duke University Press, Summer, 1980) ‘Rites of Reversal: Double Consciousness in Delany's Dhalgren’ by Mary Kay Bray in lack American Literature Forum, Vol. 18, No. 2, Science Fiction Issue (Summer, 1984) ‘Playing at Birth: Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren’ by Todd A Comer in Journal of Narrative Theory, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Summer, 2005) https://lithub.com/dont-romanticize-science-fiction-an-interview-with-samuel-delany/
#27 The Naked Woman by Armonía Somers
1:01:36The Naked Woman by Armonía Somers was originally published in Spanish in 1950. The translation was made by Kit Maude and the book is published by The Feminist Press. On her thirtieth birthday, the main character, Rebeca Linke undergoes a violent physical and mental transformation. She leaves her home in only an overcoat and wanders through the local forests and fields. When she is spotted in broad daylight, divested of her clothes, the event sends tremors through the rural village, penetrating the hearts, bodies and minds of its inhabitants. Some view her as the return of Eve, some as a malignant curse. In either case, the village must confront this happening, and undergo its own transformation. Over the course of the episode, we discuss the author’s violent expression of feminine autonomy, consider it in the context of the gothic, and examine the response of a staid patriarchal society to the concept of feminine desire. The readings in this episode are by Gaja Hajdarowicz. Bibliography: ‘Armonía Somers’ Permeable Boundaries’ by Alexandra Fitts in Hispanófila, No. 137 (2003), pp. 101-114 ‘Gótico y género: El viaje decapitado de "La mujer desnuda”’ by Nadina Olmedo in Letras Femeninas Vol. 36, No. 2 (I2010), pp. 215-227 Women's Voices from Latin America: Interviews with Six Contemporary Authors (Wayne State University Press, 1987) ed. Evelyn Picon Garfield https://www.wordswithoutborders.org/dispatches/article/on-translating-armonia-somerss-the-naked-woman-kit-maude
#26 Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler
1:05:23Octavia Butler’s Bloochild and Other Stories was originally published in 1995. The book collects seven stories from throughout Butler’s career, and in this episode we focus on the title story, which depicts a social and sexual relationship between humans and a race of alien beings. Later, we discuss the penultimate story in the collection, Amnesty, which explores the complexities of confrontation with the alien other. Over the course of the episode, we examine the degree to which the stories may be said to engage with slavery and American history, and consider Butler’s implementation of the ‘pregnant man’ motif. Bibliography: ‘Mama's Baby, Papa's Slavery? The Problem and Promise of Mothering in Octavia E. Butler’s Bloodchild’ by Kristen Lillvis in MELUS, Vol. 39, No. 4, Gender, Transnationalism, and Ethnic American Identity (Winter, 2014) Octavia E. Butler: Modern Masters of Science Fiction (University of Illinois, 2016) by Gerry Canavan
#25 The Mainz Psalter by Jean Ray
52:46Jean Ray’s The Mainz Psalter was originally published in 1930. We read the story in Jeff and Ann Vandermeer’s anothology, The Weird, and the translation is by Lowell Blair. The story tells the grizzly tale of The Mainz Psalter, a ship en route to Greenland under the ownership of the shadowy figure of the schoolmaster, with a purpose that remains a mystery to its crew. As the ship sails deeper into northern waters, reality begins to bend in peculiar directions and the crew’s number dwindles. Those who remain have doubts as to whether this is indeed the reality they had known. Over the course of the episode, we discuss the literary lineage of Jean Ray’s tale, its relationship with cosmic horror, and the peculiar treatment of religion within the text. Bibliography: Lyrical Ballads (1798) by William Wordsworth & Samuel Taylor Coleridge ‘Supernatural Horror in Literature’ (1927) by H. P. Lovecraft The Time Machine (1895) by H. G. Wells http://weirdfictionreview.com/2011/11/ghosts-fear-and-parallel-worlds-the-supernatural-fiction-of-jean-ray/
#24 One Moonlit Night by Caradog Prichard
1:10:25Caradoc Prichard’s One Moonlit Night was originally published in Welsh in 1961. The book is a classic of Welsh literature, which though greatly admired in its native country, is still shamefully neglected in the English-speaking world. Set in a small village in North Wales, One Moonlit Night is the breathless monologue of a young boy who unveils the sorrows and torments, the ecstasies and revelations of a poverty stricken, but close-knit community as it weathers the distant storm of the First World War. Over the course of the episode, we discuss the significance of The Great War in the book, Prichard’s narratorial style, and consider whether One Moonlit Night may be thought of as a political novel. The readings in this episode are by Tris Rhys, a listener who very kindly offered his services and his Welsh-language skills, for which we’re very grateful. Bibliography: Welsh Gothic by Jane Aaron (University of Wales Press, 2013) https://www.walesartsreview.org/the-winner-of-the-greatest-welsh-novel-is-un-nos-ola-leuad-by-caradog-prichard/ https://biography.wales/article/s10-PRIC-CAR-1904#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=26&manifest=https%3A%2F%2Fdamsssl.llgc.org.uk%2Fiiif%2F2.0%2F4633846%2Fmanifest.json