Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Numberless by Jianyu Pen


The Numberless is an interlinked novel by Jianyu Pên. Although born in China, Pên now lives in France, and most of The Numberless was originally written in French. The novel has been here translated into English by Matt Baker and published by Beggar Press. The novel’s first page was published in 2010. The novel’s pages number, as of today, at 1,147. New pages are added about once a week and will be added until Pên’s death.
All drawings within The Numberless were drawn by Jianyu Pên. All songs withinThe Numberless were composed by Jianyu Pên. All videos within The Numberlesswere directed by Jianyu Pên. The Numberless always has been, always is, and always will be free to read. Jianyu Pên pays for his bread by other means.
Jianyu Pên’s randomized novella Kaleidoscope can be read atwww.kaleidoscopeof.com. Jianyu Pên’s serialized novel Afterthought can be read at www.afterthoughtof.com.
Pên’s other novels include BirdlimeQwerty, and The Butcher’s Ennui.
"A Conversation with Matt Baker and Mel Bosworth"
Mel: Hey, Matt. Let’s begin by talking about The Numberless, a seemingly bottomless novel written by Jianyu Pên and translated by you. It’s being published online by the somewhat esoteric Beggar Press in an as-it-happens kind of way with fresh content appearing roughly once a week. And it’s going to continue until Pên’s death, or at least that’s the plan, yes? The whole concept is pretty mind blowing. I’ve got a million questions bubbling in my head already, but I’ll begin with just a few. What got you interested in doing work as a translator? How did you get involved with this particular project? Have you ever met Jianyu Pên, and if not do you ever plan to? What’s up with Beggar Press?
Matt: I’d like to meet Pên, but I doubt Pên would agree to meeting. From the email exchanges we’ve had, Pên seems almost paranoidly obsessed with preserving her/his anonymity. So I don’t know anything about her/him, aside from that “Jianyu Pên” is a pseudonym: a year ago her/his pseudonym was “Ts’ui Pên,” but then she/he emailed me asking me to change “Ts’ui” to “Jianyu.” (Pên later explained she/he felt that “Ts’ui Pên… was just way too obviously a pseudonym!”) The senior intern at Beggar Press is “almost positive” that Pên is James Franco, but I really doubt that that’s the case.
But yes, Pên plans to add new pages to The Numberless once a week until Pên’s death, so it’s lucky that I’m so young, because Pên may need a translator for, who knows, forty, fifty, sixty more years? And the novel’s pages already number over a thousand. It’s an overwhelming project to be a part of. The translator fees Beggar Press pays me, however, make it all worthwhile. (I don’t have any idea where Beggar Press gets its money, considering that all of its publications are free to read. It has an office in Manhattan, an office in Nashville, and a building in downtown Reykjavík that’s downright palatial. Sometimes I worry the whole operation may be funded by organized crime — sort of a giving-back-to-the-community project, like that church that Los Zetas built in Mexico.)
Anyway, The Numberless is what Pên calls an “interlinked novel” — on each page of the novel, certain words/phrases/paragraphs are hyperlinked, and clicking one of those hyperlinked words/phrases/paragraphs takes you to the novel’s next (for you) page. That’s what I like about translating Pên’s work: all of her/his projects experiment with the internet as a medium. They exploit the internet’s storytelling capabilities — storytelling capabilities that print doesn’t have.

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